At the 2022 World Championships all five gold medals in the individual events not only went to a different gymnast, but five gymnasts representing five different countries. This was only the third time such an occurrence has happened at the World Championships and Olympics. This also came in the aftermath of the 2021 Olympics and 2022 World Championships where the five gold medals were split between four different countries. Naturally this made me curious and I decided to graph out every competition in women’s gymnastics to see how parity has evolved throughout the years.
I decided to only measure gold medals won in the non-team events. I also counted only the World Championships and Olympics where all five individual events were being contested. This disqualified the 1992, 1996, and 2002 World Championships, along with all gymnastics events held prior to 1950. My assumption was that the most pressing issue was how to deal with ties.
At the 1984 Olympics Simona Pauca of Romania and Ecaterina Szabo who was also from Romania shared the gold medal on balance beam. Does Romania get credit for one gold medal or two gold medals in this scenario? Would it be fair to allow a methodology where a single country could be credited in the data with six gold medals across five events in a scenario where they win gold on every event, and one of those podiums featured two gymnasts from the same country sharing first place?
There was also the infamous 2015 uneven bars finals which resulted in a 4-way tie for first place. In theory, this could mean as many as seven or even eight different countries could win a gold medal in a single competition if such a scenario were to occur again with more diverse results. Do you really want a methodology where ties may skew the data like this?
To account for this, I divided the data into two categories, “total” and “outright.” In the data representing total gold medals, the figure represents the exact number of countries that won a gold medal, regardless of whether that gold medal resulted in a tie. In the data representing medals that were won outright, it only represents the number of countries who have at least one gold medal that was won in “outright fashion.” Meaning the gymnast in question won her medal without anyone tying her.
For the “outright” data I did allow countries to combine their multiple ties into a single valid medal. I treated a single gold medal as 12-points. If two gymnasts tied for first place, they would get 6-points each. If there was a 3-way tie, each gymnast would get 4-points each. If there was a 4-way tie, each gymnast would get 3-points. If a country had enough points from ties to get back to 12 points, they would be credited with another gold medal.
This actually happened at the 1989 World Championships where Daniela Silivas won a gold medal in a tie against Fan Di of China on bars. She then tied with Svetlana Boginskaya of the Soviet Union for the gold medal on floor. Thus allowing Romania to be credited with an extra gold medal.
However, these issues had virtually no influence on the data. No country has ever gone 5-for-5 in gold medals. So, in the event where two different countries tied for first place, the odds are high that one of the countries involved in the tie had already won a medal elsewhere. Or that elsewhere a country would win twice and keep the data at five countries or less.
For example, Henrietta Onodi of Hungary and Lavinia Milosovici of Romania tied for first place on vault at the 1992 Olympics. But because Milosovici would win again on floor, Onodi winning a gold medal in a tie had the exact same statistical outcome had she won the 1992 Olympic Vault Finals in outright fashion. And even if Milosovici never won on floor, because both Tatiana Lysenko and Tatiana Gutsu of the ex-Soviet team won gold in individual events, there was never a chance of this specific tie allowing for more than five countries to win a gold medal in a single competition.
The same scenario occurred when adding up instances where a country tied on multiple occasions in a single competition. Any country that was strong enough to tie twice for gold in two different events was strong enough to win elsewhere as well. In the previously mentioned example involving Daniela Silivas and the 1989 World Championships, because she won beam in outright fashion, this already credited Romania as a country that had won gold. Thus Romania didn’t even need to count her multiple ties on bars and floor to be credited with winning an uncontested medal.
In the end there was little need to factor in ties, and all my methodology did was account for what was technically possible, but not practically possible. However, highlighting their existence is important to explaining the difference between the total number of countries who won a medal and countries who won a medal in outright fashion. Ties didn’t change the outcome of the data, but they did influence how the data was organized in the link below.
The link to the data can be found here.
Above is a bar graph for the data’s “total” figures.
I made a separate bar graph for the data measuring “outright” ties.
I also made a line graph where you can view both the “outright” and “total” figures at the same time.
And the charts are separated. The first showing the “total” figures.
The next (and final) chart shows the “outright” figures.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect to the data can be found in the late 1970s where the rise of China and the United States unquestionably altered the gymnastics power structure.
There is clearly an uptick in parity in 2021 and 2022 relative to the 2013 to 2019 era. Is the sport becoming more equal, or is this yet another example of how Simone Biles’ departure is changing the statistical trends of the sport?