Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Tweddle II: this time its personal

Having spent the last fortnight on a sun lounger drinking rose and burning to a crisp, I returned to the UK this morning with a hangover, a fantastic tan and severe gymnastics withdrawal symptoms. Although the former lingers on, the latter has been thoroughly quenched by a good few hours of forum and youtube scouring. And what a find this was.......

I love Beth Tweddle, as is probably painfully transparent to any readers of this blog. I think she is a fantastic gymnast (not without fault, though, but I like that in an athlete). One thing that is impossible to fault her on, though, is her fighting spirit. Her drive and determination and clear commitment to the sport. These qualities clearly drive her and her coach to keep pushing Beth’s routines, and the results can be genuinely breathtaking.
When I first saw her perform the Tweddle I was literally gobsmacked. When I first saw it I couldn’t even understand the mechanics of what she was doing. The way she drop so quickly into that half twist regrasp is just brilliant and would be enough alone, but then comes the immediate Ezhova to crown her as the queen of release combinations. It was really, for me, a standout moment in modern gymnastics: seeing not only a British gymnast, but an “older” one, performing at the forefront of ingenuity and execution in the sport.
...and it now seems she is doing it again. This video, which clearly popped up around a week ago, shows Beth performing what appears to be an Arabian full out. My jaw dropped again. If she can make this competition ready by Tokyo it would surely be one of the skills of the championships (for me, anyway). Imagine the combinations.....could she manage a 1.5 twist leading into this? Or if not then do a 1.5 into the Dos Santos? Any of the options are super exciting, and I cannot wait to see if she pulls it out.
First the Sacramone and now the Tweddle II. I am gonna have to keep my fingers permanently crossed for the next few weeks...

Monday, 12 September 2011

Favourite routines - Chellsie Memmel on floor, night 2 of the 2008 Olympic Trials

People always talk about Chellsie Memmel in 2003. They talk about how she was thrown on a world team with very little experience, and how she rose to the challenge fantastically to become one of their highest scoring members. People always seem to remember this Chellsie Memmel. But the Chellsie I like to remember is the Chellsie from the 2008 Olympic Trials.
Who can honestly say they expected what we saw from her? 2007 wasn’t a great year for Chellsie, but she came roaring back in 2008, proving to the world what a strong, gifted gymnast she was. Of all her routines in this competition, my favourite by far is her floor from night 2.

It is exciting from the beginning. I love the way the music crashes in right from the beginning, leading into that powerful sprint into the huge double piked Arabian, which just hangs in the air. And then back again for that double layout – which I always love as a second pass, it must require so much energy!
What I particularly love about this routine, though, is that it proves that there can be fantastic non balletic floor routines. Chellsie isn’t known for her choreography, but this routine was so full of energy and explosive power and interesting artistry achieved in a different way, that it didn’t matter a shred. I am of course referring mainly to the combination beginning with Chellsie’s signature illusion turn...that front handspring to straddle sit with bounce back up to stand is so original and cool – its little details like that which make a routine in my opinion, and really set Chellsie apart from the crowd.
Having said that though, it never hurts to stick a double pike. I don’t think I have seen one landed like that, before or since. Like an arrow into the ground, not even a flicker. And the energy in that room looked amazing...her standing ovation well deserved.
One of the comments on the youtube video is: “This is THE American routine of the decade”. I have to agree. I can’t think of a floor routine by an American woman I have enjoyed more, certainly since 2000 at least. The energy, the power, the music, the non balletic choreography, right down to that great ending pose. I love it all. And thats why Chellsie Memmel on night 2 of the 2008 olympic trials is among my favourite routines of all time. What an unbelievable shame she got injured (but then again given how much she has improved this year we may see a parallel performance at the 2012 olympic trials!)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Wednesday Whining - The NBC terrible trio

I hadn’t planned to write anything on this topic in its own right, but given that my bitterness towards the NBC commentators seems to spill out onto every post, I thought I might as well get it out of my system in one, well organized shout. Nice and tidy.

So in that way of thinking, I have broken down my hatred of a thousand burning flames (that was a slight exaggeration) into some efficient sub-headed groups. An itemized bitch, if you will. So, the following are just a selection of reasons as to why I hate the NBC trio.


Reason 1: Tim doesn’t know how to use words.

So yes, again I chose to slightly exaggerate the problem for this subheading. But seriously, I wonder if Tim actually thinks at all before he speaks sometimes. The issue is, that in trying to speak interestingly and with intelligence, he makes silly blunders that sound awkward and enrage the viewer (me). I am all for not repeating the same words over and over again. It is bad practice in writing, and it is bad practice in TV (see what I did there). But, someone should tell Tim that this does not mean that any old verb or adjective will do. RELEVANCE is key, Tim. My key example here is from the 2009 VISA championships, with David Sender’s vault on day two.

Now, Tim, I am here to help with some definitions. The following is the Oxford English Dictionary definition for that choice verb “jettison”:



[with object]

throw or drop (something) from an aircraft or ship:six aircraft jettisoned their loads in the sea

abandon or discard (someone or something that is no longer wanted):the scheme was jettisoned


So as we can see, this verb deals exclusively with goods dropped from various avian or marine transportation, or on occasion a metaphoric term for something disposed of. Now let us think rationally about its application to vaulting in gymnastics. Or actually, let’s not, because no rational person would ever place these concepts together. Unless of course, Tim genuinely expected David to be dropped onto the vaulting table from a light aircraft, but then again that’s more of an Al Trautwig-like assumption (“guys do we think that will score well?”)

To conclude, if you want to spice up your commentary, develop a better vocabulary, not just a wider one.


Reason 2: they are incapable of reporting sport impartially

I won’t give the team too much blame here: we all have our favourites, and we all love to see a home athlete on top, but it is important in the role of commentator to not let this affect your outlook on the field too much. For example, when the trio talk about Aliya Mustafina, they spend about as much time talking her up as some bitchy, difficult little diva as they do talking about her skills (if I am perfectly honest I don’t like Mustafina either, BUT I don’t like her because of her untidy legs and chucked vaults – THOSE are the kinds of things a commentator should be speaking about). They did the same with Khorkina: “she loves to model, been in some magazines, some of dubious taste. Perhaps, but that has no bearing on her performance as a gymnast, so shut up. Oh and yes, Al, she is ready for her close up. We get the reference. Move on.

Tied in with this is the fact that they appear perfectly contented to speak over another gymnasts performance to carry on a conversation about one of their own. This is impolite, unprofessional and unnecessary.

To draw a parallel, at the 2011 Europeans the British commentary team were about to commentate on the high bar final featuring the great Epke Zonderland, who Mitch Fenner does some coaching for. They made reference to this and made a segment about impartiality.


Reason 3: Stupid comparisons

Again, this considers primarily good old Tim Daggett, and those oh so irritating gymnastics analogies he continues to reel off, particularly on the uneven bars.

We all know the drill: “she looks like a kid on a playground up there”, “looks like fun don’t it?!” etc etc.

Again, Tim, let me help you out a little here. I am one of four children and as of very recently, an uncle. Therefore I would say I am pretty qualified in terms of kids on playgrounds and what they look like. However, for those that maybe don’t, the drill tend to be as follows: little chubby cute child approaches the swing set/monkey bars etc, mounts after some considerable effort, giggles and has a nice time doing very little, occasionally says “look at me” and more often than not, falls off and does a lot of loud crying.

Now, let me spell out the key differences. Children do not do handstands. Nor do they do tkachevs, giengers, full turns, half turns, endos, onos, paks, mos, healys – you get the picture. Essentially what I am trying to point out is that, in fact, a child looks nothing like a gymnast. I would go as far as to say that the comparison is quite derogatory – these athletes have trained for years to do what they do, so don’t belittle what they are doing as childsplay. What I think Tim means is that they make it look easy and their skill allows them to make their routines look as if they are having fun and not expending huge amounts of energy. SO SAY THAT TIM.

Some key examples:

 Anna Pavlova - 2004 AA Uneven Bars

Nastia Liukin 2008 Visa Championships day 2 Uneven Bars
(I AM telling you Tim, it doesn't)

Reason 4: Al is creepy.

I am referring of course to Al’s classic faux pas whilst talking about Nastia Liukin at the 2008 olympics.

Now let me be clear, I am not in any way insinuating that Al actually is a creep or meant to be creepy, I am certain he was being completely innocent minded and did not mean to come across at all strange. However, I think it just indicates how this team should think more before they speak. There is always a danger of strange undertones when watching and commentating on gymnastics, given that the girls are young and leotards are leotards: so just don’t say things like this. Simple.

(Reason 5: Elfi annoys me. Childish yes, but hey, I was a teenager not long ago)



So there we are. NBC trio: think more, know your gymnastics, ditch the daft comparisons and recognize that there are other gymnasts outside the USA. Rant over!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Waiting for "The Sacramone"

During the next few days, somewhere in Houston, Texas, a piece of gymnastics may be performed that the world of die hard fans waits for with baited breath. I am talking, of course, about what may come to be known as “The Sacramone”, the first eponymous skill of the fantastic vault world champion Alicia Sacramone.
I would be surprised if fans of the sport have yet to hear about this, but if not, check out this training video which surfaced a few weeks ago:

As we can see, “The Sacramone” is a handspring straight 1 and a half somersault with two twists: TWO TWISTS. Thats the same number as a DTY, but flipping forwards and set up only by a handspring entry. You can see why this person chose to put Katy Perry’s firework over the top of this video: to even attempt this vault would require huge levels of explosive power, but luckily that is one of Alicia’s strong points.
But that isn’t all Alicia has to her name. In a time where we see freeze frames of gymnasts blocking on difficult vaults resembling squashed insects, Alicia has impeccable form – pencil straight from head to toe. Matching such explosive power with such control and attention to detail is what makes Alicia such an exciting vaulter to watch. Even in this training video her form is great....imagine what it looks like now (if it is still being trained).
At the moment I feel like a kid on Christmas eve. There is nothing better than watching gymnastics coverage, crisp quality and good commentary, and knowing that the next thing a gymnast will throw is something you have never seen before. It is hugely exciting. Take, for instance, the 2000 Olympic team finals when Khorkina first threw the Khorkina II - what a moment. I am never reserved about my less than favourable opinions on NBC commentary, but in this moment I have some fondness for them and their excitement.

Now let’s just hope, if Alicia does submit this vault, that it gets the huge D score it deserves. Bringing this to worlds would most definitely help Alicia’s cause of repeating as vault world champion: something I would love to see happen as I am sure would fans of difficultly and preciseness the world over. Good luck, Alicia!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Mariya Livchikova - a Ghent highlight

Of all the coverage from today’s Ghent Challenger Cup finals, the standout for me was most definately Ukrainian  Mariya Livchikova

This is, obviously, not the first we have seen from Mariya in competition: I personally saw her for the first time at this year’s Europeans. This does seem to be, however, the first time she has performed consistently and shown the world her true potential.
What she has shown is that she is a fantastic gymnast. Her lines are clean, long and graceful, yet she is also powerful. Her double front is one of the very best I have ever seen (and may even challenge the spot for my all time favourite, by Ivana Hong in 2008). Although her music is nice and what choreography is present is performed well, you can’t help but feel she has much more to offer in terms of artistry: with better music and dance it could be one of the floor routines of the whole quad.
I find Mariya’s gymnastics most exciting, though, on the balance beam: the combinations she competes are so difficult and so original that it makes me forgive her entirely any wobbles. I first saw her front handspring to immediate front tuck at the Europeans earlier this year and fell in love with it: the front handspring actually works with and feeds into the front tuck unlike some other similar combinations (namely Lauren Mitchells free walkover into front tuck – a laborious connection which does not flow and produces an insanely low tuck). Also, Mariya shows an arial walkover into layout stepout connection reminiscent of the great Olesya Dudnik. My personal favorite, however, is her split handstand directly into a tucked arabian somersault: as far as I can tell the code of points does not reward this combination with bonus which only makes me love it more. It seems to show genuine attention to detail, artistry and presentation.
With some polish, choreography and music changes and perhaps a few upgrades, this gymnast could be a real contender at the world and Olympic level. I would love for this to happen: a real win for artistry, originality, and for a once great gymnastic nation whose fortunes have taken a slide in recent years.
Congratulations to Mariya for her floor gold and balance beam silver.

Challenger Cup Qualifications

Getting very excited about this weekend Challenger Cup in Ghent: what a lineup! The highlight has to be young wonder Viktoria Komova, a girl whose gymnastics has to be described as amongst the most simultaenously difficult and beautiful I have ever seen.

Her beam:

Although not without its problems, her lines are just exquisite. It is so refreshing to see such great execution on layout stepouts. Shame that the super hard Patternson dismount is missing, but I realise she has been injured. Hoping it will be back soon!

Nice to see Jiang Yuyuan and Wu liufang back too! Lots of excitement for the finals later.

Favourite Routines: Svetlana Khorkina Floor 1996 and 1997

I am a huge fan of Svetlana Khorkina: an admission which is probably received with a groan by other gymnastics fans. Why? Because she is the classic gymnastics pin up, the classic favourite, and people get sick of hearing about it.

But, unlike many Sveta fans, I am not in any denial. She was overscored. Time and time again, particularly in the latter half of her career and particularly (in my humble opinion) on the floor exercise. Time and time again I watch her floor routines from 2000-2004, and each time I wonder how they put the score together. The tumbling, for the most part, is weak. Yes it is often well executed: her twisting was brilliant and her triple was usually exquisite, but her double pike in 2003/2004 was a total knee eater. It is difficult for me to enjoy her tumbling when it looked like her emaciated frame might snap under the pressure of her way-too-deep-landed double somersaults.
But the one thing I couldn’t understand more than any other was the commentary on her dance. Over and over again, people stated that her tumbling was redeemed by superior grace and choreography. Grace, yes. But choreography? I could only ever see prancing (well timed prancing, but prancing nonetheless) and corner posing. For real choreography from Svetlana, we have to look back in time to her floor routines between 1995 and 1997.
Her Carmen was fantastic. Expressive, original and gripping. I love everything about it: the opening straight into a sprint into that brilliant triple then rebounding into a super original roundoff half twist jump to front walkover, the twisting leap series to shushunova and that ridiculous, show-off ending. It was fantastic.
1997 brought a calmer, more serene exercise. I am not without my thoughts on this one: the music is nice, but something about it makes it sound cheap. Sort of like the kind of thing Shirley Hasting’s might dance to in Strictly Ballroom (for those who don't understand this reference, you are missing out: what a film). But the beauty was still there.
I love Khorkina’s gymnastics, but I lost faith in her floor routines as time went on, and that’s why her 1996/1997 routines remain amongst my favourites.