2014 ATT American Cup Women’s Roster


I am so excited about this year’s field at the 2014 AT&T American Cup. It is quite a female field, full of fan favorites! A combination of very talented women who each stand out in a crowd on their own merits. I could (and will) go on about every one of these women and why they stand out in the world of women’s gymnastics. I am so very excited to see them in person at the AT&T Cup!

Women’s field

  • Canada – Victoria Moors – known for her incredible dance and the highest level of tumbling, watching Victoria on floor is a rare treat.
  • Italy – Carlotta Ferlito – full of personality and growing into an ongoing international presence in the midst of her tv superstardom, Carlotta is becoming more fun to watch every meet.
  • Italy – Vanessa Ferrari – Vanessa is one of the most well respected women in women’s gymnastics. She just keeps on going. She is a joy to watch on floor and beam, and seeing her on the floor in general is a piece of history.
  • Romania – Larisa Andrea Iordache – Larisa is without a doubt one of the best in the world on vault. Her floor routine has become one of my very favorites.
  • Spain – Roxana Popa Nedelcu – Roxana has quickly garnered attention with her brave, athletic and sparkling style.
  • Switzerland – Giulia Steingruber – is one of the most innovative bar workers in the world. Her attitude makes you love her and just want to see her get better every year.

It’s hard to say who the ACTUAL Americans will be. Hopefully, we will see our two World Champions!

  • USA – Simone Biles, Spring, Texas/Bannon’s Gymnastix
  • USA – Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif./Gym-Max

Say Hello to the 2014 Elite Season


The 2014 Elite season is beginning to ramp up with qualification meets. And though the first “big” meet of the year is still a month and a half away, it is at least drawing close enough that you can see it in the distance! Here is the schedule for the elite meets and the National Team Training Camps this year.

  • Feb. 28 Nastia Liukin Cup Greensboro, NC – televised (I’ll be blogging in person!)
  • Mar 1 AT&T American Cup Greensboro, NC – televised on NBC (I’ll be blogging in person!)
  • Mar. 22-23 Jesolo Meet Italy Jesolo, Italy
  • April 5-6 Japan World Cup Japan
  • Apr 6-13 Pacific Rim Championships Richmond, CAN (I’ll be blogging in person!)
  • Jul. 31-Aug 2 Secret U.S. Classic/Challenge TBD – I am sure it will be televised, not yet listed.
  • Aug. 20-24 P&G Gymnastics Championships Pittsburgh, Pa. – televised on NBC
  • Aug. 27-Sept.1 Sr. Pan American Championships Toronto
  • Oct. 3-12 World Championships Nanning, China I am sure it will be televised, not yet listed.

National Team Training Camps

  • Jan. 20-24 National Team Camp National Team Training Center
  • Feb. 21-25 National Team Camp NTTC
  • Mar 13-17 National Team Camp/Selection NTTC
  • May 1-5 National Team Camp NTTC
  • June 2-6 National Team Camp NTTC
  • June 29-Jul 3 National Team Camp NTTC
  • Sept. 17-24 World Champs. Selection camp NTTC
  • Oct. 23-27 National Team Camp NTTC
  • Nov. 21-25 National Team Camp NTTC

Breaking Down the 2013 World Championships (Plus US Team Predictions)


28905_412775208813763_658985593_nNow that the 2013 Elite season is firmly underway in the US, many are asking questions about the end goal of the season – the World Championships. Here is the breakdown for you.

The 2013 Artistic Gymnastics Championships will be held in Antwerp Belgium. They will begin on September 30th with an Opening Ceremony. Men’s and Women’s qualifications will take place from the 30th to October 2. Men’s All-Around finals will be on the 3rd, Women’s on the 4th and then Event Finals will be help on the 5th and 6th.

The year after an Olympics, there is no Team Finals competition at the World Championship. Each country may bring four gymnasts, and two per country may qualify for each final. The top 24 all-around scores will go to the All-Around Finals and the top eight will move on to each Event Final.

Most countries will be looking to bring the combination of gymnasts who will win the most individual medals. After each meet, I like to take stock and say, if I had to name a team today from the US, who would it be. So lets take a look at the possibilities in the US. All scores from below are taken from Uncle Tim’s awesome post.

All-Around

Kyla Ross -By John Cheng

Simone Biles and Kyla Ross have pulled the top two all-around scores this year. Simone scored a 60.4 at the City of Jesolo (the highest all-around score in so far in the world during 2013) and Kyla scored a 59.3 at the GER-ROU-USA Friendly Meet. Close behind are Katelyn Ohashi with a 51.199 at the American Cup and Elizabeth Price with a 59.165. If either of them are healthy enough to return before the selection camp, they could definitely play into the picture. Especially if Simone does not show consistency and the ability to hit when it counts at Nationals.

Simone Biles -By John Cheng

However, in addition to being a top all-arounder, Simone has put up some of the highest scores in the world on Vault and Floor. She is second only to McKayla on Vault and to Ksenia Afanasyeva on floor. This makes bringing her especially appealing as she has the ability to take home three medals. Lexie Priessman did not compete all-around at the Secret Classics. Her performances earlier this year looked a little lackluster, but she is the reigning US National Champion. And her performance on the events she DID do in Chicago showed only good things to come. So we shouldn’t count her out quite yet.

Event Specialists

Vault

McKayla Maroney has put up the highest score on Vault this year at the Secret US Classic, and seems a very likely candidate to be brought along for an event specialist medal. MyKayla Skinner will be working hard to overtake McKayla as she actually has more difficulty. However, she will need to make some major improvements in execution for that to happen.

Uneven Bars

Kyla Ross has the most potential to make the Uneven Bars final, and has actually put up the second highest bar score in the world this year (a 15.4 at the Friendly meet compared to Aliya Mustafina’s 15.5 at the Russian Nationals -though Aliya was doing a watered down version of her previous routine). Katelyn Ohashi is in the top 6 as well.

Balance Beam

Katelyn Ohashi has a monster beam routine, and has put up the top score in the world for beam so far. She scored a 15.8 at the Woga Classic to Larissa Iordache’s 15.65 at Anadia. Simone and Kyla rank in the top ten, but are unlikely to be up to the podium level unless Kyla brings a lot of upgrades (she watered down her routine at Classics).

Floor

Simone put up the second highest floor score in the world with a 14.9 in Jesolo behind Ksenia Afanasyeva’s 15.166 at the European Championships. Just behind her is Lexie Priessman with a 14.8 at the Secret Classic. 

So what does all that mean?!?

At the current state of competition readiness and health, Marta would most likely send Kyla Ross (AA, UB), Simone Biles (AA?, V, FX), McKayla Maroney (V, Fx?) and Lexie Priessman (Fx, AA?). If Katelyn comes back healthy and ready to compete, she could definitely take one of those slots (FX, BB, UB?). Though there are a number of other talented girls that could come into the mix (Peyton Ernst, Brenna Dowell, Abigail Milliet, MyKayla Skinner, and Elizabeth Price) all of them would have to put up higher all-around scores or a much higher event score than they have currently.

P&G US National Championships will shed more light on the team selection. But as there is likely to be another selection camp in September after Nationals, it definitely won’t tell the final story!

Stress Fractures Fracturing Dreams


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.[5]

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.[6] 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.

Dominique Moceanu 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.

Courtney Kupets 2008

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.

Rebecca Bross 2010

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.

What Exactly is Artistry?


Ana Porgras of Romania.

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

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 – USA Gymnastics

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!

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.

Format and Scoring for Women’s Gymnastics


I’m still confused by the scoring system!

Many people are. Here’s how it works.

  • First you have the D Score– D is for difficulty. The judges add up the value of the elements done in the routine. This includes basic requirements, the value of the skills in their routine and bonus points for connecting skills together. The D scores tend to be between 5.5 and 6.5 (ish) at the Olympic level. Of course you have some lower and some higher.
  • Then there’s the E score– E is for execution. This is like the perfect 10 of old. You start at a 10 and are deducted for mistakes. These deductions are larger than they used to be, so this is why these scores are much lower than they used to be.
  • Then you add the two together and get your final score.

What’s the format of the competition?

Things will kick off on Sunday with Qualifications. As the title implies, this round of competition qualifies gymnasts and teams on finals. This year only five members are allowed on each Olympic gymnastics team. Four of those five members will compete on each event, and the scores obtained at prelims will qualify them on for the rest of the competitions.

Team Qualifications

Twelve teams have qualified to compete at the Olympics from either last year’s World Championships or the 2012 London Test Event. Each 5 member team will put up four gymnasts on each event and the top three scores will count. Those teams are:

Team Finals

The top eight teams from qualifications will advance on the team finals on Tuesday. In the team finals, each team will put up three gymnasts and all three scores will count (often referred to as 3-up 3-count). Here’s more on the contenders.

All-Around Finals

The top 24 gymnasts will advance on to the finals with the exception that only two gymnasts per country can advance on. The finals will be on Thursday 8/2. Here’s more on the medal hopefuls!

Event Finals

The top eight from each apparatus will qualify into the Event Finals held next Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. Once again, only two gymnasts per country are allowed on to each of the individual competitions. Follow the link for the hopefuls on each event: Vault, Bars, Beam and Floor.