RIO DE JANEIRO — Three up, three down. Simone Biles just keeps killing it.
The 19-year-old all-around world champion added to her medal case Sunday, leaping to her third gold in the Rio Olympics and conducting an absolute clinic in the vault discipline.
Her score of 15.966, the average of her two vaults, was too much for the competition. Her nearest competitor, Russia’s Maria Paseka, who won the event at the 2015 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, didn’t appear to be on the same mat.
Biles’ first vault was an Amanar. You may recall the terminology from McKayla Maroney’s vaults four years ago. The eternally unimpressed acrobat earned a silver with the move in the London Games.
What the heck’s an Amanar?
After doing a roundoff onto the springboard, the gymnast does a back handspring onto the table, then a flip with two-and-a-half twists in the straight body position (thanks, NBC, for help with the jargon)
By the crowd and commentator’s standards, Biles did well. But she didn’t get maximum rotation and took a small step on the landing. You could see a whiff of disappointment on her face despite the score of 15.9, which was well more than any of her predecessors had scored.
Her second vault was a Cheng. We’ll tap NBC again to explain that this involves hitting the springboard, doing a half twist before you hit the table, then a flip with one-and-a-half twists in the straight body position. Don’t try this at home.
Biles nailed it, thrusting her arms in the air, her beaming grin complementing her sparkling red leotard and shimmering eyeliner. The vault tallied a 16.033 and irked (but not really) one of the Olympics commentators.
“That’s your Olympic champion on vault. Number three. She’s making it look to easy right now. I think I’m actually upset about it. She’s like, ‘Eh, give me one more gold,'” he said jokingly.
‘I just tried to keep a good mind’
Speaking after the event, Biles said she wanted to stick the Amanar “so badly here and it didn’t happen. So of course I’m disappointed about that, but I can’t be disappointed about the gold.”
(And you probably shouldn’t be too broken up over that 15.9, Ms. Biles, but what do we know?)
Winning gold in the vault, she said, was especially meaningful considering how close she came in recent world championships.
“I feel very excited, because having gone to worlds and having two silvers and a bronze, it means a lot to me. It’s something I wanted so badly, so I just tried to keep a good mind going into vault,” she said.
Paseka finished with a 15.253. We’ll save you the calculator hunt. That’s .713 behind Biles. It’s kind of like a soccer team winning by seven goals, or a football team by seven touchdowns. It’s a smackdown.
Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber came in third behind Paseka with a 15.216, making her the first Swiss woman to earn an Olympic necklace for gymnastics.
The triple-twisting Yurchenko
Prior to the contest, many observers thought Biles’ toughest competition might come from North Korea’s Hong Un-Jong. Hong was the first woman to bring home gold for her country after the Beijing 2008 Games, but the North Koreans were barred from competing in London four years later because of an age-falsification scandal.
Still, Hong finished second, ahead of Biles, at the 2015 world championships. And just before the Rio Games began, video surfaced of Hong performing a triple-twisting Yurchenko — a sort of unicorn when it comes to vaults — with the help of her coach. If she pulled it off in competition, it would henceforth be known as “the Hong.”
It’s like an Amanar with an extra half twist. Biles has reportedly called the move “crazy.”
After a solid score on her first vault, Hong went for the unicorn, but she couldn’t finish the third rotation and fell backwards upon landing. Her final aggregate score of 14.9 put her in sixth place for the competition.
Eyes on two more prizes
Biles now has her sights set on her final two competitions: balance beam on Monday and floor exercise on Tuesday.
If she can win both — and she registered the top scores in both events during the individual all-around, where she earned another gold medal — she will tie American swimmer Michael Phelps’ 2016 haul of five gold medals (he also won a silver in these Games).
But perhaps more importantly for her sport, she will become the first American gymnast to take home five medals since Anton Heida did it in the 1904 Summer Olympics.
We’ll save you the calculator search again: That’s 112 years. No big deal.