By Jessica Taylor Price
Simone Biles stunned the world earlier this month with her brand new vault: a round off, half-on, laid-out double full. If she competes the vault at qualifications on Saturday, it will be named for her, and will be the most difficult Yurchenko-style vault for women in the Code of Points.
Feature Photo by Grace Chiu
Simone Biles’ vault will be a huge development for the Yurchenko vault group, which, since its inception over 30 years ago, has steadily increased in difficulty. When she competes her new vault, Biles will join a long line of innovative gymnasts who’ve pushed thes envelope, from Natalija Yurchenko herself, to Svetlana Khorkina, to Cheng Fei.
Here are some of the women who have brought the Yurchenko to where it is today:
The Birth of the Yurchenko (1982-1987)
Soviet gymnast Natalia Yurchenko was the first woman to compete a vault with a round off entry, and is the gymnast who gave the Yurchenko its name. She did it with a backward salto in 1982, and with a full twist in 1983, cementing her legacy as one of the most daring female gymnasts in the history of the sport.
The vault didn’t entirely catch on, though–none of the medalists competed one at 1983 Worlds or the 1984 Olympics–until Elena Shushunova of the Soviet Union. She won the 1985 vault title with a full-twisting Yurchenko and a 1½, doing the same at the next worlds in 1987. (Fun fact about Shushunova: She’s one of the few woman who have won the all-around title at Worlds, the Olympics and a Continental Championships.)
Around this time, we also saw a few gymnasts switch things up with twists onto the board: Oksana Omelianchik of the Soviet Union did a ½ on piked salto off in 1987, and Patrizia Luconi of Italy competed a full-on in 1986.
The double appears (1987-1992)
By 1987 Worlds, every medalist was competing a Yurchenko-style vault, ushering in a new era of pretty much every elite competing them and occasionally trying to push the envelope by adding half twists.
Which brings us to the double-twisting Yurchenko: Quite possibly the most ubiquitous vault in world competition today, the double-twisting, laid-out Yurchenko is technically a Baitova, named for Svetlana Baitova of the USSR. She performed it in 1987 and competed it at the 1988 Olympics. (Don’t expect to see Baitova in Qatar cheering on the Russian ladies, though: She coached there for about a year in 2002, but couldn’t stand the weather.)
It would take a while before the double became the go-to vault. Between 1989 and 1992 gymnasts were mostly just doing fulls, and it would take 13 years for another half twist to be added to the laid-out Yurchenko.
DTYs take the cake, and half-ons come back (1993-2000)
Starting in 1993 and ending around 2003, most of the winners of vault titles did so with a DTY.
This is also when the Omelianchik made its comeback, with a few gymnasts using it to get innovative with their vaults. Svetlana Khorkina, notorious for her creative skills, competed a half-on half-twisting tuck in 1994 to get it named for her, later adding a full twist for her second named vault in 2001.
The always delightful Lilia Podkopayeva did something similar in 1995 (½ on piked ½ off), and Denisse Lopez–the first Mexican gymnast to qualify for both a World and Olympic final–debuted her laid-out ½ on ½ off in 2000.
The Rise of the Amanar (2000-2017)
Simona Amanar of Romania did 2½ twists at the 2000 Olympic Games, giving her name to the vault that elites would strive to achieve for years to come. A few gymnasts were able to match Amanar’s success with the 2½, and the first person to win a World vault medal with an Amanar was Kang Yun Mi of North Korea, who came in second in 2003.
After that, most vault winners were competing with an Amanar, beginning with Cheng Fei, who won in 2005 with an Amanar and a Cheng (laid-out ½ on 1½ off), the most difficult combination of vaults being competed at that time.
Cheng won the vault title a record three years in a row. She also started the trend of doing an Amanar and using a half-on as a second vault that Aliya Mustafina (who first did the laid-out ½-on full in 2010), Mckayla Maroney, Hong un Jong, Maria Paseka and Simone Biles continued.
The Future of the Yurchenko: Simone Biles
For the past few years, fans have wondered where women’s vaulting would go from the Amanar and Cheng–or if it would even be possible to do more difficult vaults. The triple-twisting Yurchenko has appeared before, with North Korean daredevil Hong un Jong submitting it several times and attempting it in 2016. Biles has been spotted training a triple as well.
From what we saw at the U.S. World Team Selection Camp, though, we know that Biles has decided to take the half-on to the next level instead. When Biles competes this new vault in Doha, she will accomplish yet another feat: Adding herself to the list of all-time great vault innovators.
Video via USA Gymnastics
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