Here’s the problem with writing about Simone Biles. At some point, you start to run out of superlatives. What hasn’t been said? That’s she’s dominant? That she’s the best? That she shone like the rhinestone GOAT on her leotard? Everything I type, no matter how valiantly I pound the keyboard, regardless of my reaching for the trusty thesaurus, veers into the cliché. Because Biles has dominated gymnastics so thoroughly, so completely, and laid so much waste to the competition that words fail me. As Dvora Meyers wrote in Texas Monthly: “This is becoming routine for Biles: Another competition, another record obliterated.” Biles makes my typing feel small.
You’ve probably already seen the video of Biles doing the Yurchenko double pike vault at the GK U.S. Classic on Saturday. The vault consists of a round-off onto the springboard, followed by a back handspring onto the vaulting table, then two flips in the air done in a pike position all before landing. Biles is the first woman to do this in competition and, as Louise Radnofsky pointed out in the Wall Street Journal, it’s so historic that the vault “isn’t currently in the women’s rulebook and scoring system, requiring judges to assign it a provisional difficulty value of 6.6.”
But, then again, even “do this” doesn’t feel right. As Meyers wisely pointed out, Biles didn’t just land the vault. She had too much power on it, which you can see in the video below.
Here’s the vault in slow motion, courtesy of USA Gymnastics staff photographer John Cheng.
This isn’t the biggest surprise if you’ve been following Biles. All the way back on Feb. 3, 2020, she posted video of herself doing the vault in practice with a caption alluding to having it ready for the 2020 Olympics. Those Olympics were postponed, as they should have been, due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, and last week the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association asked authorities to convince the International Olympic Committee to cancel the rescheduled Games due to surging COVID-19 cases in the Japanese capital. IOC leadership responded by saying the Games would happen, regardless of a state emergency and no matter what local medical officials said.
If they happen, Biles likely will pack her Yurchenko double pike vault in her arsenal. Watching Biles this weekend, I thought often about this piece of advice from the late NFL writer Chris Wesseling. He said, if he were hiring a sportswriter, he’d ask that person one question: How do you reconcile the idea of writing so many words about what are, truly, just games people play? The answer, Wesseling proposed, is this: “It’s like Shakespeare’s poems and Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. This is going above and beyond. At its best, sports is look at what humans can do.”