Gymnastics - Liukin tie exposes flaws of new system

BEIJING Tue Aug 19, 2008 3:13pm IST

Nastia Liukin of the U.S. holds her silver medal on the podium during the medal presentation ceremony for the women's uneven bars final in the artistic gymnastics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008.     REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Nastia Liukin of the U.S. holds her silver medal on the podium during the medal presentation ceremony for the women's uneven bars final in the artistic gymnastics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Hans Deryk

BEIJING (Reuters) - The new scoring system in gymnastics was supposed to make judging more transparent. Monday's asymmetric bars final showed it has failed.

American Nastia Liukin thought her eyes were deceiving her when she saw her name ranked second behind China's He Kexin.

The reason for her disbelief?

She had earned an identical score of 16.725 as He but thanks to a convoluted tiebreak system, was second.

It did not make any sense to Liukin, to the fans, to the coaches or even the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) officials, who struggled to explain the rules to a large group of confused people after the competition ended.

"I kept looking at it, and there was a one by her name and a two by my name. I was like, 'okay, am I that tired?" said Liukin.

Luikin's father and coach Valery, who shared a horizontal bar gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Games added: "I don't think a lot of people know what's going on right now. I have no idea, either."

Monday's confusion was the scenario the FIG had hoped to avoid when they revamped the scoring system following a spate of disputed medals at the 2004 Athens Games.

They dumped the old 10.00 format and introduced an open-ended scoring system in 2006, making its Olympic debut in Beijing.

Now two sets of scores, for content of difficulty and for execution, are added and awarded for each performance.

Under usual circumstances, people rarely give anything but the final total a second glance.

On Monday, people were seen writing down the scores given to both gymnasts as they tried to work out exactly how the judges had separated the two.

Calculators were produced, yet the sums did not add up until the FIG finally explained the rules, which were as clear as mud.

The A jury (two judges) calculates the score for difficulty and technical content. Both were given 7.7 start values.

The B jury (six judges) decided the execution score by deducting from the old standard of a perfect 10.

The highest and lowest marks are eliminated, and the score is the average of the four remaining judges. This is then added to the start value. Both gymnasts earned an identical 16.725.

Then the first tie breaker rule was implemented, where an average of the four counting B jury deductions are taken into account for each gymnast. They were still tied.

Then the highest deduction of the four was discarded, and the remaining three were again averaged. This is where He finally sneaked ahead as her average deduction was 0.933 compared with Liukin's 0.966. Understand? Neither did a lot of people.

"That makes no sense. They're saying they improved the scoring system. Look at this," famed coach Bela Karolyi fumed while commentating on the NBC network.

However the FIG had no choice but to implement the tiebreak since the International Olympic Committee rules state dual medals can no longer be awarded in gymnastics and medals in two other apparatus finals were also decided on the rule.

Leszek Blanik ousted Thomas Bouhail for the vault gold while Britain's Louis Smith was pipped for the silver on the pommel horse by Croatia's Filip Ude.

"I don't know exactly why I won, I think this is special rules for judges," said Blanik.

"I don't know what's different. I'm only a gymnast."

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