Does It Pay to 1.5?

The start value of the Yurchenko full may have been changed to promote more variety on vault, but the most delicious byproduct of the move has been the creation of a big, fat dilemma. The new strategic twist for coaches to grapple with: does an extra .05 actually make the Yurchenko 1.5 worth it, or is it smarter to stay with the trusty full?

Preseason training videos reveal that this dilemma is even more widespread this year than last year, and over the next month or so, coaches will have to make major decisions about whether their gymnasts should actually compete that wonky 1.5 they’ve been training.

So……should they?

Thankfully, we now have a whole season of evidence to use in making that decision for them, so let’s take a look at whether competing the Yurchenko 1.5 actually ended up being worth it in 2016.

Item 1: The average vault scores from the national championship (semifinals and Super Six), separated by type of vault. The first table includes all vaults, while the second table removes the falls.

2016 Nationals – Average Scores (with falls)
Yurchenko 1.5 9.829
Other vaults 9.821
Yurchenko full 9.803
2016 Nationals – Average Scores (no falls)
Yurchenko 1.5 9.867
Other vaults 9.863
Yurchenko full 9.803

The story these tables tell is a relatively optimistic one for Team 1.5. Even with a few falls at nationals, the 1.5 still ended up being more valuable than the full on average, a good argument for its being worth the risk. When falls are not included, the margin between the vaults balloons to 0.064, greater than the 0.050 difference in start value.

That makes sense. Those performing the 1.5 tended to be the very best vaulters, so their execution should be stronger than those vaulting the full. It appears they were rewarded for that superior execution in addition to the higher difficulty. Though you could also interpret these numbers differently and argue that this means Y1.5s are still being evaluated more loosely than fulls in spite of the SV change.

The answer may come in 2017 when (it appears) more of the medium-level vaulters will attempt 1.5s. Does the edge in execution hold steady even if some weaker 1.5s get into the mix? We shall see.

The “other vaults” section, buoyed by the DTYs from Gnat and Price, kept very close pace with the Yurchenko 1.5s. That indicates that while it may pay to do the 1.5 instead of the full, the judges are awarding no subconscious additional bonus for extra difficulty or originally.

Item 2: Heading deeper into these numbers, let’s look at some case studies of individual gymnasts who competed fulls in 2015 and upgraded to the 1.5 for 2016 to see how their specific scores changed.

2015 Average
2016 Average
Haley Scaman 9.931  9.876  -0.055
Kennedy Baker 9.871  9.894  +0.023
Lauren Beers 9.886  9.870  -0.016
Talia Chiarelli 9.842  9.869  +0.027

*Inconveniently, gymnasts have a tendency to switch back and forth between vaults. For instance, Lauren Beers performed the 1.5 four times in 2015 (February 20, February 27, March 6, March 8), so those numbers have been removed from her 2015 average, which includes just the fulls she competed that year for comparison with her 2016 1.5s.

Baker’s and Chiarelli’s scores increased after upgrading to the 1.5, indicating that they probably should have been competing 1.5s the whole time. Haley Scaman, by contrast, experienced the greatest dip. Scaman went from performing the top full in the country to a 1.5 that was fine, just not as good. Still, even in this case, Scaman’s score fell 0.055, almost exactly the decrease we would expect if she had retained the full. Ultimately, the decision was a wash, and she was probably going to end up right around 9.876 with either vault.

For the others, the upgrade was a categorical positive as they didn’t experience anywhere near the expected 0.050 decrease they would have if they had retained the full. Score another one for Team 1.5.

Item 3: This idea of the “expected 0.050 decrease” got me thinking. Did that actually happen?

Among the gymnasts on teams qualifying to nationals, I took only those who competed Yurchenko fulls regularly throughout both the 2015 and 2016 seasons and recorded their overall averages to see how they might have changed. All else being equal, we would expect everyone’s score to decrease 0.050 in correspondence with the start-value change.

2015 Average 2016 Average Difference
Keeley Kmieciak 9.861 9.851 -0.010
Chayse Capps 9.900 9.855 -0.045
Bridgey Caquatto 9.845 9.788 -0.057
Bridget Sloan 9.943 9.888 -0.055
Alex McMurtry 9.934 9.896 -0.038
Myia Hambrick 9.888 9.866 -0.022
Keely McNeer 9.835 9.815 -0.020
Angi Cipra 9.806 9.805 -0.001
Janay Honest 9.819 9.802 -0.017
Ashlyn Broussard 9.852 9.810 -0.042
Lexus Demers 9.854 9.843 -0.011
MJ Rott 9.879 9.839 -0.040
Ciara Gardner 9.735 9.732 -0.003
Rachel Haines 9.795 9.798 +0.003
Lindsay Mable 9.892 9.854 -0.038
Nicki McNair 9.846 9.819 -0.027
Samantha Partyka 9.875 9.826 -0.049
Tiffani Lewis 9.832 9.825 -0.007
Grace Williams 9.834 9.750 -0.084
Jennie Laeng 9.843 9.810 -0.033

That’s not exactly what happened. At least not consistently. As a group, these Yurchenko fulls fell 0.030 rather than 0.050. So, either everyone got better during the offseason, or the decrease in start value was not applied evenly.

One aspect of the table that jumps out is the bunching of the scores for Yurchenko fulls in 2016 compared to 2015. The standard deviation for the 2016 values is notably lower, but this bunching is clear even anecdotally. Take the scores for Sloan and Capps. Their fulls were among the highest-scoring vaults in the group in 2015, and their subsequent decrease in 2016 is almost exactly what we would expect based on the start-value change. On the other hand, the scores for many of the weaker Yurchenko fulls barely changed at all, resulting in a smaller overall range of scores. The scores did not decrease at the same rate.

The three Minnesota gymnasts here (Gardner, Haines, and Mable) form a useful microcosm of this phenomenon. The scores for the weaker fulls from Gardner and Haines didn’t change at all between 2015 and 2016, while the scores for Mable’s excellent full jolted downward much more precipitously.

It’s understandable how this would happen. Say the judges are presented with a Yurchenko full that’s practically perfect in every way, save for the smallest quiver on landing. In 2015, they would have awarded it 9.950. In 2016, they would not have been able to give it 9.950, since that now constitutes a perfect score, so they would confidently adhere to the scoring change and bump this score down to 9.900. A 9.950 start value, one 0.050 deduction, a 9.900 final score. Easy peasy.

When we get down to a 9.750 vault, however, it all becomes much more ambiguous. (Because NCAA.) What exactly does a 9.750 look like in 2016 compared to a 9.750 in 2015? Hard to say. It appears that the 0.050 start-value decrease began to get lost as we went further down the scoring spectrum, where scores mimicked their pre-2016 levels. It’s something for the judges to keep in mind in 2017, to remember to preserve the start-value decrease for all Yurchenko fulls, not just the best ones, because right now that’s not happening consistently.

Another observation from the table: Those few middle-range scores that still experienced a big shift downward—I’m talking Caquatto, Broussard, Williams—have one thing in common: the leadoff position. Perhaps the judges began with the .050 decrease in mind, but it started to get lost as we went through the lineup.

So, while it looks like it does pay to vault the 1.5, retaining the full isn’t a bad play either, just as long as your full wasn’t that amazing to begin with. The real trouble comes if you’re good at vault and still try to keep the full. Then you’re going to get (relatively) slammed, so you’re probably better off upgrading. If you can actually do the 1.5, at worst you’ll break even.

3 thoughts on “Does It Pay to 1.5?”

  1. This is great, and brings up a point that I can’t stop slaying away at. An NCAA judge feels too much pressure to give a 9.8+ score during the season, and nowhere was that more apparent than on vault where vaults with hops and poor body position were given impossible 9.8 scores out of a 9.95 SV.

    Once again, our time machines worked and we are back to the 1992 Olympics. 🙄

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