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Gymnastics legend Comaneci laments demise of perfect 10

Gymnastics legend Comaneci laments demise of perfect 10

Nadia Comaneci is the first gymnast to score a 10.00 in the Olympics.

Beijing: Nadia Comaneci has criticised the ruling body of gymnastics (FIG) for dumping the perfect 10.00 scoring system.

Her becoming the first gymnast to score a 10.00 during the women's team competition at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, aged just 14, is one of the abiding images of the sport.

But when the gymnastics competition begins at the Beijing Games on Saturday, attaining perfection will no longer be possible as the FIG has radically revamped the scoring format.

"I kind of created the 10 and I feel bad it went away. I'm not happy about it," the Romanian five-times Olympics gold medallist said home in Oklahoma.

"It belongs to gymnastics. I feel after so many years, everyone identifies the 10 with the sport of gymnastics. Now it's like we've given the branding away."

Just as figure skating was forced to change its 6.0 scoring system following a judging scandal in the pairs competition at the 2002 Winter Games, gymnastics had its watershed moment at the 2004 Athens Olympics.

A spate of disputed medals four years ago left officials under no illusion that the scoring format had to be revamped.

The old method was abandoned following the 2005 world championships in Melbourne and a new accumulative points scoring system - awarded for difficulty of content and execution - will make its Olympic debut in Beijing.

Although athletes have had two years to get used to the redesigned format, others are still struggling to decipher it.

"It takes a long time to create something that is associated with the sport. Now the fans are confused because an open score doesn't mean too much. What does a 16 mean? Is it out of 100 or 50 or what is the highest score you can get?" asked Comaneci.

"It just seems like an ordinary scoring system. It used to be easier to understand when you had the 10. Now the fans will see a number and they don't know what that number means."

Major controversies

The decision to dump the 10.00 format, which had been in place since the 1920 Antwerp Games, was sparked by two major controversies in Athens.

The FIG admitted American Paul Hamm had been awarded the men's all-round crown in error after South Korea's Yang Tae-young had been incorrectly docked a 10th of a point from his parallel bars routine.

Despite acknowledging the mistake, the federation refused to redistribute the medals and it came under further attack when chaos erupted during the men's horizontal bar final.

"People Power" held up the competition for almost 10 minutes as fans forced the judges to change the score of four-times Olympics champion Alexei Nemov.

With the open-ended scoring system, FIG said the tools are now in place to reward those performing more daring routines.

But Comaneci feels officials could have achieved the same thing by simply tweaking the format.

"The FIG should have kept the 10 somehow. The 10 was giving us the perfection and when somebody got the 9.75, you knew exactly what that means when we had the 10," said the 46-year-old, who has signed a paper with other athletes to protest.

Despite the changes, Comaneci argued human bias will always remain a factor in a subjective sport like gymnastics.

"You're going to find little mistakes all the time in the scoring system because you're still going to have one or two judges giving a different score," said Comaneci, who arrives in Beijing on August 6.

"Fans still want to see perfection being achieved but the new generation will never be able to see that again."

first published:August 04, 2008, 19:16 IST