Teenage new­comer chal­lenges Biles’ crown

The Amer­i­can queen of gym­nas­tics could be top­pled by Su­nisa Lee, writes Myr­iam Caw­ston

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sam Wallace -

Si­mone Biles has lifted the hori­zons of what was con­sid­ered pos­si­ble in her sport and be­yond. This week in Stuttgart, she earned her 21st World Cham­pi­onships medal to be­come the most dec­o­rated woman in gym­nas­tics his­tory. She also added two new grav­i­ty­de­fy­ing skills.

Biles is the undis­puted fig­ure­head of women’s gym­nas­tics and clear favourite for tonight’s all-around com­pe­ti­tion, but fol­low­ing in her foot­steps, her United States team-mates are fly­ing, too. In the wake of Biles’s his­toric triple-dou­ble som­er­sault at this year’s US cham­pi­onships, com­pa­tri­ots Mykayla Skinner and Jade Carey posted videos of their own ver­sions on so­cial me­dia.

But emerg­ing as Biles’s strong­est contender is new­comer Su­nisa Lee, the 16-year-old whose all-around score at the US tri­als placed her 0.350 points off first place. This is closer than any­one has come in years; it rep­re­sents only a cou­ple of steps on land­ings. De­but­ing at the cham­pi­onships this week, Lee al­ready has a team gold to her name. In­di­vid­u­ally, she trailed Biles by more than two points in qual­i­fy­ing af­ter a fall from the beam. But across all ap­pa­ra­tus, her light­ness in flight, ex­ten­sion, flex­i­bil­ity and sense of de­tail are akin to gym­nas­tics from a by­gone era.

So, how does style trans­late into points? How are the re­spec­tive strengths of both ath­letes re­flected in scores? Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, gen­eral im­pres­sion does not count. The open-ended scor­ing sys­tem, in­tro­duced in 2006, com­bines the “D” score, re­flect­ing the cu­mu­la­tive dif­fi­culty of per­formed el­e­ments, with the “E” score, re­ward­ing the qual­ity of their ex­e­cu­tion. Rather than a sub­jec­tive re­flec­tion of “artistry”, the E score is strictly cod­i­fied.

The E score starts from 10 and the judges ap­ply de­duc­tions based on fail­ure to dis­play cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics. Biles’ and Lee’s

Lee’s light­ness in flight and sense of de­tail could be from a by­gone era

gym­nas­tics have dif­fer­ent in­built de­duc­tions: for ex­am­ple, Lee may get de­ducted for low chest po­si­tions on tum­ble land­ings, and Biles may not spend enough of her beam rou­tine in releve (on tip-toe) or dis­play “re­laxed feet”.

Biles’s am­ple tum­bles, clean twists, con­trolled turns and split leaps stand up to the de­tailed scru­tiny of judges. More­over, she is able to build such a lead on the over­all dif­fi­culty score that she can af­ford a cou­ple of large mis­takes. At the 2018 World Cham­pi­onships, she walked away with gold de­spite two falls. Even she was con­flicted about the win, telling jour­nal­ists at the time: “I feel that the girls worked so hard and they de­serve it a lit­tle bit bet­ter than me. To­day wasn’t my best.”

One of the at­trac­tions of gym­nas­tics as a sport is that it al­lows for dif­fer­ent ver­sions of out­stand­ing. Artis­tic and com­po­si­tion de­duc­tions do fea­ture in the code, such as “in­suf­fi­cient com­plex­ity or cre­ativ­ity in the move­ments”.

Lee ex­cels in this do­main, ar­guably out­per­form­ing Biles in her abil­ity to cre­ate beau­ti­ful shapes and link them with flu­id­ity. Biles shines in other listed ar­eas, such as “con­fi­dence” in her beam per­for­mance.

Could Lee’s strengths al­low her to chal­lenge for all-around gold? It will be dif­fi­cult. De­duc­tions can be in­curred for fail­ing to meet a min­i­mum ex­e­cu­tion stan­dard, but no bonus is on of­fer for ex­ceed­ing it.

Biles’ am­ple tum­bles, clean twists and split leaps stand up to scru­tiny

Last week, the women’s tech­ni­cal com­mit­tee pub­lished dif­fi­culty val­ues of newly sub­mit­ted el­e­ments, to much de­bate. Biles’s new beam dismount, the dou­ble-twist­ing dou­ble back, was con­tro­ver­sially as­signed a con­ser­va­tive point value fail­ing to re­flect its ex­treme dif­fi­culty. The cham­pion did not hold back in call­ing out the gov­ern­ing body on Twit­ter. USA Gym­nas­tics was also unim­pressed.

The con­tro­versy has ap­peared to heighten Biles’s mo­ti­va­tion. Her beam rou­tine in Satur­day’s qual­i­fy­ing round was pos­si­bly the best she has ever pro­duced and it is hard to imag­ine her walk­ing away from tonight’s com­pe­ti­tion with­out a gold medal, al­though Lee will un­doubt­edly shine, too.

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