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TOKYO — Jade Carey walked out of Ariake Gymnastics Centre on Sunday night in tears. She walked out on Monday night an Olympic champion.
After it was over and she had won gold in the floor exercise final, the usually reserved Carey allowed herself to gush a bit. “This is all I’ve ever dreamed about,” she said.
Carey, 21, was competing here as an individual rather than as a member of the four-woman U.S. team, so her scores only counted for herself. And she could only medal by herself. She made the finals in the vault and the floor exercise. When Simone Biles withdrew to focus on her mental health, Carey was added to the field for the individual all-around. She finished eighth of 24 in that event on Thursday. That left two more chances.
She went fourth in Sunday’s vault final. As she sprinted down the runway, she tripped. She was supposed to do a Yurchenko 2 ½ (one flip, two and a half twists) but barely completed a tucked Yurchenko—one flip, no twists.
“She had no other choice,” said her father, Brian Carey, who coaches her. “If she didn’t bail out she wouldn’t be walking away.”
Still, she was devastated. She completed her second vault, but she finished last by more than two points, a huge margin. She also had to suffer a minor indignity: On Sunday, uneven bars bronze medalist Suni Lee forgot the sneakers Americans are supposed to wear as part of their uniform on the podium. She had to borrow Carey’s. So her shoes stood on the podium while she slumped, out of sight.
Her teammates tried to comfort her. “You’re a great vaulter,” they told her. “You’ll come back from this.” Biles in particular encouraged her to flush the mistake. “It happened,” Biles said. “You can't do anything about it. Let's go out and kill floor.”
As the Careys began their training session on Monday morning, though, Brian could tell that Jade still wasn’t quite right. They sat afterward and talked for a while.
“Yesterday was one of the worst days of your life,” he told her. “Today can be one of the best.”
He could tell she was ready. “I’d like to think I know her pretty well,” he said, laughing. He and her mother, Danielle Greenberg, were both gymnasts themselves and own a gym, so Jade was doing cartwheels by age four. Brian has coached ever since. It was he who suggested she shoot for the individual spot rather than try to make the team. Together they traveled to Germany, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Australia, trying to amass enough success in the Apparatus World Cup.
That slog helped toughen Jade up. “It really helps you get ready to have things thrown at you,” he said.
On Monday, that included an extended wait as the judges took extra time scoring the routine of the gymnast before her, Viktoria Listunova of Russia. The delay stretched for so long that Brian encouraged Jade to come off the podium and rest. She flashed him a thumbs-up: “I was good,” she said.
After the qualifying round, she and her father had removed some of the dance elements from her routine to try to improve her score. She elected not to perform the triple-double layout that will be named for her if she completes it in international competition.
“I'm just so comfortable with that routine [I performed],” she said. “It’s clean and I know that I can do it.”
She did. Her 14.366 put her in first place, a position that held up after the other six gymnasts went. Vanessa Ferrari of Italy finished second, and Murakami Mai of Japan and Angelina Melnikova of Russia tied for third.
Carey’s win gave the U.S. its third straight gold in this event, after Aly Raisman won in 2012 and Biles in ‘16. It also ensured that every female American gymnast will leave Tokyo with at least one medal: Carey with gold in the floor exercise; MyKayla Skinner, the other individual, with silver in the vault; Lee with gold in the all-around, silver in the team and bronze in the uneven bars; and Biles, Jordan Chiles and Grace McCallum with silver in the team.
Afterward Carey was happiest not about the result but about her mindset: “I think coming back from a day like yesterday, I'm really proud of myself for being able to put that behind me and finish with probably the best floor routine I've ever done in my life,” she said.
Then she walked off, carrying her own gold medal and wearing her own shoes.
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