Gymnastics star Simone Biles revealed Tuesday that her aunt died “unexpectedly” during the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Biles, who returned to competition after a week off due to mental health concerns, won a bronze medal on the balance beam on Tuesday. During a press conference afterward, the 24-year-old told reporters about the loss of her aunt on her father’s side.
“At the end of the day, people don’t understand what we are going through,” said Biles. “Two days ago, I woke up and my aunt unexpectedly passed, and it wasn’t any easier being here at the Olympic Games.”
“People have to realize that, at the end of the day, we’re humans, we’re not just entertainment,” she added. “There are things going on behind the scenes that people have no idea about.”
“I was like, ‘Oh my God. This week needs to be over,'” Biles’ coach Cecile Canqueteau-Landi told reporters, referring to when they learned the news of Biles’ aunt. “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 cheered from the sidelines as every gymnast on the U.S. women’s roster won at least one medal at the Games.
“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.
Biles withdrew from four individual finals at the Games, including the all-around individual competition, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise. She cited mental health concerns, later explaining that she was suffering from the “twisties” and feared injuring herself during competition.
When Biles returned for the balance beam final, she did not perform any twists, completing a relatively simple routine.
“Every day I had to be medically evaluated by the doctors, and then I had two sessions with a sports psychologist which kind of helped keep me more level-headed,” said Biles on preparing for beam. “I was cleared to do beam, which I honestly didn’t think I’d be cleared to do last night.”
The 7-time Olympic medalist wrote on Instagram Stories that she is “leaving Tokyo with a full heart.”
“Not at all how I imagined or dreamed my second Olympics would go but blessed to represent the USA,” she wrote. “I’ll forever cherish this unique Olympic experience. Thanks everyone for the endless love and support. I’m truly grateful.”
She added, “Leaving Tokyo with 2 more Olympic medals to add to my collection isn’t too shabby!”
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American silver medalist Raven Saunders, who made headlines this week after stepping off the podium and lifting her arms above her head to form an “X” with her wrists, also revealed Wednesday that her mother has died. The shot putter tweeted that “my mama was a great woman and will forever live through me. My number one guardian angel.”
Media reports said Clarissa Saunders died in Orlando, Florida, where she had been attending Olympic watch parties. Spokesman Mark Adams said the IOC “extends its condolences to Raven and her family.”
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