**DISCLAIMER**: I am not a professional. I have never competed in, had a daughter in, judged, or coached college gymnastics. The information contained in this blog post is not meant to suggest that I know even a tenth as much as the next person. It's just information I've gleaned from watching and studying the sport, mostly over the last 7-8 years.
UGA had its second home gymnastics meet yesterday, and it was all around a good meet. It was a win, we scored over 197 (good for this time of the season), several girls hit season highs, several freshmen hit career highs, and yet there is still room for improvement.
Last season we were riddled with so many injuries that sometimes we didn't even put a sixth floor routine up if we had five hit routines in the bag. For those of you who don't know about college gymnastics, six girls compete on each of four events (vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise), with the highest five scores on each apparatus counting for the team score.
If you've watched gymnastics in the Olympics or any of the other televised events leading up to the Olympics (the Visa Championships, the World Championships, Cover Girl Classic, etc.), don't let their scoring confuse you. I still can't understand it, and if college gymnastics ever adopts that scoring system, I'll have to abandon the sport in favor of ... I don't know ... wrestling. Or curling. In those OTHER gymnastics events, higher difficulty is rewarded, and you can get away with errors as long as you pack a ridiculous number of skills into the routine. No wonder girls who come to college gymnastics from the elite system often arrive broken in body AND spirit.
In the college world, the scoring is simpler. A perfect routine with all the required elements earns a 9.5. A gymnast can add enough bonus to any routine to earn up to a 10.0. She can put MORE than that, but she doesn't get extra credit. Bonus can be earned by connecting skills (two leaps without a pause in between, for example) or by inserting more difficult skills (I believe a double front somersault earns a higher bonus than a double back).
Yesterday our total team score was 197.25, which divided by four events and five scores on each gives an average for each routine of 9.86. That is excellent, but still gives room for growth. Last year I would go back over our scores, trying to determine where we might have gained an extra tenth or two. (Because I like torturing myself, apparently.) Often I couldn't find a single routine where we could have expected a higher score. We just didn't have the depth, and it was almost a miracle that we even made it to the national championships. (More on that format in another post.)
In college gymnastics, two judges assess every routine, and their scores are averaged together for the final score. Their scores must be within a certain range of each other, or they must conference and work out the difference. For example, one of the LSU girls yesterday dragged her feet on her uneven bar routine. One judge gave her a 9.6, the other a 9.15. They had to conference and compare notes; you can't just average two scores that far apart. Perhaps one didn't see the girl drag her feet; maybe one considered it a "fall" and the other didn't. They worked it out, though, and her final score was a 9.3.
I won't get too technical here, mainly because I don't KNOW ENOUGH to be technical. But here are some of the basics required to get a good score on each apparatus.
VAULT: Judges are looking for a gymnast to have good height and distance from the table (it used to be called a horse, but the vault table was changed sometime around 2003), and perfect form in the air. Legs should be glued together, toes pointed, body straight but hollowed out. The gymnast should land directly in front of the table, and the ultimate goal is the "stick," landing on the mat and not moving the feet. Often gymnasts take a step or a hop backward or forward, depending on the vault, but hopping to the side is a bigger deduction. Landing in a piked position with the chest down is also a deduction. After the landing the gymnast is required to salute the judges, but there must be control demonstrated before the salute. Some gymnasts try to get away with a little shuffle of the feet WHILE they are saluting, but they rarely get away with it. If you are interested enough to search on YouTube for some good vaults from the college world this year, look for Geralen Stack-Eaton (Alabama vs Georgia), Vanessa Zamarippa (UCLA vs California), or Kat Ding (Georgia vs Denver OR Georgia vs LSU).
UNEVEN BARS: The emphasis on uneven bars is on body lines, particularly in the handstand position. Gymnasts should achieve a perfect vertical line on EVERY handstand, with up to a tenth of a point deducted each time vertical isn't achieved. Release moves are required, as is transitioning between the high bar and the low bar. Often the coach will stand near the bars and even hold out his hand (it drives me CRAZY, and I can't imagine it doesn't drive the gymnasts crazy too, but I guess they're used to it) in case of a fall. I don't know why they do that, since if they inadvertently touch a gymnast, it's an automatic one-tenth deduction. It's not like holding his hand out there is going to save her from falling. But whatever. As mentioned above, athletes can earn bonus by connecting or combining skills. The most common dismount is a double back somersault in the layout position, and as always the judges are looking for a stuck landing. Kat Ding of Georgia is the reigning national champion on uneven bars, and you don't need to look any further than Kat for a perfect routine. She hasn't yet earned the perfect 10, but it's coming. Her first routine this season she earned a 9.975. That means one judge gave her a 9.95, the other a 10. And as sad as it is true, it could have simply been that the judge who gave her a 9.95 gave it because it was the first meet of the season. You can't really blame them, I guess. If you give a 10 right out of the gate, where do you go from there for the rest of the season?
BALANCE BEAM: Obviously the most crucial part of a balance beam routine is simply staying on it. It's four inches wide, and gymnasts are required to perform both backward and forward tumbling in addition to leaps and a full turn on one foot. (You'd be amazed at how many girls complete a tumbling series without a wobble but then nearly fall off just doing a full turn.) The tumbling series (or acro series, as some call it) must be at least two elements connected, but some gymnasts choose to do three. Gymnasts are also required to get down on the beam at some point, lying down or sitting down (which I have never understood, and I'm guessing everyone has forgotten why THAT rule is in place). Georgia has had several gymnasts from the past turn in perfect balance beam routines: Grace Taylor, Courtney McCool, and Courtney Kupets. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs of UCLA has also earned a 10 on balance beam in the past. Bonus comes not only from connecting elements on the balance beam, but also with added difficulty on the dismount. And of course only a stuck landing will earn a perfect 10.
FLOOR EXERCISE: This is Hubby's least favorite of all the women's events. He says "all they're doing out there is wallering (wallowing) around on the floor." Routines are choreographed to music, often a compilation of two or more songs, but the music cannot have words. Only recently have the rules been amended to allow "human sounds" (I don't want to think about what mental images THAT creates), as long as there are no words. Routines are about a minute and a half in length, and most girls have three tumbling passes in their floor exercises. We have one gymnast this year who only has two passes, because she has battled chronic back issues. She puts enough into her two passes to earn her a 10.0 start value, though, and that's all that matters. Dance moves are judged in addition to the tumbling and leaps, and just like beam, gymnasts are required to "waller" on the floor. Oddly enough, it's much harder to get a 10 on floor exercise, because the routines vary so widely and judging the dance part is so subjective. Georgia's Courtney Kupets earned a 10 on floor exercise in 2009. Courtney McCool and Shayla Worley of Georgia have also come very close.
I was so proud of our team yesterday, but probably the best news of all is that there is still room to grow. I think our girls could easily earn an additional .5-.75 (although scores of 198 are almost unheard of) before the season is finished with a few more stuck landings on vault and some cleaned-up floor routines. Yesterday's score was our highest in two years, and it should move us into fourth place in the country when rankings come out tomorrow. If we keep improving little by little, we will definitely be in the conversation when the post-season arrives. And I hope we speak very, very loudly.
Go Gym Dogs!