With both Great Britain and the USA running a numbered levels system, it can at times be confusing for gymnastics fans knowing where a particular gymnast is in terms of development, and which path they may be heading down/aiming for in their gymnastics.
My limited understanding of the US levels system is that it works in ascending order from one to ten, with testing elite being the ultimate aim (level 10 for NCAA) , that levels can be skipped, and that there is no set age at which a gymnast is expected to pass each level in order to be considered on the elite path.
In contrast, the GB system works in descending order with ages assigned to each level, with the expectation that ‘in age’ gymnasts pass one grade per year to remain on track. There other ways to the end goal of qualifying for the British Championships, but this is the primary path.
As far back as this blogger can remember, compulsory grading has been part of the British development system. My own personal memories include being thrilled at passing grade six with distinction meaning I could skip grade five (Back then distinction meant you could skip grade five, or distinction at grade five meant you could skip grade four, grade three everyone had to do, grade two could be skipped, and grade one had to be completed.) ,the backward roll on beam in grade four causing big problems with my ponytail, but making the team for national finals for the first time. The embarrassment of falling off beam on a tuck jump at grade two and qualifying 6th making me reserve for national finals meaning weeks more of keeping the routines competition ready just in case but no competition. Some very bizarre skills for grade one bars that I don’t think I or anyone else ever used again, and the relief of passing the final grade, and moving on to what we called world sets, aka compulsories.
Today there are no world compulsories but the UK grading system serves the same purpose, to show excellent basics, with focus on technique and form, along with precision of performance. In addition as the first elite gradings are taken in the year the gymnast turns nine, and the last in the year they turn twelve (Compulsory 1 being a more recent addition to the grading system in 2014), it is a developmental program with the aim of producing well prepared elites with strong basics providing the essential building blocks to high level skills.
There are no age restrictions to participation in Compulsory Elite Grades at regional competition meaning they can also be taken ‘out of age’. The only exception to this being Compulsory Level 4, which remains for gymnasts who are aged 9 in year of competition. At National level however the regional teams are made up solely of gymnasts who are ‘in age’:
Compulsory Level 4 – aged 9 in the year of competition
Compulsory Level 3 – age 10 in the year of competition
Compulsory Level 2 (age 11 in year of competition) and 1 (age 12 in year of Competition) are ‘open age’ at national level, (the ideal still being to pass them in age) but all gymnasts must have passed the previous grade to be able to progress to the next one. When level one has been passed, in age, and gymnasts one year out of age gymnasts enter the British espoir championships.
The pass mark over the five pieces for compulsory 4 and 3, is 50.00, for compulsory 2 53.00, and for compulsory 1 54.00. Unlike in the past, there is not currently a specific pass mark required for range and conditioning. For compulsory four and three, at regional qualifying the first four gymnasts and nominated reserve are selected for national finals, all gymnasts must have achieved the pass mark. For level four, any gymnasts that score 59.00 and above in regional qualifying, but do not finish high enough to make the team are entitled to compete at national finals as an individual, the same applies at level three for gymnasts scoring over 56.00
At levels two and one gymnasts enter as individuals, the requirement being having passed the previous level.
A look back at the grade results of GB gymnasts will tell you that they are one of the foundations of elite gymnastics in Britain, and where future stand outs can first be spotted. The emerging generation of gymnasts illustrating the point well.
Ellie Downie – 2nd Compulsory 4, 5th Compulsory 3, 2nd Compulsory 2
Amy Tinkler – 5th Compulsory 4, 10th Compulsory 3, 5th Compulsory 2
Catherine Lyons – 1st Compulsory 4, 1st Compulsory 3, 2nd Compulsory 2
Teal Grindle – 4th Comulsory 4, 2nd Compulsory 3, 1st Compulsory 2
* No Compulsory 1 for these gymnasts
Of course not all gymnasts excel at compulsories, both Tyesha Mattis and Claudia Fragapane had mixed results at compulsory competition, faring much better at the voluntary levels. In the same way, some beautiful compulsory gymnasts fade away when it comes to the tougher demands of voluntary competition, as they complete their grades and move into Espoir competition.
With this in mind, a look at the top ten from last year’s national Compulsory level 4,3,2 and 1 . It will be no surprise at all to find some of these names on British junior then senior teams in the future.
1. 64.200 – Madison Morgan (South West)
2. 62.800 – Sienna Goodwin (East)
3= 62.750 – Layla Starkie (Wales)
3= 62.750- Lilli Clo Thorp Richens (South)
5. 62.700 – Isabel Richards (Wales)
6. 62.450 – Grace Davies (East)
7. 62.400 – Felicity Ayres (South West)
8. 62.250 – Sophie O’Flaherty (London)
9. 61.950 – Summer-Louise Nolan (South East)
10. 61.600 – Ruby Evans (Wales)
1. 64.800 – Ellie Petroiu (East)
2.63.650 – Ayesha Abdullahi (North West)
3. 63.400 – Paige Moroney (East)
4. 62.600 – Jea Maracha (Wales)
5. 62.400 – Amy Oliver (Wales)
6. 61.950 – Hattie Moat (North West)
7. 61.700 – Violet Manser (East)
8. 61.550 – Isabelle Mardle (East)
9. 61.350 – Mercedes Moore (North)
10. 61.300 – Dixie Lindsay (South)
1. 65.650 – Rosie Bayliss (Europa)
2 .65.550 – Akielah Ashman-Howe (Europa)
3. 65.200 – Sophia Cabrera (City of Birmingham)
4 . 65.150 – Sofia Meadows (City of Birmingham)
5 . 64.950 – Jaimee Smith (Europa)
6. 64.100 – Ellie Gargett (South Essex)
7= 63.700 – Miriam Allen (City of Birmingham)
7= 63.700 – Madeleine Roberts (Europa)
9. 63.300 – Isabella Wheeldon (Park Wrekin)
10.62.600 – Caitlin Saunders (Marriotts)
1. 66.400 – Halle Hilton (Europa)
2. 66.150 – Ondine Achampong (Sapphire)
3. 63.100 – Shanna-Kae Grant (Leeds)
4= 61.500 – Anna Hollins (Largs)
4= 61.500 – Isla Lees (Notts)
4= 61.500 – Ramiyah Kofi (Notts)
7. 61.050 – Lily Zentner (Hendon)
8. 61.000 – Amelia Thomas (Cardiff)
9. 60.350 – Samantha Katkevica (East London)
10. 59.600 – Lydia-May Collins (South Durham)
So with an understanding of the system in place, lets look at the requirements of each elite grade, to see the aimed for progression of elite level gymnasts from age nine to twelve.
Level 4 – Straight front somersault from the board. D score 4.00
Level landing or optional one mat higher for bonus of 0.5
0.50 each x 2 = 1.00 max
Bonus for additional backward giant(s) with ½ turn to handstand
Can perform 1 x backward giant ½ for 0.50 bonus – a backward giant must be performed
Must be performed in combination to achieve full mark
Turn must be completed above 45° to be awarded bonus
GBR swing with turn penalties apply except – below 45° = no bonus
L grip element to handstand or/and
L grip element with ½ turn (180°)
(Geinger roll entry is only acceptable if ‘L’ grip element is performed)
Double tuck back (open hip angle permitted*)
OR frontaway with 1½ twist
*Open tuck requires an open hip angle; any pike in the hips will result in
a tuck or pike salto being awarded by the D judges. The open hip angle is
evaluated as per FIG straight body position in the inverted position. If a
tuck or pike is awarded the element will be subject to insufficient tuck or
Split leap (180º split no tolerance) Split jump/straddle jump (180º split no tolerance) Sissone to finish in arabesque
Flic –flic –flic (optional split of legs)
Valdez –flic –flic (optional split of legs)
Backward roll to handstand – flic –flic (optional split of legs) (Flics may be the same)
(landing in tuck shape)
0.50 each x 2 = 1.00 max
For performing 3 acro element combination including salto as per FIG Series Bonus
2/1 spin in optional position
Handspring to 2
Dive roll (not hecht)
Dance passage to include: Change leg leap Change leg side (Johnson)
W jump 1/1 turn OR straddle 1/1 turn OR split jump 1/1 turn
• Change leg ring leap
• Change leg side leap
• Change leg half turn leap
• Tour jeté
Straight back salto with 1/1 twist
Straight back 1½ twist, front salto (optional front salto shape)
Front salto, front C salto 1/1
Front C salto 1/1, front salto (optional salto shape)
Double tuck/pike back salto
Bonus can only be given once
Additional 5cm mat permitted with no penalty
Range and conditioning or R+C as it is known, is I believe unique to the GB compulsory system. As the name suggests, it is an extra piece used to assess the development of strength and range in gymnasts.
It is often the most difficult piece to master for young gymnasts, but an excellent indicator of correct preparation. When there was a required pass mark for this piece, many gymnasts who had not managed to achieve the set score took the opportunity to retake their R+C at a separate event later in the year so as to be able to move onto the next grade the year after.
circle leg backwards to arabesque, show position return to stand. Same deductions apply.
Join legs in handstand
Show controlled static split handstand
Bend to show split bridge
Return legs together to show bridge
Show alternate split bridge
Split jump on opposite leg,
Straddle jump (through side split)
(to be linked but not rebounding)
Parrallets are used for the first section of the routine.
Lift to pike lever HOLD
Lift to Russian lever (legs together)
Lift to straddle lever HOLD
Lift to handstand HOLD
Pike down to stand (previous elements to be performed continuously) fingers facing backwards hands remain on floor
Backward roll to handstand, hop hands
From handstand pike fold with hands on floor (fingers facing backwards)
Show needle on 1 leg
Show needle other leg
From needle on 2nd leg forward walkover to stand one leg (minimum horizontal), with free HOLD for two seconds
Lift leg with hand support to front scale and HOLD for two seconds
Immediate backward walkover through to split on floor
Rotate to box split (without hands)
Rotate to split on 2nd leg (without hands)
Bring leg around to join legs, Valdez to stand
Split jump ½ (turn must be performed in 1st half of jump)
Straddle jump (through side split)
(to be linked but not rebounding)
So there we have the elite compulsory grades as they stand. I hope the guide to how the grades work, and the skills required is helpful to understanding elite development in GB gymnastics. At each age group a national champion is crowned, gymnasts contest the voluntary age groups later in the year, where a national champion is also crowned. The gymnast with the highest scores from both sections of age group competition is then crowned the overall national champion.
In the next post, I will go through the rules for competing at national voluntary levels, and touch on the one other path to elite competition in GB, the challenge cup route.