3-up-3-count ruleThere has been a lot of debate about various rules within gymnastics since the Olympics and today I want to turn my thoughts to the '3-up-3-count' rule. This rule basically means that in the team final, three gymnasts compete on each apparatus and all three scores count towards the team total. This rule has now been in place for three Olympic cycles, starting in Athens 2004. Previously the format was the same as it is nowadays in qualification, being that each team can drop their lowest score on each apparatus. The last time this was the case in a team final was in Sydney 2000 when five gymnasts competed on each apparatus and only the top four counted towards the team total.
There seems to be much debate about why the rule was introduced but nobody quite seems to know for sure. The theories include a shorter, more dynamic final to benefit broadcasters and viewers, more teams in the final due to the shorter format, allowing other nations to compete for the medals and the scoring being less complicated for viewers. It is certainly true that the team final has a good dynamic and it is great that eight teams now get to compete, it is nice to see more gymnasts than just the same top nations each time. I can also imagine that those who only watch gymnastics at the Olympics for example would find it easier to understand that if a gymnast falls the overall team score will be lower. It has also been known to favour the less dominant teams, for example in the 2010 European Championships Great Britain took the Silver medal ahead of Romania who had to count two falls on beam.
It remains however that the top four nations are still pretty much unbeatable. You have to go back to before the introduction of the 3-up-3-count rule to find a team outside of the top four that medalled at a World event. Also, is the fact that the team finals are now shorter necessarily a good thing? We are treated to very little world gymnastics throughout the course of the year and I personally feel that the more gymnasts we get to see, the better! Not only that, it gives some of the lower ranked gymnasts in the teams more of a chance to compete and make their mark on the sport and for their team. It would also relieve a lot of pressure on the gymnasts. I know that there are people who say that the nature of a competition is about pressure and performance, but we have to remember that many of these girls who are competing are still incredibly young to have the pressure of their whole nation on their shoulders. Who can forget Alicia Sacramone in Beijing 2008, falling on beam and then on floor and feeling that she was to blame for losing her country the Gold medal? There are many people who believe that USA was indeed the best team in 2008 and surely the very nature of a team competition should be that it is not won or lost by an individual gymnast. I find it hard to comprehend the pressure that these young gymnasts must be under. For many it is simply the beginning of a very long competition with many more finals to come. Having to carry the fact that you have cost your team vital marks in the first final of the competition must make the rest of the finals so much harder. Then there are those who are on the team as specialists, imagine the pressure of being brought to the Olympics to perform one apparatus only and making a mistake. That must be pretty hard to recover from.
I personally would love to see the format of four gymnasts competing and the top three scores counting towards the team total. I find it hard to believe that this would discourage people from watching whether from the length of time or possible confusion with scores. I also feel that we would see a much better quality of gymnastics, not just that we would see more gymnasts performing but that they would really be able to give their all during each routine. Now that would be worth watching!