Because There is No Such Thing as Perfect: Why the Perfect 10 is Perfectly Gone in Elite Gymnastics




“Wait? What happened to the perfect 10?”

This question will be on the lips of many a casual gymnastics fan, confused by the scoring system at the Olympics this week.

“What the heck does a 15.877 even mean?”

Well, aside from meaning that’s a really great score, the 15.877 (and all the other odd to three decimal places scores we have and will continue to see) are part of the evolution of the sport of gymnastics.

Once upon a time, there was the perfect 10. Gymnasts constructed routines to meet certain requirements and would have to put in a certain amount of difficulty to gain some “bonus” tenths that made their routine have a 10.0 start value. From there the judges would take away tenths for errors in execution.

But there was no incentive to go beyond making a routine have a value beyond 10.0 because there was no reward for doing so.

This “closed” system of scoring meant that innovation was not rewarded. Pushing yourself to try new and harder skills and combinations was only relevant when the governing body of the sport changed rules or requirements every four years.

The new system is complicated. (For a complete explanation of the new system, click here). In sum, there are three panels of judges.   One panel of six judges arrives at the Difficulty score (or “D” score).   The second panel of two judges arrives at the Execution score (or the “E” score), and there is a third panel called the reference panel who correct the E score should there be a mistake. The “D” and the “E” scores are added together and averaged and then any neutral deductions (going out of bounds or overtime on floor or balance beam) are subtracted from that total to arrive at the final score.

The new system demands innovation. In fact, it is probably no accident that in the women’s program 11 new skills were introduced and asked for inclusion into the Code of Points (the international rule book for the sport of gymnastics) this Olympics.

The new system still demands a superb level of execution.  In fact, falls which were a .8 deduction in the past now command a full point off!

So while the new system challenges us to understand the math and deal with decimals to the third place, it also challenges the athletes to challenge themselves.

And isn’t that what sports is supposed to do?