Score for Score

How Much Better are the World Cups?

How Much Better are the World Cups?

by Brina May 24, 2019

“The best part of the new qualification system is these awesome World Cups!”

This appears to a pretty common sentiment around the gymternet. The World Cups were once mainly a way for strong gymnasts from weaker federations or weaker gymnasts from strong federations to get out on the international scene and try their luck in a less competitive field. But this year, for the first time, the event World Cups have much more at stake than a few thousand dollars: they are steps on the path to the Olympics.

With an Olympic spot to play for, some of the world’s best event specialists have come to play, including World Champions and Olympic medalists.

So, I thought it might be fun to compare scores for the same competitions over the past three years to see just how much better this year’s World Cups really are.

Below, I've compared the average scores in event finals for Baku, Doha, and Melbourne -- the fourth one, Cottbus, won't happen until this fall. Totals are on the left, d-scores are on the right. (Unfortunately, I don't have d-scores for Baku in the Score for Score system right now.)

Vault scores this year are certainly higher than they have been in the past, largely on the strength of higher d-scores. Between Carey and Paseka, we've certainly seen a higher level of vaulting this year than we have in the past - and even in Melbourne, world-class vaulters like Oksana Chusovitina and Alexa Moreno had a good showing.

On bars, however, things are a little more mixed. Scores this year have not been unambiguously higher, in part because the star of the 2017 and 2018 World Cup bars circuit, Nina Derwael, has been taking it easy in 2019. However, we are seeing everyone push the limit a little bit more with difficulty.

The story is similar on beam: we can't exactly crow about unprecedented levels of beam performance due to the high-stakes possibility of an Olympic slot. Of all the events, beam is clearly the riskiest one to stake your Olympic hopes on.

On floor, we really saw the impact of Carey showing up in Doha and Baku - the average score jumped up compared to previous years. However, she skipped Melbourne, where the scores this year looked a lot more like scores in the past.

I was also curious to see the extent to which this new star power at the World Cups was leaving us with fewer opportunities for gymnasts from smaller programs. It turns out that gymnasts from 21 different countries earned event final spots at these three World Cups in 2017, and 25 different countries in 2018. In 2019, the number was 26. So while a couple gymnasts are surely missing out on the chance to compete in event finals, we still get to watch a competitors from a diverse set of countries.

Overall, I think the World Cups are more exciting this year because of what's at stake, not because the quality of the gymnastics is on a completely different level. The events haven't changed, we just care a lot more about them.

Tags: Fun with Score Data, Olympic Talk