The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Fear the Beam 2012

The balance beam, she is a cruel mistress.

In 2011, I examined her cruelty by analyzing how teams fared when performing beam routines after a fall earlier in the rotation. The study yielded the following breakthrough: everything is horrible. Nearly every team had significant difficulty breaking 9.800 in those post-fall routines, often suffering a subsequent fall (or two). 

But what’s this? A ray of hope? For this past season, I analyzed the same data for the schools that qualified to Championships, averaging the scores for all routines performed on beam at any point after a fall or fall-equivalent performance (a score of 9.500 or lower), and found significantly stronger results across the country. In fact, beam was the lowest-scoring apparatus for a grand total of none of the teams during this year’s Super Six, and most teams put up respectable numbers over the course of the season.

Average beam score after a fall – 2012
1. Florida – 9.885
2. Alabama – 9.841
3. Oklahoma – 9.869
4. Utah – 9.814
5. Arkansas – 9.809
6. UCLA – 9.808
7. Ohio State – 9.780
8. Oregon State – 9.769
9. Georgia – 9.725
10. Nebraska – 9.722
11. Stanford – 9.700
12. LSU – 9.688

For comparison, last year’s leader, Utah, would have placed 7th in this year’s rankings. In fact, compared to last season, Georgia and Stanford are the only schools analyzed in both lists that regressed in their performances. Georgia actually did pretty well on beam through most of 2012, but the disaster from Championships brought the average down significantly. 

Florida managed a stellar 9.885 and did not record a post-fall beam score lower than 9.850 all year. Now, the Gators did perform only 5 routines after falls all year, so they did not have as many opportunities to ruin everything.

Number of beam routines after falls – 2012
1. Florida – 5
2. Oklahoma – 8
3. Stanford – 10
4. Georgia – 12
5. Alabama – 14
6. Utah – 20
7. Oregon State – 22
8. Arkansas – 25
9. UCLA – 26
10. LSU – 31
11. Ohio State – 32
12. Nebraska – 38

The difference in consistency is slightly amazing. Rare was the week that Nebraska or Ohio State was not fighting an early fall. Nebraska performed 78 beam routines as a team last year, and 38 (49%) of those routines took place after someone else had already fallen.

In theory, these first two lists should match up almost exactly because the best teams on beam will suffer the fewest falls and record the highest scores overall, but as we see that’s not always true. For instance, our regressed schools Stanford and Georgia performed relatively few routines after beam falls but fared rather poorly in those routines. Arkansas and UCLA, however, maintained relatively strong averages considering how many pressure-filled beam routines they were forced to perform.

Interestingly, our individual standouts did not always come from the strongest teams.
Usually, they were the select few who saved their teams from being unqualified disasters.

In creating these individual lists, I limited the numbers to those who performed at least 3 routines after falls because otherwise the sample size is just too small to make any kind of argument about quality.

Best average beam score after a fall – 2012 (minimum 3 routines)
1. Leslie Mak (Oregon State) – 9.900
2. Sam Peszek (UCLA) – 9.883
3. Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – 9.881
3. Vanessa Zamarripa (UCLA) – 9.881
5. Sarah Miller (Ohio State) – 9.875
6. Ashley Priess (Alabama) – 9.858
6. Geralen Stack-Eaton (Alabama) – 9.858
8. Kyndal Robarts (Utah) – 9.855
9. Cortni Beers (Utah) – 9.845
10. Jessie DeZiel (Nebraska) – 9.842
10. Jaime Pisani (Arkansas) – 9.842

Mak performed 5 routines after falls and scored 9.925 in 3 of them, including a vital Regionals performance where even a 9.800 would have seen the Beavers lose their Championships slot to Michigan. Interestingly, Priess and Stack-Eaton both performed 3 routines after falls, and each recorded a 9.925, a 9.875, and a 9.775 for the exact same average.

Worst average beam score after a fall – 2012 (minimum 3 routines)
1. Kaleigh Dickson (LSU) – 9.500
2. Brittany Skinner (Nebraska) – 9.555
3. Jamie Schleppenbach (Nebraska) – 9.588
4. Sarah Persinger (Georgia) – 9.512
5. Brittany Harris (Oregon State) – 9.613
6. Lloimincia Hall (LSU) – 9.663
7. Mary Beth Lofgren (Utah) – 9.675
8. Colleen Dean (Ohio State) – 9.696
9. Rheagan Courville (LSU) – 9.709
10. Lora Evenstad (Nebraska) – 9.738

Oh, Nebraska and LSU. Brittany Skinner won this ignominious title last year with a score more a tenth lower, so progress has been made. Overall, far fewer people were put up in high-leverage situations who were not comfortable in them. Courville and Evenstad made this list, but those averages aren’t even particularly worrisome.

Finally, special commendation for 4 mental giants whose teams subjected them to terror on a weekly basis. Each of these gymnasts performed 9 beam routines after falls during the season and did not fall once.

Team savior award – 2012
9 routines, 0 falls:
Sam Peszek (UCLA) – 9.883
Katherine Grable (Arkansas) – 9.881
Sarah Miller (Ohio State) – 9.875
Jessie DeZiel (Nebraska) – 9.842

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