How to Excel in Level 9 Vault


Level 9 vault – this is where it starts to get fun and exciting! Most gymnasts are performing flipping vaults, or more complicated twisting vaults.

But what exactly are the judges looking for in a Level 9 vault? Let’s find out.

Vault Basics

shoulder angle on Level 3 vault

Let’s first go over some terminology that will be used in this article.

Vaults are broken into three parts: preflight, support phase, and postflight.

Preflight – the time between when the gymnast leaves the springboard and when she first touches the vault table.

Support Phase – just like it sounds, it is the time in which the gymnast’s hands are in support on, or in contact with, the vault table.

Postflight – the time between when the gymnast leaves the table and when she lands on the mat.

Start Value – the maximum possible score of a vault.

Types of Level 9 Vaults

There are several different types of vaults that a Level 9 gymnast might do. These vaults are divided into groups based on the way the gymnast approaches the vault table.

Group 1 Vaults: Handsprings and Twisting Vaults

Group 1 consists of all forward-entry vaults, with or without twists, that do not flip. These vaults are not seen as commonly in Level 9, because many of them have lower Start Values than the vaults in the other groups.

Some vaults from Group 1 include:

  • Handspring
  • ½-1/1
  • Handspring-1/1
  • Handspring-1 1/2
  • 1/1 on

Here is a table listing the Start Values of these vaults for Level 9.

Level 9 vault group 1
Level 9 Group 1 Vaults

Group 2 Vaults: Forward Entry Flipping Vaults

Group 2 consists of forward entry vaults that do flip.

In Level 9 vault, the allowable vaults in Group 2 are:

  • Handspring front tuck
  • Handspring front tuck ½
  • Handspring front pike

All three of these vaults start from a 10.0.

Group 3 Vaults: Tsukahara Entry (1/2 on) Flipping Vaults

Group 3 consists of Tsukahara-entry vaults (commonly called Tsuks). A Tsukahara vault is one in which the gymnast performs a ½ twist during the preflight.

In Level 9 vault, here are some common vaults from Group 3:

  • Tucked Tsukahara
  • Piked Tsukahara
  • Layout Tsukahara
  • Tucked Tsuk 1/1
  • ½ on, ½ off, front tuck

Here are the Start Values of these vaults:

Level 9 vault group 3
Level 9 Group 3 Vaults

Group 4 Vaults: Yurchenko Entry (Roundoff Entry)

Group 4 includes Yurchenko entry vaults. These vaults begin with a roundoff onto the springboard, so the gymnast approaches the vault table backward.

Here are some common Level 9 vaults from Group 4:

  • RO, flic-flac on, repulsion off
  • RO, flic-flac on, 1/1 twist off
  • RO, flic-flac on, back tuck off (Yurchenko Tuck)
  • RO, flic-flac on, back tuck 1/1 off (Yurchenko Tuck 1/1)
  • RO, flic-flac on, back pike off (Yurchenko Pike)
  • RO, flic-flac on, layout off (Yurchenko Layout)
  • RO, flic-flac on, ½ twist off to front tuck

Here are the Start Values of these vaults:

level 9 vault group 4
Level 9 Group 4 Vaults

You’ll notice that the Yurchenko on, repulsion off drops significantly in its Start Value in Level 9. The decrease in Start Value at this level is because gymnasts are expected to flip. Level 8 gymnasts get a little grace, but not at Level 9!

Group 5 Vaults: Yurchenko ½ on and 1/1 on Entry

Group 5 also consists of vaults that start with a roundoff onto the springboard. However, in this group, the gymnast will perform a ½ or 1/1 twist onto the table.

There are only a handful of Yurchenko ½ on vaults that are allowed in Level 9, although they do get a couple more options than Level 8 gymnasts do. The allowable vaults in this group are:

  • RO, ½ on, handspring off
  • RO, ½ on, 1/1 twist off
  • RO, ½ on, 1 ½ twist off
  • RO, ½ on, 2/1 twist off
  • RO, 1/1 on, 1/1 off
  • RO, ½ on, front tuck off

Here are the Start Values of these vaults:

level 9 vault group 5
Level 9 Group 5 Vaults

Start Value and Its Relationship to Level 9 Vault Score

A gymnast’s vault score is comprised of her Start Value, minus all applicable execution deductions.

The higher the Start Value, the higher the gymnast’s potential score. Of course, there is a higher potential for error as the vaults get more difficult.

A gymnast might have a great handspring vault, but its Start Value is only 8.5. This is to encourage the gymnasts to perform harder vaults at the higher levels. To get a score in the 9.0+ range, she’ll need a more difficult vault.

In order to get a big score at Level 9 vault, most gymnasts will perform a flipping vault. With a few exceptions, the Tsukahara layouts, Yurchenko layouts, and Handspring front vaults will be the highest scoring Level 9 vaults. All of these vaults start from a 10.0, to maximize the gymnast’s scoring potential.

But what if you’ve got a gymnast who’s a fantastic twister, and can’t quite get the flipping vaults down? There are a couple of other options for her! A handspring 2/1 twist is tough to do, but looks incredible when it’s done well. It starts from a 9.9. A 1/1 on, 1/1 off starts from a 9.7, and could be another great option for a gymnast with a strong twist. If she can do a Yurchenko entry, a 2/1 twist off will also get a 9.9 Start Value.

What Makes a Level 9 Vault Great?

All great Level 9 vaults should have excellent dynamics, which is a word for the overall power and ease of the vault. The vault should be big and powerful, and it should look easy – the gymnast should not appear to struggle to get the vault around.

These vaults should have a lot of height off the vault table. If a vault is lacking in height, there are usually other problems that led to the lack of height. These problems could be (among others) a shoulder angle or body position that slows the rotation, staying on the vault table too long, or not running fast enough.

It’s possible to have a great vault with a poor landing. I’ve seen huge, dynamic vaults that end in six running steps off the mat because the gymnast had so much power. But to get the best score, the gymnast needs to control her power and land cleanly.

Handsprings/Twisting Vaults

The best handsprings and twisting vaults have great, tight, straight body position throughout. The head and shoulders should stay in alignment with the body.

During twisting vaults, the twist should be quick and crisp. The gymnast should not twist while her hands are in contact with the vault table.

When performing these vaults, the hands should leave the table by the time the gymnast’s body is vertical. If the hands stay on the table too long, it is a deduction. Also, the gymnast will not get the necessary height and distance if she does not get a quick “block” off the table!

Finally, the gymnast should land cleanly, with her chest up and feet no further than hip-width apart. Steps, body posture errors, and a deep squat on landing will all incur deductions.

Flipping Vaults

Flipping vaults typically don’t have many deductions in the preflight. You might have a leg separation or a bit of knee bend, but it’s not usually a major deduction.

During the support phase, there are no deductions for too long in support, or being on the table past vertical. The gymnast should maintain good form, head and shoulder alignment, and if she’s doing a tucked vault, don’t tuck the legs too early. This is especially common on handspring front vaults!

The vast majority of the deductions are going to occur in the postflight and on the landing. The best vaults have exceptional height and good distance. They should show a tight, clear body position in the air.

The gymnast should open up from her flip prior to landing, and land in control with her chest up. Many vaults never fully open up, which can result in deductions for the open AND for posture on landing!

Finally, as we discussed earlier, the gymnast should land in control, with minimal movements. Each step gets a deduction, along with additional trunk movements, and a deep squat. If the gymnast lands in a deep squat, and then falls, she will receive a deduction for both the squat and the fall.

Common Deductions for Level 9 Vaults

We’ve touched on a lot of these in the previous section, so here are some of the common possible deductions for Level 9 vault.

Deductions that apply to each phase:

  • Legs crossed – up to 0.10
  • Leg separation – up to 0.20
  • Bent legs – up to 0.30 (except for the postflight of tucked salto vaults)
  • Body position (arched or piked) – up to 0.20

Preflight Deductions:

  • Incomplete LA turn – up to 0.30

Support phase Deductions:

  • Shoulder angle – up to 0.20
  • Alternate repulsion – up to 0.20 (except Group 3 vaults and Group 5 vaults with 1/1 on)
  • Bent arms – up to 0.50
  • Too long in support – up to 0.50 (non-salto vaults ONLY)
  • Angle of repulsion – up to 1.00 (non-salto vaults ONLY)

Postflight Deductions:

  • Insufficient tuck (min. 90 bend in hips and knees) – up to 0.30
  • Insufficient pike (min. 90 bend in hips) – up to 0.30
  • Insufficient open before landing – up to 0.30
  • Under-rotation of salto vaults – 0.10
  • LA turn begun too late – up to 0.50
  • Late completion of twist – up to 0.30
  • Height – up to 0.50
  • Distance – up to 0.30

Landing Deductions:

  • Steps – 0.10 each (max. 0.40)
  • Large step – 0.20 each (max 0.40)
  • Small adjustments of feet – up to 0.10
  • Deep squat – up to 0.30
  • Fall – 0.50
  • Incorrect body posture on landing – up to 0.20
  • LA turn incomplete – up to 0.30
  • Directional errors – up to 0.30
  • Dynamics – up to 0.30

Don’t forget that a key component of the vault is not scored: the run. Without a great run, the vault will never achieve its full potential. See The Essential Guide to a Great Vault Run *****Link for more details on how to get your run up to speed!

Summary

A great Level 9 vault is big and powerful. It should have great height and distance from the table, and good body position throughout. Flipping vaults should open up and land with good posture. Twisting vaults should show a crisp, clean twist that makes it all the way around. All vaults need a strong run to get them started, and they should finish with a nice landing.

Further Reading

Tips and Resources for Level 6/7 Vault

How to Excel in Level 8 Vault

5 Tips for a Stellar Handspring Vault

Optional Gymnastics Articles

References

USA Gymnastics Code of Points, 2018-2022.