Monday, August 23, 2004

Gymnastics: The new figure skating

Watching Olympic gymnastics has brought back a familiar feeling: disgust. As in figure skating at the Salt Lake City games, it is clear that the gymnastics judging system is fundamentally broken. But while the international skating union eventually dealt with its internal corruption and made amends to some of the affected athletes, the international gymnastics federation (FIG) is in denial.

American Paul Hamm won the men's all-around gold medal in gymnastics, but it was later discovered that the judges used an incorrect start value for South Korean Yang Tae-young's parallel bars routine. South Korea filed a protest, since the additional tenth of a point would have given Tae-young the gold. The FIG suspended the judges that made the error but refuses to change the standings of the competition or to recommend that a second gold medal be awarded (story). Quoth FIG spokesman Philippe Silacci, "This is the end of the discussion. There was a mistake, an analysis and sanctions." No, Philippe, this is not the end of the discussion, but the beginning. Your organization readily admits that its error cost an athlete the gold medal he deserved, yet it refuses to take the one appropriate action that could set things right. If fundamental issues of fairness have no place in the FIG, artistic gymnastics has no place in the Olympic games.

Canada has objected to the scoring in the men's vault finals after Canadian Kyle Shewfelt lost the bronze medal to Romanian Marian Dragulescu, who fell on his second vault. Dragulescu received a score of 9.325 on his vault, an impossibly high score given the automatic deductions required in the situation. The judges scores, which ranged from 9.1 to 9.5, also spanned too large of a range; when scores from the various judges are that disparate, another judge is supposed to confer with the judges to try to reduce the discrepancy. Canada raised the issue with the chairman of the men's technical committee (a Romanian), who dismissed the protest without consideration.

In the men's horizontal bar final, Russian Alexei Nemov managed a spectacular routine that wowed the audience. When his score of 9.725 was revealed (landing him behind two other competitors), the crowd booed and expressed their anger for several minutes. His mark was then raised to 9.762, a change which didn't affect his standing. This brings up several issues. First, judges should not be influenced by crowd reactions. Second, the current system of judging is out of touch with what constitutes a good routine. Calculating start values and assessing execution deductions clearly doesn't leave enough room for judges to rate performances on their artistic value as well.

Several remedies are necessary in order to restore gymnastics' credibility as a legitimate sport worthy of inclusion in the Olympics. 1) The judging errors need to be corrected, even if that means awarding additional medals. It is not sufficient, as suggested in this USA Today article, to sanction the judges yet not honour the athletes with the medals they've rightfully earned. 2) There should be mass resignations and/or firings at the FIG (and possibly the IOC). Anyone who thinks that judges' errors should not be corrected is a disgrace to gymnastics and has no business being associated with it at any level, much less the international level. 3) Gymnastics scoring should include an artistic component, possibly separate from technical merit. National biases aside, the crowd knows a good routine when they see one. It's a sad statement that the only people who can't recognize a good routine are the ones giving out the scores.


Blogger finou said...

Ok here's my two cents since I have watched a lot of skating and gymnastics growing up:
Skating scores have always been sorted of weird. However, gymnastics scores usually were pretty straight forward. This is why I'm confused about this olympics. In gymnastics, you get a max scored based on what you did and then the judges subtract based on the small things you messed up. The deductions are pretty well laid out and so scores shouldn't be more than 2 tenth apart from each other (if they are the judges are supposed to got over where they made the deductions.) The problem with scores since the last olympics is that they basically had to recenter them since people had gotten too good and there were too many 10s. Maybe the judges still don't know the new deductions very well?
First off, the Korean guy would not have gotten gold if he had been properly scored (as Tim Dagget pointed out last night). Since this thing started, I have been saying that it's _really_ strange because the coaches and stuff are supposed to protest a score right away. It happens that judges make mistakes and it happens that those get protested (usually one or two in a big competition like the olympics or worlds). However, the Korean delegation waited until the day after the competition to complain. That's really really strange. Everyone knows that you are supposed to protest right there and then. Here's what I think happened: the score the guy got was what they thought it should be (or even a little high in my opinion) for the routine he did. His start value should have been at a 10 instead of a 9.9 but he should have been deducted 2 tenths for an extra hold (you are only allowed 3, he did 4) so in the end he should have gotten a score that is 1 tenth less than what he actually got... If they had complained at the correct time, he might not have gotten a medal at all... It was only later that they thought "hey! if we complain about the start value maybe they'll give us a gold!" That's wrong! they shouldn't get squat. They dropped the ball by not complaining at the right time (it's like in football or something, you can't complain about a bad call from the ref after the game is over. You have to contest it at the time it was made). It's their own fault. In fact, the only person I see that has a right to complain about the Korean || bar score is the guy who came in 4th...
Second, the judging in the men's event finals was all screwey. I don't understand why. Maybe the judges really don't get the new judging system (although it's been in place for a while so I don't get why that would be the case). I agreee that the judges shouldn't be influenced by the crowd too... it's all very sad. Artistic stuff does get factored in a bit in the score. You get deductions for form breaks and bonus point for speed or particularly hard dance type elements. Anyway, I don't know what the judges were thinking on the men's competition but I basically disagreed with almost all of the event finals standings (I agree with most of the all around though and the women's stuff...)
Sigh... All very sad. I suppose they will try to "fix it" and just make it worse (like skating). Personally, I think the actual judging in gymnastics is ok; it's just the judges that need to actually apply the system correctly.

8/24/2004 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

As a non-gymnist, I don't think the things they delare most difficult are always the most impressive or interesting to watch. It seems pretty subjective to me. In any case, I'm glad I didn't train for so many years trying to win at the Olympics and then have have my success depend on the type or quality of judging done for sports like gynastics, figure skating, or diving.

8/24/2004 10:26:00 PM  
Blogger Vincent said...

I've also been pretty disappointed in the officials' job scoring boxing. The only judging that needs to be done is to indicate whether a punch hit, but the judges miss an amazing number of punches (and occasionally award points for phantom punches). In a couple matches I saw, the judges' errors seemed to be pretty blatantly biased against one of the two combatants.

8/25/2004 01:05:00 AM  
Blogger finou said...

The difficulty rating on stuff in gymnastics is based on how hard something is to do, not how good it looks really. That's why the audience shouldn't get to grade the routines :P Things like a triple pirouette on floor (where they do a three revolution spin on one foot) doesn't really look all that impressive but gets a bunch of bonus because it's really hard to do well. On the other hand some other tumbling thing which might look cooler to the audience really isn't as hard...
If the audience was the one determining scores gymnastics would just end up looking like the circus. (nothing wrong with that really except that well... it wouldn't be gymnastics anymore.)

8/25/2004 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Vincent said...

Fair enough. But surely Nemov's high bar routine, which included four release elements in a row and some really high, twisty release moves, was more difficult than some of the safer, more boring routines that scored higher.

8/25/2004 01:10:00 PM  
Blogger finou said...

I don't think anyone was complaining about Nemov start value (the difficulty thing). I think the judges somehow deducted a bunch more for lots of little things for no reason.

8/25/2004 02:10:00 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Perhaps there should be at least a large fraction of the score that is as formulaic as possible... The judges could have a bunch of buttons in front of them and key in their deductions and bonuses as they occur. Then if there was a disagreement between judges over whether something happened or not, it would be clear what the disagreement was and when it occured. A quick look at the instant replay from a few angles could be sufficient for most of the disagreements to be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. At least then, if there was a disagreement about scoring, we'd all know what the disagreement was over, rather than just feeling that the judge cheated our favorite athlete. And besides, it would make it much harder for judges to escape scruitiny when they knew everyone could see exactly what they deducted or rewarded.

8/27/2004 01:39:00 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

What's the point of doing gynmastics? Ok, as a young kid it may help your general fitness, hand-eye coordination, discipline, etc. But as far as I can tell, at some point it has to be because it's fun. If it's just for the athlete to get a kick out of it, then there's no point in going to the olympics. So the point of olympic gynastics is to be fun for the spectators. If the spectators want a routine to include lots of tumbling runs, then I see no reason why that shouldn't be rewarded in the scoring.

Of course, if all the athletes start doing the same "easy" tumbling runs, then the spectators will get bored by it. Then the athletes will have to distinguish themselves somehow. Maybe by jumping higher, maybe by doing an extra twist, maybe my doing it while waving little flags, maybe by doing it over a flaming hula-hoop. Granted deciding who wins the olympics by who comes up with a crazy twist to their tumbling run sounds a bit silly. But, personally, I'd rather see some interesting twists on old moves be rewarded by a gold medal than have it be decided by who stuck all their landings.

8/27/2004 01:47:00 AM  
Blogger finou said...

umm... what's the point of doing most olympic sports? you can't tell me most of them are there because they are entertaining to the audience the way you are describing chaging gymnastics. Gymnastics is more entertaining to watch for the average viewer than almost any other olympic sport (it gets the highest broadcast ratings). However, it's still a sport and therefore you should get rewarded for doing hard stuff not for entertaining people.

8/27/2004 03:37:00 PM  

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