When you take a shot at the champ, you better bring your best stuff. Nolan Ryan had the fastball, Shawn Michaels had Sweet Chin Music, Goku had the Kamehameha.
But when gymnasts find themselves battling one of the greatest of all time, desperate times call for desperate measures. And there is nothing more desperate than attempting a move that the Olympic individual all-around champ won’t even attempt.
[Related: Simone Biles’ Olympic domination continues with vault gold]
Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan and Dipa Karmakar of India needed something to wow the judges with, with Simone Biles in the field of the individual vault finals. So they decided to flirt with death.
The front handspring off the vaulting horse to two front somersaults is widely considered the most difficult vault in all of gymnastics. The skill is known as “the Produnova,” named after Yelena Produnova who was the first to successfully complete the vault.
It more commonly known as the “Vault of Death.”
Both gymnasts attempted the vault with expected results. Chusovitina over-rotated, and rolled through her landing like a spy jumping off a ledge. Karmakar finished her last rotation late and sat on the landing mat for her effort.
It is the hardest vault ever, after all.
It is also very dangerous. Fadwa Mahmoud attempted the Produnova in 2014 when she nearly landed on her neck.
Gymnasts don’t do the skill often, but will attempt it if they are outmatched and need a big score to stay in competitions. The high start value of the Produnova allows for gymnasts to get large deductions from bad landings and still achieve a high score. Karmakar finished fourth in the vaulting final despite a large deduction in points after failing to stick the landing.
Simone Biles finished the vault final with the win and a gold medal without having to attempt the dangerous maneuver. Don’t expect her to do it the near future either. Biles was asked if she would ever attempt the Produnova.
“I’m not trying to die,” she said.