Aly Raisman Controversy Latest of 2012 Olympic Gymnastics Rule Outrages

Alessandro Miglio@@AlexMiglioFeatured ColumnistAugust 2, 2012

Team USA's captain lost out on bronze for no good reason
Team USA's captain lost out on bronze for no good reasonStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

Aly Raisman should have won a bronze medal in the women's all-around gymnastics final. The rules stated otherwise.

The American captain had some catching up to do to overtake Russian Aliya Mustafina after an uncharacteristically poor beam routine, but her best event was coming up: floor exercise. Raisman did what she had to do to catch her—never mind that her score was suspiciously lower than her team events despite a clean routine—and wound up in a dead heat with the Russian with a final score of 59.566.

The two tied for third place, but only one of them gets a bronze medal. Why? A silly tiebreaker, of course:

Should there be ties in the team finals in London, the lowest apparatus score will be dropped and the remaining scores added. If that doesn't break the tie, additional apparatus scores will be dropped, one at a time, until there is a winner. If no winner emerges, the tie stands.

There is a similar formula for the all-around final. But if no winner has emerged following the dropping of apparatus scores, the execution score total for each gymnast serve as the tie-breaker, followed by his or her total start value. If that doesn't establish a winner, the tie will stand.

Instead of awarding multiple medals in the event of a tie—as gymnastics has accommodated in individual events after Nastia Liukin lost out on a gold medal on uneven bars in 2008 because of convoluted rules—Mustafina was able to win the bronze by dropping her horrendous beam score of 13.633. 

There was a bit of confusion about the tiebreaking procedures as the event ended:

Just talked to FIG. Say combined E scores are the tiebreaker. Followed by the D scores.

— Will Graves (@WillGravesAP) August 2, 2012

The BBC announcers also pointed out that the combined execution score determines tiebreakers. How Mustafina could have a higher execution score after falling off the beam is beyond my expertise, but she was simply able to drop that even though Raisman seemingly had a better day overall.

Regardless of the apparently confusing tiebreaking method, would it have been an affront to Olympic competition to simply allow Raisman to get on that podium alongside Mustafina? Judo awards two bronze medals in each event!

This is all not to mention the fact that Raisman actually outscored Mustafina in three of four events.

Tears of a Champion

This was not the first time during the 2012 Olympics an American has been left out in the cold because of ill-conceived rules. An online petition was even created to abolish a rule that left Jordyn Wieber out of the all-around final entirely.

Wieber posted the fourth-best individual score during qualifying—a score that would have won a bronze medal outright had she matched it in the final—but she could not participate in the all-around final because only two gymnasts per country are allowed through. 

The reigning world champion could not compete for an Olympic title because of an arbitrary limitation.

She was not the only one affected. Russia's Anastasia Grishina, Great Britain's Jennifer Pinches and China's Yao Jinnan were also left out of the final because of the rule. In other words, women's gymnastics left four of the world's top gymnasts out of its biggest individual event.

That seems rather un-Olympic.

The rule should be eliminated, though it would be far too late to save the tears that streamed down Jordyn Wieber's face. If gymnastics wants to keep this rule, it should at least modify it. Instead of brusquely excluding a third entrant from a single country, how about allowing everyone in the top 12 into the final? This would at least assure that the world's top gymnasts would actually get to compete in the pinnacle of their event.

Monetized Appeals

Just a few days after those ladies experienced that disappointment, the Ukrainian men's team had sewn up a surprising bronze medal in the men's team all-around competition. The Japanese had been left off the medal stand in fourth place because Kohei Uchimura had fallen off the pommel horse.

It was a stunning result for a favored team, but they did not take it lying down. Instead, one of the Japanese coaches scrambled to file an appeal with a wad of $100 bills in hand. Apparently it costs $500 to file an appeal.

Why should it cost money to file an appeal in the Olympic Games? True, the money is returned if the appeal yields a reversal, but that seems awfully anti-competitive. If judges make an error, it should be corrected regardless of legal bribes.

In this case, the confounding scoring rules should have awarded Uchimura a higher point total because his fall was technically a dismount. Japan wound up winning the silver medal and the Ukrainians were swept off the medal stand.

These problematic rules are egregiously mind-boggling. How can an Olympic sport miss the mark so badly? Is it terribly difficult to have some foresight?

Competitive gymnastics is plagued by absurdly myopic rules. It has four years to fix it.

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