Saturday, 25 February 2012


Taken from "movieclips" on youtube

It is fast approaching 4 months since Tokyo. The athletes are long since home, medals are probably secured in cabinets and all the dust thrown into the air at the time has most definitely settled. It is now possible to look back with some real perspective at the big stories from Tokyo.

I am of course referring to the Viktoria Komova sportsmanship scandal that set the many gymnastics blogs and forums the world over alight with strong, conflicting opinions. Some time ago now I wrote an article called “Back to reality” in an attempt to shed some light on the validity of our perceptions of who gymnasts really are, which is inextricably linked with the opinions of commentators and the perceived opinions of entire federations. However, I feel it only scratched the surface in terms of sportsmanship issues, and, inspired by a recent comment and excellent examples from “Thisyearsgirl”, I thought I would attempt a more in depth look at reactions to disappointment from our much loved sport, past and present.


For those that don’t know (although I highly doubt that anyone ending up at this page wouldn’t), this issue was sparked by events at the world 2011 All Around competition. This meet was the much anticipated showdown between American powerhouse Jordyn Wieber and Russian wonderchild Viktoria Komova. This was to be a classic USA vs Russia situation: a super powerful but perhaps grace lacking American up against a super delicate executionist with some great bars.

Who was going to take it was really anybody’s guess before the competition, but Komova had been the favourite for this title among many circles since videos of her beam and bars work at junior meets began surfacing several years ago. She stamped herself as the frontrunner most notably, however, when she took a truckload of gold medals at the 2010 Youth Olympic games (including one on the vault, where she was already rocking the holy grail of AA vaulting - the ever more essential Amanar).

But 2011 was not a good year for Komova. A series of ankle issues and a growth spurt meant less training for the Russian hopeful and caused her to downgrade some of her elements by the time Tokyo rolled around (including the Amanar and her Patterson beam dismount). Althought she qualified in first for the AA, a stronger vault and beam from Wieber and fewer floor mistakes edged her into first place to take the gold despite a disappointing bars outing.

The following are a few things I think it is helpful to remember when interpreting these situations. I want to make clear that this is NOT support or criticism of Komova’s behaviour, but an attempt at a reasoned approach towards its perception by us, the viewers.


This applied to those fans who are not gymnasts themselves - like me!

It is remarkably easy for us to label Komova (in indeed any gymnast in her position) for reacting in a way that we would consider “sore”, “bitchy” or “disrespectful”. BUT, what do we experience in our lives that is in any way comparable?

When I think of the times in my life that I have to gracefully accept a defeat it is usually something fairly inconsequential: an argument or discussion with a friend, a quiz or a game, not succeeding at a job interview, and other things of this nature. Of course my reaction would always be graceful (or nearly so).

But these girls have been training specifically for these championship titles for about the same amount of time I have been in education. Its a bloody long time. I can’t personally empathize with that kind of disappointment because nothing in my life experience is in any way comparable. Komova has been hoping for that world title for as long as she knew how to say it, probably. And further, she will have been TOLD by everyone around her that she could do it. The kind of self confidence and unadulterated BELIEF one must have to keep training at such a level would be immense, so it is understandable that an emotional meltdown follows the loss of something you have been told was in the bag for a decade (an obvious exaggeration).


Grace in defeat and not displaying overt emotion are classic British codes of conduct, and to a lesser extent American. It is strangely admirably in the eyes of a British audience to enter situations with self deprecation rather than with confidence and a desire to win.

These kind of norms get passed down through generations and become social staples: the British obsession with saying please constantly is a good example. Often when coming into contact with people with different social cultures, we can be unintentionally shocked by what first appear to be rude infringements of our social guidelines (continuing the prior analogy, Europeans when speaking English often don’t say “please” and “thankyou” as much because this convention is not followed in their mother tongue - this is not rudeness, just different social conventions).

But this is not a sociology blog. My basic point is that we interpret Komova’s reaction to silver as if it were our own, or we compare it to examples of defeat in people that we know whom are generally from the same cultural background as ourselves. Sure if some British girl did that at a British competition, people would probably think she was a spoilt brat who didn’t have any manners, and would much prefer her to appear pleasantly surprised and keep a stiff upper lip throughout the proceedings (again, I do like to exaggerate).

My basic, although convoluted, point is that I know nothing about Russian social conventions. It may be perfectly acceptable to honestly express feelings both in joy and defeat, in which case she would have had no idea she would end up offending anyone.


When you watch something all the time you develop an immunity to what you are seeing. When I first started watching gymnastics I DID notice the age of the competitors, but now it rarely if ever crosses my mind. Similarly, because gymnasts in general tend to have certain physical features, they standardize each other on the screen and you can miss the reality of the features. What I mean by this is illustrated by when I met Beth Tweddle: although I should have anticipated it, I was taken aback by how petite and small she was, and it made me realise how tiny the others must be!

Basically I think we often forget than many gymnasts are in their mid teens. Handling such huge pressure at such a young age must be insanely difficult.


The most important thing to do is keep this issue a level playing field: we have to acknowledge that gymnasts have been doing the same thing (and worse) as Komova for decades and have got off lightly compared to Komova. Why? Because fewer or us had the internet and blogs were less of a big deal (at least for some of the examples). Daniela Silivas is one of the best loved WAG gymnasts of all time and yet her reaction to silver in 1988 is incredibly similar to that of Komova.

Some of the best examples (I thanks newyearsgirl for most of these):

Alicia blanks Shawn in 2007

...AND Shawn was her teammate! Alicia owed Shawn a lot more than Komova owed Wieber, after all they were going to have to coexist throughout an entire Olympic process. Obviously this wasn’t a big deal for either of them in the longrun, but Alicia’s reaction here is not a million miles away from Komova’s.

Carly enjoys Romania’s misfortune

This doesn’t need explaining. I appreciate that she was probably joking and people goof around saying things like that all the time, BUT she must have known that camera was in her face and how that other girl might have felt if she ever heard what she had said. The worst thing about this is the commentators reactions. They do sound shocked by what she had said, but in a funny way as if she is being really amusing and outspoken. This is a huge part of the sportsmanship issue: the imbalance of perception between American and European/Asian behaviour. Carly here is interpreted as being funny and sassy, but imagine the shoe on the other foot. Imagine if Cheng Fei had been filmed saying the same thing when Alicia bombed her front pike in 2008. If Oana Ban had said the same thing when Carly messed up bars in 2004. They would be mobilizing the troops, not giggling.

The same applies for the below....

Bross and Asac have a good eye roll

...when Porgras wins the 2010 beam title.

The Russians reject silver

Pretty much the same situation as Komova, but for the majority of a team! Yes this is a famous and well documented example of disappointment but it is portrayed mainly as a SELF disappointment rather than a protest of injustice. Could the same not be true for Komova?


I think when considering the Komova issue in future (and issues like it) we should consider the above points (age, upbringing, spectator experience, past events) and many more. It is important we remember the past, especially because there wasn't the facility for nearly as much discussion and response at the times of many controversial gymnastics moments. Imagine if there had been blogs and gym forums after the 1992 AA? If there had been more of them after the 2000 vault scandal? Our initial reaction is to not compare the actions of today's gymnasts with fairness to those of the past.

I think maybe Komova was just upset. Just a young girl upset at what had happened, and that might be all there is to it. 

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

In anticipation of the Triple Twisting Yurchenko

It is waiting, crouching in the grass ready to pounce: we can say with relative certainty that we will see a triple twisting yurchenko some time in the near future, it is just a question of WHEN.

For years we have heard rumours and speculated about those who could be capable of performing this vault, but something in the air suggests that the TTY is closer than ever.

Vault has changed its personality in recent years. In the two quads leading up to 2008, it was generally considered the lowest scoring event and an area of fairly little ingenuity: all around gymnasts on the whole tended to “get through” vault and then slam high scores on other events. Whilst this was less true after the advent of the open ended code, it was still possible to make ones name as an all arounder without being strong on the apparatus. After all, the current all around champion won her crown with a Yurchenko 1.5, a vault most associated with the Atlanta Olympics from 12 years previously.

A beautiful vault, but with the scoring potential of vault returned to the rafters, it seems likely that the next AA champ will have a top shelf vault.

But the time of vault as a stringent scorer has ended, and it is now feasible for AA hopes to be spearheaded on this apparatus. Whilst I disagree with any kind of scoring imbalance, I can’t help but feel fond of this concept: it reminds me of 1992, and other times when golden hopes were made or broken in a crisp, exciting couple of seconds.

Although there could be many competitors currently hiding in the shadows that could potenatially be training a TTY, the most obvious and worthy assumption lies with the current world champion: the fantastic Mckayla Maroney, who combines power and execution like few ever have before. She currently holds the accolade of the highest world level score on vault this quad: a 16.033. A score which is also the third highest on any discipline. 

This could scarcely be improved

Now, let us indulge in some even wilder speculating. With a triple twisting Yurchenko of execution even approaching that with which she performs her Amanar, she would be the overwhelming frontrunner for the London vault title (she is anyway, in my opinion). But that’s not all: this earthquake of a vault could even transform Maroney, almost overnight, into an All Around threat.

Here is what I mean:

The above takes her qualification scores from bars and beam, her team final score for floor and the execution score of her team final Amanar, the latter of which was used to generate an actual score based on the 7.2 difficulty value of the triple twisting yurchenko.

As can be seen, she is already nipping at Raisman’s heels. She is this close to the second American even with an overtimed and messy beam routine.

Further, I think that Maroney has fantastic upgrade potential. She has brilliant execution and technique on all four events, and her bars routine has very little in it. On floor, she has some great skills combined with brilliant dance and even a few relatively small tweaks could make it a lot better (I am thinking a somersault or jump out of the opening 3.5 pass and maybe even a full or half twist in the double tuck). It should be fairly safe to assume that she will make some improvements across these apparatus, if only to just make herself that bit more indispensible to the US team.

Of course, the above speculative scores are dependent on a lot of things that probably will not come to pass. The closeness assumes Maroney having the best day of her career, and managing to maintain the same insanely huge E score with that extra half twist. That and the assumption that Raisman isn’t upgrading, which we know she is (for those that don’t know - it seems she is trying a layout punch following the double Arabian and a tuck punch after the Dos Santos - super cool - and she is planning on training the amanar regularly). And even this doesn’t take into account the many other American competitors who could be challenging for the second AA spot in London.

Who knows what is going on over at WOGA. Could Bross still challenge for the second AA spot? One thing seems certain, she will have a DTY at the absolute best, whereas Raisman and Wieber will both have Amanars. That is 7 tenths to try and find elsewhere.

Despite these reasonable doubts, I still think the original point stands: a gymnast capable of performing this vault to a good standard could harness extreme scoring potential. As with anything in modern gymnastics, however, there are likely to be those who perform it to a poor standard of execution and safety. Hong un Jong was rumoured to have a TTY at the time of the Beijing games, but elected not to perform it after Cheng Fei had fallen. Nabieva was also close to a triple twist. Calling anything resembling this vault a TTY would be an injustice, however. I personally prefer to call it an impression of a jellyfish being hit with a tennis racquet.

In my humble opinion, the only vaulter worthy of this vault, past and present, is Maroney. If she is training it, I simply cannot wait to see it. 


1. Cheng brings out the Cheng

What a moment, and what a gymnast. It seems likely Maroney will have this as her second vault. If it looks anything like Vanessa Zamarripas was on a good day, I'm happy.

2. Khorkina has a lot of nerve

A tucked version of the above. As annoying as the NBC terrible trio are, I always found their Khorkina giddiness very endearing.

3. What a powerhouse this one was

Not the first time she did this, but the first world level performance with a good video. Her power was verging on scary. 

An aside: will the TTY end the Yurchenko arms race?

As vault difficulty has evolved over the past few decades, the vast majority of the resultant vault "species" have been Yurchenko variants. First the full was trendy. Then the half. Then the 1.5. Eventually, we end up where we are today: almost every federation chases the Amanar, with the DTY being the second best option.

But is it even POSSIBLE to push this envelope any further? Is it even POSSIBLE to chuck a TTY? People once would have said that only a select few are Amanar capable. Yet they are getting more common every competition.

Will the TTY becomethe next rabbit to chase? In twenty years from now will all the girls be doing one? Who can say, but I hope not. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Compulsories: compulsory viewing

In the past I have elected not to spend much time watching compulsory routines. Why? Because I find watching them incredibly depressing.

This is not, however, due to me disliking them. It is simply due to the fact that I enjoy them to the point where my sadness that they no longer exist begins to outweigh the happiness I get from watching. This may sound like an exaggeration, but I truly believe that compulsory routines were one of the main factors keeping gymnastics artistic, polishing and brilliant throughout the 80s and 90s.

To some, compulsories must have seemed as normal a part of gymnastics as the four apparatus themselves. To others, such as myself, they are a strange and wonderful event which we never had the opportunity to view and discuss in the present tense (at least with any real perspective- I doubt my 7 year old self would have had much to say about the compulsory competition in 1996).

A quick visit to Wikipedia provides the following description of compulsory routines: “[they] heavily emphasized perfect technique, form and execution” - three aspects of the sport that modern gymnastics whiners lament on a daily basis. Sure, there were bad aspects of compulsories; but for a brief few minutes lets indulge in a full scale whinge about one of the sport’s greatest losses.


They provided (in theory) a standardized, comprehensive test of the basic gymnastic capabilities of every single competitor at a meet - but they were much prettier to look at than an SAT paper. Compulsory exercises, although technically far easier than the optional routines which followed, were just as hard in many aspects because the judges knew EXACTLY what they were looking for. Not once since has the quest for utter perfection been so wonderfully captured: compulsory exercises left no room for slouchy breathers between tumbling passes or half baked corner poses passed off as choreography. Every aspect of the routine was constructed with delivery and technique at the forefront, from the tumbling to the leaps to the simplest of delicate hand movements.

They encouraged real attention to the basics of gymnastics, the bread and butter which act as a solid foundation to all difficulty piled on later. Gluing ones legs together during a back handspring or hitting 180 on a split leap was not a cherry-on-top technicality but an essential pre-requisite to a good score (the attainment or failure of which had profound consequences on ones progression into event finals). Rarely have I seen anywhere else the striking technical perfection right to the tip of the toes that was the norm amongst the top competitors in the compulsory competitions.

Something we have seen less and less of over the years is the stuck landing. My opinions are mixed on this. Obviously nothing ends a routine better, or looks better, that an upright planted landing. However it does get incredibly wearing when commentators begin talking about this 30 seconds before the end and for the entire slow motion replay: it is cool, but not everything. These days, though, with the stuck landing being seen less and less, one can’t help but think that it is losing its place as one of the deciding factors for a medal. At the last Olympics, only 1 of 4 apparatus gold medallists stuck their dismount.

Sandra Izbasa's triple twist: the only "stuck" dismount from the Beijjing event finals

With technique and presentation paramount in the judging of compulsories, stuck landings were a necessity for a huge score (in all fair examples, anyway). Surely having the importance of such endings drummed into ones training regime would make the same mantra spill over into the optional routines? Maybe is compulsories were still around today, training would more greatly reflect the need for a stick.

This point precedes my main reason for loving compulsories: whether consciously or subconsciously, they set an example moving forward into optional routines. If gymnasts have to hit a proper split one day, why not do it the next? Stick a landing one day, why not the next? Polished, expressive choreography one day, why not the next? The list goes on. Basically, compulsories provided an “ideal world” in gymnastics, laying down the standard for technique and artistry.

It seems to me no coincidence that the interpretation of floor music and quality of choreography has declined in general since 1996. Even the floor routines we loved in 2000 had begun to lose some of their artistic edge (which can be seen in the wild differences between Lilia’s golden performance in Atlanta and Zamo’s golden performance in Sydney - but that’s not to say I dislike the latter, I think it is great nonetheless). With compulsory floor routines filled with compulsory choreography, even the least confident and able of dancers would have to learn and practice SOME classic dancing just to get through the stadium doors. Many gymnasts competing today look almost embarrassed by their choreography and unwilling to perform it wholeheartedly.


Ironically, although compulsories on paper appear to be the perfect, standardized ideal described above, the reality was often very different. It seems that, with everyone performing the same skills and hence the scoring entirely subjective of the performance, it may have been easier for judges to award the top countries the benefit of the doubt. I believe that the old compulsory system exacerbated the team “score building” phenomenon that was allowed to penetrate the scoreboards for far too long. Such bias acts as a roadblock for emerging gymnastics states, and one cannot help but wonder whether countries like Great Britain and more recently Vietnam (albeit with a single competitor) would have enjoyed the same breakout success had compulsories still been around.

An example from the top of my head comes from the 1992 compulsories, and from one of my all time favourites Svetlana Boginskaya. Svetlana was great, but she benefited from her celebrity. The Wag competitors in the compulsory competition on vault had to work very hard for 9.8+ on the vault, yet Bogi breezes through a 9.850 with a noticeably shaky landing. Would this have been the same if she wasn’t wearing the Unified Team leotard that night? Who knows, but I would venture a no.

Worth a 9.850?

This scored a 9.837...

Lastly, thoughts must turn to the athlete’s stamina. Compulsory competitions mean a whole other rotation of the apparatus. Would today’s girls manage modern difficulty during “optionals” with a whole other day added?

So, admittedly, compulsories were a two sided coin. However, with less international bias these days, and a sorry state of basic presentation and artistry, this gymnastics enthusiast for one would love to see a return of these much missed competitions. I actually think they might nowadays benefit smaller programmes: if added to the team competition and qualifying scores, they would allow basic presentation to factor into the medals as opposed to huge difficulty (in which the powerhouse countries seem to lead the field). They also might play a helping hand in outlawing skill chucking forever, and would definitely help the expressively challenged competitors of the modern day with both a real incentive to improve artistically and a subconscious inclination to do so.

For now, a return seems unlikely. But until such a point, the golden days of compulsory glory should be compulsory viewing for all gymnastics fans. 

THREE OF THE BEST (in my humble opinion)

1.The mother of all....

2. Shannon at her best....

3. Sveta keeps it classy....