McKayla Maroney Vaults into History


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.

Photo Credit USA Gymnastics

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 Grabbed Her Destiny


Kyla Ross in Team Finals (Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics)

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 Ross in Olympic Team Finals (Photo Credit USA Gymnastics)

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.

Kyla Ross in Team Finals (Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics)

Thank You Kyla for your incredible contribution and your years of hard work!

Kyla Ross with coach Jenny Zhang (Photo Credit USA Gymnastics)

USA: Perform. Hit. CELEBRATE! Repeat.


(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

In the world of gymnastics, the days of perfect 10s are long gone. As the difficulty of the routines has continued to rise, it is rare to see a competition without a number of falls and major mistakes. In fact, that has become common place. But not so, it seems for the USA Women’s Gymnastics Team.

In 2011 the USA women came out and rocked podium training, qualifications and team finals. In all those performances, they didn’t have even one routine with major mistakes. It was the most dominant performance in women’s gymnastics recent history. The USA women were often referred to as a well oiled machine that went out and couldn’t miss. They won by over four points.

McKayla Maroney (Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics)

What is exceptional, is not only their consistency, but their consistency doing some of the most difficult routines in the world. In past years, Romania has earned an incredible reputation for consistency. But though they do incredible gymnastics, they often choose not to go for the highest difficulty. Teams like Russia and China have usually gone for broke, bringing some of the most difficult gymnastics in the world. They depend on the fact that though they might fall, their difficulty will carry the day. What was incredible about the USA is that they brought some of the highest difficulty AND did it with incredible consistency.

Gabby Douglas (Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics)

But that was Worlds and this is the Olympics. No matter what we try to pretend, the pressure of the Olympics is an entirely different story. And the USA competitors came in with a much stronger challenge. Russia is on the way to being back on their game and Romania is stronger than ever. Though the USA was still expected to win, the expectation was winning by tenths not points.

Jordyn Wieber (Photo Credit USA Gymnastics)

But try telling that to the women’s team. Though they are actually 15-18 year old girls, they do indeed seem to perform like machines in a team finals. They came out and hit every single difficult routine without exception. A few small wobbles were the only ground they gave throughout the entire competition. They did seem to be programmed robots. Just like last year, just like podium training and qualifications – perform, hit, repeat.

Kyla Ross (Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics)

But in team finals, they added in one ingredient to their former performances. Celebration. The otherwise stoic American women burst into cheers, smiles and celebration after each hit routine. They were a snowball rolling toward the final prize. Gaining momentum and excitement as they went along. Breaking out into unrestrained celebration when seeing the final scoreboard. The won by five points. A total blowout in the world of gymnastics.

Aly Raisman (Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics)

There really are not words to capture the emotions of the night and the incredible joy that the US women – and all their fans- felt. So instead, I will put the night in pictures. Congratulations Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney for one of the most difficult, consistent performances in women’s gymnastics in recent memory. You were amazing.

USA’s Reaction to Aly Raisman’s Floor Routine (Photo Credit USA Gymnastics)

USA Gymnastics
USA Gymnastics

Jordyn Wieber in a Class of Her Own


For Jordyn Wieber, who fully expected to challenge for the All-Around gold during the 2012 Olympics, these Olympics have not turned out at all as she would have expected. She experienced the most devastating moment in her young life just two days ago. After catapulting toward the All-Around Olympic Gold medal for her entire career, she didn’t even qualify for the opportunity to win the title. Instead, her best friend Aly Raisman, who had the best meet of her life, and teammate Gabby Douglas  would be representing the USA in the team finals.

She couldn’t hold back her uncharacteristic emotions and the tears spilled forth. She tried to duck off the floor to compose herself but instead was ushered to the media zone, where NBC kept their camera with her just feet away as they interviewed Aly and Gabby, basically asking how they felt about beating Jordyn.

After such a day, all most people would want is the opportunity to go home, let the pain sink in in private and cry themselves to sleep. Instead, Jordyn had to go home to her shared room with her best friend, one of the teammates who unexpectedly beat her, Aly Raisman. Aly spent these last two years supporting first Jordyn and then Gabby as she quietly sat in their shadows. Could Jordyn do the same?

Even more importantly for team USA, could Jordyn pull her emotions together and turn in solid performances for the team just two days after seeing her lifelong dreams crushed? Could she come out, stand side by side with the teammates who took her dreams away and pursue her other dream – a USA team gold. I had no doubt what-so-ever. She is Jordyn Wieber.

Jordyn has the ability to focus in the moment and not allow emotions to affect her like few people I have watched compete. It is why we have a hard time connecting with her. She goes out and competes, showing little emotion and allows little to affect her. She is singularly focused on going out and performing her best. She would want nothing more than to redeem herself with perfect performances. Tim and Elfi said on the Today Show:

What I would bet on is that Jordyn Wieber will come out for these team finals and she will be unbelievable. That will be her moment. She is a tremendous champion, has won just about every single title and I firmly believe that she will anchor the team in the team finals. -Tim Dagget

She does not want her moment to end like it did the other night. -Elfi Schlegel

Today, Jordyn Wieber went out onto the competition for and showed her class. She hit two of her best performances ever- vault and floor and gave a clean bars set. But more than that, she cheered her heart out for her teammates. She was always the first to give Aly a hug, could be heard giving running commentary throughout the routines in the background and was the most expressive in celebrating her teams achievements.

Maybe this dissapointment has brought out the real Jordyn. The Jordyn we saw in younger days and behind the scenes – fiery, emotional and fiercely loyal. Every time the camera was on her, she was either fiercely cheering on a teammate or giving the performance of her life.

In the end, no one was happier to win the Team Gold. With her best friends.

And so, Jordyn will be remembered as more than an All-around champion. She will be remembered as Best Friend and Class Act. As one who can put aside her own dreams and ambitions to be a part of the team.

Jordyn Wieber, you have been tried. you have been tested. And you have been proven a true champion. True friend. True Competitor. An All-Around medal could never prove so much. Sometimes it is what we lose, not what we win, that proves our real mettle.

Two Per Country And Other Such Rules – My Take on the Debate


There has been quite a bit of  publicity given to the two gymnasts per country rule after that rule kept the reigning World Champion Jordyn Wieber out of the All-Around Finals. First let me say, that though this scenario has brought the reality of this rule home to the public, this is by no means the first time gymnastics fans have expressed disagreement. This rule has kept many a legitimate medal contender over the past eight years from even competing for a medal. Jordyn is by far not the first. But watching the reigning World Champion make no major mistakes, put up an incredible All-Around score above 60 points and finish fourth in the qualification round and then finding out that she won’t be able to compete fires up the emotion of the casual and serious gymnastics fan alike.

Let me start out with explaining the official reason behind this rule. The idea was to give countries with less gymnastics resources more chances to both have the honor of competing and representing their country as well as to actually win a medal. Usually having a winner in a final sparks fire for the sport in a country (think Mary Lou Retton in the USA or Beth Tweddle for Great Britain) thereby spreading the sport of gymnastics around the world.

In America, it is almost impossible to understand this rule. In the USA, we value the contributions and the success of the individual. Finding the best performance means finding the best individual. To win but not be pitted against everyone else who might have beat you is not a real win at all. Finding the TRUE best is the highest value. In other cultures the honor of representing your country is the greatest achievement, not the individual winning.  Allowing as many as possible to attain that achievement is a higher goal that finding the best.

I think what it really comes down to is if you believe that the “point” of the Olympics or World competition it to celebrate sport across the world and bring all the nations together to compete or if it is an opportunity to find the best individuals in each sport and in the various events of that sport. The medals awarded would say that it is about finding the best. The Olympic spirit would say that it is about brining all nations together. And therein is where you find fans divided around the subject.

Also, they have added rules to limit the number of gymnasts competing from each country (five per team) to allow more individuals from countries that could not qualify a team, again with the idea of spreading gymnastics and allowing more the chance to compete.

For me, it is the results that speak as to the success of these rules. In 2000 there were gymnasts competing in the AA final from 3 countries not fielding a full team. In 04 there were still only 3, 08 there were 4.(TheCouchGymnast) This year there were 4. So in the end, only allowing two gymnasts per country and five gymnasts per team has not really increased the number or countries represented in the All-Around Finals. No gymnast from a non “powerhouse” country has ended up on the podium. It has just meant that no one country can “sweep” the medals. And it has kept many gymnasts that legitimately could have won a medal from even competing.

I will concede however that the same is not true in event finals. Many gymnasts from non powerhouse countries have medaled in the different event finals. Those gymnasts HAVE spurred a spark for gymnastics in their country.

I am American. Though I understand the challenges in many countries of finding the resources and training to compete in a sport like gymnastics, and the desire to have our wonderful sport spread across the world, in the end I think the best should have the opportunity to compete for a medal. No matter what country they are from – or how many are from that country. Before the Olympics started, I counted 13 (ish?) people that had put up one of the top 8 scores in the all-around or on an event this year that did not make their team because of the five per team rule. Some that would have almost surely medaled and did not even have a chance.

In summary, I agree that Jordyn is one of many victims of this rule. And I even agree that this backlash would not have happened had Aly been the one who did not make it. But Aly is not the reigning World Champion, and in fact has not placed in the all-around at all on the world stage. And many, many fans have been complaining these rules for years. This situation just highlights why it is so frustrating. I am hoping that the backlash from it will actually bring some change. If the change had been more gymnasts to compete, a wider variety of countries to medal, then keeping it might make sense. But it was a well intended attempt that has not worked. It is time to put it to rest and allow those who have scored in the the top the opportunity to fight for a medal.

The outrage of Nastia Liukin getting silver instead of gold on bars in 2008 even though she scored the exact same D score and E score as the gold medalist He Kexin led to a rule change for this Olympics. And though it will never give Nastia a gold on bars, it at least will keep others from the same fate. And though Jordyn Wieber will never get to compete in the 2012 All-Around finals, hopefully she will be the last gymnast to experience that fate.

Everything You Need to Know for Women’s Team Finals


Tomorrow is the day, the long awaited Women’s Team Final! Twelve countries qualified into the Olympics and now eight will move on to compete in the finals. Four of these countries will fight to be on the podium. The other four fought to get in the finals and are ecstatic for the opportunity to compete.

First, the details.

  • You can watch the team finals live on NBCOlympics.com at 11:30 EST or on Prime Time NBC tomorrow night.
  • Each team brings five gymnasts and puts up three gymnasts on each event. All three scores from each event count and will be added up to determine the final score.
  • The top two scoring teams start on vault, the third and fourth on bars, fifth and sixth on beam and seventh and eighth on floor, allowing you to most easily compare.

Now the Qualifiers.

Photo Credit USA Gymnastics

The USA had a strong performance in the qualifying round and qualified in first with a 181.863. They scored 1.4 higher than the second place team. In the world of gymnastics, that is a strong lead. They had a wonderful competition and really stood out on vault, their strongest event. There is room however for an even stronger performance as they had some minor mistakes on every event.

Photo By MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS

Russia qualified in second with a 180.429. They had a great day. Their bars is just a beautiful thing to watch and they did not disappoint! Their biggest area for improvement is Aliya Mustafina who, if rumors are true, will be competing her amanar. She has yet to compete this or even show it in training since tearing her ACL on the vault last year. She also had a number of errors in her beam routine that could be cleaned up. Russia is a fierce competitor with beautiful gymnastics and they will come on strong. Don’t let the gap in qualifications fool you. They can challenge the USA.

China qualified in third with a 176.637. China also had a shining bars performance, but had some problems on beam and floor. They also don’t have the difficulty on vault to keep up. They can definitely do better than they did, but it is unlikely that they can challenge for the gold.

Romania qualified in fourth with a 176.264. Romania definitely did not have their best day. A team that is known for decades for their consistent, hit performances had a number or missed routines. Mostly, because their star Larisa Iordache has been battling an injury this week and did not perform to her usual standard. Catalina Ponor also had very uncharacteristic mistakes. Neither Larisa nor Sandra Izbasa threw the more difficult vaults they have been training. It is unlikely that Romania will have another dismal performance. They are competitors and champions with decades of history of coming through in Olympic Finals. With a few more days or recovery for Larisa, a regular day of performance for Catalina, and all the vault difficulty being thrown, Romania will be right there in the battle for the gold.

The other four teams six or more points behind Romania – Britain, Japan, Italy and Canada. But all of them fought hard to make it to team finals and are ecstatic for the chance to compete in the Team Finals. None more so than Britain, who will have the opportunity to bring down the house in their home crowd.

Though Romania and Russia can bring on the heat, this really is the USA’s to loose. It should be a great team finals, with a lot of incredible gymnastics!

When the Sidekick Becomes the Star


It’s like Sam throwing the One Ring into the fire, Ron Weasley fighting Lord Voldemort, Robin saving the day. Sidekicks have their own incredible strengths but in the end, they are the sidekick.  They are there to provide backup, encouragement and a helping hand. They are appreciated, but they are never the main focus. We identify with them, we love them but still we know, they are not the star. It is the Ringbearer, the Chosen One, the Superhero who is the star in the last battle.

Jordyn and Aly. It is rare that you see one without the other. Aly was listed as one of the four most influential women in Jordyn’s life. Twitter and Instagram attest to the fact that they are the best of friends. But out on the competition floor, Jordyn is the star and Aly is the sidekick. Meet after meet for the last two years, you see them together supporting each other and cheering each other on as Jordyn wins the title and Aly plays a supporting role.

I adore Aly. She is a wonderful girl, an incredible gymnast. But I, along with the rest of the gymnastics world need a little time to absorb this role reversal. Imagine watching a movie where Robin, Ron or Sam were the main character. It would take a while to stop asking where Batman, Harry or Frodo were. That is a bit what the next few days will be like.

I am so excited for Aly. I have been sad that she would not have an opportunity to try for an all-around medal. I identify with Aly more, respect her so much and can’t wait for her to go out and do her best. I have thought for a long while that consistency and mental toughness will rule the day in the pressure filled Olympics over difficulty and past high scores. And though I was not thinking of Aly, truly no one fits that description more than she.

But for today and tomorrow, I mourn the loss of my star. I will spend them readjusting their roles in my brain. Then I will pick myself back up and cheer like crazy for Aly and Gabby. Just as I know Jordyn will.