“The US women winning gold. So nice to see this group live up to their potential!” –
Tag: London 2012
Enjoying Gymnastics – the Part I had Forgotten
I have been quiet on the blogging front. I am in a time of intense personal focus as my family is gathered for my grandpa’s last days. But in addition to that, I, like many of you have been experiencing the post Olympic let down. Though I have never met these girls, I feel so connected to their stories, their gymnastics, their hopes and their dreams. And not just the USA girls. In competition, dreams come true, but many many more dreams are thwarted and hearts are broken.
Maybe it is the personal circumstances that I am in, but I have found myself dwelling on all the girls who experienced heart break and disappointment through these games. I think of Vanessa Ferrari, Lauren Mitchell, Viktoryia Komova, Jonathan Orozco and, of course, Jordyn Wieber. This preoccupation has not inspired me to write.
Last night I re-watched portions of event finals and the All Around Finals with my cousin, my sister and my brother-in-law. My cousin, who has become a big fan after going to Pac Rims with me, hadn’t gotten to see these competitions. My brother-in-law gasped in amazement over and over again at their skills and shook his head in disbelief. Oh yes, the part I had forgotten. Watching – and doing- gymnastics for the pure love of and amazement in the sport.
Frustrations with judging, with the rules and the endless analyzing the what ifs and should have beens sneak in and diminish the incredible enjoyment of just watching and enjoying our wonderful sport. Last night, prompted by my family, I just enjoyed the performances. Oh how wonderful they were to watch! What incredible gymnastics we were treated to this Olympics.
I have been looking forward to these Olympic for the past two years because I knew that the fierce level of competition would produce incredible gymnastics. What I was looking forward to was the gymnastics I knew I would be treated to. Somehow I lost that in these past two weeks.
Eventually I will move on to analyzing the rules and looking to the future. But for the next while, I want to spend time remembering the incredible gymnastics, and incredible champions of an incredibly exciting Olympic games.
So join me in remembering and celebrating the most memorable moments of our incredible sport.
When you hit perfection – And when you miss it.
The beauty and peril of gymnastics is the expectation of perfection. Of hitting every single time. Nobody’s perfect right? Oh, except Olympic gymnasts. You can miss a shot in basketball and still win the game, make a poor serve or return in volleyball and still win the game. But not so in gymnastics. Being off even by a centimeter can cost you a medal, cost you your dreams.
And so it was so for McKayla Maroney – both the unrewarded hitting of human perfection and missing it as well. In the team finals, McKayla Maroney performed one of the most spectacular vaults of all time. Superimposed on the same vault as Uchimura (one of the most perfect male gymnasts of all time) was McKayla Maroney’s team vault. It is so much higher than any female gymnast had a right to be, higher than Ushimura’s by far, even though the women’s vault is lower, with perfect form and a stick to boot. A vault that would have earned a perfect 10 in any other gymnastics era, still scored higher than any female vault has in this quad. It was a moment of beauty and perfection. But not of surprise. It is all we expected of McKayla.
Then came the Vault finals. The commentators talked of competing for silver, as it was inevitable that McKayla would win the gold. To all of you that have tuned into gymnastics for the first time since the last Olympics, this may have seemed to be sensationalism by the commentators. But the reality is, that the entire gymnastics community in every country has assumed that IF McKayla made the US team, they would be competing for silver on vault. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that she would win the gold.
After all, who could even remember McKayla not performing an incredible vault, much less falling? In today’s world of social media, you have to go all the way back to 2009 to see McKayla fall on vault in practice, warm up or performance. One time in three years. In a time where all of her teammates are as likely to sit down vaults in podium training and warm up as they are to hit them in competition, it is almost unfathomable that McKayla won’t hit vault- in practice, in warm up, in competition. She could do it following a week off for a concussion, she can vault anywhere at any time.
Such dominance and perfection leads us to expect, well perfection. Anything less is a disappointment. And that is exactly what happened to McKayla in Vault Finals. Anything else.
Was it nerves that got to her? We, and probably even she, will never know. McKayla did, for her, a disappointing first vault. She landed in the red and did not achieve her normal level of perfection. So when she went for the second vault, she really wanted to deliver. Did she come in to high? Did she tried to hard to stick? Whatever happened, the unthinkable resulted. McKayla Maroney fell on a vault.
Ahh how the pendulum swings. One vault is the best we had ever seen. The next is sitting on her butt. McKayla Maroney had done the unthinkable. She lost the vault finals.
Maybe it was to remind us that gymnasts are not robots, but they are in fact human. Maybe it was to remind us that nobody, absolutely nobody is perfect. No matter what the reason, the results stand. The best female vaulter of all time (in my and many other”s opinions) would not walk away from the Olympics with a Vault gold.
A fluke of nerves, of tiredness, of trying to achieve perfection? We will never really know. But to those of you just tuning into gymnastics, know that this was a FLUKE. McKayla has not sat down a vault in podium training or warm up that has been shown, or in competition since 2009. In contrast, she has done more perfect vaults, higher, with more perfect form and difficulty than any woman in history. What she did in vault finals was absolutely a fluke.
Sandra Izbasa, who never dreamed she would be competing for a vault gold with Maroney in the mix, laughed often as she received the news of her win, and her medal. We can never know exactly what she was thinking. But I took it like this. LOL! We all know that Maroney is the superior vaulter. Sure, I will take the gold medal today. But is is kind of laughable.
I hope and believe that this “loss” will inspire McKayla to continue on in gymnastics, which will inevitable lead to more great vaulting. Many have looked forward to her introducing the Yurechenko 3/1. I think that will be awesome. But even moreso, I look forward to more beautiful floor routines and inspired interviews from a gymnast who is fast becoming one of my all time favorites – as much for her sincere, spunky, heartfelt interviews as for her out-of-this world vaults.
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!
From Flying Squirrel to Golden Girl
Gabby Douglas has been known as the Flying Squirrel for her high flying antics on the bars. Undoubtedly the best bar worker the USA currently has in their arsenal, Gabby began to make her bid as a true All Around threat at the US National Championships back in June. She had shown a flash of brilliance earlier in the season in the American Cup but had not maintained that brilliance through the rest of the spring. It was in St. Louis that she challenged Jordyn Wieber for the National Title and almost won. Her next foray came at the Olympic Trials where she earned the only automatic spot of the USA team by scoring the highest All-Around total over two days. Even so, Gabby had never put together four hit routines in one night.
As we pondered the All Around gold possibilities, Blythe from The Gym Examiner said, “You only have to put it all together once. It just has to be on the right night.” That Gabby had the talent was never a question. But could she hold up under the intensity of the Olympic spotlight? Could she put it all together that one time, the night of the All Around finals?
In qualifications, it seemed that she would do it. She held it together, performing incredibly on vault, bars and beam. When it came to floor however, her old nerves crept in. Gabby had a major mistake on her second pass and literally bounded out of bounds. Doubt may have crept back in to others minds, but not into hers.
Gabby came out into team finals and gave the performance of her life. She cleanly hit every routine with nary a bobble. Her All-Around score was easily the highest that had yet been put up in the games. She did it! Four incredible hit routines in one night! She had put it all together!
Was it possible that she could do it back to back? Watching her cool, collected demeanor would say that it was. And as it turned out, Gabby put it all together twice. On the two nights of nights.
Gabby led from start to finish. Opening up with one of the best vaults she has done, she emphatically said that she meant business. She continued on throughout the night, hitting her high flying beam routine, sailing through her complex beam routine and tumbling her way to Olympic gold. It was a beautiful, incredible, performance. Scoring the highest All-Around score of the entire quad (four years between Olympics) Gabby truly won gold.
But it is not only the gold medal around her neck that earns her the newly donned Golden Gabby nickname. It is her golden personality. Gabby’s smile is impossible to resist. She has that bounce in her step, that spark in her eye that hint at her bubbly, positive personality. The only thing that comes more quickly than her brilliant smile is her infectious laugh.
Gabby has stolen our hearts with more than her dazzling performance. Her true grasp of the honor it is to represent her country oozes through every word. The responsibility and maturity she feels as a role model to the gymnasts – especially the African American gymnasts – she has inspired is beyond her years. And her playful personality warms our hearts. She will be a beloved gymnast for years to come.
Gabby Douglas, you were extraordinary. Thanks for making some incredible sacrifices to make your dreams – and ours- come true. You truly are a star.
The All Around Finalists
The all-around gold medal is the most coveted individual gymnastics achievement. When people refer to the champion, they mean the all-around champion. This Olympic year has an EXCITING all-around competition in store! Most years in women’s gymnastics there is a battle between two, maybe three gymnasts for the gold medal. This year, that is not the case. This all-around final will have five gymnasts who could win the gold medal.
There are twenty- four gymnasts in all who qualified into the All-Around finals. Here are the top five who will be vying for the podium. Who will end up on top is anyone’s guess. Hold onto your hats ladies and gentlemen, this is going to be a wild ride!
Viktoria Komova (60.632/25.7 Qualification)
After losing the gold to Jordyn Wieber last year by the smallest of margins, Viktoria comes into these Olympics ready to do battle – and win. Her slight form hides the incredible power underneath. She dances like a ballerina, vaults with power and grace, swings bars like she was meant to live life in the trees and tumbles on the beam as if she was light as a feather.
Viktoria debuted her amanar for the first time in her senior career during qualifications. Adding that to her arsenal along with one of the most difficult, perfectly executed bar routines in the world right now gave her the edge she needed to qualify in first. Her beam and floor routines are both exquisite, but not very consistent. She tends to either hit or miss on beam and is often plagued with low landings on floor. She will have to bring her best to keep her place at the top of the podium.
Alexandra Raisman (60.391/25.3 Qualification)
Aly is known to be one of the most calm, consistent competitors there is. Long overshadowed by higher scoring teammates, Aly shocked the world and herself by qualifying in as the top American. She comes in with the highest difficulty and most consistency on vault, beam and floor. However, her lower difficulty on bars, along with her poor form on this even is what keeps her from the top of the podium. She was fourth at last years world championships with a horrible mistake on bars.
Aly did the best vault of her career in qualifications, cleaning up her form issues and landing with just a small hop. She did the best bars routine she has ever done by far during podium training, seemingly to finally overcome her form breaks. She is generally rock solid on beam, and has scored the highest floor scores in both the team and qualifications. Overall, Aly does not have high enough difficulty to win gold without mistakes from both Gabby and Viktoria. But her rock solid, consistent performances make her a gymnast you should not count out. After all, as we have seen, anything can happen in the pressure of the Olympic spotlight.
Gabrielle Douglas, USA (60.265/25.3 Qualification)
Gabrielle, or Gabby, has been a rising star this year. Last year, she was known for her high flying bar routine, but her mental game was just not strong enough for her to be an all-around threat. This all changed when she came roaring out of the gate as an exhibitionist at the AT&T American cup. She unofficially (her scores did not count as an alternate) ran away with the gold. Since then, Gabby has been inching away at Jordyn Wieber’s lead in every meet until she finally overtook her by .1 at the Olympic Trials.
Gabby comes in with one of the highest potential start values of the group. She has the physical ability to blow away the competition. What remains to be seen is if she can continue improving her mental game and hit the routines when they count. She qualified in third because of a large error on floor. However, she hit four for four during team finals, and her All-Around score there would have easily won the title. If everyone brings out their best and they all hit, Gabby most likely wins. She will have to keep control of her nerves to stand on top of the podium.
Aliya Mustafina RUS (59.966/24.7 Qualification)
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 and is still not used to her new body. But she has continued to train hard.
Aliya has yet to show the level of gymnastics and performance she attained in 2010 this year. She is not competing with the level of difficulty she formerly attained. 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. Her team loss will only drive her more. I would not be surprised at all if she ends up on the podium.
Larisa Iordache (57.8/24 Qualification)
Larisa’s junior showings made her highly anticipated as the Romanian all-around contender at the Olympics. She has a charming floor routine, one of the most difficult beam routines being performed at the Olympics, a solid vault and a very decent bar routine. Her achilles heel at these Olympics has in fact been her heel. She has plantar faciitis in her left heel and has not been able to put in a great deal of training over the past week.
This has definitely shown in bother her qualification and team performances. She has not been on her game. Hopefully the additional days of rest and training will allow her to continue on the trajectory she has been on her entire career – a place on the Olympic All-Around podium.
In addition, Deng Linlin from China qualified into the top group. This group will all compete together, starting on vault. It should be noted that Larissa did not qualify in this group and will start on bars. Once again, we all want these women to go out and have incredible, hit competitions!
Aly Raisman: Tumbling her Way to Tears of Joy
Aly Raisman, the USA Team Captain led her team to a decisive, blow out victory Tuesday night. She contributed in two ways. By performing two great routines on beam and floor and by giving leadership and her calm presence to the rest of her teammates.
The place in the USA’s line up that was potentially the most problematic was Gabby Douglas on beam. As they began to prepare for bars, Aly gave Gabby a more than a pep talk. It was almost a sergeant giving orders that must be obeyed. Nothing negative Gabby. You can do this. Do not let in anything negative. Gabby has said before that sometimes negative thoughts that she is not good enough or can’t do it creep into her mind. It is usually these thoughts that lead to her mistakes. Seems like it helped. Gabby did a stellar routine.
As Aly is reaching her dreams, the steadfast demeanor she keeps in competition has begun to slip. At each milestone she has reached – making the Olympic team, qualifying into the All-Around and winning a team gold- tears of joy have sprung forth. As Aly finished her floor routine, the last thing USA needed to claim their gold, the tears began to seep out before she even saluted the judges. As they watched the score board she kept mouthing, I can’t believe this.
She believes it now! Aly Raisman your incredible calm, your hard work and determination and your loving spirit have brought you to this point. Now go out tomorrow and reach your final goal – an All Around Olympic medal. We believe in you!
Gabby Douglas: The One Hit Wonder Becomes The All Around Rock
There was never any question on if Gabby Douglas would make the Olympic team. With the best bar routine in the country on a team with a deficit on bars, she was a lock. But the idea that she would be used on every single event in Team Finals would only have crossed the minds of her greatest and most loyal fans. After all, before the Olympic Trials, she had only had one all-around performance in her entire senior career without a fall, and even that performance had a major wobble. Up until Olympic qualifications, she had only performed one beam routine in her entire senior career that could be considered team finals worthy, and that was when she was an alternate. The talent and skill were undeniably there, but the nerves always seemed to get the best of her.
However, throughout this year, she seemed to get a little more in control of her nerves with every meet. A slow but steady growth of mental consistency to pair up with her incredible athletic abilities. A shining moment of mental strength came at her last American performance. She stood up on the podium as Jordyn Wieber performed her final vault. Jordyn’s score flashed just before Gabby saluted. Gabby knew in order to win, she had to absolutely hit her floor routine. Normally this would have amped her up, and she would fly out of her landings. But not this time. Calm and collected, Gabby nailed it.
Martha Karolyi told the press that Gabby thrives in the regimented training structure that is the USA’s way of preparing for the Olympics. She felt confident that a month without distractions between the Olympic Trials and the Olympics, Gabby would grow in mental strength. Gabby would come into the Olympics stronger than ever.
In qualifications, Gabby held it together, performing incredibly on vault, bars and beam. When it came to floor however, her old nerves crept in. She had a major mistake on her second pass and literally bounded out of bounds.
So, when it came to deciding the line up for team finals, the question of Gabby’s ability to put up four strong routines in one night crossed many people’s minds. It made absolute sense to put Gabby in on vault and of course, bars. On floor with McKayla Maroney’s injury and Kyla Ross’s low start value, there really was no other choice. But when it came to beam things got a little more murky.
Looking at qualifications, Gabby had the second highest beam score. To many, this was a no brainer. But to those that had watched Gabby wobble and fall on beam time after time, putting her up in a team finals seemed very risky. What’s more so, putting her up on all four events seemed even riskier. Like I said, there was only one time in her career she had ever hit all four events in the same night.
But if we have learned anything from last year’s dominant performance of untested rookies, when it comes to knowing the mental state of her athletes and the likely scoring in international competition, Martha knows best. And so, Gabby was the only American gymnast to be used in all four events in the team finals. Gabby rose to the occasion and performed brilliantly. She didn’t just make it through cleanly. She put up four of the best routines she has ever done.
And so, in the competition that really counted, Gabby came into her own. No longer the one hit wonder bars start, Gabby has transformed into the all around team rock. Longtime “Dougie” fans would say they knew she could do it all along. I say, the proof is in the pudding. And it is pudding that I very happily eat.
Gabby Douglas, you were extraordinary. Thanks for making some incredible sacrifices to make your dreams – and ours- come true. You truly are a star.
All Photos Credit USA Gymnastics
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.
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!
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.