RIO DE JANEIRO -- That whole 4-inch-piece-of-wood excuse was floated. By reporters and even by Marta Karolyi. And the balance beam is indeed 4 inches wide. And it was just a little slip during a routine with a higher level of difficulty than that of every other competitor but one. But you can't usually slip and still win gold. Even if you're Simone Biles.
With all the world watching and an Olympic medal at stake Monday, she grabbed the balance beam with both hands but miraculously stayed on.
"I didn't even put my medal ceremony outfit on because I was just like, 14.7 is not that good on beam," Biles said later. "I didn't think I medaled, so I thought [the score] was very fair, yes."
Biles' score put her temporarily in the lead, but the error left an opening for the five gymnasts yet to perform. Only two of them, however, surpassed Biles. Sanne Wevers of the Netherlands was one, and she took gold with a 15.466. American Laurie Hernandez was the other, with a 15.333 for silver.
Hernandez never saw Biles' routine because she was in the back gym performing her routine with her coach, Maggie Haney. When they walked out onto the floor, the 16-year-old looked at Haney and tried to calm herself down.
"It's just me and you in the gym," she told Haney. "I'm going to pretend there's nobody there. No cameras. Just me and you."
It's a routine Haney said they repeat at every meet. When Hernandez salutes to the judges before each routine, Haney is standing behind them.
"She doesn't even look at the judges," Haney said. "And I always say, 'It's just me and you.'"
The beam was 4 inches wide for Hernandez too, and the New Jersey native stayed on, stayed steady and, in her only event other than the team competition, walked away understandably satisfied with the result.
"I'm just happy I performed the way I do in practice. ... I just went out there with a calm and collected mindset and just ready to compete my routine," she said. "To get my own little medal is big. I mean, it's the Olympics. Any color medal is amazing."
Biles -- who told her Olympic roommate, "You got this. Stay calm," as Hernandez walked up to the beam -- was especially proud.
"I'm so happy she could share with the world what she does in practice, and that's exactly what she did tonight," Biles said. "I told her, 'You did it, good job, and I couldn't be more proud of you.' And I'm so excited for her, so excited. She deserves it more than anybody."
Standing next to Hernandez in the interview area afterward, Biles was asked if she was disappointed and if it fired her up for Tuesday's floor routine. "I don't know how to answer that," she said flatly.
Was she upset about the end of the "Drive for Five," the catchphrase coined to describe her quest for an Olympic-record five gold medals by a female gymnast at a single Olympics? This would have been a record-tying No. 4.
"Not necessarily," Biles said. "It's something you guys [in the media] shove into my head, but I don't put that much stress on myself because I am only 19, and I think you guys want it more than I do. I just want to perform the routines that I practiced."
Boorman marveled at Biles' ability to stay on the beam at all after she under-rotated on a front somersault -- a punch front -- and grabbed the beam in a one-legged squat.
"I don't know how she made that save because both of her feet were coming off the beam, so I was pretty impressed with that," Boorman said. "That took superhuman powers. ... I see it as a triumph. She won a bronze medal on beam in the Olympics. That's huge, and she should be proud of that."
Karolyi, the U.S. national team coordinator, admitted that it was disappointing.
"But you know what?" she said, "Simone is also a human being, just like all of us. We try to say she's a superhuman, but actually, I think a little bit of the pressure got to her, or just mentally, the situation that you have to permanently focus, your brain, maybe for a moment, just gets tired."
Karolyi wanted to make sure everyone understood what we are talking about here.
"You total focus [is] required to do those tumbling skills on a 4-inch-wide surface [with] absolutely no room for [a] little mistake ..." she said.
But the idea that the beam is some form of gymnastics torture, so fragile as to leave no control to the gymnast, was rejected by Biles.
"No, not necessarily because we've done these routines for so long. It's just one more," she said. "And we don't really think of it as 4 inches. We just kind of do it."
Still, it was Biles' seventh competition in 10 days, as Boorman reminded us. Biles said she was happy to medal at all after Brazilian Flavia Saraiva brought the house down with the final routine of the day. Saraiva finished fifth.
"Honestly, I thought the medal was going to go to Flavia because she did so good on beam, so I think she deserves it," Biles said. "But I'm still very proud of it."
Biles will conclude this glorious Olympics on Tuesday in the floor exercise event final with teammate Aly Raisman.
"I think it will be a very good way to end it," Biles said.