At the 2018 World Gymnastics Championships, Simone Biles fell twice in competition and still ended up winning by over a point and a half. In the first round of the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships this past August, she put her hands down on floor, which counts as a fall. Even still, her floor score was the highest that night. Rarely ever does she make these errors, but when she does, you’ll see her with a gold medal despite them.
Simone is an elite-level gymnast, as are all of the other women competing against her – she’s just that good. Although I have over a decade of gymnastics experience growing up, I tapped internationally-qualified judge Cheryl Hamilton for professional input. According to Cheryl, Simone has the perfect balance between difficulty and execution so that her scores are up there on the podium competition after competition. To better understand this, it’s important to go over how scoring works.
How Scoring in Gymnastics Works: Execution and Difficulty
Since 2006, elite gymnasts are no longer scored out of a perfect 10 (collegiate gymnasts, in contrast, are still scored out of a 10.00). Instead, you’ll see numbers in the teens (depending on the event, anything above a 15 is considered very good, though Simone’s incredible vaults have earned her a 16 and higher). Each routine gets an execution score, or E-Score – how well you perform your routine – and a difficulty score, or D-Score, based on how hard the skills you perform are. An E-Score is determined by adding up deductions for errors made and subtracting them from 10.00. It’s combined with the D-Score for a final number.
Skills are ranked in the FIG Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Code of Points from easiest to most difficult starting at an A, worth one tenth of a point. “The most important thing is the final score,” Cheryl said. “You can have a high difficulty score, but if you don’t do those skills well, then you’re going to lose more.” For example, she explained, if you do a D skill, which is worth four tenths of a point but lose five tenths on poor execution, you haven’t gained much score-wise. Cheryl said that it’s almost better to do a lower-valued skill perfectly “or with little deduction than to do a more difficult skill and lose more in execution.”
The requirements for each event – bars, beam, vault, and floor – differ. For floor, Cheryl explained, you’re required to do three dance skills and three acrobatic skills. Another two skills can come from either dance or acrobatic elements. If you fall on a skill but complete it, you still get credit for its difficulty, but you’re deducted one whole point. Take, for instance, when Simone put her hands down on her triple-twisting double during her floor routine at the US Gymnastics Championships: it counted as a fall, but she still earned credit for it since she completed all three twists and two flips. “When you do not get credit is if it’s considered a bonus connection,” Cheryl noted. By putting certain skills together, you get additional points, but if you fall or don’t connect those skills, then you don’t get those additional points.
Why Is Simone Biles So Dominant?
There’s a reason Simone has a six-year winning streak. She does skills no one has ever done before, which makes for an extremely high D-Score. For example, her triple double will become an official skill in the FIG Code of Points (not to mention, it’ll be named after her) if she lands it at the 2019 World Championships. It’s predicted to be worth a J, or one whole point. So far, the most difficult skill in the FIG Code of Points is an I, which equals nine tenths.
So, yes, Simone’s routines on all four events are packed with difficulty, but what she does, she also does well. Simone, like any other gymnast, still makes mistakes, though “she’s found a balance,” Cheryl said. “She has a very, very high difficulty score, but what she does she also executes very, very well.” That means her E-Scores and D-Scores are both relatively high. And combined, good execution plus difficult skills equals numbers to beat.
When asked if there’s any gymnast in the world right now who might be able to out-score Simone, Cheryl said, “I can’t think of anyone because the way I look at it, if anyone even started to come close to her, she’d come up with something else,” as in, she’d up her level of difficulty even more. The sky’s the limit for the GOAT, and Cheryl concluded, “I don’t think anybody can touch Simone Biles.”