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Stretching Out: Analyzing an Arbitrary Tie-break Procedure
(26 votes, average 2.46 out of 5)

The chalk has settled, gym enrollments are booming, and the Fierce Five — who are now Four, after McKayla Maroney suffered a broken leg — are touring the land and soaking up the love they earned with their Olympic success. So while the rest of the gymnastics world rejuvenates, here are a few thoughts on the past few months.


Those pesky tied results in London really threw a wrench into things, didn't they? Just think about how happy everyone would have been had they just let the scores stand. As we reported in our pre-Olympic issue of IG, ties were indeed possible in London.

"In the past, if we would have used all possibilities to break the tie, we could have ended up with a tie anyway, even at the Olympics," said Nellie Kim, FIG-WTC President. "It just did not happen because there were (so) many steps to break the tie. And now, with the new system (for London), there may be a tie."

The tie-breaker that bugged me the most was the one between Alexandra Raisman and Aliya Mustafina, who tied for third all-around with 59.566. At its very core, the all-around is a four-event test of a gymnast's abilities; a quadrathlon (for women), if you will. Irrefutably, the women's all-around is vault, bars, beam and floor. No ifs, ands or drop-the-lowest-score-and-add-the-remaining-three. The Olympic all-around final, the most important women's individual competition that exists, suddenly became the Arthur Gander Memorial.

By adding the top three scores of Mustafina and Raisman, the all-around bronze, or at least three-quarters of it, went to the former.

My argument concerning this result has nothing to do with comparing the relative virtues of the tied gymnasts. Personally, I prefer Mustafina's style of gymnastics but respect Raisman's competitive consistency. And there certainly are two ways to look at dropping the lowest score. Mustafina was actually rewarded for bombing beam worse than Raisman did. You could even say that she got the medal because she actually fell off an apparatus, even though Raisman beat Mustafina handily on three of four events.

But Mustafina supporters can say that she also earned the highest mark, a 16.10 on bars (which was only 0.20 higher than Raisman's vault score). Her 13.633 on beam, however, was significantly lower than any of Raisman's four scores. Pick your poison.

Since it was the all-around competition, the first "step" in the tie-breaking procedure should have been obvious: Use the qualification scores to break the tie. In Competition I, Raisman ranked second with 60.391, Mustafina fifth with 59.966. Case closed.

While that is not the perfect solution — what is? — it's much more fair than giving a gymnast a mulligan on one event. You might as well pick their names out of a hat. Imagine the resulting backlash had Raisman and Mustafina tied for the gold!

Blame the IOC for pressuring the FIG to avoid ties in London. The FIG honors tied results in world championships, which is how it should be.

"The issue of how to resolve "dead-heat" situations has long given rise to debate, but the FIG has taken a firm position and chosen to adhere to the principle of equal ranking," wrote Bruno Grandi in his September "Letter from the (FIG) President."


The 2011 world vault champion has had a string of bad luck, hasn't she? She leads the U.S. team in the dubious category of being carted out of an arena this year.

The first was at Visa championships in St. Louis, where she balked on a 3.5 twist and slammed onto her back. The second was last week during the Ontario, Calif., stop of the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions. She broke her left tibia on a layout flyaway off bars. How can anyone break their leg on a simple dismount like that? It's easy when you're performing in an unfamiliar setting with the strobe effects of laser lighting. I was surprised she was doing anything remotely challenging on bars in the first place, since it's her weak event. I would have kept it really simple — and definitely no dismounts. Who is advising this girl?

In between those two injuries, Maroney couldn't come up with the goods in the Olympic apparatus finals when she crashed her second vault. And that was under ideal lighting conditions. She had to have been the unhappiest silver medalist in London.

Back to the Kellogg's tour, Alexandra Raisman followed Maroney with her own leg(s) injury when she peeled off the same set of bars. Thank goodness they were not using a 3-up-3-count format. It looked like Raisman had to improvise on the low bar when she went the wrong way on a handstand, and was simply tired by the time she got to the Maloney. (And the bar workers had just finished a group dance number on floor.) She went for it but slipped off and landed on her belly. Her skidding knees missed the landing mat. Ouch. Fortunately, Raisman was not seriously injured.

Comments (8)add comment

Rachel T said:

Kellogg's Tour should be reworked.
You have brought up the same issue that I stated earlier as well . The format of these shows are quite boring, but more importantly the strobe lighting/ special effects make it questionably dangerous. I say have mini competitions such as when they did the Rock and Roll challenge or pairs competition. The venues could be well lit like any normal competition. But beyond that, as a competition (even if the routines were watered down and they used their imaginations), the results could potentially be different at each show. So if there are really big fans, they could watch the show in potential two cities with a different outcome. Gymnastic fans love the excitement of competition, not the cheesy lights and funny synchronized choreography. I'm a huge fan and went to one of these shows before and I was left disappointed and bored.
September 21, 2012
Votes: +19

Alex Liang said:

Bad lighting is so dangerous
Maroney's broken leg was an accident waiting to happen - as a retired gymnast who has used my skills to perform for music videos, ads, TV, film etc, I have had to contend with performing under very poor lighting conditions for years and you need to see the ground when trying to spot your landing. Under such poor lighting conditions, you can easily misjudge the distance to the ground and have a bad landing. I have seen so many accidents over the years as a result of poor lighting and I'm surprised that USA gymnastics would subject their Olympic team to such conditions and risk an accident - why? To make money?

It's silly - the same kind of gala performance can be just as entertaining with great gymnastics without the terrible lighting conditions. Health & safety should be your primary consideration - someone just has to put his/her foot down and say, "I am not letting my gymnasts risk dangerous injuries, they are not performing under such conditions."
September 22, 2012
Votes: +0

brian bias said:

The floor bronze bothered me just as much as the all-around one. Mustafina's triple really is ugly enough to merit a .3-.5 deduction in my opinion. Her prelim performance was pretty much the same routine (landings, form, etc.) and she received a score nearly half a point lower. Her Memmel turn also technically shouldn't have been counted. I've said this before but I'll say it again, it's artistic not balletic gymnastics. If the international judges prefer that style then they need to change the name of the sport. Dance has many forms (tribal, tap, modern, etc) but for some reason ballet is always rewarded more and is really less creative to the others in comparison. Mustafina really is a great gymnast but I felt the judges really cut her a lot more slack in London than many of the other competitors. The only other gymnast that I felt was less criticized was Ponor. I didn't appreciate seeing her in the finals considering the judges pretty much did everything in their power to make sure she made it through to them in prelims. I just don't understand how everyone can nit-pick Aly's form and then think Mustafina and Ponor are just flawless in their execution. You have to be legally blind to not consider their twisting skills anything less than ugly.
September 22, 2012
Votes: +2

Anon said:

You're missing the point
You are missing the point. These shows are not intended for "serious fans," nor are they necessarily designed for adults. They are intended for young children, just as many of the ice skating shows are. It may be boring to you, but not to the demographic that these shows are targeting. In addition, these gymnasts have been competing non-stop since, what, April?? The last thing they want to do is be in "competition mode" again, even if it's just for fun. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure all this out.
September 23, 2012
Votes: +0

Nadia Garner said:

Gymnastic show at the Olympics
The gymnastic show which they for at short time (1996-2004)used to have at the Olympics was just as boring. Was it in 2004 that the males looked like they had a huge hang-over?? And hardly could do a single flip.
I have been to some shows here in Denmark and here they gymnasts gave us some fun and showed what they could do. Not all that light show and irritating comments from a speaker.
September 24, 2012
Votes: +1

JAM said:

Writing Style.
Dear Dwight,

Maybe it is only me but I feel your writing style is difficult to read sometimes. I've read your texts for years and I have always enjoyed them but this post in particular was quite difficult for me to read because of the use of slang. I'm not an english language native and I'm sure many readers are not as well.

Using pahrases such as:

"Those pesky tied results in London really threw a wrench into things, didn't they?"


"No ifs, ands or drop-the-lowest-score-and-add-the-remaining-three. The Olympic all-around final, the most important women's individual competition that exists, suddenly became the Arthur Gander Memorial."

They resulted difficult for me to understand and I hope my remarks will help you in some way.

September 24, 2012
Votes: +2

Rachel T said:

I do agree with Brian Bias regarding triple twist
I agree with Brian Bias on one point regarding his post earlier about the form of the triple twists of some of the gymnasts. Let me preface that I really do love Mustafina and Ponor, but I do have to agree that their triple twists were not as well done as Raisman's or Ksenia A. I encourage everyone that disagrees to rewatch the floor event finals and pay particular attention to the triple twists of all the above mentioned gymnasts. Mustafina and Ponor are exceptional in so many ways, but I have to admit I was a bit taken back when I watched their triple twists and was surprised how a bit sloppy in the air they were in terms of form. That's why i think it is a crime that the gymnastics federation got rid of compulsories as you could clearly see many differences in the gymnasts. With that said, I believe Mustafina is an exceptional dancer and Ponor impressed me with her comeback. On a side note, I was sad to see Ksenia A. Make the mistakes on her event final floor routine because I truly believe she has one of the best floor routines in the world when it is executed correctly. I think she has always had some of the best choreography and is the best overall dancer.
September 24, 2012
Votes: +3

maxie j said:

Execution Tiebreaker
Its funny to me that you think the only reasonable tie breaker should be the qual scores particularly when FIG stopped using the 2 day format for decades unlike the USAG. The most fair tie breaker to me following other FIG competition rules would have been the sum of the execution scores in which case Aliya still would have won even with a fall. Maybe that's why you didnt want to mention it because as much as you claim to prefer Aliya's style of gymnastics its obvious you would have been okay with the outcome if Aly had won the tiebreaker.
August 25, 2013
Votes: +0

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