Pennsylvania has talented gymnasts, but none will be perfect


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Nothing turns heads like a perfect "10." You know, like when Nadia Comaneci spun and swung to a 10.0 score on the uneven bars at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. Or when Mary Lou Retton stuck her vault in Los Angeles to clinch gold in 1984.

Well, in this age of gymnastics, 10 would be a perfectly rotten score.

"I know," Paige Cipolloni said. "It's crazy to understand."

Cipolloni, 24, is a second-year coach at Parkettes National Gymnastics Training Center in Allentown, Pa., a club that will send five junior gymnasts to the P&G National Championships this week at Consol Energy Center.

The casual observer in Pittsburgh might be caught off guard by gymnastics' unfamiliar scoring system -- albeit one that isn't so new anymore. The confusion is nothing to be ashamed about, either. Even Cipolloni, a decorated gymnast and LSU alumna, admits it "is hard to explain."

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) overhauled its code of points in 2006, due in part to a judging controversy at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. South Korean bronze medalist Yang Tae-young filed a protest that judges had underscored him by a tenth of a point, more than the difference between he and American gold medalist Paul Hamm.

The Court of Arbitration for Sports ultimately ruled Hamm would keep his gold, but FIG fast began crafting a new scoring system, retiring the not-so-perfect 10 and replacing it with a scoring equation that weighs both the difficulty and execution of a gymnast's routine.

Under the current system, the final score is the sum of the routine's difficulty score (D-Score) and execution score (E-Score).

• D-Score: Every skill within a gymnast's routine has a set point value -- from .01 for a simple "A" skill to 0.7 for a difficult "G" skill. Judges add up points for a routine's eight most difficult skills, plus "connection" points for stringing together two or more elements.

• E-Score: The base execution score is 10, and judges take away points for errors -- 0.1 for a small mistake and 1.0 for falling from an apparatus.

The current system has no points ceiling, and top scores typically range between 15 and 17.

Sam Mikulak won the men's all-around at the 2013 P&G Gymnastics Championship by averaging a score of 15.11 across the six men's apparatuses; Simone Biles won the women's all-around with a 15.05 average.

Cipolloni, an "ex-Parkette" herself, was a high-school junior in January 2006 when the new scoring system was announced.

"It was a huge change," she said. "It was hard to understand how you come up with the score you do now."

Collegiate gymnastics still runs on the 10-point scale, so Cipolloni was in her comfort zone while competing at LSU, but when she returned to Parkettes as a coach in 2012 she had to adjust quickly.

"It's just so different," Cipolloni said. "It was fun, the perfect '10,' when you were competing and people in the stands were chanting: '10! 10! 10!'

"Now, most people in the stands don't really understand what the scoring is."

The new system is unquestionably more detailed and presumably more accurate than its predecessor, but it has caught the ire of those who saw the perfect "10" as a treasure of gymnastics.

Comaneci, who was the first woman to earn a 10.0 at the Olympics, told reporters in 2008 that the scoring switch was a mistake.

"I think gymnastics was associated with the 10," Comaneci said. "I thought that belonged to the sport, and somehow we gave it away.

"I think we lost a lot of the fans because they don't understand what is 14 or what is 15. What's the highest score you can get? It's a little bit confusing for the fans. I think that probably they're going to find a way to bring back the 10 somehow."

Even so, the days of perfect "10" are well in the past, and the new generation of gymnasts knows little of it.

A total of 131 gymnasts will compete at the P&G National Championships, a four-day event with competition at the junior and senior levels. The championships are often used as part of the Americans' selection process for the World Championships.

Pennsylvania is represented by junior gymnast Adriana Popp of Girls Co-Op Gymnastics National Training Center in Bethlehem, Pa., and Parkettes' talented quintet of junior gymnasts: Christina Desiderio, Margzetta Frazier, Taylor Lawson, Molly Frack and Megan Freed.

All five Parkettes gymnasts competed in the U.S. Classic meet Aug. 2 in Chicago, the final qualifier for the national championships.

Two had already qualified, but all five walked out of Sears Centre Arena that night clutching their golden tickets to Pittsburgh.

Parkettes reloaded this year after losing Elizabeth "Ebee" Price, who retired from the U.S. National Team in April, opting to attend Stanford over the possibility of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"Ebee was our head girl at Parkettes for so long, and now she's gone and we've still got five girls going that will be able to represent us so well," Cipolloni said. "It's nice to have that backup."

Looking ahead

■ What: P&G Gymnastics Championships.

■ When: Thursday-Sunday.

■ Where: Consol Energy Center.

■ Tickets: On sale online at pgchamps.com.

U.S. Gymnastics Championships

Consol Energy Center

Schedule

Thursday

1 p.m. -- Junior women's competition, Day 1

7:30 p.m. -- Senior women's competition, Day 1

Friday

1 p.m. -- Junior men's competition, Day 1

7 p.m. -- Senior men's competition, Day 1

Saturday

2 p.m. -- Junior women's competition, Day 2

7:30 p.m. -- Senior women's competition, Day 2

Sunday

1 p.m. -- Senior men's competition, Day 2

7:30 p.m. -- Junior men's competition, Day 2

Tickets

Single session tickets cost from $20 to $99. All-session packages as well as other ticket packages for combinations of events also are available. Tickets may be purchased at the Consol Energy Center box office, Ticketmaster.com outlets or by phone at 800-745-3000.

Stephen J. Nesbitt: snesbitt@post-gazette.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.


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