Gymnast Simone Biles has well and truly cemented her GOAT status after pulling off a near-perfect execution of a vault so difficult and risky to perform that no female athlete has ever attempted to land it in competition.
The 24-year-old four-time Olympic gold medalist was caught on camera practicing her Yurchenko double pike during podium training for this weekend’s U.S. Classic meet, which will mark Simone’s first competition in more than 18 months.
In video footage taken on Friday, Simone somehow manages to make the vault look almost effortless, giving little indication of just how complex and dangerous a maneuver it is to complete.
The 11-second clip, which was captured by former Olympic gymnast-turned-commentator Nastia Liukin, shows the talented gymnast flying down the runway towards the vault, before performing a round-off onto the springboard, a back handspring onto the vault itself, and then two aerial flips in the pike position – which requires a gymnast to keep their hips bent and their knees straight.
The GOAT: Simone Biles showed off an incredibly risky vault that has never been landed by a female gymnast while training for the US Classic competition on Friday
Up in the air: The vault – a Yurchenko double pike – requires Simone to flip her body around twice in the air, while in the pike position with her hips bent and her legs straight
Over the top: The 24-year-old was videoed practicing the skill, which is incredibly dangerous and difficult, and has never been attempted by a female gymnast in competition
She did it! Simone, who won four gold medals at the 2016 Olympics – including one on vault – somehow managed to make the move look easy, and she celebrated her success after landing
She then lands on the mat, taking just the tiniest of steps backwards to maintain her balance.
Simone’s only giveaway about the incredible significance of her achievement was her delighted celebration after landing.
The gymnast looked towards her coach Laurent Landi with a huge grin on her face, her fists clenched in excitement.
To the outside observer, the vault may have looked like just another trick, such was the ease with which Simone completed it.
Get ready… This weekend’s U.S. Classic will mark Simone’s first return to competition since 2019 – and comes just weeks before the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo
However to those with any knowledge of gymnastics, the move is known to be one of the most tricky and risky for a female gymnast to even attempt.
A Yurchenko — named after Natalia Yurchenko, a Russian gymnast who first performed the skill in the early 1980s — begins with a single flip.
However many gymnasts choose to add extra twists to the vault in order to increase the level of difficulty, and give them a chance at a higher overall score.
In the 2016 Olympics, Simone won gold in the vault final after performing a two-and-a-half twisting Yurchenko as one of her two moves. But ahead of the 2021 Games in Tokyo, she has taken things one step further by adding two flips – which hugely increases the difficulty, as well as the risk.
If a vaulter doesn’t rotate enough during the double flip, it could result in head or neck injuries. While some male gymnasts have landed this vault, no female gymnast has ever performed it in a competition.
The video of her practice vault, which was hailed as ‘insane’ by former Olympic gold medalist Nastia, quickly went viral, with dozens of viewers commenting that it had left them ‘open-mouthed’ in awe.
‘Her level of athleticism is unreal. It’s rare to see people who seem like they can shape physics as they please for their sport. She’s crushing it,’ one person wrote on Twitter.
She’s off: The vault begins with Simone sprinting down the runway towards the vault
Up and at ’em: She then performs a round-off onto the springboard, which leads into a back handspring onto the vault itself, before she flips backwards twice while in the pike position
Sky-high: Simone’s vault sees her flying into the air above the table, giving her ample time to complete the two flips before spotting the ground for her landing
Near-perfect: Simone landed the vault with apparent ease, taking just one tiny step backwards to maintain her balance
‘Excuse me while I attempt to pick my jaw up off the floor,’ another wrote.
One viewer confessed that they had to do a ‘triple take’ and watch the video again just to ‘confirm’ that they had really witness Simone pulling off such a difficult skill, while another awed commenter simply commented: ‘Got Damn! There is no one even close to her level.’
Remarkably, Simone’s coach Laurent – whom she has been training with since 2017 – told the Associated Press that the gymnast hasn’t yet achieved her ‘full potential’, something that they are hoping to time perfectly for the 2021 Olympics, where she will likely perform the risky vault, as well as a myriad of other skills so complex that she is the only athlete capable of pulling them off.
The gymnast has four skills named after her – one on vault, one on balance beam, and two on floor – meaning that she was the first athlete to successfully perform them in international competition.
On vault, the Biles begins with a round-off back handspring half turn onto the vault table, and then involves two front stretched twisting somersaults in the air. Simone first competed the skill at the World Championships in 2018.
The vault has a difficulty value of 6.4 – the highest rating in women’s artistic gymnastics. However, it is thought that Simone’s new vault, the Yurchenko double pike, will earn an even higher difficulty score because of its incredible complexity.
Although this is not the first time that Simone has been seen completing the vault, it is the first occasion that she has prepared to perform it in a competition – which she looks set to do during Saturday’s U.S. Classic, where she will go up against dozens of other athletes, including fellow Olympic medalist Chellsie Memmel, 32, who is staging a comeback in the hopes of landing a spot on the 2021 Olympic team.
Should Simone successfully complete the vault in the competition, she will earn yet another spot in the history books as the first female athlete to ever land the tricky skill, which has only ever been performed by male gymnasts in the past.
The significance of the moment was not lost on the Houston-based gymnast, who admitted after her podium training session that she was ‘really nervous’ about attempting the skill.
‘I was really nervous chalking up,’ she confessed. ‘Chalking up, I was like, “It’s OK. I’ve done this so many times.”
‘I’ve been doing it for months now. So I felt prepared, and I knew I was prepared. It was just like the initial landing out there in the arena. But once I did it, I felt a lot better.’
Champion: Simone claimed four gold and one bronze at the 2016 Olympics, and she is widely considered a shoo-in for the US’s 2021 team
All grown up: Since the 2016 Olympics, Simone has moved into a stunning home in Houston, which she regularly showcases on social media during her down time
Her history-making vault aside, all eyes will likely be on Simone when she hits the mat on Saturday in her first return to competition since the 2019 World Championships, where she struck gold once again, claiming victory in the all-around, as well as on the balance beam, vault, and floor exercise.
Although she is expected to bring home every available gold at the U.S. Classic, Simone insists that her main focus is hitting all of her routines without any falls or upsets.
‘I haven’t competed in a while, so, just getting back on the competition floor, trying to calm my nerves, doing the new vault and hopefully going out there and hitting four for four would make me really happy,’ she said.
Although trials for Team USA’s four-person Olympic gymnastic squad are not scheduled to take place until June 24, Simone is widely considered a shoo-in for the team and many predict that she will claim yet another all-around victory at the 2021 Games.
Should she win gold in the individual all-around, Simone would become the oldest American woman in history to claim victory in the event.
But despite going into the competition as the favorite, Simone recently admitted that this year’s Olympics will be somewhat bittersweet in the wake of her ongoing criticism of USA Gymnastics and its handling of the Larry Nassar abuse scandal.
Simone is one of hundreds of gymnasts who were abused by Nassar while he was working as the official team doctor for USA Gymnastics, and she has been outspoken in her criticism of the organization’s handling of his abuse – and the subsequent steps it has taken to address it.
During a recent interview with the Associated Press, she confessed that she has to take steps to dissociate USAG from her gymnastics, explaining that when she hits the mat, she focuses on competing for her club in Texas and her country – not the organization that she feels so let down by.
‘It’s hard,’ she said. ‘Especially when you have so many pent-up emotions about it because of what I’ve been through… I block it out, go out there represent the gym, represent the country. It’s the last thing on my mind.’