Simone Biles, the most decorated American gymnast and five-time World all-around champion, is quite clearly in a league of her own. Yet she keeps striving for new heights, most recently with the Yurchenko double pike.
Biles is no stranger to that which has never been done before. She has accomplished more in her career than almost any other athlete in the sport, winning the most World Gymnastics Championship medals and the most World gold medals in history. She has the most World all-around titles and is the first American female gymnast to win a World medal in every single event.
At the 2016 Olympics, she took gold in three events, bronze in one, and led the U.S. team to victory. Biles has three signature moves bearing her name: one on the floor, one on the vault, and one on the balance beam. Not surprisingly, many have called her the greatest of all time.
Breaking Barriers with a Yurchenko Double Pike
Her latest endeavor — a Yurchenko double pike — has never before been attempted by a female gymnast in competition. Generally considered to be too risky for a female, Biles is pushing the limits of what she — and female gymnasts — can achieve in her preparations for the Tokyo Olympics.
Given her status as the elite of the elites, and her plan to retire after the Tokyo Olympics, it’s no wonder that she’s striving to break barriers and bring new skills to the competition. This particular vault that she will soon be attempting is considered not only extremely challenging, but also extremely dangerous. The 23-year-old gymnast doesn’t need to add such a feat to her routine in order to secure a victory at the Olympics, but she’s not one to settle. Biles, rather than resting on her laurels, is seeking new heights. Her quest for greatness, though, may be penalized — yet again.
Simone Biles Was Punished for Greatness
Two years ago, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) undervalued a new element that Biles was set to attempt at Worlds in August 2019. Biles pulled it off, becoming the first gymnast ever to land a double-twisting, double-somersault dismount off the balance beam.
However, the novel element was assigned a value less than its difficulty merited. Why? The difficult-to-execute move is dangerous, and other gymnasts who are less talented than Biles needed to be deterred from attempting it. In other words, the FIG deemed that greatness needed to be stifled in order to ensure the safety of the less-greats.
This is highly problematic, not just in this particular case, but on principle. If powerful organizations like the FIG decide that greatness can’t be freely pursued, then mediocrity will reign. Imagine telling Tom Brady that he can only throw with his non-dominant hand because it’s just not fair that he’s so much better than other quarterbacks. Penalizing someone for being too good will lower the bar for everyone, resulting in a world with fewer champions and more second-bests.
So, time will tell. Will the FIG once again punish Simone Biles for being greater than everyone else? If she attempts the Yurchenko double pike at a World Cup meet or the Tokyo Olympics, a value will have to be assigned to it. They can either right their past wrong or double down on it with another too-low value. New barriers will either be broken or raised. Let’s hope, for the sake of Biles and our world as a whole, that the former occurs.