Aly Raisman Rises to the Top

“Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” no more for Aly Raisman, who leaves these Olympics as the most decorated American gymnast including two shiny gold medals of her very own. In today’s event finals, Aly topped off her Olympic journey with a bronze medal on beam, and that very elusive individual gold medal on floor. Finally, Aly stood on top of the Floor Podium with a gold medal, where we all knew she belonged.

There were many tears of joy and moments of heartbreak throughout these Olympics. Aly had her fair share of both. Qualifying in as the first American to the All-Around finals produced both as she reached her ultimate goal and at the same time watched her best friend’s dreams crumble. She went on to lead her team to Team Gold with one of the most dominante performances in women’s gymnastics history. Tears of joy began to flow before she even saluted the judges as she was the gymnast to clinch the Olympic Team Gold. In the All-Around final, Aly was too much of a sportsman to let tears show, but I can only imagine the moment of heartbreak at missing a bronze Olympic medal due to a tie breaker (and an unusual mishap on beam).

Today was a different sort of day. After watching two incredible beam routines by Sui Lui and Deng Linlin of China, all the gymnasts following knew that they had to be perfect to beat them. Even fighting for a bronze medal would require a rock solid performance. And that is what Raisman is known for- giving rock solid performances. As it turns out, her performance wasn’t up to her usual level of perfection, but it was still great. An undervalued D score, which led to a protest, which led to a tie with Catalina Ponor, finally led to a tie breaker that Aly was on the right side of. She finally escaped the vice grip of fourth place and won a bronze on beam. What a beautiful moment.

But apart from a team gold medal, Floor Finals is what Aly came for. She went in to floor finals in 2010 and ended up in that ever present fourth place. In 2011 she upgraded her routine and went into floor finals as the top qualifier. Finally winning her first individual medal, she came away with a bronze. So entering this floor finals as the number one qualifier was a familiar place for Aly. What wasn’t familiar was the performance she gave.

Aly went out and did one of the best floor routines she has ever done in competition. She stuck every pass, did everything with incredible amplitude AND artistry. (For a discussion on what the code defines as artistry, and how Aly fulfills it perfectly, read here). She impressed us, she impressed the judges and she even impressed herself.

In the end, Aly walked away with the gold. After all the hard work, all the almost finishing on the podiums, Aly has a gold of her very own. Here’s to the spectacular, never say die Aly Raisman. We are so privileged to watch you!

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!

Who’s Who in 2012: Floor Hopefuls

2008 Floor Medalists (Photo Credit: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

Aly Raisman (USA) 15.8/6.5

Aly has the most difficult floor routine in the world. This is due to her incredible tumbling. She has an original and creative routine representing her Jewish roots. Aly’s downfall is that she doesn’t have the balletic style and form that the international judges look for. It is unlikely that she will score a 15.8 at the Olympics (though I saw that routine in person, it was AMAZING! She is so, so high in the air,  it is unbelievable). Last year she qualified first into the floor finals, but finished third. She comes in with an upgraded routine, and her difficulty and sky high tumbling and leaps will help her challenge for the gold.

Jordyn Wieber (USA) 15.6/6.2 or Gabby Douglas (USA) 15.45/6.2

Jordyn Wieber has, in my opinion, one of the most fun to watch floor routines. She brings energy to the floor, performs with her entire being (including her eyes and her smile) and has incredible musicality. She has a lot of difficult tumbling and leaps with a lot of amplitude. However, like Aly she does not have a balletic style. Her toes are pointed, her fingers graceful, but it is not the style international judges appreciate. She too is unlikely to score this high in the Olympics. However, she will definitely be a challenger for the podium – if she makes the finals.

Why might Jordyn not make the finals? A little problem called the two per country rule. Gabby Douglas has been improving on floor each and every meet. She has the difficulty, the form, the amplitude and the flexibility to score well. However, her nerves often get to her, leading to lots of bounces out of landings. Her groovin’ beats also are not likely to win a lot of points with international judges. But if she scores over Jordyn and makes the finals, she will definitely be in the mix.

Larisa Iordache (ROU) 15.3/6.4

Larisa brings a brand new floor routine to the Olympics that is full of energy and incredible difficulty. She is second only to Aly in that department. She performs with a delightful air of freedom and abandon that brings a smile to your face. She doesn’t have the perfect form or the perfectly stuck landings of her other Romanian teammates, but she will without a doubt challenge for the gold.

Catalina Ponor (ROU) 15.275/6.2 or Sandra Izbasa (ROU) 15.1/6.1

Catalina is a worldwide favorite. She performs with a dynamic and aggressive grace that is all her own. In her new floor routine, she plays to the crowd with a swankiness that only she can pull off. Oh, and did I mention she was the 2004 Floor champion? After taking a number of years off, Catalina has come back with a vengeance and looks better than ever.

Sandra Izbasa is the reigning Olympic floor champion. She also brings a new routine to the Olympics, which I happen to love. She has beautiful form and generally sticks all her landings. It will be interesting to see if she make her way into the finals.

Lauren Mitchell (AUS) 15.25/6.3

Lauren brings a very unique style of dance, music and presentation to the floor. She has a highly difficult routine to boot. Though she does not dance with grace and beauty, the judges and fans alike seem to appreciate her originality. Lauren has a hard time with many of her landing/jump combinations, which can make or break her routine. If she hits, she will be challenging for the gold.

Vanessa Ferrari (ITA) 15.1/6.2

Vanessa won a bronze on floor way back in 2006. All these years later, she continues to bring difficult tumbling and has even upgraded.  If Vanessa stays healthy, it is likely you will see her in the event finals.

Ksenia Afanasyeva (RUS) 15.067/

Ksenia comes in as the 2011 World Champion on Floor. Her floor routine was without a doubt, one of the highlights of the entire championships, and remains as one of my all time favorites. The Russian team has been battling injuries this year and have put in lackluster floor performances. However, that is not likely to be the case at the Olympics. Four of the five gymnasts could easily qualify for finals. Which two will come out on top is anyone’s guess.

Anastasiya Grishina (RUS) 14.933

Anastasiya is the most classical of classical gymnastics. She has perfect form, perfect execution and is mesmerizing to watch as she floats through her floor routine. As I said before, her main barrier to event finals will be her other teammates. So make sure and see her routine in qualifications. You won’t want to miss it!

Victoria Moors (CAN) 14.9/6.1

Victoria currently holds the title for beam dreams all time favorite floor routine. She does one of the best double twisting double tucks there is. She PERFORMS her floor routine as if she is on a stage. And she does it all with beautiful form. She brings an energy to her routine that doesn’t translate through the television, but let me assure you, it is captivating.