At the 2021 U.S. Classic, gymnast Simone Biles did what was previously considered impossible. Again.
In her first competition in over a year, Biles debuted a Yurchenko double pike on vault, becoming the first woman to perform the skill in competition (video embedded above).
Because the vault is new, it was given a provisional difficulty value of 6.6 by FIG, the international federation that oversees gymnastics. But Biles and U.S. high performance team coordinator Tom Forster believe that value is too low.
It’s not the first time Biles has felt one of her new skills was undervalued. In 2019, she debuted a double-twisting double-back dismount on balance beam, which was given an “H” (0.8 points) by FIG, a decision Biles called “bull—-.”
“They’re both too low, and they know it, but they don’t want [competitors] to be too far apart,” Biles said at the U.S. Classic of the values assigned to her beam dismount and the Yurchenko double pike. “And that’s just something that’s on them. That’s not on me.”
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(If you want to learn more about the gymnastics Code of Points and why 6.6 is a controversial, read this great in-depth story on the topic by Dvora Meyers.)
Despite the low value given to the Yurchenko double pike, Biles said she planned to continue competing the vault, including at the Olympics. When asked why, her answer was straightforward: “Because I can.”
Biles did not perform her new vault at U.S. Championships or at U.S. Olympic Trials, but said after Trials that she still wanted to compete it at the Olympics. And if she does, it would become the fifth “Biles” skill named after her – and second on vault – in the gymnastics Code of Points.
But will Simone Biles compete the Yurchenko double pike at the Olympics?
“If she really wants to do it, she’s going to have to beg me,” Laurent Landi – who coaches Biles along with his wife Cecile – told On Her Turf last week. “People seem to forget that it’s a very, very dangerous skill… Just to have glory and being [in] the Code of Points, it’s not enough.”
Why exactly is the Yurchenko double pike such a difficult vault?
In any Yurchenko vault, the gymnast does a round-off onto the springboard, back handspring onto the vaulting table, and then flips into the air. Most gymnasts add difficulty by incorporating twists to their single flip. For example, one of Biles’ longtime skills is an Amanar vault: a Yurchenko with two-and-a-half twists. But for the Yurchenko double pike, instead of twisting, Biles does a second flip (done in the pike position).
And when flips are added instead of twists, that increases the chances of landing on your head or neck.
Biles knows this all too well. During podium training at U.S. Championships in June, she attempted the Yurchenko double pike, but under-rotated it. “I kind of jammed my ankles, and they didn’t feel too good,” Biles told reporters.
While athletes are accustomed to weighing risk vs. reward, Biles is in a different position than most. She is already the heavy favorite to win gold on vault with her so-called “backup” – an Amanar – which she competes in addition to a Cheng.
If Simone Biles risks the Yurchenko double pike in Tokyo, when will she debut it?
Barring something catastrophic, Biles will compete on vault four times during the Olympics:
- Qualification (2 different vaults)
- Team final
- Individual all-around final
- Vault final (2 different vaults)
Landi told On Her Turf that Biles won’t compete the Yurchenko double pike on vault in qualification. “Imagine if she falls and she doesn’t qualify for the vault final. You give away a gold medal already,” he said.
As for the vault final, the issue there is the competition format. During individual apparatus finals, athletes are not allowed a “one-touch warmup,” which is an opportunity to practice on the equipment immediately before competing.
“You want to do something that you can do almost without a warmup, and this is not a skill that you can do without a warmup,” Landi explained.
Biles herself criticized the lack of a one-touch warmup at April’s Team USA summit.
“I think that it’s kind of dangerous, given everything that everybody’s doing,” she said. “I’m not sure why they do that or why that’s the rule, but it is a little bit crazy to me because we are throwing some very high-level skills.”
With qualification and the vault final appearing like unlikely candidates, “The smart thinking is to do it in the team final or the all-around final,” Landi told On Her Turf.
While Landi said the Yurchenko double pike is “not a priority” for Tokyo, he also knows it holds important significance for Biles.
“It’s more for her,” he said. “The fact that she does something amazing like this, it’s great for gymnastics and it’s great for her.”
Update (July 22, 2021): During gymnastics podium training, Simone Biles trained a Yurchenko double pike on vault. You can watch the video here.
Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC
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