I watched a rerun of the gymnastics events on Sunday night with my dad and the women's vault was on.
When China's Fei Cheng finished her performance, I was outraged that she scored better than USA's Alicia Sacramone! In the end, Fei won the bronze, while Sacramone ended up in fourth place.
"An athlete fell on her knees and got bronze?! While the other one did an almost impeccable exercise?! Are you kidding me?" I yelled to my dad, who was also in disbelief.
At that point, I honestly thought that the referees were wholeheartedly supporting the Chinese gymnasts. I was convinced that something had gone wrong.
However, upon closer inspection, it turned out that the decision was fair.
Some of you may ask how this could be possible. Simple—the scoring was due to the toughness of the exercise
Before an athlete performs an exercise, she must check it in with the judging panel. Based on the type of exercise, the judges award a "toughness" grade. This is the grade Judge A listed when the scores come out.
Alicia Sacramone's exercises in the final event were awarded 6.3 and 5.8 toughness grades respectively. However, Fei Cheng's exercises were significantly harder—both had a grade of 6.5. That alone gave Cheng a significant advantage over Sacramone.
When Sacramone finished, the Judge B grades' were 9.450 and 9.525 respectively. When you combine that with Judge A grades', you get the actual scores for each exercise, which were 15.750 and 15.325.
Divide the actual scores by two, and you get the final score. For Sacramone, that was 15.537.
Now let's move onto Cheng. For her first exercise, she got a 9.575, which, combined with her Judge A grade, gave her a fabulous score of 16.025.
However, in the much-disputed second attempt, she fell on her knees during the landing, and thus improperly finished the exercise. For her mistake, she was heavily penalized by the Judge B panel, who only awarded her an 8.550.
That's almost a whole point lower than Sacramone. But, because the exercise was much tougher than Sacramone's, she got a 15.050 for her second score.
Cheng's final score was 15.562—0.025 better than the American
If you don't believe what I just wrote, check the final standings.
It's not that the judges favored certain athletes. The difference in scoring had to do with the toughness of the exercises.
Sacramone's exercises were a lot easier than Cheng's. Mystery solved!