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Simone Biles’ vault given record difficulty value by gymnastics federation

Biles shines in gymnastics return, winning Classic
Watch highlights of Simone Biles' uneven bars, balance beam and vault routines at the 2023 Core Hydration Classic and hear her share the emotions from her triumphant gymnastics return.

If Simone Biles becomes the first woman to perform a Yurchenko double pike vault internationally at next month’s world championships, it will be rewarded with the highest start value in the event.

An International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) official said Thursday that the vault was assigned a difficulty score of 6.4 points, confirming what USA Gymnastics official Chellsie Memmel and Biles said earlier this week.

That’s four tenths more than any other vault. The Produnova and Biles’ previous eponymous vault are both 6.0s, the current highest value. The most difficult vault performed at last year’s world championships was a 5.6.

While the Yurchenko double pike was expected to be valued in the 6s, Memmel and Biles said they were surprised that the FIG went as high as 6.4.

When Biles debuted the vault domestically in spring 2021, the FIG gave the Yurchenko double pike a preliminary (but not final) value of 6.6 under that Olympic cycle’s points system, when vaults were overall given higher values than now. Biles believed then that it should have been a 6.8 to separate more from values of other, less difficult vaults.

She did not end up performing the vault internationally in 2021 after withdrawing during the Olympics due to the twisties (not necessarily related to her Yurchenko double pike, which has no in-air twists).

In this cycle’s international points system, with other high-scoring vaults being lowered in value by four tenths, many thought the FIG’s old 6.6 would correspond to a 6.2.

In August, USA Gymnastics valued the vault at 6.4 for domestic meets, but the FIG was not bound to that number.

Biles performed the vault at three U.S. meets this summer. Each time, one of her coaches spotted her, which incurs a half-point deduction, to prioritize her safety. That shows just how dangerous the vault is.

Biles said part of her pleasant surprise at the FIG’s valuation of 6.4 was due to past circumstances, though she did not name specifics.

In 2019, she called the FIG’s valuation of her unprecedented double-double dismount off the balance beam “bull——" in a social media post after it was given two fewer tenths in difficulty value than what she had hoped.

Biles said then that lessening the value discouraged gymnasts from trying it at a time where “they keep asking us to do more difficulty.”

The FIG then put out a statement, saying that it assigned values to difficult elements with “the risk, the safety of the gymnasts and the technical direction of the discipline” in mind.

When the Biles camp requested the Yurchenko double pike valuation in advance of worlds, Biles braced for disappointment again.

“Because in the past we asked for stuff and didn’t get rewarded for it,” Biles said Wednesday. “So we were actually very shocked [by the 6.4 for the vault]. So we’re actually really happy about that.”

Donatella Sacchi, the FIG women’s technical committee president, said in an emailed answer that the committee “evaluates each new vault or element based on the development of artistic gymnastics at the moment of submission, considering also the rules in place on all apparatus and some other reflections.”

At worlds, U.S. women compete in qualifying on Oct. 1, followed by the team final Oct. 4, the all-around final Oct. 6 and individual apparatus finals Oct. 7-8.

Gymnasts get skills named after them if they are the first to perform them in major international competition.

Biles already has four named after her — two on floor exercise (including the triple-double, the highest-valued skill in the event), the double-double beam dismount and one vault. Performing the Yurchenko double pike in Antwerp would be number five.