Monday, October 21, 2013

The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1964

Remember the 10.0 system? Wasn't it perfect?

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

But wait! Is that really true? Did the open-ended Code kill artistry? When did artistry die? And while we're on the topic, what is artistry, anyway?

In a long series of posts on artistry in men's gymnastics, I am going to look at how the FIG has defined the word artistry over the years. As we will see, the word has always been polemical. It has always been difficult to define. It has always been subject to the question of taste. And it has always been in a state of flux.

I must confess that I've been thinking about this topic for over a year now, and I've struggled to find the best way to present my nerdy research. In the end, I decided that it would be best just to dedicate one post to each Code. That way, you can see the rules, and you can watch the routines that happened under that Code without the post becoming elephantine.

I expect to look at one Code every week. It'll be like a nineteenth-century serialized novel--like The Pickwick Papers of Dickens or Fortunata y Jacinta of Galdós. Yup, it doesn't get much nerdier than this!

Definition of a floor exercise: "The exercise on the floor must form a harmonious and rhythmical whole alternating with elements of suppleness and strength, of balance and agility, moving in different directions, with kips, jumps and tumbling movements."

Spoiler alert: This definition will be repeated throughout the rest of the Codes. The wording will vary only slightly.

Floor specific deductions:
  • Lack of harmony, rhythm, and suppleness, each time up to… 0.2
  • Lack of harmony, rhythm, and suppleness during the entire exercise, up to… 1.0
Note: At the time, harmony, rhythm, and suppleness were not defined. They would be defined in later iterations of the Code, and they would become the basis for definitions of artistry.

A note on execution vs. difficulty:

The difficulty of an exercise must not be forced to the detriment of a perfect execution. The improper execution of a movement or position, the bad posture, the bad swings, the passing from one movement to another too rapidly, the lack of control etc., will all bring about deductions already discussed in the code. The exercise must correspond with the capability of the gymnast because in artistic gymnastics a gymnast must show that he is master of his body and that he can complete his exercise with grace, ease and sureness.

Remember when commentators used to say, "He makes it look so easy"? Well, yeah, back in the day, making it look easy was a requirement. Heck, the Code of Points even underlined the part about grace, ease, and sureness, as if to say, LOOK HERE, GYMNASTS! DON'T YOU DARE MAKE GYMNASTICS LOOK HARD!

I'm not sure whether they used the 1964 Code of Points at the 1964 Olympics or if they printed the Code of Points in 1964 and used it for what we would call today "the next quad." (If you know, leave a comment below.) At any rate, it's safe to say that the 1964 Code was used at the 1966 World Championships, where Yukio Endo took home the silver on floor:

Yukio Endo could teach the women a thing or two about doing a stag jump out of a tumbling pass.

At Worlds that year, Akinori Nakayama won gold. Notice how the rhythm of his routine is noticeably different from the rhythm of Yukio's routine. Akinori's routine is much quicker.

I think that it's important to recognize the difference between the gold and silver medalist because already in 1966, there was a tendency to prefer the fast-paced, trick-after-trick routines.

Now, this is not to say that Akinori's routine is similar to that of someone like Denis Ablyazin. Akinori was in a perpetual state of movement on the floor, whereas Denis is in a perpetual state of catching his breath before the next tumbling run. Plus, I'm struggling to picture Denis Ablyazin doing an arabesque…

…But let's not get too ahead of ourselves. We'll get to the 2013 Code of Points, I promise. For now, just understand that artistry was defined largely in relationship to execution and to the rhythm of one's routine.


  1. Excellent post, thank you for recalls the story of a sport so beautiful. Accompany anxious for the next post

  2. This is great! Looking forward to the rest of the series.

  3. An Uchimura inspired robot?

    1. Haha! I saw that! I can't even imagine how long that took to build!

  4. Thanks for doing these, I'm already looking forward to the next codes!