Men’s Gymnastics

It’s 2016 and people are about to start gearing up to watch gymnastics, even men’s, in the Olympics. Gymnastics is a confusing sport, especially to those not familiar to all the tricks and flying around. However, it can also be one of the most exciting sports to watch. I decided to highlight this with the 2012 Olympic high bar event finals. This is one of the most thrilling events, and these 8 competitors are the best in the world. I hope those that know nothing about gymnastics will find this somewhat informative, and those that do know a lot about gymnastics find this fun! Here’s the full event for reference:

The video features 6 gymnasts who competed in this order:

  1. Danell Leyva (USA)
  2. Zou Kai (China, 3rd place)
  3. Fabian Hambuchen (Germany, 2nd place)
  4. Epke Zonderland (Netherlands, 1st place)
  5. Jonathon Horton (USA)
  6. Kim Ji-hoon (South Korea)

What made this event so exciting was the level of one-up-manship displayed by Kai, Hambuchen, and Zonderland; each one out did the previous by fractions of a tenth.

Breaking down a routine

A gymnastics routine is made up of 10 skills. The goal is to compete your hardest 10 skills with the least amount of deduction. There are many ways to get a deduction, including bending your legs, flexing your toes, or worse, falling off the equipment. Falling off is damning since it deducts a full point off your score. Your start value is made up of two scores: one for execution, or “how cleanly you did your routine”, and the other is for difficulty, or “how hard was your routine”. Those two scores make up your final score.

An example of a fall:

Execution Score (E Score)

Everyone starts at a 10.0 for their execution score as long as you do at least 7 skills.

Difficulty Score (D Score)

There are 5 categories of tricks on each event. You get 0.5 for doing each category. In addition, each trick out of the 10 tricks you do is assigned a value A through G. The higher the letter, the more valuable the trick is. See the table below for reference:

Trick Value
A 0.1
B 0.2
C 0.3
D 0.4
E 0.5
F 0.6
G 0.7

Total Score (E Score + D Score)

The total score for a gymnastics routine is their E score plus their D score. If I were to do 10 A value skills and fulfill each category, I would receive a 3.5 D score. 2.5 points for fulfiling the categories, and 1 point for the difficulty of my tricks (10 * 0.1).

I then would get 10 points for my E score, to start me at a 13.5, which is abysmal for Olympians. Then whatever deductions I accumulate over the course of my routine will be deducted from my start value (13.5). If I were to get 1.5 points in deductions, my score would be a 12.0.

The competition

The competition had many good routines, as to be expected from the Olympics. Below summarizes all the competitors’ scores and deductions.

Start score (the higher the better)

Deductions accumulated (the lower the better)

The competition finished with Zonderland placing first, followed by Hambuchen in second, and Kai in third.

Kai - 16.366

Let’s look at Zou Kai, the 3rd place finisher. He has famously difficult routines, mainly for the way he combines tricks together to accumulate bonus. Back in 2012, the code of points had a much more lenient set of rules for connection bonus. In the graph below, you can see how Kai exploits that to get a very high start value. He gets a full point back in bonus (blue color). For 2016, the rules are much stricter and he would only get a fraction of the bonus he received for this set.

Here’s his full set. Notice how his legs separate fairly often. He received a full 1.566 in deductions which is on the higher side for Olympic gymnasts. However, his tremendous start value enables him to easily beat out other gymnasts even with the deductions.

Here is his most difficult sequence:

In this sequence, he does 4 tricks in combination: half tak, layout tkachev, rybalko to L grip, layout yaeger. That may sound like gibberish, but the important take away is that he does four tricks that are valued D, D (release move), E, D (release move) which is very difficult. Everytime he does a D trick to a D or higher release move he gains 0.2 bonus. In total that sequence gets him 0.4 + 0.4 + 0.5 + 0.4, for the values of the tricks, plus 0.3 in bonus to come to a total of 1.7!

Hambuchen - 16.400

Hambuchen has to hit a killer set to beat Kai. Even though Kai was slightly sloppy, his very high start value puts pressure on Hambuchen to be near perfect to beat him. Hambuchen starts a full 0.4 lower than Kai – a large amount when 1st and 2nd is often determined by fractions of a tenth. This is Hambuchen’s best event and 3rd Olympics – very uncharacteristic for a gymnast as the lifespan for a being a top gymnast is usually short. Hambuchen ends up inching out Kai by less than half of a tenth. For reference, flexing a toe is one tenth, so this indeed a very small margin of victory.

This sequence, while it has fewer skills than Kai, is more difficult:

Hambuchen crushes his set and celebrates:

Zonderland - 16.533

Zonderland is one of my personal favorite gymnasts. His nicknames are as incredible as his gymnastics: “The Flying Dutchman”, “The Lion of Lemmer”, and “Epic Zonderland”. At this point, there is no one else in the line up who will be able to challenge Hambuchen. Zonderland not only does the hardest release moves in the competition, he connects them one right after the other. Only a handful of gymnasts in the world can probably do that, and only he can do it that well.

Here is his stump sequence:

Zonderland finishes the set with a stuck dismount, and there is no question that he has won the competition.

Prepare for some great gymnastics in Rio!!

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Published on September 15, 2017