Olympics: Gymnastics scoring, explained; how Simone Biles pushes limit

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A breakdown of gymnastics scoring in Tokyo Olympics and how Simone Biles is pushing the limits

Gymnastics is always a favorite sport during the Olympics, and that’s sure to the case once again when the Tokyo Games kick off July 24. And there’s plenty to be excited about with both the women’s and men’s gymnastics teams.

You can’t talk about gymnastics without mentioning the greatest gymnast of all-time, Simone Biles, who is once again the favorite to take home gold in nearly every event — team, all-around, event finals, you name it. The women’s team — favorites to win gold in team competition — also features uneven bars superstar Suni Lee and the consistent Jordan Chiles, who are favorites to also contend for medals.

The men’s gymnastics team is led by all-around winner Brody Malone, runner-up Yul Moldauer and Rio Games veteran Sam Mikulak. The U.S. men’s gymnastics team has finished in fifth place in the previous two summer games, and they’ll have to best favorites China, Japan and Russia to contend for a team medal.

There’s a lot that goes into determining a gymnast’s score and whether they win that elusive medal. As a refresher before the games begin, let’s review how scoring breaks down in gymnastics and how Biles continues to push the limits.

The Basics

Yul Moldauer (Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports)

The women perform on four apparatuses: beam, vault, uneven bars and floor exercise.

The men perform on eight different apparatuses: rings, vault, pommel horse, horizontal bar, parallel bars and floor exercise.

A gymnast’s total score is calculated by combining the difficulty score and execution score. The gymnast with the highest combined score from all events wins the all-around.

Difficulty Score

Suni Lee (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Difficulty Score includes difficulty, connection value and element requirements. The Difficulty Score is based on each performed move, which earns between 0.1 and 1.0 points for each.

For the women, the top eight moves are counted, while the top 10 moves are counted for the men, which gives them their final Difficulty Score. The dismount is included.

Elements must be performed as described in order to receive the difficulty value and can only do so once in a routine. Each skill’s difficulty value is outlined in the Code of Points.

Connection values are given when gymnasts execute specific skills successfully in succession. For the women, they can earn connection values for beam, uneven bars and floor exercise. For the men, they can earn them for rings, horizontal bar and floor exercise. For both, each connection value is worth 0.1, 0.2 or 0.3 points.

There are certain element group requirements, or basic skills, that should be featured in a routine that varies by apparatus. If all are included, gymnasts can receive a maximum of 2.5 points.

Vault is the only apparatus that has a predetermined Difficulty Score.

Execution Score

Brody Malone (Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports)

The Execution Score includes execution, artistry, composition and technique. Every gymnast starts with a 10.0 score and then points are deducted for any errors and faults.

Each judge determines his/her own score. Then, the highest and lowest scores are dropped, and the gymnast’s Execution Score is determined by the average of the remaining four judges’ scores.

Deductions for errors range from 0.1 point to 0.8 point for a fall. Neutral errors include stepping out of bounds or violating time requirements. Inquiries, or verbal challenge of a routine’s score, are not allowed on the Execution Score.

Total Score

Jordan Chiles (Grace Hollars-USA TODAY Sports)

A gymnast’s total score includes both the Difficulty Score (difficulty, connection value and element requirements) and the Execution Score (execution, artistry, composition and technique). Scores no longer have a maximum value of 10.

Any errors, which include time violations, stepping out of bounds, behavior faults or falls, are penalized using neutral deductions. If a gymnast falls, it’s an automatic 1.0 deduction.

How Simone Biles is pushing the limits

Simone Biles (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

There’s no doubt that Simone Biles is the GOAT of gymnastics as she continues to push the limits when it comes to challenging skills that others could only dream of landing.

Back in 2019, the International Gymnastics Federation didn’t give Biles the full value of her double-twisting, double somersault dismount off beam because they didn’t want other gymnasts trying skills they’re not capable of doing. Basically, she was penalized for being better than everyone else, which is ridiculous.

“They keep asking us to do more difficulty and to give more artistry, give more harder skills,” Biles said, via USA Today Sports. “So we do, and then they don’t credit it, and I don’t think that’s fair.”

While Biles already has several moves named after her — including that double-double dismount and the triple-twisting, double somersault on floor exercise — she continues to do things that just don’t seem physically possible.

Back in May, Biles made history at the U.S. Classic when she landed a Yurchenko double pike for the first time in competition — a vault no woman has ever competed. While she didn’t attempt the vault during U.S. Championships or Olympic trials, she’s expected to bring it back during the Olympics later this month.

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