Posts Tagged ‘He Kexin’

In the case of Dong Fangxiao…

Monday, March 1st, 2010



Last week the Fédération Internationale de Gymnastique made its announcement: Dong Fangxiao will have her individual Olympic results from Sydney 2000 nullified (the FIG has yet to rule on the team bronze won by China). She was found to be 14-years-old at the 2000 Olympic Games, two years short of the age requirement of 16. Teammate Yang Yun, who later admitted she was also only 14 at the time, will retain her bronze medal on bars, due to insufficient proof that she was underage.

Dong Fangxiao, 2000 Olympic Games, NBC Fluff

Dong Fangxiao, 2000 Olympic Games, Floor Exercise

This scandal is the third in a string of blemishes marking the women’s competition in Sydney. The all-around was marred first by the vault setting error, and then by all-around champion Andreea Raducan’s positive test for pseudoephedrine (no longer a banned substance).

Cheaters do need to be punished, but what is the appropriate punishment in this case? Is this really fair to strip Dong and her teammates of their medal when she was just a young gymnast who likely played no role in the deceit? And 10 years later, it’s hardly fair to punish the new generation of gymnasts by banning them from FIG competitions, as happened to North Korea in the early 1990s. (Then again, that’s not to say that this kind of cheating is a thing of the past…we all know of the controversy surrounding He Kexin and Deng Linlin at the 2008 Olympic Games!)

And what about all the other gymnasts who have later admitted to being underage at major competitions? If Dong and Yang’s cases were only investigated because they fell in the 10-year time frame, does that not seem a bit arbitrary? What about looking into the real birth dates of other gymnasts who have admitted being underage, most notably Romanians stars Gina Gogean, Sabina Cojocar, Alexandra Marinescu, Daniela Silivas and Ecaterina Szabo? (I find it amusing that Bela Karolyi was one of the most vocal critics during the age controversy in Beijing!)

A Brief History of Underage Gymnastics

Unfortunately, it’s the countries that play by the rules who suffer most when others cheat. Canada had some wonderful junior gymnasts in 2008 (most notably Charlotte Mackie, Peng Peng Lee and Brittany Rogers) and along with Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, Kristina Vaculik and Nansy Damianova, we most likely would have qualified a full team to the Olympics had they been allowed to contribute routines at the qualifying World Championships the year before.

Perhaps the best solution is a proactive one: birth dates for gymnasts should be checked carefully by the FIG before they start competing internationally, and national federations should be warned that there will be more severe sanctions should they try to cheat.

Part of me thinks there shouldn’t be an age limit at all, thus eliminating this dilemma, but I acknowledge the importance of protecting young children from the pressures of international competition. Raising the age limit from 15 to 16, as the FIG did in 1997, might have actually increased the incidence of cheating since many female gymnasts are often in top form well before age 16.

I feel sorry for Dong Fangxiao since she is embroiled in this mess that she surely didn’t create. It’s also a shame that her career was cut short due to her hip dysplasia. Stay tuned for the FIG’s ruling on China’s team bronze medal….

A Look Back at the 2009 World Gymnastics Championships: A Spectator’s Perspective

Monday, December 7th, 2009

In October, I had the opportunity to attend the 2009 World Gymnastics Championships, held at the beautiful O2 Arena in London, England.  I attended four sessions: women’s qualifications, women’s all-around, and both days of event finals.  Gymbit has asked me to share some of my observations from the stands….

Fashion

Over the course of the competition, several competitors’ choice of attire was noteworthy.  Ariella Käslin wore a variety of butterfly-themed leotards, while Tina Erceg caught everyone’s attention in a black leotard complete with a purple tie and white collar and cuffs.  Sleeveless leotards were popular, but in my opinion, they make the gymnasts look less polished, although they do highlight the gymnasts’ toned arms and athletic builds.  The abundance of blinding sparkles on many gymnasts’ leotards made me wonder why flash photography was forbidden, but I liked the variety of bright colours worn.  One final fashion statement was made by Ana Porgras, who donned black-and-white striped socks pulled up to her knees to keep warm between rotations.

Ariella Käslin (SUI)

TIna Erceg (CRO)

Ana Porgras (ROM) and her stripy socks

Successful Returns
Three female gymnasts made remarkable returns to competition.  Elsa Garcia (winner of the Longines Award for Elegance) and Veronica Wagner, both of whom missed out on competing at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, qualified to AA finals and looked happy and fit.  Both crowd favourites, I am sure their gymnastics careers are far from over as they look better than ever.  Still a relative newcomer to international competition, first-year senior Youna Dufournet looked much improved from her form earlier this year.  She appeared happy and confident, and was much better able to execute her difficult routines.  She placed an outstanding 5th AA and looked genuinely thrilled with her surprise bronze medal on vault.

Elsa Garcia (MEX)

Veronica Wagner (SWE)

Youna Dufournet (FRA)

Jordan Jovtchev
As most of the gymnasts in the competition were born in the late 1980s or early 1990s, it was quite funny to see Jordan Jovtchev’s 1973 birth date appear on the screen!  He had already competed in his first of five Olympic Games (Barcelona 1992) before many of the female competitors were even born!

Jordan Jovtchev (BUL)

Delegation Support
The large Japanese contingent was out in full force for all sessions of the competition, while the French delegation was vocal and enthusiastic in its support for the French gymnasts.

Audience
The competition had a fantastic turnout and the British crowd was encouraging to the gymnasts and excited to be hosting such a high-level event.  Though there was seating set aside at one end of the arena for delegations, many gymnasts (most wearing their team jackets or even competition leotards) were seen scattered around the arena watching other sessions and cheering on their teammates.

Finalists
It is interesting to note that all eight French gymnasts in attendance (Samir Ait Said, Thomas Bouhail, Benoît Caranobe, Yann Cucherat, Youna Dufournet, Pauline Morel, Danny Pinheiro-Rodrigues, and Cyril Tommasone) all qualified for either the all-around or at least one event final.  All four American women (Rebecca Bross, Ivana Hong, Bridget Sloan, and Kayla Williams) left London with an unforgettable souvenir: a World Championships medal.

Bross’s Forgotten Bronze
During the women’s uneven bar award ceremony, Rebecca Bross lined up with the other medallists but was left standing on the floor when the announcer failed to call her up as the joint bronze medallist (tied with Ana Porgras).  As the other three medallists stood on the podium, about to receive their medals, a member of the U.S. delegation rushed over and frantically flapped her arms at the announcers to alert them of the oversight.  Finally, Rebecca was called up to the podium to stand next to Ana, and the crowd rewarded her patience with loud applause.

Uneven Bars Medallists: Rebecca Bross (USA), Ana Porgras (ROM), He Kexin (CHN), Koko Tsurumi (JPN)

Sports Acrobatics
Sports Acro is quite a popular sport in Britain, and several of its top pairs and trios gave demonstrations prior to the medal ceremonies.  They wowed the crowd with their strength and flexibility, and no doubt gained more fans in the process.

O2 Arena
The arena is part of a beautiful complex situated right on the Thames in eastern London.  There are several restaurants, movie theatres, and an exhibition hall located within the complex, and the large lobby featured an area for children to try out some basic gymnastics equipment.  Overall, this was a fantastic venue for the World Championships and will be perfect for hosting events of the 2012 Olympic Games as well.

Outside the O2 Arena

Inside the O2 Arena

Medallists
13 different women claimed the 16 medals awarded (Rebecca Bross, Lauren Mitchell, and Koko Tsurumi each won two), while 19 different men won the 21 medals awarded (Marian Dragulescu and Zou Kai were the only men to win two medals).

So there we have it…another world championship in the record books.  I had a brilliant time and made many wonderful memories.  See you in Rotterdam for the 2010 World Gymnastics Championships!!

Elsa Garcia (MEX) & Ariella Käslin (SUI) share a chuckle

2009 World Champions

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

The 2009 World Championships in London have drawn to a close, and I must say I was extremely impressed with the quality of the gymnastics in this post-Olympic rebuilding year. This competition offered the first glimpse into the next Olympiad, which will culminate with the 2012 Olympic Games in the same O2 Arena.

Kohei Uchimura (JPN) was the undisputed king of the all-around, winning by a 2.575 margin. His form is simply impeccable, especially on the twisting skills. Even in slow-motion, you can see that his ankles stay together perfectly during this Yurchenko 2.5-twist. The direction was superb as well, as he landed square on the line. Note how he spots the ground while heading into the last half-twist.

Marian Dragulescu (ROM) returned from a brief retirement to claim the titles on his best events, floor and vault.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6bZh5fv989Q

China showed off its enormous depth with three newcomers who won gold: Zhang Hongtao on Pommel Horse (an unbelievable 9.6 Execution score!), Yan Mingyong on Rings, and Wang Guanyin on Parallel Bars.

Here’s Zhang’s routine from the Chinese National Championships:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tds9yzXe-wo

Yan demonstrated unique ways of getting into the strength skills, and he continued to rack up the start value thanks to his jam-packed routine and his full-twisting double layout dismount. This routine was captured at the 11th Chinese National Games.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftLI0pgrfQc

Wang threw every trick in the book on his way to the gold medal:

Zou Kai (CHN) won high bar thanks to his 7.5 Difficulty score. This routine is from the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where he also won gold.

American Bridget Sloan’s high level of difficulty and her consistent performances were the keys to her all-around success. In this routine from the preliminary round, highlights include the toe-on piked Tkatchev and the full-twisting double layout dismount.

Kayla Williams (USA) rose to the highest level of the sport in meteoric fashion as she won the vault title.

Chinese He Kexin, who has grown since the Olympics, won the uneven bars title by a massive 1.125 margin. Her D Score alone was 0.8 higher than the nearest competitor.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5oIKEXz7wU

Deng Linlin (CHN) earned her country’s sixth gold medal of the Championships with this consistent routine.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uV6PsJSR1Tk

Beth Tweddle gave the hometown crowd something to cheer about with her victory on the floor exercise. It’s a pity she didn’t qualify to the uneven bars final, as she would have provided the only real challenge to He Kexin’s dominance. While her choreography was the least inspiring of all the finalists, her tumbling and landings were outstanding.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU6RmtQ6oAk

Honourable Mentions:

Daniel Keatings (GBR), for rallying to the silver medal in the all-around and making history for his country, and for earning the Longines Prize for Elegance.

Lauren Mitchell (AUS), for earning silver medals on both balance beam and floor exercise.

Koko Tsurumi (JPN), for proving that it’s not just the Japanese men who win medals! Her all-around bronze was the country’s first for a female since 1966.

Ana Porgras (ROM), for demonstrating a level of artistry not often seen from her country since the 1980s. How unusual to see a Romanian whose weakest event is vault and who swings a mean bar set!

Elsa Garcia (MEX), for being a very deserving winner of the Longines Prize for Elegance and for having a great sense of humour when she crashed her vault in a very ungainly position!

Youna Dufournet (FRA), for overcoming past inconsistencies and having a fantastic World Championships!

Timothy McNeill (USA), for overcoming so many injuries to place 7th overall in his first World Championships.

The BBC (GBR), for showing so many routines and discussing the technical aspects of the sport. I really appreciate how the commentators pointed out the differences in technique in the double-twisting Yurchenko vaults of Yekaterina Kurbatova (RUS) and Kayla Williams. It was also interesting to hear why the judges were deliberating so long over Ariella Käslin’s vault; in the end they gave this Swiss gymnast full credit for the layout position, even though she piked after blocking off the table to gain extra rotation.

No report on the 2009 World Championships would be complete without a tribute to Yuri Ryazanov, who achieved the greatest result of his career in London.

“The final started badly,” he said of Oct. 15′s all-around competition. “After my pommel horse routine the judges deliberated for a long time [because of a mistake on my dismount]. As a result, it reduced my A-score by 0.9. I was 21st of the 24 finalists. I was ashamed almost to tears. But I calmed down and I realized that I had nothing to lose. I said to myself, ‘Yuri, don’t give up, this is not your last worlds, try to look dignified.’ After that I decided to add more difficulty on the remaining five events. And although I had another mistake [on high bar], it was enough to win a medal in the end.” (International GYMNAST Magazine Online)

In a tragic turn of events, Yuri Ryazanov passed away five days later after a car accident in his native Russia. RIP.

(Photo from International GYMNAST Magazine Online)