Score for Score

Artistry at the Olympics: A Quantitive View (Part I)

Artistry at the Olympics: A Quantitive View (Part I)

by Brina June 7, 2019

On Wednesday night, I came across something wonderful: Matthew Rusk (@mrusskie93) had linked to the full results from the Rio Olympic Games. Among other things, this contains a breakdown of the e-score deductions for each gymnast into “execution” deductions and “artistry” deductions. And, after way more PDF scraping than I want to think about, I managed to get some delicious data out of it!

What Are Artistry Deductions?

The Code of Points specifies certain e-score deductions as “artistry deductions” on floor and balance beam, the two events where there is time and space for presentation and choreography.

On beam, one-tenth deductions can be taken for a lack of confidence, lack of personal style, Insufficient variation in rhythm & tempo, and lack of fluidity. On floor, there are even more such deductions. These include lack of expressiveness, gestures that don’t correspond to the music, failure to engage the audience, and inability to show a theme or character. There are further deductions for composition and musicality.

Now, you may be wondering, “What’s personal style?” “What’s fluidity?” On these topics, the Code is silent. Judges are expected to know it when they see it.

I’ve long thought that the division of points into a difficulty score and an execution score was a bit of a clever trick on the part of the FIG. By grouping together objective deductions, like “that split did not hit 180,” and subjective deductions, like “that routine lacked expressiveness,” the Code of Points manages to mask much of the subjectivity involved in judging. But in this remarkable pdf, we have everything clearly separated out.

Artistry Deductions Are Common, But Small

Let’s start out with some summary statistics. To be honest, before looking at these scores, I had no idea whether artistry deductions actually get taken - I’ve heard that it’s very common, and I’ve also heard it’s incredibly rare.

In the analysis below, I’m just going to use the scores from qualification here, since that lets us look at the largest number of gymnasts. I’m also going to use the mean deduction taken by all five e-panel judges - no dropping the highest and lowest.

Not a single gymnast escaped without at least one judge taking an artistry deduction. However, some got close: four judges found nothing to take from Nina Derwael’s floor routine, and three judges found nothing to take from Laurie Hernandez’s beam and Marine Brevet’s floor. In fact, a lot of gymternet favorites — floor routines from Eythora Thorsdottir, Rune Hermans, and Laurie Hernandez, as well as beam routines from Simone Biles, Sanne Wevers, and Pauline Schaefer - got an average deduction of less than a tenth across the five judges.

But that’s not so common. The average gymnast lost 0.22 points on floor and 0.21 points on beam due to artistry deductions.

You can see the spread in the figure above. Most gymnasts are getting under three tenths in artistry deductions, though some are hit a little harder.

But, for perspective, there wasn’t a single routine from Olympic qualifications for which the judges thought, “Wow, the lack of artistic interpretation here is as bad as putting a hand down on the beam.” The average routine got about 2.2 points in total e-score deductions on beam, and 2.0 points deducted on floor. That means that artistry deductions usually make up about 10% of the total deductions taken. It’s pretty low.

The total artistry deductions are low in large part because of the limited deductions available in the Code of Points. Very few single artistry deduction can be greater than one tenth. If I were a gymnast or a coach, I wouldn't find many incentives in the Code to prioritize artistry. A world in which artistry deductions are very common, but also very low, is possibly the least desirable from the perspective of promoting artistry in the sport. Under this system, we are in essence saying that the current level of artistry in the sport is quite poor, but we don't care enough to incentivize gymnasts to improve.

I’m sure you’re all as curious as I was about the least artistic routine. That dubious honor goes, perhaps unsurprisingly, to Hong Un Jong’s floor routine. We all know why she went to Rio. It wasn’t to express the pain of her nation through dance.

Some Countries Are More Artistic Than Others

Time to open up a can of worms. For each country with a full team, I calculated the average artistry deduction across all gymnasts. Remember, these plots show deductions, so lower is better.

That’s right, Team USA was the most artistic on balance beam, and China was the least. The Americans also had the third most artistic floor routines, while Russia was in eighth. It’s just the numbers guys, don’t shoot me. At least we can all agree that the Netherlands deserve to be up near the top.

I should point out how poorly Asian gymnasts are scored on artistry metrics. There's plenty of subjectivity involved, but I personally do not find that Japan has the worst performance quality on floor, and I have to wonder if some stereotypes about Asian personalities are at play.

However, there are also some surprising patterns here. We all know that classically trained European gymnasts with “nice lines” are too often thought of as intrinsically more artistic than gymnasts from a different mold. I've certainly noticed this pattern in listening to gymnastics commentary. However, while this notion is still very much present in the discourse, I’m not sure if it’s really being reflected in the scores. American routines certainly don’t follow that mold, and the Belgian routines are nothing if not atypical. Meanwhile, Team Russia is not being rewarded for their beautiful wrist flicks, arguably the closest thing we saw to classical style in Rio.

So does a team’s reputation play into their artistry scores? The answer is a definitive maybe.

There’s clearly more to be done with this data, but I’m going to save that for another day. Check back soon for more!

Tags: Fun with Score Data, Olympic Talk, On Artistry