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.



  1. "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."

    Awesome post! :)

  2. Am I the only person in the world who does not get the love for Chellsie Memmel's 2008 Olympic Trials routine? Why in the heck do people love this routine so much? Chellsie's never been good on floor, but that 2008 routine was one of her worst ever.

  3. Ashlyn: glad you like!

    Lola: Thanks for the comment. I understand people not liking it because as I said she is not a natural dancer and didn't have a great deal of choreography. For me, and I think most other people, it was about the powerful music and the brilliant tumbling. Mainly in the first half: starting with that sky high Dos Santos and then coming straight back with a double layout. That and her landings, particularly the last.

    Perhaps also people remember it because it was to be her last, with her pre-Olympic injury preventing her from competing it in Beijing.

    All opinions respected, but I have to disagree with you that it was her worst. I understand why you might not like it though.