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Simone Biles: how she breaks the boundaries of gymnastics

How the Olympic favourite and superstar gymnast pulls off one of the most difficult – and dangerous – moves in her sport
Olympic Games
Simone Biles: how she breaks the boundaries of gymnastics

How the Olympic favourite and superstar gymnast pulls off one of the most difficult – and dangerous – moves in her sport

Anna Leach, Harvey Symons, Tumaini Carayol and Cath Levett
Fri 23 Jul 2021 19.35 BST

Last modified on Fri 23 Jul 2021 20.05 BST

Simone Biles’s iconic status is not afforded just because she is the gold medal favourite going into the Tokyo Olympics and the dominant force in women’s artistic gymnastics for a decade. Nor is it based on the fact she out-performs her peers and predecessors – male and female – in international medal counts. Rather, it is bestowed because the 24-year-old American is redefining what is possible in gymnastics.

Take her performance of what is one of the most difficult – and dangerous – moves in gymnastics: the Yurchenko double pike on the vault.

The first woman ever to have pulled it off in a competition, it involves: a roundoff (a cartwheel-like move) onto the springboard, a back-handspring onto the vault and a double somersault in the pike position (bent at the hips with legs straight) before landing.

How Simone Biles completed one of the most difficult and dangerous moves: the Yurchenko double pike on the vault

Biles pulled off the vault once again in an Olympic practice earlier this week, though given the difficulty of the move it is unlikely she will use it in out of the practice sessions, according to NBC.

Only a handful of other gymnasts – all men – have ever performed the vault in competition. American David Sender is one.

“You can prepare as much as you want to, and train it as much as you want to, or as much as you can, but that style of vault is really kind of an all-or-nothing thing,” he told NBC sports.

“There’s very little margin for error on it, and if you’re not 100% committed to doing that Yurchenko, two flips, landing on your feet, whatever, if there’s any part of it you’re not committed to doing, and you don’t put everything into the entire thing, I think you’re in big trouble.”

Biles v the current competition

At 24, Biles is at the peak of her powers and older than some of her closest competitors going into Tokyo, many of whom are also on her US team Her international medal tally puts her leagues ahead of her rivals.

Simone Biles has a combined total of 30 Olympic and world championship medals – many more than her closest rivals
Historic medal count

And what makes her one for the record books is that she out-performs the historic greats of gymnastics too. She broke Vitaly Scherbo’s medal record at the world championships in 2019, reaching a total of 25 career medals compared to the 23 that the Belarussian gymnast won in the 90s.

Simone Biles overtook Vitaly Scherbo to become the most decorated world championship gymnast in 2019

There aren’t many records left for her to break but, for the audience, the Tokyo Olympics allow us to watch one of the all-time greats of gymnastics perform at her peak.

Simone Biles of the United States on the vault during training
Topics
  • Olympic Games
  • Tokyo Olympic Games 2020
  • Gymnastics
  • Simone Biles
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