Olympic Difficulty Part 1: Vault


Over the next few weeks, Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson will be writing a series of “Olympic Difficulty” articles, comparing gold-medal winning routines of the past to those from more recent years. Take it away Anna!

I’ll begin with the vaults, covering the last 20 years of Olympic finals, from Barcelona 1992 to London 2012.

I think it is safe to say that the Olympic vault finals of the 90’s were some of the most interesting of all time. Many of the vaults performed in 1992 and 1996 were quite original. A high percentage of all-arounders performed second vaults, which is a rarity by today’s standards. For example, all but one competitor in the 1996 final had competed in the all-around.

As you can see, over the course of the last 20 years, the difficulty just kept on escalating. The winning vaults from 1992 were somewhat simple in comparison to the winning vaults in 2012.

However, that’s not to say that there wasn’t ample difficulty with some of the vaults in 1992. Tatiana Lysenko (UKR) did the most difficult vault of the final, and ended up third. (Under that particular CoP, the double-twisting Yurchenko she performed was valued the same as a full-twisting Yurchenko). The problem with Tatiana’s vault was that she took a step. It wasn’t perfect enough. She stuck her other vault, but it still wasn’t enough for the victory.

The champions, Henrietta Onodi and Lavinia Milosovici (who tied for first), didn’t stick either of their vaults, but they were clean both times. Their winning margin over Tatiana was slim, but sufficient nevertheless.


The same thing occurred at last year in London, when McKayla Maroney (2nd) had higher difficulty than the winner, Sandra Izbasa. But McKayla fell on her second vault, allowing Sandra’s vaults to come out ahead.

I think there is room in vault finals for both high difficulty and fine execution. Sometimes one overrides the other. For example, in the 2009 World final, Hong Un Jong performed two vaults valued at 6.5, but she fell on both. The eventual champion, Kayla Williams, won with her 6.3 and 5.8 vaults but Hong’s difficulty had won out in 2008, when those 6.5 vaults captured the gold ahead of Oksana Chusovitina, who had higher execution. (In that particular meet, fourth-place finisher Alicia Sacramone had the highest execution of all.)

Personally, I prefer it when gymnasts who execute very well win over gymnasts who throw vaults they have not mastered. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the difficulty of some of the vaults. I was really hoping that Yamilet Pena could stand up her 7.1-valued vault in the London final.

I find it fascinating to look at the list of Olympic gold medal-winning routines over the last 20 years:

  • 2012: Sandra Izbasa (ROM): double-twisting Yurchenko, roundoff half-on, handspring-layout front with a half twist
  • 2008: Hong Un Jong (PRK): 2 ½-twisting Yurchenko, roundoff half-on, layout salto with 1 ½ twists
  • 2004: Monica Rosu (ROM): 2 ½-twisting Yurchenko, double-twisting Tsukahara
  • 2000: Yelena Zamolodchikova (RUS): double-twisting Tsukahara, double-twisting Yurchenko
  • 1996: Simona Amanar (ROM): double-twisting Yurchenko,  Tsukahara to a layout Arabian front off
  • 1992: Henrietta Onodi (HUN): full-twisting Yurchenko, handspring piked front with a half twist, Lavinia Milosovici (ROM): full-twisting Yurchenko, handspring tucked front with a half twist

Photo Credit: Getty Images


  1. keepitrealin2013 says:

    Simona Amanar is not from Russia (RUS) she is from Romania (ROU)

  2. Anna Rose says:

    Oops, thanks for catching that. It was just an oversight.

  3. Riccardo says:

    Well, I do like when gymnasts try very difficult vaults, however I think the C.O.P. should penalize more the falls. I mean, did mckayla really deserve an Olympic medal falling? Did cheng fei? In the last year we’ve seen many times gymnasts winning even though they had fallen. To me this shouldn’t happen, a fall should cost 2 points, considering that they have to put two score together. That’s just my opinion 🙂

  4. kimia says:

    I like to know if there are 2 vaults that are harder to master simultaneously compared to others.

  5. Sport says:

    Sandra Izbasa did a roundoff half-on, handspring-layout front with a full twist, not half.

  6. Ricky says:

    I think writing “McKayla fell on her second vault, allowing Sandra’s vaults to come out ahead” is kind of a deformation of reality. As if Maroney was “supposed” to win and let “her” gold medal to Izbasa ?
    Every competitor and every coach knows that the winner is the best one at the right moment, not the best one on the paper, anything can happen and nobody is “supposed” to win before the end of the competition.
    Maroney was not the best one that day, I know that US people have difficulties to accept that fact but it’s just the truth. Some people said it was a scandal that Peña and her Produnova landed on her butt could get into an Olympic final, but the same people are not shocked seeing Maroney wining an Olympic medal with a missed vault !

    However, I think you should rather write “Maroney fell on her second vault, but thanks to the high value of her vaults, she managed to take the silver medal”.

  7. sophie says:

    Its amazing to note that 4 out of 6 olympic vault gold medals in the past 20 years belong to Romania.

  8. ribbonofangels says:

    “Some people said it was a scandal that Peña and her Produnova landed on her butt could get into an Olympic final, but the same people are not shocked seeing Maroney wining an Olympic medal with a missed vault!”
    Does this have anything to do with, say, the fact that McKayla Maroney hasn’t missed a vault in competition since 2009? Or maybe the fact that Peña was nowhere near competent with her vault, when there was never any doubt that Maroney was? What about the fact that McKayla was reigning World Champion (which says something about how good she is)?
    It’s not black and white, fall = bad gymnast & horrible score, stick = good gymnast & perfect score. It’s a million times more complicated than that.

  9. karla says:

    You realize the “high percentage of all-arounders” performing two vaults was only because the rules were different, right? You pretty much had to be an all-arounder in the 90s, especially pre-97, in order to compete on World and Olympic teams. Those who made vault finals almost always had to have competed all-around previously in the competition. It doesn’t mean they were accomplished all-arounders or that they had two difficult vaults in finals either.

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