Olympic Balance Beam Preview

For my next trick, I shall attempt a preview of the Olympic beam competition. Because I am a fool, who does fool things.

Rules – Each athlete will count her 8 most difficult skills, including the dismount, of which at least three must be acrobatic elements and three must be dance elements. Routines must also include a connection of two dance elements, a turn, an acrobatic element series, and acrobatic elements both forward (or sideward) and backward.


Simone Biles (USA)

Biles has been world champion on beam on three occasions, most recently in 2019, and enters the Olympics as the favorite for this title, even if her favorite status is not nearly as clear cut on beam as it is elsewhere. In the all-around and on vault and floor—as long as Biles does anything even remotely close to what she is capable of—she will win gold. On beam, however, Biles could hit a strong routine in the event final and still not win, mostly depending on which athletes from China make it into the final and how they do. Here, Biles will not necessarily have the most difficulty in the competition, and she does not own the highest score in the world, so the outcome is less securely in her hands.

I do still consider Biles the favorite, however, largely because her difficulty is the most predictable and reliable among the select handful who have potential difficulty in the high 6s (i.e., she’s always going to get credit for her dismount and the combination bonus there). Save for a dance combo or two, her beam difficulty is not too subject to hesitations or how strictly the judging panel has been told to evaluate combination speed. For Biles, she has to make a big error not to score well on beam. A bunch of slight hesitations or nervous moments isn’t going to be too disastrous.

The issue of whether she will perform her eponymous beam dismount is sort of moot when it comes to the beam final because the additional one tenth makes it not worth performing—but even if she did, the landing tends to be comfortable enough that it shouldn’t materially change her chances.

Ou Yushan or Guan Chenchen or Lu Yufei or Zhang Jin or Tang Xijing (CHN)

Brace yourselves because the fight to see which two Chinese athletes make it into the beam final will be an existential crisis biopic, with five very realistic contenders for the two spots.

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