Gabby Douglas, gold-medal winner in the women's gymnastics all-around competition, on the podium at the London Olympics with silver medalist Viktoria Komova and bronze finisher Aliya Mustafina
With all the so-called haters and lovers arguing over whose favorite gymnast should have bagged the coveted all-around title this past Olympics in London — Russia's Viktoria Komova or Team USA's Gabrielle Douglas — it seemed wiser for everyone to cool down before examining the issue more closely.
Close enough to see that data from the International Federation of Gymnastics, the sport's official body which also oversaw the 2012 Games in London, shows the Federation's expert judges actually deemed Komova more worthy of the all-around gold.
After all the fanfare had died down, FIG released scores given by individual judges on all events (see page 173 onwards for women's artistic all-around final). This includes the jury judges (your regular judges) and two "reference judges" on each execution panel -- the E-score (execution scores) experts handpicked by the FIG to help correct the jury's E-scores of bias.
Two reference judges (ER) have been introduced to establish an automatic and time-saving correction system in case of problems with execution scores. The ER score is calculated by averaging the scores of the two reference judges. If the gap between the E score and the ER score exceeds the predefined permitted tolerances, the E score will be replaced by the average of the ER score and the E score. Otherwise, the E score remains unchanged. However, if the gap between the scores of the two reference judges exceeds the predefined tolerances, the ER score will not be taken into account, and the E score remains unchanged.
Based on the reference judges' scores (which were essentially unused; the jury scores were mostly carried through for the top two except once on beam for the Russian), Komova was underscored on floor & beam by about 0.1 or more (E-score discrepancy on other 2 apparatuses was much smaller).
Conversely, Douglas was overscored by the jury judges on floor, bars and beam by about 0.15 each or more (they did, however think her vault was worth some 0.033 more).
If the reference judges (the supposedly more qualified ones, in terms of E-score judging at least) had their way, Komova would have won the Olympic all-around title with 62.1 over Douglas' 61.75.
But what in fact happened in London this summer was this: Douglas was awarded 62.232 points by the regular judges — almost 0.5 more than what the references judges thought she'd deserved, a considerable difference in a sport where victories go down to thousandths of a point — and walked away with the gold. Komova had to settle for 61.973 and the silver.
Now if only the Russian coaches could read all this English and get some sort of appeal act together during competitions. But hang on a minute — appeals and inquiries can only be made regarding D-scores (difficulty scores) and not E-scores.
Which begs the question: Shouldn't some clearer feedback and score revision mechanism be in place if the final positions for the world's most-contended gymnastics title could have been completely reversed?
After all, these scores and medals can be life-changers to female gymnasts who don't have another four years sitting in their pockets, idly waiting for another shot at the Olympics. For most of them, the first is likely to be their last, so why not put those expert, carefully handpicked reference judges to better use?