This Olympiad, my benevolent overlords at Slate have been kind enough to allow me to write a few articles about my favorite sport, artistic gymnastics. I was a middling-to-bad competitive gymnast from 1987-1992 (and a noncompetitive dabbler for 5 years before that), and what I lacked in talent and body composition (me=about 5 inches too tall and 40 pounds too heavy), I made up for in enthusiasm for the greats of the elite level, which at the time meant the Soviet Union (later the “Unified Team”) and a few perm-coiffed Romanians. The Soviet machine just seemed unstoppable at the height of my competitive days (1988, 1992), and the scrambling Americans were lucky to get a bronze medal or a modest fourth-place finish here and there. Oh, how times have changed. Now we’re the Soviet Union, for one, and it’s a way different sport. One of the things that’s different is the scoring system at the elite level. As my Slate colleague Dvora Meyers has written about in detail in her very good new book (which I gave a very good review, because it is very good), gone is the “Perfect 10,” and in its place a two-part score that even diehard fans such as myself have to have crib notes to understand. This system has been around for 12 years, but it still makes no sense to a lot of people.
Even more complicated is that WITHIN this two-part score there is STILL A PERFECT 10 possibility, but now the deductions are so aggressive that no gymnast will ever get it. What do I mean? Here’s what I mean.
All elite gymnasts now get two scores on every routine:
The “E-Score” is the execution score, and that’s where the old 10 is hiding. One panel of judges is solely devoted to deductions, and holy shit do they find them, even when normals such as myself cannot. (McKayla Maroney’s famous vault in 2012, for example, had a small deduction in it, and to this day I don’t know what it was. Not the one she biffed, obviously. That’s not what I mean. Come on. Anyway.) These days, the E-score of top elites is regularly in the 8s, and sometimes even the 7s. BUT sometimes that doesn’t even matter that much, because…
The second part of the score is the “D-Score,” which is NOT as dirty as it sounds, pervs. It stands for “difficulty score,” and it’s open-ended. It’s calculated by adding up the “start value” of every skill the gymnast completes or attempts; if she lands on her feet (or catches the bar), it counts, even if she biffs afterwards. That’s how, for example, Her Greatness Simone Biles could potentially still win the All-Around the other day even if she’d biffed one of her tumbling runs, which she would never have done, because she’s Simone Fucking Biles and she doesn’t biff, but anyway. What I mean is that her first two passes–a laid-out full-out and a “Biles,” aka a laid-out half-out–are worth so much that as long as she stands them up (or stands them up before sitting them down), her routine will get a big-assed score.
OK, so now that that all makes PERFECT SENSE, let’s ask the judges what they thought of my sojourn into Sportsball Journalism so far.
- D-score: A pretty obvious pitch (that I thought of my obvious self) for anyone familiar with gymnastics (Laurie has been a favorite since she burst onto the junior scene a few years back), and I had about three days to research and write it. The Yurchenko Full of article difficulty. 4.5 out of infinity.
- E-score: I MISUSED A WORD in my LEDE like a FUCKING DUMBASS. I know that “forswear” doesn’t mean what I thought it meant. But you know what? Everyone makes mistakes, and 12,500 people still thought fit to share Laurie’s kickassery with their Facebook friends, so everyone else is just as word-impaired as yours truly. 0.5 deduction (equivalent to a “major balance check” or a large step). Otherwise, clean execution, especially the burn on the Russians and the re-emergence of the word “biff” from the 90s (a continuing goal of mine, in case you were wondering about this blog’s intro). A solid 8.8 out of 10.
- TOTAL: 13.3. Aliya Mustafina on one of her less-good events. I’ll take it.
- D-score: How to execute this snarky “hot take” with substance AND finesse, whilst also being intellectual and feminist and picking on the appearances of teenage girls? The tightrope I had to walk to make this piece work was considerably narrower than a balance beam, and at times designed, as Kafka would say, to trip me rather than let me walk on it. (I pitched this, by the way, so I did it to myself). I had a big assist from Lauren at the Gymternet, too, who seriously wrote the blog-book on the history of gymnastics hair. I also had half a day to research and write this, and it involved quite a bit of investigation. Like Sanne Wevers’ beam routine full of incredible pirouettes, this piece was a lot harder than it looked. 5.0 out of forever.
- E-score: No major breaks, plus some pretty solid thought about feminine performativity, and OK descriptors of fads in gymnastics hair past and present: Mall Bangs Apocalypse (1988), the Hung-Over Tri-Delt (2012) and the Britney-in-2007 (2016). A solid 9.1 out of 10.
- TOTAL: 14.1. The US wouldn’t have to count it in the team All-Around, but the teams battling out for silver and bronze might.
- D-score: Because of SoundHound and Shazam, I could identify the artists featured in all the floor music I used, so that was basically like doing research with a spotting belt on. HOWEVER, I was assigned this piece with less than 24 hours to write it, and my kid was being fucking bananas about her naps, and my husband was super grumpy about me getting swallowed up by Slate gymnastics coverage. It was stressful as fuck, despite the app assist. 5.8, bitches.
- E-score: I biffed my first draft by somehow not noticing that Brazilian Rebeca Andrade had placed fourth in qualifying! FULL POINT FALL! Out of bounds! Only somewhat redeemed by a stellar Jon Bon Jovi digression. 7.5. Alas.
- Total: 13.3. Like an Aly Raisman beam routine with two falls that would never happen.
- D-score: assigned, researched, written, filed and posted all while my daughter cleaved onto my person, within the span of half a day. 6.5. The 2012 Amanar, assholes.
- E-score. As clean as a Kohei high bar routine, albeit with emotive volatility in place of elegant lines. A solid 9.0.
- Total: 15.5!!!!!! Medal contender!?! Or just scoring inflation? I’ll never know. But it did break the commenting system, with the “Top Comment” just saying, “I enjoyed this article. Thanks Rebecca.” I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE WORLD ANYMORE.
All-Around: a respectable 55.6...I think? I added in my head while typing this post one-handed and nursing my sadistic child who refused to nap all day and then decided to crash at 7:30, which means she’ll be up till 1. But with this one and sleep, it’s like trying to reason with a hurricane. I wouldn’t do that, so why would I beat myself up time after time for failing to schedule an un-schedulable child!?!
Anyway, a solid Dutch/Swiss/German-level effort, which I guess is fitting. Not sure if I have more in me for event finals or rhythmic gymnastics, or if I will just try to snag a few low-level endorsements and quietly retire.