The Four-Year Fan Guide: Getting Technical

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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.

How? Who? Total Gymnasts
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
Tripartite (1) Panama 1
98 total

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

32 thoughts on “The Four-Year Fan Guide: Getting Technical

  1. NBC will show you their stoplight Scoring on e score deduction. Somewhat useful but not that useful. The total score of each (D score +E Score – deduction) is what’s important. You can have the green in NBC score stoplight all day long but if your D score is low, then your total score will be low and you still won’t do good.

    So just look at the total score and use the following rough guide:

    Green: 15 or above
    Yellow: 14-14.9
    Red: below 14.

    Each event relative score is different slightly. A 15 on vault is fairly decent but not uncommon, but a 15 on floor exercise is a very good score and much harder to get than 15 on vt. However, as long as as your team keeping getting 15+ score, you are doing good. Start to get scores below 14 and you are not doing good at all

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      • Well, that didn’t post my full comment. What I was trying to say was, I thought they did
        less than 1.2 in deductions = green
        1.3-1.9 in deductions = yellow
        more than 2.0 in dedcutions = red

        Still not perfect, but they do take D score into account.

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        • Yup, you’re correct! They take D score into account but don’t take into account the fact that different deductions mean different things on each event…like an 8.8 e-score on vault isn’t really great but an 8.8 e-score on floor would be amazing.

          Liked by 1 person

        • They don’t take into consideration the D score. The stoplight of deduction is based on the gymnast max total score (D+E). So if your max score is like a pitiful 12 and you get like 11.5 you re still in the green with NBC stoplight. I would love to see how Al would then spin that one on the air :)…

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    • The problem there is that it doesn’t tell you much about how well the routine was performed. I think they made a judgement call knowing they were going to have to sacrifice informing the audience about either the quality of performance or overall competitiveness of the score.

      Liked by 1 person

        • I really don’t. I actually love the Tokyo format and think it makes sense. Gymnastics has historically been an all-around sport. I did not like the specialization that started to occur in 2004, and I think the Tokyo format will really force teams to adapt and emphasize all around gymnastics again. However, the specialist spots will still allow gymnasts who want to train only a few events to make it to the games. Six people per team just strikes me as too many when only 3 gymnasts actually get used on each apparatus.

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        • In a perfect world the format would be 6-5-4 for qualms and 6-4-3 for finals. Top 24 period for AA, regardless of country, and top 8 period for each EF. I think the Tokyo format being so different from the format at worlds will widen the gap between strong programs and smaller programs. All of the changes that FIG has made to try and create parity really haven’t panned out in WAG. It feels to me like the team competition, at least at the Olympics, is something they are trying to phase out.

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      • FIG controls the Worlds Championship so they can make it 8/team if they want. Olympics is controlled by IOC which unfortunately limits the number of total gymnasts so that’s why you can only have 5 on the current team instead of 6 at worlds.

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  2. Lauren, I wish you were commentating for NBC instead of the terrible trio. I’d love to hear your commentary during routines. Also, it’s funny because I still read the Four Year Fan Guides even though I’m not one 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually have been impressed with Nastia. I know some on Gymternet want her to outright bash Al on air, but realistically, would you ever talk about a co-worker like that in public? Probably not. I think she has been informative, professional, and accessible. Tim doesn’t bother me too much either. He has some annoying, constantly repeated sayings, but he generally takes the sport seriously. Al is a disaster, of course. I think if they had another anchor in the role of gymnastics outsider, the trio would actually be quite fine.

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      • In Al’s defense, he knows a lot about gymnastics because he has been covering it for years, yet he knows which questions to ask for people who do not understand the sport.

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      • I am actually somewhat ok with the Trio most of the time even a lot of time I want them to be a little more objective. But the Trial coverage was just disgusting. I am not sure how much they have a say on the let’s keep our camera focused on gabby drinking water… It’s possible that they don’t have control over the cam? Also the comments about gabby stock going up after the beam fall almost sound like they are being line feed by the higher up ?

        I guess it’s possible that there might be a lot of things beyond their control? I could only hope so…. sighhhh.

        BBC coverage was good in 2012 except I wish they turn the volume of the arena up a little as you can’t hear the music on fx at all. Bart conner and Amanda borden in 2014 worlds was really enjoyable.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Nastia is a vast improvement over Elfie. I hope as she gets more comfortable that she will express more opinions and offer more insight. Tim at least doesn’t prattle through routines any more which is a plus, but Bart Connor and Kurt Thomas did a much better job. Honestly, it is Al and the head honchos at NBC that make it so frustrating to watch. What’s funny is that Al does a much better job covering other events for the Olympics than he does for gymnastics. I also don’t find that Andrea Joyce adds anything with her little color commentary/jokes/interviews.

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  3. Catalina deserved that gold medal on floor 2004. Cheng Fei got out of bounds twice on the same pass, and her leaps (by that time really influenced your score) were doubtful. Chang should have been scored maybe .1 higher, but that’s it. And I love her. But that night she was not the best. Cruelty of gymnastics

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  4. Yikes! I truly had no idea there were ‘I’ difficulty skills. I thought the highest was ‘E’ and MAYBE some crazy ‘F’ skill out there.
    What in the world could an I skill be???? So curious! 👍

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    • That would be skinner’s double twisting double layout first pass aka The Moors. Floor is where you have all the higher rated skills G H I categories.

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