Wednesday 8 August 2012

Wednesday Worries

Make It or Tie-break It

Amongst all the wonderful and memorable moments of the London 2012 gymnastics competition there will be some moments that are remembered for the wrong reason. Tie-breaks seem to have played a major and very controversial part in this year's Olympic competition. Much of the controversy seems to stem from the fact that very few people know about or understand the tie break rules. This is not only the case for the so-called 'four year fans' who only watch gymnastics during the Olympic Games but for many others besides - because the tie break rules do not exist in any competition other than the Olympics.

When I was looking through the scores for the various competitions I was amazed to find out just how much the tie-breaking rule was used in making important decisions throughout the Games. I found four instances throughout the women's competition and four in the men's. That means that although eight gymnasts benefited from the rule, eight gymnasts suffered as a result. I can only imagine how it must feel to be one of the gymnasts whose hopes were dashed by a rule that does not exist in any other gymnastics competition.

Some of the most crucial (and also most talked about) tie-breaks involved a tie for 3rd place in the finals. In the women's All Around Final Aliya Mustafina and Aly Raisman both scored 59.566 and were tied for third place, Aly Raisman and Catalina Ponor both scored 15.066 to tie for third in the beam final and in the floor final Aliya Mustafina and Vanessa Ferrari tied for third with a score of 14.900. With the tie break rules in effect, three of these girls missed out on a medal, leaving many people wondering about the fairness of the judging system. In the apparatus finals (beam and floor in this case) the decision is made based on the execution score (the score out of 10). If one gymnast has a higher execution score then the tie is broken in her favour. In the beam final, Aly had a difficulty score (D score) of 6.300 and an execution score (E score) of 8.766 to make up her total of 15.066 whereas Catalina had a difficulty score of 6.600 and an execution score of 8.466 to make up her 15.066 score. Because Aly's E score was higher than Catalina's, she won the tie and the Bronze medal and Catalina was left down in 4th. Similarly in the floor exercise Aliya had an execution score of 9.000 to Vanessa's 8.700 meaning that she took the Bronze medal and left Vanessa without. In the all around competition things are slightly different (but no less confusing). In the case of a tie in the all around, it is the sum of the three highest scores that breaks the tie. In this case, Aliya Mustafina's lowest score was a 13.633 (on beam) so that score was discounted and the sum of the other three apparatus scores gave her 45.933. For Aly Raisman, her lowest score was a 14.200 (also on beam) which was then dropped to give her a sum of 45.366 from the other three apparatus. Therefore Aliya's score of 45.933 beat Aly's score of 45.366 and Aliya took the Bronze leaving Aly without a medal at all. Confused? Exactly!

In the men's competition it was not a case of someone being left without a medal but there were two instances where the colour of the medal was decided by a tie-break. In the floor final both Kohei Uchimura and Denis Ablyazin scored 15.800. With it being an apparatus final the tie-break decision was made on the execution score. Kohei Uchimura had an E score of 9.100 and took the Silver medal whereas Denis Ablyazin's E score of 8.700 left him with the Bronze. In the pommel horse final it was the Gold medal at stake and the title of 2012 Olympic Pommel Horse Champion. Krisztian Berki and Louis Smith posted identical scores but it was Krisztian Berki's higher execution score of 9.166 that earned him the Gold medal and the Olympic title, and Louis Smith with an E score of 9.066 had to be content with the Silver.

Yet it was not just in the finals where the gymnasts' fate was determined by the tie-break rule. There are three instances of a tie-break being used to determine the last place in an apparatus final and therefore determining three gymnasts' chances of a medal. In the men's pommel horse qualification Max Whitlock and Mykola Kuksenkov both posted a score of 14.900 to be joint eighth qualifiers, but as only the top eight can qualify to the event finals a tie-break decision had to be made. In this case it was Max Whitlock who had the higher E score (8.500 as opposed to Mykola Kuksenkov's 8.400) and took the last place in the pommel horse final. In both the men's and the women's floor qualification there was a tie for the eighth and last spot in the floor final, but in both of these cases it was more complicated. For the women it was between Aliya Mustafina and Beth Tweddle. Aliya had a D score of 5.900 and an E score of 8.633 but had a penalty of 0.100 which gave her a total of 14.433. For Beth it was a D score of 5.800 and an E score of 8.633 that gave her the 14.433 total. In this case, as they both had the same E score it was Aliya's higher D score that broke the tie and gave her the last place in the final. It was the same thing in the men's floor qualification. Denis Ablyazin and Ryohei Kato had the same score and were tied for the last place in the final and again both had the same E score. Denis Ablyazin posted a D score of 6.900 and an E score of 8.833 but had a 0.300 penalty to score 15.433 and Ryohei Kato gained his 15.433 with a D score of 6.600 and an E score of 8.833. Denis Ablyazin's higher D score gave him the last place in the floor final. What I found really interesting is that all three of the gymnasts who won the tie-break and got a place in the finals won a medal on their respective apparatus. Max Whitlock took Bronze on the pommel horse, Aliya Mustafina took Bronze in the floor final and Denis Ablyazin took the Bronze medal in the men's floor final. What could Mykola Kuksenkov, Beth Tweddle and  Ryohei Kato have achieved if they had been given the chance?

Ironically, in the men's parallel bars final there were nine gymnasts competing not eight. Why? Because Hamilton Sabot and Zhang Chenglong both posted a score of 15.366 to tie for the eighth and final place in the parallel bars final, but because they posted identical D scores (6.500) and E scores (8.866) the tie could not be broken and both gymnasts got to compete in the final.

So should the tie-break rules stand? Or should the format for the Olympics be the same as every other major gymnastics competition (including the World Championships) where a tied score is just that - a tied score with no need for it to be broken? It is a question that I think will be asked time and time again over the next few months and years even before coming into the next Olympic Games. Personally, I believe that the rule should be abolished and a tied score should mean that two gymnasts can share a medal or that nine gymnasts can make a final. How about you?

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