Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in the history of the sport, but she had to settle for a single silver medal in her first day of competing for medals in the apparatus finals Saturday.
She finished fifth in the uneven bars, historically her weakest event. That wasn’t too big of a surprise.
The actual surprise was Biles taking anything other than gold in the vault after entering as the No. 1 qualifier, due to a stumble in her first vault and a deduction from one of the sport’s most questionable rules.
Biles finished second in the vault with an average score of 14.549, just behind gold medalist Rebeca Andrade’s 14.750. The Brazilian 2022 world all-around champion and 2020 Olympic vault champion took her third career gold medal at worlds, while South Korea’s Yeo Seo-jeong won bronze with an average score of 14.416.
Biles’ issues came on her first attempt, in which she performed the Yurchenko double pike, or the Biles II as it is now officially known. Biles didn’t stick the landing on the highly difficult skill, over-rotating and bouncing onto her back. You can see the video above, including the broadcaster’s gasp when she hit the mat.
That stumble earned Biles a lower execution score of 8.533 due to a one-point deduction, but the wild thing is that still could have been enough to win her gold because of her incredibly high difficulty score and her successful second vault. Basically, when you attempt the Yurchenko double pike, just getting your feet on the ground without hurting yourself is enough to put you ahead of all but the most elite competitors.
What sunk Biles, however, was having her coach Laurent Landi stand on the mat while attempting the Yurchenko double pike, a skill so dangerous that no other female gymnast even attempts it. The choice to have Landi stand for her cost her an automatic half-point deduction to International Gymnastics Federation rules.
You can do the math on how big a half-point deduction is when Biles missed out on gold by 0.201 point in her average score.
To be clear, Biles knew she would be deducted when she prepared for the vault, she just decided the extra safety was worth it. On the other hand, it is truly wild to see the gymnastics federation penalize the world’s greatest gymnast for nothing other than having a safety net as she did something no one else is capable of.
The federation’s rule makes even less sense when you consider that Biles, and every other gymnast, was allowed to have her coach standing on the mat as she performed on the uneven bars, because that is apparently the apparatus where safety is allowed. And none of that even factors in Biles’ career-threatening struggles at the Tokyo Olympics.
On the bright side, a silver medal still pushes Biles’ career medal total at worlds to a record-extending 28, with 21 of them golds.
China’s Qiu Qiyuan took gold in the uneven bars, while Algeria’s Kaylia Nemour won silver for her country’s first medal at the world championships. American Shilese Jones finished with bronze.