Finding the balanceWith the code of points favouring the brave, more and more gymnasts are being tempted towards the spectacular, high scoring, risky moves. But at what cost? Should difficulty be outweighing execution? And how safe is it?
Having re-watched a lot of old routines recently while researching the blog I noticed that the 'perfect routines' of previous years would by no means be given the same execution scores if they were performed today. When I first started watching gymnastics in 1993, the top end gymnasts were expected to score round about 9.800 and even occasionally up into the 9.900s. With execution scores today often in the high 8.00s or low 9.00s even from the best gymnasts, does that mean that their performances are not as good as those we were seeing 20 years ago? Of course not. With the code being much stricter these days, every tiny wobble or step is penalised by as much as 0.3 or 0.5. Judges really are expecting perfection from the gymnasts and it is proving incredibly hard to achieve.
So if the girls are scoring less on execution it seems logical that they will try to counteract the low E scores by upping the difficulty. While it makes for spectacular viewing as we see increasingly impressive tumbles, dazzling vaults and dramatic routines, what is the cost for the gymnasts? Is it worth risking their safety in an attempt to improve their D score?
Over the past few years we have seen an ever increasing amount of gymnasts being injured through the sport. There is no way these injuries can be blamed on the lack of skill of the gymnasts or the lack of support from the coaches as these injuries are happening to some of the world's best gymnasts.
In the 2011 European Championships, reigning World Champion Aliya Mustafina tore her ACL while performing an Amanar vault in the all around competition. Later that year at the American Visa National Championships, Rebecca Bross dislocated her knee while vaulting a DTY. Then came Alicia Sacramone, who tore her achilles tendon while warming up during the 2011 World Championships. Only recently, at the 2012 Visa National Championships, McKayla Maroney suffered a fractured nose and concussion while training her 3 1/2 twist on the floor. And the list of injured gymnasts keeps growing. Last week we found out that Marine Brevet of France was having to withdraw due to a shoulder injury and earlier this week it was announced that Julie Crocket will be missing the Olympics due to a knee injury. Only today there are more rumours of injury regarding Russia's Anastasia Sidorova. Surely there has to be a way to make the sport safer? Is it worth the extra difficulty to have such a big risk of injury? Obviously to those gymnasts who want to be at the top it is a risk that they are prepared to take and even have to take if they are to make their mark on the sport.
It seems a shame that we do not seem to have the perfect balance yet in this of all sports. Although I enjoy seeing big skills performed, I would personally rather see a slightly less difficult routine that is wobble and fall free. I would rather be on the edge of my seat to see which gymnast is the best rather than which one will remain uninjured. As Bekah of 'Get A Grip Gym Blog' tweeted this morning: "Is it bad that I wake up everyday hopping on my computer saying "I really hope no one's injured." I'm waiting for it. Sometimes I hate gym."
Let us hope that the continuing trials and indeed the Olympics themselves remain injury free for everyone to enjoy.