Saturday, April 9, 2011

Of scoring and injury

I have seen the video of Ms. Mustafina. Like everyone else in the gymnastics community, I am not happy about it. There is a lot of debate on the gymnastics coaching website and many other places about who is to blame for her injury. I see it as a combination of things. Yes, her twisting form is similar to a pretzel. Yes, her coaches should have corrected it. Yes, she should have stayed with the DTY and less twisting elements. Yes, gymnastics is a dangerous sport.

But I have to say that the Code of Points is partially to blame here.

On paper, it looks great.

In reality, one part works: the difficulty score. Start values are based on skills and are open-ended. If a gymnast gets the skills, they get the start value. If anything, some of the time, gymnasts are given gifts in start value when they are unable to get skills completely around. This happens a lot with Amanars. Why is this? I think one thing is the fact that these scores are able to be reviewed. Appeals can happen, and judges have to be very sure before taking points away from gymnasts. Maybe judges look bad when appeals are successful as well.

The bit that does not work is the execution score. As I have said before, execution scores need to be open and challenge-able. They also need to be enforced. Having differences between awesome routines and wobbly ones is important. This means that winners are predictable as Bridget was saying.

We have a code. We put gymnasts in the mix.

These gymnasts want to win. They are used to sacrificing their time, putting their bodies through pain and sometimes even moving away from their families. They have to work very hard to become elites, let alone successful elites.

Naturally, they and their coaches will compose routines that ensure the highest scores. If they can add an extra difficult skill to ensure that they make the podium, they will. Even if they hit 50% of the time, having more difficult elements may be preferable because some hits and some misses may be better than sitting in the middle of the pack all the time. If built in deductions are smaller than the value of the skill, it is worth keeping it there. With the way that execution scores are currently enforced, built in deductions are only greater when there is a fall, or another major error.

Some bloggers have called people who use the code to get high scoring routines "code whores," but I do not think this is fair. They are just gymnasts and coaches who are cleverly using the code to get the best possible results.

Sometimes gymnasts/coaches may put in do-able but imperfect skills to up a start value. You can call this bad coaching. You can also call it using the reality of the current system to best advantage. But the question is, should the code protect gymnasts from themselves or their coaches? Should we tolerate and even encourage risky, high difficulty skills with sub-par execution as the current code does?

The sport has changed rules where difficult skills have hurt gymnasts before. You only have to look at the sport's hall of shame to see that: Mukhina, Gomez, Sang... In Mukhina's case, the fall meant a change in code. The skill she fell on, along with some others, is now illegal. But injuries like Mustafina's, though serious, are not in the same league. I still think that they are bad for the sport. I respect hard skills. I really like what the new code has done for the uneven bars, but I would prefer good skills that gymnasts can do cleanly and safely to lots of injuries and wobbles.

I agree with the commenter on my last post that we need a happy medium between perfection and difficulty. Right now, I think that we have gone too far one way. I wish that we could bring back good execution.