I haven’t posted lately because I’ve been busy with my little daughter who was born last summer. I’ve still kept up with the world of gymnastics, though, and while there are some exciting things that have happened during the past months, artistic gymnastics seems to be going through a bit of a dry patch, particularly on the women’s side. Gone are the days when 10 or 15 gymnasts were legitimate contenders for all around medals. Simone Biles and Kohei Uchimura are dominating right now, as they deserve to, and they appear set to continue their trends of defending their crowns in upcoming competitions. The men’s side is a lot more exciting with all the apparatus specialists, but if the FIG reduces teams to 4 members then we can say goodbye to a lot of that excitement too.
Here are some bright patches I’ve come across lately:
The mother-daughter duo of Natalia Laschenova and Sasha Tsikhanovich performed floor routines with matching choreography 26 years apart. I love it! That 1989 Soviet team is one of my all-time faves, and it’s wonderful to see Tsikhanovich’s tribute to her mother.
Natalia Laschenova (URS), 1989 World Championships, Floor Exercise, All Around
Sasha Tsikhanovich, University of Bridgeport, 2015 Floor Exercise
Kenzo Shirai, Japan’s twisting machine, was criticized in the past for winning floor titles without showing any double saltos. Well, he has been working on several new tumbling passes, including a triple twisting double layout and a whip immediate triple-double. Wow! Oh, and he also throws a front full punch front 3.5 and a whip immediate quadruple twist….
Kenzo Shirai (JPN), training
Romania looks to be back in the running for Rio with the comeback announcements of Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa, and with Larisa Iordache looking great on all events. This team is more and more stylish all the time. Never count Romania out!
Larisa Iordache (ROU), 2014 Glasgow World Cup, Uneven Bars
Catalina Ponor (ROU), 2012 European Championships, Balance Beam, Qualifications
Sandra Izbasa (ROU), 2012 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise, Team Final
Diana Bulimar (ROU), 2012 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise, Team Final
Andreas Bretschneider (GER) has mastered the double twisting Kovacs on high bar! Here he is performing it in his home country. The sky’s the limit!
Andreas Bretschneider (GER), 2014 DTB Cup, High Bar
And finally, a shout out to one of the most underrated gymnasts of this era: Jessica Lopez (VEN)!
Jessica Lopez (VEN), 2014 World Championships, Uneven Bars
Jessica Lopez (VEN), 2014 Glasgow World Cup, Floor Exercise
Did anyone else think the “Aging Beauty” headline on her International GYMNAST cover was a tad bizarre? I mean, she hardly looks like she’s “aging.” She may be 29, but you’d never guess it looking at her gymnastics, and she appears more physically fit than some gymnasts half her age! Oh well…at least the cover also said she “has never looked better.”
There has been some cool stuff coming out of Japan lately. First, get a load of this 4.5.-twist punch barani from Kenzo Shirai. I can’t believe how much control he has and how quickly he twists. It’s out of this world!
And then there’s the hilarious flashback to the 1980s, with a Japanese gymnast in costume flipping around to the familiar tunes of Super Mario 1…complete with the power-up star and the flagpole at the end!
Random tidbits from the three days of Apparatus Finals, where 30 medals were up for grabs:
- There’s something about Enrique Tomas Gonzalez Sepulveda (CHI) that reminds me of a Soviet gymnast from the 1980s. It’s either the moustache or his stylish choreography on floor. He displayed a tremendous degree of difficulty and execution on that event and on vault, but was unlucky to end up in 4th place both times.
- As expected, Kohei Uchimura (JPN) had the highest execution score (9.100) amongst all the floor finalists, but Zou Kai (CHN) outdid him in difficulty. I love how fitting the name Kohei is for this gymnast: “peaceful flight”.
- The biggest shock was McKayla Maroney (USA) not winning vault, especially after that fabulous Amanar in Team Finals. She’s lucky to still have the silver after bottoming out on her Cheng. She didn’t look thrilled on the victory podium and hid her silver medal with her arms. Aren’t the internet memes hilarious?!
- Poor Elsabeth Black (CAN) scored a 0.000 on her first vault, injuring her ankle. She tried to prepare for her second vault, but wisely ran past the springboard when she realized she could be putting herself in a dangerous situation. She’ll have many more chances for apparatus finals in the future!
- There’s something really scary about Yamilet Pena Abreu’s Roche vault. When Yelena Produnova (RUS) performed it a decade ago, there was never any doubt she’d land on her feet. But I wait with baited breath when the gymnast from the Dominican Republic prepares to vault. There’s something wrong with the system when a gymnast either gets the highest score of the meet, falls to her bottom, or gets a zero, with nothing between. Hmm….
Yamilet Pena Abreu (DOM), 2011 World Championships, Vault Final
Hopefully the new Code of Points for the next cycle will discourage gymnasts from performing vaults that are not consistent and not safe. The last thing we want are injuries.
- Poor Louis Smith (GBR) earned the same winning score as Krisztian Berki (HUN) but was reduced to silver after the tie was broken (highest execution score). This must have been especially disappointing after qualifying in first place and receiving a Standing O from the hometown crowd. I was thrilled that Berki won it, however, after the nightmare of not qualifying to Beijing.
- Major props to Chen Yibing (CHN), who showed what he’s made of during the rings final. He looked as pleased as punch with his silver medal as he usually does with gold, despite the fact he has been dominant on this event since 2006 and is the defending Olympic Champion. He was a great sport toward all the other finalists and looked happy on the medal stand. It’s not easy to be a runner-up when your country places such an emphasis on gold. “To be honest, my heart hurts, but I’ve learned more than winning and losing in these four years. I can accept wins and I can accept losses. I have no regrets today. I’ve done everything I can.”
- Uneven bars was a stacked final! Thrilled for Beth Tweddle (GBR) to finally win an Olympic medal. Her combos are unreal! She probably would have won gold if it weren’t for her steps on the dismount, but she has got to be pleased with the results after a disappointing 4th place in Beijing.
Beth Tweddle (GBR), 2012 Olympic Games, Uneven Bars Final
- Viktoria Komova (RUS) didn’t look too happy after clipping her toes on the low bar and taking a step on the landing. Other than that, it was a perfect routine with gorgeous lines and great difficulty. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) performed a fantastic bars routine topped with a stuck 1.5-twisting double back to clinch the gold medal.
- Yang Hak Seon (KOR) stuck an exquisite Tsukahara triple twist, and even had time to open up a bit and spot the landing. The lone Yang on a team of Kims demonstrated a high level of difficulty on his vaults: a front layout triple twist, which proved insurmountable for the rest of the finalists, followed by the Tsukahara triple. Fellow competitor Sam Mikulak (USA) was so impressed he exclaimed, “Give me a hug, man. That was ridiculous!”
Yang Hak Seon (KOR), 2012 Olympic Games, Vault Final
- Igor Radivilov (UKR) earned his country their first gymnastics medal of the Games after booming two enormous vaults. Hopefully this will help make up for the upsetting turn of events in Team Finals.
- Isaac Botella Perez (ESP) held up a message of thanks written on the back of his towel after competing on the vault.
- Aw, I thought it would be really cool to see the two Tanaka brothers (JPN) 1-2 on the victory podium, but it wasn’t to be. Feng Zhe (CHN) performed with fluid motion and panache to earn the gold, ahead of Marcel Nguyen (GER) and Hamilton Sabot (FRA). Nguyen dismounted with a stuck full-twisting double tuck. Sabot couldn’t have been more delighted, and the smile never left his face from the time he realized he’d won a medal to the time he exited the arena after the awards ceremony. How wonderful to see three happy gymnasts receive their medals! Daniel Corral Barron displayed excellent form on parallel bars, and did well to represent his country, thus raising the profile of Mexican gymnastics.
- Parallel bars finals included 9 gymnasts, since there was a tie for 8th place in prelims between Zhang Chenglong (CHN) and Sabot. First reserve was Samuel Piasecky (SVK), a specialist on this event who must have been disappointed not to squeak into the apparatus final.
- Balance beam finals didn’t live up to their potential, with falls from Larisa Iordache (ROM), Gabby Douglas (USA) and Komova (twice). Then there was some drama when Alexandra Raisman (USA) filed an inquiry which raised her start value by 0.1, thus tying Catalina Ponor (ROM). This time it was Raisman who stayed in bronze medal position with her higher execution score, bumping Ponor from the medals.
- Sui Lu (CHN) was first up, and scored a fantastic 15.500, only to be outdone by 0.1 by her own teammate, Deng Linlin. She spent the rest of the final crying, and removed her medal before the photographers were even finished taking the official photos. Bad sportsmanship, or was there more to it than meets the eye?
- Epke Zonderland (NED) wins high bar in high-flying fashion! He may not have the most tidy form out there (German Fabian Hambüchen’s was the best of the medallists), but I literally shouted “Are you kidding me?!” after his Cassina-Kovacs-Kolman combination. Wow! It was a fabulous way to end the men’s competition, with all the gymnasts performing well under pressure.
Epke Zonderland (NED), 2012 Olympic Games, High Bar Final
- The fact that Ponor won the silver medal two Olympiads after capturing the gold in Athens is astounding. She looks to be in the same shape she was back when she was only 16 years old. I can’t believe she threw the full-in off beam in apparatus finals!
- I really wanted Ksenia Afansyeva (RUS) and Sandra Izbasa (ROM) on the podium – two experienced gymnasts with style, presentation and mature choreography. It wasn’t to be after Afanasyeva went out of bounds twice and Izbasa crashed her 2-5-twist punch barani dismount. At least Izbasa will go home with an unexpected vault gold.
Ksenia Afanasyeva (RUS), 2012 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise Apparatus Final
Sandra Izbasa (ROM), 2012 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise Apparatus Final
- Poor Jordyn Wieber (USA) had to wait a week to perform this one routine, and her floor exercise didn’t go according to plan. It was a successful Olympics by most gymnasts’ standards (Team Gold!) but I’m sure Wieber was expecting more.
- Lauren Mitchell (AUS) had some…interesting…music with really cool dance. She looked really pretty in that pink leotard! It’s a pity that Tweddle’s tumbling didn’t make it to finals (she was first reserve), but I think we can do without that dance!
Lauren Mitchell (AUS), 2012 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise Apparatus Final
What do you think of the music?
- Ugh. Vanessa Ferrari (ITA) was yet another victim of the tie-break system in place for the Olympic Games. She missed out on bronze even though she scored the same as Mustafina in floor finals. Ties are fine at World Championships, and it’s unfair that they aren’t allowed at the Olympics.
- I was pleased to see how Mustafina has matured into a great team player. She supported Komova in the All Around when they were waiting for Komova’s score to come up, and she looked genuinely happy with each of the four medals she won in London (gold on bars, silver with the team, and bronzes in the All Around and on floor). When she fell on beam in the All Around, I was expecting her to be more angry but she calmly sat down and prepared for floor. Bravo to Aliya for being the most decorated gymnast in London – yes, she even surpassed Uchimura’s total!
Interview with Aliya Mustafina (RUS)
- The level of gymnastics has been steadily increasing around the world. This time around, gymnasts representing 25 countries qualified to apparatus finals: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Puerto Rico, Romania, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Ukraine and USA.
- Balance beam featured two Chinese, two Americans, two Romanians and two Russians. It was the least diverse final, whereas men’s floor and men’s vault were the most diverse with 8 countries represented amongst the 8 gymnasts.
- The women’s apparatus finals featured a gold medallist from each of the four superpowers: Romania on vault, Russia on bars, China on beam, and USA on floor.
- This was the best Olympic Games in a long time, in terms of the number of contenders vying for medals. I also though the judging was very accurate and they should be commended for placing the gymnasts in the correct order throughout the 9 days of competition.
And lets end with some awesome FIG photos from London 2012:
Guest blogger Gymbyte is currently in London with tickets to some of the gym. While there, she will be contributing some behind-the-scenes happenings that television viewers may not see. First up, women’s preliminaries, subdivisions 3, 4, & 5.
- Celine van Gerner (NED) helped Salma Mahmoud (EGY) chalk the bars. Here’s van Gerner’s floor routine form the All Around:
- Mixed Group coaches were friendly, chatting to each other and the gymnasts and helping each other prepare the apparatus.
- Mahmoud had finished bars and was warming up for beam on the side when she heard the crowd’s reaction and Egyptian Sherine El Zeiny’s floor music stop. She looked up in concern and hurried over closer to the floor to see what was going on.
- El Zeiny injured what appeared to be her thigh after landing a double back on all fours. She stopped her routine and was carried over to the FX rotation seating area. Her coach placed her on the empty podium (used for men’s events) and left her. Another coach (Lithuanian Laura Svilpaite’s, maybe?) put a jacket or towel next to her.
- Kim Bui (GER) noticed she was on camera and held up a water bottle with a message on it and grinned widely. I couldn’t read it but I saw the word ‘love’.
- After Russian Viktoria Komova’s final routine, Aliya Mustafina (RUS) whispered something to her; Komova’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped, then she giggled as she waved to the camera.
- Diana Bulimar (ROM) jogged around in her tracksuit and gloves during the rotations in which she didn’t compete.
- After marching to floor, the Romanians all kicked off their shoes by the side of the floor podium. Diana Bulimar ran over, gathered them all up, and ran back to put them by the floor rotation seating.
- Maria Paseka (RUS) had a good chuckle over simply touching the bar for a 0.000.
- Bela Karolyi was in the NBC commentary booth, usually standing.
- As usual, there were tons of Japanese delegates in the crowd; the Japanese girls waved and posed for photos for them. Also spotted: delegates from France, Great Britain, USA, and Slovenia.
- Prior to each session, there were video features and a performance by Britons Danusia Francis on beam, Marissa King on bars, and two others on vault and floor (Lisa Mason, I heard?). Check back later for notes from men’s team finals and women’s all-around!