Saturday, 25 October 2014

Worlds thoughts part 1

Hard to believe that worlds has been and gone. A whole year until Glasgow, where I will be in attendance! But, back to Nanning.

We need to talk about...

TEAM FINALS

First things first, I really enjoyed most of the competitions, the all-around and event finals. Unfortunately, I found the team finals quite disappointing. Not because they weren't filled with fantastic routines, they were, or because the podium was in some way wrong, but because of how it exposed the weakness. The US were always going to dominate and they certainly did that, leading by 7 points. I have no issue with the US winning or dominating. Merely, how poor everyone else is by comparison.

Russia and Romania, once so strong, are held together by one girl each. They both had falls and errors, but that wasn't really the big issue at stake, moreso just how much lower the scoring potential was even with perfectly hit routines. Even had two other teams been able to keep up somewhat with the leaders I would have been happy. And, not forgetting, the US team was somewhat depleted for them having to rely on girls with very little experience. Can you imagine the scores had they had Gabby Douglas on bars and beam, Katelyn Ohashi on beam, McKayla Maroney on vault and Aly Raisman on floor? The US is ultra powerful and in a league of its own without several prominent gymnasts and it's a luxury beyond the imagination of everybody else in the arena. A team with several stars, rather than one outstanding gymnast and five very good/strong other. Next year and the year after, we can expect only more strength from the US.

It's just...bleak! I want to see more of a fight. Seeing Russia so hindered by depth and injuries, Romania with just about a team and such abysmal bars score and surprising weakness elsewhere, and China struggling so badly on floor, able to eclipse the others on a lopsided basis of supreme strength on one event.

I'm curious to see how team finals will pan out for the rest of this quad. Next year is a bumper new senior year. The US will gain a top all-arounder with massive scores in Bailie Key and strong contenders Nia Dennis and Alexis Vasquez. Romania will gain a much needed bars worker in Andreea Iridon and some strength on the other events in Laura Jurca, who, unfortunately, has not looked great this year. Russia get Seda, who is a massive boost to them, and also Maria Bondareva and Anastasia Dmitrieva. GB, who didn't do as well as expected, gain 3 fabulous girls in Ellie Downie, Amy Tinkler and Tyesha Matthis. That could well launch them into contention with the top 4, they have amanar capability now, and much needed d-score potential on floor too.

The US will no doubt continue to be at the top. I would just like to see them challenged a little more. It's funny, I don't feel this way in hindsight about the Soviets, and it's not because of preference. Romania and East Germany were good, strong teams. The US and China were progressing all the time. Now, it seems that the rest of the top 4 are in steep decline, which makes all the difference to me. Only the US is really able to keep on top of the code, but I don't think the code would be such a problem for the rest if they only had the depth.

SIMONE BILES

What to say? Consecutive champion, and still not at her peak? 9-time world medallist with more to give, more in the tank, 5 Nanning medals despite not competing to her full potential except in beam event finals? She is simply astonishing. At a post-worlds conference, she stated that due to the consistency of her amanar, she has been given the go-ahead to train the TTY. She will also be working on a Moors in the gym. Just in the last day, she's released videos of a full-twisting double layout, with excellent form and technique, and a very flighty but very sloppy Khorkina, the bars upgrade that disappeared along with her hurt shoulder earlier this year. Because of course, it's actually hard to picture her as someone who missed the start of the competition season, who downgraded and held off upgrades like the Cheng to protect and save her shoulder. A gymnast who was that good, successful, dominant etc...on a sort of an off year? She is just bizarre. And not only did she win another raft of medals, but more hearts with the bee episode!

I really can't wait to see what next year brings for her. A Cheng, TTY, Khorkina and Fabrichnova on bars, full-out double layout and maybe something else on floor? It all seems very reasonable. Not sure about the Silivas beam dismount. It seems a little..much. One thing's for sure, Bailie Key will have her work cut out!

LARISA IORDACHE

Very, very impressed. I really had not expected at all that she could have chased Simone so closely for that title. Big, big improvement on bars...they've been looking very good but so inconsistent for the last while. And a 6.5 floor, and improved form on beam...awesome. Both gymnasts are so similar in a lot of ways, the main difference to me seems to be what they are capable of. Larisa seems at or close to the limit, while the sky's the limit with her rival and friend. Romania are screwed when she retires, I feel.

What I'd most love to see from Larisa aside from some consistency in beam finals and continued ability to challenge for AA gold, would be more control on floor. She loses valuable tenths for being just too bouncy on finishing turns and landing leaps. Her choreography is wonderful but the lack of precision shows up all the same.

ALIYA MUSTAFINA

Yet another example in team finals of Aliya making room on her back for five other girls and saving the day for Russia, again. It's quite amazing and humbling seeing her deliver so strongly time after time for them, considering all of her niggling injuries, and the pressure. Individually it was quite a mixed bag, that awful fall in AA on floor, not having the difficulty to contend on bars, not having her acro series on beam..yet netting a bronze there, and on floor. I'm glad she got to redeem herself. I only hope she gets a break now..and better coaching, as per her own wish, although having a break is not.

Nobody in Russia is near her level. Viktoria Komova could be, if she was healthy enough and risked enough..other injured athletes compete all the time, but she seems to be well wrapped up and preserved. Hmm. Anyway, clearly there's no stopping Aliya anytime soon and I look forward to more surprises from her. It would just be so great if she could share the pressure..

KYLA ROSS

Where does she go from here, would be my biggest question? Kyla competed with an injury and despite that, performed strongly for her team and triumphed where others faltered, bagging herself an AA bronze despite her low difficulty. I'm very, very curious about her future in elite. She expressed in interviews after competition that she knows she needs to upgrade. If she's healthy, it would be wonderful to see competitive bars and beam routines from her. Equally, it would be great to see her shine at Stanford. Hmmm!


Part 2 is a-coming soon! :D More individuals, assessment, general reactions, leotards, interviews.....the list goes on.

 






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Friday, 24 October 2014

Worlds post interlude

The other night, I found myself crying in bed. Nothing personal, instead, a book moved me to tears.

I read like it's going out of fashion. I own hundreds of them, in a bulging bookcase with stacks and piles on top and all around it. It has gotten to a sort of worrying level, as I cannot stop buying more, even though I re-read all that I have frequently. I have never gotten on with libraries (to the point of embarrassment when you realise you have lost a book and can't go back, or held on to it for a excruciating length of time) and cannot abide kindles and other readers. I read while eating, commuting..I never have found myself in a 'not reading anything at the moment' phase.

With such an interest, you might imagine I read deep, meaningful works. Heartwrenching biographies, current affairs, deep meaningful books, Booker prize nominees..books that can change your perspective on the world, such is their impact.

No.

I read fiction, glorious, uncomplicated fiction. The only non-fiction I possess are British historical autobiographies which I did manage to devour, but at a much slower pace than the lurid historical fiction versions of the same people. My favourite authors are Philippa Gregory, Liane Moriarty, Sarah Dunant, Michelle Moran, Diane Chamberlain, Kate Morton, Sinead Moriarty, Paul Howard, Maeve Binchy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Weir and C.J. Sansom. My favourite book is The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, which threw me headfirst into the Tudor world and spawned a good 50 other purchases. I re-read it constantly after first finishing it, so much so that it fell apart at the spine.

Very, very few books have physically moved me. So, what brought on the emotion? A Tudor queen coming to grief on the block? A scandalous twist a la Diane Chamberlain/Jodi Picoult?

Nope.

It was Enid Blyton's The Naughtiest Girl in the School, wherein the heroine, Elizabeth Allen, triumphs after a series of struggles of her own making and is lauded in front of the whole school.*sniff*

My favourite books are written for children. The above book was written for an even younger audience than her stalwart boarding school series (complete with MASSIVE print and childish covers that are guaranteed to garner you looks on the bus) and yet, it's just..amazing. Nothing gets me like a fabulously written story, no matter how easy, or quick, to read.

One book stands above all for me, and that is Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery. This book is beyond description and 'well written' doesn't begin to do it justice. I would in fact singlehandedly give it a lot of credit in enhancing my english, spelling and vocabulary levels well beyond my peers when I was in primary school avidly devouring it every few months.

Does anyone else have an ultimate love for children's books? An easy-reading fiction collection that is possibly a little shameful for lack of variety or depth? A love for English boarding school stories that will never die?

I have been battling minor ailments/illnesses for two weeks now, swapping a series of headaches for minor back pain for a cold. It's really put a dampener on posting, and I have a lot of thoughts right now! It's all in my head and will start leaking out tomorrow :)

Saturday, 18 October 2014

EF Day 2: Beam and Floor

Bit of a delay on this, so let's pretend it just happened!

After the high of the first day of event finals, it was perhaps inevitable that the second day would be a letdown. Beam finals have been a bit desultory for a while now, and this one was no exception, in fact, it was worse than ever with only two gymnasts truly excelling. There was nothing wrong with floor, except for the debate over bronze. Beam went one better, with disputes over gold AND bronze.

Beam

Qualifying to this final were Yao Jinnan, Bai Yawen, Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Aliya Mustafina, Larisa Iordache, Ellie Black and Asuka Teramoto. The favourite was Larisa Iordache with her huge routine, with Simone Biles, Aliya Mustafina and Bai Yawen chasing her. Last year's silver medallist Kyla Ross had too low a d-score to really contend.

So, what happened?

Bai Yawen hit a glorious routine without even the suggestion of a hesitation or wobble. Showcasing why exactly people love to watch Chinese gymnasts on beam...the precision of the elements. This was particularly impressive given the fact that she is quite unknown and inexperienced, wasn't given the opportunity to compete on the event in team finals despite having qualified to event finals on it already, and was not just facing national pressure to do well, but local too. The fact that she scored under 9.0 in execution, even taking into account the low execution scores on beam anyway, was, I thought, hard to justify. Step on dismount, horizontal chest on dismount, and perhaps an argument that she could have had better rhythm and flow. Really exceptional routine otherwise.

Simone Biles, facing beam again after two less than satisfactory routines in team finals and AA, showed us what she's made of and delivered a much steadier routine. She nailed her flight series, hit her connections, threw yet another killer dismount and left the judges without much to deduct. There were three hints of wobbles though in the routine, but despite those, she really moves very well on beam with great flow and rhythm. Her difficulty score was higher than Bai's and she moved into first, with the difference in execution not making up for the d-score advantage.

And that was a bit of an issue for me. Simone unquestionably performed a great routine and deserved a medal. Bai, though, outperformed her. There should have been greater disparity in their execution scores, not because Simone's execution was lacking, but because Bai's is so exceptional. She has a precision and control over every single element that is not present in Simone's routine, nor indeed in most other beam routines. I am reluctant to bring into the question how much it would have meant to Bai Yawen to take gold in front of her hometown crowd in a country where gold is everything and rewarded highly...but, yeah, it would have been great for that reason too.

That wasn't going to be an issue though, because Larisa Iordache was the favourite and would surely hit after doing so well in the AA and TF and after falling in London and Antwerp beam finals, surely it was her time to get lucky. And...she fell, on the tuck full this time. Disappointing isn't the word. She has really improved her form on this event even in just the last couple of months, at Euros for instance I found her quite sloppy. Sigh.

Yao Jinnan falls. She wasn't a challenger and after winning bars gold I doubt it was really a big deal, her smile after coming off on the layout seemed proof of that.

Ellie Black falls. A super hard routine and her one chance in an event final to shine, and she comes undone on the full. Devastating, especially given how open bronze was.

Kyla Ross performs, well, very untypically. A huge wobble, two smaller ones, broken connections and quite a slow routine. It's a long, tough week and I'm never surprised when a gymnast who does the AA in prelims, team finals AND AA on top of making event finals, falters at the end of the week. It's a pity as she could have quite easily taken bronze had she exhibited her usual steady, clean routine.

Aliya Mustafina is anything but predictable on beam. The reigning world champion, but so inconsistent. It starts off well but then she breaks completely during her series, and without time to fully remedy it. Some really nice elements to it, but without an acro series her d-score is way down. But as the final pans out..it's not too surprising that she overtakes the routines with falls and weaker routines.

Asuka Teramoto is bouncing back from falls on her layout in both the AA and team finals. It's so satisfying when she hits it beautifully this time. Unfortunately, the routine is marred by a myriad of broken connections and with her medium difficulty and questionable dismount, it's not enough and she stays behind Mustafina.

The fact that a hit, clean, beautiful routine is beaten by one without an acro series has resulted in a lot of backlash, with accusations that Mustafina's name and reputation held her up. Had Asuka perfectly hit her routine, I think it would be a different story and actually a judging scandal. But she did herself no favours with all of the broken connections and not-fully-around dismount so I can see how this happened. The fact that a routine with no acro series ended up on the podium is not a testament to judging scandal or the power of reputation. It is a damning indictment of how weak beam is at the moment.

All in all, not the most exciting of finals. 3 falls and just not the highest standard when you compare it to the depth of the other events. To me, it was missing Andreea Munteanu, Maria Kharenkova and Shang Chunsong. The latter was rumoured to be replacing Bai Yawen and I'm so glad she didn't, but it would have been nice to see the two alongside each other in the final (legitimately, not at the expense of Yao Jinnan). I don't dispute the bronze, but I would have liked to see the order of gold and silver reversed.

Floor

The favourite this time, Simone Biles, was highly unlikely to be ousted or beaten because of a fall. Fresh from victory on beam, she was slated to compete second last, conveniently building the excitement of the final to a crescendo. Alongside her were Mykayla Skinner, Vanessa Ferrari, Erika Fasana, Larisa Iordache, Larissa Miller, Claudia Fragapane and Aliya Mustafina. The skill level was through the roof, with a laid-out double-double, 5 tucked versions and a full-twising double layout.

Mykayla Skinner has impressed me at these worlds, and continued to do so in her last final. Sharper form, better execution, really strong landings. Her signature skill looked straighter than ever. Leaps are still letting her down but she tried hard with her choreography I thought. A strong effort and a good chance for a medal.

Larissa Miller was a surprise qualifier, and she knocked out the popular Roxana Popa. This exercise was a joy to watch for just how beautiful her tumbling was, textbook double arabian, gorgeous combination tumbling. Very floaty.

Larisa Iordache had to bounce back from the crushing disappointment of yet another beam medal thrown away, and she did so in spectacular fashion. The big question was going to be, could she equal Simone's d-score again by throwing the pike full-in at the end? She pulled it around convincingly, and stayed in bounds on her second pass this time. It's just fantastic to watch her in motion, as the motion just never stops. The enjoyment of what she does shines through every movement, every bounce.

When her score came in I thought it should have been closer to 15, but the explanation that her Gomez hadn't been fully around countered for some of that, but not all. In my opinion, she loses tenths for the bounciness, not necessarily landings, but after leaps and turns, it's a sign of not having full control I suppose. It wasn't going to able to push Simone or properly challenge her, which was a bit disappointing.

Vanessa Ferrari's routine was a little sluggish, with one bad landing and she also missed her tuck back connection after the full-in. Although it wasn't her best, it was still great. It's wonderful to see a 24-year-old gymnast throwing such hard tumbles so many years later, and one of them, the double layout, a recent upgrade. It was unfortunately clear that she wasn't going to be a medal challenger in spite of the difficulty.

Erika Fasana's routine didn't make much of an impression on me, I found it was a bit lost amongst the other finalists. Nice tumbling, but it just didn't have the full package to make it stand out.

Claudia Fragapane's routine is always a highlight. She looked ready. HUGE air on the first pass, too much, as she rebounded spectacularly to prone position. In all the falls we have seen, I have never seen one quite like that. It's strange too, we've been hearing complaints that the floor is quite hard, yet the stronger athletes have been having no problem, with some sticking less than usual with the extra bounce they get on landing. It was a big moment for Claudia and so crushing to come to grief within the first few seconds. She performed the rest of the routine admirably, still selling her impassioned dance to the crowds. I can't wait to see her continue to improve and polish her performance but she really had a great worlds despite the fall.

Simone Biles was second last. Another explosively energetic routine, this time with bouncier landings than previously. I never get tired of this floor, it's quite artistic in its own way, because of the performer. Only she and Larisa displayed that magnetic connection. And straight into gold with a half-point lead.

Aliya Mustafina sat her first pass just two days previous, but this time she not only landed it, but added back the two whips preceding the double arabian. She's never one you can rule in or out really, and clearly decided that in her last final she had nothing to lose and should go for broke. Not having the triple full is so refreshing and I do like her choreography, though it feels a little empty and that she could do much more. Given her injuries, how much she has to carry her team and the long week, I'd imagine endurance is an issue and getting through the routine cleanly is more important than really emphasising the artistry.

When she had finished, I thought, well that will be 4th and well deserved. At least she has beam. But then she ousted Mykayla Skinner's position by a fraction of a tenth, 0.33. The delighted surprise on her face contrasted with Skinner dissolving into tears. But, in another display of how great the latter has been at these, her first worlds, she quickly controlled herself and accepted her placement.

I'm not sure how I feel about bronze. On the one hand, Mykayla Skinner's routine really was deserving. On the other, Aliya Mustafina showed more of the full package with exceptional dance elements. It's hard to say whether Mykayla was hard done by, but in this case, I do think Aliya was held up by her name. Had Larissa Miller performed that exact routine, I think we would have seen two Americans on the podium.

Far be it from me to deny what a truly great gymnast Aliya Mustafina is. I was very disappointed when she counted a fall in the all-around and was looking forward to seeing her bring home some individual hardware besides the team bronze. Bars I thought was her best chance, and although I expected her to place higher, I was thrilled with that podium and certainly bronze was her best hope there. Beam, well, the girls who fell and Asuka were quite unlucky, but I don't think anyone was 'wronged' for Aliya's bronze there. Floor though, being who she is DID I feel help.

Did you agree with the podiums? Was anyone helped by having a name, or wronged by not having one? How much worse can beam finals get? How much better can Simone Biles get? How weird are my tenses here?


Monday, 13 October 2014

Aliya Mustafina's interview translated

Translated by Lauren C ( translater's notes/explanations in Italics)

I didn't expect anything today. On beam I was lucky. On floor I had nothing to lose so I decided to go for the harder routine. Today was a reminder that I need to keep moving forward. I can't compete with my current repertoire; I know that. It's hard to learn new elements at my age. This year was hard because I kept taking breaks-first at the beginning of the year, then after Euros, then I had surgery and couldn't do anything for a month. I won't be able to take those kinds of breaks again before Rio.

It is difficult to have a personal coach who is really a choreographer. I have to make a lot of decisions on my own. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I'm not going to go scouring the earth for such a person, but if they happen to appear it would be nice.   

(They [interviewer] imply that she won't stop training until she's bleeding) : Certainly I train bars long after everyone tells me to stop. I keep going until I get it right. It's emotional vampirism.  

I have changed. It was time. I've begun to act more truly as myself instead of as I am "supposed" to. I communicate differently and more, I'm happy more often. Recently I realized that while you have to surrender yourself to this sport, you can't look at it as work. It can't be coerced; you have to want to do it, like a hobby. We have young ones who train with us who have to be forced. Some cry; some can handle it, some can't. The Americans are always smiling; they love it. Children shouldn't have to cry. Everything starts there.

Nobody told this to me, I just came to the realization over time. When things don't go my way in training, I tell myself it's okay, that there's always tomorrow. Or I have to sit around until I have a plan. Then I get up and train until I get it done, even when I rip all my calluses off.

[The situation with the younger girls] is a problem, of course. When Vika Komova, Tanya Nabieva and I were young, we could already do everything we do now. If I hadn't been in that kind of shape when I was younger I would never have achieved anything. I'm still not discouraged. I hope the younger girls can strengthen their programmes. It will be difficult to compete with the Americans, of course; they're strong, and that's putting it lightly. And it seems that it doesn't matter that we work to hit splits and point our toes; even though they're often not quite in splits or have not-quite-pointed toes, nobody cares.

*that last bit was a significant paraphrase and maybe a little harsher than she meant it. She's just saying that a vague "they" (probably the judges) don't seem to put as much emphasis on those kinds of deductions as they have said they would in the past

We'll still keep trying to make our exercises beautiful. If we could do as much difficulty as the Americans and even add a little beauty it would be a big plus. For the fans if not the judges. The judges are a separate issue. Sometimes it seems like they have already decided the outcome before the competition has even started. That's the worst thing, and sometimes it makes me want not to try. I understand that no matter what I do, they will place Biles ahead of me. The thought [not to try] occurs to me, but it goes away quickly. We [all] had two open training sessions every day, and the Americans were always doing something - running, circuit training, extra things. Some of it is probably genetics. Just look at them - they're healthy, brimming with life. We don't have gymnasts like them in Russia. Look at Polina Fyodorova, Masha Kharenkova, Dasha Spiridonova. They will always be small and skinny. They'll never have the kind of muscle the Americans have. Look at the Chinese....

Interviewer: By the way, have you lost weight?
Aliya: I don't see it, but I guess it looks like it.

I'm really comfortable with this team (she specifically mentions Masha, Elf and Alla). They're really nice to be around, they're not jealous and they don't say mean things. I want to help them. I help, they listen, and it's really pleasant for me.

*Translation note: When she says "I want to help them," she uses a reflexive construction which normally means she feels as though the desire comes from outside herself or is innate, as opposed to something she actively wants.

I'm on my third book this Worlds, an Italian novel. I listen to music while I drive to Round Lake. I'm an "omnivore" - I like a lot of things. Except I'm a picky eater. I hate onions. If a dish has onions, it's no longer even food to me. I have to take a napkin to meals here in China. Maybe that's why I've lost weight?

My leg is fine, but I do have other body parts. My back has been bothering for two and a half years. It was really bad at this Worlds. I don't like to talk about it and I feel I shouldn't, but during the team final I felt like I wouldn't be able to do anything at all. Sometimes I can't even run. I'm not protecting my leg. I don't do something if I'm not confident on it. So if I'm standing on the vault runway and I feel I won't be able to do the double, I don't do it. It's a kind of intuition. Sometimes I won't do something even when I think I can, because I can no longer think, "Oh well, if I underrotate a little, no big deal!" My ankle or knee start bothering me if I underrotate. My knee doesn't bother me anymore except when I land poorly. So I only perform an element when I'm certain I won't get hurt doing it.

I'm now thinking only of what to do in the off season and how to stay patient until Rio. No, not stay patient, but put all of my strength, everything that I have, into training for it.

The night before AA finals, my temperature started to rise, my throat started to hurt, I was congested and coughing, all at once. I tried not to think about it. I couldn't lift my arms or legs at training. We went to the doctor and asked for everything they had. Anti-fever [medicine], a load of pills, I sprayed something and gargled something. And when I got to the competition I was still shaking. It wasn't so bad the next day during bars finals. The worst part was the watery eyes - I wanted to rub them but they were made up! And when I was warming up on bars, sometimes I couldn't even see them. My eyes couldn't keep up with my body somehow.