The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Simone’s Vault Value – Does It Make Sense?

On Saturday at Classic—well, on Friday at podium training—Simone debuted her long-awaited Yurchenko double pike, forcing Sports-Balls across the nation to try to learn what gymnastics words are and say things like, “To put this in perspective, it’s like if a basketball ran the 100 meters without an interception.”

Thankfully, we can move a little bit beyond “gymnastics, boy, I don’t know” and talk about what really matters, that 6.6 D-Score decision. According to Tom Forster, this value came directly from the FIG, so even though it’s technically provisional until the Olympics, it’s pretty likely to stay the same because…the exact same all-powerful TECHNICAL WOMEN will be deciding its value 2 months from now.

As for the value itself, I’ve thought more about it, and here’s where I am in a little bit more detail: It’s low for me. I’ve mentally had this at 6.8 since we heard about it, and I still agree with me. But honestly it’s not as low as I thought they were going to go, and not as egregious a case of undervaluing as the beam dismount from 2019.

The problem with Simone’s double double beam dismount in 2019 being given an H value is that it did not adhere to any kind of recognizable precedent or logic established by previous values of other beam dismounts. On beam, a double tuck dismount is a D. Adding a full twist to that bumps it up three tenths to a G. And then adding another full twist bumps it up…1 tenth? To an H? Any logical progression falls apart pretty quickly, and the FIG’s post hoc explanation of the value as an effort to preserve the safety of gymnasts was fully laughable coming from an organization that, for example, doesn’t allow a touch warmup for event finals or has a checkered history with the various equipment manufacturers selected for various world championships.

In the case of this vault value, as opposed to that beam dismount, there’s an actual recognizable logic to giving it a 6.6. To me, it’s faulty logic, but at least one can recognize the world this score came from this time. Basically, it looks like the FIG elected to compare this vault to other Yurchenko vaults that already exist and applied the established 0.4 progression for upgrades. They looked at the Yurchenko 2.5, currently at 5.8, and said, “OK, so then if you do a Yurchenko double tuck, that would go up 4 tenths to 6.2, and then the Yurchenko double pike goes up 4 tenths from there to 6.6.”

It’s something. It’s a reasoning. The problem here is that it seems like they’re treating the Yurchenko double pike as an upgrade of the Amanar, which is fundamentally flawed. It’s not an upgrade of a single-salto twisting vault. It’s a completely different thing that wouldn’t appear on the same line of the code as the layout-twisting Yurchenkos and shouldn’t be viewed as a progression of those vaults.

The best comparison would be to other double salto vaults, but sadly we don’t have many of those in the women’s code save for the double front, which is also itself a completely different thing as a handspring vault with front tumbling, rather than a Yurchenko vault with back tumbling.

So if we’re attempting to go by any kind of precedent and not just pull a value out of our asses (the FIG special), we are forced to look to the Yurchenko double pike in the men’s code—which is a 5.6—and compare that to some of the vaults that do exist in both codes, like the handspring double front, which is considered 4 tenths easier than the Yurchenko double pike in the men’s code (5.2 versus 5.6). In the women’s code now, the handspring double front is a 6.4 and the Yurchenko double pike is a 6.6. So, it would be very valid to ask the FIG the question, why is the Yurchenko double pike is 2 tenths harder than the handspring double front for women, but 4 tenths harder than the handspring double front for men? What makes women doing this vault different from men doing this vault?

At the same time, I recognize some real cherry-picking in that argument. Instead of pointing to the double front, one could instead point to Yeo Seojeong’s recently named handspring front double full at 6.2 in the women’s code and 5.2 in the men’s code. By comparison, having the Yurchenko double pike at 6.6 in women’s and 5.6 in men’s makes total consistent sense. (Even though again we’re comparing a double salto vault to a single salto vault.)

What this really illuminates is that the FIG codes of points are a damn old illogical mess and unless a value is truly beyond the pale (like the 2019 beam dismount), then trying to use precedent or a comparison between the men’s and women’s codes is too messy to be categorically convincing. Sure, you can make a solid argument using comparison, but there are always going to be valid counter-examples because—and I cannot emphasize this enough—none of this shit makes any damn sense.

Even if we compare this vault value to itself, however, we run into trouble with 6.6 being too low—namely because of the value it implies if Simone had popped up this summer doing an also-groundbreaking Yurchenko double tuck instead of the double pike. Based on this 6.6 value, it sounds like the FIG would have given that double tuck vault a 6.2—lower than the value of the Biles I, the Y1/2 on layout 2/1, at 6.4—and therefore totally in no way worth doing and not representative of what a groundbreaking or difficult accomplishment it would be. The codes definitely do seem to think that complicated 1/2-on twisting vaults are the more difficult prospect, but that doesn’t really ring true with respect to the reality of women’s gymnastics. There’s a reason no one has come close to competing this thing before Simone.

But to me, even if you throw precedent or lines of the code totally out the window because of fundamental inconsistencies and instead try to take a wider-lens or more holistic approach, you also get to 6.8. Is the Yurchenko double pike the most difficult vault ever competed in women’s gymnastics? Yes. What is the value of the previous most difficult vault(s) ever competed in women’s gymnastics? 6.4. By what rate do all upgraded vaults increase? 4 tenths. Yada, yada, yada = 6.8. (And if you happen to need to explain this issue to a civilian, this is the simplest and best way to do it.)

So basically, 6.6 seems a bit low. It’s not shockingly low and there’s an actual logic and attempt at fair valuation at play here—so I’m not banging the pots and pans of protest—but it can fit as an additional example of the FIG having open-ended code cold feet if you want it to. Not as convincing an example as Simone’s beam dismount, or the tragic capping of Seitz’s Shaposh full, or some connection value formulas on bars and floor, but the FIG did undershoot a very logical and justifiable value again and, most of all, re-exposed the scab of this code being a nonsensical disaster. Because, let’s be honest, there are also tons of areas in which skills are overvalued, particularly back tumbling on floor with respect to front tumbling, so it’s not as though they’re always undervaluing skills, or always undervaluing Simone’s skills (I have no issue with the floor values), but there’s certainly an inconsistent application of…what they’re even going for here.

Do you like the open-ended code? Or are you trying to undermine it? I never have any idea.

Is this an example of specific FIG bias against Simone? Well, that’s up to Simone, I suppose. My instinct is that any athlete performing this vault would have received the same 6.6 value for it because I can see the logic they used to get there. There are so many examples of FIG bias against Simone—like, for instance, every word that has ever come out of Nellie Kim’s mouth—that I wouldn’t put this vault value in your top-10 most convincing examples for that argument. There are others. But has the FIG spent the last (nearly a) decade totally bungling everything about Simone and viewing her dominance as a problem to be managed and addressed rather than the best thing that’s ever happened to them? Absolutely.

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