Flummoxed by the tenths of a point and little red and green arrows? Take a deep breath, because understanding the gymnastics scoring system is so much easier than it seems.
To boil it down to the most basic of basics: anything over 15 points is a great score. Under 15 by a little? Still good. 16 or over? Here’s a gold medal.
A cheat sheet, comparing each score to an adjective and letter grade:
|11 points :||Terrible||(F)|
|12 points :||Bad||(D)|
|13 points :||So-so||(C)|
|14 points :||Good||(B)|
|15 points :||Great||(A)|
|16 points :||Amazing||(A+)|
Of course this is not universally true for every gymnast in every event. Men tend to get higher scores because they do more difficult skills. Vault scores tend to be higher because there’s less time to take deductions. And a gymnast from a country without a well-developed gymnastics program might perform a routine of average difficulty, receive a score of 13.900 and be absolutely thrilled.
But of the seven apparatus finals—the one-event competitions that declare the best vault, floor, beam, etc. workers at the Olympics—that have been contested so far in Rio, the lowest score was been 15.466 (Sanne Wevers on balance beam) and the highest 16.000 points (Eleftherious Petrounias on still rings). That’s the range that wins.
To understand a gymnastics score, break it down
There are two ways of looking at a gymnastics score: execution plus difficulty or maximum score minus deductions. For example, look at Simone Biles’ score on the floor exercise in qualifications round.
She received a 15.733 (an A score!).
She was judged to have difficulty score of 6.800 and an execution of 8.933.
6.8 (D) + 8.9333 (E) = a total score of 15.733.
Or, she had a maximum score of 16.800 and received 1.067 points in deductions.
16.8 (max) – 1.067 (deductions) = 15.733
Difficulty plus execution equals total score
Difficulty scores are open-ended, so they can vary widely depending on the skills in a gymnasts routine. Female medal contenders usually have difficulty scores between 6 and 7 points, depending on the event, while the very top men can go over 7. In Rio, Japan’s Kenzo Shirai had one of the highest difficulty scores of the Olympics with a 7.600 on floor exercise.
The difficulty score a gymnast receives for their routine should be the same every time they do that same routine. But if the gymnast misses a planned skill or doesn’t connect skills together (which adds bonus tenths of a point to their difficulty score), it can move up or down. There are a panel of judges calculating the difficulty score of every routine.
The execution score is out of 10 points, so in some ways the iconic “Perfect 10” associated with the heyday of gymnastics still exists—in theory, as the judges always find something to deduct.
The second panel of judges is responsible for calculating the deductions for each routine—the obvious examples are falls or steps on the landing. Crooked or bent legs, lack of amplitude on a tumbling skill, and flexed feet are more examples of deductions.
For the Biles score, a 8.933 in execution means the judges took 1.067 points off her score. Any execution scores over 9.0 points are excellent and rare, with the exception of vault. Because the vault even is just one skill, there is far less time for a gymnast to make errors, so less deductions are taken. On other events, execution scores in the high 8’s indicate a job well done.
Maximum score minus deductions equals total score
The maximum score is what the gymnast would receive for an absolutely perfect routine, one where they receive the full “perfect” 10 points in execution points. It can be calculated by simply by adding 10 points to the gymnast’s difficulty score, and is sometimes called a start value. So since Biles received a D score of 6.8 for that floor routine, her maximum score was 16.800.
Again, the judges determined Biles made 1.067 points worth of errors in her routine, so that amount was deducted from her maximum score and she received a final score of 15.733.
Looking at the maximum score minus deductions is a better way of determining whether a score is good for that specific gymnast.
Most gymnasts, even those at the Olympics, won’t have Biles-level maximum scores because they compete less difficult skills. But if they compete those skills extremely cleanly, they can minimize deductions and receive a score that is excellent for their specific routine, if not for the competition as a whole.
For example, in the Olympic floor qualifications where Biles scored 15.733, the Netherlands’ Celine van Gerner scored 13.716: a so-so score. But since van Gerner’s maximum score was 15.100, she only got 1.384 in deductions and likely counts that a successful routine.