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


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:

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.


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: 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....



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.


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.


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.