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May 27 2021

Equity Versus Simone Biles

If an athlete’s goal is to get maximum performance out of the human body, Simone Biles may be the greatest athlete on earth. She doesn’t compete against other gymnasts, because there are none in her league. She doesn’t compete for points either, because they have put a ceiling on how many she can earn. They say this is for the sake of safety, but Biles suspects equity is to blame:

The four-time Olympic gold medalist made history at the US Classic this weekend when she landed a Yurchenko double pike vault. And even though the feat is so challenging – and dangerous – that no woman had ever dared to try it in competition before her, the authorities of elite gymnastics awarded Biles a score on par with many of her other, less difficult vaults.

Here’s how scoring works in gymnastics:

Rather than athletes earning points throughout a performance, the decision-makers at the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) pre-assign scores to routines based on the difficulty of the skills involved. Then, judges evaluate execution in real-time, docking points from the potential total every time a gymnast makes a mistake during their program. …

[A]s she’s pulled off increasingly complex – and hazardous – skills, Biles expected her point values to increase accordingly. They haven’t.

To the extent this is to prevent girls from trying maneuvers that would leave them with broken necks, it is regrettable but understandable. However,

Biles suggested that the FIG has serially undervalued her skills because “they don’t want the field to be too far apart,” she told The Times. If the FIG keeps her provisional scores low, Biles’ thinking goes, [then] other gymnasts may have a fighting chance.

If she’s right, it’s like having a 100% marginal tax rate on athletic achievement.

Greatness has to be encouraged, not restricted. Without giants, we have no one to look up to for inspiration. That is what makes equity a crime against all of us, not just those who excel.

On a tip from Dragon’s Lair.


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