Sunday, 13 October 2019

Worlds Thoughts Part 1

It's insane to watch Simone Biles win 5 more gold medals and all gold. Although she has a different standard to the rest of the field it's a great personal victory for her to compete a lot better here than she did at worlds last year where she was of course hindered by both kidney stone and still honing routine construction. Her beam has been great all week and although the interior of her routine can't match some other routines she absolutely nailed the life out of it in beam finals today and deservedly took the title. Fierce isn't the word. It's odd to think of the sport without her. She has been in it for almost my entire time of watching it and is still getting better.

Angelina Melnikova realising her full potential finally was so satisfying to watch. 3 medals for someone who has been bringing in results and carrying her team all quad but never hitting fully when it mattered individually. I never thought I'd see her hitting beam and floor so well and so consistently and I'm glad she was rewarded for that with a floor medal and beam scores over 14.

Russia had some amazing leos that I'm fully behind. Some a bit too shiny for me but loads of interesting work and several purple ones which is always an excellent choice. Can't decide if Lilia Akhaimova's AA leo was more stained glass or butterly, either way it was fun if a bit young for her.

Double Downies both medalling for the first time at worlds on the same day is a story for the ages. What a moment! Unfortunately the judges appear to have blinked while Ellie did the second-best vaulting of the final and gave her bronze instead. Becky, meanwhile, who started her worlds journey in the same city in 2007 and who has had an extremely rocky journey with injury FINALLY put it all together and knocked it out of the park to score silver. It should be mentioned that not only did Becky have to recover and hit but she also had to relearn her Ezhova and Tweddle by turning in the opposite direction than previously due to her elbow injury. Incredible isn't the word and the massive reaction and excitement of all the GB gymnasts Becky has competed with down through the years really solidified what a massive achievement that routine was.

Rhys McClenaghan qualified for the FIRST worlds final for Ireland and took bronze. The main thing to take away from that routine is that he did it to the best of his ability and that's all that can be asked for. His hip angle and extension need to be rewarded comparatively to Max Whitlock who won gold by a tenth with an 0.6 d score advantage but with a piked angle and flexed feet. Respect to Max for continuing to produce high difficulty and consistent work after so many years but that score...was not it. Far too high in contrast to Rhys and Lee Chih-Kai. No matter, it will motivate both of them to upgrade for Tokyo.

Roxana Popa's whip-whip-double tuck pass and her Mustafina turn are absolutely outstanding and so is her choreography and personality in that routine. How great to see her back after so long out! Her landings knocked her down a bit and she could do with an upgrade to really contend but that was amazing.

Tang Xijing did that. Incredible performance from a first-year senior especially after falling twice on beam in qualifications and initially being 2-per-countrie'd. The best she could have done on floor and hopefully she can get her DTY a bit stronger and slowly upgrade other events. She's not a standout on beam or bars within the national team but she sure was in the AA, crisp, efficient, precise. A huge total and really, second in the world behind the greatest of all time at the peak of her talent feels like a significantly higher achievement than China's other silver AA medallist Jiang Yuyuan who placed second to Aliya Mustafina. Pre-ACL tear Aliya was of course a force to be reckoned with but undoubtedly not in the same league as Simone.

It's perfectly normal to pull out of certain finals to concentrate on others. It's not always injury, it can be due to fear of re-aggravating an injury, overtraining/fatigue worry or simply focusing on medal chances. Liu Tingting being pulled was not exactly a massive surprise after such a disastrous TF as she had. As the team captain she would have felt an obligation to shepherd a mostly new but very talented team to a team medal and therefore to be the only one counting falls to throw them down into 4th is a heavy burden to bear. LTT has a beautiful floor and great bars when she hits and there's a reason why she is now a 2-time beam world medallist so her qualification to the AA especially with Tang Xijing falling twice and Chen Yile not doing the AA wasn't a big surprise but wasn't exactly the focus for her either. By all accounts it appears to have been a mutual decision both for LTT's own mental wellbeing (and probably physical too, her ankles are notoriously a problem hence double twist beam dismount) with the massive benefit of giving the usually very consistent and strong all-arounder Tang Xijing her chance. Ellie Downie pulled out of competing AA in TF and Nina Derweal pulled out of the floor final for very similar preservation reasons, so y'know, same sort of thing, just different finals order. No Gutsu, Galieva, Marinescu, Baraksanova, Mostepanova- gymnasts involved in shafting of qualified AA spots - comparisons are necessary.

Sunisa Lee is a joy to watch. She has a real lightness and floaty quality to her gymnastics, a really clean style. Floor finals was unexpected but probably shouldn't have been, she's improved so much even since summer. Sad to see her come to grief on bars and beam and knock herself out of the super competitive all-around podium but she is young and only going to improve from here.

Gutted for Melanie de Jesus dos Santos who has really had a miserable worlds, no other word for it. Clean in her 2 event finals but to fall short in team, AA and EF is a bitter pill to swallow for such a fabulous and well-rounded AA gymnast. Powerful on vault, dynamic on floor, solid beam, crisp on bars. I suppose it's great motivation for next year.


Purple leos had a really strong showing at worlds, nice to see.

Alexandra Schekoldina has a really stunning DTY. So tidy

The fact that Liu Tingting and Li Shijia both medalled in a final when they both lost significant connective value with pauses is very promising. The rest of their work has such quality it still keeps them high.

Nina was really fun to watch on bars. It's not my favourite routine but she has really tightened up on it and it's incredible to see her hit her crazy difficulty and do it so well. And then to plant the dismount as such a final statement. My heart said Becky but really and truly Nina earned that gold no question.

I'm so impressed that Ellie Black went for the Rudi after seeing the standings. Extremely brave move and obviously it didn't work out for her but wow, what an athlete. Hopefully she will be well recovered by the end of the year.

Giulia Steinbruber's leaps are a masterpiece. Such height, split and sheer power behind them.

Simone Biles is really not that far behind her. Her tumbling takes almost all of the focus naturally enough but her leaps on floor are seriously difficult and always very high with a great split.


It's late so, part 2 of X tomorrow! Hope everyone enjoyed a really excellent worlds.





 


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Sunday, 6 October 2019

Worlds Qualifications

I knew it would be interesting but I'm still surprised at all of the twists and turns.

First up, Kara Eaker and the notorious beam inquiry which will live long in the collective gymternet memory for knocking her out of the beam final she was comfortably placed in. Her original placing, 5th, would have meant she would have competed last in the final and therefore stood an excellent chance of gold or silver with a hit routine. I understand the perspective of 'this score is too low, we need the d-score looked at' but share the common view of 'she was IN the final there was no point' and of course, that the creditability of her dodgy ring leaps should not have been brand new information to anyone. When you pay FIG to re-evaluate using the superior jury with the ability to use slow-motion replay then you run the risk of them spotting something, which of course they did, and I've no issue with what they did. Extremely cruel for Kara of course but they were doing their jobs. A great pity it wasn't spotted in real time in any of the other numerous competitions she competed in but it must be noted that the leaps are worse than they were last year at worlds. The beam judges were also on serious crack as noted in the extremely harsh execution scoring of the earliest subdivisions, the too-tight scoring range and not originally crediting Flavia Saraiva's ring leaps which are the best in the game.

US domestic judging does the athletes and coaches no favours by inflating scores and ignoring questionable skills and connections. They're not the only ones and of course USA has such a cushion that in terms of the team it doesn't really matter but it has crappy consequences individually as Jordyn Wieber (beam connections not creditable), McKayla Maroney (floor overtime penalty at Antwerp knocked her out of the final) and now Kara can attest. I'm sure there are more examples. The worst thing now is that it will be very difficult for Kara to remain relevant for Tokyo if she cannot rework her beam routine. Without a monster beam score and with Sunisa Lee becoming such a fantastic beamer, the gap is closing. We'll see what happens with the specialist spots.

I haven't been watching gymnastics long enough to be used to seeing China with a fantastic team. 2012 of course had amazing veterans but also injury and inconsistency issues. Watching them nail routine after routine was trul exhilarating. One highlight was Liu Tingting with so-close-to-perfect beam and bars routines and a really charismatic floor throwing her so far up to the top of the all-around standings when up until very recently it wasn't sure at all if she would do the all-around at all. She has a DTY but it's not great and I'm glad she played it safe with the FTY. Chen Yile also had a great meet which is wonderful to see after her recovery and so did Li Shijia. Chen Yile will be working her back to full all-around capability for Tokyo while Li Shijia had a great AA showing qualifying in 6th overall helped by her monster beam score which placed her second in that final. Tang Xijing had 2 falls on beam of course but had the all-important DTY, a really strong bars and recovered after beam to do fine on floor. Floor was as expected, not notably great but not awful by any means and better than many recent floor rotations. There are options there to upgrade such as Qi Qi's silivas and full credit for Li Shijia's triple full which WAS rotated. Great showing for finals, 5th and 6th AA so top group, Liu Tingting in 2 event finals - bars and beam, Qi Qi just taking the last vault spot in a seriously competitive final and Li Shijia second qualifier on beam.

Like Russia I hope they haven't used up their consistency in qualifiers. There was much discussion over this weak Russian team relying on largely untested gymnasts to fill in the gaps for qualifying and team finals but....they really knocked it out of the park. Really surreal to see 3 out of 4 hit beam routines. Rough day for Schekeldina but valued experience and she did have an absolutely beautiful vault. Lilia Akhaimova was a force to be reckoned with, I expected her strong vault and floor but was surprised with her bars and beam...bars were fierce and very different to what went before her, but efficient and got the job done and into the AA. I never am sure of Angelina Melnikova even though she has been very consistent for the last good while. Great to see her having such a good day. I will say I thought the e-scores were running too high on bars for them and slightly on floor considering how they were the previous day but climbing has been, is and will always be an issue.

USA obviously went out and lead the field by 5 points afterwards. Simone Biles is top AA qualifier and into all event finals as well as having 2 new skills in the code, the double double off beam (more on that later) with a super upright landing and the triple double which of course she had too much energy on and went out of bounds. A bouncy day for her, the 0.3 neutral deduction on the explosive Cheng which left her in danger of running out of mat made the difference in her qualifying second into vault finals behind Jade Carey but presumably she will use her own vault in the finals and excess energy won't be a problem and she'll get more used to the floor too during TF and AA. Jade Carey had exceptional vaults but ran into trouble with OOB on floor, tying with Sunisa Lee and subsequently losing the tiebreak and getting 2-per-countrie'd out of finals. I mean, it should probably have been less of a surprise that Sunisa's massive improvement puts specialists such as Jade and Kara at risk while Simone is still competing. The out of bounds is not really the culprit I don't think, but the artistry deductions Jade's routines incur. Nobody is expecting her to whip out a Soviet special but failure to engage with and express properly as well as poor choreography should be harshly deducted, it's only right. The bars and beam execution scores sure were interesting. Simone's beam was the best she's done in ages and the fact that the risky skills are removed means I don't see much issue with her execution score, she didn't leave them much to work with in terms of deductions. 13.4 for Sunisa with a fall though is a choice. She IS brilliant (LOOK AT THOSE RINGS ARMINE AND AL!!) and very clean but there's not really justification for that compared to the quality of routines that scored LESS than that with no fall or significant error. Similarly, Grace without a fall would have had the highest execution score of all and her form doesn't stand up to that. I also have no idea how her bars score went over a 14, they are not notable and have inbuilt errors in late skills and handstands. It's not in the same league as the actual bars specialists. Efficient with a great dismount but...that's it.

I've been watching individual routines of Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, the rest of team France, Netherlands, GB and others but not enough to give a proper team opinion. The team final is going to be incredible with not much between France, China and Russia. Great to see teams like France upping their game so much. Japan falling out of team final contention is to be expected after leaving Mai Murakami at home but it's devastating for Brazil to be knocked out. They've been crushed by injury. Thrilled for Spain and to see Roxana Popa so strong again and beautiful routines from Cintia Rodriguez. To me, this is the most exciting worlds in a few years.

Chen Yile is far from the only one competing through recovery, Ana Padurariu is far from her full difficulty but thankfully is in beam finals after the inquiry fiasco. Brooklyn Moors also got knocked from floor finals (although the day before) from an inquiry. Her artistry and devotion to expression is just gorgeous and hopefully she'll be back in floor final next year but the pre-rotation on the leap they took off for is quite clear in the screenshots and her twisting form isn't cute so there are areas of improvement other than loading difficulty.

Back to the double double beam dismount. There is no way the same skill should be a H on beam and floor clearly it is far harder on beam to execute. Countless gymnasts can compete the double double on floor while we are basically never going to see anyone else do it on beam. The 0.3 rise between a full twisting and double twisting double back on floor is very relevant. They should have given it an I rating on beam. The safety argument FIG countered with doesn't really wash because any salto imposes a risk for a gymnast if something goes wrong. How many times have we seen a foot slip on beam and a double tuck go wrong as a result? In this case it's just not a skill that someone can chuck out of the blue and the rating is an insult to the extreme skill required to do it and it is done excellently too it's not some horrorshow landed with her head almost at the ground.

BUT...there are some seriously outrageous arguments out there. The rating is NOT racist and it is NOT anti-American. How could FIG or the code possibly be anti-American when tumbling skills are still open-ended but all new leaps, turns and bars transitions are capped? How is that fair to the likes of the Dutch etc.? How is it fair that the one-armed bars skills were utterly lowballed? The code has many stupid parts and there are LOADS of skills that are far more difficult than the code implies. This is not a unique thing or in any way anti-Simone. I think the best thing I saw was that Kara's beam score dropping was a retaliation for the criticism of the H rating. Please. Get. Off. The. Internet.

Anyway, I'm excited! There's a lot of stacked finals here and new and old faces that have seriously impressed as well as those were expected to do well.

The TF podium I want is USA-China-France. Nothing against Russia but it would be incredible for France. I sort of want Simone, Liu Tingting, Sunisa, Melanie and Angelina on the AA podium so that's an issue. For the rest I can't really choose either so I'm really bad at dream podiums.

What do you want to see in finals? Do you agree the scoring was dodgy at best? Do you think Kara's coaches should be rounded up and shot?

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Know your TJX from your TXJ! Abbreviation guide

Fear not, it's the gigantic reference guide of current Chinese gymnasts and former greats who are referenced frequently. Abbreviations are commonly used especially on twitter and lately have been causing a lot of confusion. I won't lie, it's not as simple as figuring out who Melka and Listy refer to but it does become easier with a bit of effort.

This is NOT an exhaustive list. I don't want it to become one because if it's too big and unwieldy it will just be annoying. Shang Chunsong is listed as currently competing because just when you think she isn't, there she is. Bless her.

This is stemming from my head and greatly helped by the vast knowledge of brilliant Chinese gym fans Golden China, Joshua, huanginhuangout and suiluwu.

Each abbreviation is a link to that gymnast's routine of er, my choice. Many of them are great at more than one event obviously so it's tough to pick one and sometimes they are higher scoring at another but fun to watch on whatever I picked. There will be routines they performed better than these also but my laptop keeps bouncing on and off the WiFi so...

CURRENTLY COMPETING

OYS - Ou Yushan *2020 senior
CYL - Chen Yile
GCC - Guan Chenchen *2020 senior
LSJ- Li Shijia
YSS- Yin Sisi
WXY - Wei Xiaoyuan *2020 senior
LH - Luo Huan
LTT - Liu Tingting
DSY - Du Siyu
FYL - Fan Yilin
QQ - Qi Qi
LQ - Li Qi
ZST - Zhao Shiting
WJY - Wang Jingying *2020 senior
YLM - Yu Linmin
SCS - Shang Chunsong
WCY - Wang Cenyu
LJR - Liu Jinru
ZJ - Zhang Jin
TXJ - Tang Xijing
CXQ - Chen Xiaoqing
LJY - Liu Jieyu
ZRY- Zhou Ruiyu
QXJ - Qian Xuejia
LYF - Lu Yufei
LR - Luo Rui *2021 senior
MY - Mao Yi
LJQ - Lv/Lyu Jiaqi
LJX - Liu Jingxing
LYJ - Luo Youjuan
JFF - Jia Fangfang

THE LAST 10 YEARS-ISH

BYW - Bai Yawen
WY - Wang Yan
ZSQ - Zeng Siqi
YJN- Yao Jinnan
HHD - Huang Huidan
HQS - Huang Qiushuang
SL - Sui Lu
ZYLZ - Zhang Yelinzi
LPR - Luo Peiru
WLF - Wu Liufang
CSY - Chen Siyi
TSX - Tan Sixin
TJX - Tan Jiaxin
LNN - Lou Nina
DYL - Deng Yalan
HK - Hong Ke
XYF - Xie Yufen
CJ - Cui Jie

GLORIOUS GOLD WINNERS 2008

YYL - Yang Yilin
DLL - Deng Linlin
JYY - Jiang Yuyuan
HKX - He Kexin
LSS - Li Shanshan
CF - Cheng Fei

OLDER GREATS/NOTABLE GYMNASTS

XS - Xiao Sha
LY - Li Ya
PPP - Pang Panpan
ZN - Zhang Nan
FY - Fan Ye
CCT - Chen Cuiting
DFX - Dong Fangxiao
ZD - Zhou Duan
ZZR - Zhou Zhuoru
MHL - Mo Huilan
BWJ - Bi Wenjing
LJ - Ling Jie
MYH - Ma Yanhong
LL - Li Li/Lu Li *This is fun as they both competed at Barcelona '92.
FD - Fan Di
MF - Meng Fei
YB - Yang Bo
KX - Kang Xin
LX - Liu Xuan
YY - Yang Yun
KYY - Kui Yuanyuan
BCY - Bai Chunyue
JLY - Ji Liya
SXJ - Sun Xiaojiao
WJN - Wu Jiani
QY - Qiao Ya
HXM - He Xuemei
HMD - Huang Mandan


I hope everyone has some idea how hard it is to pick one routine for the likes of Yao Jinnan, Mo Huilan and Li Ya amongst others. Not to mention the emotions of watching what could have been with Lou Nina, Tan Sixin, Zeng Siqi and Luo Peiru.

This took more than 3 hours to compile and the main reason is because if the likes of Yang Bo's beam routine loads, am I going to NOT watch? Unlikely. Anyway, please feel free to comment any glaring omissions. I'm sure there are some. But again, it's not meant to be exhaustive.

Don't forget to take the abbreivation quiz! Do you find it easy to know who is who? I personally am torn between it being potentially isolating for new fans and the sheer and utter convenience and space-saving of it in chats, twitter etc. As somebody with zero written/spoken Mandarin knowledge in any form, it's difficult to get Zhou Zhuoru right every time and I'd much rather use ZZR. However I will continue to not use them here as I feel it suits more informal forms of media.







Saturday, 17 August 2019

Giant US Nationals leotard special

Not sure if I'll get to every junior but I will include seniors from both nights since there are far less of them. It's always so fun to see the latest trends in leotards so many times over with the amount of girls from different gyms competing. This time is extra good though since this is before USAG are imposing restrictions on backless etc. leotards (praise the Lord). Anyway, there's a lot to get through.

All images are copyright John Cheng/Allison Cheng - USA Gymnastics

Senior Nationals Day 1

Sloane Blakely
Well..it's not bad? The ombre is nice, it's almost but not quite an overwhelming amount of sparkles and the cuff sparkles stand out to great effect. It's main problem is that it's too young/childish for elite. Would suit the 7-10 age group far better. It's not so much the pink that's doing it, it's the 'whimsical' sparkle design. 5.5/10

Thursday, 15 August 2019

I recovered my account!

So I'm just going to ignore the fact that the overwhelming amount of blogs, twitters and gymnastics media these days made this blog feel redundant for me and keep going as if it's not a thing. Not being able to be as on top of the news/videos as I was when I wasn't working combined with a huge explosion in the gymternet meant I felt it pretty pointless to post when there were so many others with brilliant and witty writing styles doing it earlier and better but....I feel very different about it now. I still want to get my thoughts out and if anyone enjoys reading them then that's brilliant. I am moving soon...FINALLY...and I think it will really help me get into a regular posting pattern. Not that I'll chain myself to churning out content religiously in gymnastics dead season, but y'know, posting about actual events and opinions and so on. 

The first thing I'm going to post about is....obviously Simone Biles! I was reading back on my first posts about her in 2012 and 2013 (glorious multi-posting years on the dole too poor for London) and it's quite funny to see. Her power and potential was always obvious and thankfully I did note her vaulting and tumbling prowess for posterity but to see her bars and beam as massive weak points and to be afraid for her consistency just seems so bizarre now. Consistency! But this was a gymnast who began her senior career by falling at American Cup, Chemnitz and then having the disaster at Classics where she fell and was pulled from the meet. I remember the reactions well...there was a lot of talk about this powerful gymnast burning out already, not a true all-arounder who should specialise to lessen the pressure, needed someone to get her head in the game....and above all, had failed to prove herself as the top prospect heading into worlds selection. Looking at her now it's very easy to forget that her double layout was a big skill because ughh a double layout with no full twist or added half twist? And that her bars had with great work been brought up to an acceptable standard but were still average at best and relied on short and smart routine construction and her vault and floor d-scores in order to not drag her down. I was hoping for development, increased difficulty in line with her huge power, more control and maybe even a new skill or two on her way to Rio.

What we have actually gotten during her career so far is INSANE to contemplate. An eponymous floor skill which will continue to be extremely rare due to its difficulty, a vault which is unlikely to be attempted by more than herself in the next 10 years and no less than 2 skills competed last weekend which are at the same realm of impossibility. Most skills with the exception of the Moors named in the last few codes have been stylistic choices, beam and bar mounts and a few dance skills such as turns etc. Not that they are all simple - few can do what gymnasts like Sanne Wevers can - but they are not straining the aerodynamic capabilities like all of Simone's are. 4 world AA titles, Olympic AA,multiple world EF medals every time, Olympic EF titles, 6 national titles - she has surpassed so many records and still has another worlds and Tokyo to look forward to. We are so beyond blessed to witness her past performances and what she still has to give. I appreciate that her style and brand of gymnastics is not to everyone's taste and I would never think that a "true" fan must appreciate every thing she does from her choreography up but I do think that her skill goes far beyond her impressive skills and it's the little things that should be shouted about equally. It would be easy to find someone who has prettier leaps, better toepoint, better line on bars, greater ease in dance elements and better rhythm on floor. But find me someone with a better round-off, better BHS, better block on vault. Those are the things that are truly sensational as they are what drive the incredible skills that result, of course. The drive from the BHS that she generates before the triple-double (I've never typed that here before haha because of how outlandish and not a thing it is) is obvious in the slow-motion video and is an absolute joy to watch because that's where her chest-up landing is coming from.

I have a lot of words, and always will, but Simone just renders me speechless with her talent. We will never see somebody with this same combination again and the fact that she is continuing to improve and push the boundaries AFTER the Olympics is astounding. And I got to see her live at Antwerp and Glasgow! Not this year though :( The flights to Stuttgart are dirt cheap as all of Europe basically is for me but the tickets and accommodation are very expensive and it is clashing with the fact we just bought a house so....here's to Liverpool 2022!

Anyway, this isn't a Simone blog I promise and there are several other people that I am excited about and will be talking about as I remain unpatriotically biased. Ireland sadly are still not a thing in WAG. (Gained ground in MAG though - go Rhys McClenaghan!) I am picky about the US girls I love, enjoy several Russian, GB, Dutch, French, Brazilian etc. and would happily die so that Mai Murakami could win more medals but my country favourites were and continue to be Team China. I am so happy to see more english language Chinese gym sources spring up - special mention to Golden China. It's not easy being a source for Chinese news, there is a lot of secrecy and translation is very difficult. Right now, we need to talk about Ou Yushan.



This is the Tokyo beam champion and nobody will persuade me otherwise. Of note, she has the same beam d-score as Kara Eaker with a double twist dismount but unless she breaks a connection every here is worthy of credit. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoy Kara on beam but the ring leaps are getting old at this point and need to be switched and unfortunately her series and a few other elements don't have the same lightness as they used to it's a clunkier routine. Ou Yushan has it all here, beautiful leaps, extension throughout every element, amplitude on her stunning front series, that toepoint, fluidity of movement...it's a masterpiece.

Ou Yushan took silver in the U15 AA at National Youth Games in her most recent outing, also picking up floor gold, vault bronze, bars silver and....beam gold of course. She will need to be placed in bubble wrap for Tokyo. Her d-scores everywhere except beam are typically low and helped by her exquisite execution but it will be hard to make a dent in the international AA although she is of course very young and still a junior. Bars in particular are quite bare, I'm hoping to see more connected elements there to help her over the 6.0 mark in time. She shows potential on floor and can hopefully ditch the double twist dismount and add a full twist to the double tuck and a leap/punch front to the triple twist. Her twists are so beautiful so whatever helps her keep the execution up. She really sparkles on floor too and has great expression. China have been building up vault difficulty while keeping bars and beam high but are still so weak on floor and having all-arounders with high difficulty. Rome wasn't built in a day and I have faith that Chow has and is affecting change in their training and conditioning which will reap rewards. There are other great gymnasts coming up through the ranks for them but this one has my heart for now.

Do you think another female gymnast can do the triple-double...consistently? Do you want a US Nationals post or more ramblings about a few different gymnasts? Has blogging died in favour of twitter and podcasts? :p

Sunday, 19 August 2018

US Worlds Team

So after a very interesting Day 1 of Nationals and before Day 2, September camp and selection...it's definitely time to start picking the worlds team.

Simone Biles

Well, duhh. She was on this team when she announced her comeback. While I expected her to be at her typical level at Classics and Nationals, I didn't expect her to be better than Rio. Unlike others who make comebacks who might just do one or two apparatus at first at lower difficulty it was no surprise at all that she jumped in to the all-around but it's the difficulty that's shocking, to be doing more than in Rio right away. I've said this before but aside from being gobsmacked at seeing her stick a fabulous Cheng and land the best Moors there has or will ever be, it feels like a privilege to witness her in action, the greatest of all time. Especially that I have seen her live in Antwerp and Glasgow and hopefully again at Dortmund next year.

At worlds she will obviously do the AA in quals. If she can produce that same bars routine there as she did on Friday night then she should easily make bars finals. I'm very curious about where that routine would stand up internationally..it's smart and short so she doesn't stay up long enough to rack up a large amount of deductions while the upgrades will bring up her score. On the other hand, although she is not exactly a natural bars worker, the field is not at its strongest internationally so she could make inroads into the medals especially if there are mistakes. I would still be shocked if she took a medal there though unlike every other event where I'd be shocked if she did not get gold. She looks to be a sure bet for gold AA, floor gold, vault gold, very confident for beam gold, and a possible bet for a bars medal. Beyond impressive.

QF - VT, UB, BB, FX
TF- VT, UB, BB, FX

Morgan Hurd

Morgan looks better than she did in Montreal. I'm glad the Moors is shelved at least for now, as she said herself it is not worth the difficulty advantage if it's outweighed by execution deductions. Her floor is a joy to watch, she has a great connection to the music and sells it so well. On beam she took out the front pike which she will no doubt add back in in time. The reigning world champion is more sure of herself now, she has more confidence and poise in her routines and it shows especially on beam, very crisp in her movements. 3rd at Classics but it was clear once she hit to her ability she would be second and she will retain her position as second all-arounder to Simone. She is good bet as a potential beam medallist, with the added boost of knowing that she scored well under the severe Montreal judges on that event so her routine will serve her well this year too. Her bars are so clean but the difficulty is not quite up there with the top so although I could see her maybe making the final depending on how others do, it would be very hard to medal in it.

QF - VT, UB, BB, FX
TF - (VT maybe), UB, BB, FX

Jade Carey

Unlike the other two, Jade still has a bit to prove to make this team. The reigning silver vault and floor worlds medallist has not looked her true self this year on vault, possibly hindered by injury. Her floor is only a few tenths in difficulty behind Simone's with some seriously impressive tumbling and will score high even taking a hit on the artistry as her choreo is still fairly lacking. A good bet for silver/bronze in the floor and vault finals and can be relied upon to deliver in the team final. After struggling with the amanar, she did the DTY and Lopez on day 1. Unfortunately for her, Jordan Chiles has got the amanar. Both girls need the 2 events to be taken so both have work to do but Jade would be in the lead by a mile if she get a safe and consistent amanar back. I'm delighted she is making progress in the AA too, her bars and beam already look neater than before and it's always good to be a back-up.

QF - VT, FX
TF - VT, FX

Riley McCusker

Riley has made a remarkable comeback from injury after missing last year and is certainly doing well to place 2nd at Classics and 3rd so far in the AA rankings. Morgan is the stronger bet for AA at worlds so Riley would be a focus on beam and bars to complement Jade and try to make finals there as well as being a back-up AA gymnast if needed. Her bars have improved a lot form-wise but after some mistakes on day 1 she will want to hit it perfectly to prove her worth on that event.

QF - UB, BB
TF - UB

Trinity Thomas

The AA is covered, and TF is covered. All that remains is quals line-up to figure out - potentially giving someone else a shot at event finals. Ragan is too injured, Emma, Maile and Gabby are injured and unknown quantities at this point. Jordan's strengths are covered by Simone and Jade and there is enough back-up for the AA already included. There is no true standout gymnast they can bring for bars, and while they could bring Kara Eaker for beam her connections and leaps are sadly likely to be eaten alive by the Doha panel. Enter Trinity. She's got a fabulous beam with connections and leaps that should be able to score higher than Kara. Her floor and bars too are valuable routines to have up their sleeve.

QF - UB, BB,
TF -BB, FX if needed to rest another gymnast, UB if needed

Alternate - Grace McCallum

This team barely even needs an alternate they have so many back-up routines as they are all all-arounders now even Jade. They've got the TF figured out beautifully, AA is sorted, and plenty of shots at EF medals - Simone for all, Jade for floor and vault, Riley for bars and beam attempts, Morgan for beam and possibly floor and Trinity to attempt primarily beam.
 
With no standout gymnast on bars, it makes sense to bring someone for beam when the power events vault and floor are more than adequately covered already. Kara's beam is very dodgy in terms of international scoring and Riley is quite stiff and slow on some of her connections at the moment so if anyone is to challenge Morgan and Simone for a place in the final while also providing solid AA cover if needed, Trinity is the best bet.

For alternate, Grace is super impressive with her consistency and ability to deliver a clean, solid routine on all events. Ideal.

Of course, there are a lot of variables with this team other than the two all-arounders. If Jade does not get the amanar back and Jordan gets her floor under control, I'd bring her. If Trinity decides not to attend selection camp, I'd bring Kara. There are so many amazing gymnasts - even without all those out with injury - that would be snatched in a second by any other team, but who unfortunately do not fit into this one.

Who's on your team? Or will the vicious subteweeting bring down this team before they even get to team finals? 
 

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Why you should root for China

Much of the reason why I love Chinese gymnastics boils down to amplitude and extension. Thankfully these days we are seeing more expressive floor routines and much more effort being put into choreography. This is a direct and welcome result of the heavy artistry deductions in the code. Likewise the skill cap (i.e the exact opposite of the bars and beam routines from 2005-2008 giving these gymnasts a weighted advantage) and the devaluing of vault (goodbye 6.5 amanar of the following quad after that giving USA a huge boost) has meant that execution is more important now in holding on to valuable tenths. Not that the race for higher d-scores or racking up connection bonus are no longer things, but certainly there is a greater emphasis now on cleaning up routines than there has been in the past under this code. You tend to hear a lot more 'getting back into the gym to clean up my routines' now than 'I'm so happy I hit 4 for 4'. Several countries such as Netherlands, Belgium etc. are making names for themselves for expressive, intricate choreography and there is beautiful execution to be found in abundance in every federation, even the *gasp* power gymnast strongholds of the USA and the UK. But amplitude and full extension as a trait is harder to find. Thankfully, that's where China step in.

Of course, there are several gymnasts with great amplitude on vault. And floor. Simone Biles exemplifies this, driven from the technical perfection she displays. And there are gymnasts with flighty bars elements and nice, high beam layouts. McKayla Maroney of all people had an extremely high and flighty geinger which was a thing of beauty. But many powerhouse gyms and gymnasts fall flat when it comes to amplitude on beam and bars. Too often we are seeing beams with difficult tumbling ruined by weak leaps, low landings and bad toepoint. Bars with release moves and difficult transitions in combination can often suffer from flexed feet and legs apart that quickly destroy the overall beauty. A routine that has it all is to be prized.

Back to beam; there are many beam layouts in particular as a skill example worthy of devaluing. If it's not piked down and legs are together I'll like it but if it flairs or opens out I LOVE it. Similarly, I'll take a springy well-executed leap series with a wobble than a perfectly landed one with anaemic leaps. BHS-LOSO-LOSO is one of my favourite beam series and its popularity and popularity in the past does not in any way diminish it for me. If the legs are straight and toes pointed I am delighted but it's so much better if the chest is upright between landing skills and if a split or near-split is achieved. It seems that these days the emphasis in a series like that is solely on keeping it clean and in line with the beam and quick enough for credit but that the emphasis on making those skills individually beautiful or noteworthy is gone.

Jordyn Wieber BHS -
Deng Linlin BHS - from decencybedamned tumblr
Deng Linlin layout - copyright inside gymnastics
Ragan Smith layout - copyright ocregister
Tan Sixin YOG 2010 is poetry in motion. Beautiful leap miles above the beam and what a line on bars. Taken from pinterest
Seeing Kui Yuanyuan lose sight of the beam and wobble slightly on a layout full in combination because she had flown into the rafters with it is an absolute joy to me. That is a skill that to this day is rare and even then with questionable body position. And of course, the beam of the 80's and 90's was less springy than it is now. Think about the hype that Nia Dennis, Morgan Hurd, Gabby Douglas and Viktoria Komova get/got for landing their standing fulls/arabians in an upright position. It just looks so much more impressive. But it's not just the acro, I live to see leap series, straddles especially, with big amplitude. Leaps are of course where things like extension become more noticeable too.


Yep, the beam final that Gina Gogean won
 
  
There are pretty layouts and then there's this

Russian gymnasts can show some beautiful extension but pale in comparison to the overall extension-amplitude-form-execution of China. Flexed feet are not as glaringly obvious as they have been in quads gone by, existing for the most part on bars and mid-leap. Certainly some countries who are the worst offenders are placing emphasis on toepoint and maintaining it throughout the routine which is obviously great as flexed feet are very jarring and break the line. But true and proper extension cannot be tacked on at a later stage and must be cultivated from a young age. i.e programmes must incorporate it from the very beginning.

copyright - getty images
Olga Mostepanova had extension in spades. The reason why her split handstand sequence at the beginning of her beam stands out so much and also looks markedly different to other variations of it we have seen since is because it is perfect. Her toes are not just pointed, they are in a perfect line extending from the hips and through the knee. This is of course most often seen in ballet where it is essentially a requirement but was gloriously common in gymnastics throughout the 80's and 90's. Olga fully deserved that perfect 40 for the sublime perfection she brought to the sport.

Fan Ye extension for days - copyright getty images
Extension extends (haha..) itself to bars too. A perfect bodyline is most obvious in handstand with the dead straight line going from wrists through shoulders, hips and knees to toes. It should stay the same throughout giants excepting clearing the bar or tap swings and pirouetting skills. Most gymnasts have a straight upper body by the virtue of being in the handstand position at all and straight legs/toes but the vast majority are not fully extended at the hips. This can sometimes be obvious as a slight pike position is seen in profile or less so in that the position seems straight but is nevertheless not fully extended so the line isn't as good as it could be. Note the 2008 bars final as a classic example. He Kexin and Yang Yilin had perfectly extended pencil-like straight form throughout their routines. Liukin also exhibited a beautiful bodyline and showed it especially through her pirouettes just like the other two but her line is lacking the tension and total core tightness of the others.

He Kexin - copyright intlgymnast
Nastia Liukin - taken from alibaba
The extension is what makes sets Chinese barwork apart. It will always have that edge over Russian or any other standout routine as a result even if it has other flaws (we all really love dead hangs). It adds a cleanness, precision and sharpness to each skill. Watching a shaposhnikova with arms extended regrasp and turn precisely into the next skill is thrilling, as is seeing a pirouette snap back into position after the rotation. It's as noticeable to me compared to a less-tight routine as the difference between Madison Kocian's and Viktoria Komova's inbars i.e. they look like different skills.

It's not that I don't see the absolutely massive flaws and problems Team China is dealing with. They overemphasise bars and beam to the detriment of other events, they are still dealing with filtering for body type, they don't have the conditioning of certain other federations and they will never challenge for gold without being able to field solid DTY's and strong floors. There are no Cheng Fei's climbing through the ranks and although they do have talent on vault/floor it's not enough and it's not present in their AA gymnasts. I will enjoy watching a floor routine with beautiful leaps, turns and execution but if it's coming from a top 4 nation and it's another triple full-double tuck-2.5 twist derivative....I have no patience for that. I can't root for 5.3 or worse floors being fielded as some of the best on offer and never will.

BUT...by god do they do the other events in such style. I can't not be excited at seeing such dedication to the form and the finesse of the skill that they have always and continue to show in their work. Not that there aren't form issues amongst their ranks but as a whole they are carried by beautiful extension, amplitude and execution. China need to go more mainstream. We know the names of the top gymnasts in the rest of the top 4/5 countries and it's not just language barrier/different social media that's the issue. There's a general lack of interest or some inherent dislike and when these gymnasts are performing such beautiful gymnastics it's a crying shame. The age scandals (which I absolutely could not care less about as they only rear their head when there's a significant threat of the US being beaten) seem to have cast a lingering shadow over Team China. More accessible than ever on youtube, these girls need to be celebrated more. GO CHINA!!