So why do gymnasts salute judges, anyway? It's not only to show respect, though that's a key reason. The salute also plays a critical communication role between gymnasts and judges. Before a gymnast's routine, the judges indicate that they are ready to watch the performance by having one judge raise an arm or by flipping on a green light. The gymnast must then salute the judges to indicate that he or she is ready to begin.
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Gymnasts also have to salute at the end of their performance. This signals that the routine is complete. During the women's team competition at the 1996 Olympics, U.S. gymnast Kerri Strug fell and sprained her ankle on her first vault attempt. However, believing the gold medal was on the line, she went for a second attempt. Though she was in incredible pain, Strug landed cleanly, did a one-legged hop to turn, saluted the judges, and then fell to her knees.
"I was in a lot of pain, I remember that, and I know that I was concerned about whether turning and saluting the judges counted before I fell," Strug told Yahoo! Sports.
Strug received a score of 9.712, clinching the team gold for the United States.
If a gymnast fails to salute the judges, one-tenth to three-tenths of a point could be deducted from their score.
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