Simone Biles, the world's most decorated gymnast, is well-known for performing moves so tricky and unique that many have been named after her. On May 22, 2021, the 24-year-old phenom made history again by becoming the first woman to perform a Yurchenko double pike in a competition. Even more impressive, the US Classic in Indianapolis, where Biles' accomplished the feat, was the gymnast's first meet since the COVID-19 pandemic caused all events to be canceled in early 2020.
Named after Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko, who introduced the skill at a competition in Moscow in 1982, the Yurchenko refers to a vault style. Gymnasts begin by completing a round-off onto the springboard and then a back handspring onto the horse or vaulting table. They then use both hands to spring into the air and perform a single backflip before sticking a vertical landing.
Over the years, athletes have added to the difficulty by completing two, or even two and a half, twists during the flip. However, only a handful of male gymnasts have dared to do what Biles did on Saturday — a round-off onto a springboard, a backward dive onto the vaulting table, and two full backflips in a difficult pike position. Though the landing was not as smooth as the gymnast would have liked, she was thrilled with her accomplishment.
"I was just thinking, 'Do it like training. Don't try to like overdo anything,'" Biles said afterward, "because I have a tendency as soon as I raise my hand to kind of overpower things, and I did a little bit, but at least I was on my feet. It's a new vault, and I'm proud of how today went."
Though Biles made it look easy, the Yurchenko double pike is not for the faint of heart and can easily result in a head or neck injury if the gymnast does not rotate enough. The trick is so perilous that McKayla Maroney, who successfully performed it in practice, was forbidden to use it in competition by her coach. The now-retired gymnast, who took home the silver medal in the vault event at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, told The Washington Post, “The thing about double backs that's really dangerous is it's like once you're going for it, you're going for it."
Whether Biles attempts the heart-stopping feat again at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics — rumored to be her last — remains to be seen. However, the 24-year-old — who successfully defended her all-around title and took top billing on the balance beam and floor exercise at the US Classic — is certainly not going to need it to add to her impressive collection of five Olympic medals and 25 World Championship medals!
Resources: WashingtonPost.com, CNN.com, Twitter.com