Archive for the ‘News’ Category

2015 World Championships

Thursday, November 19th, 2015

The dust has settled on another Worlds, and by all accounts it was a fantastic event. Glasgow sure put on a show! Many dreams of qualifying to the Rio Olympic Games were fulfilled, while others were shattered. After two weeks of incredible gymnastics, it’s hard to choose just a few favourite moments, but here we go….

Kohei Uchimura (JPN) wins his 6th straight Worlds (7 years in a row counting the 2012 Olympics). If he wins in Rio next year too, he will have dominated two entire quads. Simply amazing!

I love the Dutch team! So much elegance and beauty, and they must be over the moon to have qualified directly to Rio by placing 8th. The icing on the cake was surely Sanne Wevers‘s silver medal on beam. Sanne’s twin, Lieke, and Eythora Thorsdottir were both delightful on floor.

Oksana Chusovitina (UZB) just keeps going and going. I really hope she can earn a spot to her 7th Olympics at the Test Event. Debuting a double front vault at age 40 is unfathomable, yet she managed to do it!

Simone Biles (USA) is in a league of her own. She is able to build up enormous D scores, and her E scores are fabulous too. Her tumbling is out of this world and her signature Biles (double layout half-out) never ceases to amaze me. Sae Miyakawa (JPN) also has phenomenal tumbling, but I don’t love the rest of her routine.

Manrique Larduet (CUB) earned an Olympic spot by winning bronze on the very last event, high bar. Phew! How silly is it that his silver medal in the All Around didn’t do the trick?! The FIG must be breathing a sigh of relief, because not qualifying after being second in the world to Uchimura would have been a big egg on their collective face!

I love how Ellie Black (CAN) throws every trick in the book on beam! She has now qualified to an apparatus final every year for 4 straight years now: vault at the 2012 Olympic Games, floor at the 2013 Worlds, and beam in both 2014 and 2015. She has also improved her All Around ranking each year: 13th in 2013, 9th in 2014 and 7th this year.

What were your favourite moments from the Glasgow Worlds?

“Next up on floor exercise, representing Belarus…”

Sunday, October 4th, 2015

It was announced recently that Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson from All Olympia Gymnastics Centre will be representing Belarus at the upcoming World Championships in Scotland.

Alaina Kwan, Floor Exercise, 2015 Secret Classic (9th AA)

Kylie Dickson, Vault, 2015 Secret Classic (11th AA)

Wait…what? The FIG nominative registration and it clearly lists new seniors Sviatlana Lifenka and Valeryia Tsekhmistrenka as the Belarusian gymnasts slated to perform in Glasgow. Have they suddenly been usurped by two Americans they had probably never even heard of?

Belarusian gymnasts who have trained their whole lives for the chance to represent their homeland will be replaced by random foreign gymnasts who don’t speak the language, have never even set foot in the country, probably don’t even know what the national anthem sounds like, and only recently applied for citizenship. If Kwan and Dickson want to compete at Worlds at all costs (understandably!), couldn’t they at least represent a country that doesn’t already have gymnasts? Belarus HAS gymnasts; Anastasia Ekimenka and Anastasia Miklashevich represented their nation at the 2014 Worlds.

Anastasia Ekimenka, Floor Exercise, 2012 European Championships

Anastasia Miklashevich, Balance Beam, 2012 Ostrava World Cup

Click here to read about the other Belarusian girls who have competed internationally during the past year.

I understand that it was not Dickson and Kwan’s idea to compete for Belarus in the first place, and based on the IG interview it seems that the idea was presented to them in such a way to make them feel good about helping the Belarusian program, but the adults involved (i.e. Nellie Kim, Artur Akopyan and Galina Marinova) showed no regard for the actual Belarusian gymnasts affected by this. I also wonder how the higher-ranked American gymnasts feel about this…the ones who fly so often to the ranch for the gruelling camps and team selections…the ones who will just miss out on a ticket to Glasgow.

It seems strange that the Belarusian Gymnastics Federation would allow this to happen. Yes, these two Americans will probably rank higher at the World Championships than the Belarusians could have, but not high enough that it will make any difference in terms of qualifying to finals. If the goal is to clinch an individual spot for Belarus at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, well, that’s not guaranteed either.

If a country doesn’t have elite gymnasts and is trying to build a team from the ground up, it’s a win-win situation for both parties involved. For example, Anna Pavlova (AZE) felt like she was being blacklisted in her native Russia by not being selected for teams despite pulling in the scores. She was still doing beautiful gymnastics at the time of her relocation and deserved to be competing on the world stage. Azerbaijan, known more for its rhythmic program, took in other Russian and Ukrainian athletes and was able to field full teams at the 2014 Worlds (30th in WAG, 47th in MAG).

Despite its recent struggles, Belarus has a rich gymnastics legacy. Some of the sport’s brightest stars hail from this former Soviet republic. In fact, you could argue that it was Olga Korbut who singlehandedly brought gymnastics to the forefront of Olympic competition. And in the 1990s alone, so many accolades were won by legends such as Vitaly Scherbo (who can forget the 6 gold medals he won in Barcelona?!), Svetlana Boginskaya, Ivan Ivankov and Yelena Piskun.

It’s unfortunate that so many excellent gymnasts are punished for being from strong gymnastics countries. In 2004 the USA could have assembled three fantastic teams for the Olympic Games. And what about the Soviet Union?! Just think how many teams they could have fielded in their heyday. Tatiana Groshkova never made it to a Worlds or Olympics despite having some of the best gymnastics of the 1980s.

So what do you think? Should this kind of country-hopping be allowed when you have no ancestry or family connection whatsoever?

2015 Pan Am Games

Friday, July 17th, 2015

Gymnastics at the 2015 Pan Am Games has come to a close, and it was a great competition! The crowd supported all athletes and provided an exciting atmosphere. All-around champion Ellie Black (CAN) was the star of the show, winning 3 golds, a silver and a bronze. With a 6.5 start value on balance beam, she will be in contention for top honours on that event at the upcoming world championships. The men’s competition was even more exciting, with Manrique Larduet (CUB) scoring 90+ points in the qualifying round. Get this man to the world championships!! Larduet, Kohei Uchimura (JPN) and Oleg Vernyayev (UKR) would make for an excellent bunch of all-around medallists.

Competition floor

Competition floor

My sister attended Day 1 of the apparatus finals (V and UB for the women and FX, PH and R for the men) and here are some of her thoughts:

– It was a very well organized competition. Men and women alternated, so there was always a routine to watch with very little waiting time. Scores for the previous competitor on each event was always ready before the next gymnast competed.

– A high quality competition! We didn’t always see the most difficult skills, but there were very few falls or major errors.

– The Toronto crowd was very enthusiastic and encouraging toward all gymnasts, regardless of nationality (although of course, the loudest cheers were for the Canadians).

– There was lots of support for various nations in the crowd, especially for the Brazilians (so many flags, and a whole row of matching green and yellow unitard outfits).

– There were lots of other athletes in the audience wearing their national warm-ups.

– It was really nice to hear anthems that I’ve never heard before and aren’t often heard at gymnastics competitions.

– Tommy Ramos (PUR) walked in front of us and stood talking to some Puerto Rican coaches/delegation officials for a long time during warm-ups.

Tommy Ramos (PUR)

Tommy Ramos (PUR)

FX finalists

FX finalists

– Jorge Vega Lopez (GUA) was a huge surprise. He didn’t start warming up floor until most of the other gymnasts had left, but once he started he didn’t stop! He and his coach were very, very excited when his winning score came up. There was also a lady wearing a “GUA” shirt who was celebrating with him at the barrier. I am guessing it was his mom, but it might have been a delegation official.

– Most of the male medalists looked amused at receiving the stuffed Pachi mascot and waved them in the air sheepishly.

PH finalists

PH finalists

– Paula Mejias (PUR) ran into the vault on her first vault and got a zero, but did a nice layout Tsukahara second vault and received generous applause from the audience.

– After Daniele Hypolito (BRA) vaulted, she crouched down in front of a miserable-looking Mejias and gave her what appeared to be a lengthy pep talk.

– Marta Karolyi was not there, but new national staff member Rhonda Faehn was.

– Madison Copiak (CAN) is much taller than most gymnasts, and it was “all hands on deck” when it was her turn on bars; about 8 coaches and gymnasts (including Canadian Isabela Onyshko and Mexican Elsa Garcia) ran onto the podium to raise the bars, chalk them, etc. Same thing after she’d finished her routine.

UB finalists

UB finalists

– Carol Angela Orchard was there providing in-house commentary. She was encouraging and positive, but it was a bit much at times….

– Some medal presenters of note: Nellie Kim, Steve Butcher, Denzil Minnan-Wong (deputy mayor of Toronto), and PanAm organizing committee members.

– Elsa Garcia and another Mexican gymnast (Ahtziri Sandoval?) were sitting at a table in the foyer of the arena after the competition.

– Judge Leyanet Gonzalez (CUB) was thrilled when fellow Cuban Marcia Videaux Jimenez won vault. She applauded wildly when her name appeared in first place in the official results. She continued applauding with her hands above her head even when everyone else had long stopped.

A mother-daughter tribute

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

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.”

What other cool stuff has caught your eye lately?

Azerbaijan: A Force To Be Reckoned With

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Good news: Anna Pavlova has a new country, and it’s Azerbaijan!!!

When I think of gymnastics in Azerbaijan, only Valeri Belenki comes to mind (as well as a few rhythmic gymnasts that I don’t know anything about!). Belenki was a member of the CIS Team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that totally dominated the gymnastics scene, earning the bronze medal in the All Around. Here’s his routine on parallel bars when he was forced to compete as an “Unattached” gymnast the following year since the newly formed Azerbaijan was not yet a member of the FIG.

Valeri Belenki, 1993 World Championships, Parallel Bars Finals

Anyway, from now on Pavlova will represent her adopted country internationally, which means we should see her at the World Championships once again. Woohoo! In the past few years, the powers that be in Russia weren’t even considering her for a spot on World and Olympic teams, which was a real tragedy for gymnastics purists everywhere. Now we’ll get to see her in major competitions as she displays her elegant floor routines and aims for a medal on the balance beam. Here are some of her recent routines that were only seen in minor competition:

Anna Pavlova, 2011 Vault

Anna Pavlova, 2013 Uneven Bars

Anna Pavlova, 2012 Balance Beam

Anna Pavlova, 2013 Floor Exercise

Azerbaijan also picked up a couple of other top Russians, Konstantin Pluzhnikov and Yulia Inshina. Pluzhnikov was replaced as Russia’s rings specialist by Alexander Balandin at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 Worlds, so hopefully he will be able to contend for medals under a new flag. Inshina won a silver medal with her Russian team at the 2011 World Championships, but now that she represents Azerbaijan, she will have no trouble qualifying to Worlds and other major events.

Konstantin Pluzhnikov, 2011 European Championships, Still Rings Finals

Yulia Inshina, 2011 World Championships, Balance Beam Finals

Go Azerbaijan!

UPDATE: December 4, 2013.

Anna Pavlova represented Azerbaijan for the first time at the 2013 Voronin Cup in Moscow this week, placing 2nd in the All Around behind Ukrainian Alyona Vasilyeva. Pavlova’s teammate, Marina Nekrasova, finished 3rd AA.

UPDATE: March 7, 2014.

Azerbaijan has recruited 15 more gymnasts, headlined by 2012 Olympian Oleg Stepko of Ukraine. Stepko won the gold medal on parallel bars at the 2013 European Championships and two golds and two silvers at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. This blow to Ukraine comes on the heels of Nikolai (Mykola) Kuksenkov’s move to Russia.