Tuesday 12 June 2012

Open-ended code- waiting for disaster?

As we all know, gymnastics is getting more and more difficult. But not by natural progression. This code means that difficulty is rewarded. But at what cost? We now have a situation where the team with the most amanars is a shoe-in for the gold because of .7 per amanar over DTY that the code rewards. Every single interview with the Russian coaches stresses that their gymnasts need it if they want to contend, never mind the huge advantage they hold with bars. What we probably forget because it's now so common is that the amanar is incredibly difficult, and places great stress on the knees if the gymnast cannot get it around properly. We only have to look at 2011 where Aliya Mustafina blew her ACL on one. Aliya Mustafina has regained almost to the level she was at before, yet her form has suffered.

Let's look at how 'safe' America's amanars are. The safest of all are McKayla Maroney's, Elizabeth Price's and junior Simone Biles all of which are explosive, dynamic, fully rotated and also excellent in air and landing. Jordyn Wieber's is usually fine and fully rotated, but she did land with her legs locked Visa's night 1, a recipe for injury. Aly Raisman's is a cause for concern as she sometimes does not get it fully around. Kyla Ross did not compete it either night at Visa's and instead competed a lovely clean DTY. But the pressure is on for her to regain her amanar, despite the fact that she cannot land it safely. Sarah Finnegan with her beautiful lines and extraordinarily difficult beam and floor seems to be counted out entirely, not just for her weak bars but also because she has no amanar. Internationally, there is big pressure on Romanian powerhouse Larissa Iordache to exhibit one, as well as team Russia. Looking to Juniors, Katelyn Ohashi is under extreme pressure to get her amanar, even though right now her DTY looks extremely dangerous.

The amanar is not the only culprit of course. Landings that are not fully upright on double arabians, Dos Santos I and Patterson dismounts from beam (not so much Becca's sat-down ones, but Raisman's low ones) are all cause for concern, amongst others. Serious knee injuries can count out a gymnast for a year before she can regain her previous level entirely, and are on the rise. Yet increased difficulty is worth the risk in this code. We have seen gymnasts win medals with falls ahead of competitors with none. It is almost funny to listen to commentary on old competitions with its utter dismissal of the chances of a top contender once they fall, or even a lesser mistake such as a form break or OOB or even a step on a dismount. Kim Gwang Suk's 1992 bars routine is an extreme example. Despite the fact that she had a beautiful clean routine with excellent form and with a release nobody else could come close to, her tiny step on landing counted her out of medals while much simpler routines surged ahead.

The old system of gymnasts competing much more difficult routines such as the above and not being rewarded was clearly unfair. Tatiana Lysenko's DTY scoring lower than the FTY's of others being  perhaps the most famous example. Yet we seem to have gone the opposite way entirely. Gymnasts can make up for often sloppy execution and form by pulling out extremely difficult tricks. This is of course helped by no compulsories. Gymnasts like Aly Raisman who are top on beam and floor would be slaughtered in the old system for execution.

The code we are in now places more pressure for difficulty than the 2005-2008 code did, helped mainly by the explosion of amanars in team USA. If we were to hold the 2008 Olympic all-around tomorrow in today's code (assuming all gymnasts in it at their 2008 selves), Nastia Liukin would have a huge struggle to achieve gold with her 1.5 Yurchenko as her bars score would be lower as less skills are counted for the score these days. Undoubtedly, Shawn Johnson would emerge the winner due to her difficulty. But what is in the future? Will we see TTY's being performed? A huge increase in injuries? It all seems possible. The next quad's code has degraded the SV of an amanar, yet it still gives a distinct advantage.

Clearly both styles of scoring, old and new, have their advantages and disadvantages. Yet we are now seeing beautiful gymnastics fall by the wayside as more and more difficult gymnastics often with much poorer execution take centre-stage. This is not the route we should be aiming for. This open-ended scoring is pushing the boundaries of what is possible for top gymnasts to achieve, and this will only continue. Gymnasts showing beautiful, elegant gymnastics with lower difficulty are falling by the wayside, most notably Ana Porgras who just could not hack the strive for difficulty but who would have been a top contender at the 1996 Olympics and earlier. We need to find a way to reward execution more than it currently is, even at the expense of difficulty.


  1. Bross was never a world champion, and I'm pretty sure she blew out her knee on a DTY.

    1. Yep this had quite a few mistakes, sigh. I chucked Bross out of that bit. Was indeed a DTY that she dislocated her knee on. I'm glad this post was one of my first and not recent :)