A primer to the Olympic women’s gymnastics competitions including Isanti’s Grace McCallum

Editor’s note: Most of the information contained in this article was taken from nbcolympics.com.

Women’s gymnastics has always been one of the more-watched competitions during the Summer Olympics. However this year, that competition is of even more interest to this area as two Minnesotans, including Isanti’s Grace McCallum, will be competing for the U.S., who is heavily favored to take gold. And while the number of people paying attention to women’s gymnastics is large, a good chunk of those viewers find the competition rules pretty confusing (which they are, even to the most learned gymnastics fan). Below is a summary of the rules and a schedule for when fans can watch McCallum and the rest of the U.S. team compete. (See NBCOlympics.com/schedule for exact times of live and tape-delayed broadcasts).

The U.S. contingency

Besides McCallum and fellow Minnesotan Sunisa Lee, the U.S. Olympic team is comprised of Simone Biles and Jordan Chiles. Those four will be competing not only for the team competition, but also for advancing in the all-around and event competitions. Besides them, MyKayla Skinner and Jade Carey will be competing only as individuals, meaning their scores will not count for the team.

Qualification round (Sunday, July 25)

For this first round of competition, all four team members, plus the two individuals, can compete on all four events for a chance to qualify for the all-around and event finals. In addition, the top three scores among McCallum, Lee, Biles and Chiles, will count toward the team score. The U.S. team is as close to a guaranteed qualifier for the team finals as you can get as the top eight teams advance.

Team finals (Tuesday, July 27)

In this round, only three of the four team members compete on each event, with all three scores counting toward the team’s final score. The team with the highest total wins the gold. Typically, two of the three competitors will be the team’s best all-arounders (in the U.S.’s case, Biles and probably Lee), with the third competitor possibly being an “event specialist.” For example, McCallum might compete on vault and floor, with Chiles competing on bars and beam.

All-Around finals (thursday, July 29)

Twenty-four gymnasts will compete for the individual all-around gold, with those gymnasts being determined during qualification round. However, it’s not as simple as the top 24 scores advance as there is a rule that states only two gymnasts per country can advance. This is where it gets tricky for the U.S. as all four team members, plus the two individuals (Skinner and Carey) are talented enough to score in the top 24. Biles is the greatest gymnast of all time, and is favored to win the all-around gold. So that leaves the other five Americans to fight it out for the other qualifying spot. Whoever that is, they will be favored to take the silver.

Event finals (Aug. 1 - vault & Bars, Aug. 2 - floor, Aug. 3 - beam)

Eight gymnasts will compete in each of the individual event finals, with once again, only two per country allowed. The eight competitors will also be determined during the qualification round. Again, Biles is expected to qualify on all four events, leaving only one spot per event for the other Americans. 

Scoring

This is probably the most confusing part of the sport. Olympic competition doesn’t use the same scoring many are used to, where a “perfect 10” is the top score that can be achieved. Today, there are two scores that are added together to come up with a total score. 

The first score (often called the “start value”) is accumulated based on what a gymnast does during her routine. Every move is given a predetermined “value,” with the more difficult the move, the higher value it is given. Judges add up the point values of the moves executed during a routine to reach this score. 

The second score (often called the “execution score”) is very similar to the old scoring system. Starting at 10.0, judges take away points for mistakes made during the routine, with many of those mistakes having predetermined deductions (i.e. a half-point deduction for falling off the beam).

This is where the U.S. has a huge advantage over the competition. Many of the skills they are executing are so much more difficult than what anyone else is attempting, resulting in their start value being higher than anyone else. Therefore, even if they make more mistakes, which reduces their execution score, their start value makes up for it and their total score is higher than the other competitors.

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