Monday, 9 April 2012

Crack open the vault

We are witnessing the death of an apparatus. What happened to the vault?

Remember the 2000 Olympic vault final? I do. A Huge amount of tension surrounded the apparatus following the height mishap in the All Around competition, adding extra excitement to wat was already a great showcase of talent. The lineup was starstudded: lots of top all around competitors were present along with some wildcards like Laura Martinez, whose DTY had been super consistent during her stay in Sydney. There was a nice variety of vaults, high levels of execution, and the general feeling that the vault title was as prestigious and important as any other gold medal in the sport.

What the hell happened next?

Vault has undergone a major transformation since the millennium Olympics. Although vault was always an apparatus which benefitted a specialist (statistically, vault is the apparatus on which world champions have the greatest chance of repeating). However, in recent years the field has gone from slim to almost non existent.

If gymnastics were a company, vault specialism would be the IT department. Locked away in some basement somewhere and treated with less regard than other medal possibilities in the sport, vault has for a while now felt like a continuous footnote in gymnastics. In the All Around, the top group starts on vault, and there is ever the feeling that it is like a warm up for the other “real” events: something that most gymnasts simply “get through”. Even in the case of athletes who go for top shelf vaults, there is never the sense of truly perfecting an art on vault and making an all around impression there - it is ever an ambience of squeezing as many tenths from the throwaway apparatus to ease the pressure later on.

This is no coincidence, and could easily have been anticipated. With the open ended code, start value is everything as we have all come to know. The code demands exhausting routines on the other three apparatus, asking more of gymnasts than ever before. For an instance demonstrator of this, watch a bar routine form the 1992 Olympics: they look positively bare by comparison to today’s.

Gorgeous, and a worthy winner. But look how few skills there are compared to today

With so much time and investment having to be put in to learning huge quantities of skills and connections on other apparatus, it is no surprise that vault gets left out in the cold. This has two pertinent consequences for this apparatus....

1. Yurchenko fever. It would be erroneous to blame Yurchenko dominance on the open ended code, because Yurchenkos have been overperformed for about 30 years now. The main difference is that in the past, whilst most competitors used Yurchenkos in team and AA situations, they DID have a second vault and hence WERE familiar with other vaulting techniques. Now, one could attempt a different entry, but why would they? It is easier and more rewarding to chuck an extra twist onto a vault they already know. Hence everyone progresses towards an Amanar and that is that.
2. Some of the best vaulters don’t for event finals...because they don’t have time. Learning a second vault is hard work. Learning a cracking routine on any apparatus is hard work, but the key difference is that other routines can be used in a team situation AND in the All Around: these events are blind to a second vault. Therefore for someone like Jordyn Wieber, whose main focus is the All Around, doesn’t bother with a second vault even though she has the potential to be one of the world’s top vaulters.

So, the consequences of the code of points, and the fact that two vaults were only required in team and AA for one quad (97-00), is that the two vault field has got thinner and thinner. In 2008, only three of the 8 competitors were top 10 finishing all arounders. Compare this to 1992 where 7 of the 8 were top 10 AAers. In a way this is good as it indicates that specialism is more greatly accepted, but it is undeniable that vault medallists are not always the best vaulters or those with the best technique.

There is a greater problem exacerbating this. Hinted at above, the Olympic team format does nothing for the vault specialist. It is one of those points that gymnastics fans seem to universally agree on. That team size is just too damn small. For me, the 2008 6-3-3 format was too small so this new one is just a complete insult. Remember old team finals? Back when there were compulsories, 7 member teams? Back when to watch a full one you had to totally bed in, stockpile the supplies and unplug the phone? These days they are over in a flash. Vault specialists struggled to make teams at the best of times, but it was possible! Look at 2004, where the USA took Annia Hatch to Athens, allowing her to take a silver medal.

So to summarize the problems: vault is dying. Variety has gone and the gaps between vault D scores encourages the Yurchenko progression above anything else. Vault finals are paltry affairs with few competitors, and those that are present shouldn’t even really be considered specialists: they are simply ANYONE who can put two vaults of a semi decent start value to their feet. Finally, the stupid new team format is ruining the apparatus further: gymnastics talent tends to come from powerhouse countries, within which it is unwise to be a vault specialist because a second vault means nothing to the team. We are currently in a scenario where it is probably more likely for Jade Barbosa to make the Olympic vault final than it is for Mckayla Maroney, who will have to stamp her ticket somewhere else.

Vault can be a brilliant, exciting event. It can also be beautiful. Sadly, every current rule in the book seems to discourage athletes from perfecting their art on vault. We have lost execution, variety, depth and recognition. Vault has become a throwaway footnote in a sport of combination bonus and packed routines elsewhere.

I just hope we can get it back. The new vault final rules (see: should make some difference, but ultimately I think the only longterm solution would be to reinstate the two vault requirement for teams and All Arounders. This way national teams would be forced to recognize specialisms, raising vault excellence to a level field with the other apparatus, and variety would be forced back into place. People would say this would be too demanding on the athletes, but it would be unfair to let vault take the hit for the exhausting nature of the other three apparatus. It isn't about difficulty: its about variety and execution.



  1. It's quite sad that vaulters have no place in this quadrennium. Let's be honest, Maroney's performances at Jesolo were very mediocre. She probably won't make the Olympic team despite the fact that she is above and beyond all the other vaulters in the world.

  2. oh the has some of the greatest moments of gymnastic history attached to it and now it really just seems like it's been thrown aside. I also agree with you on the new 5-3-3 rule..I know its to open the field to other less deep countries and so the competition wouldn't be dominated (I assume its a public relations ploy)by one country..but isn't about the best in the world and if they all come from the one country then that is just the breaks. I feel the same about the 2 per country rule. It's like no one wants to win because others have taken a want to beat the best on their best day.

    1. Exactly! The point of an Olympic competition is to reward the best, not to make sure everyone gets a trophy. This isn't the PeeWee League, it's supposed to be the best in the world. If the best 6-6 AAers are from the same country, too bad--they should still be allowed to compete and set the bar for the rest of us. I HAAAAAAAATE 5-3-3, haaaaaaate it. Bruno Grandi is ruining the sport, all so he can pander to smaller countries and get their support so his senile *ss can stay on as President of FIG.

  3. I agree that McKayla was lackluster at Jesolo BUT she didn't have any major mistakes, and I think she has enough time over the next few months to really improve on all of her new combinations, particularly bars. I just don't think we can count her out yet!

    Definitely agree with this post, though, you have my vote for a mandatory 2-vault rule reinstatement!

  4. I've never understood why more gymnasts don't train two vaults just for the sheer fact that making vaulting finals is "easier" than any other event based on the number of gymnasts even attempting to make vault finals to begin with. I know if I was an elite gymnast, I'd be doing that.

  5. This article is an insult to gymnastics fans worldwide. You show a prejudiced view, failing to grasp that the best thing the sport has seen in years is the diversity of countries represented in vault finals. In 2011 we had gymnasts from Vietnam, Mexico and Dominican Republic competing. How could this be bad for the sport? I am glad that we are allowed to see vault specialists (they ARE specialists, despite what your narrow and limited view of the sport calls "anyone") from many different countries. This is unique in the history of gymnastics. It was much more entertaining to watch Vault finals at the last year WC than the Beam finals, containing gymnasts solely from Russia, Romania, China and the USA. This makes the sport boring and stagnant to people from the other countries. How is the sport supposed to attract viewers with the same select group of gymnasts competing again and again?

    And please, don't blame the Code of Points for the gymnasts not learning a second vault. They do not learn a second vault because they do not want to! Wieber just CAN'T perform a second vault. She can throw as many as two and a half twists after a Yurchenko entry, but she can not perform anything else on vault. Probably a tucked front, but that is worth 4.4 and she won't make the finals. This only shows how much respect the true specialists deserve. And what a harmful comment about Jade Barbosa! This was unpolite and disrespectful! She is a specialist, I repeat, and won medals in a major competitions (Pan-American Games and World Championships, for example). Now, she is just one of the talented vault specialists you call "anyone" in your pathetic article. I am sorry to have lost my time reading this.

  6. Hi Thiago, thanks for taking the time to comment, although I think it a strange choice to further "lose your time" doing so given how much you disliked the article.

    Everyone's opinion is different, and we clearly have very different views on what constitutes a good vault final. However to say I am prejudiced I feel is very unfair. Actually, I think it is you that is prejudiced, because you
    clearly feel personally offended because some of your favourite athletes are vault specialists. I take great effort to be impartial and not to criticize gymnasts unless I feel their safety is being compromised - as is the case with Pena currently - but obviously personal opinion is unavoidable at times. I make it very clear that this is a blog based on personal opinion rather than reporting style.

    I do agree that Wieber would struggle with a second vault - I merely used her as an example because she is very well known. As for Barbosa, my comment was NOT harmful or hurtful or even meant in a critical way - I love Barbosa (her longevity, her personality, her super high flight elements on beam and the fact that she had an Amanar before they were ten a penny). I think she is a good vaulter too, I simply, again, used her as an example because although she is not as good a vaulter as Maroney (I think that is fairly undeniable) she has more of a chance due to the unfairness of the 5-3-3 Olympic format.

    I too think it is good to see diversity in vault finals, but I stand by the original point I made which is that vault finals lack the depth of other apparatus and execution often goes out of the window.

    I suggest in future if my thoughts offend you to this degree, that you don't read them.

    Lauren: Exactly! It always seems like they are missing an opportunity there

  7. Thanks for replying.

    From the other articles I have read, I can see you have a very consistent opinion, which I do not agree with, about vault specialists nowadays. Vault is my favorite event and I am happy with the current difficulty. I agree that Maroney has increased difficulty over Jade's vaults, but we are talking about a half twist difference here. Jade's execution in both vaults is far from what one would call bad, but I can see that Maroney's is better for now. The problem is, as I pointed out, that some of these comments are offensive to the gymnasts themselves, and I am very sorry you fail to recognize the bias in your article. Also, I agree that a Produnova is a dangerous vault, but we have seen Rebecca Bross suffer a major injury performing a DTY. An underrotated Amanar would probably cause a huge injury to an athlete, as well. Gymnastics IS dangerous. The question is: is it fair to bash an athlete performing a Produnova probably because she is from Dominican Republic, and not the USA? No one said anything about Nabieva's underrotated Amanar, probably because she is Russian. How about bashing a Russian gymnast for poor execution and endangering her health performing an underrotated vault? I have seen NO ONE doing this. But a "newcomer" from Dominican Republic seems like a much easier target.

    I am comfortable about not reading your thoughts anymore, since they are offensive and biased. Nevertheless, I sincerely hope you can change your view in the future.

  8. Thanks again. To be honest I think we must have a fundamental difference in opinion that prevents us from agreeing, because I still cannot grasp what it is about this article that you find so offensive. I am not offending any gymnasts, and I criticize the CODE not the competitors.

    Of course context is key and most vaults and skills would be dangerous to someone. That is exactly the point about chucking - it should be totally avoided regardless of what the skill is. If I thought Pena could consistently complete that vault then I would not be saying this. It has nothing whatsoever to do with her country or anything about her as a person. Indeed when Becca was competing a DTY at those nationals I said the exact same thing.

    I am not American and do not live in America, which I think is good or you to know in case you think I have a patriotic bias.

    Finally, you must have been living under a rock when Nabieva was competing that Amanar because it is probably one of the most criticized vaults in modern gymnastics history. Everyone hated it. But she doesn't compete it anymore so why would it be mentioned? The same goes for Mustfina. Her Amanar has been maligned by gymnastics fans and used as an example of why open ended D scores are dangerous.