You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

Shang Chunsong

It’s time for the 323rd edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!

We apologize if we haven’t gotten to your question yet, but we try to answer in the order in which they were received (unless they are super relevant and need to be answered in a timely manner).

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What happens to a gymnast’s execution score in elite when they’re injured during a routine and unable to complete it? 

Their execution is judged based on what they completed, which means that sometimes with especially quick routines, their E scores actually end up looking really high – with only one or two skills, there’s not much to deduct from! Even if a gymnast falls on the first couple of skills, it’s really just the point off for the fall, and then a few tenths off for whatever form errors exist, so the E score could still be around an 8.5 or so, but E score aside, the total score won’t be very high because the D score will be next to nothing, and there are also short exercise penalties depending on how many skills were completed (if a gymnast has only 1-2 elements, she’ll get a 8.0 ND for her routine).

Shang Chunsong at the Baku World Cup in 2017, for example, mounted the low bar, did a kip cast to handstand, struggled a little to get to handstand because she was dealing with some elbow pain (if I remember correctly…maybe it was shoulder pain?), and then just swung down, “dismounted,” and saluted. They actually gave her a 0.3 D, though I’m actually not sure why…I was thinking an A for the cast to handstand and then maybe then they also gave her an A for the simple “dismount” or something, since technically the dismount is supposed to count into the total value? But since she’s doing a straight body cast I think that’s actually a B…don’t trust me, though, I don’t have the code handy right now and my memory is THE WORST. The main thing is that she got a 0.3 D for the skills completed. But her execution for that cast to handstand and “dismount” was a 9.733! She also got a -8.5 ND (a total of 8.0 off for the short exercise penalty because she only had 1 skill, but I don’t know why they gave her an additional 0.5 penalty, at least based on what I could see in the video) for a total score of 1.533.

Shang Chunsong with the highest bars execution score of the quad but one of the lowest overall bars scores, all in the same routine.

Edit: Someone in the comments brought up that she probably got the additional 0.5 ND for not doing a ‘recognized’ dismount which seems the most likely to me…I can’t imagine it’s anything else! Also, in the comments we’ve worked out that the 0.3 D is likely the glide kip (A) and then the straight body cast (B). Will I ever remember that glide kip mounts are a legitimate thing that are occasionally counted?! NO!

In Maxi Gnauck’s 1980 bars routine, she does a skill where she beats the low bar with her hips and then flies up in a deep pike position facing down, over the high bar with a half turn. What is that move called? Did anyone else ever do it? Is it even possible to do anything like it today?

This is called a stoop vault, and it is still in the code today! Obviously, the gymnast can’t do the belly beat into it with the bars so far apart, so usually when you see it now, the gymnast will instead kip cast to release for the momentum into the flight, with the stoop coming out of the cast. It’s only a B, so you never really see elite-level gymnasts doing it as a release element when most are going for the D+ skills like the usual Tkachevs and Jaegers, but actually I was watching a meet recently…Swedish Championships, I believe?…and one girl had a stoop vault! It may not be the most difficult element, but with basically every routine looking identical now in terms of the same skills being done over and over, I love seeing some old-school skills make it in, so that was exciting.

Edit: My coach friend Anton in Sweden said that I most definitely saw the stoop vault from Amanda Björklund at this year’s nationals!

Does Laney Madsen have any chance at Tokyo 2020?

Technically she still has Euros in 2021, but the likelihood of her getting one of the two open spots there is very slim. However, I am glad she’s going to keep going for 2024, because I do think she has a shot with a bit more experience. I think going into 2020, she was right on the border of qualifying in terms of what she was capable of scoring, however, she would have needed a perfect day in Stuttgart qualifications, and with almost no international experience in her competition history, and given all of the pressure she was under, obviously this was always going to be difficult and it wasn’t surprising to see it not work out. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of changes she’ll make now that she’s at WCC, but I think more important for her this quad will be actually going out to the apparatus world cups and as many other international competitions as she can so she can get experience that will be valuable to her as she goes into the qualification process for Paris.

How do judges know how many feet a gymnast stepped out-of-bounds on floor when the line judges only have one color flag?

The line judges use the flags to signal to everyone to acknowledge that there was an out-of-bounds, but then they also inform the D panel judges how much the penalties should be. I’ve never noticed how they do it at worlds or Euros honestly, though I’d imagine it’s probably electronic? But at U.S. meets they often have score runners, which are little kids volunteering from local organizing gyms who pick up the sheets of paper from the line judges and literally run them over to the judge tables. Maybe the U.S. is electronic now too, this is one of those things at meets that you don’t really notice unless you’re explicitly looking for it, but I always thought the prospect of eight-year-olds running around with one of the most important jobs was hilarious.

Is Hill’s impacted by the USA Gymnastics turmoil since Kelli Hill was a board member during the Nassar abuse? Any reason Dominique Dawes has her daughters at Capitol and not Hill’s?

I don’t think Hill’s has really felt much of an impact at all, really, and they’ve faced not only backlash from Kelli being a board member during the Nassar abuse/cover-up, but also Dominique coming forward about the culture being really bad at Hill’s during her time there in the 90s, which took her a long time to come to terms with and speak up about. But Hill’s continues to have a really thriving J.O. program as well as one of the top senior elites right now as Kayla DiCello is a Tokyo contender, and they have a lot of support in the gymnastics community, so I don’t see any of it really having affected them much at all. I would imagine Dominique had her daughters at Capitol due to her own negative experiences, and her experiences are why she decided to open her own gym as well…but even with all of that, Hill’s is still doing its thing.

Why would a federation include senior gymnasts in their junior squad?

I think instead of having a national team with senior-eligible gymnasts and then one with those who aren’t yet eligible for senior competitions, like most countries have, some federations rather have “A teams” and “B teams” and the A teams are naturally mostly seniors, with a few top-level juniors, while the B teams are the other way around with mostly juniors, and then a few lower-performing seniors who could potentially be back-ups for the senior team. I think it’s more a talent-based national team system than an age eligibility-based one in the sense that the A team gymnasts are the ones that are going to be the top choices for international assignments, whether senior or junior assignments, whereas the B team will be kind of second choice for everything…kind of like in other sports where they have large teams and there’s always a core group of starters or first-stringers, and then a back-up group.

How many judges are at NCAA meets?

For regular season meets, it’s two judges per event, so for meets with only two teams, they’ll just have four judges total, because the judges who start out on vault and bars will then move over to beam and floor. For some postseason meets, like conference championships and regionals, there are four judges per event, and for nationals, there are six judges per event.

Why did gymnasts in the past have to perform two vaults and average them, even though some of them weren’t aiming for event finals?

I think it was just kind of to make vault more of a thing that “matters” instead of just a one-and-done in six seconds kinda thing? On bars, beam, and floor, you have a full 30-90 seconds for judges to get a sense of who you are as a gymnast and your talent level on those events, but vault is one of those things where you can truly get lucky and hit a really great set one second and then completely botch it the next, so to make a gymnast’s score more accurate or reflective of her true talent on the event, I think it definitely makes sense to get an average…and I personally kind of think in a perfect world everyone should do two different vaults. But averaging two of the same vaults was basically a way to get a better sense of that gymnast’s vault ability, and if you were a truly strong and consistent vaulter, it worked out in your favor because you could get two 9.9s in a row, but if you were a weaker vaulter, your scores would probably fluctuate a bit and an average would be more representative of you as a vaulter than one single score.

I find that Al Fong has done a great job pacing his athletes over the years. Do you think Katelyn Ohashi would have done better to stay at GAGE than moving to WOGA? Maybe they wouldn’t have pushed her so hard so fast in her elite career?

I think pacing is one thing, but vibing with your coach and feeling respected also matters, and if Katelyn didn’t feel those things with Al, then pacing wouldn’t matter so much…she still would have been miserable. Honestly, I feel like it was less about pacing with Katelyn and think she probably would have been miserable in most elite situations, because she seems like she wanted more than anything to have a life outside of gymnastics…she seemed like she needed something like an Aimee Boorman kind of situation to maximize longevity in her elite career. 

But if Katelyn had been a good fit with Al personality-wise and was gung-ho about elite, then yeah, I think he would have been much better about not doing too much too fast with her. He’s definitely good about waiting for his gymnasts to get older before pushing them into bigger difficulty. Katelyn went from a 5.3 D on beam at GAGE when she was 12, but then a year later in 2010, she was at a 6.3 after moving to WOGA. Compare that to Sarah Finnegan, who is 6 months older than Katelyn and who was actually eligible for London 2012…she still only had a 5.5 beam D in 2010, but then moved up to a 6.4 in 2011 when she was a year out from the Olympics, and boosted that even further to a 6.7 for trials in 2012. It was a big jump in difficulty for Sarah from 2010 to 2011, but she was almost 15 and in her final year as a junior at that point with the Olympics on the horizon, while Katelyn was 13 with the Olympics still six years away for her when she made her huge jump, so…obviously not good. I’m sure Al’s gymnasts are training a lot of their bigger skills at a younger age but I like that he has them wait to include them in routines until they’re a bit older and more ready mentally.

With all the comments about overscoring in NCAA, is there a way to make it more subjective and fair? How bad will it have to get for someone to do something to reform judging?

This has been a conversation that has existed for as long as NCAA has existed, basically, and since nothing has happened yet, I doubt we’re going to see anything happen in the future. A code of points with clear deductions literally exists but judges at some levels of the sport do not feel the need to take them, and with no one really regulating this or even taking it remotely seriously, they’re going to keep doing it. Aside from one email (I think it was in 2019) that kind of low-key admonished judges for ignoring mistakes for “big name” gymnasts, that kind of scoring persisted throughout the season, and with no individual judge review or penalty, it’s like…why change?

Reviewing judge performance could help, especially because it would be so easy to write simple programming code that could spot when certain judges consistently give higher scores than the other judge for certain teams, but lower scores than the other judge to other teams. But most of the time, it’s less about the judges, and more about the system itself. I’ve talked about this before, but judges are paid by schools and that’s a bigger part of the problem than the occasional rogue Carol stanning Florida and giving 10s to the Bridgey Caquattos of the world. Some programs pay judges more than others (based on a variety of factors), so judges want to be invited back to these programs, and will often cater to what those coaches want to see on the scoresheets to make sure that they keep getting these jobs.

That’s the other problem – programs can request certain judges, and will often request those they know will give favorable scores to their teams. Coaches also demand certain scores and will yell at judges when they don’t get what they want, so when a coach screams at a judge for low-balling their gymnasts on the first couple of vaults, the judges will then feel the pressure to ramp things up for the next few scores. Literally ALL of this is ridiculous, so in this sense, it isn’t even a judging issue, and what really needs to change is the fact that coaches have any say whatsoever in who judges and how they are able to judge. Coaches shouldn’t pick the judges, pay should be the same for every D1 program, and there should be absolutely no interaction between coaches and judges during the competition outside of official inquiries…and if a coach does inappropriately address a judge, they should be penalized for it.

What do you think about the Americans counting two falls at worlds last year? Do you think this shows the decline of American consistency?

I think it showed that they’re human, not machines, and have nerves just like everyone else. I don’t think it’s a reflection of anything in terms of overall consistency program-wide, but I do think Martha Karolyi had that “everything for the team” mentality and really enforced that whole “if you make a mistake for the team in a finals situation, you are worthless” kind of energy that made gymnasts absolutely terrified to make mistakes, especially seeing how their teammates were treated when it happened to them. So they hit in team competitions, but lived in fear of what would happen if something went wrong, and individually, they still often struggled with consistency, probably just as much (if not more) as the current team. 

Obviously it’s not great to miss routines on the world stage regardless of whether it’s the team final or an individual final, and I’m sure the gymnasts feel like crap when it happens, but at least they no longer have that life-or-death pressure to hit in finals or else. I’m sure they can strike some sort of  balance between “you miss in team finals, you’re dead to me” and “that’s totally fine if you fall, sweetie!” so that they can be counted on to hit team finals routines while also not being threatened…but overall I don’t think there’s any major issue with the Americans’ consistency, and think that if you look at competitions beyond just the team final at worlds, you’d find that the current gymnasts are still super solid as a whole.

Do you think most shaposh + Tkachev combinations are worth it? I know they get 0.2 connection bonus but most seem so low that I’d guess they’re getting hit with more than that in lack of amplitude deductions.

Occasionally you see a Tkachev get some awesome height out of a shaposh element but for the most part…it’s kind of sad, and the Tkachevs are total butt-scrapers. I feel like most amplitude deductions are going to be more in the 0.1 range, but on these specific connections, way more Tkachevs are getting 0.3 amplitude deductions, so obviously that not only makes the 0.2 bonus not worth it, but also costly because you’re losing more than you gain and the risk isn’t worth the reward.

I was only a casual fan of gymnastics in 2004 but the men’s vault final left me fuming. Kyle Shewfelt ended up fourth after Marian Dragulescu received a higher mark after falling on his vault. Can you tell me how that was possible?

I feel like the judging for Marian’s second vault, the one with the fall, was insane and think that the judges just wanted him to win gold so badly based on how almost perfect his Dragulescu was, so they ignored some of the faults in his second vault to make up for that to still get him on the podium for the bronze? Some judges actually deducted accurately, giving him a 9.0-9.1, but other judges – like the Venezuelan judge and the Portuguese judge – gave him 9.5s for his second vault meaning they only took off for the fall, which is crazy? Surely if you fall, there is some technical reason for it beyond simply just dropping out of the sky.

Just glancing at it again now on an old grainy video, he had a massive leg separation on the pre-flight, he landed with his feet facing sideways, and he also stumbled out-of-bounds. How do you get just the fall from that? The fact that some judges gave him a 9.5 with a fall on top of multiple other faults while Kyle got a 9.45 from the same judge for a hit is like…you okay? Kyle didn’t have the killer moment that Marian had with his Dragulescu, but with both vaults combined, he had the overall better performance and should have outscored him, so your outrage is correct.

What happened to Alla Sosnitskaya?

Alla was actually planning on changing her nationality so that she could compete for Georgia beginning in 2018, but then she got injured at the Stella Zakharova Cup that year as she was preparing to begin the change, which was a bummer…she was still looking pretty strong on vault, and was training all four events. Maybe she could have contended for an Olympic spot had she been able to compete regularly throughout 2018 and 2019. But instead, we haven’t seen her since. She’s been in and out of the gym based on what I’ve seen on social media, but it doesn’t seem super serious so I’d imagine she’s done, unless she has a change of heart next quad and makes another run for it.

I am watching the Defying Gravity series on You Tube and I love it! Seeing as you were a part of it, can you tell us your experience and what you thought of it?

Yeah, sure! I was a very tiny part of it but was grateful to get the opportunity to do be in it, especially because they flew me to LA to film my bits on March 11, just two days before everything in the world shut down due to COVID. The film crew was the last face-to-face communication I had with humans for three months! By the time I came in, all of the training and athlete interview footage was complete, and a lot of the episodes had already been (mostly) edited together…they basically just needed sound bytes from people who knew about the sport so we could help weave a few of the stories together. I got to watch the beginning of the “team” episode and teared up hearing the 1996 athletes talking about the win over footage of those moments…FULL. BODY. CHILLS.

I didn’t really know what it was about in a detailed sense when I went in, but the director seemed like she really cared about the sport and wanting to show the journey the athletes went through, so I was excited about that, especially since so much of the sport has been about abuse these past four years. Obviously we need to talk about abuse, and this documentary also talks about the horrific parts of the sport, but the current athletes are also those who have been through abusive situations but at the same time they’re also working toward huge goals like the Olympic Games, and I think it’s important that we also follow their journeys on that end, too, and recognize that we can still talk about abuse in the sport while simultaneously celebrating the women in gymnastics who are existing and thriving despite everything going on around them that is causing the structure of their world to crumble.

I haven’t watched it all yet, just bits and pieces here and there, but I agree that it’s a bit disjointed and that there could be more of a structure to it. That said, I think it’s more for people who are just casual viewers of the sport getting a super high-level overview of how it works and what the athletes go through in general, rather than an in-depth look at any one athlete’s particular journey. I think fans would have appreciated that in-depth look a bit more, but gymnasts are basically doing that themselves now with their YouTube channels, so I like that we now have this media that exists to really explain everything about the sport for those who might not have the knowledge already. 

I know as a kid watching the 1996 Olympics with zero understanding of what I was watching, I would have LOVED something like it, and a lot of my friends who know nothing about gymnastics have been like “omg a new gymnastics documentary on YouTube, it’s amazing, I love it so far, have you heard about it it?!” and then I wait a little bit until they spot me before being like “yeah I think I might know of it” hahahaha. But they love it because they’re actually learning from it, so I think that’s exactly what it was meant to do – enlighten the larger population and get them excited for Tokyo by showing some contenders for the team beyond Simone Biles.

Have a question? Ask below! Remember that the form directly below this line is for questions; to comment, keep scrolling to the bottom of the page. We do not answer questions about team predictions nor questions that ask “what do you think of [insert gymnast here]?”

Article by Lauren Hopkins

10 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. For Shang, I think not doing a recognized dismount is a .5 ND, so that’s probably where that last half point comes from. As for the D-score, a cast handstand is technically a countable skill and there is a variation that’s a B (fully straight body out of the cast, which I’m sure I’ve seen her do and may even be her preferred technique), so that would be my best guess.

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    • That’s what I was thinking for the 0.5 ND, similar to not doing a recognized low-to-high transition like if a gymnast were to jump to the high bar from a squat on, but I wasn’t totally certain…it makes the most sense, though! I can’t imagine it was anything else.

      Shang did a straight body cast to handstand here…I was giving her an A for it, but you’re right, I believe it’s a B. I guess a B for the cast and then an A dismount for the 0.3 total D?

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  2. The fact that Dominique talked about culture then sent her daughter to be coached by Tatiana Perskaia at Capital makes me think it was less about “culture” and more about burying the competition and getting publicity for her own gym(especially since she is now going back on her first statements and plans on including elite at her gym). Sorry, love Dominique but….

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      • Exactly. Tatiana is actually a nut. I’m POSTIVE Kelli Hill isn’t and wasn’t perfect and think her “nice lady” reputation is overhyped but there is no way she is worse than Perskaia. And MAYBE she has changed since the 2000s where Captial as the known “work you to death and yell at you for dying” gym in the area but weird she would give her the benefit of the doubt but not Kelli, except that Kelli’s gym is close to hers in Maryland.

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    • Yea, I still can’t wrap my head around what Dominique is talking about (and apparently neither can Kelli…). Like I said, if you’ve spent your entire adult life up until 40 praising your coach, and then do a 180 that goes against literally EVERYTHING you’ve evr said about them, AND could really affect their reputation, you need to back up your accusations.

      And right, Tatiana has had a bad rep literally since Dawes was competing. Smh

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      • I don’t understand the backlash Kelli has been receiving from Dominique either. She was so incredibly positive about Kelli throughout most of career – whether it be praising her for her successes, or dedicating medals to her. Up until very recently. It’s confusing. I’ve always liked Dominique, but something doesn’t sound quite right.

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  3. Pingback: Around the Gymternet: Suck it, friendship | The Gymternet

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