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Gymnastics Questions Code of Points, Laments Loss of Artistry

 by George Rossano






(16 October 2014) When IJS was first being forced down everyone's throat ... no, no, "introduced" ... it was repeatedly pointed out that gymnastics was going down the same road adopting a "code of points' scoring system, to show just what a good mainstream idea IJS was.

Since then, gymnastics has experienced the same problems that have befallen skating due to using a code of points scoring system.  But while the ISU remains steadfast in embracing a system that has done more harm than good, gymnastics appears to be wising up and willing to admit it made some mistakes and make changes.

Today the World Gymnastics Championships concluded in Nanning, China.  In an article on the AIPS website recapping the Championships there were a number of revealing comments from Gymnastics officials.  We provide the relevant parts below.  The complete article can be found here.

Emanuel Fantaneanu, AIPS Executive Committee Member wrote:

Worried that artistry is being eroded in the pressure-packed world of artistic gymnastics, FIG President Bruno Grandi wants changes to the way judges assess performance. 

"We need to change the mentality so that we do include in the exercise the movement with the maximum difficulty," Grandi told a Press Conference.

"At this moment, we have noted that the difficulty increased too much. Very, very much. And the execution of the athlete doesn't follow the same criteria. We need to change the mentality. We need to cut it in two, the maximum evaluation difficulty. The proposal is that when you make one exercise complex, but not well done, you receive strong penalization. Maybe we need to change also the quantity [points count] of penalization for each fault."

The overall feeling at the sport's annual showcase was that artistry is being sacrificed in favor of overly complicated acrobatics.

“It is the overall quality of gymnastics," said Grandi's top lieutenant, FIG Secretary General Andre Guesbuhler. "As you heard the president say, he is very much worried about the tradition, about the name of our sport, which is called artistic gymnastics… He feels this was a little bit lost, that there was too much emphasis on difficulty and acrobatic elements and too little emphasis on good execution. This is because of the Code of Points… So at this moment in time we have a slight unbalance. You can see it on floor exercises and you can see it on vault, that you can only win the vault competition if you have top difficulty… However, you can have top difficulty, but it has to be executed perfectly well...The weight should not be on the difficulty. The weight should be, as the president said, on artistry and beauty and perfect execution as you have in diving," he said.

At the same time, Georges Guelzec, President of the European Union of Gymnastics (UEG), has claimed his sport needs "radical change" and has called for an "overhaul". 

"Gymnastics has an urgent need to review its competition formats to strengthen its attractiveness," Guelzec said. "The reactions of the public, the media and television confirm this. The time for a fundamental, radical change has come."

A few days ago I was at the Southwest Pacific Regionals chatting with a very experienced coach when the skater on the ice in front of us went into one of those distorted pretzel camel positions that gets you a level but looks hideous, and the coach spontaneously commented "ugh, what was that" followed by several fairly pointed comments on the loss of artistry in skating.

Skaters, coaches, the public - even some officials within national skating federations and some ISU officials - for years have recognized IJS needs a lot of rework. For at least three years I have heard ISU insiders talk of the need to simplify IJS and how the ISU was going to take on a project to accomplish that.  Even ISU president Cinquanta alluded to that in his infamous letter to the national federations last season.  Then at the 2014 ISU Congress, what did they do?  They made the scoring even more complicated and obscure.  It has gone beyond the cliché of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  They are now reassigning staterooms as the ship sinks.

One could change the word gymnastics in the above quotes to skating, and they would ring just as true.  But while gymnastics seems to be waking up to smell the coffee, the ISU remains in a somnambulistic stupor, and skating withers on the vine.