In the summer Olympic Games, gymnastics is one of the most widely viewed events because of the suspense of watching someone teeter on the balance beam, or the awe of the jumps the gymnasts perform. However, not many people understand the difficulty level of each event, nor do they realize how the gymnasts are being scored. This knowledge decreases even more when it comes to high school gymnastics, which is why the sport does not get as much recognition as sports like basketball and football. Gymnastics itself, though, is one of the more difficult sports a high school athlete can participate in, and success is not easy to come by.
For most teams, success is measured by the number of wins and losses. The Felines, Stuyvesant’s girls’ varsity gymnastics team, however, do not fit into this category. In girls’ gymnastics, the playoffs are not decided by wins and losses, but rather, by the average team score for the five regular season meets.
Every meet is separated into four events: vaulting, uneven parallel bars, balance beam and floor exercise. A maximum of five gymnasts may compete in each event, but only the top four scores in each event are added together to get the subscore for that event. The subscores are then added together to get the team’s total score for the meet. Each of the four events requires the gymnasts to possess and display unique skills to the judges.
There are three categories of skills: A skills, B skills and C skills. C’s are the hardest of the skills, B’s are of medium difficulty and A’s are the easiest. Uneven parallel bars, balance beam and floor exercise require a minimum of four B skills and one C skill. However, physical education teacher and coach Vasken Choubaralian prefers that the girls have four B’s and two C’s in their routines. “This way, if they mess up one C, they have a chance to make it up with a second C,” he said.
The performance of each gymnast in each event is scored with a numerical value from 0.0 to 10.0. Judges take into consideration both the difficulty and the execution of the performance before assigning a score. Based on the difficulty of the routine, a starting value is given. This is the maximum score that can be achieved. From this starting value, judges will deduct points for imperfections. Neither Choubaralian nor the gymnasts are told the starting value of their performance.
In order for a gymnast to get a good score, her routine must be very well executed because the judges have a list of imperfections that they can deduct points from. Judges check for bent knees, flexed toes, loss of balance or wobbling, stopping in between specific skills, wobbly arms and the height of a jump during specific skills. These imperfections can lead to a deduction of 0.1-0.4 points. A major 0.5 point deduction is given for a fall in any event. This deduction is also given if a gymnast touches the ground to prevent herself from falling.
Judges have also begun to penalize gymnasts for performing unnecessary skills poorly. “The judges this year told us that if we add extra skills that are unnecessary to our routines and we do not perfectly execute them, they hurt us rather than help us,” senior and co-captain Molly Balsam said.
The first and the shortest of the four events is vaulting. Gymnasts run towards the table, a slightly-inclined metallic apparatus, jump off a spring and do a skill as they are going over the vault. The height of the vault can be adjusted to meet the team’s preferences. Each gymnast performs a vault two times and the better of the two scores is the score the girl receives for the event.
An important element for vault is the run up. There is no set distance that the gymnasts are required to run, so gymnasts begin running from where they are comfortable. The run up is important because it builds the momentum that the gymnasts require to successfully jump over the vault. A bad run up can cause a gymnast to mistime her jump or jump over the springboard.
The next event is the balance beam. Gymnasts are given up to two minutes to perform a routine on a wooden beam and then dismount the beam. If they fall off during the performance, they are allowed to get back on the beam, but each fall leads to point deductions.
Staying on the beam is one of the greater challenges for the gymnasts. The beam is only four inches wide but is five feet high, making it an intimidating apparatus for them to perform on. Every skill on the beam must be performed perfectly to keep from falling. “You have to make sure you do everything straight and clean because the tiniest error can cause you to fall,” senior Alexandra Greenberg said.
Gymnasts who have fallen off the beam once are likely to become nervous and lose confidence, making them more prone to another fall. “Whenever one of us falls off the beam during competition, we all yell out ‘shake it off’ so that they know it’s ok and all they have to do is regain their composure and get right back up there,” Balsam said.
Floor exercise features a mixture of dancing and tumbling, during which the gymnasts must perform a series of skills while staying in the boundaries of the 42 inch by 42 inch square floor exercise mat. Music is an integral part of the routine and must be between 60 and 90 seconds long and cannot contain words. Gymnasts usually link certain skills to music so they can remember the order and timing of their skills.
Uneven parallel bars is the lowest scoring of the four events. The apparatuses involved are two horizontal bars, one lower than the other. The height of both bars can be changed depending on preference. Usually, the five gymnasts performing on the uneven parallel bars collectively decide on a height and all five compete with that height. Gymnasts are required to start on the lower bar and must transition to the higher bar at least once during their performance. They are allowed to transition back to the lower bar, but most of the gymnasts on the team are not able to accomplish this feat. If a gymnast falls off the uneven parallel bars, she is required to get back on within 30 seconds. Refusal to do so results in a severe penalty to her score.
The low scores on uneven parallel bars are due to the gymnasts’ low starting values—given to the gymnasts because many of them are not able to perform the required skills for the event. “Execution is the only thing we can improve on bars,” Choubaralian said. “It’s hard to add something new to bars within one season.”
It is up to the gymnast to decide how difficult she wants her performance to be. The Felines prefer to balance difficulty and execution when choosing their routine. Most of the gymnasts are willing to take risks during their routines by adding more difficult skills that they have not perfectly mastered. However, each of the gymnasts has her own preference for the skills she will incorporate.
“I pretty much do the tricks that I am comfortable with and that I know are some of my hardest tricks,” junior and all-around gymnast Chloe Hirschowitz said. “I base my difficulty on what other people are doing. I always try to take it a step farther than whoever I am competing against.”
Every season ends with an eight team finals meet on the second Wednesday of February at Aviator Sports & Recreation Gymnastics Center. Last year, the finals produced scores much higher than those in the regular season. The Felines scored an average of 102.71 in their five regular season meets, and this score jumped to 116.00 in the finals. The scores of the eight participating teams increased by an average of 12.62.
There may be several reasons for the substantial increase in scores that finals produce. The gymnasts have gained experience throughout the regular season and feel pressure to perform better at finals. This has translated into better routines for the gymnasts. Judging may also be a factor in the jump in scores. There is one judge for each event at finals, whereas there are only one or two judges in total at the regular season meets. “Judging isn’t as rushed. It’s much more calculated at finals,” senior Alexandra Greenberg said.
In gymnastics, perfection is defined by a score of 10.0. However, this feat has yet to be achieved and may not be accomplished in the near future. “We’re being judged on an Olympic standard and the girls in the Olympics don’t even get 10’s,” Choubaralian said. Though this standard may be a far way off, the girls train hard every day to get even a little bit closer to it.