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!
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
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.
Gymnix 2013 has come and gone for another year. Here are some of my sister’s observations:
-Romanian Andreea Munteanu stuck a very nice back-handspring to tucked-full on beam
-Heaven Latimer (CAN) did a very high back-handspring, back-handspring, layout-full on beam
It was even better here in this training video:
-my favourite floor routine was the very charming Maria Bondareva‘s (RUS) performance to music from “The Artist”…age appropriate cuteness and great presentation
-a French gymnast got no distance on her double pike bars dismount and clipped her feet on the bar…quite scary but she landed without injury (in a heap but not on her head or neck)
-Shallon Olsen‘s double-twisting Yurchenko was by far the best vault of the competition. Most gymnasts competed a Yurchenko-full and if they did a second vault, it was often a layout Yurchenko.
-prior to marching in for event finals, Russians Maria Bondareva and Anastasia Dmitrieva seemed to be chatting with Canadians Shallon Olsen and Aleeza Yu…I’m not sure how well they could communicate, but there were smiles and laughs aplenty!
-after the medal ceremonies, all gymnasts participated in a Flash Mob (some were more enthusiastic than others, but all seemed to know the choreography)
-Laura Jurca (ROM) and Marine Boyer (FRA) both suffered injuries on floor…Jurca hurt her ankle and had to stop her routine, while Boyer gave herself some major rugburn on her final tumbling pass
-Toni-Ann Williams from Jamaica showed some very difficult tumbling passes (double layout, full-twisting double back, two whips to double back) as well as a running double front dismount from beam. She will be a great addition to NCAA gymnastics next year!
-the three Romanians sported some very snazzy black leg warmers throughout the weekend
-2004 Olympian and former Gymnix competitor Amélie Plante was on hand to present awards, including one named after her
-the Japanese team displayed their trademark elegance and lovely presentation, and were hugely popular with fans, who rushed down to high five them whenever they walked by the bleachers
-the young team from Belgium showed very nice routines on all events and have tons of potential (remember, Belgium just missed out on full team qualification to the 2012 Olympics)
-the three Romanians (including the injured Laura Jurca) and the four Russians posed happily for photos after the competition
1. Russia (Maria Bondareva, Anastasia Dmitrieva, Ekaterina Sokova, Polina Spirina)
It’s always interesting to see how things pan out in a post-Olympic year. Sometimes the stars lose their brilliance, while the new kids on the block step up to prove their mettle. It’s always sad to see favourites retire, and sometimes you don’t even realize how much you like a gymnast until they’re gone.
Take Sandra Izbasa (ROM), for example. Unless Bellu and Bitang can lure her back, it looks as though she is finished with international competition. I feel like she’s been on the scene forever, but she’s really only 22 years old. She won floor at the 2008 Olympics with near-perfect tumbling runs and overcame serious injuries before grabbing gold on vault and placing 5th all around at the 2012 Olympics. Her floor routine was one of the most captivating in London, and it made me realize just how much I appreciate her presence.
Sandra Izbasa (ROM), 2012 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise Apparatus Final
Aw man, if only she hadn’t fallen on the last skill of her career!
Other stars are continuing on in the sport, and it remains to be seen how they will fare against the new crop of gymnasts. Viktoria Komova (RUS) displays what I think is the best combination of grace, form, difficulty and power the world has ever seen. I hope she’ll be able to maintain the same level of magic in the coming years.
Kohei Uchimura (JPN) was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders and didn’t seem to be in peak form at the 2012 Olympic Games. Of course, despite putting his hands down on floor, he still managed to win the all around by a whopping 1.659, the same margin that separated gymnasts 2 through 13. Usually I find myself rooting for the underdog, but I know I’ll always hope for King Kohei to maintain his throne. Looks like there are some new tricks up his sleeve:
Kohei Uchimura (JPN), Kovacs-Kolman-Kolman Combo
Kohei Uchimura (JPN), Upgraded Vaults
Now that Nikolai Kuksenkov has left the Ukrainian team in favour of Team Russia, it will be interesting to see how that shakes up standings on the international scene. Coach Igor Korobchinsky may deny it, but that is quite a blow to Ukraine.
Nikolai Kuksenkov (UKR), 2011 World Championships, High Bar
One gymnast I’ve been excited to see on the senior international stage is Katelyn Ohashi (USA) and she’s finally old enough!
Katelyn Ohashi (USA), 2011 National Championships, Balance Beam
Mykayla Skinner (USA) recently busted out a laid out double-double on floor. It’s been over a quarter of a century since a woman first showcased a full-twisting double layout, so this was a long time coming. Skinner may be selected for the 2013 Worlds team based on her floor tumbling alone!
The day we’ve all been waiting for – the day the new queen of gymnastics would be crowned! With many more potential winners here than in the Beijing All Around finals, this competition promised to be exciting from beginning to end. Early favourite Viktoria Komova (RUS) and new star Gabby Douglas (USA) were neck and neck all afternoon long, but in the end it was Douglas who reigned supreme.
Gabby Douglas (USA), 2012 Olympic Games, Team Final Balance Beam
Douglas and Komova each started the meet with an Amanar, with Komova suffering a wonky landing that ended up off the landing mat. When all was said and done, this error could have been enough to cost her the gold medal. Even the floor routine of her life (15.100) was not enough to catch up with Douglas, who had 4 fantastic performances to clinch the top prize.
Viktoria Komova (RUS), 2012 Olympic Games, All Around Floor Exercise
I really wanted these two on the podium along with Aliya Mustafina (RUS), so it was a major bummer when Mustafina fell from the beam after her Arabian landed a little crooked (my sister said she nailed it in the one-touch warm-up). After the fall, it seemed that the rest of the routine wasn’t quite a crisp as usual. It really was an uphill battle for Mustafina right from the beginning, since she started 0.7 behind the top contenders on vault; she performed a Baitova, as opposed to the Amanar she used to compete before her untimely knee injury at the 2011 European Championships. But in the end, the fall didn’t cost her a spot on the podium, as she would have been in the bronze medal position either way!
I do feel very sorry for Alexandra Raisman (USA) who tied for 3rd but lost the bronze medal due to the tie-breaking procedure. That has got to be disappointing, especially after her uncharacteristically wobbly balance beam routine and after leaving out her punch layout front on floor. Sandra Izbasa (ROM), on the other hand, was fabulous on her 3 best events and probably would have been Olympic Champion if her bars had been on par. Dominique Pegg (CAN) rounded out a superb competition by hitting 4-for-4 (with some small wobbles on beam) for 17th, with a floor performance that started with a high-flying double layout. Poor Hannah Whelan (GBR) lost all hope of a Top 10 finish after crashing her Yurchenko-double-full for 0.000.
In the end, the results were as they should be. Congrats to Gabby Douglas! Over the past year, she has improved not only her gymnastics, but especially her consistency and her mental game. Congratulations are also in order for Viktoria Komova, who showed that she can fight right to the end, and to Aliya Mustafina, who displayed excellent sportsmanship with a positive attitude throughout the competition and in her support for her younger teammate.