Before the NCAA season begins, I promised to go into more depth about how NCAA routines are put together and how the judges arrive at their scores for those who want to understand it better. So here we are.
Unlike on the other events, where we have skills and letters and composition requirements and bonus rules and up-to-level deductions, on vault we just have the start values.
For reference, here is the full list of all vaults. Below is just the selection of vaults that you might actually see or want to know about.
A few changes have been made to the vault list for 2018, the most significant for the lower-ranked teams being the downgrade of the Yurchenko layout from 9.800 to 9.750. I’m good with this. When the Yurchenko full went from 10.0 to 9.950, all the lower Yurchenko vaults should have also been bumped down accordingly. It took two years to do that for some reason, but whatever.
The vault list has also added a new category of vault (!), the front handspring to Tsukahara vault. We have front handspring to handspring vaults already, but now the front handspring entry can also be used for Tsuks.
Elite watchers will be unfamiliar with this type of vault because they are not allowed in elite competition, but basically instead of doing a round-off onto the springboard for a Yurchenko vault, the gymnast is doing a front handspring onto the springboard followed by a typical handspring (or Tsuk) vault.
Of course, the biggest change on vault in recent years has been the removal of the 10.0 start for the Yurchenko full, demoting it to 9.950, a change that has injected some new interest into what used to be the most boring event. Everyone used to put up lineups of six Yurchenko fulls, they all got 9.850, and we all fell asleep.
Now, there is more variety in vault lineups and a new element of compositional strategy—do you go for a tenuous 10.0 vault or a sure-thing 9.950?—along with refreshing proof that all the arguments we heard about the sky falling for the lower-ranked teams if the Yfull was downgraded were entirely exaggerated.
With the values set, all we’re left looking at are deductions. Since only one element is being performed instead of 8, theoretically fewer areas emerge in which to take deductions on vault, meaning that in many seasons, vault has been the highest-scoring event. The downgrade of the Yurchenko full has changed that.
Landings of vaults are typically treated the same as they are on the other events, though with a little less benefit of the doubt given to the gymnast in terms of shortish landings and college sticks. Those might be forgiven at the end of a whole bars or beam routine, but when the vault is the only thing happening, you can’t get away with faking it as much. College-stick, slide-salutes are more likely to be treated just like any other step, and an “I landed short and am stepping forward OH it’s my salute I mean” will fool no one.
Here’s the deal with landing deductions. Small steps will get .05 off and larger steps/lunges will get .10 off. In general, hops will be punished more severely than steps because they demonstrate less control (two feet moving, rather than one foot moving and one foot planted), but very small hops, little bounces in place, and baby slides back with both feet will typically just get the .05 treatment. A hop in place is not a stick and will be deducted.
Landing short (so, for instance, too far forward and piked down on a Yurchenko full, coming in at an angle and not completing the full flip), will be deducted in addition to the step, so you’re not getting away with just a .05 landing deduction in those instances.
Badly uncontrolled landings, like bounds into the next state or huge lunges backward, will get hit with multiple tenths.
Piked shape and bent knees
Most vaults you see will attempt a layout position, and on those the code is looking for at minimum a completely straight body shape shown in the air, if not a little arch open at the end for luck, Shannon-style.
You’ll hear about the best vaulters “flaring” a vault, which means they are opening and extending their arms at the end to slow their rotation coming in for landing. This both looks pretty and also provides evidence of a gymnast who has more than enough time to complete the vault and land in a non-triangular shape. Goals.
Those who exhibit a hip angle on a layout vault (as most do) will be looking at a deduction, typically small depending on the size of the angle and when the pike occurs. If it’s a huge pike or present throughout the entire vault, gymnasts will be docked for more than .05. If it just pops in at the very end when coming in for landing, they can get away with it, occasionally without deduction at all.
Now, if you’re intending to perform a a piked vault, then you better show a piked shape. Gymnasts performing vaults like a handspring pike 1/2 for a 10.0 start are often worried about coming in too piked (you know, because the vault is piked) and getting deducted for chest position on landing from judges trained to expect a layout-style landing, so you’ll see them really snap their torsos up on landing as quickly as possible to try to avoid that deduction.
Both layout and piked vaults are also expected to exhibit straight legs throughout, without any bent knees or hint of vestigial tucking. Like a piked shape, bent knees will be hit with a small but noteworthy deduction.
Height/amplitude is evaluated more critically on vault than on the other events. Gymnasts need to show repulsion off the vaulting table and a high position of completion of the vault. Otherwise, they will likely come in short and be in line for the landing deductions discussed above. Deductions don’t exist in a vacuum. One turns into the next.
There is no specific height that gymnasts have to reach. Instead, the evidence of a vault that avoids any height deductions is one where the vault itself (all necessary twisting and flipping) is completed with at least the hips, if not the entire body, above the height of the vaulting table. As the gymnast comes down, all she has to do is prepare for landing.
The height deductions can get pretty intense for flat vaults, more than just the little .05s we see for minor form breaks. A vault that shoots horizontally is probably getting at least a tenth just for height.
Also, “heighth” is not a word.
Gymnasts will also be deducted for not achieving the required distance on vault, although this expectation is even more ambiguous than height and is judged without a specific reference point.
Basically, gymnasts are expected not to look like they’re about to hit their heads on the vaulting table. Be far enough away that it can’t physically happen. You should be able to lie down on the mat between your landing position and the edge of the vaulting table, and have enough room to do that.
The general height and distance expectations on vault can cause some controversy because of the idea that they are Yurchenko-based, yet applied to all the vaults indiscriminately. Should we have the same distance expectations for an Omelianchik as we do for a Yurchenko full? Should we have the same height expectations for a Tsuk and a Yurchenko? The same expectations seem to be applied for all vaults.
Gymnasts are expected to land in line with the vaulting table, without deviating too far to either side. One difference you’ll notice between elite and NCAA is the lack of guidelines on the vault landing mat in NCAA because of…the reasons?
In elite, these lines help the judges see when a gymnast has deviated from the straight landing position and will get a deduction for being off line. The same deduction exists in NCAA, though it is less frequently taken, probably at least somewhat as a result of not having those marker lines and not having the same objective measure of whether a gymnast veered off line or not. I, in fact, forgot to include it in the first draft of this post. Go me!
Leg separations on vault are not evaluated as harshly in NCAA as in other realms of gymnastics. The separations have to occur in post-flight (after leaving the table) and be somewhat egregious and apparent—we’re seeing space in between the legs—to get deducted in the real world.
A small Biles-style foot cross in the air will be forgiven without deduction, as it seems will be any degree of straddled legs on the table, even all the way up to full Nabieva. We are presented with crazy vault legs from time to time in NCAA, and I don’t really see that getting deducted the way it should be. Like leg separations on bars, the excuse will be the position at which the judges are sitting.
A similar approach is taken to shoulder angles and bent elbows on the vaulting table. Those aren’t really getting deducted in any noticeable way in and of themselves, though form errors like that typically manifest in a lack of amplitude and distance, which is where they will be penalized.