The women’s vault controversy in Rotterdam…

It’s been nearly a month since Alicia Sacramone became the second American female in history to win the world title on vault.  As is often the case, though, her win wasn’t without debate.  Interestingly, Sacramone was in the center of a similar controversy on the same event in Beijing, where Cheng Fei completely botched her second vault  and somehow still won the bronze medal over the American. Sacramone wasn’t dealt a lucky hand in 2008, but this year a somewhat similar situation turned in her favor.

The controversy

Mustafina landed her Yurchenko 2 ½ and looked to be in good shape for the gold, but her second vault – a planned Yurchenko half on, front layout full off – was downgraded to a piked position and she ended up with the silver.  The decision to downgrade this unique and very difficult vault surprised many fans, in part because Mustafina was the new world all-around champion and had appeared unstoppable throughout the entire competition.

Let’s take a look at the vaults of both Sacramone and Mustafina now that the competition is over and see if the medals were placed in the correct hands.

Alicia Sacramone Vault 2010 Worlds Event Finals

Aliya Mustafina Vault 2010 Worlds Event Finals

Here’s how they were scored by the judges:


D-Score E-Score Penalties Total Score
Vault 1 6.3 9.1 0 15.4
Vault 2 5.8 9.2 0 15.0
Vault Average 15.20


D-Score E-Score Penalties Total Score
Vault 1 6.5 9.233 15.733
Vault 2 5.7 8.8 -0.1 14.4
Vault Average 15.066

Had Mustafina gotten credit for the laid out position on her second vault, the D-Score would have been a 6.1.  This four-tenth buffer in theory would have given her two more tenths on her final score; however, her E-Score would have clearly been much lower had she been given the laid-out position because more deductions would have had to be taken for her body position.  There’s often a tradeoff when a “laid-out” position is changed to a “pike”: lower start value, but less deductions.  Often times it’s actually to the gymnast’s advantage to lower the value of the skill.  In fact, an 8.8 E-score is actually quite good…probably too high in fact considering Sacramone’s super clean vaults only score 0.3 and 0.4 higher than that.

If I were to actually look at the deductions closely and judge the vaults myself, I would come up with the following:


Vault 1: 0.3 for pike, 0.1 for lack of distance, 0.1 for landing close to the corridor line, 0.3 for large hop on landing.  Total deductions: 0.8.  D-Score: 9.2

Vault 2: 0.1 for slight arm bend on block, 0.1 for slight pike in hips, 0.1 for slight chest down on landing, 0.3 for large hop on landing.  Total deductions: 0.6.  D-Score 9.4

Final Vault Average: 15.35


Vault 1: 0.1 for leg separation on preflight, 0.1 for slight arm bend on block, 0.1 for slight shoulder angle on block, 0.3 for legs crossed/apart during twist, 0.1 for being slightly short of twist rotation, 0.3 for step on landing greater than shoulder width.

Total deductions: 1.0.

D-Score: 9.0

Vault 2 (I’ll give it a pike as it will incur less deductions): 0.1 for leg separation on preflight, 0.1 for staggered hand placement on block, 0.1 for bent arms on block, 0.3 for large shoulder angle on block, 0.3 for lack of height on postflight, 0.3 for bent knees prior to landing, 0.1 for underrotation of salto, 0.1 for landing close to corridor line (toes are over but don’t appear to touch the mat over the line), 0.3 for large step back.  Total deductions: 1.7.  D-Score 8.3

Final Vault Average: 14.75


I really believe Sacramone won this final fair and square.  Even if we gave Mustafina a laid-out position, her second vault score should not have really gone up at all, and in fact may have even gone down.  Looking very closely at the vaults and considering the form and technique, it appears the judges were actually quite lenient on Mustafina’s technical errors – slightly so on the first vault and extremely so on the second – making Sacramone’s margin of victory much smaller than it actually should have been.  Although Sacramone will likely need to either upgrade or start sticking some vaults if she wants gold in 2011 and 2012, I believe she has proven to be the best vaulter in the world in 2010.