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Stretching Out: Beijing Has Exposed the Flawed Rules
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Yang Wei won the men’s all-around gold by 2.60, which says a great deal about his physical abilities but even more about the Code of Points. He could have fallen a couple of times from high bar, his last event, and still won. And that includes the 0.30 deduction for his coach talking to him throughout the entire routine.

I’m not disputing Yang’s victory, but the Code of Points has failed miserably in its original intention of restoring clean execution to the sport, and thus, safety, as well. Make no mistake, sheer difficulty is clearly the path to higher scores right now, and the FIG needs to fix that faster than Yang’s blurry twists on vault.

I’m amazed that certain gymnasts can throw five or six double somersaults on parallel bars without abusing some sort of repetition rule. It pained me to watch the promising Fabian Hambüchen add a variety of these doubles, some on the brink of injury, in an effort to make up ground on Yang in the difficulty category. Under this Code, he had no choice if he wanted to challenge for the gold. Really, how can anyone effectively train a routine like that without developing some sort of chronic injury or worse?

Gymnastics needs athletes such as Hambüchen, whose talent and personality add life to a sport that is turning into a test of survival. When this Code first came out in 2006, Wolfgang Hambüchen, Fabian’s father and coach, told me he didn’t like it because the routines were too long and stressful on the human body.

Couldn’t the FIG see this coming? Men are racing through floor routines to complete six or seven passes under 70 seconds. The women are doing the same amid minimal, breath-catching choreography. Routines on the uneven bars and high bar seem to go on forever. Sadly, falls are more frequent than ever, yet they don’t necessarily keep you off the medal podium. Is this the sport the FIG hoped to present to a global audience during the Olympics?

The only way to discourage this rampant escalation in difficulty is to lower the values of the skills across the board. As it is now, difficulty accounts for nearly half of the final score in some cases. In the women’s team final, Nastia Liukin scored 16.900 on uneven bars: 7.7 for difficulty, 9.2 for execution. That’s 45 percent for difficulty of the final score. Difficulty should be worth half that, or perhaps 25 percent of the final score.

The women’s Code for 2009 will cut back the required skills from 10 to eight, and the men’s Code will impose certain limits at the junior level. These are steps in the right direction. But unless the overall difficulty value shrinks considerably in comparison with the execution mark, the result will be the same. If it doesn’t, the rules will need another overhaul sooner than the FIG thinks.

If you’ve seen any of the diving during this Olympics, you might have also experienced the joy of watching simple elements done to near perfection. It’s breathtaking to watch. Gymnastics used to offer that through compulsories, which were dropped in 1997. Maybe it’s time to bring them back (and the 10.0 would be revived, at least partially). Because after watching the hit-or-miss men’s all-around final, I was left with a feeling of unease.

Yang Wei was the clear winner, no disputes, yet there was little I craved to see again from his routines. For me, a round of compulsories -- with numerous examples of amplitude, technique and mastery -- would have been much more entertaining.



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