Perfection is hard to come by, and for the gymnasts at the Rio Olympics, it's often near impossible. Competing under a new scoring system that places greater emphasis on riskiness as opposed to perfection, the gymnasts are focusing differently on that coveted top score. Even American athlete Simone Biles, recently crowned the world's best gymnast during the Rio games, has yet to achieve a perfect 10. In fact, the last two perfect 10 scores given out at the Summer Games date as far back as the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, when Romania’s Lavinia Milosovici and China’s Li Lu wowed the judges with their floor and bar routines.
Both Milosovici and Lu are considered to be among the top gymnasts of all time from their respective countries, and are some of the most decorated gymnasts of the '90s. The Romanian athlete earned a perfect 10 for her stunning floor routine (complete with her characteristically '90s leotard) and Lu, only 15 years old at the time, brought home the gold for China with her performance on the uneven bars. Both represented the best of the best at the 1992 Summer Games and have long since been remembered based on these specific performances.
This final moment in which the gymnasts achieved the elusive perfect 10 score was shared by the Olympics' official Twitter account:
But why has it been impossible for any gymnast to achieve a perfect 10 since the 1992 Olympics? Aside from the sheer difficulty, the new way performances are judged has raised the bar.
Instead of giving out scores on a scale of one through 10, the judges now base their marks on a two-pronged system: the "D" score and the "E" score. Essentially, the D score is given based on what the gymnast does (like flips, leaps, and tumbles) and the E score calculates how well they've done them. For the D score, a good mark is considered to fall somewhere between a 5 and 7. The E score, which focuses more heavily on grace as opposed to skill, starts at a 10 and subsequently deducts points for mistakes. These two independently judged scores are then added together, giving the athlete their final marks.
This is why someone like Biles has received a 15.733 for her signature floor event. She's achieved a ridiculously high score in the D category (6.8), but has yet to hit that perfect 10 for the E score. The closest she's gotten was a 9.9 on the vault at the U.S. Championships last spring. When asked why she missed the perfect 10, Biles told the Associated Press, "My toes might have been crossed, maybe."
So while the new system makes the scores more subjective, and consequently more difficult, a perfect 10 is still within the realm of possibility. And whoever catches up to Milosovici and Lu with their decades-old perfect 10s will likely become a gymnastics legend.