As gymnastics fans are in preparation mode for the upcoming 2020 Summer Olympics, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of YouTube–watching just about everything. Every four years, gymnastics changes the way they score different skills with the Code of Points. Since the end of the perfect 10, being rewarded for difficulty gives you a leg up in regards to scoring. However, this era of gymnasts–with the exception of a few–have seemingly put proper technique and performance quality on the back-burner. Let’s take it back to the golden era of U.S. gymnasts who were captivating performers–the 1990s.
Dominique Dawes instantly comes to mind as one of the most engaging floor exercise performers of that time. Dawes was one of many gymnasts who did back-to-back passes. The first tumbling pass would consist of a round-off, whip-back, whip-back, back handspring into a double twisting layout–wait, it doesn’t end there. Right when she lands, she executes a punch front step-out into a round-off, three back handsprings, a two-and-a-half twisting layout and finally has the energy to add in another punch front. Exhausting, right?
Sadly, there’s nothing in the current code that would make it worth doing these back-to-back passes. What Dawes did was electrifying, unexpected and beyond that, she had an undeniable star quality to her. She wasn’t called “Awesome Dawesome” for nothing.
Another thrilling element that floor routines don’t incorporate anymore is the whip–a back handspring without any hands, lacking the height of a back tuck, but still providing the proper launch for the bigger skill. Much like back-to-back passes, the whip doesn’t have much of an additional value to the score.
The repetition of this skill is what made Kim Zmeskal’s floor routines–especially her 1992 Olympic Trials performance–absolutely stellar. Zmeskal was known for her power, but the dramatic salute at the end of each pass made the crowd roar with excitement. During that time, gymnasts were all about the presentation. Arms up, head back, wrists flicked, one leg stepped out–it was all about making the tumbling pass look effortless. Now, we mostly see this in college gymnastics.
College gymnastics is more focused on technique and less complex skills, which is why there is more leeway in regards to the performance itself. They still use the perfect 10 scoring system–this might be the reason college routines are less robotic. Take UCLA’s Katelyn Ohashi and her routine that went viral this year. There’s more dancing, time to breathe, better music and more joy displayed.
This isn’t to say that this era of gymnastics is bad–it’s far from that. Come on, we are witnessing the era of Simone Biles–the greatest of all time. There is no denying that what she’s doing in the sport is next level. However, on top of the incredible difficulty, there should be more U.S. athletes that possess the extra performance dazzle like Dawes, Zmeskal and even Dominique Moceanu did. This will help the sport flourish year round, not just every four years.
Rylee Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @rybyjackson.