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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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: )


-          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.


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...


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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! 

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The European Championships - The E Panel's Highlights


The team final, being regarded by many as the big return of Romania, saw the de-throning of the reigning team champions Russia to Romania’s heady mix of the old and the new. Romania really did put in a brilliant performance, stunningly solid as usual but also creative and interesting to watch in a manner that is not always the case for the Deva girls.

For me, this team centres on Ponor, whose statuesque presence draws instant attention from spectators. Catalina has always been thrilling to watch: her feline features are matched by a catlike ability for solidity on the balance beam. Her new routine looks comfortable and rock hard, and is the closest she has looked to her 2004 self since her golden heyday. I could never fail to be blown away by her signature combination: onodi to backhandspring to layout. After spending years bemoaning tedious beam flight “combinations”, this is not so much a breath of fresh air but a full-on oxygen mask: an unusual, original flight combination on beam that is actually connected. Further, Ponor’s ability to upgrade does not disappoint. Not only has the architecture of the routine changed but there are some fresh skills: a switch ring, which isn’t half bad, and a beautiful double turn.

Rightfully, this fantastic beam set went on to win her gold in the event final. I could gush all day about Ponor. For me, she is the real queen of the comebacks. Not once has she ever looked tired, overstretched or even, really, physically challenged in any way. Her poise, apparent tongue-in-cheek attitude and perfectly balanced physique (not too muscled, not underfed) makes her one of the most watchable current competitors. I would love to see her break some records with some Olympic medals later this year.

Similar leotard to Athens. And really, not much has changed has it? Incredible.

Romania’s winning happened, mainly, on the floor. For two reasons: they were fantastic, and Russia were not. Mother Russia didn’t qualify a single gymnast to floor finals due to a slew of errors in qualifying, and although thing improved in finals it was nowhere near enough to touch Romania whose lowest floor score was still better than Russia’s highest. All three of their athletes were fantastic. Ponor seems to have recovered from her terrible copter-leg syndrome and things are looking much cleaner. Iordache, on the other hand, not only performed well but made a good case to be a top contender for floor gold in London, convincingly taking the top spot by matching Rebecca Bross's quad-high score of 15.233. 

GREAT Sticks on the double double and whip triple, and nice leaps too

Romania ended the weekend with the team gold, and three of the four event final golds. This fantastic sweep really does go some way to silence those who say Romania has no shot at a medal in London. There have also been twitter rumours that some of the girls have amanars, but were not performing them to avoid injury: a tactic which must have a tinge of sadness when viewed by Mustafina. 

What this means for the team final later this year is unclear. Yes, Romania won and by quite a margin, but Russia did not exactly have a good day. However, both teams had their major stars present and competing. Suddenly the idea of an Olympic team medal for Romania does not seem so farfetched. Could they even challenge for the silver?


Sandra Izbasa successfully defended her vault title, and I have to say I am really happy she did. Although I am rooting for Chuso, and have been a big fan of hers for many years, I do think that for some reasons she gets off very lightly in terms of execution criticism from fans. Her rudi has really deteriorated, although her Tsuk 1.5 is a really lovely vault. 

Sandra, on the other hand, had some fantastic execution AND an impressive upgrade. Finally we have seen what a Mustafina (RO half on 1/1 LO) SHOULD look like. It was by no means perfect, and she did start to bend at the knees about half way into the 1.5 somersault, but it is an impressive upgrade nonetheless and a good looking vault (a world away from the attempts we have seen of it so far, but seeing Maroney’s version in the coming months should be a real treat if the rumours are true).

Good form, good vaults and a great gymnast.


Mustafina’s return to health has been eagerly anticipated since moments after her injury at this very competition a year ago. Aliya has made an impressive recovery and is putting together some fantastic gymnastics, particularly on the bars where her Team Final routine scored a competition high of 15.833 - a score which sets her up as a serious challenge or the Olympic podium.


Throughout her absence Aliya has remained within people’s prediction list for the OG AA podium. Speculative and potentially pessimistic as it is, with the games looming questions HAVE to be asked as to whether this is possible based on what we are seeing. Floor has clearly been difficult to get back: although her opening pass of double Arabian to stag is beautiful, there are clearly some fundamental twisting problems. It is as if Ponor infected Mustafina with her copter-leg syndrome only to recover herself. Aliya has a long way to go, though, if she wants to avoid the hefty deductions that this car crash execution will be levying - even on her DTY her legs are all over the place showing this is clearly not an issue of difficulty but of technique.

Perhaps if something big can happen in the next few weeks, she will have a shot. However, I think Aliya’s only legitimate shot at gold based on current evidence is on the bars. I think, perhaps, that we are unknowingly in a 1992 situation: we have all anticipated (or most of us, anyway) the wrong showdown. It seems unlikely to involve Mustafina at the very top. It may even, dare I say, be difficult for Komova to make a legitimate case for the very top. Based on this weekend’s performances though it is clear that Iordache has a better chance than first thought.


One pleasant surprise that has surfaced in the winter of this quad is the unexpected depth and quality of floor exercise, with the Tokyo floor EF being deeper and more exciting than several Olympic finals on the same event.

This weekend some floor highlights for me came from unexpected places. Julie Croket, of Belgium, made the final at worlds and her routine is still super impressive. I love her choreography and, as always, I am a complete sucker for a front double so she is right up my street.

Rebecca Tunney, sadly, has been more famous recently for her screw ups at the American Cup than for anything positive about her gymnastics. But this weekend was a different story. Her floor routine was mature, well structured and at times rather beautiful.

Livchikova, who has developed something of a cult following for her artistry and presentation, is back from injury and did not disappoint. Sadly the comparative lack of difficulty keeps her away from the top.


A week ago, there was a general feeling that Euros would be individually uneventful for us Brits, with Beth Tweddle out. However Hannah Whelan, who has been a great force in British gymnastics for many a year now, performed over and above expectation. Scooping a bronze in the beam final (which, admittedly, was open to anyone who didn’t fall - but then again hitting at the right time is the name of the game) meant a first on the apparatus for GBR. She followed this, more convincingly, with a bronze medal on the floor exercise with a clean and artistically innovative routine.

There was no All Around competition at this championships, but taking results from the “unofficial AA” (individual totals during the teak competition), Hannah finished third here as well. This is an astounding achievement for a British gymnast at the last Euros before an Olympic Games.


I really enjoyed the vault final, and particularly the variety of vaults we saw. A definite highlight for me was Fasana of Italy and her second vault: a front layout one and a half somersault. This vault reminds me so much of the 1997-2000 quad and during this time it was considered as a worthy vault by the code. Sadly this is not the case anymore and under the current system is only worth a 5.0.

It was really interesting to see, and I think it is a very,very good looking vault, and probably more difficult than the code indicates. Mitch Fenner seemed to agree.

Only a small point, but it seemed a real shame that this interesting vault, well performed and executed, would not be able to make any splash on its own. Christine Still remarked something about how she should perfect it and then move to add twists. Sad, that a good vault can be considered only as a starting point rather than a successful performance in its own right.


VT: 1. Izbasa 2. Chusovitina 3. Steingruber 
UB: 1.Komova 2. Grishina 2. Kononenko (still loving the tkatchev half to jaeger)
BB: 1. Ponor 2. Iordache 3. Whelan
FX: 1. Iordache 2. Ponor 3. Whelan

Great competition!

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hybrid Vigour

While the individuality and subjectivity of gymnastics is one of the sport’s greatest assets, with it comes an imbalance of excellence amongst its competitors. In running, whoever runs the fastest wins. In javelin, whoever throws the furthest wins. In gymnastics, though, there is a diversity of talent so great that gold and silver medallists on a discipline can resemble competitors in different sports.

The result is this: there is rarely one competitor who has it all. There may never have been a gymnast who was without weaknesses that were (or are) better performed by other competitors. In avoidance of writing a dull Euros anticipation, and to satisfy a desire to write something a bit flippant and fun, I got to thinking about “building” perfect gymnasts from the components of real life competitors (don’t worry, this doesn’t involve any hypothetical dismemberment).

If you could combine favourites to fill in their weaknesses, who would you put together?

Jordyn Wieber's power with Li Xuan’s leaps and lines and Lilia Podkopayeva’s forward acrobatic ability

I love Jordyn Wieber. Her power is really impressive and on the whole, her form is good too. In Tokyo, Christine Still remarked of Wieber: “she seems to have so much time in the air on her leaps”. Youtube commenters seemed to take issue with this, possibly because Jordyn is not a classic graceful gymnast with whom leaps are most associated, but she does have the ability to generate a lot of height from nowhere which makes her leaps pretty impressive.

However, she doesn’t have the classical grace and flexibility that many others have had. Liu Xuan competed some of my favourite beam leaps of all time: amazing flexibility, grace and poise without being as waifish as other competitors. A dash of Liu Xuan into Wieber’s beam leaps would take her beam work from great to exceptional, in my humble opinion.

This is too beautiful for any caption to do it justice.

With a very secure Amanar vault, a history of top shelf bars dismounts and a double double on floor, Jordyn is not what you would call acrobatically challenged. She does, however, famously struggle with forward acrobatic elements. This weakness goes some way to explain her lack of second vault and the reason for no forward giant work in her bars set. Indeed, her only regularly competed forwards acrobatic skill is a punch front layout from a 2.5 twist on floor: an element that has been far the most inconsistent piece of gymnastics in her repertoire.

One of Lilia’s many outstanding talents was a plethora of forward acrobatic skills; not least on floor, where to this day her forward tumbling series look the most solid and secure. With even a hint of Lilia’s forwards ability Jordyn would have many more secure skills to choose from.

Ali Raisman’s difficulty and solidity with Anna Pavlova’s dance and execution

A few years ago everyone seemed to be pretty fond of Raisman. She had some exciting skills, a nice attitude, but most of all a stunning consistency (on all but bars) that made her appear far more experienced than she actually was. Sadly, a lot of the internet community has gone a bit cool on Raisman recently, most likely because of Jana Bieger syndrome: upgrading difficulty before mastering execution, something which turns a lot of old school gymnastics fans right off. Despite this, the fact remains that Raisman performs some fantastic gymnastics very solidly and cleanly.

Conversely, Anna Pavlova is a gymnast who seems to be universally loved (or at least pretty universally non-hated). Her career is one marred by inconsistency and a lack of difficulty, but characterised by amazing attention to detail. Her presentation and dance are frequently cited as the amongst the best of modern times, with her Beijing floor routine frequently used as an example of artistry over difficulty. If Raisman could perform her skills with the execution and poise of Pavlova, she would be a formidable competitor. She can keep her own twisting form, though.

A blast from the past: Mo Huilan with Gina Gogean’s consistency

Mo Huilan is up there with Cheng Fei for the most well known and well celebrated Chinese WAG gymnasts; but unlike Cheng, Mo never really capitalized on her potential. Sure, she won a vault silver in 1996 and the beam title in 1995. However, here was a gymnast whose routines on bars, beam and vault were not only good: they would have contended for gold. Mo could have left Atlanta with an AA medal and three EF medals. But she didn’t. Why? Because she was always held back by inconsistency.

Gina Gogean’s career tells a very different story. The statistics tell is that Gina is one of the most successful female gymnasts of all time (she has 20 world and Olympic medals in her cabinet), however, you would struggle to find many fans who would list Gina amongst their all time favourites. Why? Because Gina’s medals were won through a rock solid consistency and an amazing ability to perform in the most stressful of situations, not for their originality or ingenuity.

Together, they would make a stellar combination of original, beautiful and difficult gymnastics performed with a rock hard consistency.

Beth Tweddle with Jordyn Wieber’s confidence and expression

Beth is a fantastic bar worker, and a brilliant tumbler. This is known. What is also known is that she has always been lacking in the artistry and expression department. Unlike previous examples this is not a case of execution: Beth is a very clean gymnast, with beautiful toe point and good form. This is a case of musical interpretation and the presentation of choreography.

I have mentioned before on this blog that Beth should draw inspiration from people like Chellsie Memmel, whose floor performance at the 2008 Olympic trials is one of the most memorable American routines of all time (for me, anyway). I say Chellsie specifically because as an athlete, she is not dissimilar to Beth. Neither Beth nor Chellsie lend themselves easily to classic graceful expression or balletic precision. However Chellsie never let this get in the way of her floor routines, whereas Beth always has.

However I used Jordyn Wieber in this example because on recent reflection, I think that her current routine may be my favourite non balletic floor routine of all time. With it, she has truly shown that a gripping, well choreographed routine with great attention to musical detail can be performed by a “power gymnast” with no classical technique. If it were up to me, Wieber would medal with her floor routine in London because it is a highlight of the quad as far as I am concerned.

I think much of Wieber’s floor success probably comes from embracing her weaknesses and being sure to deliver with confidence. Beth has never had a floor routine she looked comfortable with, despite her good tumbling. With a dash of Wieber Beth could be as great on floor as she is on bars (or at least be closer).

Rebecca Bross’s bars execution and beam attack with Mckayla Maroney’s twisting form and vaulting

I just had to combine these athletes for an example, because in many ways I think they will have to combine to make their countries Olympic team this year. Not as literally as this article postulates, obviously, but to my mind they will come as a pair if they come at all. Why? Because Maroney fills in Becca’s gaps, and vice versa. Becca can put up team final worthy beam and bars (hypothetically) and Maroney can give a showstopping vault and TF worthy floor - areas Becca is unlikely to get back.

In the more literal sense of the article, Bross has few real weaknesses but if ever there was one it is her vault. Maroney on the other hand had one huge strength but this in itself is her weakness, because she may not be able to provide enough on her own. Together they would have it all. 

THE ULTIMATE - Elena Produnova’s forwards power with Svetlana Khorkina’s grace and UB lines, Ekaterina Lobaznyuk’s floor and beam acrobatics and Elena Zamolodchikova’s twisting ability.


Wednesday, 2 May 2012

What if....He Kexin repeats?

As usual, the things that are on my mind are usually put there by issues debated on message boards. On the intlgym forum, there is currently a thread debating the likelihood of He Kexin going to London. I had also intended to start a new feature called “what if”, a sort of subjunctive gymnastics discussion based in either the past or the future. This seemed like a good place to start.

What if: He Kexin repeats as Olympic bars champion?

Now, I imagine most readers will be like me. Had I read this title elsewhere my initial reaction would have been a dismissive pulling of the face: “surely it would be impossible for He Kexin to manage that, she hasn’t hit a routine in major competition for two years?”.

True, it doesn’t seem like the most likely eventuality, but when considered rationally, it isn’t that ridiculous. Let’s have a look at some handy subheadings...


The last major competition bars set that He Kexin hit to a good standard was in the Rotterdam team final back in 2010. It looked like this:

OK so 2 years is a long time not to hit a routine. However, to make a comparison, it is that amount of time since Rebecca Bross properly nailed something and she is still a legitimate consideration for her countries Olympic team despite far greater depth. Also, when your last hit international routine received a score that remains to be the highest recorded in the quad, it hardly does bad things to your reputation especially if you compete for a country which does not punish inconsistency to nearly the same degree as other powerhouse gymnastics nations.


In many ways He Kexin remains to be amongst China’s greatest hopes of Olympic gold in London. This again might sound strange when first read, but let’s consider other competitors. Sui Lu, the fantastic current beam world champion and floor silver medallist, has a very reasonable chance as well. However, as history has told us, floor and beam tend to be a lot closer and less easy to predict in most circumstances than the bars, which tends to be very difficulty led and far more specialist as an apparatus (in a similar way to the vault). Her reputation difficulty wise might be a real asset to her: she is the only gymnast to break 16 on the uneven bars at world competition this quad and she has done it on at least 2 occasions. 

As discussed heavily here and elsewhere, the 5 per team rule does not bode well for event specialists from powerhouse countries. However, with little legitimate chance of team gold, the Chinese programme may well be looking to the AA (solely with Yao Jinnan) and EFs more than other countries. 

AT the recent Cottbus cup, she qualified with a reasonably clean routine and scored a 15.225, which is likely to be close to a medal worthy score at the Olympics, and she was using a routine with a D score of 7.1. Here is her qualification routine...

Not her best, but her dead hang looks far less pronounced


Likelihood: Slim. The issues He Kexin faces are threefold:

1. Convincing the Chinese coaches that her bar routine is consistent enough to make her worthy of one of five team spots on the basis of a single routine
2. Hitting in qualifications
3. Hitting in finals

All three would be very difficult, but not impossible. As we have seen over the years, Chinese coaches seem to be more forgiving of errors (but it is important to note that she was pulled from the team finals last year after a disappointing prelims).

Sadly, the main issues with her routine can be boiled down to a single factor: catching her laid out jaeger. Her dead hangs are not nearly as bad as they have been in the past, and her pirouettes and opening Li Ya combination are still impressive. It is clear that the skill must stay to keep the D score in the rafters, otherwise it probably would have been bumped by now in favour or something far more consistent.

What if she managed it? She would be the first Chinese WAG gymnast ever to have two Olympic gold medals, and would add this second Olympic title to the 09 world title to establish herself as one of the modern greats on the apparatus. She would be the first since Khorkina to repeat Olympic gold on the same apparatus.

Personal Opinion: I would be shocked if He Kexin made the Olympic team based on her recent performances, and perhaps would feel like there were shades of unfairness for other possible team members given that she already has had her Olympic experience, not to mention Olympic gold. However, if she made it against all odds and hit cleanly I would be happy to see her medal. 

Although it seems crazy, and is highly unlikely, it is not beyond the realms of possibility. This would be a true Olympic shocker. In many ways, it simply comes down to the successful catching of a Jaeger at the right time.