Challenging judges in Olympic gymnastics costs real money

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En route to winning a silver medal, Laurie Hernandez protested the score on her beam routine on Monday. That’s not unusual in and of itself across sports, where video challenges are now routine, but here’s what is: The inquiry alone cost Team USA as much as $300. Yes, really.

Imagine if an NFL coach wanting to challenge a call had to throw a few bills on the field as well as a red flag. Imagine if a tennis player wanting to challenge a line call had to pull out a wad of cash before protest. Strange, yes, but that’s exactly what happens in gymnastics competitions, including the Olympics.

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Gymnastics coaches can protest a scoring judgment of a gymnast’s routine, but there are some very tight restrictions, as Sports Illustrated noted back in 2012. Coaches, gymnasts or other country officials must make a verbal challenge, known as an inquiry, between the posting of the score and the end of the next gymnast’s routine. They must supply a written version of the protest within four minutes of making the verbal protest. Oh, and they must pay a fee, which can be anywhere from $100 up to $300 in cash, depending on the event.

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The inquiry system was devised by the International Gymnastics Federation after 2004, when widespread protests about judging led to a complete overhaul of the scoring system, including the elimination of the “perfect 10.” Scores now include an open-ended difficulty score, measuring the complexity of the routine, and the execution score, measuring how well the gymnast performed the routine.

If so inclined, the coaches can make the protest, submitting a (usually preprepared) card explaining the questioning of the final score. “The coach considers that the Difficulty score for the exercise presented by the above athlete does not correspond to the real value of the gymnast’s presentation,” the card reads, and savvy coaches will have them prefilled in order to save time.

The inquiry involves video review, and if the initial score is upheld, as Hernandez’s one was on Monday, the Benjamins are gone. (The fee is donated to the FIG Foundation, a charitable endeavor.) But if the initial score gets overturned, the fee gets returned to the team.

[Related: Simone Biles‘ quest for five golds in Rio halted by bronze in balance beam final]

Why the fee? Well, it could make a coach think twice before making a challenge of every single score, or even a challenge every time one’s available (say, twice per routine). That, or, like every other Olympic-level sport, everything costs more money than it should.

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Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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