McKayla Maroney, always cool under pressure and a rock in her performance, had a rough time in the Olympic vault final this evening. Maroney opened with one of her weaker Amanars (incurring three-tenths in penalties) followed by a Mustafina (roundoff, half-on, full twist off), which, to the shock of the world, she sat down.
If you were wondering, she’s competed on vault thirty-three times since her elite debut. Prior to the Olympic vault final, a sat Amanar at the 2009 Visa Championships was the only other faux pas in her entire elite career.
Maroney still earned silver, however, because mathematically her vault difficulty is so high as a whole, a point off for a fall doesn’t make a huge difference in her average of the two…and therefore, in her placement on the podium. Romania’s Sandra Izbasa, in comparison, hit two incredibly solid vaults for the gold, though her average score was only about a tenth higher than Maroney’s.
Even had Izbasa scored lower, I personally think she deserved the gold because who wants to see a major error earn the top place on the Olympic podium while the silver medalist competed two phenomenal vaults? We see it all the time in the All Around, but realistically there are so few athletes who can challenge for those 60+ scores, a sub-par performance – like Mustafina falling from beam on Thursday – can be made up with strong execution elsewhere.
But no one wants to see falls rewarded in an event final. Especially on vault, where gym fans were up in arms over Yamilet Peña Abreu making finals despite sitting her Produnova (handspring double front) in qualifications. After getting a zero in competition in the past, she and her coach seem to have discovered the loophole in the system – making sure the soles of your feet touch the mat before your butt or knees. Both in qualifications and event finals, she was deducted for her fall but was not taken out of the running completely, leaving fans griping over a system that rewards attempting high difficulty but punishes easier clean vaults.
Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of something like this? It’s not the athlete’s fault. Just look at the countless U.S. athletes attempting Amanars not to be competitive throughout the world but to be competitive on U.S. soil alone.
Kyla Ross, for example, wanted so badly to contribute as an All Arounder at the Olympic Games (I asked her at Nationals on which events she’d best help Team USA and she responded “on bars and beam!…and vault…and floor!”) but after an insane growth spurt this past year, could no longer pull her Amanar together. In training, she’d usually take steps out to the side, actually over-rotating at times in order to ensure getting it all the way around. The same would happen in competition, and she’d often need to step off the mat just to stand it up. Martha Karolyi asked her to compete the DTY at Nationals, a vault Ross could stick while blindfolded. But she wanted those extra seven tenths of difficulty, began training Amanars again leading up to Trials, and then a sat Amanar on night one effectively decided her place among the stronger vaulters of Team USA.
Why risk it in the first place? A 6.5 start value means that even with major errors, athletes could score higher than with a strong DTY. Viktoria Komova, for example, got a 15.466 for taking four large steps off the mat in the Olympic AA Final while teammate Aliya Mustafina was given only a 15.233 for a gorgeous stuck DTY. In a sport where medals can be decided by hundredths of a point, isn’t it worth the risk for those extra two or three tenths? We can’t fault the athletes for trying to squeeze out as many tenths as possible, even if it means attempting vaults they can’t always realistically do.
Granted, Maroney’s one of only a handful of athletes who can actually compete the difficulty she’s attempting. Her errant Mustafina vault on Sunday was a fluke. As she planted her butt on the ground, her brows furrowed and her mouth opened into an “O”; you could see the absolute confusion on the face of this girl who is unarguably the best vaulter in the world, the girl who was essentially “guaranteed gold” unless she crashed. It’s unfortunate that she did crash; like Wieber, she experienced her only real bit of bad luck on the day it counted most…if you can call a silver medal with a fall “bad luck.”
The proposed 2013-2016 Code of Points attempts to combat rewarding higher difficulty by both downgrading the Amanar by two tenths (from a 6.5 start value to 6.3) and by changing the math in determining how both add up so that it focuses on execution, not difficulty. Instead of averaging the two to total scores, the deductions from both vaults are taken from a 10.0 and are then added to the averaged difficulty of both vaults. The formula:
[(SV V1 + SV V2) / 2] + [10.0 - (V1 + V2 deductions)] = Score
If the 2012 Olympic Games used the proposed code rather than this quadrennium’s code, the standings would look something like this:
1. Sandra Izbasa (ROM) – 14.433
2. Maria Paseka (RUS) – 14.050
3. Janine Berger (GER) – 13.884
4. McKayla Maroney (USA) – 13.766
5. Oksana Chusovitina (GER) – 13.360
6. Brittany Rogers (CAN) – 12.960
7. Yamilet Peña Abreu (DOM) – 12.583
8. Elisabeth Black (CAN) – 0.000
Maroney averages a 6.2 difficulty here (with her 6.1 Mustafina difficulty and the proposed 6.3 Amanar difficulty), but even if these vault final rules existed in 2012 with the Amanar out of a 6.5, Maroney’s average of 6.3 would give her a 13.866, still leaving her in fourth place behind Berger rather than on the podium.
It’s also interesting to note that had this “execution over difficulty”-based vault finals code existed in 2008, Alicia Sacramone would have won gold with her Rudi and DTY. Hong Un Jong and Cheng Fei, both with two vaults out of a 6.5 start value, would have placed third and fourth, respectively. Oksana Chusovitina would have kept her silver.
Article by Lauren Hopkins
Photo by Ronald Martinez / Getty Images
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