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What Scores Get You an Olympic Medal?

If you’ve ever watched an NBC gymnastics broadcast before, you’re probably familiar with their traffic light scoring system, where red, yellow, and green correspond with execution scores and reflective of how well the athlete performed their routine. However, this system is far from accurate and fails to consider the important context that differentiates between a “good” and a “bad” score, where an athlete was exceptional with their performance (green light), but finds themself off the medal stand because their score was never fully competitive with the top scorers because they lacked difficulty in comparison. Since the end of the palatable 10.0, there is a clear need to help a non-gymnastics audience better understand the open-ended scoring system. This understanding is crucial to help differentiate between a score that is uncompetitive (but potentially a really good score for an individual gymnast) and one that is Olympic medal-worthy.

Understanding elite gymnastics scoring is simple with nuances. Across the apparatuses, competitive difficulty scores (D-scores) and execution scores (E-scores) may vary. Sometimes even from competition to competition, E-score judging can deviate wildly. For example at the 2017 World Championships, beam judging was notoriously harsh, where not one of the beam finalists surpassed an 8.0 E-score in qualifications. In contrast, most of the finalists at the 2017 European Gymnastics Championships received at least an 8.0 E-score during qualifications. So, what scores are good and what can might put you on a medal stand?

Vault:

Vault is a unique event for several reasons. The biggest difference is it’s only one skill, compared to the other events where gymnasts perform eight skills. Because only one element is being evaluated, E-scores tend to be much higher compared to the other events. Most elite gymnasts choose to only compete one vault, which will be included in their all-around and team total points, but will not make them eligible to compete in the vault final, which requires two vaults from different entries. Below are competitive single-vault scores.  

Upper 25% Top 8 Worthy
13.400+ 14.3+

The histogram below is a distribution of single vault scores at the 2024 European Championships (data provided by Lauren Hopkins from the Gymternet). While this is not as representative as the Olympic Games, we can expect to see a similar distribution of scores where a majority of athletes will score in the high-12 and lower-13 range.

Another distinction is that to qualify for a vault final, gymnasts must perform two vaults and average the scores. Using the 2023 World Championships as a reference, Simone Biles’ 14.949 was the highest vault average during qualifications. The cut-off average to make the vault final was Colline Devillard’s 13.783. Below are estimates for a two-vault average to be in the ballpark to make a vault final. 

 

Upper 25% Finals Worthy Medal Worthy
13.100+ 13.5+ 14.4+

 

*note: I used 13.100 as the competitive score by finding the cutoff score to be within the upper 25% of vault averages at the 2023 World Championships qualifications. The finals-worthy 13.5 was the vault average of the lowest-ranked finalist during qualifications. The medal-worthy score was the bronze medal average at the 2023 World Championships.

 

Uneven Bars

Bars is by far one of the most competitive events to make a final at the World Championships or Olympic Games. In the current code of points it’s also one of the most exciting events to watch, as gymnasts will attempt to link as many difficult elements together as possible to receive bonus, creating breathtaking combinations. 

 

Upper 25% Finals Worthy Medal Worthy
13.0+ 14.100+ 14.700+

*note: I used 13.000 as the competitive score by finding the cutoff score to be within the upper 25% of bar scores at the 2023 World Championships qualifications. The finals-worthy 14.100 was the bars score of the lowest-ranked finalist during qualifications. The medal-worthy score was the bronze medal score at the 2023 World Championships. Data provided by Lauren Hopkins from the Gymternet. 

When looking at the spread of bar scores at the European Championships, we can see a majority of bar routines at the 2024 European Championships concentrated in the high-12 to low-13 scoring range.

Balance Beam

Similar to bars, the trajectory of the code of points has incentivized gymnasts to do tricky combinations to build connection bonus. The best beam workers in the world will seem to flow seamlessly between acrobatic elements, dance elements and choreography. To build difficulty scores gymnasts will connect two, three, and sometimes even four skills in a row.

 

Upper 25% Finals Worthy Medal Worthy
12.700+ 13.700+ 14.100+

 

*note: I used 12.700 as the competitive score by finding the cutoff score to be within the upper 25% of beam scores at the 2023 World Championships qualifications. The finals-worthy 13.700 was the beam score of the lowest-ranked finalist during qualifications. The medal-worthy score was the bronze medal score at the 2023 World Championships. Data provided by Lauren Hopkins from the Gymternet.

As you can see from the histogram, a majority of the beam scores at the European Championships were below 13. Judging on beam is generally more stringent compared to other events, but beam has a unique element of risk compared to other events and it is much more common for gymnasts to fall or make large mistakes on beam than on other events, thus the larger sum of lower scores. 

 

Floor Exercise

 

On floor gymnasts will combine difficult tumbling passes, dance elements, and a choreographed performance. Like beam, floor judging is comparatively harsher than on vault and bars possibly due to the strong emphasis upon artistic performance in the current code of points. Gymnasts must express choreographic flow, expression, and musicality, otherwise they risk getting artistry deductions which can be the difference between gold and not medaling at all.

 

Upper 25% Finals Worthy Medal Worthy
12.700+ 13.600+ 14.000+

*note: I used 12.700 as the competitive score by finding the cutoff score to be within the upper 25% of floor scores at the 2023 World Championships qualifications. The finals-worthy 13.600 was the floor score of the lowest-ranked finalist during qualifications. The medal-worthy score was the bronze medal score at the 2023 World Championships. Data provided by Lauren Hopkins from the Gymternet.

At the 2024 European Championships a majority of athletes scored between the 11.5-12.0 range. Floor was the only event at the 2024 European Championships where not a single gymnast surpassed a 14.0. 

 

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Gym Nerd
7 days ago

It’s so weird that floor is the lowest scoring event now, based on the score ranges above, though it’s possible this has always been the case and I just didn’t realize. This was really helpful though because in the US with the strength of our gymnasts we see much higher scoring and so this helps put into perspective how good everyone is, not just Simone.

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