Twas the Year that was…

After three Olympics marred by scandal, the FIG could be forgiven for praying to the gym gods for an uneventful Olympics. It nearly worked. The Olympics were wonderful with a lot of great gymnastics and some very exciting finals that showcased everything that is good about gymnastics. A thrilling WAG AA, perhaps the best men’s vault final ever, a fantastic high bar battle and a stunning UB final. On the other hand, the very first medal decision ended in controversy.

Team final disaster

The much-anticipated men’s team final turned out to be a real low light of the year. Not for the competition. That was great. But for what happened afterwards. Kohei Uchimura fell on his pommel horse dismount, inviting debate whether the skill should be credited. His score left Japan in fourth place behind China, Great Britain and Ukraine. Or so it seemed. Then, the Japanese team submitted an inquiry. What followed was a clinic in bad crisis management and a public embarrassment to the FIG. Over what seemed like hours, members of the Men’s Technical Committee – allegedly the ultimate authority in the sport- deliberated, discussed, watched and re-watched Uchimura’s dismount. On live TV. Worldwide. The Japanese delegation was shown handing over money. On live TV. Worldwide.

Handing over money is entirely according to the rules – an inquiry costs 300 USD. But the average TV viewer could be forgiven for thinking Japan was openly buying its way to a team medal. Uchimura’s score went up by 0.7. The D jury – Pablo Carilles (ESP) and Teruaki Takeuchi (JPN) – remained staunch in their opinion that Uchimura did not perform a dismount. “I looked at Takeuchi and he said: No dismount,” Carilles told Spanish newspaper El País during the Olympics. Carilles said he and Takeuchi received a standing ovation from a number of judges as they exited the arena. But their opinion would prove irrelevant, they were not able to watch the video (IRCOS is no longer allowed for the D jury). The Ukrainians, who had done everything right that day, were kicked out of the medals. The hosts were relegated to the bronze. Japan took – but did not earn – the silver.

Mustafina’s return

A review of 2012 would not be complete without Aliya Mustafina. When she was carried off the mat after tearing her ACL at the 2011 European Championships, many feared for her future in the sport. The Olympics proved them wrong. Big time. In all fairness, Mustafina’s first big competition back after her injury did not look particularly promising. Still not quite in top shape at the European Championships in Brussels, she struggled in qualifications and failed to make the bars final. Three months later she became Olympic champion on the event. By the time the Russian Cup rolled round in June, it was clear that she was back on track. Mustafina left London as the most decorated gymnast and the most decorated Russian Olympian.

Mustafina’s team mate Viktoria Komova won the all-around according to the Reference Judges but had to settle for silver in the official ranking. Komova is a true virtuoso of the sport, the exceptional beauty of her gymnastics needs to be appreciated in person.

Gabrielle Douglas cruised to her all-around title and an entirely new life on 2 August. Book deals, appearances and endorsements have predictably kept her out of the gym. Most likely, Douglas will not come back to the very top level of the sport. Like most of the US Olympic stars before her. Fantastic opportunities for Douglas, sad for a the sport that is in desperate need of stars that stay around for more than one season.

The (super) human

Kohei Uchimura looked vulnerable (or maybe just human?) for the first time in his senior career in the Olympic qualifications but rallied in the all-around. Even a fall on his final event wouldn’t jeopardize his win. The gymnastics community has got so used to Uchimura being superhuman and flawless all the time that some felt a little dejected at what was has to be considered a sub par performance for him. Had any other gymnast put in a similar performance… Well, the world would be singing his praises. But not for the incredible Kohei. Still, Uchimura is everything gymnastics should be. Breathtaking, beautiful, exciting – and simply artistic.

MAG vs WAG

WAG is the big seller for the FIG. MAG receives much less media attention and has quite a pathetic fan base compared to MAG in most countries.That is totally undeserved. The level of men’s gymnastics is outrageous; the depth is an insane; the personalities often much more intriguing. Practically any of the eight teams in the Olympic final could have medalled. Genuine medal contenders can end up in tenth place. Women’s gymnastics remains largely a four team show with individual guest stars from other nations. Beth Tweddle was the only Olympic WAG medallist not to come from the USA, Russia, Romania or China.

To IRCOS or not to IRCOS?

The FIG no longer allows the use of video review IRCOS for the D jury. “They [the judges] were constantly watching routines in the past,” FIG president Bruno Grandi told German gymnastics magazine LEON* during the Olympics, “it took far too long for the scores to come up.” A long wait for a score is annoying and holds up the competition. Plus, the delay always brings on the conspiracy theorists. “Oooh, what are they looking at? They must be cheating!” However, leaving the D jury without any possibility of reviewing the routines also lead to problems in London. At least according to the Women’s Technical Committee report .

Following the decision of the FIG EC, the ASs [apparatus supervisors] and D-Panels did not have any phone connections and were not allowed to use IRCOS in case of doubts or disagreement. This can greatly affect the outcome of the competition and perhaps needs to be reconsidered in order to provide the most knowledgeable judges with the most up to date evaluation methods (IRCOS). (…) It is very stressful for the WTC the D- Panels when they cannot respond quickly and efficiently (due to no phone connections or video replay) but must still be responsible for the correct evaluation.“

While the FIG’s desire to come up with scores quickly is understandable, the ultimate goal needs to be a correct evaluation of routines. It’s the Olympics after all. The human eye can take in only so much, and the judges’ seating positions aren’t always optimal. The situation is hard on the judges, who are easily under as much pressure as the athletes. Perhaps even more since they face pressure from both the FIG and their own federations.

Never count out Romania

At least for WAG. Romania reigned supreme in Brussels, easily beating the Russians who massively improved between their disastrous qualification round and the finals. Veterans Sandra Izbasa and Catalina Ponor showed why Romania should never ever be counted out. Even if writing this team off has become something of a favourite pastime among media and fans. The team did not quite manage to keep the momentum going all the way to the Olympics where Larisa Iordache’s injury may have cost them dearly.

Why 3-3 needs to go

If there was ever a competition that drove home the message of how terrible the 3-3 format is, it was the team final at the Men’s Europeans in Montpellier. The French team started on vault and their competition was over within twenty minutes. Samir Ait Said scored a zero for a scary Dragulescu, landed on his forehead and hands. To make matters worse, Ait Said suffered a serious injury. France was only able to field two routines on floor and rings. The argument in favour of the 3-3 format has always been that it is exciting and good for the audience. Of course, there is a certain excitement in watching a team being eliminated right from the start or a gymnast getting badly injured – sort of like the excitement of watching the Titanic sink. The French crowd somehow failed to appreciate the excitement. Not an advertisement for the sport at all.