GYMNASTICS: Chasing the perfect 10
Ball State driven by aspirations for perfect score
Perfection is rare in gymnastics. So rare that only one Cardinal has ever achieved it.
When Brittney Emmons works on her beam routine, coaches watch her practice. At the end of the run through, they discuss what did and did not go right. Then Emmons gets back on the beam and works on her skills again.
"That's one thing that makes us who we are and gives us our determination," Emmons said. "If something's not right, we'll do 10 more to figure out what we need to do to make it right."
Many times, the Cardinals are working on minor aspects of a performance. But it's in the details where gymnasts succeed. The details are the difference between winning and losing, staying up and falling down.
The team will often break down a routine into its separate parts. The gymnast gets each component right, and then strings the skills together.
"For a gymnast, it's really crucial to work on little pieces, because sometimes when you're trying to put the whole thing together all the time, you can actually lose form and technique," coach Nadalie Walsh said.
Emmons said it takes a certain determination to succeed in gymnastics. All gymnasts are like that, she said.
"I think anyone and everyone, if you go and ask them, they are perfectionists," she said. "We are our hardest critics."
All that detail is the difference between a good score and an average score.
Central Michigan coach Jerry Reighard said his team sets a goal of improving by 0.05 per routine each meet. That seemingly negligible amount would lead to a one-point increase in a season if each gymnast meets the goal, demonstrating the effect small improvements can have.
"Those tenths of a point when you get into that 9.7, 9.8 range are really precious. They're really hard to obtain," Reighard said.
Walsh said her goal is to get through every routine without losing more than 0.2 in each performance.
"It's not a mystery how much of a deduction it is," she said. "If you take a small step, it's a tenth. If you take a big step, it's two tenths. We can look at our practices and say, ‘This many of you took this many steps, so that's how many deductions it is.'"
Gymnastics has a defined result when everything goes right. It awards the routine that is challenging and completed without a deduction.
Perfection is an achievement every gymnast would like to reach in a career.
"We're always working toward a 10," Walsh said.
A perfect 10 is the definitive goal in gymnastics. It's something only one Ball State gymnast has ever achieved: Sarah Mikrut Doyle on the vault in 1997.
"As far away as I am from that day, it's still so crisp in my head," said Mikrut Doyle, a 2007-08 Ball State Hall of Fame inductee who is a gymnastics coach at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. "You train 15 years for that.
"Landing that vault and knowing I earned a 10 was an incredible feeling."
Emmons earned a 10 on the floor exercise from one judge last season, but the other judge gave her a 9.8 for a combined score of 9.9.
She said it's a matter of time before she is given a perfect score.
"If and when — and I will eventually before I leave the school get a 10 from both judges — I would be completely ecstatic," Emmons said. "I don't know how I would handle myself. That's what I've shot for since I was a little kid."
Tiffany Brodbeck matched the 9.9 on the floor later in the season. She said finding that final tenth of a point is on her agenda.
"That is probably one of my main goals this year is to try and get a perfect 10 on floor. Definitely," Brodbeck said.
Feedback is also important. Emmons said it's important to hear from coaches because she may not feel that a trick is wrong until someone else points it out.
Judges cannot provide comments beyond the scores they give, so Walsh said she will go to whomever she can for advice.
"I love asking people I know in the audience for feedback," she said. "I like the opinions of other people."
Along with outside input, Brodbeck said she has an internal feel for when she makes mistakes.
"I can tell when I mess up, and it's always disappointing," she said. "You learn to just keep moving on. I try to use that as motivation. If I mess up on a skill, I'll either redo it, or if I'm in a routine, I tell myself, ‘don't do that again.'"
That drive to get things right is why the gymnasts will continue to work hard every day in practice. It's because they're all chasing an ultimate goal.