Monday, July 6, 2015

Do Height and Weight Matter in Women's Gymnastics?

At one point, some people believed that elite gymnastics was governed by two maxims:
  • The shorter, the better
  • The lighter, the better
These silly notions led to all sorts of problems in the sport. (You can read Little Girls in Pretty Boxes to get a glimpse into some of the problems that happened in the U.S.)

And really, those notions are silly. Within the small population of elite gymnasts, a gymnast's individual height and weight do not correlate with competition rankings.

The Sexy Data

In Baku, fans had access to profiles with each athlete's height and weight. So, I decided to run some regressions to see if height and weight had any influence on a gymnast's final ranking.*

And well, height and weight weren't strong predictors of final rankings. In fact, neither height nor weight was statistically significant for the gymnasts at that competition. That is, neither height nor weight has a significant impact on gymnastics results.

D and E scores, on the other hand, were statistically significant, and E scores were the strongest predictor of a gymnast's all-around ranking.


HT0.028780.060470.4760.05151273 0.642

The importance of E scores shouldn't come as a surprise – if you read my previous post.

I can hear you saying, "But, Uncle Tim, what about those long lines that Elfi Schlegel always talked about? They must come into play with E-scores!"

Sorry, height wasn't a statistically significant predictor for E scores in Baku.

"But, Uncle Tim, we live in a culture that worships lithe body types? Weight must come into play with E-scores!"

Nope, weight wasn't a statistically significant predictor for E scores in Baku.

"But, Uncle Tim, shouldn't it be easier for shorter and lighter bodies to compete harder routines?"

Nope, neither height nor weight was a statistically significant predictor for D scores in Baku.

Yeah, this is a pretty tiny data sample. But, until we have more data, gymternet, let's leave behind our early-1990s notions of what matters in the world of elite gymnastics.

Smaller isn't better. Lighter isn't better.

The end.

* If the data supplied by the delegations is correct, we have a wide range of heights and weights. We have someone as tall as Gabriela Janik (169 cm) and someone as short as Laura Jurca (140 cm). As for weight, we're looking at weights from 35kg to 72kg.


  1. Fine, within the very small group of elite gymnasts, there is some variance in height and weight. However, please do not say statements like "Gymnastics fans need to stop believing that height and weight matter." There is 0.000% chance that a 350 pound woman would be successful as an elite gymnast.

    There is strong selection bias at issue here. You are looking at a very small population that has self-selected in terms of height and weight. Within the variance in the small population, there is no correlation between height and success, and weight and success.

    That does not mean height and weight (in general) are not important conditions for gymnastics success.

    You should amend your statement to: Within the small population of elite gymnasts, a gymnast's individual height and weight do not correlate with competition rankings.

    1. Hi there,

      Based on the introduction, I thought that it was obvious that I was looking at a myth created by the elite gymnastics community about the elite gymnastics community.

      Thanks for the corrective. I've used your suggested sentence.

  2. I really don't think you can discount "the lighter, the better" with just this data. This is only the people that were at this meet. Maybe the heavier athletes were too injured to attend. What I'd like to see if is there a correlation between BMI and injury rates. I realize you don't have a way to get this data.

  3. OMG Uncle Tim i cannot believe that on ur other post about gender equality a dude was like UR DATA IS TOO SEXY TO BE TRUSTED OR TAKEN SERIOUSLY!!! He's been "warned in advance" about ur sexy data too lmao did he actually proofread that and still publish it?!? Jesus, some ppl need a stick out their ass to take a joke. And what was all that nonsense about announcing you lost a reader? (o boy im sure ur devastated you lost such a condescending prick) I mean he sounds like a former paying customer giving his last 'hmph' to a corporation- except this is a personal blog and ppl can come and go as they please so take a chill pill. But this guy is actually walking himself up to a pulpit to announce he's walking away. LOL, BYE! That was the best hate mail u ever received. You're gonna have to put a warning on sexy data now that ppl are being warned about its effects.

  4. Hi, could you explain why you used a Bootstrap-Method? What is it for? Because I would rather used an Anova or something like a regression. Sorry for my English, I hope you can understand everything. I don't want to troll on you, I go to University myself and in a couple of days I have a statistic exan. So I am looking forward to your answer. Thank you so much :)

  5. interesting topic, thanks!
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  6. I didn't pay too much attention to Baku, but I can say that throughout the past, there have been plenty more short gymnasts than tall gymnast. I did some research, and the average male height is 5 foot 10 inches. Most gymnasts I looked up were under that mark. While I'm not discounting the ability of taller men to do great gymnastics (as proven by Alexander Shatilov) it is far more difficult for them to break through the ranks and compete with their shorter counterparts.

    A problem I see with your data is that you're looking at Baku, which is a championship (of sorts) of the top gymnasts in the world. To get there, the athletes had to be selected, and were already considered the best of the bests. Most of the gymnasts at Baku are at the same level, and regardless of height or weight, perform equally to their competition. A more appropriate test would be to see how many of the gymnasts at Baku were a certain height (how many 6 footers make it to the big leagues vs how many 5 ft 7s). Same thing with weight.

    As for weight, I don't think that the weight itself is not an issue. Most of gymnastics is a momentum sport that requires swing rather than strength. The only event where weight may (I assume it does) play an issue is in rings. Ironically, I think that the greater the weight (relative to height) ratio, the better the gymnast is on the rings. Chances are, they're not fat, and all that weight is muscle, which only helps them.

    ALSO, on the topic of rings, and I have zero data to back this up, I think that short people will excel since they have a smaller limbs and hence place less pressure on themselves.

    I'm not going to lie, I only skimmed, and didn't even try to understand your data. I just read the tl;dr's. And you seem like you know just a tad more than myself on this topic, but I still feel like this was a flawed way to look at it. Can you please explain why you think it isn't?

    Oh, also, I don't follow WAG, so look at this entire thing from an MAG perspective

    1. On an non-related note, me and my gym buddies are all super glad you're back!! We missed you, and are super glad you're back to writing blogs again, KEEP IT UP! <3 :D

  7. I found this interesting. While it is certainly true that height and weight are factors in gymnastics success, and of course you are looking at a very select group, who will have far less variation in height and weight than the general populace, it does seem to support the idea that these are not determining factors. Obviously you'd really need to analse data across more competitions to discover the truth of that.

    I think it probably is the case, and the idea that body type is the main determining factor in gymnastics success comes from a sort of fantasy. People like to believe that they could never do gymnastics (even at a far lower level) for reasons that are entirely outside their control and nothing to do with training and hard work. If they do gymnastics and get beat they like to think the other person had an overwhelming natural advantage. In some regards the aesthetics of gymnastics, where it aims to make the extremely diffiult look effortless probabaly support the delusion that gymnasts have a special gymnast body type and aren't just ordinary humans who work very hard.

    You do definitely see the weight thing in play in young gymnasts (and cheerleaders particularly because they often have disastrous form.) Pre-pubecents can chuck themselves around or be chucked around any-old how and fall a load of times without much risk of getting hurt. Older girls and women who weigh more will get hurt if they try the same. They have to use good technique if they want to progress. I don't think that is such a huge disadvantage because to really improve in gymnastics you need proper technique either way.

    I think we will see more variation in body type and also more older gymnasts in future. Since child gymnasts are no longer permitted to compete at the Olympics and the changes to the code of points with opportunities to build up DD scores, I think there will be more success for more powerful female gymnasts, who will tend to weigh more and be older.

    I think you will still see the average elite female gymnast much smaller than the average woman though. For one it is an advantage, while not insurmountable with training. At lower levels you could get a tall gymnast who has advantages elsewhere like great flexibility, balance, strength, sense of their body in space etc. but at the top level they have to have ALL the advantages because the competition is so tight. The other reason, though, is social. There are a lot of other sports taller people can excel at. Being tall is an an active advantage in very many sports. If you are a gymnast who is starting to find their height a disadvantage you could keep plugging away building enough strength to overcome it, and figuring out routines that favour your body type (lots of twisting,) you also have the option to go and pole vault, or high jump, or hurdles, or almost anything else you fancy. If you are very small the range of sports regarded as suitable to your body type is much smaller so you will tend to get funnelled towards gymnastics. In some ways I think this is all a bit daft as most people involved in sport won't reach top level and rake in medals, trophies, pay, prizes or sponsorship, but will still get a lot of less tangible benefits, in which case isn't it better to just do what you enjoy?

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