Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Perfect... 17?

Women's Gymnastic Team Final - Tonight!  NBC has provided a handy cheat sheet for those of you perplexed by the intricate and illogical scoring system (probably designed by a bitter Romanian IOC member).  Anyone who watched the men's gymnastic final last night, might have noticed that the numerical scores seemed a little... weird.  Well, you're right - there is no longer a "Perfect 10" score.  Instead if you do okay, you end up with a 14, good is a 15, super great is a 16, and "perfect" per say is a 17.  Huh?

Ok, long story short - after the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the IOC realized they needed to revamp the scoring system after some debacle with a Russian gymnast getting shafted.  So, their solution was to split the judges into 2 panels (Panel A and Panel B), whereby having Panel A judge the difficulty score (more death-defying, more points), and Panel B judge the execution (fewer flops, fewer lost points).  That is where it also gets complicated - Panel A judges are working upward, awarding more points for more difficult skills in the routine; Panel B judges are working downward, starting each routine at 10 points and subtracting when a gymnast falls or makes a mistake.  (Confused yet?  I know, my head hurts too.)  Here's another explanation of it if you're still lost.

Now, what does this all mean?  On the one hand, coaches and some athletes are complaining that the system encourages gymnasts to attempt more and more difficult / dangerous skills in the hopes of increasing their Panel A score.  With more and more focus on the athletic skills, and less on the dancing/artistry of the routines, watch for more tumbling passes in the floor routines, and less tapping toe pointing on the balance beam.

On the other hand however, Jordan Ellenberg (writing for Slate) makes a compelling argument of the benefits of a scoring system that doesn't have an upper limit (which the old system theoretically did):

"Gymnasts can perform moves that no one's carried out before - that no one ever thought of carrying out before.  Now, the sport has a scoring system that's built to reward that...  With the new system, gymnasts have the incentive to keep making their routines tougher and more complex.  In every other sport, the competitors in Beijing are superior to their predecessors and get better scores to prove it.  Why should gymnastics be the only sport without world records?"

The one thing we can be sure of is that the women tonight will continue to perform feats never before dreamed of - regardless of the scores awarded.


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