Is it true that Simone Biles was not allowed to score maximum points?

Bruno Cooke July 28, 2021
Is it true that Simone Biles was not allowed to score maximum points?
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Simone Biles is famous for achieving what was previously thought unachievable – she has coined several moves and wowed spectators with her apparent unassailability. But there are those, including Biles herself, who think that the Olympic point system is being used against her. So, how does gymnastics team scoring work, and is Simone Biles not allowed to score maximum?

How does gymnastics team scoring work?

A gymnast’s score comprises an execution score – graded out of 10 – and a starting value score. The latter depends on the difficulty of the move, and is open-ended. 

That means there’s not really such thing as a “perfect score” anymore, since the starting value score varies from move to move.

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The Difficulty Score includes the requirements for each element and the connection value, as well as the move’s difficulty.

What difficulty rating are Biles’ moves?

During the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, Simone Biles’ difficulty rating was consistently higher than that of her competitors. Her moves scored 6.0 for difficulty, compared with 5.4 or 4.8.

After performing on each of the apparatuses, gymnasts receive an overall score. This is a combination of their various difficulty ratings across each apparatus, for the sequences they performed, and the execution score for each performance.

Typically, overall scores are tenths of a point apart. In Stuttgart, Biles won by a much larger margin.

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How does the point system allegedly disadvantage Biles?

Earlier this year, Biles became the first woman in history to perform a Yurchenko double pike. The “double” part is misleading, however, “because she’s actually doing three complete flips during the vault” – writes Vox.

Named after Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko in 1982, the move is considered “so dangerous that no other women even attempt it”. Yurchenko herself never did it in competition.

“But the judges went conservative on the score”, Vox quotes The Skating Lesson’s Dave Lease as saying. They gave it a difficulty rating of 6.6. Meanwhile, Biles took gold-worthy floor routines and performed them on a balance beam, which Lease describes as “truly mind-boggling”.

Lease would score Biles’ moves around two-tenths of a point higher on both elements, writes Vox. That would have meant a difficulty rating of 7.2. Biles herself told the New York Times in May that the scores were “too low and they even know it”.

“But they don’t want the field to be too far apart”, she said. “And that’s just something that’s on them. That’s not on me.”

Does this mean Simone Biles is not allowed to score maximum?

According to USA Today, in 2019, the International Gymnastics Federation gave Biles less than full credit for her double-twisting, double somersault dismount off beam.

The outlet wrote earlier this week that the IGF “didn’t want other gymnasts trying skills they’re not capable of doing”. In other words, they allagedly penalised her “for being better than everyone else”.

Biles told the outlet, “They keep asking us to do more difficulty and to give more artistry, give more harder skills. So we do, and then they don’t credit it, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

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“They had an open-ended code of points and now they’re mad that people are too far ahead and excelling”, the Financial Times has quoted her as saying.

Given that, since 2006, there hasn’t technically been a “perfect score” out there to achieve, it is not true that Simone Biles is not allowed to score “maximum”. However, she, and others, feel that she is being prevented from hitting scores that are rightfully hers.

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.