Team Sizes vs. Competition Format
One of the regular commenters on my blog, Diane Lee, asked to hear my opinion about team sizes being decreased from 6 to 5 at the upcoming olympic games in London.
I actually somewhat agree with this change, although I don’t fully support it. It seems like in a 6-3-3 competition format, there is usually one gymnast who does not compete. Although the top 3 teams at worlds this year did choose to compete all of their gymnasts, it is pretty safe to say that some of the gymnasts were not completely necessary to the teams success. Sure, they increased the teams score by a few tenths while competing one event, but they weren’t completely vital to the success of the team. An obvious outlier to this would be the Chinese team, whose score would have decreased by a pretty significant margin if Yang Yilin, He Kexin or Deng Linlin, all of whom competed on one event during team finals, were not on the team. Still, the fact is that 62% of the team medalists have not used 6 gymnasts in team finals since the 6-3-3 format was introduced in 2001. 6-3-3 also allows teams without much depth to make the podium. I’m looking straight at you, Russia 2004 and Romania 2008. Half of the gymnasts putting up over 90% of the scores and two others not competing does not seem like a team competition.
One thing that I like about the 5-3-3 team format is that it encourages all arounders and decreases specialists. If gymnasts are used evenly, everybody must compete 2-3 events. There is a lot less room for a one event gymnast, especially in prelims. I personally have a great deal of respect for true all arounders.
Of course, the biggest downside to the 5-3-3 competition format is that we get to see less gymnasts making teams. This obviously is not a good thing for girls who have worked their whole lives to make an olympic team. Taking away the Courtney McCools, Sivia Stroescus and Maria Krioutchkovas (WHO?) from the olympics doesn’t help the sport, it just ends a few girls dreams. I agree with what seems to be the big reason for this change, allowing more gymnasts from different disciplines to compete in the olympics. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But for a team like the Chinese who build up specialists, it could and will hurt big time.
So far, I have stated one thing that I like about the format: Encouraging all arounders. So what is my solution? I propose to go back to the good old Atlanta Olympics team final format! 7 gymnasts per team, 6 up on each event, 5 scores count. This format allows for more gymnasts to compete and show their strengths on every apparatus. It encourages team depth instead of two great all around gymnasts putting up most of the scores. It even allows a bit more room for error, because one low score can be dropped. There would still be room for some two or even one event gymnasts, but the majority of the team would need to be able to put up good scores everywhere. This totally goes against the idea of decreasing team sizes, but it would help the sport a great deal, which is really what matters. It has been getting increasingly worse in many ways since 6-3-3 emerged.
So while I agree with one aspect of the change, I believe that there is a better way of dealing with it.