When it comes to elite gymnastics, the famous “perfect 10” days are far away. Today, gymnastics scores using a complex, two-part system with a set of points awarded for the degree of difficulty of a gymnast’s skills and another set awarded for how well these skills are performed. It is the level of difficulty that gets the most attention, especially in the era of Simone Biles, whose routines are so technical – and her level of difficulty scores so high – that she could fall and still win.
Exactly how high can these difficulty results go? According to USA Gymnastics, the degree of difficulty is calculated using a specific formula. For a given routine, the degree of difficulty is the sum of:
- The point value of the 10 most difficult skills in the routine, where each skill is counted only once.
- The connection value earned by successfully completing multiple skills in a row.
- The compositional requirements that allow athletes to earn up to 2.0 points by performing a set of elements required on this apparatus.
In women’s gymnastics, each skill is categorized into one of 10 classifications, which have increasing point values as they become more difficult. The Points of Points rankings start with Group A skills, which are 0.1 points each, and go up through Group J, which earns 1.0 points each. Vault skills score slightly differently with difficulty values currently ranging from 2.0 to 6.4 points. To put Bile’s dominance in perspective, her triple-double on the floor is currently the only element at J level, and her latest vault – the Yurchenko double pike – was given a preliminary value of 6.6 at the GK US Classic.
In practice, therefore, there is no upper limit for difficulty level, although the difficulty level in general (or “D-scores”) typically falls between 5 and 6 points for elite gymnasts, such as those competing at the Olympics. By comparison, Biles can, depending on the event, carry a difficulty rating of 6.50 or higher. This new scoring system – though at times difficult for viewers to understand – has allowed athletes like Biles to continue pushing the boundaries of the sport, and it’s exciting to watch.