Friday, 21 November 2014

'The code was made for the US'

The code gives the US an unfair advantage. Etc etc. I am just a little tired of seeing such statements thrown around with abandon.

The code suits the US, for sure. Because they have adapted and made it so. I see no evidence that anyone in FIG really loves the US, in fact both Nellie Kim and Bruno Grandi have taken pot shots at them in the last year. Not to mention that when the new code was introduced, it actually most benefited China at the time. The fact is, there are a number of reasons why the code suits the Americans, which boil down to one overriding one.

They are awesome. And no other country is.

Which is sad by the way, it's not an ideal situation for a team to be 7 points ahead of their rivals. MAG has truly embraced the code and it's really working for them, with so many contenders for titles from all over the world.

The US has carefully developed their entire system over the years, beginning before the new code was born. The camps and developmental programmes have been of enormous benefit, as has the rise in popularity of gym. Consequently, they have depth. Oh, no McKayla Maroney, Brenna Dowell, Peyton Ernst, Maggie Nichols? No problem. There are always more, with the only real effect being a slightly lower margin of victory perhaps.

Russia, Romania and China are suffering badly from lack of depth. Russia cannot afford to lose long-term saviour Aliya Mustafina who has carried her team many times over. They have nobody rising through the ranks who looks able to emulate her in any way. Several of their juniors look to have fizzled out already. Romania are nothing without Larisa Iordache. Yes they have other strong routines, such as Andreea Munteanu on beam when she gets it together, but nobody anywhere near her league. Didi Bulimar is unlikely to be able to regain her former routines due to her chronic knee issues, and even then her difficulty was never that great. China have depth on two events, and barely anything on the others.

Notwithstanding depth, they have other problems too. Inconsistency plagues them all, particularly Russia and China. The US by contrast are extremely consistent. No falls in Nanning, London or Tokyo team finals. No falls in Nanning or Antwerp AA, quals (Goddamnit Maroney, why did you have to ruin that? Okay so one fall) and event finals. No falls in London quals and AA. No other team can boast half such an impressive record. Russia have issues with endurance and conditioning, Romania still have deplorable bars dragging down their scores all the time and China cannot balance out magnificent bars and beam scores with anaemic vaults and super-weak floors.

It's not as if the US are ravening beasts who bust out 7.0 floors and vaults and win by brute animalistic strength the whole time. You'd certainly get this impression from some people's comments. Simone Biles is at the top as regards power on floor and vault, but also displays fantastic execution, is THE top all-arounder and our reigning (albeit controversial) beam champion. Kyla Ross could never be described as particularly powerful, instead she contributes steadily on beam and bars, and the all-around, rather than racking up impressive d-scores. Ashton Locklear was a vital part of the team, and only did bars. I could go on. They essentially have depth to put up strong routines on each event, some with more depth and/or difficulty than other events, but nevertheless strong. It also needs to be mentioned that the US quite obviously does not filter for body type. Certainly Russia looks more relaxed with this these days than they have in the past, but China and Romania are sticking to it and it is beyond all comprehension. This code needs diverse body types, not just pixies.

And THAT is why the code works for them. Depth and versatility. They've got it in spades, and the others don't. Statements like the title of this rant have as much validity as saying the old code gave an unfair advantage to the Soviets, simply for just being outstanding. The code has problems for sure, but it is not up to the FIG to adapt it to make it 'fairer' for the other teams. It is up to them to change it for the better, and for everyone else to match the US.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

The C-c-code

Apologies, I hate when life gets majorly in the way of blogging.

First things first, Bruno Grandi's post-worlds interview. The code undoubtedly has problems. His code that is, it is through his efforts that difficulty soars higher all the time and is rewarded in scoring and ranking. Or, as a top FIG official puts it, 8 years on from the open-ended code introduction, "Gymnasts do difficult exercises in order to win under the current system". Well, colour me shocked. The fact is, this was always happening. It didn't always work out, gymnasts such as Daniela Silivas, Yelena Produnova and Tatiana Lysenko were penalised for low/dodgy landings on massive skills ahead of the rest of their competitors, which certainly would not happen these days as gymnasts with a cushion of difficulty can afford execution errors.

And yet, gymnastics history shows consistently that the winners tend to have the more difficult, more exciting, more original routines. It nudged, I feel, Tatiana Gutsu just ahead of Shannon Miller, and there are several other examples in the same vein. The girl with the bigger tricks getting rewarded is NOT a new theme. Gymnasts constantly sought to get the full 10.0 start value, as they seek these days to have 6.0+ d-scores. In fact, slashing the number of counting skills to 8 from 10 has not helped at all, all it has done is force the gymnast to compete even more difficult skills to get ahead. Plenty of d-scores today with 8 counting skills are above the top d-scores seen in Beijing in 2008. The only exception is bars, and even then, d-scores are climbing there, and that's without the benefit of the pirouette bonus the top bar workers relied on back then.

So, since gymnasts are facing more pounding than ever to keep up, what is the solution being offered? Cut d-scores in half, to decrease the emphasis on difficulty, and create greater disparity in e-scores by having a new 0.2 deduction. I fail to see the benefit in the first idea. The girls with the highest d-scores will still have the advantage, scores will just look a bit bleak with winners having scores in the 12's and 13's. It COULD be a good idea, if execution scores had more fluctuation. Having the top 3 win with 8.966-8.933 execution with their d-scores in the 6's as they are now, and then in the 3's...not exactly going to do much really to make the code any fairer. Of course, they are proposing having greater distinction in deductions with the 0.2 yet I feel this would make little impact since scores are just so boxed together anyway.

Beam is a particular problem for me. Up (generally with as little artistic thought and effort as possible), skill, skill, skill, leap, leap, arm wave, skill, skill, leap, arm wave, cursory and dull low to beam, skill, dismount series (is it...wait for it...a double pike??) YAWN. They've no time to waste, lovely movements that were all over routines in the 80's like a glorious rash are precious connection bonuses being lost. I'd really like to see counting skills go down to 5-6, with strict penalties if your routine doesn't flow and/or is essentially skillfest with no real thought to it other than 'get d score above 6, don't fall'. It's no wonder the last 2 beam finals have been abysmal. I wouldn't mind seeing counted skills go down on the other apparatus', but it's really beam that is screaming out for it.

Another idea which I think would be well worth investigating, and which along with decreasing counting skills is a popular one, is the reintroduction of ROV, which was part of the scoring in the last 1980's. This stood for Risk, Originality and Virtuosity and did exactly what it said on the tin, gymnasts got bonuses for displaying these qualities. Unfortunately, I am too young and don't know much about how it was implemented and how easy it was to define. What would make the most sense nowadays is allotting 0.5 or possibly more for each of these conditions satisfied in a routine. The biggest objection is that this is subjective, yet gymnastics judging is and always has been so I don't really buy that. Risk is self explanatory and virtuosity is fairly straightforward...would be an interesting and fair way to further penalise sloppy/chucked routine by withholding it. Originality though would need to be clearly laid out. Your own skill, tick. A very rare series such as aerial-loso-loso, tick (in my view). Very different dance, tick.

We need to talk about dance skills. Capping them at E is silly. The race for d-scores is what's causing horrific non-180 leaps, and that would be lessened by implementing other measures already mentioned. I'd like to see girls who throw full-twisting Shaposhnikovas and other very difficult transitions rewarded, likewise there should be more incentive to do skills like Memmel's on beam.  The triple-Y on floor is a LOT less dangerous than for instance, a splatty Produnova, and if girls who go outside the box with difficulty are rewarded, why aren't those who do the same with dance skills? It makes no sense at all than I can figure out.

My final suggestion would be an 0.2-3 bonus for doing a mount above A/B in difficulty on bars and beam. I would call it the 'Non glide kip bonus'. This would need to be in conjunction with lowering counting skills (so gymnasts would not need to conserve their energy as much and would have more time). I cannot blame gymnasts for doing easy, quick makes perfect sense. But, it's very boring to watch.

As for the artistry comments, they have already put strict penalties into the code for poor/lacking artistry. The issue with it is time, time that could be going into skill-skill-connection bonus. I have the uncomfortable feeling that part of the motivation behind these comments is motivated by body type, which is another discussion entirely. I know that I, for one, saw plenty of artistry on display at worlds. Not always in the most obvious places, and not always of the elegant variety, but, present.

How can the problems with the code be fixed, what are other possible realistic solutions? Would you rather see the perfect 10 brought back? How many prizes should the FIG man get for his quote about difficulty winning?