Simone Biles is performing the most complicated feats women’s gymnastics has ever seen — and not being fully rewarded for it.
As children, we’re often told that we can do anything we put our minds to. I guess we’re okay with deceiving children because this is a complete lie. No matter how hard we try, there are things Simone Biles can do that none of us will ever achieve.
Over the past eight years, Biles has dominated the competition, winning four Olympic gold medals and 19 world championship medals and getting four maneuvers named after her. She hasn’t lost a major competition since her debut in 2013, a time when Barack Obama was still president. Her talent at strong tumbling combined with execution has made her a transformative and unsurpassed gymnast — she’s taken a sport that is judged to the decimal and won by full points.
At this year’s Olympics, she’ll be the heavy favorite again. Barring injury or getting locked in her hotel room by a jealous rival, little could stop Biles from adding to her gold medal total.
Hence, Biles’s storyline this year isn’t about whether she’ll win, but whether her skills will be fully appreciated. Specifically, the controversy is that Biles is doing moves that few, if any, gymnasts can do, including her male colleagues. But instead of getting full points for her moves, she and those who watch the sport feel that the judges aren’t scoring her fairly and are not giving her moves their proper value. With Biles’s overall dominance, missing a few tenths here and there can feel trivial. But try to imagine the absurdity of shortchanging greatness and why it’s happening to arguably the greatest athlete of all time.
Simone Biles performs two extremely difficult, underscored skills
To understand the controversy over Biles’s score, you have to understand how scoring in gymnastics works. A gymnast’s score on any apparatus is the combination of an execution score graded out of a perfect 10 and a difficulty or starting value score. The latter is the important thing when it comes to Biles.
A routine’s difficulty score is the sum of all a gymnast’s moves in a routine: the higher the difficulty of the move, the more it’s worth, and the higher the total value goes. Provided you attempt those elements, that difficulty score value is yours to keep. What sets Biles apart from mortals is that her difficulty scores are much higher than those of her competitors.
For example, here’s the scoresheet from the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart. Take note of the figures next to the (D) from each competitor. That’s the difficulty score, and look how Biles is consistently tallying scores of 6s and above on all four apparatuses. Her competitors don’t have the difficulty.
This means that Biles’s potential scores are much higher than her competitors. You’ll also notice that in terms of execution (the “E” scores), she’s executing her harder skills at a similar clip, if not better (e.g. the vault in the first column), than her opponents. So she’s not only performing more difficult routines, but also executing them well. That leads to, as it did at the World Championships, a win by more than 2 points in a sport that — until Simone Biles — was decided by tenths and hundredths of a point.