Friday, May 15, 2015

The 2012 Olympics, 2020-Style

When I originally made this blog, I intended to occasionally write about gymnastics, and...I never did. Oh, well.

As you may have heard (but probably haven't), as of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, gymnastics is going to be done rather differently. Instead of one team of five, like it was in 2012 and will be in 2016, each country will get one team with four athletes. Up to two athletes per country can also qualify, but only for specific events or the all around--they can't be used it a team competition. So, back in 2012, somebody like McKayla Maroney probably wouldn't have made the Olympic "Team" and competed in Team Finals--but she would probably qualify as an additional specialist.

Sorry, McKayla
In addition, the finals themselves are going to be different. While back in 2012, three gymnasts (out of the five) competed on each apparatus, as of 2020 all four gymnasts are going to compete on every apparatus, with the lowest score dropped. This is actually how it used to be; back in 1996, six gymnasts competed and the top five scores count. (This is why it didn't really matter, in retrospect, whether Kerri Strug landed that famous vault or not--they could have dropped her score, used Dominique Moceanu's score, and still won).

Not necessary. Sorry, Kerri
So with all of these changes, I started wondering...would the US have won in 2012 if those rules had applied? Would they have won by even more? They won by over 5 points to begin with, which is a gymnastics landslide. Or would it have been closer? Would Ebee have been chosen over Kyla, then? Hmm....

So, I crunched some numbers! I ended up only doing the Big Four (US, Russia, Romania, and China), although it would have been interesting to see where everyone else would fall.

1. USA (Original score: 183.596)

Like I said above, I suspect McKayla Maroney would have been taken off the team and qualified as a specialist. As it was, she only did one event in the Olympics (and while it was a great event, it was only a quarter of what we need). With four all-arounders needed, I suspect that Elizabeth Price would have made the team over Kyla Ross, since she was stronger on vault, but that is neither here nor there.

Here is how the finals possibly could have shaken out for Team USA:

For the athletes who didn't compete in finals, I'm taking the scores from qualifications if possible and then going back further. Aly's vault and bars are from qualifications, as is Kyla's floor. However, I had to look at Olympic trials for Kyla's vault. That's generally going to be less accurate; she (hopefully) would have improved on her vaulting in the extra month, but her score would probably be less high since she doesn't have the home advantage (scores from your home country are almost always's the home field advantage). Given that her vault is still about a point away from Aly's, though, it doesn't really matter.

So: since, generally speaking, the three strongest athletes on each event are the three that go up in Team Finals, the new score would (generally speaking) be the one that is later dropped, as is the case here. Kyla didn't go up on vault and floor, and Aly didn't go up on bars, because they weren't the strongest athletes--so of course their scores are the ones dropped. The biggest difference is that Aly's vault from qualifications is now counted instead of McKayla's near-perfect vault. The score drops by less that .5.

So: Team USA. Still very strong under the new rules.

2. Russia (Original score: 178.530)

This team was more difficult to decide upon. The reason, essentially, Maria Paseka was part of the Russian team was because she could compete in Team Finals on vault. So who got to stay: the person whose purpose was Team Finals, or the person who could do more events? I chose the once who did more events, which in this case was Ksenia Afansyeva. I don't know what would have happened for sure, but that strikes me as more likely. For Ksenia, I took the scores from the Russian Cup earlier in the summer, although like with Kyla above, there was probably a home advantage and she probably would have improved.

Not that it matters, since both Ksenia's vault and uneven bars would have been dropped! Now, balance beam and floor exercise is a little more tricky--both of the dropped scores were from athletes who originally competed in Team Finals. Floor is possibly an anomaly: Grishina had an absolutely disastrous floor routine, and most people were confused why Komova wasn't competing (common theory was to rest her a little ahead of the AA two days later). Balance beam was also confusing; most people wouldn't have picked Aliya to go up to begin with, especially since Grishina's score was so much higher. Grishina didn't need to rest. But that was how things happened.

Because of all of that, the Russians ended up gaining over .8 under the new method. This new Team Finals system forgives Grishina for her floor routine and the coaches for strange balance beam decisions. If Grishina had know that she was allowed to do poorly since her score could be dropped, would some of the pressure have been off--and would she have competed better? Similarly, if Komova had competed floor on Team Finals, would it have hurt her two days later in the all around? It's unclear. But for the team finals, the new method works well for the Russians.

3. Romania (Original score: 176.414)

Now, Romania was particularly frustrating. Ponor had come back from retirement (she does that a lot; she just did it again) and wasn't even training bars. Would she have come back if she had known that she had to do a bars routine? Maybe. She could have had a super low difficulty and the coaches could decide to automatically drop her score. Or something like the 2008 US Olympic Qualifications could have happened, and the coaches could have just sent up three girls and screw the consequences. Or, probably most likely, Ponor would have qualified as a specialist and not competed in Team Finals at all.

So where does that bring Diana Chelaru, who was the fifth athlete? I'm guessing that she would have competed all-around, and essentially replaced Ponor. She didn't do balance beam at all in London, but she competed less than a month earlier in a warmup competition in Britain. Give that it is closer to the games and it was on foreign soil, the score is probably fairly accurate. As for Bulimar, I can't find a vault score for her in 2012 at all. I'm sure she would have had some if she needed it--I can see vaulting scores from 2011, but they were domestic meets, and from 2013. For argument's sake, I'll say that she has a vault but it was the lowest and dropped.

Eek. The new system means that Romania loses over 1.6 points, which is pretty drastic. And now, that's not because they use Chelaru over Ponor. Look what happens if they did use Ponor (we'll assume her bars is dropped).

They lose an additional tenth (over 1.7 now) if they used Ponor over Chelaru, so clearly I was right about using Chelaru. Point is, though, that this would not have been a good system for Romania. They have a lot of athletes who are good on the same apparatus, which means that there isn't one particularly low score they can drop, and no major mistakes to hide. The new system does them no favors.

4. China (Original score: 174.430)

China was in a fairly similar boat to Romania: similar athletes who are good on the same events. They did have a clear specialist in He Kexin, though; she only ever competed on uneven bars (and I think that was all she was training). Like the US and Maroney, it hurts to lose her, but she clearly would have competed as a specialist.

Another drop, but not as big as Romania; China only loses a little over 1 point. Sui Lu was a tricky case in that I couldn't find a vaulting score anywhere in 2012 or beyond for her. Like Bulimar, I assume she would have continued vault if she had known that was necessary, so I took a score from 2011 Worlds (although it was dropped). Her uneven bars score was from Chinese Nationals, which is usually a fair score, although with time she probably would have improved--but maybe not by the .6 she needs to pass Deng Linlin. Those two scores end up being dropped.

As for floor. Huang Quishuang had some major issues on floor (is it just me, or is "China has issues on floor" turning into a pretty common theme lately?), so her score is safely taken out and dropped. The real question for China is balance beam. Yao Jinnan had some horrible luck around the Olympics; she was injured and just not herself. This is the reigning silver medalist on balance beam and bronze medalist in the all around. She just wasn't herself.

So what would she have scored on beam in Team Finals? The reason her qualifications score was so low was because she fell; had she not fallen, she would have scored higher than Deng Linlin and probably competed in Team Finals. I debated whether I should use a completely different score for her, but given that she was having issues all Olympics-long, I kept her balance beam score from qualifications. It strikes me as highly unlikely that she would have scored the 15 she would have needed for China to overcome Russia.


So the rankings would have been the same in the end. The US would have won, and while they would have been closer to Russia, it still would have been a landslide in the end. Romania would have still been in third and China fourth, and with Canada four points below China, things would remain the same at the top. For all everyone is complaining about the new system, most people agreed that the ranking in London was accurate, and it would have stayed that way.

The real question is the teams--but even that seems to play out mostly the same. Like I said, I do think Ebee would have replace Kyla if this was how the finals was going to be played. The US specialists would be a bit of a battle; I think it would have been McKayla and Alicia Sacramone who would both go in as vault specialists. But that being said, would Anna Li have focused on bars if she had known she could go solely as a bars specialist? Would Nastia have come back solely on bars too? There's too many questions.

But here's the thing: I understand those questions because I'm really familiar with the US. Other countries, outside of these big four nations, are going to struggle to find four all-arounders who can compete. The FIG claims that this is to help more countries qualify--but it's also just going to make the difference between the top and the bottom bigger. Maybe I'll analyze the remaining four team final teams over the weekend, but from this point, all I can see is that it isn't hurting the teams on top.

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