Opinion: Simone Biles maintains gold standard despite 19-month layoff between competitions

INDIANAPOLIS – No matter how many superlatives are used to describe Simone Biles and her greatness, it's not enough.

Not even close.  

Competing in her first meet since the 2019 world championships – that's 587 days, for those counting – Biles became the first woman ever to compete a Yurchenko double pike vault. When it's recognized by the International Gymnastics Federation, likely before the Tokyo Olympics, it will be the fifth skill named for Biles. 

She has another vault named for her, as well as two skills on floor exercise and one on balance beam. 

Oh, Biles won the U.S. Classic, too. Her score of 58.4 was more than a point higher than teammate Jordan Chiles, even with a fall on uneven bars, her final event.

It's easy to take Biles' greatness for granted. Not only does the reigning Olympic and world champion win every time she steps on the floor – literally. She's won every meet she's entered going back to the 2013 U.S. championships – but she appears to do it with ease. Her margins of victory are massive, and the cameras often catch her yawning on the sidelines.

Simone Biles performs her balance beam routine during the U.S. Classic gymnastics competition in Indianapolis, May 22, 2021. (Photo: AJ MAST, AP)

Make no mistake, though. What Biles is doing is incredibly difficult. Like, physicists-could-make-case-studies-of-what-she-does difficult. 

Take the Yurchenko double pike. She does a roundoff onto the takeoff board, a back handspring with a half-twist onto the vault table and then a double somersault in a piked position.

Unlike other Yurchenko vaults, where the somersault is done in a laid out position, there is no bailout on the double pike. Don't get enough height, or place a hand wrong on the vault table, and she could very well land on her neck. 


Simone Biles landed her Yurchenko double pike for the first time in competition.@simonebiles // #USClassicpic.twitter.com/j07ZweBZ8H

Yet Biles was practically flawless. In fact, she had so much power on the vault that she had to take a couple of steps back to control her landing. She and coach Laurent Landi slapped hands, celebrating more history made. 

Biles scored a 16.1, and judges gave it a start value of 6.6. While that's the highest difficulty score for a women's vault, it's still undervalued. 

But that's the conundrum with Biles' greatness. Because she makes everything look easy, because she plays with skills for months, sometimes years, before letting the public get a look at them, her spectacular talent is underestimated.

Appreciate it now. While you still have the chance.  

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