You’ve seen gymnastics on TV during the Olympics or maybe even been to a GymDog meet and thought it was cool, but never really understood it. Here’s your chance to learn and understand that crazy sport you love to watch:
Division-I collegiate gymnasts are considered the best of the best. Every athlete on the Georgia gymnastics team was once in the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic program. The JO program consists of 10 levels starting with level 10 being the highest. The majority of D-I gymnasts competed as level 10s before going to college. The remaining athletes competed at the elite level — one step above level 10. Elite gymnasts are the athletes you watch on TV at the World Championships and Olympic Games. Gym Dogs Chelsea Davis and Shayla Worley were both international elite gymnasts before arriving at Georgia — representing the U.S. at the World Championships in 2010 and 2007, respectively.
College gymnastics is similar to level 10, which is why so many JO gymnasts thrive in the environment. The scoring system and requirements in a college meet are the same as in a level 10 meet. The only difference is the feeling of competing as a team and not just as an individual.
At a typical college competition, there are two teams competing against each other. The home team will always start on vault and continue in Olympic order — vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise. The away team will start on bars and switch events with the home team after each rotation. During any given rotation, each team will put up six gymnasts on an event to compete. Once all six athletes have completed their routine, the top five scores are added together for the event total.
In competitions with more than six teams, there are rotations called byes.
A bye is when the team is in the locker room and not on an apparatus competing. Sometimes this must take place because there are more teams in a competition than events in women’s gymnastics.
A perfect team score for any given competition is 200 (five scores out of a possible 10 points count times four events). A good score for a team is 196+, meaning the team averaged a 9.8 for each routine. 197 — averages of 9.85 for each routine — is a great score and something that all top teams should be producing by the middle of the season. A 198 — averages of 9.9 for each routine — is the coveted team score in collegiate gymnastics, a score every team shoots for at every competition.
Individually, the scoring system is pretty straight-forward. Every gymnast starts from a 10.0. Throughout the routine, the judges deduct points, tenths, and even hundredths for mistakes in execution. Once the routine is over, the final score is tallied and the result is posted. For a D-I program like Georgia, anything in the 9.7 range would be considered only OK whereas a 9.8 would be considered an average score. 9.9s are great scores, usually meaning the gymnasts only had one or two very minor mistakes in their routine like a single step or flexed foot. However, every gymnast shoots for the perfect 10.0.
During a routine, the judges will take deductions throughout the routine for flaws in the execution of the skills. Execution is the form of technique of a skill. Things like steps on landings or flexed feet can range from .05-.1 off, depending on the severity of the mistake. Large steps can count off as much as .3 in deductions. Falling is more costly and counts of half a point from the gymnast’s total score. On bars, missed handstands are normally .05-.1 of a deduction, depending on the amount of degrees away from vertical the gymnast was.
Every once in a while, you’ll be enjoying a Gym Dog meet and someone does what you think it great routine, but the score is posted and seems low. One of the reasons for this could be start value. Start value is the starting score that the judges will take deductions from. Originally, every collegiate routine starts from a 9.5 and .5 or more worth of bonus is added to the routine to make it start from a 10.0. Gymnasts can gain bonus from connecting two skills together, or doing a certain difficulty of skill. Almost all D-I gymnastics routines start from a 10.0, but if the gymnast messes up and doesn’t hit her connections during a routine, it can hurt her start value. Some gymnasts are so good that they can throw in more than .5 worth of bonus and start from more than a 10.0. Although she won’t be able to earn anything more than a perfect 10, this will aid her if she misses a connection during her routine.
Vault is a little different since there isn’t a routine but just one skill performed. On the event, each vault has a specific stat value depending on the difficult of the move. Most of the vaults you’ll see at a given collegiate gymnastics meet start from a 10.0, but there are some that are only worth 9.7 or 9.9. However, like the other events, you can’t go above a 10.0. Some gymnasts do vaults harder than a 10.0 start vault, but they will only be scored out of 10.
At a small, regular-season duel meet, there are two judges per event. Each judge will come up with a score for the routine and then they are averaged together to get the final mark. At larger, post-season competitions such as SEC championships or NCAA regional or national championships, there are four judges per event. Each of the four judges comes up with a score for the routine, the high and low scores are dropped, and then the remaining two are averaged for the final mark. At NCAA event finals, there are six judges on each event. Each judge comes up with a score, the high and low are dropped, and the remaining four are averaged for the final mark.
So you’ve been to a couple of meets now and you feel like you know everything about gymnastics. Not quite. Rankings are very important in college gymnastics. If you’re not in the top 36 teams at the end of the season, no NCAA Regionals berth for you. Unlike other sports, rankings aren’t determined by a vote or poll of the top coaches but instead the Regional Qualifying Score system is used.
During the preseason, the first rankings come out. These are normally based on the previous year’s results, prospects of the new incoming freshmen, and holes that the graduating seniors left. This rank is determined by a coach’s poll — the only poll of this type that happens all season.
After the season begins, new rankings come out every Monday on www.troester.com/gym/ generated by GymInfo. For the first six meets, the rankings are solely based on the averages of the team scores. So, say the Gym Dogs scored a 196 in their first meet and a 196.5 in their second meet. This would mean that their average after two meets would be 196.25, and they would fall in order with other teams that scored below or above that score.
After six meets, the system of ranking changes to the RQS system. The RQS system is more complicated, but allows for teams who have had a bad meet or two to throw out those scores so that they don’t affect their rankings in the long run. To calculate RQS, first take the top three away scores. Then take the next three highest scores — home or away. Finally, drop the highest score of the six and average the remaining five.
The first couple of weeks of using the RQS system should be taken with a grain of salt, though, because some teams may not have had three away meets or had a couple of low scoring totals at the beginning of the season that they haven’t been able to drop yet. Once, things even out, the RQS system is pretty accurate in ranking the top teams in the nation and determining seeding and placement in post-season competitions. The system is the same for individual rankings as well as team’s individual event rankings throughout the season.
Once the season ends and conference championships are completed, NCAA regional seeds are determined. If your team is in the top 36 in the country in D-I gymnastics, they are guaranteed a spot at one of the six regional locations. To determine where each team goes, RQS scores and rankings are used. The Nos. 1, 12, and 13 teams are grouped together, Nos. 2, 11 and 14 travel to the same site, Nos. 3, 10 and 15 will compete against each other, Nos. 4, 9, and 16 will go to the same location, Nos. 5, 8 and 17 are in the same group, and Nos. 6, 7 and 18 are together. Then the remaining teams ranked No. 19-36 are evenly distributed throughout the six locations geographically.
Qualifying and Winning
Unlike in other sports, teams do not have to qualify to compete in their conference championships. At the Southeastern Conference Championships, all eight teams will compete for the title. No matter the team’s previous scores or ranking, any team is able to take home the trophy on any given night.
At the SEC Championships, there are eight schools that have gymnastics teams. In the past, there has only been one session of gymnastics held with three bye rotations at a time to fit in all seven teams. This format dragged the competition on and on and made it seem like it was never going to end. You may ben a gymnastics expert at this point and love everything about the sport, but sitting in a chair for three to four hours is never fun.
With the addition of Missouri to the SEC, the head coaches decided to split the championship into two sessions with four teams each. This way, there are no bye rotations and it is constantly a four-ring circus for the fans to enjoy. The teams in each session will be seeded according to rankings coming into the competition with the four lower ranked teams in the first session and the four higher ranked teams in the second session. The team totals after both sessions are complete will then be compared and the top score will take home the tile.
For the NCAA Regional Championships teams must be in the top 36 in the rankings to qualify for a spot to compete. As described above, the teams are places in one of six locations for their regional competition and then the six teams compete with two bye rotations for the title. Once regionals are over, the top two teams will continue on to NCAA Nationals.
So now we’ve got our 12 teams that have qualified to the NCAA national championships. However, these teams aren’t just split up and the winner takes all. First there is a preliminary round where the twelve teams are randomly split into two groups of two and placed in two sessions where they will compete to qualify to the Super Six finals. In each session, the top three teams will qualify to the Super Six where they will compete for the national title. During the Super Six championships, the team with the highest team total at the end of the night is your new national champion.
To determine individual qualifiers to the event finals on the final day of NCAAs, you take the top four gymnasts — including ties — on each even from each subdivision. These gymnasts will then compete in their respective events on the event final day. They will also be named first-team All-Americans. The next four scores from each subdivision — places 5-8, including ties — will become second-team All-Americans, but will not qualify to event finals and get the chance to compete for an individual title. During prelims, the top all around gymnast from both sessions combined will also be named the NCAA AA national champion.
This article was updated on Jan. 16, 2019. Rebecca Wright contributed to this article.