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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.

Apparatus Finals, Day 2 – 2013 World Championships

Sunday, October 6th, 2013

Men’s Vault

1. Yang Hak Seon (KOR) claimed the world title with a booming handspring triple-twisting front now named the Yang, and a Tsukahara triple-twist. I don’t know how he manages to twist so quickly!

2. Steven Legendre (USA) vaulted a superb Dragulescu with just a bit of a low landing that required a small hop to the side. He looked happy with his second vault, a high Tsukahara double pike with a step back.

3. Kristian Thomas (GBR) stuck his first vault, a Yurchenko double pike, and showed the fantastic form he is known for on this event (E=9.500, the highest of the final). Next he vaulted a tucked double front with just a hop backward.

Rounding out the Top 8: Kenzo Shirai (JPN), Sergio Sasaki Junior (BRA), Diego Hypolito (BRA), Marius Berbecar (ROU) and Oleg Verniaiev (UKR).

Balance Beam

1. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) pulled it all together when it counted most, earning the gold medal on beam with a beautiful routine that included a switch split half to immediate Onodi. It was nice to see her supporting her younger teammate, Anna Rodionova, who is so elegant on the beam but unfortunately fell on her ff, Arabian.

2. Kyla Ross (USA) was spot on, and displayed beautiful lines on all elements. I enjoyed seeing her aerial front-sheep jump combination. After filing an inquiry, her score was raised to 14.833, just short of Mustafina.

3. Simone Biles (USA) also filed an inquiry following her beam routine and saw her score increase just enough to surpass Vanessa Ferrari (ITA). Love her full-in dismount. It reminds me of the old days. This is her routine from podium training:

Rounding out the Top 8: Vanessa Ferrari (ITA), Carlotta Ferlito (ITA), Shang Chunsong (CHN), Larisa Iordache (ROU) and Rodionova. Unfortunately many of the best beam workers ended up at the bottom of the pile, but that’s often the way the cookie crumbles on beam.

Parallel Bars

1. Lin Chaopan (CHN) & Kohei Uchimura (JPN) competed early on in the 9-man final, and boy did they impress! Lin was first up, and he and teammate You scrambled to chalk the rails after presenting themselves to the judges. His routine included the exciting Bhavsar and a nailed double pike dismount. Uchimura, not to be outdone, swung a nice giant to double pike and also stuck the same dismount (with a little arm swing!). The two gymnasts ended up atop the medal podium, each with 15.666 (D=6.700, E=8.966).

3. John Orozco (USA), returning from a knee injury, did a great set complete with tucked and piked double backs and a large Tippelt for the bronze medal. A door opened for Orozco, as his performance came on the heels of some disappointing routines by Vasileios Tsolakidis (GRE), Anton Fokin (UZB) and Brandon Wynn (USA).

Rounding out the Top 9: You Hao (CHN) with his smooth movements and fabulous double front-half out dismount, Epke Zonderland (NED), Marius Berbecar (ROU), Wynn, Tsolakidis and Fokin.

Women’s Floor Exercise

1. Simone Biles (USA) shone on floor as she executed her energetic choreography and trademark tumbling: tucked double-double followed by the Biles. Despite some hops on landings, she won in convincing fashion: 0.367 over the nearest competitor!

2. Vanessa Ferrari (ITA) flipped her way to silver with a tucked double double, a full-in to back tuck, a double tuck and a double pike. All landings were stuck except for a little hop forward on the first pass.

3. Larisa Iordache (ROU) commanded everyone’s attention and delivered such a spunky routine with tricky elements. I think everyone in the arena was disappointed when a 14.600 was flashed on the scoreboard. It did hold up, however, and Iordache found herself wearing the bronze medal around her neck. I was hoping she would win, because we haven’t seen this kind of artistry and enthusiasm in a long time. She is quickly becoming one of my favourites!

Rounding out the Top 8: Mai Murakami (JPN), Giulia Steingruber (SUI), Kyla Ross (USA), Sandra Izbasa (ROU), Ellie Black (CAN). I hardly recognized Izbasa with all that makeup(!), but I’ll really miss her once she retires. It’s too bad she fell at the end of her routine, but she got up with a smile. Her attitude is second to none, and she always shows such great sportsmanship. Murakami (quadruple turn) and Black (2.5-twist through to triple twist!) showed amazing tumbling and will hopefully finish on the podium in the near future.

High Bar

1. Epke Zonderland (NED) repeated his Olympic win in Antwerp with his usual amazing combinations. His 7.7 D score had him starting 1.3 ahead of Ryohei Kato (JPN), who of course had the misfortune of having to perform directly after the Flying Dutchman. While I do love seeing his extraordinary release moves, I do think his E score is a tad too high compared to gymnasts like Jossimar Calvo Moreno (COL) and Andreas Bretschneider (GER), who each scored lower.

2. Fabian Hambüchen (GER) seems like such a nice guy. I always see him in the background congratulating Uchimura on his All Around wins, and at the London Olympics and today in Antwerp he took the time to congratulate Zonderland on his win. Hambüchen looked thrilled after nailing his laidout double double dismount.

3. Kohei Uchimura (JPN) was flawless except for a hesitation in handstand following his Takamoto full. Through his 15 routines of these Championships he made nary a mistake and he came away with 4 medals, just like Simone Biles.

Rounding out the Top 8: Sam Mikulak (USA), Calvo Moreno, Bretschneider, Kato, Lin Chaopan (CHN). What a way to end High Holy Week!

(***High Bar videos to come soon!***)

Apparatus Finals, Day 1 – 2013 World Championships

Saturday, October 5th, 2013

Men’s Floor Exercise

1. Kenzo Shirai (JPN) won the qualifying round by such a margin that the gold medal was his to lose. The best was saved for last, and Shirai performed 18.25 twists with fantastic landings before nailing his QUADRUPLE twist at the end of the routine. He looked elated at the end, and even King Kohei was on his feet for this one. Score: 16.000.

2. Jake Dalton (USA) won the silver medal with great form and some high-flying tumbling including a layout Arabian double front and a whip immediate piked Arabian double front.

3. Kohei Uchimura (JPN) earned the bronze medal thanks in large part to his exemplary technique and his extraordinary landings. Interestingly, he had the lowest D score and the highest E score (9.100) in the 8-man field. I was wondering if he would pull out the triple twisting double tuck in the finals, but that tricky skill turned out to be a gamble not worth taking.

Rounding out the Top 8: Daniel Purvis (GBR), Digeo Hypolito (BRA), Steven Legendre (USA), Fabian Hambüchen (GER) and Scott Morgan (CAN). Poor Legendre had to compete with a butterfly fluttering around the floor mat!

Women’s Vault

1. McKayla Maroney (USA) was on a mission after her Olympic disappointment. It’s such a cliché to say she makes it look easy…but she does! Maroney threw down two excellent vaults (Amanar, Mustafina) to edge out her teammate.

2. Simone Biles (USA) came really close to Maroney’s vaulting average (15.724 to 15.595) and she too performed a superb Amanar as a first vault. Biles’s layout Podkopayeva second vault earned a 9.658 E score, but the D score just wasn’t high enough to beat the defending World Champion.

3. Hong Un Jong (PRK) performed a fantastic Amanar with a large step forward on the landing, and a RO-half-on layout Rudi with a large step back. Her high start values were enough to capture the bronze medal.

Rounding out the Top 8: Giulia Steingruber (SUI), Oksana Chusovitina (UZB), Phan Thi Ha Thanh (VIE), Yamilet Pena Abreu (DOM) and Chantysha Netteb (NED). Pena fell on both of her vaults, and poor Netteb hurt her knee on her first vault, a Yurchenko double twist.

Pommel Horse

1. Kohei Kameyama (JPN) proved there’s more than one Kohei on the block, and now they both have the same number of World apparatus gold medals: one! Kameyama displayed some really nice scissor to handstand combinations and one-pommel work at the beginning of his routine.

2. Daniel Corral Barron (MEX) and Max Whitlock (GBR) tied for the silver medal on this event. Corral Barron is the first male gymnast from his country to qualify to a World final (he also placed 5th on parallel bars at last year’s Olympic Games), and therefore the first to win a medal for Mexico. He swung high above the horse. Whitlock, who won pommel horse bronze medals at the Olympics and at the Europeans earlier this year, lost rhythm as he came down from a handstand, but managed to stay on and finish up well. His D score of 7.200 certainly helped him stay in the medals.

Rounding out the Top 8: 2009 champion Zhang Hongtao (CHN), Alberto Busnari (ITA), Robert Seligman (CRO) with the highest E score, Matvei Petrov (RUS) and Prashanth Sellathurai (AUS).

Uneven Bars

1. Huang Huidan (CHN) displayed gorgeous pirouettes, difficult transitions and a nice piked Jaeger topped off with a stuck full-twisting double back. It would have been a Chinese 1-2 with Huang in the silver medal position if Yao Jinnan had caught her Mo salto.

2. Kyla Ross (USA) had the highest E score of the competition despite some loose leg form in the first half of the routine. Nevertheless, she showed lovely lines and solid handstand positions and a stuck double layout dismount.

3. Aliya Mustafina (RUS) has added a Stalder-full toe-on full-twisting Shaposhnikova (Seitz) combinations to her routine since the Olympic Games and she nailed it here. She did the same 1.5-twisting double back dismount that helped her win Olympic Gold, but unfortunately this time she had to shuffle her feet upon landing.

Rounding out the Top 8: Simone Biles (USA), Sophie Scheder (GER), Yao Jinnan (CHN), Ruby Harrold (GBR), Beckie Downie (GBR).

Rings

1. Arthur Nabarrete Zanetti (BRA) showed some tremendous strength holds and he did a fabulous full-twisting double layout, but it seemed the rings were swaying back and forth ever so slightly throughout much of his routine.

2. Aleksandr Balandin (RUS) made a press to planche from a still hang look easy! He used his long lines to his advantage in his swing elements, and took a slight hop back after the same dismount as Zanetti.

3. Brandon Wynn (USA) made the most of his 6.700 D score, the lowest of the 8 finalists, and clinched the bronze with a good effort and a stuck full-twisting double layout of his own.

Rounding out the Top 8: Liu Yang (CHN) was fantastic on the apparatus but landed a bit too low to grab a medal, Lambertus “Yuri” van Gelder (NED), Samir Aït Saïd (FRA), Koji Yamamuro (JPN) and Danny Pinheiro Rodrigues (FRA). Pinheiro Rodrigues had a great routine going, complete with two of his signature Victorians, but unfortunately got caught up in the air on his full-twisting double layout and ended up falling. I felt so sad for Yamamuro, last to go, watching him pray for a medal while waiting for his score to come up. He did an amazing job, complete with a decent landing on a very difficult double-twisting double layout dismount, only to end up in 7th. This just goes to show the quality of the field.