Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Norway’s Mainstay

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Having just returned from a vacation in Norway, I thought it would be fitting to write about that country’s most famous gymnast: Espen Jansen. What makes him notable in the sport of gymnastics isn’t so much his skills or results, but his longevity. Jansen has participated in every World Championship since 1991, with the exception of 1992 and 2009…not bad for a gymnast who will turn 42 in December!

Perhaps the only other current gymnasts who can boast such a record are Oksana Chusovitina and Jordan Jovtchev. Incidentally, they made their World Championship debut in 1991 as well, competing under the Soviet and Bulgarian flags.

In an era when many gymnasts choose to perfect and compete only a few events, it is refreshing to see Jansen continue to perform on all six. Indeed, he was the only gymnast in the entire field to compete on all events at the 2008 Cottbus Cup. His most recent results include 5th All Around at the 2009 Northern European Championships. He also qualified to four event finals in Cardiff, winning the gold medal on high bar and the bronze medal on rings. Jansen placed 42nd in qualifications at the 2009 European Championships and 64th the following year (four events only).

Espen Jansen, Parallel Bars

Espen Jansen, High Bar (with a funny dismount!)

Espen Jansen, a fun Pommel Horse routine

Jansen balances a busy lifestyle training, working, and spending time with his family. He taught gymnastics to the inmates at the prison where he worked, and he even took them to watch competitions in Oslo (International GYMNAST, May 2009, page 33). His enthusiasm makes him a great ambassador for the sport, especially in a country where gymnastics has not yet achieved much popularity.

There’s just one thing that still eludes Espen Jansen in his gymnastics career: competing in an Olympic Games. Norway will most likely not qualify gymnasts to London 2012, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed in hopes of Jansen receiving one of the coveted Wild Cards.

UPDATE (March 14, 2014) – He’s still going strong! At age 45, there’s nothing holding him back from competing at the Norwegian Cup this weekend. On Facebook he recently declared his motto to be “any competition you can walk home from, is a good one:)“!

The Cuban Connection

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Over the years, Cuba has produced an array of highly talented gymnasts. Olympian Erick Lopez Rios springs to mind as the AA Champion in four consecutive Pan-American Games (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003). Annia Portuondo Hatch brought a Vault medal home to Cuba from the 1996 World Championships, and then won a Silver medal on the same event at the 2004 Olympic Games while competing under the American flag. Another Cuban World medallist who would like a chance to compete for the USA is Charlie Tamayo. Though he defected from his homeland in 2003 during the Anaheim World Championships, citizenship paperwork prevented him from striving for a spot on the 2008 American team. Now his goal is to represent his adopted country at the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Annia Hatch, Vault, 2004 Olympic Games

Charlie Leon Tamayo, Montage

Here are all the Bits shown in this montage:

0:01 Press to Handstand Hop Half

0:03 Arabian Triple Front Half Out into pit

0:07 Triple Pike off Rings into pit

0:13 Press to Handstand Hop Full

0:16 Double Front off Parallel Bars on to mats stacked very high!

0:19 Double Front Pike off Parallel Bars

0:26 Layout Double Double

0:29 Standing Double Full

0:32 Triple Front off Parallel Bars into pit

0:36 Layout Front immedaite Front Double Double into pit

0:40 Layout Front immediate Triple Front into pit

0:43 Um…two flips and at least four twists…? Help!

0:46 Standing Half In Half Out into pit

Shun Fujimoto: An Olympic Hero

Monday, December 8th, 2008

At the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, Nadia Comaneci was the talk of the town. Olga Korbut may have put gymnastics on the Olympic map four years earlier, but Comaneci continued its run as one of the most popular Olympic sports when she captured headlines by scoring seven Perfect 10s.

Nadia Comaneci, 1976 Olympic Games, Uneven Bars

Though Nadia’s name remains one of the most recognized in the sport, there is another gymnast who could be considered a hero from same Olympic Games. The Japanese men were engaged in a tough battle with the Soviet Union for the team title, and they had a rich heritage to defend; Shun Fujimoto’s team was attempting to win a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal. During the team competition, Fujimoto fractured his kneecap competing on his first apparatus of the day, Floor Exercise. He didn’t acknowledge that the injury had occurred, lest he discourage his teammates or show weakness to the judges. He continued on to Pommel Horse and finally the Still Rings, where he would have to land a half-in half-out dismount on a hurt leg. In a brave display of Olympic spirit, Fujimoto performed his Ring routine for a career-high 9.70. He landed in agony on the mat below, dislocating his fractured kneecap and tearing ligaments. Fujimoto could no longer hide his injury, Fujimoto was forced to withdraw. He did, however, contribute to Japan’s 0.40 victory over the Soviet Union. Shun Fujimoto: An Olympic Hero.

Shun Fujimoto, 1976 Olympic Games, Still Rings

“Fujimoto took home two souvenirs – a gold medal and a cast on his leg.”  –Sports Illustrated

Age Is Just A Number

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

On the heels of the controversy surrounding the ages of the Chinese gymnasts in Beijing, I have decided to do an about-face and turn my attention to those at the other end of the spectrum: the gymnasts who continue to compete despite the common belief that gymnastics is a young person’s sport.

I recently discovered footage of a 63-year-old Japanese gymnast named Wakamatsu. His love for the sport shines through in his inspirational performances on all six events, competing against much younger teammates. He swings giants on the high bar with ease and he even attempts an iron cross on rings!

Wakamatsu, All Events

After discovering Wakamatsu’s talents, I delved deeper into the subject of older gymnasts and my attention was drawn to a 50-year-old female gymnast known as gymmako, who is seen swinging giants and catching Giengers and Jaegers on the uneven bars. She is also working on a half-in half-out dismount, twisting in both directions!

gymmako, Gienger

Even within the Elite gymnastics scene, the ages of top athletes are ever rising. The average age of the female gymnasts at the 2008 Beijing Olympics was 18.6, a far cry from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics when Svetlana Boginskaya was considered over-the-hill at age 19! I used to snicker at the fact that Larisa Latynina had already given birth to two children when she won so many of her World and Olympic medals, but even in recent years there have been three mothers on the competition floor: Leyanet Gonzalez, Suzanne Harmes and Oksana Chusovitina.

Although I can’t say Chusovitina’s gymnastics style makes her one of my favourites, I do have tremendous respect for her tenacity and her ability to remain at the top of her sport. Starting in 1990, she has competed for the USSR, the CIS, Uzbekistan and now Germany, all the while amassing an impressive medal collection. Her powerful tumbling and vaulting raised the bar in international competition. Chusovitina’s first World title on the floor exercise was won in 1991 before many of her current rivals were even born! One of the highlights in Beijing was seeing this 33-year-old place 9th in the All-Around and win the Silver medal on vault…in her FIFTH Olympic Games. Fantastic!

Oksana Chusovitina Montage


And that’s not all. At the 2012 Cottbus World Cup, Johanna Quaas (GER) performed a demonstration on floor and parallel bars at the age of 86. Yes, 86! She has a lightness to her movement, and she demonstrates front and back rolls, a handstand roll, cat leap, scissor leap and even headstand on floor. On the parallel bars she showed rolling elements, balances, and even a strength element. Fantastic!

Johanna Quaas, Parallel Bars

Johanna Quaas, Floor

Also, it’s interesting to note that Oksana Chusovitina (GER) and Jordan Jovtchev (BUL) are competing in the 2012 Olympic Games as we speak, and both have qualified to an apparatus final (vault for Chusovitina and rings for Jovtchev). I wish them the best of luck! Tune in for another update in 2016…!