Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Arthur Zanetti vs. Chen Yibing: You Decide

China's Chen Yibing and Brazil's Arthur Zanetti gave the world quite the show on Monday. Both gymnasts boasted an impressive 6.8 difficulty score, which meant that the difference between the two would be decided based on their execution scores. At the end of the day, the judges awarded Chen Yibing a 9.0 and Arthur Zanetti a 9.1, and since coaches cannot file an inquiry about execution scores, their scores have not been changed.

Now, the gymternet is about to explode because many gym fans believe that the 2008 Olympic Champion deserved to win again. His routine has been called "flawless" by his coach. A BBC commentator called it a "perfect performance," and the AFP said that Chen Yibing "produced a faultless routine matched by a perfect landing."

I originally wrote a post responding to (and satirizing the tone of) those claims. It was perceived as being biased. So, now, I'm writing a more diplomatic post. Nonetheless, I still holdfast to my position: We no longer live in the era of the perfect 10.
Neither Chen Yibing nor Zanetti were perfect. Their execution scores tell us otherwise, and using adjectives like "faultless," I believe, is unnecessarily hyperbolic. They both performed incredible rings sets, and both should be incredibly proud of their routines. In addition, I commend Chen Yibing on his impressive sportsmanship. That said, there were mistakes in both routines, and the judges saw (at least some of) the errors.

I could sit here and be a couch judge. I could search for tenths to add or subtract from either routine, and then, I could argue that the judges made the right or wrong call. But gymnastics is a subjective sport. Even though we want it to be black and white, deep down, we know that the judges are humans who have preferences and who blink. So, writing a post in which I count, say, bent arms will not be helpful. You might see a bent arm I missed, or you might not think that the arm is really all that bent. 

Instead, what I will do is this: Give you some of the tools to decide for yourself who you think deserved to win.

Judging Strength Moves

Rings 101: Any strength move should be held for 2 full seconds.

On any iron cross, whether it be inverted or upright, the gymnast's arms should be straight, and his shoulders should be in line with his wrists. According to the Code of Points, you can deviate above or below that position by 15 degrees and incur only a 0.1 deduction. (16-30 degrees is a 0.3 deduction; 30-45 is a 0.5 deduction)

As you can see in the following photos, both gymnasts had iron crosses that were not quite at the "perfect hold position." You can decide for yourself whether either gymnasts passes the 15-degree mark.

On a Maltese cross (also called a swallow), the gymnasts' shoulders, hips, and feet should be at the same height as his wrists, and his entire body should be perfectly parallel to the floor. As well, he wants to have a straight line from his shoulders down to his toes. Again, the 15-degrees from perfection deduction applies.

A planche is similar to a Maltese cross, in that the gymnast should have a straight line from his shoulders down to his feet. The big difference is the height of his shoulders. In a planche, the gymnast's shoulders are higher than they are in a Maltese cross. Nonetheless, the gymnasts' body should be parallel to the ground, with his butt and feet in perfect alignment with his shoulders. Once again, the 15-degrees of deviation deduction applies.

Oh, yeah, one more thing: the gymnast's arms should be straight.

(I'll admit that this is not the best angle for comparing the gymnasts' planches. I looked for a better angle of Chen Yibing's planche, but I could not find one.)

Swinging into strength holds

When the gymnast swings into a strength hold, the final position should be perfect and held for 2 seconds. But there is an additional rule in the Gymnastics Bible:
During all swing to strength hold positions, the shoulders may not rise above the level of the final hold position. (Article 35, 5d).
In other words, when the gymnast is swinging into a strength move, the judges should not see his shoulders drop into the strength hold. When they see that, they determine the severity of the deduction based on how high the gymnast's shoulders rise above the final position.

Here's one example of swing into a strength hold: Both gymnasts did what's called a front salto (basically a front flip) into an iron cross.

(The first shot is a still of the end of the salto. The last shot is the cross position.)

The Dismount

Like with any dismount, the judges want to see a stick. They also want to see the gymnast land with his feet together and his chest up.

Both Chen Yibing and Zanetti competed a full-twisting double layout. Whenever gymnasts are performing double layout dismounts on rings, the judges tend to be put in a tough position. Why? On rings, it's hard to generate the height and rotation required to do two flips with a completely straight body. As a result, most gymnasts end up piking at some point during their dismounts. Then, the judges have to decide, Just how much did he pike? How much of the skill was piked? How much of it was laidout?

(The last frame is of Zanetti's step.)

As far as the dismount goes, I'll say this: Chen Yibing and Zanetti show two different styles of laid-out dismounts. The former opens into a tight arch, while the latter prefers a more hollow laid-out position. Regardless of style, the photos show that both gymnasts pike at some point during their dismounts.

As for the rest of the routine? The gymnasts did more than 5 skills in their routines, so the images on this page do not tell the entire story. I'd encourage you to watch the routines and decide for yourself who makes more errors... or bigger errors... or whatever criteria you decide on.


For those who think that I hate all Chinese gymnasts, I'll have you know that Li Ning is one of my favorite gymnasts of all times.