Simone Biles pushes gymnastics’ limits at 2021 USA Olympic trials
ST. LOUIS — If gravity can’t hold Simone Biles down, good luck to the International Gymnastics Federation.
Biles brought back her double twisting, double somersault dismount on balance beam for the first time in almost two years at the Olympic trials Friday night. That’s the skill so ridiculously difficult no other woman even tries it. But the FIG, in its infinite wisdom, refuses to give it accurate credit because it doesn’t want to give other, less capable gymnasts any ideas.
“I can do it, and it’s still an upgrade and it’s safe,” Biles told USA TODAY Sports in April. “It doesn’t add too much start value to my routine, but I’m capable of doing it. And I think people come to see those skills.”
This, among many other reasons, is what the fuddy-duddies at the FIG have failed to realize. The average person might not know exactly what a double-double is. Or why every gymnast is not capable of doing one.
But they do know that Biles is doing something otherworldly, and that it’s pretty darn cool thing to see. If you’re the leaders of a sport, especially a sport that doesn’t have a regular place in the spotlight, why would you not want to encourage that?
For those who don’t know the backstory, every element in gymnastics has a numerical value. As skills increase in difficulty, so, too, should their worth. Based on previous progressions, Biles’ double-double should have been worth an additional three-tenths of a point.
Instead, the FIG’s women’s technical committee said it was only worth an extra one-tenth.
Their explanation? They wanted to save other gymnasts from themselves.
“In assigning values to the new elements, the WTC takes into consideration many different aspects; the risk, the safety of the gymnasts and the technical direction of the discipline,” it said at the time. “There is added risk in landing of double saltos for beam dismounts (with/without twists), including a potential landing on the neck.
“Reinforcing, there are many examples … where decisions have been made to protect the gymnasts and preserve the direction of the discipline.”
Now, there are gymnasts who definitely need to be reined in. (Yes, a few of you vault specialists, I’m looking directly at you.) But Biles is not one of them. She is pushing the bounds of the sport, but not in a reckless fashion.
Biles’ score on balance beam Friday night was a 15.133, which included an 8.333 for execution. That matched the highest execution score of the night on the event, an indication that not only does she have the athletic ability to pull off skills other gymnasts can’t even fathom, she has trained them to the point of perfection.
The open-ended scoring system was created, in part, to encourage innovation, and Biles is doing just that. The Biles on beam is not to be confused with the Biles I on floor exercise. Or the Biles II on floor exercise. Or the Biles on vault. Or the soon-to-be Biles II on vault.
And now the FIG is losing its nerve.
By not adequately crediting that beam dismount, or the Yurchenko double pike vault she did for the first time at the U.S. Classic in May, the FIG is trying to discourage Biles from challenging both her own limits and those of the sport.
But the FIG really ought to know better by now.
Biles has already established herself as the greatest gymnast the sport has seen, a four-time Olympic gold medalist who has more medals from the world championships than any other gymnast, male or female. While the motivation to collect more medals and titles might have been enough at one point in her career, it is not any longer.
“This time I feel like it’s just for me, and I can go out there and kind of test my limits,” she said. “I’ve already kind of stamped my status, and whatever happens (in Tokyo) happens. But I’m going to push myself to see how much further I can go in the sport.”
The rest of the world recognizes what a gift it is to be witnessing that. Too bad the FIG can’t.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.