“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” no more for Aly Raisman, who leaves these Olympics as the most decorated American gymnast including two shiny gold medals of her very own. In today’s event finals, Aly topped off her Olympic journey with a bronze medal on beam, and that very elusive individual gold medal on floor. Finally, Aly stood on top of the Floor Podium with a gold medal, where we all knew she belonged.
There were many tears of joy and moments of heartbreak throughout these Olympics. Aly had her fair share of both. Qualifying in as the first American to the All-Around finals produced both as she reached her ultimate goal and at the same time watched her best friend’s dreams crumble. She went on to lead her team to Team Gold with one of the most dominante performances in women’s gymnastics history. Tears of joy began to flow before she even saluted the judges as she was the gymnast to clinch the Olympic Team Gold. In the All-Around final, Aly was too much of a sportsman to let tears show, but I can only imagine the moment of heartbreak at missing a bronze Olympic medal due to a tie breaker (and an unusual mishap on beam).
Today was a different sort of day. After watching two incredible beam routines by Sui Lui and Deng Linlin of China, all the gymnasts following knew that they had to be perfect to beat them. Even fighting for a bronze medal would require a rock solid performance. And that is what Raisman is known for- giving rock solid performances. As it turns out, her performance wasn’t up to her usual level of perfection, but it was still great. An undervalued D score, which led to a protest, which led to a tie with Catalina Ponor, finally led to a tie breaker that Aly was on the right side of. She finally escaped the vice grip of fourth place and won a bronze on beam. What a beautiful moment.
But apart from a team gold medal, Floor Finals is what Aly came for. She went in to floor finals in 2010 and ended up in that ever present fourth place. In 2011 she upgraded her routine and went into floor finals as the top qualifier. Finally winning her first individual medal, she came away with a bronze. So entering this floor finals as the number one qualifier was a familiar place for Aly. What wasn’t familiar was the performance she gave.
Aly went out and did one of the best floor routines she has ever done in competition. She stuck every pass, did everything with incredible amplitude AND artistry. (For a discussion on what the code defines as artistry, and how Aly fulfills it perfectly, read here). She impressed us, she impressed the judges and she even impressed herself.
In the end, Aly walked away with the gold. After all the hard work, all the almost finishing on the podiums, Aly has a gold of her very own. Here’s to the spectacular, never say die Aly Raisman. We are so privileged to watch you!
Gabby Douglas has been known as the Flying Squirrel for her high flying antics on the bars. Undoubtedly the best bar worker the USA currently has in their arsenal, Gabby began to make her bid as a true All Around threat at the US National Championships back in June. She had shown a flash of brilliance earlier in the season in the American Cup but had not maintained that brilliance through the rest of the spring. It was in St. Louis that she challenged Jordyn Wieber for the National Title and almost won. Her next foray came at the Olympic Trials where she earned the only automatic spot of the USA team by scoring the highest All-Around total over two days. Even so, Gabby had never put together four hit routines in one night.
As we pondered the All Around gold possibilities, Blythe from The Gym Examiner said, “You only have to put it all together once. It just has to be on the right night.” That Gabby had the talent was never a question. But could she hold up under the intensity of the Olympic spotlight? Could she put it all together that one time, the night of the All Around finals?
In qualifications, it seemed that she would do it. She held it together, performing incredibly on vault, bars and beam. When it came to floor however, her old nerves crept in. Gabby had a major mistake on her second pass and literally bounded out of bounds. Doubt may have crept back in to others minds, but not into hers.
Gabby came out into team finals and gave the performance of her life. She cleanly hit every routine with nary a bobble. Her All-Around score was easily the highest that had yet been put up in the games. She did it! Four incredible hit routines in one night! She had put it all together!
Was it possible that she could do it back to back? Watching her cool, collected demeanor would say that it was. And as it turned out, Gabby put it all together twice. On the two nights of nights.
Gabby led from start to finish. Opening up with one of the best vaults she has done, she emphatically said that she meant business. She continued on throughout the night, hitting her high flying beam routine, sailing through her complex beam routine and tumbling her way to Olympic gold. It was a beautiful, incredible, performance. Scoring the highest All-Around score of the entire quad (four years between Olympics) Gabby truly won gold.
But it is not only the gold medal around her neck that earns her the newly donned Golden Gabby nickname. It is her golden personality. Gabby’s smile is impossible to resist. She has that bounce in her step, that spark in her eye that hint at her bubbly, positive personality. The only thing that comes more quickly than her brilliant smile is her infectious laugh.
Gabby has stolen our hearts with more than her dazzling performance. Her true grasp of the honor it is to represent her country oozes through every word. The responsibility and maturity she feels as a role model to the gymnasts – especially the African American gymnasts – she has inspired is beyond her years. And her playful personality warms our hearts. She will be a beloved gymnast for years to come.
Gabby Douglas, you were extraordinary. Thanks for making some incredible sacrifices to make your dreams – and ours- come true. You truly are a star.
Following tomorrows floor finals, I am sure the never ending debate about the loss of artistry in women’s gymnastics will once again take center stage. Has the ever increasing difficulty needed to be competitive in today’s gymnastics cut out all the artistry? Have we lost the artistic in artistic gymnastics?
People’s personal opinions of what is artistic often vary widely. But in general, when people are referring to artistry, they generally mean ballet like dance and movement. The classical, elegant and graceful movements usually reserved for the ballet stage including an incredible toe point, stick straight legs and graceful arms on every event.
Some people say gymnastics is heading in a great direction. If they wanted to watch ballerinas, they would go to the ballet. They love the incredible feats of tumbling and power. The more vocal contingent bemoans the loss of classical gymnastics and the beauty and grace combined with tumbling and power.
But how does the Code of Points, the rules governing the scoring of gymnastics actually define artistry? Here is how the code describes the deductions that can be taken for “Insufficient artistry of presentation throughout the exercise”:
- Lack of creative choreography (originality of composition of elements and movements)
- Inability to express idea (theme) of the music through movements
- Insufficient variation in rhythm – Music
- Poor relationship of music and movement
- Background music
- Inappropriate gesture or mimic not corresponding to the music or to the movements
You see, the code of points does not ask the gymnasts to dance like ballerinas. It asks them to PERFORM their routines. To create original elements, movements and themes and then to express and interpret their music well. Let’s look at some examples.
Viktoria Komova, an undeniably beautiful dancer with a dreamy toe point and graceful movements fits most peoples’ idea of artistry just perfectly. But throughout her senior career, Komova has often failed to perform her floor routine with feeling or expression and rarely did she interpret the music. She just went through the motions relying on her classical training with very little actual performance. This is not artistry! Now compare this to her performance in all-around finals. She hit every movement to the music. She had dramatic flair. You felt the beauty and the passion of what she did. Now THAT was artistry!
Aly Raisman, undeniably the best female tumbler in the world with a tumbling pass that shouldn’t even be possible does NOT fit most peoples’ definition of artistry. Even when her legs are actually straight, they look kind of bent and her toe point is far from dreamy. Her movements are all about amplitude and power not grace and beauty. But lets pass her routine through the checklist above. Creative composition and originality of movement: A modernized version of a Hebrew folk song used for Jewish celebrations – original, creative, celebrating her culture. Check. Expressing the theme of the music through movements: Aly actually does movements from the original dance in her routine. You feel like you could be at a Jewish wedding when you watch her! Check! Variation in rhythm: Check. Relationship of movement to music: Every movement is on beat and perfectly timed. Check. Aly may not fit our idea of a classical dancer. But according to the code, she is absolutely artistic.
The list could go on and on. Jordyn Wieber has some of the best musicality of this code. She interprets and expresses her music perfectly from her toes, to her eyes, to the energy in every movement. When you watched Ana Porgras of Romania, you truly felt like you had gone to the ballet. Aliya Mustafina in 2010 captured you with every movement, the look in her eye, the flick of her wrist. Lauren Mitchell brings some of the most original and creative floor work into this quad. All of these are great examples of artistry. All of these are very different types of artistry.
Perhaps what the true debate is over Soviet dominated gymnastics verses the addition of other major players. Ballet is at the heart of the Russian culture, the undeniable leader of women’s gymnastics for decades. Of course it would come through in gymnastics! Other countries followed suite to be competitive. But eventually, the cultures of other countries who were becoming major players began to creep in. A country like China is not known for it’s ballet, but for its high energy, dynamic and acrobatic movement. The USA is a country that celebrates variety and individual expression, but most of all power and athleticism. Romania loves to include routines that seem to show Romanian heritage.
There are many questions and controversies over what the code is and what it should be. But as we head into Floor Finals tomorrow, lets appreciate the various TYPES of artistry that we see. After all, that is what the Olympics are all about. Appreciating and experiencing many different cultures. Last year’s World Championships displayed one of the best Floor Finals in many years. Here is hoping this will be the same!
The two per country rule in gymnastics has affected many gymnasts and countries over the past few years. Each country handles the repercussions from this rule differently. In America, where the achievements and performance of the individual reigns supreme, whoever earns the spot by their placement in the qualifications goes onto the finals. In other countries, where obtaining honor for the country supersedes the honor of the individual, it is not uncommon to replace an athlete who unexpectedly qualified with another gymnast who has better chances of winning a medal.
It happened last year at the World Championships when Viktoria Komova began to show that she would not be able to put in a great performance in the Floor finals. Shortly before the finals began, Russia pulled her. This allowed her teammate Ksenia Afanasyeva who was first reserve to go in her place. Afanasyeva went on to give the most brilliant floor performance of the entire championship and took home the gold.
Today it was announced that Diana Bulimar of Romania will be pulled from event finals. Once again, this will allow her teammate Larisa Iordache who is next in line to take her place. Iordache comes in to the Olympics with the most difficult beam routine in the world and had widely been considered the favorite for gold. Injury struck at just the wrong time, causing her too much pain to allow her to train as she would have liked the week before the competition. As a result, she scored much lower than usual during qualifications.
One of the beautiful things about the Olympics is learning that different cultures value different things and both are appropriate. So, in my opinion, arguing which approach is “right” is pointless. Values lead to actions, and different cultures value different things. What this calls attention to once more is the two per country rule. Bulimar only had the opportunity to compete in the finals because Kyla Ross of the USA and Anastasia Grishina of Russia were not able to compete due to the two per country rule. Now, Romania (or Bulimar herself) has decided to give Larisa the opportunity to go for gold but it leaves Bulimar in the unenviable position of missing her chance. Like Aly Raisman going into the All Around finals, mistakes would have to be made for Bulimar to have a chance at the podium. On the other hand, Iordache will be the one that will have to make mistakes to lose the gold. But Iordache (from a powerhouse country) is given the opportunity while Ross and Grishina must sit and watch.
Different countries, different reasons, different circumstances. But once again, the two per country rule has struck. As a side note, even with the two per country rule, not a single gymnast from a non powerhouse gymnastics country (Russia, Romania, USA, China) has qualified to the beam finals. In fact, the only person to compete in an event finals due to the two per country rule in all four events is KokoTsurumi from Japan on bars.
While I am delighted that Iordache will have her chance, and that we will have another chance to watch her amazing beam routine, I can’t help but continue to bemoan the unfairness and ineffectiveness of this rule.
The all-around gold medal is the most coveted individual gymnastics achievement. When people refer to the champion, they mean the all-around champion. This Olympic year has an EXCITING all-around competition in store! Most years in women’s gymnastics there is a battle between two, maybe three gymnasts for the gold medal. This year, that is not the case. This all-around final will have five gymnasts who could win the gold medal.
There are twenty- four gymnasts in all who qualified into the All-Around finals. Here are the top five who will be vying for the podium. Who will end up on top is anyone’s guess. Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a wild ride!
Viktoria Komova (60.632/25.7 Qualification)
After losing the gold to Jordyn Wieber last year by the smallest of margins, Viktoria comes into these Olympics ready to do battle – and win. Her slight form hides the incredible power underneath. She dances like a ballerina, vaults with power and grace, swings bars like she was meant to live life in the trees and tumbles on the beam as if she was light as a feather.
Viktoria debuted her amanar for the first time in her senior career during qualifications. Adding that to her arsenal along with one of the most difficult, perfectly executed bar routines in the world right now gave her the edge she needed to qualify in first. Her beam and floor routines are both exquisite, but not very consistent. She tends to either hit or miss on beam and is often plagued with low landings on floor. She will have to bring her best to keep her place at the top of the podium.
Alexandra Raisman (60.391/25.3 Qualification)
Aly is known to be one of the most calm, consistent competitors there is. Long overshadowed by higher scoring teammates, Aly shocked the world and herself by qualifying in as the top American. She comes in with the highest difficulty and most consistency on vault, beam and floor. However, her lower difficulty on bars, along with her poor form on this even is what keeps her from the top of the podium. She was fourth at last years world championships with a horrible mistake on bars.
Aly did the best vault of her career in qualifications, cleaning up her form issues and landing with just a small hop. She did the best bars routine she has ever done by far during podium training, seemingly to finally overcome her form breaks. She is generally rock solid on beam, and has scored the highest floor scores in both the team and qualifications. Overall, Aly does not have high enough difficulty to win gold without mistakes from both Gabby and Viktoria. But her rock solid, consistent performances make her a gymnast you should not count out. After all, as we have seen, anything can happen in the pressure of the Olympic spotlight.
Gabrielle Douglas, USA (60.265/25.3 Qualification)
Gabrielle, or Gabby, has been a rising star this year. Last year, she was known for her high flying bar routine, but her mental game was just not strong enough for her to be an all-around threat. This all changed when she came roaring out of the gate as an exhibitionist at the AT&T American cup. She unofficially (her scores did not count as an alternate) ran away with the gold. Since then, Gabby has been inching away at Jordyn Wieber’s lead in every meet until she finally overtook her by .1 at the Olympic Trials.
Gabby comes in with one of the highest potential start values of the group. She has the physical ability to blow away the competition. What remains to be seen is if she can continue improving her mental game and hit the routines when they count. She qualified in third because of a large error on floor. However, she hit four for four during team finals, and her All-Around score there would have easily won the title. If everyone brings out their best and they all hit, Gabby most likely wins. She will have to keep control of her nerves to stand on top of the podium.
Aliya Mustafina RUS (59.966/24.7 Qualification)
In 2010, Aliya was a star. In fact, it seemed she was on her way to becoming one of the gymnastics greats. Had we ever seen someone who could vault with the power and amplitude she attained and dance like a prima ballerina on floor? Someone who’s beautiful swing on bars was only outdone by her lightness and sureness on beam. Aliya won the all-around. She led the Russian team to gold. She qualified in EVERY event finals and placed on the podium in all but beam, where she had her only mistake of the entire competition. She looked unstoppable.
Unfortunately, an injury has put a serious roadblock in her path to glory. In 2011, she tore her ACL at the European Championships while performing her famous amanar. Her recovery has been difficult. She has grown and is still not used to her new body. But she has continued to train hard.
Aliya has yet to show the level of gymnastics and performance she attained in 2010 this year. She is not competing with the level of difficulty she formerly attained. But Aliya has a competitive drive, a fierceness and focus on the competition floor like few others. She has that undefinable quality and mental drive that propels her to the front. Her team loss will only drive her more. I would not be surprised at all if she ends up on the podium.
Larisa Iordache (57.8/24 Qualification)
Larisa’s junior showings made her highly anticipated as the Romanian all-around contender at the Olympics. She has a charming floor routine, one of the most difficult beam routines being performed at the Olympics, a solid vault and a very decent bar routine. Her achilles heel at these Olympics has in fact been her heel. She has plantar faciitis in her left heel and has not been able to put in a great deal of training over the past week.
This has definitely shown in bother her qualification and team performances. She has not been on her game. Hopefully the additional days of rest and training will allow her to continue on the trajectory she has been on her entire career – a place on the Olympic All-Around podium.
In addition, Deng Linlin from China qualified into the top group. This group will all compete together, starting on vault. It should be noted that Larissa did not qualify in this group and will start on bars. Once again, we all want these women to go out and have incredible, hit competitions!
There was never any question on if Gabby Douglas would make the Olympic team. With the best bar routine in the country on a team with a deficit on bars, she was a lock. But the idea that she would be used on every single event in Team Finals would only have crossed the minds of her greatest and most loyal fans. After all, before the Olympic Trials, she had only had one all-around performance in her entire senior career without a fall, and even that performance had a major wobble. Up until Olympic qualifications, she had only performed one beam routine in her entire senior career that could be considered team finals worthy, and that was when she was an alternate. The talent and skill were undeniably there, but the nerves always seemed to get the best of her.
However, throughout this year, she seemed to get a little more in control of her nerves with every meet. A slow but steady growth of mental consistency to pair up with her incredible athletic abilities. A shining moment of mental strength came at her last American performance. She stood up on the podium as Jordyn Wieber performed her final vault. Jordyn’s score flashed just before Gabby saluted. Gabby knew in order to win, she had to absolutely hit her floor routine. Normally this would have amped her up, and she would fly out of her landings. But not this time. Calm and collected, Gabby nailed it.
Martha Karolyi told the press that Gabby thrives in the regimented training structure that is the USA’s way of preparing for the Olympics. She felt confident that a month without distractions between the Olympic Trials and the Olympics, Gabby would grow in mental strength. Gabby would come into the Olympics stronger than ever.
In qualifications, Gabby held it together, performing incredibly on vault, bars and beam. When it came to floor however, her old nerves crept in. She had a major mistake on her second pass and literally bounded out of bounds.
So, when it came to deciding the line up for team finals, the question of Gabby’s ability to put up four strong routines in one night crossed many people’s minds. It made absolute sense to put Gabby in on vault and of course, bars. On floor with McKayla Maroney’s injury and Kyla Ross’s low start value, there really was no other choice. But when it came to beam things got a little more murky.
Looking at qualifications, Gabby had the second highest beam score. To many, this was a no brainer. But to those that had watched Gabby wobble and fall on beam time after time, putting her up in a team finals seemed very risky. What’s more so, putting her up on all four events seemed even riskier. Like I said, there was only one time in her career she had ever hit all four events in the same night.
But if we have learned anything from last year’s dominant performance of untested rookies, when it comes to knowing the mental state of her athletes and the likely scoring in international competition, Martha knows best. And so, Gabby was the only American gymnast to be used in all four events in the team finals. Gabby rose to the occasion and performed brilliantly. She didn’t just make it through cleanly. She put up four of the best routines she has ever done.
And so, in the competition that really counted, Gabby came into her own. No longer the one hit wonder bars start, Gabby has transformed into the all around team rock. Longtime “Dougie” fans would say they knew she could do it all along. I say, the proof is in the pudding. And it is pudding that I very happily eat.
Gabby Douglas, you were extraordinary. Thanks for making some incredible sacrifices to make your dreams – and ours- come true. You truly are a star.
All Photos Credit USA Gymnastics
McKayla Maroney’s perfectly stuck vault will perhaps become as iconic of a moment for the 2012 USA Gold Medal winning women’s gymnastics team as Kerri Strugs was for the Magnificent Seven. A picture of pure perfection, of gymnastics brilliance, McKayla Maroney vaulted herself into history. She is slated to compete five vaults throughout these Olympics, tonight she completed her third. So far, it is the best vault she has ever done in competition. In many people’s opinion, it is possibly the best vault anyone woman has done in competition, ever.
Check out the expression on the judges faces! That pretty much captures it. McKayla scored a 16.233, meaning that she scored a 9.733 execution score. In this season of gymnastics, that is unbelievable. This was the highest score of the entire meet. What is more unbelievable, is that she truly should have had a 10.0.
McKayla only competed on vault in Team Finals. From there, she quickly went from super star to team cheerleader. Making sure the other girls had water and whatever they needed as they moved through the competition. She was there to hug them after they competed and cheered them on through their routines.
McKayla continues to grow into a delightful young woman, well spoken and articulate beyond her years. She has been almost as lovely to watch in her interviews as she is on her vault. It is a shame that the world didn’t get to see her beautiful and expressive floor routine to boot.
Thank You McKayla for your determination, your team spirit and your years of work to get here. You were spectacular!
Kyla Ross enjoyed years of success as a junior all around competitor. But in these games, she come in as a team player. A table setter on beam and a middle routine on bars.
Kyla did have a chance to make it into the bars finals, but hit her feet on the low bar in qualifications. Currently sitting as a reserve, her last chance for Olympic glory lay in contributing to the team. Kyla literally grabbed ahold of her destiny as she swung her way to a great bars routine. Then she tumbled through her beam routine, securely showing herself to be the Queen of Clean of both events.
Kyla contributed key routines today during the team finals – a bars set that kept us ahead of the incredible Russians and a lead off beam routine that set the tone for a solid, no miss beam rotation. You would have never known that Kyla was a first year senior with the least amount of international experience. She came out today like a pro and walks away a gold medalist.
Thank You Kyla for your incredible contribution and your years of hard work!