September 4, 2015

American Skills – 2015 Edition

It's that time of year again. A brand new batch of fresh summer routines has once again been bestowed upon us by Mrs. Karolyi's Traveling Circus, which means it's now my turn to break these routines down into their constituent skills to see what trends in routine composition emerge. Which skills have become the coolest kids in school and are totally dating Brett Bretterson? Which loser skills are eating lunch by themselves in a bathroom stall like Stephanie Tanner before Gia teaches her about smoking and Ace of Base (and meth, probably)? And does any of it make sense? Or are all these routines stupid?

Let's get into it. On each event, the skills are broken down by category, with the corresponding numbers indicating the percentage of US senior elites who performed that skill at the national championship in the given year. I have included all skills of C value or greater (so none of this bhs or giant nonsense), as well as the A dance elements on beam as a way of keeping tabs on how people are choosing to fulfill the dance combination requirement. As always, I counted the skill attempted rather than the skill that would actually receive credit because this is about evaluating intended composition choices. Though let me tell you, that was a rough game this year on floor. We'll get there in a second.

Some of the notable rises, falls, and year-to-year comparisons are highlighted. Because people like things with colors on them. Apparently. 


  • The tkatchev made a nice little comeback this year in most of its flavors (stalder, piked, and plain). Only the toe-on variation saw a fall in 2015 as more people have started performing a greater variety of entries, which is always a good thing. It also makes sense to Shayla up these bars routine since tkatchev variations are so valuable for CV right now. Last year, I was a little surprised by how few we saw, but they're coming into line now. Overall, the gymnasts are stepping up the difficulty with their bars releases. Although some of that is just Brenna making the whole group look like daredevils.   
  • The straddled jaeger remains the gold standard of non-tkatchev releases. As in, the only one. No piked versions this year, and no giengers again. Poor gienger. The gienger is a leg-separation deduction trap (hi Sophina!) while the straddled jaeger isn't, so if you're choosing one, it makes sense to choose the jaeger. But seriously, you're telling me no one out there can throw us a nice little Peszek-level gienger?

  • Everyone remains all about the toe-on. And by everyone, I mean 52.63% of people. I'm still not really clear on why this trend has come on so forcefully in the last couple years. Sure, many people do need an 8th skill to count and the toe-on is the easiest C element on bars, but that was also true in the last quad, when relatively few people were doing toe-ons with no pirouetting (14% in 2012).  
  • We also saw a bit of an upswing in the toe-on 1/2s this year, though not a terribly significant one. This is understandable as a result of the popularity of jaegers. Got to do something to get facing the right direction.  
  • The stalder full continues to be the big loser among bars turns after having enjoyed greater popularity in the last quad when D pirouettes were more valuable for CV. Now, not so much. The relatively strict deductions for late pirouettes (compared to releases) have also contributed to this decline since the value of the skill just isn't worth the potential for a large late-finish deduction. Now, the gymnasts shove their one D pirouette into the routine (toe-on full) for a necessary D skill, but they're loath to put in another one if they don't have to.  
  • Sadly, the weiler 1/2 (aka, the wolf turn of bars) has returned to its previous levels after a refreshing dip last year.

  • More than anything else, this is the quad of the pak salto, which was clear to even more extreme degree this year than in the previous two years. The main (only) reason for the emergence of the Pak Posse is the pak's ability to get gymnasts facing the right direction for shaposh variations. Couple that with the elimination of the bail+stalder shoot CV, and there's no longer much reason at all to do a bail. In fact, pretty much everyone still doing a bail is also doing a pak and just needs another countable high-to-low element.
  • The lone ranger not doing a pak is Aly Raisman. Every other senior has a pak (or Bhardwaj, which is a variation on the same theme) in her routine. Raisman also has one of the lowest D scores. So that's not a coincidence.
  • But! We have four different high-to-low transitions this year instead of two. So that's something. Everyone light a candle for Brenna and Kyla.

  • One of the stranger blips in 2015 is the decrease in shap 1/2s compared to last year. It's not large enough to be a thing, but I would have expected an increase this year since it's so valuable for D score. You'd think more people would be learning it. I especially expected to see an increase show up in the numbers because these bars routines are getting much harder. Last year, 42% of US senior competitors had a D score in the 6.0+ range. This year, it was 74%.
  • But note that the stalder shap is getting increasingly popular, mostly with people who already have the toe-on version in their routines and are now including two shaps. That's one of the places this increased difficulty is coming from.
  • Unsurprisingly, shoots to the high bar continue to be an endangered species as a result of the bail issue discussed above, but the toe shoot in particular in an interesting case of composition change in a very short period. 
    In the 2012 quad, few people performed the toe shoot because it's a B and couldn't get CV out of a bail, while the C-rated stalder shoot would. In 2013, we saw a jump in the frequency of toe shoots compared to stalders as many people retained their 2012 composition but realized they could do the toe shoot instead of the stalder since neither would receive CV anyway. But lately, we've seen the toe shoot start to decline once again as people adapt to the code of this quad, emphasizing more pak-shap action without needing a shoot at all. 
  • Yay! This year, the disappointing trend of repetitive bars dismounts reversed a tiny bit as we saw four whole dismounts (four!) compared to last year's two. A few of those half in-half outs and DLOs have been replaced by DLO fulls and double fronts (however misguided) for some more variety to get us back closer to previous levels. It's a start. 


    • The queen is dead, long live the queen. After a rough year of being exiled to the wilderness by that pretender to the throne, the layout stepout, the aerial walkover mustered an army and forced a revolution to regain her rightful place atop the beam acro standings.
    • The acro landscape this season is actually fairly different than it was last year and reflects a reversion to the mean, more similar to previous years. The overarching trend here is increased difficulty as we see a drop in D acro elements like the side aerial, punch front, and side somi and a corresponding increase in harder elements like the layout (2 feet), front pike, and barani. D acro elements had been on the rise because of this quad's emphasis on acro + dance combinations, but why do D acro + A dance when you can do E acro + A dance? (Because you're Aly Raisman and it makes you fall on a split jump?) 
    • Back pikes and tucks are also up this year with several more people electing to do switch split + back pike/tuck/puck to squeeze out that 0.1 CV.  

      • 100% switch split. Oh boy. Since I started doing this in 2012, this is the first skill that has appeared in 100% of US senior routines (not counting round offs and back handsprings). If it was ever going to happen, this was the skill. The switch just makes too much sense because of how many birds can be killed with this one stone. (I just now realized what a horrible expression that is.) 
        Not only is the switch split the easiest C dance element (and since pretty much everyone will end up counting at least one C dance element, everyone wants to do a switch split), it's also valuable for that connection into a C acro skill for 0.1 CV or into a split jump/sissone to fulfill the dance combo. But at the same time, do we approve of any code that will encourage a skill to appear in 100% of a nation's routines?
      • Another interesting development is the slight decline of the split jump. A few more people this year exercised different options in completing the dance combo, either through other A elements (note the uptick in wolf jumps and pike jumps) or the Baumann strategy of doing switch to switch half and daring the judges not to award the connection. 
        There may also be a concern that not hitting 180 is getting deducted more strictly on split jumps, since it's the most obvious of the dance element errors, and perhaps people feel they can get away with a little bit more suckiness on a wolf, pike, or sissone than on a split. We also need to talk about the dire state of these sissones. They're basically just split jumps with a low front leg. That's not really the deal.
      • I included a total wolf turns category this year because wolf turns have dominated the conversation lately. While much more prevalent for the seniors in 2015 than in 2014, wolf turns weren't performed by everyone the way it sort of seemed. We did see quite a few in the juniors, though, which indicates that it will be a growing trend in coming years. 2013 also saw a high percentage of wolf turns, though there were far fewer total competitors in 2013 so it may not have seemed like as many.  

        • A little bit of a comeback for the double pike this year. The proportion of people doing dismounts more difficult than Ds has remained relatively steady over the last four years. It's usually just the brave few. Twisting dismounts were not in fashion this year, part of an overall trend toward double saltos and away from twisting skills. 

          FLOOR EXERCISE: 

          • Here, we see more of the trend away from twisting skills. Look at the numbers for the triple full, 2.5, front double full, and even 1.5 (which should still be pretty useful for that indirect connection bonus). They're all way down from 2012. Much of the reason is that the highest tariff elements (what, am I British now?) are double saltos, not twists, so if you need to push the difficulty to try to stay somewhere in sight of Simone, you're going to learn a DLO, not a 3/1.
          • In keeping with that, the overall adjustment this year was toward difficulty as everyone competes with each other to show off the biggest D. More piked full ins, double arabians, double fronts, etc. 
          • On a positive note, the proportion of people fulfilling the forward tumbling requirement with some random aerial in the middle of nowhere was down to 37.5% this year from 50% last year. So yay?

            • Now here, Wolf Turn Nation is really in full bloom. The inexplicably D-rated double wolf is skyrocketing over all the other floor turns because it's so much easier to complete and get credit for than the double L or double Y. The double wolf turn on floor really needs to become a C in the next code. 
            • Fewer single full turns reared their heads this year since the value of those D turning skills is too irresistible to pass up. Nearly no one is willing to thrown in a full turn just to fulfill the requirement before calling it a day anymore. We did, however, have a lot more people utilizing the turn combination for CV this year, which accounts for the increase in single L turns.  

              • We've seen a really huge leap in the number of switch fulls being attempted since the beginning of the quad, which was particularly evident this year and is directly linked to the new rule that allows gymnasts to leap out of another leap and receive credit for the first leap, even if it's (somewhat) under-rotated. That means that nearly everyone who used to play it safe and do a switch 1/2 now feels the freedom to try the switch full, even if she can't actually do it. So really, the most popular dance element this year wasn't the switch full, it was the switch 9/16ths directly into a BS sissone. What was actually being attempted was really hard to say most of the time. There were a lot of "Was that a try?" moments.
              • This year, 87.50% of gymnasts elected to perform an A dance element directly out of another dance element, while just 56.25% elected to perform an A dance element directly out of a tumbling pass in an attempt to get that CV. 
              • Also, L hops. No.


              1. "The double wolf turn on floor really needs to become a C in the next code"

                Double wolf needs to be a negative amount in the next code! The gymnast should reward the judges with points for having to watch this skill.

                1. I am actually surprised that this trend didn't get caught on internationally yet... You would think it would have a long time ago and that kinda surprising that most wolf turns are done by US gymnasts? Well, it will most likely be downgraded.