Thursday, October 9, 2014

USA: 2014 World Champions - Looking Towards The Future

Unsurprisingly, the US Women's team dominated team finals. Team USA hit every routine with no major mistakes. While this is incredibly exciting, it was also a pretty predictable outcome, so I'd like to think about the larger implications of Team USA's complete dominance.

To start off the conversation, let's look at this tweet from Uncle Tim:

USA's dominance just keeps growing. While it doesn't make for very intense international competitions, what I love about it is the extreme depth in the US. I think it's really fun that there are so many different team combinations. I love the challenge of putting the team puzzle together and seeing who fits where.

But what does this growing dominance really mean? Even at the smallest margin of 4.082 points in 2011, the US is clearly way ahead of the competition. The US has proven, year after year, that they can hit under pressure, when it counts. What I think is interesting is the increase in lead this year compared to 2011 and 2012. The 2011 and 2012 wins make a lot of sense to me. The 2011 Worlds team was 4/5 of the Olympic team, and out of those four, only Raisman was on the team in 2010. So, it makes sense that they'd take a huge leap ahead when the future Olympic team starts competing and gearing up for 2012. Same idea for 2012 - it's almost exactly the same team as 2011, but slightly improved by adding Kyla, so it makes sense that their lead increases. 

Kocian, UB, Team Finals
What I think is really exciting is the big jump ahead this year. Even in a traditionally slow mid-quad year, Team USA is dominant. The US hasn't backed down. The 2014 team, minus Simone and Kyla, is incredibly inexperienced. But they still hit. Honestly, the US is just getting better. This team now has a lot more international experience, and they'll continue to improve. Meanwhile, we have juniors that will be old enough to compete soon as well. The US just isn't taking a break. It'll be really hard for any other countries to catch up, because the US is just getting better. This year will probably be the weakest of the quad for the US, but they still won by 6.693 points. 

Team USA's dominance is unbelievably impressive. The semi-centralized system is clearly working, and the US just keep getting stronger. I'm incredibly excited by how well the team did in Team Finals this year, and I'm even more excited to see them work to continue this trend in the future.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Routines to Watch - USA Podium Training

It's that time of year again…. Worlds time! This morning was the first look we got at the women of Team USA during podium training. For the most part, they all looked calm and confident.

When the team was named, it seemed like Desch would be the alternate, but Baumann didn't train bars today (likely her old elbow injury, but that's just speculation). I still think Desch will likely be named the alternate, although if this is true and Baumann isn't competing bars, Skinner will have to step into the bars lineup for qualifications, which might be a little scary. I'm thinking the qualifications lineup will look something like this (format is 5 up, 4 count):

VT: Kocian, Baumann, Ross, Skinner, Biles
UB: Skinner, Biles, Ross, Locklear, Kocian
BB: Kocian, Skinner, Baumann, Biles, Ross
FX: Kocian, Baumann, Ross, Skinner, Biles

Keeping that in mind, here are some routines from the day that I particularly enjoyed.

Obviously, Simone on floor was a highlight. She absolutely stuck her double double today, which she usually bounces out of since she has such an insane amount of power.  This routine seems like it gets easier for Simone every time she competes it, which is just crazy.

Another routine I really enjoyed was Baumann on beam. She hit a gorgeous beam routine with just a slight wobble on the arabian and a few short leaps.

Kocian and Locklear are standouts on bars. Hilariously enough, there will actually be a fight for which US girls make the bars final- I think it'll be tight between Ross, Kocian, and Locklear. It's really fun to see the US have such beautiful bar routines this year.



I'm really looking forward to seeing these girls compete in qualifications later this week!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 Nationals: Seniors Day 1

2014 Nationals are officially underway! So exciting to see all the seniors back out there after Classics!


Obviously the excitement tonight came from Simone Biles, who performed every routine like she could do it in her sleep. Biles started on beam, hitting a huge set for a 15.7. Her floor was nothing less than expected. Though it was a bit hard to hear the music over the feed, her routine was exciting as always. Every single one of her passes (double double, double layout half out, double layout, full twisting double back) could be someone else's opening pass, which never fails to amaze me. My personal favorite is her second pass, the Biles, because the half twist looks so effortless that I almost forget it's there! Her vaults were sky high and beautiful as always- her form looked even better than usual tonight. She easily hit bars, though brought in only a 14.55 for a much lower score than her other events. Biles finished with a huge all around score of 61.3, putting her in the lead by more than three points! I'm looking forward to seeing Biles dominate again on night two.

I was happily surprised by Maggie Nichols' performances tonight. I've heard a few people around the gymternet saying that she's kind of an Aly Rasiman, hitting solid routines and able to step in where needed. I wasn't ever a huge fan of Maggie's but after tonight I'm starting to really like her! None of her events stand out a lot, but she got in the 14.5 range for all except vault, where a pretty sturdy DTY earned her a 15.05. Kyla's errors opened the door for her to take the silver medal and it looks like she's working hard to take that opportunity!

I was actually shocked by Kyla's errors- a fall on her whip-double arabian and putting her knee down on her double layout bars dismount. Her opening beam routine was a bit shaky as well, although her lines were beautiful as always. Besides those errors, Kyla looked clean and graceful as usual. I'm betting she'll come back incredibly strong on Saturday looking to take back her silver medal.

Another standout performance was Ashton Locklear on bars. She had the highest score of the night with a 15.85 (6.6/9.25). Her legs look are so long, making her swing look so beautiful. She has huge combinations that look effortless. It's really fun to see some actual competition for the bars title between Locklear, Kocian, and likely Ross on night two!

There are a few things I think will be exciting to look out for on night two. I'm really excited to see Kyla come back with a vengeance to claim her silver- I think she's going to work hard to make bars, beam, and floor absolutely perfect. I'm also excited to see how Nichols will handle the pressure of being in second. Brenna Dowell's lone bar routine should also be a highlight- she hit really well tonight for a 15.4 and I think she'll make even more improvements in execution for night two!

Although there's not any competition for the title, it was still fun to watch tonight, and I'm looking forward to an exciting Saturday night!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hipster Gym Fans and the Perfect 10

Hello gym fans! I'm back! I've been wanting to write forever, but I couldn't think of a good topic for a post. Well, low and behold, while browsing the GymCastic website for my daily dose of gymnastics, something caught my eye. 

One of the questions on their Gym Nerd Poll from November 1st was, "Do you miss the perfect 10?" As you can see, 66% responded: No, gymnastics fans need to get over it. This fascinated me. Gym fans all over love to lament the loss of the perfect 10 and the comprehensability of the sport. Gymnastics used to be so simple and perfection was attainable! So why this hearty response that these fans simply need to "get over it"?

Scrolling through the replies, I noticed this comment from user Bernard:

This immediately struck a chord with me. Because, whether you agree with me or not, I do not miss the perfect 10. I just don't. And I do feel exactly the way the poll described it. Gym fans just need to get over it. Now, as confident as that opinion sounded, I don't think I've ever really expressed it on the gymternet. Why? Exactly the reason Bernard said. I feel like I'm not a real gym fan if I don't somehow long for the good ol' days  when we had the perfect 10. And maybe this poll is exactly what I, and apparently fellow gymternet buddies, needed to express our opinions. Is it finally time that we stop reminiscing about when gymnastics could be perfect? Based on this poll, it seems like it might be time to fully embrace the new system.

I think there are two parts to liking and accepting the new code. The first, as Bernard points out, is the switch to more difficult skills. This is certainly a part of the new code. The unlimited D score leaves room to innovate and go crazy with incredibly difficult skills. However, I think a good portion of the progression of difficultly in gymnastics has to do with the evolution of the equipment and the sport in general. All sports evolve. Gymnastics will get harder as time goes on and as gymnasts continue to master the easier skills. There will always be upgrading and playing around with skills to see what comes out of it. So I don't think that we can necessarily equate hard skills with the change in code to the extent that many people do.

The second change that comes with the new code, obviously, is the scoring itself. Gym fans everywhere talk about how hard the new system is to understand, and how it causes us to lose casual fans. I just don't think this is true. Yes, people know Nadia, they know the perfect 10, and that's an idea they'll have in their head if they sit down to watch gymnastics today. However, it really doesn't take a genius to understand the new system. Of course, there are a million intricacies and nuances to the code that can be analyzed and discussed, but they don't affect a casual gym fan's gymnastics watching experience. I honestly think it's pretty clear if a score just shows Difficulty Score: ___ and Execution Score: ____. It's not rocket science. Will it take a new fan a routine or two to get used to? Yes. But will their mind explode trying to figure it out? No.


So why do people keep hating on the new code? Bernard suggests that it's "uncool" to like the new code because it suggests that "you just enjoy gymnastics for the ultra difficult skills." I don't think it's uncool to like hard skills, but what I do think is considered uncool is blindly worshipping them just because they’re difficult. In general, the idea of "coolness" is rooted in allowing yourself to be unimpressed and above excitement. I think this is what's at the heart of Bernard's comment. Being really excited about the hard skills getting thrown is what’s considered uncool. As gym fans, we like to show that we understand enough of about gymnastics to criticize a crazy hard skill, somehow proving that we’re just not impressed (McKayla pun intended). 

But that's just about skills. Does liking the new code inherently imply only being excited about high D scores? In part, yes. Many people who long for the perfect 10 like the cleanliness and artistry in the routines. But I think liking the new code is uncool in another way too. It's cool to be above the innovation of a system change. It's hipster to like something the old fashioned way. Liking the perfect 10 shows that you liked gymnastics back in the golden age; in a sense, that you liked it before it was cool.

So I don't quite know how to answer Bernard's question. In part, yes, it is uncool to like new code because it encourages big skills. Nobody wants to be the one who's excited about all the innovation when everyone else prefers the old system. Do I think there's anything wrong with liking gymnastics purely for the big skills? No. I want everyone to like gymnastics, for whatever reason they want. Do I think there's value in seeing more than just the skills? Of course. But fans are fans for whatever reason they want to be. We always talk about going back to the 10 to get more fans. But we never consider the fact we might be alienating fans by failing to fully embrace the new system. Let's allow ourselves to get excited, gymternet. Of course, we can still be critical, but let's allow ourselves to rejoice in the exciting gymnastics we get to watch, rather than pining for the gymnastics we used to have. 


Note 1: There's a lot to talk about on this topic. I know another huge part of the perfect 10 argument is that nobody can get a 10 in execution anymore (a la Maroney's vault). I'm also interested in exploring this argument and I plan on writing another post about it.

Note 2: If Bernard sees this, please contact me! I was obviously fascinated by your idea, and I'd love to talk more!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Home Score Bias Statistically Proven

As many NCAA gymnastics fans know, home scores have become significantly higher than away scores over the years. One particular meet this year in which the home advantage was quite obvious was the Utah vs. Florida meet. The judges blatantly favored Utah, the home team, giving routines that had obvious deductions perfect 10s. Although not always this obvious, scoring in the 2012-2013 season certainly tended to favor the home team.

I wanted to see whether there really is a difference in home and away scores for each team. I conducted a statistical analysis to see what the difference between home and away scores actually was for each team. What I found showed just how large judging bias can be.

Chris Detrick
Although the teams that get most of our attention are in the top ten, I wanted to make sure that my sample was random and that I was really getting a good picture of the score difference for all of NCAA DI gymnastics. To do this, I sampled from all 62 teams Division 1. Each team was already assigned a number based on their rank from the season. I randomly sampled 35 of them by generating 35 random numbers. For each of the teams sampled, I calculated the average home and away scores using the GymInfo website. I didn't include large meets like sectional and regional championships, since those meets are away for almost all teams competing. After I calculated the average home and away scores for each team, I found the difference (home-away) for each team. 

For those of you who know stats information, I'm going to include my results here, but I'll explain them later in more understandable language. 

Matched pairs test
Technical conditions satisfied: Simple Random Sample, n≥30, data is not independent.
Null Hypothesis: H0D=0 àthere is no difference between the average home and away scores for each team.
Alternate Hypothesis: Ha: μD>0, à there is a positive difference when a team’s average away score is subtracted from their average home score.
p-value= .0000026237
Actual μD of the sample: 0.473195168

95% Confidence Interval: (.30331, .66975)

Okay, so for those of who haven't taken a stats class, here's what I did. The first test, the matched pairs test, is to determine if the difference in scores is greater than zero. The average difference of all of teams I sampled was 0.473. If I assumed that there was actually no difference in the home and away scores, the probability of randomly getting a sample with such a large positive difference is only 0.000262%. This value is so small that it's safe to assume that there really is a positive difference in home and away scores. 

The second test I did, the confidence interval, basically gives an interval within which I can be 95% confident that the actual average difference is. So I can fairly confidently conclude that for all of NCAA division 1 gymnastics teams, home scores are between 0.3 and 0.67 points higher than away scores. 

The graph shows the distribution of my score differences. Most of the home scores are between 5 tenths and 1 point higher than the away scores. 

Thinking about this practically, my results show a huge difference in home and away scores. The average home score advantage of the teams I sampled is 0.473. This difference is huge. The deduction for a fall in NCAA gymnastics is 0.5. Often the differences between a winning and losing team in a meet is less than 0.5, so with two evenly matched teams, simply being at home could make all the difference. 

J. Rachel Spencer
Often fans feel that home teams get the benefit of the doubt from the judges. There are many systems in place to prevent judges’ bias, including an elaborate assignment system. Judges must post their availability and are then assigned to a specific meet. Judges also aren’t allowed to judge a team more than twice at home or away. However, these score differences indicate that there is still really a problem. Oftentimes, judges give a slight edge to the home team. In the infamous Utah Debacle this year, Utah beat their season high score by almost a full point. They had many perfect scores which were awarded to routines with obvious errors. This high scoring ‘home advantage’ can dramatically alter the results of a meet. This is important not just because of who wins or loses, but because NCAA Gymnastics depends largely on a team’s season average score. So, large home scores, whether they give the team a win or not, can increase a team’s ranking. Every routine in an NCAA meet is judged by at least two judges, the number depending on the meet. This illuminates another inconsistency in judging. A blog post from Get a Grip Gymblog explains the large scoring differences that can occur between judges, saying, “Judges can score .2 higher or lower in than their fellow judge when scoring above 9.6 and still have their scores ‘in range’. This means that it is acceptable by the code for one judge can award a 9.8 and another a 10 for the same routine.” This rule allows for judges to give the home teams high scores without being questioned as long as they are ‘close’ to the other judges’ scores. 

Obviously, teams might just perform better at home. They have the support of the crowd and the comfort of the gym and equipment they're used to. They don't have to take a travel day and they can sleep in their own beds. These things clearly give an advantage to the home team. However, the difference that I found was so large that it seems unlikely that it's only these factors contributing to the home advantage. Judges want the support of the crowd and they want to help out the home team. And clearly, this is giving home teams quite an advantage. 

I don't have any great answers about what should be done. There's not a way for gymnastics to be judged without human evaluation, but the current system clearly needs some reevaluation. One of my favorite posts on this subject is from Bekah at Get A Grip Gymblog, and I encourage you to read it here for another opinion. You can also check out GymCastic episode 25 where they discuss the Utah meet and generally high NCAA scores. 

Finally, here are some extra fun facts from my data:
All scores are home-away
Lowest score difference: Cornell (-0.945)
Highest score difference: Air Force Academy (1.347)
Average score difference: 0.473
Team closest to no difference: Alabama (0.065)

References for my statistical analysis: 

Friday, April 12, 2013

2012 Dream Team

As some of you might know, I'm a senior in high school and have been going through the college application process this year. One of the many essays I wrote for my applications asked about a dream team. The prompt was: Who would be on your "dream team" and what would this team do? I immediately thought of the Fierce Five. So, I wrote a short essay on the team competition in London and Olympic Team composition. Since I'm nearing the end of the application process, I thought it would be fun to post the essay here. Hope you enjoy!

Photo Credit: Matt Dunham

My dream team already exists, and as a matter of fact, it’s already won a gold medal. The 2012 women’s Olympic gymnastics team was, arguably, the greatest team of all time. For years prior to the Olympic Trials, gymnastics fans everywhere speculated on which five gymnasts would form the team. After the final night of competition at the Trials, the team was announced. As the world now knows, they were a golden combination.

The process of constructing competition teams is one of my favorite things about gymnastics. With only five women on a team, each decision is strategic, based on many factors other than individual performance. In the Team Finals, three team members must compete in each of the four events. This format requires a careful balance of event specialists and solid all-around gymnasts. I find team composition so intriguing because of its similarity to a complicated puzzle or equation. The reason there’s so much discussion about potential team members is because switching even one person completely changes the equation.

This perfect balance of strengths is what made the 2012 gymnastics team great. In a dream team, each person must provide some invaluable quality that only they can contribute. Would it have been better if veteran Alicia Sacramone were on the team rather than McKayla Maroney? Perhaps Sacramone wouldn't have fallen in the in the individual vault competition, but it is unlikely she would have contributed as much to the Team. A dream team fits together so perfectly that the whole they create cannot be duplicated by any other combination of individual parts.

The team competition in London was inspiring to watch. Seeing the girls work together to accomplish a life-long goal brought tears to my eyes. This is what a dream team can accomplish. On the gold medal winning team, each member contributed exactly what was needed to win. They became my dream team, inspiring me and touching each and every fan’s heart.

Monday, November 12, 2012

#FourYearProblems: Jordyn Wieber

I love that during the Olympics gymnastics finally gets the coverage I believe it deserves. I love that the Fierce Five are now household names and that Maroney's vault is finally broadcast to the world. However, as much as I love that people are excited about gymnastics, there are a few things that have really been bothering me. The biggest one is the perception of Jordyn Wieber.

The minute Jordyn failed to qualify to all around finals, I knew we were going to be subject to the footage of her crying for the next four years. Just like Alica's beam fall in the 2008 team finals, this would be the image NBC chose to show us each time Jordyn Wieber came up. Although this bothers me plenty, it's not what provoked me to write this post.

I've heard a lot of talk about Jordyn centering around how she "choked". This is what makes me angry. Jordyn had a stress fracture, first of all. Secondly, I don't know how anyone in their right mind could call placing fourth in the world choking. Jordyn is a remarkable athlete with incredible talent that in no way gave out on that particular night.

Any gymnastics fan could see that it might be close. Her beam connections just weren't there, and although Jordyn's strong everywhere, Aly was rapidly improving on beam and floor. I'll admit, I assumed we would see Jordyn in the all around finals. But mathematically, I knew what was possible. The American judges were being much more lenient with Jordyn's beam set than any international judges would ever be. I didn't think it would happen, but I don't think it was an outrage or anything like that. Aly qualified fair and square, and I love her for it. 

What makes me mad is the deliberate use of the word "choke". Jordyn did not choke in any sense of the word. To me, at least, choking means giving out on a day when the medals are actually on the line- I don't think qualification was the most stressful part of her Olympics. If Jordyn was going to "choke" she would have done so in the team finals, the day that when the gold medal was really in sight.  If she didn't "choke" at team finals, I don't think she would have "choked" on an even less important day. 

Another thing that really bothers me about this accusation is that none of these four year fans appreciate what Jordyn accomplished. She was AMAZING leading up to the Olympics. I don't care how much of a scam you think the American Cup is, it's still unbelievable to win it as a thirteen year old junior (2009). Jordyn again won the American Cup in 2011, beating reigning World Champion Aliya Mustafina. Jordyn won 2011 Nationals by 6.15 points.That's unbelievable. (I'm getting even more appreciation for Jordyn as I write this.) She's a WORLD CHAMPION. (See my other post about the respect she deserves.) Four year fans don't understand how great Jordyn is and how much she contributed to the Olympic team and to USA Gymnastics. I love her style and I'm so grateful for all o.f her contributions to the sport. I wish that more four year fans could understand the magnitude of her success.

Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports, USA Today, John Cheng