The vault consists of a runway, a springboard, the vaulting horse, and landing mats. A gymnast runs her desired length of the runway, hurdles on to the springboard, uses it momentum spring onto the horse, make contact briefly with the horse, and immediately spring into the afterflight, landing on mats on the other side.
The Level 5 and 6 compulsory vault is the handspring vault, and in the optional levels, the gymnast chooses the vault(s) she wishes to perform.
There are four categories of vaults, divided by the type of entry/pre-flight it requires:
vaults are categorized by contacting the horse on the hands, upside down, and flipping over to land on feet, with or without twists on the pre-flight and afterflight. The major divisions are handsprings, Yamashitas, and "cartwheels".
- Group II vaults are categorized by a handspring-on entry leading to twists into backward flips (called Cuervos) or into forward flips.
- Group III vaults consist of half-on entries, most of which fall into the Tsukahara family (i.e. half-on to back tuck salto).
- Group IV vaults are all those with round-offs onto the board with a flip-flop onto the horse (collectively called Yurchenkos).
A good vault consists of a quick, strong run and approach, a tight pre-flight, quick repulsion after contact with the horse, high amplitude and distance away from the horse in the afterflight, and a stuck landing (with no steps or hops). The judges can take deductions for poor form, insufficient power and amplitude, and for steps or hops taken on the landing.
In both the Junior Olympic and Elite programs, the gymnast performs two vaults. Both scores are accepted and averaged in the Elite program, whereas only the highest of the two are taken in J.O.
- Runway: 25 meters long, 1 meter wide
- Vault: 160 cm long, 35 wide