Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what goes into each apparatus, a basic intro to the technical side of the sport is necessary.
At the most fundamental level, it’s important to know what medals they’re actually fighting for at the Olympic Games. In Rio, and at most international competitions, gymnastics meets are broken down into four parts – qualifications, team finals, all-around finals, and event finals. No medals are given out in qualifications, only in the finals for a total of six medal opportunities (team, all-around, and four event finals – vault, bars, beam, and floor).
Qualifications are held at the start of each meet, with every gymnast on the roster competing either individually or on teams. The individual gymnasts are attempting to qualify into the all-around and event finals, while the team gymnasts are hoping to qualify both to the team final and to the individual finals. Eight teams advance to the team final, 24 individuals to the all-around final, and then eight individuals into each of the four event finals. For the individual finals, only two gymnasts per country are allowed to qualify, so if you see three U.S. gymnasts at the top of the all-around rankings after qualifications this summer, only the top two will be able to represent the country in the final.
A total of 98 women will compete in artistic gymnastics at the Olympic Games, and they all had to face a qualifying process to get there. That’s what we’ll get into next.
Gymnasts are able to qualify either on full teams or as individuals, with the beginnings of this process starting with world championships in 2014, where the teams that finished in the top 24 earned full team spots at worlds in 2015. In addition to the 24 six-member teams in 2015, all other countries that did not earn team spots were allowed to send up to three individual competitors. For example, the United States finished first in 2014 and could send a full team of six gymnasts to contend at the team and individual level in 2015, but New Zealand placed 32nd as a team at worlds in 2014, so they could only send up to three gymnasts to compete in the individual events in 2015 (and they opted to send only two).
This was the first round of “cuts,” so to speak, with no one actually securing Olympic spots just yet. But at worlds in 2015, the very first Olympic spots were handed out, going to the top eight teams and then to any individual gymnast not part of those teams who earned an event medal. Everyone else, meanwhile, moved on to a final stage of qualifying – the test event. Based on 2015 worlds, the teams ranked ninth through 16th were allowed to send full teams to the test event, the teams ranked 17th through 24th were allowed to send two individual gymnasts apiece, and the top 26 individually-ranked gymnasts not part of those 24 teams also earned spots for their countries.
At the test event, held in April of this year, the top four teams got to send full teams to the Olympic Games. The remaining 34 individual test event spots went to the four countries ranked fifth through eighth (which earned one individual spot apiece), and then the 30 top individuals all earned nominative spots (meaning the spots went to them, not to their countries; if they had to give up the spot for whatever reason, it would go to the next-highest finisher, not to another gymnast from their nation!).
So 12 teams times five gymnasts apiece gets us to 60 gymnasts, one gymnast qualified from her medal win at worlds in 2015, and 34 individuals qualified through the test event for a total of 95 gymnasts. Where do the remaining three come from? Two spots exist for continental representation, meaning at least two athletes from every continent must be represented at every Games. Because no gymnasts from Africa qualified through other means, two African gymnasts received these spots, and then finally, the tripartite spot – also known as the wildcard spot – went to a gymnast from an underrepresented country at the Olympics (aka a country that sent eight or fewer athletes to the previous two Olympic Games). Bam. 98 gymnasts.
Confused yet? Don’t worry. It’s super complicated. Here’s a chart listing who qualified and how.
|2015 World Championships – Team (5 each)||United States, Russia, Great Britain, China, Italy, Japan, Canada, Netherlands||40|
|2015 World Championships – Medal Finisher||North Korea (Hong Un Jong)||1|
|2016 Test Event – Teams (5 each)||Brazil, Germany, Belgium, France||20|
|2016 Test Event – Individual (1 each)||Switzerland, Guatemala, Venezuela, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Australia, Ukraine, Mexico, Romania, Cuba, Portugal, Poland, Austria, Jamaica, Iceland, Vietnam, India, Slovakia, New Zealand, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Peru, Chile, Slovenia, Turkey, Sweden, Trinidad & Tobago, Croatia, Colombia, Belarus, Ireland, South Korea, Argentina||34|
|Continental Representation (1 each)||Algeria, Egypt||2|
There are lots of little even more complicated bits and pieces here, but this is how it ended up working out, so I won’t get into the super confusing exceptions and other crazy aspects. Just know that this chart is how everyone happened to get to Rio, and everything else is over and done with.
The one thing I will say is that if a full team qualifies to the Games, the country has to later on decide who will make up that team, which can be quite the complicated puzzle because with only five members, you have to make sure you put together a team that’s balanced across all four events. Most teams include a mix of what we call “all-around gymnasts” – gymnasts who compete all four events well and will fight for a spot in the all-around final – and “specialists” – gymnasts who may stand out on one or two events and won’t do more than these at the Games.
This is further complicated by the fact that teams have to follow a 5-4-3 format in qualifications, meaning that of the five members of the team, only four can go up on each event in qualifications, with three of the four scores counting towards the team total. If you take a team of five strong all-arounders, not all will get the opportunity to actually compete all four events, essentially. Most teams take a mix of three all-arounders and two specialists, though you’ll sometimes see two all-arounders and three specialists, and in rare circumstances – like when a fifth team member is injured shortly before the meet – four all-arounders will go up with the fifth sitting out entirely.
How the teams are selected and the lineups in qualifications are determined by each country’s federation in the months leading up to the Games. For your reference, we have a full master team list of every team selected this year, including alternates and any changes that have come about. You can also check out our Olympic coverage guide for articles about each team’s selection, including analysis as to why certain decisions were made.
So now you know who will be in Rio, how they got there, and which events will get them medals at the Olympic Games. The final piece of our intro to the technical side of Olympic gymnastics is the scoring system. With a combination of D scores, E scores, penalties, and final scores, the scoring system sounds way more complicated than it actually is. In fact, it’s roughly 1702% easier to understand than the qualification process, which is literally bananas. Seriously, gold stars for those of you who stuck with me this far.
In the past, gymnastics scores were based on the “perfect 10” system. In this system, gymnasts had to meet certain requirements on each event, but assuming all requirements were met, the highest any of them could get was a 10, with every routine worth the same even if one gymnast did all of the most difficult skills and another did all of the easiest allowed. There was no way to separate “good” from “great,” and so if everyone hit, an easy routine could beat a more difficult one, which happened all the time.
The 2004 Olympic Games were kind of the last straw, with so many medal winners in Athens kind of huge question marks. For the women, this was especially true on floor, where the Chinese gymnast Cheng Fei had easily the best routine both in terms of difficulty and how she competed it. But in floor finals, Cheng made a tiny mistake and Catalina Ponor of Romania won the gold medal with a much easier routine while Cheng finished fourth. It’s been 12 years and gym fans still regularly go into a rage about this.
So the FIG – the international governing body for gymnastics – moved to an open-ended scoring system in 2006. This system created basic routine guidelines that had to be followed, but also allowed gymnasts to essentially go crazy with skills. Every skill had a value attached to it, with the lower-valued skills worth 0.1 and the more difficult skills worth as much as 0.9 apiece in today’s code of points. A gymnast who puts together a super difficult routine can thus outscore a gymnast who only does the basics, even if the gymnast with the higher level of difficulty makes a couple of mistakes. Her risks are therefore rewarded in a way they once weren’t.
Once tallied up, a gymnast’s difficulty is called her D score, and there is a panel of judges responsible for adding everything together. A D score is comprised of the following:
- Compositional Requirements (CR): Each event’s requirements are worth 0.5 for a total of 2.5 CR points in a gymnast’s D score. Most gymnasts meet the CR and get the 2.5 points, but if a gymnast has four out of five, she’ll get 2.0 CR, three out of five gets 1.5, and so on.
- Skills: In today’s code of points, a gymnast is given credit for the eight most difficult skills in her routine. The skills are given letter values with A being the easiest and I being the most difficult, and each letter value is attached to a corresponding numerical value from 0.1 (A) to 0.9 (I).
- Connection Value (CV): A routine’s connection value comes when certain skills or elements are combined. Gymnasts who do this can generally pick up an extra 0.1-0.2 per connection, so it’s a nice way for gymnasts with easier skills to add difficulty to their D scores.
All of these are added together to reach the D score, which you can think of like a math formula (CR + Skills + CV = D). Each event has different CR, CV, and skill values, which we’ll get into in upcoming posts that focus on the four events. As a quick example, say a gymnast competing on floor meets all CR to get 2.5 points there, counts two E skills (0.5 each), four D skills (0.4 each), and two C skills (0.3 each), and has 0.3 in CV. The formula looks like this: 2.5 + [2(0.5) + 4(0.4) + 2(0.3)] + 0.3 = 6.0 D score. Most D scores at the elite level tend to hover somewhere in the 5.0 to 6.5 range on average, though this varies based on the gymnast and on the event.
In addition to the D score, there’s also the execution score, which is more similar to what we had in the “perfect 10” system and is based solely on how well the gymnast performs the routine. The E score judges are subtracting or deducting from a 10 to get to this score. These deductions are laid out in the code of points and include things like a point off for a fall, three tenths for a large step on vault, and a tenth for a handstand that comes up a little bit shy on bars, for example. The judges who hand out the E score basically watch the routines for what goes wrong and deduct accordingly.
At the end of a performance, the D score and E score are combined to get the gymnast’s total score. Let’s go back to the example of the gymnast above who amassed a 6.0 D score. The routine is done moderately well with a few mistakes here and there, so the judges deduct for the problem areas and come to an 8.5 E score. 6.0 + 8.5 = 14.5, and so a gymnast’s total score for her routine is a 14.5.
The only other thing that factors in is a penalty or neutral deduction. You’ll pretty much ONLY see these when a gymnast steps out-of-bounds on vault and floor or goes over her allotted time on beam. Penalties don’t have anything to do with a gymnast’s difficulty or how she looks in her execution, so they’re taken off from the total score. Had our gymnast who got a 14.5 on floor taken a step out-of-bounds on her opening tumbling run, she still would have received a 6.0 D score and an 8.5 E score for a 14.5, but she also would have incurred a 0.1 penalty, giving her a 14.4 total.
There we have it! In its simplest form, a gymnast’s score can be summed up by the following formula: difficulty + execution – penalties = total score. You can ignore all of the more detailed information above and only remember this formula here, and you’d be pretty much set when you watch the Games this summer. You won’t hear any TV commentators talking about a routine’s CR or connection value, so that’s more an inside look at how a D score is built if you want to impress your friends with your hardcore knowledge.
Next up, we’ll feature our introduction to vault, including what it entails, the most common vaults you’ll see, what the judges will be looking for in terms of deductions, and who we think will top the rankings in Rio.
As always, if you have any questions or would like us to elaborate, please let us know in the comments!
Article by Lauren Hopkins