Earlier this week, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles shared a four-second video to Twitter of a stunning vault—the like of which has never been performed in competition before by a female gymnast. It’s called the Yurchenko double pike, and frankly, it looks like something out of a superhero movie.
The move is named after Natalia Yurchenko, a Soviet world champion gymnast who originated that specific form of entry into the vault in the ‘80s. The basic version of this move isn’t uncommon and is frequently performed by female athletes in competition: It consists of a round-off onto the springboard, followed by a back handspring into the vault.
Gymnasts then introduce variety and difficulty into the move, in the form of twists. For example, Biles has previously done a Yurchenko Amanar, which includes a two-and-a-half twist, while her fellow U.S. Olympic teammate Sunisa Lee has competed with a double twist.
However, in this latest video, Biles lays on a whole new level of risk with a second flip in the double pike (the pike refers to her leg positioning during the flip, with her hips bent and knees straight). As shown in the short clip, she lands safely in a foam pit, but for all intents and purposes, it looks like she could have nailed a landing, with fellow gymnasts applauding her skill.
The tweet was captioned “2020” with a bunch of side-eye emojis and a question mark, heavily implying that she could be planning to debut this move in competition at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo. But whether it’s safe to do so is a topic of debate in the gymnastics community, as 2012 gold medalist McKayla Maroney recalled during an interview.
“The thing about double backs that’s really dangerous is it’s like once you’re going for it, you’re going for it,” she told GymCastic, adding that unlike with other vaults, it’s too late to lower the number of twists mid-air. “When you’re [doing a] double back... you can’t stop.”
While a handful of male gymnasts have safely completed the Yurchenko double pike, it’s extremely dangerous for women to attempt, due to the risk of head and neck injuries. While Biles has the height and technique to execute the move, it’s possible she may opt not to perform it at Tokyo 2020. After all, as she told The New Yorker back in 2016: “I’m not trying to die.”
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