Back in January, when Grace McCallum suffered a broken hand, an injury that required surgery, a plate and screws, she didn’t believe she would make it to the Olympics.
It had been her lifelong dream to compete for the United States at the Olympic Games, but it just didn’t seem like a possibility anymore.
“I thought my Olympic dreams were gone because the recovery was gonna be long,” McCallum said. “It was really hard for me to process knowing I’d have to relearn everything again.”
Fast forward to Tuesday morning, and not only had McCallum made it to the Olympics, she is now an Olympic silver medalist.
Despite the absence of superstar Simone Biles on all but one event, Team USA finished second behind only Russia in the women’s gymnastics team final, winning the silver medal.
Russia finished with a score of 169.528, while the U.S. tallied a 166.096. Great Britain won the bronze medal with a 164.096.
McCallum, an incoming gymnast at the University of Utah, helped the U.S. survive the loss of Biles, who only competed on vault. Per USA gymnastics, Biles withdrew from the competition “due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
Additional reports indicated that it was a mental health issue that led to Biles’ withdrawal from the competition.
Simone Biles' decision to withdraw from the gymnastics team final is "not injury related," but due to a "mental issue she is having," according to comments from a Team USA coach via NBC's Broadcast.— Joe Pompliano (@JoePompliano) July 27, 2021
In an interview on NBC with Hoda Kotb, Biles confirmed the reports, saying “Physically, I feel good, I’m in shape. Emotionally, that kind of varies on the time and moment. Coming to the Olympics and being head star isn’t an easy feat, so we’re just trying to take it one day at a time and we’ll see.”
Softening the blow of Biles’ absence was McCallum, who hit all four of her routines (she and Biles were the only Americans initially slated to compete in the all-around). McCallum hit all eight of her routines at the Olympics when you include the qualification round, showcasing the consistency she has become famous for.
“It’s really hard to lose the best in the world, and we definitely felt a little more stressed,” McCallum told USA Today’s Rachel Axon. “But I’m really proud of how we did. I think we did amazing. We really fought.”
McCallum led off every rotation for the U.S., scoring a 14.300 on vault, a 13.700 on uneven bars, a 13.666 on balance beam and a 13.500 on floor exercise.
Her performance, along with that of Sunisa Lee and Jordan Chiles, drew praise from many, including former U.S. Olympian Samantha Peszek and former Oklahoma star Maggie Nichols, McCallum’s former teammate at Twin City Twisters.
“So so proud of Team USA today! It’s not easy to fight through adversity,” Peszek wrote on Twitter. “Love the way that everyone stepped up.”
So so proud of Team USA today! It's not easy to fight through adversity. Love the way that everyone stepped up. ❤️— Samantha Peszek (@samanthapeszek) July 27, 2021
Nichols added, “So proud of TEAM USA! Pushed through adversity and handled it with poise. You all should be so proud.”
Annie Heffernon, vice president of USA Gymnastics’ women’s program, who spoke with media after the meet, said of McCallum, Lee and Chiles, “They were tenacious. They came together to a common goal to do the best that they could for themselves and also for her and also for the team. I was just I was overcome with pride and I was very inspired by what they were able to do in this circumstance that they never dreamed would happen.”
The U.S. entered the competition as gold medal favorites, but without Biles that calculus changed dramatically. Russia won its first-ever gold medal — the Unified team last won in 1992 — and the U.S. didn’t win gold at either the world championships or Olympics for the first time since 2011.
Great Britain, meanwhile, medaled for the first time since 1928, the first year women competed in gymnastics at the Olympics.
On the British team was Amelie Morgan, who will join McCallum at the University of Utah in 2023 (McCallum and U.S. alternate Kara Eaker will compete for the U. starting in 2022). Morgan, a California commit until recently, competed on bars and beam, scoring a 14.033 on the former and a 12.233 on the latter.
The British team outperformed most expectations, which only added to the joy of winning a medal.
“We’ve had quite a lot of criticisms saying we’re an inexperienced team, and I think we’ve done so well to put that behind us and we’ve made history,” Morgan. said in an interview with The Guardian. “We’ve proved it doesn’t matter how old you are, how experienced, we were selected for this team for a reason and we’ve come here and done our job. When there’s criticism on social media you are definitely aware of it. You have to try and put it past you but it does stick in your mind, I think for us going out there and proving people wrong was the icing on the cake.”