Time on her hands and a world-class gym at her disposal after the 2020 Olympics were postponed, Simone Biles started experimenting almost as a way to stave off the monotony of training.
Pretty soon a vault that she occasionally tinkered with for fun — the Yurchenko double pike — started to look like a vault she could pull off in competition.
So what if it had only historically been done by men? So what if the International Gymnastics Federation seemed intent on not giving the vault a difficulty value commensurate with its complexity?
The vault exists. She can do it. So, why not? She didn't stick around for another year just to fool around. She stuck around to keep making history.
So she did. Again.
Hands seemingly magnetized to her hamstrings as she soared off the vaulting table, Biles drilled the Yurchenko double pike during her victory at the US Classic on Saturday night. The 24-year-old defending world and Olympic champion generated so much momentum she took a couple of big hops upon landing before letting out a semi-relieved smile.
Get ready to add another element in her name in the sport's Code of Points, even she thinks the 6.6 start value for the Yurchenko double-pike — just a tick above significantly less difficult vaults — is as high as it should be.
“That’s on the (International Federation of Gymnastics) that’s not on me,” Biles said. "They have an open-end code of points and now they’re mad people are too far ahead and excelling.”
And no one in the sport has ever excelled as much as Biles. Her all-around score of 58.400 in her first event in more than 18 months was easily the best of the night even though she shorted her dismount on floor exercise and sailed off the uneven bars.
“I'm not really mad about today,” she said.
No need to be. After teasing the Yurchenko double-pike for the better part of a year and then unveiling it during training on Friday — a move that caught the attention of people like NBA star LeBron James — Biles made it official in front of the women trying to join her on the Olympic team this summer.
Wearing a white leotard with a rhinestone goat — a nod to her status as the Greatest of All-Time —Biles sprinted down the runway, did a roundoff onto the springboard followed by a back handspring onto the vault, finishing with two backflips with her legs ramrod straight and her hands clasping the back of her legs.
It wasn't quite perfect. No worries, she'll get more chances over the next two months. Even though she doesn't agree with the way it's being judged, she has no plans to stop throwing it.
“I know it’s not the correct one, but I can still do it,” Biles said. “So why not just show off my ability and athleticism?"
Same as it ever was for Biles, whose spot on the U.S. Olympic Team is assured. The other spots remain up in the air, though Jordan Chiles is making a serious case to join good friend Biles on the plane to Tokyo.
The 20-year-old proved her victory in the Winter Cup in February was no fluke. Chiles finished second in the all-around (57.100) to Biles and ranked in the top four in each of the four events.
“I (proved) I can do this multiple times and not just a one-time thing,” Chiles said.
Kayla DiCello came in third, buoyed by a victory on bars. The 17-year-old was in the mix to make the Olympics a year ago but said the decision to push the games to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic helped her because it gave her time to add difficulty to her routines necessary to separate herself from a talented and crowded field.
A field that includes 2017 world all-around champion Morgan Hurd. The 19-year-old competed on beam and floor exercise in her first competition since March 2020. Competing slightly watered-down routines, her scores weren't where they will need to be in time for Olympic Trials in late June.
Hurd, however, isn't panicking.
“Yeah I was shaky, but usually in the beginning of my (competition) season I am a little bit shaky and a little bit sloppy and not at my best,” she said. "I don’t want to be great now, I want to be great later.”
Sunisa Lee, who won three medals at the 2019 world championships, came off both bars — her signature event — and beam. Riley McCusker, a world championship team member in 2018, appeared to injure her left leg on her vault and is being evaluated. McKayla Skinner, an Olympic alternate in 2016 and three-time world championship team member, came off the beam but drilled two vaults in her first meet since a number of health issues, including battles with COVID-19 and pneumonia.
“It was interesting to see a little more falls (overall) than what we thought we would see,” said national team coordinator Tom Forster. "(But) we’ve missed so many competitions since 2019 ... The ones who were really ready rose to the top, is what it looks like, so I think (the Olympic picture) seems clear.”
Chellsie Memmel clenched her fists in joy after landing her vault in her first competitive meet in more than nine years. The 2005 world all-around champion and 2008 Olympic silver medalist's score of 13.750 didn't matter. Neither did a nervous beam routine that finished with an 11.800. Saturday was about simply arriving at the moment itself.
“I was just overwhelmingly happy that it went OK today,” Memmel said. “Obviously, beam I would have to have it gone better, but I’m still happy with everything that I did and happy that I was out on the floor, that I put myself out there to even get to this point, to try this again, to, you know, to put on a and to register for a competition.”
Memmel is petitioning for a spot in next month's national championships, one that women's national team coordinator Tom Forster said will be accepted.
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