Artistry’s Glorious Return


By Anna Rose Johnson

It’s indisputable: one of the most highly contested topics in women’s artistic gymnastics is the artistry (also known as the performance or the presentation). We hear so many of the same things, it’s become a common refrain: the difficulty is skyrocketing and the execution is plummeting.

While I don’t usually care to use such extremes as those, I do agree that in many cases, that is what’s happened to our sport.

But there is good news!

Balance beam has been one of the main targets for this type of discussion in the past. In my opinion, 2014 World Championships beam final was full of gorgeous, flowing exercises; largely free of the lengthy pauses we’ve seen in past beam finals. For example, take a look at the 2009 World Championships. Five years prior to Nanning 2014, the World beam final was full of complete stops in the action, with very little rhythm at all.

I decided to check out some data in order to compare 2014 to 2009. I averaged the D- and E-scores for both World beam finals and discovered some wonderful information! The difficulty values dropped from 2009 to 2014 and the execution scores rose. True, it’s by the smallest of margins, but that’s how gymnastics is always measured.

This shift makes sense, because in 2009, the gymnasts were still transitioning from the wild 2006-2008 quad in which difficulty was the main factor and routines were often built on single skills rather than clever combinations. Now, gymnasts seem to be back in the overall artistic mindset; flowing exquisitely from one skill to the next.

Let’s examine the other “artistic” type of event—floor exercise. Interestingly enough, the situation described in beam finals is reversed on floor. The average difficulty score has risen a very large amount from 2009 to 2014, and the execution score has dipped. Considering the changes that have been made in the Code of Points, it seems logical that this has occurred. With the difficulty table expanding to include “I” skills, and more and more gymnasts tumbling amazing passes, it only makes sense that D-scores have risen since the days of 2009, when combination tumbling passes were the norm and three passes were largely accepted.

So why the drop in execution? I can only speculate that on floor exercise, gymnastics is still suffering from the phenomenon described in the opening of this article: difficult tumbling passes are harder to execute; therefore the D-scores have risen and the E-scores have dropped.

However, balance beam is shifting for the better. It’s undeniable—the beam routines we see in major finals today are full of innovative combinations and a style we haven’t seen since the days of the 10.0 system.

Let’s take a look at a couple of famous beam routines from 2009 and 2014. In comparing these two incredible performances, the most notable difference is in the flow of the exercises. In 2009, the work was beautiful, but many elements remained clearly separate; without much flow. It’s quite a contrast to my example from 2014, in which there is hardly a pause between major skills.



The past two World beam champions, Simone Biles and Aliya Mustafina, are perfect examples of the type of performances we are seeing on balance beam today. In many ways, this rhythmic style has become largely the standard precedent for the next generation of beamers. It’s inevitable that we will see a lot more of these types of exercises is in the future—no more static elements crowded in, but more “complete packages” with all the desirable virtues: form, lines, elegance, power, and stability.

I believe that floor exercise will have a similar effect. Like it or not, there is a limit of how many variations of the hardest tumbling passes there are. I think that eventually, young gymnasts will be training more difficult skills when they’re still in the developmental stage and therefore grow up with a better foundation for today’s typical floor work. As a side benefit, thanks to the new CoP, gymnasts will have a better grasp on artistry from an early age.

Right now we are in a phase of gymnastics that could be called the “Back to Artistry Movement.” Artistry is once again gaining popularity in our sport, and gorgeous exercises are becoming more and more apparent not only in the senior ranks, but particularly on the junior stage. Some breathtaking examples are Catherine Lyons of Great Britain on floor exercise and USA’s Victoria Nguyen on balance beam.

Whatever is your definition of artistic, I think it’s back, and it’s here to stay.


  1. Sinead says:

    Thanks for the article. It’s nice to hear something positive about the way artistry is progressing in WAG instead of the usual doom and gloom 🙂

Trackbacks for this post

  1. Olympic links: 16 February, 2015 | Frontier Sports
  2. So, What Did I Miss? - The Couch Gymnast

Leave a Comment

Powered by WordPress | Deadline Theme : An AWESEM design