Project Introduction: The Greatest Lineups in Gymnastics History

Link to data:
Vault
Uneven Bars
Balance Beam
Floor Exercise

Over the past few years I’ve seen gymnastics fans constantly praise the gymnasts who competed in Floor Finals at the 2012 Olympics. The 2012 lineup for floor finals was legendary. It featured the Olympic Floor Champions of 2004 (Catalina Ponor), 2008 (Sandra Izbasa) and 2012 (Aly Raisman). It had the World Champions on Floor of 2010 (Lauren Mitchell) and 2011 (Ksenia Afanasyeva). If that wasn’t enough talent, the 2012 Floor Finals also featured two additional gymnasts who would win Olympic medals on this event, Aliya Mustafina (2012) and Vanessa Ferrari (2021).

For years gymnastics fans have fawned over this lineup, going as far as to label it the most talented, star-studded and complete field of gymnasts to ever compete in an Apparatus Finals on that particular event. My goal is to see how the 2012 Floor Finals compares to other Apparatus Finals in the history of women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG). Are there any other comparable Apparatus Finals that had an equally talented field? Does the reputation of 2012 Floor Finals live up to its status as the greatest Apparatus Finals ever when the data is fully analyzed?

This specific article is simply the introduction to the series and an explanation of the methodology I will use to answer this question. Unlike other data analysis projects, this particular question is highly subjective and equally complex to answer. So, I wanted to create a “home page” for the series where I explain the methodology. But first, let’s talk about the problems.

Problem #1: Outliers

The major obstacle to this question is how to get around outliers. One obvious outlier is Simone Biles who has six gold medals in six appearances on floor. An even more extreme example is Svetlana Khorkina who has seven gold medals and 11 appearances on the uneven bars. But the biggest and most extreme example of an outlier, from a gymnast whose career is such an anomaly that she has forever destroyed most vault records is Oksana Chusovitina.

At 17 appearances in Vault Finals and ten career medals on this event, Chusovitina would singlehandedly skew all 17 of those lineups towards the top of the list.

With these outliers in mind, any “career totals” are unusable. This includes total appearances, total medals, total gold medals, and placement in the points system are out of the question. That leaves only one option, to take “best career result” and use that as a benchmark instead. For example, a gymnast who won two bronze medals and a silver medal will be counted in the data as a silver medalist.

Problem #2: Subjectivity

As previously mentioned, this is a highly subjective question. Gymnastics fans might prefer measuring success based on which lineup had the most gold medalists. But what about lineups that had the most repeat medalists? Is a gymnast who won a single gold medal and retired superior in rank to a gymnast who won a silver medal at two different Olympics? Is a “top-heavy” 8-person lineup that had three gold medalist and no other medalists superior to a “depth” lineup that had seven silver medalists but only one gold medalist?

In order to make things fairer, I will be calculating the numbers twice for each apparatus. The first calculation will use the traditional points system and is designed to reward lineups that were top heavy. The second calculation will take the points system and add a bonus to reward lineups that had more depth.

Unfortunately, for the time being I will not be counting multiple medals per gymnast. Each gymnast will only be counted based on her single best result. As a consequence, this means a gymnast such as Dina Kochetkova who has two appearances in Floor Finals, a gold medal and a 5th place finish will be equal in rank to Simone Biles, a 6x gold medalist on this very same event. That is the price of trying to produce data on a topic that is rift with outliers and subjectivity.

While the Kochetkova v. Biles example may seem unfair, doing it this way also protects the data from another major outlier, uneven bars at the 2015 World Championships which infamously featured a 4-way tie for gold. Not only did four gymnasts share a gold medal, but all four gymnasts won multiple medals on the uneven bars. Two of them are repeat gold medalists (Viktoria Komova & Fan Yilin). Another is a gold and silver medalist (Madison Kocian). While the last is a gold and bronze medalist (Daria Spiridonova).

One of the major benefits of limiting the data to one medal per gymnast is minimizing the impact of ties that would otherwise dominate the data.

In the future I would like to expand this series in a way that goes beyond one medal per gymnast, but because this is such an ambitious project to undertake, the natural course of action was to start simple and slowly work my way up to a more complex way of ranking lineups at a later date.

Methodology #1 (Points-Traditional)

The first methodology which is to be labeled the “Points-Traditional” ranking and is intended to reward lineups that are the most “top heavy” will consider only medals won at the Olympics and World Championships.

Only medals won on the specific apparatus in question will count towards the data, a gymnast winning in vault finals will not help her ranking if she also qualifies to uneven bar finals. From here the standard 3-points for gold, 2-points for silver, and 1-point for bronze points system will be utilized. In the event of a tie both gymnasts will receive the full point total. As previously mentioned, gymnasts are capped at one medal each and no points are generated for gymnasts who finish 4th or lower in the standings. Qualifying or competing in an apparatus finals does not improve a gymnast’s ranking. She must at minimum win a medal.

Methodology #2 (Points-Bonus)

The second methodology which is to be labeled the “Points-Bonus” ranking is intended to reward lineups that fans would consider to have “depth.” It is identical to Methodology #1 with the following steps added.

All lineups will be counted based on the number of gymnasts present who never won a medal on this specific apparatus at the World Championships or Olympics. Lineups with two or less gymnasts will receive a bonus point of +1 added to their total from the previous methodology. Lineups with one gymnast or less will receive +2 bonus points. Lineups where all gymnasts finished their careers with a medal will receive +3 bonus points.

There are a handful examples such as beam finals at the 2021 World Championships where lineups had more than eight competitors. To prevent these examples from being put at an unfair disadvantage in the Points-Bonus model, only their eight strongest competitors from Methodology #1 will be counted when determining if they are eligible for bonus points.

Note: In both rankings the lowest possible score is six points.

Lastly, I will be releasing the data in REVERSE Olympic order (floor, beam, bars, and vault) because it was 2012 floor that inspired this article and that data should be presented first.

Link to data:
Vault
Uneven Bars
Balance Beam
Floor Exercise

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