The C Score (2.0)

Posts Tagged ‘Chellsie Memmel

A few updates from my favorite national team:

Corina Ungureanu

Remember Corina Ungureanu? She was a member of the Romanian gymnastics team in the 1990s, and was a member of the 1997 and 1999 world champion Romanian teams. She later retired in 1999 due to a spinal cord injury, and then did a number of naked things, including posing in Romanian Playboy (which she did again earlier this year), and doing gymnastics routines topless on a Japanese DVD.

Ungureanu is now 28, and she now lives in England, where she is coaching on the Isle of Man. And, according to this Libertatea article, she is now training bars, beam and floor herself, and recently competed in an internal competition on beam and floor. Remember, she was the 1998 European floor champion.

Check it out:

Awards for Dragoi and Tamirjan

Gabriela Dragoi was named Athlete of the Year for Buzau county, according to this article in Stiri Locale Bucuresti.

Dragoi and Tamirjan

Dragoi and Tamirjan

In other heartwarming Dragoi news, a businessman named Costel Bucur is helping out her family (she has five siblings) by helping to rebuild their house and donating things for Christmas. Very cool. See article here.

Ana Maria Tamirjan was also honored recently by the Prahova Directorate for Sport, which encompasses Ploesti. Tamirjan is second in the competition for best athlete of Prahova county, with first place going to someone who does judo.

Tamirjan said:

2008 was a hard year, in which we had many injuries, which makes this even more satisfying. [In 2009], on a person level, I’d like to come back with medals from Europeans and Worlds. Otherwise, I hope for good health and the ability to work hard.

Tamirjan is recovering from a cracked femur, and consequently has refused to take off more than one day for Christmas!

See Pro Sport article here.

Andreea Acatrinei won the Best Athlete award for Hunedoara, with Ceralesca Patrascu second. Steliana Nistor won for Sibiu.

Sandra Izbasa

And, naturally, what Romanian update would be complete without something about Sandra Izbasa? She is currently in Belgium for an exhibition (see here). She’ll be performing on beam and floor. Dariya Zgoba will supposedly also be there. (In other exhibition news, Chellsie Memmel is in Holland for similar reasons.)

This will be brief brief brief because I have to study biochemistry (which is clearly going very well).

On December 1st, the Times published an article citing evidence that gymnasts suffer “a broad constellation of injuries” to joints causing inflamed cartilage and stress fractures, things that could lead even to necrosis.

Anyway, some doctors wrote in from the National Osteoporosis Society to report on their own study, which shows that girls 8-17 engaged in “high intensity gymnastic training” had bone densities 13-28 percent higher than matched controls. They also didn’t find evidence of stunted growth or that gymnasts were not receiving adequate nutrition.

Overtraining is a real risk in gymnastics because of the early start age. You don’t see many football players being home-schooled. But honestly, I haven’t read the American study, and media reports about studies tend to be misleading at best. In either case, I think it’s telling that they then go on to say that “Previous studies have suggested that the rate of injury in gymnastics is almost as severe as that in contact sports.” Almost as severe? Sounds to me like gymnastics is still better!

On the other hand, one should also be skeptical of the other study (and of any study that one hasn’t read — someone recently found that some massive percentage of medical studies were misreported in the media). Naturally, the “stunted growth” question is a sticking point in the gymnastics community — it’s the classic chicken-or-egg question: which came first, gymnastics, or short height? But there is conclusive evidence that high-level sports delay puberty, and I think that suggesting that elite-level gymnastics has no effect on development is laughable.

And finally a place to sneak in this tidbit: while Chellsie Memmel has been on her fruit-and-chicken diet, what has Beth Tweddle been eating? According to this article, lunch might be lasagna, spaghetti bolognese or sweet-and-sour chicken. Dinner could be soup-and-sandwich or a “chicken and bacon salad.” It’s never been clear to me that the level of intensity and craziness of American gymnastics has reached across the pond, and on that note, who were the subjects of the NOS study? It’s not clear that British gymnasts have been subjected to the same harsh diets we see in some American gyms, and certainly former Soviet gyms, so it’s not clear to me how translatable the findings might be. Certainly it’s interesting that the positive findings come out of Britain while the negative ones come out of the the United States.

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

**Updated 10/12**

The most recent training camp took place at the Karolyi ranch this week, with all of the Olympians absent except for Bridget Sloan (sorry). Here’s the news I’ve gleaned, with some commentary:

Gymnasts present

Chelsea Davis:

Davis is apparently doing a double layout on floor! This is one of my favorite skills, and we didn’t see enough of it last quad. Apparently she also upgraded on bars, adding a Geinger and a Hindorff (for those who are unclear, a Hindorff is a free hip circle to Tkatchev, a pretty rare — and cool — skill). (ETA 10/12: Davis says that she verified the Hindorff only on the pit bar.) This is an important upgrade because she has nice lines and form on bar, but at Jesolo for instance was only competing a Jaeger release. ETA 10/12: Here is a great interview that Anne over at the great Gymnastike did with Davis about this camp.

This is Yulia Kut (USSR) doing a Hindorff (the first release in this routine), 1988:

Ivana Hong:

Hong is rumored to be at the camp but without a coach or gym. It’s hard to say where Hong will go now that she has left GAGE, but reliable guesses have her going to AOGC in California, her home state. If she went there, she would be training with Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro (and Hollie Mossett). Certainly that gym would complement her style well. Honestly, it’s hard to understand why she hasn’t shown up at WOGA, since her family is clearly willing to relocate. I’d like to see her go somewhere where she would be pushed to train tougher, harder skills — she’s got the form down — and I actually think either AOGC or WOGA would be good for that.

Amanda Jetter

Jetter now has a DTY and a Patterson dismount on beam, upgraded from a double back. Vault was Jetter’s lowest-scoring event at 2008 Nationals, so that is good news. And her beam is actually quite lovely, with a nice, clean standing Arabian.

Samantha Shapiro:

Had some kind of surgery, but is there.

Cassie Whitcomb:

Apparently Whitcomb has a very nice Hindorff. What’s with all the Hindorffs? Don’t know much about Whitcomb’s bars otherwise …

Jordyn Wieber:

The big news is that she is throwing an apparently solid Amanar. Now, one might think that the last thing a twelve-year-old junior needs is a giant vault leaps and bounds above the capacity of her competition, especially since it’s taxing and she’ll have to do it for three years before she even reaches senior age eligibility. On the other hand, her DTY was ofter over-rotated, suggesting she had extra power. Not sure what to think. Apparently she’s only training twenty-odd hours a week, so Geddert’s doesn’t seem to be breaking her, but on the other hand they seem to focus too much on skills and too little on form. Time will tell ….

Other people rumored to be at the camp but about which I have no information (besides assignments, below), sadly: Alaina Johnson, Mattie Larson, Randi Lau, Corrie Lothrop, Randy Stageberg, Shayla Worley.

Assignments

Top Gym: Charleroi, BEL November 28-30

Wieber and her Geddert’s teammate Kamerin Moore. Cute that they’re going together.

Pan-American Gymnastics Union (PAGU) Individual Event Championships: Buenos Aires, ARG November 19-23

A training squad of seven girls was picked: Jana Bieger, Rebecca Bross, Mackenzie Caquatto, Olivia Courtney, Jetter, Sloan, Whitcomb. Only four will go to PAGU.

NEW 10/12: Hints About International Competitions

Interestingly, Davis said in a recent interview (see above, or Anne’s comment) that she will not be participating in any international competitions until 2009, because of the new CoP. Not sure if this is a decision made by her coach, Kim Zmeskal-Burdette, or by Marta. If it’s Zmeskal-Burdette’s decision, it might be smart, except to the extent that it would provide Davis with international experience (though she seems confident about her place on the team right now, see the interview I keep referring to). If it’s by Marta, she probably is sending out gymnasts who have pretty set, high-scoring routines under this CoP. Davis is working on a lot of upgrades, so it would make sense that she would save them for use under the new CoP. So I’m expecting gymnasts with fewer upgrade plans to compete in the last few events of the year.

Thoughts

My impulse is to feel terrible for Bieger. It’s clear from her (rumored) request in 2007 to be released to Germany that she has had it up to here with USAG. It’s also clear from recent events that Marta Karolyi’s reaction (um … no) was justified: they keep Bieger around in case they need her after injuries. And that has worked out for Bieger in the past. Unfortunately, she’s clearly not one of Marta’s favorites, and that has worked against her. A lot. Now, if she is still going to camps, maybe there is a bright side: maybe she still wants to be involved. Certainly going to camps and accepting a possible international assignment means she isn’t trying to wait out the two years without international competition so that USAG has no more claim over her. Perhaps Bieger is being forgiving, and is sticking with the sport because she loves it ….

Worley is at camp. Her story eerily mirrors that of Chellsie Memmel in the lead-up to ’04 — will Worley stick around? It’s hard to imagine her doing so, what with all the injuries. At this point it seems like it would be a miracle if she could hang on. I’d like to know specifically what she’s been up to.

Today: France and China

France

1. Youna Dufournet

This girl is France’s biggest hope at the beginning of the new quad. She wound up third in the all-around at this year’s Europeans, but she could have easily won silver. She went on to win bars and vault with a silver on floor. Actually, Dufournet’s a major threat on beam with an A-score (in 2008) of 6.9, including an Arabian, which observers wouldn’t have noticed at Europeans because she wound up with a fall in EF. But her score of 15.700 in qualifications led the rankings, and she probably would have wound up with an even higher score in EFs without the fall. (She took third in BB in EFs in France, competing against seniors, as early as 2006.) Beam is probably her weakest event though, as she competes tough skills but with a lot of balance checks and some flexibility issues (also true on floor). Dufournet’s vaults are right up there: a DTY and a piked Omelianchik, although her scores were actually low despite her victory on that apparatus. On UB, she’s very solid. She has the occasional form breaks (in her Jaeger particularly) and randomly does two Shapashnikovas. She’s not the most graceful bar worker, but she’s strong and consistent, somewhat like a Chellsie Memmel (not a useful comparison if you’re one of those who doesn’t like Memmel, which I do). In addition to the Jaeger, she does a good Geinger and a double-layout dismount. Her EF score was an impressive 15.625. On FX, I think Dufournet is suffering from a choreography problem more than anything — put simply, it sucks, and she could probably handle much more sophisticated stuff. Otherwise, she has kind of a Vanessa Ferrari feel, and does a nice piked full in and an Arabian, plus a 5/2 twist. Let me be clear: this girl is a major threat. She wins absolutely everything she competes in in France, including the “Coupes,” or junior championships, and the Championnats, which are for the top two age groups of juniors. Except the one time she didn’t compete earlier this year (just before Europeans), she won all of these in 2007 and 2008, including recently in June, and placed 6th in the Championnats in 2006. In the May championships by team, her Avoine team placed third, but Dufournet had the highest score of any competitor, including Laetitia Dugain, Marine Petit, Pauline Morel and Marine Debauve (all Olympians). She had the highest score on VT, UB and FX. What I’m saying is that at 14, Dufournet is better — or soon to be better — than all of her country’s 2008 Olympians. Watch out!

Youna Dufournet

Youna Dufournet

Chloé Stanic

I enjoy Stanic, but we are now moving into a more expected level of French gymnastics. Stanic finished 13th overall at this year’s Europeans and finished second at Coupes in 2007 and third at this year’s Championnats in June. In the same team meet mentioned above where Dufournet placed ahead of all the current seniors, Stanic placed a very respectable 7th (no junior besides Dufournet placed higher). Stanic’s other international experience is pretty limited, though she placed a respectable fourth in a France/Switzerland/Germany/Netherlands meet in early 2008 (Dufournet, unsurprisingly, took first there). On FX, Stanic has a decent Arabian, but otherwise she has Nistor-like splits (feet flexed … not a fan) and not enough difficulty. Her vault is probably her weakest event right now, as she’s competing only a Podkopaeva, as far as I can tell. She is pretty shaky and labored on BB, although she does have what I think is supposed to be a combination of a standing back pike to back tuck, which is interesting. Her bars are just alright, though she has a high Tkatchev and a decent straddled Jaeger. At Europeans, she fell on her dismount — otherwise, she would have easily qualified to EFs. However, I’m not sure whether there’s tremendous potential for growth in her bar set, but she does have room to at least tidy things up.

3. Aurélie Malausséna

Malausséna has oddly been given very little international experience by the French powers-that-be, which is curious because she regularly places second or third in national competitions, alternating with Stanic. She placed third in the 2007 and 2008 Coupes, and second in this year’s Championnats (she was ninth in 2006). Her only international experience has been a France/Switzerland match, in which she placed third, and a small international tournament before she reached elite. The likely problem is that Malausséna so far does not shine on any particular event, though she is consistent across all four. She has a Chellsie-Memmel like quality in some ways, though she appears to lack the extreme flexibility. She would also have a decent FX if someone would change her choreography, and if she upgraded a few passes — the most interesting one is a double pike. On BB, she throws some decent skills — a punch front and a standing tuck — but otherwise it’s kind of a yawner. Her key to success might be UB, on which she has thrown a piked Jaeger, if she could add some difficulty (right now she’s in the mid fives).

Honorable mention:

I should probably start with Marine Brevet, who charmed a number of observers at this year’s Europeans. From afar, she looks not unlike Nastia Liukin, which might be one of the reasons. Up close, I don’t really see it, though she does have long lines. She has absolutely terrible bars — even beyond the more complex skills, she cannot do a kip without major leg separation. Internally, she has had somewhat of a meteoric rise. She is a 1994 kid, and was ranked fourth in her age group in 2007, during which time she placed sixth at Coupes and second at the Championnats in the category below junior elite. This year at Championnats, she placed sixth. Her best event right now may be BB (she qualified to EFs at Europeans, though she placed last), but there her most interesting skill is a split jump to arabesque. On FX, she just doesn’t have the difficulty yet, and one of her four passes is a 1/1 twist. Ultimately, she seems to have the form to improve upon, but we’ll have to wait and see if she does it.

The only two other French gymnasts I’ll mention are Marie Gaffino and Léa Kemayou. Gaffino placed fifth at this year’s Championnats, and eighth in 2007. She placed first in 2007 at one of her only international events, the Tournoi International du Pas de Calais, and was a member of the 2008 Europeans team. Right now her two best events are BB and FX, where she uses a modified version of Daria Joura’s music. She does some good twisting and is reasonably expressive. On BB she does a nice standing back pike (and a back tuck, like Stanic). Finally, Kemayou is France’s current power gymnast. She’s a strong vaulter and a decent bars worker, though she sometimes looks a bit clumsy. She’s one of the most aggressive beam workers the French have, and she seems confident. I think she actually has serious potential on BB (maybe a la Alicia Sacramone?).

The French team:

What we’re looking at here is Italy in 2006 — an assortment of fairly talented, but not internationally competitive, girls — plus a stand-out who pulls off pretty impressive showings in international competitions. Though I don’t think Dufournet will get the same form criticisms Ferrari got. She’s actually downright impressive. Otherwise, I don’t see much change in the potential standings of the French team. In addition to some form issues, the real problem is difficulty level. Few of their girls are even doing Yurchenko vaults, much less the type you need to stay competitive. They have a handful of good releases on bars, but nothing fancy. Same problem on beam. On floor, their choreography is very hit-or-miss. Overall, we’re still waiting for a team breakthrough. (Incidentally, the French run their program very much like the Americans, though their best gyms are state-run: they have decentralized training with occasional verifications. The difference being, of course, that there are around six times more people in the United States than in France ….)

China

1. Cui Jie

Cui Jie is the obvious choice for the next big thing coming out of China. Though she looks young — whatever that might mean about her — she is 14 and will be able to compete as a senior in 2010. Her biggest meet to date was the 2008 Pacific Rim Championships, in which she placed seventh AA. She would likely have placed much higher, however, if it hadn’t been for a fall on her dismount on bars leading to a score of under 13. She qualified to two EFs and placed sixth on vault and first on beam with a score of 16.025 (a tie with Rebecca Bross). At the Chinese Junior Nationals that took place last week in Yunnan province, Cui took second in the AA to the little-known Chen Chuyan. More importantly, at last year’s nationals, competing against seniors — including the eventual 2008 Olympic team — Cui took seventh on BB on fifth on FX, placing 11th AA. Already in 2007, Cui tied for sixth on FX and qualified 13th to the AA. FX is widely considered to be Cui’s best event. She has a good routine, despite a needed choreography upgrade, and sells it well. She performs an Arabian double front, a Rudi, and nice twists overall. She also does a nice twist to layout punch front and has very precise landings. She also does a double leg-up turn. On BB she general scores very high (see above), and does some big skills: punch front to Rueda, Korbut, double tuck dismount. She also performed a 1 1/2 turn at Intercity Games in 2007 instead of the ubiquitous leg-up turn, but had switched to the latter by Pacific Rim. Would be great to see her do a double turn in the future. Cui could stand to upgrade her UB, although she generally speaking has nice lines and good form. She does a nice Tkatchev and a decent Jaeger, and also has a lovely Pak. Had she not fallen on her double front at Pacific Rim, she likely would have received a respectable score. VT is Cui’s weakest event, as she still competes a Yurchenko full regularly, but I assume she is planning to upgrade. Overall, I think this gymnast is currently the best junior in China. She has good form, nice presentation, and is solid on three events.

2. Huang Ying

It says something about the low visibility of the Chinese juniors that I have put second a gymnast who has placed in recent competition only in EFs at Pacific Rim (she has not placed in any Chinese national competition that I know of, except perhaps at the most recent Junior Nationals, for which I do not yet have full results). In the Pacific Rim format, teams compete in a 6-5-4 format, and Huang was used only on beam and floor. However, she eventually placed 3rd on BB, with a score of 15.925 (15.750 in team competition), and 5th on FX. I’m actually not at all familiar with Huang on other events, but she is excellent on these two (as opposed to Wenli Guan, below, who is reasonably solid on all four but a stand-out on none). Huang has beautiful dance and high leaps on floor, and also does a 5/2 twist and a 1 1/2 punch front full. Her best event is BB, where she starts with two flip-flops to layout to Korbut, and an Onodi back tuck. Her dismount is a decent double pike. I can see this gymnast becoming an excellent specialist.

3. Wenli Guan

I’m going to take a risk here and put Wenli here despite the fact that we have not seen her since Pacific Rim, including at the Chinese Nationals that took place in June and the Chinese Junior Nationals that just concluded. I was unable to find any information about why that may be. Wenli, until Chen (see above), is the only junior who has beaten Cui in competition. She took sixth at this year’s Pacific Rim, also placing fifth in UB event finals. So far, Guan has not stood out on any particular event, though she does do a standing Arabian, a flip-flop to back tuck and a double full dismount on BB, and looks able to upgrade other skills on that event. She has long lines on UB, and placed a respectable 5th in EFs at Pacific Rim, but needs to seriously upgrade. Same problem on FX and on VT (Yurchenko full). I’m not in love with this gymnast, but she seems solid enough, though I think she has trouble with power skills. Although actually that may not be so bad with the new CoP.

Honorable mention

The data on Chinese juniors is scant at best, but I’ll mention a few more to look for. First, I suppose, is Chen Chuyan, who took the all-around over Cui in Chinese Junior Nationals. I unfortunately know basically nothing about this heretofore larely unknown gymnast, though she did place 16th in the AA at last year’s nationals (behind Cui).

Of more interest, to me at least, is Li Lijun, who placed third at the most recent Chinese Junior Nationals, behind Chen and Cui. She is already reasonably solid on three events, particularly FX and UB. Before this competition, Li was only vaguely known, as a pretty gymnast not unlike Fan Ye. She is extremely poised on FX, and does some nice, controlled tumbling, although it is largely twists. She seems relatively tentative on BB, and doesn’t do any superbly challenging skills, and has the same problem on VT, where she does a Yurchenko full. So far her best event is likely UB, where she has nice lines and does a strong Jaeger and Tkatchev, a nice Pak, and a good double layout dismount.

The Chinese team:

The Chinese juniors really have not seen enough international competition for us to be able to rank many of them with any consistency. This on top of the fact that reports of the outcomes of national competitions are extremely hard to come by. Cui is by far the most interesting of the upcoming juniors, but there are a few others who will be good specialists at the very least. Among them, however, my main concern is that there are no powerful gymnasts to replace people like Cheng Fei. (On the other hand, the relatively small Jiang Yuyuan can do an Amanar, which was not always the case, so there’s nothing to say the others won’t upgrade. Especially because vault comes last for a lot of juniors.) Perhaps the best thing for the Chinese team is that a number of gymnasts from the 2008 Olympic team — including the great Cheng Fei, who has suggested she will continue through 2009 and has not ruled out 2012 — are likely to continue, including He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan, and Yang Yilin (the last of whom has a shot at gold at Worlds in 2009). This does not even include a number of other gymnasts, including Li Shanshan, Xiao Sha and Sui Lu, who were all contenders for the team but did not make it for various reasons. There’s also Huang Quishuang, a new senior who competed well at Pacific Rim, placing fifth in the AA, second on BB and fourth on FX (though her vaults need serious upgrading). That is to say, China remains deep on the senior level, and likely has plenty of juniors waiting in the wings (even just demographically speaking!). This gold was not a flash in the pan.

Up next: Italy and Great Britain

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):

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 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

This L.A. Times piece from back in August asks who the next big thing will be for women’s gymnastics.

Of course, the spin they put on it is that a number of L.A. girls are in the running. Two of the girls mentioned in this post are Mattie Larson and Samantha Shapiro (both from All-Olympica in L.A.), both of whom are obvious contenders for 2012. Larson was old enough this year, made it to trials, but had a stress fracture (and, in all honesty, didn’t contribute so much that she should have been put on the team). Shapiro was too young. (Mattie Larson will be on the old side in 2012, at 20 — but same age as Alicia Sacramone and Chellsie Memmel this year.)

But who else? My comments on Larson and Shapiro, plus a few more:

Rebecca Bross
This is an obvious one. The girl was junior all-around champion at Visa Championships in 2007, and took first on three of the four event finals (the only event on which she wasn’t first was beam, where she took second). On floor, her choreography is great (it is WOGA after all), and she handles some pretty mature dance beautifully. She also does a lot more twisting than other gymnasts (her last pass isn’t a double pike!), which reminds me of Nastia Liukin, except I think that Bross is a better tumbler, and manages to be graceful even in the non-dance segments of her routine (can’t say that for Liukin).

Chelsea Davis
Not the best timing for Davis, who will be 19 for the 2012 Olympics. On the other hand, she was fourth at Nationals in 2007, sixth at Jesolo, and first at the 2008 Gymnix competition (senior), although frankly her only other true competition was Mattie Larson, who placed second, and Kristina Vaculik, who only competed two events. And, of course, she was eighth in the all-around at the Olympic Trials. On the other hand, her A-scores aren’t the highest, especially given that she’s among the oldest in this group.

Mattie Larson
Larson will be 20 for the 2012 Olympics, which is not ideal. Then again, she is strong and graceful, and had a good chance of making the team before her injury. On the other hand, her contributions weren’t staggeringly amazing, with a DTY and only a 5.8 A-score (last I checked) on bars.

Samantha Shapiro
People love Shapiro, and with good reasons. Like Larson, she is graceful but also strong. Her bars and beam are both really high-difficulty, and will only get better. Shapiro’s weakest event is the vault, but that’s less of a concern because we need help other places more. One of those places is bars, and Shapiro is at All-Olympia, which has a great coaching staff for bars. I think she’s a candidate to stick it out, even though her age isn’t ideal.

Jordyn Wieber
She has some growing up to do, but she’s already done quite a bit since she burst onto the national stage at the age of 10 (although she wasn’t on the national team until 2006). At the age of 12, she placed 3rd in the all-around at Nationals. Her floor is not very mature yet, but I think part of that has to do with her club (Geddert’s) choreography. Her bars are actually quite clean even though she’s a pretty powerful gymnast (the type you might expect to be sloppy on bars). And I think she could eventually update to a 2 1/2-twisting Yurchenko. And she’ll be the perfect age for the 2012 Olympics.

I actually don’t have the highest hopes for people like Bridget Sloan or Davis simply because of their ages. Of course, Memmel and Sacramone proved that you can be 20 and still make it onto the U.S. team, but then their Olympics didn’t turn out quite as they had imagined. And then there’s the fact that the next big thing for four years down the road doesn’t usually surface quite this early.

I’ll discuss this more later, but our big problem right now is obviously bars, and we need someone who really stands out on that event. Actually, we need at least two people, if these Olympics prove anything.

Bross is really up there for me right now. I can’t wait to see her in senior competition. Here’s her floor from the 2007 Pan Ams:

In Part II, I ask:

Is overtraining responsible for the loss to the Chinese?

The simple answer is no. I am already ambivalent enough about the suggestion that there is evidence that the team was overtrained, but I am pretty convinced that it didn’t affect the outcome. There are a couple of reasons.

First, one has to wonder whether the U.S. team, if overtrained, was any more overtrained than any other team — particularly the Chinese and the Romanians, who have notoriously insane training programs. So even if we were overtrained, we may still have been on a level playing field in that regard. It’s doubtful that Marta Karolyi was harder on our gymnasts than the Romanian or Chinese coaches were on theirs (not that this excuses such behavior).

But there are two other factors: first, team spirit. Our team simply did not have the focus and energy that brought us victory at Worlds. Some people, like Paul Ziert, have offered this as evidence of overtraining. I don’t know what it was, but it was definitely obvious.

The second, and most important, is the simple fact that combined A-score of the Chinese was 2.1 points higher than ours. Their combined A-score was higher in Worlds, but we relied on few mistakes to get around that. You can also often count on the Chinese (at least in the past) to screw things up right when it gets important. That didn’t happen this time. As Suzanne Yoculan said in the New York Times:

n the end, it was not the falls or mistakes of the U.S. team members that cost them the gold. It was the superior level of difficulty that the Chinese team had over the U.S. team. With this new scoring system in place, the team with more difficulty going in has more room for error. The Chinese team had over 2 points more in difficulty than the U.S. team. This advantage is hard to overcome.

The obvious comparison for this match-up is to 2007 Worlds, when we beat the Chinese. (If you don’t want the play-by-play, skip down to “The bottom line”

Let’s start with the Olympics. First, we started off the team finals with Chellsie Memmel’s injury, and Sam Peszek’s from warm-ups just prior to the finals. Performing in Olympic order, we were up on vault first, and managed to eek out a .525 advantage. But seeing as the vault has always been one of our specialties, particularly against the Chinese, this was not as good as we could have done (especially with Shawn Johnson’s side-step that she took throughout the Games on her 2 1/2). Next up was bars. Johnson second (after Memmel), and had really only one minor form deduction for a score that is similar to that she has received in other international competitions. Nastia Liukin’s bars were almost flawless in the air, but I think she deserves to lose a lot on the terrible form in her dismount. Still, her score was high. But after this point the Chinese had a 1-point lead, meaning they had recovered 1.5 points over us on bars. The fact that two of their competitors had a 7.7 start value did not help. I think that after bars, all of the energy that we had had was sucked out of us. Even though the Chinese had a fall on beam, we matched it with Alicia Sacramone’s fall on her dismount. That was pretty much the end of this competition. Even without the fall we still would have been .7 behind if we had matched the Chinese scores otherwise. As it happens, we made up .5 on the beam, leaving us with a 1-point deficit. That means that even without Sacramone’s fall, we still would have been .2 behind. It might have given us a little bit of mojo for floor though. As we know, by the time we got to floor, especially after Sacramone’s lead-off, the Chinese just had to wait for their turn to perform what was basically a victory dance. And all three, and particularly Jiang Yuyuan (as far as getting the crowd engaged), did just that.

Jiang Yuyuan, the face of the Chinese victory

Jiang Yuyuan, the face of the Chinese victory

Now the 2007 Worlds. It started off better, but watching only the first rotation is slightly deceiving, because we came close to losing in the third. Sam Peszek led off with a huge DTY, and everyone knows the lead-off person is key. Yang Yilin also had a huge step, winding up with a score under 14.5. Then, remember that Cheng Fei — then the world champion — fell on her 2 1/2. This is what we used to count on the Chinese for — falls. That is not a reasonable strategy. After these vaults, we had a 1.6-point lead over the Chinese, and as their combined A-score was only 1.8-points more than ours at the time, we had nearly made up the difference. (This even with Johnson posting a 15.150 on her DTY vs. the 16.0 she got at the Olympics for a 2 1/2.) On bars, He Ning (not on the Olympic team) had an amazing set, but Yang Yilin missed a few handstands and had a low landing. The Americans, by contrast, were flawless — at their levels (Johnson scored her standard 15.375). Going in to the third rotation, the United States was in first. But this is the famous meet where, just as Ekaterina Kramarenko was sending the Russians crashing into last place by faulting on the vault for a 0.0, Liukin was nearly falling off the beam and compensating by landing her dismount as a back tuck. This then led to Johnson’s early fall off the beam (before a spectacular recovery). Once again, we had some major problems. The only thing that saved us was Li Shanshan’s fall out of bounds on floor. Not only did this hurt China’s score on floor, it gave the Americans a sense that they could win it. Johnson went up and nailed it, and Sacramone was then in her tremendously sassy mood which, combined with her pep talk to the team between rotations three and four, made her the hero of these championships. (Quite the difference from the blame-game she’s been the focus of since the Olympics. (As we all know, John Roethlisberger, and anyone else with a brain, have convincingly argued that this is not the case.)

The Bottom Line:

At Worlds, we were first in all of the rotations except beam. By contrast, at the Olympics, we were first only twice, and second and third on bars and floor (the Romanians were second). Our two best apparatuses, relative to the Chinese, are probably vault and floor. At Worlds, we beat them on vault by nearly 1.6, and they finished in fifth on that apparatus. At the Olympics, they finished second, and that by only around .5. On floor, we beat them by nearly one point at Worlds. The big difference at the Olympics? We lost by 1.3 points to the Chinese — on the floor. The Chinese made huge improvements over the last year, and most importantly in consistency. We relied on this not happening.

My point is: not only did we perform better (at least on some apparatuses), but the Chinese performed worse. We relied on their mistakes, not only to depress their scores, but to boost ours by giving us confidence. There is no doubt that there is a huge effect of context on athletes’ performance, and the Americans felt ready to win at Worlds. They didn’t seem as secure in that feeling at the Olympics.

If anyone is to “blame” for the loss at the Olympics, it’s the U.S. team leaders for not realizing that eventually the Chinese and their A-score advantage would eventually come out on top. (A good clue would have been that they won Worlds in 2006), for the first time ever.

So that we don’t leave this one on a down note, here’s a picture of our World champions (still reigning!):

The U.S. World gold medalists, 2007

The U.S. World gold medalists, 2007


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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