2017’s Most Difficult Rhythmic Gymnastics Skills: a Tribute to the old D-scores

On December 20, 2017, International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) released a statement for the changes and errata of rhythmic gymnastics’ Code of Points (CoP) 2017-2020 for both the individual exercises and group exercises, effective by February 2018. Months ago, it has already been rumored that they mean to change the rules about the mentioned sport’s difficulty scores. It was the talk around coaches’ and judges’ circles after the World Championships in September and the fans were right, because the international governing body for gymnastics really did change the way difficulty scores were computed in rhythmic gymnastics.

At the previous CoP, it was stated that, “The Final D-score will be the sum of the two partial D-scores: 10.000 points maximum.” On the changes, it is now stated as, “The Final D-score will be the sum of the two partial D scores.”

It isn’t only the D-score that was changed, because even the computation for the final score is changed. In the CoP, it is previously said that, “Final Score: 20.000. By addition: D-score of 10.000 points maximum + E-score of 10.000 points maximum.” At the errata, it is changed into, “The final score of an exercise will be established by the addition of the D-score and E-score.”

This technically means that the old difficulty score, which is capped at 10.000, is overturned. To accommodate the possible excess in the D-scores, the total score‘s cap of 20.000 is also overturned. Since there are no caps to the D-scores anymore, it is possible that overall scores would exceed the capped total score of 20.000 in next year’s competitions.

Simply put: starting February 1, 2018, rhythmic gymnastics’ scoring system will be open-ended.

(If you would like to see the official documents, you can download them here: individuals and group.)

2017’s Most Difficult Rhythmic Gymnastics Skills

Ranking some of the Hardest RG Elements

Rhythmic gymnastics fans have quite mixed opinions about this change in the CoP. Some of them predict that it will now be even harder to beat the Russians, who gather more than 10.000 points for difficulty. In fact, Dina Averina’s clubs routine this year is the most difficult of them all. That is, if we’re talking about routines as a whole. As for an individual or a combination of elements, there are no clear winners yet. So, before this year ends, we would like to analyze which element or skill is the hardest for 2017, as a tribute to the dear old 10-point D-score, which we would see the last of this year.

We used no particular competition for this research. The results are based on the individual gymnasts’ performances on different competitions from January to December 2017. The gymnasts in this list are chosen because they are one of the best ones in the recently concluded World Championships 2017, or one of our wild cards.

The Famous Ribbon Apparatus

The ribbon is the most iconic rhythmic gymnastics apparatus. So much so that when people hear the words “rhythmic gymnastics,” they picture a woman dancing with ribbons, although that’s not just what a gymnast does. It is beautiful to watch and the elegance of a gymnast really comes out with this apparatus. However, any gymnast would probably agree that ribbon is also the hardest tool to perform with as compared to the other ones.

When you watch a competition, especially official ones, you’ll notice that the women quite rarely get scores higher than an 18.000. In fact, only the Russian Arina Averina got a score above 18.000 in the last RG World Championships. Other gymnasts’ scores usually average around 16.000, which spoke to the fact that the ribbon is an apparatus that is hard to manipulate, considering its length and its high susceptibility to tangles.

Despite that reputation, some elite gymnasts still manage to squeeze into their routine some really hard skills or combination of elements. Like Bulgaria’s Neviana Vladinova, for one. At about twenty seconds into her ribbon routine at the Grand Prix in Moscow this year, she performed two turning splits combined with spirals from her ribbon. Each is scored 0.4, so she equaled into 0.8 points in that combination.

Anna-Luiza Filoreanu from Romania actually did a harder element than Vladinova’s. At eighty-six seconds into her routine, just before she ended it, she performed this two-handed tumbling where she threw the stick of her ribbon into the air using her left foot. While the ribbon was suspended in the air, she made four rotations while sighting its descent, one hand raised. Once she caught it, she did another one-handed tumbling, the other hand drawing patterns with the ribbon. Based on the CoP, this is 0.9 points.

Another Bulgarian who has a very impressive element into her ribbon routine is Boryana Kaleyn. At seventeen seconds into her routine, she did two fouetté turns while making a large circle with the ribbon around herself. To regain momentum for another two fouetté turns, she did a passé and then started making spirals on the floor. She repeated this five times, the next more exquisite than the first, and got a score of solid 1.0.

It is also worth noting that USA’s Laura Zeng did this element too, but only with one fouetté turn for each passé and drew strictly spirals alone, so she only got 0.8 points for that. Zeng did one element that is a solid point, though. Seventy-four seconds into her ribbon routine, she did a turning split with arch (worth 0.6 points), the ribbon’s stick thrown overhead, followed by three rotations (worth 0.4 points) before she caught the apparatus.

Zeng’s solid 1.0 point was easily and effortlessly topped .1 by Belarus’ Katsiaryna Halkina at her performance in Kazan World Challenge Cup 2017. Halkina did basically the same elements, but with a turning stag worth 0.5, and an extra rotation on axis before the catch so she got 0.6 for that, totaling 1.1.

The hardest element for the ribbon apparatus that we were able to find was not so far from Halkina’s feat of skills. The said element is worth a whopping 1.2. However, it wasn’t only done by one gymnast. Among others, Israel’s Linoy Ashram, Russian twin Dina and Arina Averina, and Italy’s recent stunner Alexandra Agiurgiuculese have all done this element perfectly. The said element is two turning splits with an arch, ribbons overhead making big circles, done in succession.

Bulgaria’s Katrin Taseva made an illusion to have done this element. But smartly, she was able to gain 1.2 points from doing three turning splits alone, ribbons also making big circles.

Preventing Bounce-offs with the Ball Apparatus

Ball is the RG apparatus where there are a lot of diversities in the skills and elements of each gymnast, which speaks to the fact that this apparatus is the most versatile one. The gymnasts play with it very easily, almost effortlessly. The bounces are carefully calculated to avoid it from bouncing or rolling away, which it is very prone to, that’s why many gymnasts end up finishing with the backup apparatus and taking a chunk off their total scores for the penalty of losing their original apparatus.

Although only at 1.0 point, it is worth mentioning that Russia’s Alexandra Soldatova has this element in her “White Swan” ball routine that is quite exceptional. At her 2017 European Championships Ball Finals performance, she threw the ball overhead and lifted her left foot in an arabesque with split and help. At the U of her back, outside her field of vision, she caught the ball. Still at the arabesque position, she changed her axis downward, putting the raised foot down this time and lifting the other while doing a 180-degree turn. She immediately turned upright again while keeping the ball still at the U of her back. The body difficulty for this move is simply called Utyacsheva with a 180-degree turn. Soldatova is really well-known for her insane body difficulties like that.

Soldatova’s skills are impressive, but Boryana Kaleyn has an element that is worth 1.1. Kaleyn’s elements are quite unique. She really is one of the most original gymnasts that we’ve seen this year because she added extra little details into her elements. At thirty-one seconds into her routine, she did this one-handed forward tumbling and threw the ball overhead on her way upright with the other hand. Once she’s upright, she did two more rotations while the ball is still in the air, each foot lifting as high as her knees in each rotation. She then caught the ball with both hands and did one last tumbling, elbows used to support herself on the floor. It was really pleasant in the eyes.

Another gymnast who achieved a 1.1 was Ukraine’s Viktoriia Mazur at the 2017 European Championships. In the middle of her routine, she did a turning stag with an arch and threw the ball overhead at the same time. Once she has landed, she did another rotation before catching the ball with both hands. Once the ball made contact with her palms, she did one last rotation on axis, one leg lifted.

Even if this wasn’t Mazur’s best year—she even retired after the World Championships—she was still able to showcase this remarkable skill. Everyone was really able to see the happiness in her moves during her last competitive performance. It was really a proud moment for her despite not winning anything and her fans was happy for her as well, especially for her wedding.

Aside from Kaleyn and Mazur, Linoy Ashram also did an element worth 1.1 at sixty-nine seconds into her routine. She started with one rotation followed by a turning split with arch while throwing the ball in the air. At landing, she caught the ball with one hand and proceeded to tumble backwards, keeping the ball safe in her palms.

However, this isn’t the only impressive skill in Ashram’s ball routine. She also has one that is worth 1.2 where she threw the ball overhead to perform a turning split with an arch. At landing, she caught the ball with one hand, re-threw, and then did another turning split with arch. She caught it again with one hand effortlessly to proceed with her next element.

As if what Ashram did wasn’t hard enough, Katsiaryna Halkina actually topped this with .1. Fifty-three seconds into her routine, from a tumbling, Halkina lightly jumped to gain surge for this element. The 1.3-scored element started with a rotation, followed by a turning stag with an arch and the ball thrown overhead. She did another rotation before she caught the ball with one hand and then did one last tumbling.

Halkina was once again a couple of pips short from having the title of the most difficult ball element, like with the ribbon, because the hardest for the ball apparatus was performed by Alexandra Agiurgiuculese—which isn’t a surprise, because Agiurgiuculese is most known for her “Hallelujah” ball routine. One of her iconic poses is twenty-five seconds into her routine, where she rotates the ball on her right hand, left forefinger poised in front of her lips like silencing a whisper. This move is followed by her unbelievably difficult combination of skills—a turning stag with an arch, ball thrown into the air, followed by a rotation before she perfectly caught the ball single-handedly. Without missing a beat, she proceeded to tumble and re-threw the ball again from between her legs on her way upright. This is an impressive 1.5 based on the CoP!

More than just Dexterity in Clubs Apparatus

As mentioned above, the World Champion for the year 2017, Russia’s Dina Averina, has the most difficult clubs routine. She accumulates around 11 points for difficulty alone, although she can only be awarded a perfect 10. On 2018, it would surely be even more difficult to beat her when it comes to this apparatus, because of the open-ended scoring system that is going to be effective starting on February.

One of the gymnasts that Dina has easily surpassed when it comes to clubs element difficulty alone was Viktoriia Mazur. The said gymnast’s hardest element in her routine is worth a solid 1.0. It is a turning split leap with clubs in each hand raised above her head, and another turning split but this time with an arch while the clubs are tapped between her legs during leap.

Such moves are not much unique though, because Greece’s Eleni Kelaiditi did a similar element in her routine at the clubs final of the 2017 European Championships that is worth the same as Mazur’s. She did a turning split with arch and tapped the clubs below her, between the legs. She followed it with a turning stag with an arch while drawing small circles with the rotating clubs in each hand.

Another way to achieve a 1.1 for a combination of elements is what Alexandra Agiurgiuculese did with her clubs routine. She did not one, but six passé turns while tapping the clubs thrice held in each hand, combined with a turning side split and one last tapping of the clubs between the legs.

The mentioned skills above are quite impressive already, but France’s Kseniya Mustafaeva was actually able to top those with a 1.2 point element by doing two turning splits with an arch while tapping the clubs in each hand overhead at first, and then below her on the second turn. She wasn’t the only one who did that element though. Because the Russian twins Dina and Arina Averina did the same thing in their clubs routines, only tapping overhead on both turns.

Dina might have the title of the most difficult clubs routine, but she doesn’t have the title for the hardest clubs element because Linoy Ashram has won this title by scoring an exquisite 1.4 in her highest-scoring feat. At twenty-nine seconds into her routine, she did two turning splits with ring and an arch, the clubs in each hand tapping first overhead and then second below her leap.

Non-Circus Tricks for the Hoop Apparatus

The hoop is probably the most underrated apparatus in rhythmic gymnastics next to the rope. However, no one should underestimate the elements that could possibly be done with this because Azerbaijan’s lead gymnast for 2017, Marina Durunda, managed to make a combination of skills that amounts to an unbelievable 1.8 points in her hoop finals performance at the 2017 European Championships, just before she retired.

We are going to show later how Durunda was able to achieve this, but for now we are going to talk about Halkina’s 1.0-scoring element. She was able to accomplish this when she threw the hoop obliquely into the air, did two standing rotations and two egg rolls before it fell, passing through her connected legs. At that catch, she did another rotation on the floor before passing her whole body through the hoop to proceed with her next element.

Of course, Israel’s pride is also not going to pass up an opportunity to showcase her talents with the hoop because Ashram has an element totaling to 1.2. Quite similar to what she did with the ribbon, it was two turning splits with an arch while the hoop rotated around its axis where the gymnast held it above her head.

However, once again the World Champion Dina Averina has this as her highest scoring hoop element too, like her similarity with Ashram and her twin Arina with the ribbon. The only difference was that Dina rotated the hoop around her body during the leap instead of on its own axis, but she still totaled at 1.2 as well.

Taseva also performed an impressive hoop element at the European Championships worth 1.2 points. She did a throw and caught the apparatus mid-leap of a turning split. She was even able to squeeze in there a pass of the apparatus from one hand to the other between her legs before she landed. Upon landing, she did another turning split leap while rotating the hoop on its axis. Once she’s back on the floor, she did one last rotation along with a rotation of the apparatus that she held over her head on its axis.

No one else has been able to get close to Durunda’s difficult hoop skills. Even Agiurgiuculese’s highest scoring combination of skills in her hoop performance only got 1.3. Said score was gathered by the gymnast from doing four fouetté turns, two passé turns, and one turning side split all in succession. On the first two fouetté turns, she rotated the hoop around along with her body. On the third, she passed her head through the hoop, and on the fourth she retracted the previous movement. For the two passé turns, she rotated the hoop along with her body again, and for the turning side split she passed the hoop from one hand to the other between her legs. Her turns are quite fast which was impressive.

Now for Durunda’s absurd 1.8-worth combination of skills, she managed to acquire this incredible achievement at sixty-one seconds into her said performance when she did not just one—but three consecutive times!—turning split with arch while moving the hoop from one hand to the other under her during leap, rotating the apparatus around the axis of her body. No wonder she got a gold medal for this routine at the Islamic Solidarity Games 2017 in Baku, as it was insanely good.

Triple Butterfly Rhythmic Gymnastics

A Hard-Earned Special Mention

Aya Tanaka Probert from New Zealand is an underdog in the world of rhythmic gymnastics. 2017 is her first year as a senior, and she didn’t really qualify for any apparatus finals during the World Championships in Pesaro this year. However, she did stun some unsuspecting audience when she performed three consecutive butterflies during her ribbon routine in the qualifications! According to the Code of Points, each is worth 0.5 so she totaled to 1.5 points by just doing those alone, which wasn’t an easy thing to do.

It just goes to show that sometimes, the underdogs have some incredible and unbelievable feats that they can surprise the audiences with, and that the famous elites who are always at the top of the podium or the scoreboards sometimes are not really that innovative and unique with their individual elements.

It is really during these researches when similarities and unoriginality comes out. With this list, we can see that the Russians and the Israeli have quite similar elements. Also, if they can do a turning split leap with an arch, or a turning stag with an arch, why not do it for all four apparatuses, right? If you can already do it, it was such an easy score to pass up. This is why it’s like a breath of fresh air every time RG fans see an unconventional and unique routine, because it’s rare nowadays.

Despite all the issues with unoriginality and repetition of elements though, these gymnasts still deserve respect for having the energy and the strongest minds to go through about 48 hours of trainings a week. It takes a whole lot of will power to be able to do that, so we applaud all the gymnasts out there!

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(Clip credits to: FIG YT Channel, Clematis RGVideos YT Channel, and Love RG Music Channel. Music credits to: xSleepingAwakex's RG Music.)

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