gymnastics

Scenes from Brestyans

 

This morning I headed over to Brestyans to see Aly Raisman’s triumphant return home.

Brestyan’s was packed, with a line snaking around the parking lot already. Mihai and Sylvia Brestyan bopped around the parking lot. Inside, lower level team kids were practicing. I didn’t see that much, mostly a bunch of handspring vault drills and a few half on half offs, plus a bunch of front tuck-RO-back layout passes on floor. The place was definitely humming with energy, though.

Outside, the media was swarming, pointing cameras and getting quotes from random people. The daycare across the street came out to watch. For some reason there was a pony. Sylvia went over at one point to dance with the kids. Gymnasts posed with Mihai for pictures, which he found amusing–he kept telling them that they could do pictures after practice!

Eventually, all of the Brestyan’s gymansts pulled on their Aly tee shirts and lined the street. Shortly thereafter a police car came peeling down, sirens blaring, followed by a fire truck. Poor Aly was mobbed by cameras as she tried to exit the cop car with cameras staring directly at her face. Then there were speeches, which to be honest I did not listen to eve n a little bit. There were a few people from judges associations etc, which whatever. Then Mihai came up to say a “few words” which turned out to be basically “welcome back, Aly. We are glad to see you. You have practice tomorrow at 6am.”

Apparently Mihai and Silvia gave Aly a good luck pair of earrings before the Games and they gave her a matching necklace; she then presented Silvia with matching jewelry, which was adorable. I am really fascinated by the relationship between athletes and coaches.

Anyway, the press was allowed to ask a few questions, and I made my way up. Most of the questions were the standard stuff and Aly answered in her usual way–it meant everything, it means so much to her, there are no words, etc. She was asked what she planned to do in her hometown of Needham and she just said “welll…I live there, so just what I always do…” I asked her about waiting for the tiebreaker results and she said that it was really stressful, much harder then actually competing because you have no control. I did tell her I was glad that the tiebreaker went her way once!

After that, the line for autographs began and I went home. I was so glad that I went. Aly for me was one of the real MVPs of these Games, and I am so happy for her that she got the welcome home she deserved. 

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Why I Watch

So! The Olympics are over, which is terrible, what on earth am I supposed to do with myself now? I ASK YOU.

I watched a lot of the Games this year with my sisters, who are four year fans. You know the type. No knowledge of the sport whatsoever. Its actually quite amusing. But it did make me think, too. I am obviously super, super invested–some would say overly invested–in the sport, and I felt exhausted at the end of each day of competition just from the massive flood of emotions. The thing about following a sport so closely all the time is that, at least for me, I feel so connected to the athletes. I follow the US constantly and to a somewhat lesser extent Mother Russia, Romania, GBR, etc. So I feel almost as though I know the girls. The experience of watching gymnastics is nothing at all like what it is when I (admittedly very very rarely) catch a glimpse of another sport. I can occasionally admire other sports–soccer, diving, swimming–for how cool some of the the things they do are, but I have no emotional involvement. My gymnastics fandom is about half appreciation for the sheer badassery and half emotional involvement in the athletes and their stories.

So why do I love gymnastics above all other sports? For one thing, it is the epitome of athleticism. Gymnasts do things with their bodies that should not be possible. They can bend and twist and flip in ways that quite literally defy gravity. They are also the toughest athletes you will ever meet. I’m a fairly lazy individual, if we are being honest, and so I cannot really imagine the kind of dedication and ambition it takes to get to the top of this sport. But I can sure as hell admire it in others. And gymnasts really are the toughest.

Of course, this level of toughness brings up some ethical questions. Should Jordyn Weiber have been allowed to compete on a leg with a stress fracture? Team doctor Larry Nassar noted that he was a bit worried that the pain might cause her to land on her head and break her neck, which is certainly a worry;  on the other hand, its the Olympic Games. Jo has been training for this her entire life.

I think it comes down to a cost benefit analysis. If competing on a stress fracture is going to cause inevitable lasting damage to your body that may never recover, maybe don’t do it. If it is “just” dealing with tremendous pain, well…

One of the things that I find horrifying about gymnastics is the stories of abuse that leak out. Recently Dominique Moceanu penned a book about her experiences, which are mostly pretty terrible. She details a lot of abuse. And there are horror stories from the Soviet days especially.

But several things make me feel better about this. One is that the age of gymnasts is slowly increasing. More and more athletes are in the 18-20 range and therefore less likely to put up with crap. The other is the rise of accessible social media. Even the girls at Round Lake are on facebook. Quite honestly, its going to be a lot harder as the world gets smaller to perpetuate abuses of any kind. More access to social media and to the rest of the world means that your voice can be heard.

Obviously I’m sure there are still many many issues. McKayla Maroney–one of my favorites–has a coach who I think is a total creep. obviously Al Fong is just Mr. Creepster. Etc etc.

But here’s what I meant to write about today: why gymnastics is a feminist sport. For me, there is really something in the idea that if these were guys competing –or rather, when the guys compete–no one puts on their concerned faces and asks if they are OK, if they are strong enough, etc. We need to do the same with the female athletes. We need to trust women–and girls–to know their own bodies, and their own limits. These athletes are not stupid. Are some of them probably in bad coaching situations? Well, yes. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Most gymnasts are strong minded, mentally tough athletes who can do things that you can’t even imagine. And let’s trust them to know for themselves what does and does not make sense. We can do this in part by encouraging ALL girls to know their bodies and their limits.

So. Congratulations, ladies. Aliya Mustafina gets a special award for coming back from an ACL tear just over a year ago to win bars, plus bronzes in the AA and floor finals and of course silver in the team. Gabby Douglas, what a victory for her, and how great to have the first woman of color win the AA (now shut the fuck up about her hair).  McKayla Maroney did the best vault anyone has ever done. Sui Lu and Deng Linlin showed us how beam should be done. Sandra Izbasa had an utterly hypnotizing floor routine. Her teammate Catalina Ponor did her fantastic beam routine. Jordyn Weiber–competing on a broken leg–came back after disappointment and helped her team to win. Oksana Chusovitna, one of the all time greats, finally said goodbye to the sport at the age of 37 in her 6th Olympics. Beth Tweddle finally got her Olympic medal in front of a home crowd. And the vault finals reminded us just how unpredictable the sport is. Come to think of it, almost every stage of the meet was full of surprises, which is nice in some ways–its good to have things shaken up a bit! Although of course I wish McKayla had won vault.

The other thing that is awesome about the Games–and I think this is true of all sports, but lets be honest, there’s only one I really care about–is how epic it feels. A lot of it is that its only every four years, so its not like we as a country–or a world–watch frequently enough to get tired of it, or weary of the emotional flood. Part of it is all of the fluff and the manufactured drama, which btw is just silliness–there is plenty of drama without manufacturing any. How could it be otherwise, when you have people who have trained their entire lives for this one moment? And part of it is just the scope. This is the big show. This is where it all comes to fruition. This is what you work for, what you push your body for, quite beyond its usual limits. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

At any rate. Congratulations to all of the marvelous athletes who competed on the biggest stage there is. I hope you enjoyed the ride.


everybody do the Dougie

Well.

Last year–and maybe even at Classics and Nationals this year–when Gabby Douglas was falling all over the place, especially on beam, who on earth would have thought that Gabby–our Gabby!–would win the Olympics?

Not me, that’s for damn sure.

So what happened today?

we started with five. Larissa Iodarche was never a huge contender after her showing in podium training and the team competitions. So Larissa was out.

And then there were four.

Vault started out with a bang, with Gabby doing a terrific Amanar. Her biggest mistake came on the landing when she very nearly stepped out–but she didn’t quite, and had to bend her body severely. But she kept her foot in. Aly Raisman, meanwhile, did a nice Amanar with a large hop. Vika Komova did a beautiful in the air Amanar but failed to fight for the landing, stepping off the mat. This is basically where Vika lost the meet.

On bars, Aly hit a bar routine for the first time in AA in major international meet. Aly has always been able to hit for the team, but this is the first time I’ve seen her be able to hit bars for herself. Both Aliya and Vika did just beautiful bar routines. I cannot tell you how beautiful they were. The trouble, of course, was that Gabby’s was just about as good. HUGE releases, beautiful form. Her usual self.

Beam was the make it or break it event…kind of.

For Aly and Aliya it made a huge difference. Aliya came off on her arabian but was otherwise very solid. Aly–for basically the first time I’ve ever seen–wobbled like crazy, including putting her hand down at one point. It was totally uncharacteristic of her. Aly basically never lets beam get to her. But today she did.

Meanwhile, both Vika and Gabby–who used to be known as headcases on beam!–both hit fantastic routines. Oh maybe 1 or 2 bobbles here or there, but overall, these two were just fantastic on the event. Clean, crisp, confident.

So it came down to floor.

Aliya hit extremely well. So did Aly, although she took out her punch fronts.

Gabby went up. And Gabby hit. Every landing was not perfect, but her routine overall was terrific. She came off the floor not sure if it would be enough.

Especially not once Vika went up. Vika has long been known as an inconsistent floor worker, but she went out during this meet and hit the best floor routine I’ve seen her do, and one of the best floor routines I’ve ever seen anyone do. It was amazing. Beautiful, great landings that she actually fought for–just incredible.

But it was not enough. Even though Vika and Aliya stood praying, it was not enough.

Here’s what it comes down to. Well, first lets address the bronze. Aliya and Aly tied exactly, but because the IOC sucks, no ties are allowed, and the tiebreaker went to Aliya. This is probably fair as it was based on execution, and Aliya’s is better, no question. Aliya did fall, but Aly was very very wobbly, and although part of me wishes Aly had won, she has done better at these Games than anyone expected . More on that tomorrow!

But here’s what happened with Gabby. It was quite simple, really, simpler than I think some folks on the gymternet are making it out to be.

Vika Komova made one major mistake when she did not fight for her landing on her vault.

Gabby Douglas made no major mistakes.

Gymnastics is an unforgiving sport. It just is. And tonight, Gabby was more perfect than Vika, and that’s what the medals reflect.


What to Watch for–AA

 

 

Well, today is the day when we do what I suspect Al will call “crowning the queen of gymnastics.”

There are basically two gymnasts battling for gold:

Gabby Douglas and Vika Komova are the most likely contenders for the top honors. Gabby is coming into this meet with the experience of hitting all four routines in a pressure packed competition; she was only US gymnast to compete All Around in team finals and she did fantastically. She is also coming in with a sky high AA score from TFs and the feeling of having already won big. In this case, of course, Gabby will be competing not for her team but for herself. This could either work for or against her; there is less pressure, which helps some girls and seems to mess up others. And although Gabby has hit beam wonderfully here, let’s not forget that she can be quite headcasey on the event. I’ve never seen her miss bars and her vault and floor should be basically fine–its possible there might be a stumble here or there–but her beam can be either wonderful or a disaster.

Komova is coming in with the highest qualifying score and a strong need for redemption after having a somewhat rough day in Team Finals. She didn’t mess up too too much, but she made some mistakes at the end of her beam set. She also did not compete floor in TFs but is capable of hitting well. However, Komova has an annoying tendency to headcase, especially on beam and to a lesser extent on floor. It is not at al unheard of for her to be on beam, feel like she going to fall, and jump off. I hope she can go out there and hit cleanly without talking herself out of it, but that’s an open question.

Aliya Mustafina is one pissed off diva (expect NBC to use diva roughly eight thousand times in their coverage tonight; for them “diva” means “tough competitor”). Musty wanted to win team gold badly, and she was the best gymnast in the world for awhile until she tore her ACL. Like Vika, she is looking for redemption here; she is also looking to reclaim her previous position as the best. However, Musty doesn’t have all of her old skills back, and although she usually has nerves of steel in TFs she wobbled all over the place on beam. If she busts out her rumored Amanar, lands it without breaking anything else, AND hits everything else, she’s a contender.

Other contenders:

Aly Raisman: She won’t medal without big mistakes from the others because of bars. Aly just doesn’t have a great bars set. Now, she has done just a TON of work on this event in the past year or so and it looks better than it used to–but it is nowhere near as good at the other three gymnasts I’ve discussed. It just isn’t. Furthermore, Aly has never hit bars in an All Around final in a major international meet. She seems to be able to hit just fine when its for the team, but less so when its just for herself (which is kind of endearing actually).  But look for her to hit big on beam and especially floor.

Larissa Iordache: This Romanian pixie is crazy cute. She was a favorite until she got to London and it became clear that she is a bit injured. She will still compete, but I don’t expect her to medal without major mistakes from the big three. Her bars also kind of suck, like most Romanian bars, which will hold her back from real success. Her beam and floor can be awesome though.

Rounding out the field are 19 gymnasts who don’t have a prayer unless the above five all falter quite badly, but they will still provide some exciting gymnastics. In particular look for Vanessa Ferrari on floor, Hannah Whelan of GBR to make a strong showing in front of her home crowd, and watch the Chinese to see if they can manage to hit as they are capable of doing.

So. Russia vs the USA, once again.

Oh. One more thing. Yes it sucks that Jordyn Weiber is not in this race. It really does. But let’s let the girls who made it have this, OK? We don’t need to discuss Jo constantly. Two per country sucks especially now that the Soviets are gone, but that is the rule, and Jo is a good enough sport–and friend–to be there cheering her friends on. Would the competition be tougher and more interesting if she HAD made it? Yes. But she did not, and so let’s accept reality and move on.

 

My predictions:

1. Gabby Douglas

2. Aliya Mustafina

3. Vika Komova (I just think she is going to wobble too much!)

4. Aly Raisman

5. Larisa Iordache

6. Vanessa Ferrari

7. Hannah Whelan

8. Huang Quashang

 


Utter Domination

I think that is the only way to describe what the United States women’s gymnastics team did today.

The girls were the favorites going in, but we all knew that Russia and possibly Romania/China could fight them for it. However the US did qualify in first, and they have been close to unbeatable this quad.

But we also knew there were some issues. Jordyn Weiber, as we know, missed out on an AA berth. McKayla Maroney was competing on a reinjured broken toe and coming off a concussion and nasal fracture at Nationals. Gabby Douglas would be on beam, where she not infrequently falls. What would happen when the pressure was really on, in an unforgiving three up three count format?

The US started on vault, and holy shit was it big. We are now the United States of Amanar, with Jo, Gabby and McKayla all doing the very difficult vaults. Jo and Gabby were both clean with nearly stuck vaults. Best Amanar Jo has ever done. McKayla, meanwhile, did what might be the best vault ever done. It was stuck cold, it was crisp and clean and tight and beautiful, and really there is no excuse for her getting such a low score–and it was still the highest score of the meet. McKayla should have gotten a 10 E score, period. Seriously.

The Russians, meanwhile, did their best, with a stuck DTY from Mustafina, a step on the red fir Komova and a big step off the mat from Pasaka.

On bars, Russia did a great job. A really great rotation for them, for real, and they narrowed the gap. After three spectacular routines (Komova, Mustafina, Grishina) they were behind by .399.

But the US also hit. Weiber kicked things off with a good, if not fabulous, bars set; she was a little muscled but it was definitely hit. Then Kyla did her job, with a clean, lovely bars set. And finally Gabby came around and did her usual bars routine, with its crazy-high releases. Seriously. Crazy. JUST SO HIGH.

On beam, the US went first–more on that in a sec–and the pressure appeared to hit Mother Russia. Mustafina and Komova were both extremely wobbly, and in fact the latter was overscored. Surprisingly, Afanasyeva–not always known as the best competitor–was nearly flawless on the event.

But the US? Well. Kyla went up and hit with maybe 2 tiny bobbles. Gabby went next, and I had a hard time watching to be honest. But she was so, so good. She hit better than I’ve ever seen. There were again a few tiny bobbles, but it was fantastic. And Aly came up and was quite

and hit her usual routine (although she actually played it safe with her first pass, taking out the punch layout). I hope she had fun. Aly was a great leader throughout the meet. At one point I heard her tell Gabby that her bars score was one of the highest, and that now she needed to go to beam and be steady, hit her landings like Marta says, etc. It was adorable.

And of course it was enough. They won. They won big, by five points. They were utterly dominant. They were basically untouchable. They made a few mistakes, but they were very, very tiny mistakes.

Other stories that came out of TF? Well, Russia did an OK job, but really their only excellent rotation was bars. They were fantastic on that event–truly fantastic–but it was nowhere near enough, if you are going to then headcase the other three.

Romania, who has had to rebuild their program after 2004, did a nice job getting bronze. Cata Ponor especially was awesome on beam. China basically just kept making dumb mistakes but still landed in 4th. Meanwhile, Canada had an amazing story, ending up fifth! That is by far their highest finish ever, and good for them. Great Britain, Italy and Japan finished in the final three slots.

But what this evening will be remembered for is the utterly dominant showing of the American woman. What a night. Of redemption for Jo. Of confidence for Gabby. Of doing the best vault the world has ever seen for McKayla. Of being clean and crisp for Kyla. Of leadership for Aly.

;

Congratulations, Fierce Five.


Sometimes Things Just Suck

 

For many years now Jordyn Weiber has been the Next Big Thing in the sport of women’s gymnastics. after 2008, focus naturally shifted to the next cycle, the next Olympic Games. For a long time Jordyn was considered the anointed one. Breathless commentators talked about her big skills, her fairly clean form, the fact that she was basically unbeatable for years, the way her coach rested her for 9 months with a hamstring issue.

All the praise was–and is–absolutely deserved. Jo is one of the best gymnasts to come along in years. Her consistency especially has been just extraordinary. Jo wiped the field in virtually every competition she entered.  I saw her win one of her first junior nationals over Sami Shapiro, and even then, she was amazingly steady.

After she turned senior, Jo turned into the It Girl of gymnastics. Although especially after her amazing (and unofficially Jo-beating) performance at the American Cup Gabby Douglas was starting to take that label, I think pretty much everyone believed that Jo would make a strong case for herself in the All Around, quite possibly winning.

Then in prelims yesterday, something shocking happened. I am not using the word shocking lightly. It was really and truly a giant shake up. I don’t know enough about sports to really offer any other comparisons, but it was shocking.

How did it happen? Well, for that we will need to look at 2 different things.

One is Jo’s performance. She was quite, quite good, but she made a few small mistakes, out of bounds on floor, missed a handstand on bars–again, nothing huge, but mistakes. Her connections on beam did not credited, which even her coach admitted a few months ago might be a problem. Why he did not fix that is beyond me, anyone could have told him that!

The other is the depth of the US program. The fact is, the US has enough very talented gymnasts that we could probably have fielded two complete teams that would be very competitive.We always knew that Gabby Douglas would be the other AA competitor if she hit, and in fact she was.

But people always tend to forget about Aly Raisman. One of the things that pisses me off about the gymternet is how much flack this girl gets; no, she cannot dance, but we are not watching fucking ballet. These are athletes. They do not have to prance around. I give her frankly less of a pass for her form in some areas, but Aly has worked very hard to get her form and flexibility up to par. Still, I don’t think I heard a single person suggest seriously that Aly would make AA over Jo.

But she did. Aly did some of the best routines–especially on vault and bars–that she has ever done, and she and Gabby were both just a little better than Jo.

That’s the genuinely hard truth about how it is at the top. Gabby, Aly and Jo are ALL tremendous gymnasts. They all do crazy-hard skills. They all work harder than most people can imagine. And the part that really sucks, and that is also the entire point of sports? Not everybody can win.

 

I hope sincerely that Jo can put those past her. She remains one of the best gymnasts this country has seen. She is a great, great athlete. I hope that she can pull everything she knows together and kick some ass, for her team and then, in floor finals, for herself.

 

 


Bingo/Drinking Games

Use any combo of the below for bingo cards, making sure to split the three lists evenly; alternatively, drinking game. (first list is sip, second list is shot, third list is chug. Chug doesn’t always mean bad!)

list 1:

Tim says “kid on a playground”

Elfie talks up Canada

Tim tells us what it feels like to be competing at the Games

Al uses the word “diverse”

The camera does an extreme close up of Marta’s intense face

Al does a deep, melodramatic voice to narrate fluff

Al starts a sentence and then loses track of what he is talking about

Tim uses the phrase “one of the all time greats”

Bob Costas interrupts the actual gymnastics to tell us about some other damn sport

Nastia Luikin makes an appearance

dos Santos goes OOB

Weiber, Douglas, or Raisman land a scary Amanar

Komova or Paseka lands a scary Amanar

Maroney lands a beautiful, beautiful vault

leotards clash with the pink gym

Tim/Elfie says a gymnast is “happy with that”

list 2:

Bob Costas plays “Ring the Bela”

You learn about Ponor’s waxing habits (or Izbasa’s)

Any of the Trio mention WOGA and their lack of competing athletes

Any former Olympic gymnast is mentioned

The camera shows Yin Alverez jumping

Nastia Luikin makes an appearance wearing hooker heels

Al discusses the Bronx with some strong classist undercurrents

Al discusses John with terms such as “adversity” “challenges” “gone through” “been through”

someone hops on a PH dismount

someone vaults an FTY

Al says “un.real.” very slowly

Fluff shows John’s life in horror move b/w with horror movie music

Tim/Elfie says a gymnast is “not happy about that”
(list 3)

Douglas wobbles on beam

Pena splats a Prod

Raisman medals on floor

Al says something really creepy (example, from Pan Ams a couple years ago: “And now Rebecca Bross will take everything off….of her hands.”)

Pena lands a Prod

Komova wobbles on beam and jumps off

Tweddle wins bars

a leotard blinds you

someone–anyone–makes an incredible save, e.g. missing a foot on beam and still staying on or making dismount

someone breaks a bone or tears a ligament (please no)