Optional competition is a type of gymnastics meet in which all athletes perform their own choice of gymnastics routines. This is in contrast to Compulsory Competition, in which all athletes perform the same routines. Currently at the Olympic level, all competitions in artistic gymnastics are optional — Compulsory competition was eliminated from the Olympics after 1996.
Optional gymnastics typically start at Level 6 and go through Level 10. Not many gymnasts reach Level 10. When competing Optional Gymnastics a gymnast can make up her own routines. There are still specific skills that need to be performed, but they are in categories (A, B, C, D or E). A gymnast must perform a set number of skills from these categories (depending on their level), but they can choose exactly what they do rather than being told what to do. For example, there needs to be a flight series on the beam, but a gymnast can typically choose what skills they want in their routines – for instance a round off or a back handspring.
Optional Gymnastics, while requiring more and more difficult skills, is sometimes easier for the gymnast because they can pick and choose skills that they are best at. A gymnast can choreograph her routine to include only those skills and moves that they can do very well. Optional Gymnastics is harder for the judges to judge because all of the routines are different. A judge can’t be sure which way the hand was supposed to go in that dance move, for example, so if you point it out rather than in, they won’t know the difference.