Difficulty, Open Rules Scoring and Gymnasts’ Injuries
Perhaps the most common criticism of the new open scoring system is that it pushes gymnasts and coaches to increase difficulty at the expense of artistry and increased injury. I am not convinced any loss of artistry is due to the rule changes, but injuries are certainly an increasingly important factor in who wins the Olympics and other major International competitions. The open scoring system seemed more a response to embarrassing judging failures, than an intelligent well-thought out plan for the future of the sport. But the open scoring system, like many rule changes that try to guide or dictate to coaches and gymnasts has had unintended consequences, one of which may be more gymnasts’ injuries.
While there have been incremental changes to the official Olympic gymnastics equipment over the years, it may very well be that more focus on equipment safety and innovation may decrease injuries to gymnasts. There is, and should be new thinking and research being done in order to create safer gymnastics equipment. It was also only after years of pounding to gymnast’s legs, that additional foam was added to soften the vault runway. And progress on new, safer gymnastics equipment may be progressing just as slowly.
China, at least in the opinion of many gymnastics bloggers and observers, seems to believe that younger gymnasts, who are younger than the current rules allow, are better gymnasts at the Olympic level. And they had a medal-winning young gymnastics team in Sydney, that proved that their too-young gymnasts were up to the task, physically and mentally. The current age system forces some gymnasts to train beyond their natural prime, which may be a source of more injuries. Most every major gymnastics power has gymnasts, who just missed the Olympic age cut-off, but are among the best gymnasts in their country, and who have to now hang around and risk injury for another four years, before being allowed their Olympic chance.
Cutting the Number of Gymnasts Per Team
The FIG has continued their trend of slashing the number of gymnasts allowed on Olympic teams and the number allowed to compete. The latest cut the number of gymnasts on the team, from 6 to 5. The result of this is that some gymnasts, especially from smaller gymnastics countries, may end up having to try to push their difficulty, because there are not enough event specialists. For the larger gymnastics powers, this just alters the selection process and eliminates particular gymnasts, but in smaller countries, where there are not infinite numbers of gymnasts to pick from, must settle and try to maximize gymnast difficulty with the gymnasts they have. And if too much pressure is an injury factor, the pressure on the fewer gymnasts who do make the team is increased.
Not Being Able to Drop Any Scores
This change was made in a previous Olympic quadrennium, but had and still has the effect of increasing the pressure on gymnasts and the need for competing Olympians to keep their individual difficulty at the highest possible level, which has also been increased, especially under the new open scoring system. If we were so concerned about our sport be the “sport of perfection,” we should have kept some modified form of 10.0 scoring. At the International level, normal human error is the death penalty to medal hopes. There is no chance for a comeback for a team, if only one of their gymnasts has a fall or oftentimes, just a major error. Again, if excess pressure is a potential cause for injury, then with this rule change the pressure was ratcheted up significantly.
No Step-Out Rule
This idea did not originate with me, nor am I convinced there is credible evidence to prove it. It came from another blogger who postulated that there are more injuries now because female gymnasts are not allowed to step out their landings into a lunge position on tumbling without a deduction. I never noticed any problem with the old system. Some gymnasts did two foot stuck landings on some passes and step-outs on other passes. No more of a problem, it seems to me, than the two roll-outs allowed in men’s gymnastics. I hope there is soon some research being done by sports scientists to determine if, indeed, the no step-outs rule is increasing the number of tumbling landing injuries.