Simone Biles, Coach 'Had a Lot of Tears' in Tokyo amid 'Hell of a Week' Including Her Aunt's Death
Simone Biles' emotional (and at times stressful) chapter of her Olympics career has concluded.
The gymnast, 24, won bronze in the balance beam final at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday night, earning her first individual medal in an event final since withdrawing from the previous four individual finals (all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor).
"We've had a lot of tears combined because as much as we're happy for Team USA, in the back, it was a little heartbreaking to know that she could've been out there and she could've, hopefully, earned some medals as well," Biles' coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi told reporters after the beam final.
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"But, she was the best cheerleader. She wanted to be here, she wasn't forced. That was her own will to be here and she was really proud of all of them," Landi said, referencing how Biles was in the stands for all of the event finals, which featured fellow gymnasts Suni Lee, Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner. (Every member on the U.S. women's gymnastics roster won at least one medal in Tokyo.)
But while in Japan, Biles, who had "two sessions" with Team USA's sports psychologist before being cleared to compete, got the news that her aunt had died.
After the beam final, Biles told reporters that her aunt on her father's side "unexpectedly passed."
"That was another one, I was like, 'Oh my God. This week needs to be over,' " Landi recalled. "I asked her what do you need. And she said, 'I just need some time.' I said, 'You call me, text me if you need anything I'll be here. Whatever that is.' She called her parents. She said, 'There's nothing I can do from over here. So I'm just going to finish my week and when I get home we'll deal with it.' "
Biles had already been dealing with a lot. Before she made her return to the Olympic competition on Tuesday, she pulled out of all of her previous individual events due to a case of what she has called the "twisties," a disorienting condition that causes an athlete to lose air awareness and endangers their safety. In addition, Biles previously said that due to the "twisties," her "mind and body [weren't] in sync."
Days before the beam final, Landi, a former gymnast who competed at the 1996 Olympics for France, told PEOPLE that she could not have imagined an athlete withdrawing from an event to protect their mental and physical health.
"I don't think I would have had the guts to say I'm not okay. I think I would have probably just crashed somewhere, and probably injured myself. I think for me, she's the first one at a meet at the biggest stage, to say 'I'm not okay.' A lot of people don't understand it, but we do," Landi said.
"I don't think I would have [imagined], no. I never would have imagined someone saying it, but I know I would have not said a word. I would have just pretended to be okay, and keep going and probably not end well," Landi shared.
So what's next for Biles? Landi said on Tuesday that the decorated athlete is "openly talking about therapy."
"I think honestly we all should do it," Landi noted.
"No shame on it. And I think I might need to," she joked. "It's been one hell of a week. Some very high, some very low."
Biles also deserves "some vacation," Landi added, "I think she needs a good break. We're going to go back to work but I'm happy for her that she gets to go back to her family, her boyfriend, her dog. She's just going to go home and enjoy."
Also on Tuesday, Biles said at a press conference that she has been keeping in close communication with her family and loved ones.
"I was FaceTiming with my family. They had a little watch party at the house. It was my mom, my dad, my brother, my sister-in-law, my godparents. They just wanted to say hi and stuff like that. But given the time change, they're 14 hours behind so usually at night, I'll FaceTime them or in the morning. Almost every day I've gotten to talk to them which has been nice and reassuring."
And for those wondering if this was Biles' last Olympics: both she and Landi haven't had the time, and even the right frame of mind, to think about the 2024 Paris Games.
"Right now, it's too early to say after the week she's had. I don't think she's ready to commit to anything. And I wouldn't blame her," Landi said. "She used to take one day at a time, you know, we've been saying that every day since we've been here, especially the past week. 'One day at a time, let's see how you feel, let's see how you do, what do you want?' It's been mostly a partnership with her. She's 24. She knows herself. I know her well, and that's all we've been working on."
At the end of the day, Biles stressed an important message: "My mental and physical health is above all the medals that I could ever win."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.