Vault is one of the most dynamic events in artistic gymnastics. Since it happens in the blink of an eye, it can be hard to tell what’s good versus bad. It may seem like a vault that’s stuck cold with lots of flips and twists is perfect, but that may not always be the case. Just because the gymnast’s feet doesn’t move on the landing doesn’t mean it’s worthy of a 10.
There are only four different groups of vaults performed at the collegiate level, classified by the entrance onto the vaulting horse. While the actions happening on the springboard, on the vaulting table and off the table may differ, all vaults start in the same fashion.
The gymnast’s start each turn by running down the runway at top speed from lengths of around 70 feet. The starting point depends on the amount of power each individual gymnast needs and timing with the hurdle onto the board.
After the gymnast sprints down the runway, she jumps onto the board, flips onto the table and flips off the table, eventually coming down and hopefully sticking the landing. Each routine starts and ends with a salute to the judge.
Each vault is generally judged for certain criteria and deductions in half-tenth increments are taken off for errors.
“Certainly the height, how dynamic the vault is, form whether its coming off the board and in the twist and then shape when you land are all things,” Georgia head coach Danna Durante said.
The vault is broken into three stages for judging. The pre-flight includes the run and the hurdle or skill onto the board.
“In pre-flight I probably check where I start about 18 times just to make sure I’m at the right spot,” junior Brittany Rogers said. “As far as the run goes into it too slow you’re going to be too far away from the board and too fast and you’re too close to the board. It’s finding that happy medium of the speed of your run.”
The interior is the action happening on the vaulting table. And the post-flight is everything from the time the gymnast’s hands leave the table to the time she lands and salutes the judge.
“Going off you want to make sure you see the landing,” Rogers said. “That’s obviously not easy because you’re going at the speed of light and sometimes you just forget to look at the landing. I want to get up to that point one day — making sure I know I’m going to stick it.”
The flip off the vault can be performed in a number of positions including tucked (with bent knees and in a balled up position), piked (in a v-like position) or laid out (with a straight body).
While gymnasts are allowed to perform any vault they want, the majority of competitors do the Yurchenko. Named for Natalia Yurchenko, a Soviet gymnast who competed in the 1980s, the Yurchenko vault is the most popular in college gymnastics.
In a Yurchenko, the gymnast runs down the vault runway, does a round-off — a two-footed cartwheel — onto the spring board, a back handspring onto the vaulting table and a flip off the table, landing on the mat on the opposite side of where she started. The difficulty of the vault is determined by what time and how many flips and twists the gymnast does off the table, after the back handspring portion of the vault.
The most common flip is the layout full twist although some gymnasts perform layout halves and layout one and a halves. An easy way to tell how many twists a gymnast performs is to look at the direction she is facing when she lands. If she faces the table when she lands, she did a full. If her back is to the table, she performed a half or one and a half.
Yurchenko full GIF: Former Gym Dog Lindsey Cheek
The full is the most popular vault plain and simple because it is the easiest to stick. The gymnast can see the ground throughout the entire flip and can spot where she is going to plant her feet. Halves and one and a haves have what are called blind landings where the gymnast can’t see the ground before her feel hit.
“Most girls learn a Yurchenko as their first vault anyways, so it’s kind of like a stepping stone and this is the final piece,” Rogers said. “It’s easier to make a masterpiece out of it.”
That doesn’t mean one and a halves aren’t done. Many more powerful gymnasts or those that get bored with fulls upgrade to more difficult vaults to give themselves more of a challenge.
“Some people play it safe and do Yurchenko fulls or some people go for the one and a half if it’s amazing like [Florida’s] Kytra Hunter or Brandie Jay,” Rogers said. “It all depends on the person.”
Yurchenko one and a half GIF: Junior Gym Dog Brandie Jay
But with the level of gymnastics at an all-time high, many gymnasts come to college with a repertoire of vaults that are much more difficult than a full. Jay accidentally twisted a double full at the national championships last year and LSU’s Ashleigh Gnat recently performed the difficult vault at the Metroplex meet.
In the end it’s all about the preference of the coach. Some prefer to go with a lineup of fulls to ensure simple, clean vaults that are guaranteed to stick while others, like Durante, prefer a bit of variety in the rotation.
“Our goal is that those are so dynamic and so clean and have such a good landing that we come out on the upside of that and there’s a benefit to not having six Yurchenko fulls,” Durante said. “For us to stay with [those top teams] we have to have them.”
The Tsukahara vault was named after Mitsuo Tsukahara, a male artistic gymnast who competed for Japan in the 1970s. Commonly referred to as a Tsuk, the vault is less common in NCAA than a Yurchenko but more common than the other two types of vaults sometimes seen.
In a Tsuk, the gymnast runs down the vault runway, hurdles onto the springboard, does a round-off onto the vaulting table and flips off the table, landing on the mat on the opposite side of where she started. Like in a Yurchenko, the difficulty of the vault is determined by number of flips and twists while most perform a full.
When determining how many twists a gymnast does, it’s the same methodology as in a Yurchenko. If the gymnast lands facing the vault, she did a full and if she lands with her back to the table, she probably did a half or one and a half.
Tsuk one and a half GIF: Former Florida gymnast Marissa King
Front Handspring (onto vault)
The front handspring vault is one of the simplest entries done because it doesn’t involve any skills onto the board or twists onto the table. The gymnast simply runs down the vault runway, hurdles onto the springboard, performs a front handspring onto the table and flips off, landing on the opposite side of where she began.
Determining the number of twists is slightly different in a front handspring vault. Because the gymnast doesn’t twist onto the horse at all, she will land with her back to the table if she does a full or single flip with no twists. If she does a half or one and a half, she will land facing the vault. The most common flips off the table are layout, piked half or tucked full.
Front handspring tuck half GIF: Former Iowa State gymnast Milan Ivory as a level 10 at Georgia All-Stars Gymnastics
Front Handspring (onto board)
This final vault is very similar to the front handspring onto the vault. The gymnast runs down the runway, performs a front handspring so her feet land on the spring board, another front handspring onto the horse, flips off and lands on the opposite side of where she began.
Determining the number of flips for this vault is the same as in the front handspring vault onto the table. However, the most common flip off the table for this one is a simple pike or a pike half.
Front handspring entry vault GIF: Kentucky gymnast Shannon Mitchell