American Gymnasts Are Better Than You Think

It is no secret the American women’s gymnastics program has improved dramatically in recent decades. The United States has won the prestigious All-Around (AA) title at every Olympics going back to 2004. Since Carly Patterson’s win in 2004, the Americans have won 14 of 16 AA titles (87.5%) at the Olympics and World Championships. The team itself has won nine of the last twelve team competitions (75%) dating back to 2003.

American gymnasts are muscling around other programs in a way they traditionally had not been able to in the past. It is widely known that American gymnasts have moved the needle, but it often isn’t realized just how much the needle has moved. In my points ranking system there are 22 Americans who have hit the 4-point threshold. Of which, 17 of them are gymnasts who made their debut at the World Championships/Olympics in 2002 or later.

The 4-point threshold is significant because it is the lowest possible benchmark that still ensures every gymnast has won multiple individual medals at the Olympics and/or World Championships. To do it a gymnast must have repeat success of some kind. Every gymnast at that benchmark has done at least one of the following:

-Win medals in 2 individual events with at least 1 medal being a gold.
-Win medals in 2 individual events with none of those medals being a bronze.
-Win medals in 3 individual events with at least 1 medal being a silver or better.
-Win medals in 4 individual events.

Gymnasts from 2002 or later account for 77% of all Americans who have ever hit the 4-point threshold. It is not an outlier statistic. All threshold levels from 5 points to 13 points have 70% to 80% of its gymnasts coming from the last two decades. Only three American gymnasts have ever hit the 14-point threshold and that is where Shannon Miller single handedly brings the percentage down.

Nor is the data being skewed by a particular era. Foreign gymnasts from the 1990s have high point totals in the same data. The American program simply was not producing the same number of high scoring gymnasts as Eastern Europe. The data is the byproduct of the balance of power shifting away from Eastern Europe and towards the United States

While I don’t like tearing down previous generations as they were the trailblazers of American gymnastics and deserve all the credit they are given, I also don’t like watching gymnasts of the current generation have historic success only to be overshadowed by their own teammates.

The prime example of this is Jade Carey who ranks 12th amongst gymnasts of the 2002-present era. But her point total is higher than all but three American gymnasts who competed prior to 2002. And Carey has a high score despite competing in only two World Championships to date.

Winning and recency bias has given the current generation a very large stage, but do they deserve a stage that is even larger? Is there enough attention being given to the idea that a gymnast in the 2010s can have the same amount of success as a famous gymnast from the 1990s, but not have her place in history realized because her teammates have all done the same?

The current generation of American gymnasts are a special bunch, but they are even more special than what initially meets the eye. The depth of the American program has reached a point where those finishing outside the top-15 at the United States National Championships could be accomplished international gymnasts had they competed for a different country.

This is not to say American gymnasts who competed prior to 2002 were unsuccessful, they absolutely were. They did not have the same number of top tier coaches and high-octane clubs as the American program currently enjoys today. They built modern American gymnastics and without their contributions, the program would not be having the success it is currently witnessing. And as Shannon Miller proves, you can find dominant Americans from that era.

All this article is trying to accomplish is to point out just how extreme the rise of American gymnastics has become. To generate additional praise for gymnasts like Morgan Hurd who is statistically one of the best gymnasts the United States has ever produced. While athletes such as Olivia Dunne could have been a dominant force in a different era, but never got to prove her worth at a major international competition because the depth is now so extreme.

We should be having that conversation while also remembering and paying homage to the American gymnasts of the past who made it all possible.

2 thoughts on “American Gymnasts Are Better Than You Think

  1. Amazing! The first gymnastics article I’ve read in years that didn’t even mention Simone Biles!
    Kudos to the goat, but there WAS historic gymnastics before Simone!
    But sadly think how many in her era that will never be remembered…
    Bailey Key, Reagan Smith and ironically Jordan Chiles!

    Like

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