Ask An Expert!

Gymnastics news’ main source comes from bloggers because there are only a few actual magazines or news sources out there dealing with gymnastics. I talked with Blythe Lawrence, a writer for The Gymnastics Examiner and Universal Sports. She is also very well-known in the gymnastics community and knows her stuff about anything and everything gymnastics.

First off, what is your “role” in the gymnastics? (your position, job, how you’re involved within the gymnastics community, etc.)

I began as a gymnastics blogger with a WordPress site called The Gymblog, and later pitched gymnastics as a topic for Examiner.com, a web news service that employs beat writers to write and report on subjects they have some specialized knowledge about. I’ve also contributed articles on the sport to Universal Sports and ESPN W.

What are your views on the current code of points?

I actually like this code of points a little more than the code of points in place during the 2004-2008 quadrennium. Because gymnasts only have to do eight difficult elements under this code instead of 10, as you had to do during the last code, there’s room for a bit more dance on floor and a (tiny) bit more choreography on beam. During the last quadrennium gymnasts were using all their time to pack in acrobatic skills in order to try to get the highest possible difficulty score, though it often seems like that during this quad as well. This code is also not ideal because difficulty is valued far more highly than artistry, when it should be more of a balance between the two.

Do you think that the demands of the code result in some of the injuries we have been seeing with some of the world’s top gymnasts?

Not really, no. Injuries are part of the sport, and the last code actually required gymnasts to do more difficulty. That being said, this is the first code of points where we have seen multiple gymnasts competing Amanar vaults not just in the months before the Olympics but throughout the quad. Because it’s so highly valued in the code, doing an Amanar is very important to the world’s top all-around gymnasts. That’s a bit scary because it’s a hard vault to do well consistently. But the only thing I’m really concerned about is that so many men are doing twisting roll out skills on floor, and they’re doing them out of twisting combinations. Those are dangerous, and have real potential to cause serious injuries. I’d love to see those skills banned.

How do you think the code could or should change?

I would bring back the perfect 10, which would make it much easier for fans to understand the scoring system. Right now, when a gymnast is awarded a 14.2 for a routine, it’s very hard to tell whether that’s a good score or not. I do like the idea of having one score for difficulty and one score for execution and adding the two together to make a total score. The top score for difficulty could be 5.0, which a gymnast would only attain if he or she met certain criteria, and execution could be judged out of 5.0 as well. Then the two scores could be added together to form the total score, which would be something close to 10 for a great routine. It would be so much easier to gauge scores that way.

Do you think the “extinction” of the 10.0 made supporters of gymnastics lose interest?

Certainly it’s fair to say that the extinction of the perfect 10 has confused a lot of people, who can no longer tell whether a routine was good or not just by looking at the score. The “perfect 10” was so well-known that it had filtered into the collective public consciousness as a way to describe something that was, well, perfect. And now that’s been lost. The perfect 17.0 just doesn’t have the same ring.

What do you think would happen if women’s college gymnastics changed to the elite scoring system?

Hmmm…I go back and forth. NCAA gymnastics might be a bit more exciting if gymnasts were rewarded for doing more difficulty. Then again, NCAA is more of a pure incarnation of the sport in that gymnasts there work on refining the skills they have, doing things with excellent line and technique, playing to the crowd and really putting on a complete performance. In other words, being perfect, but not going for extraordinary difficulty. If the NCAA scoring system changed to where difficulty became paramount (as it is in elite gymnastics right now) we would probably have more injuries and fewer clean performances.

Why do you think there have been so many injuries to the world’s top gymnasts over the past couple of months or even years?

Part of the sport is about pushing the envelope and seeing what the limits of the human body are — how many flips you can do, how many twists. When you push those outer limits on a daily basis in training, well…we’re human, and injuries result. But I don’t think that there have been any more injuries to the world’s top gymnasts during the past few months or years than there were in previous quadrenniums. It’s more that now we have a lot of specialized news sources keeping tabs on all of them. So if Viktoria Komova trips on a mat in her gym and sprains her ankle and can’t train for four months, we know about it. Twenty years ago, when there were fewer sources covering the sport, we probably would not have known that it had happened, or it would have been mentioned in passing months after the fact.

Do you think that the pressure to perform at the highest level is a factor in these injuries?

No more so than pressure to perform at the highest level has always caused injuries. Although the “highest level” right now is pretty darn high — higher than it was even 10 years ago.

What are your views on the age limit?

I go back and forth about it. It’s fantastic that in women’s gymnastics 20 seems like the new 16, and that as a result you have contenders for medals at the World Championships who are 23, 24 or 36 years old. But the 13-year-olds who are doing mind-boggling things should not have to try to hold on until they’re 16 to be able to have their moment, too. More and more, I appreciate the polished gymnastics of a 20-something, even if she can’t do the tricks of a 14-year-old who is rougher around the edges artistically. So I’d like all ages to be able to compete, but the judging needs to be such that good artistry and presentation are rewarded as they should be, which I think would level the playing field between the youngsters doing huge skills and (relative) oldtsers doing slightly less huge skills with lots of polish. As it is, difficulty trumps execution by a lot. And that’s a shame.

Do you think that some of the best gymnasts in the world aren’t getting their chance in the spotlight because they are underage?

Yes. Look at Katelyn Ohashi, or Lexie Priessman, or Anastasia Grishina, or Anastasia Sidorova, or Erika Fasana, or Mai Murakami, or Larisa Iordache, or all the others. The list is really long.

What do you think about the issues with age falsification that the FIG has had to deal with over the past decade?

When you impose a rule saying that all gymnasts have to turn 16 during the Olympic year in order to compete at the Games, and then have no mechanism to figure out if people are telling the truth about the ages of the gymnasts, everybody gets hurt. It’s not fair to the gymnasts who are too young and compete at the Olympics anyway, the too-young gymnasts who could contend for medals but whose countries decided to play by the rules and left them at home, or the gymnasts who finished fourth at an Olympics where there was age fakery. Members of the 2000 U.S. women’s Olympic team but expressed very mixed emotions when they found out 10 years later that they had actually won bronze in the Olympic team competition in Sydney. There was joy at receiving a medal after all these years, but a lot of anger and sadness also at the way the whole thing had happened. It’s just a mess.

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