Current time in Tokyo: Aug. 3, 8:09 p.m.
Simone Biles nailed her beam routine in Tuesday’s final, earning an execution score more than three-tenths higher than she had in the qualifying round, when she stumbled backward on her dismount. But her total score, 14.0, was slightly lower.
That’s because she changed a single skill: the dismount.
In gymnastics, each skill is assigned a letter value that represents its difficulty. Skills rated A are easiest, while more difficult skills are rated sequentially using letters of the alphabet: B, C, D and so forth (and yes, they’re in reverse of the letter grades you wanted to earn in high school).
During the qualifying round, Biles dismounted with a full-twisting double back, which is rated G. In the final, she dismounted with a double pike, which is rated E, so two letter values easier.
Each successive letter is worth an extra tenth of a point: An A skill is worth 0.1, a B skill is worth 0.2, and so on. That means in terms of absolute difficulty, doing the easier dismount cost Biles only two-tenths. But because the total difficulty score for a routine is based both on the individual skills and on bonuses for linking multiple skills, changing one move can have a snowball effect.
The Code of Points, which governs scoring in gymnastics, awards a two-tenth bonus for connecting a B skill to an F (or higher) dismount. Biles normally receives that bonus because she does two back handsprings, each rated B, into her G-rated full-twisting double back dismount. But by downgrading to an E-rated dismount, she lost the bonus.
That meant her difficulty score went down by four-tenths of a point, compared with the routine she used in the qualifying round: 6.1 instead of 6.5. That outweighed her improved execution.
Still, balance beam finals are quite unpredictable. Several other gymnasts made mistakes, and Biles, with her less difficult but better-executed routine, won a bronze medal even after finishing sixth in the qualifying round.
Performing a routine filled with difficulty but performed with grace, Guan Chenchen of China, the youngest competitor on Tuesday, won the gold medal in the balance beam at the Tokyo Games. Simone Biles, in her much-anticipated return, won bronze and another Chinese athlete, Tang Xijing, won silver.
Guan, who is 16 and in her first Olympics, is a specialist on the balance beam and it showed at these Games. With a routine much more difficult than that of her competitors, she had qualified first for the balance beam final.
On Tuesday, she was the eighth and last gymnast to compete and she nailed split leaps, back handsprings, flips and an aerial before flying into the air for her double pike dismount and landing to applause in the arena. Her score of 14.633 was enough to put her ahead of everyone.
Tang finished second for the silver medal. Biles, in her return to competition after suffering a mental health issue last week that caused her to skip several events at the Tokyo Games, finished third with a routine less difficult than usual, winning the bronze.
Biles now has 32 Olympic and world championship medals, tying Larisa Latynina of the Soviet Union as the most decorated athlete in the history of women’s gymnastics. Biles has more gold medals than Latynina, so you could reasonably break the tie in her favor. She now has 23 gold medals, four silver medals and five bronze medals. Latynina has 18 gold, nine silver and five bronze.
Guan scores three-tenths lower than she did in the qualifying round but still easily wins gold — that’s how far ahead of the rest of the field her routine is. Her teammate Tang Xijing will win silver, and Simone Biles will win bronze.
The last competitor is Guan Chenchen of China, who had the highest score by far in the qualifying round.
I think Vladislava Urazova missed one of the four composition requirements on beam: an acrobatic series including at least one salto, meaning a flip. She usually does two back handsprings into a back layout stepout, but today she did three back handsprings. A missed composition requirement is a 0.5 deduction from the difficulty score.
Urara Ashikawa of Japan, who made the final at the last minute when Larisa Iordache withdrew, has a major balance check on her switch ring leap but finishes with a very difficult triple-twisting dismount. She scores 13.733, putting her in fifth place.
Sunisa Lee had a huge wobble on her side aerial, layout stepout, layout stepout, but somehow — I could not tell you how — managed to stay on the beam. A remarkable save, but still a big deduction in what was otherwise a rock-solid routine. She scores a 13.866.
Lee’s score puts her in fourth place. She won’t be on the podium today, but she’s still walking away from these Olympics with three medals, including the biggest one of all: the all-around gold.
With the stands in one end of the Ariake Gymnastics Center nearly packed with fans on Tuesday, Simone Biles waved when her name was announced for the balance beam final, to a roar of cheers. The stands haven’t had as many fans here for any other gymnastics event at the Tokyo Games. They were here to see Biles, in what might have been her final performance as an elite gymnast.
After skipping several events here because of a mental health issue, Biles performed backhand springs, flips, split leaps and a double back flip in the pike position for her dismount. There were a few moments of shakiness, but overall it was a good routine for someone who handling so much stress at these Games. Gone were the twists from her complicated and difficult dismount that was named after her. But she finished her routine with a smile, patting her chest and running to give her coach, Cecile Landi, a hug.
When her score popped up on the leaderboard, she shook her head in agreement. It was 14.0, far below her usual score, but the best part of it, according to the look of routine on her face, was that she was done.
Simone Biles nailed her beam routine. Her difficulty score will be four-tenths lower than in the qualifying round because she did an easier dismount, but she really couldn’t have done better than that. So impressive after how much she’s struggled this past week.
Biles appears to have missed one connection, but I’m not sure that matters to anyone. What an accomplishment.
While waiting for Tang Xijing’s score, Simone Biles goes up to the beam, wipes it off a bit, then stands to the side and waits.
Ellie Black of Canada is up first on beam, competing with an ankle injury that kept her out of the all-around final.
Black had some slight balance checks but hit her routine overall, including an incredibly difficult full-twisting back tuck. She hugs her coach, sobbing, as she comes off the podium.
Ferhat Arican, of Turkey, is psyched about his bronze medal in parallel bars, showing his medal to the camera and waving it around. If everyone celebrated their silvers and bronzes like this, maybe fans would celebrate them vigorously, too.
The arena announcer reminds people here to “maintain social distancing rules at all times.” Hmm, kind of hard for the people packing the stands above the balance beam. I see Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, there, looking weirdly casual in a short sleeve golf shirt.
We’ll be turning our attention in a few minutes from the parallel bars to the balance beam. After withdrawing from the final at the last minute because of an ankle injury, Larisa Iordache of Romania tweeted a heartbreaking statement a few minutes ago, alluding to her mother, who died four weeks before the Games began.
I tried and hoped until the last moment for this Olympic final. Unfortunately, again, my way is hardened… this pain in my ankle that I feel is above my limit as a human being. (1/3)
— Larisa Iordache (@Larisa_Iordache) August 3, 2021
“I tried and hoped until the last moment for this Olympic final,” Iordache wrote. “I wanted to do it for me and for [the] person who pushed me down this road, who unfortunately is no longer next to me and I can’t get a word of encouragement from.”
Iordache, who came within half a point of beating Simone Biles in the all-around at the 2014 world championships, suffered injuries just before the 2012 Olympics, the 2016 Olympics and the 2017 world championships. I asked her last month how she stayed motivated through all that, and she told me: “The feeling of proving to myself that I am better than I think has never diminished in my soul. So I couldn’t let my thoughts overwhelm me, and I got up every time.”
Lots of fans have appeared in the stands here at the Ariake Gymnastics Center, probably more than for any other event so far. So weird that many of them have congregated in the stands above the balance beam. Many of them appear to be from NBC, based on the credentials hanging around their necks. I wonder who they are here to see?
Lukas Dauser has climbed on top of the parallel bars and is standing there, one foot on each bar, celebrating his silver medal. He has unfurled a German flag and is holding it behind of him as his fans in the stands cheer. Who says winning silver is a disappointment? This guy is stoked!
Lukas Dauser of Germany wraps up the final with a solid routine and earns the silver medal. That means Zou Jingyuan wins gold as expected, and Ferhat Arican will get the bronze medal for Turkey. The men compete in six events in artistic gymnastics: floor exercise, pommel horse, rings vault, parallel bars and high bar; the women do only four. So, the men always win six more medals than the women at every gymnastics meet.
During the men’s competition, organizers are piping in the sound of a beating heart to up the drama as the athletes wait for their scores. That’s just mean.
It makes you nervous even if you aren’t competing!
Petro Pakhniuk of Ukraine had a very long pause in his parallel bars routine as he struggled to keep his balance in a handstand on one rail. That will keep him out of the medals.
Kensley Behel of Gymcastic told me that the Bhavsar was a skill to watch for. We’ve seen it a few times already. It was named for the U.S. gymnast Raj Bhavsar, who said he created it after wondering “if I could do a high-bar-style release move on parallel bars.” The gymnast starts on one end of the bar in a handstand, swings down through the bars, flies up into a straddle position, catches the bar and swings down again. It takes the entire length of the bars. See it here.
The 16.233 from Zou Jingyuan was the highest gymnastics score we’ve seen in Tokyo. That is going to be hard to beat. The American Sam Mikulak scored a 15, lower than in the qualification. That will keep him out of the medals.
You Hao of China, in the hunt for a medal on the parallel bars, landed very low on his dismount.
You moves into third place, knocking Mikulak out of medal position, but his own position is precarious with several gymnasts left to compete.
Sam Mikulak is up, following a big score, and is in the hunt for a medal. He placed 12th in the all-around final last week. Of note, he has spoken out about mental health in the sport, just like Simone Biles and dozens of other gymnasts have. On Instagram in May, he wrote in part: “For so long in my gym career I’ve been overwhelmed. I’ve been so consumed by fear of failing to reach my goals that it got in the way of what really creates success. Happiness.”
Zou Jingyuan of China is up. He had a stellar execution in the qualification — almost a 9.4. Kensley Behel of the podcast Gymcastic told me that “he had a pretty bad landing in qualifications, so you could see that go up to 9.5, 9.6. He’s literally almost perfect on this event.”
Ferhat Arican of Turkey almost lost his balance on a handstand but stayed on the bars. Those sorts of small mistakes could determine the medals here, but he looks thrilled with his performance, pumping his fists.
The parallel bars final is starting. Zou Jingyuan of China is the heavy favorite for the gold, but there’s an interesting race for the rest of the podium. Lukas Dauser of Germany, You Hao of China, Ferhat Arican of Turkey and Sam Mikulak of the United States all qualified to the final within three-tenths of a point of one another. That’s about the same margin as we saw in Monday’s exciting women’s floor final, where the winner, Jade Carey, was about three-tenths ahead of the fifth-place finisher, Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade.
This is devastating for Iordache, a prodigiously talented Romanian gymnast who has been injured at the worst possible times again and again.
The balance beam final start list has been updated, and it looks like Larisa Iordache of Romania is off of it, and the first reserve, Urara Ashikawa of Japan, is in her place.
One person to certainly watch out for is Guan Chenchen of China. She goes last tonight. She seemed to warm up more than anyone, and appeared on point while practicing a routine that was clearly more difficult than that of her rivals during qualifying.
Before the women’s beam final, eight men — including the American Sam Mikulak — will compete on the parallel bars. The gymnasts will swing between two bars that are about 11½ feet long and over 6 feet high. Like the women on uneven bars, the men make the task look easy.
“If Sam goes clean, he has a chance at medaling, but with the caveat that he needs some of the other people to falter,” said Kensley Behel, a men’s gymnastics expert who is part of the podcast Gymcastic.
Zou Jingyuan of China, who qualified to the final in first place, is “almost guaranteed the gold medal,” she said, acknowledging — as these Games have shown us — that nothing is ever certain in gymnastics.
She added that a stuck dismount on this apparatus in particular could mean the difference between being on the podium or landing in fourth or fifth place.
The United States has yet to win a men’s gymnastics medal in Tokyo; the Americans finished fifth in the team final last week. “They basically have done exactly as expected,” Behel said of the team, “which is, they are near the top but not at the top.”
There is one more men’s event after the beam final: the horizontal bar, commonly known as the high bar, where Brody Malone will have one final chance to earn a medal for the Americans.
In addition to Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee, here are the other six competitors, in the order in which they qualified:
Guan Chenchen, 16, of China, is in Tokyo because of her beam routine — and her skills were heavily showcased during the qualifying round. She blew the rest of the field away with a score of 14.933, thanks largely to a difficulty score nearly half a point higher than that of any other qualifier.
Tang Xijing, 18, of China, had the second-highest beam score in qualifications, 14.333. But unlike Guan, who has had more than a week to recuperate from the qualifying round and prepare for the final, Tang — the 2019 world all-around silver medalist — competed on all four apparatuses in the team final and the all-around final and will be coming into Tuesday’s event tired.
Ellie Black, 25, of Canada, was the fifth-ranked qualifier with a score of 14.1 and a routine more difficult than any other finalist except Guan and Biles, but she has an ankle injury that kept her out of the all-around final. If she were to make the podium in spite of that, Black — who is the 2017 world all-around silver medalist and is competing in her third Games — would be the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal in women’s gymnastics.
Vladislava Urazova, 16, of Russia, qualified seventh with a score of 14.0. She won gold with the Russian team last week and was fourth in the all-around, but barring major mistakes from other competitors, she is unlikely to be a medal contender on beam because her difficulty score is only 5.8 — more than a point less than Guan’s and several tenths less than the average in this final.
Flávia Saraiva, 21, of Brazil, was the last qualifier to the final, scoring 13.966, and is at a similar disadvantage as Urazova because her difficulty score is 5.9. Like Iordache and Black, she may also be dealing with an injury; she appeared to hurt her ankle during her floor routine in the qualifying round. At the 2016 Olympics, she finished fifth in the beam final.
Urara Ashikawa of Japan was a reserve who was added to the start list on Tuesday because of the withdrawal of Larisa Iordache of Romania. Ashikawa had qualified 12th on the beam.
Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee, along with several of the other competitors in the balance beam final, spent a few minutes on the beam warming up in front of a crowd of eager photographers. On a few of her dismounts, Biles performed a double pike, which as Maggie pointed out, is less difficult than what she completed during qualifying.
Simone Biles, 24, will be competing in her only apparatus final at these Games, and it’s not clear if she will do the same routine she did in the qualifying round, which had a huge difficulty score, 6.5. That would make her a strong medal contender if she avoided the large stumble she had on her full-twisting double back dismount. (She was the sixth qualifier to the final because of that mistake, but, without it, she would probably have been second.) Because her mental block relates to twisting, though, she may switch to a double pike dismount, which would lower her difficulty by 0.4 points.
Sunisa Lee, 18, said before the Olympics that she wanted to win a medal on beam, and she might: She had the third-highest score, 14.2, in the qualifying round. But with so many strong gymnasts in the final, she has no room for error. She didn’t quite match her qualifying mark in the team final, scoring 14.133, and she scored 13.833 in the all-around final after nearly losing her balance on her first skill.
It is the last shot at an individual medal for Biles, who qualified for every final but pulled out of the all-around, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise because of a mental block that prevented her from competing safely.
The women’s balance beam competition is part of the last slate of gymnastics competitions at the Tokyo Games. There are also two men’s competitions: the parallel bars and the high bar. The women’s balance beam competition begins at 5:50 p.m. local time in Tokyo. The timing is odd for American viewers, but here are your options:
LIVE: The competition begins Tuesday at 4:50 a.m. Eastern time and can be streamed live via the NBC Olympics site, Peacock or the NBC Sports app.
TAPE DELAY: Many fans will prefer to stream a replay or watch the tape-delayed broadcast on NBC at 8 p.m. Eastern time.
The eight gymnasts who scored highest on beam in the qualifying round, with a maximum of two per country, will compete in the final. (The fifth-ranked gymnast, Lu Yufei of China, was shut out by the two-per-country rule, and the ninth-ranked gymnast, Flávia Saraiva of Brazil, advanced instead.)
Each routine will receive one score for difficulty and another for execution, and the two will be added together to produce final scores. Here’s a guide to beam skills and scoring.