Ever more daring, ever higher - gymnasts have always been innovators, striving to nourish their sport with new moves and greater difficulty. Beyond medals and records, the supreme honor for a gymnast is to introduce an element that comes to bear his or her name in the Code of Points, allowing them to leave their mark on history.
When Simona Amanar of Romania debuted the Vault that came to bear her name at the 2000 Olympic Games, she could not have imagined that her element would become one of most potent weapons in Gymnastics. The Amanar vault (roundoff onto the springboard, back handspring onto the table and a flip done with two and a half twists in the layout position before landing) is so difficult that it carries a score half a point higher than most other vaults in the Code of Points.
Element value: 5.8
It takes a daredevil to perform a Produnova, the hardest Vault in Women’s Gymnastics. The gymnast runs full tilt toward the table, launching herself forward and flipping three times before her feet hit the mat. Russia’s Yelena Produnova first competed this vault in 1999, but it was so difficult that more than a decade passed before it was seen again. To date, only five gymnasts have attempted it in international competition.
Element value: 6.4
The idea seemed crazy, but the USSR’s Natalia Yurchenko pursued it anyway. Instead of approaching the vault travelling forward, Yurchenko and her coach wondered what would happen if she did a roundoff onto the springboard, flew backwards onto the vault and used the momentum to do a flip before landing? Good things, as it turned out: Yurchenko’s vault is one of the most popular skills in all of Gymnastics.
Element value: 4.6 for Yurchenko layout with a full twist.
One of the eponymous skills on Uneven Bars, the gymnast swings forward, releases the bar and slices through the air, executing a complete somersault before regrasping the bar. Jaegers can be executed in a variety of positions, though straddle and pike are the most common.
Element value: D.
The Tkatchev, one of the classic release skills on Uneven Bars, was originally an element performed by men on the High Bar. The Tkatchev is named for Soviet Alexander Tkatchev, who became the first gymnast to soar backward over the bar, splitting his legs in the air and regrasping the bar on the way down. Innovators have begun doing more difficult variations of Tkatchev’s element, keeping their legs straight in flight, putting their toes on the bar before letting go or combining it with another release move to earn difficulty points.
Element value: D.
Gymnasts have been doing back flips on the Balance Beam since 1972, when the USSR’s Olga Korbut dared one at the Munich Olympics and won a gold medal as a result. In recent years, women have made the skill more complicated by adding a full twist to the element. Flipping AND twisting makes trying to land on a four-inch piece of wood exponentially more difficult, but certain gymnasts are nevertheless known for their mastery of the skill. When done well, this element is magical, handsomely rewarded by the judges and equally appreciated by the audience.
Element value: F for a full twist in the tucked position, G for a full twist in layout position.
Don’t be fooled by the balletic nature of this pretty skill - it is one of the hardest to master on Balance Beam. Catlike reflexes are required as the gymnast switches her legs in the air and bends her back leg toward her head, losing sight of the Beam in the process.
Element value: E.
Big tumbling has been American Simone Biles’s calling card since she was a child. Still, it was a surprise when she unleashed her unique element - a double back flip done in a layout position with a half twist at the end - in 2013. The gymnast who does the Biles lands the skill facing forward, meaning she loses sight of the Floor before her feet hit.
Element value: G.
A lot happens in the small space of time it takes to perform Romanian Daniela Silivas’s signature element. The gymnast who performs the Silivas cranks two flips and two twists between the time she launches herself into the air and the time her feet hit the floor. The Silivas is done in a tucked position.
Element value: H.