Many of you watched women’s gymnastics at the Olympics this year, so you got the chance to see the gymnasts perform the vault event using a vaulting table.
However, twelve years earlier at the 2000 Sydney Olympics the competition still used the long “vault horse” design (as seen in the above photo). Incorrect height settings on the vault horse (and officials’ negligence in validating concerns voiced by competitors) led to some unsafe and disastrous results that year for the women’s all-around competition.
A video montage, courtesy of FullTwist.net:
Wow, that was painful to watch.
Olympic gymnasts train for years for these events and thusly become very familiar with the equipment they use. It wouldn’t take much for them to identify anomalies in their performances – one gymnast falling is understandable, but many gymnasts crashing? Something must not be right!
At the 34-second mark you can see officials checking the height settings on the vault horse, and the image at the 36-second mark shows you just how far off the height was set. (You can see more of the breakdown of the video of all the gymnasts here.)
But that’s only one issue. The other big one stems from officials ignoring complaints about those settings. From David Haviland:
When the vault began, a number of the gymnasts made uncharacteristic errors, including American Elise Ray, who missed the vault completely in her warm-up, and Briton Annika Reeder, who crashed and had to be carried off the mat, too injured to continue.
After (Russian gymnast Svetlana) Khorkina’s warm-up, she complained to officials that the vault was set too low, but was ignored. She proceeded to take her first attempt, but crashed painfully on her knees, ruining her chances of gold.
As the vaulters continued to crash and fall, Australian competitor Allana Slater was the next to complain that the vault was set too low, and this time the officials paid attention. The vault was measured, and found to be 5 centimetres lower than it should have been. 5 centimetres might not sound like much, but it is a crucial difference in this event.
Crucial indeed, as per the scary contortions the gymnasts suffered on landings or poor grips on the vault horse. In fact, some gymnasts were permitted to redo their vaults with the new settings. Either because of injury already incurred at the old settings or being rattled facilitated poor performances and poor scores in subsequent events, a handful of gymnasts chose not to make another attempt.
This error at such a universally-watched event was certainly preventable, and it does help raise some questions.
- Was the vault height checked prior to competition?
- If it was checked, was there a problem with incorrect specifications, the measurement system or something else?
- If it wasn’t checked, why not?
- Is it easy to quickly identify if settings are not properly implemented?
- Why was the Russian gymnast’s complaint ignored?
- At what point did the officials and judges begin to get concerned about the multiple uncharacteristic falls?
Since the 2000 Olympics the gymnastics competitions have adopted a wider vault table that was on full display during the 2012 Olympics in London.