Every four years or so, the NCAA makes more dramatic changes to the Code Modifications used to score Women's Gymnastics. These are called "Modifications" because they are tweaks to the underlying USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic Level 10 Code of Points. We've been anticipating these changes for some time, as the capability of the athletes and teams has begun to outstrip the rule book. At the same time, the NCAA (and the Coaches), want to avoid increasing the prevalence of injury and want to maintain and foster parity among teams across the country. In addition, there are still several open questions with respect to the current publication, and we'll look forward to the adjustments and clarifications as they are issued.
Here's a recap of the impact per event.
On vault, the big news is the fact that the Yurchenko layout full (a round-off onto the board, back handspring onto the table and a layout with a full twist) and Yurchenko layout-half have been devalued to start from a 9.95 (the "start value" or SV). A perfectly executed version of one of these two very popular vaults will now score a maximum of 9.95. This change allows a little bit of room at the top of the scoring range to reward more difficult vaults, such as the Yurchenko layout with 1 1/2 twists. Last season, we saw team vault totals as high as 49.825 points, which will be more difficult after this change.
Will this cause a rush of Yurchenko 1 1/2s and Yurchenko doubles? Perhaps in training, but probably not on the competitive floor. First off, since these vaults are only worth 0.05 more points, we're not going to see a bunch of gymnasts do a vault that are not prepared to land safely and consistently. The incentive to earn 0.05 is not worth a fall or even a large 0.2 step or body position landing error. However, if a gymnast can consistently land a tougher vault with a small hop or step, it may be worth to compete the more difficult vault. For some powerful gymnasts, controlling landings on a layout-full or layout-half can be just as challenging as doing a more difficult vault.
This more difficult vault (along with others) already earns a special 0.1 bonus in the USAG Level 10 code. This bonus "10.1" start value, which has been instituted for several season, has resulted in many more club gymnasts competing and training these vaults at the Level 10 level. As a result, some of the top L10 recruits are already competing and training these more difficult vaults.
The new change also may create some interest in competing other vaults that are still valued at a 10.0 start value. For example, here are some vaults that are rated at 10.0 and have been competed at the NCAA level in recent seasons:
- Front handspring pike-front half
- Tsukahara (cartwheel or half turn entry directly onto the table) layout full or layout half (or Phelps, 1/2 turn to Front Layout)
- Yurchenko or Tsukahara tuck 1 1/2
- Omelianchik (round-off half turn to front pike) and Podkapaeva (round-off half turn to front tuck/pike 1/2, including the Khorkina variant).
- Tuck or pike Luconi (round-off backhandspring with a full twist on, back tuck/pike off)
- Pike Ilg (front handpring onto board, front pike off)
- Handspring 2/1 twist
There are many additional, more difficult, vaults that are also rated to start at 10.0, but are less common.
This may lead to more variety in the vault lineup, a good thing for fans. However, some of these vaults are still very challenging to execute at a high level and to get scores of 9.9+. It is also difficult to pick up training of a new vault entry technique after years of training round-off entry vaults. Gymnasts who have been training a Yurchenko layout 1 1/2 might switch to a tuck 1 1/2 to give more margin to secure a consistent landing.
For weaker vaulters, the devaluing of these Yurchenko technique vaults effectively closes the gap in start value to some of their competitors. Thus, teams that are using vaults like the front handspring front-pike (9.9), front handpring front tuck-half twist (9.9), layout Yurchenko (9.8), Tsukahara tuck-full (9.9) and Yurchenko tuck-full (9.9) won't see as much of a scoring penalty for competing these vaults. In particular, a well-executed front handspring front pike may now be more likely to make a lineup, versus a poorly performed Yurchenko layout full. Likewise, a gymnast who is having body position or shape issues with a Yurchenko layout full may be able to do a tuck full with far fewer deductions.
In a potential oversight, the NCAA did not devalue the start value of three related vaults: the Yurchenko 1/2 off to front layout (Hristakieva), the Yurchenko pike full twist and the related Yurchenko 1/2 off to pike front 1/2 off. These three vaults are still rated at a 10.0 start value. As of 9/1/15, a proposal to change the value of certain vaults was tabled until June 2016. Thus, as it stands, the round-off on, half-off to front layout (Hristakaeva, aka Yurchenko 1/2 off to front layout) will be rated higher than the Yurchenko layout full. Although the landing on this vault is tricky and can result in some medium sized steps upon landing, some gymnasts who have previously competed this vault may consider switching to this vault as a temporary measure for this season. It is, however, possible that this will all change. Showing the proper technique on these vaults, in particular the early 1/2 turn, is not straightforward. Judges will have the ability to dock late turns on the 1/2 to front layout and this, along with the tricky landing, may discourage overuse of this particular vault.
The big change to uneven bars comes with the "Choice of elements not up to the level of the competitive level" compositional deduction applied at the NCAA level. This deduction is worth 0.1 points and outlines a minimize set of difficulty used in the routine. Last season, the rule could be met through a broad selection of pirouetting skills, releases, and top level skills. This year's modification shifts the emphasis to big releases and high level E skills, rather than combinations. Here's how the two "up to the level" deductions compare, with the differences in bold:
|*OLD* 2014 & 2015 Compositional Deduction||*NEW* 2016 & 2017 Compositional Deduction|
*A release sequence (mininmum C+C+D in any order or D+D)
*OR a prouetting sequence (minimum C+C+D in any order or D+D)
*OR a combination of a release and pirouette (minimum C+C+D in any order or D+D)
OR a dismount sequence (minimum C+C+D in any order or D+D)
OR minimum of two D releases
OR minimum of two E level skills
A D release plus a D or higher level dismount or C dismount in a bonus combination was also required
*Just one skill in the combinations has to contain a turn or release to fulfill the requirement
A single bar release with a minimum D value
OR a release move valued as an E
OR a minimum of two D releases
OR minimum of two E level skills
A D or higher level dismount or C dismount in a bonus combination is required, but a D level release is NOT.
There were so many differents ways the old 2014 & 2015 compositional deduction could be met, virtually every UB routine attempted in Division I or II avoided this deduction. The new code modifications keep two of the criteria and throw away the criteria that focused on combinations. Instead, the emphasis is now on releases and big E skills. A single bar release such as a Tkachev, Jaeger, Hindorff/Ray, Deltchev, Comaneci or Gienger will be able to meet the single bar D/E rule. Many gymnasts will simply qualify in this fashion. A little less commonly, an E level release transition like the Shaposhnikova 1/2 variants (Shaposhnikova 1/2, Maloney 1/2, Chow) or the Bharwaj (Pak full) can also meet "up to the level". Furthermore, the code modifications have Special Requirements that only requires the second release be a B level release if the first release is a D or higher.
The gymnast could also do two D releases, such as a Pak salto and an overshoot 1/2 turn to handstand, and avoid the deduction. Interestingly, a D level release is not even needed to avoid an "up to the level" deduction. It was required under the old code modifications. A gymnast with high level E skills such as a giant 1 1 /2 pirouette or Stalder Full plus a double layout or full-in dismount could avoid the deduction, while performing only two C-level releases. However, apart from the two circling skills listed (which have been upgraded for the NCAA from their JO code level), E level skills that are not releases have been extremely rare at the NCAA level. Examples of these skills include invert giants with full pirouettte on one arm and in-bar stalders (stoop position) with full turns. Thus, it's not likely we'll see too many of these E-skill centric routines with only C level releases.
So what type of routine will now incur an automatic 0.1 deduction? Well, there were a number of routines last season that included a single D release such as a overshoot to handstand, Pak salto or Shaposhnikova, in combination with various C and D skills and secondary B and C releases. For example, a giant-full to overshoot 1/2 to handstand was just one way the deduction was avoided. An even simpler constructed routine might have included a giant 1/2 to overshoot half to toe-on to handstand on low. Yet another gymnast might have done a clear (free) hip circle to handstand, giant 1/2 turn to Pak salto. In fact, at the National meet last season, at least two routines scored over 9.9 that will no longer be able to score that high under the new code modifications.
This new deduction will impact a number of teams with weaker bar lineups, especially those teams ranked 15 to 50+. As a result, teams will be required to take more risks on big release skills, which could lead to more counting falls and mistakes. This, in turn, could make competitions a bit more unpredictable. But any change you will see mostly likely will be small, as this deduction is only 0.1 points and most athletes already avoid it with a single release or two D releases.
The primary change on beam revolves around the Special Requirements, which are worth 0.2 points each. The first change has to deal with the acro series. The acro series must now finish on the beam. Last season, a series could be connected to the dismount, and receive a lower deduction for "not up to the competitive level" of 0.1. This has now been made a Special Requirement, and the deduction thus goes to 0.2.
The second change is focused on dismounts. Last season, a dismount had to be a C-level or a B preceded by and directly connected to a C+ skill (acro or dance). Now, a gymnast must either use a C dismount or use a B directly connected to a D acrobatic element. This means routines that combine a C level leap and a B dismount will not longer meet the dismount Special Requirement.
Neither of these changes should have a large impact. Most teams were already avoiding the acro series deduction (it is just a highe deduction this season) and C + B dismount combinations were rare.
The Code Modifications also drop the requirement to show two different "shapes" in the leap selection. These shapes included straight, sheep, wolf, split, cat, tuck, straddle, and ring. However, since a leap with 360 degree split is already a Special Requirement and a "straight" jump (a two footed hop) is rated an A, most gymnasts had no problems with this deduction unless there was a simple oversight. Thankfully, we may see the end of simple, solitary straight jumps in the middle of the exercise as a safe way to guarantee another leap shape or to replace a missed leap.
Floor is another event that could feel some moderate impacts, due to a strengthened emphasis on higher valued skills. Principally, the "Choice of Elements" compositional deduction, worth a flat 0.1, has been altered to include high level dance skills. Thus, although the standard is now a bit higher, the deduction can be avoided by gymnasts with high level D and E dance skills.
|*OLD* 2014 & 2015 "Choice of Acro Elements"||*NEW* 2016 & 2017 "Choice of Elements"|
One D salto or better
A Acro SERIES with a C salto or better
Acro dismount with a C (minimum) salto in bonus combination OR a D (minimum) Salto
One E valued element (acro or dance)
OR Two different D elements (one of which must be an acro element)
Acro SERIES with a C salto or better
Acro dismount with a C (minimum) salto in bonus combination OR a D (minimum) Salto
A single pass can be used to fulfill multiple needs in these compositional deductions. There is, however, still a compositional deduction that applies to routines with only two tumbling passes: A D salto is required plus a second pass with a minimum of a 0.2 connection bonus. In addition, all gymnasts must still fulfill the Special Requirements for the floor: an acro series with two saltos (same or different) or two directly connected saltos; a total of three different saltos; and a minimum of a C salto in the last series.
This new compositional deduction is worth 0.1 points. Some gymnasts on lower ranked squads may struggle with these new requirements, but the NCAA has given the athletes with less tumbling prowess the ability to satify the need with top level dance skills. In fact, a very strong dancer can now avoid this deduction and start from a 10.0 without even doing a "D" salto.
A strong dancer could avoid doing a D salto by performing a single E dance skill. However, before you get too upset, you'll first want to understand that E level dance skills are very rare, even on the elite level: a quadruple turn, a triple wolf turn, and a wolf jump with 2 twists (in NCAA/JO). Most likely, a quad turn is the only skill we'll see attempted, if at all.
E saltos include the double layout, full-in, pike full-in, triple twist, Arabian double front, double front and front double twist (for NCAA only). Check our "2015 Superlatives" list for some examples that were competed last season.
More than likely, most gymnasts will rely on one D salto (such as a double back tuck, double back pike, back layout 2 1/2 twist or Rudi) and a second D salto or a D dance skill to avoid getting this flat 0.1 deduction.
D level dance skills have also been somewhat rare at the NCAA level -- there has been less incentive to execute them in the past and a chance for deduction or loss of credit is relatively high. These dance skills include:
- Jumps and leaps with a 180 degree split/straddle and 1 1/2 twists
- Double pirouettes in wolf (on the floor, like Simone Biles) or with free legs held in Y (Memmel), at or above horizontal (90 degrees), or in/ending in attitude/scale
- Double illusion turns
- 2 1/2 twist to prone (Toussaint/Khorkina with an extra full twist)
- Jump triple turns
- Jump doubles with one leg held above horizontal (at > 90 degrees)
- Switch split leap full turn and switch ring leap with full turn
- Triple pirouettes
- Wolf hop or jump with a 1 1/2 turns (from one or two legs)
- Cat double leaps or tuck double jumps
The last three sets of dance skills have been the most commonly attempted in past seasons, along with the double pirouette with leg held above horizontal. We could see an increase in these attempts, especially from weaker tumblers. Because evaluation of these skills can be tricky and can vary from panel to panel, we may see some scoring variation based on how strictly these skills are credited.
Gymnasts using a D dance skill for their second D skill do run a higher risk of losing credit for their skill. While an error on a double back salto is clear, the de-valuation of a double turn with leg held at horizontal due to a dropped leg positionis less obvious to many fans. And yet, this de-valuation is not uncommon. In a similar vein, the dropping of a gymnast's heel during a turn or too early is a less obvious mistake but can cause a turn to lose credit. Many of the turning leaps can also be devalued, if the turn is short by 90 degrees or more. You may also recall that the NCAA has another 0.1 point Compositional Deduction that requires the use of Dance Bonus through connection or a D/E skill from Groups I/II. Thus, a gymnast that uses such a D dance skill to avoid both Compositional Deductions and for a 0.1 tenth bonus for the D itself could see her score drop by 0.3 points just because a dance skill did not receive D credit. More than likely, however, many gymnasts attempting a D or E dance skill will simply receive an execution deduction rather than losing the value of the skill.
This potentially increased emphasis on dance, especially with among teams with weaker tumbling, could increase scoring panel variation. It will require consistent evaluations by the judging panels, and careful attention to the starting and ending position of the feet during turns and leaps, and the position of the heel during turns. During past seasons, the consistent evaluation of these types of skills has been sometimes problematic.
In another change, routines seeking to get bonus from two directly connected B acro skills now must meet a higher standard: the two B skills must be different. This means the popular front layout-front layout combination will no longer earn bonus. Although gymnasts could still use this combination, this choice may expose her routine to a "insufficient distribution of the elements" deduction (flat 0.05 in the NCAA), as an entire pass and section of her routine could be devoid of any C+ skills or any bonus.
Similar to the balance beam, the compositional requirement to show multiple leap shapes has been removed. This likely will have little impact, except for increased creatively in choreography and the required dance passage.