The subject turned to TikTok in what ranks among the most bizarre post-competition news conferences in the austere history of the Olympic Games, and U.S. gymnast Jordan Chiles was talking about how they've been watching, and making, videos on the social media app to pass the time in the Athletes Village.

"People are just so funny on that thing," Chiles said. "You sit in your room and watch (a video of) a cat fall from the ceiling. You're like, 'What? That makes no sense.' "

Which perfectly sums up the evening at Tokyo's Ariake Gymnastics Centre, and these entire Olympics for that matter.

Russia shocked the heavily favored U.S. women to win the team title by a surprisingly wide margin when — are you sitting down? — Simone Biles decided after a botched opening vault that mentally she was "not there" and her teammates would have to finish the most important competition of their lives without arguably the greatest gymnast in history.

Was she hurt?

"No injury, thankfully," Biles said.

Then what?

"Today has been really stressful," Biles said. "We had a workout this morning. It went OK. Then that 5 1/2-hour wait (before the team final), I was just, like, shaking. I could barely nap. I've never felt like this going into a competition before.

"I tried going out here and have fun. The warmup in the back went a little better, but once I came out here, I was like, 'No, mental is not there. So I just need to let the girls do it and focus on myself.' "

It brought into stark relief the growing issue of mental health among elite athletes. Earlier in the day, the Olympics lost the other face of the Games when Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka was bounced in the third round by the world's No. 41-ranked player just days after lighting the cauldron at opening ceremony. It was Osaka's first tournament since withdrawing from the French Open in June citing her mental health problems.

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, has been open about his struggles with mental health in his retirement from swimming.

Biles posted a cryptic message on Instagram following an uncharacteristically shaky performance in Sunday's team preliminaries, writing: "It wasn't an easy day or my best but I got through it. I truly do feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders at times. I know I brush it off and make it seem like pressure doesn't affect me but damn sometimes it's hard hahaha! The Olympics is no joke!"

Tuesday, she fought back tears, saying: "I just don't trust myself as much as I used to. I don't know if it's age. I'm a little bit more nervous when I do gymnastics. I feel like I'm also not having as much fun."

The new team scoring system also may have contributed to her decision. In the past, four gymnasts would compete on every apparatus and the top three scores would count, meaning Biles wouldn't have jeopardized the overall team standings by continuing. But the sport's world governing body changed the format for these Games — only three of the four compete on each apparatus and all three scores count.

"I didn't want to risk (costing) the team a medal for my screw-up," Biles said.

The Americans' first rotation was on the vault, Biles' signature discipline with her explosive height that allows her to complete 2 1/2 revolutions before landing. But she got "lost in the air" and only did 1 1/2, nearly landing on her knees and taking a big step forward to stabilize herself. Her score: 13.766. Her score in Sunday's prelims: 15.183.

She walked off the mat with a mix of anger, shock and disappointment etched across her face, spoke with her coaches, slung her backpack over her shoulder and disappeared out of the arena with the trainer. She returned during warmups for their next rotation at the uneven bars, briefly put on her hand grips, then took them off, pulled on a sweatsuit and was a cheerleader for the remainder of the evening.

"In that moment," teammate Suni Lee said, "we knew we all needed to come together as a team and build that leadership up together because we didn't have Simone. She came out and gave us a pep talk, which was very helpful because we probably wouldn't have got through it without her."

Added Grace McCallum: "I'm really proud of everybody for really stepping up. I mean, it's really hard to lose the best in the world. And we definitely felt a little more stressed. I think we did amazing. We really fought."

Chiles was forced to take Biles' spot in the bars and beam. Lee subbed in the final rotation of the floor exercise.

Russia built a 2.5-point lead after the bars, then fell twice on the balance beam and the Americans momentarily edged ahead by .07 points with Hoda Kotb, co-host of NBC's "Today" show, wearing a red, white and blue outfit and leading U.S. cheers from her perch near the balance beam. "I love you, Simone," she screamed, forming her hands into a heart.

But Viktoria Listunova built the margin back to .8 points entering the floor, and Chiles got an 11.700 after falling on her floor routine. And that was that, and soon International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, who presumably came to see Biles, was giving congratulatory elbow bumps to the Russians.

With 166.096 points, the Americans were actually closer to Great Britain in third (164.096) than the Russians in first (169.528). The bronze was the Brits' first in the women's team competition since 1928. It seemingly has been that long since the U.S. women lost an international team competition, claiming every title in a worlds or Olympics since 2011.

The last time Russia won Olympic gold was 1992 as the Unified Team that encompassed 12 of the 15 former Soviet republics.

"This did not distract us," Russia's Angelina Melnikova said of Biles' sudden, inexplicable absence. "We were concentrated on our own rotations. We tried not to think about this or take it into consideration."

Would they have won if Biles had competed?

"Well, what happened happened," Listunova said. "There are no ifs now. It is very difficult to respond to this question. She is human, and whatever happens to a person happens. Who could have thought?"

The individual all-around competition is Thursday, and Biles, the defending champion, was noncommittal whether she'd compete. It's a tough spot: Compete, and the impression might be she saved herself for an individual event at the expense of her teammates; withdraw, and five years of hard work is for naught.

"It's OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself," Biles said, "because it shows how strong of a competitor and a person you really are, rather than just battle through it. … Hopefully I'll get back out there and compete in a couple more events. We'll see."

Her teammates didn't seem too perturbed by her sudden withdrawal or that they settled for silver after being such huge favorites to three-peat as gold medalists. It elicited this peculiar exchange during the news conference.

Biles: "I didn't do my job. They came out and stepped up and did what they needed to do and more, especially at the last minute. This medal is all of them and the coaches, and it has nothing to do with me because they did it without me."

Chiles, from the opposite end of the dais: "This medal is definitely for her. Because if it wasn't for her, we wouldn't be where we are now. We wouldn't be silver Olympic medalists because of who she is as a person. Kudos for her, girl. This is all for you. You're part of this team. You deserve it, too."

Then the subject turned to TikTok.

"I don't know if you've seen the last ones we've been doing, but they're pretty funny," Chiles said.

Added McCallum, giggling: "We might do one today."

©2021 The San Diego Union-Tribune. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.