Why Do some Girls Go Twice on Vault?

Alicia Sacramone on Vault. Photo credit: Reuters

In a World Championship or Olympic Vault Finals, gymnasts must show two different types of vaults coming from two different vault “families.” This simply means that they are different types of vaults, not just different variations of the same vault. This is actually very difficult to learn and takes a lot of extra training time. As a result, only gymnasts who are very good on vault tend to train two vaults.

This is why though Jordyn Wieber scores very well on her vault, she will never qualify for vault finals. In the USA, only McKayla Maroney, Alicia Sacramone and Brandie Jay compete two different vaults. With Sacramone retiring and Jay heading off to college gymnastics, the USA will only have the possibility of Maroney representing in the vault finals in the near future.

Though the USA is far and above the best vaulting team in the world, we will be hard pressed to see many vault finals medals in the near future. Gymnasts who make the team tend to be all arounders. And so many of our all arounders have a great first vault. Taking the training time to train a second vault takes away from training other events. And unless you can beat out all the other great all arounders on vault, you just won’t make the team. Unless you are McKayla Maroney. But when you are not only the reigning World Champion, but one of the best vaulters of all time, normalcies don’t really apply.

The Rise of Romania

Romania Winning 2012 European Championships. Photo Credit: mediafax.ro

Can you climb to the top of the podium in one year? Romania sure thinks that you can. And you can bet, that just like every other Olympics, Romania will come out and kill it with consistency in 2012-  hitting every beam routine, nailing every landing and doing it all with beauty and grace. I have said it before and I will say it again- you can never, ever count Romania out in an Olympic year. Or as Stoi! so eloquently said  “Octavian Belu can never be ruled out in an Olympic year, never. There is only one certainty in gymnastics: he is cannier than you.”

Back in May, I wrote a post talking about how far the Romanians had come since bringing back their coach Belu in 2010. I thought that it looked very, very likely that they would challenge for silver. Now, just two months later, it seems possible that they can challenge for gold.

This weekend at a Romanian friendly meet, four gymnasts debuted their new floor routines. Ahh, a feast for the gymnastics aficionado that has seen every routing countless times. Four new routines at once! Three of these routines brought in scores over 15.

But what was really impressive was their killer beam rotation.

Catalina Ponor 15.7

Larisa Iordache 15.95

All total, they scored a team total of 180.2. This is almost EIGHT POINTS higher than they scored last year at worlds. A World Championships where they did not even win a single medal. In the world of gymnastics that is counted in tenths, increasing by eight points in one year is nothing short of phenomenal. What’s more, is that this beats the team winning score put up by the USA by eight tenths.

And the team gold isn’t all they are hoping for. Last year at Worlds, their highest event finals placing was 5th on beam. This year, they could seriously challenge for an event finals medal on vault (Sandra Isbaza has scored the 4th highest score of those who will be competing), beam (Catalina Ponor and Larisa Iordache are currently first and second) and floor (Ponor and Iordache are currently fourth and fifth). In addition, Iordache is has the fourth highest all around score posted of those that will be competing.

This year, the USA will be adding another amanar to their arsenal, as well as two upgraded bars scores, an upgraded beam score and two upgraded floor scores from last year’s Worlds. Difficulty wise, they will still come in as the favorites. However, Iordache is rumored to be adding in her amanar by the Olympics as well. Romania is definitely putting on the pressure.

Without a doubt, if the USA or Russia makes a mistake, Romania will be right there. They will be consistent, error free, and waiting to pounce. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile. Romania has broadcast loud and clear. Don’t count us out.

Haven’t really watched gymnastics since the Olympics? Here’s what you need to catch up!

Welcome back!

2008 Olympic Team

Many gymnastics fans (I was one of them!) only watch gymnastics on an Olympic year. It makes sense. Gymnastics is hard to find on TV. But now, thanks to social media and the internet, gymnastics is easier than ever to follow. So, if you are just rejoining the elite gymnastics world, rejoice! It will be much easier to follow gymnastics! In the meantime, here are some things to help you catch up.

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. A routine that looks near perfect to the average viewer will typically score around a 9.1. There is a pattern that these scores get higher in an Olympic year and some are speculating this will raise to about a 9.4. Needless to say, they are lower than your used to.
  • Then you add the two together and get your final score.

What are our chances in London?

The US won the 2011 World Championships by a huge margin. We have incredible depth in the all around as well as a large advantage on vault. There’s this magical vault called the Amanar that has an extra 1/2 twist than the vault most gymnasts are competing. It adds .7 to the start value (the D Score of vault). Most countries are struggling to have any gymnasts that can currently perform the vault. The US has atleast 5 contenders that perform it WELL plus another huge vault from Alicia Sacramone. That ends up being a 2.1 advantage over most other countries if they aren’t able to put up Amanars. However, the US has been weak on bars and both Russia an China can make up a lot of ground on this event. The US has great chances. But the competition will be fierce this year.

Who is our competition?

Russia dominated in 2010. Their amazingly fierce and talented Aliya Mustifani was out last year and their other top gymnast was not at her peak. With both of them back, plus a strong new senior there is every expectation that it will be a battle for gold. China continues to be very strong. Not as strong as they looked in Beijing, but they still factor in to the mix. And you can never, ever count out Romania. They continue to improve, and if all their top players come in healthy, you can bet they will put the pressure on.

Who are the USA’s top gymnasts?

Right now, the list is very, very long! The USA is INCREDIBLY deep and it seems to be anyone’s guess who will actually make the Olympic team. This Olympic cycle, only 5 gymnasts can go to the olympics. The girls in bold are currently favored to make the team, but with only 5 members on this years team, you can see we have enough for 2 or 3 strong teams. The competition will be intense. You can follow the links to their bios or my Who’s Who in 2012 post on each athlete for more info.

Lets start with some names you will remember from 2008.

Nastia Liukin: Nastia has been living the glamourous life of an Olympic AA Champion. She has stayed incredibly connected to the sport but has only been doing light training. After being on the fence for years, she finally announced her plans to try to make the 2012 team at the 2011 World Championships. The US is weakest on bars and as Nastia is incredible on bars, if she can get them back to top form her chances of making the team look good. Nastia’s contribution would most likely be on bars and beam.

Shawn Johnson: Shawn took a few years off without really planning on returning to gymnastics. After tearing everything in her knee on a skiing accident and she thought she might not ever do gymnastics again, she realized she really wanted to return to the sport. She has been working hard and showing incredible improvement but has continued to have difficulty with her knee. Shawn could be an all around contributor if she is able to get her difficulty back. She has also improved tremendously on bars in this comeback.

Alicia Sacramone: Alicia made her comeback in 2010. She actually looked better in 2010 and 2011 than she looked in her former years of glory. She won the world vault title in 2010 and just kept getting better and better. She was in the best shape of her life and has been the definite leader of the US for the past two years. However, days before prelims at 2011 Worlds she tore her Achilles tendon. She is recovering well and recently returned to training.  Alicia is a world class vaulter and had been working on upgrading her vault. She could be an Olympic champion on vault. She is also a rock on the beam and overall is an incredible team leader.

Chelsie Memmell: Chelsie made her comeback in 2011. She was looking great, especially on beam and floor. Her bars and vault have been slower to comeback. However, she looked great until injuring her bicep at the 2011 Visa Championships. She is rehabilitating and training for this year. Chelsie has the worst luck in timing of injuries. If she can get and stay healthy, there is no other competitor like her.

Bridget Sloan: Bridget never quit training the sport and was the 2009 World Champion. In 2010 she only competed bars at the world championships and she been behind the scenes now for the past couple of years with injuries. She competed for the first time in a long while at the 2011 Pan American games. It is a bit unknown where she stands.

And now for some of the names you might not know:

Some of the 2010 World Championship Team Members (Silver):

Rebecca Bross: Rebecca took the gymnastics world by storm in 2009 and 2010. She was incredible dominant in all her competitions but failed to take a world championship title with uncharacteristic falls in both years. Even so, she was definitely the top american gymnast both years. She competed 2010 Worlds with hairline fracture in her foot and afterward took time off to have surgery. She competed for the first time in 2011 at the Visa Championships where she had a knee injury that took her out the rest of the year. Rebecca is a force to be reckoned with. As well as being a top all arounder, Rebecca is also great on bars. However in all her time of injuries, she has not looked like the former rock of a gymnast she was. It will be interesting to see how she comes out this year.

Mackenzie Caquatto: Mackenzie was on the 2010 team mostly for her great work on bars. She was expected to be on the 2011 team for the same reason, but was injured at the 2011 training camp before worlds. She is competing both NCAA and elite gymnastics at the same time, which is almost unheard of. She has a great contribution on bars, however may need to upgrade her difficulty to make the team as a bars specialist.

Alexandra Raisman: Aly is our USA rock. She is so steady and comes through with performances that look just like she practices. She is phenomenal on floor and great on vault and beam. Bars is her nemesis and keeps her from fighting for the gold. Aly continues to improve her form and has some major upgrades on floor- doing some of the most difficult tumbling in the worldAly’s dependability make her a favorite for the team this year, but her weakness on bars does make her a bit on the bubble. If some of the other strong all arounders come through, they might bump her off.

2011 World Championship Team Members (Gold):

This team of rookies took Worlds by storm. Even with the last minute loss of their team leader, they had one of the most dominate performances in a long time, hitting every single routine in prelims and in team finals.

Jordyn Wieber: Jordyn is the current World Champion. She competes some of the most difficult skills in the world with dynamic precision and impeccable form. Her weakest event is bars, if you can call an event where you make world finals weak. Jordyn is mentally tough and focused. Her biggest challenge this year will be the pressure of being the one everyone is trying to beat.

Gabrielle Douglas: Gabby is really great on bars. She SWINGS bars with incredible fluidity, beautiful lines and high flying tricks. Gabby was a bit unpredictable on the other events last year, but really came into her own at the recent American Cup. She upgraded every event, and came in with new confidence and poise.

McKayla Maroney: McKayla is the current World Vault Champion. She does the infamous amanar with such ease, grace and an explosion of power, it is in a class of its own. She also has a beautiful, artistic floor routine with lots of difficulty. However, her landings have been fairly inconsistent.  With so many other gymnasts that can do amanars well in the US, she is going to have to up her game in another event as well (in my opinion) if she wants to make the team.

Sabrina Vega: Sabrina competes floor with such grace, fluidity and great choreography. She is a solid, consistent gymnast who really came through for USA last year. She is also a sweet darling personality! She will have to come out with much more difficulty and dynamism to make this years team.

Anna Li: Anna Li is a former NCAA star. After her NCAA career, she has been training as a bar specialist. She has one of the highest start values in the US. She was injured before prelims at the World Championships so did not get to compete bars for the US. As team USA needs a bar specialist, Anna has a chance to be on this team. However with Nastia and Gabby as well as Rebecca Bross in the mix, it will be an uphill battle for her.

New Seniors this year:

Kyla Ross: Kyla comes into her senior year as the Jr. National Champion. She is a top all arounder and has a great Amanar. It will be interesting to see how her gymnastics lines up with our current senior all-arounders, but she is expected to do well and have a legitimate chance at making the team.

This year looks to be one of the most exciting years in a long time in gymnastics history. Stay tuned!