Simone Biles's Difficulty Scores Help Explain Why She's Practically Unbeatable

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ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - JUNE 25: Simone Biles warms up prior to competition on day 2 of the women's 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials - Gymnastics at America's Center on June 25, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - JUNE 25: Simone Biles warms up prior to competition on day 2 of the women's 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials - Gymnastics at America's Center on June 25, 2021 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

When it comes to elite gymnastics, the days of the famed "perfect 10" are long gone. Today, gymnastics is scored using a complex, two-pronged system, with one set of points awarded for the difficulty of a gymnast's skills and another set awarded for how well those skills are executed. It's the difficulty score that gets the most attention, particularly in the era of Simone Biles, whose routines are so technical - and her difficulty scores so high - that she could fall and still win.

Exactly how high can those difficulty scores go? According to USA Gymnastics, the difficulty score is calculated using a specific formula. For any given routine, the difficulty score is the sum of:

  • The point value of the 10 most difficult skills in the routine, with each skill only being counted once.

  • The connection value, earned by successfully executing multiple skills in a row.

  • The composition requirements, which allow athletes to earn up to 2.0 points by performing a set of elements that are required on that apparatus.

In women's gymnastics, each skill is categorized into one of 10 classifications, which have increasing point values as they become more difficult. The Code of Points classifications start with Group A skills, worth 0.1 point each, and go up through Group J, which earn 1.0 points each. Vault skills are scored a little differently, with difficulty values currently ranging from 2.0 to 6.4 points. To put Biles's dominance into perspective, her triple-double on floor is currently the only J-level element, and her latest vault - the Yurchenko double pike - was given a provisional value of 6.6 at the GK US Classic.

In practice, then, there is no upper limit for the difficulty score, though generally speaking, the difficulty scores (or "D-scores") typically fall between 5 and 6 points for elite gymnasts, like those competing at the Olympics. By comparison, depending on the event, Biles can carry a difficulty score of 6.50 or higher. This new scoring system - while at times difficult for viewers to understand - has allowed athletes like Biles to continue pushing the limits of the sport, and that is thrilling to watch.

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