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Simone Biles Wins Third Gold Medal Of Rio Games On The Vault

Simone Biles won the women's vault final in the Rio Olympic Arena, setting a new mark for wins in a single Olympics by an American woman.
Ryan Pierse
Getty Images
Simone Biles won the women's vault final in the Rio Olympic Arena, setting a new mark for wins in a single Olympics by an American woman.

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. She beat seven other gymnasts in the individual event.

"It's something I wanted so badly," Biles said afterward, "so I just tried to keep a good mind going into vault."

As U.S. Gymnastics tells us, with Sunday'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.

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 a small hop backward 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.

"I feel very excited," Biles said, citing last year's world championships where she won two silver medals and a bronze. "It means a lot to me."

She also said she was disappointed in her first vault.

"I just wanted to stick a vault so badly here and it didn't happen," Biles said, "so of course I'm disappointed about that — but I can't be disappointed about the gold."

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.

India's Dipa Karmakar had seemed poised to win her country's first medal of the Rio Games, after improving on an initial vault score of 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 another notch.

In other individual competitions Sunday, Madison Kocian won the silver medal in the uneven bars, and Alex Naddour won the bronze for his pommel horse routine.

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 the vault 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 Sunday, as well: Uzbekistan's Oksana Chusovitina is 41, while Biles is 19.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.