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It's Time to Really Make the Code of Points Open-Ended
(15 votes, average 3.80 out of 5)

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.

Comments (17)add comment

Kent Simmons said:

October 28, 2014
Votes: +11

Millskelly1 said:

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I agree with decreasing overall difficulty values. There are so many gymnasts who are beautiful to watch and deserve to be in finals, but they just can't because they have a 5.0-5.5 D-score. It would definitely encourage cleaner execution.
 
October 28, 2014
Votes: +11

Dennis Desormier said:

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First of all, what do you think the reward for amplitude and creativity should be? You're not really *proposing* a "how" to fix the issue that almost everyone seems to agree with! The community has discussed this issue for years, and there never seems to be good ideas about how to solve the problem.

Also, you have a few errors:
1) The mistake with Yang Tae-Young's score in 2004 isn't the reason the *open-ended* difficulty came about. There were lots of other causes, and the idea was nearly adopted in 2000 when Fink was still MTC president.
2) Lowering all the difficulties won't necessarily change anything mathematically. For example, knocking all values down 0.1 would keep the same scores, just 0.8 (women) or 1.0 (men) lower uniformly. You'd have to change the scale.
 
October 28, 2014
Votes: +3

Dwight said:

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The reward for amplitude and creativity should be the same as the current deductions for flaws. Knowledgeable judges know the difference between average and great. And lowering the difficulty values will indeed help the clean gymnast, mainly in the all-around. But a better solution is to subtract deductions from both the E- and D-scores. Thanks for chiming in.
 
October 28, 2014
Votes: +1

Dennis Desormier said:

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Thanks for the response, Dwight. Mathematically, decreasing every skill value by 0.1 simply changes all D-scores by the same amount. Try a couple examples, and you'll see. To help the clean gymnast, you'd have to decrease the values at the top only. Your other idea, BTW, of subtracting the deductions from both the D- and E-scores is functionally equivalent to Grandi's suggestion of halving the D-score. Just FYI.

That would still not address the need to reward creativity, though. Over the years, I have read about, discussed, and imagined dozens and dozens of ways to solve this problem. I'm a mathematician and instructional designer by trade and a judge and a coach weekends and evenings. This matters to me deeply, and I've thought about it forever. There is only one solution that I keep coming back to over and over: REPLACE an element on beam, women's floor, and men's floor with an "element" rewarding the integration of simpler skills into the routine, and do a similar thing for choreography/dance, with all of the judges weighing in subjectively with a simple rubric and with the median score of all scores counting.
 
October 28, 2014
Votes: +0

Vicki said:

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There should be a third score for artistry (besides difficulty and execution). It would be too confusing if gymnasts were to receive execution deductions for lack of artistry. (They'd have a perfectly clean and well-performed routine and receive a seven??) Execution deductions can be steep, but a perfectly-performed routine should still be able to score a ten. Artistry (variety, originality, flow of composition, amplitude, and definitely dance and beauty of positions for women's floor and beam) would be a separate component of the score where gymnasts could receive up to ten points.
(Vault cannot really be graded that way, but phs all should do two vaults to compensate for the score.)
 
October 28, 2014
Votes: +4

Dwight said:

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Dennis, I really like your final idea about requiring a simple skill. However, I never suggested lowering each skill by 0.1. But if you did decrease all element values by 50%, the cleaner gymnast loses less than the trickster.

Example: Gymnast A scores 14.00 (9.0/5.0). His score becomes 11.50 (9.0/2.5). Gymnast B scores 14.60 (8.0/6.6). His score becomes 11.30 (8.0/3.3).

It shifts more power to the E-score, which was supposed to be the goal of this Code. The execution-difficulty ratio has been the main problem since this Code began.
 
October 29, 2014
Votes: +2

Dennis Desormier said:

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Ah, scaling... Like what Grandi said. That would reward execution even more, correct. The data may show that that is already happening. I'm doing an analysis next month, and I think a blogger has already shown that higher execution is already winning. Nevertheless, the virtuosity and creativity issues remain, yes.
 
October 29, 2014
Votes: +1

Dwight said:

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I don't see why the E-score can't include addition as well as subtraction, as long as said additions are annotated. Imagine rewarding Huang Huidan 0.1 for doing an original dismount in the uneven bars finals at the Nanning worlds. Then she wins the gold instead of silver. That's just one example.
 
October 29, 2014
Votes: +4

Lauren S said:

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When figure skating implemented an open-ended judging system, they gave each element in the routine a base value, and then the judges score the execution of each element separately. Average/acceptable execution of the element gets a 0 - no additions or deductions. Judges can award a +1, +2 or +3 for elements that are exceptionally well done, or -1, -2 or -3 for flawed elements. So the skater could get a +3 for a fast, perfectly centered spin with beautiful positions, and then a -1 for a jump with a shaky landing. It rewards the skater for things like amplitude and clean execution. The better your execution, the more extra points you get. Less difficult elements done extremely well can sometimes outscore difficult elements done sloppily. The artistic side is scored separately, and includes a number of different factors. That part is not truly open-ended--it's on a 1-10 scale--but at least it's not a subtraction system, is separate from the technical execution scores for the elements, and judges the routine as a whole. If gymnastics wants to reward excellent technical execution, and encourage artistry and creativity, a similar system might be worth looking into.
 
October 29, 2014
Votes: +9

Vincent said:

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Yes
I agree wholeheartedly that one of the major issues with the execution score as it stands is that it seems to be based solely on a principle of subtraction. In an attempt to make gymnastics more "objective," the execution score has become only about subtracting for noticeable flaws. At the same time though, because there is some bizarre notion that execution remains "subjective," a matter of personal taste, the judges are not held accountable for their scores in this area. The result is that the difference between an artistically well crafted and performed routine and a by-the-numbers, clunky one is just a matter of a few tenths, and with no real attempt to hold the judges to some worthwhile evaluative criteria (which is easier said than done, but should be a goal – if "artistic" gymnastics wants to retain this descriptive adjective). I hope all these discussions/concerns result in some real substantive changes because it's become increasingly difficult for me to watch gymnastic competitions.
 
October 29, 2014
Votes: +9

Dwight said:

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The ice skating analogy (rewarding or penalizing for specific skills) is exactly what the E-panel judges should be doing in gymnastics. As it is, their job is relatively simple: taking deductions.
 
October 30, 2014
Votes: +5

anthony said:

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I don't really think that there is actually anything wrong with the code of points system. i believe that is the right system in terms of rewarding the gymnast for the difficulty that they perform. the problem is the execution score being some how held down by the panel of judges depending on the apparatus that's been judge, i think that you see that problem less on vault than in the others. in vault you can see the execution score range from 8.1 to 9.6 but in the other apparatus is seem like passing a 9.3 is like impossible. Uchimura is clearly 2 tenths or more ahead in execution than many gymnast in certain apparatus, but the judges seem to have some kind of rules in which the execution score cannot come near a 9.8 or 9.9 when it should. like Uchimura floor or Maroney team final vault.
 
October 30, 2014
Votes: +1

Jorge Reunoso said:

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Bring back the Compulsories!
 
October 31, 2014
Votes: +7

Vincent said:

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Excellent point made by Lauren S. The deductions/additions taken for execution of skills should be part of one score (technical components), separate from an artistic score, which would be based on overall impression of routine. So tired of watching poorly executed acrobatic and dance skills, which are still giving full D-credit. This encourages gymnasts to think that sloppy execution is acceptable, and even preferable, if it gives them a higher start value. This insanity has to stop. As it stands, the current judging system has also encouraged a certain laziness/sloppiness on the part of the judges, whose only task is to add (for D score) and subtract (for E score).
 
October 31, 2014
Votes: +4

Wings said:

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I like the idea of having an element performed well get a bonus and one performed poorly get a deduction. In many other subjective sports, such as dressage there is a similar system. Dressage riders perform in a manner similar to a floor routine; each element they perform is scored out of a 10, with 10 being perfect and 0 not performed. The better the elements performed, the higher the score- theoretically, you could make up a crappy move with a great one. This would be great for execution- yes, your mistakes cost you, but your successes are rewarded.

I also like, on paper, the idea of having a category for artistry. However, HOW THE HELL DO YOU JUDGE 'ART'? In international competitions, we've already seen that judges prefer the traditional long thin lines and graceful elegance reminiscent of ballet. That's their 'art'.

While there's nothing wrong with preferring that style, what about the gymnast that, for example, performs a floor routine to hip hop instead of swan lake? What about the power gymnast? A power gymnast can be artistic, too; but what suits her body and style might not be 'swan lake'. You don't have to be 'elegant' to be artistic.

Yes,a good deal of power gymnasts right now need to improve their artistry. Yes, the COP needs to stop giving the advantage to throwing crazy tricks with sloppy form.

But while I wholeheartedly embrace the idea of a separate artistry category, it remains that 'art' is in the eye of the beholder, and judges eyes already seem to favor the 'swan lake' types. I'm afraid the power gymnasts could end up where a lot of artistic gymnasts are now.

Food for thought.
 
November 01, 2014
Votes: +3

John Scanlan said:

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Just use the rules
We don't need to keep tweaking the rules, just use them. The code of points does not give an advantage to bigger skills done sloppy, the E Jury judges do.
 
November 10, 2014 | url
Votes: +2

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