WHAT TO WATCH FOR–BARS AND BEAM
Bars! I like bars.
Let’s start with the USA’s best bars worker, one Gabby Douglas. Here is her routine from Trials.
For a completely different bar routine that we will NOT see in TF, check out Aly Raisman at Visas.
Why won’t we see Aly’s bars in team finals? Well, if you have eyes, you probably noticed there were differences between Gabby’s routine and Aly’s. Gabby has her toes pointed. Her legs are glued together. Her arms are straight. Her releases are so freakin’ high she could pause and paint her toenails. Her body is tight throughout, with no breaks in form. And especially importantly, Gabby has great rhythm throughout. Each skills flows freely into the next skill. She doesn’t look like she is muscling anything, but rather just moving smoothly through her routine.
Aly, on the other hand, has flexed feet throughout and minor form breaks on virtually every skill. I love Aly but her bars are…pretty bad (in part because Mihai refuses to hire a bars coach!) Her kips (that’s where the gymnast uses momentum-not pure strength, like Aly–to get her hips to the bar) are pretty muscled. Her handstands are not usually totally vertical, and you always want to hit your handstands. One thing you will notice amongst a few top athletes is their ability to hold a handstand for a weirdly long time, as if daring the judges to notice.
Which reminds me: there are several requirements on bars. Gymnasts must show a variety of things, and I’m not going to go through all of them because it can get overly complicated. But you SHOULD watch for transitions for low to high bar and vise versa, to start. Gymnasts can do this in a couple different ways. My favorite high-to-low is the Pak salto, a laidout front flip after releasing the high bar to catch the low. My favorite low-to-high is a Shaposh, which is a free hip circle on the low bar and then the gymnast uses sheer momentum to catch the high bar. Sometimes they add a half twist. Anyway, there are a whole bunch of different ways they can transition. There are also–and this is the exciting part–release skills. That’s when the gymnast releases the bar and performs some gravity defying move, like a flip or twist of some kind, and then regrabs the bar. These are done off the highbar. Most gymnasts get the majority of their difficulty this way. Some gymnasts will get more difficulty through various turns and pirouettes; Liukin was known for a one handed pirouette called an Ono. These are hard and everything but I much prefer releases.
So! Routines we will see at the Games:
from the Big Four teams (this is all just for TF, we dont need to think about quallies)
US: Weiber, Ross, Douglas (above) (note: Weiber has about a 1 in 6 chance of missing her routine, which will leave the US with a much lower score. She’s unlikely to fall altogether but it is not super uncommon for her to have fairly major form breaks. She’s been hitting the last bunch of routines though. Ross has very clean bars and of course Douglas is amazeballs and should challenge for an EF medal)
(this will not be a good rotation for them. We just want them to look halfway decent)
(will either be truly amazing or a splatfest; He could make finals)
Other contenders for bars EF:
Beth Tweddle, GBR (my sentimental favorite for a hometown gold medal. I really, really hope she gets it. She just needs to hit, hit, hit. Her set is just insane.)
Elisabeth Seitz, GER (IF she hits, which she often doesnt)
Youna Dufronet, FRA (again, not super likely, but not totally out of the question)
Beam is by far my favorite event, and I’ll tell you why; because it is such, such a mental thing. I don’t know if y’all know this, and if you don’t, Al will tell you roughly eighty thousand times; beam is only 4 inches wide. That’s why so many meets, and championships, are lost on beam. Because it is so, so easy to headcase it.
So what do you need to watch for on beam?
There are a couple really important things.
One is obviously not falling off. Another is not wobbling. Most gymnasts will wobble at least once, but a tiny little wobble is not such a big deal. A huge wobble, or worse a hand coming down to steady, IS a big deal.
The less obvious thing to watch for is connections. One of the primary ways gymnasts get bonus and even start value is through connections, which is where they do one skill and then another with virtually no break between. This is not the time to pause long enough to get a cup of coffee. Connections should be fluid and quick. One obvious example of missed connections is Jorydn Weiber; although her beam set tends to be quite good she almost never connects her hardest tumble, which is a front “handspring” (tends to really be a walkover) to standing arabian (back tuck with a full twist) to back handspring. Its quite rare for her to connect all three. Sometimes judges will give a sketchy connection, too. But its quite easy to lose connection on beam.
And like all other gymnastics, form is key. Toes should be pointed. No wonky arms and legs. If a skill, like a front or back salto, is supposed to be done piked, do not tuck. Make sure turns are fully rotated. Etc, etc.
The requirements on beam include two connecting dance elements (which can be any kind of jump, hop, leap, whatever, but one must have a split)
; acro series with at least one salto; at least one backwards element and at least one fowards or sideways element; full turn on one foot
Who will compete for the big four? Glad you asked!
Ross, Weiber, Raisman (Douglas is beautiful on beam but often headcases it. Ross is fine, Weiber is good and Raisman is very very solid and has HUGE tricks, including the hardest dismount out there, a Patterson-handspring double front with half twist. Weiber/Raisman both have a chance of making EFs. MAYBE Ross).
Mustafina, Komova, Grishina (Musty should stay on. The other 2….well. sometimes they wobble a tiny bit and jump off preemptively. I would not be super surprised to see that. Sometimes they also kick ass. Anyone’s guess! They are also quite prone to losing CV, or connection value. IF they hit, could make EFs)
Deng Linlin, Sui Li, Yao Jinnian (Deng actually falls in this routine but i dont feel like looking up another one. Anyway, she quite rarely falls. The same cannot be said of the other 2; Sui especially can be brilliant or awful).
Lauren Mitchell, AUS--quite well known on this event, does some beautiful work