Olympics fever is starting to really set in, and we have Simone Biles to thank for it.
On Saturday, 24-year-old Biles became the first woman to land a Yurchenko double pike vault in competition at the GK U.S. Classic in Indianapolis.
THE QUEEN HAS SPOKEN 👑
— #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) May 23, 2021
The move was a triumphant return for the reigning World champion, who hadn’t competed in over a year and a half due to pandemic shutdowns.
The move signaled more than just excitement for this year’s upcoming Tokyo Olympics (delayed from 2020) and Biles’ seemingly limitless talent as a gymnast.
It also highlighted some of the conflicts in gymnastics scoring, causing some to question whether Biles’ efforts are being fairly recognized.
What is a Yurchenko double pike vault?
First, let’s break down the incredible feat that Biles achieved at Saturday’s competition.
The the name for Biles’ skill comes from Natalia Yurchenko, a Soviet gymnast who famously originated the use of a roundoff back handspring entry for a vault.
Here’s what Biles did to put her own spin on this classic vault approach:
- Like the skill’s namesake, Biles starts this vault with a roundoff onto the springboard.
- Next, she completes a back handspring off the springboard onto the vaulting table.
- As she flips into the air, Biles goes into the pike position, meaning that she bends her body forward at the hips while keeping her legs straight.
- While in the air, she holds the pike position while completing two backflips.
- After the second flip, Biles lands on the mat facing the vaulting table.
Biles took a hop and a step after landing, but otherwise, her execution was nearly flawless.
Needless to say, it was wildly impressive, especially considering it had been her first competition in 587 days.
When she goes to Tokyo this summer for what will very likely be her last Olympic appearance, she plans to use the Yurchenko double pike vault in competition.
Where does Biles stand going into the Tokyo Olympics?
Biles couldn’t be more on top of her game as the Summer Olympics approach.
At this weekend’s U.S. Classic, she took home the all-around title along with number-one status for balance beam and floor exercise.
But the achievement is anything but surprising.
Biles’ reign at the top of women’s gymnastics has been fully in effect for years now. She’s a five-time World champion and six-time U.S. national all-around champion.
Her Olympic victories are historic. She broke the American record for most gold medals in women’s gymnastics at a single Games at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
With 30 Olympic and World Championship medals, she is the most decorated gymnast in U.S. history.
In Tokyo, it’s widely assumed that she’ll become the most decorated gymnast in the world, with only two gymnasts ahead of her by a small margin: Vitaly Scherbo of Belarus (33 medals) and Russia’s Larisa Latynina (32).
Even though she’s only participated in a single Olympics before this year, Biles has been breaking records at every stage of her gymnastics career. Her accomplishment on Saturday is yet another example of her dominance in the sport.
Traditionally, Biles’ Yurchenko double pike vault has only been done by men.
The level of strength and skill required to complete it proves, yet again, that she’s earned the “greatest of all time” or “G.O.A.T.” moniker.
In fact, during Saturday night’s competition, Biles wore a leotard featuring a rhinestone goat, an apparent reference to her status in the gymnastics world.
— Deadspin (@Deadspin) May 23, 2021
How Biles’ vault highlighted conflicts in gymnastics scoring
It seems like everyone is thrilled at Biles’ record-breaking achievement.
But the ability to complete a new vault skill for the first time in competition isn’t necessarily something that’s celebrated in gymnastics scoring.
Despite the difficulty of completing such a skill, the International Gymnastics Federation gave it a starting value of just 6.6, which is similar to other vaults Biles has completed.
That means the total possible score she could achieve was limited even though no other woman has ever completed the same vault in competition.
It’s not even the first time this has happened to Biles.
She was also given a surprisingly low start value in 2019 for an incredibly difficult double-twisting, double-back beam dismount.
Why would officials not want to reward Biles for her incredible feats?
There are a couple of theories as to why.
First, there’s safety. Some believe that the International Gymnastics Federation doesn’t want to give higher scores for risky skills like the Yurchenko double pike vault because there’s a greater risk for injury.
While this concern may be practical, it could discourage athletes from pushing the boundaries in their sport.
The other scoring theory has to do with the level of competition within the sport.
Biles is clearly the most skilled athlete in women’s gymnastics. If she’s able to complete skills that no other gymnast can, it opens up a gap in the field where Biles walks away with every title.
Many agree that this approach is categorically unfair. Why limit the possibilities for achievement simply because one athlete has greater capabilities?
Part of the controversy extends back to 2006, when the International Gymnastics Federation started using an open-ended scoring system rather the previous 10.0-point framework.
That opened up the possibilities for higher scores, giving athletes a clear green light to try more physically demanding skills.
But now that Biles has excelled so far beyond her peers, it seems like the officials are trying to rein her in.
The 2021 U.S. Olympic team for women’s gymnastics
Despite scoring discrepancies, Biles is fully expected to make another historic showing for the U.S. Olympic team this summer.
We all know Biles is a shoo-in, but who else will be on the team?
There are a number of contenders for this year’s women’s gymnastics U.S. Olympic team, which actually won’t be finalized until June 27.
That’s the last day of the Olympic trials, which are scheduled to begin on June 24 in St. Louis. That event overlaps with the 2021 USA Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis on June 21-27.
Among the top contenders are:
- Jordan Chiles, winner of the Winter Cup all-around title in February and runner-up behind Biles at the U.S. Classic on Saturday.
- Laurie Hernandez, who won Olympic gold alongside Biles at Rio in 2016.
- Chellsie Memmel, winner of the Olympic silver medal in 2008 (and who happens to be coming out of retirement at age 32).
- MyKayla Skinner, who placed in the top ten at the U.S. Classic on Saturday and was an alternate for the 2016 team in Rio.
- Morgan Hurd, Kara Eaker, Sunisa Lee, Grace McCallum, and Riley McCusker, all of whom have been members of the U.S. teams that won gold at recent World Championships.
Jade Carey, 2018 Pan American champion and 2017 U.S. national champion, will be competing at the games as an individual gymnast.