Research Article: The faster, the better? Relationships between run-up speed, the degree of difficulty (D-score), height and length of flight on vault in artistic gymnastics

Date Published: March 7, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Christoph Schärer, Thomas Lehmann, Falk Naundorf, Wolfgang Taube, Klaus Hübner, Virginie Papadopoulou.


On vault in artistic gymnastics, a high run-up speed is thought to be important when performing difficult vaults. To test this assumption in a large cohort of elite athletes, we calculated the correlations between the run-up speed, scores, height and length of flight for handspring-, Tsukahara- and Yurchenko-style vaults and compared the performances of male and female elite and junior athletes (n = 407) during the 2016 European Championships. In females, run-up speed correlated significantly with the difficulty (D-) score and height of flight for all vaulting styles (r ≤ 0.80). In males, run-up speed correlated significantly with the D-score, height and length of flight of Tsukahara (r ≤ 0.69) and Yurchenko vaults only (r ≤ 0.65). Males reached 8–9% higher run-up speeds performing handspring and Tsukahara vaults than did females, but similar run-up speeds performing Yurchenko vaults. Elite females achieved higher run-up speeds than junior females performing Yurchenko vaults. Elite males displayed higher run-up speeds than junior males performing handspring and Tsukahara vaults. We conclude that, in females, more difficult vaults require higher run-up speeds than vaults with lower D-scores and thus, within the measured range of speeds, the faster the run-up, the better, regardless of vaulting style. Males, on the other hand, may not need to exhaust their sprinting capacity, even for the most difficult vaults. Finally, the knowledge of the required run-up speed for each vault helps coaches to estimate each athlete’s potential and/or to focus the training on developing the required physical qualities.

Partial Text

In men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics, the gymnast with the highest final score (F-score) gets to stand on top of the podium. Since the F-score is the sum of the difficulty (D-score) and the execution score (E-score), the chance of a good ranking in competition increases when a difficult routine is attempted due to the higher start value. The vault is one of six apparatus for men and one of four for women. Despite its short duration (< 5s) [1], vaulting performance can be divided into seven phases: run-up, hurdle or round off, take-off, preflight, support, post flight and landing [2]. In competition, gymnasts can freely select a vault conforming to their skill level. According to official competition rules, difficult vaults are assigned a high difficulty score (D-score) [3, 4]. The D-score is mainly influenced by the degrees of rotation around the transversal and longitudinal axes in the second flight phase [2]. Further, because the attainable amount of rotation depends on the moments of inertia [5–7], flight time and initial angular momentum, a high kinetic energy leading up to the take-off and push-off from vaulting board and table is essential for high-difficulty vaults. The data collection occurred during the official competitions of the 2016 European Championships in Artistic Gymnastics (EC). The measurements were performed with approval of the men’s and women’s technical committee of the European Union of Gymnastics. The data were anonymized and made available to the national gymnastics federations. The institutional review board of the Swiss Federal Institute of Sport Magglingen (SFISM) approved this study, which was conducted in compliance to the current version of the Declaration of Helsinki, the ICH-GCP or ISO EN 14155 and with all national legal and regulatory requirements. In 21 of the 515 vaults, either vend, hmax or L could not be determined due to disturbances by spectators and/or recording problems. The remaining 494 vaults were included in the data analysis. This is the first study to investigate the relationships between run-up speed and competition scores as well as height and length of flight on vault with a large cohort of international world-class athletes in artistic gymnastics. The long-held assumption of a strong relationship between run-up speed and the D-score on vault was confirmed in female gymnasts but appeared to be only conditionally true for males. Furthermore, run-up speed, height and length of flight were compared for the first time among males, females, juniors and elites within a very large sample during a high-level international competition. For female athletes, it can be concluded that, within the measured range of speeds, the faster the run-up, the better (in terms of D-, E- and F-score). For males on the other hand, although a strong relationship exists between run-up speed and performance for Tsukahara vaults, a certain minimum run-up speed seems indispensable, but not necessarily more in order to perform the most difficult vaults. Nevertheless, this study confirmed that a high run-up speed is one of the most important determining factors to succeed on vault in women’s and men’s artistic gymnastics competition. Further, we show that there is an optimal range of run-up speeds for each vault. This knowledge is important for coaches and athletes when choosing a competition vault for each gymnast with regard to their physical and technical abilities. This may help to focus the training regime on developing physical qualities (strength, explosiveness, sprint technique) in order to reach the required run-up speed, if necessary. Finally, male athletes have physical advantages that permit them to perform more difficult vaults than women. At the same time, female gymnasts are especially good at using their potential energy during Yurchenko vaults due to their excellent technique and their mental capacity to cope with the backwards approach of the table despite near maximum speed.   Source: