Data Crunch #1.5: A Breakdown of Every Perfect 10 Ever Awarded

LINK: List of Every Perfect 10 Ever Scored
LINK: List of Gymnasts Who Scored the Most Career Perfect Tens (Not Counting Olomouc)
LINK: List of Gymnasts Who Scored the Most Career Perfect Tens (Counting Olomouc)
LINK: List of Gymnasts Who Accounted For the Most Perfect Tens in a Single Competition

If you know anything about gymnastics then you are guaranteed to be familiar with the Perfect 10. The 10 point scoring system is without question the most iconic part of sport and propelled gymnastics into one of the most popular sports at the Summer Olympics. In this article I will provide a statistical breakdown on all the Perfect 10s and analyze the frequency at which they were given out.

But before I get into the nitty-gritty, there are a few things I want to clear up. The image above is a key for terms that I will be using throughout the article. Another term I want to address is “Olomouc.” The gymnastics component of the 1984 Alternate Games (Alternate Olympics) were held in the Czechoslovakian city of Olomouc. I will refer to this competition as “Olomouc” throughout the article. I also use the word “event” interchangeably in the graphics/images to mean either “competition” or “apparatus.” Lastly, at the top of this article are links to four different lists that provide a full data set on every Perfect 10 that was ever scored.

And for those wondering: The total number of Perfect 10s scored is 116 and that number rises to 150 when Olomouc is included in the data.

Despite being one of the most famous aspects of gymnastics, the Perfect 10 was only given out during a very small window in the overall history of the sport. The era in which judges awarded it lasted just 17 years and only 12 major competitions. The era where it was a common occurrence was even shorter lasting only seven years from 1983-1989.

The most obvious takeaway from its frequency is how widely it varied in usage among different competitions. And this first graph is the most controversial aspect of Olomouc. It is notorious for its absurdly high usage of the Perfect 10. This is a frequent argument made by those who doubt the legitimacy of Olga Mostepanova’s legendary performance at Olomouc in which she scored twelve Perfect 10s (shattering the Olympic record of seven) and scored a Perfect 40 (a Perfect 10 on all four events) in the AA. The data shows criticism of Olomouc for awarding too many Perfect 10s is absolutely valid.

As the Perfect 10s are not evenly distributed among the various competitions, the same can be said for the 16 different rotations of a single gymnastics competition. In modern gymnastics the team stages of a competition feature a team qualification and a team finals. Prior to 1997 major gymnastics competitions had a compulsories stage followed by an optionals stage for team scores. The optionals stage is similar to what gymnasts did in Rio where each gymnast could creates their own routine. The compulsories were different in that every gymnast had to perform the exact same routine. Optionals were a measure of who could pull off the most difficult routine. Compulsories were a demonstration of technical skill measuring who could perform the same routine better than their competitors.

With every gymnast doing the same routine in compulsories, trivial mistakes that would otherwise have been forgiven by the judges were penalized harshly to distinguish the gymnasts. Perfection was more difficult to achieve in compulsories when the standards on minor details were so high. But there was another factor as well, trend-scoring.

In gymnastics scoring the scores naturally rise as a gymnastics stage progresses. If a gymnast earns a high score, it becomes easier for the next gymnast to achieve the same or higher score. To put it simply, the more Perfect 10s that are scored, the easier it becomes for the gymnasts to keep scoring Perfect 10s. Because compulsories always came before optionals, the compulsories stage was inevitably going to have lower scoring than optionals. These two factors put together gave compulsories a reputation for harsh scoring and Perfect 10s rarely being handed out. And the data proves this with just 13% of all Perfect 10s coming from the TC stage.

The AA and EF stages also have far fewer Perfect 10s than the team optionals stage, but this is not due to a Perfect 10 being more inherently difficult in those two stages. In the team stages every gymnast in the completion (which often exceeded 100+ competitors) participated. In the AA only 36 gymnasts competed and in the EF the number of routines performed drops to 32. As the number of routines the judges scored decreases, so does the number of Perfect 10s being given out.

The most difficult apparatus to score a Perfect 10 on was the beam. The uneven bars would be the apparatus where Perfect 10s were the most common. Whenever I do a data crunch that requires a break down each apparatus, the uneven bars often stand out as the most competitive apparatus. This data crunch is consistent with other (yet to be published) data crunches where the uneven bars always seem to distinguish themselves from the other three apparatuses.

I blame East Germany for this. East Germany was a rather small country that found Olympic success that only large countries such as the United States and the Soviet Union could match. In their bid to prove their superiority over West Germany via athletic success, the East Germans not only invoked state-sponsored doping, but careful planning and efficient allocation of athletic resources. The East Germans knew they would lose every time if they tried to challenge the Romanians and Soviets on all four events. Instead they their eggs in one basket and went all-in on the bars. The result was an uneven bars dynasty: Janz, Zuchold, Hellman, Zinke, Gnauck, Kraker, Fahnrich, Kersten, and Thummler. It didn’t matter if the uneven bars weren’t your best apparatus, if you were an East German gymnasts, being a great on bars was the goal.

China adopted a similar tactic. Ever since their arrival on the international stage in 1979 they have found success in uneven bars. That success has continued to this day. And the same can be said for post-Soviet Russia. They have not only produced two of the greatest bars workers of the 2000s in Khorkina and Mustafina, but have found smaller degrees of success in Ksenia Semyonova, Daria Spiridonova, Viktoria Komova, and Elena Eremina.

For whatever reason, a number of programs believe the uneven bars offers the easiest path to success and once they have built a legacy on that apparatus, they have been able to maintain that level of success. All while the Soviets and Romanians  weren’t going to let the Chinese and East Germans go unchallenged and they produced some strong bars workers as well. The uneven bars always seems to be the apparatus where gymnastics programs focus a lot of their resources on and that makes it a very competitive apparatus and thus the increase in Perfect 10s.

The difficulty of getting a Perfect 10 on beam is evident in the above graphic. Beam had the lowest amount of Perfect 10s in all four stages of competition. The three gymnasts who recorded a Perfect 10 on TC-BB were Nadia Comaneci the first gymnast to score a Perfect 10, Daniela Silivas the gymnast who holds the record for the most Perfect 10s, and Olga Mostepanova. It was one of the toughest things to do in gymnastics, and only the most prolific Perfect 10 earners managed to do it. Mostepanova deserves considerable praise for this given that she did it at the 1985 World Championships, a competition where she was coming off a major injury and was handicapped by a growth spurt. It is part of the reason that I will contend that she was still a great gymnast in 1985. She was competing at a high level and was a viable contender for the AA gold before Soviet officials forcibly removed her from the competition.

Unfortunately the data doesn’t give a definitive answer on which rotation was the hardest to score a Perfect 10 on. You could argue it was EF-VT given that no one ever earned a Perfect 10 on that rotation. It is perhaps the textbook example of how significant score trending impacts a gymnastics competition. EF-VT is always the first rotation of the day due to the EF stage always using the VT, UB, BB, and FX Olympic order whereas the TC, TO, and AA stages randomly assign gymnasts to a particular apparatus. Out of the 16 rotations, EF-VT is the only one where a gymnast is guaranteed to perform on that apparatus to open a stage.

And while no one ever scored a Perfect 10 on EF-VT, it also had far fewer opportunities for a gymnast to do it. It becomes a mathematical dilemma to determine if TC-BB and AA-BB which had a combined five Perfect 10s awarded on well over 1000 attempts was harder to accomplish than EF-VT which had no Perfect 10s in the same time frame on less than 100 attempts. Would EF-VT have had five Perfect 10s if we had 900 more attempts on that apparatus? We will never know.

The above graphic is a comparison between the Olomouc and the non-Olomouc competitions (World Championships and Olympics). There is a significant deviation in the allocation of Perfect 10s at Olomouc. This is important because the allocation of Perfect 10s directly impacts how easy or hard it is to complete a Perfect 40 as well as beating the record for most Perfect 10s in a single competition. Scoring a Perfect 40 and breaking the record for most Perfect 10s in a single competition are two completely different accomplishments.

Trend-scoring dictates that the more Perfect 10s that are handed out in a particular stage of a competition, the easier it is to keep scoring Perfect 10s in that same stage. The more Perfect 10s that are scored in the AA by other gymnasts, the easier it becomes for Mostepanova herself to achieve a Perfect 10 in the AA. But the trade off is the more of Olomouc’s 34 Perfect 10s that are allocated to the AA (which is what ended up happening), the less that are allocated to the team stages. The less Perfect 10s that are awarded in the team stages, the harder it is to earn a Perfect 10 in those two stages.

In other words, the abnormally high number of Perfect 10s at Olomouc (34) can be used to diminish the legitimacy of Mostepanova’s Perfect 40. Butthe less legitimate Mostepanova’s Perfect 40 becomes, the more legitimate her eight remaining Perfect 10s become. Either way Mostepanova accomplished something great at Olomouc. While it can be argued the Perfect 40 wouldn’t have happened in a competition where the number of Perfect 10s was closer to the typical mid-1980s competition, the allocation of Perfect 10s at Olomouc suggest Mostepanova’s scores outside the AA stage were legitimate and she could have broken the Olympic record of seven Perfect 10s had she participated in the 1984 Olympics.

To be clear, the argument being made here is not that Mostepanova didn’t have an advantage at Olomouc, only that those who want to delegitimize the results of the 1984 Alternate Games by invoking the “there were too many Perfect 10s awarded by the judges at Olomouc” argument can’t apply it to both Mostepanova’s Perfect 40 and her 12 Perfect 10s.

The above graphic is a simple list of who scored the most Perfect 10s in a single competition.

When it comes to the question of which country scored the most Perfect 10s, the answer is Romania. Romania scored only five Perfect 10s at the 1984 Olympics. Even if you throw that competition out, Romania still had the most Perfect 10s. It is one of the few (if only) examples of a major statistic where the Soviet program was outperformed in women’s gymnastics. It is a testament to the brilliance of gymnasts such as Nadia, Szabo, Silivas, and Dobre who are responsible to the bulk of those Perfect 10s.

The only way the Soviet Union beats Romania is to include Olomouc.

A simple list of gymnasts with Perfect 10s in multiple competitions

Gymnastics fans love tallying up Gym-Slams for NCAA. But what about elite? I decided to solve that question. One thing to note is that had Silivas earned one more Perfect 10 on vault, she could have had a double Gym-Slam.

Olga Mostepanova again shows her brilliance by scoring Perfect 10s across three different events even after Olomouc has been excluded from the data. And this is a gymnast who was allowed full participation in just one competition (1983 Worlds) in her career. She came as close to a gym slam in one and a half competitions as her teammate (and unquestioned gymnastics great) Elena Shushunova did in three full competitions.

Olomouc was not so much a fluke victory for Mostepanova, but a testament that she was so good in regular competition, that when she was entered into an irregular competition, she shattered the existing standards. It is another indicator that Mostepanova was going to be a major force had she been allowed to compete in Los Angeles.

Another notable gymnast is Olesia Dudnik who recorded Perfect 10s on three different events despite participating in just a single competition (1989 World Championships).

The Perfect 10 was dominated by a very small number of gymnasts. In both the Olomouc and the non-Olomouc data, the four best performing gymnasts accounted for around 40% of all Perfect 10s. When you expand the data to include the ten best performing gymnasts, both data pools remain consistent as those ten gymnasts accounted for two-thirds of all Perfect 10s scored.

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