Gymnastics scoring change

LONDON – For almost a century, chasing a perfect «10» has been the ultimate goal of every gymnast. The abiding image of the sport can be traced back to the 1976 Montreal Games when a petite 14-year-old from Romania, Nadia Comaneci, created Olympic history by becoming the first gymnast to score a 10.00 during the women’s team competition. From next season, however, attaining perfection in gymnastics will no longer be possible. Just as figure skating was forced to change its age-old 6.0 scoring system following a judging scandal in the pairs competition at the 2002 Winter Games, gymnastics had its watershed moment at last year’s Athens Olympics. A spate of disputed medals 15 months ago tarnished the sport and left officials under no illusion that the scoring format had to be revamped. As a result, the old method will get its last hurrah at next week’s World Championships in Melbourne before being consigned to the scrap heap. «We are changing the code radically… because the old approach to gymnastics has become obsolete,» former Olympic champion Nellie Kim, who is now president of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG)’s women’s technical committee, told Reuters in an interview. «Now the final score could be beyond 10. It could be 12, it could be 17 or whatever. The scores for each exercise are divided into two – a) difficulty of content and b) execution. The execution score is always out of 10 points, so you can say in that we’ve maintained the old system but the final score will be different.» The decision to dump the 10.00 format, which has been in place since the 1920 Antwerp Games, was sparked by two major controversies in Athens. The FIG admitted American Paul Hamm had been awarded the men’s all-round crown in error after South Korea’s Yang Tae-young had been incorrectly docked a tenth of a point from his parallel bars routine. Despite acknowledging the mistake, the federation refused to redistribute the medals and it came under further attack when chaos erupted during the men’s horizontal bar final. «People power» held up the competition for almost 10 minutes as fans forced the judges to change the score of four-time Olympics champion Alexei Nemov. «Before the system took care of (well executed but) average exercises by gymnasts and we kind of forgot about high-level performances… as there was a maximum ceiling of scoring 10 points,» said Kim, who also earned perfect 10s during the 1976 Games. «So even if a gymnast had a fantastic routine, they could not score higher than a 10, which is what happened in Athens to Nemov on the bar. «Everyone understood that his exercise was much more interesting and risky but judges did not have the tools to appreciate what he had done. «It was a signal for us to start doing things differently.» While there is no doubt something had to be done to reward those who were willing to stretch the boundaries with their innovative displays, critics fear the new scoring system could also make the sport dangerous. The abolition of the 10.00 could encourage gymnasts to chase higher and higher scores, thus risking injury.