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Guide to Gymnastics

(This was originally part of a Pretty Tough series about the Summer Olympics. A Cliff Notes of sorts for all the events, athletes and trivia you need to know while watching the London Games.)



One of the various pieces of equipment used during gymnastics competitions.

A pose on one leg with the other leg extended behind the body. The rest of the body is lowered from the hips to form a graceful curve. Landing a skill in an Arabesque requires a great deal of control.

Back handspring
A move in which a gymnast takes off from one or two feet, jumps backward onto the hands and pushes from the shoulders to land on the feet. Also known as a “flic-flac” or “flip-flop.”

Bonus points
Points or tenths of points awarded to gymnasts who incorporate difficult skills and/or combinations of skills into their routines. All else being equal, bonus points and lack of errors are what separate champions.

Code of points
The catalog of criteria by which judges evaluate gymnasts’ routines in major international competitions, including World Championships and the Olympics. Separate codes for men and women are updated by International Federation of Gymnastics (F.I.G.) technical committees every four years.

D-Score (difficulty score)
The degree of difficulty contained in the routine. For vaults, the D-score is predetermined depending on which type of vault the gymnast performs. For all other gymnastics routines, the D-score is determined by the judges during the routine and is finalized at the end, based on the difficulty of the elements presented.

Points or parts of points taken off a gymnast’s score for errors. Most deductions are pre-determined, such as a 0.8 point deduction for a fall from an apparatus or a 0.1 point deduction for stepping out of bounds on floor.

E-Score (execution score)
Each routine starts with a maximum E-score of ten points, with execution errors subtracted during the routine.

A single move that has a recognized way of performance and technical value.

Federation Internationale Gymnastique, the international governing body of gymnastics.

A move from a position below the bar of an apparatus to a position above it; seen on the uneven bars, parallel bars and high bar.

Neutral deductions
Deductions that are not part of a gymnasts’ A- or B- score, and are made after the gymnasts’ total score is calculated. For example, an out-of-bounds deduction is a neutral deduction.

Pike position
Position in which the upper body comes close to the legs that are kept straight. The elements performed in this position are more difficult than the ones in tuck position.

A strength hold in which the gymnast’s hands provide a base of support and the body is held straight and parallel to the ground. Seen on beam, floor, rings and parallel bars.

A flip or somersault where a gymnast rotates around the axis of the hips

Completing a landing without taking any steps. “Sticking a landing” is every gymnast’s hope at the end of a routine and can be very difficult, depending on the difficulty of the dismount.

A position where knees and hips are bent and drawn into the chest, with the body folded at the waist. When the body is in this position it turns more easily for somersaults, and other acrobatic elements.


There are a total of 14 medal events, which includes the team and individual competitions for both the men and women with 196 athletes. The men’s individual apparatus are floor, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars and horizontal bar. The women compete in the vault, uneven bars.

Teams use four of their five members on each apparatus, with the top three scores counting toward a team’s score for the apparatus. The same four athletes do not have to be used on all apparatus.

Gymnasts perform one routine on each apparatus on which they compete during the qualification round. The exception is vault, where anyone attempting to qualify for the vault final performs two different vaults. (If the athlete chooses to do two vaults, the score from the first vault counts toward the team and all-around qualification and the average of the two vaults counts toward qualifying to the vault event final.)

Any athlete attempting to qualify for the all-around must perform on each apparatus (four for women, six for men). If a gymnast’s final score is among the top 24, he or she qualifies for the all-around final, unless two teammates are higher ranked.

Who to watch

At the Beijing Games Shawn Johnson captured four medals for the Americans, but she announced her retirement from competitive gymnastics, partly due to a knee injury, shortly before the London Games. Nastia Liukin had five medals in Beijing, but she won’t be going to London to compete this time around after struggling at the U.S. trials.

Instead, the focus will be on teenagers Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Kyla Ross, who at the age of 15 is the youngest member of the team.

Jordyn Wieber won every major event she entered in her senior debut season, including the world all-around title. She also won the all-around gold at this year’s Pacific Rim Championships and at the Visa Championships. She thrives on floor exercise and has a chance to give the U.S. its first Olympic gold in that category.

Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win a gold medal in gymnastics when she took the all-round title at the London Games.

Olympic rivalry?

Russia figures to test the U.S. women with a team that includes 2011 world floor champion Ksenia Afanasyeva and 2010 world all- around winner Aliya Mustafina.

Teams from Romania, China and Japan should make a run at team gold. China, which won the team gold four years ago, has returning Olympian Deng Linlin. He Kexin, who won gold on uneven bars in Beijing, is also expected to be part a Chinese squad that won 14 medals in its home country, including nine gold.

Who’s the gold medal favorite?

After grabbing eight medals in Beijing, the U.S. women are primed to win more in gymnastics at the London Olympics

Who to follow on twitter…


Olympic Gymnastics Fact

A code of points system was introduced in 2005 to replace the old scoring system for all events. The Perfect 10 as a maximum score was abolished in favor of an open-ended system, designed to allow greater separation of gymnasts’ scores.

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