Monday, August 18, 2008

Gymnastics, meet Mathematics

Anyone else think the obvious problem with the new Gymnastics scoring is the fact that the system adds where it should multiply?  (Hello.  Look at Diving.  They multiply.)

Gymnastics scoring now looks like this:  You get a one score (which, at the Olympics, generally is somewhere between 5.5 and 7.5) based on the difficulty of what you do.  There's a magic code book that awards points for every jump, twist, or connection, and the judges add up the points for the 10 hardest elements of your routine, and that equals your technical score.  Then, you get an execution score, which starts at 10 points and has deductions (also listed in the magic code book) for every bobble, extra step, or foul-up.  Your difficulty score plus your execution score is your total score.

In other words, they ADD what you do to how well you do it.

Any idiot would tell you that they should be multiplying here, to actually have a number that indicates how well you did the stuff you set out to do.

Let me give you a hypothetical situation here.  I stand just outside the floor exercise mat and raise my hand, indicating the start of my routine.  I then step on the mat and raise my hand indicating the end of my routine.

Score:  0 for technical; 10 (no deductions) for execution.  Total:  10.

That's wrong.  I did nothing; I should not have any points.  Under this scenario, I would win over a gymnast who ... hell, let's set aside Olympic start values, and think about some kid in training who has a couple basic tumbling passes but is pretty awkward execution-wise.  They can have a technical score of 3 and an execution score just under 7 and I'd beat them by doing absolutely nothing.

Or take our pal Shawn Johnson.  She had a tumbling pass that, when she added a twist to it, gave her an extra .2 in difficulty.  Now, suppose that, when she adds it in, she takes an extra step in landing that she wouldn't otherwise take.  That's a .3 deduction in execution.  So here, she's done the extra difficult pass, but ends up losing points for it overall.  That's nonsense; she's executed the pass -- she should get some credit for doing it, even though she didn't do it perfectly.  Here, the system encourages her to play it safe.

The clearest example of where things go wrong is the vault, seeing as there's only a single element that the athletes do.  Gymnast A goes out there and does a "5" vault perfectly.  It earns her a 10 in execution and she walks off with a 15.  Gymnast B does a 6.5 vault, and lands directly on her butt, giving her a full point deduction.  She gets a 9 in execution and walks off with a score of 15.5 and a gold medal.  Here, the system encourages a gymnast to try something harder.  Hell, gymnasts should be out there doing impossible vaults.  Try some QUADRUPLE rotating thing with a degree of difficulty up there in the 8's or 9's (compared to everyone else's 6.5) and even if you never land that thing in your life, you'll still score better than everyone else.

The answer here is obviously multiplication.  If you do a 5 vault 10 well, you should get a 50; do a 6 vault 9 well, you should get a 54.  Do anything 0 well, you should get a 0.

The even better answer is to apply multiplication to every element in the routine (which is more or less how figure skating is now judged).  Each tumbling pass is judged, earning partial or full points depending on how well you do that particular pass, and then they're all added up to get your score.  Throw in some mandatory deductions for actually falling off the apparatus, and you've got a working system.

Until then, I'd like to volunteer myself for any gymnastics competition -- I can guarantee a score of 10 points on each apparatus.

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