Friday, 28 October 2011

Pan Ams: what did they mean for the US girls?

Pan Ams were a real post-worlds treat, and somewhat eased the misery of the annual anticlimax (when worlds are over and you realise you have another YEAR to wait, although thankfully next year is an OLYMPIC one). But what did the Pan Ams show us? I thought I would give a brief breakdown of what I think it told us about each of the three main US competitors.

Shawn Johnson

SJ is coming under a lot of fire from many fans. Not making the world team, having what is said to be an unreliable knee and not having floor back yet have provided lots of fuel for people who consider Shawn less than favourably.

Her performance here didn’t exactly do much to dispel people who already thought she was finished. She fell from her signature apparatus twice, firstly on her standing full and secondly (and surprisingly) on her switch split. Her vault was fine, but nothing to write home about.

Her bars, however, were good. In fact, she has even gone on to scoop a silver medal in the event finals. At first, I was surprised. But when I thought about this initial reaction, I began to wonder why.
Shawn has become tarred over the years as a bad bar worker. But what are the reasons for this? Sure, she didn’t have the most difficult of routines back in her heyday, but this (I think) was more of a bad coaching decision rather than anything specific to her as an athlete. I have actually always been quite fond of her bars. They are RELIABLE. She always hits and her execution is some of the very best. Perhaps always going up alongside Nastia made everyone think she wasn’t up to the job, but let’s not forget that she was in fact in the 3 up 3 count bars lineup for the US team in 2008. You don’t end up in that spot by being a bad bar worker.
AND she is upgrading. Nothing too dramatic, but she has a few weiler kips in her routine now, and word is that she might throw in a shaposhnikova some time soon. All in all, I think her bars are pretty impressive, and that some of the reasons she was viewed poorly on this apparatus is due to comparisons with Nastia and also as a victim of her own success (she was so bloody good on all the other apparatus that bars seemed comparatively bad).

Bit of an error at the top, but on the whole a good effort.


This competition showed that Shawn can still hit a good bar set under pressure.

As for her beam: who cares? Sure she has had a few falls, but she is upgrading here too. She could have done a back tuck in this routine and got through OK, but she is trying and showing a clear intention for upgrade. I think the switch split fall should be totally discounted because it is so uncharacteristic - her mind was probably somewhere else. Basically, there are plenty of positives to focus on: she has most of her 2008 skills back and she looks a lot more solid on her arial. Things are not bad here.

Vault is fine, nothing to write home about but she is still clearly powerful. Bross would have killed for that DTY 2 months ago.

To summarize, Shawn is still Shawn, she just needs time to tidy up. And she DOES have time, in my opinion. I think she is exactly the kind of athlete who you cannot count out until the very last minute (although is Nastia’s comeback works then she will be really squeezed to impress on floor and vault).

Bridget Sloan

I have to admit that I really didn’t like Bridget in 2008/2009. I found her really boring and I failed to have any faith in her as a world champion. I thought she epitomized “weak field” and went onto my boring world champions pile alongside Olaru and Ferrari.

But I was wrong. I grew to really like Bridget with time and as I learnt more about gymnastics I gained a lot of respect for her. I especially grew to enjoy her floor: her piked full in has to be my favourite of the decade and her 1.5 to triple was really nice too.

I also liked her bars. She changed the routine up a lot and I respect a gymnast with a good variety of skills. Some combinations, such as the full pirouette into a DLO, were great even thought they didn’t stick around for very long. I loved how she kept working to improve her routines: one thing I hate in a bar routine is stop and start bar work. I would far rather see a tkatchev connected to or from something than a series of stop and start high bar releases.

Sadly the foot injury confined her to two events, but I think a lot of what we saw was positive. One serious point though is that she looked worn out. Everything seemed a bit laboured. I hope this was due to the foot injury (which sounds mean - I of course don’t “want” her to have a painful injury but at least that would mean her fatigue would be temporary: if it is just the way she is now I can’t see her faring well given the stresses that the Olympic road would bring).

Having said that though, her bars were still good. I love that toe on forward giant on the low bar and it looks better now that when she first competed it. Her floor wasn’t half bad, either. Her double pike is still one of the best in the world and the girl can still do a front double (once would have been fine Bridget).

First pass is missing, allegedly a 1.5 to triple as in the past. The second pass should have been a 2.5. 

I think, although she didn’t make as much of a splash as she perhaps would have liked, this appearance was mainly positive. I don’t think we have seen the last of her yet, but I also think it will take something serious on bars for her to be in big time contention. Nice to have her back, though.

Bridget Caquatto

I am super happy for her that she managed to take the all around. This title must be a real boost for her and I hope she is really pleased and proud of herself.

Everything looked pretty solid, but there are some built-in gripes. Probably just me being picky, but as mentioned about I hate a load of release-kip-release messing around on the high bar. Also, staggered toe-ons are just not nice, and she catches with SUCH bent arms on her releases (the below video shows this really well). Having said that she got EF gold so well done her.

In terms of the future, and looking to the Olympics, I doubt Caquatto will be anything of a threat. I don’t think this is a defeat though: expectation and goals are surely different for all gymnasts and I doubt that Bridget thinks she would make the team any more than I do. I think she will make a fantastic college gymnast and should take this win and move forward with that. 

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The Side Somi - a rant.

I like to think of myself as a level headed person, i.e. pretty chilled out about most things. And mostly this is true. Sadly it is a part of the human condition that we all must for some reason be riled by particular people and experiences.

Very few things annoy me as much as the side somersault (for those that are interested, the other few things include excessive hugging, the smell of Britney Spears Fantasy and Tyra Banks’ dress sense).  It is just horrible. I remember when I first saw one I thought something had gone horribly wrong. I thought innocently to myself, why would there ever be a coded skill that rewards an ugly takeoff, flight with flexed feet, knees a metre apart and a deep landing? I know more these days, but the question still holds. Why?

Well, as commentators over the years have been keen to point out (such as Christine Still who I believe once said the following: “always a difficult skill to spot”), it is a quite tricky move. I don’t doubt this. It takes a gymnast out of line with the beam and involves what is basically a blind landing: similar issues to a standing Arabian but made easier by less of a twist and the ability for stepout. It is D rated for a reason.
 Alexandra Eremia shows us all how its done. Breathtaking.
But what on earth is the point of doing something if it looks so heinous? As is so often forgotten these days, the sport is called “artistic gymnastics”. I would love to know what is artistic about a skill that involves flipping in a position more suitable for giving birth than a beam exercise. In a similar vein to my thoughts on the handspring double front the other day, this is a skill that is by definition ugly, because even textbook execution results in something abysmal looking (a statement which holds at least for the tucked variation). 

Essentially, it would make no difference to me if it were rated a G: it still has no place in an otherwise good beam routine. I hate the code for doing things like this because it almost encourages gymnasts and coaches to pay no attention to the flow of the routine in favour of  shoehorning another D in there. Difficulty is one thing but something as offensive to the eyes as this skill is another thing entirely. For example, say some girl could do a triple somersault on floor in a LOVELY position like in the following video, would you want it?

I'm alright for now, thanks.

In a brief visit to a less bitter and more fair attitude, however, props to those few who manage to make it look somewhere near presentable. I am thinking mainly of Koko Tsurumi here. But there are not nearly enough like her to outweigh the onslaught of John  Waynes just dying to get gun happy. I am looking at you, Nastia. Leave it out next year, yeah? 

Nastia Liukin holds up the 2011 qualifications with a special announcement.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

No regrets?

Given how nail-bitingly close this years worlds AA final was, I got to thinking about mistakes. Mis-steps. Falls. Form breaks. Chance events that happen in a split second that change the course of a competition and the life of a gymnast forever.

These occurrences are hard to watch, insanely frustrating, but sadly an integral part of the sport. They happen all the time. But some become so notorious that they take on a life of their own.

So I decided to narrow it down to Olympic games from 92 onwards, limit it to 5, include only individual competitions and rank what are, to me, the most heartbreaking WAG mistakes.

1.Svetlana Khorkina – 2000 AA UB
Yes, she divides opinion. And yes, the moments of her first vault in the 2000 AA have been discussed to death. But the incorrect measuring of the vault in Sydney really was one of the biggest embarrassments in sporting history, both in terms of the initial error but also in terms of the handling of the situation (the competition should have been stopped dead and restarted another day).
But the error I consider here is not Khorkina’s vault, it is her bars. Falling from the high bar on her Ricna recatch really was a tragic moment. Such a huge error on her signature apparatus seemed to spell out her feelings of defeat.
Had she held on and scored the same as she did in the event finals, she would still have won the gold even despite the fall on vault. She would have been the deserving winner and perhaps would not have felt the need to carry on until 2004 (sparing us all the uneasy viewing of her emaciated figure and judging bias).

2.Tatiana Lysenko – 1992 AA FX
“She could have won it all, and rightfully so”
This top comment on the youtube video of Tatiana Lysenko’s floor exercise at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics sums it all up for me. Lysenko was the star of these games in my opinion, and if she had gone through cleanly I think she would have deserved the gold. Everything about her gymnastics is amazing, original, and not only cleanly performed but performed in such a way that you can instantly tell that it is her (her hurdles before her roundoff being a brilliant example).
But she didn’t go through cleanly. Although she got good scores on vault (performing a DTY consistently and beautifully - brilliant for her time) and bars, she had problems on beam and this major mistake on the floor. Landing her double layout short and OOB, she took herself out of contention. This is even more of a shame considering the routine she was performing: it was difficult, beautifully choreographed and set to what I consider to be my favourite floor music of all time.
Luckily she redeemed herself in EFs, but her falling out of the AA was a heartbreaking moment.

3.Cheng Fei – 2008 EF FX
The most decorated female gymnast in Chinese history, Cheng Fei, is the kind of athlete you can’t help but love. Why? Because she broke a mould so spectacularly. We are so used to miniscule, delicate and graceful Chinese WAG gymnasts. We see time and time again these girls who can kill a beam set with such beauty, who can pack in a bucket load of pencil straight endo pirouettes; but who can’t do a bar transfer without a muscled kip, can’t tumble and can barely get a DTY around without landing chest to knee. There was always an air of suggestion, that is a Chinese gymnast could be POWERFUL, she would have it all.
Fei didn’t have it all (she couldn’t do bars). But she had pretty much everything else. She was robbed in the floor finals at the 2004 Olympics, but pretty much dominated floor and vault from the start of the code change onwards. They really were hers to lose in Beijjing, and especially after a fall from the beam in the TF, I was really rooting for her to win double gold and be the first since Zamo to do it.
Sadly, she messed up both. I can’t quite decide which was the more heartbreaking of the two, but I would perhaps say floor because at least she rescued a (somewhat undeserving given Sacramone’s E scores) bronze on vault. An underrotated full twisting front layout caused her to sit down and fall straight out of the medals: not her most difficult pass and further, had she compromised her layout form she probably wouldn’t have fallen.
Both were heartbreaking because she was, in my opinion, the deserving gold medallist on both disciplines. Instead she had to settle for two undeserved bronze medals.

4.Elena Zamolodchikova – 2000 AA FX

The 2000 AA was a travesty for reasons we all know. What should rightfully have been a Russian medal sweep became a Romanian medal sweep due to the unfortunate errors of the former. I cannot even bring myself to watch Elena begin her third pass, ironically her easiest, of  her floor routine in the third rotation of the All Around competition. With Khorkina out of the running, it was hers for the taking, but she fell and all was lost.
Similar to the Lysenko story, she redeemed herself valiantly in the EFs becoming a double gold medallist (ironically one of these was the floor exercise – a gold medal in the same discipline that robbed her of a sure win).

5.Beth Tweddle – 2008 EF UB

In 2008 a BRITISH GYMNAST arrived in Beijjing with the hardest uneven bars routine in the world. A decade previously a fan of the sport would have laughed at this statement. Beth changed everything. She has singlehandedly raised the profile of the sport in my country and is very arguably solely responsible for the improvement in the British programme in recent years.
That routine was stunningly good, and it seems unlikely we will see something quite so jam packed again given the changes in the code to include fewer elements (which I agree with incidentally). For the quality of her releases, her progression as a mature gymnast and the reasons listed above, I wanted her so badly to rescue a medal from the bars final. Not the gold (that should have been Nastia’s), but a medal nonetheless.
A medal would have been hers, were it not for a disastrously late toe on full before her dismount. I can’t even imagine her frustration at missing a medal by 0.025 of a point. I am so rooting for a repeat of her TF UB at next year’s finals.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Any gymnastics anorak knows about the Produnova. It has become a modern gymnastics legend. Few skills are considered with such high regard and such awestruck anticipation. Since we last saw Produnova herself (one of my all time favourite athletes) perform the double front in 1999, we have been waiting with baited breath for another powerhouse to come along and perform it. The hype and dreaming that comes with the handspring double front in women’s gymnastics is matched only by a very small handful of other skills of equal insanity (the mythical double layout beam dismount, the TTY, the quad on floor). For years now we have speculated on who might appear to pick up this Holy Grail and stun the world.

                                                                   Elena Produnova in 1999
...and as if from nowhere, Yamilet Pena popped up in Tokyo: a mostly unknown gymnast prior to this competition (and also from a minor country in gymnastics terms – the Dominican Republic). She threw a good few double fronts in training and warm-ups (not all of them landed, not all of them an easy watch for someone with legs) and after qualifications earned a ticket to the event finals.
Then came the crisp camera quality, commentary and slow motion. The few vaults we had seem Pena throw in Tokyo prior to this EF were mainly through shaky, long distance camera phone recordings from which little could be made out except the rotation and the landings. But the EF performance was a different story.

It was different because of this: it was a hideous, hideous vault. I don’t even mean this because she didn’t land it (if anything I am glad for her ankles that she let her back take the hit). I mean instead that the hype, history and legend of this vault have masked an uncomfortable truth: the handspring double front is not at all nice to look at.
What stopped me reaching this conclusion a decade earlier is the advances in sport coverage. My memory of the Produnova is based mainly on 3 videos from 1999: 2 at the worlds, 1 at the University games. This grainy coverage allowed the imagination to fill in the gaps, with an end product being a mental picture of an explosion of the horse into a light speed flipping and a crisp, planted landing. But in reality the vault falls short, as there are so many unsightly adjustments that have to be made to make the vault attemptable. These include a cowboy stance, an uncomfortably deep landing and clown feet. Also, so many flips make the whole vault seem completely downhill, with mechanics equivalent to under rotated twisting vaults which “twist into the ground”
All in all, I am not so sure how comfortable I am about the return of the Produnova, in almost every aspect. I think that new slow mo footage shows that even if the vault is landed, it would still be an unsightly piece of gymnastics. Further, it is clearly downright dangerous. That much rotational speed onto a blind landing seems to just beg for an injury, especially with girls like Pena who clearly haven’t got the skill competition ready. Also one has to ask the question, could it be satisfying for a gymnast to win a vault title with a messy 1.5TY and an ugly but hugely high tariff vault? I am thinking not.
With all the 2.5 chucking of last year I never thought I would say this, but I am all for the Amanar over the Produnova. Mckayla Maroney showed us what vaulting is all about: power combined with beauty. Not to be mean to Pena (she deserves real respect for her attempt) but I doubt there is any gymnast anywhere who could make the Produnova pretty.
With rumours of other gymnasts (including Mai Murakami) training this vault, let’s hope hard for gymnastics as opposed to cowboy legged circus tricks in the coming years.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


The end of the 10 system was treated by many as the end of a golden age. And in many ways, it was. Gymnastics since 2006 has felt somewhat different, and in many ways less exciting. Gone are the days when a step on a dismount loses a medal, when an OOB knocks leaders off the podium and a wobble on beam spells a goodbye to a world title. Excitement on the level of the 1996 AA is lost: there is no longer such a thing as the underdog. In a hypothetical competition where all the competitors hit, the winner is pre decided on the basis of the much slandered open ended D-score.

But is this a bad thing? The debate about open ended scoring is too deep and complex to be considered in any single article. But broad brush statements can still be made. Although the above is true, there are definite benefits to the new system. We see far more exciting skills and a real push towards difficulty and technical ingenuity. The classic gripe of the gymnastics fan is to whether or not this comes at the expense of perfection.

Steliana Nistor being hit by a bus. Oh, wait...

I think pictures such as this represent perfectly the issues with the new code. Here we see Steliana Nistor blocking for a DTY, and resembling a mosquito squashed against a car windscreen. One would argue that the value of difficulty in the new system encourages skill chucking and discourages a fine tuning of skills. This certainly seems true in part for the past few years, but are we seeing a change in the tides?

In recent discussions of possible changes to the code, an idea that caught my attention was that of “D+2E”. Basically, that instead of a final score produced from a combination of difficulty and execution out of 10, the value of the execution score should be doubled before it is added to the difficulty so creating a system that favours the execution side of gymnastics in a throwback to years gone by. This sounds great in practice, but one has to ask the all important question: would it make any difference?

Being a big geek I decided to test this based on the scores from this weekend’s world championships women’s event finals. The following tables represent what would happen were the D+2E rule enforced with these scores.





I was shocked to find no change whatsoever to the medals. Why? Because in each discipline, the competitor with the highest execution score took the gold medal. This to me suggests that the code might be maturing into something that actually works, favouring both difficulty and execution. It seems that gymnasts and coaches have begun to see renewed value in perfection and are using it to win medals. Yes, the gold medallists also usually had the highest D scores, but the difference now is that they can complete all their skills to an impressive standard. This is, of course, a matter of opinion, but I believe much of the work we saw at this year’s world’s to be of the highest standard of its kind in years (particularly the gold medal winners on every apparatus).

Compare this to the event finals from the 2008 Olympics: with D+2E there would have been a change to every podium except bars.






I think the times are changing. Execution is coming back.

Results all taken from Apologies for any potential error in my calculations. Important note: I did not include penalties in the calculations which would certainly have an effect on the outcome but would surely be weighted differently in the d+2e system.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The 2011 WAG Team Final - Congratulations USA.

WHAT a day.

                                                                                                                                                      From USAG
Firstly, huge congratulations to the USA women’s team. What a performance. For a team with such a lack of experience, with only a single team member with past world level competitions under her belt, this was a fantastic achievement. The highlight for me was Maroney. Not only is that vault spectacular, but her floor is fast becoming my favourite of the American’s too. She is such a stylish, talented athlete and one who I hope continues to upgrade for next year.
Also very proud of the Brits! A brilliant fifth place finish to shake off any disappointments of qualifying. Well, almost any. The definite highlight was Beth’s bars. I would actually go as far as to say that her routine today was the best I have ever seen her perform. Aside from a slightly baggy one arm pirouette the routine was flawless, and that connection at the beginning is breathtakingly good. Receiving the high score of the day must have been a really good boost for Beth and perhaps compensate a little for not making the bars finals.

I found the Russian’s and the Chinese a little disappointing to watch. This of course does not include some fantastic highlights such as Sui Lu’s beautiful beam set (the well deserved highest beam score of the meet so far and my personal favourite for beam gold), but Quishang’s bars fall and Tan Sixin’s mess ups were not good to watch.
Komova surprised me. Who knows whether she was tired or stressed out or what, but her performance today was really not up to her qualifications standards. Let’s hope she gets it together by the AA so she can try her best to hold off Jordyn Wieber (I would be perfectly happy for either to win, but I am really hoping for it to be down to the last tenth, and that neither makes any major errors).
Catalina Ponor was an absolute treat to watch. Something about seeing her on the competition floor just seems right. Her beam was great, I am loving the roundoff layout, and the good old onodi combination is back in action. On floor I think her music and choreo are great and if she can just clean up her legs a bit it would make for a truly world class routine.
So, Jordyn ends the day not only as a world gold medallist but also as the frontrunner. I hope she can hold it together. More exciting news from today is that Alicia Sacramone will be presented with a gold medal as a member of this world team, and will therefore become the most decorated female gymnast in American history. If Alicia had remained healthy, the American’s would still have won gold but would have won it by an even greater margin. Alicia is hugely deserving of this accolade.

Can’t wait for the rest of this week!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The world's greatest - looking from QF towards finals

So, qualifications are over and now the real excitement begins. There has already been plenty of drama and eventfulness in Tokyo, and who knows what more is to come. Biggest surprises and upsets for me so far were the bars qualification (quite a few spills and as a result the two latest world champions will not be competing for gold) and also the hugely sad exit of multiple time world champion Alicia Sacramone, after an Achilles injury sustained whilst performing a double Arabian in training. Alicia is a real star and will be sorely missed not only by the American team but by her huge global fan base. I wish her the speediest of recoveries.
But we must look on to the excitement that is to come in the next few days. With that in mind I am going to do a quick roundup of the qualifying lists and carry out some giddy speculation of the imminent individual finals.

All Around

As expected, the all around qualifications were topped by Wieber and Komova, both of whom were within a whisker of each other (just over a tenth) and clear of the third highest qualifier by a full point. I was a little surprised at the order of their qualifications: I thought that with Komova having been delicate recently she may have felt the pressure a bit giving Wieber the edge, but as we can see she pipped her to the post coming in at the top of the AA standings. However this is clearly going to be a tense, exciting and very closely fought battle and the smallest of errors could decide who takes home the big prize. I think this is the first time in a long time that the two front runners were so closely matched and that us fans were treated to such a tense race.

Yao Jinnan came in third, with some cracking performances including this beauty:

Shades of Mo Huilan right there.She really is a lovely gymnast and I am pleased to see her qualify so well.

Raisman took fourth place, filling the slot for the second American all arounder, as expected. Its a real shame she can’t do anything about that bars set because with a slightly beefed up score she would have such better chances of making a splash in the AA finals. I am rooting for her though, because I feel like this is probably her last chance in the second AA spot (I don’t rate her chances of having this position in London) so it would be great for her to sneak in a bronze (but I realize this would take a brilliant performance and some help from the others).

Worth mentioning (despite her not qualifying) is Gabby Douglas, who finished in 5th place just below Raisman. This is a really impressive achievement for such an inexperienced gymnast, and one who had been labelled as something of a headcase due to her performance at this year’s VISA champs among others. Qualifying in 5th in her first world championships should provide her with a much deserved energy and confidence boost to take on into the next stages. Well done Gabby!

So, given the 2 per country rule the top 8 qualifiers to advance to the AA finals are:

Some additional thoughts include a well done to Hannah Whelan of GBR for finishing in 13th and advancing to the AA. I am hoping that by the time of London she might be able to top Becky Downie’s fantastic 10th place finish from Beijing, although competition is likely to be much stiffer. Also it’s a shame that Ana Porgras and Lauren Mitchell are still struggling to get up there with the AA leaders.

Prediction to win: Komova
WANT to win: Undecided (I love them both!)
Wildcard medal hope: Raisman

Vault final

The apparatus final with a top 8 that I am least familiar with, although I am thrilled to see Maroney out there on top. It really is refreshing to see a vaulter who makes the amanar look PRETTY, someone who is clearly suited to the vault and who doesn’t make you hold your breath every time they start sprinting for the table. A real pleasure and definitely my top favourite for the win, as well as the frontrunner. It is absolutely fantastic to see a top qualifier who also has the highest E scores. A new trend? Let’s hope so.

Old favourite Chusovitina came in second. As usual it would be a great win for the sport if she could get a medal out of this final.

Tatiana Nabieva, the Russian who was part of a small scandal in last years vault finals due to vault downgrading, creeped into 7th place with much less difficult vaults than this time last year. Perhaps she will pull out the difficulty in the finals, but I find them so frightening to watch I would really rather she didn’t.
Interesting notes: if we look at qualification based on 1 vault only we see that Maroney is still on top – she really is a winner in every sense. Chusovitina comes in third with Wieber in second (the second best, but still great, amanar). Interestingly, veteran and Romanian comeback queen Catalina Ponor had the sixth best vault of the day, on an apparatus she is not renowned for.

Prediction to win: Maroney
WANT to win: Maroney (but I am crushed that Alicia isn’t here)

Bars final

 I must initially express my utter dismay at Beth’s absolute mare in the qualifier. Seems like she just lost it a bit mentally, which is such a shame because she would have been a dead cert to qualify and probably medal, given the field.

It was also a sad sight to see He Kexin’s performance. Everything seemed laboured and clunky. I was never a big fan but back in 2008, she had this brilliant flourish and energetic presentation to everything. The amplitude on her giants made it look like she was defying gravity and her pirouettes were as light as a feather. But now everything looks so muscled and difficult. The jaeger was less laid out and the dead hang worse than ever. I feel sorry for her not being able to perform the way she used to.

But now to the list of qualifiers. Komova is way out in front. She is Usain bolt heading down the 100m stretch. With an almost 7 tenth advantage, the gold is hers is she just goes clean (and clean is exactly what she is, with the highest E score by a 5 tenth margin).


Really nice to see Dufournet up there with the top qualifiers. She has been trying for years to incorporate difficultly cleanly, and I think she is a great gymnast. I would love to see her medal.

 Quishang probably has a chance if she cleans up,  given that she has the same D score as the leaders. It’s nice to see two Japanese gymnasts that will get to perform in the final on home soil.

Very impressive of Gabby Douglas to make the final, due to her often feeling the pressure as I mentioned earlier. Would be great to see her come through and she is definitely a sentimental favourite of mine.

Predication to win: Komova
Want to win: Komova
Wildcard medal hope: Douglas.

Beam final

Who topped the qualifier....? You guessed it...Komova! This is getting boring. I jest. Its fantastic to see such a high calibre gymnast that can be both an all around threat AND a threat in multiple individual finals. I hate those drab years after an Olympics with half baked world champions...sorry Bridget, I think you are a nice athlete, but this is the kind of sport I enjoy. Real quality over a large range of disciplines.

Sui Lu is in second. I LOVE LOVE LOVE her beam work. That front with a half just floats through the air beautifully, and that initial front pike to korbut flip is so airy and nice to watch. She has the D score advantage, and so if she can clean up a bit she might sneak into first place in the final.

Wieber also features and is a good contender for bronze, in my opinion. Also, down in fifth, is the great Catalina Ponor. I am rooting for her to medal at next year’s Olympics and break some records. Her latest beam and floor work has blown me away. I would love for her to go through solid in the finals and come away with a medal. A repeat of this please:

Obv that isn't going to happen, but a nice solid clean set would make me very happy.

Interesting things to note here are that 4 Chinese athletes finished in the top 10, which I think is very very impressive. Also I am slightly distressed that Maria Livchikova is nowhere to be seen in this lineup.

Predication to win: Komova
Want to win: Sui Lu
Wildcard medal hope: Ponor

Floor final

Looks like Raisman has got this one, and I am actually happy about that. She is by no means my favourite gymnast, but I think her floor has got better and better over the years and I love how she has brought the double Arabian punch front tumbling pass back from the dead. When I watch it I am instantly reminded of old favourites Viktoria Karpenko and Elena Produnova. So, I love her tumbling. Her presentation isn’t great but I think there has been some improvement, and hopefully that will continue.

In the name of patriotism and old favourites, I would love for Beth Tweddle to get a medal. I am upset that she didn’t get into the bars finals for two reasons. The first being what is already clear, I love her as a British gymnast, but secondly, I think her bar work is actually world class anyway and her release combinations amaze me. Floor I feel a bit differently about. Her tumbling is great, and that double Arabian full out she was training is INSANE. But, her leaps are not the best and her dance is just awful. So basically I find it hard to get completely behind the cause on floor exercise. I want her to medal, but not win.

Prediction to win: Raisman
Want to win: Raisman
Wildcard medal hope: Tweddle

So there we have it. Most of all though, and any petty favouritism aside I would like a clean competition where everyone performs to their best. I can't wait!

All scoresheets features in this post were taken from

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The (potential) return of Nastia Liukin.

So here we are then. In the middle of the qualification days at this year’s much anticipated world championships, Olympic all around champion Nastia Liukin ended years of PR, speculation and will-she-won’t-she  forum chat by announcing, finally, that she is training with the aim of the London 2012 Olympics.....

Screengrab from above link

The sentiment is great. I love Nastia Liukin, and I thought that her win in Beijing was more than just a win for her. I thought it was a win for artistry and beautiful gymnastics. A win for the elegance and grace of the sport in the face of a new code that threatened to crown botched amanars, chucked leaps and bent knees as winners. Her gymnastics was as light as a well baked cake. The British commentators bowled over by the precision of her blind landings. All in all, it was the performance of her life (minus the ever disappointing double front half from the bars, but I guess everyone has a chink in their armour somewhere).

So, she took the AA. Good.

But then came the bars final, which was (for me) one of the most disappointing moments in recent gymnastics history. Due to my Beth Tweddle obsession? A little. But mainly because there is no question in my mind that the gold should have been Nastia’s. I accept the issue with tie breaking at the Olympics, and do agree that there should be separation somewhere. I accept the issues of shared D scores. I accept that Nastia’s routine was not perfect. But what i refuse to accept is the idea that a code which places He Kexin’s routine above Nastia’s in is any way, well, acceptable. It just isn’t. (I will take this moment to point out that this is simply one person’s opinion and wish to cause no offence to He kexin fans, nor do I mean to cast a shadow over what is clearly a great amount of talent).

So, Nastia showed up with a stunning routine, performed it near perfectly, and went home with a 1st place silver. Scandalous.

I revisit these memories so as to wonder aloud: is it the bars final Nastia is returning for? A second stab at UB gold? A second chance to face He Kexin and win? Whatever the motivation, I can’t pretend to not be giddily excited to see how it plays out. I just pray that she is a) being truthful, and b)capable of getting back into good enough shape (although it’s clear she has been working out – she hasn’t looked as good as in this video for years).

One thing I do not enjoy, though, is the drawn out nature of the whole thing. The celebrity of it all. Nastia (or as is more likely, her publicity team) have been dangling the prospect of a return in front of fans for a long time, which I think is quite unfair, potentially dishonest, but most of all disrespectful to others forging their own career comebacks. Whilst Nastia constructed Barbie smiles at events and responded to comeback questions with retorts which were essentially “I am not sure yet if I can be bothered”, Alicia, Shawn and Chellsie were sweating it out in the gym making it happen. I didn’t appreciate the tone of these statements: the idea that a second Olympics was there for the taking should she choose to get up and grab it. It made the whole thing sound too easy: as if it was always going to happen.

And this attitude seems to continue. Nastia chose to make this revelation in the midst of the US team’s current struggles. With the loss of Alicia to the dreaded Achilles injury to add to what must have already been a fraught, nervous and inexperienced team, Nastia still stole some of the limelight with her “I’ve been popping into the gym” revelation. Might have been nice to let a few others bask in the limelight for a change. (Then again it is a bit rich of me to complain given that here I am, drafting a response piece. Nastia's PR machine clearly works, despite how Nasty it may seem).

Having said that, though, I am genuinely excited about the prospect of her return (even if it is just as a bars specialist). To see that 1.5 pirouette to Geinger layout a few more times would be brilliant (but a new dismount please). I guess time will tell.