2012 was arguably one of the best years in the history of USA Gymnastics. What a wonderful year to be a USA gymnastics fan. As we anticipate 2013, lets take a look back at this amazing year.
We started with the American Cup in February. This competition was touted as the place where the champions in an Olympic year go on to become the all around Olympic champions. Gabby Douglas was undoubtable the star of the night. She burst onto the scene as an alternate who’s scores would not count, but she unofficially won the competition. She quickly rose from bar specialist status to all around threat as she debuted her Amanar and upgrades on beam, floor and, most especially important, bars. Jordyn Wieber was the official champion. She had a bit of a bumpy start on bars and as she debuted new upgrades on beam, but held on to win the meet. Aly Raisman was the silver medalist with a newly upgraded floor routine and the first solid Amanar she has performed in competition. Aly and Jordyn made the world stand up and take notice as they both performed incredible Amanars.
March was a busy month, first bringing the Kellogg’s Pacific Rim Championship. Highly anticipated as a showdown between Gabby and Jordyn, it quickly turned into a one woman show as Gabby fell on vault, twice on beam and scratched floor after injuring her ankle on vault. Jordyn unequivocally regained her status as America’s star as she put up 4 great performances to dominate in the all around and her highest scoring floor routine yet to win floor finals. Kyla Ross came out strong in her senior debut, taking second in the all around and winning beam finals with her beam routine that seems to float on air. Gabby came back fighting on bars, showing more upgrades and winning the bars finals with her high flying routine.
Then it was on to Italy for the City of Jesolo Trophy Meet. Once again, Kyla Ross showed her beautiful execution and went on to win the all around. The ever solid Aly Raisman had an unusually rough day, with steps and wobbles on almost every event. Surprisingly, bars was her most solid event. Showing the hard work she has been putting in there, she went on to take the silver all around medal. Sarah Finnegan was an unexpected breath of fresh air as she burst onto the scene in her senior debut with a third place finish. Her beautiful lines and elegance are a delight to see on the US scene. McKayla Maroney came to her first meet of the season with a new floor routine and upgraded bars. She was of course, the high scorer on vault with her seemingly effortless Amanar. Rebecca Bross had a disappointing day with a fall on bars in her first international meet since her injury. She showed promise however, seeming to have much of her fight and skills back (performing a perfect bars routine in warm ups).
After a few months break, came the Secret US Classics. What began to immerge here was an incredible picture of the depth of the US team and the reality that earning a place on the USA Olympic team was likely to be harder than winning an Olympic gold medal. Nastia and Chellsie began their bid in 2012 to make a second Olympic team, while the stars of this quad continued to prove their dominance. Probably one of the most controversial outcomes of this competition was Chellsie Memmel’s failure to qualify for nationals and the subsequent denial of her petition to be allowed in. The outrage from gymnastics fans was felt for weeks to come, and will probably be one of the most hotly debated topics for years to come. Aly continued to look solid, Jordyn continued to be dominant but struggled to make her beam connections and Gabby continued to add doubt to her ability to perform when her routines counted.
There were some memorable highlights for me from the Classics. Nastia’s incredible beam, where she reminded me and the rest of the world why she was an Olympic champion. Alicia Sacramone’s incredible comeback from her achilles injury. Anna Li’s incredible floor routine- so beautiful and expressive.
At this point in the year, we began to see the make up of the USA Olympic team. Though many on the gymternet began predicting this team in April, most (like myself) assumed that it would change over the next months. This was the “team at this point” not the team that would go to the Olympics. Too many comeback stars and first year seniors remained in the mix.
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney.
I’m not a NCAA fan. Really. Last year I tried hard to get into it. Apart from following some of my favorite former elites at UCLA, it just didn’t happen. But this year, I am pining away for gymnastics. So when I saw the NCAA meets for this weekend, I thought, I guess I will see how Bridget Sloan does tonight.
Hee hee, I am probably hooked. There are so many fun former elites to watch this year, I think I will end up watching many meets. Tonight started off Bridget’s NCAA career. She looks better than ever! Confident, poised, beautiful polish and awesome skills. She began the night with a 9.925 on vault and rounded it out with a 9.8 (and two small bobbles) on bars and beam. She also hinted that her new floor routine was better than anything she did as an elite. What a way to start! It is so wonderful to see her continue on!
Mackenzie Caquatto looked to be in better shape than ever. Seriously. Even in her elite career, I have never seen her look so physically fit, and so polished. She posted a 9.85 on bars and a 9.875 on beam. I can’t wait to see what she has to offer.
All in all, the Gators looked amazing. But I don’t care about that, right?! Just in case you are like me, and you don’t care but want to see some of your favorite elites, you can check out the weekend schedule here: http://www.thecouchgymnast.com/?p=7913.
“The US women winning gold. So nice to see this group live up to their potential!” -
I somewhat reluctantly bought my tickets to the Kelloggs tour of gymnastics champions. After all, how could I miss this celebration after following these girls with so much intensity for the past few years. On the other hand, after watching some of the major competitions in person, would I be satisfied in any way with the watered down gymnastics I knew would be presented at a tour?
The Kelloggs tour was everything I hoped – and expected- it to be. It was wonderful to see the Fierce Five. It brought more joy and emotion than I anticipated. The round the clock dancing has paid off for Aly and Gabby, who showed more dance prowess during their many numbers than I thought possible. And though I have enjoyed every minute of Nastia Liukin’s career as an artistic gymnast, seeing her as a rhythmic gymnast and cirque du solei performer had an incredible rightness to it.
In addition, men’s gymnastics live never disappoints. TV just cannot do justice to the incredible muscles they have. And there is no more exciting event than high bar to do a performance routine to. And the Kelloggs High bar, rings and parallel bars do not disappoint.
On the other hand, the tour was all I expected it to be. There is no way that the girls can maintain a high level of difficulty night after night with little training in between. In the show, tumbling is watered down. There are wobbles galore. After seeing all the girls can do, watching them perform is definitely a let down. And seeing the enormously talented Alicia Sacramone and Anna Li as back up dancers, I was seriously almost offended.
But all in all, it was a fun show celebrating all that was accomplished this year in gymnastics. I am glad that I went. And I am glad that they are doing the show. Watered down gymnastics or not, it is worth seeing! Seeing it on TV this weekend was even better! The camera’s and up close view brought a whole other dimension to the performances.
A few highlights for me. The sentimental fool that I am delighted in seeing Alicia Sacramone in the Olympic rings as she filled in for the injured McKayla Maroney. There was just a rightness to it. I also loved seeing the fierce all out gymnastics of Rebecca Bross. She was the star of the show in my opinion and her gymnastics left me hoping and wanting her continued participation in elite gymnastics. All in all, I loved seeing the joy that these gymnasts have in performing, and the fun they are having together. After a lifetime of work, they deserve it!
Feast then famine. After the 1996 Magnificent Seven won the team gold, we had a 4 year famine in USA gymnastics. Apart from the USA domination at the 1998 Goodwill Games, USA gymnastics had a drought in medals for the entire quad. This may leave many gymnastics fans wondering, what will happen after this USA team gold?
The USA Gymnastics program is in an entirely different place than it was in the 1990′s. The semi-centralized program that we currently follow has led to an incredibly strong USA team. And though the remarkable team we fielded this year was stronger than we could have ever hoped for, the future of USA gymnastics continues to look even brighter.
Gabrielle Douglas, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Kyla Ross of the Fierce Five have all declared strong intentions of staying in elite gymnastics and trying for the 2016 Olympics. Jordyn Wieber continues to say it is the back of her mind. On top of the most dominant gymnasts the USA has put forth, we also have a host of Juniors and 2012 Olympic hopefuls who will undoubtedly make a name for themselves in the upcoming quadreneum.
First and foremost are the Olympic Alternates. In one of the most competitive years of USA history, these girls almost made it. Many people believe that a USA “b” team, including these girls, could only be beat by USA’s “a” team. Sarah Finnegan and Elizabeth Price both show a great deal of promise of being shining stars in the next few years. Anna Li sustained a serious injury during training as an alternate to her neck. It is rumored that she will have to have surgery to continue pursuing her gymnastics dream. There is also Sabrina Vega, a beloved member of the 2011 World Championship team, who has declared her intentions of staying in gymnastics and trying for 2016. Brenna Dowell, who competed in the trials most recently won the Mexican Open, making her bid to be part of 2013 history. And don’t forget Kennedy Baker who showed much promise.
Then come our up and coming seniors; Simone Biles, Madison Desch, Katelyn Ohashi and current National Junior Champion Lexie Priessman. Simone shows one of the best amanars outside of McKayla Maroney and adds incredible tumbling and a decent bars set as well. Madison has shown herself to be a true GAGE gymnast with beautiful and consistent gymnastics. Katelyn is already an accomplished gymnast with the most difficult beam routine in the world and past junior national championships to her name. And Lexie is our current US Junior national champion.
As with the past two years, the USA will find themselves with an embarrassment of riches. The battle for national champion will be fierce – again possibly more so than any international battle. The upcoming world championships will only compete for all around and event finals. Only four gymnasts will be sent per country. Choosing those gymnasts from the plethora of incredible USA gymnasts will indeed be a challenge.
Out future is bright. And I can’t wait for it to start!
There is nothing like a weekend of gymnastics to pull us out of our post Olympic doldrums. We started out on Friday and Saturday with the Mexican Open. Sunday was a NBC highlight of the Kelloggs’ Gymnastics tour. And Monday will be a replay of the team and all around Olympic Finals.
Brenna Dowell of the USA had her breakout international performance this weekend at the Mexican Open, easily clenching the title with four solid performances. Brenna impressed me this year by competing at Nationals and the Olympic Trials with a broken hand. She has the clean lines and beautiful toe point of all GAGE athletes, and finally got her time to shine this weekend. Brenna has said that one of her favorite things about gymnastics is the feeling of accomplishment when you do well at a meet. Her goals for the year were to make the National Team again, to keep improving her skills and to compete in more international competitions. Check, check and check Brenna! Your first international title is quite an accomplishment.
Yessenia Estrada of Mexico came in second with some elegant and consistent gymnastics. Mexico represented themselves well at their home meet! We were also delighted with the beautiful offerings of Anna Dementyeva of Russia who, despite a fall on beam rounded out the podium in third.
To see all the routines from the Mexican Open, check out CICIGINASTICA’s youtube page.
Thanks be for new gymnastics to watch!
When the news began to spread that Jordyn Wieber might have a stress fracture, the snarky comments about excuses began. Even though they shouldn’t have, they surprised me. After all, when a dominant, consistent gymnast all of a sudden starts putting in uncharacteristically subpar performances, it is more common than not that an injury – usually a stress fracture- is part of the equation. Jordyn is not the first, and as competitive gymnastics continues to get more and more difficult, I am sure she will not be the last.
In fact, the heartbreaking story of a gymnast who shows so much potential to dominate gymnastics who then comes down with a stress fracture before or during a major competition has become so commonplace it is treated as something that is barely newsworthy. Let’s look at the many past American hopefuls who have suffered Jordyn’s fate. Then we will talk about why stress fractures fractures dreams.
Kim Zmeskal was a brilliant world champion in 1991. Everyone expected her to claim all the glory in the Olympics.
Americans had high hopes for Zmeskal and the U.S. team heading the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, with Zmeskal earning the cover of both Time and Newsweekmagazines before the Games. In the U.S. National Championships and Olympic Trials, Zmeskal battled an emergingShannon Miller, with Miller defeating Zmeskal at the Trials.
Zmeskal disappointed at the Games, falling off the balance beam during her compulsory routine on the first night of competition. Although she would rebound with performances on the floor, vault, and bars, Zmeskal was in 32nd place after the compulsories and 5th on the American team. She would further rebound with impressive scores of 9.912 on beam, 9.95 on vault, 9.9 on uneven bars, and a 9.925 on floor during the finals of the team competition, moving Zmeskal into 12th place and into the all-around competition by finishing third among the American women. Her combined score of 39.687 for the night was the highest of any competitor.
Although earning enough points to compete in the all-around competition, Zmeskal would again falter during her first event, the floor exercise, stepping out of bounds. It would later be revealed that Zmeskal was suffering from a stress fracture in her ankle before the Olympics began. (Wikipedia)
Next comes Dominique Moceanu in 1996.
Moceanu’s national and international successes, combined with her plucky, bubbly attitude, earned her attention and a wide fan base both in and out of the gymnastics community. In the months leading up to the Atlanta Olympics, she was one of the most recognizable faces of USA Gymnastics, eclipsing more decorated teammates such as Shannon Miller andDominique Dawes. Before the Olympics, she was featured in Vanity Fairand wrote an autobiography, Dominique Moceanu: An American Champion. The book was highly successful and ranked number seven on the New York Times’ Best Sellers List.
Moceanu was expected to be a major medal threat at the 1996 Olympics. However, following the 1996 U.S. Nationals, where she placed third in the all-around, she was diagnosed with a stress fracture in her right tibia. Her injury forced her to sit out the Olympic Trials, and she was petitioned onto the team on the strength of her Nationals scores.
At the Olympics, still struggling with her injury and sporting a heavily bandaged leg, Moceanu contributed to the team gold medal, turning in strong performances and she qualified for the event finals on balance beam and floor exercise. However, she faltered in the last rotation of team finals, falling on both vaults, a situation which directly resulted in the U.S. chance of a gold medal resting solely on teammate Kerri Strug‘s final vault. Strug injured herself in the successful attempt, and Moceanu only advanced to the all-around finals as her replacement. Mistakes cost Moceanu a medal, and she placed ninth. In the balance beam event final, Moceanu fell when she missed a foot on a layout and crashed into the balance beam on her head. She finished the exercise and went on to a strong performance in the floor finals later that day, finishing fourth and just missing a medal. (Wikipedia)
Next comes Courtney Kupets.
In 2004, there was a fierce battle between Courtney and Carly Patterson for the title of America’s best. But once at the Olympics, the fight seemed to go out of Courtney, who had always been a consistent and fierce competitor up to that point (and after I might add). Uncharacteristic pain in her hip caused her to be replaced by Mohini Bhardwaj on beam during the team finals at the last minute. She went on to “underperform” in the All Around Finals, placing 9th instead of battling for the gold. Though she would say in interviews that she had no excuses and injury was not a big factor, after the Olympics it was revealed that she had a stress fracture in her hip.
The 2008 Olympics passed with other injuries, but no stress fractures.
In 2009, Rebecca Bross took gymnastics by storm, and lost the world championship with a fluke fall. She dominated in 2010 and once again came into the World Championships expected to challenge for gold. After complaining of shin pain throughout the lead up to the competition, and giving in to uncharacteristic weak moments throughout the championships, it was revealed after the fact that she had a stress fracture as well.
So after a qualifications full of unusual small mistakes and then a floor finals filled with the same, in all honesty I assumed Jordyn had a stress fracture or another similar injury. It seemed the most likely scenario. It surprised me when people started saying they were making excuses.
It is laughable to me that what the normal public would consider a broken hip, leg or ankle gymnasts consider as a “nagging pain.” I find it almost absurd that they consider those injuries as “not an excuse for their performance.” But I know gymnasts and the pain they work through regularly. I guess it is normal. What I find completely absurd is that the fans and the public feel the same way. These athletes are competing on broken limbs! Most people can hardly walk with this type of pain. Not an excuse?
Maybe it is because unlike other major injuries, gymnast are able to actually compete on and train on injuries like stress fractures (and plantar faciitis in the case of Romania’s Larisa Iordache). This gives the impression that they are ok. It is hard to understand why they make all these little mistakes. Of course there is pain. But beyond the pain, lets look at why these nagging injuries seem to affect performances by causing lots of little, uncharacteristic mistakes.
Gymnasts do hundreds if not thousands of repetitions of skills to create “muscle memory.” This is when they are able to perform the skill without actively thinking about it, they just do it. This allows them to perform the skill under the incredible pressure of competition. Gymnasts refer to this as “numbers.” They just need to get in the gym and do more numbers to be consistent. An injury like a stress fracture impedes this process in two ways.
The first, is a decrease in numbers performed during practice. In order to help the injury not turn into something that will absolutely prohibit them from competing, it is necessary to do less numbers so there will be less pounding on the injury. As this is the very heart of elite level training, this without a doubt affects their ability to perform the skills on demand. When an elite gymnast decreases their numbers significantly, their performance almost always diminishes as well.
The second is that gymnasts do these skills over and over again the exact same way to create that muscle memory. But even though they can grit through the pain of the break, their body is responding differently than it usually does. The ever so slight flinch on take off or landing changes the timing they are used to. It is not enough to prevent them from doing the skills, but is enough to make falls and balance checks on beam (where centimeters make all the difference) inevitable and stuck landings much more unlikely.
And don’t get me wrong. Stress fractures, a common injury in the gymnastics world, are very painful. The courage that these gymnasts show to train and compete on these injuries needs to be recognized and not brushed off. The courage of Jordyn Wieber to perform as brilliantly as she did in team finals despite her stress fracture is incredible.
At the end of the day, stress fractures have fractured many gymnasts’ dreams over the years. Let’s celebrate their courage or rail against the sports world that leads teenagers to compete on broken limbs. But let’s not diminish the role that these injuries play and claim that they are no excuse.
The USA girls began their reign before the competition even began. As in 2011, their dominant performance in podium training foreshadowed an incredible performance in the rest of the Olympics. Some of my favorite moments were of course, a dominant performance on vault and Aly’s bars. I think Aly did the best bar routine I have ever seen from her that day. Pointed toes, feet together – it was awesome!
And apart from Kyla’s uncharacteristic fall on beam, these girls hit every single thing they did on the floor. This is not only incredible, it is intimidating. They sent the message loud and clear that just as in 2011, they came to compete consistently and fiercely.
I have been quiet on the blogging front. I am in a time of intense personal focus as my family is gathered for my grandpa’s last days. But in addition to that, I, like many of you have been experiencing the post Olympic let down. Though I have never met these girls, I feel so connected to their stories, their gymnastics, their hopes and their dreams. And not just the USA girls. In competition, dreams come true, but many many more dreams are thwarted and hearts are broken.
Maybe it is the personal circumstances that I am in, but I have found myself dwelling on all the girls who experienced heart break and disappointment through these games. I think of Vanessa Ferrari, Lauren Mitchell, Viktoryia Komova, Jonathan Orozco and, of course, Jordyn Wieber. This preoccupation has not inspired me to write.
Last night I re-watched portions of event finals and the All Around Finals with my cousin, my sister and my brother-in-law. My cousin, who has become a big fan after going to Pac Rims with me, hadn’t gotten to see these competitions. My brother-in-law gasped in amazement over and over again at their skills and shook his head in disbelief. Oh yes, the part I had forgotten. Watching – and doing- gymnastics for the pure love of and amazement in the sport.
Frustrations with judging, with the rules and the endless analyzing the what ifs and should have beens sneak in and diminish the incredible enjoyment of just watching and enjoying our wonderful sport. Last night, prompted by my family, I just enjoyed the performances. Oh how wonderful they were to watch! What incredible gymnastics we were treated to this Olympics.
I have been looking forward to these Olympic for the past two years because I knew that the fierce level of competition would produce incredible gymnastics. What I was looking forward to was the gymnastics I knew I would be treated to. Somehow I lost that in these past two weeks.
Eventually I will move on to analyzing the rules and looking to the future. But for the next while, I want to spend time remembering the incredible gymnastics, and incredible champions of an incredibly exciting Olympic games.
So join me in remembering and celebrating the most memorable moments of our incredible sport.
The beauty and peril of gymnastics is the expectation of perfection. Of hitting every single time. Nobody’s perfect right? Oh, except Olympic gymnasts. You can miss a shot in basketball and still win the game, make a poor serve or return in volleyball and still win the game. But not so in gymnastics. Being off even by a centimeter can cost you a medal, cost you your dreams.
And so it was so for McKayla Maroney – both the unrewarded hitting of human perfection and missing it as well. In the team finals, McKayla Maroney performed one of the most spectacular vaults of all time. Superimposed on the same vault as Uchimura (one of the most perfect male gymnasts of all time) was McKayla Maroney’s team vault. It is so much higher than any female gymnast had a right to be, higher than Ushimura’s by far, even though the women’s vault is lower, with perfect form and a stick to boot. A vault that would have earned a perfect 10 in any other gymnastics era, still scored higher than any female vault has in this quad. It was a moment of beauty and perfection. But not of surprise. It is all we expected of McKayla.
Then came the Vault finals. The commentators talked of competing for silver, as it was inevitable that McKayla would win the gold. To all of you that have tuned into gymnastics for the first time since the last Olympics, this may have seemed to be sensationalism by the commentators. But the reality is, that the entire gymnastics community in every country has assumed that IF McKayla made the US team, they would be competing for silver on vault. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would win the gold.
After all, who could even remember McKayla not performing an incredible vault, much less falling? In today’s world of social media, you have to go all the way back to 2009 to see McKayla fall on vault in practice, warm up or performance. One time in three years. In a time where all of her teammates are as likely to sit down vaults in podium training and warm up as they are to hit them in competition, it is almost unfathomable that McKayla won’t hit vault- in practice, in warm up, in competition. She could do it following a week off for a concussion, she can vault anywhere at any time.
Such dominance and perfection leads us to expect, well perfection. Anything less is a disappointment. And that is exactly what happened to McKayla in Vault Finals. Anything else.
Was it nerves that got to her? We, and probably even she, will never know. McKayla did, for her, a disappointing first vault. She landed in the red and did not achieve her normal level of perfection. So when she went for the second vault, she really wanted to deliver. Did she come in to high? Did she tried to hard to stick? Whatever happened, the unthinkable resulted. McKayla Maroney fell on a vault.
Ahh how the pendulum swings. One vault is the best we had ever seen. The next is sitting on her butt. McKayla Maroney had done the unthinkable. She lost the vault finals.
Maybe it was to remind us that gymnasts are not robots, but they are in fact human. Maybe it was to remind us that nobody, absolutely nobody is perfect. No matter what the reason, the results stand. The best female vaulter of all time (in my and many other”s opinions) would not walk away from the Olympics with a Vault gold.
A fluke of nerves, of tiredness, of trying to achieve perfection? We will never really know. But to those of you just tuning into gymnastics, know that this was a FLUKE. McKayla has not sat down a vault in podium training or warm up that has been shown, or in competition since 2009. In contrast, she has done more perfect vaults, higher, with more perfect form and difficulty than any woman in history. What she did in vault finals was absolutely a fluke.
Sandra Izbasa, who never dreamed she would be competing for a vault gold with Maroney in the mix, laughed often as she received the news of her win, and her medal. We can never know exactly what she was thinking. But I took it like this. LOL! We all know that Maroney is the superior vaulter. Sure, I will take the gold medal today. But is is kind of laughable.
I hope and believe that this “loss” will inspire McKayla to continue on in gymnastics, which will inevitable lead to more great vaulting. Many have looked forward to her introducing the Yurechenko 3/1. I think that will be awesome. But even moreso, I look forward to more beautiful floor routines and inspired interviews from a gymnast who is fast becoming one of my all time favorites – as much for her sincere, spunky, heartfelt interviews as for her out-of-this world vaults.