Thursday, 9 August 2012

Don't look back in anger...

Hard to imagine that it is all over. You wish for something for four years and when it arrives, it flies by like a freight train. The individual event finals of London 2012 were ridiculously unexpected for me (Deng Linlin beam champion?! - NEVER would I have predicted that). after a bit of settling time I thought I would consolidate my main thoughts after the individual competitions.

What The E Panel will remember fondly

Gabrielle Douglas - 2012 AA Champion


Already the issue of Gabs vs Vika has been hotly debated, and it is likely to be bitched about/staunchly defended for the next 4 years. It is impossible to discuss this without bringing in personal opinion and whilst I usually try to avoid extended chunks of personal rambling I will indulge myself a little here.


I love Gabby’s gymnastics. I think he has great form, lovely amplitude and a zesty quality to the skills she performs that few others managed. My real clicking moment with Douglas came at the 2012 American cup on her final skill: the split leap out of the double tuck which was the highest and most exciting I had, and have, seen.

I love Komova’s gymnastics too, and have done for a much longer period. I first saw Komova on some grainy youtube videos three years ago and was instantly mesmerized by her unusual and fantastic ability to combine difficulty with supreme execution. When asked in 2009 to predict the 2012 AA champion, I instantly tipped Viktoria Komova for the win.



Both Komova and Gabby suffered with the same problem: they had fantastic skills but seemed to suffer terribly with stage fright and often failed to perform when it mattered most. Both still have this in spades: Douglas is now the only AA champion not to possess any individual apparatus final medals due to edgy performances in both beam and bars finals. Komova fell afoul of the same curse.

The difference is that Gabby had a brilliant day when it counted. Komova didn’t. Although some of her performances were peppered with brilliance (her floor routine was the best of her life, and the best of the AA competition, making me wish she had made the EF) she was generally inconsistent and didn’t meet her potential on three of four events. Gabby on the other hand, although admittedly not floorless either, WAS the better gymnast that day (at least I think so) and that is why she won.

To sum up my general feeling, had Komova won, it would be a gold medal for the memory of her from 2 years ago. But the gold medal for Douglas was a recognition of the gymnast we see today.

Aliya Mustafina - 2012 UB Champion

Russia’s first WAG gold medal since Zamolodchikova and Queen Khorkina in Sydney 2000, and wasn’t Musty evocative of Khorki on their shared signature event?

Although patriotism tied me into routine for gold elsewhere, if I am honest I have loved Mustafina’s bars work ever since the 2010 worlds, which might as well be renamed the Aliya Mustafina welcome party. I love her execution and power, but more than this her originality. I never fail to be bowled over by her 1.5 twisting double tuck, not to mention her uncanny ability to nail it cold everytime.

There was a scary few moments when I thought my He Kexin prophecy may actually come true (I still reserve the right to be a little bit smug for calling it given she got silver in the end). Not that I dislike He Kexin, her bar work is undeniably impressive. But a win for Kexin would show an unfair lack of recognition of the developments bars has undergone in the last four years: changing from a three minute pirouette slog into an exciting connection and release led “Russian/Tweddle” style romp. 

Aly Raisman - 2012 FX Champion

OK, so I haven’t always been Aly’s biggest fan. Plenty of people haven’t been. However, for me Aly has been the most impressive gymnast of these games. The time has come to stop bemoaning toe point and artistry and recognize the positives: that Raisman should be recognized as one of the top USA team players of all time.

Sure, her floor isn’t my favourite to watch. However, that opening pass is so original, so risky and so brilliant that it is hard to argue with the verdict. Indeed, one of the best things about Raisman (and something that people rarely celebrate) is that she does NOT attempt skills that she can’t do...

Despite any complaints about presentation, Aly is no chucker and her floor composition is testament to this. Her leaps are all complete, her tumbles speak for themselves and my favourite thing is her spin - ridiculously simple, but she can do it.

My main thought is that I wanted her to leave these games with an individual medal. I would have preferred it to be AA bronze, but I love that she won here, although admittedly this is not just based on an impartial view of the routines themselves.

Beth Tweddle gets her first Olympic medal on her final day of Olympic competition

I won’t do my usual Tweddle gush. It is clear what I think about her and her routine. I am just thrilled she managed to pull it off and intensely relieved that she moved up a place from Beijing.

Things The E Panel would rather forget

The vault final

OUCH. It began with a crash and ended with open mouthed shock. This vault final was a perfect example of how nothing can be predicted at the Olympic level.



I cannot even imagine how Maroney must feel. The one time she crashes a vault in competitive memory and it comes in the event finals of her signature apparatus. This is a great shame, as everyone is in agreement that Maroney is undeniably the best vaulter in the world. However, as always, it is not enough to be able to do the vault well: it has to be done well on the night, and this wasn’t. Really, she should be happy to have gotten a silver with a fall.

On an impartial level, sweeping aside any bias towards Maroney, this final does little for vault as an event. Two Olympics in a row, and both since the introduction of the open ended code, have seen crashed vaults make the podium. It isn’t really the direction we should be moving in, and I think harsher penalties for falls are needed.

There is a potential silver lining however: This failure may stimulate Maroney to continue competing. I would love for this to happen.

Sandra Izbasa FX EF

Falling at the final hurdle on a routine that should certainly have been medal worthy is not how I wanted Sandra to end her second Olympics. I guess the unexpected vault gold should take the sting out of this somewhat, but it took the pop out of a final which I had been looking forward to for a year. 

Beth's Dismount

So she got the bronze, and for that I am grateful. However, I wanted gold for Beth, or failing that at least the silver. Mainly, I wanted her to beat He Kexin, and she couldn't.

The reason was the dismount. Again. Two Olympics and two giant steps from a double tuck variation. I am unbelieveably glad it didn’t knock her down into fourth - the last few routines of that final had my heart racing at dangerous levels. 

Tie Breaks

...A full article to follow

Roll on Rio. 








Sunday, 29 July 2012

Place your bets...



What an epic day. Lets take stock, shall we?




Top 10 AA qualifiers:


  1. Viktoria Komova
  2. Alexandra Raisman
  3. Gabrielle Douglas
  4. Aliya Mustafina
  5. Deng Linlin
  6. Vanessa Ferrari
  7. Asuka Teramoto
  8. Larisa Iordache
  9. Huang Quishang
  10. Sandra Izbasa
WHAT a qualifier, and what upset about Wieber. But enough of that. Huge congratulations to Raisman for pulling off the meet of her life. Here we find ourselves in a similar situation to one year ago. Komova performed well, not stunningly, but well in the qualifier. The difference this year is the all important Amanar, which is looking good. The question now is whether she can improve on this in the finals, which I think she will need to in order to hold off the Americans.

This competition will be whisker close and could potentially be won or lost on stuck landings and tiny wobbles. The decider will most likely be beam: the area in which both Komova and Douglas are most likely to falter. Iordache has been tipped to be amongst the challengers but her foot injury will probably keep her out of the top spot, which to my mind will be a battle between the aforementioned American and Russian.
Interesting to note the 5th place QF position of Deng Linlin, and the lack of teammate Yao Yinnan, who did not look anywhere near her top form today.

Want to win: Close, but I am going to go with Douglas.

Prediction to win: Closer, but my money is on Komova by a whisker.

Other medallist hopes: Would love a medal for Mustafina. For Komova and Douglas, I want the win to be by a fraction and not a fall so by this logic it would be bronze for Musty. Having said that I would love for Raisman to medal, just because it would be so unexpected. Elsewhere I really want Whelan in the top ten again.




Top 8 Qualifiers:
  1. Mckayla Maroney
  2. Sandra Izbasa
  3. Maria Paseka
  4. Oksana Chusovitina
  5. Yamilet Pena
  6. Janine Berger
  7. Brittany Rogers
  8. Elsabeth Black
All the big names present and correct, but this final may not be as academic as people once thought. Maroney is the clear leader after QF with 15.800, but Izbasa scored a tidy 15.316 WITHOUT her Amanar OR her Cheng. If she hits that on the day she will beat Maroney in terms of D score and if this is the case, Maroney will have to make it on her execution alone.

This is definitely possible for her, and in my mind she is still the rightful winner. I would love for Isbasa to take silver and believe that she will. Bronze seems to be the medal to fight for in any case, and presumably Pena and Chuso will be fighting it out for this one.

Want to win: Maroney

Prediction to win: Maroney

Other medallist wishes: Izbasa silver and Chuso bronze.




Top 8 Qualifiers:
  1. Beth Tweddle
  2. Kexin He
  3. Viktoria Komova
  4. Yinnan Yao
  5. Aliya Mustafina
  6. Gabrielle Douglas
  7. Elisabeth Seitz
  8. Koko Tsurumi

Now obviously I am thrilled with this. GO BETH. Bars routine of her career I would say. It was fantastic to see her put everything together under pressure, and that dismount was stunning.

Any hint of being unbiased and neutral truly shelved for a minute, I undoubtedly want Tweddle to take this. I think she wholeheartedly deserves it. However, it will not be easy for her. Any of Komova, Mustafina or Kexin could take this away. Kexin performed a 7.1 difficulty and she can potentially up it (although I doubt that she would given her consistency issues with the harder version). Regardless of this, she hit her routine royally and proved to everyone that she is not quite done yet.

Komova was beautiful as usual and outscored Mustafina. Both have brand new elements/combinations. Mustafina’s inbar 1/1 – pak – stalder – khorkina variation is super impressive.

Want to win: Tweddle

Predict to win: Tweddle (by a whisker, IF she puts it together)

Other medallist wishes: either two Russians, or Mustafina and Douglas (or a Russian and He Kexin). Very undecided on this one.



Top 8 Qualifiers:
  1. Lu Sui
  2. Victoria Komova
  3. Gabrielle Douglas
  4. Linlin Deng
  5. Alexandra Raisman
  6. Ksenia Afanaseva
  7. Catalina Ponor
  8. Diane Bulimar
Beam was an interesting one today. No surprises about Sui, her routine was great and I think she is the logical winner. However, her performance at the test event proved that she can royally mess up as well as totally smash it cold. Still, she is the deserving winner in my eyes.

Glad to see Komova so high up despite all her consistency issues on this event. Having said that i do think 15.233 was a bit of a gift considering the two big breaks she had in there. But in fairness Ponor had a pretty big dip and she still qualified, so I guess it balances. On the topic of Ponor, I desperately want her to medal here. There should be some sort of lifetime achievement award for contributions to beam flight series. She would get my vote.

How strange it is to see “headcase” Gabby Douglas qualifying third whilst “rock” Wieber fails to qualify at all. Seems like years of fake connections came back at once to bite Wieber squarely in the ass. My opinions on this are mixed: she never really connected that full twist to anything but still got world level credit, so shouldn’t they at least be consistent with that marking style?

Want to win: Lu Sui

Prediction to win: Lu Sui

Other medallist wishes: Any colour for Ponor, and an American.



Top 8 Qualifiers:
  1. Alexandra Raisman
  2. Sandra Izbasa
  3. Vanessa Ferrari
  4. Ksenia Afanaseva
  5. Lauren Mitchell
  6. Jordyn Wieber
  7. Catalina Ponor
  8. Aliya Mustafina


As expected, this is an EPIC floor final! Best Olympic final I can remember, in my humble opinion. After all, how often is it that we get to see the Gold medallists from the last two Olympics competing side by side for the podium?

My only complaints are the lack of Chinese representation, Beth Tweddle’s an eighth place alternate spot and Iordache missing her rightful smashed routine. Still, the quality of the field makes up for this.

Calling this one is difficult: there isn’t a single gymnast in this lineup who I wouldn’t want to see winning a medal. I am less offended that some by Aly Raisman’s floor. Yes it isn’t very artistic, but there has to be room for the powerhouse tumblers and she is certainly not lacking in that department. I would say, though, that I would prefer a more graceful routine to take the gold. For me, Izbasa’s routine is the best and I would love her to take the Gold. But I also want a medal for Mitchell, Afan, Ponor and Ferrari, and obviously that is impossible. There is a definite argument for Wieber as well. Given that this is her only EF in an Olympics she was expected to own, and given that she has one of the most memorable routines this quad, a medal for her wouldn’t go amiss either.

Want to win: Izbasa

Predict to win: Raisman

Other medallist wishes: Literally all of them. 





Do you agree? Disagree? Tell me! I really want to know what fans are thinking and what fans want to see happen in the coming weeks. 


Pictures: http://decanter.media.ipcdigital.co.uk/11150%7C0000026ca%7C872e_olympic-logo.pnghttp://img.poptower.com/pic-96861/viktoria-komova.jpg?d=1024http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m7wuu9WC9c1qha4b4o1_1280.jpghttp://sports.inquirer.net/files/2012/07/Beth-Tweddle1.jpghttp://www.intlgymnast.com/image/sui_lu.jpghttp://sphotos-b.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-snc7/c0.0.403.403/p403x403/315409_10150823266697168_1834494497_n.jpg



The price of depth


Less than one day in and this is already shaping up to be the most unpredictable Olympics in recent history.

For several years now, we have been tipping Wieber for an Olympic challenge. Yet here we are at the end of subdivision 3, and not only is Wieber not posting the highest scores, she has failed to qualify for the individual all around.


This is literally an unthinkable scenario. Sure, there have been those along the way who championed Aly, and rightly so. However, internet forums have predominantly buzzed with negativity about Raisman despite her huge talents, mainly on the grounds of her execution. Two weeks ago, the idea that at an international level, Aly Raisman would be the number one American over Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber would have been pure farce.

It is hard to imagine how Jordyn Wieber must feel. With no AA competition on the horizon, and the potential for no finals, in the blink of an eye Jordyn Wieber has gone from Shannon Miller to Amanda Borden. Who knows how she will react to this swift change in team politics? To be undermined so shockingly and at such a high level must be very mentally stressful, and if I were John Geddert, I would be wondering how it is possible to get Wieber back in the mindset for the all important team finals.

It has been such a long time since gymnasts were fighting so vehemently and closely for AA spots, especially amongst American competitors. This situation is so evocative of the Unified Team in 1992 it is barely believable. What is Marta thinking? Does this mean that Raisman is an AA threat? The international scoring of her floor routine (15.325!), her wildly improved Amanar and her renowned beam consistency certainly suggest so. The big question is, can she stay on bars in an AA situation?


A million questions, and as yet no answers. What is certain, though, is that Raisman has gone out and proved a hell of a lot of people wrong (me included). If she stays on bars in the AA, could she make a podium?
In Gabby Douglas news, she did not have the best of days but did well enough to qualify. If she puts it all together in competition, she might also be one of the top tips for the AA crown.

As sad as the situation is, I think we should all be grateful for the huge depth of talent we are being treated to. Noone should ever criticize Aly Raisman for this: after all, all fans have ever begged of her is that she clean up and refine her gymnastics. She has done that, and this is the result. However, this is surely further evidence against the two up two count rule. The day a 60+ qualification score is not good enough for AA is a day where the Olympic Games cannot be considered a fair representation of international talent. 

TEAM VIEW

Whatever the USA are doing, they are doing it right. Today was an insane display of talent and expertise. Today must have been amongst the most impressive outings on vault in any WAG competition of all time. All of those Amanars are looking good, and some of them marvellously improved. Raisman's for instance, is looking so much better. At this point they are the runaway favourites, but obviously we have to see Romania to be sure (watch this space..).

However, as mentioned, it seems ridiculous that team depth and success must come at expense of individual success. Raisman, Douglas and Wieber are unarguably three of the best gymnasts in the whole right now. The idea that they should have to fight for three spaces is artificial, unfair and basically indefensible.

WAG Qualifications - The wait is over


An Apology

New job = new stress = I have been absent in the lead up to the games. Thanks for still checking the blog and sorry that there has been such a long hiatus, but I am going to try my best to cover as much of the WAG as I can.

Here is a quick summary of The E Panel’s highlights from this morning’s action.
First off, what’s with all the pink? The USA are going to be a bit too matchy-matchy if they pull out their trademark hotpink hotmess leotards. The stadium looks like it is sponsored by Britney Spears Fantasy. Can’t say I am a huge fan.

The North Greenwich Arena, looking more like the video set for "Katy Perry - California Girls" than a setting for Olympic History

Subdivision 1

Dos Santos, BRA – Floor

First off, I want to know what this girl has been drinking. 29 years old?! It looks like the last four years didn’t even happen. She is still just as bouncy and just as fun to watch. Great full twisting DLO and LOVE the two whips into double tuck. Nice job

Boczogo, HUN – vault and floor

I love watching this gymnast. Her form and physique are wonderful. Sadly she doesn’t quite put it together. Particularly on vault. In the air that 1.5TY looks gorgeous but she just crumbles into the ground on the landing. Shame, but great to see such great, classic presentation from underdog countries. The same goes for.....

Millousi, GRE – Floor

You can’t not watch Millousi when she is performing. Her stature and head to toe presentation is so eye catching. Yes, the tumbling has to be considered weak by today’s standards, but I love qualifications for this because it is like a window into the past. It is so good to see tumbles that a gymnast can comfortably compete and that look marvellous execution wise. Further, her dance and musical interpretation is very, very nice. Sad that this is probably the last we will see of her in these games.

Porras, GUAT – Beam

I hadn’t even heard of this girl and wasn’t expecting wonders, then she shut me right up with a planted BHS into tuck full. Wonderful. The leaps on her splits were fantastic, as was the whole set. 2.5 twist dismount was great in the air, and the messy landing was really the only thing wrong with the routine. Would be fantastic to see her in the beam final.

Pena, DOM – Vault

Probably the one to watch in this whole subdivision, and all eyes were definitely on Pena for one reason: the double front that has been splitting opinion for nearly a year now. Nothing sums up the difficulty/execution row more than a vault than can be sat down and still be pushing a fifteen score wise. Unfortunately, she DID sit down the vault. BUT, I don’t know if it is just me but I think it looks better in the air than it has done previously. 

As pointed out by Christine Still, the problem seems to be that she absolutely sprints down the runway and throws the vault long rather than high. The distance she gets from the horse is unbelievable but she just doesn’t get the air to rotate it comfortably. 14.933. 

Come the second vault, things improve. This is the first I have seen of Pena’s DTY and I thought it was fantastic. Execution wise the best vault she has ever produced and mechanically far more impressive than her 1.5TY ever was. This should sail her straight to the vault final, which will surely be an interesting event: if she puts the double front to her feet she will certainly medal. Even if she doesn’t, with a bit of help she might get a bronze which would be a bronze with a fall in two consecutive Olympics. I wonder what the fans would think of that?

Highlight – Pena’s DTY

Low Point – Hypolito’s makeup. I mean seriously, what was that?

Subdivision 2

Pihan, POL – floor

I LOVED this routine. The opening tumble was so unusual and so well performed: punch front layout full walkout through to 2.5 twist rebound stag. Presentation was fantastic and her leaps are just wonderful. Her legs seem to go on forever and she hits splits like it is the easiest thing in the world. Shame that making finals never reflects the finer touches, because this was a great routine. Don’t know what was going on with the glittery hair, though.

Ferrari, ITA – floor

I was mesmerised. Her tumbling is beautiful AND superbly difficult and I would argue that her double double might just be the best in the world right now. She absolutely planted it today. Her second pass, full in connected to punch tuck-back, could do with being sped up a bit but it is great to look at. Dance good. 14.900. Hopefully that will sail her into the floor final which, based on the field, might just be the best Olympic floor final of all time.

Mitchell, AUS – beam and floor

Lauren is worrying me. Apparently she is suffering with a stomach complaint and I was terrified this might affect her. I want her in beam and floor finals, desperately. Not seeing her in any finals in Beijing was a real disappointment and I do NOT want a repeat of that.

Whether or not it did affect her is debatable. Some of her elements looked better than ever, but in other areas things that are usually right on the money were well off.

Floor came first. First tumble was fine but her legs were way more cowboyed than usual on the double Arabian. Still, she landed fine and jumped out well. Her full in double pike landed messily and there was no connected leap. The rest looked good though, and I have really grown to like the composition of this routine. Although I used to bemoan her leaping out, on balance (now that every gymnast and her dog is doing it) she is quite good at it. 14.833, should be final worthy where she can step it up a bit.

Beam started well. She has managed to stop that horrible slouch before the layout series, and it looked as high and flighted as it ever has. However, she had a massive break on her FWO and missed the connection into the tuck. Further, her double pike was a complete knee eater to get her a 14.300. Only time will tell if this is good enough or not, I am keeping everything crossed.

Low Point – Mitchell wobbling and being a millimetre from falling. My heart stopped.

High Point – Ferrari on floor. She smashed it out of the park and can hopefully repeat that in the final

Can't wait for 3 and 4. COME ON BETH. 

Friday, 22 June 2012

Olympic Countdown: The E Panel's top three Olympic WAG Bronzes


Svetlana Boginskaya, AA bronze, Seoul 1988


The first of the two great Svetlana’s (both similar in their statuesque presence, exaggerated presentation and diverse fan reaction) became a more exaggerated figure as her career continued. When Boginskaya’s name is first mentioned, a lot of people might conjure an image of her competing at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, standing perhaps next to eventual AA champion Tatiana Gutsu.

But 1988 was her real AA performance, I think. Overshadowed by the head to head battle between Silivas and Shushunova, Bogi just got on with what she had to do and wowed us with wonderful performances, particularly on floor exercise.

More poignant, for me, is that I often thought Svetlana shined most as a compulsory gymnast, and the Seoul Olympics was the last AA competition before the introduction of new life.  One of the great robberies of that Olympic Games is that Bogi’s compulsory floor shared a score with Shushunova’s. Please.



Although I always loved Boginskaya, it is undeniable that the time between 1988 and 1992 brought a marked deterioration to her work. This might seem like an odd choice of words, given that the problem was mainly a lack of upgrades (most of her routines are virtually identical during this time period). Bogi lost the ability to keep up, and hence many think she began to coast on overscoring.  However no one could argue that this was the case in Seoul, and that is why this performance makes my top three Olympic bronze medals. 

Elena Produnova, BB Bronze, Sydney 2000



Often the legends don’t grace the medal records. I would be willing to be that Produnova’s name is mentioned more in gymnastics conversations, debates and memories than someone Like Gina Gogean, yet Produnova has three individual World and Olympic medals (of which this is probably the most prestigious) and Gogean has fifteen.

I would suggest that this is because the innovator is not always awarded. In some cases maybe the code hasn’t caught up with new approaches enough to fully reward them (although she put the double front vault to her feet in the 1999 event finals, she finished outside of the medals), or often taking the risks means taking the falls too.

Although Produnova was wonderfully unique on all apparatus (competing a bar routine during which she never separated her legs is one example) I always preferred her on beam. Her power and ingenuity were wonderful, and although the 1997-2000 quad is known for its lack of decent flight series on beam (apart from some notable examples), her routine in the EF was wonderful and justly rewarded with an individual Olympic medal.



The main reason I love her beam is her ability to stop all that flipping energy into a stone cold, stuck landing. Incredible. 

Dominique Dawes, FX Bronze, Atlanta 1996



Dawes epitomizes 90’s gymnastics, for me anyway. Big flight series, a 1.5 yurchenko vault, good bars and a strong double layout.

Yet she is another gymnast whose legacy and impact is betrayed by a lack of metal to back it up. In this case, though, the problem is entirely within Dominique’s head.

Shannon Miller is one of my ultimate favourites, and I believe she truly deserves her world titles. This is because there are two sides to gymnastic success: the things you can do in practice and the things you can do on the day. If one translates directly into the second, then you do well. If it doesn’t then you don’t, and that is that. However, there are times when you HAVE to acknowledge how close someone came or how sad a certain mistake was. For Dominique, this didn’t happen just once. It happened THREE TIMES in a World/Olympic AA competition where she could easily have medalled.

Obviously the most famous of these is her floor routines during the AA in 1996. There are just too many sad aspects here: the home crowd, the fact that her hardest pass was over, the fact that the fall came on the classic codewhore pass 2.5 punch which she had not struggled with historically.

The final insult, though, is the medal itself. Not only did Dawes have to accept that her mistakes cost her an individual AA medal on home soil, her bronze on floor became her only individual medal serving as a constant reminder of her capabilities. Still, it gave Dawes a well deserved individual Olympic record.



This is why Dawes made my top three: the interesting mixture of sadness and victory in a single medal. 





Saturday, 9 June 2012

US Nationals Day 1: a super-quick summary



VISA Championships: Day 1 in 100 words

Nastia misses bars. Lack of endurance and nerves bring her to grief: doesn’t compete dismount. 13.150. Comes back to smash beam, 15.100.



Jordyn ties Gabby for first. Messy beam and scary-ish vault but her best bars! Gabby: great bars and good floor, not too bad beam and vault.

Raisman: another day at the office. Solid, but overscored on floor (definitely the opinion splitter of the meet).



Maroney: Two wonderful vaults. Good floor, great 3.5 twist but struggles on 1.5 to double tuck.




Bross: OK bars but sat down Patterson.

Ross: Good

Finnegan: Great, Top Beamer. Stumble on floor, but pretty.


Quick Thoughts

Specialists


I am not Marta, but if I was I would be expecting my specialist hopefuls to be in the top ranks. Rebecca Bross is being beaten by two AA workers, Anna Li isn’t cracking top 3 and Nastia Liukin finished last. Bridget Sloan looked thrilled after her bars routine, which was really rather good.


Can’t fault Nastia Liukin here, she was awesome. Looked like she had glue on her feet and moved quicker than she has in a long time. Will it get her to London? No, but it improves her case after bars. Alicia Sacramone took second place against the odds, looking very competent with a lovely new sheep jump I would never have assumed would suit her body type. Rebecca Bross is starting to make her dismount look like it is supposed to be sat down. With so little time, what chance now?


Mckayla Maroney simply smashed it. Olympic champion performance, as always. Alicia Sacramone didn’t have the best rudi of her life, but it was better than expected. Vaulted an FTY for her second, which her coach didn’t seem happy with.

All Arounders

Gabrielle Douglas is proving that she can be up there with “lock” Wieber yet again. Great bars; beam and vault could have been better but no major mistakes. Floor generally good but as everyone seems to be saying, her music is brittle and somewhat annoying and the dance echoes this. I am all for modern floor music; ever since her tweet after the 2011 team final (“who run the world, US girls!” or something similar) I have always though how great she would be to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVo5tIuPiU8

Jordyn Wieber didn’t have the best day of her life, but it certainly was bad either. Rather it was unexpected. Her worst of the day was probably beam, which is unusual, and she hit bars about as well as she is capable. Floor looked great, no DLO yet though.

Sarah Finnegan: Great floor as usual, and top beam. The mount sequence into the triple spin is wonderful. Who knows whether she will make the team, but her beam and floor are certainly Olympic worthy.



Alexandra Raisman had her usual solid day for third. As usual, there were complaints though. Her vault is dramatically lacking in execution, even though it is traditionally where she held her form the best in my opinion. I read an opinion the other day on a gym board which sums it up wonderfully: it is as though she does a DTY with a tucked half twist right before landing. Floor wise, her tumbling is fantastic. However as a whole I would be shocked if Raisman attracts the same level of scoring from an international panel.


Kyla Ross did what was asked, and crucially she posted the top score on bars.


Tomorrow

Nastia needs to hit bars out of the park.
Bross needs to stand up a Patterson, if not I think it’s pretty much game over
Jordyn could do with hitting beam like she usually does, same with vault. Whichever of Douglas and Wieber manages to do this that will decide who the 2012 National Champion is. 

As always, huge gratitude to Nastiafan101 (or whatever the current variation is) for fantastic videos so quickly.


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Nastia: I take it all back


I remember vividly the Qualifications at the 2011 world championships in Tokyo, when the Olympic AA champion stopped all the speculation and qualified a huge piece of information: she would indeed be trying her hand at getting to London for the 2012 Olympic Games.


Cue months of criticism and scepticism. Was it for the publicity? Was this a well-timed stunt to remain in the headlines of US WAG gymnastics? The world of gym forums and blogs alike trended a generally negativity-led retort to a Nastia Liukin they saw as not the beautiful athlete she had been, but the media machine she had since become.

I was no exception. Although happy to hear one of the greats of the decade returning, I held my views firmly rooted in the same scepticism (see: http://theepanel.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/potential-return-of-nastia-liukin.html for a flashback).

Fast forward 7 months, whizzing past the countless interviews, photoshoots, endorsements and gymnastics tours, we finally got what we were waiting for: cold, hard evidence of what Nastia had been up to and a real glimpse at her chances of making the team.



And all things considered, all videos watched and all catty opinions firmly put to bed it is time to say this: I take it all back.

VISA Championships Podium training videos from USAGymnastics. 


Nastia looks fantastic. Sometimes you need to see something before your eyes to realise how much you missed it, and I have to say that from the first one armed pirouette from podium training at classics, I was pretty much sold. Liukin’s lines have not suffered from the steady march of time. Rather, I think in many ways she looks even better: statuesque, in great shape but not emaciated shape and in general resembling an accomplished, polished young woman still capable of producing beautifully presented gymnastics.

Sure, there are a few leg separations that weren’t there before, the Tkatchev is still the same and looking to beam, her switch ring and 2.5 dismount need work. But really, that is a short list considering what a lot of us expected. Now for some gushing....

THINGS THAT LOOK GREAT

Pirouettes

Slightly less crisp than they have been, but the best forward giant pirouetting series I have seen in a good while. Liukin’s ability to maintain that shape and toe point through those skills is still wonderful.

Dismount

Perhaps one of the most maligned gym skills amongst the top competitors in recent times, and the skill many people hoped to have seen the back of during this comeback. However, this dismount looks very, very good (check out the stick). Of course, Nastia was always capable of doing a great job on the double front half when taken in isolation, and it was clearly the pressure of a fatiguing jam-packed routine that prevented her from doing this dismount justice. Yet here is it, preceded by a fair amount of gymnastics, looking very good.

DID NASTIA DO IT RIGHT?

In the linked article above, I referenced how Nastia announced her comeback when her compatriot comeback queens were in the gym working hard. At the time they seemed like the girls taking the right route. But with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps camp Liukin had it right all along. We have watched the other Beijing Olympians drop like flies after achieving shortlived second winds of success. Perhaps timing her second peak exactly for London was the best strategy anyone could have hoped for.

Whatever the weather, and whatever the team, I can happily admit an end to any scepticism on my part. I think Nastia has come across fabulously in recent interviews, and these podium training videos are a testament to the hard work that has gone on behind closed doors.

Whether this spells a second trip to the games is unclear, but no matter what happens I am grateful to have seen Nastia Liukin on her best apparatus again, and eagerly anticipate her performance this weekend. 

Monday, 28 May 2012

Farewell Chellsie?

Rules are rules, but it seems few of us are ready to bid farewell to Chellsie Memmel quite yet...

It is never good when an unbelievable journey isn’t graced with an unbelievable ending. We learned that with LOST, we saw it again with Desperate Housewives, and this weekend in Chicago the rollercoaster that is Chellsie Memmel was stopped without one last trip around the tracks.



I would be shocked if anyone reading this didn’t already know the circumstances, but for clarity...

In the excitement of watching small scale US domestic competitions like the Classic to see how people are progressing and keep our beady eyes peeled for upgrades, we can often forget that they have a specific purpose. The US Classic is a qualifier to the VISA National Championships later in the sporting year.

Now, Chellsie Memmel, although she is a superstar in the fans eyes, has not competed internationally since the Beijing Olympics. Therefore she needed to use this competition not only as a practice (like it was for Wieber, Douglas, Raisman etc due to being on last year’s world team) but she needed to fulfil certain requirements in order to qualify.

For event specialists, this basement level requirement is a score of 14.000 on the apparatus of choice. As Chellsie opted to compete only on beam, this is the score she would have needed in order to advance to Nationals. As we all know, this did not come to pass. Falls on two major skills cost Chellsie dearly, and she posted the lowest beam score of the competition.

Not the easiest watch. Shame about the Arabian - Korbut connection, I like the idea

As a result, Chellsie’s petition to Nationals has been denied (similarly to the Dominique Moceanu situation in 2006, and therefore feelings of sympathy might explain Moceanu’s heated tweeting on the topic) and she becomes the first top name gymnast to be officially out of the Olympic selection process. As of this weekend, Chellsie’s gymnastics career is over.

It just doesn’t feel right: like a giant blazing fire being blown out by a breeze. There is an overwhelming sense that the Memmel saga deserves more of a bang than this damp fizzling out.

WHY I AGREE WITH THE DECISION

Rules are rules

 It cannot be denied that a big part of the reason the online fans are so up in arms about this decision is due to Chellsie’s popularity. People see her as a fighter, a likeable character who has always seemed to be a determined, charismatic athlete; and more importantly,  a team player.

Memmel deserves this appreciation. No doubt about that, and it pretty much sums up the way I feel about her as an athlete. She always appeared to always try her best to get the job done, but faced a greater than average share of setbacks and bad luck along the way. Of the top USA WAG competitors this decade, I would say she is probably the one with the most underdog appeal. People root for her more universally than many of her compatriots, because we have watched her hit walls so many times and we all want her to get her slice of good luck.

BUT, imagine if it was Nastia Liukin who had fallen from the beam twice and posted the lowest score. If she was granted a trip to nationals, people would not be sympathetic. They would say she was undeserving and in it for the fame. However, Nastia DID hit. She scored the 14.000+ she needed and pretty much smashed it. Sure her connections were a bit off, but they always were anyway.

Switch ring less than great, but on the whole pretty impressive

This is why we have frameworks like these qualification rules in life: they give a structure to certain events and prevent unfair biases stemming from subjective likes and dislikes. It does not help in this situation that gossip in previous years has been that Chellsie is not favoured by Marta, allowing many of us to get hotheaded and claim this is a personal attack based on personal opinions. When all the information is viewed from a cold, non emotional standpoint it simply boils down to this: Memmel knew what had to happen, and sadly she couldn’t make it happen on this occasion.

Transparency

In what may seem like a contradiction to the above, in the end it will pretty much be Marta’s decision who goes to London. Although I just now advocated following rules to the letter, if Marta really thought Chellsie has a shot at a spot on her dream team, she would have found a way to get her through to Nationals. So in a way, although it may have been a simple case of rule following, this could have been Marta’s way of saying “you are not going to be on my team, so save yourself the stress and call it a day here”. At least it is honest.

Health

Not to make assumptions about Memmel in any way, but if her general portrayal is anything to go by it would seem that her determination and fighting spirit got her to where she is, and not necessarily her health. Given that she wouldn’t make the Olympic team (obviously that is my opinion, but I am pretty sure most people would concur) maybe it IS a good thing for her to stop before something else happens.

WHY I HATE THE DECISION

The Pan-Ams issue

Shawn Johnson does not have to qualify because she attended the Pan American games last year. Chellsie was named to this team but withdrew. Now, it could be argued that being deemed good enough to represent the USA internationally last year should earn Memmel a ticket to Nationals even though she didn’t actually go.

Was this all about London?

If Chellsie was only continuing to try for a London team spot, then this might be less of an issue as mentioned above. However, perhaps she would have been just fine with bowing out after a good show at nationals and another go in front of her fans?

Legacy

Chellsie is one of the faces of noughties US gymnastics and, as discussed, a huge favourite with the fans. Sure, the rules are not made to be broken, but surely in certain circumstances room can be made for the long time contributors? Even if just for the sake of making Nationals a better competition for the fans to watch.

Further, and I appreciate I am about to enter dangerously subjective and speculative territory here, but WHY did Chellsie have shoulder problems anyway? Was it indeed because she put her health and individual competitive record on the line by slogging it out for the team effort in 2006? Perhaps if Memmel was the kind of person to shy away from giving a team meet everything she had, she would have a stack more world medals and a much shorter health bill.

Some people might think that a young girl who sacrificed her health for USA gymnastics should be granted one more day on the national podium. (and indeed many do, as revealed by the petition being signed here: https://www.change.org/petitions/usa-gymnastics-usag-olympic-selection-committee-steve-penny-allow-gymnast-chellsie-memmel-to-compete-at-the-national-championships )

WHAT NONE OF THIS WILL CHANGE

-          Chellsie will forever be a double individual world champion
-          Chellsie will forever be a USA gymnastics legend
-          Chellsie will forever be the girl who repeatedly stunned commentators, fans, bloggers and the world with her ability to bounce back and look amazing again

Nothing like proving the gruesome threesome wrong

Whenever I think of Chellsie Memmel I am instantly reminded of this: one day, 3 stuck dismounts and two stuck double pikes. Memmel was always a pleasure to watch and her contributions will be sorely missed.

Wham, Bam, Thankyou Memmel. 



Sunday, 20 May 2012

An Absolute Classic

Why the US Classic will give us more clues about the US Olympic lineup than we have had all year




For over a year now, everyone (especially me) has been talking, pondering, speculating and arguing over who is going to make the USA 2012 Olympic team. A lot of ideas and opinions have been thrown around, and it has become very popular to say that the USA is the deepest country in the world.

However, we haven’t had any concrete evidence to get a clear answer as to who will be going and why. Sure, we have seen the odd competition such as the American Cup (the first annual Gabby Douglas appreciation event) and the Pacific Rim championships. But none will rival what we will find out next week at the “Secret” US Classic. As soon as the first day of senior competition comes to an end, we will be closer than ever to knowing who is going to London, and who isn’t.

WHY?



One word. BARS.

There is a hole in the USA’s repertoire, and there has been for some time. The uneven bars have never, really, been their strength. Even when there have been fantastic individuals, the team as a whole seemed to shine elsewhere (except perhaps in 2004). For this entire quad, the US has lacked superstar bar workers, leading many to believe that this apparatus could prove to be their Achilles heel come London.

However, the situation is not nearly as bad as many of us predicted, and the US does have the prospect of three bar routines with start values in the mid-6 to 7 range. However, with Mustafina, Komova and Grishina posting mammoth bars scores at Euros (even without their antipicated upgrades), Russia need only get an Amanar or two and the US vault advantage gap is closed.

The Classic will reveal some very important information about all of the USA’s bar hopes...

NASTIA LIUKIN

Without a doubt the most highly anticipated performer in next week’s competition. The last any of us saw of Nastia, bar some admittedly beautiful training pictures from earlier this year, was her watered down beam set from the 2009 nationals.



Nastia’s bar work is pretty legendary and has the potential to be the highest scoring of any American. However, Nastia has certainly been given the speculative advantage from the “benefit of the doubt” - no one knows anything about what she is capable of, so people instead subconsciously defer to her past successes. Rumours from her gym and statements from Nastia herself have painted a slightly less optimistic picture of what Nastia can bring on the bars. Training news has been very positive with regards to the beam, but little has been said about bars except that getting a routine back together has been a rough road.

In a live Twitter chat with Nastia, courtesy of @ATTTeamUSA, one twitter user asked Nastia: “will you compete bars next week?”. The reply wasn’t exactly crystal clear: “not sure yet, definitely beam”. Whilst I am excited to see Nastia back on the beam, one thing is for sure: beam does not get her to London, bars most definitely does. It would be a shame for her not to go up on the bars next week at least just for some experience of performing in front of a crowd on the event again. Even if she made mistakes, it would still benefit her to get her skills out there again.

What will we know? If she does bars and beam, we will have our first clear idea of whether she has a shot or not. If she hits and has decent start values, even if they are not bigger than Bross’s she might have a better chance because she is probably healthier. If she DOESN’T do bars, we will know that she isn’t ready with less than 100 days to go and her stock will go down.

REBECCA BROSS



It has certainly not been an easy Olympic road for Bross, who is still recovering from a multitude of injuries, not just her high profile knee accident last year. Bross announced a few days ago that her focus has narrowed and will now be on the bars and the beam. Now, if Becca can put together a top notch bar set AND prove that she can hit it, this shouldn’t hurt her too much. However, it does mean that she is now in direct competition with her gym-mate Liukin, and we can be absolutely sure that a five member team will not contain two beam and bars specialists.

Bross’s bar work has been around for a long time, has been scored at two different world championships and she medalled at both. With her beam, had she not fallen in 2009 and performed in the final as she did in the AA she would have been rewarded with a gold medal, and actually did win a silver in 2010. Therefore Bross has a proven track record of excellence on her two apparatus of focus. However, so does Nastia albeit a bit longer ago.

The problem is not what Bross is lacking on bars and beam, it is the niche she misses by not competing floor. If Bross was able to compete TF quality routines on three of four apparatus, I think she would be pretty hard to leave at home. Although bars is where a USA girl can really stamp her ticket, Bross ties Iordache for the highest floor score in major competition this quad, and this would have been an invaluable asset when staking her claim for the games.

What will we know? Whether the cutting down of events was tactical or due to declining health and being unable to cope. If Bross can put up a good bars score and convincingly land her Patterson dismount then she will still be in the running.

GABRIELLE DOUGLAS

An in-shape Dougie could potentially be used on any of the four events, and hence Gabby’s chances for London look a lot more concrete than either of the above. Gabby’s problem has always been consistency, and although the fan perceptions of her as a headcase are a little overblown in my opinion, the last thing Marta will want is a repeat Alicia situation. ESPECIALLY on bars: some speculative team configurations mean putting Jordyn up for TF bars. This would be fine if a top bar worker hits afterwards, but if Gabby was relied upon for the highest bars score and missed the USA would be in pretty deep trouble.

Therefore, all Gabby really needs to do is prove that she can hit a top shelf bar routine with no problems. She already has the skills, and her routine looks pretty handsome. She just has to put it together when it counts. Same goes for all events really. Gabby has the tricks but her routines can look fantastic one minute and a complete car crash the next.

What will we know? We already know Gabby is more than capable. If she hits bars out of the park then her case is stronger than ever.

ANNA LI

Many people might wonder why she is in this list: she hasn’t exactly been at the top of the list in terms of realistic Olympic team expectations. However, why not? If Li can put something truly fantastic together on bars I would say she has a realistic shot. Obviously for Anna to factor in would require a hell of a lot more than from the others: nothing less than a mammoth routine would do. It would take a routine which could realistically score in the high fifteens, but if she managed this then she would not be out of the picture just yet.

What will we know? If USA’s only one event hopeful has anything like a shred of a chance for London.

Elsewhere...

Although bars are the publicized weakness of the US, they aren’t exactly turning away floor workers at the door either. Everyone will be watching to see who can put in a performance worthy of high scores.

Of particular importance here will be competitors like Mckayla Maroney. Maroney, as a world champion, has a great shot of making the team. Yes, vault is saturated BUT Maroney can happily outscore other US Amanars by around four tenths on a good day, which isn’t dissimilar to the advantage of another bar workers bar score over Wieber’s. If she can make a convincing claim for a TF floor spot though, her campaign is only strengthened.

Wieber is a lock for the team barring some terrible injury, but I can’t imagine her not being in London. On the topic of floor, recent videos of US camp verification (that I saw in a cool post on http://gymqueenzlive.blogspot.com.au/) show that Jordyn is working a great double layout on floor.


London ain’t everything...


It’s important to remember that the Olympics are not the be all and end all. I am excited also to see Casey Jo Magee, a gymnast with entirely different aspirations whose beam is always interesting to watch. Also, I left out Chellsie Memmel in the above analysis, because who can say where she will be up to. No matter what happens though I enjoy watching her compete whatever the weather. 

Secret Classic competitors: 


SO Exciting!