Who is Simone Biles?
In this kid-friendly podcast, Worth Noting delves into hot topics in the world currently. Host Matthew Winner dives into each topic and brings information to the front. This episode dives into Simone Biles and her path to becoming the GOAT in gymnastics, with some of the troubles along the way.
This post has been lightly edited for clarity. Listen to the full episode above.
Matthew: Simone Biles was awarded the bronze medal in the balance beam final at the Tokyo Olympics, her seventh Olympic medal, making Biles the most accomplished American Olympic gymnast in history. Her rhinestone-emblazoned leotard boasts GOAT, greatest of all time, and if you have any doubt about the 24-year-old gymnast or the path that’s led her to where she stands today, well, stick around because it’s Worth Noting.
On Tuesday, August 3rd, 2021 American gymnast Simone Biles won the bronze medal on the balance beam in her last competition at the Tokyo Olympics. To date, Biles has won 7 Olympic medals, including 4 gold medals, in addition to 25 world medals, making her the most decorated gymnast in history.
In May of 2021, after returning to competitions for the first time in over 18 months on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, she successfully landed the Yurchenko double pike vault at the US Classic, a move historically only done by men. Biles is literally showing the way for the tens of thousands of gymnasts to follow in her footsteps.
Greatest of all time.
But listen to this.
In 2019, when competing in Stuttgart, Germany, The Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, or FIG, undervalued Simone’s skills. Skills are assigned different difficulty ratings by the women’s technical committee of the FIG and this determines the points a gymnast earns for successfully executing these skills in competition. Bile’s triple double (three twists, two flips), also known as Biles II, was assigned a J value skill.
J is worth a full point of difficulty and it’s the rarest of the scoring demarcations. Each letter is worth 0.1 points beginning at A and continuing onward to J. D, the fourth letter, is worth 0.4. H, the eighth letter, is worth 0.8.
The J value is not assigned often and it’s also not performed often. Unless, of course, you count the Biles II, the triple double. That’s a J value skill and, yes, it’s named after Simone Biles.
The FIG came under criticism for assigning a much lower difficulty ranking for the double-double (two twists, two flips). On the floor, this skill is an H (0.8 points). On the balance beam, the FIG decided in 2019 that it would also be an H.
To compare, the full-in, a full-twisting double tucked salto backwards, is an E on the floor and a G on the beam. That’s 0.2 points higher score for performing the skill on the beam.
So why did the FIG determine that the double-double would receive the same score on the floor as it does on the beam? The FIG explained that the reason for the lower than expected rating is “due to safety concerns due to the added risk in landing of double saltos for Beam dismounts.”
They scored the skill lower, in part, in order to dissuade other lesser-skilled gymnasts from attempting the move and hurting themselves. Nevermind that Biles is able to safely perform skills that are so difficult that it would be reckless for other gymnasts to even attempt them.
Biles is not the first gymnast to have a skill undervalued by the FIG Women’s Technical Committee. But imagine what it must feel like to have a committee decide that your best is problematic. Your best is too difficult for others to accomplish. In fact, if others see your best, they might want to try it themselves. And they might fail. Or, maybe, they will fail. So in order to prevent others from even trying, we’re going to just say that your best, well, it isn’t worth that much in our books.
You can’t do that to the GOAT. You can’t stop the greatest of all time.
Biles continued to outperform her competitors and she used her platform on the world’s stage and on social media to call attention to the unfair acts of the FIG. But that’s not the only thing she calls attention to via her platform.
The Greatest of All Time will not be silenced.
And on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, Simone Biles withdrew from the team finals in gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics. Then, later, the vault and the uneven bars. In an instagram post, Simone shared with followers that she had felt the “weight of the world on her shoulders” and that was followed by an official statement from USA Gymnastics: “Simone Biles has withdrawn from the team final competition due to a medical issue. She will be assessed daily to determine medical clearance for future competitions.”
And what I saw and what many, many others around the world saw in this act was the GOAT putting her mental health first and showing to all of us that we can do the same. No matter the stage or the circumstances, the pressure or the expectations, we can look inward and say “not today” and, in doing so, show the world our strength.
So here’s your homework. Watch Simone Biles perform. I’ll include a link to her “Yurchenko double pike vault at the US Classic” in the show notes. And homework part 2: reflect on your strength. Where can you use your voice, your platform, your privilege, or your power to help open the path for others to follow?
I’m Matthew. And this is Worth Noting.