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Stretching Out
Stretching Out

Written by dwight normile    Wednesday, 27 September 2017 09:06    PDF Print
Stretching Out: What's Happened to Men's Floor?
(13 votes, average 2.77 out of 5)

The level of men's tumbling has never been more impressive. So why is men's floor exercise so hard to watch? Perhaps it's because the routines have become predictable, with seven passes and a cursory wide-arm press handstand inserted somewhere to give the guy a breather. In between passes are repetitive hop-turns that allow the gymnast to step conveniently into the corner. With a 70-second time limit, there is no time to waste with any semblance of creativity.

The primary mission of the modern men's floor routine is to minimize landing deductions, since the current bonus-building combination passes are extremely difficult to stick. And with the deductions for landings streamlined into 0.1, 0.3, 0.5—or 1.0 for a fall—you can understand why these guys want to limit the damage to 0.1 whenever possible.

Let's consider the routine of Kenzo Shirai, who may be the best tumbler in the world, at least in terms of difficulty. And let's also evaluate his routine at the 2017 Melbourne World Cup, where he won the gold over Mu Jile of China, 14.700-14.466.

Shirai mounted with a triple-twisting double layout, but the ground came sooner than he expected. His clumsy stagger cost him 0.5. He followed that with a tucked triple-double, and staggered forward again, only worse. Another 0.5 off. Then he did a tucked front-full to triple-twisting front layout, with only a small hop (0.1). To his credit, he did an interesting pass down the side: cartwheel; handstand to piked press through his arms; roll-out. Next pass was a 3.5 twist to punch rudi, landed low with a hop (0.3). He came back with a back 2.5 twist to front randi, with a hop to the side (0.1 or 0.3). Then, for the fourth time, he did the exact same corner transition. He dismounted with a quadruple twist, which was under-rotated and forced another stagger to regain his balance (0.3 or 0.5). The irony here is that Shirai walked off smiling and raised his arms to the applause. Fans don't know what they're missing.

In terms of execution, it was a horrible routine, which netted him a 7.5 E-score, the second-lowest among the eight floor finalists. But his 7.2 D-score gave him the gold. Obviously, he was glad to have landed all of his passes without a fall or going out of bounds. That's what it has come to for men's floor. Survival.

When the open-ended Code of Points came out in 2006, the idea was to reward clean execution, but it backfired. Because the FIG didn't get the math right, the Code rewarded difficulty instead, which is why gymnasts are always looking for ways to increase their D-scores. And the Men's Technical Committee, or whoever makes the decisions at the FIG, can't seem to see it. It's like The Emperor's New Clothes.

The gold-medal routine of Canadian Kyle Shewfelt from the 2004 Olympics has been popping up on Facebook recently. It was a work of art and also didn't skimp on difficulty. It had it all: flow, rhythm, form, originality and, yes, stuck landings. Four brilliant passes were all he needed to entertain the crowd in Athens:

Kyle Shewfelt (Canada) and Kenzo Shirai (Japan)

Shewfelt and Shirai may share the same initials, but their similarities as gymnasts end there.

One of the problems with today's floor routines is that the FIG Men's Technical Committee has refused to lower the counting skills from 10 to eight, which the women wisely did after the 2008 Beijing Olympics. When asked in 2012 why the men had not gone from 10 to eight skills, Steve Butcher, the Men's Technical Committee President at the time, gave this rather dubious reply:

"The MTC fears moving to eight skills … will create a climate where male gymnasts significantly increase the level of their individual skills. Right now they need to keep their overall skill level at a slightly lower level than what they are capable of performing in order to have the strength to properly perform their dismounts."

Oh dear. Neither of those points is even remotely true. Was Shirai's routine watered down? Of course not. (Did he really want to dismount with a quintuple twist?) Male gymnasts are definitely throwing their hardest skills right now, and certainly not saving energy for the dismount.

Meanwhile, a lack of leadership has eroded men's floor exercise into what we see today, an exhaustive tumbling race. Because of its time limit, floor is the most difficult event in which to cram 10 skills. That's why gymnasts are in such a hurry during their first three passes. There simply is no time to waste.

If the D-score is immune to deduction, why can't the E-score grow when a gymnast shows great amplitude, form and technique? It just doesn't make any sense. It's supposed to be an open-ended Code of Points, but only one component is.

As I've said in the past, the D-score should receive the same deductions as the E-score. That will at least force a gymnast to think before adding a G skill to his routine. If deductions were made to both the D- and E-scores, the top three on men's floor at the Melbourne World Cup would have changed places. Below are the original top three under the current FIG scoring system (D-score + E-score = final score), compared with the results when the deductions were subtracted from the D-score.

FIG scoring: D + E (10.00 – deductions) = Score D + deductions + 10.00 = Score
1.Kenzo Shirai7.27.50014.700Mu Jile5.91.433 13.033
2.Mu Jile5.98.56614.466Ferhat Arıcan5.71.63312.366
3.Ferhat Arıcan5.78.33314.033Kenzo Shirai7.22.50012.200

First and foremost, the FIG needs to stop rewarding sloppy execution, which was on full display in Shirai's routine. It literally needs to clean up the sport. Because of the 10 skills, true mastery has been replaced by unnecessary excess, a trend that is likely irreversible. Lowering the men's skills to eight would be a step in the right direction.

The FIG needs to take control and govern the sport before it's too late. Perhaps new FIG President Morinari Watanabe can make men's gymnastics as beautiful as it is difficult. Given the execution-first goal of the Japanese gymnasts, maybe Mr. Watanabe can make a difference. For all involved — fans, gymnasts, coaches and judges — it will be a welcome change.

Written by dwight normile    Wednesday, 08 February 2017 11:12    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Oklahoma Dominance and the 10.0
(3 votes, average 3.67 out of 5)

Now that we're five weeks into the collegiate season, the theme of our IG NCAA Preview, "Sooner Sweepstakes," is coming true. Both the Oklahoma men's and women's teams have gotten off to a hot start, which leads to some insane questions: Will Oklahoma freshman Maggie Nichols, who has averaged 39.785 (with a record high of 39.875), ever score below 9.0? (At least she gets to do the all-around, right?) And will the Sooner men ever lose another meet? Their leading average (429.950) is more than 9.0 ahead of No. 2 Stanford.

As dominant as the Oklahoma teams have been so far, the women will have a much more difficult time than the men in winning the NCAA title. That is the beauty of the 10.0, which the men eschewed years ago despite the lack of parity in their dwindling field. The Oklahoma women still have to hit well in the Super Six finals to win its third NCAA title in St. Louis this April. Any Sooner slip-up will open the door for a host of teams to grab the NCAA trophy.

It's a different story for the Sooner men, who don't really need a great meet at West Point to win its 11th NCAA title. An average effort will be enough.

In our NCAA Preview we posed this question to the coaches of the top six men's teams from 2016: Are you in favor of returning to the 10.0? Two were in favor, with caveats. Here are their answers:

Mark Williams (Oklahoma): "No! I believe we must stay with the FIG scoring system to stay relevant."

Thom Glielmi (Stanford): "Yes, but it would have to be initiated by FIG."

Rustam Sharipov (Ohio State): "No. The majority of our guys want to make the national team, they want to go to the world championships, they want to represent the U.S. The more we go away from the 10.0, we are not likely to go back. With a 10.0 it's hard to separate the best guys from the good guys. I think we have to educate our fans more to explain the scores."

Trouble is, the majority of collegiate male gymnasts will not make the national team, let alone represent the U.S. And even if that is their goal, going back to the 10.0 does not necessarily mean easier routines.

Justin Spring (Illinois): "No. The only reason the 10.0 worked, in my opinion, was because it was a score cap. Almost everyone in the competitive field had a 10.0 start value and the audience assumed that to be true for all competitors. If we go to a modified 10.0 using a scaled open-ended Code where only 5% of the competitive field is even close to a 10.0 start value, it will only confuse fans even more."

Randy Jepson (Penn State): "Yes!!! It would be very easy to have judges determine a final score using the current FIG standards and use a multiplier on that score, which would equate to a 10. It would be a huge benefit for media and fans."

Mike Burns (Minnesota): "As much as going back to a 10.0 might make our scoring easier to understand, I don't feel that deviating from the FIG Code of Points is a wise decision. Because a large chunk of the Olympic developmental pipeline runs directly through the NCAA men's program, I feel it's imperative we stay aligned with the FIG."

Should that really be the priority for men's NCAA gymnastics, where many gymnasts are specialists and some don't even make the lineup each week? Doesn't that cater only to the top tier? Do Athletic Directors really want to see their men's gymnastics teams lose by 30 points, which was the margin of victory for Oklahoma over Michigan on Jan. 28?

This weekend No. 1 Oklahoma men will face No. 12 Iowa and No. 7 Minnesota. Iowa averages 397.183 and Minnesota is at 404.950. Looks like the Sooners can rest a few guys. Where's the drama?

Meanwhile, the Sooner women will meet Auburn on Friday at the Perfect 10 Challenge in Oklahoma City. With OU averaging 197.760 and Auburn 195.717, there is at least a chance for an upset.

There are more important priorities for the NCAA men than trying to keep up with international standards. Returning to the 10.0 would give more teams a chance to win dual meets as well as the NCAA Championships. It also might help with attendance. And that's a good thing for a field that includes only 16 varsity programs.

Written by dwight normile    Thursday, 25 February 2016 15:19    PDF Print
Stretching Out: The State of the Sport
(7 votes, average 4.57 out of 5)

2016 marks the 10th year under the current Code of Points, which tried to repair an ineffective judging system from 2004 by creating — and adding — two separate scores: “Difficulty” and “Execution.” Like separating an egg white from its yolk, it can be messy if handled improperly. It is debatable whether this rather one-dimensional Code, which continues to get tweaked as problems arise, has actually improved the sport or its evaluation.

Since the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, gymnasts, by no choice of their own, have served as guinea pigs. The Code was unveiled at that competition without thorough testing, and its warts arose immediately. Fans complained that Vanessa Ferrari won the all-around with a fall from beam, which at the time cost her 0.8. (A fall is 1.0 now.) She defeated American Jana Bieger by .275. A more valid complaint would have asked why Ferrari received credit for the full-twisting back that she fell on.

The real problem with this Code is more central to its structure, however. The frivolity of counting a gymnast’s 10 hardest skills remains troubling on various levels. First, it caused routines to mushroom into marathons. Second, it wrongly assumed that fans disliked the sheer beauty of basic skills in favor of routines full of risk. And third, the new scores above 10.0 effectively eliminated any spontaneous, corporate crowd response, since nobody really knew whether a 14.525, for example, was worthy of applause or boos. In effect, reactive audience participation has been minimized.

After the 2008 Olympics the women’s technical committee wisely lowered the requirement to eight skills, but the men retained the 10. Now we watch seven-pass floor routines that move in fast motion. (Why men’s floor exercise is the only event with a 70-second time limit remains a mystery.) A routine that once included dynamic passes and original corner transitions is now a tumbling race, and one that often increases in speed near the end. Routines on the other events seem endless at times, too, leaving vault as perhaps the most exciting apparatus. At least fans can immediately recall what a vaulter did, which is no longer the case on the other events. Maybe less really is more.

By design — and by accident — this Code of Points has accelerated the natural evolution of the sport at the expense of form, technique and overall health of the gymnasts. The fallout of this failed experiment has created a severe decline in the depth and competitiveness of women’s gymnastics compared with the men. Consider these figures from the 2015 Glasgow World Championships. In the women’s team final, which is the sum of only 12 scores, the difference between first (U.S.) and eighth (Netherlands) was 18.608. In the men’s final, which counted 18 scores, the difference between first-place Japan and eighth-place Korea was only 11.141. With the men competing two more events than the women, one would think the spread would be greater, not smaller.

The individual qualifications revealed the same trend. Simone Biles’ top-ranked 61.598 was 5.232 higher than 10th-place Mai Murakami. The leading total of 90.564 for Kohei Uchimura, on the other hand, was only 2.199 higher than 10th-ranked Nile Wilson. Again, with the men competing 50 percent more routines than the women, these differences are telling.

Male gymnasts, who physically mature in their mid-20s, are able to cope with the demands of this Code better than women, who mature in their mid- to late-teens. But both sexes favor relatively short, compact all-around gymnasts, such as Uchimura and Biles. That he has won six straight world titles, and she three, is indeed a testament to their talent, but also facilitated by an FIG schedule which holds three world championships per quadrennium. Larisa Latynina won two Olympics (1956, ’60) and two worlds (1958, ’62) when both events were held once every four years. Imagine the streak she might have put together under the current schedule.

The sport has always been about difficulty, but even more so since 2006. The Amanar vault (6.3 value), for example, is still a huge advantage for a female all-arounder, and Biles was the only gymnast in the Glasgow field of 24 to perform one. Even more indicative of the dwindling women’s depth is that Shang Chunsong of China, who finished a respectable fourth, performed a last-century Yurchenko-full (5.0). In fact, nine of the women’s all-around finalists used a 5.0 vault.

In an attempt to pack each routine with as much difficulty as possible, certain elements have become extinct. Stalders are being replaced by inside-Stalders on uneven bars, for instance, and most of them are rather ugly — phantom sole circles with feet flexed just beneath the bar. And the various jumps on women’s floor, separately or following a tumbling landing, add nothing to the artistic impression of the exercise. These elements rack up points, however, thanks to the immunity that Difficulty enjoys under this Code.

Even with the problems that arose at the 2004 Olympics, such as the crowd booing the high bar scores, the drastic overhaul of the Code of Points afterward was completely unnecessary. It needed only a band-aid, not a body cast. Scores in the low- to mid-teens suck the drama out of competitions since they are relatively meaningless in terms of performance quality. Fans must wait until each rotation ends to understand who is winning. A better solution would have been to keep the 10.0 as the top mark, flawed as any capped system is, and adopt the current execution deduction tables. Aside from vault, a score of 9.0 for execution is a rarity now, but at least the audience will understand its value compared with a 10.0.

And let’s not limit judges to taking only Small (0.10), Medium (0.30) and Large (0.50) execution deductions. A complex sport like gymnastics includes a spectrum of errors that should not be constrained to T-shirt sizes. Do all steps after a vault landing really fit neatly into the 0.10-0.30-0.50 range? Of course not. Is a two-tenth step seen as “Small” for Uchimura but “Medium” for an unknown from Slovakia? You can imagine the temptation of many a judge.

Another positive change would be to slice all difficulty values in half — an A-skill drops from 0.10 to 0.05, etc. — and require skills of all difficulty value. That will leave room for event requirements and execution deductions. Remember the old “two C’s, four B’s, six A’s” difficulty formula? How did we get to “10 hardest skills”? No wonder artistry has declined. Routines are so hard that performance mastery has given way to survival.

All routines, for men and women, need no more than three or four elements to showcase a gymnast’s strengths. The remainder could be skills that show actual virtuosity and amplitude. That's what made compulsories so special. It was the one chance to see basic elements taken to the max. Why can't that also be part of today's optional routines?

The Code should also consider a stricter approach to repetition. If floor phenom Kenzo Shirai can tumble a triple-twisting double layout, a quadruple-twisting back and a triple-twisting front, the lesser versions of each become relative filler in his routine. His hardest skills are what people will rave about after the meet, and rightly so.

Gymnasts should still be compared with their peers based on their most difficult elements, as long as they are performed with some degree of expertise. Shirai actually bounced out of bounds when he debuted his layout triple-double at the Toyota International in December. That would have been considered a huge mistake under the 10.0 judging system. But in this new era of excess, few fans seem to care, as long as he made the skill.

Are longer, harder routines an improvement on the past? Should gymnastics, which requires an array of abilities (power, grace, technique, style, form, rhythm), be a test of endurance, too? Is Uchimura’s seven-year winning streak healthy for the sport, or is it exposing the fact that fewer and fewer gymnasts can master six events under such stringent requirements?

Fans once described routines as “gorgeous” or “beautiful.” Now we hear “insane” and “crazy.” Before it’s too late, the FIG needs to make some responsible decisions on how to govern the sport. It needs to simultaneously consider the welfare of the gymnasts and the enjoyment of fans. Evaluating only a gymnast’s hardest skills was never the solution to the problems in 2004.

The beautiful sport of gymnastics encompasses much more than pushing the levels of difficulty from start to finish. Routines should be performances. Now, more than ever, is the time to incorporate some of the past into the future.

Written by dwight normile    Thursday, 31 December 2015 09:44    PDF Print
Stretching Out: The Year in Review, From A to Z
(6 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

As another year comes to a close, we offer the following alphabetical reflection on the gymnastics world from the last 12 months. Happy New Year.

A: Andrade: When Rebeca Andrade tore her ACL in June, Brazil's chances of qualifying a team to the 2016 Olympics took a hit. After Flavia Saraiva had a bad day in Glasgow, the team finished ninth and missed an automatic berth by less than 0.50. With the Olympic test event in Rio in April, the Brazilian women should have little trouble securing one of the four remaining team berths, especially if Andrade is 100%. Brazilian coach Alexander Alexandrov should breathe a little easier once that goal is reached.

B: Biles/Boorman: Simone and Aimee have been together since the beginning of Biles' gymnastics career. Their amazing partnership has yielded three straight U.S. and world all-around titles — and Biles is still improving. The Rio Olympics will be their biggest test yet, but the odds are in their favor to ace it.

C: Compulsories: In December, the IG Facebook page featured two compulsory floor routines: Natalia Yurchenko (1985) and Vitaly Scherbo (1992). Of the 54 comments, only one was negative. So it is troubling that the FIG Code of Points continues to promote the sport by counting a gymnasts' most difficult skills (8 for women, 10 for men). Until the Code requires beautiful basics, the routines will continue to resemble efforts of sheer survival instead of the mastery on display by Yurchenko and Scherbo.

"Getting rid of compulsories was the beginning of the end," wrote Eric William Jones. And from Robbie Bourassa: "I miss the artistic value of the routines. No one is elegant or refined anymore. It's all about the big tricks." Isn't it time the FIG listened to its fan base? They sure didn't when it came to dropping the 10.0.

D: Douglas: Defending Olympic champion Gabby Douglas flew below the radar at both the U.S. championships, where she placed fifth, and the Glasgow worlds, where she won the all-around silver. Could she become the first woman to win consecutive Olympics since Vera Caslavska (1964-68)? She's got a chance.

E: Ellie Black: Five medals, three of them gold, at the Pan American Games in Toronto galvanized this talented Canadian as a major player on the world scene. She also led the team to an Olympic berth at the 2015 worlds, where Canada placed seventh (sixth in team finals).

F: Florida/Faehn: Two days after she led her Florida Gators to their third straight NCAA team title, head coach Rhonda Faehn resigned to become Sr. Vice President of the Women's Program for USA Gymnastics. Talk about going out on top.

G: Glasgow: The organizers of the 2015 World Championships should be commended for creating a fan-friendly event, but media were treated as an afterthought. One more thing: Who thought that pink carpet on the podium would work with red Gymnova equipment?

H: Hernandez/Haney: Lauren Hernandez is special. The 2015 U.S. junior champion, who defeated best friend and defending champion Jazmyn Foberg by 0.10 last August, might be the most entertaining gymnast in the world on floor exercise. And that's also a credit to her passionate coach, Maggie Haney.

I: Iordache: While she had a horrible day in qualifications at worlds, Larisa Iordache relied on experience to win the all-around bronze. Since Romania placed 13th in Glasgow, Iordache definitely will be needed at the test event in April.

J: J-Lo: Venerable Venezuelan Jessica Lopez continues to represent South American gymnastics with class and grace. And at 29, she won the World Cup Series last March, which added 24,000 Swiss francs to her bank account.

K: Kenzo: On floor exercise, Kenzo Shirai has won two world titles and one silver medal as a teenager. A Yokohama native whose parents are gymnastics coaches, Shirai excels at twisting elements, which may qualify as the biggest understatement of 2015. His name is in the Code for a quadruple-twisting back layout and triple-twisting front layout, and he debuted a layout triple-double in December. Does he really need six passes to prove he's the best on floor?

L: Larduet: Manrique Larduet has attitude and amplitude, and after the 19-year-old Cuban adds a little polish to his power, he'll likely be the next world or Olympic all-around champion. Really.

M: Mikulak: It is ironic that Sam Mikulak follows Larduet on this list, since many in the crowd at the 2015 Pan Am Games thought he should have followed the Cuban in the all-around. Instead, Mikulak defeated Larduet by 0.05, and the latter went on to win the 2015 world silver while Mikulak nursed a slightly torn Achilles' tendon (triple full on floor). But Mikulak had shown his amazing abilities in August by running away with his third straight U.S. title, the first three-peat since Paul Hamm (2002-04).

N: Nichols: Maggie Nichols shone brightly in 2015. She finished second to Simone Biles at the U.S. championships, which is like winning in any other country. And in her first worlds in Glasgow, she continued to glow with clutch performances. That she did only three events in prelims but all four in team finals was telling — the explanation given, however, was thinner than a crepe. Creating lineups based on training should not supersede competitive routines in a televised meet with real judges.

O: Oklahoma: Heading into the NCAA championships, the Sooner men and women each had a chance to pull off the rare undefeated season. The men accomplished it, winning the NCAA team title by a landslide, but the women stumbled in their final meet, the Super Six Final, where they finished third. Still, to be in that position was remarkable.

P: Paseka: Maria Paseka's vault gold in Glasgow was the first world title for a Russian woman since Aliya Mustafina's beam gold in 2013. Her tears on the podium said it all.

Q: Quit: We'll call it a retirement, which Canadian Victoria Moors announced at the Canadian championships in May. At age 18, she told the Cambridge Times, among other reasons, that "there's nothing more I could accomplish." Moors' 10th all-around at the 2013 worlds was a record for a Canadian woman until Ellie Black placed ninth in 2014 and seventh in 2015. Still, Moors, coached by Elvira Saadi, left her mark on the sport and her hame in the Code of Points — twice: double-twisting double layout on floor and an underswing to layout front-half dismount from uneven bars.

R: Ruggeri: As alternate to three U.S. world teams (2010, ’13, ’14), Paul Ruggeri chose to embrace the role. "I realize that even being the alternate is something that many never accomplish," he rightly reasoned. When he finally was named to the 2015 team, he hit when it counted. He went four-for-four in team finals and the U.S. men finished fifth, which was probably their ceiling in Glasgow.

S: Sharp: The arrest and subsequent suicide of Marvin Sharp left the gymnastics world stunned. On Sept. 20, the day after he died, his top gymnast, 2009 world champion Bridget Sloan, aptly tweeted one word: speechless.

T: Tie: The four-way tie for the uneven bars gold in Glasgow can be taken in different ways: 1) Festive (Yippee, half the field won!); 2) Coincidence (What are the chances?); 3) Sad (We've heard of co-champions, but there is no term for four winners. And there's a reason for that.); 4) Ridiculous (What are these judges getting paid for, anyway?).

U: Uchimura: What else can be said about King Kohei? We're running out of superlatives to describe his seven-year winning streak that includes one Olympic and six straight world all-around titles. Should he win the gold in Rio, he will match Japanese compatriot Sawao Kato's Olympic all-around feat of gold (1968), gold (1972), silver (1976), only in reverse order. Uchimura can also be credited with taking some of the glare off Simone Biles, who is setting records of her own.

V: Vernyayev: For the second worlds in a row, Oleg Vernyayev faltered to fourth in the all-around. In between, however, he was superman, winning the World Cup series, the European championships, the European Games and the University Games. Still considered a candidate to end Kohei Uchimura's winning streak, Vernyayev will have another chance at the Olympics. Will hard luck follow the Ukrainian to Rio?

W: Whitlock A year after winning the all-around silver at the world championships, Max Whitlock edged teammate Louis Smith on pommel horse at the Glasgow worlds to become the first male world champion from Great Britain.

X: X: The Roman numeral for 10, which is sorely missed as the international brand of gymnastics. To fill that void, let's celebrate the 10 world gold medals of both Kohei Uchimura and Simone Biles. Biles' 10, which she earned in just three years, is an all-time record for women's gymnastics.

Y: You: (No, not you.) The most successful Chinese gymnast in Glasgow, You Hao won the parallel bars gold, the rings silver and the team bronze. He was one of the few Chinese men to show clean lines, and he had the highest D-scores in both of his apparatus finals.

Z: Zonderland: Epke Zonderland of the Netherlands has risen to such a level that even his failures are notable. In Glasgow, the defending world and Olympic high bar champion did not qualify to the high bar final. It was his first absence from the world and Olympic high bar finals since 2006. As of now, he has not qualified to Rio.

Written by dwight normile    Friday, 28 November 2014 10:42    PDF Print
Stretching Out: 10 New Rules To Spice Up Gymnastics
(22 votes, average 3.00 out of 5)

So here we are, eight years into the 'new' Code of Points, and what do we have to show for it? For starters, many routines have doubled in length, while those with a time limit are presented in fast-forward mode. The women's all-around field has become thinner than a crepe, and some gymnasts are throwing tricks they have yet to master because they understand that the D-score, immune to deduction, is the most direct path to the podium.

Is gymnastics literally spinning out of control? Perhaps. To help rein in the madness and improve the sport's audience appeal, I have come up with a new rule for each event. And, who knows, they might even prevent an injury or two.


Any fall, including just a hand touch, should incur a 3.0 deduction. Gymnasts who fall on a handspring-double front in qualifications should not be granted a finals berth simply because they tried the hardest vault in the Code. Gymnastics competition should be about technique and mastery, not “attempts” at success. We will call this the “Common Sense” rule.


Any empty swing, such as those after a Shaposhnikova-type skill, shall incur a deduction. Why this has never been imposed remains a mystery rivaling the Bermuda Triangle. If a gymnast is talented enough to fling herself from the low bar to the high from a free hip, Stalder or sole circle, she should be able to do something after she catches.


Add an actual mount requirement in which the gymnast must either, a) use a board and show flight, or b) exert at least 5.0 METs (metabolic equivalents) without the use of a board. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 1.0 MET is defined as the energy it takes to “sit quietly,” which is not unlike many balance beam mounts today.


Effective immediately, gymnasts are required to perform no more than three tumbling passes and no fewer than one pass comprising three different leaps, none of which may be initiated from two feet or include sketchy mid-air twists. These spinning jumps have become the bane of women’s floor routines, and there isn’t a judge on the planet who can accurately determine their completion. Should a gymnast attempt one of these whirling dervishes, the judge retains the right to sound a gong, thus ending the performance.


Shorten the routines to five passes and the top eight skills (instead of 10), max, and some body part above the waist must touch the mat after every pass (except, of course, the dismount). This should help put the “exercise” back into the event. Until that happens, the event will be referred to as "Men's Tumbling." Oh … one more minor tweak: eliminate the 70-second time limit. Great gymnastics should never, ever be rushed!


This may sound radical, but give it a chance: Implement one “2-second hold” element that is not the mount. Pommel horse has developed into a mind-numbing event for spectators, who rarely know when to applaud. So let’s help them. Imagine these combos: flairs to a planche; flair handstand, stoop through to V or Manna (crowds will go nuts); scissor to straddle-L on one pommel. The possibilities are endless, just as pommel horse routines seem to be now.


Require a swing to handstand in both directions. Too many musclemen perform endless strength sequences, one requisite swing to handstand, and then a dismount. Rings champions should be able to swing in both directions, don't you think?


I am not picking on Olympic and world champion Yang Hak Seon, but if you qualify to an event final, your second vault must feature a difference greater than moving one hand approximately eight inches from where it touched on vault No. 1. With his Yang-1 (handspring-triple-twisting front) and Yang-2 (Kasamatsu-21/2), Yang is practically doing the same vault twice (even though he could land neither at the 2014 worlds). Maybe men's vault finals should require at least one double somersault? You decide. (And yes, I guess I am picking on Yang a little bit.)


This rule is both simple and effective: no more than one front uprise-swing handstand per routine. Double somersaults to the upper arms are followed by this transition 99.99999999999999% of the time. P-bars has so much more to offer.


This one’s great too. Deduct 0.1 for every giant swing that does not feature a change of grip or body position as it goes over the top. If you’re that guy cranking empty giants before and after big releases, and prior to your dismount, there will be a price to pay. Finally.

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