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Guide to International Gymnastics

People from around the globe tune in every four years to watch the world’s best gymnasts take the stage. Between the moments of Olympic glory, however, these elite athletes aren’t resting. They’re competing at the annual World Championships and a variety of other highly competitive meets. This guide provides an overview of the elite scoring system used in these competitions, as well as a look at the competitive season.

Cracking the Code

Elite gymnasts compete under the rules outlined by the International Gymnastics Federation (also known as the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique, or FIG) Code of Points.

Under the Code, every skill that a gymnast performs has a certain value. The easiest skills are valued at “A,” while the most difficult can earn a “G.”

The Code also has a list of requirements for every apparatus. For example, each gymnast who competes on balance beam must perform a full turn on one foot. If she does not do so, she loses points for a missing requirement.

Scoring Sense

In 2006, the 10.0 system was removed from international competition in favor of an open-ended scoring system. The rationale was that, as the difficulty increases in the sport, so should scoring potential. These days, male and female gymnasts are judged based on two components: Difficulty and execution.

Degrees of Difficulty

The harder the skill, the more points it receives. As a result, a gymnast with a difficult routine can have a major error or a fall and still beat an athlete with an easier but clean routine. Gymnasts also earn difficulty points for successfully combining skills and dance elements.

Difficulty is unlimited; the most competitive athletes have “D-scores” in the high-6.0-to-low-7.0 range. With increased difficulty comes the risk of falling. The penalty is quite costly: 1.0 is deducted from the score for each fall.

Exquisite Execution

Hot Tip: Stack Up with Values

A gymnast performs what seems to be a perfect routine, but her score is only a 14.2. What’s the deal with that? The score may reflect her start value – that is, the highest possible score she could receive should she do a perfect routine. If she has a 10.0 in execution, but only a 4.2 in difficulty, then a 14.2 is indeed the highest score she can achieve.

The execution score, or “E-score,” comes out of a 10.0. Execution takes several factors into account:

  • Body positions and form (i.e. straight legs, pointed toes)
  • Amplitude and dynamics – the height and “oomph” of skills
  • Artistry and performance

The D and E scores are added together to arrive at a final score. For example, a gymnast with a difficulty score of a 6.3 and an E-score of 9.1 would end up with a 15.4.

Seasonal Success

Elite gymnasts have annual competitions that take place at roughly the same time each season. The major events include:

  • National Championships within a country
  • World Championships
  • World Cup circuit

Leader of the Pack

The national competition can be held at a country’s discretion. In the United States, it typically takes place in August (earlier in the summer during an Olympic year). Winning Nationals ensures bragging rights at home. More importantly, though, it helps the head coaches and team coordinators decide who will be participating in international competitions for that year.

Weight of the World

Faces of Gymnastics ...
Shannon Miller
Date of Birth: March 10, 1977
Place of Birth: Rolla, Missouri
Resides: Florida
Status: 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist
Getting to know Shannon: Shannon Miller has the distinction of being the only American, male or female, to win back-to-back World Championship all-around titles (1993-94). She also picked up three individual apparatus gold medals at those championships.

Outside of the Olympics, the World Championships are the biggest competition in the elite season. They’re held every year--except every fourth year, when the Summer Olympics take place. Team and individual awards are up for grabs, as are valuable qualifying slots for the Olympics.

The qualification process is continuously being fine-tuned by the FIG. At the 2010 World Championships, the top 24 teams qualified for the 2011 Worlds. From the 2011 Worlds, the top eight teams automatically earn a berth at the Olympics--as do the individual medalists. A test event held in early 2012 also serves as a qualifying competition for the teams that placed 9th-16th at the 2011 Worlds, with four teams advancing to the Olympics. Once again, individuals are also eligible to qualify.

World Cup

The FIG recently implemented the World Cup circuit, in which gymnasts compete at designated competitions and, depending on their placements, earn points. Those with the most points are invited to compete at the World Cup championship.

Perennial Powerhouses

Traditionally, the four countries that vie for the top of the podium are Russia, China, Romania, and the United States. Countries that should never be counted out include Great Britain, Australia, Italy, and Japan. Spain, France, the Ukraine, and Belarus have also fielded top teams in the past. That’s the beauty (and sometimes curse) of gymnastics: With mistakes from a strong team and top performances from the underdog, the latter can find itself victorious on the World stage.

Let the Games Begin

As you watch your favorite elite gymnasts compete, keep in mind that their scores are the composite of difficulty plus execution. A perfect routine with lower difficulty may or may not score as well as a jam-packed routine with some errors. Either way, if a gymnast climbs to the top of the standings at the World Cup or World Championships, you know she’s one to watch for the upcoming Olympics.

In this guide, you'll learn how to follow your favorite elite gymnasts throughout the year as they strive for international success.
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