The Infamous Amanar

Maybe you have heard this word thrown around as if it were magical… the key to success. Right now in Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, it just might be. The amanar is a vault – roundoff, backhandspring on to the horse, laid out 2 1/2 twist flip off. It is incredibly difficult, and as such is awarded with a very high start value. So high in fact, that it seems that the gymnasts who are able to do it are able to gain enough advantage on one event to be almost unbeatable.

As a whole, the USA values gymnasts who are POWERFUL, fast and agressive. It is the American way. Which means that while most countries can dance circles around us on beam and floor, we have many gymnasts who have successfully competed the amanar – and this year, none of the rest do. It gives the USA a huge advantage in the team competition and in the all around. Ironically enough, we have enough gymnasts who can perform the amanar yet do not have a second vault. Which means that we may be the best vaulting team in the world, but we may not send anyone that can qualify for vault finals. So sad.

McKayla Maroney, widely acclaimed to have the best amanar of all time, and Jordyn Wieber explain the vault.

Is Time Running Out?

NBC Olympics
NBC Olympics

This weekend is the April National Team camp. And it appears that Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson will both miss it once again.

GymNewstics reported on twitter yesterday: “National Team Camp begins tomorrow: Nastia pulled out at the last minute and Shawn is not going either.”

Back in March, The Gymnastics Examiner reported on Martha’s comments regarding Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin.

Shawn Johnson is back from her stint rehabbing her knee in Texas and is “working skills,” according to Martha, but is not in routine shape at this point. Nastia Liukin, Martha said, declined her invitation to the U.S. training camp that took place just before everyone came to Everett. And in what seemed like a pointed warning to both Nastia and Shawn, Martha said point-blank: “If they do not seem to be in at least half routine shape by April, I do not see much hope.”  (Lawrence, 2012)

April is almost over. The fact that they are not at camp doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not in half routine shape, but it does raise a lot of eyebrows in the gymnastics community. I am really rooting for them and this news made me sad. It makes me wonder as well.

In a Skype interview with Universal Sports on 100 days out (April 18), Nastia said she felt confident. “Any professional athlete would tell you they wish they were further along, or better, or more consistent or stronger, but for where I’m at right now I feel pretty confident.” Nastia looks great in the training video released recently.

She also said in the interview that bars is coming back the slowest. “I’m pretty pleased to see how much stronger I’ve gotten over the past few months even in being able to put together routines and skills. My shoulder has been bothering me a little bit, so I’m still trying to get that stronger and if anything, that’s been my biggest setback – not allowing me to be further along in the process.”  Nastia without an Olympic Finals bars set just won’t make the team.

However, it is only the end of April. And in the gymnastics world, a lot can happen in two months. Chellsie Memmel’s comeback in 2008 comes to mind. Chellsie didn’t compete until nationals. Martha had said she was starting to lose patience and getting a little bit frustrated with Chellsie. But Chellsie wowed everyone and made the team.

I guess it’s not over ’til it’s over! Here’s hoping that the next two months are enough!

The Highs and Lows on the Road to London 2012

The highs and lows of the first three meets on the Road to London

March was a busy month for USA gymnastics. In just one month we saw the first three of six major meets that make up the Road to London 2012. Starting with the AT&T American Cup, Gabby Douglas burst on the scene as an alternate, unofficially winning 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 bumby 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.

Next was 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. 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. The good news is that she seems to have much of her fight and skills back (performing a perfect bars routine in warm ups).

Now we head into the second half of the 2012 journey, all here in the USA. The Secret US Classics should give us a first glimpse at most of our veteran gymnasts as well as at 2011 world champion team member Sabrina Vega and alternate Anna Li. Then there is the Visa National Championships and finally the US Olympic Trials. Everyone hang on, it is sure to be a crazy ride with many unexpected twists, turns and bumps on this Road to London 2012!

Who’s Who in 2012: Alicia Sacramone

Continuing my series of our Olympic Contenders, here is Alicia Sacramone.

I will admit it. Alicia is my favorite gymnast. She wasn’t always. I was enamored like everyone else with Shawn and Nastia in 2008. But since her comeback, I have come to respect and enjoy her so much. She is such a mature, inspiring, fun person. And her gymnastics is so fun to watch! Her vault is sky high. Her beam is so dynamic. And her new floor routine is one of my all time favorites! It has passion, beauty, great expression of the music and of course, power!

Alicia had such an incredible 2011 year. She was in the best shape of her life. I have never seen her look as good as she did in podium training for worlds. And then…. she tore her achilles tendon two days before prelims. My heart broke! Now she is on the long road of trying to rehab what used to be a career ending injury.

I think Alicia has to upgrade on vault if she is to make the team. Even though Alicia is a world class vaulter, all of our alll-arounders can currently match or come very close to her score. Though her beam is steady and sharp, we have a handful of gymnasts that can fill the bill on beam. It was looking a little ify on if she was going to get her floor down and I wonder if it is worth it for her to train that with her achilles. Alicia is an incredible team leader and brings so much personality to USA gymnastics. But with only five on a team, I just can’t envision her making the team unless she brings in the highest valued USA vault. She was going to debut her handspring laid-out double twist at the 2011 Worlds. So I am really hoping that she can not only come back to her former strength in the short time she has, but to be able to compete that vault as well!

If I were Martha- My April Olympic Team

Martha Karolyi has said that there are a handful of times through the process of choosing the Olympic team that she says, “If I had to pick the team right now, who would I take?”  I am guessing that after two international competitions, this is one of those times. There are so many unknowns, so many “what ifs” that it feels almost impossible to pick the team that will go in July. But if I had to pick a team to go now, here’s who I would take.

Jordyn Weiber, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney. My alternate would be Rebecca Bross.

This team is no surprise to most fans. I think with what we know right now, it is the pretty obvious choice for many people. With this team we have a powerhouse for the team final, two definite all around contenders, and a great possibility for a medal in each apparatus finals. I like it.

Check out the videos below to see what team finals would “look” like.

Vault: Aly, Jordyn, McKayla (+Gabby in prelims)

Bars: Jordyn, Kyla, Gabby (+Aly in prelims)

Beam: Gabby,Kyla, Jordyn  (+Aly in prelims)

Floor: Gabby, Jordyn, Aly (+McKayla in prelims)

The questions that remain are how the gymnasts we haven’t seen much of this year will perform. And of course, who will stay healthy and consistent.

Can Bross regain her former competition steadiness at her former level of difficulty? If so, I think she goes – and not as an alternate. Can Nastia come out as a possible gold medal bars worker? If so, I think she goes even if she has no other events to contribute. Can Alicia regain her floor and beam and upgrade her vault? If so, she might beat out Maroney.  She would be useable on more events, especially as a lead off on beam and maybe floor. Then there is Shawn Johnson, Sabrina Vega, Bridget Sloan, Chelsie Memmell, the Caquatto sisters, Sarah Finnegan and Anna Li. And all the other “surprises.”

Yes, this is far from decided.  I think in the end we will have 3 all-arounders, 1 bars specialist and then one bars OR vault specialist. Martha has said in previous interviews that she would possibly take 3 all arounders and 2 bars specialists. But, I think if Gabby and Kayla or Rebecca are our all-arounders, then it would make the most sense to take a bars specialist and a vault specialist. Only time will tell!