The General Rules of Gymnastics
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In artistic gymnastics, judges score a gymnast’s routines on the various events. The gymnast must meet certain requirements in his routine, according to his competitive level. The judges evaluate the presence and technical performance of those requirements to calculate a score. Higher scores reflect better performances.
Starting with Compulsories
In the U.S., gymnasts must demonstrate their skill at several levels of compulsory routines before they can move to more advanced “optional” routines. At every level, a gymnast must score a minimum total from all events before moving to a higher level. In compulsory routines, everyone performs the same skills in the same order. Judges score the compulsory routines out of a maximum of 10 points, with deductions taken for mistakes.
At the optional levels, gymnasts perform the skills they prefer in the order they choose, but they have to meet the minimum difficulty standards for that level. For safety, at most levels there are also limits on the difficulty of skills a gymnast can compete. Each skill has a difficulty rating of “A” through “E” attached to a specific point value. “A” skills, for example cartwheels, are the easiest, and “super E” skills are the most difficult.
Mistakes during a routine cost the gymnasts tenths off of her starting score. In competition below the elite level, a gymnast can score a maximum 10. At the highest levels of competition before elite, a gymnast meeting the requirements of that level has a starting score of slightly lower than 10. If he performs skills above the minimal level, he can earn bonus tenths up to a maximum starting score of 10. At the elite level, gymnasts’ scores can exceed 10 because they combine a difficulty score and execution score. Execution refers to the technical performance of skills, starting from 10 with deductions taken for faults. The difficulty score adds up the point value of all the skills in the routine. A total score of 15 or above is highly competitive at the world level.
At all levels of competition, balance beam and floor have time limits. Exceeding the time limit results in a deduction. After a fall, a gymnast has 30 seconds to remount the apparatus and continue her routine.
Technical faults like bent knees or poor body position receive deductions of 0.1 to 0.2. Steps out of a landing receive deductions of 0.1 to 0.3. Falls cost 0.5 in lower levels and 0.8 at the elite level. Gymnasts who perform a bonus skill poorly do not receive the bonus points for that skill and receive the technical deductions from their score.
Rules concern the equipment, the appearance of the gymnast and coaches’ behavior. During a routine, touching a gymnast or giving advice incur deductions. Before starting the routine, the gymnast must wait for the judges’ acknowledgment and salute the judge by raising both arms. The gymnast salutes the judges again at the end of the performance to show that she is done and judging can stop.
In 20 years as a biologist, Susan T. McClure has contributed articles to scientific journals such as "Nature Genetics" and "American Journal of Physiology." She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland. She enjoys educating people about science and the challenge of making complex information accessible.