Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gymnastics for Dummies

Sports for dummies round #3: Gymnastics! Unfortunately, the BYU gymnastics season is now over, but we've got the Olympics to look forward to this summer, so I'm already getting pumped up.

Gymnastics is unlike almost any other competitive sport. Each of the participants performs individually, but their scores all contribute to the cumulative score of the team. There is also an all-around winner (the individual with the highest score from all the events) and an individual winner on each event. In college competitions, there are two or more teams competing against each other at a time. Six members of each team compete on each event, and the lowest score from each team is dropped.

A gymnastics competition is called a "meet" and, on the women's side of the sport, consists of four events: vault, balance beam, uneven bars, and floor exercise. Gymnasts who compete in all four events are referred to as "all around" competitors. Others may just compete on one, two, or three of their best events. The teams all rotate through the events one at a time. For example, at BYU home meets, they begin on the vault while their competitors begin on the bars. Then BYU rotates to the bars while their competitor rotates to beam. Then BYU rotates to beam while their competitor rotates to floor. Then lastly, BYU competes on floor while the other team competes on vault. Sometimes, more than 2 teams may be in the rotation.

After each performance, the gymnast who performed receives a score that is calculated by averaging the scores of two different judges. A team’s total score is calculated by adding up all the combined scores from each team member. In collegiate gymnastics, a perfect routine would earn a gymnast a score of 10 points (unfortunately, that never happens anymore, but sometimes they can get very, very close). A gymmast’s routine for each event has a "start value". This number indicates how difficult the routine is. Beginning with this start value, the judges add and deduct points based on the gymnast’s performance. For example, if they fall off the beam or step out of bounds on the floor, they may get up to 1/2 of a point deducted from the start value.

Here are some details on each of the events--

To perform a vault, the gymnast runs down a runway (a long mat), jumps onto a springboard, and springs onto the vault with their hands. For "Yurchenko" vaults, the gymnast will do a round-off (a cartwheel landing with both feet together) onto the springboard and do a back handspring onto the vault. They will then do a variety of twists and turns in the air and land on the mat on the other side of the vault. Gymnasts are expected to land cleanly on their feet, with no hops or steps, and within a set landing zone on the mat. Falling or taking steps on the landing will result in deductions, as will lack of height off the vault or going out of bounds on the landing.

This event involves two bars (duh), one 8.2 feet off the ground and the other 5.6 feet off the ground. The diagonal distance between them is adjustable, between 4.3 and 5.9 feet (don't worry-- I didn't know that off the top of my head. Thanks, Wikipedia! haha.) During each routine, the gymnast must mount onto the bars and perform several required skills, including:
  • Moving from the high bar to the low bar and vice versa
  • A "release move" (See this amazing video for examples, some of which I'd never seen before and are totally blowing my mind right now... Especially the ones at about 0:12, 1:04, 1:48, 2:52, and 3:27. Holy moley. How do they do that?!?)
  • At least two different grip positions
  • A turn on the bar without releasing from it, like in a handstand
At the end of the routine, they dismount. Just like the vault, they are expected to land their dismount cleanly, with no hops or steps, or they will receive score deductions.

A balance beam is only 4" wide and is suspended about 4 feet off the ground by two legs. Balance beam routines consist of a mixture of acrobatic skills and dance elements. Each beam routine must contain, at a minimum:
  • A connection of at least two dance elements, one of which being a leap or jump with the legs in a 180-degree split
  • A full turn on one foot
  • One series of two acrobatic skills
  • Acrobatic elements in different directions (forward, backward, and sideways)
Just like the vault and bars, they are expected to land their dismount cleanly, with no hops or steps, or they will receive score deductions.

Floor exercise is performed on a large, springy mat. It is the only event in women's gymnastics to be choreographed and performed to music. Floor routines contain many dance and acrobatic elements, including 3 tumbling passes, done from corner to corner across a diagonal of the mat. Score deductions are given for lack of flexibility, not using the whole floor area, pausing too long before tumbling passes, going out of bounds, or using the same diagonal more than twice. They are also expected to "stick" all tumbling pass landings.

I must admit I learned a lot while writing this post. This is the kind of research I definitely enjoy. :) Yay for gymnastics!

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