Olympic Gymnastics: Raisman and Ponor Need to Be Last Victims of Tie-Break Rule

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Olympic Gymnastics: Raisman and Ponor Need to Be Last Victims of Tie-Break Rule
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Aly Raisman looks up at the board, waiting for her score to be posted after the balance beam event finals.

The year: Beijing 2008

The event: Uneven Bars, Women's Event Final

The gymnasts: Nastia Liukin and He Kexin

When Nastia Liukin and He Kexin finished their uneven bars routines, both were brilliant and received incredible scores. The problem, however, was that they received identical scores on identical start values and execution marks.

Instead of awarding both with gold medals, a convoluted tiebreak that neither Liukin, He or anyone else understood was used to decide the winner. As a result, Liukin left with a silver, and He got the gold.

Flash forward to four years later, London 2012.

The gymnasts are Aly Raisman and Catalina Ponor. The event: balance beam event finals.

Raisman had already been a victim of the tiebreak rule that doomed Liukin earlier in the competition. At the end of the fourth and final apparatus in the all-around final, Raisman was tied for third with Russia's Aliya Mustafina.

They couldn't judge the apparatuses individually because each had different scores. The rule created by the International Gymnastics Federation called for the judges to drop both gymnasts' lowest scores.

Unfortunately for Raisman, whose lowest score included just a few stumbles on the the balance beam, Mustafina's drop was a full-on fall on vault.

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She had outscored Raisman in the other three events and ultimately was awarded with the bronze, as Raisman suffered heartbreak.

That same situation nearly played out for Raisman in the beam finals. After screaming and yelling from Bela and Marta Karolyi in the stands—suggesting she was underscored—Raisman's coach filed a formal protest.

As it turned out, she was underscored. When the judges reviewed her routine, they noticed a few tenths they did not give her credit for.

When Raisman's new score was posted, she was expressionless. As the numbers appeared on the big board, Raisman was tied for third place.

In this instance, however, it was Raisman who got the better of the tiebreak rule, as her routine had less execution errors. She was awarded the bronze, while Romania's Catalina Ponor was forced to go from celebrating a bronze to sharing in the same heartbreak Raisman had experienced just a few nights prior.

It was a devastating thing to watch. For someone to think they have a bronze medal, only to have it taken away because their execution score relative to their difficulty score was not as good as someone else's, is something that doesn't at all embody the spirit of the Olympic Games.

To see the "No. 3" next to your name and not walk away with a medal just doesn't make sense.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

I understand that the Olympic Games award the best of the best, and that fourth place doesn't qualify for that.

I can understand not giving someone a medal even if they finish .01 of a second off of the podium, as Tyson Gay did in the men's 100-meter sprint. I understand Milorad Cavic getting silver in Beijing for being .01 behind Michael Phelps.

All of that makes sense, but what doesn't make sense is why gymnastics is the only Olympic event that jumps to a tiebreak before making the decision to award shared medals.

Why?

One of the obvious answers is the fact that in gymnastics you actually have the capability to find the slightest difference between first and second—between third and fourth, in the case of a tie.

If two swimmers are tied, that's it. They have the exact same time; short of going to the thousandth of a second, there is no way to notice an obvious difference.

If you think about what the IOC goes through for the gymnastics tiebreaks, it really isn't much different than if swimming were to go to the tenth, then hundredth, then thousandth of a second until a champion emerged.

In the case of a tie in gymnastics, the first tiebreak goes to the gymnast with the higher execution score. If they are equal, then the next tiebreak goes to the gymnast that had the higher start value. If that is still equal, as was the case in 2008 with Liukin and Kexin, shared medals are allowed.

Quinn Rooney/Getty Images
Louis Smith of Great Britain wins the silver, after a tiebreak moves him from first to second place in men's pommel horse.

With the exception of 2008, however, the likelihood of two gymnasts tying in both execution and start value scores is extremely unlikely. Just as unlikely as, say, two swimmers tying within the thousandth of a second.

In the case of a tie in the all-around, the lowest score is dropped. If the gymnasts are still tied, this process continues until one gymnast gets ahead.

After this, however, a shared medal is still not awarded, as the final two tiebreaks go back to execution and then start value.

In the near impossible case that all of these scores come up in a tie, then, and only then, are shared medals awarded.

Although this system makes more sense than the one that was in place in Beijing, it still really has no purpose in the Olympic Games. It is a relatively new invention anyway, as shared medals were allowed until the IOC demanded new rules after the 1996 Atlanta Games.

It is a rule that hurt Aly Raisman. It is a rule that hurt Great Britain's Louis Smith on pommel horse. And it is a rule that devastatingly took a bronze medal from Catalina Ponor, who was under the impression she had come in third.

Most importantly, however, it is a rule that can't and shouldn't affect anymore gymnasts in the future. It is a rule that needs to be eliminated.

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