Saturday, 31 March 2012

CoPs and robbers: the best bits of the draft code



It is what we look forward to whilst simulatenously wishing away the time before the Olympics and dream of having a part in creating: it is nearly time for the new code of points. A change in the marking system with such regularity is one of the hardest things to explain to sports fans unfamiliar with gymnastics. And it IS strange. If a runner runs the fastest, he wins. If a high jumper jumps the highest, he wins. The list goes on. Yet a gymnast could win gold by a great margin on bars during one Olympics and not even make the finals at the next one (with the same routine and assuming no injuries!). The criteria on which we judge what is good change continuously.

I always say I am not an expert on the code: I am not. I think a lot of it is very difficult to understand and one has to have a very specific type of thought process to convert things like C+E = 0.3 into a  tumbling line in their head. And I am so not one of those people.

A week or so ago, a draft of the new code of points was uploaded to the internet. Now this is exactly what is says on the tin: a draft, so any part of it could change before it is finalized. It does mean however that we get to see how the FIG is thinking, what specifically they are trying to move towards and away from and we can gauge, as fans, if we want to move in the same direction too. I may not understand much, but I understand some, so from my recent skimming of the proposed code (which can be downloaded here http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?et=1109627...FEKAxrLu4xXP0=) here are my best bits/most notable bits so far.

A MORE ACCOUNTABLE VAULT FINAL

It was nearly four years ago but it is still talked about often, and with distain. Cheng Fei won the Olympic bronze medal on vault with a fall. Why did this happen? Because she was one of only two competitors in the final performing two 6.5 vaults. Although her Amanar was near perfect, she barely got her Cheng to her knees let alone feet.



Alicia Sacramone on the other hand did two lovely vaults with great execution, amplitude and form. Yet she took fourth place and no medal. To many, including me, this is not what gymnastics is all about, and although the execution of vault gold medallists has been improving greatly since Beijing there was still a sense that someone could rock up with a monster D score and take home a medal with car crash execution scores (Yamilet Pena anyone?).

But the FIG are clearly onto this and the draft code suggests a new rule for vault event finals...

(DVT1 + DVT2)/2 + 10.00 – (VT1 ex deductions + VT2 ex deductions) = Final score

The above is taken straight from the draft code. But what does it actually mean? It means that E scores are no longer averaged, but instead the focus is on the deductions themselves, so bad form can be doubly costly. Let us have a quick look at what would have happened in that most controversial of vault finals if this rule were in place.



As can be seen, this could really shake up the vault and I can’t wait to see how things pan out if it is used (PLEASE keep it FIG!).

See this handy video kindly made by AllTheTimeGymnastics for a video explanation

Other changes on vault include a 0.5 penalty for taking a run length greater than 25 metres.  Also, two vaults with the same post flight will not count in event finals. This would mean, for example, that Elena Zamolodchikova’s 2 vaults from the Sydney event final would not be appropriate because they both consist of a backward entry laid out salto with 2 twists.


THE END OF PIROUETTE BASED UB GOLDS



In recent times it has been possible for a gymnast to make a splash on the uneven bars stage based pretty much on pirouettes alone. The bars final at the last Olympics was all about this. All the top three gymnasts were using highly rated forward giant one armed pirouettes in combination to boost their D scores.

Sadly for these types of gymnasts, this approach to the uneven bars will no longer work in the same way. The E+E combination 0.2 bonus on this apparatus still remains, but does not apply to pirouette skills.

Unlike the above issue with the vault, which I think is actually quite hard to dislike, one’s opinion on this rule change really is a matter of taste. Those who have a fondness for the Chinese approach to bars (Yang Yilin in 2008 being a good example) will find this change a hard one to swallow. Personally, though, I think it is nice to shake up an event from time to time. Also, as people know, I am a big fan of Tweddle’s bar work and this rule change will allow her to become a muse for high scoring bar routines in the next quad (as connection bonus for highly rated skills is now best achieved through release connections).

It will be nice to see Beth leave a good legacy on her signature apparatus, and I think this could give bars a little more ingenuity and excitement (rather than the tired old forward giant full, forward giant full, jaeger variations).

HARSHER TREATMENT FOR NON EXPRESSIVE TUMBLERS

Harder to explain than the above, but this code is full of possible artistry deductions on floor. Key examples of this include (pasted directly from the code):

·         Lack of creative choreography (0.1 or 0.3)

·         Lack of fluidity (Composition is a series of disconnected elements and movements) (0.1)

·         More than one stationary stance on two feet in preparation for tumbling (0.1)

·         Lack of expression (0.1)

·         Unnecessary pause (of more than 1 sec.)before acro line (0.1)

I have to say I am LOVING all of this. Finally a move to seriously address the boring clunkfest that floor exercise has become. People are going to have to work very hard to satisfy all these criteria though, as I can’t actually think of anyone that doesn’t pause before a tumbling line. However itis times like this when we get a hint of what the next code whore things to do will be. It is likely that standing in a corner and doing some arm movements won’t qualify as a pause, so corner posing will probably go through the roof next year.

With all this deductable stuff you would be forgiven for thinking floor scores will remain low. However, the code has souped up floor’s scoring capability with a handful of new beefy connection value opportunities. Most exciting from my perspective include the return of direct A+D bonus (which, my friends, could mean the return of whips into double pikes - I dare to dream). C+E connections (where the E is a double salto) get 0.3 CV and A/B+F get 0.3 too.

What was the one thing the majority of fans wanted changed on floor? I don’t even need to say it but for fluidity of text, I shall. We all wanted to see the back of jumping from tumbles. JUST GO. And in a sense there is a move towards this. People can still jump out of a tumble should they want to, BUT the jump must be a B score minimum. This is obviously a bit trickier and with the new artistry deductions we might see a lot less of this happening.



Basically, a great floor worker with good execution, artistry and the ability to connect things well could get some mammoth scores here. This is good news for Romania: with bars scoring potential on the decline, and floor on the rise this could spell good things for their team programme.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Call me when you land



One thing i miss terribly from gymnastics days gone by: the super stuck landings. And i don’t think I am alone.

For me, that absolute smash and stick was the total cherry on the cake to set the tone of the judging to a great start. I used to (and still do when watching repeats) get massively wound up when commentators missed the point of a good landing, and (somewhat repetitively) I must call upon good old NBC for my example here. I remember one Olympics Al saying something along the lines of “I always think it is a shame that the majority of the score doesn’t come from what’s going on in the air”.

 Didn’t it?

In fairness to Al, I don’t think he is the only person to think this way. My problem with this interpretation is its blatant inaccuracy. The majority of the score DID and DOES come from what is going on in the air. With the ten system, people seemed to subconsciously consider the first 6 or 7 points in the score as an unmoveable, ever present rock bearing no resemblance to the routine. A landing only takes off a few tenths: it was never the majority of the score. To be perfectly honest I wouldn’t mind seeing landing deductions that were that bit harsher.

BANG.

Whether you agree with landing deductions (past or present) or disagree with them, one fact seems undeniable: the landing is far less of a focus than it once was. As recently as 2004 it seemed like the landing was super important. Nowadays it is still a deductable factor, but cannot compete with the D score in terms of scoreboard impact. Sadly, the FIG decided to impose extra landing deductions this quad on the only apparatus where sticking is not a priority.

With the new code looming I am hoping for a greater focus on landing deductions amongst a million other things. While thinking about this I pondered the different types of landings we have seen over the years, and how they often fall into distinct categories. Here are just a few.

The easy, breezy, beautiful: cover girl landing

Spectators and judges alike know a bad landing when they see one. Be it short, deep, overrotated or under: we have seen enough to know one instantly. But it never stopped people from trying their best to cover up. I kind of enjoy that kind of theatrical side to the sport, and whilst these are by no means my favourite endings to a routine they are fun nonetheless.

00:39
00:15

The stealthy landing

These are those great finales that look delicate enough to shatter like glass. Landings like this appear to defy the laws of physics: how is it possible to harness all that power yet making the force of landing look like a marshmallow being dropped on a bouncy castle?

1:38
1:38

The knife in the table landing

Perfect form, perfect landing, perfect body position. These are the real top shelfers in terms of power and execution, and to me epitomize what gymnastics can be and SHOULD be all about. I would rather see a full twisting Yurchenko landed this way than a DTY with a hunchback and a step.

00:26
00:17

The “bend and snap” landing

If you can’t do a double pike: don’t do a double pike

1:28
1:36

As usual I would love to hear your thoughts. YOUR favourite landings?

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Nora Flatley

...A window into the American future?

It is nice when my daily twitter and youtube trawling drags up something I hadn't seen before and wasn't expecting. Thanks to some lovely gymnastike footage from the 2012 Northern Lights Classic, I got my first glimpse at level 10 American gymnast Nora Flatley.

This is her beam routine from earlier this year, see the Gymnastike website for the more recent footage

This girl has more artistry in her beam routine than most of the senior national team put together. That lovely mount sequence would have looked right at home in 1996 and some of her flexibility balances remind me of a young Chellsie Memmel. 

Who knows, maybe in a few years!

Her acrobatics are lovely too. Although she needs to work on her knees, her first flight sequence is top class and her technique on her layout is refreshingly non American. She floats that down to the beam with a technique reminiscent of the Chinese. 

Nora is another example of a great gymnast from Chow's gym, home of current toast of the town Gabrielle Douglas and Olympic champion Shawn Johnson. 

Nice to see such potential at such a young age, but potential from technique and presentation as opposed to cringeworthy upgrades that come years too soon. At 12 years old, Nora would be age eligible for the Rio Olympics. Perhaps we are seeing our first glimpses of a new crop of talent! 

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Deep enough to drown in?



I should probably start with this: if anyone is sick and tired of reading about the highs and lows of the USA Olympic team selection, I do understand your pain and you should probably look away now. Perhaps look this way and forget all about the bitching and whining and indulge in some classic beauty and artistic interpretation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XInPlh-3a58.

(Sorry, that was mean).

To get back on track, I know this topic is being absolutely done to death at the moment, but it keeps playing on my mind. The more I ponder on it, the more I come to think that the events we will see pan out will have repercussions the world over, and that the current US situation should be watched closely and inform those at the top about key decisions to be made for the future of our favourite sport.

For those that might have been hiding under a rock recently, the situation is this...

The new Olympic format permits 5 member teams in a 5-3-3 format. There are 5 members to each team. Three gymnasts work on each apparatus in the team final, with all scores being counted towards the team totals that decide the first gold medals we will see in London.



As anyone can see, there is not a lot of room on that team. This size itself is not particularly shocking in a team final situation (in Beijing the USA basically had a 5 member team because Sam Peszeck didn’t work beyond qualifications). The problem is that with the focus on team gold, event specialists from powerhouse countries risk getting shut out in the cold. Right now, there are several girls starting to sink in the depth of the USA gymnastics programme.

My problem with this tiny team format is this: it creates a huge bias towards AA and multiple specialist gymnastics in comparison to those that shine on a single event. Sure, it makes perfect sense on paper, but there is no concrete reason to validate this bias. Gold medals are gold medals, be it with the team, in the AA, or in an event final. Yet this system causes specialists from deep programmes to be greatly undervalued in comparison to the all around contributors.

This train of thought has been recently validated by USA team coordinator Marta Karyoli. In a recent interview, the ever opinion-splitting Marta stated that her Olympic team will consist of “3 all arounders and 2 bars specialists”. Cue wild speculation. The USA, as is often the case, is super strong on the power events and somewhat lacking in the bars department. Now we are not talking Romania bad: Jordyn Wieber made the world bars final in 2011 and puts up some not-too-terrible numbers, Rebecca Bross is a great bars worker and then there is the prospect of the much anticipated return of current Olympic AA champ Nastia Liukin. But compared to other events, most notably the vault (where America may now feasibly have more 6.5 vaults than the rest of the world put together) the high number flashers are thin on the ground.

Marta: we would all love to know what she is thinking

So what does this mean? It means, most likely, that a solid but often sloppy AAer like Aly Raisman or a back-in-the-gym for five minutes Nastia Liukin has a greater shot at London than the highest scoring gymnast this quad Mckayla Maroney (don’t mistake this for me getting at Nastia or Aly, it is the principle that is important not the names themselves).

Now let’s compare the situation of an American specialist to a non powerhouse specialist. Beth Tweddle has been walking on to GBR world teams for approaching 10 years now, and not without cause: she is a fantastic gymnast. However, she gets an advantage because her country is not awash with home ground competitors. For those who don’t live in the UK (and google analytics tell me the vast majority of the readers of this blog are not...) gymnastics is not a big deal in the UK. It is barely on the radar of most people. To Brits, the sight of the Olympic Trials packing out giant stadiums is a strange one, because here the average person won’t know a thing about the sport. The day Beth won the floor gold in 2009, she had a small 1 paragraph mention in the back of the newspaper I read over breakfast the next morning. To most UK crowds, gymnastics is something they pop in on every four years, and pop straight back out of.

The same can be said for Oksana Chusovitina: if she can keep her vaults to the same standard they have been since Beijing, her spot at the games is as good as set in stone.



...and this leads us nicely to the impact of the US selection process on the rest of the world. For some reason it hadn’t clicked with me that every vault world champion this quad has been American. Kayla Williams, Alicia Sacramone, Mckayla Maroney. They have dominated recently and continue to do so. However, with every American gymnast and her dog doing an Amanar now, the second vault is meaningless and so it is feasible that no American makes the vault final this time around. Unless Cheng Fei makes a spectacular return, would this be like handing a gold medal to Chusovitina?

To conclude, I am struggling to find ways to defend this 5 team system. Why? Because I don’t think it is benefitting the athletes nearly as much as it needs to. Through no fault of their own, fantastic event specialists have to divert attention away from their signatures and plough it into their weaker pieces to have a chance of factoring in. 

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Beth Tweddle: the upgrade machine


What an insane 48 hours this has been for the sport. In the past few days excitement levels have really begun to escalate and we are getting a taste of what a ridiculously exciting Olympic year this is going to be.

In the space of a weekend we have seen that USA now have a minimum of 4 Amanar vaults. We have seen Gabrielle Douglas beat Jordyn Wieber at the American Cup, cementing her status as a serious contender for the Olympic team (and in doing so edging team-mates Sacramone and Maroney's chances ever more into the shadows - and for that matter Raisman's chances of being second in command in an All Around situation). We have seen Iordache of Romania hit a beam say way into the fifteens showing the world that the Romanians are NOT out of the picture on an individual level despite the loss of Porgras and reported re-injury of Izbasa.

This weekend has also seen the English Championships take place. This competition doesn't usually give us information impacting the world stage in the same way as the above, but it does mean we get to have a good look at British favourite Beth Tweddle.

I am going to allow myself a bit of fawning here. Beth is just great. Not only has she carried on into her THIRD Olympic title in the face of adversity. Not only did she face heartbreak at the last Olympics. Not only if she incredibly likely to go again, but she is in a better position on her signature apparatus than ever before. AND she CONTINUES to upgrade.

  video

We have seen her throw the Fabrichnova before. She has brought it out of the bag in podium training a few times, giving the impression that she might throw it in a pressured situation. I think she probably would have gone for it in 2010 if He Kexin hadn't come off the bars, so easing the pressure for Beth. But here is a video from the English champs of Beth dismounting with a double twisting double tuck. We will have to wait for higher quality videos, but it doesn't look half bad, does it?

Now noone is saying this routine isn't without its problems. She could get slammed on a few of those handstands, for instance. But it is by far the most original and difficult bars routine in the world right now, and she looks set to enter the Olympics with the hardest bars set for the second Olympics in a row: that feat alone deserves a medal. If she hits the Ono-Markelov-Gienger combination as well as the Toe on 1/1-Tweddle-Ezhova-Van Leeuwen (she doesn't compete the toe on 1/1 here, but the rest of that combination is looking great) then she could be looking at a start value approaching 7.3.

This is fantastic news. There is the possibility of course that Beth does not necessarily plan to throw this dismount regularly and that she was just giving it a go. She did say during the commentary at the test event that she had no planned upgrades to her routines in the run up to London. But then again she also said she would quit after Beijing so who knows!

Beth is such a commendable athlete and she never stops stunning her audience with her ability to  improve her routines at this stage in her career. I just PRAY that she hit in QFs (finals too, of course, but one step at a time). 

Just imagine the drama: the unlikely champion turned specialist turned home crowd favourite. I can't even bear to think what NBC will do with it. 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

USA: The land of the Amanar (and thoughts on AT&T)

Just a quick note on the American Cup podium training videos that are surfacing.....

It can be confirmed that Gabrielle Douglas and Alexandra Raisman both have Amanar vaults. And they arn't half bad....

Gabby
Jordyn

Who would have expected them both to have such solid looking 2.5 twisters this fast? Maybe some, more astute fans out there, but not me. I have made the foolish mistake recently of not taking Gabrielle Douglas' chance of making the US Olympic team seriously, but with this vault looking as good as this already I think Gabby is now a serious threat: she could be happily put up to vault in a team situation AND be one of the flagship contenders on the Uneven Bars (an apparatus on which she would probably be a world medallist if she had hit in Tokyo EFs). As has recently been the case in women's team finals, your team is only as good as your worst bar worker: therefore a package of high scoring vault and high scoring bars puts Douglas in an extremely enviable position right now.

Douglas' looks good, but Raisman's looks great. Based on this video it seems to be stronger than Jordyn's! What a difference a year makes. Confirmation of this bolsters her chances too: Aly is now super usable on 3 of four events, and will probably be the USA's top floor worker if upgrades go to plan and she can work on her choreo a bit. 

The flipside of this good news is a foreboding outlook for Maroney fans: where does this leave Mckayla's Olympic chances? Her Amanar is mind blowing but in a team situation, the few tenths difference between Douglas' vault and hers will not get Mckayla on a plane to London when other apparatus are considered. Further, the planned second vault is irrelevant in this situation as USA rarely if ever appears to take gymnasts on the basis of EF hopes. What this cries out to Mckayla is this: get better on bars and upgrade floor, and do it now if not sooner. 

The US Olympic race is hotting up, and it is more exciting than ever.

Post Competition thoughts


I can't remember the last time there was such an exciting three days in gymnastics. I think it is a really great time to be a fan of this sport: I don't think we have had the prospect of such a deep and exciting Olympics for at least 12 years, and the start of the competition season is just building that excitement further.

Firstly: the scoring. It is always terrible, and more terrible than ever. None of these scores seem to add up, and Wieber, as much as I love her, was way overscored on at least 3 events. It is hard to imagine how this keeps happening: the American Cup is an FIG event - there is no excuse for these ridiculous score inflations. It is a bit embarassing for everyone concerned really.

But we all know this so I don't want to harp on about it too much. I guess this year, even with fair scoring, an American gymnast would have got the top WAG spot. In other words, I think that the podium was correct, it was the NUMBERS that were wrong. So very wrong. AT least Iordache was justly awarded a monster beam score, but more on that later.

COMMENTARY, OR LACK THEREOF




I have bitched and moaned about NBC before (both in a general sense and in a dedicated article, see: http://theepanel.blogspot.com/2011/09/wednesday-whining-nbc-terrible-trio.html)

We all hear them. Most of us hate them. I am most definitely in this latter category.

Usually though I try and just shut up and get over it, but I thought today was a particular example of how terrible those three can be. As usual my thoughts are mainly directed at AL and Tim (thats not to say Elfi is any good, but hers is a more general incompetence with fewer standout moments)

HOW IS IT THAT AL STILL HAS TO ASK THE MOST BASIC OF QUESTIONS?!


I am so sick of the other two having to qualify everything they say through Al's basic understanding. Say what you like about the other two (I certainly will) but at least they have the technical knowledge. Al is still asking questions that would be more symptomatic of a person who started watching gymnastics regularly a month ago.

"what does that mean?" -when Tim said Iordache was improvising)
"So, is that good?"  - When Leyva's vault score came in. etc.

WHY does a man who has been commentating top level gymnastics competitions for twelve years appear to know nothing about the sport he is paid to talk about? Commentators are supposed to make sport more understandable and accessible for the audience at home, it does not bode well if one of them cannot decide for himself whether a double twisting Tsukahara with 9.4+ execution is good. Al seems to be capable of bringing nothing but fluff.

On the note of people at home: I seriously feel for anyone who watches gymnastics for the first time and has to endure these guys. They just simply don't explain what they mean most of the time, it is so exasperating!

Perfect example: right at the beginning of the broadcast, Tim is talking about Jordyn's vault. True, it was great and one of her best. Obviously Al has to ask why its hard (because he probably can't tell the difference between a Yamashita and an Amanar) which would be a perfect opportunity to educate the less experienced members of the audience with some helpful information. So how does he respond?

"it has that extra half twist"

As opposed to what? Have you been discussing a DTY? NO. Do you know that your audience knows you are comparing the Amanar to a DTY? NO. Is there indeed any reason to justify explaining why an Amanar is difficult in that manner? NO. They spend zero time explaining skills yet waste entire broadcasts yacking about how the American Cup has a tradition for deciding who wins the Olympics, which gets fluffed up at every given opportunity. Even if that was true (which is clearly isn't - it happens that American's have won at the last two Olympics and the top American ALWAYS wins the American cup anyway), it is self indulgent and an utter waste of time to go on about it that much. Why do they have to wheel out Carly and Nastia to talk about how great the cup is? The people seeing that are already watching it!

As usual their actual coverage itself was biased and lacking. With only a handful of competitors it would be easy to show a lot more routines than they actually do.

NICER THOUGHTS

I (like everyone else, as far as I can tell) was absolutely blown away by Gabby Douglas. Great performance, she must be so happy. My favourite part of the entire competition.......BOUNCE

Now THAT is how to jump out of a tumble line. Nice to get these reminders of how things that get code-whored all the time can still be fantastic (and the leap out of her double arabian was nice and high too).

Raisman's floor is looking great too. I don't know if it is just me but I think her expression is getting just a little better. And what about that first pass - INSANE. Absolutely love it, so original and difficult and I have never seen that much air on a layout punch.

Jordyn Wieber debuted a new combination on beam: front handspring stepout-standing full-back handspring. Now in theory I think that is fantastic. If it could be combined quickly I think it could be stunning and super original. Sadly though it is likely never to be so. This just continues the ongoing issues of what gets credited as a flight series on beam: the back with a full into back handspring combination was controversial enough amongst fans. It will be interesting to see what judges and spectators do with this new addition.