How the open ended scoring system made 6-3-3 redundant

So I’m sure most of our readers are aware that the current format of 6 in a team, 3 up and 3 count in TFs was introduced in 2001. Before then, it was 6-5-4 in 97-00, 7-6-5 (my favourite) in 93-96 and 6-6-5 before 93.

This is a move that caused a lot of controversy at the time, because of the obvious impact on the AA. I’m someone who is glad there’s room for specialists in the sport- try telling me that we’d be better off if Cheng Fei had spent some of her vault practice time working towards mediocrity on bars.

Or that we don’t all benefit from older athletes like Hatch, Chechi and Nemov in 04 and Tweddle now being able to stick around longer by reducing the events they train.

Actually, we’d all benefit from Tweddle further reducing the events she trains, to become a bars specialist only.

But I digress.

The point is that even as someone who is more pro-specialist than the average old school fan, I still acknowledge the harm done to the AA.

However, 6-3-3 is with us, like it or not, because the theory was that it was supposed to give smaller programmes and lesser ranked countries the opportunity to challenge for team medals. Although the biggest programmes in the sport certainly have a disproportionate amount of influence, there are more votes to be had by courting the lesser known countries than the bigger ones.

And to be fair, in WAG at least, it sort of did. There has only been one occasion when a major team medal was won by a team from outside the Big Four (Russia, China, US, Romania) and it happened in 2003. True that it wouldn’t have happened if China had managed to read the rule book, or if Russia hadn’t felt moved to put this disaster, amongst others, out on the floor:

(btw, I want it noted that Pavlova had a strong showing in this TFs and had the 3rd highest AA score that night).

But the point is that Australia were able to win and to deserve the bronze by performing their not quite top difficulty routines with extreme competence and consistency.

This would have been less possible if 5 rather than 3 scores were counting, simply because one fall is a bigger percentage of three routines than of five. Teams that were better on paper than Australia would have had a greater advantage if everyone hit, so more people would have had to fall in order to negate that advantage. Though to be fair, I’m sure Russia and China’s 03 teams could both have stepped up to that particular challenge.

But basically, when it was first introduced, 6-3-3 meant you had to hit to win, or hit better than your competitors at least. Consistency was important.

2003 showed us that a lesser ranked team could beat one that was better on paper by being slow and steady and winning the race. China’s implosion in 2004 showed us that there was no point having the difficulty if you were going to fall all over the place. 7th place was a pretty stunning meltdown even by their historical standards.

Fast forward to 2006, when the open ended scoring system was introduced. I didn’t like it at the time and don’t now, but whatever, it’s staying.

One of the things it has done is totally negated what were supposed to be the main selling points of 6-3-3: the need for consistency, and the possibility of big teams being beaten by those who are not as good on paper but who fell less on the day.

In an open-ended system, you can build up the difficulty, particularly on certain events, to the extent that a routine with a fall from a top gymnast can score more than a solid set from, say, the 5th ranked teams athletes. That’s how, for example, Liukin and He Kexin fucked up royally on bars in Beijing prelims and still qualified over solid sets from athletes like Joura and Tsurumi.

Admittedly those 3 routines were all quite generously scored, but nonetheless they all qualified.

That’s how Cheng Fei’s Amanar with a fall was still better than the majority of DTYs in 07 (can’t find it on youtube, but trust me, she fell in TFs and got 0.025 less than Peszek’s DTY) And how Sacramone’s beam nightmare in Beijing still garnered an actually quite high in the grand scheme of things 15+ score.

Those routines were underpar and were disappointments to the gymnasts concerned, but nonetheless those scores were all much higher than eg the Brazilians, French and Australians would typically be able to get (and yes, I know they have a few routines that would score better). In 2001-4, the top gymnasts weren’t able to score better than the next tier down even with a fall, but since 2006 they’ve been able to.

Meaning that only the top teams have any chance of winning team medals now, and there’s no longer any need to be consistent. Romania went 12 for 12 in 2004 and it won them gold. They did the same in 2010 and were a very distant fourth. China had six missed routines in 2004 and were humiliated. If they’d done that in 08, they’d probably still have pulled off bronze.

Now, I’m not saying any of this is bad. I don’t subscribe to the idea that lesser ranked countries should have the format changed to suit them, and actually would argue that having two different formats for prelims and TFs unfairly advantages teams who know they’ll make TFs and can choose their lineups with 6-3-3 in mind. Plus, we’ve seen an unprecedented number of nations represented on the medal stand over the past decade, in individual events:

And this is even more pronounced in MAG.

So my question is, what’s the point in 6-3-3 now we have the open-ended system? Removing the 10 also removed the two main arguments for the current format, so why are we now still bothering? And what will change when 5-3-3 is introduced?

Stoi! readers, I’m throwing this open to the floor.

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6 responses to “How the open ended scoring system made 6-3-3 redundant

  • Stoi!

    To clarify that first post above- there are more spots for individuals, but a lot of them are going to end up going to mediocre AAers rather than specialists. Not many WAGs from teams that won’t qualify a full team to London are likely to medal in Tokyo, especially with no North Korea. Chusovitina perhaps, and maybe a Ukrainian if one of them has a good day and the team continue on their downward spiral.

  • Stoi!

    Rick, part of the reason for the capping is also to allow individuals who qualify through the AA. In WAG, I suspect more athletes will qualify to the Olympics as individuals through their AA rather than EF performance. In MAG it will probably be different, because the medals are spread much more widely around more countries.

    For the US, I don’t think reducing the team size to 5 will make much difference. They have only used the sixth athlete in TFs twice under Marta. Once they used only four, and the other three times five. Additionally, in 2010 Marta apparently wanted to bench Mattie and was persuaded against it. I wouldn’t necessarily expect that to be repeated.

    The same is true of Romania as well, more often than not they don’t use their sixth gymnast. It might however have an impact on Russia and China. China in particular very seldom take a gymnast to sit out TFs. They tend to have a better understanding of how to put a 6-3-3 team together than Marta.

  • gem

    i like this post. even as someone who isnt old enough to remember 6-5-4 properly, let alone the rest, i dont like 6-3-3. i dont get it. and now i cant decide if i would actually want a ‘smaller’ country winning a medal. i kind of like me big 4.

    the only thing i have to say about 5-3-3 is that there is going to be one less russian hanging about the arena bitchfacing and shouting. i need my bitchfacing and shouting. apologies for this comment being pretty much pointless.

  • Rick McCharles

    One point you don’t mention is the 5 vs 6.

    It’s 5 now partly to allow more apparatus specialists to qualify to the Olympics, the total number of spaces capped by IOC.

  • Stoi!

    I agree that the current system actually entrenches the advantage that top teams have, because of the 2 separate formats being used. Top teams like the US and China know they’ll qualify for TFs and it doesn’t matter what happens in prelims. So they can take one eventers, and if they end up counting an 11.2 from someone in prelims, it won’t make any difference. That’s not the case for anyone outside the top 4 really.

    So a team like Britain or Australia this year will have to choose the lineup to do well in prelims, to ensure Olympic qualification. Meaning they’ll potentially be at a disadvantage in TFs, competing against top teams who’ve chosen their optimum lineup for 6-3-3 rather than 6-5-4. I don’t think either of those teams have much chance of a medal, but the point is that the top teams shouldn’t have their advantage further entrenched. If 6-3-3 was used in prelims as well as TFs, then it might help lower ranked teams (and no Bruno, that isn’t a suggestion)

  • Christina

    I’m sentimental. It was 6-6-5 when I was competing, and that’s still how I like it. So sue me, I know it gives stronger programs an advantage, but I like the idea of a team full of gymnasts who are competent all-arounders. I’m sympathetic to the plight of the specialists, but I guess not *that* sympathetic. Besides, 6-3-3 still gives stronger programs an advantage– weaker teams might still have to field 3 all-arounders, whereas stronger programs have a much deeper field to pick from. Sometimes an Australia might trip into a competition scenario where the big guns mess up, but it’s not going to be all that common.

    And you’re right about open-ended scoring making it all irrelevant, too . Stronger programs will be able to execute more difficulty, and will always have a numerical advantage in the open-ended system. So 6-3-3 seems totally pointless.

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