Archive for October, 2008

Mother Hong: back off!

Posted in news with tags , , on October 30, 2008 by debster03

Everyone is talking about it. Why is Ivana Hong so bitter? Of course, the poor kid failed to make the Olympic team (after going through great lengths, including a move from her native California to Missouri in a serious quest to pursue “her” dream), but if you want my humble opinion, I believe that she’s being pushed too hard at home. Since she’s much too young to blame her reportedly crazy mother, Hong is pointing fingers at Al Fong (where the hell is Armine, one wonders?).

Now, don’t get me wrong. I would not let my future child near Al Fong with a ten foot pole. When two of your gymnasts have died within a few years of each other (or ever), that doesn’t exactly spell out “great coaching.”

Which makes me wonder even more, why, for the love of all living and breathing gymnasts, did the Hongs send their daughter to GAGE? I don’t care if Al’s done a complete 180. I suspect that the reason Ivana transferred to GAGE was that the Fongs managed to get not one, but two gymnasts on the 2004 Olympic team. I guess Mom and Dad thought they could do the same for their daughter. PUSHY PUSHY PUSHY parents (so pushy, in fact, that it smells a little bit of Little Girls in Pretty Boxes)!

I am not bashing Ivana. I love her gymnastics. Her double front on floor is absolutely exquisite. I just think she always looks so damn miserable. And don’t give me any of that “Oh, she’s just a perfectionist” crap. Most gymnasts are perfectionists, and they look a lot happier than she does, including Nastia Liukin when she’s got her bitchface on. I just really hope Ivana’s doing this because SHE loves it, not for medals or glory or recognition or her parents, because I know how horrible it is when you feel like you have to keep going even though your heart is not in it (I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. Gymnastics is a hard enough sport as it is).

Mama Hong: if your poor kid wants (or needs) to quit, let her quit, dammit!


all it takes is a fraction of a second…

Posted in just for fun with tags , , on October 29, 2008 by debster03

I sit here, typing away and biting my lip, trying to ignore the sharp pain that is coming from my lower back and shooting in all directions. It is, of course, an old gymnastics injury; one that essentially drove me out of the sport and, after so many years, I seriously doubt will ever get better (some days it hurts worse than others). Naturally, I start thinking that, if I hadn’t lost all sense of control in the air and landed with a horrible thud on my tail bone, my body would probably be in much better shape right now. Which got me thinking about falls…

Some are hilarious, some are painful (or even deadly), and some just plain suck

Everyone knows that the balance beam is quite possibly the most unforgiving apparatus in competition. Thanks, MostepanovaFan, for the brilliant montage!

10 reasons why I love Anna Pavlova

Posted in just for fun, lists with tags on October 27, 2008 by debster03

1. her name

I remember reading an old Anna Pavlova interview on International Gymnast (actually, it was a feature on several of the up-and-coming Russian juniors. Too bad I threw away the magazine during my “gymnastics should go die!” phase right after I quit the sport, because then I’d be able to provide you with some evidence) where she said that she was not named after the great ballerina, Anna Pavlova. Well, who the hell is she kidding? Her parents might as well have, because she’s just as beautiful to watch. Congratulations, Pavs. You may not have a lot of big medals, but you’ve sure lived up to your name.

2. she’s adapted to her body

If you look at her now, no one would guess that Anna was once one of those tiny pixies throwing tricks. However, she’s managed to adapt. She may not have the highest A-scores, but really, can you believe that she’s capable of throwing beautiful double layouts and landing Amanars on her feet? That takes some hard work.

3. she cares about the artistry of the sport

Okay, duh. But did you know that part of her decision to continue past the 2008 Olympics was based on the fact that the 2009-2012 COP will (theoretically) enable gymnasts to have more time for artistic expression? Anna, you’re a freaking hero.

4. she also cares about the all around

The uneven bars are many gymnasts’ Achilles heel. They are Anna’s as well. But, miracle of miracles, she hasn’t decided to just drop them, like a few quitters I know (just kidding. Baby Cheng is not a quitter, and, even though I really do not like her, I’m sure A-Sac isn’t either). I read somewhere that a journalist pointed out to Anna that, had the bar scores not been taken into account for the Beijing all around placings, she would’ve ended up third. “Yes, but without bars, it isn’t funny,” Anna replied. Well, Pavs, I’m glad you’re a fan of the comedy.

5. she doesn’t give up

Sometimes I think that, if it were up to the judges, Anna Pavlova would be thrown off a cliff, considering they seem to hate her so much. But she’s still around. She’s stuck with it, even after failing and being robbed over and over again. She always gives it another try.

6. she picks great floor music

I don’t know about everyone, but “Winter Sun” (2004) and “Exodus” (2008) are two of my favorite floor music pieces of all time. Or is it just that Anna makes them look so damn pretty?

7. there is passion in her work

There is something very old-school about a gymnast that shows passion in her dance. In fact, I don’t think there have been many floor routines in the past ten or twenty years that I would actually describe as “passionate” (Nastia may be lovely to watch, and she might love the sport to itty bitty pieces, but her movements don’t spell out passion to me), but Anna is certainly up there. I don’t know. Perhaps it’s her expression or the magnitude of her movements. But for some reason, her floor routines often make me open my mouth so wide that a freaking mini poodle could fit in there.

8. she has the worst luck ever

Seriously. She was an amazing junior gymnast but failed to come through for the Russian team during her first year as a senior (she missed the bar on a toe shoot at the 2003 World Championships all around). In 2004, she finally delivered the performance of her life and was unjustly robbed off an all around and a beam medal. She was not able to keep up with her consistency for the next few years. Then, at her second Olympics, she goes in, looking better than ever in prelims and qualifies to the all around and three event finals. When it really counts, though – during the team competition – she fails to come through (not to mention that she just seemed to…forget her floor routine. You NBC viewers didn’t see this – of course, as NBC never showed anything other than golden boy Michael Phelps – but for a split second, I wondered if my dear Pavs was on drugs. Seriously, who just forgets their second pass at the freaking Olympics?). She performs spectacularly in the all around but has no chance of a medal due to her weak bars (she might think they’re “funny,” but maybe they’re just pure evil). During the vault finals, she lands her Amanar (pretty impressive) and then forgets to check for the green light and does her second vault anyway, garnering a whooping zero. She goes into the floor finals, feeling depleted, and falls. Then, at the beam finals (her last – and probably most realistic – shot), she is ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED ROBBED, reminiscent of four years prior.

I know this is a really odd reason to love somebody, but perhaps I identify with her misfortunes…or maybe I just have a thing for the tragic hero. Either way, I love me some Pavs.

9. she’s attempted a full in dismount on floor

Whoever believes that Pavs is all artistry and no tricks is very wrong. Check out this routine she tried in 2004, just before the Olympics. It might be that she isn’t physically capable of such difficulty (she certainly is no Shawn Johnson), but this is pretty incredible. Everyone knows I love a little risk, even though it can go wrong.

10. she is beautiful to watch

Perhaps the credit should go to her choreographer or coach (and mom). Or maybe it is because she just sort of ignores this hideous Code (don’t be fooled by her low A-scores. Anna is a very good gymnast) and performs the skills and routines that feel right. Perhaps it’s her love for the sport. Or those gorgeous oversplits. Whatever it is, having an Anna Pavlova is a blessing in an era of Shawn Johnsons and Steliana Nistors. Thank you for reminding us of the “artistic” in artistic gymnastics, Anna. You may not have an Olympic gold medal to your name, but you certainly are a legend.

And, just for some laughs…how would Pavs do on the pommel horse?

10 gymnasts I’m excited about

Posted in lists with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2008 by debster03

1. Ksenia Semenova (RUS)

Not only is she cute as a button, but she’s just an exciting gymnast to watch. I hope we didn’t see the last of her in Beijing. She’s spectacular on bars and beam (it’s one of my favorite routines from this quad, actually). She might be a little weaker on floor (her choreography this year was superb, though) and vault, but there’s clear room for improvement (even though her Yurchenko 1.5 is not the best, there’s hope. Carly Patterson had a so-so 1.5 but developed a solid DTY within a year). Even her coach said that they didn’t upgrade as much as they could’ve before Beijing because she had a growth spurt. She also needs to work on her form a little bit, but that all comes with time. Nevertheless, she’s extremely consistent (a novelty for a Russian gymnast). I love me some Semy!

2. Viktoria Komova (RUS)

I think she’s so lovely to watch, and I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I would love to see her excel as a senior. Not only is she very elegant (Kramarenko-style, I think), but she throws some pretty big skills, like a 1.5 through to an arabian double front and an arabian on the balance beam (she’s also trained a back handspring-back layout stepout-arabian series and an arabian double front dismount!). I’d hate for her to burn out, since she’s so young. Anyway, she’s a joy to watch. Her floor routine even reminds me of Omelianchik’s “Birdie” routine in the ’80s.

3. Mattie Larson (USA)

I think Mattie is great. I really like her style. She’s got very nice lines and you can feel the passion out on the floor, especially during her floor routine. She’s also a fairly good tumbler, and I’m excited to see how she can upgrade in the future. She might not have been ready for Beijing, but I really think she should stick it out for the next for years, because she could be spectacular!

4. Nailya Mustafina (RUS)

She’s the younger Mustafina sister, and she’s just adorable. Does anyone know if she’ll be eligible for London 2012 (I’ve heard that she will be but I’ve also heard the opposite, so I’m not sure)? If she’s not, I can definitely see some major burnout occurring, since she’s already training some pretty big skills! Anyway, she’s very graceful (her floor routine is really nice) and can throw some huge tricks (like a back full on beam). I can definitely see that she’ll grow up to be the powerful Mustafina, while her sister will probably be the more elegant one.

5. Samantha Shapiro (USA)

Oh, if Sammy could just get rid of her floor music, I would love her forever (I don’t understand what the big deal about Blues for Klook is. In fact, the only deal I see there is that my ears BLEED whenever I hear it, even if it is the great Silvia Mitova that’s dancing to it). Anyway, she’s not very powerful, but she does have some very nice lines and some nice choreography (which I would appreciate if she did it to better music!). I really like her beam routine, especially the Eremia-style mount. I definitely see room for improvement in this gymnast, and I’m excited to see what she can come up with in the future.

6. Rebecca Bross (USA)

I know I’ll be rooting for her this quad (how funny would it be if she won the 2012 all around? Three in a row for WOGA! Although that’s gotta be a lot of pressure for her…). She’s powerful, so I know she’ll be able to come up with a few exciting skills in the future (she already does a Patterson dismount on beam!). She’s also got good form, which I appreciate, and though she isn’t the most gifted dancer, she tries and can make it work, unlike many others.

7. Jiang Yuyuan (CHN)

Does anyone not think that she’s just a joy to watch? Maybe it’s her smile. Before she even starts dancing, you know you’ll love what she does (which is a lot – she’s got some pretty cool tricks up her sleeve!). Although I’m not glad she was injured in Beijing, at least I’m happy that that is probably the reason behind her less-than-stellar performance and not the fact that she is a headcase (I hate it when gymnasts crumble under pressure! It’s so frustrating). I hope we haven’t seen the last of her and that she can get her Amanar back, because it was beautiful!

8. Aliya Mustafina (RUS)

So far, I like her sister better, but Aliya’s got some very, very elegant lines. She’s not much of a trickster, but she’s a fabulous dancer, even at this age. Hopefully she’ll be able to upgrade some more so that she can really challenge in the future.

9. Tatiana Nabieva (RUS)

What I really like about her is that she is a pretty solid all around gymnast. However, one must not forget the dreaded “Junior European Champ Curse,” which has plagued many former greats (or coulda-been-greats) in the past (really, it seems to strike from out of nowhere. Remember Sabina Cojocar? As I recall, she was on her way to a very successful senior career, and then…BOOM! The Curse shall conquer all!). Anyway, one of my favorite things about Tatiana’s gymnastics is her barani on beam. Usually, I hate that skill, but she makes it look sick (as in, cool sick). Also, she’s pretty elegant, like a good Russian girl.

10. He Kexin (CHN)

The girl was not at her best at Beijing. She’s capable of so much more. What a shame! Did the pressure finally get to her? I hope not, because when she’s 100 percent on (on bars), she’s unstoppable (and probably unbeatable, too). Anyway, since I’ve heard the Chinese coaches are hoping to make her an all around gymnast by 2012 (yay! Long live the all around!), I can’t help but do my happy dance (it mainly consists of hopping up and down, alternating legs, and waving my hands in little circles). She’s already got a DTY and nice floor choreography. Her weakness is beam, but she’s Chinese…I’m sure they can work with that.

So that’s it. Does the list smell of too much Russia? Who cares? What does Russia smell like, anyway? Vodka?

Davai, Rossiya!

a tribute to my favorite quad

Posted in going down the memory lane with tags , , , , , , , , on October 23, 2008 by debster03

Now that the 2005-2008 Olympic cycle is nearly over, I am impatient to leave this horrible quad behind. It has probably been my least favorite four years ever, gymnastics-wise, and that is saying something, because 2001-2004 wasn’t all that dandy, either. Of course, there have been moments of brilliance throughout the past eight years (Pavs Pavs Pavs! Cheng Cheng Cheng! And a few others…), but that is nothing (and I repeat: nothing) compared to what we saw back in the day, and, well…let’s just say I’m feeling a little bit nostalgic. Here’s a tribute to my favorite quad.

The Sydney Olympics may have been a bust, but 1997-2000 (even with the elimination of Compulsories) was nothing short of spectacular. The Code, although not flawless, was interesting enough, and there seemed to still be time for personal expression and dance, given the high number of standout choreographies we saw. I particularly liked the Code when it came to beam and vault.

The beam routines were characterized by plenty of skills in combination, which usually involved an acrobatic element and a jump. At the same time, the gymnasts often chose to do a few of those little, simple skills that I love so much (such as handstands or back walkovers). There were many great beam workers throughout the quad, including Ling Jie, Liu Xuan, Kui Yuanyuan (who was absolutely robbed off the beam title at the 1997 Worlds), Yekatarina Lobaznyuk, Andreea Raducan, Dong Fangxiao, and Elise Ray (among others).

Kui’s lovely beam:

I really think that this was the best vault quad in the history of the sport. Double twisting Yurchenkos were valued at a 9.9, which made them pretty popular, especially among the top athletes, but, at the same time, there was always that possibility for more difficulty (and 0.1 more points in Start Value). For that very reason, vault finals often included double twisting Tsukaharas (one of my favorites!), as well as Khorkinas (I and II), and Podkopayeva-style vaults. Yang Yun impressed us with her lovely front layouts, and, of course, there was Yelena Produnova’s legendary handspring double front.

Produ was so fierce. If I’d been a judge back then, I would’ve been scared of her. I’m sure she could make them cry (or at least kick their asses if they didn’t score her fairly).

There were some good bar moments as well. The Code wasn’t particularly spectacular in this area, but many of the gymnasts certainly were. Of course, Svetlana Khorkina reigned over the event (thanks to her fabulous originality), hence the nickname “Queen Sveta” (although this can also be attributed to her very, um…over-confident personality). However, the Chinese gymnasts usually put up a good battle (especially the exquisite Ling Jie, who popularized inverted bar work), and some American and Ukrainian gymnasts were great to watch too.

Even though the full in dismount started to disappear from the floor exercise (with the exception of power gymnasts Yelena Zamolodchikova, Simona Amanar, and Viktoria Karpenko), we still saw some great combination passes, and double layout mounts and triple twist dismounts were quite common among the top gymnasts. The annoying middle passes involving front fulls and Rudis that we had seen so much of in the previous quad were practically nonexistent by 2000. Most importantly, this was the last quad where we had real dance from the majority of the athletes, even those who weren’t particularly balletic or elegant (e.g. Jamie Dantzscher, Ludivine Furnon, Vanessa Atler, etc.).

The list of fabulous floor workers was endless, and they came from a large number of countries (nowadays, most “dancers” come from either Russia or China and a few from Australia). Also, we were blessed (even though we didn’t know it yet) by the absence of those horrid double twisting jumps and side passes.

Although I was never really a Vanessa Atler fan, this is one of my favorite routines from that quad:

The most incredible thing about 1997-2000 had nothing to do with the Code of Points, though. It was the fabulous gymnasts in it. I do not remember any other quad where there were so many gymnasts capable of fighting for major all around titles or medals. However, there was certainly no shortage during this time: Andreea Raducan, Simona Amanar, Maria Olaru, Dong Fangxiao, Yang Yun, Viktoria Karpenko, Svetlana Khorkina, Yelena Produnova, Yelena Zamolodchikova, and Yekatarina Lobaznyuk. Even gymnasts like Lisa Skinner, Allana Slater, Elise Ray, and Liu Xuan were considered to have an outside chance (and, indeed, Liu Xuan was awarded the bronze medal in Sydney after Raducan was stripped off her gold). In contrast, only Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Yang Yilin, and perhaps Jiang Yuyuan had a real shot at an all around gold (or medal of any color, really) in Beijing.

It’s a shame the Sydney Olympics were such a disaster, because they could have been the perfect way to culminate four wonderful years. There’s so many things that should have happened that didn’t. Vanessa Atler should have been mentally prepared at Trials and should have qualified to the Olympic team. Yelena Produnova should have been healthy. The Russians should not have crumbled in the team final (whether you are a Russia fan or not, you have to recognize that they were inarguably the superior team in terms of gymnastic ability). The vault should not have been set at the wrong height (even though that means my precious Andreea Raducan would probably not have won the all around final)! Raducan should not have been stripped off her gold (or, at least, she shouldn’t have had a cold!). Karpenko, Zamolodchikova, and Khorkina should have stayed on their feet in the all around. Lobaznyuk should have performed up to full potential. There are probably tons of other things that I can’t think of right now.

Really, for such a great quad, Sydney was a waste.

the battle of the Hava Nagila

Posted in just for fun with tags , , , on October 22, 2008 by debster03

As a Jewish fan, I always feel a twinge of excitement whenever a gymnast uses “Hava Nagila” as her floor music. No kidding. It’s like I’m pointing at the television and yelling, “Hey, I know that song!” (even though, yes, I understand you don’t have to be Jewish to “know” the Hava Nagila. But I still feel that my being Jewish makes it all that more exciting). Not to mention that it’s simply a great melody for gymnasts who know a thing or two about how to dance.

Two of my favorite gymnasts of all time used the Hava Nagila in the past: Lilia Podkopayeva from Ukraine and Yekatarina Lobaznyuk from Russia. Both were great routines, but…which is better?

Lilia has a lot going for her here. First of all, her toepoint is immaculate. I don’t think anyone will ever beat her in that area. Second, her tumbling is pretty great. She was rocking the double front before most other girls even dared to attempt it, and who doesn’t love a gymnast who can dismount with a piked full in? Admittedly, her middle passes are simple, but that was a result of the Code at the time, not her ability. Her dance is lovely: fun and elegant. This is, all in all, one of my favorite Podkopayeva routines.

I’ve always loved this routine because it is so playful and perfectly in tune with the music. Right? It’s so cute. It just makes me want to jump inside my screen and pinch her cheeks. Anyway, I think I might be partial to Katya because she opens with a double layout, which is my favorite skill in gymnastics (not the hollow back kind. I hate it when Zamo does it). The rest of her passes are too cool (particularly the front double full to aerial walkover. Love love love!). And she wraps it up with a triple full. Man, I miss her.

Anyway…who wins? What do you think?

say what?

Posted in news with tags , , , , , , , on October 21, 2008 by debster03

I was watching some (very depressing) footage of Lavinia Milosovici’s daughter’s funeral, and, as heartbroken that I still am for Milo, for a moment, I saw a shot of Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe from Friends). Naturally, I thought, what the hell? Then I realized it was Maria Olaru (I loved Maria Olaru. She was so tall and awkward and had the coolest floor choreography in Sydney, even though her bored facial expression suggested that she was doing something as mundane as picking her nose). Do they look anything alike or am I just going crazy? I think it’s probably the latter.

Anyway, not much else is going on in the world of gymnastics. The post-Olympic season is always somewhat blah, of course, but this year it seems to be especially bad, considering the less-than-stellar women’s roster at the Glasgow Grand Prix. Hopefully some of my favorites will show up at the World Cup final: Pavs, Baby Cheng (I know she’s all grown up now, but she’ll always be Baby Cheng to me), JYY, He Kexin, Dasha, and Semy (Nastia definitely won’t be there because she’s been too busy touring).

Also, the Chinese nationals were held this past weekend. Posting results is boring, so I won’t. But I was so, so, so happy to hear that Cheng Fei was competing (and training kick-ass Cheng vaults). When that girl retires, I want her to do so with style, and the Olympic event finals were anything but stylish. Cheng Fei foreverrrr.