The bronze medal that Simone Biles won in the individual balance beam final at the Tokyo Olympics Tuesday meant more to her than the four golds she won in 2016 because of everything she had to overcome to earn it, she revealed on TODAY.
The 24-year-old spoke with Hoda Kotb along with the five other members of Team USA women's gymnastics: gold medalists Sunisa Lee and Jade Carey, and silver medalists MyKayla Skinner, Grace McCallum and Jordan Chiles.
"It means more than all the golds because I've pushed through so much the last five years and the last week while I've even been here," Biles said. "It was very emotional, and I'm just proud of myself and just all of these girls, as well."
"I didn't really care about the outcome," she added. "I was just happy that I made the routine and that I got to compete one more time."
Biles discussed how it felt to return to the competition for the first time since withdrawing from several events the previous week, citing her mental health and a case of "the twisties," when gymnasts lose awareness of where they are in a skill while in mid-air, making it difficult to land safely.
She told NBC News' senior national correspondent Tom Llamas that she had to be medically cleared to compete, undergoing medical evaluations and meetings with sports psychologists.
Sitting with her teammates after the competition, Biles told Hoda that the whole experience felt like "a whirlwind."
"I don't get to like embrace it yet, but I'm just proud I could go out there and compete one more time before the Olympics was over," she said.
Biles added that the biggest misconception about her decision to withdraw was that she was "at no risk, and mental health isn't a serious issue, that it was basically a cop out."
"The girls saw me in training, my coaches saw me in training; I physically couldn't do it safely, and it's because I was getting so lost in the air," Biles said. "Before team finals, the girls were terrified for me and they've never really been scared."
"At the end of the day, we're not just athletes or entertainment," she said. "We're human too, and we have real emotions, and sometimes they don't realize that we have things going on behind the scenes that affect us whenever we go out and compete."
She also took issue with the idea that her withdrawal amounted to "quitting."
"It wasn't an easy decision, so it hurts that people are like, 'Oh she quit' ... because I've worked five years for that," she said. "Why would I quit? I've been through so much over the past couple years in the sport. I just don't quit."
Biles won the bronze in an intense competition on Tuesday, scoring a 14.00 behind China's Guan Chenchen and Tang Xijing. It was her second medal of the Tokyo Games and seventh Olympic medal overall.
The Texas native performed a less difficult dismount than usual, a double pike, instead of her double-twisting double backflip, a skill named after her. She quipped to Hoda that she hadn't done the move since she was "probably 12."
Still, Biles was all smiles when she finished, continuing to cheer on and congratulate fellow athletes. Lee also competed in the balance beam final, coming in fifth.
USA Gymnastics tweeted congratulations to Biles after the results were released.
"What a showcase of perseverance and strength, closing this Olympics campaign with a bronze medal!" the organization said.
Biles' teammate and close friend Jordan Chiles also showed her support, sharing a picture of the two Olympians together on Instagram.
"Proud is an understatement you did that, I love ya so much💕. I literally bawled my eyes out cause I am so happy for you!" she wrote.
Skinner added on Twitter: "Couldn’t be more proud of you! Congrats gorgeous."
Biles' routine was especially impactful given how candid the athlete had been about her mental health during the first week of the Olympics.
"Coming here to the Olympics and being the head star isn't an easy feat, so we're just trying to take it one day at a time and we'll see," she said at the time.
She added on Tuesday that she received support from other athletes at the Olympic Village after the first time she decided to withdraw.
"I honestly expected to feel a little bit embarrassed, and people were still coming up to me saying how much I made and I've done for them in their world and that was just the craziest feeling ever," she told Hoda. "In that moment I was like, 'OK, there's more than gymnastics and medals.'"
The U.S. went on to clinch the silver in the team event, and Biles later announced she was withdrawing from the individual all-around, floor, uneven bars and vault finals. USA gymnastics confirmed on Monday that she would compete in the beam, the last event she qualified for at the Tokyo Olympics.
All of the female gymnasts who represented the U.S. at the 2020 Summer Games, postponed to 2021, took home medals. Carey and Skinner won the gold in the individual floor exercise and silver on vault respectively. Lee won the bronze on uneven bars and gold in in the individual all-around. Biles, Chiles and McCallum all won the silver for the team competition. That medal and Biles' bronze tied her for the most Olympic medals for an American female gymnast.