Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Sadly, since the 2011 VISA championships ended a few days ago, this is the lasting memory which reverberates round my head. Not the sound of cheers, not the creak of the bars, not the smack of a stuck dismount and not even (somewhat thankfully) the grating idiocy of the NBC trio. Instead it is the sound of Rebecca Bross’ right kneecap being crunched out of position by a bombed double twisting yurchenko. This was the devastating end to a championships that, although filled with the joy and anticipation of Olympic comebacks, was marred by a previously unparalleled number of errors and falls.

The questions that remain now are various. Is there blame to be laid for poor Rebecca’s injury? If so, where does it lie? In the wake of this splatfest championship, what hope now for the USA in Tokyo?
If one was so inclined, a case could definitely be made for this injury as part of a turning point in gymnastics history, when coupled with the unfortunate demise of Aliya Mustafina at this year’s Europeans. Is the code of points to blame? For years people have speculated that the open ended scoring system encourages gymnasts to become circus like tricksters, slamming out highly rated acrobatic elements to beef up a D-score. However, the key difference here is not necessarily the difficulty: Tatiana Gutsu was throwing a standing full back in 1991 (to use but one of many, many examples). Rather, the issue is that with the current coding gymnasts are rewarded for competing skills that they clearly cannot complete to a high enough standard for top level athletes. Back in the 10 system, taking a fall or a wobble on a very difficult skill was less preferable to nailing an easier one, hence we saw less inaccuracy and hence the new code hailed the rise of “skill chucking”.
One struggles to find a better example of this than Aliya Mustafina’s yurchenko 2.5, her performance of which is only rivalled in terms of sloppiness, poor form and terrible blocking by her teammate Tatiana Nabieva. On that day back in April when slow motion cameras captured Aliya landing with bent, messy legs and landing shock ricocheting through her right leg and tearing her ACL, many gymnastics fans around the world new that it had been a question of when, and not if. Aliya should not have been competing that Amanar, not just because she wasn’t good at the skill but also because at the European championships, she did not need to. However, she and her coaches were encouraged by a code which was rewarding a messy, unsightly and frankly dangerous piece of gymnastics.
In similar fashion, Rebecca Bross did not need to complete a DTY at the VISA championships. It was clear to everyone watching from the very beginning that for Rebecca’s health and safety, a vault downgrade was needed (and arguably also on her beam dismount, a twice incomplete and scarily landed Patterson). However,  it was competed regardless and as a result, one of the most talented and promising gymnasts in the world is now recovering from a serious knee injury, when she could have been in the gym getting her skills back at a sensible pace.
Let’s hope the American’s, and the world, learn something from vaulting this year. After all, what true gymnastics fan would prefer a career threatening Amanar to a pencil straight, beautifully executed 1.5 yurchenko? Those who are unsure should take a look at Tatiana Nabieva 2009 vs Nastia Liukin 2008. There really is no contest.

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