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Redefining Perfection: Analyzing the Perfect 10 in NCAA Gymnastics
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The following "My Story" piece appeared in the April 2015 issue of International Gymnast and was written by Lauren Hopkins. IG encourages other readers to submit their "stories." Details on how to do so are posted at the bottom of this page.

Does collegiate gymnastics remind anyone else of Oprah? “You get a 10! And you get a 10! You’re all getting 10s!”

The perfect 10, a mere illusion before Nadia Comaneci made it possible at the Olympic Games in 1976, once seemed to signify once-in-a-lifetime routines from gym legends with whom we mere mortals didn’t deserve to coexist. Today, the NCAA has all but turned the elusive score into “meh, close enough.”

An avid armchair judge, I’ve spent hours of my life picking apart “perfect 10” routines. “Her chest was low on the landing!” I’ll scream, rolling my eyes so hard I need Advil. “Isn’t there supposed to be a deduction for feet greater than hip-width apart?” If yelling at judges were an Olympic sport, I’d have a few perfect 10s of my own.

A 10.0 in gymnastics is known as a perfect 10 for a reason, the key word being perfect. Shouldn’t someone awarded a perfect 10 be someone whose routine was flawless from start to finish without even the most minor of mistakes? In other words, again, perfect?

That’s what I thought. But do you know how the dictionary defines perfect? For something to be perfect, it should be “as good as it is possible to be.”

Since I’ve always taken the meaning of the word so literally, I’ve snarkily torn apart otherwise fabulous routines instead of enjoying them. I’ve also missed a huge part of what makes college gym so special.

If you’ve never watched NCAA gymnastics, you need to know how hardcore the fans are. Utah recently packed a record 16,019 people in its arena, and while this isn’t quite the norm, even the lowest-ranked teams have tremendous support. At many meets, ushers hand out 10.0 posters meant to encourage the crowd to go wild for the routines they love. It’s not unusual for multiple routines in a single rotation to get the “10! 10! 10! 10!” chants from the crowd.

When a 10 seems likely, a home crowd will watch the scoreboard instead of the visiting team. And if it actually happens, whoever’s competing at the moment it flashes better hope her focus is on point because it’s about to get loud.

NCAA fans live for these moments. A perfect 10 is the NCAA gymnastics equivalent to a grand slam in baseball or a hail mary in football. It doesn’t happen at every meet, but when it does, it creates a kind of energy in the crowd that keeps them coming back for more.

At the international elite level, the meaning of perfection is definitely in the realm of “undeniably without fault.” We’ll probably never see a 10.0 in execution from even the most polished Olympians, but NCAA is a different animal. A gymnast who is “as good as possible” here is someone who can hit an exceptionally clean set capped off with a stuck dismount. No one in the arena cares about a slightly bent chest or how far apart the feet are on the landing; when a routine is top-notch in every other sense of the word, judges tend to overlook these minor faults because of how relatively perfect they are compared with others in the same session.

Judges have awarded more than 20 perfect 10s so far in 2015. More than half were handed out on vault, where the quick nature of the routine makes it easier to make it through without much in the way of deductions. No perfect 10 I’ve seen this season was completely without error, but every last one has been deserving.

Look at Erica Brewer’s beam in her senior night performance at Oklahoma. Brewer had never earned a perfect 10 before in her career, and on any other night, her exceptional routine would’ve been somewhere in the 9.9s. But everything came together on March 6. Not only was it her last regular season meet at home with her entire family part of the Lloyd Noble Center’s record-breaking crowd, but she was anchoring a rotation that had counted almost zero noticeable errors in the five routines before her, building toward perfection, one acro series at a time. The crowd could feel it and chanted for a 10 after Brewer dismounted. And when she got it, they erupted into screams so loud you couldn’t hear the floor music of the visiting team.

I didn’t go back and deconstruct her beam as I’ve done with other perfect 10s in the past. I did watch it again to see her confidence grow as she hit every skill, to hear the arena burst into pandemonium when she saluted, and to watch her reaction to her first perfect score.

Whether or not she or others who have earned perfect 10s in NCAA gymnastics are absolutely without flaw, in the moment, they were as good as it was possible to be. In other words, perfect.

A gymnastics fan since birth, Lauren Hopkins is the voice behind She graduated from Columbia University in 2014 and lives in New York.

MY STORY SUBMISSIONS: What’s YOUR story? Share your personal gymnastics experiences in IG. Email your story (500-800 words), along with high resolution JPEGs, to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Subject line: My Story.

Comments (1)add comment

John Scanlan said:

A few weeks ago, four NCAA women's teams counting scores averaged above a 9.90. Last year these high scores caused NCAA prelims to end in a tie. Then NCAA finals ended in another tie. A failure to differentiate causes ties.

The last time the men were under the 10.0 system, on their highest scoring event there were three guys with a qualifying score above 9.50. Right now, on their lowest scoring event there are 399 women with a qualifying score over 9.50. 399/3 is a factor of 133; the women are over 100 times better than the guys?

On the NCAA men's side there are only two exceptions to the FIG (Olympic) rules: A ‘B’ dismount gets partial dismount credit and a stick bonus (for holding a landing with absolutely no movement of the feet) is available. On the women’s side, NCAA rules start from junior rules, not FIG rules and then add exceptions to the Level-10 rules. This is how the scores are out of control.

By the way, women college gymnasts have gotten better and better every year. It's time to move them from a simplified Level 10 standard to an FIG standard. Let’s show some respect to these hard working athletes instead of coddling them.
April 03, 2015 | url
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