Olympic Gymnastics: Women's Gymnastics Rules & Judging

Simone Biles of the United States competes during the Women's Floor Final at Rio Olympic Arena on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Simone Biles of the United States competes during the Women's Floor Final at Rio Olympic Arena on August 16, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Ian MacNicol / Getty Images

Even with its complicated scoring system, gymnastics is a great spectator sport. Here’s the lowdown to help you enjoy watching it.

Scoring

The Perfect 10. Women’s gymnastics used to be well-known for its top score: the 10.0. First achieved in the Olympics by gymnastics legend Nadia Comaneci, the 10.0 marked a perfect routine.

A New System. In 2005, however, gymnastics officials did a complete overhaul of the Code of Points.

Today, the difficulty of the routine and the execution (how well the skills are performed) are combined to create the final score:

  • The difficulty (“D”) score starts at 0.0 and increases with every difficult skill performed.
  • The execution (“E”) score begins at a 10.0, and the judges deduct for errors in performance such as a fall off the beam or a step on the landing of a dismount.

In this new system, there is theoretically no limit to the score a gymnast can achieve. The top performances right now are receiving scores in the 15s, though it varies a bit from event to event, with vault typically scoring the highest. A 16 is an exceptional score.

This new scoring system is considered controversial by many who felt the perfect 10.0 was an integral part of the sport. Others in the gymnastics community have expressed concern that the difficulty score is weighed too heavily in the final score, and therefore gymnasts are attempting skills that they can’t always complete safely.

Judge for Yourself

Despite the intricacies of the Code of Points, it’s easy to distinguish great routines from good ones without knowing every nuance and skill value. When watching a routine, be sure to look for:

  • Good Form and Execution: Even when performing difficult skills, a gymnast should always look in control, and when performed at its best, each skill should look effortless. Good form in gymnastics includes pointed toes, straight arms and legs, and a tightness throughout the body. Every movement should look planned.
  • Height and Distance: In flips, jumps, leaps, and other skills, the gymnast should look as if she is exploding off the apparatus. In release moves on the uneven bars, the gymnast should be flying high above the bar, not simply skimming over it, and release moves should be caught with arms more straight than bent. (The gymnast's body or head should not come in close to the bar on catch). On vault, the distance a gymnast travels from the horse and the height she reaches above the horse is a factor in her final score.
  • A Stuck Landing: On vaulting, tumbling passes, and when dismounting the balance beam and uneven bars, the gymnast should end her routine with a “stuck landing” -- she should not move her feet once they hit the ground. In tumbling passes on floor, the gymnast used to be allowed to do a lunge back out of her final skill, but that is now a deduction. So you'll see gymnasts attempt to stick their tumbling passes -- or sometimes do a jump or dance move at the end to avoid having to stick.
  • Uniqueness of the Routine: A great gymnast will perform a routine that looks different from her competitors. It will have something special about it – risky tricks, an artistic flair, or skills that are simply unique from others performed in the competition.

    Read more on the basics of women's Olympic gymnastics

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    Deusen, Amy Van. "Olympic Gymnastics: Women's Gymnastics Rules & Judging." ThoughtCo, Apr. 6, 2017, thoughtco.com/womens-olympic-gymnastics-gymnastics-rules-1714900. Deusen, Amy Van. (2017, April 6). Olympic Gymnastics: Women's Gymnastics Rules & Judging. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/womens-olympic-gymnastics-gymnastics-rules-1714900 Deusen, Amy Van. "Olympic Gymnastics: Women's Gymnastics Rules & Judging." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/womens-olympic-gymnastics-gymnastics-rules-1714900 (accessed November 20, 2017).