Over the weekend she debuted two new skills at Nationals. On the first night, she landed a double twisting double somersault off the beam, but she flubbed her landing on floor exercise — a triple twisting double somersault that no woman has ever attempted and very few men (zero in the US) can even land.
She stuck it on night two.
Ladies, gentlemen, and friends beyond the binary, allow me to introduce you to the tripledouble: a double back somersault with three twists spread out over the two flips. In men’s gymnastics, it’s called the Ri Jong Song, after the North Korean who debuted it at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. Among the few male elites who can land this monster is none other than legendary Japanese twister Kenzo Shirai (who can also, impossibly, do it in the layout position). It’s also been competed by gymnastics’ king, 21-time world medalist Kohei Uchimura—who a few weeks ago gushed in Japanese on Twitter about Biles’ technique. Since Biles already has a floor element named in her honor, when she completes the triple double in Stuttgart, in the Women’s Code of Points it will be christened the Biles II. (If you are eager for it, and why wouldn’t you be, there’s a super-slo-mo video.)
Last year I read something from ESPN calling Simone Biles the most dominant athlete in *any* sport (x), and you can’t really argue with that. Simone has won Gold at Nationals six times, and the only reason it wasn’t 7 in a row is because she took a year — an entire year! — off after the Olympics and didn’t compete at all.
For every person who says Roger Federer is the best tennis player, there’s another who says it’s Rafa Nadal (even Novak Djokovic has his supporters).
For every person who says Lebron James is the best player in the NBA right now, there’s another who will say it’s Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, or James Harden.
Serena Williams is the closest to Simone’s level, but as she’s shown time and time again, she’s beatable. Even if Serena is playing her best tennis, there are players that can keep up with her.
Simone Biles fell (she almost fell on her face) and still beat the next competitor by over four points. She could have fallen four more times and still won. That’s how dominant Simone Biles is. If she is at the meet, everyone else is aiming for second place. Her competitors say that openly — their goal is second place, because beating Simone Biles is almost inconceivable.
Simone Biles on her best night is better than any athlete has ever been at any sport. Ever. Simone Biles on her worst night, like she had at Day One of Nationals this year after putting up three subpar routines for her standards, still ended up in first place by more than two points.
Simone Biles and the Twisties.
If Simone Biles could compete, she absolutely would. She’s SIMONE BILES okay?
Simone Biles shouldn’t have to explain herself, but the Internet Age means there are a whole lot of people who get winded walking to the car giving big opinions on why she didn’t compete. When she pulled out of the Team competition, I hoped it was a very temporary setback and she would compete for the All Around and Individual medals. I wanted her to be the first woman to successfully defend her All Around title since 1968. When she didn’t compete again, I wasn’t really sure why, but I also didn’t really need the details.
Simone Biles is inarguably the most impressive athlete in the history of women’s gymnastics. She won a World Championship title with a kidney stone. She’s competed with fractures and strains over and over. She’s fallen completely off of an apparatus (sometimes more than one apparatus!) and still pushed forward to ultimately win the competition. Given her talent, work ethic, and determination, if Simone Biles says she cannot compete, then that’s the final word. If there was a way for her to push through, she would.
I was under the (misguided) impression that the pressure of the competition coupled with the blatantly discriminatory undervaluing of her skills alongside her status as the last of Nassar’s victims still in elite competition finally got to her. She was carrying the weight of the sport on her shoulders and it got to her at the worst moment. That was fine with me because she doesn’t owe me or anyone else anything. Watching her documentary on Facebook gave me fresh insight into who she is as a person, and I felt that if she reached her mental limit at the Olympics, then so be it.
Good job, Simone. You did your best and it must be devastating for you to have finally buckled a little at the most inopportune moment.
But she didn’t buckle at all. She didn’t collapse under the moment. I’m sure she would be devastated if she couldn’t close out her career the way she wanted to because her nerves got to her, but the truth must be even more devastating: Simone Biles got The Twisties. I’ll let this thread from a former gymnast/diver explain.
A quick aside about that penultimate tweet: comparisons to Kerri Strug competing on a broken leg are not making the point you hope they are. Kerri Strug 1) didn’t even need to vault, because if the Karyolis could do math, they would’ve known the US had already won gold and 2) it ended her gymnastics career. Keri may have retired after Atlanta anyway, but the choice was no longer up to her. Is a gold medal really worth that kind of sacrifice? These young women don’t get any prize money. No trust funds, no scholarships, no pensions. They compete for a week and are largely relegated to the dustbin of history unless they find a way to become a meme or America’s Sweetheart for a few endorsements.
Athletes do not owe the US a medal. Bodies don’t get pushed to the breaking point so people on the couch can feel a burst of patriotism for thirty seconds. Athletes compete for themselves, not for you. You aren’t doing anything. It’s not your medal.
Simone chose not to compete because Simone could not compete safely. Kerri Strug was not given that choice. She told her coaches that she couldn’t feel her leg and they pushed her to vault anyway. Simone told her coaches that she couldn’t feel herself in the air and they respected her as an athlete and as a person who knows her own body.
Back to the twisties…
There hasn’t been enough explanation, in the coverage I’ve seen anyway, of what Simone is actually experiencing, so I wanted to pull that thread out for y’all. If you’ve been an athlete in any sport, you may already have a name to put to it (the yips in baseball, the yanks in golf). If you’re a musician, you may have experienced a similar phenomenon where your body just randomly forgets how to play a piece, and you have to re-train or re-practice to help your body remember what it’s supposed to do. The neurons just aren’t firing the way they’re supposed to, and after the Team and All Around competitions, Simone still can’t feel herself in the air.
.@Simone_Biles shared footage of herself at practice in #Tokyo this morning via Instagram, still struggling to find herself in the air.— Gymnastics Now (@Gymnastics_Now) July 30, 2021
The 🐐 also took the time to further communicate the severity of her condition to the world. pic.twitter.com/xULcvS7s4F
If Simone landed that way in competition, she could die. I’m not sure people recognize how dangerous gymnastics is because the athletes make it look so effortless, but death is an actual risk anytime they compete. If your kinesthesia is off in golf, you might hit the ball too hard. If your kinesthesia is off in baseball, you might throw the ball too short. In both cases, the ball feels the effect. If your kinesthesia is off in gymnastics, you might land on your head and break your neck.
I’m proud of Simone Biles. I don’t know that I would have the mental fortitude or depth of spirit to work for something for five years, have my body fail in the 11th hour, and face the public with grace and positivity. She’s smiling, she’s cheering, she’s in Tokyo with her chin up as though she just won a gang of gold medals.
Oh wait — she already has.
Hot Takes: Black Widow
This isn’t Natasha’s story the way most origin stories would be.
I don’t want to give spoilers in case you don’t want them, so we got three parts here.
The Good / Random (No Spoilers)
1. This is a good ass origin story! They’re so formulaic in superhero movies, but this isn’t that.
Captain Marvel – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Spiderman – accidentally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Captain America – intentionally gets superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Iron Man – spends a bunch of money making superpowers, learns how to use them, kicks butt.
Black Widow – a child trafficker gets tracked down by two of his former slaves/spies/assassins.
2. Where do spies be getting all this money? Natasha is an orphan. Did she just steal a few billion dollars and stash it somewhere to be spending on identities and jets and whatnot? It’s not like the Avengers draw a paycheck. Falcon could barely keep his little fishing boat in business.
3. Florence Pugh is hilarious and, no shade but shade, a better Black Widow than Scarlett. I’m so excited for her.
4. I want smaller Marvel movies. We have consistently leveled up the danger from saving a city to saving a country to saving a planet to saving the universe to now probably saving all of the dimensions of the universe. Where do you go after that? Let’s make it small. Black Widow is an exercise in taking the stakes down and I hope they keep moving in that direction. Every Marvel movie doesn’t need a huge scene culminating in hundreds of explosions where the universe is saved for another day. Let’s get the Marvel road trip buddy comedy, the Marvel bank heist, the Marvel family drama. Black Widow is a mashup of all three, and it’s done really well.
5. There are only like three men in the whole movie who have more than a minute of screentime and you love to see it.
6. For me, action scenes have a heightened sense of danger when it’s a bunch of regular people chasing each other in cars and kicking ass without flying through the sky or blasting out neon projectiles. In that way, Black Widow feels more like a Bond movie or a Bourne movie than a Marvel movie and I’m very much here for all of that.
The Annoying (Mild Spoilers)
7. Because these are real people who can DIE and those are my favorite kinds of action movies, it really takes me out of the film when these real, non-enhanced humans survive ridiculous things or put themselves in absolutely fatal situations with no regard to their own safety. If you can’t survive a gunshot, you’re not going to squat in the open door of a helicopter while it’s being sprayed with bullets — two bullet holes appeared on Yelena’s left and then three appeared on her right, but she’s right in the doorway getting hit by nothing? How many car crashes can Natasha not only walk away from but also fight an adversary immediately after? My dad has ten broken bones from a car crash he was in a couple of weeks ago, but she walking away from cars that rolled over? I don’t like that.
8. Atomic Blonde has some of the most realistic fight scenes I’ve ever seen in a female action movie and the fight choreographer talked about how they designed those scenes to accurately portray how a woman (or anyone with less muscle mass) would take advantage of their surroundings. Black Widow cannot pummel someone the way Captain America can because she’s not as strong. It doesn’t really matter though. It’s Marvel. We didn’t watch it for accuracy, and the fight scenes are all the same. However, when Natasha fights Yelena, they both utilize everything around them from dishes to curtains and it just made me wonder why they don’t always have Natasha fight that way.
9. Neither of these things would matter as much if the writers hadn’t made Yelena (hilariously) point out that Black Widow is a regular person compared to the other Avengers. If you’re going to highlight the fact that your cast is just humans who get shot, get broken bones, and then get ibuprofen, then you shouldn’t write action scenes for invincible heroes.
The Response to “It’s Too Late” Criticism (Mild Spoilers)
10. We watch movies about actual dead people all the time, so I don’t get what the big deal is. Tammy Faye Baker is so ridiculous she might as well have been written by Marvel and I’m gonna see that movie on opening night.
11. It’s right on time, but the marketing sucks, because it’s too focused on Natasha. Marvel has incorrectly assumed the public cares enough about Natasha to want this movie even though she’s dead, or that we like Scarlett enough to see this movie even though we know the resolution of the character. But Natasha and Yelena have the same origin story — it’s just as much Florence Pugh’s movie as it is Scarlett Johansson’s. This is the new Black Widow’s origin story, not the dead one’s.
Hot Takes: Zola
Taylour Paige is a star.
1. TS Madison needs more film roles, stat. I didn’t even know she could act (yes, she was basically just being TS Madison, but Julia Roberts built a whole career of just being Julia on screen).
2. Personal preference, but I don’t love indie movies where you feel like the director needs to constantly remind you that they’re in control of the vision and that you’re watching an indie movie. Zola is a good story on its own — that’s why the Twitter thread went viral in the first place. It doesn’t need a lot of “filmmaking” to make a watchable film, and yet Janicza Bravo made sure to remind us through long, broody driving shots and visual interjections of meaningless filler in no way integral to the plot, that she’s the boss and she’s making an indie movie. I don’t like that.
3. Taylour Paige is a star. Taylour Paige’s body is also a star. Additionally, Taylour Paige’s face is a star. That ballet training and that Debbie Allen instruction really came in handy because the way she moves is magnetic. She can just walk through the scene and command attention. Also, the way she can tell microstories with her face! The entire film is one big showcase for Taylour’s tiny facial expressions.
4. Riley Keough (Elvis Pressley’s granddaughter, for those who don’t know) successfully walks that tricky line between doing a Blaccent and doing “white girl who knows Black people” and I feel like she must have actually put in work and research to pull that off successfully where so many others fail miserably.
5. Colman Domingo’s vague African accent maybe not as successful? Also, I just looked him up to see where he was from (Philadelphia, dad is from Belize) and he’s gay. He has a whole husband and everything, so what a nice Pride Month bonus on the very last day.
6. Wow, what a surprising collection of ugly penises.
7. Greg from Succession is hilarious. I love that he’s basically playing Greg from Succession again, but the trailer park version. I wouldn’t mind if his whole career was various incarnations of Greg from Succession.
8. If I had never read the Twitter thread, I probably would have enjoyed the movie just a *smidge* more, because I was waiting for the next tweet/plotpoint to come in whenever the director was seemingly trying to fill time. I felt like she was writing an essay with a word requirement and she was trying to hit the threshold with empty space. If Zola needed to be an hour and ten minutes, then that’s what it needed to be.
9. Sex trafficking is scary. The biggest difference between the Twitter thread and this movie is the way Bravo more accurately depicts how terrifying it is to be pimped and to be under the control of a man who is using you for money. I don’t remember being afraid for any of the characters on Twitter. I was afraid for everyone involved while watching the movie.
10. If your pee looks like Sunny Delight, bitch drink some WATER.
Simone Biles and the Twisties.
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Take this Jim Crow era literacy test for Black people.
Simone Biles and the Twisties.
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