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Perfectly Impossible: Gymnasts grapple with the imperfect

Many hours of practice. Dozens upon dozen of competitions. And not once has a judge watched the new Olympic all-around champion do her thing -- not even on uneven bars, where the 45-second set she plans doing in Sunday's event finals is a free-flowing series of connections and releases that make it seem as if she is floating -- and thought "that's flawless."

Lee is not the only one. No elite gymnast -- not even American star and six-time Olympic medalist Simone Biles -- has received a perfect score since the sport moved off the "10" system to a new Code of Points in 2006. Scores are now determined by the difficulty of the routine, which is open-ended, and the execution that is on a 10.0 scale.

It is theoretically possible to execute "perfect" executions. It's only that nobody has ever managed it. Lee came to terms with this reality long ago.

She shoots for what she believes is her best, possibly out of self-preservation. The team final saw her 15.400 on bars, which was the highest by any athlete in any event. It was a stunning display that helped the U.S claim silver.

She also had to deduct 1.4 points, which she could feel growing even as her teammates cheered. Hard to blame her for sounding relieved on Friday when talking about her impending switch to compete collegiately at Auburn.

Lee stated, "I want to (sort of) get away from this elite environment just because it's such, like crazy."

It is a physical and mental grind. Gymnastics can cause havoc in the body and create doubt in the mind. You can tweak every turn of every practice, every single day, every single repetition.

Ellie Black, a three-time Olympian from Canada, said that "it's difficult in that sense because you're trying at perfection but it's unattainable." "I still struggle sometimes. It's not as if you get it all the time and it will be easy for the rest your life and your career."

Lee is looking for a release.

NCAA training is limited at 20 hours per week. Lee has found that the difficulty and length of the routines are less difficult than what he is used to, and the 10-point scoring system is still very relevant.

You have the chance to drill a routine and be rewarded, even though Lee said it was "weird" to think about.

This is the delicate and complex psychological dance between world's top gymnasts. Lee has been so familiar with the international code that she cannot even imagine the thought of seeing a score flash without being nitpicked within an inch.

To thrive in a sport that is not technically up to standard requires mental strength. Tom Brady can throw a 50-yard spiral to score a touchdown. Steph Curry can hit a 3-pointer. These moments are rare in gymnastics.

Black believes that the code of points compensates for it in many other ways. You can be more creative in creating routines because the system is open-ended.

Black said, "That's what's kinda addicting." She qualified for the Olympic all around final but was forced to withdraw due to an ankle injury. "There's always something new to do."

Black figures also say that "if you could hit it perfectly, you would probably lose some interest in continuing to go."

Like every other gymnast, So Black searches for small moments of joy. The stuck dismount. Mastery of a new skill. Smooth connection between elements.

The inner voice, which can sense imperfections in hand placement or wobbles and feel them, can be difficult to ignore. American Chellsie Melmel was part of the silver-medal winning U.S. Team in Beijing 2008.

Memmel retired and went into coaching and judging before beginning returning to training during the pandemic. Even though her skills improved, it was hard to turn off the "judge switch". Andy, her father, is her coach. She records each routine and then reviews it with Andy. She enjoys the instant feedback and trying to be kind to herself.

Memmel, 33 years old, said that you need to be flexible and not get too upset about it. She competed in the U.S. Championships in June. You need to see it as "OK, that was great, but how can I improve?" What is the problem?

Even though the fix can seem relentless, Biles is closer than anyone else to cracking The Code.

The second day of 2015 U.S. Gymnastics Championships was a success. The gymnastics championships' second day saw the 18-year-old gymnast perform her Amanar vault, which drew a loud "ooooh" from the audience when her feet were suction-cupped to her mat during her dismount.

It was perfect. It felt perfect. It wasn't. She was awarded a 9.9 E score. Later, when she was asked if she knew where the deduction came from, she laughed and said that she didn't know.

After getting lost in the air, Biles failed to complete the same vault: a roundoff/backhandspring onto the table followed with 2 1/2 twists. It is uncertain if she will be available for the rest. She has already been eliminated from Sunday's uneven bars and vault finals. Beam and floor exercise await later in the week, though time is running out for her bout with "the twisties" as she described them to subside.

This is a problem that sometimes plagues gymnasts of all skill levels, including the most accomplished. It also highlights the sport’s Sisyphean quest for an ultimate goal that will never be reached. It was a deal Biles and Lee made with themselves years ago.

Lee stated, "I don't usually even try to think about the score." "Because that is when I come out on top."

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