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Jade Carey ended Sunday in tears. She ended Monday with a gold medal

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TOKYO — On Sunday night, Jade Carey stumbled. Or tripped, or slipped. It’s all a blur now. Something happened as she approached the hurdle in her first attempt at the individual vault finals. She salvaged a simple flip to land safely. Struggled through a second attempt for the sake of not giving up. Ended a terrible day in tears with one more chance to take home a medal.

Just about 24 hours later, she finished the best floor routine of her life with gusto. She knew it instantly. Just as the fluke from the night before had come at the worst possible time, this performance came at the best.

Carey, the 21-year-old from Arizona, won gold in the women’s floor event Monday with a 14.366, higher than any of the qualifying scores, securing her title as the best tumbler in the world. It was her first Olympic medal and the fifth for American women in gymnastics in Tokyo.

The intervening 24 hours were all about putting the bad vault behind her to focus on her last event of the Olympics.

“It's easy to say, it's hard to do,” her father and coach, Brian, said.

Her teammates reminded her that she’s a great vaulter — which she is, having earned a spot in Tokyo as an individual under new rules added for the 2020 Games through her performance at the apparatus World Cup series on the vault and floor.

Her dad told her: “You might feel like yesterday was one of the worst days of life but today can be the one of the best days of your life.”

Simone Biles told her: “Let’s go out and kill floor.”

“So that’s what I did,” Carey said.

Jade Carey's Olympic gold medal on the floor routine was made all the more special by what happened in her previous individual event. (REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson)
Jade Carey's Olympic gold medal on the floor routine was made all the more special by what happened in her previous individual event. (REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson)

Competing second on Monday, Carey was left waiting for an unusually long time while the judges scored Viktoria Listunova of the Russian Olympic Committee, who had stumbled and stepped out of bounds. Carey paced along the perimeter of the mat; Brian asked if she wanted to come back down; she gave him a thumbs up to say that she was all good.

And she was.

Even without debuting the historically difficult triple-twisting double layout — which would have been named after her — the routine was technically difficult, clean, and commanding, eliciting a standing ovation from the crowd, including her teammates Biles and Sunisa Lee.

“Wow,” she thought to herself.

All that was left to do was watch the scores and wait. When it finally became clear that no one could match her, she celebrated with her father — one of the few parents who got to witness their child’s Olympic goals get met this year.

Thirty-year-old Vanessa Ferrari of Italy came the closest. The four-time Olympian had posted the best floor routine score in qualifiers and looked elated after a strong performance in the final. She bounded off the mat, embracing Carey after celebrating with her coaches, and ended up with silver at 14.200 — Italy’s first gymnastics medal since 1928. Mai Murakami of Japan shared bronze with Angelina Melnikova, and Murakami became Japan's first gymnastics medalist since it last hosted the Olympics in 1964.

Next up for Carey is college. She deferred plans to attend Oregon State to train for the Olympics and then again when the pandemic postponed the 2020 Games for another year. Now a gold medalist, she still intends to return to school.

Originally after qualifiers, Carey was scheduled to compete in just the vault and floor routines. She had finished ninth in the all-around competition, but behind both Lee and Biles. Only two athletes per country are eligible to compete. When Biles withdrew from the all-around, citing the “twisties” that left her feeling unsafe, Carey took her spot. She ended up finishing eighth (in a field of 24) in the all-around after falling on the balance beam.

After Biles, whose 14.133 in qualifiers for floor was enough for second but unusually low for her, withdrew from floor finals as well, it cleared space for Jennifer Gadirova of Britain.

Just before the floor finals started, USA Gymnastics announced that Simone Biles, who had qualified but withdrawn from the all-around and the other individual events, will return for the balance beam final, the last event of women’s gymnastics, on Tuesday night in Tokyo.

“I'm really proud of her for coming back,” Carey said. “She's been through a lot this Olympics so I'm really proud and happy to see her going after beam tomorrow.”

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