Simone Biles lands the Yurchenko double pike while competing on the vault during the 2021 GK U.S. Classic on May 22, 2021 in Indianapolis.
Whenever Simone Biles is part of a gymnastics competition, everyone else is essentially playing for second.
That’s the case even when she hasn’t competed in over a year, and it’s certainly the case when she debuts a skill that no woman has ever done before.
The reigning champion of everything not only won the U.S. Classic, the last big meet before the U.S. Championships and one of three before this summer’s Olympics, but also became the first woman to compete a Yurchenko double pike vault on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
“I was just thinking do it like training, don’t try to, like, overdo anything because I have a tendency as soon as I raise my hand to overpower things,” Biles said when Nastia Liukin asked her during the NBC broadcast what she was thinking when the light turned green. “And I did a little bit but at least I still was on my feet. It’s a new vault. I’m proud of how today went even though it was a little bit rough and uncharacteristic. But it was OK.”
By rough and uncharacteristic, Biles meant that she under-rotated her final tumbling pass on the floor exercise and put her hands down, and also popped off during her uneven bars routine. Not that it mattered. The five-time world all-around champ totaled 58.4 points, followed by Jordan Chiles in second place with 57.1 and Kayla DiCello with 56.1.
With the U.S. Championships and Olympic trials still to come, the U.S. Classic is typically not the sharpest meet for the top gymnasts, with many having already qualified for the national championships and using the meet to try out new skills or just shake the rust off.
That was especially that case this year; although some competed in the Winter Cup in February, all had their 2020 competition season cut short. For some, like Biles, it was wiped away altogether. She last competed at the world championships in October 2019.
Though no one was expecting the four-time Olympic gold medalist to be at her peak, they knew she might still try to make history.
Biles had been teasing the Yurchenko vault for a while and executed it perfectly during podium training on Friday, giving folks a look at what was to come. The internet responded appropriately when she did it in competition, scoring 16.1, with tweets from folks such as two-time Olympic gymnast Danell Leyva, who wrote, “I just want to remind everyone that this vault is not seen very often on the men’s side where the vault table is set to a HIGHER setting…. (Biles) is the greatest athlete of all time,” and Olympic gold medalist Tim Daggett writing, “I’ve seen a lot of gymnastics in my day but never been more blown away then watching (Biles) do two Yurchenko double pikes! Was about 15 feet away, I feel honored and blessed!”
“It’s pretty crazy but it’s also really nice to see support from athletes all over the world,” Biles said to the video spreading.
As for the score? Biles wasn’t as impressed.
“We were hoping it would be a 6.8 (difficulty score), but now we have to get what we got because there’s no point in putting up a fight because they’re not going to award it the correct value,” Biles said. “But that’s OK.”
She said if Tokyo had happened last year she likely wouldn’t have done it. She was training it a little before quarantine, but the extra year proved necessary in getting the skill ready for competition.
The meet was the last chance for gymnasts to qualify for the U.S. Championships, which start June 3 in Fort Worth, Texas. And everything right now is an opportunity for gymnasts to show they deserve one of the three spots on the Olympic team that remain after Biles is almost certain to get the other one. The U.S. will also sent a fifth gymnast to Tokyo who will compete as an individual. Jade Carey is also presumed to have already qualified as an individual.
One of those main Olympic hopefuls, Riley McCusker, injured herself on her vault and left the competition to get an MRI.
Saturday’s competition featured 42 athletes, including some familiar faces.
Chellsie Memmel, a 2008 Olympic silver medalist, returned to competition for the first time in nine years at the age of 32. The mother of two competed only on vault and balance beam.
“I feel like this is a win,” she said. “I didn’t know what to expect. I’m happy. I put myself out there and I couldn’t ask for a better day.”
Gold medalist Laurie Hernandez, 20, also competed only on vault and balance beam but had a disappointing result on the balance beam, coming off despite fighting hard to recover. She came into the competition already knowing that she’d need to petition the athlete selection committee in order to compete at the national championships.