The Balance Beam Situation

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WTF is College Gymnastics Scoring – Vault (2023 Edition)

Start values and typical deductions for college gymnastics vaulting.

Before the NCAA season begins, it’s time for the now-annual venture into the murky world of NCAA scoring for those who might want to know a little more about what’s actually going on behind that bonkers 9.950 that just got thrown. Fair warning: you’ll be happier if you don’t.


Vault values

Unlike on the other events, where we have skills and letters values and composition requirements and bonus rules, on vault we simply have a set of predetermined start values.

You can check out the full list of vaults and their values, but the most pressing issue on vault is the quest to have a 10.0 start value. Because the omnipresent Yurchenko full is valued at 9.95, having a 10.0 SV can provide a decisive advantage. A lineup of all 10.0 vaults would begin with a margin of .250 over a lineup of all Yurchenko fulls.

Here is a list of some 10.0-value vaults that you may or may not see in NCAA. The golden geese of vaulting.

NCAA 10.0 Vaults
Yurchenko 1.5
Yurchenko 2/1
Yurchenko 2.5
Yurchenko 1.5 tucked
Round-off 1/2 on, front tuck 1/2
Round-off 1/2 on, front pike
Round-off 1/1 on, back pike
Tsukahara 1/2
Tsukahara 1/1
Handspring pike 1/2
Handspring tuck 1/1
FHS, Handspring front pike

CHANGES FOR 2023

We have a couple vault value changes for the 2023 season, some of which might even be relevant or medium-significant. The handspring front tuck 1/2 was raised from 9.90 to 9.95—now the same value as the Yurchenko layout full. For those who aren’t quite ready to throw the 10.0-start handspring front pike 1/2, there is now a lower-SV alternative that’s still valuable for competition.

The round-off full-on back tuck has been lowered in value from 10.00 to 9.95 because of the consideration that the piked version of this vault is harder and therefore should be more valuable (10.00) than the tucked version (9.95).

Deductions

With the values set, all we have left to deal with are the deductions. Just those. The most important thing you need to know about NCAA deductions is ‾\_(ツ)_/‾. Keep that in mind at all times.

Landings

The smallest landing deduction the judges can take is .05. This is supposed to be reserved for only the very smallest of movements, like when a gymnast allllmost sticks but her momentum forces that little scoot backward, or she has that tiny hop in place where the feet don’t even really come up but it’s also not a stick. That’s what the .05 is for, though in practice what constitutes very small movement tends to be evaluated loosely, especially for those teams going 9.9 for every routine, and a lot of landing issues tend to get away with just .05 instead of a full tenth.

As written, the rule states that when the entire feet are sliding or lifting off the floor to join, that’s when the deduction moves to the .10 territory, which also encompasses any clear step where we see daylight between the feet. If the step is larger than a yard, that’s supposed to be a flat .20 for each step individually (maximum .40).

What is a stuck landing? A stuck landing is when the feet hit the ground and then do not move at all in any way. That—and only that—is a stuck landing. A small rebound upward in place is not a stick.

So, what is a “college stick”? College stick is a term invented by grimy little jackals like me to describe the situation where a college gymnast—fully of newly adult savvy and three days of Acting I before she dropped it because there’s no way she could maintain that schedule—will realize that there is zero chance in the holographic universe that she’ll be able to hold her landing under control for any length of time, so she just pretends like she already stuck hours ago and you simply missed it. Like when your parents would ask whether you already washed your hands before dinner and you were like, “…yes.” The gymnast will land and then pretend like the absolutely necessary step she physically had to take afterward is merely a post-stick celebration, just like all the cool kids do after their definitely real sticks that happened.

The college stick fools no one, even judges who really want to give you that 9.950, but how much to deduct for that college-stick-step is a gray area. We’ll often see a .05 deduction given (even though the step taken would normally warrant .10) as some manner of reward for almost sticking. 

“Landing short”—for instance, not completing the full layout flip on a Yurchenko layout 1.5 and landing with the hips well behind  the feet for a step back—is supposed to receive a flat .10 in addition to any stepping deductions.

This is probably the biggest pet peeve that NCAA judges secretly have about other NCAA judges: that the short Yurchenko layout 1.5 showing a step back cannot mathematically score higher than 9.800 because you have to take the .10 for landing short and you have to take the .10 for the step. And we don’t always see that happen.

That’s also why you will typically see Yurchenko fulls with a step forward score lower than Yurchenko fulls with an equivalent-sized step backward. The vault with a step backward will have been fully completed and landed with the chest up and would then incur only the step deduction (in the landing department at least). The vault with a step forward, however, was not 100% completed because the step forward indicates that the gymnast came into the mat short, probably also having to pike down and lose the layout shape. All of which are additional deductions.

In terms of a deep landing, gymnasts are expected to safely absorb the landing into some degree of squat for no deduction, but when the hip joint and the knee joint are horizontal with each other, that’s supposed to be .10, progressing up to .30 based on the severity of the deep landing. Judges have been instructed that the deep landing should be evaluated by the position of the hip joint rather than the lower border of the thigh.

Piked shape and bent knees

Most vaults you see in NCAA will attempt a layout position. On those vaults, the best athletes will show a completely straight body shape throughout, like a muscly little broomstick. Ideally, gymnasts will go even further than that and show a slightly open shape with a little arch toward the end of the vault, going beyond the straight position just because they can, Shannon Miller-style.

If performed in NCAA, the above vault should receive a perfect 9.950 (the maximum for a Yurchenko full).

You’ll hear about the best vaulters “flaring” a vault, which means they’re opening and extending their arms at the end to slow their rotation coming in for landing. This both looks pretty and provides evidence of a gymnast who has way more than enough time to complete her vault and land in a non-Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame shape, so she has to slow herself down to avoid overdoing it.

Those who exhibit a closed hip angle—less than 180 degrees—on a layout vault will face a deduction. This is typically a small deduction, depending on the degree of the angle and when it occurs. If the pike is significant or present throughout the entire vault (not just coming in for landing), gymnasts will be docked more than .05. When the chest is just a little bit too forward on landing at the very end but everything else is fine, that often escapes without a deduction.

When a gymnast could eat a full dinner off her knees on landing, that’s when body position becomes a major problem and moves into .10+ territory.

Vaults that are intended to be piked are held to a similarly strict shape standard, but in their case the requirement is showing a 90-degree hip angle instead of 180. Tucked vaults need to show less than a 90-degree hip angle and less than a 90-degree knee angle.

Both layout and piked vaults are expected to exhibit straight legs, without any bent knees or hint of vestigial tucking. A “soft” position means the legs have a little bend in the knee throughout, which is typically a .05 but can increase based on severity.

Amplitude

Height/amplitude is evaluated far more critically on vault than on the other events. Gymnasts need to show repulsion off the vaulting table (going UP and OUT, not just out) and need to complete the vault while still in a high position in the air. Otherwise, they’ll come in short and be in line for the landing deductions discussed above, as well as an amplitude deduction. Deductions don’t exist in a vacuum. One creates the next.

There is no specific height standard that gymnasts are expected to reach. Instead, a vault that avoids an amplitude deduction is one where the entire vault, all necessary flipping and twisting, is completed with at least the chest, if not the entire body, above the height of the vaulting table. Then, as the gymnast passes the height of the vaulting table, all she has to do is prepare for landing.

The height deductions get quite intense for flat vaults that shoot out horizontally. These are not the little .05s we see for minor form breaks. A vault that lacks height is considered a much more significant error than a vault with soft knees or small landing movement. The judges are actually able to take up to .50 for height, which they never come close to doing because college scoring, but there’s a lot more freedom to deduct for height and .15 or .20 is not an unusual deduction for a mostly horizontal vault.

Meanwhile, “heighth” is not a word.

Distance

As mentioned above, vaults are expected to go both UP and OUT, so a vault that goes only up—and not out very far from the vault—will be deducted with nearly the same severity as one that goes only out, and not up.

Distance, too, is judged without a specific reference point, which makes distance deductions pretty ambiguous. “Did she go far?” is not an acceptably distinct standard for judging, but that’s more or less where we are.

Basically, gymnasts are expected not to make the judges scared that they’re going to hit their head on the vaulting table. If a judge screams at your vault, that’s probably bad. At minimum, gymnasts need to be far enough away that hitting themselves on the vault cannot physically happen. Ideally, a gymnast would have enough room to be able to lie down flat on the mat between her landing position and the vault.

Direction

CHANGE FOR 2023

Gymnasts are expected to land in line with the center of the vaulting table, not deviating too far to either side. For 2023, college gymnastics has finally added lines on the vault landing mat as a guide for the judges to evaluate the direction deduction.

Now, this deduction is still a vague one with the judges allowed to take “up to .30” for direction. There is no flat, mandatory deduction amount for a gymnast landing over the line, but the lines should at least serve to remind everyone that something should be taken.

College gymnastics evaluates direction deductions based only on where the gymnast initially lands, not where she then steps after landing.

Leg separations

Also on the topic of deductions that are not evaluated as harshly as they could be in NCAA gymnastics, leg separations on vault. The legs are supposed to be pasted together in the air on all vaults. To be actually deducted in college, however, leg separations must be somewhat obvious—i.e., we’re seeing actual daylight between the legs.

A minor crossing of the feet in the air is one of those things that’s technically a deduction but will almost always be forgiven without penalty in college gymnastics, along with most deductions in repulsion (the time when in contact with the vaulting table). Those go into a category of deductions that appear in the annual NAWGJ educational materials but suddenly disappear onto the wings of the wind when big-time-exciting meets happen. But in theory, we’re supposed to be looking at .05s for things like a leg separation in pre-flight (the time between hitting the springboard and contacting the table) and a noticeable shoulder angle, bent elbows, or excessive back arch in repulsion.

Those issues aren’t typically deducted as much as they could be in and of themselves, though they often lead to a lack of amplitude and distance, which is where gymnasts will be penalized.

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