London 2012 Olympics: Trying to Comprehend the All-Around Tiebreaker

Dan PizzutaContributor IIIAugust 2, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 02:  Alexandra Raisman of the United States reacts after she competes on the vault in the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Individual All-Around final on Day 6 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on August 2, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Just when people start getting into gymnastics, some dumb rule no one understands gets exploited.

Whether it's the two-per country rule (which I actually defended), the ability to challenge a judge's score with and inquiry, and now the tie breaking process for the all-around competition.

When I wrote about the two-per county rule, I said the only reason we cared was because it affected someone in our country and if it happened to someone else it wouldn't be an issue. I can stand here in absolute confidence that I would still be writing about this if any tie occurred in this competition because this rule makes no sense.

Let's start with a bit of background. After the 1996 Olympics, the International Olympics Committee told the International Gymnastics Federation to stop giving out duplicate medals for ties. In the IGF's defense it did not agree with the IOC, but in the Olympics you kind of have to do what the IOC says.

A complicated tie break system was created in 1997 and used up until the 2008 Olympics when a situation arose showing the flaw (unbelievable, I know) in the tie-breaking system. Here is an excerpt from the previously linked article about what happened in 2008:

In Beijing, however, [Nastia] Liukin and China's He Kexin both scored 16.725 in the uneven bars final, finishing with identical start values (7.7) and execution marks (9.025). Using a convoluted tie-break formula based on deductions from the execution mark, He was awarded the gold and Liukin the silver.

After this, the IGF restructured it's tie-breaking system in order to allow ties to stand, as long as the ties run through at least two tie breakers first.

The individual event tie breaker actually makes sense. In the result of a tie on a single event, the execution scores are used for the tie breaker. This allows the gymnast who completed the cleanest routine to win and does not reward a sloppy, but more difficult routine.

In turn, the all-around tie breaker does the exact opposite. In the event of an all-around tie, the lowest single event score is dropped and the remaining three event scores are added up and used.

This method rewards a gymnast for having higher difficulty and having the ability to mess up a routine, not the gymnast who competed the better routine.

Russia's Aliya Mustafina was essentially rewarded for falling off during her beam routine. She got her low score of 13.633 dropped, and because she has higher difficulty on the rest of her events, especially the uneven bars where she scored and incredible 16.1, she gets the advantage.

On the other side, Aly Raisman gets punished for having a solid and consistent meet, the exact thing you want to do in competition. Most of Raisman's scores were in the same range, so a dropped low score was not a benefit.

Sure if Mustafina doesn't fall off beam she beats Raisman, and if Raisman has a cleaner beam routine she beats Mustafina, but that's not what happened and that's not the issue.

If gymnastics wants to be taken seriously, the first step should be to have rules that make sense. There can not be one tie breaker giving advantage to the cleanly hit routine and another benefiting having higher difficulty. Those are completely conflicting ideals.

Also, this is an all-around competition, they got the same all-around score. That's the point of the competition. No tie breaker needed. Give them both a medal. Aly Raisman gets penalized for doing nothing wrong. She deserves a share of the bronze.

Don't be surprised if the IOC and IGF have to take a look at these rules once again.


Dan Pizzuta is a former Division I gymnast at Temple University. Follow him on Twitter @DanPizzuta for more gymnastics coverage during the Olympics.