Maile O'Keefe Mounts the Beam

Data Deep Dive: Decoding the Change in Balance Beam Dismount Popularity

In the summer of 2022, the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Committee released its annual meeting minutes in regards to rules changes. One of the biggest changes the Committee decided on was the increased difficulty requirement for balance beam dismounts. We analyzed routines performed by every gymnast who competed a balance beam routine at a Power Five school (Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-12) from 2022 and 2023 to see how the code changes impacted how beam routines were composed.

Starting with this past season, all dismounts are required to have a minimum value of C or higher.  Previously, gymnasts could either perform a C-rated dismount or compete a B-rated dismount, as long as it was immediately preceded by a D-rated acrobatic skill on the beam, such as a front or side aerial. The most popular combination of B and D-rated elements competed prior to the change was the side aerial to back full with a twist. Overall this is a positive change in terms of adding additional difficulty. For individual gymnasts it has been a bit of a puzzle, since they were forced to re-evaluate their dismounts and rearrange their routines to meet the new requirements.

In terms of the effect this code change had on team lineups overall, we found that the Utah beam lineup was the most impacted, with five out of six returners needing to change their dismounts. (Cristal Isa, who just finished her fifth year competing for the Red Rocks, was the only athlete in the regular lineup whose routine remained unchanged between 2022 and 2023.) After spending the summer recovering from ankle surgery, rising junior Amelie Morgan had to get back in the gym and work on a new dismount. Throughout her first two years she competed a B-rated side aerial to back full twist. “It was a challenge,” Morgan recalled. “I went through a fair amount of dismounts. There’s a personality side to it [with] so many possibilities with skills and combinations.”

Fifth-year Maile O’ Keefe was another gymnast who competed a B-rated dismount throughout her career. Despite being used to the previous dismount, changing it was easier than perfecting it. “Making the change was easy, but making the change to where it was good is still hard,” she noted. It’s important to note that not all teams were affected to the degree that Utah was. The Maryland, Penn State and Kentucky beam lineups were already competing difficult enough dismounts prior to the rule change.

We used the same analysis to analyze the impact this code change had on individual athletes across Power Five schools. This list represents teams in the conference the gymnasts competed beam for during both the 2022 and 2023 seasons and does not account for any future realignment changes.

Dismount Combinations

We analyzed 269 beam routines from 2022 and 238 from 2023. We did not have video or live blog coverage for three routines from 2022 and one routine from 2023. The table below shows the dismounts used in 2022 routines.

Dismount Combination No. of Routines Percentage of Routines
Cartwheel/BHS/RO plus one-and-a-half twist variations 85 31.60%
D-rated acro skill plus full-twisting variations 76 28.25%
Gainer full off the side variations 44 16.36%
Gainer pike off the end variations 21 7.81%
Double twist variations 14 5.20%
Double tuck variations 6 2.23%
Front full variations 5 1.86%
Gainer tuck full off the end  4 1.49%
Rudi variations 4 1.49%
Variations on front gainer full off the end  4 1.49%
NO VIDEO 3 1.12%
Double pike variations 2 0.74%
D-rated acro skill plus one-and-a-half twist variations 1 0.37%

As shown above, the majority of the beam dismounts competed in the 2022 season – the one-and-a-half twist preceded by a cartwheel, back handspring, cartwheel or round-off – were unaffected by the update to the code. However, the second most commonly competed dismount – the D-rated acrobatic element connected to a full twist – no longer met the difficulty requirement, meaning a lot of gymnasts needed to make a change.

The next table shows balance beam dismounts used in 2023.

Dismount Group No. of Routines Percent of Routines Percent Change
Cartwheel/BHS/RO plus one-and-a-half twist variations 93 39.08% +7.48%
Gainer full off the side variations 65 27.31% +10.95%
Gainer pike off the end variations 21 8.82% +1.02%
Double-twist variations 17 7.14% +1.94%
Front full variations 12 5.04% +3.18%
D-rated acro connected to a one-and-a-half twist variations 8 3.36% +2.99%
Gainer tuck full off the end 7 2.94% +1.45%
Front gainer full off the end variations 6 2.52% 1.03%
Double tuck variations 4 1.68% -0.55%
Double pike variations 2 0.84% +0.10%
Rudi variations 2 0.84% -0.65%
NO VIDEO 1 0.42% -0.70%
Variations on a D-rated acro skill connected to a full twist  0 0.00% -28.25%

The cartwheel, back-handspring or round-off into a one-and-a-half twist remained the most used dismount between both seasons. However, the dismount group with the largest increase was  the gainer full off the side, which increased in popularity by almost 11% from 2022 to 2023.

Dismount Changes

The second question we analyzed was regarding the number of athletes who had to change their dismount between 2022 and 2023. There were 169 athletes who competed a balance beam routine for a Power Five school during both seasons. We lack video of one athlete so that routine is not included in these statistics.

Between 2022 and 2023, 62 out of 168 athletes (36.90%) changed their dismounts on beam – 18 from both the Big 10 and PAC-12, 17 from the SEC and nine from the Big 12. Forty-eight of those changes, or 77.42% of all routines, were due to the code change. Sixteen of those routines (33.33%) changed to a variation on the gainer full off the side, 14 changed to a cartwheel, back handspring or round-off to a one-and-a-half twist variation and six upgraded their dismount to a D-rated element into a one-and-a-half twist variation. 

Of all the 62 dismounts that changed, 32.26% of the routines ended with some variation of a gainer full off the side, and 25.81% changed to a cartwheel, round-off, or back handspring connected to a one-and-a half twist. Overall, the gainer full was the most common replacement to the previously popular side aerial to back full.

With the start of the 2024 season upon us, our data leads us to predict that we are heading towards a trend where most dismounts will be either some variation of an acrobatic element to a one-and-a-half twist or a variation of a gainer full. No matter what dismount works best for each athlete within this new code, it is clear that beam coaches will continue to use the code of points in a way that benefits both their athletes and their teams as they move through another competitive season in the NCAA.

Article by Savanna Whitten with additional assistance from Mariah Dawson and Brandis Heffner

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