Monday, August 26, 2013

2006 and beyond: Is the New Scoring System Selecting the Best Male Gymnasts?

Remember the 10.0 system? Wasn't it perfect?

The 2013 World Championships in Antwerp will be the sixth World Championships under the open-ended scoring system. Over the system's short lifespan, many have criticized it, positing that it has killed artistry, that it has rendered the sport too confusing for the layperson, that it has mangled execution, among other things.

Few have discussed whether the new system has achieved its own goals, though. If you've read the Code carefully, you know that the new scoring system is supposed to rank the athletes correctly. As the current Code states, its purpose is to "assure the identification of the best gymnast in any competition." This line was new to the open-ended Code. During the perfect 10 era, this may have been an implicit goal of the men's Code of Points, but it was not listed explicitly as one of the purposes of the Code.

So, as we look back on the past five World Championships, has the Code of Points done its job? In this post, I'm not going to go final by final, disputing whether the best gymnasts ended up on the podium. I'm sure that we all can think of a time when one of our favorite gymnasts was "robbed." But when step back and look at the big picture, do the statistics seem to reflect who are the top gymnasts in the world?

Here's who has won the most medals, regardless of color:

And here's who has won the most medals during a single World Championships, if you like to measure success that way.
I know, right? That blasted open-ended Code! I can't believe that it has allowed Kohei Uchimura to win so many medals! The post-10-era of gymnastics is such a sham! (The sarcasm light is on.)

Interestingly enough, Kohei Uchimura, the Superman of gymnastics, is not leading the gold medal list. At least not right now. For the gold snobs who don't care about silver and bronze medals, here's a chart for you:

As you can see, Chen Yibing is the golden boy of the post-10 era. Having won 4 team golds, he was part of one of the greatest team legacies in recent gymnastics history, and having won 4 individual gold medals on rings, he dominated the event for nearly two quadrennia.

Chen Yibing's gold accumulation was slow and steady, though. Since 2006, only Yang Wei has been able to win more than one gold medal at a World Championships.

(Yes, I know that Vitaly won his 6 gold medals during the Olympics--not the World Championships.)

To be sure, these charts do not offer a complete history of each individual athlete. Gymnasts like Yang Wei and Marian Dragulescu started winning World Championships medals well before 2006. Their careers point up a problem that all sports statisticians have. How do you deal with players whose careers span two different eras? In basketball, when it comes to point totals, there's the era before the shot clock and an era after the shot clock. In NFL football, when it comes to season statistics, there's the era before the 16-game season and the era after the 16-game season.

In gymnastics, we're still trying to figure out if we need to split our history into a perfect-10 era and a post-10 era. I'm not sure that enough time has passed to determine the extent to which the new scoring system has altered our sport. In order to do that, we must take a close look at what has happened since 2006.

One starting point is to evaluate the new scoring system on its own terms, and as I stated above, the open-ended system explicitly aims to assure that the best gymnasts end up winning. Of course, the Code is not entirely responsible for the outcomes. The judges must apply the Code in order to determine the winners, and generally speaking, I think that they have done a good job. I don't want to bludgeon Adrian Stoica with a pommel handle; I have no problem recognizing the excellence of guys like Kohei Uchimura, Chen Yibing, and Yang Wei.

But then again, maybe you disagree. Painting with a broad brush, how do you think the Code and its practitioners are doing in their quest to identify the best gymnasts at the competitions?

FYI: Tomorrow I'll take a look at the statistics for the women, which, I anticipate, will be much more divisive. In the meantime, here's a little treat for the stats nerds…

The percentage of participants who win a medal at a Team World Championships

Roughly 11% of the male athletes win a medal at a World Championships with a team competition. You have to remember, though, that the numbers are slightly higher because 18 medals are awarded during the team competition alone. In Antwerp, the number should be slightly lower if it is comparable to the data from 2009.

The percentage of participants who win a medal at an Individual World Championships

In mid-October, we'll have to compare statistics. For now, good luck to all the guys trying to be part of the (approximately) top 8% this year!

Related Posts:

2006 and beyond: The Top Nations in MAG
2006 and beyond: The Best WAG Gymnasts

1 comment:

  1. The TC FIG must put things right now, or the Code will crack again.