The C Score (2.0)

Archive for the ‘2008 Olympics’ Category

It’s no secret, in the Nastia/Shawn rivalry, Shawn Johnson wins for me every time. International Gymnast has a nice retrospective of all of the team competitions at the Olympics here.

Her toes are always pointed.

Some of my favorites:

We’ve finally heard something from Ivana Hong, one of the alternates for the 2008 Olympic team. She’s been the subject of rumor since she left GAGE, where Al Fong has trained a number of Olympians, including Courtney McCool and Terin Humphrey.

The Hongs spoke with NBC Action News in this article.

It was pretty clear that something or other was wrong with Hong in the months leading up to Trials, both mentally and physically. Fong said:

“It became blatant she flat-out quit. It was almost as we were taken down a deep dark path.”

In fact, according to the Hongs, Fong discouraged Hong from seeking advice about a nagging ankle injury, which was in fact a fracture. Hong continued training anyway. But according to the famous Mrs. Hong, Fong stopped teaching Ivana.

This is quite something. Everyone thought Fong had kind of reformed since the whole two-girls-who-trained-with-him died fiasco.

On the other hand, Mrs. Hong is known for her somewhat heavy-handed relationship with her daughter’s coaches and her gymnastics training, and Ivana is said to be a difficult gymnast to train. So we’re left wondering if this was just a bad match in coaching, gymnastics and parenting styles.

As for GAGE, it’s been having financial troubles — Fong wrote about it on the GAGE Web site earlier this year. They are also looking for at least one coach for their team. I’m not 100% sure, but I believe they’ve redesigned their Web site since I was last there, and it no longer lists their team gymnasts.

The weirdest thing about this article, hoewver, is that there is no mention of where Hong is going next. Rumors have her going to Chow’s in Iowa, AOGC in California … remains to be seen.

Ivana Hong

Ivana Hong

After talking to Samantha Peszek and Chellsie Memmel, USA Gymnastics has posted a short interview with Shawn Johnson.

Unfortunately, Johnson remains vague about her future plans:

Q: Are you going to continue training?
A: Definitely. I’m taking it one day at a time.

Q: Do you have more goals in the sport of gymnastics?
A: It’s hard to say right now after just finishing (the Olympic Games). I hope to just stay happy in the sport and if I go for another Olympics, it will be to get more medals.

Not really sure what the last part means … why else go to the Olympics again? 🙂 Anyway, I’m hoping she’ll continue, so I’m going to take this as a good sign.

You can catch up with Peszek here and Memmel here. Memmel has been the most clear about what she plans to do, saying she’d continue at least until Worlds 2009. (Her father, incidentally, just joined a Facebook group called “Chellsie Memmel for 2012 Olympics” … we’ll see if her body can hold up, as she herself said.) Peszek says she’s taking time to “breath” and let the ankle heal, but is “anxious” to resume training.

ETA 10/13: You can catch up with Bridget Sloan here, but we pretty much already knew she was continuing!

ETA 10/16: They’ve caught up with Alicia Sacramone here. She’s extremely clear here about believing that her body can’t hold up to training anymore. She’ll be back at Brown in January (after performing at all the East-Coast stops on the Tour). I’ll miss her, but I am *really* glad she’s at such a good school.

ETA 10/20: USA Gymnastics has rounded out its series by catching up with Nastia Liukin here. Nothing of interest in this interview that we didn’t already know: she plans to continue training, and she may take another semester off of Southern Methodist, where she was accepted but never attended classes.

Sam Peszek, Shawn Johnson and Chellsie Memmel

Sam Peszek, Shawn Johnson and Chellsie Memmel

The FIG cleared the 2008 Chinese gymnasts, including He Kexin, of age falsification today.

But the weirdest part of this whole saga is that the 2000 gymnasts Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun are still under investigation. Of course, Americans are less likely to care about this because it would not change the results for the U.S. team. Nevertheless, the fact that the 2000 gymnasts are still under investigation while the 2008 gymnasts are not says something that is questionable at best about what is considered proper evidence in these investigations.

The pieces of evidence that led the FIG to investigate Dong and Yang came from the gymnasts’ own mouths: Dong on her blog, and Yang in a 2007 interview. The FIG then later found that the documentation for Dong provided in 2008 seemed to suggest she was 14 in 2000 (not exactly sure what that says about the bureaucrats at the FIG — did they read the date of birth?!).

Dong and Yang in 2000

Dong and Yang in 2000

What is less clear is why Romania is not being similarly investigated for Gina Gogean and Alexandra Marinescu, despite the fact that the country itself admitted that the two were underage when they competed. Of course, this opens a huge can of worms, because there are undoubtedly other gymnasts, especially from centralized systems with secretive governments, who should then be subject to a once-over.

In this post I said there were a number of things to consider in this investigation, so let me address them now.

First, should the FIG have been further investigating the matter once the Chinese government had provided passports, birth certificates, and national ID cards, all “proving” the girls’ ages? On the one hand, there is plenty of evidence that many countries have falsified documents or simply lied about ages in order to get their best athletes on their teams. Given the fact that there were independently obtained documents — from the Chinese government itself (the Administration of Sport) — and from a national newspaper (less convincing) that seemed to suggest He was fourteen, there was certainly sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation, in my opinion. This is not to say that it is the job of the FIG or of the IOC to question the policies of a sovereign nation, but on the other hand we have sports governing bodies precisely because the stakes are so high — or at the very least, because people think the stakes are so high. The fact that China is an oppressive, secretive, and massively corrupt regime, however, should not play a role. Unfortunately, the FIG and IOC should deal with each country similarly, regardless of regime type. I don’t think that this “fairness” should extend to international politics, of course (!), but in the case of international sports’ governing bodies, I think there is a limit. This is apparently the view of the FIG. Once China provided documentation, that was sufficient. The exception came when the gymnasts themselves began suggesting that they were underage. I think that that justifiably reopens the investigation. To be clear, especially given what I know of the Chinese government, I sincerely doubt He was of-age for Beijing. And the matter of consistency on behalf of the FIG will be addressed when, perhaps, someday, she admits this. To go back to the original point, I think the FIG has reached the appropriate conclusion here: trust national governments unless this becomes an obvious political liability.

Second, if a nation is found to have falsified ages, what should happen to the athletes’ medals? Like many others, I have the initial knee-jerk reaction to say that once the medals have been — at least in terms of the competition — justly obtained, that it is too late. Perhaps some penalties for future competition, but no revoking of medals. However, upon further reflection, this is simply not sustainable practice. If an athlete is found to have been “cheating” in any way, the medals should be revoked — one of the main purposes of punishment is deterrence. It would naturally leave a bad taste in my mouth to collect a medal that I did not feel rightfully belong to me (as the Americans might have had they suddenly been given team gold). But that is not the important point — the important point is that medals must be won with adherence to the rules, and if they were found to have been acquired by less-than-legitimate means, they should be taken away. This, incidentally, brings up the question of Andreea Raducan. What if the FIG were to change (again) its age policy, back up to sixteen? Should Dong and Yang, imagining that their medals have been taken away, be given back their medals? Of course not! Then it would be in any country’s interest to break rules that are not pleasing to them, and then lobby for their revocation in the aftermath. It is for this reason, as much as it breaks my heart, that Raducan should not get her medal back, despite the fact that the drug has since been removed from the restricted list. The penalty for age falsification, like for any other breach of the rules — particularly given the supposed ideology of peace and international understanding that governs the Olympic Games — should be immediate forfeiture of victories.

Finally, what does all of this mean for the question of age limits? There is obvious evidence that younger girls are more flexible, have less fear, and have less wear-and-tear on their bodies. That is to say, the difference between fourteen and sixteen can make a significant difference. This suggests that using a fourteen-year-old when all the others are competing with older gymnasts could have a significant impact on the outcome. At a minimum, the Chinese picked their talent from the best they had, regardless of age (at least, that’s what I believe) and the Americans, for instance, did not — what of Rebecca Bross, for instance? So age could have made a difference.

But the real question is, should the age limit remain? The intent of the age limit was to limit overtraining of young girls and to avoid major injury to children. As it happens, I have just pointed out that younger gymnasts tend to be less broken, not more. So that argument is questionable at best. Moreover, it is hardly clear that the age change has led to less overtraining, particularly in systems like the Chinese system. (Especially if certain countries are bringing underage athletes anyway! But let’s assume for a second that they’re not.) There are some major international competitions junior international elites can attend, including Europeans and Pacific Rim/Alliance, plus other small meets. This is less than for seniors, but the juniors are training the same number of hours as the seniors. The smaller number of meets means the juniors aren’t repeatedly trying to peak — at least, not nearly as often — but they are undoubtedly training just as hard. Which means the suggestion that this lowering of the age limit has made any difference to training regimens, hours spent in the gym, or early starts to gymnastics careers, is lackluster. Probably at best we have kids peaking and then sitting around in a holding pattern — anyone worried, for instance, that Jordyn Wieber could break in, say, the four years she has before she turns sixteen? Does anyone think that she is not training as hard as a senior on a day-to-day basis? Ultimately, this artificial limit has been attempted, has failed, and has caused more trouble than it’s worth. Hopefully this denouement has proven this to the FIG.

ETA 10/9: In a big turn of events — whose meaning I have yet to interpret — the Chinese Gymnastics Association is now investigating the ages of the two 2000 Olympians who have not yet been cleared by the FIG. Spokesman Zhou Quiriu:

“The local authorities provided us with the athletes’ profiles, including age. Our job was only to select the best among them,” she said. “We are not the government and don’t have any power. We can only coordinate.”

The two gymnasts of interest are Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun. Dong’s case is particularly troublesome since she worked for the IOC at the Olympics this year with work records suggesting she was only 14 in 2000. Oops.

Not sure what the relationship is of the CGA to the government, but I find it hard to believe that it has any truly autonomous power should the government ever become interested in its activities. Anyway, I don’t know what the CGA could get out of this — besides losing a medal and maybe gaining some respect for investigating (I wouldn’t put it past them to make that kind of calculated move) — but we’ll have to wait and see.

Steliana Nistor, the silver medalist in the all-around at the 2007 World championships, is retiring, according to this post on a Nistor fan blog. Apparently, she will be focusing on her studies at the Sports Academy in her hometown of Sibiu. Unfortunately, this is not surprising news, given that she did not accompany the team to their retreat on the Black Sea after the Olympics and, more importantly, the fact that she has been facing major back problems for over a year.

What Nistor will be remembered for, unfortunately, will probably be two things: first, that she placed the dreaded fourth in a number of all-around competitions; and, second, that she appeared to be routinely overscored despite major form problems.

Nistor's DTY at 2007 Worlds

Nistor's DTY at 2007 Worlds

Having said this, I actually really liked Nistor as a gymnast. Her vault was pretty much consistently terrible, with pretty much constant form problems (see above). But I really loved her floor. She had some good dance elements, particularly turns; was a precise tumbler (though, still, some form problems in the air); and had great floor music at the end of this quadrennium. Below is her floor from the 2007 Worlds:

Nistor was a mainstay of the Romanian gymnastics team in this quadrennium, and I’m going to miss her. I enjoyed her especially on beam and, as I mentioned, floor. For a Romanian in recent years, moreover, she had quite a good bar routine.

Nistor on bars

Nistor on bars

She had some cool skills, too, including a Ray on bars, and a handspring to back full on beam.

Here’s a short montage:

ETA 9/30: Apparently Forminte and Nistor will be having a meeting to make a final decision, at least according to Forminte. Something tells me Nistor has made up her mind … but maybe there’s still hope she’ll continue. The meeting is supposed to be held in the next few days.

ETA 10/1: According to this post — hey! I’m learning Romanian! — Forminte and Nistor talked, and he has accepted her retirement.

According to this AP article, the FIG has decided to expand its investigation of Chinese gymnasts’ age to the 2000 team, which means big trouble for the Chinese.

Recall that Yang Yun admitted last year that she was 14 at the Sydney Olympics.

It’s slow reaction time, but they are saying that information from before the Games has led them to this decision:

“If we had a look at all the articles that came before, during and after the games, there were always rumors about the ages of China’s athletes in Sydney,” Andre Gueisbuhler, secretary general of the International Gymnastics Federation, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

“We did not have another choice,” he said. “If we want to remain credible, then we have to look into things.”

Here is the story where Yang Yun admits to being 14.

ETA: There are really three parts of this story to comment on, and I think it’s important to keep them separate.

The first is whether the FIG should be further investigating this matter.  Although a number of pieces of evidence point to falsification, China has supplied the FIG with proof of age as required by the organization’s bylaws.  If China were not a notoriously secretive autocracy, it is less likely that we would be having this conversation, which begs the question of whether it is within the tradition of international sport and the Olympic Games to essentially suggest that the word of a national government is not sufficient.

Second, if it is decided that the Chinese ages were in fact falsified, we must consider what actions — and sanctions, if any — are appropriate.

Finally, this issue returns us to the question of whether there should be an age limit for senior elite international competition — and therefore participation in the Olympic games.  As can be seen from the reactions of the likes of Bela Karolyi on this one, believing that the Chinese should be sanctioned for falsification does not necessarily imply agreement with the policy.

So, those are the three things to consider.  What do you think?  I’ll give my perspective in coming posts.

With thanks to TheWho of the WWGym message board.

People have been wondering why exactly Nastia Liukin didn’t get the pike to scale that she does on beam credited to her. The answer is in the 2009 Code of Points, effective January 1, 2009.

First, my brief history of this skill, to recap: in 2007, Steliana Nistor of Romania began doing a tucked front to an arabesque (sometimes credited as a scale, although a scale should be with the legs at 180 degrees, that is, with one pointed straight up). This skill was added to the CoP after the 2007 Worlds with a skill value of C. (Yulia Lozhechko did this at 2007 Worlds too, but Nistor had debuted it at a different competition earlier that year.) It was not named because the FIG was not naming skills valued at C or under. In 2008, Liukin began doing the same skill, but more or less piked. Around the same time, a whole number of gymnasts began doing an aerial to an arabesque, which is the skill we saw ten different gymnasts do in the 2008 Olympics. (I actually like this version the best; it’s the most elegant.) By then Nistor had gotten rid of her skill, and Liukin was the only one doing the pike to scale.

scale

Liukin's scale

There are two parts of the new CoP that are relevant here.

1. In the old CoP, the elements like Liukin’s or Nistor’s were credited as one skill – that is, they were not a tuck/pike connected to a scale, but a tuck/pike to scale, if you will. In the new CoP, any skills with this type of logic have been removed. That is, even elements that were previously credited as one skill that technically involved two things that are distinct skills (in this case, the acrobatic element, and then the hold), are no longer in the CoP.

So not only were Liukin/Nistor-type skills not added to the new CoP, previously credited skills were removed. This includes a skill by Shayla Worley that appeared in the 2007 version of the code. It is an Onodi to scale and was named after her after she competed it at the 2007 Worlds. It was a D-level skill. It has now been removed from the code of points because although it is a D+A, an Onodi is not a salto and so is not eligible.

2. This does not mean that athletes can no longer get credit for an acrobatic element followed by some kind of hold like an arabesque or a scale — but the acrobatic element must be a salto. With any level of skill, you can get credit, separately, for each skill. On the other hand, there is little logical reason to do this at the elite level because those holds are both A skills (worth the least amount of difficulty value), while most gymnasts want to count elements with higher point values.

The question is, when would you want to do this type of skill?

The new CoP has given gymnasts an incentive to do some variations of this skill. There is now a new category of connection value for balance beam under which gymnasts can get .1 connection value for a D salto skill connected to a scale, an A skill (it’s mixed because it’s an acrobatic element combined with a dance element).

But this does not mean we will be seeing many “Liukins” or “Nistors.” A tuck or pike front on beam is a C-value skill and therefore not eligible for this connection value. This would be .3+.1=.4, so logically only .3 because the A skill would not be counted, which means you might as well just do the tuck.

The aerial to a scale/arabesque will perhaps still see some play, because you can take the D and the .1 CV and get .5 doing one D-level skill (you don’t have to count all the skills in a series to get CV in the new CoP, although that was originally a proposed change, which actually may not have been a bad idea).

By the way, not even Liukin, who is known for her flexibility, was nevertheless cheating her scale (IMO), which should look like this:

This is a scale, as performed by Chellsie Memmel at the 2003 Worlds.  180 degree leg separation.  You obviously don't have to hold your foot, that is just a signature move for Memmel.

This is a scale, as performed by Chellsie Memmel at the 2003 Worlds. 180 degree leg separation. You obviously don't have to hold your foot, that is just a signature move for Memmel.

I tried to find a picture of Hollie Vise, who did a great scale, but couldn’t find one. But I did stumble across this:

(Grainy) picture of Dominique Moceanu scale

(Grainy) picture of Dominique Moceanu scale

This is the best I have ever seen Liukin do this skill (2008 Pacific Rim, around 1:25):