TOKYO, Japan — Before American gymnast Jade Carey took the floor for her unexpected performance in the women’s Olympic all-around final on Thursday, she talked to her teammate, Simone Biles, whose exit from the competition meant Carey got the chance to fill her spot.
“She told me, ‘Good luck,’ and go out there, do the best I can and have fun,” Carey said.
Carey finished in eighth place, a result she said she was proud of given that just the day before she didn’t even know she would be competing. Biles and other teammates watched from the stands and cheered her on.
“I feel really proud of myself for how I was able to step in at the last minute and compete,” Carey said.
Biles scratched from the team finals on Tuesday after she got lost in the air on a vault. She announced Wednesday she would not compete in the individual all-around, a competition she won at the 2016 Olympics, and focus instead on her mental health.
Carey finished in ninth place at qualifying last weekend. The top 24 athletes are permitted to move to the all-around final, in which they compete in all four events: uneven bars, vault, balance beam and the floor exercise. But countries are only allowed two, and the powerhouse American team always stacks the top of the list.
In qualifying, Biles finished first and Sunisa Lee came in third, so Carey was pushed out of the finals — until Biles decided she would no longer compete.
The last few days, Carey said, were a “little bit crazy, just not knowing what was going to happen.”
When competition arrived Thursday night, Carey started strong on the vault and the uneven bars. But she fell off the balance beam and quickly sank in the standings.
“It means everything to me to be able to have this opportunity,” she said. “I just wanted to go out there and do the best I can and have a lot of fun and I feel like that’s exactly what I did.”
She said she was proud of Lee for winning gold. They didn't let the surprises this week rattle them. Carey said they focused on keeping things light and fun on the sidelines.
Carey took an unconventional road to Tokyo. She did not wait for Olympic trials to become part of Team USA. She secured her spot last year through the apparatus World Cup Series, competing in a string of competitions and the cumulative score promised her an individual spot in Tokyo. Claiming the individual spot meant she did not compete as part of the four-person team that took a silver medal on Tuesday.
Carey is known for being strong on the vault and completing punishingly difficult tumbling in the floor exercise. At qualifying, she finished just below Biles on both elements, taking second in vault and third on floor. She will compete in the event finals next week.
She has practiced a new skill in her floor routine and could debut it on the Olympic stage during that event’s final on Monday. If she pulls off a triple-double layout, which is three twists and two flips while keeping her body straight, the move would be named after her and become the hardest floor skill in women’s gymnastics.
She wouldn't say Thursday whether she's planning to perform it.
“We’re not sure yet," she said. “We're just seeing how training goes and going from there."