Sunday, 26 June 2016

Seniors Day 1

A day late, but I have a very busy Monday ahead. The Ireland-France game is about to begin, I don't care about football but this is historic stuff. A great pity France have world class players. I apologise in advance for the distraction the game is going to cause this post.

Anyway, seniors day 1! I'm so glad I didn't stay up to watch it, and watched the whole thing when I woke up at 9am instead. So much easier to absorb everything.

Simone Biles


Stellar. Just unbelievable stuff from her as per usual. Beam is where she can look slightly more human and have a few bobbles, but her routine was seriously strong and steady to start off her night, capped by another great full-in. (The French national anthem is so jazzy, not like our anti-British dirge - though I love it) I'm sure I repeat myself a LOT when I talk about her, but there just is always something so uplifting when watching her about to begin, the surety that here is someone who is in a class of their own, whose skills are easy for her. (IRELAND JUST SCORED FROM A PENALTY GET IN!!!!) The highlight of her floor was the Silivas, so floaty and beautiful and nearly stuck - and it's her third pass. I thought the lyrics in her floor were going to be changed though? The deduction is a whole point and while she could weather that deduction, she really doesn't need to risk it. Vault was stunning and her Amanar seemed slightly higher than usual, but could just be the contrast after watching everyone else vault. Would love to see her echo McKayla Maroney and stick it in team finals. Or the AA or EF, I'm not fussy. After waiting so long for her to throw the Cheng, it's looking glorious. Her bars are always good - short and to the point, but her handstands stood out for me and the stuck dismount was nice also. Methodical. Definitely TF worthy since she leaves such low margins for deduction only for the fact that she'll be competing so much that it'd be nice for a rest too. All depends on who else makes the team.

In short, while she is always great, this felt like a particularly extra-great night for her. Just such a pleasure to watch.

Leotard game - strong. Striking combination and I like the design on the front. 7/10

(Ireland are holding off France. France!!)

Aly Raisman


The Aly Raisman of late last year and early this year who was struggling a bit with consistency and not showing her usual self on beam in particular was nowhere in evidence. Fantastic to see her attack back on beam, nailing connections as if they were on floor. Her improved layout - much more airtime - is great too. She looks 2012-esque, her solidest beam in a long time in competition. (This game is filthy! So much on the line...a LOT of fouls and yellow cards) On floor and her first pass looks like it's never been away or downgraded, she even had a slight bit of room to spare after the layout. Super-high Dos Santos, floaty DLO with just a small hop back and a double pike with chest fully up. Great stuff, Olympic floor medal contender for sure.

Her amanar is decidedly less thrilling. VERY messy in the last 1.5 rotations, but fully around nevertheless, with her now trademark step to the side. Ligaments of steel. She doesn't need to be aiming for a more precise landing at the moment, would be nice to see in Rio though. An Aly with this much fight was never going to take any nonsense from bars, and sure enough although some struggle was evident with a break here and there, she finished without a major hitch to end her day. This is a great Aly with more tenths to fight for on bars and vault, so it's reassuring to see her in second - tied, but second nonetheless.

She has her ticket to Rio I think, no question. Leotard game - excellent. Beautiful neckline and sparkly belt in particular. A bright pink that's not sickly, very pretty. 8.5/10

Laurie Hernandez



Like Simone and others, Laurie didn't do AA at Classics, but unlike the former she's more of an unknown entity on all 4 as she seemed to be warding off some sort of leg injury earlier in the season. Starts on floor and her trademark energy was evident from the start. That DLO is still risky (NOOOO FRANCE SCORED!) in that she has no margin for error before she hits the ground. Hopefully she can learn to get a better set on it (OH CHRIST and again). The rest of the routine is great, love her unusual third combination pass especially. While I still love her dance and snappy choreography style, I'd still prefer it if the poses and expressions in particular were toned down. A very efficient vault from her, no sign of when it looked precarious. It's not as obvious on the USAG video, but on the stream she doesn't get much distance, seems to hit the table quite early. Nevertheless, chest up, the tiniest of hops and right down the centre, not to mention clean in the air. Good stuff. Beam used to be her weakest event, and flaky, but she's a much different worker there now. Confident. Quick connections, crisp BHS-LOSO-LOSO, sassy choreo. Her set on the double pike dismount is poor, so she has a very low chest on landing - better off with a touble tuck or a twisting dismount probably but a great routine nonetheless. Bars is another event where she has made great strides. She's got quite an unusual style there which is enjoyable to watch. Stalder-heavy, nice releases and a stuck dismount. She's no medal contender there but it's a big boost to her AA status.

A fierce display from Laurie which has done nothing but good to show her worth to the Rio team. Leotard game - too much shiny brightness for me, but an interesting back. 4/10

Gabby Douglas


 She has looked strong since she came back and after Glasgow and a strong outing early in the season has much less to prove than most. But this wasn't the best of outings for her, she just didn't seem fully on at any point. Beam was nervy with checks coming very frequently (about 10 minutes left in which WE NEED TO SCORE). On floor again she was lacklustre in terms of connection to the audience and expression, but tumbling was strong. I really like the back tuck she's added to her full-in. Gorgeous leaps. Keeps the energy in tumbling going to the end, but taken together it just wasn't an exciting routine. Quality vault, BIG air on that DTY and you can see the room for the amanar that's more than likely to come. That'll be her ticket to being the second AA in Rio. Bars have never reached her 2012 levels and it's probably too late to expect they suddenly will but are strong anyway and do her a lot of favours although she didn't do a skill this time around that they credited her with doing. Bad judging, but not quite at the level 4 years ago when she was credited with doing an amanar for a DTY.

A less-than-ideal day but not exactly damaging. I hope she gets her game face on tonight all the same. Leotard game - Interesting. She can carry that orangey-pink but the shine makes it too much for me. 5.5/10

Madison Kocian


The big test is as per usual her bars, and again (we are 45 seconds from not qualifying to the quarter finals...) she comes second to Ashton Locklear there, but great bars nonetheless and the big advantage she has over Ashton as we all know is the fact that she's much more of a team player and can slot in much better than the latter. (And we are out...but played much better than expected against MUCH better players) Marta is as always all about the team, and not so much the specialists. This is not like USOC forcing McKayla Maroney into the team for guaranteed (LOL) vault gold, bars has many more contenders with no certainties. Anyway, a lovely arabian on beam followed by a check or two and a broken connection, but solid work. She's stunning to watch on floor too with the usual WOGA tumbling style of connecting twists showing up in her second pass. WOGA also shows up in her vaulting in a clean and beautifully executed FTY.

A strong showing and she's in the mix for sure. Leotard game - a bit dull, but nice sparkles on the red. 5/10

Ashton Locklear 



KILLER bars, great to see. Gives very little away and great rhythm. She continued her visible improvement on beam, very quick-fire connections. I love her leaps in particular her lines make her wolf jump look amazing. I'd like to see her do some old-school elements, like a Kolesnikova variation, even a Kotchetkova or Onodi. She'll never do a major acrobatic element so they'd suit her. And a double stag just because I love them. Anyway, she's another who's right in the mix for this team.

Leotard game - love the colour contrast, but the design seemed a bit too juvenile and let it down. 6/10

Ragan Smith



Strong on 3/4 events with that weird Grishina-esque balk on floor decimating her score there. I just love the distance she gets on her DTY and bars dismount. Unfortunately her beam wasn't her best with some big checks there but she really nailed the dismount with a much more secure landing than we have seen. She really needed to knock it out of the park to challenge at the top of the leaderboard...but it's a 2-night competition. Even with that, I think she's fighting for an alternate spot as even without her less than perfect consistency record, she's strongest on the events they've got plenty of depth on.

Leotard game - STUNNING! Love the mosaic stained glass design, very unique and pretty. Chrystal pattern was gorgeous on the sleeves. The best. 9/10

Mykayla Skinner



She's not all the way there in terms of how strong she can be, but a good effort. Her amanar landing can be better than that and look much more secure. Very nice in the air with great height. The Cheng is just her thing, so reliable. She should be using that in a TF lineup were she to make the team. Needs a bit more oomph on floor to really nail all of her difficulty, she seemed to flag a bit in terms of energy towards the end. I didn't catch her beam and bars yet, but they're not really that important in terms of her value. It's hard to say where she slots in in terms of a potential team now, she could quite easily be a victim of 5 slots instead of 6.

Leotard game - props for a design I haven't seen before, I especially like it on the side. Colours were not for me and the shiny grey washed her out too much. 4.5/10

Maggie Nichols



It's hard to judge Maggie at this point as she is still coming back with a way to go before she gets back to her self again (hopefully in time for Rio selection). Her wolf turn on beam was a struggle and looks like it might have pained her, but she looked her usual strong self after that. A few checks, but nothing major and a great double pike to end with. Getting there. Bars were her usual though, strong and capable and she treated us to a stuck landing. Hopefully she keeps it up tonight and is able to bring back vault and floor by trials, she's a major contender for the team if she can.

Leotard game - I quite like the leo, but not the banana bit. 5/10

Alyssa Baumann



Started off with such a strong bars routine, only to come off again. After a bad meet at Classics it was the last thing she needed. Redeemed herself somewhat on beam with a gorgeous arabian, BHS-LOSO-LOSO series and Onodi-wolf connection but there were some checks in between and overall the flow was poor. She's another fighting for alternate when most other teams would kill to have her.

So all in all, regardless of a good portion of the team being locks for quite a while, we are still shaping up for a killer fight at trials, and Nationals is extremely important for those girls who are on the cusp to show how ready they are. Really looking forward to watching day 2 at some stage tomorrow as I can't stay up that late.

As of now, until Maggie is proved out of the AA, my team is Simone, Aly, Gabby, Laurie and Maggie. I don't think bars is important enough to warrant a spot when the team is so small. Let there be killing for the AA spots in quals.

Who has made your team? Who will win leotard game tonight? Can Simone get even better than she currently is? Can someone succeed in livening up Gabby? How many hairbows will Mykayla have? These are the questions that need answering.

All photos copyright USAG - John Cheng and L.Smith

 

  
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Friday, 24 June 2016

US Nationals

Really the timing of Nationals is poor this year. I'm supposed to absorb hours of gymnastics while Brexit just happened AND Ireland has magically progressed to the top 16 in the Euros which means the whole country will shut down on Sunday for the next match? It's all so distracting, but moreso Brexit of course because nobody believed the British public could be that dense but yes.they.are and this is going to have a big impact on my country and the thousands and thousands of Irish citizens living there. Hell we even get to be an island with a border where one side is in the EU and the other side isn't, that's super special that is. GODDAMN I can't even explain the total shock in the media this side of the pond, this is an absolute disaster.

ANYWAY, on to gymnastics. Watched part of juniors live and am busy catching up. Not sure I can hold out til 2am for seniors, so may just watch them in the morning. Juniors was dramatic to say the least, delighted for Mailie O'Keeffe, sad for Emma Malabuyo in particular after her mid-competition injury, but also Morgan Hurd who I'm sure was anxious to prove herself after Classics only to fall almost instantly and Deanne Soza who personifies the heartbreak of this sport. I have learned to just enjoy her but she always gives me hope and takes it away again all the same. What I'm watching the most is Trinity Thomas' DLO rebound on floor, I can't get over it. Looks like we have a winner for best rebound since Gabby Douglas at SCAM 2012. While it's fascinating to have three clean, elegant gymnasts in Emma, Morgan and Gabby Perea vying for the title of best junior....gymnasts like Trinity are so fascinating. Quite reminiscent of junior Simone Biles. Overly bouncy, power a bit too much for her, and rough around the edges. And we all know what happened there. Trinity screams potential and I'm excited.

I'll be back tomorrow with longer posts especially after watching seniors :)

Happy purple ombre leo watching!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Happy gymnastics weekend!

And it's a long bank holiday weekend here, which is just as well because there's too much to watch in different timezones. I have major catching up to do still.

First, Classics (way behind on Euros..) Considering how tough Nationals, Trials and pre-Olympic training will be on dead certs like Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas, it made perfect sense for them to ease their way into it by opting out of the AA for Classics and only competing bars and beam. Sensible, yet disappointing when every opportunity for a good AA scrap between the top few is welcome. Aly Raisman on the other hand had more to prove after a somewhat up-down year in terms of consistency and realisation of full potential. It was fantastic to see her beam improved, much more reminiscent of how it was last quad, and an amanar that was safe and fully rotated with a decent landing. Floor was her usual top standard, no surprises there. Of course, she fell on bars, but it seemed very fluke-y and bars are not important to her status as a team member. Not the biggest of deals.

The showdown on bars between Madison Kocian and Ashton Locklear was seriously exciting, and although the former has a 3-tenth difficulty lead, Ashton is the better bars worker and I'm pleased the (moderately inflated) scores reflected that. Madison will be out for blood at Nationals after she fell on a back tuck on beam. Sadly, Ragan Smith came to grief there too, on her Patterson dismount. I never feel that Texas Dreams gymnasts get a proper high 'set' on their beam dismounts. Contrast them with the likes of Catalina Ponor's glorious double pike from Euros TF....dreamy. Anyway, Ashton's beam was interesting. It's a routine I don't expect a whole lot from as her difficulty is low and her form is lacking on some elements. I'd much rather see her floor, it's a pity that after reading it's an event she was considered strong on, her back prevents her from training it. Although her beam last night was hesitant in flow, she has really cleaned up her form and it was pretty decent. Not a routine you would want to use outside of quals ever, but still, improvement is always good.

I'm seriously impressed that Nia Dennis competed. As exhibition, but nevertheless a full bars routine WITH a DLO dismount. She's not long after injury at all, and it shows such a positive attitude to want to be there and compete even though time is not on her side. She did get lost after the Pak but had a nice recovery and I was really expecting a flyaway dismount, so kudos to her. I'm a bit baffled that Bailie Key did not. The fact that she was on the roster, then not, then slated to compete by her coach, then did podium training and that was it is a bit odd. It would have been nice if she exhibitioned at least, or just did one event even, like Laurie Hernandez also. I enjoyed Laurie's bars, even if her technique seems different to the norm on some elements, which throws me off. Looking forward to seeing her and Simone and Gabby back in the AA at Nationals.

In terms of how the Olympic team is shaping up, I think Simone, Gabby and Aly have cemented their places, Aly being a bit more doubtful than the other two, but held up by her vast experience at being the team rock. It's a big advantage over the likes of Laurie and Ragan, and although their beams rival Aly's, their floors fall short, and so does vault now that the Raismanar is back and secure. The fourth spot is between Madison and Ashton and the fifth is a toss-up between a beam specialist type role which Laurie and Ragan are still in the running for if Marta wants to go that route, or the vault spot for Mykayla. Simone gaining the Cheng has somewhat negated the importance of that as now she's nearly a given for gold there, whereas before with her Lopez she risked being pushed out of bronze. Technically they don't need all 5 spots at all, the first 3 alone could cover everything and win easily, but 5 still makes for awkward choosing thanks to their depth. If Maggie can regain everything in time, she's a significant threat to Aly, but the latter's amanar could well keep her ahead as it's not a safe vault for Maggie to compete. It is tragic that such capable gymnasts as Alyssa Baumann and Rachel Gowey can hope for alternate at best, they'd be such an asset to almost every other country.

Romania for instance would kill for a gymnast like Alyssa. It is almost extraordinary to see how much they have backslid since London, and how overly reliant they are on Larisa Iordache and Catalina Ponor. Cata is facing enormous criticism at the moment for upping her game in the fight for the (sole) spot for Rio (seriously it won't sink in that there'll be no team) by training bars again, getting her DTY back, and regaining her floor and beam skills. It is an enormous credit to her that she can train and improve still. Her determination and fight are incredible, and if the whole National Team had that, they'd be in a better position. Of course, it's a vicious circle and the fact that they focus and rely on the same old faces is a major demotivator to other girls trying to make their way through the ranks. Their retirement rate of girls who are barely or not even senior is appalling. Looking at my post of girls turning senior 2013-2016 is particularly saddening for all the Romanian names who have dropped off.

The whole thing is infuriating and has been voiced many times over much more eloquently than I could ever attempt. It's obvious that their entire coaching system needs an overhaul. It's not just bars, there is too much focus on them. Yes it is disgraceful that hit routines can't break 13 but it's the marked deterioration on floor and beam that's more worrying. Outside of Catalina and Larisa and possibly Diana, the rest don't even look like elite routines anymore. The difficulty and 'special'ness of Romania on those events is not even in evidence. Hopefully the multiple people involved in Romania devolving into a Ukraine-type situation can stop playing the blame game and actually change things.

Moving on to US juniors, I've a good bit of catching up to do there. Saddened that Morgan Hurd struggled on beam and threw away the lead, would love to see her bouncing back at Nationals. Her bars in particular were fabulous, with such a surprising dismount - Fabrichnova- from one so tiny. Jordan Chiles has a nice advantage over the rest of the field with her amanar boosting her difficulty, but her power was to her detriment on floor when her huge, high tumbles sent her bouncing out of bounds twice and again on beam when she bounced back and fell out of her dismount. A great day for eventual winner Irina Alexeeva though her status remains murky and I heard she can't compete at Nationals, which is such a shame if true. I'm going to have a fun day going through the rest of the playlist.

And last but certainly not least, Euros! I missed the juniors entirely with work, sadly. A cracking senior team final, even if my stream was super glitchy. I'm not sure why it's still surprising when Aliya Mustafina after looking awful in podium training and dodgy in qualifications, pulls it out when it counts. I've every faith she'll be much improved still in Rio with her passes back on floor. It was great to see Giulia compete in front of a home crowd, and despite the same old consistency issues on beam, she really nailed it. A great Euros for her. I'm seriously in love with her Silivas, that thing is crazy high and fast. Her floor in general is so much better than it used to be, it was quite clunky and now everything seems so light. Her leaps are dreamy also.  I'm also impressed with Miss Consistency Angelina Melnikova. Talk about team player, the girl is a much-needed rock for her team. The equally talented Seda Tutkhalyan has her work cut out for her now in terms of Rio, her flakiness on beam in particular continues to plague her. GB had quite an up-and-down meet, though mostly good. Poor Becky Downie had 2 falls on beam in team finals, only to redeem herself with bars gold - beating the formiddable Daria Spiridonova and Aliya Mustafina. Although GB qualified first, they did well to finish second, counting other falls and mistakes too. France were seriously impressive, my highlight was Marine Boyer's beam and also Alison Lepin's beautiful bars. Stunning work.

A lot watched, a lot more to watch. Not sure exactly why I haven't posted in so long, but anyway, I'm back :D

Have you successfully watched ALL of Euros and Classics? Favourite junior/senior? Highlight routines? Best use of co-ordinating hair ribbon and sparkles?

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Break

Hi all, just a note to say that I AM around and haven't taken a break from gymnastics at all. I've been watching as much as possible and am giddy with excitement for Rio, which I have booked off from work. I just seem to have hit a block about posting, hard to say how come. I will be back before summer for sure :D

Monday, 22 February 2016

2016: It begins

Not the start of the season (c'mon c'mon!!), but the injuries and retirements. It's a double whammy for the US this week, with the news first of all that Nia Dennis has torn her Achilles and just today that Kyla Ross has retired.

Kyla faced into this year off the back of a difficult 2015, with numerous uncharacteristic falls and errors marring her domestic competitive season. The news that she was not at the selection camp for worlds didn't come as much of a surprise as a result. Despite this, and her known injuries, it still comes as a shock that she's out of the running for Rio now at this point. I really thought she would attend at least Classics and Nationals to see where she was at. I've thought that she wasn't going to reappear strongly in elite before, only for her to showcase her usual crisp routines once more, so I gave up on giving up on her. I haven't hidden the fact that I'm not a big fan of her gymnastics - but I am a big fan of her and will miss seeing her this summer. It's a pity that her height has held her back in terms of upgrades and probably wasn't helpful in terms of her previous back injury. Still, a very illustrious career- Olympic champion and with numerous world medals up her sleeves. I'm looking forward to seeing her in UCLA.



Nia is only in her second year as a senior, but has had a most turbulent career so far with several injuries. Last year she was freshly back from injury. I was really looking forward to some upgrades and cleaned-up execution from her, and instead she has a devastating injury at the worst time. She'll miss the whole domestic season, and Rio as a result. Injury, injury, gym change, injury - I've been rooting for her for years and it's been depressing, as her physical status has definitely held her back from achieving her potential - her potential is and has always been HUGE. A sparkly gymnast with big height and big skills, super dynamic and exciting. Will miss her greatly this year and hope she can come back strong from this.



Another career that came to an end (albeit 2 months ago) is Lisa Verschueren of Belgium. She is not someone who I actively followed, although I did notice her in Glasgow, but how her career ended is more devastating than an injury because she doesn't have the option of coming back, and it wasn't her decision. To be that young and forced from competitive sport due to a heart condition really sucks. I know too much about cardiology for my own good from large amounts of time spent typing and googling terms, and I really hope her defibrillator is all she needs to be healthy and safe and it isn't anything very sinister. Thankfully she did have a longish career spanning several world championships, so there is that.

Speaking of Belgium, and on a more positive note, they have exciting talent coming through the ranks this year - particularly Nina Derwael. I LOVE this.


Not all skill videos (few I suppose) come to fruition but I really, really hope this does. Any release with a half turn is a complete winner in my book, and the Ezhova is one my favourite transitions. Fabulous.

Also on the positive balancing front, the McKayla Maroney video interview is coming out this week (Wednesday I believe although really Thursday for me as it's on west coast time) and I'm really looking forward to it. McKayla has always been great at speaking and she has a lot of gaps and information that we are largely in the dark about. Not to mention that it doesn't look like the kind of interview where she'll gloss over or bypass important stuff. Of course, she may well declare her retirement or imminent retirement in the video but by all accounts she's been out of the gym a good amount of time now so that wouldn't be shocking. Sad to put an end to a great career though.

The Olympic year really has its downsides with the impending sense of doom that there are many more names to come in the injury/retirement category. I'm just holding on for the season to start to ease the doom and gloom of it all.

What are your favourite routines of the two? I really love that beam of Kyla's, it had more than her usual as it was fuelled by fierce determination, taking place as it did after a bars meltdown. It's also her last elite competitive routine. Nia's floor showcases her strengths beautifully, love that unique third pass. How will this shake up Team USA and the coveted specialist spots?

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Me me me

I got a new job!!!

HALLELUJAH!!!!

It's a big relief, and I really love my new job. One of the fun parts is a much more straightforward commute which is already much less draining and more conducive to actually blogging more than once a month. There's always an aspect that makes you think fondly of the old job though, and for me it's the fact that the hospital chart room looks a bit like this:






It makes for fun times. I can't imagine electronic healthcare records...they are probably a solid 10 years away for us, and ain't and shouldn't gonna happen while inpatient and outpatient waiting lists are years (legit years) long.

Aaaaaanyway, gymnastics! I'm eagerly awaiting the start of the season and trying and failing to not get excited about random upgrade videos appearing everywhere. I've really missed blogging and not having the energy and time has sucked. Really looking forward to this Olympic season :D :D

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Celebrating Underage Superstars

There's something so impressive about watching a thrilling routine from the past and absorbing the fact that the gymnast wasn't even of age at the time. Personally, while I don't condone breaking the rules, I don't allow it to taint or spoil the enjoyment of the routine in any way as political decisions were and are nothing to do with the gymnast themselves. The below either admitted themselves or were categorically found through investigation to fall below the age limit at the time.


Lavinia Agache - Romania

Copyright - Tom Theobald

Lavinia competed at the age of 13 at worlds 1981, with her date of birth altered from 1968 to 1967. Interestingly, she also competed at the junior gymnastics championships in Japan the same year. She came into her own when she was actually a senior later that quad, but still managed to shine at such a young age, with super strong beam and floor routines in typical Romanian fashion. Not elegant, but very energetic and fun to watch with some nice original elements thrown in. Lavinia was somewhat overshadowed by teammate Ecaterina Szabo but was a great gymnast in her own right and was a solid contributor at worlds 1983 and the Olympics the following year.



Olga Bicherova - USSR

 
Source- gymnast.bplaced.com

Olga is one of the better known underage gymnasts, having won the 1981 worlds AA with an altered date of birth. She had an abundance of the qualities that made Soviet gymnastics great, displaying fabulous extension, form and elegance - with a mature ease far beyond her years. A true all-arounder. Her win drew criticism thanks to her baby face, especially from the US who also mention Lavinia and others (unproven), but reserve the focus for the winner, of course. Olga competed through the rest of the quad and beyond successfully despite the killer depth, but was a victim of the Olympics boycott like so many others.



Kim Gwang Suk - North Korea



Kim is without doubt the youngest gymnast ever to compete at worlds. Her exact age when she emerged as a senior at 1989 worlds is not known, but she may have been as young as 9 or 10. 4'4, she unleashed the counter-Kim or Marinich, a ridiculously hard release and in combination that only a handful have competed. Her bar routine is one of my all-time favourites and she also had some quite nice work on beam. She competed through to 1992 Olympics as the reigning bars world champion and Detective FIG only managed to nab her when her federation submitted her as being 15 for 3 years in a row in the early 90's. Which is still mind boggling, at least put some effort into the swindle! Kim fell off the radar after a ban was imposed, which is tragic as she would definitely have had a good few years left had she hypothetically remained healthy.



Yang Yun - China

Copyright- AP/Amy Sancetta

Yang Yun, the beautifully classic performer, was a complete surprise when she admitted on state TV that she was 14 in Sydney as she always looked very mature and older than 16, certainly older than teammate and fellow underager Dong Fangxiao. Yang was a beauty to watch on all 4 events, even vault (watch this immediately) and was particularly stunning on beam also where she displayed fabulous originality with gorgeous lines and extension. Sadly she fell in the Sydney AA which she would have won otherwise (after Raducan's score was officially wiped) - although her admission of her age though dismissed by the FIG on investigation would have rendered that a controversial win also. Yang did manage to pick up bronze on bars but sadly disappeared off the scene nearly as quickly as she arrived onto it, the Olympics was her sole competition of note.


Olga Mostepanova - USSR

Copyright - Tom Theobald

Olga is IT as far as the personification of Soviet gymnastics is concerned - although sadly majorly lacking in the medals to prove it. One of the greats, who would have won all around her in LA 1984 Olympics (instead racking up perfect 10's at Olomouc), Olga was underage during the competitive season of 1983. An accomplished all-arounder, she was best known for her stunning beam, complete with that press handstand mount. Her extension stood out even amongst her teammates which is saying a lot. Of all of the gymnasts and other athletes screwed by the 1984 Olympics boycott, it seems like a particularly heinous crime in her case, especially as she peaked that year and wasn't quite the same at worlds the following year.


Gina Gogean - Romania


Gina is remembered for a few things- somewhat safe routines (although she was not always boring) and collecting quite the stack of medals during deep quads, but competing underage in 1992 is not one of them. Her super lengthy career started off on murky terms, being officially too young during the Barcelona Olympics. At this point of her career she was far from the star of her team.  Despite competing strongly at Euros that year, she failed to make much of an impact at the games. Not that she was long developing into a strong all-arounder with multiple titles under her belt with the sole exception of, big surprise, uneven bars. A big help in her super consistency during her senior career was the unfortunate killing off of more difficult and unusual elements she had as a junior. Being boring really paid off for her!


Alexandra Marinescu - Romania


Alexandra, after huge success as a junior, had the great misfortune to a) be hyped as the next Nadia Comaneci and b) to be pulled from the AA at Olympics and worlds, the only two big competitions she competed at, in favour of teammate Simona Amanar. To be individually picked out for hype when she had such giants of accomplished teammates as Gina Gogean, Simona Amanar and Lavinia Milosovici shows how promising she was. Lacking the powerhouse tumbling of the others, she stood out for her elegance instead, with beam being her best event. The fact that her career was so short, especially when they went to the effort of changing her age in the first place is a tragedy, as is the fact that her name was blackened when the reason given for her forced withdrawals from the AA was that she was a poor worker.



Dong Fangxiao - China



Dong was another gymnast who had overshadowing gymnasts on her team to compete alongside with, in this case the likes of Ling Jie and Liu Xuan and the less accomplished but outstanding Yang Yun and Kui Yuanyuan. Dong was more of a team player than a star in her own right, but was a good all-arounder and strong on floor. Her investigation stripped China of their 1999 and 2000 team medals.


Hong Su Jong - North Korea

Copyright - Thomas Schreyer

Hong Su Jong is the infamous gymnast whose age falsification earned North Korea such a lengthy ban that they missed the London Olympics. Before the federation ban, she also earned a suspension for the use of Furosemide (a diuretic used to aid weight loss/combat fluid retention...which is downright odd in those circumstances when I type about it all the time in the context of cardiac babies!). Controversy aside, Hong was an extremely talented vaulter for which she earned silver at 2007 worlds, but she was also awesome on bars. Her handstands would earn her quite the battering these days, but such lovely clean work. Hong's career, by contrast to most of those mentioned here, was lengthy - she competed in the 2004 Olympics right the way through to 2010, although she missed Beijing through injury. She was, aside from the originator, one of the first to compete the Amanar vault, bringing it back mainstream along with Shawn Johnson. She is sister to Hong Un Jong who has not been involved in an age controversy. They may be twins, but the latter competed much later than the former.


Daniela Silivas - Romania

Copyright - Ellie Langsley

Daniela Silivas is regarded as one of if not the greatest all-arounders of all time and regularly tops fan polls of favourite gymnasts. Her battle during the 1988 Olympics AA with Elena Shushunova is legendary and thrilling to watch but....Daniela began her career by competing underage during 1985 worlds, at the age of 13. A true all-arounder, she was typical of her nation in that her beam and floor stood out, despite the horrendous choreography meted out to her that year. Super energetic and sparkly, she managed to nab the beam title but didn't come into her own until later in the quad. Certainly she was the best Romanian gymnast of the 80's, and there is seriously stiff competition for that.



It's strange these days to contemplate gymnast's passports and dates of birth being switched and manipulated on the whim of a federation coach. Not that I think the practice has been 100% eradicated (note: I have no interest in suspicions re: named, unproven individuals, ESPECIALLY those concerning a certain team from 8 years ago YAWN), it probably never will be when states like the above still exist and the age restriction remains punitive. Of course, we have no idea of the true extent of age falsification - FIG themselves only uncovered 3 - especially during the 1980's. There is just no way only a small handful of gymnasts competed underage the entire decade. My money is on Romania as the biggest overall offenders, the Karolyi's had no qualms about this practice at the time (despite repeat bellyaching post-defect to the US, which they really have a nerve complaining about every year), and clearly neither did another long-time head coach, Octavian Bellu. They also had much less depth than the super strong USSR (who definitely have several more skeletons in the closet all the same, which coaches have alluded to) and therefore greater motive to bend the rules. They also showed form for skulduggery when they actually had one gymnast impersonate another at a meet in the US in 1981.

Anyway, I'm a big believer in appreciating the performance and the performance only. I find it very sad that there's a lot of people who call themselves gymnastics fans, but who spend far too much time condemning gymnasts from 2 quads ago, and current gymnasts of the same nationality, because why not. If it's really the biggest deal ever to them, then they should also spend their time blackening the names of the likes of Silivas and Gogean too, which will never happen. Nationality (read: of Asian extraction with absolutely zero thought given to the fact that some ethnic varieties have the good fortune to look younger than others with slighter frames to boot) and the identity of who the suspect beats seems to be all important.



Who's your favourite? Does the inconsistency of FIG action and fan reaction annoy you too? Can't we all just get along on the Gymternet? ;)