Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson?

November 12th, 2008 by Gymbit



Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson? Svetlana Khorkina or Carly Patterson? Daniela Silivas or Yelena Shushunova?

The list could go on forever. The rivalry at the recent Olympic Games was the epitome of the Artistry vs. Power debate. Both Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson had a 66.1 Start Value, possessed nerves of steel, and represented the same country. But that’s where the similarities end.

The race for Olympic All-Around Gold was going to be interesting, to be sure. Either of these Americans could have won the most prestigious accolades of the quadrennium, with their most fierce competition coming from Yang Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan, Ksenia Semyonova, Anna Pavlova, Steliana Nistor and Sandra Izbasa. Johnson held the advantage on Vault thanks to her consistent Amanar, but Liukin more than made up this deficit on Uneven Bars with a whopping 17.7 Start Value. As Balance Beam and Floor Exercise were roughly equal in terms of Start Value, the title was going to be determined by who performed to the best of her ability and who most impressed the international judges.

It seemed that Johnson could do no wrong in the eyes of the American judges. Her consistency had allowed her to finish at the top of the scoreboard in almost every competition she entered leading up to the 2008 Olympic Games, including the at 2007 World Championships. Liukin, on the other hand, struggled more despite winning the ever-decreasingly prestigious American Cup. Johnson surely thought that if she could just compete to the best of her ability, the Olympic crown would be hers.

The international judges, however, demonstrated a preference for Liukin’s more artistic style, resulting in the largest margin of victory in an Olympic All-Around in decades. Liukin’s routines were more reminiscent of the old school gymnasts of the 1970s and 1980s, all the while managing to pack in the highest level of difficulty.

Nastia Liukin Balance Beam Montage

There’s no denying Johnson’s amazing tumbling abilities. Her opening double-double always seems to float through the air with excellent form, and her Balance Beam routine is always so rock-solid.

Shawn Johnson Montage

There were two other gymnasts from these Olympic Games whose combination of power and artistry I truly admire: Anna Pavlova, with her classical Soviet style and high level of difficulty, and Cheng Fei, with her perfect form and cutting edge vaults (Amanar and RO-half on, layout Rudi). I was so disappointed that Pavlova narrowly missed a medal at these Games, especially in light of her 4th place in the All-Around at the 2004 Olympic Games. I was also hoping Cheng would win Vault, having won the World Championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but it was nice to see North Korean Hong Un Jong mount the highest step on the awards podium.

Anna Pavlova, 2008 Russian Championships, Floor Exercise

Cheng Fei, 2008 Olympic Games, Vault

There have been several gymnasts over the years who have managed to integrate beautiful and relevant choreography into their Floor Exercise routines while simultaneously showcasing the highest level of tumbling. In fact, it seems that almost all the Soviet gymnasts from the 1970s and 1980s were able to do so. My favourite routine ever belongs to Natalia Frolova, a gymnast who never competed in a World Championships due to the tough competition from her Soviet teammates. Watch as she intertwines dance with some exceptional tumbling: 1.5-twist through to piked full-in, whip to triple twist, and double tuck.

Natalia Frolova, 1986 Display, Floor Exercise

Another personal favourite of mine is Silvia Mitova’s Floor Exercise from 1991-92. She chose unique music and some bizarre dance elements that just seem to flow together. Many gymnasts have used this cut of music since, but none have quite managed to capture the same magic as Mitova.

Silvia Mitova, 1992 European Championships, Floor Exercise

It’s not just the female gymnasts who are able to display such artistry. During the Beijing Olympics I was stunned by the exquisite form of Kohei Uchimura. It was so disappointing when he fell from the Pommel Horse in the first rotation of the All-Around. By not giving away form deductions, however, he managed to climb his way back up to the Silver medal position behind the clear favourite, Yang Wei. Could his triple twist dismount be any more solid?!

Kohei Uchimura, 2008 Tianjin World Cup, Floor Exercise

Let us not forget Olympic Gold Medallist Xiao Qin. This Chinese gymnast demonstrates perfect form, fast swing and great height above the apparatus in his Pommel Horse routine, resulting in his utter dominance on the event in the past four years. At the 2007 World Championships, Xiao won Pommel Horse with a whopping 0.6 margin of victory!

I think I’ve saved the best for last. I’d like to know where the judges found 0.3 in deductions in this next routine. And since when does a crowd ooh, aah and applaud during a Pommel Horse routine?!

Xiao Qin, 2007 World Championships, Pommel Horse

Oh, and as for the original questions…as much as I love watching the risky tricks performed by the others, I’m sticking with Liukin, Khorkina and Silivas.

Posted in Artistry | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Nastia Liukin or Shawn Johnson?”

  1. RJL Says:

    An interesting read! I think true gymnastics fans appreciate artistic gymnasts more than casual observers do, who like to see big tricks and lots of risk-taking. I think Mitova’s floor is one of the all-time greatest routines in terms of creativity and choreography. Thanks for the video clips! :)

  2. Classtivity » Blog Archive » Let the Games Begin… Says:

    […] height on release moves on the uneven bars).  Reminiscent of the Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin rivalry/friendship of 2008, Jordyn and Gabby are pit against each other in many of the competitions, but […]

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