If gymnastics wasn’t impressive enough already, consider this bit of trivia: a balance beam is only 10 centimeters wide, or roughly four inches. That’s smaller than an iPhone turned to landscape mode, and as someone who could pull a muscle just taking a selfie, I have a lot of questions. Mostly, who thought this was a good idea? And why isn’t every gymnast who climbs onto one awarded a medal?
But it isn’t just the width of the beam that makes the routines performed on it so challenging. The balance beam stands at 16.5 feet long and four feet tall. While that may seem like plenty of room to complete the acrobatic skills that are expected of elite gymnasts, it doesn’t allow much space to build speed or momentum before exploding off the beam in a dismount. Take Simone Biles, who made history at the 2019 US Gymnastics Championships when she did two back handsprings on the beam, followed by a double-twisting double backflip on her way to the ground. She did all that in just 16.5 feet, with only four feet of clearance, on a beam that’s four inches wide. Me? I watched.