The C Score (2.0)

Posts Tagged ‘Samantha Peszek

Bela Karolyi was in Chicago today to promote the American Cup, which will be held there in March 2009. There is a lot of good information coming out of these articles.

Bela at his ranch

Bela at his ranch

The Chinese age scandal

What, you thought it was going to go away?

Karolyi is still talking about the Chinese age scandal. He thinks the 2000 Olympics inquiry was perfunctory and is not convincing in the slightest:

“I think that’s just a cover-up. They’re trying to hold onto their reputation on this issue, when it’s one of the most blatant things we’ve ever seen.”

Karolyi says that he complained about the age question back in Sydney, saying that he pointed out that one of the girls (I assume Dong Fangxiao, but it could have been Yang Yun) had been a junior the year before and that it was impossible that she could have aged two years in one year. (He makes a good point.)

Interestingly, Karolyi was backed up by Steve Penny of USA Gymnastics more than usual. He said “Bela makes a good point when he says the Chinese kids went out there and did a good job. But there’s a rule that says you’ve got to be 16.”

My favorite part is where he added: “Here’s Rebecca Bross, two months short of being able to compete, sitting, crying in front of her TV, watching kids younger than her compete.” Really? Rebecca Bross was CRYING in front of her television?

It’s official: Marta’s staying

Bela confirms that Marta will be around at least through 2012. Interestingly, Penny says that the Karolyis (both of them) are “USA Gymnastics’ long-term plan.” Everyone loves the program (that Bela created, and that they hated at the time … no, I’m not bitter).

Bela then mentioned Kim Zmeskal as a possible successor!

Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Samantha Peszek continuing

Apparently Liukin was briefly at the trainign camp that just started, and told Bela she would continue competing.

Bela also said that while we lost all of our athletes after the 2004 cycle, at least Liukin, Johnson and Peszek will continue.

A little clue on Bela’s favorites?

When asked who the next big thing was, Bela answered Rebecca Bross and Jordyn Wieber. He called Wieber a “diamond” and compared her to Shawn Johnson (directly, and also by mentioning her ability to stay on the beam!).

And: one last (boring) article.

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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

After a lot of rumors flying around, it was confirmed at a Region 5 conference last night that Sam Peszek’s coach, Peter Zhao, is returning to China, according to WWGym.

Peter Zhao

Peter Zhao

This leaves Peszek at a gym with no qualified elite coach at Deveau’s in Fishers, Indiana. Rumor has it that she could go to Sharp’s, or even Chow’s.

I think Peszek’s still got some elite left in her — if she didn’t, one option would be to drop to Level 10, which Deveau’s has, and prepare for NCAA. She’s clearly keeping that option open since she hasn’t accepted any sponsors.

Of the other two gyms, I think Sharp’s seems more likely. It’s in West Indianapolis, which is clearly closer than Iowa, and Peszek is one of those few elite gymnasts who actually goes to a real school, Cathedral High. (On that subject, anyone who does elite gymnastics while attending a regular school is leaps and bounds above everyone else.) Peszek would be training there with Bridget Sloan, fellow 2008 Olympic team member. On the other hand, I think Peszek and Sloan have very different gymnastics personalities. But the gym is clearly right up there at her level.

By contrast, I think Chow’s is less likely but would be a better fit. They are clearly a gym capable of training elites without sacrificing education. Shawn Johnson and Peszek are actually incredibly similar as gymnasts, which has become increasingly clear, especially in the next year. They’re both powerful tumblers with great, big skills. I think they would do well together. On the other hand, Peszek’s reaching the end of her high school career, so I think it’s a less likely move.

ETA 9/30: It’s official on the Deveau’s Web site.

ETA 10/3: Peszek will be staying at DeVeau’s, working with an as-yet-unidentified new elite coach, according to this interview. She also gives us the clearest answer (besides Sacramone, who is clearly retiring) about what she will be doing in the future: she says she is continuing in the elite program, hopes to compete at Worlds in 2009, and is eventually aiming at NCAA.

ETA 10/6: Rumor has it that Zhao will be replaced by Luminita Miscenco-Garcy (alternatively known as Luminita Miscenco, her maiden name, and Luminita Garcy), best known as Dominique Moceanu’s coach at the 1998 Goodwill Games (where she won the gold). She is currently (at least in 2007 last I know) a coach for the national team. Interestingly, here is a picture of Peszek with Miscenco-Garcy when Miscenco-Garcy was at DeVeau’s for two weeks in 2005:

Peszek with Luminita Miscenco-Garcy, her soon-to-be coach?

Peszek with Luminita Miscenco-Garcy, her soon-to-be coach?

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

Since the Olympics ended, there has been some grumbling in the gymnastics community — and in the New York Times — about the possibility that U.S. gymnasts were overtrained by national-team coaches. There are obviously two questions here: 1) Were these gymnasts overtrained? and 2) If so, is overtraining responsible for our second-place finish?

Was the U.S. team overtrained?

Let’s try to answer the first question first. There is certainly a lot of circumstantial evidence pointing in this direction, but we have no direct evidence. I think it is slightly irresponsible (if understandable) of people like Paul Ziert to state the case of overtraining as fact, given that we don’t have access to the training sessions for confirmation, and such a charge hasn’t been leveled at Marta Karolyi by any of her (current) athletes. There are two main pieces of evidence that have been used in recent opinion pieces on this issue: first, that the American gymnasts looked tired and unenthusiastic during team finals; and second, that the number of injuries in the days leading up to the Olympics was too high. In his International Gymnast op-ed, Ziert claimed that the team looked overtrained:

[On floor] Shawn has yet to show the joy that made her not only a champion but a crowd favorite. Of course, her difficulty will impress most, but the fact that she can be overtrained and still hit routines is what impresses me, although I don’t think it’s smart or fair. What was painful was to watch Alicia Sacramone’s routine. Everything about her performance indicated overtraining. When both mind and/or body are tired, they don’t work well together. Why else would she go out of the area on her 2½ twist punch front full both at podium training and here in the qualifying. I contend that with both the injuries and overtraining, she ran harder and hurdled bigger to make sure she made the pass.

Then he continues, with reference to mistakes made on bars and vault:

I believe that these types of mistakes cry out with overtraining. When the mind and body are not in sync because one or both are exhausted, this is what can happen.

Susan Yoculan, director of Georgia’s amazing gymnasts program until 2008, said similar things in her blog commentary for the New York Times (though she ultimately attributed the loss to the difference in overall A-scores, which I’ll get back to):

Shawn in last up and once again the U.S. goes out of bounds. It is shocking that Shawn, too, is distracted. She looks great but there is definitely a spark missing.

Honestly, though, I don’t think we are at a point where we can say that a demonstration of distraction or lack of enthusiasm is a clear sign of overtraining. That’s a really hard case to make.

On the other hand, as this New York Times article points out, underperformance is a symptom of overtraining. (Note that the article isn’t specifically about gymnastics.) I think that the better argument is the one based on injury.

Even before these Olympics, I thought that Shawn Johnson’s coaches had it right. Four hours of practice a day, public school. Not only does she not risk overtraining, but she has a normal life and does not discount academics entirely in favor of athletics. The way she has described it, her time in the gym is more intense, with no real breaks to speak of. On the other hand, she was the only member of the team without a major injury to speak of from somewhere in her career.

The best argument Ziert makes that the women’s team was overtrained is based on the high prevalence of injuries. Sam Peszek’s sprained ankle, Chellsie Memmel’s break. (Recall that Alicia Sacramone was also injured earlier this year.) It’s possible, as Marta Karolyi suggested in this Time article that we might have performed better with Memmel on beam. Who knows? I think more important, however, is the fact that this article purports to be about overtraining but is really about whether the Code of Points pushes gymnasts to compete harder skills. If that’s the case, it’s not really relevant to this debate, because all gymnasts from all countries are competing with the same Code.

Overall, I think the main problem with the overtraining argument is that we don’t have proof. There’s some circumstantial evidence, and there’s Karolyis’ history (we know there’s a definite tradition of overtraining there). Definitely we had some errors that seemed uncharacteristic, and we seemed to lack charisma that we had at Worlds in 2007. Still, before we blame this whole thing on overtraining, we should think about other possible explanations — see the next post.

 

Pictures: Alicia Sacramone, the emotional face of the U.S. team

 

Alicia Sacramone with Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson at 2007 Worlds

Alicia Sacramone with Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson at 2007 Worlds

 

Alicia Sacramone at the 2008 Olympics

Alicia Sacramone at the 2008 Olympics

 

Next up: Is overtraining responsible for the loss to the Chinese?


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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