What Olympic All-Around Podiums Would Look Like Without Carry-Over Scoring

Link to Part II: All-Around Podiums at the World Championships.

From 1972-1988 the All-Around (AA) was dictated by a rule called “carry-over scoring” which meant that the four routines a gymnast performed during AA Finals was worth only 50% of her total score. The other 50% took her individual scores from the team competition. The rule existed for 16 years before being abolished and replaced by “new-life” scoring in 1989. In Women’s Artistic Gymnastics (WAG), there were 12 AA competitions held during this period, carry-over scoring would change the final podium results in all but one of them.

This article will cover only the five Olympic AA results and how they would change had the scores been tallied up without using carry-over scoring. One thing that is particularly interesting to note, only 1 of 7 All-Around results (14%) at the World Championships witnessed the gold medal going to a different gymnast due to carry-over scoring. Whereas at the Olympic level, 3 of 5 All-Around results (60%) witnessed a gold medal changing hands.

Tamara Lazakovich

1972 Olympics

Carry-Over Scoring results:
Ludmilla Turischeva
Karin Janz
Tamara Lazakovich

New-Life Scoring results:
Tamara Lazakovich
Ludmilla Turischeva
Karin Janz
Erika Zuchold

The 1972 Olympics marked the first time the carry-over scoring rule was in effect in the AA. Ironically, it would be the competition where the impact of carry-over scoring would be at its most bizarre. Entering the 1972 Olympic AA finals, Ludmilla Turischeva and Karin Janz were tied for the top qualifying spot. To this day it remains the only occasion in which two WAGs tied for the lead during Olympic AA qualifications.

In theory, this should have negated the impact of carry-over scoring rules and made the 1972 Olympics unofficially, the first time the top two gymnasts competed under new-life scoring. But that didn’t happen.

Soviet gymnast Tamara Lazakovich actually outscored both Janz and Turischeva during AA finals and she would have taken the Olympic AA title under new-life scoring. This is the first of five examples where a gymnast lost an AA gold medal due to carry-over scoring. But it is the only instance where the official bronze medalist would have won the AA title under new-life scoring. In every other instance it was the silver medalist who would have won under new-life scoring. The fact that Lazakovich had the highest score under new-life scoring is both magical and tragic.

It is magical because even before I calculated new-life scoring results, I had long considered Lazakovich to be one of the most talented gymnasts in the history of WAG. At the height of her career Lazakovich was winning medals at a rate comparable to Olga Korbut. To have anther example where data shows she could have been an Olympic AA Champion adds to the legend of Tamara Lazakovich. It empowers the narrative that this was a gymnast who was far better than people realize. In her lone Olympic appearance, Tamara won four Olympic medals.

But this result is also tragic because Lazakovich has one of the most heartbreaking life stories in WAG history. She joined the Soviet team at a very young age which meant she was exposed to alcohol at a very young age as well. Lazakovich had developed a reputation for heavy alcohol consumption well before her 18th birthday. It was something that was only possible when the environment she was subjected to was fundamentally flawed, and the adults in charge had failed in their duties to safeguard the young athletes in their care.

Tamara Lazakovich

The Soviet response was that as long as Lazakovich was putting up strong results, they weren’t going to do anything to sideline her. And they certainly weren’t going to put her career on hiatus so she could seek proper treatment. To say the Soviets turned a blind eye to the problem would be an understatement. In one instance, after Lazakovich had been caught with alcohol, she went unpunished because a Soviet coach created a cover story on her behalf.

Lazakovich sustained seven concussions in her career and by her early 30s had resorted to writing things down to supplement her failing ability to memorize things. Even though it would be decades before there would be widespread public awareness on the issue of CTE, Tamara seemed to understand the link between her multiple head injuries and the cognitive decline she was experiencing. She passed away at the age of 38. The 1972 result has two meanings to it. It is another example of Tamara being far better than people realize, but also adds to the tragedy of a once promising gymnast of renowned talent who deserved better.

It should also be remembered that East German gymnast Erika Zuchold also would have been upgraded from a 4th place finish in the AA to sharing the bronze medal with her teammate Karin Janz. Erika Zuchold was a Hall of Fame gymnast who suffered numerous unlucky breaks in her career. She missed her first Olympics due to injury. Once healthy Erika has the distinction of being the only gymnast in WAG history to finish 4th in the AA on three different occasions. Under new-life scoring, Erika would have had one of those 4th place finishes result in a bronze medal instead. It would have been the second AA medal of her career.

Note: More information about Erika’s career can be found here.

Teodora Ungureanu (Left) and Nadia Comaneci (Right)

1976 Olympics

Carry-Over Scoring results:
Nadia Comaneci
Nellie Kim
Ludmilla Turischeva

New-Life Scoring results:
Nadia Comaneci
Nellie Kim
Teodora Ungureanu

This particular podium has only one major change. Teodora Ungureanu replaces Ludmilla Turischeva for the bronze medal. The relatively minor changes to the podium reflect an Olympic Games where two gymnasts reigned supreme with no one else being able to challenge them. Whereas there isn’t much change to this particular podium under new-life scoring, of the one change that does take place, it produces a very interesting result with major political ramifications.

The media paid significant attention to Teodora Ungureanu during the 1976 Olympics because she was teammates with Nadia Comaneci. The existence of Teodora gave the media a sidekick to complement Nadia. In an era where the media was fixated on promoting the school girl persona, having another young girl smiling and giggling alongside Nadia enhanced that narrative.

But there was also a more sinister element at play. The Romanian dictatorship saw their WAG program as an opportunity to promote the superiority of Romania’s communist government. The success of Nadia brought significant attention in Romania’s direction, but Romania’s adversaries could dismiss Romanian WAG as simply being lucky that Nadia was born in their country and not elsewhere. Nadia wasn’t the byproduct of a strong Romanian program, but a one of a kind talent who would have had success regardless of which country she was born in.

Nadia (Left) and Teodora (Right) after performing a gymnastics routine for Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (Center)

The success of Teodora Ungureanu destroyed this narrative as it gave Romanian WAG an example of repeat success and legitimized the entire program. It could be argued Teodora was equally as important as Nadia to the Romanian dictatorship. Whereas Nadia had propaganda value because of her worldwide fame, Teodora had value because she proved Nadia was not a one-off.

The Western media loved Teodora because she complemented Nadia so well. The Romanian government had a different set of motives and they made sure to promote Teodora alongside Nadia whenever they could. Even though Teodora didn’t win an AA medal, she was one of the most popular gymnasts of the 1976 Olympics. Had Teodora joined Nadia on the AA podium, an already popular gymnast would have received even more recognition.

For the Soviets, it would have been a crushing blow. The success of Nadia sent shockwaves through the Soviet program. But to have Romania walk away with two Olympic AA medals in 1976 would have been one of the most demoralizing moments in the history of Soviet WAG. Meanwhile Turischeva would have been downgraded for the second time in her career. Under new-life scoring Turischeva loses both her Olympic AA title and the distinction of being one of the few WAGs with multiple Olympic AA medals.

Elena Davydova

1980 Olympics

Carry-Over Scoring results:
Elena Davydova
Nadia Comaneci
Maxi Gnauck

New-Life Scoring results:
Elena Davydova
Nadia Comaneci
Natalia Shaposhnikova

Like the 1972 Olympics, this particular result is also bizarre. It is a myth that Elena Davydova was an undeserving AA Champion. In reality, Davydova was one of the most talented gymnasts of her generation who had been putting up interesting results going all the way back to 1976. It is not Davydova’s lack of talent that makes it so surprising that she won the 1980 Olympic AA, but the deficit she overcame in order to win it.

Davydova won the 1980 AA despite finishing 5th in qualifying. With the exception of Tatiana Gutsu who advanced to the 1992 AA final because of a controversial coaching substitution rather than qualifying on merit, Davydova is the lowest ranking gymnast from the qualifying round to win an Olympic AA title in WAG. But unlike Tatiana Gutsu, Davydova did it in the carry-over scoring era.

The core philosophy of carry-over scoring is that gymnasts with a low qualifying score are at a disadvantage. Davydova not only managed to overcome that, but had effectively set a record in the process. It makes zero sense that the carry-over scoring era produced what was (not counting Gutsu) the largest deficit in the qualifying standings a WAG ever overcame to win an Olympic AA title, but it did.

Not only is that exactly what had occurred in 1980, it means Davydova has the distinction of winning her Olympic title without the assistance of carry-over scoring. Among Olympic champions of the carry-over scoring era, only Nadia can say the same. Nadia herself also benefits in 1980 when carry-over scoring is abolished. She wins the silver medal outright rather than sharing it with Maxi Gnauck.

Natalia Shaposhnikova moves from 4th place to winning the bronze medal. In doing so Shaposhnikova would have won the second AA medal of her career. Meanwhile the biggest loser here is Maxi Gnauck. The Hall of Fame gymnast goes from silver to 4th place under new-life scoring.

Simona Pauca

1984 Olympics

Carry-Over Scoring results:
Mary Lou Retton
Ecaterina Szabo
Simona Pauca

New-Life Scoring results:
Ecaterina Szabo
Mary Lou Retton
Simona Pauca

Under new-life scoring Ecaterina Szabo defeats Mary Lou Retton which is something many readers already know. But what is not as widely known about this particular competition is that Retton not only would have been demoted to silver under new-life scoring, but also would have shared that medal with another Romanian gymnast by the name of Simona Pauca.

Simona Pauca is one of the few examples of a one-hit wonder in WAG. As a junior she put up modest results indicative of a WAG who could possibly represent Romania at the Olympics, but only as a minor member of the team. Pauca would do far more than that. Pauca ended up winning two gold medals and a bronze in the AA.

Pauca left the sport shortly after the 1984 Olympics. In her career Simona participated in just one major competition. Her entire career spanned just three years starting with her debut in a major junior level competition, to her final appearance as a senior. Having an upgraded medal under new-life scoring would have added to the legend of the one-hit wonder who came from out of nowhere to snag an Olympic AA silver medal.

Gymnastics fans tend to pay far more attention to the AA silver medalist as opposed to the AA bronze medalist. Gymnerds love talking about those who challenged famous Olympic champions such as Nadia and Gabby Douglas. Had Simona Pauca won an AA silver medal, perhaps her story would be better known amongst gymnastics fans. Fans also would have given Pauca the benefit of the doubt over Mary Lou Retton due to Retton having home field advantage.

Daniela Silivas

1988 Olympics

Carry-Over Scoring results:
Elena Shushunova
Daniela Silivas
Svetlana Boginskaya

New-Life Scoring results:
Daniela Silivas
Elena Shushunova
Svetlana Boginskaya

This competition features only one change to the podium. Elena Shushunova loses her Olympic AA title to Daniela Silivas as the two trade places in the final standings. For Silivas, she finally gets that AA title which eluded Daniela throughout her entire career.

One interesting thing to note, the 1976 and 1988 Olympic AA podiums feature the least amount of reshuffling when carry-over scoring is removed from the final standings. In both cases, the two Olympics were each dominated by a pair of gymnasts who were heads and shoulders above everyone else.

(From L to R) Nadia Comaneci, Maxi Gnauck, and Elena Davydova

Conclusion

Readers of this article may be quick to point out that it is unfair to apply retroactive scoring to these competitions. Some gymnasts may have played things safe knowing they had large leads from qualifying. They may have reacted differently based on having more/less pressure without the leads from carry-over scoring being on their minds. And the winners won under the rules of the time and this article serves only to take away from their legitimate wins.

And all of those statements are valid. I made this article because gymnastics fans are curious to know what things would have looked like had carry-over scoring never existed. In Part II this article will be expanded to include the seven World Championships where the AA was contested under carry-over scoring.

Link to Part II: All-Around Podiums at the World Championships.

2 thoughts on “What Olympic All-Around Podiums Would Look Like Without Carry-Over Scoring

  1. Great article. Would love to see one on the all-around results from the 1992/1996 Olympic Games and 1989/1991 Worlds where carry-over scoring wasn’t used. I’ve done some basic calculations with some interesting outcomes

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  2. This is fascinating! I would love to see the concept in reverse, so what Olympic/World medals would have been if they had done carry over scoring in the modern era. For example, thinking of 2012, I’m guessing Komova would have gotten gold and Aly would have for sure medaled (bronze or silver though?). So that’s just one example of how things could have been very different. Would love to see this for more Olympic years!

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