Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Changing the Code: Vault Problems

Oh, vault. A little over a second passes between the moment a gymnast's feet hit the springboard and the moment his feet (hopefully) hit the ground. To put things in perspective, the average fart lasts 1.2 seconds.

In that short amount of time, a gymnast must flip and perhaps even twist several times. It truly is astounding how much they do in the air. Maybe that's why it was the highest scoring event in London. Maybe vault is just so impressive that it deserves to be scored higher than the other vaults. Here are the average scores during Team Finals:

  1. Vault: 15.65
  2. Parallel Bars: 15.116
  3. High Bar: 15.05
  4. Floor Exercise: 15.00
  5. Rings: 14.96
  6. Pommel Horse: 14.41
So... If vault is the most impressive event, that would make pommel horse the least impressive event. Hmm... That sounds about right.

Okay, okay, that's not really how it works. Vault scored higher, partly because the men are performing more difficult vaults.  Here's a breakdown of the average D-scores during Team Finals:

  1. Vault: 6.67
  2. High Bar: 6.3
  3. Rings: 6.26
  4. Floor: 6.18
  5. Parallel Bars: 6.15
  6. Pommel Horse: 5.94

So, what did the FIG do?

Noticing that vaulters were scoring higher than other events, the FIG, in its inerrant wisdom, decided to rewrite the vault tables. (At least this seems to be the going explanation.) One of the big changes involved the difficulty scores. Looking to bring the vault scores more in line with the other events, they bumped every vault down an entire point. So, a Draggy Dragulescu, which was worth a 7.0, is now worth a 6.0. A handspring double front (called a "Roche"), which was worth a 6.6, is now worth a 5.6.

In fact, provided that the judges give out the same execution scores, vault has the potential to be one of the lowest scoring events. The average score could be a full point lower (a 14.65), which would make it one of the lowest scoring events--right down there with pommel horse...

...unless, of course, the men start performing even harder vaults.

Or the judges start gifting even higher execution scores.

If either of those things happen, I might stop watching men's gymnastics all together. Some gymnasts already are competing vaults they should not compete. (Such as Philipp Boy's Dragulescu.) And the judges already are giving out far-too-high execution scores to the crazy gymnasts who are chucking horrific but highly valued vaults. And this, in my opinion, is the biggest problem with men's vault nowadays.

A glance at execution scores

Don't believe that there's a problem with the execution score? Let's take at some of the spectacular moments from the vault event finals. Like these:

Flavius Koczi's First Vault: A Double-Twisting Kasamatsu (Formerly a 7.0, now a 6.0)

Flavius Koczi's Second Vault: A Handspring Rudi (Formerly a 6.2; now a 5.2)

That's funny; when I Google "offensively crazy legs," images of Koczi's vaults do not pop up.

I mean, can you look at those screenshots and think to yourself, "Oh, yeah, vault 1 should receive a 9.2 in execution. And vault 2, OMG! That's TOTALLY a 9.066"?

Can you?

I can't, and yes, I'll admit that I am an execution snob. But in the case of Koczi's first vault, I'm not just concerned about pointed toes. I'm actually worried about his safety, and safety is something I value over and above pointed toes and straight legs.

The Kasamatsu: The Highway to the Danger Zone

On the women's side, after Mustafina tore her ACL performing a Yurchenko 2 1/2 twist, the gymternet was concerned about the Amanar and knee injuries, yet few people (if any) talked about men's Kasamatsus, which are a knee or ankle injury waiting to happen.

In their efforts to compete chuck highly valued vaults, the men have become so focused on the flips and twists off the vault that they have forgotten about the first part of the vault. Throwing your feet over your head as hard as you can (called "heel drive") is crucial for a safe Kasamatsu vault.

You see, when twisting onto the vault, it's easy to get lazy and to let your feet go around the side. Think of a little kid whose cartwheel does not pass through a handstand.
This is adorable for a three-year-old doing cartwheels. But Koczi is not three, and he is sure as heck not doing cartwheels. He should know how to throw his feet over his head by now.

Look again at his body position:

By the way, Koczi is not the only one who looks like this. I'm just using him as an example.

His shoulder angle makes it difficult for him to block off the vault, which means that he does not generate as much height as he should, which means that he has less time to twist, which means that he is more likely to be twisting as his feet are hitting the ground. And even casual viewers of gymnastics know that twisting while landing is never a good thing.

But guess what? It gets worse! Since his feet do not go directly over his head, Flavius ends up flipping at a funky angle...
He's flipping like a lopsided ball.

...which means that when he is twisting into the ground, his body is also landing at a strange, crooked angle. Now, I'm not a medical doctor, but I have seen my fair share of gymnasts injure themselves. And I know that twisting into the ground while landing at a strange angle are not a good combination.
Look where his shoulders and hips are as he is landing!

And Koczi knows that he got lucky. Look at his face!
He's thanking the gym gods that he landed safely on his feet.

Okay, in actuality, he's probably checking to see if the judges saw that he took a huge step off to the side, but that doesn't change the fact that he poorly (and dangerously) did a double-twisting Kasamatsu.

Between the crazy legs on the pre-flight, the flexed feet throughout, the failure to pass through a handstand, the crossed legs while twisting, the lopsided flipping, and twisting straight into the floor, how the F did he get a 9.2 execution score? Why the F aren't the judges nailing him as they should? Don't the judges see the errors? Don't the judges KNOW that his vaulting style is potentially dangerous? Haven't they seen the videos of Justin Spring's vault from 2007? I mean, NBC showed it to us over and over again, and as a result, Justin's vault is engrained in my mind.

Justin also came on at a terrible angle:

He also flipped at a terrible angle:

And he landed in almost the exact same way that Koczi did:

Honestly, chucking craptacular vaults has to stop, and lowering all difficulty scores a full point is not going to stop the gymnasts from putting their knees and ankles at risk.

But who is responsible for a gymnast's safety?

According to the 2013-16 Code of Points, the gymnasts are responsible for their own safety:

"The responsibility for [the gymnast's] safety rests entirely with him."

And I agree with that. At meets, the gymnasts are responsible for competing skills that they have mastered.

That said, the coaches are responsible, as well. Gymnasts master these skills under their supervision, so we would assume that coaches are responsible for teaching these gymnasts how to perform the skills properly. Likewise, we would assume that coaches would step in when a gymnast is not performing a skill properly. During practice, coaches could say something like this (in much politer terms): "Sorry, Roger, but that really sucks. It's more broken than the world economy. We either need to fix your vault, or you're not competing it."

Unfortunately, either the gymnasts are stubborn, or the coaches are not doing their jobs. 'Cause we continue to see sideways Kasamatsus (and Boy Bombed Dragulescus, for that matter). So, this is where the judges need to step in. While they are not responsible for the gymnasts' safety, they are supposed to hand out deductions as if they were Halloween candy:

"The E jury is required to deduct very rigorously for any aesthetic, execution, composition and technical errors."

And though the Code does not state this explicitly, it just so happens that unsafe skills are frequently poorly executed.

Right now, the judges, I believe, are being too nice when it comes to execution scores, when they need to be fire-breathing dragons from hell.
Great Halloween costume idea, by the way.

By that, I mean that they need to deduct very rigorously because right now, they are deducting, at best, semi-rigorously. (There's no way in hell that Koczi should have received a 9.2 execution score on his first vault.) Furthermore, being more stringent could have a chain reaction. When a gymnast receives a surprisingly low score, he and his coaches need to rethink his routine. They need to ask themselves, "Should Roger learn a new vault? Or should he learn to execute this vault better?"

Unless the judges start being meany-pants, the gymnasts will continue to be rewarded with really high execution scores. Which means that certain coaches, longing for their athletes to be competitive on the world stage, will let them continue to perform vaults that could cause serious injuries. Which means that certain gymnasts will continue to play roulette with their knees and ankles.


  1. Koczi was overscored because he came from Romania.

    That's my assumption.

    ... But wasn't he credited with an extra twist in the D-score over what he ACTUALLY competed in one competition?

    That's what I recall. But haven't yet compared the scores with video.

  2. Koczi was initially credited with an extra twist in the London vault finals. A few more gymnasts vaulted before somebody noticed and fixed it.

    Koczi's vaults are so ugly that the judges probably can't even see all the mistakes in one second. This isn't exactly fair to his competitors, many of whom have much better execution but are not getting proportionally higher scores.

    The men's NCAA adopted the current FIG vault values last season. It worked fine. It made the team competitions easier to follow.

  3. They initially gave him the 7.0 start value and his score looked high on the scoreboard for the entire competition when they finally ducked 0.4 off the final score for the results...but all of you already know that I'd guess.

    I was flabberghasted when I saw all the values dropped by a full point, seeing as it was probably my favorite apparatus between both genders for its excitement and innovation over the years (most would have you know that the Yurchenko 2.5 introduced to both MAG and WAG is the hardest vault you could ever do [in WAG] and the only one that matters), but still wondering if doing this will actually be worth it? When I first saw it, I thought I was looking at a fake CoP and wondering if it was truly legit.

    The differences in SV between the vaults are still the same, with exception to the vaults Ri Se Gwang did which are now worth the same as Yang Hak Seon's, as they should have been when they were first done. The same wasn't done with the women's CoP, but the only one that people care about is of course the Amanar being 6.3, the handspring twisting vaults are now (or used to be) equal across both genders, so the values of each vault were changed in a different way.

    I can see it now..."Wow your dude's Dragulescu is only worth 6.0?? Our Amanar is worth 6.3!! Women are better vaulters than men!!" I can't think of a reason how they thought this was the best option to bring vault in line with the other events, without thinking of what the guys would actually do once this thing was instated.

    I might have to find a new apparatus to learn and get more interested in...I really think I'll need to...

  4. There has already been some test of what men will do when this change is instituted.

    What happened was nothing. The NCAA has been using this system for a year. There were several men competing what were formerly 6.8 to 7.0 vaults. They continued to do so at pretty much the same frequency after their vaults "lost" a point. When they were healthy and they needed to throw the hard stuff for their team/themselves, they went for it.

    The one exception was Jake Dalton, who probably did more Kas double fulls when it was worth 6.0 than he did in his first year in the NCAA, when it was worth 7.0. He was capable of doing these as a freshman, but his coach went on the record that he was not throwing very many of them during that time because he had not yet reached the level where he consistently do them safely.

    The athletes are competing with each other, and if throwing the hard stuff is going to help one guy beat another guy, I predict he will do it.

    The FIG may have made this change for the same reason the NCAA did - it makes team and AA competitions easier to follow. With vault scoring so much higher than the other events, one had to do a lot more math in one's head to figure out where everyone stood.

    Granted, most of the FIG competitions are not team or AA, but I have heard people complain about the "vault" problem during Worlds and Olympics.