Fans of the sport quickly learn that falls from the equipment and steps on landing are cause for deductions. Fans will also soon learn to spot balance errors on balance beam and steps out of bounds on the floor. Things like bent and/or crossed legs and flexed feet soon become more readily apparent, once a fan views several meets. Television commentators are getting into the act, pointing out the importance of handstands on the UB, for example. But what happens after these deductions are accounted for? What are the next level of deductions that cause a vault, for example, with a stuck landing to score a 9.8 instead of a 10? We'll explore some of the more basic concepts in this article.
You should also remember that the angle that you see things from the stands or on TV, or with the benefit of slow motion, provides for a unique view. The judges are not watching the routine from the same perspective. A judge's closeup view reveals hesitation and small movements much more clearly, and provides for a better perspective to evaluate many fine details. At the same time, his or her viewing angle is generally restricted and she may not be able to see the same deductions from her viewing position. Also, many deductions prescribe a range of penalty, from 0.0 to 0.3, for example, given the judges some latitude with deductions. For this article, we're not going to discuss the NCAA Code Modifications and Compositional Requirements in detail. Instead, we'll focus on execution and how it can impact a routine.
So, besides the landing, what else is important? Fans quickly realize the importance of height and distance that the gymnast gets on her vault. You can visibly see the difference between vaults, and judges deduct for vaults that don't show good height and distance. In fact, there is a wide range of deductions available to the judge on vault, both in number and range (from 0 to 0.5 points). But, what else do the judges consider?
The first thing that usually separates the gymnasts is her body position in the air and upon landing. On the ever common Layout Yurchenko Full vault (round-off onto the board, back layout with full twist), the gymnast must maintain a completely stretched body position throughout the vault. No piking of the hips or excessive arching is allowed (up to 0.3). Piking down (usually due to a lack of rotation) is a fault (up to 0.3), and landing with the chest low is also a fault (up to 0.2). Basically, dropping your chest to anything below roughly a 30 degree angle (from vertical) is a cause for concern. In addition, a deep knee bend or squat is also a source of deduction. Clearly, maximum deductions in all areas are rarely taken.
Gymnasts that land with their feet greater than shoulder width apart are supposed to receive a 0.1 deduction. If she lands with her feet narrower than shoulder width apart, she must slide her heels together in a controlled extension. Movement of the balls of the feet or a significant gap can still incur a deduction of up to 0.1 points. This is true also on dismounts from UB and BB, and this "sliding close" is a change that is new for this season.
The post-flight, or second half of the vault, is not the only area where gymnasts can get deduction. You also need to pay attention to the phase between the board and contacting the table (the so-called "pre-flight") and the actual contact to the table. A separation of the legs as a gymnast's feet leave the springboard and contacts the table is a clear deduction (up to 0.2). This can happen during the entry of any type of vault, including the popular roundoff entry vaults. These types of leg separations, however, can be difficult to detect from the side.
Even upon contacting the table, a gymnast can incur deductions. For example, twisting early on a Yurchenko Layout Full is also discouraged -- some gymnasts actually turn sideways with their hands still on the table, a fault that may not be readily visible from a distance. In some cases, an early turn will cause the gymnast to also go off-center and land to one side of the mat. This can also occur with an uneven or off-center contact to the table. A landing that is not aligned with the center axis of the table can cause a deduction to be taken (up to 0.3).
Amazingly, there are even more deductions that can be taken. However, your typical top Division I gymnast does not incur most of these deductions, and rarely to their highest degree.
Much of the discussion on Uneven Bars has revolved around the handstand position, in particular with casts to handstand. So what exactly is being evaluated? Under the underlying USA Gymnastics Junior Olympics Code, all handstands must finish within 10 degrees of vertical to avoid a deduction. Between 11 and 20 degrees of vertical, a 0.05 deduction is applied and between 21 and 30 degrees, a 0.1 deduction. At 31 to 45 degrees from vertical, a 0.15 to 0.2 deduction can be taken. At 46 degrees and below, there should be a 0.25 to 0.3 point deduction taken. There is also an overall deduction for insufficient precision of handstand positions throughout the entire routine. Some fans may recall that the NCAA used to have different criteria for evaluating handstands. This section has disappeared from the NCAA Code Modifications and is no longer in force.
It's also important to take skills that circle to handstand, such as a toe-on handstand, to within 10 degrees of vertical. However, the deductions for a short handstand are less than with a cast to handstand.
There are two important things to keep in mind here: first, the angle of the handstand is determined by drawing a line through the shoulders. Arching the body so the feet hit vertical is also a fault. Secondarily, the angle is supposed to be evaluated when the legs come together, not just when the hips rise into position. Thus, bringing the legs together while falling short of handstand is another fault that can be easy to miss.
Things get a bit more lenient when turns in handstand are considered (half turn or more). So, for example, a giant full in handstand must complete the full turn while the body is still within 20 degrees of the handstand (vertical position). From 21 to 30 degrees risks a deduction of 0.05 or 0.1, while finishing 31 to 45 degrees from vertical can be hit with a 0.15 or 0.2 deduction. 46 degrees or more can earn between 0.25 and 0.3 in deduction. This deduction includes all types of half turns, including Higgins rolls, which can be tougher to finish so close to handstand. The "late turning" giant full is a common problem in many routines, as some gymnasts complete the last half turn as they swing down from the handstand, and can incur a deduction on what appears to many fans to be a normal looking skill.
Things are a bit more lenient for full turns made after the handstand, like a turn on one arm (Ono) and for a 1 1/2 pirouette. Turns must be completed within 30 degrees, and from 31 to 45 degrees earns only 0.05 to 0.15 in deduction.
Well, that covers handstands, which is a big area of emphasis, but that's not all that can be deducted. There are a myriad of skills and deductions that can be taken. Here are a few of the most common:
Single bar release (like a Jaeger or Tkachev): These must show height and a regrasp above the bar. All skills must be fully rotated and the body extended completely after the regrasp is made. A common fault on Tkachev or reverse hecht type skills is that the regrasp is made with the arms only in front of the legs as the body drops down from vertical, and the gymnast ends nearly in a "dead hang" with a little swing motion. Proper technique requires a "counter" rotation as the arms and upper body move forward in front of the hips, as the regrasp is made. The gymnast's legs should extend and trail behind in a full extension. All regrasps should be made with straight arms and the proper distance away.
Overhoots and Overshoots to Handstands: The overshoot 1/2 turn to handstand (from high bar to low bar) is a popular "D" rated release. This skill needs to be completed within 10 degrees of vertical for no deduction. At up to 20 degrees, 0.05 points is deducted. Anything less than that is devalued. Overshoots not to handstand need to hit horizontal. Many gymnasts doing the overshoot after a release element such as a Jaeger struggle to get the swing necessary to hit horizontal on her overshoots. The angle of the body includes the entire body, from the hands to the toes, and is evaluated when the gymnast's hands first touch the lower bar. Some gymnasts may contact the lower bar with their body slight piked, and then quickly press their feet to the required position.
Swing and Extension: Kips must show full extension. Any forward or backward swing should be taken to horizontal. A poor body position in handstand (arching or slightly piked) or a loose body shape can cause a deduction. The swing must be smooth and not labored, and rough swings that show a "muscled" effort to complete a skill can cause a deduction. An otherwise clean routine with rough swing and poor body shapes can still get deducted. The exception is on the power giant swings around the high bar prior to a dismount. These can have pike and arching action to generate the necessary power (called the "tap" swing).
Dismounts: Dismounts need to be high and the proper distance from the bar: not too close and not too far. Body shape must be maintained, especially on the popular double layout, and piking down to complete the second salto is a common mistake on that dismount, even among the top former elites. Once again, the chest needs to be high on landing and an opening or extension from a tuck or pike must be shown (on those dismounts).
There are many other skills and many other deductions, but with the limited number of skills being shown, most of the key deductions that you may see are shown above.
On beam, we've been accustomed to watch for falls, wobbles and steps on dismount. However, a wobble and step free routine can easily score below a 9.8. Here's a few reasons why:
Leaps can be a big source of deduction. All leaps with a split position need to show at least a 180 degree of leg separation or a deduction is incurred. The legs also need to be at horizontal/parallel to the beam. At 135 degrees, the skill can be devalued, which can have a ripple effect on the routine as other "Special Requirements" may not be met. Each NCAA routine must include a C value leap in combination with another, and a jump that shows 180 degree split (of any value). Since many routines are no longer filled with multiple leaps, losing a "C" value on a switch split leap can be disasterous to a start value.
The height of all jumps needs to be sufficient, as well. Low, conservative leaps can be deducted. Turning jumps need to be completed in the air, not on the beam. Shifting of the feet after landing is a tell-tale sign (and a fault). Any leap landing in the side position, such as the popular "D" rated switch-side 1/4 turn, must be landed with the feet together.
Another jump, the sheep jump, is popular because it is rated as an "E" skill and is worth 0.2 in bonus. But to be done properly, the athletes head must be thrown back and the feet must rise to the head. Full extension and release of the hip angle is required (i.e., an arch). Achieving this position is very difficult. A similar but lower value D skill, a ring leap or jump, also requires the full head release and the rear leg at head height. The position of the front leg must either be horizontal (leap) or 45 degrees (jump) from vertical.
As mentioned before, each gymnast must connect a dance series containing a C leap or jump. An extended pause, stutter, or loss of continuous motion can cause a deduction. In a severe case, the gymnast will lose the value of the connection, losing any bonus and incurring a deduction of 0.2 points for the loss of the Special Requirement.
Acrobatic or tumbling series need to be smoothly connected, with no breaks or extended stops. Even slow dance and acrobatic connections can incur deductions. In extreme cases, a series will lose the value of the connection. This is most common in the front to back tumbling series, like the front aerial to back handspring combination. Not only is a Special Requirement for a series not met, but any connection bonus is also lost. This can produce a much lower score than you might expect on a routine with just a small break between tumbling elements.
Even the common back handspring to back layout series can be problematic. Besides wobbles, bent legs, and flexed feet, some gymnasts can get deducted for a lack of amplitude. This is even more commonly seen on front tumbling skills such as the front tuck salto. A low salto and subsequent low landing can incur a deduction.
Preparations before difficult skills can cause a problem, as well. Pauses longer than 2 seconds are a 0.1 deduction. Short concentration pauses throughout the routine may begin to reflect poorly in rhythm and pacing issues. In the excitement of a competition, you may not notice that a nervous gymnast may be pausing too long before her dismount or her tumbling skill.
Dismounts are a big area for potential deductions, even when the landing is "stuck". Besides obvious execution issues like flexed feet, crossed legs and steps, the body position in the air and upon landing is key. Layout positions must be fully extended and not piked down, and tucks and pikes must show full opening. Dismounts off the end must be in line with the end of the beam. The ever popular gainer full off the side needs to hold a layout throughout (no pike down). The gainer pike off the end must be on-center and show an opening of the pike position and a high chest position on landing.
A routine that puts all of the difficult elements in one part of the routine is frowned upon by the NCAA. A 0.05 deduction can be applied in situations where the difficulty goes "downhill" or is bunched in one part of the routine. There are also overall deductions for flexibility, leg position, rhythm and other issues associated with slow, tentative, expression, and unsure execution.
The big tumbling skills and the landing of each pass often gets a lot of emphasis. But there are many areas where deductions can be taken.
On double backs and double pikes, the gymnasts should shown an opening prior to landing and land with her chest high. A stooped or bent over landing will get deducted, as these D skills are practically compulsory in NCAA competition.
Front tumbling can be problematic, especially in combination. Front skills are sometimes lacking in height but more often than not, also have issues with body position. The layout position, especially in twisting skills, should not show a pike in the beginning nor the end of the skill. Excessive arch is another fault. A pike-open-arch technique on a front layout is not considered a proper body position, especially as the second skill in a combination.
The Rudi, or front layout with 1 1/2 twists, is a popular "D" skill, especially among less powerful athletes. Besides crossed legs, the most common execution issue on this skill is the failure to maintain a straight body position throughout. Some gymnasts will pike down at the end of the salto, leading to a low landing and a lowered chest position.
A gymnast also needs to show that the required rotation has been completed. A step forward (on back tumbling) or backward (on front tumbling) may show that the rotation was incomplete. Short landings are also frequently accompanied by other execution issues, such as a low landing position (excessive squats, chests down, etc).
In all skills in the NCAA, a lunge is allowed after landing. However, the step into the lunge must show control. A large, quick lunge after the landing, is a sign that control has not been demonstrated adequately. Control is demonstrated when the gymnast's momentum slows (or even pauses), and a controlled step or shift into the lunge is shown.
Leaps can also get an athlete in trouble. All splits must be to 180 degrees and all leaps should show good height. Jumps landing on two feet must be landed with the feet together (0.05).
Turning leaps can be a problem. All full turns must be completed the full 360 degrees. Some gymnasts cheat a jump by rotating the body and feet part of the way by shifting slightly before takeoff. Often in a turning jump combo, the first turning jump may get overturned by more than 360 degrees, shortening the turn on the second 360 degree turning jump. Why is this important? Getting 360 degrees of turn is important to get the full value of the skill. Often these jump combinations are used for bonus and to avoid the NCAA Compositional Deduction that requires the gymnast to have dance bonus in the routine.
Perhaps the most commonly mis-executed jump is the switch side 1/4 (the "Johnson"). Even some of the top gymnasts will overrotate the 1/4 turn after showing the side split, adding an extra 1/4 turn before landing. This makes hitting the next 360 degree turning jump much easier. If you watch the gymnast's feet during the jump series, you can see which gymnasts do this successfully and which gymnasts still have problems. However, checking for adequate split and adequate rotation can be a challenging.