Earlier this year, the FIG announced it was developing a new Code of Points which would result in open-ended scores with unlimited points for difficulty. Gymnasts would no longer strive to get the Perfect 10 (though a 10.00 in execution would be possible).
So what does this mean to the non-gymnastics person who is unfamiliar with this kind of lingo? The scoring will now be similar to Ice Skating, with 2 scores. The gymnast will receive one score for execution (which is a fancy word for form – are their legs straight, toes pointed, etc?) between 0 and 10. And they will receive one score for difficulty (ie: how hard are the skills they perform?), which is open-ended. Up until now, gymnasts were given one score with a maximum of ten (hence, the perfect ten), in which execution and difficulty were both taken into account.
This announcement has caused unprecedented turmoil within the international gymnastics community. Coaches, current gymnasts, former World & Olympic Champions, and experts alike are up in arms about the proposed changes in the Code of Points. So I find myself contemplating the changes myself and attempting to write a coherent opinion on the subject.
I agree with those who have argued that an open-ended scoring system would make the sport much too risky. Gymnasts will endeavor to perform outrageously difficult skills in an attempt to outscore their opponents, which would put them in peril and likely lead to more injuries. It would also encourage riskiness over execution because the execution score is limited to 10 points, while the difficulty score has no ceiling. As a guest columnist for International Gymnast Online, Russ Fystrom reminded us of Article 28 of the 1975 & 1979 FIG Code of Points, which states that
“The difficulty of an exercise must never be escalated at the expense of correct form and technically correct execution. The exercises must therefore, in regards to content be adapted to the ability of the gymnast, for in gymnastics, the gymnast is to maintain complete control of his body. Assurance, elegance and amplitude are three chief characteristics.” – 1975 and 1979 FIG Code of Points
I believe that the FIG would do well, as Fystrom points out, to review past Codes in order to shed light on the current Codes.
Perhaps equally disturbing as the death of the 10.00 would be the demise of the All-Around gymnast. This open-ended scoring system will hurt the All-Around gymnast because a gymnast who is spectacular on one or two particular events will be able to neglect the other events and still outscore someone who is equally strong on all the events. For example: a woman could score a 17 on Bars and a 17 on Beam but only a 6 on Vault and a 6 on Floor and still manage to outscore someone who scored an 11 on all four events. Being a well-rounded gymnast would no longer hold priority for the coaches and their athletes. Their attention would likely turn to individual events and the mastery of one event instead of the 4 for women and 6 for men. Emphasis would be placed on winning one event over the all-around. This would be detrimental to the sport because the gymnasts who have historically been the most beloved (excepting the rare few like Olga Korbut) by the public are the All Around Winners, not the Individual Event Champions.
A recent article by International Gymnast Magazine reviewed NCAA gymnastics and examined why it has enjoyed a recent surge in attendance. Three of the top ten schools in the nation boast sold-out crowds at their home competitions. The marketing and ingenuity of the coaches has provoked a tremendous increase in popularity with the general public. But I believe that the popularity is due not only to the hard work of the coaches but also to the scoring. Collegiate gymnastics is easy for the general public to understand. A great routine nets a 9.9 or possibly even a 10.00. Nothing excites the crowd more! They see a fantastic routine and they are not left confused by a score of 9.412, which is typical in Elite Competition. While the collegiate Code of Points could also use some refining, it’s working. When was the last time an International Elite Competition sold out? Perhaps the FIG should stand up and take notice.
After the judging scandals of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, some issues certainly need to be addressed. But is taking away the Perfect 10 the answer? I doubt it. I can’t imagine the sport I love so much without the All Around and without the Perfect 10. They are what define our sport. As a little girl (and yes, sometimes as an adult!) I would imagine myself competing in the All Around Finals in the Olympic Games and concluding the competition with a 10.00 on either Floor or Vault. I can’t imagine dreaming to win the Olympic Uneven Bars Event Finals with a 13.2 or a 16.7 but who knows? Maybe the FIG is right. But I don’t think so.