VERIFY Weekly: Simone Biles and Olympic gymnastics

As part of this week’s feature, the VERIFY team answered questions about Biles’ Olympic career and how she’s challenged the gymnastics scoring system.
Credit: AP Photo/Gregory Bull
Simone Biles, of the United States, waits for her turn to perform during the artistic gymnastics women's final at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tuesday, July 27, 2021, in Tokyo.

Simone Biles entered the Tokyo Olympics as one of the most high-profile athletes. She won five medals at the previous Olympics and has dominated the gymnastics world ever since. All that attention has come with a lot of pressure, which Biles has openly discussed as a stressor.

She posted on Instagram that she sometimes feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. Since that post, Biles has withdrawn from five events, prioritizing her mental health.

Biles has received support from across the world. That includes USA Gymnastics, which said it applauds her “bravery” and “courage.”

Biles has qualified for one more event but it’s unclear at this point if she’ll compete. If she competes, Biles has the opportunity to add to her impeccable résumé.  

As part of this week’s “VERIFY Weekly” feature, the VERIFY team answered questions about Biles’ Olympic career and how she’s challenged the sport’s scoring system. You can watch the full video on our YouTube page here.

THE QUESTION

Is Simone Biles undefeated in individual events at the Olympics?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, Simone Biles is not undefeated in all individual Olympic events.

WHAT WE FOUND

The Tokyo Olympics are the second Olympics Biles has competed in. She also competed in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games. 

At those games, Biles won four total individual medals -- three gold and one bronze. She won a gold medal in the all-around, vault, floor and team competitions. She took home a bronze medal in the beam event. She also won a gold medal in the team competition. Her five medals at Rio De Janeiro tied for the most by any U.S. gymnast at a single Olympics.

Biles is the most decorated U.S. women’s gymnast ever with 31 total Olympic and World Championship medals, according to USA Gymnastics. Of those 31 medals, 23 have been gold. 

On Biles’ profile page, USA Gymnastics lists more than 50 achievements by the 24-year-old gymnast who is widely regarded as the greatest of all time. 

THE QUESTION

YouTube commenters asked: Is Biles the first American since 1992 to qualify for all of the Olympic gymnastic events?

THE SOURCE

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, Biles was the first American to qualify for all of the Olympic artistic gymnastic events since Shannon Miller accomplished the same feat in 1992.

WHAT WE FOUND

There are six artistic gymnastic events women can qualify for in the Olympics. They are:

  • All-around
  • Vault
  • Floor
  • Beam
  • Uneven bars
  • Team

For the first time in her career, Biles qualified for all six events in Tokyo. At the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Games, Biles qualified for five of the six events. She did not qualify for uneven bars.

In fact, no American gymnast had qualified for all six events in nearly 30 years. Shannon Miller did it in the 1992 Barcelona Games, according to historic results posted on the International Olympic Committee’s website. Miller would go on to medal in five of the six competitions. She won silver medals in the beam and all-around competitions. She took home bronze medals in the floor, uneven bars and team events. Miller finished sixth in the vault.

Although she withdrew partway through the team competition in Tokyo, Biles was still awarded a silver medal with the rest of her teammates. That puts her at six total medals in her Olympic career.

Biles still has one more event she can compete in if she chooses to -- the balance beam competition scheduled for Aug. 3.

THE QUESTION

A TikTok user asked VERIFY: Has gymnastics scoring in the Olympics ever changed?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, the scoring for artistic gymnastics events was changed in 2006. That system is still in place at the Tokyo Olympics. As part of the system, scores for new skills are added on an ongoing basis.

WHAT WE FOUND

USA Gymnastics says the International Gymnastics Federation changed its scoring system for men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics in 2006. Under the old rules, gymnasts received one score with a maximum of 10 points -- which became known as the “perfect 10.” 

But with the new scoring system, gymnasts receive two scores: a difficulty score and an execution score. Those scores are added together to determine a gymnast’s final point total.

Specific moves, known in gymnastics as skills, are assigned a difficulty rating in the International Gymnastics Federation’s Code of Points. For women, the difficulty score for routines is the total value of the eight most difficult skills performed. For men, it’s the total of the 10 most difficult skills performed in the routine, according to USA Gymnastics. So, the more difficult the skills, the more points a gymnast can get.

The execution score starts at 10 and deductions are made for errors. Deductions range from 0.1 point to 1 point, which is the deduction for a fall.

This two-scoring system, specifically the difficulty rating, has been the source of controversy. It’s where some people, including Biles herself, believe she is being judged unfairly. Biles told The New York Times that she thinks some of her skills are being underscored for difficulty, claiming it’s so she doesn’t have too much of an advantage over her competitors. 

The latest example of this, Biles says, is with a vault called the Yurchenko double pike. The move involves two piked backflips after leaving the vault. In May, Biles became the first woman ever to land it during competition.  

The International Gymnastics Federation said the Yurchenko double pike was given a 6.6 difficulty rating, the highest of any women’s vault. The International Olympic Committee said two other women’s vaults, including another one by Biles, have a difficulty value of 6.4.

As far as how the 6.6 difficulty rating was determined, the International Gymnastics Federation said, “The Women’s Artistic Gymnastics Technical Committee (WTC) employed the progression currently used in the men's Code of Points as a reference to determine the value this vault should have.”

It’s not the first time the WTC has defended a difficulty rating assigned to a skill by Biles. In 2019, the group said the difficulty rating for a Biles balance beam dismount was partly based on risk.

“In assigning values to the new elements, the WTC takes into consideration many different aspects; the risk, the safety of the gymnasts and the technical direction of the discipline,” the group said. “The WTC’s task is to ensure the safety of all athletes around the world and decisions are not based purely on one gymnast.”

While we can’t VERIFY whether Biles’ moves are being undervalued for difficulty, we can VERIFY the scoring system for gymnastics was changed 15 years ago and has brought with it some of the controversy you see today.

More from VERIFY: No, US gymnasts won’t automatically replace Simone Biles if she withdraws from Olympic events

   

The VERIFY team works to separate fact from fiction so that you can understand what is true and false. Please consider subscribing to our daily newsletter, text alerts and our YouTube channel. You can also follow us on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok. Learn More »

Follow Us

Want something VERIFIED?

Text: 202-410-8808

Related Stories