Sunday, 31 March 2013

Lay it on the line: the five best layouts on beam

After yesterdays consideration of the unfolding Katelyn Ohashi story, I got to thinking about layouts on beam.

Now to be clear, I am not talking about LOSOs. In fact I have always thought their being labelled as a "layout" to be erroneous, given that at no point in the flight of most LOSOs is the body actually in a layout position. More like an arch backed, whipped pike with a knee eating stepout phase. But that is another story.

No, what I am talking about is the layout to two feet on beam. To me, a quintessential feature of the stellar beam routines past or present: a good layout two feet really is the hallmark of a champion. Indeed, 7 of the last 13 world and Olympic champions, including all four beam champions since 2000, have competed one during their golden routines.

Here are my favourite five.

5. Shawn Johnson

So it isn't the best in the world. There are higher ones. Quicker ones, more jaw dropping ones. But in the twilight of the 05-08 quad, the layout was Shawn's. Still when I see a BHS BHS layout combination, she still springs to mind. Her layout was pencil straight, javelin stuck and cold stone consistent, even (for the most part) in her comeback.

4. Mo Huilan 

It is no secret that I love Mo Huilan, and although I can't remember exactly I am pretty sure this was the first layout to two feet I ever saw on beam, during the 1996 AA (on a tiny grainy TV in a caravan). Usually, I dislike layouts from roundoffs, they rarely have as much height and tend to be more prone to form breaks and wobbles due to the direction change. But hers was always massive.

3. Kui Yuan Yuan

The protagonist in everyone's favourite underscoring controversy in 1997, Yuan Yuan provides the only full twist in this list. Usually, I dislike full twisting layouts, both on beam and floor: bizarrely one of the things I love about layouts, even though it isn't technically correct, is the hollow arch in the back which is usually lost to a closed hip with twisting variations. Yuan Yuan did not suffer from this, however, which no doubt helped her to achieve the highest beam score at the 1996 Olympics (a rarely celebrated achievement!)

2. Deng Linlin

This beam routine, and its signature flight series, was somewhat eclipsed in the hype of team-mate Li Shanshan's then revolutionary four skill series. However, Deng's layout was fantastic, and easily the best in Beijing in my opinion. It was one of those rare skills that seems to hang in the air, yet meet the beam like a feather.

1. Natalia Laschenova

A member of the infamous Soviet Union 1989 team - easily the most concentrated assemblage of talent in the last few decades, and maybe ever. I mentioned earlier a general dislike for roundoff-layout combinations, but foster a pretty much universal dislike for single backhandspring-layout combinations. However, Laschenova breaks that rule in a spectacular way. Not only is it arguably the first true layout two feet combo,   I am not sure that anyone has come close to challenging it since.

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Katelyn Ohashi: which prophecy?

The noughties were all about WOGA.

What else could have so neatly epitomised the rise of the USA? A neat-post-cold war union of the artistry and graceful lines of the east meeting with the power and tenacity of the west, colliding in a crescendo in the work of rising star Carly Patterson, advancing like an army to dethrone Queen Khorkina in her last chance at glory.

(I read quite a lot of Game of Thrones in my absence. Sorry).

But seriously, WOGA had the noughties, and were responsible for its two biggest stars: Patterson and Liukin. Two stars. Two gold medals. Two lifes changed forever. One gym.

...but then it all changed.

In the months following the Olympics, the metaphorical groggy awakening and clearing away of the bottles from the night before, the image of WOGA left is not one of success, not one of smiles and the glitter of realised dreams. It is the image of a young girl,with a taped knee and sad eyes, being waved off the podium by her coach to a room full of pitying glances and shocked silence.

But it is a new quad. A new senior star. A new hope.

Katelyn Ohashi is no stranger to most of us and hasn't been for some time. Here is why:

This surely needs no explanation, except to draw attention to what a full in double pike from the beam SHOULD look like. Any junior that can put vintage Ponor to shame is worth her weight in gold.

Without meaning to exaggerate wildly, we hadn't really seen beam work like this before. Sure we had the tricksters, and sure we had the elegant ones too. But never, really, had we seen such ridiculous knockout insane difficulty in the same routine as a perfect split leap. Surely Katelyn Ohashi was going to take over the world?

As seems to be WOGA tradition, though, she narrowly missed age qualification for the Olympics. Whether or not WOGA experienced a series of coincidences of this manner (Liukin and Bross would both have contended for 2004 and 2008 respectively) or whether they have a tendency to peak their athletes too early is a matter of opinion. What seemed unanimous, though, was that Ohashi was slowing down. Had it been a case of too much too soon? 

Her DTY was starting to look more and more like a terrifying parody of Bross's infamous demise

But enough ruminating over the past, let's move into the present.....

2013 American Cup

The first major post Olympic competition, the American Cup, was won by Ohashi, although not as convincingly as one might have expected given her early notoriety. Simone Biles, tipped to be the next All American powerhouse, was 1.533 behind Ohashi in second place, having beaten Ohashi on vault and bars, and made mistakes on both beam and floor. 

Which prophecy?

A question we all undoubtedly look forward to seeing answered: will Ohashi prove to be a WOGA success or a WOGA tragedy? There is certainly precedent for both.

Things in her favour

Beam is still super hot. Even with missed connections Ohashi managed a cool 15.333 - a massive score for this early in the quad and clear of the second highest beam score of the meet by 1.333 points. I am personally VERY excited by what seems to me to be one of the most difficult and original combinations in years: Onodi to front walkover to front walk over to sheep - pretty awesome if she can put that together at the right time.

Vault looks better. Sure, she is still on a DTY and is likely to come up against a whole host of Amanars, but the code changes favour her too: the Amanar is a 6.3 now, not a 6.5, and Ohashi can utilise her huge beam capability to make up that two tenths elsewhere. Moreover, her DTY looks nice, against all expectation she managed to stop it looking at all scary.

Floor Choreography is lovely, and she looks confident performing it

Things in her way

Bars pirouettes are a mess. She is clearly struggling there and unless they are cleaned up she will end up losing more than she gains. A more Bross themed routine might be better but she may lack the power to make that happen.

Floor is likely to be the big hitter this quad, like bars was in 05-08 and like vault was 09-12. Katelyn isn't bad on floor, but her tumbling isn't great either. 

Degeneration of skills. Katelyn has a few top skills that have always been a bit iffy. Perhaps most famously her DTY which, touch wood, seems to be looking good. Also, though, her signature full twisting layout on beam, although impressive in its consistency, gives a hint that it might not stand the test of time. It has always been whipped and low, and is now looking increasingly piked. 

This picture shows the extent of the piking going on, and a big leg separation too. Her left leg is pretty much 90 degrees to her body. 

Ultimately, though, the only way to know is to wait and find out. I only hope that Ohashi's career is more of a sustained success than a quick rise followed by a crash and burn.