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Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Gymnastics at Olympics drops "perfect 10" scoring

Remember how legendary Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton became when they each scored a perfect 10 in their Olympic gymnastics competitions? Heck, "Perfect 10" has become a part of our vernacular because of their achievements and those of other gymnasts. Well, we can kiss any hope of seeing some 10s at the Beijing Olympics goodbye 'cuz a new scoring system completely gets rid of the traditional 10.0 grade.

In its place is a convoluted scheme that not only doesn't reward poise and grace, it darn nearly penalizes it: demanding that gymnasts produce "bigger and better"...

Nastia Liukin of the United States team, for example, performs a routine on the uneven bars that has a sky-high difficulty value of 7.7. Her father and coach, Valeri Liukin, crunched numbers last year to invent the complex, high-scoring routine.

He did the calculations on a Post-it before handing it to his daughter at practice one day. She gasped.

"I was like: Wow, you want me to do all of that? Is that possible?" Nastia Liukin said. "But then I realized that I need to do all that with this new scoring, if I even want to think about a gold medal. I said: OK, cool. I'll learn it."

It seems like a minor thing to be upset about. But what bothers me is that this move represents something that has become very widespread in this world: the belief that since there is no real attainable perfection, that we can over-compensate with bulk quantity. I can envision lots of gymnasts now, coming to spend most of their at a computer trying to "calculate the best possible routine" instead of getting out there and throwing themselves at the equipment... which is the only way that anyone grows and gets better. It comes by hard work and firsthand experience, not running it through simulations. And as Retton and Comaneci and others have proved, perfection at something is possible. It just comes from being dedicated to making the most of the talents you've been given.

And is it just me, or does practically everything about these Olympics scream out massive fail?