THE BLOG
07/10/2012 01:09 pm ET Updated 6 days ago

How Many Points Would Mary Lou Retton's Perfect-10 Vaults at the 1984 Olympics Receive With the Modern Scoring System and Competitive Level?

This question originally appeared on Quora.

By Jason Shen, Co-Founder of Ridejoy, Captain of 2009 NCAA Men's Gymnastics Champion Stanford team

Retton's vault should translate to a score of 15.20 by 2012 scoring standards.

But What Does that Mean?

Back in 1984, the highest score you could receive in artistic men's and women's gymnastics was a 10.0, which is if you perfectly completed a routine or vault that achieved some arbitrary "maximum difficulty." Thus, the concept of the "Perfect 10."

After the 2004 Olympics, this system was overhauled, and starting in 2006, gymnasts could score far above a 10.0.

How the New Scoring System Works

br />The 2009-2012 F.I.G Code of Points, the official handbook for judging/scoring gymnastics at the international level, indicates that every event is scored by adding two sub scores together:

Difficulty Score (D-Score) - basically how hard your routine or vault was (max value is ostensibly unlimited)

Execution Value (E-Score) - basically how well you performed all the moves (max value 10.0).

How Retton's Vault Stacks Up to 2012 Standards:

Mary Lou Retton does a Tsukahara stretched with 1/1 twists. In the 2009-12 code of points, that's a D-Score of 5.20

Assuming she scores a 10.0 on the E-Score, she would have scored a 15.20 (10.0 + 5.20).

In comparison, Gabby Douglas, who won the 2012 Olympic Trials in the all-around, performs a Yurchenko stretched with 2 & 1/2 turns, which is worth 6.50

If you watch the video, Douglas takes a small hop and ultimately scored a 16.00 on Day 2 of Trials, which I feel indicates a far stricter evaluation of gymnastics execution in 2012 vs 1984.

Retton's Score Against 2012 Olympic Trials Competitors:

Looking at the results from Day 2 of Olympics Trials, Retton's 15.20 would have put her in 7th out of 11 vault competitors.

That seems relatively competitive after 28 years, but my speculation is that the judging is a lot tougher now, and in looking at her video, I don't think Retton would have scored a perfect 10 today. She lands with her feet slightly apart, and she makes a small hop after the landing. The highest E-Score of Day 2 at Olympic Trials  was a 9.65 and in fact, I don't know when the last time someone actually scored a perfect 10.0 on the E-Score at an international competition.

Criticism of the New Scoring System:

For the record, Mary Lou Retton (among many, including Nadia Comaneci and Shannon Miller) is not in favor of the new scoring system. As the New York Times reported in 2008:

At the United States women's Olympic team selection camp in July, Retton explained why she "hates" the new scoring. "It's hard to understand," she said. "I don't even understand it."

Nostalgic for the old system, she said: "It's simple. People get it, and you don't have to explain it. Everybody could relate to it. I miss it, and I think other people will, too."

My Defense of the New System:

In my view, the new scoring system is a better standard (despite the loss of the nostalgic 10.0) because it really shows how gymnastics has evolved over the years in terms of difficulty.

In the old system, the Code of Points was re-evaluated every Olympiad, and skills would get "devalued,",\ forcing athletes to perform new/harder skills to stay at the 10.0 level. This makes scores/routines from different eras difficult to compare (the difficulty of 10.0 routine in 1970 vs a 10.0 routine in 2000 are clearly not the same).

Now, we have a scoring standard that does not revise every four years. Skills don't get devalued, harder skills just garner you more points. We can now see that Retton's "perfect vault" would have netted her perhaps a 15.20, nearly a point less than Douglas's 16.00.