Summer Sports

Olympic viewing guide: Why Simone Biles didn't 'quit', and Penny swims for another record

Here's what to watch Wednesday night and Thursday morning, including Penny Oleksiak's attempt to make more Canadian history and some context to help understand why Simone Biles isn't competing in the women's all-around final.

What to watch Wednesday night and Thursday morning

Gymnastics superstar Simone Biles was reduced to a spectator — though an enthusiastic one — after pulling out of the women's team final. (Loic Venance/AFP via Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports' daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what's happening at the Tokyo Olympics by subscribing here.

After its four-medal blitz on Day 4, Canada added just one on Day 5. But it was historic: Penny Oleskiak's bronze last night in the women's 200-metre freestyle gave the 21-year-old swimmer her sixth Olympic medal. That's the most ever by a Canadian in the Summer Games. Canada now has nine medals in Tokyo — two gold, three silver and four bronze. They've all been won by women.

Canada's two best medal chances on Day 6 are also in women's events. We'll get to those in a minute, along with some other interesting news you need to know. But first, I want to focus today's viewing guide on the athlete that has launched a thousand takes:

Simone Biles has taken over the Tokyo Olympics — but not in the way we hoped

Simone Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time. The women's team final and the women's all-around final are two of the most popular events in the Olympics. So when the American superstar walked away from the team competition yesterday — and then announced today she was pulling out of Thursday morning's all-around event too —  there's no wonder that it instantly became the biggest story of the Games. The fact that it also blended such heavy topics as mental health, celebrity and patriotism into the mix pushed it beyond the realm of sports — especially in the United States. Everyone, it seems, has a take on it. Which rarely turns out well.

So maybe a little context will help. Biles, who is 24 years old, owns a record 19 gymnastics world titles. At the 2016 Olympic in Rio, she won four gold medals — in the team event and in the individual all-around, vault and floor exercises competitions — and added a bronze in the balance beam. Leading up to Tokyo, Biles stood so far above the competition that her biggest challenge seemed to be pushing the limits of her sport. In the vault, she was expected to attempt an exceptionally difficult and dangerous move — the so-called Yurchenko double pike — that has never been tried by another female gymnast. Another four gold medals seemed like a mere baseline for what Biles could accomplish in Tokyo.

But there were some ominous signs. Biles didn't perform all that well, by her standards, at the U.S. trials last month, and she also seemed off during the qualifying round in Tokyo over the weekend. Most people brushed it off, though. Despite her struggles, Biles still became the first gymnast ever to qualify for all six women's events at an Olympics. Plus, this is Simone Biles. The GOAT. Surely she'd pull it together once the medals were on the line.

Right away, though, it became painfully obvious that was not how this was going to play out. In the first rotation of the team final, competing in her signature discipline, Biles "got lost in the air," as they say, on her vault attempt and performed a less-difficult maneuver than planned. She placed sixth out of the six athletes who competed on the vault in the first rotation — a clear sign that she was unable to control her body in the air like she normally does. Biles explained later that she just wasn't in the headspace required to perform, and felt it would be best for everyone if she dropped out of the event and let her teammates try to defend the Olympic title without her. They ended up taking silver, behind the Russian team.

Cue the hot takes back home. Certain opinion merchants in the U.S. media pounced on Biles, calling her "selfish" for "quitting on her team" (even "her country") because it looked to them like she was saving herself for the upcoming individual events. These people looked pretty silly today when Biles announced she wasn't well enough to defend her Olympic title in the all-around either, and that she's unsure about the separate individual events that follow.

That's not all those pundits missed. This may shock you, but many of the same guys you see on TV screaming about how "LeBron is overrated" or "Is Eli Manning elite?" or whatever aren't super well-versed in the rules of the Olympic team gymnastics competition. In the final, every score counts. Each country sends three athletes into each discipline, and at the end they add up all the scores to decide the medals. You don't get to drop your lowest scores. Remember, Biles finished last in the first rotation. Part of her calculation in deciding to withdraw was that whoever the U.S. chose to replace her in the next rotations might have a better chance to score higher than she would.

In that sense, it might be best to think of this as an injury. If Biles had, say, a severely sprained ankle that caused her to finish last in the vault, no one would rip her for pulling out. So what's the difference if it's a mental, rather than physical, issue that's causing her to badly underperform? But that perspective doesn't get clicks or drive TV ratings. So the American take industrial complex continues to churn out its nonsense "Biles quit" #content.

Before we move on, there's a Canadian angle here too. Biles' withdrawal from the all-around seemed to give Ellie Black a better shot at becoming the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics. She took silver in the event at the 2017 world championships in Montreal and finished fourth at the most recent world championships, in 2019. But those hopes were dashed when it was announced today that she's unable to compete after re-aggravating an ankle injury during a training session yesterday. The hope is that she can return for the balance beam final on Aug. 3. Brooklyn Moors is now the only Canadian in the all-around final. She finished 14th at the 2019 worlds.

The women's individual all-around final starts at 6:50 a.m. ET on Thursday. It'll be broadcast on the CBC TV network, or you can stream it live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website.

Breaking down Simone Biles and Ellie Black withdrawing from the all-around final

3 months ago
6:33
Team Canada gymnast Victoria Woo explains how Biles' absence will affect the event, and the reasoning behind Black's decision. 6:33

Canadian medal chances on Wednesday night/Thursday morning

There are two strong ones. In chronological order:

Rowing

Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens compete in the women's pair final at 8:30 p.m. ET. They're probably Canada's top contender for a rowing medal in Tokyo after taking bronze in this event at the 2019 world championships.

Kai Langerfeld and Conlin McCabe are in the men's pair final at 8:18 p.m. ET, but their medal hopes don't look quite as strong.

Swimming

Penny Oleksiak can make more Canadian history in the women's 4x200-metre freestyle relay final at 11:30 p.m. ET. She helped Canada take bronze in this event at the 2016 Olympics and the most recent world championships, in 2019. Another podium finish tonight would give Penny her seventh Olympic medal, breaking a tie with speed skater Cindy Klassen and speed skater/cyclist Clara Hughes for the most Olympic medals by a Canadian.

This race could also land 14-year-old phenom Summer McIntosh her first Olympic medal. Like Oleksiak, she didn't swim in the heats, but there's a good chance she gets put in for the final. McIntosh beat Oleksiak in the individual 200m freestyle final at the Canadian trials last month.

Before the relay, which is the last race of the night, Oleksiak will compete in the 100m freestyle semifinals at 9:53 p.m. ET. This is the event she won gold in at the 2016 Olympics. With the relay final happening less than 40 minutes later, this could be a dangerous competition for Penny.

Some other interesting stuff you should know about

The men's golf tournament tees off at 6:30 p.m. ET. Even with the United States capped at four players and every other country at two, it looked like we'd have a loaded field. But world No. 1 Jon Rahm of Spain and No. 6 Bryson DeChambeau of the United States withdrew over the weekend after testing positive for COVID-19. No. 2 Dustin Johnson of the U.S. chose to skip the event a while ago. Still, several PGA Tour stars will compete on the unfamiliar North Course at Kasumigaseki Country Club. No. 3-ranked American Collin Morikawa is the slight favourite coming off his victory at the British Open a couple of weeks ago, and fellow Americans Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele (ranked fourth and fifth) are right up there too. Former Masters champ Patrick Reed, who's replacing DeChambeau, and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, who's representing Ireland here, are also threats to win gold. The local favourite is Hideki Matsuyama, who won the Masters in April to become the first Japanese golfer to capture a men's major. Canada's entries are Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes, who finished tied for 15th and tied for sixth, respectively, at the British Open. Conners is one of the best ball-strikers in the world, so he's a serious medal threat if his short game is on. Hughes isn't quite as good of a player, but he can make noise too if his putter stays hot. Read more about the men's and women's tournaments (the latter tees off Tuesday night) here.

Canadian boxer Tammara Thibeault is one win away from a medal. Her victory last night in the first round of the women's middleweight tournament put the 24-year-old into the quarter-finals. She'll face 2016 Olympic silver medallist Nouchka Fontijn of the Netherlands on Saturday at 12:24 a.m. ET. This is essentially a medal bout because, in Olympic boxing, both semifinal losers are automatically awarded a bronze while the winners fight to determine the gold and silver. Thibeault took bronze at the most recent world championships, in 2019. She's the only Canadian boxer still alive in Tokyo. Read more about her first-round win here.

Canada is completely done in tennis. Not long ago, it looked like Canada's Olympic tennis team would feature 2019 U.S. Open champ Bianca Andreescu and 10th-ranked men's player Denis Shapovalov. But they both dropped out, along with solid veterans Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil. Canadians ended up winning a grand total of one match in Tokyo. Teenager Leylah Fernandez made it to the second round of the women's draw, while ninth-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime lost his opener to the world's 198th-ranked men's player. The seventh-seeded women's doubles duo of Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman also fell in the first round. Last night, Auger-Aliassime and Dabrowski lost in the mixed doubles first round, ending Canada's hopes of winning its first Olympic tennis medal since Daniel Nestor and Sebastien Lareau's men's doubles gold in 2000.

The Canadian women's rugby sevens team starts its quest for back-to-back medals tonight. Their first two matches are at 8:30 p.m. ET vs. Brazil and 3:30 a.m. ET vs. Fiji. Canada then wraps up pool play on Thursday night vs. France. The Canadian women won bronze in Rio, where rugby sevens made its Olympic debut. They finished third in the World Rugby Sevens Series standings in 2019 and were in third place again in 2020 before the rest of the season was abandoned due to the pandemic (the start of the 2021 season was pushed back to this fall). The Canadian men's team, which included flag-bearer Nathan Hirayama, reached the quarter-finals in its Olympic debut this week and ended up placing eighth. Read more about both Canadian squads here.

The Canadian women's basketball team is looking to bounce back tonight. Coming off a disappointing 72-68 opening loss to Serbia in which they made just five of their 24 three-point attempts, the fourth-ranked Canadians play No. 19 South Korea at 9 p.m. ET. Meanwhile, it was a good day for American hoops. The men's team bounced back from its stunning opening-game defeat to France by pounding Iran 120-66, and the women's 3x3 team won the first-ever Olympic gold medal in this version of the sport. Read a full preview of the Canadian women's game vs. South Korea here.

How to watch live events

They're being broadcast on TV on CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. Or choose exactly what you want to watch by live streaming on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website. Check out the full streaming schedule here.

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