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. But she has continued to train hard.
Aliya has yet to show the level of gymnastics and performance she attained in 2010 this year. 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. I would not be surprised at all if she ends up on the podium.
UPDATE: The lastest reports say that she will compete in the All-Around in qualifications.
There has been a buzz this week on the gymternet surrounding Larisa Iordache, Romania’s young star. Many sources reported that she was not training much and seemed upset yesterday. Here are excerpts from Gymnastike.
In observing training today in the North Greenwich Academy, Larisa Iordache’s status is in question. The Romanians began their training on floor where Iordache warmed up tumbling passes with her teammates… Then, every Romanian gymnast except for Iordache practiced one full floor routine. She sat on the sidelines opposite of the rest of her team. She did not appear to be injured. She just sat quietly as her the rest of her teammates continued to train floor.
This is shocking because Iordache is one of the team’s best floor workers, could contend for a spot in the floor final, and is one of the favorites for the Olympic all around title. After missing World team medals the past two years, many consider the Romanians strong contenders for a medal here in London with an outside shot at gold. Larisa Iordache is a big factor in that.
The team then went to vault, again without their young star. Iordache instead got ready for bars and tried to stay busy stretching. She had a talk with the assistant coach and teared up. After vault, head coach Octavian Belu talked with Iorache for a few minutes. She looked upset, he appeared frustrated.
Today, The Couch Gymnast confirmed that she has a foot injury and will not be doing the All-Around in qualifications.
As you wrote, it’s [plantar] fasciitis. Now she feels better because the doctors applied an elastic bandage which is more dense and managed to balance the way in which forces are applied in that area. But she will not be able to compete in the all around and we will see on podium training if she will be able to compete on uneven bars and maybe on balance beam for her to qualify for the event finals. – Mariana Bitang
A huge part of the frustration here (at least what I read in between the lines) is that plantar fasciitis is not something that happens overnight. The pain builds. Had Larisa come forward earlier that she was in pain, some therapy and the elastic brace plus a few days of rest probably would have allowed her to compete on Sunday.
At this point, I think they are thinking of the team. Letting her compete in qualifications will allow her to qualify for a few event finals. Not doing floor or vault will allow her recovery time to help the team on Tuesday’s team finals. She could still compete on every event during team finals and help her team to a medal. However, as Larisa had a legitimate shot at the all-around gold, not being able to compete all-around in qualifications – and therefore not qualifying for all-around finals must be devastating.
This is a huge blow for Romania, who desperately needs her to challenge for team gold and who would have loved the all-around medal she could have won. Hopefully the rest time will allow her to come back strong. It is also a huge blow for the gymnastics world, who were really looking forward to seeing this dynamic, spirited gymnast challenge for gold in the all-around. It won’t be the same without her.
Larisa made her senior debut this year at the AT&T American Cup. Her junior showings made her highly anticipated as the Romanian all-around contender at the Olympics and she has not disappointed. Each meet she goes out and gets better, more consistent and more polished.
Larisa has a charming floor routine, the most difficult beam routine that will be performed at the Olympics, a solid vault and a very decent bar routine. She has been shown doing Amanars in training videos, which would increase her standings. She competes with a delightful childlike air about her and if she continues on the trajectory she has been on her entire career, she will easily be in the mix for the gold.
Yao Jinnan placed third behind Jordyn and Viktoria at the 2011 World Championships. But for a fall on beam, she actually would have been first! Yao has not competed a lot this year, so it is hard to ascertain her current standings and level of difficulty. She is a long shot for gold, but it is definitely not out of the question if she hits her routines!
There is one thing you can be sure of. This year, the US Olympic Trials are sure to be as exciting as the Olympics themselves in gymnastics. There is currently so much gymnastics talent in the USA, that the battle to get on the team is more difficult than the battle to win a team medal. What follows below is the basics for what is at stake at the trials, how the teams will be chosen, how the scoring system works and who the athletes are. If you are looking for a general what to look for in terms of athlete potential, check out my blog tomorrow: What to Look for at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Happy Watching!
TELEVISION BROADCASTS: (Times are EASTERN*. Check local listings.)
Thursday, June 28
5:30 – 8:00 p.m. – NBC Sports (Formally Versus)
Men’s Competition Day 1
Friday, June 29
9:00 – 11:00 p.m. – NBC
Women’s Competition Day 1 – Live Streaming
Saturday, June 30
4:00 – 6:00 p.m. – NBC
Men’s Competition Final Day – Live Streaming
Sunday, July 1
9:00 – 11:00 p.m. – NBC
Women’s Competition Final Day – Live Streaming
Live streaming will be available on NBCOlympics.com with a cable, satellite or telco TV subscription that includes MSNBC and CNBC. Lise streaming will NOT be available outside of the U.S.
*Television coverage of the women’s competitions on June 29 and July 1 will be tape delayed in the Pacific and Mountain time zones but available live nationwide online.
Starting tomorrow, 15 female and 15 male gymnasts will begin two days each of competition. At the end of the Women’s Finals on Sunday, five men and five women will be named to the 2012 US Olympic Teams. Up to three alternates will be named to each team as well. Ten gymnasts will achieve their ultimate dreams. Twenty will walk away, trying their best to hide their heartbreak and disappointment.
The teams will be chosen based first and foremost on the best combination for winning Olympic team gold. In addition, Team USA wants to send gymnasts with potential for Olympic All Around wins and then Event Final champions. There has been a lot of speculation as to how the announcement will be made. USA gymnastics has said that the athletes will be told prior to being announced to the crowd at the HP Pavilion and on NBC.
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, higher on some of the men’s events. 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 you’re used to.
Then you add the two together and get your final score.
Another note on scoring. The last olympic cycle, gymnasts counted 10 elements in each routine (apart from vault) to make up their D score. Now they only count eight. This means that scores this Olympic quadrennium are LOWER than the last. This has confused many people, leading them to wonder if our gymnasts are worse this year than before the last Olympics. This is DEFINITELY not the case. We have the deepest American team ever assembled on the men’s and women’s side.
Here are all the women who have qualified for the Olympic Trials. If you are curious to know more about any of them and their chances, check out my Who’s Who in 2012 series. (Photos from USA Gymnastics)
Continuing on with our Bars/Beam specialists, we have our bars star from 2008. For even the most casual gymnastics fan, Nastia Liukin needs no introduction. After all, she is the reigning Olympic All-Around Champion. Nastia has some of the most lovely balletic lines of any American gymnast in recent times. Her beautiful lines on all events combined with her incredible difficulty on beam and bars and her perfectionistic competitive spirit led to her all around gold in 2008.
Liukin announced her official comeback bid for the 2012 Olympic team at the World Championships in 2011. From that time until the US Secret Classics in May, fans anxiously awaited any word of her progress. At that competition, she showed a very respectable beam routine and podium training on bars that brought hope of things to come.
Then came Nationals. Nastia showed some great portions of bars routines during training, but had quite a lot of spotting and never put together a full routine. When she went to compete, she just didn’t have the endurance to do a full bars routine. With the ok of Marta Karolyi, she planned to not do a dismount on either day and brought in two very low scores. The first day of Nationals, she did an improved beam routine from Classics and tied for 3rd. However, on the second day, she put her hand down on the beam and was much further down the results list.
Liukin is a fan favorite (with many) and brings prestige, artistry and experience to the US team. There is something to be said when you have the reigning All Around champion on the floor. Watching her even on beam and bars is like going to the ballet – effortless, exquisite and mesmerizing. It is hard to realize just how difficult the skills she is doing are. She has the potential to be an incredible assest to the US team.
Liukin will have a lot to prove at the Olympic Trials. She will be trying to win the spot of a bars/beam specialist. Currently her top competition seems to be Kyla Ross who has averaged a 15.32 on bars with a high score of 15.5 and a 15.06 on beam with a high score of a 15.5. There is rumor of Martha wanting Nastia to show a 16.0 bars routine. But honestly, if she is able to beat Kyla’s average and high score (and the other bars/beam specialists), I think she has a good chance of going. After all, we know that with more time, Nastia can do more. For the others, they are probably at their peak for this year.
Here’s hoping that no matter what happens, Nastia continues to bring us the beautiful combination of athleticism and grace she has always shown.
Nastia Liukin’s return to elite level gymnastics has been met with great fanfare and great skepticism. From some of the media, she has been the focal point. Celebrated as a name that is familiar and known. From many others, it has been met with much cynicism and skepticism. Many fans felt that she put off her decision too long, and that thinking she could return so quickly was arrogant and disrespectful to the gymnasts who had put in the time and should now be the ones getting the attention. Others felt that she really was not serious about her return and was just doing it for the added publicity. In all honesty, I am a bit befuddled by the negative response she has gotten. Let me go back a bit (beware, I am stepping up on to my soap box).
In 2008, Nastia tied (unofficially, officially she got second through a complicated tie -breaker system that has since been done away with) as the Olympic bars champion. Even with Nastia’s incredibly high scoring bar routine, China beat the US by 1.65 on bars. In 2010, the USA lost on bars to China by .3, even though China had a fall and the USA went clean.
In 2011, the US went in to team finals having lost most of their strong bar workers. Rebecca Bross, Mackenzie Caquatto, and Anna Li were all injured at some point in the process getting to worlds. Bridget Sloan was injured earlier in the season. This took out everyone who had been up on bars in the previous season and led to them putting up Sabrina Vega, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber in the team finals. Jordyn Wieber, who most wish this year that she would not need to be one of the team finals bars scores, was our top bars score in 2011. Though we still won overall, even with only one of their strong bars workers, Russia beat us by .9 on bars. Though Gabby Douglas is our celebrated bars star right now, last year she either tied with Jordyn Wieber or was beat by her in all but Worlds qualifications. Gabby was scoring between 14.2-14.8. Did you notice those are 14s?!?
Am I the only one that remembers how many times we said, “Nastia, come back! We desperately need your bars” over those years? I remember a poignant moment at the last year’s Visa Championships where NBC showed Marta and Nastia (who was on the selection committee) talking seriously. Tim Daggett joked that Marta was begging Nastia, “Please come back and do bars for us!” Sure Nastia has come back for her own personal goals and glory. Of course she has. But after achieving the ultimate gymnastics goal, what more does she have to prove?
Nastia talks a lot about being afraid she would be sitting in the stands in London saying “What if.” But I wonder if she worries that the she would be sitting in the stands, wholly invested in Team USA’s results in her role on the USA selection committee, wondering “What if I would have helped out on bars and we would have won gold?” After all, in 2011 we knew that Russia had two stars sitting at home that could drastically change the outcome of our 2011 win.
Now it’s 2012. Gabby Douglas has increased her bars score by almost a point. Kyla Ross has come onto the scene and increased her bars start value by .6 over the previous year. Rebecca Bross and Bridget Sloan are back. And though we still don’t have an incredible bars line up, it looks like we have some good possibilites. But we still don’t have anyone, including Gabby, that can likely challenge the Russians on bars. So after years of hoping that Nastia would come back and give us a world class bars routine, instead of hope and excitement over what she might bring, she has been met with a good deal of scorn and skepticism.
Will Nastia be able to return to her former bars glory? I don’t know. But I think that the fact that she is willing to try, both for herself AND for the USA, is commendable. Something we should cheer on. How many of us would really be willing to give up a life of glamour and fame to train 7 hours a day? For more money, more publicity? She had plenty of both. And according to Nastia not her. “There’s no amount of money, no sponsors or media attention that would make me want to train seven hours a day,” she said in an interview back in May. (Contra Costa Times, May 25)
Speaking of fame and money, how do we tend to remember gymnasts who end their career on a failed comeback? How do we remember those that end on their highest achievement? Take Carly Patterson. We remember her smiling face as Evgeny Marchenko hoisted her up as the AA Olympic Champion. But what about Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Tasha Schwiechert? Sure, with all the incredible gymnastics they performed and their moments of glory. But also with a slight twinge of sadness and regret at their unsuccessful comeback attempts.
Without a doubt, the best way to go out is on top. If what Nastia really cares about is fame and glory, then she should NOT try to make a comeback. She should bask in the glory of this Olympic year as the reigning champion. Do tons of interviews as the athlete representative. Spend all her time traveling from media event to media event, gushing with advice and well wishes. She will never again be the reigning all around Olympic champion. THIS is the time to take advantage of the once every four years gymnastics fervor. Instead, Nastia has chosen to limit her media opportunities and to spend most of every day in the gym.
Will she make it? I don’t know. I hope so. How I long to see her beautiful lines and graceful bars and beam at the Olympics. How I want her to redeem that ridiculous tie breaker and win the gold medal she deserves on bars. But not matter the outcome, I stand with incredible respect for the comeback attempt Nastia has made.
And who knows, she just might do it. Nastia is an enormously talented gymnast. Though it may not be fair, talented gymnasts often just don’t need as much time to prepare. Valeri and Nastia Liukin have shown in the past that they understand how to prepare and how to peak. And that they absolutely do not like to be embarrassed by poor performances. I, for one, will not be surprised in the least if Nastia comes to Trials with a bar routine that proves she can be ready. Only time will tell. But even if she can’t pull it off, I tip my hat to Nastia and say THANK YOU for gracing us with your presence once again and for stepping in to try and help Team USA where we desperately need it.