Games Guide: Demystifying Pommel Horse

Pommel horse is more than just an event – it’s a symbol, an idea, a concept, a medium of expression, a stand-up comedian, a creator of world peace. Technical pommel horse evaluation can be a common source of frustration and confusion among even the sharpest of MAG gymnerds. In this quick pommel guide we’ll gloss over common pommel horse questions like why do the guys have to travel from one end to the other? Why do some guys go to handstand for their dismount while others just do those tornado-spinny things off the side? and what’s the difference between a flop (a combined sequence of elements on one pommel) and a flop (a horrible catastrophe)?

First of all let’s cover the good old composition requirements:

  1. Single leg swings and scissors (+0.5)

For non-pommel horse fans the single-leg swings and scissors are probably the most easily identifiable components of any pommel routine. It’s the requirement where gymnasts must swing their legs against the sides of the horse and demonstrate amplitude, flexibility, and balance to show versatility.

Berki giving us a tutorial on how to do a Li Ning

2. Circles and flairs (+0.5)

Pretty much the bulk of most pommel routines – they include Russians, spindles, Stocklis, flairs, flops, etc. (we’ll go into more details about what all these are)

Russians: Russians are quite easy to spot because they are the “spinny things” the men do that kind of like a flash ceiling fan reenactment where the gymnast uses their hands to turn their body around while maintaining straight-hollow position in front support. The amount of Russians a gymnast chooses to do will impact what difficulty value they will receive. Gymnasts can opt to do 180° (half), 360° (one full rotation), 720° (two full rotations), or 1080° maximum (3 full rotations). Difficulty also depends upon where the gymnast is doing these Russians- the easiest is on the edge of the pommel (the leather), while difficulty exponentially increases on the handles.

Russians

Spindles: another spinny element, except a little harder to spot. The gymnast must complete a 360° turn in 2 loops maximum.

Alec Yoder’s spindle

Stockli: If you haven’t noticed already, there are lots of spinning elements on pommels! The Stockli is similar to the spindle in that your combining the loops and the rotation, but differs in that one-fourth of the rotation rotation occurs on each hand. Some of the best pommel ninjas will opt to do Stocklis on one pommel in combination called a flop (see below!)

Berki – Stockli

Flops: No, not the kind of flop when your Tweet doesn’t get any likes. Flops are combinations of loops, direct Stockli B’s (DSB – both hands finish on a single pommel) and direct Stockli A’s (DSA – has many variations of hand placement) and/or They can get a little confusing so general rule of thumb is the more elements a gymnast does on a single handle, the harder it gets.

Loop + DSB + Loop

If you want to make things extra spicy you can throw in a Russian to make it a combined sequence. I’m not going to go too much into detail, but just remember more Russians = more difficulty.

Loop + triple Russian = G Flop

3. Travel type elements (+0.5)

In order to prevent the lazy-bums from hanging out in one section of the pommel for the entire routine, the travel requirement tasks gymnasts to move from one end of the pommel to the other.

Key terms:

Magyar: gymnast travels from one end of the pommel to the other traveling forwards

Sivado: gymnast travels from one end of the pommel to the other traveling backwards

Flaired Magyar

4. Dismounts (+0.5)

Dismounts can take different forms: some are handstands, others are Russians, some people even did saltos in the 1980s (bring them back!). As of right now Russian dismounts with at least three full rotations and handstand dismounts are the only two in the code.

Did anybody else get goosebumps?

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT DISMOUNTS

Handstand dismounts off pommel horse are supposed to swing directly to handstand and look effortless. What they’re not supposed to look like is a muscled press to handstand. If the legs of the gymnast waver up and down like a seesaw, judges can take hefty deductions and in severe cases not even give dismount credit.

Sorry hun, this ain’t getting credit

Who should I have on pommel watch in Tokyo?

I don’t think I can go any farther in this guide without talking about Max Whitlock. He’s the defending 2019 World Champion and defending Olympic champion. On a good day he’s capable of scoring 15.5+ with a 7.0 D-score. Occasionally he does receive criticism for his slightly piked hips (a deduction on pommel horse), but with his ginormous D-score he get’s a little leeway. But he certainly can’t make any large errors because not too far behind is Lee Chih-Kai, the defending World silver medalist.

Lee is renowned for his exhilarating routine that almost exclusively consists of flairs. He upgraded his routine by 0.2 at the most recent Taiwanese Olympic trials so he’ll be looking to make history for Taiwan.

I also need to mention viral sensation, open-hip king and lifestyle vlogging socialite, Rhys McClenaghan. The last time we saw Rhys do pommels at European Championships he did have an unfortunate bye forever! moment during event finals, but based off the videos he’s been posting on social media, Rhys has been looking like he’s returned back to his 2019 Worlds form. If he can repeat what he’s showing in training, he is a serious medal threat; one that would be historic for Ireland.

bye!

Zou Jingyuan and Xiao Ruoteng also have beautiful routines and can certainly factor into the medals. Zou Jingyuan is known mostly for his otherworldly parallel bar work, but he is also a fantastic rings and pommel horse worker. He can consistently go 15.0+ on the event which certainly puts him in the mix for a spot in finals, but to medal he needs to boost his D-score to match Whitlock, McClenaghan and Lee. Xiao, the 2018 World Champion, has shown to be capable of doing Olympic medal-worthy pommel routines. However we haven’t seen that same 2018 level since then. Unless he pulls out secret upgrades like he did back in 2018, a medal (or even just the final) may be out of reach.

Let’s also not forget just a little person by the name of Kameyama Kohei who casually became 2013 World Champion on the event and earned the +1 individual spot for Japan by pommeling his way through the World Cup series. Kameyama’s strength is in the leg form department where his beautiful toe-point causes gymnerds and judges alike to swoon.

A pommel horse final staple for more than a decade now, never count Cyril Tommasone out. His reliable consistency and high D-score never fail to let him become part of the mix in the hunt for a medal.

We seriously need to talk about Alec Yoder. Selected as the United State’s pommel horse specialist, Alec Yoder scored a 15+ both nights of U.S. Nationals. With scores like that Yoder easily can qualify to a final, but can he challenge Whitlock, Lee, and McClenaghan? From the most recent podium training footage Yoder did seem to struggle a little, but I’m just assuming he’s getting the kinks out and also it’s just podium training and we know from history not to take men’s podium training too seriously.

But also keep in mind pommel horse is like the beam of men’s gymnastics: you can never be too sure when it might be a splat-fest.

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