Monday, November 4, 2013

The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1977-1980

As I said last week, there are many opinions about artistry, but no one on the gymternet has looked at how the Code of Points has defined the term "artistry" over the years. So, that's what I'm doing, and the victim of the week is the 1975 Code of Points.

Last week, we saw that the 1968 Code of Points had long, confusing definitions of words like "harmony" and "rhythm" and "virtuosity." Yeah, well, those definitions didn't go anywhere. They were still printed in the 1975 Code of Points, and they were just as pedantic as ever.

I did leave out one term last week, though…


Sorry that I didn't mention originality sooner, but I'm trying to not to keep these posts on the shorter side. Anyway, originality was also tethered to the question of artistry. Here's how the Men's Technical Committee defined it:

For originality the following definitions are available: "A thing is original if it can serve as an example without having had one itself." "A thought which was formulated or conceived of for the first time." "A work of art formed by the artist in a manner peculiar to himself."

Applied to gymnastics, we speak of originality when new movements, new exercise parts or combinations of parts which are new as such are carried out, and which go beyond the areas of that which is known to us as either traditional, classic, customary, or outdated.
Originality can refer, however, to a certain part, to a half, to three-fourths or even to the whole exercise when, for example, the combination of these parts or the whole exercise have an especially original effect, or when parts of combinations occur which are already well-known but in which the exercise in question is especially pleasing and awakens a feeling of beauty. Originality has nothing to do with difficulty, rather, it should be limited to, or extended to the awarding of bonus points in the area of combination.

So, to recap, artistry had two prongs: virtuosity and originality. Whereas virtuosity was about touching someone's soul, originality was about trying to find new ways of performing single elements or connecting elements. Contrary to what some people believe, originality was not about throwing new, harder skills. That was called risk.

Definition of floor exercise

As always, the Code provided us with a brief definition of floor exercise…
The floor exercise must form a harmonious and rhythmical whole alternating among movements of gymnastics. It must include parts of balance, hold, strength, jumps, kips, handsprings and saltos. All available floor space in all directions must be used, and many different movements must be performed in technically correct manner and in marked gymnastics form.

As we'll see below, the gymnasts were not overly creative with their use of floor space. In fact, I doubt that this rule was strictly enforced. That said, the gymnasts did perform "many different types of movements."

P.S. For definitions of harmony and rhythm, see last week's post: The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1969-1972

Relevant deductions

  • If there is harmony, rhythm, suppleness and amplitude missing during the execution of a part or combination, the deduction is each time… Up to 0.2
  • When gymnastics movements and connections are not executed according to correct technique and form, and without personal expression and presentation, as much as wrong posture before and after the exercise, the total deduction can be… Up to 0.5
In other words, gymnasts had to make their skills their own. For the youngsters out there, this is one of the complaints of the older generations on the gymternet--that personal expression has gone missing in contemporary floor routines. Gymnasts no longer stylize their skills. But honestly, how could they? A triple double is hard enough to put to one's feet without worrying about adding personal flair to the skill. 

Oh, and for those who just can't get enough of the definitions in their lives, "amplitude" was defined as such:
In order to evaluate all saltos, forward and backward, as technically correct, they must be executed in the following manner: the seat must be at least at head height; salto sideward must be executed at least at shoulder height.
I love that the Code of Points uses the word "seat" to talk about one's butt. It's so preschool teacher of them.

How judges judged

According to the Code of Points, the routines were divided into two parts: 1. The material part 2. The spiritual part. The material part was based on the deductions listed in the Code of Points. The spiritual part was a question of personal appreciation, especially the general impression at the end of the exercise.

Many of you should be experiencing an "Aha!" moment right now. Now, we understand why commentators talked about sticking the dismount so much. How many times have we heard, "It's the last thing the judges see?" When they said that, they were speaking to the spiritual side of judging. That is, they were speaking to the need to leave the judges with a good impression.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many floor routines from this era on YouTube, but I did find Kurt "GymKata"  Thomas's routine from 1978, when he won gold at the World Championships:

Tube socks are always artistic. Always.

In terms of virtuosity, I'll let you decide if the routine touched your soul. It didn't touch mine, but then again, I'm not sure that I have a soul.

In terms of originality, I think we can see signs of ingenuity. For instance, the coffee grinder into a pivot turn after his first pass. The arabian dive roll to thigh slap (WERK, BOY!) into the stalder roll to handstand. Not too many men did those combinations.

Don't believe me? Watch Alexander Tkatchev's routine from 1977. He didn't do any of Kurt's combinations:

He didn't wear tube socks either, so automatically, he was not artistic.

I guarantee that the judges collectively fainted when Tkatchev did his stag jump into his fouetté-ish hop into immediate hurdle. Très original! But I guarantee that they were sorely disappointed by his awkward transition after his second tumbling pass. Before his Valdez, he was stumbling like a landlubber during his first time at sea. It'd be interesting to see whether the judges gave him originality bonus despite his clumsy transition into his Valdez.

A final reflection

Generally speaking, within a decade's time, men's floor routines had changed a lot. If you were to re-watch the 1966 routines, you would see that the routines had elements of ballet: a tour jeté here, an arabesque there, and a grand battement over there. By the late 70s, however, men's gymnastics had severed most of its ties to ballet, and the sport--at least during the optional routines--was quickly becoming its own beast. The more balletic origins would, however, live on in compulsory routines.

Related links:

The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1964
The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1969-1972

1 comment:

  1. Those tube socks are so nerdy. Kurt's routine didn't exactly evoke deep emotions within my soul, but it's far more original than routines we see today. Plus, he made pommel horse interesting with his flairs. I tried my darndest to sit through a pommel horse final, but I almost fell asleep I was so bored. Give me some Thomas flairs over those stupid triple Russian whatevers they keep doing.