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.
PROPER FLIGHT SERIES
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.