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Opinion: Simone Biles can turn the most mundane of trainings into something spectacular


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TOKYO — Watching the U.S. women can sometimes feel anti-climactic. They’re the best team in the world, have been for a decade now, and they never fail to be on top of their game, whether it’s the actual competition or the training for it.

And then Simone Biles goes and does one of her #SimoneThings.

The greatest gymnast the sport has seen, and the biggest thing going at the Tokyo Olympics, surprised even members of her own team Thursday by doing her Yurchenko double pike vault.

Not just once, either. Twice.

“I didn’t think she was going to do the double pike today because she didn’t do it in the back,” Annie Heffernon, vice president of USA Gymnastics’ women’s program, said after the Americans finished podium training. “She came out and did it in the front, and I was just as shocked as everybody else.”

Biles and her teammates didn’t talk to the media after podium training, rushing through the mixed zone.

When Biles returned to the sport in 2018 after taking a year off following the Rio Olympics, she easily could have done the same thing she’d been doing and raked in another haul of gold. But that wasn’t enough for her.

She wanted to challenge herself and her abilities while pushing the boundaries of the sport.

“I had already reached, and passed, all my expectations in the sport already,” Biles told USA TODAY Sports in April. “I don’t have anything to lose at this point. Whatever happens happens, but I’m going to push myself to see how much further I can go in the sport.”

She’s more than done that. She’s had three skills named after her – meaning she’s the first to ever do them in competition – just since 2018, and they’re so difficult the International Gymnastics Federation refuses to give two of them their rightful value in hopes of dissuading other gymnasts from trying them.

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Now she’s doing the Yurchenko double pike, a vault few men even try.

Biles does a roundoff onto the takeoff board, a back handspring onto the vault and then flips twice with her body in a piked position. What makes this so difficult is that there is no bailout. If other vaults are done wrong, a gymnast risks injuring a knee or an ankle.

Screw up the Yurchenko double pike, and you are likely to land on your head or neck.

Biles debuted the vault at the U.S. Classic in May but hasn’t done it in competition since. She had a scary crash during training at the national championships, and then opted against doing it at the Olympic trials so she didn’t put added stress on her body.

But she said after trials that she was still training it, and hoped to do it in Tokyo.

And now it seems as if she will.

“If she does it like that, you could see it in competition,” Heffernon said. “I’m not sure when, but some time.”

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Qualifications for the women are Sunday, and the team final is Tuesday. Biles is also all but assured of qualifying for the all-around final next Thursday, as well as the finals for vault (Aug. 1); floor exercise (Aug. 2) and balance beam (Aug. 3).

Biles and her coach have already said she’s more likely to do the Yurchenko double pike when she can warm it up on the competition floor. That likely means during qualifying or the all-around final rather than the vault final, when gymnasts begin competing as soon as they come onto the floor.

The Americans came to Tokyo as heavy favorites to win their third consecutive gold medal, and their performance Thursday only confirmed it. They looked confident and well-prepared, the few errors they made akin to criticizing Michelangelo’s choice of brush strokes in a corner of the Sistine Chapel.

“I thought they looked pretty darn good,” Heffernon said.

It was a spectacular show. And then Biles went and made it even better.

Because, #SimoneThings.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.