Simone Biles Being Punished for Amazing Move Echoes Surya Bonaly Controversy

Simone Biles Being Punished for Amazing Move Echoes Surya Bonaly Controversy


Simone Biles isn’t just a good gymnast. She’s unbelievably good, gifted in ways that even the most dedicated athletes often aren’t. Her talent is at the intersection of natural ability, grueling hard work, and an unmatched desire to be better than anyone to ever compete before her. Recently, Biles became the first woman in history to successfully pull off the Yurchenko double pike vault.

The Yurchenko double pike is difficult, dangerous, and astonishing to see in motion. Biles landed the move during the US Classic, astonishing the audience and silencing the judges instantly. The move is so dangerous that many gymnasts won’t even attempt it in practice sessions, giving it a stigma that you wouldn’t expect for such an amazing feat of athletic prowess. The judges gave Biles a starting value of just 6.6 for the move, and to outsiders looking in, that number is way too low.

What gives? Why is the most decorated gymnast in history being punished for being the best?

Surya Bonaly

We’ll get back to Simone Biles in a moment, but let’s talk about Surya Bonaly. Bonaly is one of the greatest ice skaters to ever compete in the sport. In three different Olympics, Bonaly achieved podium finishes but was consistently scored lower than some in the world of figure skating found appropriate. Her career was full of sleights from judges, and some of Bonaly’s fans contended that she was scored lower than her competitors often due to the color of her skin. Bonaly is a black woman.

Born in Nice, France, Bonaly is one of the world’s most famous French women and the only woman to ever land a backflip during an Olympic ice skating event. Backflips are explicitly banned in Olympic ice skating competitions because they’re difficult and extremely dangerous. Bonaly only went for the move because an Achilles injury was likely to drag her outing into a low position, and the 1998 Winter Olympics were going to be her last.

Later, Bonaly would remark “The judges are not pleased no matter what I do, and I knew I couldn’t go forward anyway because everybody was skating so good.”  The judges, naturally, hated it. The crowd, as you might expect, lost it. Surya Bonaly essentially used her astonishing athleticism to wave a giant expletive in front of the panel of judges.

Simone Biles

Biles has a very different background from Bonaly, of course, being an American gymnast, not a French ice skater. However, she does share one thing in common with Bonaly: fighting for acceptance in a very white sport as a black woman.

Speaking about her 6.6 starting value for her astonishing Yurchenko double pike, Biles expressed frustration with the establishment around her sport. “I feel like now we just have to get what we get because there’s no point in putting up a fight because they’re not going to reward it,” she told reporters. “So, we just have to take it and be quiet.”

Biles isn’t just the best in her sport, she’s the best by an extremely wide margin. When she competes in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, she’s sure to give the performance of a lifetime. Sadly, the bar has been set higher for her than for anyone else. When speaking on the double standard, Biles added “[…] [T]hey don’t want the field to be too far apart. And that’s just something that’s on them. That’s not on me.”