Tuesday, 3 April 2012

LIKE A BROSS: why I am rooting for Rebecca

The curse of the birthday is one of those saddening and unavoidably frustrating aspects of a gymnast’s life, and often accompanies our saddest gymnastics tales. Through no fault of their own, gymnasts are forced to peak at a far later time than they would if age were no concern. Of course, we hear success stories now and again. Nastia Liukin is one of those bright child stars who would surely have made the 2004 Olympic team had she been a whisker older to make the age cutoff, and she went on to take the AA title in Beijing. Despite these heartwarming tales there are those for whom an extra four years is a stretch too far - Vanessa Atler being a prominent example.

It is with an impending sense of foreboding that the time has come to acknowledge a nagging doubt that I have been suppressing to the back of my head for the last few weeks. With 16 weeks to go until the US Olympic trials, does Rebecca Bross have enough time?

Ask anyone in 2009/2010, Bross was a lock for team USA in London. She had some fantastic aspects to her gymnastics that were fantastic not only in an AA situation, but invaluable for a team too. Unlike many USA gymnasts, Rebecca was great on floor, beam AND bars. With fantastic execution and power on the latter and the potential for more upgrades, things were set to get bigger and better with time.

It wasn’t as if she started badly either. She was the talk of 2009 in the USA and would have strolled her way to a national title. Mistakes, however, meant Rebecca handed the title to Olympic veteran Bridget Sloan (not to put down Bridget, I really like her work, but Rebecca is a better gymnast or was in 2009 at least).

Already you can tell I like Rebecca. I just do. I like the look of all her work and how she ATTACKS all four pieces - there is a real fighting spirit and aggression in her work that you see in few other places. For me, this makes up for her lack of “artistry”, which I know gets some people down (and I see why). But Rebecca is that type of gymnast who even if the videos were pixellated you would still know it was her, and I think that kind of individuality is fantastic.

But this goes beyond simply liking someone: everyone has their favourites. Rebecca is one of those gymnasts who has had such an INCONVENIENT career (not Memmel inconvienient, but not far off), that I think it’s hard not to root for her.

A whistle stop tour of a less than ideal senior career

First senior year. General expectation to be the national champion in a podium completed by Bridget Sloan and Ivana Hong. Mistakes put her in third behind these two, more experienced competitors.

Worlds: Qualifies first into the All Around(despite a botched beam dismount) ahead of Porgras, Mitchell, Linlin and Sloan. One of only two all arounders to qualify with an apparatus score in the 15s (on bars). Hits first three apparatus in AA finals (receiving a beam score that would have been golden in the EF). Entered floor needing only a 12.925 for the title, but fell at the very last hurdle on her 2.5 twist to layout half. Just missed the required mark and for a second time handed a title to Bridget Sloan.

Started the season strongly by winning her first American Cup. Then went on to convincingly win the national title. Headed into worlds as a competitor for the title, with the competition painted as a Russian/American rivalry between herself and newly eligible Russian superstar Aliya Mustafina. Qualified in second behind Mustafina, despite a disappointing floor outing. In the finals, Rebecca started well but fell from the beam, losing her chance to become the world champion yet again. However in the last rotation she harnessed her trademark fighting spirit and came back with the best floor routine of her life to get a 15.233 - a score which remains the highest on the apparatus in this quad so far.

Sat out most of the season due to injury, and didn’t compete competitive gymnastics until the Visa Championships in June. Looking tired and unable to compete the skills she had been hitting for years, fans were immediately concerned for her safety and message boards were full of talk about her health. After falling from the beam on both days, sitting down her beam dismount both days and falling from the bars on a tkatchev, Rebecca fell afoul of the dreaded knee injury, a super-low DTY dislocating her kneecap and rendering her incapable of competing again in the 2011 season.

We first got a hint of how Becca was doing at the WOGA classic early in the year. Only competing bars and beam, Becca was looking a little better. Most of the skills were looking good, but she was unable to put her Patterson dismount to her feet. On bars, the old skills were done well enough and an upgrade shaposhnikova half gave a hint of significant improvement, but Becca fell on this new element. In Jesolo, Becca landed the Patterson for the first time in a competition since the 2010 World’s Event Finals. She still failed to stay on the bars however.

Low dismount, but stuck like she never has

So where are we now? Well with no sight of any vault or floor for a year, no hit bars and a dismount that has been landed once in competition, no one can pretend that things are looking good for Rebecca. But there is still hope. Despite the falls (which were probably just flukes - I am sure she is more than capable of that bar transfer) Becca’s bars look very crisp. With a bit more work, beam could be back to a good standard, and if she has floor then she is still in the enviable position of offering three team final worthy events that include a good bars set (people seem to forget how simply superb Becca is on floor - she KILLS it). Few others (really only Kyla Ross at this point) can say that.

Although most of this is a self indulgent whine about the misfortune of one of my favourite athletes, I think this is pretty undeniable: Becca is a great gymnast, one of the stars of this quad, and due to difficult circumstances is now under a huge amount of pressure from all angles. With the WOGA threepeat legacy placed upon her shoulders years ago, rumours of rising tension between her and her coach, and the prospect of fighting for a spot on the Olympic team with little recent international experience, VISAs and trials will be touch and go times for Bross.

I keep my fingers crossed that she can still fight her way to something fantastic on beam, floor and bars. She really deserves it both as a great gymnast and as a person who has had a really hard few years.

Rebecca Bross for London! (but as an edit, I have to add that whether she does or not, it won't make her any less of a star in my eyes)

EDIT 15/05/2012 Bross is no longer going for the All Around

An article posted today on the Dallas news website confirms that Rebecca Bross will from now on "focus on the balance beam and uneven bars" - http://www.dallasnews.com/sports/more-sports/olympics/20120515-gruesome-injury-costs-dallas-gymnast-rebecca-bross-a-shot-at-all-around-glory-but-not-olympic-gold.ece

The full meaning of this is unclear as yet - "focusing" on bars and beam does not necessarily mean that floor is completely out of the question, however, it seems obvious that vault will not be a priority. The time required to get a good DTY that would never be used in a team situation seems pointless given the ticking clock and the remaining work to be done where Bross can actually be used.

Although it is very sad to think what could have been, I think this is generally positive. The pressure of the threepeat is now officially lifted and Becca can plough all her energy into perfecting her routines where they are needed: primarily the uneven bars. Of course, this does mean that the competition between Bross and Liukin is 100% head to head: with a five person team only one of these WOGA girls will make it to London.

We eagerly await Classics to get a better indication of who....

Pictures: http://nimg.sulekha.com/sports/original700/rebecca-bross-2009-10-16-17-10-3.jpg, screencap from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UqXmwiK_pshttp://s4.assets.usoc.org/assets/images/article/photo/39181/full/105992158.jpghttp://cdn.rickey.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Rebecca-Bross-Injury.jpghttp://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_root/galleries/197/197989/crop_450x500_GYI0058655058.jpg


  1. Your blog is my favorite gymnastics blog and Rebecca is my favorite gymnast this quad. I first started rooting for her in 2010, after her fall at beam on the AA and her amazing comeback on FX. When I realized that she had competed about 20 routines on an injured shin, I was hooked. What a little fighter. There are those who say the pressure of being WOGA'S threepeat was Rebecca's downfall. There are those who say competing in a shattered ankle was Rebecca's downfall. There are those who day that coming back from a tough injury to have to do AA and defend her National Title against the new (and younger) star - Wieber - was Rebecca's downfall. For me? All this just showed the courage of this gymnast. Not many people would attempt a double arabian dismount a few months after knee surgery like Rebecca did early this year at the WOGA Classic. Not many people would have persevered on the sport after 4 inferior member injuries in the 4 years of her senior career. And winning a National Title and 6 world medals. Rebecca's story is one of courage. It's not over yet. I also hope to see her in London, Like a Bross!

  2. Exactly! She is such a fighter, I just hope she can make something positive out of all of this - really make her mark on bars and floor. And if she can get a better scoring beam set than Raisman then all the better. I just think it would be so sad for her to not go to London. I accept now that her AA chances are unrealistic but I so want to see her there.

    And thanks! That's really kind :)

  3. Yes! The Bross is on my fantasy US Olympic team for sure. I admit I was rooting against her in 2009, given the wonky knees and her lack of expression on floor. But then she Brossed her way through Worlds in 2010 and I couldn't help but fall for that fierceness, the aggressive way she swings bars, tumbles, and executes her beam routine, even while injured. The Bross-stand sealed the deal. I want her healthy, fabulous, and headed to London. :)

  4. Bross and Valeri have had tension? They always seemed to be on the exact same page and he alwasy said she was super easy to work with and never complained? Im very curious about that...where did you hear that?

  5. Hi Nicole, Thanks for your comment. The rumours about Becca and Valeri are probably just that: rumours. I included that mainly because it was part of my thought process for writing this piece (I would never, for instance, have cited that if I was being critical of Becca because it isn't substantiated, and hence here why I said it was a rumour).

    I got that information from a post on intlgymnast forum under the topic "who are you counting out" which as of right now can be seen rom the forum homepage, and this rumour is mainly discussed under page 13/14 (currently). I don't want to further any misinformation so I will leave it at that. I really didn't mean to give any more mileage to rumour I just mentioned it because I saw it and it was on my mind.

    Kate: that was funny to read because I was the exact same! It took me a while to warm to Becca but when I did I was all over er aggressive approach. The moment that sealed the deal for me was her 2010 AA floor. Sad that this is her last floor outing to date, but a guy can hope! Thanks for your comment

  6. Thank you for recognizing the good in Rebecca. :)
    Sometimes it is so annoying to see people constantly talk about her knees, when past that is her perfect toe point. Her straight, floaty Pak. Her perfectly controlled Double Turn. Her INSANE first pass that's worth more and is more intricate (I think more difficult as well) than a Double-Double.

  7. yeah I think the same. I can't pretend they are the best knees in the sport but it is totally not Becca's fault. People get crazy when commentators make what sound like criticisms of a gymnasts shape and frame yet its fine apparently to say Rebecca Bross has horrible knees. Its just mean! I really don't see the problem.

    I love all her floor work, but yes that first tumble is really, really good. My favourite is probably the second though (even though the first one has more wow factor). I love front twisting tumbles so much.

  8. Ummm can you please print up those Team Bross shirts. I would buy 7, one for each day of the week. Wait I lied, I would buy 9 and send one to her and Wieber, hahaha. But I have supported her from the beginning, and I may have to boycott the olympics if she is not their. But please seriously, print up the damn shirts, I desperately need one.

  9. I tend to do this thing each quad where I pick my fave gymnast right away in the year after the Olympics (don't ask why, it's just a thing, haha.) It was Vanessa Atler in 97, Memmel in 05, and now it's Bross. I'm crossing my fingers that she stays healthy and puts it all together, because I just love her fight and determination. ALSO, no buttshelves or flexed wrists! :-D