The C Score (2.0)

Archive for September 2008

I’ve done a preliminary run through the new Code of Points, which will be in effect from 2009 to 2012 (all of the next quadrennium). It’s difficult to predict the ultimate effect of a new Code, but here are some of my first thoughts:

Change That Most Inspired This Blog
A- and B-panel get their names changed to D- and E-panel. Could also have won the Most Seemingly Pointless Change superlative.

Change Most Favoring Difficulty Over Stamina
This has been discussed by others already: instead of counting the 9 highest elements plus the dismount on UB and FX, and the 8 highest elements plus turn and dismount on BB, all three events will now be scored using only the 8 highest elements including dismount. If the FIG itself is predicting accurately, this will affect scores by an average of .7 points. (In their sample final score calculation, the score is now 15.20 vs. 15.90.) Did we see the highest scores we will ever see in 2006-2008? Depends on how far gymnasts can push difficulty up. Given the 17.7 SVs in Beijing I obviously still expect to see some 17’s, and gymnasts keep upping the ante on difficulty. So the real difference is that you have fewer elements to pack in more points. Makes those looooong UB routines of this quad less likely in the future.

Change Most Likely to Decrease Risk-Taking
In less than 10 years, we have had a 100% increase in the deduction for falls. It’s up to a full point now, which is obviously an attempt to appease those who have been infuriated by Vanessa Ferrari’s win in Aarhus or Cheng Fei’s vault bronze in Beijing. The spotting assistance penalty has also increased to 1.

Changes That Will Hopefully Be Met With Corresponding Moderation from NBC Commentators
In 1996, all John Tesh, Elfi Schlegel and Tim Daggett could talk about was sticking the landing. For the last four years, Schlegel and Daggett, and their new sidekick Al Trautwig, sounds like broken records on uneven-bar routines. They are obsessed with handstand position. The new Code expands the types of deductions available to judges on handstands but should decrease the amount of deductions incurred by any specific exercise. In the old Code, a missed handstand by 10-30 degrees was worth a penalty of .1 from the B-panel (in addition to no DV credit from the A-panel — that won’t change). Now there is no E-panel (equivalent of B-panel) deduction. Similarly, the B-panel deduction for a missed handstand by greater than 30 degrees was .3, while it is now only .3 if the handstand is missed by 45 degrees (.1 for 30-45 degrees). On the other hand, on swings with turns, the deduction is now a whopping .5 for turns completed past 45 degrees from handstand position.

Changes That Most Obviously Cater to Elfie Schlegel
Anything having to do with efforts to shore up artistry, including but not limited to:

  • Article 6: Deductions for body posture in dance elements have changed from .1 for any problems in “Body posture in dance” to .1 for pointed or turned in feet and up to .3 for any body alignment issues.
  • Article 7: A number of jumps can be officially deducted to no DV instead of .1/.3 deductions. This is true for the sheep, tuck, wolf and straddle pike jumps and the cat leap.
  • 10.5: Artistry deductions on beam can now be up to .3 on “sureness of performance” and creativity/style.
  • 11.3: Dance pass on floor must now contain 3 (as opposed to 2) elements.
  • 11.5: Up to .5 deduction for “background music.”
  • 11.6: Deduction for missing a turn on one foot: .3 (from .1)

Change Most Likely to Affect Nastia Liukin
The Yurchenko 1.5 has been downgraded to a 5.3 start value (from 5.5). No way she can upgrade to a DTY.

Change Most Likely to Upset Vanessa Ferrari
It was a toss-up with the increase to 1 point for falls, but the biggest change for her will be the requirement that beam routines contain a maximum of 5 acrobatic elements and a minimum of 3 dance elements. Fewer opportunities to fall (and still become World Champion).

Change Most Likely to Affect Treasure Maps
Absolutely no markings are permitted on the FX mat in 2009. This contrasts with the old Code, in which it was still permitted to make small chalk marks of “X’s” on the floor.

Change Most Likely to Affect Spain
In the section where attire is described, leotards now “must be of elegant design” (vs “may be of elegant design” from the previous Code). I predict this will have a particular effect on the Iberian team, which has an inexplicable fondness for fluorescence.

Lenika de Simone of Spain at Aarhus

Lenika de Simone of Spain at Aarhus

Change Most Obviously Written for the Commercial Public
In the Table of deductions, the description for “Insufficient dynamics” now includes “Energy maintained through the exercise creating an impression of ease of execution” and “To make the “very difficult” look effortless.”

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Some of the skills we think are recent additions to gymnasts’ repertoires actually had their debut quite a while ago. Andrew Thorton at gymnast.com has started a series of posts called “Smooth Skills,” in which he identifies innovative skills in decades’ worth of gymnastics routines, and also points out the originators of skills we still see today.

Most impressive so far has been this video (see below) of a double full-in (both twists on the first flip!) by Tatiana Groshkova, a Soviet gymnast from the 1990s (who actually never even went on to perform on an Olympic or World team!). Groshkova eventually moved to Holland, but after failing to secure papers, appears to have moved back to Russia.

Definitely check out this series. Ever seen a triple punch front?

Some of the routines from the Tour, which features Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone and Shannon Miller, have been appearing on YouTube.

I’m definitely going to the Tour once it reaches my neck of the woods. It’s not my favorite gymnastics event, but it’s still fun to watch once every four years. I’ll be more excited to see what Johnson and Liukin do after it’s over!

If it’s not yet clear, Shawn Johnson was my favorite gymnast from this quadrennium, so here’s her floor routine. Most of the passes are pretty simple (two front layouts, e.g.) but there’s also a double pike (which she is clearly capable of doing in her sleep) in there at the beginning. Cute:

This article from USA Today takes up the same issue I’ve discussed in my last two posts: post-Olympics celebrity.

The reporter seems to argue that Mary Lou Retton has faded from the spotlight, which is generally true, except that she always gets a little airtime during Olympic years. And in any case, this is not to say that she has not been successful (she’s a successful motivational speaker).

Then again, I’m a little skeptical of Retton’s claim that she dropped out of U-Texas because classmates were jealous of her fame. The school I went to has its fair share of celebrities, and I don’t think jealousy is their main concern. In any case, I’m most admiring of people like Shannon Miller, who not only completing her college degree but pursuing a higher degree (in law). (And of course people like Kim Zmeskal-Burdette, who have made their careers coaching.)

By contrast, the article also mentions Carly Patterson, who has been unsuccessful in my opinion. Her biggest audiences are at gymnastics events, and those kids love Patterson for other reasons anyway.

The ultimate conclusion is that you don’t make a name for yourself out of gymnastics. You do gymnastics because you love the sport, and even if you get the big endorsements — Retton had more major ones than Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson combined — you still have to find something to do with the rest of your life. That can be in gymnastics, or not. But as Kristi Yamaguchi says at the end of this article:

“I worked as hard or harder to build a professional reputation. If you want a career post-Olympics, you can’t just rest on laurels.”

Up next in considering how you achieve fame after the Olympics — it’s not just based on gold — is the obvious case: Alicia Sacramone.

After she fell on beam, the first rumblings on the Internet were not positive. (Apparently she got hate e-mails. Unbelievable.) But the campaign to prove that the fall on beam didn’t make the difference in the team-final outcome, and the fact, apparently, that Alicia Sacramone is hot, has made her into the third-hottest commodity from the team. Pretty impressive.

As this article from the San Diego Union-Tribune explains:

You know her as the U.S. gymnast who fell off the balance beam in Beijing with the gold medal on the line in the women’s team competition. As the one who landed on her rear end in the floor exercise. As the one who bit her lower lip and tried to fight back tears as hundreds of millions of people worldwide watched on live television. But the point is, you know her. You know Alicia Sacramone.

She has big endorsement deals with Bank of America and Cover Girl (along with Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson).

I’ve always loved Sacramone as a gymnast. Honestly, I was never really into the “sexy” parts of her floor routine, but otherwise, I love an explosive gymnast, and Sacramone is an amazing example of that.

And in interviews and appearances she is charismatic and upbeat, and overall a great personality. (She’s also been the most candid about whether the Chinese girls were underage — she points out in one interview that one of them was missing baby teeth. I think it’s probably best not to comment, but then we knew she was going to be outspoken.) I know Liukin has some interest in the entertainment industry, but if anyone is going to make it there, it’s Sacramone. Not to mention that she trained at the elite level and did college gymnastics at Brown for a full year (before she had to give up college gymnastics to train for the Olympics).

Best quote ever (from Best Damn Sports Show Period): “Silver’s classier.” (Which is true!)

By the way, she all but confirms in the BDSS interview that she will be retiring.

Two cute post-Olympics interviews:

Some Fox show:

Best Damn Sports Show Period:

This article from a few days ago in the San Diego Union Tribune highlights an interesting phenomenon from this first post-Olympic month.

Shawn Johnson was in town for the filming of “Frosted Pink with a Twist,” a charity event I described in a previous post, and the Union-Tribune spoke to her between appearances at 5 local T.V. stations. Though she didn’t get the Wheaties box, Johnson has major deals with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and adidas, among others.

As this article notes:

It’s easy to forget that Johnson didn’t win the individual all-around gold medal in Beijing (Liukin did) and that her lone gold came in the balance beam (she won silvers in team, all-around and floor exercise). But Johnson’s magnetic appeal is a lesson in Marketing 101: that what you win is sometimes less important than what you represent, and a freckled kid from America’s heartland with an infectious smile is a hot commodity.

This comes as no surprise. Johnson has an infectious smile and a tremendously upbeat personality. Liukin is graceful and beautiful, obviously, but in an almost forbidding way. Johnson simply looks more like Mary Lou.

Compare Mary Lou’s experience to Carly Patterson’s four years ago. This great article from the Los Angeles Times caught up with Patterson recently. She’s still trying to pursue that singing career, but it isn’t working out so well. As the article notes:

Four years ago, [Carly] Patterson seemed well-placed to become America’s New Sweetheart. As soon as Patterson was in position to win that gold, journalists swarmed [Mary Lou] Retton to ask if this blond-haired Texan would finally push her into the history books. “I hope so,” Retton replied. “It’s time for someone to take my place.” It didn’t happen.

Let’s go back to Liukin and Johnson. Do we think that if Johnson had won that Liukin would be seeing as many appearance requests as Johnson is now? I’m skeptical. Patterson said of herself:

“My nature is not like Mary Lou. … Mary Lou is bubbly. I was never bubbly.”

The same is true of Liukin. She’s pleasant when she’s on talk shows, but she doesn’t draw in all populations in the crowd the same way Johnson does.

So far, this issue may be a little superficial. But then we have to think about what this means for the gymnasts, and, namely, what they can do with their fame. Some athletes, like Michelle Kwan, have become role models (and, in her case, political appointees) while others, especially those who have tried to use their athletic careers to pursue careers in entertainment, have fallen from the spotlight very quickly.

We like capitalism in this country, but, at least in our Olympic athletes (can’t say the same for professional athletes in the NBA, etc.), we want true role models too. So far, I’ve been most impressed with Chellsie Memmel’s decision to start a literacy campaign called There’s More Than One Way to Flip, which supports literacy in the greater Milwaukee area. I hope there’s more to come from the other team members.

The conclusion is best put by Evan Morgenstein, who is a big-time agent for gymnasts (Liukin is one of them … we’ll have to wait and see how he does with her):

“In the Olympics, being America’s next little sweetheart is not just about winning gold. It’s about having a story and a willingness to want to be involved in doing the things you need to do, about having an impact on young kids’ lives and about wanting to give back to your sport. When the cameras turn off you have to be willing to do things that aren’t all about making money.”

And then, there’s the famous smile …

Shawn Johnson

Shawn Johnson

The sports community in Romania appears not to be too fond of Octavian Belu, the coach who steered the Romanian women’s gymnastics to five world and two Olympic team titles until he retired in early 2005. (Recall that he did so because Catalina Ponor and others were found at a Bucharest nightclub, and the team was eventually disbanded. Much drama.)

Belu was then named head of the ANS, the National Agency for Sport. Apparently he has been criticized since the Olympics for not going to Beijing. There was a serious clash between the Romanian Olympic committee (COSR) and ANS because two athletes were left home on doping allegations. According to this article, Belu was so angry with Octavian Morariu, head of COSR, that he then chose not to go to Beijing, apparently saying that “someone must take care of sports also at home.” My source on this is called Nine O’Clock, some English-language Romanian newspaper that, while claiming to be unbiased, doesn’t really appear so in this particular case:

The reasons of the former great gymnastics coach are more than childish (he says that “someone must take care of sports also at home”) as long as their deputies and his former collaborator, Mariana Bitang, are in China’s capital. Actually, the real reasons are that Belu understood that the results of our athletes at the present edition of the Olympiad are extremely weak, and did not want to witness an avalanche of attacks against him.

So Belu (little-known fact: his last name is actually Bellu, with two l’s) has really fallen from grace in Romania, which is a shame given his success. Of course, there were a lot of disturbing allegations against him and Mariana Bitang from the time they were coaches, notably from Alexandra Marinescu, but then they also led some amazing teams. (Their departure and the disbanding of the team, on the other hand, really left Nicolae Forminte, current head coach, with only two years to form a team for Beijing, since there was only one senior and seven junior gymnasts left after the scandal.)

Now there’s talk of Belu quitting ANS, apparently everyone thought it was imminent. The most recent article I can find that lists him still as president of ANS is from September 10th. (It’s in Romanian, so the fact that he still hasn’t quit was really the only thing I could decipher.) Could he be another coach that leaves Romania to coach a team with an up-and-coming program (a la Leonid Arkayev)?


About The C Score

First there was A score and B score, now D score and E score. Where is the C score? Right here. In the form of my random thoughts about women's artistic gymnastics.

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