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).

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

Beam


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).

Bars
Floor
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. 

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