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Simone Biles seems “relieved” to have withdrawn from both the team and individual all-around Olympic medal events, Hoda Kotb said Wednesday after talking to the gymnast.
The “Today” co-anchor, 56, was preparing to go on air live from the team finals in Tokyo Tuesday when Biles, 24, removed herself because she wasn’t feeling mentally ready.
“I was not expecting this in a million years … but Simone actually seems kind of relieved to me,” Kotb exclusively told Page Six. “It was like a moment when you make a very big decision and you feel relief and you can exhale and you feel calm.”
The journalist was in the gym to tease the primetime gymnastics team finals when the athlete walked out following an awkward, low-scoring vault.
Moments later, it was announced that Biles would not be joining her teammates in the rest of the competition.
The decorated superstar later said she would not be competing in the individual events either.
Talking from the “Today” set in the Japanese capital, Kotb told us: “It was right as the meet was starting off that there was this huge dramatic announcement. You could really feel it in the gym. Everything went quiet, and the gym was already super, super hushed.
“I watched Simone go up and tell her teammates, ‘This is your game right now.’ I was not expecting that. It was very emotional watching her support and love up on her teammates. But she said, ‘I don’t feel that I can trust myself.’”
Co-anchor Savannah Guthrie added: “It was just stunning. We shifted to breaking news mode. It shifted our Olympics.
“Hoda does have this incredible existing relationship with Simone that goes really deep, so she got to talk to her and the other teammates right after the event.”
Guthrie, 49, was also quick to tell Biles’ critics to pipe down, adding: “People take their potshots on social media, sitting on their couch. But it’s not easy to be here. … It’s our privilege to get to watch these athletes; they don’t owe it to us.
“Simone is doing her best, and it’s a pleasure to watch her greatness.”
Kotb noted that “gymnastics is not like other sports,” explaining, “A slight error is not about finishing an arm’s length behind in the pool or missing a shot in tennis. You can end up hurt with a spinal cord injury if you flinch. Simone made the best decision for her.”
Biles drew a line between the trauma she endured from imprisoned ex-Team USA doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse and her decision to pull out of both the team and individual all-around medal events for the first time when she retweeted a statement of support Wednesday from gymnast-turned-fitness trainer Andrea Orris.
“We are talking about the same girl who was molested by her team doctor throughout her entire childhood and teenage years,” Orris wrote.
Kotb echoed to us: “We all know what Simone has been through, and part of the reason she left the Olympics was the weight of all of that.”
The TV host said that while watching the Russian team’s interview after their gold win, she said: “Every other word was ‘Simone, Simone.’ … Her story is huge among the Olympics.”
Appearing on “Today” Wednesday, Olympic swimming champ Michael Phelps, who has spoken of his own issues with depression, vowed to continue his bid to battle for mental health for sportsmen and women.
He said that Biles’ exit “broke my heart,” adding: “We are human. No one is perfect.”
Biles’ Olympic teammates, for their part, said she is “not a quitter” — despite admitting that they were left on the “verge of tears” when she suddenly pulled out of the team event.
Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum spoke out on “Today” after the historic events and following their team’s silver win.
Chiles, who trains alongside Biles at her home gym in Houston, said, “She’s Simone for a reason. She’s not a quitter. You will never see Simone go out there and not do what she knows she can do.”
However, Chiles, 20, did acknowledge that she was left reeling — particularly as she was subsequently forced to compete in two additional events, the uneven bars and the balance beam, in order to fill the gap left by her teammate.
“I knew in my body that I could pull out everything I had,” she said. “I did have to fill some humungous shoes, but I did it for a reason. I did it for her. And she was there with us the whole time.”
Meanwhile, McCallum, who was the first US athlete to compete on the uneven bars in the minutes after Biles told her teammates that she was pulling out of the final, confessed that she too felt “a lot of pressure” over the news.
“My heart was beating about a million miles an hour, and I was on the verge of tears,” McCallum, 18, added. “I just knew I had to do my gymnastics — nothing more, nothing less.”
Guthrie told us after the interview: “They were really upbeat. They had no choice but to come through. … I think they did something greater than a gold medal. They faced an adversity that was totally unexpected.
“I hope this conversation continues. Michael Phelps had a lot of courage to talk about the struggles he had. He really paid a price, all of his struggles and challenge out there for the world to see. As we said, it’s about what happens when you go home and then the spotlight goes off. This is a reminder that we need to continue to support our athletes and surround them with love.”
Asked whether she thinks that Biles will compete again in the competition, Kotb replied: “As her teammates said, it’s all up to Simone. She probably needs a break — even the GOAT sometimes needs a day off.”
The “Today” duo, who have been joined by colleagues Al Roker and Craig Melvin in the Tokyo studio, are currently working on Japan hours and admit they are battling jet lag.
They are acting as de-facto parents, grandparents and friends for the Olympians who have not been able to be joined by their families due to strict COVID-19 guidelines.
But as the athletes gear up for track and field next week, Guthrie said, “It’s exciting to see the next generation of stars come through and tell their stories.”
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