This past weekend Simone Biles pulled off an athletic feat that had never been seen before in women’s gymnastics: the Yurchenko double pike. In simplistic terms, while her competitors generally flip 1.5 times when coming off the vault, Simone rotated a full 2.5 times. All without an escape plan. “Unlike other Yurchenko vaults, where the somersault is done in a laid out position, there is no bailout on the double pike. Don’t get enough height, or place a hand wrong on the vault table, and she could very well land on her neck,” writes Nancy Armour in USA Today.
When it comes to Simone Biles, we often have to settle for these sorts of explainers, or comparisons to others, to understand her true dominance. For those of us who aren’t gymnastic’s experts, it’s simply hard to understand how good she is. This is different from when Usain Bolt lines up in the 100m and during his dominant run we could see the gap between him and the second fastest person in the world, that sort of easy to understand, intuitive divider, between excellence and dominance isn’t apparent.
Why? Biles makes the incredible look easy. If you tuned into gymnastics for the first time and watched her perform the vault, sure you’d appreciate the athleticism and grace it takes to pull off such a move, but Biles does so with such ease and grace, it fools you. It’s a type of mind-bending illusion that tricks you into thinking that while phenomenal, it was easy for her.
When it comes to performance, we often under-appreciate those who make it look easy. Take baseball star Ken Griffey Jr, who was known for his smooth sweet swing of the bat, and the way he glided across the outfield, making miraculous catches seem routine. Everyone knew the talent that “the kid” possessed and displayed, but the ease in which he played the game of baseball led to accusations of lack of effort or trying throughout his career. If only Griffey Jr. would try harder, went the refrain that dogged him.
What people missed was the talent and work it takes to make the seemingly impossible seem rather easy. In 2016, Ken Griffey Jr., during his Hall of Fame induction speech, addressed this: “The two perceptions of me were I didn’t work hard, and I made everything look easy. Just because I made it look easy didn’t mean it was.”
As I watched Biles make the seemingly impossible seem rather easy, it reminded of this illusion of ease not only makes us under-appreciate greatness but also makes us forget about all the work it takes to make that illusion come true.