Thursday, 1 December 2011

Lost in time

Change can be a good thing, and often is. It gives us variety, surprises, new things we never thought of and even with bad changes comes the opportunity for debate.

Gymnastics is no exception, and perhaps one of the sports with the most room for change. The skills we see performed and the criteria on which they are judged change with high regularity, meaning a gap of just two Olympics can see changes of great proportion.

What I find interesting, and often saddening, is how particular skills become left behind. Slung into the back of a dusty cupboard and never again to be brought back out into the light by the top level performers (or very rarely at least). There are of course many reasons for this, primarily involving changes in the code to the difficultly rating of skills, and in many cases there is no real cause for these moves to be given more podium time. But on a personal opinion level, here are some skills I miss from back in the day.

Kim Zmeskal shows us what we are missing

Ok so these are not entirely gone. We get a fair amount of whip into triple, a few whip to double Arabians and so forth, but whipbacks by no means have the pride of place they once did in floor routines. A notable and brilliant exception is Catalina Ponor’s new second pass which sees two consecutive whips indirectly into a full twisting double back. Execution wise it’s messy but I am all over the concept.

But despite these few pop ups, we don’t see nearly as many as we used to. There was a time when anyone who was anyone did a fair bit of whipping. 1992 was clearly its heyday, with Kim Zmeskals super famous middle pass: whip whip whip bhs double tuck. So cool, so fun to watch and so so so nineties.

I personally think we could use a whole lot more whipping. I think it is a really underrated way of making routines by less than artistic gymnasts interesting and different. Few things match music like whips. Kim’s music was amongst the worst ever (I think) BUT that middle pass was a brilliant link with the music in a way that most tumbling lines rarely achieve. I personally think that Jordyn Wieber’s current music with a multiple whip pass would be just fantastic.


I love that Chuso was the first person to do one of these fantastic little bar elements (I have since been corrected - she was not the first but the skill does bear her name). She is just great, but not on bars and I love that she had a lasting impact on something she was not known for.

But back to the skill itself, it is so fun to watch. So energetic, quick and magical. I loved it as an alternative to traditional pirouetting, and whilst I am in agreement with it no longer being classed as a release skill I found it to be a really pleasant addition to any routine. Even more so when done in combination. Lili Podkopayeva springs to mind here. I happen to think her bars were often a bit scrappy and overscored but her hop full-hop full-gienger was really cool. I have seen fewer and fewer of these over the years and they were another skill that defined the nineties to me, and a large part of this is down to Lilia and also Shannon Miller.


And may I quickly point out that the tired old 2.5 twist to layout front doesn’t count. I am talking about a good, old fashioned tucked punch front, preferably in a different direction to the tumbling line itself.

Part of me is tempted to hate punch fronts: they have claimed many of my favourites as their victims. A punch front lost Dominique Dawes an AA medal in 1996, Elena Zamolodchikova an AA gold in 2000. It set back the legendary Svetlana Boginskaya in her third Olympic effort, and undoubtedly countless more along the way. But these incidents pale into insignificance when they are done well. The aggressive landing, the rebound, the sudden change of direction. They are one of those skills that can genuinely be called exciting, and I am sure even non gymnastics fans would agree.

I have particular fondness for double layout punch fronts. Mohini Bhardwaj and Vanessa Atler’s efforts were amazing and epitomized powerful American gymnastics.


Remember when combinations on beam were actually made up of skills, being combined?! I do. It was a brilliant time and one that is sorely missed. Now, in theory a group of skills of different directions and types could be combined, but why the hell would you risk it if no one told you off for not doing so? This seems to be the general pattern in the modern day for the flight series on beam, and I don’t even resent them for it: they have to play to the code. Just as much as the code says “don’t fall off” it also apparently says “do a FWO, do the YMCA for a bit, relax, then have a go at a BHS-LOSO and have some points”. So obviously, people do.

Back in the 80s and 90s, if a gymnast meant to combine a flight series, then they did. With ferocious speed, attack and precision (not all the time of course, but that seemed to be the general idea). Again I must use Shannon as an example. I loved her mount sequence leading into a back handspring and pike back in Barcelona. She often took a wobble, but it was flighted and super super quick.

Obviously code changes make it less likely for gymnasts to do multiple layout step outs. Great to see Komova bringing it back from the dead a bit with her two LOSOs in a row.


  1. "I love that Chuso was the first person to do one of these fantastic little bar elements"
    She wasn't. See this vid:

  2. I agree with everything in this post!! AH!

    1. Bring back the whipbacks!

    2. Hop fulls on bars--I particularly like Bross's hop fulls. They are done in full on attack mode!

    3. Didn't Dawes lose her chances at an olympic aa medal too from a punch front mishap? I like Dantzcher's 00 double layout+pf.

    4. A PROPER FLIGHT SERIES! Ugh I am so so so so so over front aerial+bhs+layout stepout. Blech so boring!

  3. When did Bross perform hop fulls on bars?

  4. Katrina: I thought as I was writing it "is this actually true?", one of those silly things I should have checked before I posted but I was rushing I guess. Thanks for enlightening me! That montage is really cool.

    Ashlyn: Glad you agree :) Totally forgot about Dawes, I will add her in. But I have to ask as well when did Bross perform a hop full?

  5. Whips and hop fulls are two of my favorite skills, and I totally agree with you. Great post.

  6. Ahhhh I'm sorry I remember reading an article saying bross should perform hop fulls bc her full pirouettes are so quick. It just came to me reading the article and mistakenly put that. Sorry for the mistake!

  7. That's ok! I agree though she would do them really well. I love her inbar stalder 1/1. I'm really hoping for a speedy recovery from her (and perhaps she will get a great bars set as a result of all this).

    Jen: glad you agree, and thanks!

  8. Yes I adore Miss Komova's bhs-lay-lay (and so many more from the 90s), its actually connected and much more exciting to watch. But it only get a 0.1 CV whereas the front aerial-bhs-lay get 0.2. Times like this... curse the code! I think even Komova is ditching that.

  9. Something really has to change. But I struggle to think how any manifestation of the current code could achieve something to equal the past.

    What I mean is (if it makes ANY sense at all) is to do with the perspective with which you view the problem. I feel like in the past people had the perspective that the routine itself was the focal point, and the code a means by which to mark it. Now it is like the code is the focal point and the routine is a way of squeezing every last possible drop out of the code.

    I know this is a confused explanation of how I feel but its the best I can manage! I think that people will always find loopholes in an open ended code and things will quickly become boring. If it wasn't unconnected connections and paltry leaps out of tumbling it would be something else to the same effect. I think it is inherently bad and I am not sure how anything based on the current system could work as well as any of us would like.

  10. Wow that was a really eloquent way of putting it. The code as a method of judging VS routines to fit the prescriptive code. Works perfectly.
    Funny the required elements thing were introduced to keep some elements of the Compulsories and artistry. Remember the days with no leap series... but actual interesting, varied, floaty leaps? And the leaps out of the tumble thing, back in the days of Atler, or even 2008 Afan with the double stag out from the L-turn, it was pretty cool, added flair and all. Not so much when Mitchell does it 3 times in a routine now.
    Dunno how well it will work, but I want some sort of ROV system.

  11. I am glad you think so!

    Oh GOD the leap series. In all honesty I often skip it when I watch routines on youtube. It makes leaps so soul-less and empty. Of course there is still the occasional gymnast who makes leaps or jumps interesting (I am really happy Ponor kept her spin into leap at the top of her routine) but I rarely if ever enjoy the leap series. Eurgh what has become of everything.

    Is that Risk, Originality, Virtuosity or something? Could you explain it to me a bit I don't know much about the concept?

  12. (oops this is late). Yea the ROV system was a bonus point system in the 1980s code of points that rewarded risk, originality and virtuosity in the routine. I'm not sure how they measured that though. Of course, routines in the 1980s were pretty darn good :)

    Right now, I think there's just no reason a gymnast should attempt interesting routines. Look at how Porgras' beam choreo has degraded from 2010 to 2011. Even if they reduce the number of skills to be counted (yet again), the gymnast might just use the extra time to "set up" for hard skills, or do some inane hand gestures. I don't think beam has improved from last quad, despite counting less skills.

    Sure it might be subjective, but then E scores are too, I suppose.