Data Crunch #3.3: Ranking the All-Around Champions by Apparatus Placement

Note: The links to the full data set are listed Below:
Link #1: Ranking the All-Around Champions by Apparatus Placement (not counting ties)
Link #2: Ranking the All-Around Champions by Apparatus Placement (counting ties)

In my continued quest to figure out which gymnast had the most dominant showing in the All-Around (AA), I have dedicated another Data Crunch to the topic. This time I have created a point system to measure success. A point is awarded base on how high each AA Champion placed on each of the four events during the AA. A gymnast earning the highest score on vault earns 1-point, second highest score is worth 2-points, and so on. The objective is to score the fewest points possible and a perfect score (placing first on every event) is 4 points.

Note: I did not include the five World Championships that were held from 1950-1966 because it is difficult to come across data showing apparatus scores for these competitions.

The results are below and I included two sets of data: One where ties are not counted. For example, a two-way tie for third place is worth three points. The second version does factor in ties and places the gymnast behind every competitor that she tied. For example a two-way tie for third place is treated as a 4th place finish and a three-way tie for third place is treated as a 5th place finish. The results are below.

And below are images that provide a breakdown of each particular gymnast and how she performed on each apparatus. The results are separated between Worlds and Olympics.

One interesting result is Natalia Yurchenko in 1983. She had the top score on three events only to place abnormally low on uneven bars with ten gymnasts putting up better scores. Thereby losing what could have been a perfect score.

The enhanced competitiveness of the uneven bars is also on display in the data. The uneven bars had the lowest average rank (4.191). It also accounted for the least amount of times a gymnast placed first on an event (13). This is consistent with Data Crunch #1.5 where the uneven bars were overrepresented in the number of times a gymnast scored a Perfect 10 on that apparatus. I link this trend to gymnastics powers who don’t have the talent to win across all events, and instead opt to focus on a limited number of events to win more medals. They then preference the uneven bars as they believe that apparatus gives them the best chance of winning a medal. Examples of nations that have utilized this strategy: China, East Germany, and post-Soviet Russia.

Below I have listed the gymnasts with the best results.

Vera Caslavska in 1968 is the only gymnast with a perfect score. Among the most dominant performances in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (WAG) history are Vera Caslavska (1964 & 1968), Elena Mukhina (1978), and Aurelia Dobre (1987).

When ties are included, Vera Caslavska still has the best performance, only this time it is 1964 that is the best result. There are three occasions where a gymnast scored six points or less. Two of them were by Vera Caslavska (1964 & 1968) and the other was from Ludmila Turischeva (1974). The fourth best result was Aurelia Dobre in 1987. Dobre’s 1987 victory is particularly impressive given that she finishes in the top-4 in both versions of the data. The only other gymnast who did that was Vera Caslavska. It is a testament to Dobre’s talent and how great that 1987 performance was and what could have been a far greater career if not for her struggle to overcome injuries.

Now it wouldn’t be a true Data Crunch if I didn’t take a look at the worst performances as well. The worst performance comes from Simona Amanar and Andreea Raducan at the 2000 Olympics. Andreea Raducan was the initial winner, however her medal was stripped and the official winner is Amanar. Whoever you feel is the true AA Champion of 2000 doesn’t really matter, as either gymnast would have the highest point total of all time if treated as the winner.

Oddly enough, in a yet to be published data crunch, Raducan’s performance at the 2000 Olympics stood out as one of the best performances of all time. The 2000 Olympics All-Around is best known for the dysfunctional events associated with it, and it often puts up unusual results whenever I play with gymnastics data.

Three of the top four worst performances of all time came from either 1999 or 2000. And this is where the flaw of the methodology that I have created for this data crunch is fully exposed. I wanted to create a system that ranks dominance across the different eras of gymnastics, but one major factor that is influencing the results is specialization. Specialization is the rise of gymnasts whose purpose at the Olympics is to contribute to the team score only on a limited number of events as opposed to All-Arounders who are strong across all four events. Virtually every gymnast prior to the mid 1990s was an All-Arounder. Since the 1990s, rules changes have encouraged specialists and a philosophy that was once non-existent is now a central part of the team selection process.

The rise of specialists has made it harder for All-Arounders to place highly on every event. Not only do current gymnasts have to beat “true” All-Arounders who train to put up high scores on every event, but All-Arounders who behave like specialists where they are exceptionally strong on one or two events, but weaker on their remaining events as those events are not critical to their placement on the team.

Another factor is the growth of the sport in general. Women’s gymnastics has grown considerably over the decades. The list of gymnastics powers keeps getting longer. With more nations having strong programs, the overall talent pool of strong, competitive gymnasts keeps increasing.

As for why the performance of gymnasts starts to improve dramatically after the 1997-2000 Olympic quad, this can be linked to changes in the AA format. At the 2000 Olympics, 36 gymnasts competed in the AA. Starting at the 2001 World Championships this number was lowered to 32 gymnasts. At the following World Championships in 2003 only 24 gymnasts were allowed to compete, and this is the number that is used today. The gymnasts since the 2000 Olympics haven’t gotten better as the data implies, they simply have fewer competitors to deal with.

Below is the same list only this time the ties are added in.

The overall conclusion is that this data is a fun way to look at the history of the sport, but should not be used to seriously compare two gymnasts of different eras. It provides remarkable insights on the influence of specialization, but the AA format changes hinder its usage as a study on specialization and the increasing number of nations with strong women’s gymnastics programs. I also may have stumbled across an explanation as to why the AA format changes, which also influenced the despised two-per-country rule in the AA, actually makes sense. It did help restore the All-Around to a competition where the competitors could place closer to the top on each apparatus in the face of increasingly difficult competitive fields and specialization. Now whether this was something that needed changing in the first place is for the Gymternet to decide.

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