Simone Biles: Greatest Gymnastic Performance Ever – In Chart Form

So, unless you’re living under a rock you might be aware the Olympics are taking place.  And whenever the Olympics are taking place you can bet the American public will be treated to a tiny, whirling, young group of acrobats in the form of “women’s” gymnastics.  And I’ll be the first to admit I honestly don’t care much for a “sport” that relies upon fashions, smiles, hairtstyles and crooked judging when determining winners.  However, somehow this year I got sucked in.  Not sure how.

And everything was pretty much as I expected:  tiny girls with impossibly fit bodies performing jaw-dropping routines that no doubt required years of dedication, hard work, sacrifice and discipline.  I’ve never doubted the athleticisim and hard work required of any worl-class gymnast.  I’ve just never cared much about the outcome, as they usually seemed dependent upon which judge got the biggest bribe.

But there was something this year that was completely different: no-doubt domination.  American Simone Biles won the women’s individual, all-around competition by 2.100 points.  Note that I did not choose to use three decimal points, but I had to include three decimal points because most gymnastic competitions are determined by tenths and even hundreths of points.  So, Biles’ margin of victory here is pretty much unprecedented.  How unprecedented?  Let’s take a look.  Here’s the variance in scores between the gold and silver medal winners of every Olmpics between 1980 and 2012:

SB - VM 1

Several notes:

  • Five of the 9 competitions were decided by less than 1/10th of a point
  • Nastia Lukin’s 2008 victory was, by far, the largest margin of victory (6/10th of a point), more than twice the margin of 2012 winner Viktoria Komova
  • The average margin of victory was 0.158, or less than 2/10ths of a point
  • Note the scale of the chart….no need to go higher than .700 (7/10ths of a point) because the victory margins never reach that high.
  • Bottom line:  miniscule frations of points have historically differentiated champions from second place finishers in the women’s all-around; in fact ALL Olympic’s gymnastics (mens and womens) usually feature such tiny victory margins.

Now, an updated version of the chart including Biles’ historic performance:

SB - VM 2


  • Insanity – one ginormous bard, a second small bar and a whole bunch of tiny, almost invisible lines
  • The scale of the chart had to be increased by more than 300% to accomodate Biles’ performance
  • The American’s winning margin is so large every other margin (except one) is reduced to some small portion of the first segment of the chart
  • Biles’ number is so big, it distorts the chart, rendering every other result “noise” with individual results virtually identical to ever other

Another way of looking at it:

SB - VM3

This was noted on that national broadcast…Biles’ margin of victory in this single competition is greater the aggregate of every women’s all-around between 1980 and 20212.  That’s 9 Olympics for those counting.  In fact, Biles’ 2.100 victory margin is so much higher than the aggregate…you could host 4 more Olympics and not expect the aggregate winning margin to match what Biles just completed.

Now, I’m a skeptic by heart so I was somewhat cynical of these claims.  So I did a little research.  And yep, it turns out the Olympic gymnastics has changed the way they score these things over time.  Back in the 80’s total scores tended to be in the 70’s, with the highest approaching 80.  Then from 1992 to 2008 the scores were generally in the 30’s with the highest approaching 40.  Since 2008 they’ve again been in the 70’s.

Now, different scoring systems can render “victory margin” numbers meaningless; winning by 1 point in a 100-point game is different than winning by 1-point in a 10-point game.  So, I decided to compare each winning score to the second place score by indexing them (silver medal score divided by gold medal score).  This eliminates the variances caused by varied scoring systems and determine whether Biles’ victory margin is really that historical.  The results from 1980 to 20012:

SB - SR1

What we see is these competitions are all incredibly close.  In no case did the silver winner accumulate less than 99% of the gold medal winner’s point total.  (This inherent drama is, I believe, one reason the gymnastics is so popular.)  Now, the same chart with 2016:

SB - SR2


Wow….just wow.  In a sport where the winners always have less than a 1% difference between gold and silver….Biles just won by nearly 3.4%  This, as the saying goes….is “off-the-charts”…..because her performance breaks the usability of the chart.  You can’t really see anything here other than the fact that Biles’ 2016 performance is a huge, huge outlier without historical precedence.

Good job Simone!  All the hype and overheated breathless commentary is well-deserved in this case.