By Juliet Macur
Everyone in the sport has been talking about when Simone Biles will attempt her breathtaking Yurchenko double pike vault at the Olympics. Turns out, it wasn’t during qualifying. And even without it, she did well enough to slide into first place on the vault after her turn.
Instead, Biles did two vaults that are somewhat common for top gymnasts. The first was a Cheng, which is a half-twist onto the vault, into a front layout with one and a half twists. She took a huge step on the landing, right off the mat and rolled her eyes afterward.
Her second vault was an Amanar, which is a back handspring onto the vault into a back layout with two and a half twists.
She is now in first place in the vault with a score of 15.183 points, with Jade Carey of the United States right behind her, in second.
Biles wants to perform the double pike during these Games so it can be yet another skill named after her. But there’s a risk in trying it, considering the margin of error is whisker-thin. She does a round-off back handspring onto the vaulting table and pushes off it with her hands, launching her 4-feet-8 body high enough into the air to complete two full back flips in a folded position before landing on her feet.
Other gymnasts are amazed that she has both the guts and the physical ability to land the move, and even she is amazed at herself. Before the pandemic, Biles never thought she would ever try the Yurchenko double pike in competition. But the extra training time she was given after the Olympics postponement was what she needed to hone the vault and feel comfortable with it.
Even now, though, there is a chance of disaster. If she fails to flip fast enough and land squarely on her feet, she risks breaking her already sore ankles or sustaining a neck or head injury. The other scary part of the vault, which only a handful of men can do successfully, is that once she is flipping in the air, she can’t bail out of it. She wouldn’t be able to stop her momentum.
She showed off the vault in public for the first time during the practice session for the U.S. Classic in May, and then landed it in that competition. The judges, though, lowballed her difficulty score, meaning she wasn’t given credit for the risk she had taken. Later, she said she wasn’t going to argue it because she didn’t want to seem like a brat, but that she’d continue pushing the sport forward whether her scores reflected her greatness or not.
Maggie Astor contributed reporting.
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