Evolution of Rhythmic Gymnastics and the Code of Points
Rhythmic Gymnastics is a relatively new sport comparing to other Olympic Sports. For a few years, rhythmic gymnastics had to develop, it certainly faced a great variety of changes and styles. Comparing a routine from the nineties and one from nowadays, some may even ask themselves if this is the same sport. Here is a brief summary of how rhythmic gymnastics came to be and how it has changed through the start of the century. The rules and regulations of rhythmic gymnastics change every Olympic cycle in their correspondent Code Of Points (COP). Adjusting and changes are made based on how gymnasts performed during the previous cycle, taking into account how they get on and what needs to be changed to keep the sport beautiful, competitive, impressive, safe from injuries, and with achievable goals for professionals and amateurs. Rhythmic Gymnastics wasn't born with the 2001 CoP. It is, in fact, much older than people think, but for the sake of making the least confusing possible, we will analyse only contemporary Rhythmic Gymnastics. Like the post and comment if you would like to read about the history and roots of RG!
The Artistry Dilemma Artistry has always been a controversial topic. The importance it has and the way it is judged is significantly changed each cycle, but why? Artistry and the difficulty are somewhat opposite in rhythmic. The harder a difficulty is, the harder it is to make it look beautiful, and therefore the harder it is to get artistry points. Some people value artistry more than others, it is a personal preference. However, the choices of difficulty elements and composition among gymnasts will change depending on how the artistry is judged during their cycle, so it is fair to say that artistry shapes the sport and the performance on it.
This code is pretty remarkable because of all the changes it brought to the sport. During these years, rhythmic gymnastics' flexibility elements peaked and they became insane. Their training focused heavily on joint mobility and amplitude, and the apparatus handling became secondary. In all previous RGCOP, the flexibility/waves group had on average ten types of elements, and the present COP innovated by bringing 30 kinds of possibilities. It didn't take long for the technical committee to change these as injuries became common because of the use of extreme flexibility. This code left us with elements like these:
Sheep jump WITH back bend: Different jump with a higher difficulty score to a regular sheep jump
Leg on the shoulder: with or without help
Scorpion with backbend: Again, it had a higher difficulty score to a regular scorpion. Basically, it's a scorpion but touching your butt with your head instead of your head. In this COP, the jury was divided into three groups: execution (E), artistic (A) and difficulty (D), and the highest score a competitor could reach was 30 points.
Technical requirements were increased for the number of difficulties. Now gymnasts had to perform 18 body difficulties. The idea of these changes was to make the sport more complex and elaborate, rather than performing a big number of flexibility elements. The aim is to prevent the sport from having the only aim of bending like a pretzel. The use of colour became more permissible in regard to leotards and the use of skirts (short length - to the pelvic region) are also released in order to embellish the presentations. In this COP, the jury is still divided into three panels: execution (E), artistic (A) and difficulty (D), however, the score is now based on the sum of the composition (A + D / 2) and execution totalling 20 points. The Artistry value was more detailed during this cycle and provided information about the music. It's still important for the routine composition that harmony between the character and the rhythm of the music through the exercise makes sense. The choreography has to have a story-telling nature from beginning to end, where ideas or emotions are expressed. The growing demand on the amount and complexity of body and apparatus movements makes the gymnast (and their coaches) struggle to fulfil all the requirements of the code of points. Daisy Barros, one of the first judges in Brazil, commented on it in a scientific event SIGARC:
“Today, the RG performances looks like a cat running after the mouse, the gymnast after the apparatus... Increasingly, RG distances itself from the art”
During this cycle, we see changes that take the sport back to its roots. The flexibility difficulties characterized as a very important technical element were reconsidered in this cycle once the degree of amplitude no longer comprises difficulty. There was a brand new organization of the judge board and in the way of evaluating the sport, adding to the criteria evaluation of the body (D1) and apparatus elements (D2), together with execution (E) and artistic (A) juries. Another big change in this cycle was the reduction of difficulties required. It went from 18 to 12 and this left more time for artwork and guiding idea development in the routine, which imposes a connection between the music and movement, harmony and expressivity. Facial expression and music interpretation took a special place in this new version and became more important than ever. Risk elements return to this version of the COP, and they could be executed with or without throws, bringing to the choreography the excitement of imminent “loss of apparatus”. Another new possibility that arises in this COP is mastery with and without throws. The main objective of the artistic component changes in its criteria: now the aim is to bring emotion and the idea of expression, both translated through the following three aspects: the musical accompaniment, plastic artistic image and expressivity.
How do changes like this affect gymnasts? In the case of Evgeniya Kanaeva, not too well at the beginning. Because of the implementation of the new Code of Points, the holder of the record for most World titles with seventeen and thirteen European titles had to change her style drastically in 2009, causing her to really struggle with injury and exhaustion early in that season. Then again, in that cycle's Olympics, the 2012 London Olympics, she became the oldest gymnast to win the Olympic gold, so she probably got used to the changes in the end. It's a pity that at the start of this cycle she had to stop doing her characteristic quadruple queen pivot (which is two turns in-ring position connected to two turns in penche) that she performed from 2006 to 2009 season and she did not continue doing due to injuries caused by the change of code of points and the difficulty score changes, that didn't value it as they used to in the previous cycle.
2013- 2016 COP
In the last code cycle (2013-2016) there was an increased appreciation for artistry. The judge panels returned to evaluate difficulty (D) and execution (E). The evaluation of the artistic issues (unity of composition, music and movement, body expression and use of space) of the routine became the responsibility of the execution jury. In this last cycle, Music with lyrics can be used for the first time, but only in one routine per gymnast or group. Body expression called for the participation of all body segments in movement, and together with the facial expression, should communicate the theme of the music and the message of the routine composition. In the fifth cycle, the difficulty consists of four important big groups. The number of difficulties suffers a significant reduction (minimum six and a maximum of nine). The body difficulty group of flexibility/waves is deleted and this skill is now judged by the execution panel (as a deduction eg. lack of amplitude).
The risk elements, or dynamic elements with rotation and throw, are regulated as to their amount (two or more rotations) and adding some complex criteria execution too. You can find more detailed information about the evolution of the Code of Point in this academic article.
The question now is if the Code of Points is evolving in the right direction? Should the next one go back to origins of RG or should it innovate with its regulations? How should artistry be judged?