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Style Points: Gymnasts modify routines to meet new standards

Published January 6, 2006 1:05 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah junior gymnast Nicolle Ford spent much of the preseason going back into her past, relearning an old floor pass she thought she never would do again.

"Usually by now, in college, we're just maintaining things and not trying new things," Ford said.

Ford has changed her pass from a front full punch front to a two-and-a-half punch front because of a new set of rules that made her old pass virtually worthless.

She isn't alone in having to overhaul her routines, as gymnasts across the country try to meet a new set of standards. Judging guidelines are changed every four years, but the new qualifications are expected to have a bigger impact on teams this season than most changes, particularly for teams that want to keep up with the nation's best.

While the country's top gymnasts, such as Ford, are dealing with a change here and there, others will have to go for bigger and better tricks if they want to be competitive against the elite teams.

The biggest modification comes in the overall standard of judging. Each event has subjective requirements that were judged against "the level of competition." However, what that level exactly was was left open for personal interpretation. Now, it has been established as the level of competition shown by the teams that competed on the first day of the 2005 NCAA Championships.

"We wanted to make sure it was as consistent as possible," said Carole Ide, the president of the National Association of Women's Gymnastics Judges. "My goal is to get it to where I walk into that arena and we are all on the same page, looking for the same thing. Of course, I know that is a pie in the sky and it's never going to happen, because everyone has their own interpretations. But at least we have a tool to try and reach that."

To help make the judging more consistent, Mike Lorenzen, the president of the National Association of Collegiate Gymnastics Coaches/Women, went through videotape of last year's championships and made a DVD of examples for judges to use as references. Each college program and each state judging representative will receive copies.

"We realized we had to do a better job of educating judges across the country," Lorenzen said. "What we were seeing is that some teams would go to regionals and get scored much lower than what they were getting at home, and it was causing a lot of grief for teams."

In addition to the "level of competition rule," changes were made in all events except vault.

"We're all going to be challenged by these rules," said Lorenzen, who, in addition to serving as the coaches association president, is an assistant coach at Stanford. "There certainly is a fear that this is going to make it tremendously hard for some programs, but, hopefully, it will make it better and more equally competitive. Some of the lower programs won't have a chance to get the same scores as UCLA, but the bottom line is they shouldn't."

Southern Utah coach Scott Bauman said the new rules would make it harder for his team to challenge top programs, but he also agreed with them.

"The devalue of front tumbling is going to hurt us bad, but there does need to be some separation," he said. "If Utah goes out and hits and has more difficulty, then they should be rewarded for that. Judges already have a hard job. Hopefully, this will make it a little bit easier."

The irony of the new rules and using the first day of the 2005 championships as a guideline is that it will help teams such as Utah, but the Utes' coach, Greg Marsden, has long been an advocate of stressing composition over difficulty.

"I don't know if it is going to be good or not," Marsden said. "Do we want to have more of a separation of teams and make it easier to select a winner, or do we want to have a lot of teams that have a chance of winning on any given night? I don't know what is best. The teams that push the skill levels are definitely going to have an advantage."

Utah State has increased its difficulty in recent years, so coach Ray Corn hopes the rule changes won't affect his team too much.

"I believe it's going to help us," he said. "But any time you add difficulty there is a greater risk. You better be prepared to bite the bullet if you make mistakes."

lwodraska@sltrib.com Rule Changes

Here is an overview of the rule changes in women's college gymnastics (skills are graded with "A" being the easiest and "E" the hardest):

l Uneven bars: Minimum releases have been strengthened, with the requirement of two "C" level releases or a "D" and a "B." There is a greater emphasis on variety, with judges having the option of deducting .2 if a gymnast fails to have enough variety. There is less emphasis on the degree of vertical in handstands, to encourage more difficult combinations when handstands are combined with other tricks.

l Balance beam: More difficulty in tumbling is needed, with the minimum requirement going from two "B" skills used in connection to a "B" and a "C." The requirement that gymnasts must touch their torso to the beam has been eliminated. There is a greater emphasis for routines to contain forward, backward and sideways moves.

l Floor: Front tumbling has been devalued and the final pass must contain a "C" value or a bonus combination.

Rules Changes

Here is an overview of the rule changes in women's college gymnastics (skills are graded with "A" being the easiest and "E" the hardest):

l Uneven bars: Minimum releases have been strengthened, with the requirement of two "C" level releases or a "D" and a "B." There is a greater emphasis on variety, with judges having the option of deducting .2 if a gymnast fails to have enough variety. There is less emphasis on the degree of vertical in handstands, to encourage more difficult combinations when handstands are combined with other tricks.

l Balance beam: More difficulty in tumbling is needed, with the minimum requirement going from two "B" skills used in connection to a "B" and a "C." The requirement that gymnasts must touch their torso to the beam has been eliminated. There is a greater emphasis for routines to contain forward, backward and sideways moves.

l Floor: Front tumbling has been devalued and the final pass must contain a "C" value or a bonus combination.