By Anna Rose Johnson
It’s undeniable that gymnastics has gone through a lot of change over the decades. I am fascinated with comparing gymnastics today and how it was years ago. The 1990s are a particularly interesting time to look back on—it was truly the bridge between “old school” style and modern gymnastics, and they were also the heyday of televised gymnastics. I have previously written a series of posts for Full Twist about how the difficulty in Olympic gymnastics has evolved since the 90s
Part 4: Floor
More than anything, the 90s are probably remembered most for the glorious performance by the Magnificent Seven in Atlanta. It has been 18 years now since the U.S. women’s team won the 1996 Olympic gold. I caught up with Magnificent Seven teammates Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu to get their opinion on how gymnastics has changed since the days of their Olympic experiences.
FT: What do you think has changed the most about gymnastics since the 1990s?
SM: So much has changed! The scoring system, the equipment, the make-up of routines and, of course, the skill level. Gymnastics is an amazing sport in that it’s always evolving, always pushing the envelope.
DM: The amplified emphasis on difficulty and the declining value of artistry has been the biggest change in gymnastics. Some would argue the term “Artistic” should be dropped from Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. While there are exceptions, the genuinely artistic gymnast does not stand a chance against the trickster with marginal execution in today’s international competitions. While we can all admire the athleticism of today’s routines, the emotionally moving performances of Dobre, Boguinskaia and Podkopayeva appear to be a thing of the past.
FT: What do you think of the high difficulty showcased in competitions today?
SM: It’s very impressive. As an athlete, it was always fun to try skills that no one had ever done before. And it’s clear athletes still feel this way. We’re always looking for something extra, a twist, a flip, a way to make a particular skill stand out.
DM: I don’t take issue with a high level of difficulty, because it’s a natural progression of our sport and a vital component of gymnastics. My issue is that the increase in difficulty has occurred oftentimes at the detriment of execution and artistry. Skyrocketing difficulty requirements compounded by the drop of compulsory exercises has led to Artistic Gymnastics morphing into a shell of its former self. Compulsories separated the great gymnasts from the good ones and built much-needed suspense for the later rounds of competition.
Regrettably, the FIG has struggled to find a suitable balance between execution and difficulty. This is evident in the current Code of Points which is ruthlessly lopsided toward difficulty. The FIG’s plan to make execution deductions harsh backfired wretchedly. Since the execution score is capped at 10.0 and the difficulty score has no ceiling, gymnasts and coaches quickly realized the path of least resistance to a high score was to heap on the difficulty, because judges were reluctant to give high execution scores.
FT: It’s been eight years since the “perfect 10.0” scoring system was abolished; do you feel that it was a negative or positive change?
SM: A little bit of both. On the one hand, the perfect 10.0 was such a symbol of our sport. Many people have come around to the new scoring system but I do feel that we lost a little bit of what made our sport special; the idea of perfect and knowing when you hit it. On the other hand, gymnastics is a sport that is constantly changing and you have to be prepared to roll with the punches. I do my best as an “expert analyst” or commentator to explain the change while helping viewers understand the big picture of what is happening during a competition.
DM: It adversely affected the landscape of the sport for the reason that it made difficulty the priority in gymnastics. The 10.0 based judging system allowed each piece of apparatus to be uniformly weighted. For example, today vaulting has become too heavily weighted for the women because it’s often the event where the highest scores can be achieved. It simply does not make sense to make the most concise apparatus worth the most points in a team and all-around competition. The loss of the 10.0 continues to leave athletes, coaches, judges, and spectators in limbo. The decision to abolish the “perfect 10.0” has been the single most detrimental decision in our sport’s modern history. It took away the most recognizable symbol of our sport’s pursuit of perfection. In many ways, the decision robbed us of our identity.
FT: The U.S. women’s gymnasts don’t compete in as many competitions as you did in the 90s—how do you think this affects their performances during the year?
SM: I guess I hadn’t really thought much about that. They may not be competing in quite as many competitions with regard to international meets but with the added training camps they are certainly having to be prepared each month to show readiness. Each coach needs to make that decision with their athlete on when to compete and when to rest.
DM: Less competitions has likely prevented more injuries on our national team. The semi-centralized system of training camps places a great deal of emotional and physical mileage on these young women, so more competitions would add to an already heavy load. Now if USA Gymnastics lessened the number of training camps and increased the number of competitions, perhaps a positive trend would reveal itself. Nevertheless, Team USA will continue to dominate women’s international gymnastics as long as the talented individual coaches continue to train athletes and the rest of the world (namely Russia and Romania) continue to deteriorate. The U.S. Women are virtually a permanent fixture on the medal podium at the Olympic Games and World Championships since 2003, so I don’t see how participating in more competitions could possibly have a more positive effect on the performance of the team.
FT: The FIG only allows two gymnasts per country to compete in World and Olympic finals. Do you think this is better or worse than the “three per country” rule of the 90s?
SM: I don’t think it’s better or worse, just different. We mention, often, how many changes are made each quad and this was just one of many changes. The important thing is that you know the rules ahead of time. My coach always told us “Let’s understand the rules, then let’s get to work.”
DM: It’s worse. Look no further than Jordyn Wieber’s unfortunate situation at the 2012 London Olympics. When a World or Olympic all-around final consists of less than 25 competitors, not only does it seem like an abridged meet, but it makes purchasing a ticket almost unreasonable. All-arounders are on their way to extinction if the current trends continue.
I understand the FIG Executive Committee wants to increase popularity of the sport around the world, and the IOC must make cuts in the number of athletes permitted to compete to allow more sports into the Olympic Games, but the two per country rule has hurt Artistic Gymnastics in a BIG WAY, because the all-around final and event finals are not a true measure of “the best” in the world.
FT: What is the best part about women’s gymnastics today?
SM: For me it’s just enjoying the amazing athletes we have competing. Of course, my truly favorite part is watching my son jump on the trampoline laughing uncontrollably, but maybe I’m biased.
DM: The loyalty of the fans is the best part of women’s gymnastics today. Despite the turmoil of the Code of Points, the perpetual judging controversies, loss of the perfect 10.0, and complicated rules, the loyal fans of our sport continue to attend competitions and maintain a dialogue about gymnastics. The internet has allowed the sport to transcend geography, so it can be enjoyed by so many people. Social networks, blogs, YouTube, and message boards pertaining to gymnastics demonstrate that the passion for this great sport is alive and well. Perhaps if the FIG Executive Committee listened to the fans a bit more, gymnastics could reach unbelievable heights of global popularity.
Many thanks to Shannon and Dominique for sharing their views with Full Twist!