Following up on my exploration of which skills are the most popular in US elite routines, I decided it would be interesting (to me exclusively) to compare US composition to routine composition in Russia and China to illustrate the very different approaches taken by the three countries and where they can learn from each other.
And by each other, I mean the US. Because, let’s be real, the US won by 8 points.
The US numbers are based on routines from the three major domestic competitions this summer, Russia’s are based on Russian Cup (and occasionally Russian Champs if the gymnast didn’t compete at Russian Cup), and China’s are based on the Chinese Championships. I did not include all of the seniors from Russia and China at those meets because…well, they’re not on Youtube. But also because many gymnasts attend those meets to compete for their region/province but aren’t international elites and don’t have a comparable skill level.**
So, here we go. The “winner” for each skill is highlighted.
- Russia and China have been much more diligent about getting rid of those trash-shoots that do nothing to boost the D score than the US has, though the toe shoot does remain popular among the bad Chinese bars workers—the non-L-grippy ones who aren’t allowed to be seen in public and have long since been given up for dead because they’re not Fan Yilin. (Yeah, I’m talking about you, Liu Jinru.)
- The toe-on Shaposh 1/2 is Russia’s compulsory bars skill, while China is more comfortable with Stalder Shaposhes than either the US or Russia. It is interesting to note how few Chinese gymnasts do any variety of Shaposh 1/2 considering how valuable it is and how high their D scores are nonetheless. The toe-on Shaposh 1/2 is absolutely essential to Russia’s high bars Ds.
- And we thought the lack of transition variety in the US was bad. While the Pak is “compulsory” in the US, it is LITERALLY COMPULSORY in Russia and China. (Which also explains the lack of shoots since the Russians and Chinese never even face that direction on the low bar.) The US is the only nation crass enough to still use outdated and obsolete bail handstands.
- It’s worth noting not only how few same-bar releases are being done, especially by Russia and China, but also how different each country’s choices are. Every US gymnast does a straddled Jaeger, every Russian does a piked Jaeger (which will suit them very well in the next code), and every Chinese gymnast does a Gienger.
- Everywhere outside of Russia, the piked Jaeger is far less common than the straddled version, and while the Gienger is nearly dead in the United States, the majority of Chinese gymnasts perform a Shaposh + inbar Gienger combination. This also helps explain the dearth of Shaposh 1/2s among the Chinese. They’re too busy going for the regular Shaposh and getting 0.2 CV (and 20 billion amplitude deductions) for connecting directly into a Gienger.
- Note the number of pirouetting skills performed by each country, particularly that this crop of Russians shows just 8 different pirouetting skills overall. Of the three countries, Russia’s bars composition is the most repetitive, a phenomenon on display at the Olympics with those identical routines from Spiridonova, Mustafina, and Melnikova. If someone is doing it, everyone is doing it.
- Obviously China wins the L-grip sweepstakes, though the most telling category to me is the top one, the toe-on full. It’s the most common pirouetting skill in the US, all but compulsory in Russia, and completely extinct in China. China DOES NOT pirouette unless it’s in L grip. Russia uses E-value piked Stalder fulls (in addition to the Shaposh 1/2s) as a way to try to match that difficulty.
- Much like the releases, Russia and China have very different approaches to dismounts. China loves a double layout. Russia loves a double tuck full. (How much of that do we think is simply because Russian gymnasts are taller?) As in most categories, the US is somewhere in between—an apt reflection of the mongrel nature of US coaching influences—though America does lean closer to Russia than to China here.
- Let’s talk about layouts, both stepout and two-footed. Every American gymnast performs a layout stepout, mostly as a way of getting that acro series requirement out of the way in the least difficult manner possible.
- This, however, is not the strategy in Russia or China. Even a little. A heavy majority of the Russians and Chinese will perform a layout to two feet, a riskier skill both because of the difficulty and because of the increased chance for downgrade. In general, the Chinese gymnasts are doing the skill properly and it is less likely to get downgraded than an American layout, but the layout is still not a relaxing proposition by any means.
- When looking for an explanation as to why the US is so much more consistent on beam than Russia or China—something that is often explained simply with “Martha training things,” though that’s only part of the story—I would highlight the “layout stepout” and “layout (2 feet)” lines of this chart.
- China and Russia are heading the opposite direction from the US with respect to the layout trend, and also with respect to side somis. The side somi is becoming unpopular in the US (which I posited is a result of not being able to connect an A dance element out of it), though it’s still alive and well in Russia and China.
- It seems you can always count on there being at least one “none for China, bye” in every new code of points. Whatever China is doing, that will be discouraged in the new code. This time, it’s sheep jumps. Nearly every Chinese gymnast does a sheep jump on beam, and while China’s sheep jumps tend to be much better and more realistic than the heinous garbage flops the rest of the world is performing, they’re still sheep jumps, and they still must die forever.
- China is also quite partial to the switch ring, another skill that is more harshly evaluated with each passing year. China has a ton of rethinking to do regarding these beam-composition choices heading into the next code. Changes must be made to stay competitive.
- For their A dance elements, China and Russia definitely prefer the wolf jump. The US prefers the sissone and pike jump. Ugh. Which is worse?
- Dear United States, see those paltry little wolf turn percentages next to Russia and China? Use that as a role model. (Though, if we’re being pragmatic, China should probably use the US wolf turns as a role model. China gets very little value out of turns on beam and could safely bump up the D score with some wolf turns.)
- China is wildly into the triple full beam dismount, a choice unpopular in the rest of the world because…you didn’t rotate that all the way and also your ankle is missing now. (There were a LOT of ankle-crusher triple fulls at nationals this year.) China will still go for them, even more in the next code because the triple full is an F. The CV will help offset the loss of sheep value.
- The most difficult dismounts are the sole realm of the US, which will also help increase the American advantage in the next quad. Russia really likes those double tucks. That will not help anything in the next quad.
- One of the most striking lines on this chart is China’s love affair with the triple full. China does twisting elements. The end. It is the rare Chinese gymnast who doesn’t perform a triple full, and those who don’t are almost always the weakest ones, the ones peaking at a back 2.5 and following it with a double full because they just have nowhere else to go (your Huang Huidan, your watered-down 2016 Yao Jinnan, etc).
- It’s also no surprise to see China leading the way with front tucks and front pikes. Throwing those out of a “triple full” is the go-to Chinese strategy to build up D, especially since high-value acro skills are just not happening. That’s also why China doesn’t need quite as many fake random aerials. They already have front saltos in their tumbling passes.
- Once again, difficulty is the domain of the US when it comes to floor tumbling. Obviously. Of particular interest is that China and Russia performed NO double arabians this year. NONE. Come on! The large proportion of Russian and Chinese gymnasts will have just one acro element of E or higher in the whole routine.
- For China, it’s triple-full or bust (or be Wang Yan). For Russia, the only acceptable template is to throw a double layout (or piked full-in) and then morosely double tuck and double pike your way through the rest of a semi-Nabieva composition.
- The US does love wrenching around those fugly split 1.5s. Russia and China don’t bother. China is all about putting a ring on it. And by it, I mean everything. Any skill that can be ringed will be ringed (Luo Huan has three ring skills back-to-back. I barely even knew there were three ring skills), and they will all be connected together in a passage of dance ending in a switch 1/2. That is China’s compulsory floor.
- As for Russia, well, Russia is much more content accepting simpler (and cleaner) leaps. They’ll go for the split full rather than the split 1.5, the switch/switch 1/2 rather than the switch full, focusing their attention almost entirely on turning, turning, turning through the years.
- It should come as no surprise that Russia dominates the turning categories on floor. The average number of turns per floor routine was 1.29 in the US, 1.41 in China, and 2.29 in Russia. Russians are expecting to get a lot of D out of turns and turn combinations, and are often disappointed.
- In China, you try to pull around a quad turn if you can, and if not, you just do the triple. The select few hoping for a D score higher than 5.3 will also receive permission to try a double Y turn.
For as much as we complain about the monotony of routines under the current system, there are a number of different ways to compose competitive sets on each event, as these three countries show us. A significant problem, however, is that countries seem to figure out one way of doing it and then repeat that over and over again for every gymnast. I probably shouldn’t be able to say something as general as “China does this,” “Russia does that,” but because intra-country composition is so homogeneous, I can. And do.
**The gymnasts used for each country are as follows:
United States – Biles, Raisman, Hernandez, Douglas, Kocian, Hundley, Baumann, Smith, Gowey, Skinner, Dowell, Desiderio, Schild, Ramler, Frazier, Navarro, Trautman, Mussleman, Paulson, Gaskins, DeGuzman, Locklear (UB, BB), Nichols, Foberg, Clapper, Dennis (UB).
Russia – Mustafina, Melnikova, Tutkhalyan, Spiridonova, Paseka (UB), Afanasyeva (FX), Kapitonova, Shelgunova, Sidorova (BB, FX), Dmitrieva, Akhaimova (FX), Kharenkova, Skrypnik, Fedorova (BB, FX), Nabieva, Mikhailova (BB).
China – Shang, Wang, Mao, Fan, Tan, Liu TT, Lu YF, Liu J, Luo H, Zhu, Chen, Yao, Bai, Huang, Wu (FX), Xu (FX), Zhou (BB), Hua (UB), Xie (UB)