Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2014 Men's World Team Finals: When Difficulty Edges Out Execution

At the 2004 Olympics, Marian Dragulescu performed his eponymous vault. He completed it nearly flawlessly and earned a 9.900, a ginormous score at the time. For his second vault, Dragulescu did a Kaz 1.5. But he went over the lines, put both hands to the mat, and stepped off the vault mats.

Magically, Dragulescu still scored a 9.325 on his second vault. Many thought that Dragulescu should have scored a maximum of 9.100 on the Kasamatsu. The Canadian gymnastics federation lodged a protest on behalf of Kyle Shewfelt who was in fourth place. Two judges had given Dragulescu a 9.5 on his second vault, when there were clearly more than 0.5 in errors.

Adrian Stoica, a Romanian, was the FIG's Men's Technical Director at the time, and many believe that Dragulescu's score was a show of partisanship.

About today's results, Coach Rick on GymnasticsCoaching.com has said:
This is worse than the Uchimura pommel dismount scandal at the 2012 Olympics. 
On par with the Dragalescu 2nd Vault scandal at the 2004 Olympics. Four judges were sanctioned that time.
I had many feelings about this, as well.

Overall, Japan was the more consistent team. But, with some distance between myself and the event, I can say that Japan had their fair share of mistakes and missed opportunities. Let's take a look at some numbers… 

As you can see, China performed more difficulty than Japan, especially on rings.

D-Score Avg.
D-Score Avg.
Parallel Bars6.9006.633
High Bar7.1006.733

Dang! The Chinese on rings are hot.

What the Japanese lacked in difficulty they made up in execution. Correction: almost made up in execution.

E-Score Avg.
E-Score Avg.
Parallel Bars8.5418.711
High Bar8.2198.222

Japan's execution scores, though better than China's, just weren't enough to overcome China's difficulty. Unfortunately, that's not where this story ends.

Like moths to a flame, gymnastics fans are attracted to the faintest whiff of controversy. If you look closely at the high bar execution scores, they are awfully close: an 8.219 average for China and an 8.222 average for Japan. On top of that, Zhang Chenglong's execution score was only 0.044 behind Kohei Uchimura's. (8.466 to 8.500.)

So, we sit down at our laptops and compare high bar routines in slow motion. We watch Kohei's routine:

Then, we watch Zhang Chenglong's routine:

And we compare pirouetting skills. How much did they twist? How crooked and whackadoodle were their swings out of the pirouettes?


And we'll compare release catches. How early did they catch? How bent were their arms? Did they almost kiss some pipe?


And, in the end, we, the couch gymnasts of the world, blame the judges.

(And some of us open up old wounds because we are masochistic like that. We remember that time, in 2011, when Zhang Chenglong was last to go on high bar. He managed to beat Epke Zonderland in Rotterdam. And we get our tighty whities in a bundle because "the judges really messed that one up.")

But we don't blame the gymnasts. We're reluctant to blame the gymnasts – when, to be quite frank, the Chinese team left the door wide open for Japan. And Japan tripped walking up the stairs.

Shirai Kenzo stepped out of bounds on floor. There went three tenths right there.

Ryohei Kato competed a 5.6 vault instead of his 6.0 vault. There go another four tenths right there. (Though, he did score a 14.966 in finals compared to his 14.866 in prelims.)

Yusuke Tanaka "bombed" parallel bars. He scored a 15.700 in prelims and only a 15.166 in finals. That's 0.534. (Personally, I would die a happy man if I scored a 15.166 on p-bars.)

Ryohei Kato missed his Adler 1/1 into his Yamawaki, dropping his difficulty score from a 6.4 to a 6.3. There's another tenth.

As I said on the Worlds preview show of GymCastic, the team title was Japan's to lose, and lost it they did.

That's right. The judges did not lose the meet. The gymnasts did.

Contrary to what we might believe, gymnasts do have agency in competitions. Contrary to what we might believe, gymnasts are not the marionettes of some maniacal puppeteer judges.

Sure, judges will mess up from time to time. They are human – just like the gymnasts. When it is crystal clear that the judges did mess up, they should be castigated.

But was Zhang Chenglong's high bar score as painfully wrong as the Marian Dragulescu's 2004 vault score situation?

No. De ninguna manera.

Don't be so dramatic.


  1. OK, but I can still hope that Kohei's going to score a 95 AA and laugh maniacally in everyone's faces, right?

  2. This is a brilliant post. Thank you!!!

    Japan could have sealed the deal. While Zhang Chenglong's HB routine was probably overscored, Japan gave away many points. I'm sure the Japanese gymnasts will be the first to admit that. I'm sure they are replaying in their minds the missed opportunities on their part, not the judging issues.

    Isn't it amazing what a dogfight MAG is? In contrast, WAG is a one country show right now.

  3. I can agree with you to a certain extent in what you say about not always calling the judges cheat. but were we disagree is in that to me Japan was the better team period. China is always able to count and the Judges given them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to execution. they never pay the full price compared to other countries when it comes to their mistakes. any other country will have been hammered had they falling on floor the way the Chinese guy fell, I mean score in the 13s. the E scores that they got on PB, VT, HB. compared to other teams who actually hit their routines better than China, is completely baffling how the execution score is not more than 2 tenths or more in difference. They basically scored higher in the team final than in preliminaries on a lot of their sets for almost the same routines quite frankly. how can there be such a difference. I am sorry overall i thought Japan performed better that's just my opinion.

    1. Maybe because we should recognize that the Chinese were pretty consistently underscored during qualifications?

      And don't tell me that the judges didn't hammer them. Look at Cheng's FX for example. Without the fall, going by the other scores and his own in qualifications, it would have at least been around the 15.3-4 range, indicating that the score with a fall would have been in the 14.3-4 range. Wasn't like the judges went easy on Deng's PB score either.

      Go and watch Tanaka's routine on SR. Ask yourself how that got an 8.933 E score. Then go and watch his SR routine in qualifications. Ask yourself how he got a 9.2 E score. Then ask yourself whether Japan was overscored or not.

      People complain about the home crowd scoring. I didn't see it in action. If we hadn't known it was Nanning and I had to guess, I would have thought it was in Japan.

      And while I don't want to be presumptuous, I feel like a lot of people essentially looked at the names, thought that Japan was going to win for sure, and let that shape their opinions of the competition without thinking about it.

  4. Everyone compares Zhang's score with Uchimura... Why no one mention about Lin's score? I think the Lin's score is a more obvious case of overscored.

  5. Lin Chao Pan's score was the issue not Zhang. his piros were done horizontally and the next piro was late. how on earth did that routine fetch a 8.333 in execution. HOW?

  6. I was outraged at the result. It could be added that Chenglong's E-score grew 0.7 from qualifications and that Chaopan Lin was also overscored on high bar. Also interesting to note that Shudi Deng's E-scores on PB and HB were 7.991 and 7.858, respectively, which means there was some disagreement among the judges and the reference judges' scores had to be included...