The World Championships in Nanning, China, marked the sixth worlds to be judged by the Code of Points that was implemented in 2006. I used to call this set of rules the open-ended Code. But after watching it in action the past eight years, I can no longer purport that this scoring system is truly open-ended.
This Code is only open-ended on one of its two prongs: Difficulty. Even Difficulty has a soft ceiling. Only a limited number of skills can be counted (eight for women and 10 for men), and Element Group limitations further restrict skill selection. Even so, the D-score is the only portion of the final score that continues to grow.
Until both prongs are open-ended, meaning that Execution can enjoy the same expansion as Difficulty, this Code is more of a contradiction than a solution to gymnastics’ ongoing debate on how to evaluate its performers.
Currently, final scores are the sum of the results from two basic math operations: addition and subtraction. Difficulty and Execution are two adjacent escalators; as one goes up, the other goes down.
Until Execution becomes more than just a subtractive process, this Code will continue to lack a critical evaluation tool. Until a gymnast like Kohei Uchimura can compensate his minor execution flaws with his abundance of virtuosity—and actually exceed 10.0—this Code will never reach its potential. Its ceiling may move up and down at times, but it will always be present. And that is not an open-ended Code.
When Uchimura receives nothing for his exemplary technique and amplitude, but still gets hit with execution deductions, it becomes more clear that the judging criteria could use another major fix. Check out his floor routine from the Nanning all-around final here. He stuck everything and received a 9.166 for execution. Makes no sense. Does this Code require landings with feet and ankles together, chest held high? Because that is neither realistic nor safe. Even in slow motion Uchimura looked perfect to me, so why did he score closer to 9.0 than 10.0?
Let’s remember that this Code of Points was created because somebody did their math wrong at the 2004 Athens Olympics. It was an objective mistake in adding the Difficulty score for Yang Tae Young. Ironically, this new Code minimized subjectivity—or common sense—to the point where gymnastics intuition was no longer integral to judging a routine.
This current Code began its reign at the 2006 World Championships in Aarhus, Denmark, where Italy’s Vanessa Ferrari won the all-around gold. Since she fell from balance beam, the Code was roundly criticized by fans. In reality, that Code was still a beta version (and the depth of that all-around field was relatively thin).
This Code isn’t all bad. The gymnast who does more should get credit for it. But at least some effort should be made to blend the multitude of tricks into a harmonious routine. And that, in my opinion, is the saddest byproduct of this Code. Many routines, especially on balance beam and men’s floor, resemble one of those sweepstakes where the lucky winner gets five minutes to toss as many items as he can into a shopping cart.
Getting back to core of this Code, the “what” is protected but the “how” is not. Raw substance is free while brilliant style is taxed. Sure, judges may subconsciously deduct less from gymnasts like Uchimura, but that’s not good enough. It’s still cheating.
There needs to be concrete judging criteria for amplitude, creativity and virtuosity. Yes, it would be a subjective evaluation, but these are qualities that separate the true stars from the rest. If a judge can dock gymnasts 0.10, 0.30 or 0.50 for small, medium and large errors, why can’t he also reward them for small, medium and large achievements? Let the judges use their entire brains.
Another smart change would be to lower all Difficulty values, which would finally give the E-score more clout. This could change the outcome of an all-around competition, in particular, because a clean, technically sound gymnast could possibly catch—and defeat—a sloppy trickster. (I have also written more than once that the D-score should get hit with the same deductions as the E-score.)
In 2006 the FIG eliminated the 10.0 as the top score in an effort to better separate gymnasts. That goal has been achieved primarily through the D-score. But until exemplary execution is rewarded the way hardcore difficulty is, this Code will never be as open-ended as it could.