- Simone Biles’ Flawless Floor Routine Will Get You Amped for Rio
- Rio 2016: You can do anything you set your mind to. Except for Simone Biles’s floor routine.
- Biles’s third pass is superhuman
- Biles’s first two passes are incredible too
- RELATED: How Olympian Shawn Johnson Is Fighting Back Against Body Shaming
- RELATED: 15 American Women Who Are SO Bringing It to the Rio Olympics
- RELATED: 7 Fitness Classes That’ll Train You Like an Olympian
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- Post-Meet Treat
- Rio Olympics 2016: how Simone Biles crushed the women’s individual all-around competition
- Simone Biles’ Historic New Floor Routine Has A Jewish Background
- Simone Biles Breaks Medals Record As Team USA Wins Gymnastic World Championship
- Simone Biles wins 16th World Gymnastics Championships title with all-around gold
Simone Biles’ Flawless Floor Routine Will Get You Amped for Rio
So far, Rio ~fever~ has been limited (both literally and figuratively) to the Zika virus. But now that we’re fewer than 50 days from the opening ceremony, the superpowered athletes’ talents are finally overpowering talk of the superbug-at least when it comes to gymnast Simone Biles.
A video of her floor routine from the P&G Women’s Gymnastics Championships in St. Louis on Friday, June 24 has already surpassed 11 million views on Facebook. And it’s effing flawless. (Follow her and other Olympic hopefuls on their #RoadtoRio.)
Gymnastics legend and gold medalist Nastia Liukin’s first comment after Biles finished: “Well, it doesn’t really get much better than that.” BOOM. Seriously. Take a look at her basically perfect landings, unphased “I’ve got this” smile, and the fact that one of her tumbling passes has even been named “the Biles” after her, and you’ve got the makings of a champion.
And her excellence extended to the balance beam, vault, and uneven bars, too; this floor routine helped Biles land her fourth consecutive all-around title at the P&G Championship, according to NBC. Trailing after her in the results were London Olympic gold medalists Aly Raisman in second and Gabby Douglas in fourth, with 15-year-old Laurie Hernandez in third. (Who knows-maybe this is the crew that could follow in the footsteps of the Fierce Five.)
It’s safe to say we’ll see Biles all over the podium in Rio, but she has to make it there first; the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Olympic Trials aren’t until July 8 and 9th in San Jose, California. Though her path to Rio isn’t yet set in stone, watch Biles’ floor routine below and judge for yourself. After a performance like that, we can’t help but think she’ll be Rio-bound and bringing home some hardware.
- By Lauren Mazzo @lauren_mazzo
Rio 2016: You can do anything you set your mind to. Except for Simone Biles’s floor routine.
Simone Biles is the most dominant female gymnast in recent memory, possibly history.
For the past three years, she’s won every team and individual all-around competition she’s competed in. At the Olympics, she maintained that record, helping the American team to gold as well as wiping the floor during the individual competition. She also added a gold medal in vault and a bronze on balance beam.
And on Tuesday, Biles added a gold in the floor exercise, bringing her total to four golds and five medals in all. Biles scored a 15.966, almost a half-point better than Aly Raisman’s 15.5 — a score good enough for silver.
There is no event that showcases Biles’s strength and transcendent quality as a gymnast as much as the floor exercise. Here’s what makes her performance so special.
Biles’s third pass is superhuman
In the floor routine, there’s a guiding physical principle that governs which tricks happen where: Because gymnasts get tired, they don’t save the best for last. Thus, the first tumbling passes on the floor routine are usually the most difficult. A good example of this is Raisman’s monster first pass (a roundoff, 1.5 twisting layout, roundoff back handspring, tucked double Arabian, front somersault):
Raisman’s first tumbling pass at the Olympic trials. (USA Gymnastics)
As gymnasts’ legs tire, the difficulty in their floor routines begins to decrease. And that’s where Biles is unlike any female gymnast on the planet.
Her third pass is a double twisting double back, which is as hard as many gymnasts’ first pass:
Biles’s third pass. (USA Gymnastics)
She is doing this third, and better than her competitors. It’s testament to Biles’s explosiveness and stamina that she throws this in during the second half of her program.
Biles’s first two passes are incredible too
Though it’s Biles’s third pass that sets her apart and makes you question if she’s a superhuman gifted with endless endurance, her first two passes are magical too. They’re as textbook in the air as they are powerful.
Biles’s first pass is a double twisting layout. Look at how high she gets and how extended her stretch is during the layout and the twist:
Simone Biles’s first pass. (USA Gymnastics)
Then she follows up with a second, similar pass. The two layouts are there, but there’s a last-second half-twist. Because Biles landed this in competition, it was named after her:
Biles’s second pass.
Look at how high she gets, and how high she keeps going when the second layout happens. If there’s a knock on Biles, it’s that she has a tendency to cross her toes on her twists, but that’s nitpicking when it comes to a pass this massive.
Biles’s excellence on floor is how she can beat a stellar routine from Raisman with around four-tenths of a point to spare. It’s why she’s the best female gymnast on the planet and has been for the past three years. And it’s how she won herself another gold medal.
Because of NBC’s strict policy against GIFs and video from Olympics, I made GIFs from video of Simone Biles and Aly Raisman’s Olympic tuneup events. They showcase the same moves and tumbling passes they performed in the Olympics. The gymnastics floor final will air on tape delay tonight in primetime.
Simone Biles has raised the proverbial bar for gymnasts everywhere. Standing at just 4’8, the small but strong phenom has been hailed as one of the greatest gymnasts of all time—even before touching down in Rio. Credit the 14 world championship medals or the fact that she’s the first woman to win four straight national championships in 42 years. Either way, one thing’s for sure – her road to the Olympics is paved with quite a bit of gold.
RELATED: How Olympian Shawn Johnson Is Fighting Back Against Body Shaming
Biles’ latest routines, at the Olympic gymnastic trials in San Jose, California, helped her easily secure a first place finish and a spot on team USA. Post-trials, the pint-sized powerhouse unveiled her new Tide Evolution of Power video, as part of the brand’s #smallbutpowerful campaign. Despite the fact that 19-year-old Biles says her parents still do most of her laundry (aw!), the gold medal contender says she partnered with Tide because, “I feel like I’m small and mighty and pack a powerful punch, just like Tide PODS,” she says. “Growing up it was kind of a struggle being small since everyone would make fun of you—except for when it came to hide and seek, that’s the only advantage I ever had!”
But before she returned to training for the games, the 19-year-old sat down with us to share the biggest challenges she’s faced so far, her daily workout schedule, and her next-level stretching routine.
RELATED: 15 American Women Who Are SO Bringing It to the Rio Olympics
At 4’8 you’ve earned the title, “small but powerful.” How does it feel to serve as an example that powerhouse athletes can come in all shapes and sizes?
It’s amazing that I can inspire little kids to know that you can be short or tall, and your body type doesn’t matter because you can do anything. That’s what I love about how diverse our team is—we have such different body types, yet together we build the best team there is. I think we’re stronger together than individually.
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2016 Olympic Team
A post shared by Simone Biles (@simonebiles) on Jul 11, 2016 at 3:26pm PDT
How are you mentally preparing for Rio?
We do pressure sets whenever we go out to the ranch. We have a 10-day Olympic camp, so I leave for that, and from there we head to Rio.
Whenever Márta says ‘guys we’re doing beam today’ or any event actually, you just have to get up and hit your sets. Márta motivates us to do our best, but she means business, so you have to just get up there and do it.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced leading up to the Olympics and how have you overcome them?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is truly believing in my gymnastics and trusting myself with some of the skills. I feel like I overthink a lot because it’s just what we do. So once an event comes closer, even if I’ve hit sets for months, I’m like ‘I can’t do it anymore!’ I just get a little bit nervous. It’s a habit that I’ve had for years and it hasn’t stopped yet.
Take us through your daily workout routine.
In the morning, I usually get up between 7:40 a.m. and 7:45 a.m. and then I’ll brush my teeth, do my hair, and just throw on my leotard and my clothes and go to the kitchen. I make breakfast, which is usually Kellogg’s Red Berries or egg whites, and then I go to the gym that’s only 10 minutes away. I have practice from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then I drive home and eat lunch, which is either chicken or fish so I get the protein. I grab a quick snack and head back to the gym from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and usually have more routines. After that, I either have therapy at the gym or at home, and then I eat dinner and chill and do it all again the next day.
RELATED: 7 Fitness Classes That’ll Train You Like an Olympian
How often do you infuse cross-training and strength-training into your program?
Last year we did cross-training. We swam twice a week—almost a mile! I swore I was going to drown, it was so hard, and then we would run. And the year before that we would bike 10 miles outside once a week. If we didn’t bike, we would run a mile before practice, and as soon as we finished the mile we’d have to go inside and do a beam routine. My legs were absolute jello. But it got easier because the cross-training helped. This year we haven’t done because we’re just calming it down. (Feeling inspired to get your sweat on? Check out Women’s Health’s Ignite routine by Next Fitness Star Nikki Metzger!)
RELATED: 3 Non-Running Workouts That’ll Help You Train for a Half-Marathon
Do you have a favorite strength-training move?
I like doing legs because those exercises come pretty easily to me. I have good, powerful legs, so I can do conditioning and they won’t be too sore. But stomach conditioning, I don’t like it at all! It’s my least favorite. I like laughing better for an ab workout than actually doing abs!
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A post shared by Simone Biles (@simonebiles) on Jul 12, 2016 at 4:32pm PDT
Why is it so important to stretch regularly and do you have a go-to move that ensures your body stays healthy?
We have a routine that includes running and then a stretch for every part of our body. So we’ll stretch before practice, but especially afterwards, because then you’re tense and you need to stretch those muscles down. It’s very important to keep your body flexible so that you don’t get injured.
My favorite stretch is splits because not a lot of people can do them. And over-splits is when you put your leg up on a mat so it’s higher—and it just looks cooler!
What pre- and post-workout snack and/or drink do you always have on hand?
Pre-workout I love drinking Core Power; it’s a recovery drink. And then a banana and peanut butter because bananas have potassium, which helps with muscle cramps. And then afterwards, I like having a good fish, like salmon, and rice and carrots.
If we raided your gym bag right now, what would we find?
My gym bag is a mess right now! You would find my Smartwater, my Beats (by Dre), Chapstick, and deodorant. Also, right now you’d find my grips, which I use on the bars, and bungees for the gym. Then I usually have a jacket and my gym wear.
Do you have one favorite workout song that really pumps you up?
“This One’s For You” by David Guetta. It’s very emotional and I just like it.
Everyone is looking up to you as you head to Rio. What advice would you give to young girls who want to follow in your footsteps?
I would say to always follow your dream. And dream big because my whole career, including any of the things that I’ve accomplished, I never thought in a million years that I would be here. So it just proves that once you believe in yourself and you put your mind to something, you can do it. I hope kids learn that and I hope they learn that you can be good at what you do and have fun.
What do you have going on after Rio?
We have the post-Olympics tour, the Kellogg’s Tour of Champions. And so we’ll stop around the country, making 36 stops, but we’ll be on a tour bus and I think that’s so cool!
Now you can work out like your favorite Olympians!
Whether an athlete competes in wrestling, equestrian or rhythmic gymnastics, she has to have an incredible level of skill to compete at an international level. On top of that talent, no matter what her event, she must also be off-the-charts, insane, are-those-muscles-even-real fit. That’s why we picked the brains of eight Olympics-bound women across the same number of sports to find their favorite exercises.
Warning: We’re talking to some gold medalists here, so many of these are tough. On the plus side, they’ll get you in incredible shape and build strength to help you increase the speed and power of your runs. Bonus—all moves can be executed in the comfort of your living room…perhaps while you’re watching the games!
Exercise photography by Oliver Baker
*Melinda Winthrop competed in the pole vault at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials but did not advance to the Olympics.
SPORT: Gymnastics | AGE: 19 | HOMETOWN: Columbus, OH
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: First-timer
CLAIMS TO FAME: By the time she graduated high school in 2015, Simone Biles was already the most decorated female gymnast in World Championship history, having won the all-around title at the 2013, 2014 and 2015 games. Biles will take her first crack at the Olympics this summer in Brazil.
“I like doing leg exercises to be stronger and fit for my skills. My favorites are squats and box jumps—then I grab a CorePower for recovery.”
Go-to Exercise: Box Jump
a) Stand in front of a low bench or box. Bend your knees slightly while tightening your core. b) Jump onto the box, c) landing as softly as possible. Step or hop back to the start position. That’s one rep. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 15 reps.
SPORT: Triathlon | AGE: 30 | HOMETOWN: Waukesha, WI
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: 2012
CLAIMS TO FAME: Currently the most dominant triathlete in the world across the 2014 and 2015 season, Jorgensen clinched an astonishing 13 consecutive wins in Word Triathlon Series races—the previous record was three. Making her success all the more impressive, the University of Wisconsin graduate didn’t start competing in triathlon until after college and is a CPA, formerly employed by Ernst & Young.
Go-to Exercise: Plank Series
a) Hold an elbow plank for 30 seconds. b) Transition to a high plank for 30 seconds with your hands on the ground. c) Hold a high plank and move your right leg in and out for 30 seconds; d) repeat on the left for an additional 30 seconds. e) Jump both legs out and in for 30 seconds. That’s one series. Repeat series 2 to 3 times. (Modifi cation: Complete 10- or 15-second increments. If this is too challenging, start by planking on your knees.)
SPORT: Wrestling | AGE: 25 | HOMETOWN: Denver
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: First-timer
CLAIMS TO FAME: After attending her first wrestling practice at the age of 6, Gray was hooked. In her nearly 20-year career, Gray has racked up some impressive victories, including three World Championships, two World Cups and one Pan American Games. In Rio, she has her heart set on gold in the 75 kg division.
“The move seems to work my lower back, core and so much more than just my glutes.”
Go-to Exercise: Glute Raise
For this exercise, you will need to secure your feet. Use a hamstring bench at the gym, hook your heels under a heavy piece of furniture or have a friend hold your legs. a) Kneel with your feet secured, using your glutes and core. b) Lower your body down slowly (hinging at the knees). c) Go down as far as you can while maintaining control (the goal is the floor). Squeeze your glutes to rise to the start position. That’s one rep. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps.
SPORT: Track & Field (400 and 200 meters) | AGE: 30 | HOMETOWN: Los Angeles
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: 2004, 2008, 2012
CLAIMS TO FAME: One of the most decorated runners of the 21st century, Felix won her first silver medal at the tender age of 18. More than a decade later, she has earned a total of six Olympic medals and boasts a personal best of 21.69 in the 200 meters. (That’s 2:53-mile speed!)
Go-to Exercise: Scissor Jump
a) Start in a split-stance position, with your right leg forward and your left leg back. Bend your right knee and dip your left knee toward the floor until you’re in a lunge position. b) Jump up and switch legs in midair, a scissor-like motion, and c) land in a lunge position with your left leg forward. Jump up again and alternate legs. That’s one rep. Jump continuously, without resting. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 10 to 20 reps.
SPORT: Cycling | AGE: 33 | HOMETOWN: Claremont, CA
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: 2012
CLAIMS TO FAME: Stevens is best known for her incredible feat this February at the Colorado Springs Velodrome, where she smashed the Union Cycliste Internationale hour record by covering 47.98K (riding nearly 30 miles per hour). The former Wall Street analyst turned pro in 2009 and currently competes for team Boels-Dolmans and Lululemon.
“This is part of a 10-minute stretching/core routine I do every night before bed. It’s a satisfying way to finish up a hard day of training or racing, and is my cue to be done with this day and prepare for the next.”
Go-to Exercise: Side Plank
Place your right elbow and right foot on the ground with your hips raised. Hold this position for 20 to 60 seconds. That’s one rep. Complete 2 to 3 reps on each side.
SPORT: Weightlifting | AGE: 30 | HOMETOWN: Seattle
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: First-timer
CLAIMS TO FAME: Clocking in at a mere 5 feet tall and 105 pounds, King is proof that strength isn’t defined by size—she can clean and jerk twice her bodyweight. King discovered the sport (and her natural talent) at the age of 25 after taking up CrossFit. In 2015, she earned silver in the snatch at the Pan American Games and secured her ticket to Rio by finishing first in her weight class at the Olympic Trials in May.
“Squatting is great for developing leg strength and power as well as whole-body stability.”
Go-to Exercise: Squat
Hold two dumbbells by your shoulders or a bar across the yolk of your back. a) Push your hips toward the back of the room until your thighs are parallel to the floor, keeping your torso as upright as possible. b) Lift back up, driving through your feet so that the weight is evenly distributed through your forefoot and heels. Think about a 2-to-1 down-up ratio, meaning lower for 2 counts and rise for 1. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
SPORT: Soccer | AGE: 27 | HOMETOWN: Los Angeles
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: First-timer
CLAIMS TO FAME: Forward for the Chicago Red Stars, Press represented the U.S. in the 2015 FIFA World Cup—and made her mark in the opening game, scoring a goal against Australia that led her team to victory. A graduate of Stanford, Press still holds the record as the university’s highest scorer to date.
Go-to Exercise: Turkish Get-Up
a) Lie on your back holding a kettlebell above your right shoulder. b) Bend your right knee, placing your foot fl at on the ground. c) Roll onto your left elbow, then lift up your hips and shoulder o the ground as you press into your left hand. d) Slide your left leg back into a kneeling position. e) Press into your right leg so you are standing up. That’s one rep. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 3 to 5 reps on each side. (Modification: Perform exercise with no weight.)
SPORT: Track & Field (Pole Vault) | AGE: 31 | HOMETOWN: Polson, MT
OLYMPIC EXPERIENCE: First-timer
CLAIMS TO FAME: Withrow balances a job as assistant coach at the University of Montana with her career as a professional pole-vaulter and Lululemon elite ambassador. She won bronze in the 2009 and 2011 U.S. Indoor National Championships and boasts a personal best of 4.6 meters—more than 15 feet!
“As a pole-vaulter, I need to be equally strong in my legs, core and shoulders.”
Go-to Exercise: Push Press
Using two dumbbells, a) place the weights at your shoulders (palms facing in). b) Dip three-quarters of the way into a squat, then c) quickly explode up using the strength from your legs to push the dumbbells above you (palms facing out). Hold for a count of two, then bring the dumbbells back to your shoulders with control. That’s one rep. Complete 2 to 3 sets of 5 to 10 reps.
Typical Wednesday: wake up, win gold in women’s floor exercise, get kissed on the cheek by Zac Efron. Hump day, ya know?
GIF courtesy of giphy
For Simone Biles, an afternoon this crazy might be the norm, but she still needs tons of energy to get through meet and practice days (read: 6+ hours in the gym). She knows America has been wondering WTF fuels The Biles, the double-flip with a half-twist move that ends in a forward landing, so she broke it down in an interview with Women’s Health. Here’s what powers the 4’8″ gymnast through a typical day:
Photo courtesy of @kelloggsnyc on Instagram
When you’re on the bar(s), balance or uneven, by 9 am, ya gotta fuel up. Wheaties might be the quintessential cereal of the Olympics, but Simone prefers Kellogg’s Red Berries to start her day. If she’s sick of cereal, she sometimes goes for a plate of egg whites to switch it up with some added extra protein power.
Photo by Angela Pizzimenti
Simone spends more time in the gym before noon than some people do in a week, so her lunch has to be substantial enough to replenish all that she’s burned off. After three hours of training, she chooses chicken or fish to get plenty of protein – no wimpy salads here.
Photo courtesy of blisstree.com
A full day calls for all food groups. Simone knows how to do it with a plate as balanced as her beam routine: dinner usually consists of a fish like salmon, with a side of rice and carrots. Gymnasts need enough energy for superfast sprints and crazy air, but not nearly as much as swimmers or track athletes, so Simone’s simple, clean meals are perfect for powering her performance.
Photo by Maggie Gorman
If you think your workout cramps are bad, imagine getting one while spinning midair. Simone stops them before they happen with a pre-workout snack of a banana with PB or a Core Power shake.
Photo courtesy of @simonebiles on Instagram
The girl knows how to treat herself like a pro: after she kills the competition in a meet, she wrecks a slice of pepperoni pizza. While she usually keeps her diet clean, every now and then she enjoys a meal like pork chops with some dirty fried rice.
With a nutrition and training regimen so disciplined, it’s no wonder that she’s an all-star athlete before even starting her freshman year.
GIF courtesy of giphy
I’ll be watching this GIF on a loop until 2020. See ya in Tokyo, Simone.
Graphic by Spoon University
Rio Olympics 2016: how Simone Biles crushed the women’s individual all-around competition
The bars are Mustafina’s strongest event.
Judges are looking for form — straight lines, pointed toes, vertical handstands — as well as the ability to connect skills smoothly and make it look effortless. Here’s Mustafina using those skills in London four years ago, when she won the gold medal on the event:
Mustafina winning gold on the bars at the London Olympics in 2012. (Olympics)
Biles isn’t bad on the bars. But they’ve given her problems before:
Biles struggling on the bars at the P&G Championships earlier this year. (USA Gymnastics)
There were no major bobbles on Biles’s part, and she scored a 14.966 (watch Biles’s bar routine at NBC). But Mustafina hit a clean routine with a good landing, scoring a 15.666. With one great performance, Mustafina closed the gap between her and the Americans, and briefly took the lead.
Heading into the balance beam, Mustafina was in the lead, with a 30.866 to Biles’s 30.832.
The competition effectively ended when Simone Biles got on the beam
There is no event that showcases Simone Biles’s physical gifts better than the floor routine. The apparatus lets you appreciate just how strong she is, how seemingly limitless her endurance is; she performs her third tumbling pass better and with more height than most of her competitors perform their first.
But in the 2016 Olympic women’s all-around finals it was another event, the balance beam, that proved how talented Biles is and showcased the gifts you may not notice during one of her trademark high-flying tumbling passes.
In second place, and first in the queue to perform, Biles showed why she’s a world champion on the event and also flashed her mental toughness — the reason she hasn’t lost a single all-around competition in her senior career.
Biles’s beam routine is considered world class because of the number of elements she does in succession. When she’s at her best, she’s connecting skills one after another like this:
Biles at the P&G Championships earlier this year. (USA Gymnastics)
Biles scored a commanding 15.433 on the beam after nailing her dismount (watch Biles’s beam routine at NBC), a full-twisting double back. Raisman scored a 14.866. Mustafina faltered and scored a 13.866. After three rotations, and heading into her best event — the floor — Biles was sitting at 46.265, with Mustafina at 44.666.
Biles’s floor exercise confirmed what we knew
Biles at the P&G Championships earlier this year. (USA Gymnastics)
“She should be very happy with herself,” Lease said about Mustafina’s short-lived lead over Biles. “I think Aliya was in first for about 10 minutes. There was definitely a full commercial break where she was in the lead before Simone went on beam. We can’t forget they had to walk around the arena to change apparatus as well. It was maybe even 12 minutes.”
By the time Biles’s group began its final event, gold was as good as hers. Thanks to Biles’s high starting values (as determined by the difficulty in her routine), there was no way for Mustafina to catch her. Meanwhile, Raisman, who didn’t score that well on bars (14.166), was still trying to make up the ground she lost.
When the dust settled, Biles needed somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 points to win gold. To score that low (at least for her), Biles would need to step out bounds maybe twice, or to forget which tumbling pass she was doing. But there was no nonsense. Biles scored a 15.933, and cemented her place as one of the best and the most dominating female gymnasts the sport will see.
Less than halfway through her first Olympic games, Simone Biles is already a legend.
The 19-year-old American gymnast is not merely the top athlete on the best women’s gymnastics team in the world, defeating Russia and China in the team all-around by a wide margin on Tuesday, and winning the women’s individual all-around by a solid two points on Thursday. She is not merely better than any other female gymnasts right now. She is quite possibly the best female gymnast ever—dominating on the beam, floor and vault, and absolutely blowing everyone away when it comes to the all-around. She does more complicated tricks and has nearly flawless execution, and she already has a move named after her.
Simone Biles’ namesake trick isn’t the hardest she does, but since she debuted it at the 2013 World Championships, “the Biles” has become her signature, a staple of her floor routine. It’s a double somersault in a fully outstretched “layout” position, combined with a half-twist in midair. Layouts have been a part of gymnastics since at least the early 1900s, when they were first done by men in tumbling routines. After women got their own individual gymnastics competitions in the 1950s, they began incorporating layouts as well.
But, whether the move was performed by a male or female, the physics never seemed to make sense. When you watch someone performing a layout, they look surreal.
Olympics Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská performs in the 1968 Olympics
This is Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská in her 1968 Olympics floor routine, which won her the gold. Aside from the step-out landing, where her right leg swings forward to hit the ground first, it looks pretty much like the first half of the Biles—Čáslavská’s arms start above her before shifting downward, while her body remains almost entirely straight during the flip. Here’s the thing that makes gymnastics so fascinating: Čáslavská shouldn’t be able to keep her body so straight while flipping. Even the tiniest imprecision in the way she took off from the mat should have sent her body twisting and turn.
Try taking a Barbie or a pencil (or any object, really) and flip it in the air without having it twist at all. It’s basically impossible. But the world’s best gymnasts stay almost perfectly straight. Clearly, scientists thought, these gymnasts have some kinesthetic intelligence that Barbies don’t.
Ciarán McInerney, a gymnastics coach and PhD researcher at the Sheffield Hallam University’s Center for Sports Engineering Research, says Biles is accomplishing the near-impossible. Imagine, he says, what it would be like to lie down on the floor and have a friend lift you feet-first and then shake you, while you try not to bend any part of your body in any direction.
When Biles launches off the mat, she pushes down with her feet, sending her body upwards. It takes a lot more work for heavier gymnasts to manage the same jumps. Biles benefits from having—like most shorter athletes—a muscular build while still weighing relatively little. In other words, Biles has the ideal body type for this kind of trick.
After Biles picks up velocity, she needs to direct all that speed toward her backflip. She needs to take off at the exact right angle, and then she needs to do some blink-of-the-eye adjustments in midair. It comes down to this: throughout the trick, Biles is making herself consistently shorter. She starts with her arms above her head, before moving them downward and then arching her back. In doing so, she can increase her velocity, meaning she’ll somersault faster than if she kept her body outstretched. That gives her time to complete two full flips.
Here’s an experiment: get in a desk chair and start spinning. Now curl yourself into a ball. Do you rotate faster? (You should).
But here’s what makes athletes like Biles unique: when people flip, their bodies are naturally going to shake and lose stability. Olympic gymnasts are strong enough to keep their bodies as stable as rods. Biles is particularly exceptional at holding still. With a firm build and a 4’8” frame, she’s got an amazing strength-to-weight ratio. This not only enables her to hold her body straight, but also lets her jump to about double her actual height. As former Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton described, Biles is “so incredibly strong” that “she’s just untouchable.” But that’s untouchable by human competitors.
Enter the nonhuman competition
MIT Leg Lab A “doll” thrown into the air will naturally twist and turn as it somersaults (left). But when you replace its shoulder joints with springs, it can stabilize itself using passive dynamics
In 1993, Robert Playter, today the director of Google Robotics, wrote his PhD thesis on “Passive Dynamics in the Control of Gymnastic Maneuvers.” A former college gymnast, Playter discovered that while it might take skill and training for a gymnast to manage a layout, the move doesn’t necessarily depend on heightened senses and preternatural balance. In fact, he found, removing the twist from a layout could be done by replacing a doll’s rigid shoulder joints with springs, so its arms could freely move to stabilize itself.
Playter’s doll was an early version of a passive dynamic machine—which means that its movements don’t require energy. It’s a type of contraption first developed in the 1980s by an engineering professor named Tad McGeer, who created a “passive walker” powered solely on gravity and inertia.
AMBER Lab This “passive dynamic” robot, developed by Simon Fraser University professor Tad McGeer around 1990, moves solely using gravity and natural forces.
Check out the GIF to the right and you’ll immediately notice that the walker’s movement is more humanlike than robots that are technologically far more advanced.
It turns out that gravity and natural forces like inertia can outperform hard-wired movement. Because as it happens, robots are really terrible at copying all the little movements that make us human. But by applying an advanced understanding of “passive dynamics” we can get pretty close to manufacturing “organic” motion.
The same year that he made the springy doll, Playter built another robot—one that could somersault. The robot was a sort of passive/active hybrid: it featured a metal frame attached to two “legs” that could shorten and lengthen, depending on feedback provided by sensors. The robot tucked and untucked its legs during the flip to rotate faster. Meanwhile, passive dynamics were used to keep the robot facing forward, without twisting or turning.
This wasn’t a layout somersault—its legs were tucked. But it showed that physics and robotics could potentially be a match for human athleticism.
MIT Leg Lab This somersaulting robot from 1993 uses active control to somersault, and passive dynamics to keep from twisting and turning.
Advancing those early prototypes, though, has been challenging. Boston Dynamics, the company that Playter led before Google acquired it, is still making “dynamic balancing” robots, meaning they can adjust their bodies to remain upright when researchers try to knock them down, and can get up after falling. But Alphabet is looking to sell Boston Dynamics, reportedly over concerns that they haven’t been—and won’t be—able to turn out any consumer products.
That’s not to say they haven’t made lots of cool robots. They’ve built ones that walk and carry packages, and that can withstand getting shoved with the business end of a hockey stick. They’ve made a robot that moves like a dog, and another that can run sort of like a cat.
Boston Dynamics Boston Dynamics’ Atlas robot can pick up packages and balance after being shoved by a researcher.
But they haven’t built one like Simone Biles.
One reason is that, realistically, there isn’t much practical use for a gymnastics robot. Another though, Playter says, is that they can’t. “You can’t really build robots that have the same strength-to-weight ratios that you get with biological muscle,” says Plater. The problem isn’t necessarily that robots are too weak. It may be that they’re trying too hard.
The benefits of avoiding the math
The most complicated part of Simone Biles’ signature move is the half-twist.
In general, the easiest way to start or stop spinning is to push off from something. But Biles needs to start twisting in midair, meaning she must realign the spin through her own body in a very precise way—which would be challenging even if she weren’t in the middle of a double flip.
The physics behind this is insanely complicated:
Euler’s equations for rigid body dynamics show the (complex) relationship between how Simone Biles positions her body and how she flips, twists and turns.
Of course, Biles does just fine without knowing much about any of those things. “Most of the time your body’s on autopilot,” Biles said in a recent interview with ABC News. “So sometimes even after a floor routine I’m like, Did I really just do that?”
In other words, you could try to apply that math in order to train a robot to do a Biles, but there’s something significant that gets lost along the way. It would basically be working too hard without fully understanding the essence of what it was doing. As Playter describes it, “When you’re in a somersault… there’s a feeling to that that is kind of like pumping a swing. When you pump a swing you wait until you’re at the bottom of the swing and you extend your legs when you feel you have something to push against.”
Basically, there’s a “sweet spot” that athletes like Biles can sense and respond to. If we could figure out how to replicate that understanding in a machine, it might give us a robot that could challenge Biles on the mat—assuming we could also figure out how to construct it to be sufficiently lightweight and strong.
Finding this sweet spot would also provide value to robotics far beyond simply building a bot to challenge Biles. This kind of physical intuition could be applied to basically any situation, with any set of variables. It would also, says Playter, “be the essence of how to make robots self-improve.” That’s a major priority for building bots that can do things humans do, whether it’s double layouts or helping with package delivery. Real life includes lots of factors that aren’t easily accounted for in simulations, and in the spur of the moment, there isn’t always time for an extensive calculation. Quantifying the “sweet spot” that tells humans how to move and when would be a breakthrough.
But in the meantime, gymnasts may actually be improving at a faster rate than robotics. In the 1976 Olympic games, Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci scored the first perfect 10. She actually got seven perfect tens to win the all-around gold, as well as two other gold medals. But if you compare her to Biles, they look like they’re competing in entirely different sports. Biles and her teammates can do moves much harder than Comaneci could 40 years ago. It’s not even close.
Since Comaneci, the scoring system been updated so that people are not scoring perfect tens. Instead, they are given two scores, added together: one for execution, where competitors start with a perfect 10 and lose points for mistakes and bad artistry; another for difficulty, calculated by adding point values for each individual move. Now, there is no limit to how high athletes can score, so the system won’t break when future athletes introduce unbelievable moves that don’t even exist yet. And they will—without knowing any of the physics that machines would have to ingest in order to come even close to replicating them.
Simone Biles 1. Robots 0.
August 11: This article was updated with results of the 2016 Olympics women’s individual all-around gymnastics competition.
Simone Biles’ Historic New Floor Routine Has A Jewish Background
Simone Biles makes history at the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City
This week, Simone Biles made history. It’s a sentence that journalists may soon tire of writing — the 22-year-old Olympic gymnast is simply one of the most extraordinary athletes to have ever lived.
At the U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City this weekend, she won six U.S. all-around titles, tying for the most in women’s gymnastics history. She became the first woman to land a double-double dismount off the balance beam. And she became the first woman — and one of the only people, ever — to do a triple-double during a competition floor routine.
If it sounds jargon-y, watch her change her sport in her Sunday night routine. She’s the kind of athlete who can make you weep with wonder:
Please forgive your friendly Jewish publication if the proud Jewish dad in us feels compelled to point out the sliver of Yiddishkeit in all this — the brassy, thrilling jazz sting that greets Biles as she takes to the floor? That’s a remix of “Big Spender,” a hit from the 1966 Broadway musical “Sweet Charity.”
The song is by Cy Coleman (given name: Seymour Kaufman,) the legendary Jewish composer who was nominated for a whopping 19 Tony Awards in his life, and won five, as well as a handful of Grammy and Emmy Awards. The ecstatic, sensuous music that underscores Biles’ latest triumph was one of Coleman’s most memorable tunes — he also wrote the Frank Sinatra hit “The Best Is Yet To Come” and “Hey, Look Me Over,” which Lucille Ball made popular.
Coleman wrote “Sweet Charity” with Jewish lyricist Dorothy Fields and Jewish playwright Neil Simon. “Hey, Big Spender,” remixed with a techno-beat for Biles’ unreal performance, is, of course, about propositioning men.
And that’s a little Jewish history to go with your double back somersault with three twists in two flips.
Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny
Simone Biles Breaks Medals Record As Team USA Wins Gymnastic World Championship
Team U.S.A. listening to the national anthem at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. Simone Biles, third from left, wears her 21st championship medal. Matthias Schrader/AP hide caption
toggle caption Matthias Schrader/AP
Team U.S.A. listening to the national anthem at the Gymnastics World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. Simone Biles, third from left, wears her 21st championship medal.
The U.S. women’s gymnastics team won their fifth consecutive world championship in Germany Tuesday. Team USA’s gold medal was Simone Biles’ 21st World Gymnastics Championships medal in her career, the most in women’s gymnastics history.
Biles, 22, anchored the U.S. team, scoring the highest individual points in vault, balance beam and floor exercise. Fifteen of her world medals are gold — also a record.
The Texan gymnast is now just three medals away from surpassing the all-time world medals leader, Belarusian Vitaly Scherbo.
“I guess it’s kind of crazy,” Biles said. “I didn’t really think about that. I think it’s really impressive for someone to be able to do that. It’s kind of exhilarating but I think I haven’t had the chance to process it yet. I think we’re celebrating tonight, for all of this: for the team, for the medal count, for the fifth year in a row.”
Team USA scored a collective 172.330 points. Second and third place went to Russia and Italy, respectively.
Biles now has four signature gymnastic moves named after her. In order for a gymnast to have a move named for them, they must submit it for consideration and successfully land it at a major competition such as the world championships or the Olympics. Two of those moves were added during Biles’s 2019 performances.
In her floor routine, Biles landed a triple-double, composed of a double backflip with three twists, now known as the “Biles II.”
Team USA YouTube
She also created a new move on the balance beam, called the “Biles.” The move, a dismount that consists of a double-twisting double backflip, is awarded 0.8 points if performed successfully.
Both Biles and USA Gymnastics expressed disappointment at the points classification her balance beam was assigned. The FIG Women’s Technical Committee said the move was given a lower score in order to dissuade gymnasts from attempting a potentially dangerous maneuver.
hahahaHAHAHAHAHhahaHahaAhahAhahahaAhahahHAHAahaaaaaaaHa bullshit https://t.co/NAnzBlfh8c
— Simone Biles (@Simone_Biles) October 1, 2019
“The safety of athletes is always a top priority for us and the sport in general, however we believe the skill should be given the value that it merits,” USA Gymnastics tweeted.
Paolo Zialcita is an intern on NPR’s News Desk.
Simone Biles wins 16th World Gymnastics Championships title with all-around gold
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Watch Biles’ best moments in all-round victory
Simone Biles extended her record of women’s all-around World Gymnastics Championships titles with another convincing gold in Stuttgart.
The 22 year-old’s total score of 58.999 gave her gold by a margin of 2.1 marks.
The success is the American’s 16th world title and follows the team gold that USA women won on Tuesday.
The win was Biles’ fifth all-around world title and she is now one medal short of equalling Vitaly Scherbo’s all-time record of 23 world medals.
With four apparatus finals over the weekend she is expected to overtake the Belarusian.
‘Most successful in history’
Biles started the all-around final on vault with a big score of 15.233 and followed that up with high marks on uneven bars (14.733) and beam (14.633).
Going into the last rotation on floor Biles needed 12.3 to overtake China’s Tang Xijing for gold.
And despite two steps out of bounds, her routine was still worthy of 14.4 to seal her fifth world all-around title.
Biles returns to competition on Saturday, when she could claim her 23rd and 24th world medals in the vault and uneven bars apparatus finals.
Simone Biles competes in her floor routine during the women’s all-around final in Stuttgart
Should she do so she would become the most successful gymnast in World Championships history.
While on vault she qualified second and is again favourite to retain that title, on bars she qualified in seventh place.
If Biles does not claim the record on Saturday she has two more chances on floor and beam the following day – where she qualified first for each final.
Great Britain’s sole representative in the all around final was Alice Kinsella.
The 18 year-old posted a total of 54.765 to improve upon her qualifying performance to finish a creditable 12th.