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Simone Biles Is Using A Spotter For Her Vault, And That’s A Good Thing

Simone Biles smiling after she competes on the balance beam during the Core Hydration Classic at Now Arena on August 05, 2023 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

There was a tiny detail viewers might have missed over this weekend's U.S. Classic, which Simone Biles won by a lot. The news was, of course, that Biles had returned to competition, dominated, and completed a Yurchenko Double Pike on vault, which no woman had landed in any competition before she did it back in 2021. If she lands it in international competition, the YDP will bear her name, making it the fifth skill to be called The Biles.

So, yeah, your eye might not have caught this other detail. Mine didn't at first, either, but then I listened to the latest subscriber episode of GymCastic (yes, truly, the best gymnastics podcast in the galaxy), and they pointed something out that, once I saw it, I could not stop obsessing over: During her YDP, Biles had a spotter there just in case anything went wrong.

Everything happens so fast in gymnastics, but especially on vault. From start to completion, Biles's YDP took 15 seconds. But if you watch the video closely, you'll see it. It's one of her coaches, Laurent Landi, standing on the mat where Biles landed. It's in the video below; her vault starts about the 8:15 mark.

You've probably heard of spotting at your gym, and the concept is roughly the same in gymnastics: I am your coach, and I am standing here in case something goes wrong to protect you. The exact technique of spotting will vary from skill to skill but the broad concept doesn't change. It's literally: I've got you. Given the wildly, insanely, preposterously dangerous skills that gymnasts do day in and day out in training, spotting is a good thing.

But it largely goes away in elite competition. In women's artistic gymnastics, a spotter is only allowed without an automatic deduction on uneven bars. (Though there will be a deduction if the coach touches the athlete.) On the other three apparatus—vault, beam, and floor—having a person there to spot you is an automatic deduction. Even if the coach doesn't touch the gymnast, even if their help is not necessary, it's a deduction, and a hefty one (.5 points) just for them standing on the podium, in a sport often decided by the slimmest of margins.

From a competition perspective, Biles and her coaches can do this because the YDP is worth so much more than any other vault that the deduction doesn't matter. This weekend was a great example of that: Biles finished first by a margin of five points. But that's not the only reason using a spotter makes sense. It makes sense because vaulting is extremely dangerous and spotting is a known way to make it safer. Here is a crazy idea: What if gymnastics took steps to make its athletes believe that it wanted them to be safe?

(I will again tell you here that GymCastic is excellent and you should subscribe, frankly, just for this bonus episode alone. Their latest episode even includes audio of Landi himself explaining the decision to spot Biles. Hosts Jessica O’Beirne and Spencer Barnes go into this in more detail and I do not want to steal their thunder. I only seek to help spread the word!)

I watched the broadcast live, and seeing Landi there to spot Biles didn't take away anything from my enjoyment of the competition. As I said before, I didn't even notice it until GymCastic pointed it out! Of course it didn't bother me because it has also never bothered me when the coaches spot gymnasts on bars. I am simply too busy watching the dazzling feats of athleticism that the gymnasts are doing to notice a random person standing off the side. Have you seen the sidelines in football? Dozens of people share the space with the players on the field, and it's not distracting in the least. Maybe in gymnastics it would be jarring at first but, like any change, everyone would get used to it.

I have no idea how this no-spotting-except-bars rule started, and I don't know what explanation could matter, especially as gymnastics grows and athletes continue to push the sport's boundaries. Spotting makes gymnastics safer. Simone Biles's wellbeing is worth protecting. The wellbeing of every athlete on those floors is worth saving. I have no reason to think anybody in the world of national and international gymnastics is listening to me but, if they do, I beg you: Let coaches spot their athletes.

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