With two main goals already accomplished – gold medals in both the team competition and in the individual all-around – Simone Biles turned to the vault to grab more Olympic gold Sunday.
Going last in a field of eight gymnasts, Biles needed an average score of more than 15.253 to claim gold. She unleashed a soaring Amanar on her first vault, taking only a small hop backwards as she landed. Score: 15.900.
For her next vault, Biles turned to a Cheng — a difficult vault that, compared to the Amanar, is worth an extra tenth of a point on the judges' scale — and performed it nearly flawlessly. Her score was the highest of the group: 16.033.
In the final, each athlete performs two vaults; the scores are then averaged. For instance, while Switzerland's Giulia Steingruber started strong with a 15.333, she scored a 14.900 on her second attempt, dropping her final score to 15.216. She held on for a bronze medal behind Maria Paseka of Russia.
As U.S. Gymnastics tells us, with today's gold medal, Biles sets a U.S. record for the most gymnastics gold medals in one Olympics for a female athlete. She also becomes the first American woman to win gold on the vault.
India's Dipa Karmakar had seemed poised to win her country's first medal of the Rio Games, after improving on an initial 14.866 with a 15.266, for an average of 15.066. But it wasn't meant to be, as Paseka quite literally vaulted to the top of the pack, pushing Karmakar down the rankings to third. Biles followed — and pushed all the other gymnasts down a notch.
If you're unsure what an Amanar and a Cheng are, NBC can help clear that up:
"The Amanar consists of a round-off onto the springboard, back handspring onto the vault table and then a flip with two and a half twists in the straight body position. It's the vault that McKayla Maroney made famous at the London Olympics and is worth 6.300 points."
"The Cheng is worth 6.400 points. It consists of jumping onto the springboard, doing a half twist before pushing off the vault with your hands, then doing a flip with one and a half twists."
Coming into this competition, Biles, 19, was also expected to face tough challenges from North Korea's Hong Un Jong – the 2008 gold medalist in this event — as well as Canada's Shallon Olsen, 16.
The vault final included a wide field of gymnasts in Rio Olympic Arena: it's rare, for instance, for an Olympic gymnast to face a competitor who's more than twice her age. But that happened today, as well: Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina is 41, while Biles is 19.