Like the uneven bars, which we talked about yesterday, routines on the balance beam build difficulty through composition requirements, element values, and connection bonuses. The fundamental differences come in what those requirements, skills, and bonuses are, so let’s get into that right away.
The five composition requirements for beam, each worth 0.5, are:
- Dance Connection – Connection of two dance elements (one must be a 180 degree split)
- Full Turn – Full turn on one foot
- Flight Series – Acrobatic series, aka a flight series
- Acro – Acrobatic elements both forward and backward
- Dismount – Dismount rated D or higher
Again, routines fulfilling all of these get an automatic 2.5 points, but those missing any of these requirements take a 0.5 hit for each one missing. Australia’s best beam worker was a shoo-in for the title on this event at nationals thanks to her 6+ start value, but she flubbed her full turn and didn’t make it up later on, causing her to lose 0.5 and miss the title. The rest of her routine was fantastic. I can’t stress enough how important these are!
We’ll get into a full list of the most popular beam skills in a list at the end of this explanation, but for now let’s look at the connection values. The first group is for acrobatic connections only:
- C/D + D (or more, without rebound) = 0.1
- C + C = 0.1
- B + E = 0.1
- C/D + D (or more, with rebound) = 0.2
- B + D (rebound forward) = 0.2
- B + F = 0.2
- B + B + C (or higher, any order, can include mount or dismount) = 0.1 series bonus
Elements with rebound go in the same direction, and elements without rebound go in different directions.
Now the dance and mixed connections:
- C + C (or more) = 0.1
- A + C (both being turns) = 0.1
- D (salto) + A (dance element) = 0.1
- D (salto to one foot) + A (scale) = 0.1
- D + D (or more) = 0.2
That’s a lot to take in. It’s also a little bit more difficult to recognize connections on beam if you’re just getting into following. You know how literally every skill is essentially connected on bars, whether they’re bigger D and E skills or more basic A and B elements that won’t even be counted? On beam, there are lots of breaks between elements to include choreography bits or even just to pause briefly to prep for the next skill, so how do you know if an athlete is pausing between skills intentionally or if she’s supposed to connect them but flubs?
Really, the simple answer is that you just know. You get used to routines and you know the common sequences of connected skills. A common mixed series is a punch front tuck or pike into a jump, like a split jump or wolf jump. If you see a gymnast do a front pike and then hesitate for a second because of a balance issue before going into the jump, you know she was most likely trying to connect the two because there’s no reason to do an A-level jump on its own – the value is too low.
The good news is that there’s no deduction or penalty for missing a connection series. Sure, you don’t get the connection bonus, but if a gymnast does that punch front pike and then just decides for whatever reason that she’s not going to attempt to jump out of it, that’s fine. Even if the judges were expecting a jump, they can only credit the skills they see – they can’t penalize what they DON’T see (unless of course they don’t see one of the composition requirements, in which case you’re in big trouble, mister).
So now let’s go through a routine and build a D score, shall we? Here’s Laurie Hernandez.
- 0:21 – Mount – Jump to side split (A)
- 0:30 – Acro – Punch front pike (E)
- 0:35 – Acro/Dance – Front aerial (D) + sissone (A) + split jump (A)
- 0:46 – Acro – Back handspring (B) + layout stepout (C) + layout stepout (C)
- 0:54 – Dance – Full turn (A)
- 1:00 – Dance – Sheep jump (D)
- 1:09 – Acro/Dance – Punch front tuck (D) + wolf jump (A)
- 1:16 – Acro – Side aerial (D)
- 1:22 – Dance – Switch (C) + switch half (D)
- 1:33 – Dance – Switch ring (E)
- 1:42 – Dismount – Roundoff (B) + double pike (E)
So, Laurie’s beam is fantastically balanced (pun intended) in its dance and acro, and she also uses several connections to boost her difficulty. She doesn’t try to tackle through-the-roof difficulty on individual skills, with E-level skills her most difficult, but she does pack a ton of big skills in, which makes a difference.
First let’s see if all of the CR have been met.
- Dance Connection – her sissone jump into the split jump at 0:35 both reach 180 and are connected well, so she gets this requirement no problem
- Full Turn – this happens at 0:54
- Flight Series – the bhs loso loso at 0:46 fulfills the connected acro requirement, and Laurie beefs it up by throwing in an extra acro element to make it a triple series!
- Acro – Laurie has several forward elements (like the pike at 0:30 and the tuck at 1:09) as well as several backwards elements (like those in the flight series at 0:46)
- Dismount – her double pike is an E, which not only fulfills the requirement, but exceeds it
Laurie gets an automatic 2.5 points from meeting all of her requirements, and so we move on to the skills. She has a total of 18 skills in her routine (so many mostly because several of the lower level skills are necessary to satisfy dance requirements and connections), but again, only the eight most difficult count. In order from high to low, her skills are as follows: E, E, E, D, D, D, D, D, C, C, C, B, B, A, A, A, A, A with the eight most difficult in bold. E skills are worth 0.5 and D skills are worth 0.4, so here you would multiply her three E skills by 0.5 to get 1.5 points and then her five D skills by 0.4 to get 2 points. Add these together, and her combination of skills is 3.5 points, which is added to the 2.5 CR to get 6 points.
Now it’s time to look at the connection bonuses. You know how in bars technically everything is connected? On beam, you can see the pauses in Laurie’s routine between skills and connections, giving her time to breathe and focus on what’s to come. So when you see two or more skills done in quick succession on beam – like Laurie with her front aerial into the two jumps early on – you know it’s because she wants to connect them. Here are those connections…
- Front aerial (D) + sissone (A) = 0.1 (from the salto + dance element bonus)
- Back handspring (B) + layout stepout (C) + layout stepout (C) = 0.2 (this technically gets two bonuses…the C + C acro bonus of 0.1 and then the B + B + C or higher series bonus of 0.1)
- Front tuck (D) + wolf jump (A) = 0.1 (from the salto + dance element bonus)
- Switch (C) + switch half (D) = 0.1 (from the C + C or higher two dance elements bonus)
Add these all together to get 0.5, and then add that on to the 6.0 Laurie has from her requirements and skills, and Laurie’s beam routine is rated at a 6.5, which is pretty high!
In terms of deductions, the biggest – and most obvious – thing to look out for on the BALANCE beam is (drum roll, please)…BALANCE! Shocking, right? It’s super hard to notice things like handstand angles on bars and bent elbows on a vault’s block, but you don’t need a trained judge’s eye to see if a gymnast is wobbling.
Wobbles come in all shapes and sizes, and are deducted accordingly. There are super minor balance checks, where a gymnast may land solidly with her feet but her hip or shoulder angle is a little off and so you might catch a slight adjustment, which would pick up about 0.1 in deductions (you may not even notice some of these). The bigger wobbles where a gymnast has to take a step or makes a bigger attempt to control the landing could get about 0.3 off, and then the monster wobbles where a gymnast is fighting for her life to stay on the beam could go for about 0.5 off. Of course, if she falls, it’s a full point.
Form is also a big one here. As on any event, gymnasts want their body line to be long and tight. Soft knees and bent elbows on back handsprings are common, as are flexed feet on leaps and jumps, and incorrect body positioning on tucks, pikes, and layouts. Jumps and leaps that don’t reach a full 180 degree split in the air are deducted, and some jumps with special requirements – like switch rings, which require the back leg to form a ring shape with the head thrown back and the toes reaching the head – could even be downgraded if they don’t look the way they’re supposed to.
As with vault and bars, the dismount landing is another big one, with steps and hops receiving 0.1 off for small infractions and 0.3-0.5 off for larger infractions…and gymnasts can fall on dismounts as well, again getting a full point off.
Something I didn’t mention in the first two articles is chest position on landings. Basically, a gymnast always wants to land her skills with her chest angled up in the way it would be if she was standing. On vault and bars, gymnasts typically get a sufficient amount of height to complete dismounts with a proper chest angle, but with beam dismounts, it’s definitely common to see chests angled down toward the ground on double tucks and pikes because they don’t have time to complete the skill in the air before landing straight up.
Like anything else, the severity of the deduction is based on how bad it is…a chest angled a few degrees forward might not even get a deduction, but a gymnast who lands crouched with her chest horizontal to the floor could take a hit. Landing in this way could be very dangerous, actually, because if your body is still tucked when you land, your knees can hit your forehead, which I’ve seen happen – and it’s scary!
So that’s beam in a nutshell. As always, if you don’t understand something or if I failed to share a crucial piece of information, please ask away in the comment section.
Before we go, here’s the list of the most common balance beam elements in the code of points along with their values, sorted by type of skill. I’m linking each skill to a gif, all of which are made by the fabulous candycoatteddoom, who has this full list of every balance beam element on Wikia. I also used more colloquial gym language than the code offers, so check Wikia for the language used in the code as well.
|A||Leap to one foot|
|Squat through to rear support|
|B||Press to handstand|
|C||Jump to cross split|
|Back handspring swing down (Korbut)|
|Gainer layout stepout|
|Full-twisting back handspring (Kochetkova)|
|Side somi (tucked or piked)|
|Layout (to two feet)|
|Front half to back tuck (Maaranen)|
|Front half to back pike (Produnova)|
|Side somi half (Schäfer)|
|F||Front tuck half (Grigoras)|
|Full wolf turn|
|C||Full attitude turn|
|Full L turn|
|Full Y turn|
|1½ wolf turn|
|1½ L turn|
|Double wolf turn|
|Full back scale turn (Preziosa)|
|1½ Y turn|
|2½ wolf turn|
|Double L turn (Wevers)|
|Triple wolf turn (Mitchell)|
|LEAPS & JUMPS|
|Tuck jump full|
|Switch side (Johnson)|
|D||Split ring leap|
|Split jump with arched body and head dropped (Yang Bo)|
|B||Gainer full (off the side)|
|D||Front layout double full|
|Gainer layout (off the end)|
|Gainer full (off the end) (Steingruber)|
|G||Arabian double front (Patterson)|
Article by Lauren Hopkins