Monthly Archives: July 2012

Perfect 16.90?

Can y’all imagine if a homerun’s worth was suddenly based on how many feet the ball flew instead of simply whether or not it soars over the outfield fence? If a touchdown was all of the sudden valued on how many yards you traveled on the previous play to end up in the endzone? What if a point guard heaved up a shot from behind half court and it put up 6 points on the board. If a hole-in-one was no longer feasible? Let me answer these questions for you. NO! Actually let me throw out a HELL NO! No one could imagine their favorite sports’ scoring systems (baseball, football, basketball, golf, etc.) being abruptly and unexpectedly changed to something that their fan base didn’t understand.

With the Olympics coming up I thought I would dive into one of what I think has been one of the most controversial decisions within the sport that I love and participated in for nearly 20 years… The scoring changes within gymnastics over the past decade. Discussions within the International Gymnastics Federation, or FIG, (the worldwide governing body for the sport) about the fashion in which gymnastics was scored, were ignited by a disturbing scoring debacle at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, particularly within the men’s competition. And in 2005 the Code of Points (the rulebook of gymnastics, if you will) changed to an open-ended type of scoring and has continued to spark debate within the world of gymnastics over the last six or seven years. With this new open-ended scoring system the reward for a perfect routine is no longer the elusive and glorified score of a PERFECT 10.0. Since the creation of the sport, essentially, the goal was always to perform to the absolute best of your capabilities in order to have your score climb as close to a perfect 10.0 as possible.

Let me give you some background on gymnastics scoring and it’s development over the past 30 years before I move on. Try to stay with me on this…

1970s-1992: The perfect 10.0 system is firmly in place. Elite-level routines that meet all difficulty requirements start from a 10.0 and are devalued from there.

1992-2000: Routines start at a base value of a 9.4 for women and a 9.0 for men. The gymnasts have to earn bonus points by performing difficult skills and combinations in order to reach a start value of 10.0.

2000-2004: The revised Code of Points forces more difficult combinations to attain greater bonus.

2004-2008: The FIG abandons the perfect 10 in favor of a more open-ended code that in theory is supposed to reward execution as much as difficulty. Gymnasts are required to perform a certain number of elements in each routine, and bonus is given.

  • There are now two scores given to each performance. A D-SCORE which is the Difficulty Score. This is now theoretically exponential. The more skills and combinations an athlete has in their routine, the higher their starting D-Score.
  • A gymnast is also scored on her E-SCORE, or the Execution Score. Mistakes are deducted from a starting score of 10.0.
  • The Difficulty Score and the Execution Score are now added together to give a gymnast his or her final score. A score resulting in a 15+ score is now seen as an excellent score and a 16+ score is almost guaranteed to be a top score.

Are y’all still with me? Basically what I am trying to say is that there is no longer such thing as a “perfect” score. Before 2005 everyone knew that the closer your score was to a 10.0 the closer you were to a flawless performance. That dream that every little girl had to look up at the scoreboard with hopeful eyes and see a perfect 10 flash just like Nadia Comaneci first did in 1976 or Mary Lou Retton did in 1984, was gone.

Now, to my biggest qualm with the decision to overhaul the scoring program. Gymnastics is not a sport that receives a lot of media coverage. It’s not a sport that the casual fan can flip on the TV on any given Sunday fall afternoon and find on almost any sports channel. It’s not a sport that is written about daily in your local newspaper. It’s also not a sport that a lot of parents put their munchkins in thinking “Oh, my kid is going to become a superstar gymnast.” Gymnastics is a sport that is completely foreign to the casual fan. Generally, the casual fan will watch gymnastics every four years at the Olympics in awe, which is what makes it the most viewed sport at the Games. The physical aptitude of an elite level gymnast is something that nobody can relate to unless they have tried it themselves. Most anybody can fathom running up and down a court or a field dribbling or throwing a ball with either their hands or their feet. But when someone watches gymnastics for the first time they are usually wholly enraptured, barely believing what these athletes are executing with their tiny, muscular bodies. Flipping on something that is four inches wide just is not something that comes naturally to a human being. BUT… the one thing that nearly every fan always knew and understood about this crazy sport of mine was that a 10.0 equated to an impeccable performance. I feel like once that tangible objective suddenly dissipated into the chalky gym air, the sport lost a lot of its allure as well as a good number of casual fans.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that people will still always watch gymnastics solely because the physical capabilities are mind-blowing to the majority of the world’s population, but the sport is now much more confusing for the now and again fan. With the sport struggling to have consistent fans in the first place, I just thought it was detrimental to do something that would make the fan base confused and potentially turn them away from the sport. The fans could relate to the original scoring system and it was something that they could easily compute in their heads. Shoot, aside from the fans it was hard for the gymnasts and coaches to reevaluate and rearrange routines in order to meet the demanding requirements of this new system of scoring. In order to meet requirements and stay at a numerically competitive level, athletes are now forced to jam pack their routines with more and more skills which, causes the performance to lose a lot of its artistic value and I think increases the risk for injury. People think “Oh, I will just put so much difficulty into my routine so that nobody could touch me.” That’s really when an athlete puts themselves at a higher risk of injury. Nowadays I can’t believe what skills I am seeing these gymnasts perform. It seems as if every quadrennium I think to myself “There is no way this sport can get any harder. What kind of combinations could they possibly do now?” And every four years these incredible athletes whip out something more difficult. I almost can’t believe my eyes sometimes!
Growing up competing in an era where the perfect 10 was always the ultimate goal it’s been a hard transition for me to watch gymnastics change such an integral component of the sport. Gymnastics is a human art form and I understand the need for change and innovation, but this one I just might never understand. LONG LIVE THE 10.0! 

Tagged , ,