The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Bars Scores: Pretty Cracky, Right?

Right. Let’s get into it.

If, upon subjecting yourself to some of the bars execution scores from the Olympics, you began formulating questions like, “Huh?” “What?” and “How’s your crack addiction?” you were not alone.

To me, the most unexpected scoring-related development at the Olympics was those massive bars scores (high vault scores and beam taking forever were both way too predictable), especially compared to previous years.

This table lists the average execution scores awarded this quad during all world/Olympic finals (team, AA, and event) on each apparatus.

Year VT Execution UB Execution BB Execution FX Execution
2016 9.027 8.549 8.267 8.324
2015 9.097 8.259 7.906 8.338
2014 8.933 8.150 8.179 8.058
2013 8.962 7.848 7.716 8.117

We have some degree of Land of the Rising Scores happening on all the events compared to 2013, which is consistent with the 2012 quad when the execution scores were alarmingly low in 2009 and rose progressively from there.

There are several issues flopping around in this little chart, but the one I’m most interested in right now is bars on account of the dramatic increase just since last October, an increase that can’t be explained away through simple hit % the way it can on beam. (There may be something else going on with beam as well, but beam in 2015 was an utter splatfest throughout the meet, which can account for much of the difference in execution scores compared to this year).

This next list ranks the top bars execution scores from worlds/Olympics this quad. If you have a keen eye, you might notice something interesting about them.

Rank Name E Score Competition
T1 Gabby Douglas 9.266 2016 Olympics Qualification
T1 Gabby Douglas 9.266 2016 Olympics Team Final
3 Madison Kocian 9.233 2016 Olympics Team Final
4 Madison Kocian 9.166 2016 Olympics Qualification
T5 Madison Kocian 9.133 2016 Olympics Event Final
T5 Aliya Mustafina 9.133 2016 Olympics Team Final
7 Aliya Mustafina 9.100 2016 Olympics Event Final
8 Aliya Mustafina 9.066 2016 Olympics All-Around
9 Aliya Mustafina 9.033 2016 Olympics Qualification
10 Daria Spiridonova 8.983 2016 Olympics Qualification
11 Sophie Scheder 8.966 2016 Olympics Event Final
T12 Jessica Lopez 8.933 2016 Olympics Qualification
T12 Celine Van Gerner 8.933 2016 Olympics Qualification
T12 Elisabeth Seitz 8.933 2016 Olympics Team Final
T12 Elisabeth Seitz 8.933 2016 Olympics Event Final
T12 Sanne Wevers 8.933 2016 Olympics Team Final
T12 Gabby Douglas 8.933 2015 Worlds Team Final

It’s that they’re all from this year. Except for Gabby in the TF in 2015, which was previously the top major-event bars execution score of the quad and is now no longer in the top 10. So yeah, they’re higher. All of them. And by a lot.

Higher scores in and of themselves aren’t necessarily a bad thing (although unprompted inconsistency from year to year is not ideal). In fact, higher scores can be a welcome development if they indicate that the judges are using the whole execution spectrum to create more separation between the routines. That may have been the intent here. My assumption is that these new 9ish scores are a reaction to last year’s embarrassing four-way bunching of shame, yet sadly, no such wider range of execution scores emerged in 2016. The scores grew, but they grew for everyone at about the same rate, maintaining the status quo, just at a different place on the spectrum.

The peak E score did increase from 8.933 in 2015 to 9.266 in 2016, but at the same time, the median E score increased from 8.333 in 2015 to 8.600 in 2016. Most gymnasts received a similar-sized boost irrespective of general bars ability.

Much attention was paid to Aly Raisman’s 8.733 execution on bars in qualification because it’s Aly and bars and that score is crazy-high, but it’s consistent with the approximately three-tenth overall increase in average scores. For reference, the execution difference between Raisman and Douglas in qualification was .533, which is actually on the high side compared to previous competitions this quad. Previously this year, their execution difference has ranged from .150 to .550 when competing at the same meet. The boosts for both Douglas and Raisman were not as significant as for Kocian, however, who was among the greatest beneficiaries, going from 8.6s and 8.7s at worlds 2015 to 9.1s and 9.2s at the Olympics, a consistent half point increase for every routine.

What accounts for this change, what exactly is getting deducted less than it was before, we wouldn’t know without receipts. What’s clear is that there has been a concerted softening in the way bars routines are being evaluated since last year, though it doesn’t really do anything until the range between the great scores and the OK scores is increased. Without that, it’s just some random higher numbers.

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