CLEVELAND — Like the rest of the world, Dominique Moceanu was shocked when she watched Simone Biles lose her bearings and bail mid-way through her vault, completing only 1 1/2 of the 2 1/2 twists that she had planned.
Biles withdrew from the competition. The team leader now felt like a liability, telling reporters, "Once I came out here I was like, 'No, mental's not there,' so, I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.'"
"For us, it could be psychological, it could be our own interpretation of perfectionism, it could be the expectation of the weight of 'Everyone's relying on me or counting on me,'" she explained.
Moceanu was the youngest Olympic champion in U.S. gymnastics history as a member of the 1996 "Magnificent 7," the group won the first-ever team gold medal for the United States. These days, Moceanu helps young athletes realize their Olympic dreams with the Dominique Moceanu Gymnastics Center in Medina, where mental health is a priority.
"The mental component is just as much a big part of your success as the physical, because if this [points to head] is not right on, you could get physically hurt — catastrophically hurt," she said.
"Demons" is what Biles called it, and it didn't help that there were no Olympic crowds to drown out any negative voices within. Biles noted an impact from the lack of crowds, which Moceanu said is a very real factor.
"In 1996, we had 30,000 people in the stands in the Georgia Dome," she recalled of her experience during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. "There was a rush of adrenaline as you heard 'U-S-A! U-S-A!' chanting, cheering, and that gives you that extra zest you need to say, 'Game on. You've got this.'
"And yes, when it's quiet, it's almost a little nerve-wracking," she added.
Moceanu told us that only Biles knows whether she'll be able to kick those demons in time to return to individual competition later this week. If she doesn't, "remember, Simone Biles is human too," Moceanu said.