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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tatiana Lyssenko!

Tatiana Lyssenko was a great all-arounder...interesting skills on every event. I liked this floor routine, but I was IN LOVE with this leotard, I coveted this leotard then as I now covet unaffordable designer shoes in Vogue, and you know what else I love? Her unconventional pre-roundoff armflap. Don't know how it worked, but it did. She did it on vault too. 

Also unconventional, her lack of fluffy 1990 gymnast bangs!  Bonus points!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The best gymnasts you've never heard of: Theresa Kulikowski

This Theresa Kulikowski performance at the 1996 Olympic Trials is one of my favorite floor routines ever.  Once I start watching, I forget about the grainy VHS recording and the puzzling Dorothy Hamill hair (this was 1996 after all, not 1976).

At the end, Tim Daggett ruins the whole vibe by yapping about how it isn't enough, when what he should have said is something to this effect: "Well, it may not earn her a spot on the team, but no one in the field tonight can match Theresa Kulikowski in terms of quality of movement. She's a fantastic dancer and her choreographer should be in charge of all routines for the national team."

The best part is, three years later she shows up at Utah looking totally cute and winning lots of stuff. (Skip ahead to 3:00).  Take that, Tim Daggett!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

There's nothing really punk about gymnastics.

I suppose there must have been a few things that happened during the 1970's that weren't completely hideous and cheesy, but I'm not here to talk about those things.

There's a fantastically corny, hopelessly dated movie called Rock-n-Roll High School, featuring the Ramones.  Add that to your Netflix, and tell me: was this ever cool? Or was it ironically cheesy?  I can't tell.  How do you explain a seventies-style gymnastics/Ramones montage?

Monday, September 27, 2010

This really wasn't that long ago, when you think about it.

This is what elite gymnastics looked like in the early '70s.  To put it in perspective, this routine is roughly comparable to today's level 8; it wouldn't be difficult to find any number of 9 or 10 year olds that could easily match Linda Metheny (who is about 24 or 25 and a repeat national champion in this clip) for difficulty. 

It should be noted, she's on the same kind of Nissen fold-out mat that I learned on (it was an antique by then, thank you very much)...a significant disadvantage compared to today's floors, which are a nice little layer cake of carpet on foam on plywood on springs.  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Gym with a View

Back when I was manning the phones at the gym, one commonly fielded question was whether parents could watch their kids during gymnastics class. Initially, the answer was no. Gymnastics gyms are frequently repurposed warehouses that aren't configured with a viewing area in mind. With wall-to-wall equipment, there was simply no room. Every 6 or 8 weeks we'd squeeze some chairs into the entry and allow parents to watch their child's class.

Still, this solution wasn't enough for some parents. I was always surprised at how this factor was a deal-breaker for a lot of people. We could have been offering 2-dollar classes with an Olympic guarantee, but if Mommy couldn't watch little Madison*, they'd go elsewhere, thank you very much.

This drove us staff nuts. What did they think we were doing back there, letting them run wild while we took smoke breaks? Sitting on their backs for an hour of pushups? And really, did these parents have nothing better to do for an hour (or 2 or 3 hours in some cases)?  Who would use their precious spare time to hover where they didn't even need to be?  Eventually we built a small balcony area to appease the parents.  I put signs up in the viewing area: "Please do not wave to or distract your child while he/she is in class! This is for your child's safety!!!"  It's true: I've seen children trip on mats or fall off the beam waving to their parents.

Later, I had some kids.

And when 3-year-old Kid A was in her first dance class, don't you know I crowded next to all the other parents around the small window so as not to miss something incredibly cute or promisingly advanced that my precious baby would surely do. And when the grandparents were in town, they'd crowd around too.  And if she caught my eye, of course I'd smile and wave and clap and give a thumbs up. When you're a parent, everything your baby does is so cute and sweet and funny. And your 3-year-old is still your baby.

Now we're at a dance studio that doesn't have a viewing area and I have to admit I'm a little annoyed. It's a significant drive to get there; I don't have time to go back home. Neither can I go shopping every week, particularly with a baby in tow. I'm paying good money, and I'd kind of like to see for myself whether my kids are truly enjoying the class and learning anything.  Plus, signing up at a dance studio comes with another issue--I want to know that their values are consistent with mine. Meaning, I want to ensure that they're not teaching my 6-year-old how to bump and grind. At the last dance recital I attended, a couple of suggestive performances made me wonder if a parent had ever peeked in the window during class.

But as someone who has taught gymnastics before, I have to remind myself: almost every child will do better in class when their parents are unable to interfere. The viewing area where my  Kid B, age 3,  now takes gymnastics is probably a blessing and a curse to the coaches.  Big enough to fit plenty of people comfortably, but close enough for overly enthusiastic parents to coach from the sidelines. Close enough for my preschooler to jet out of line and come request a third and fourth hug/sip of water/kiss on a booboo. Close enough for a dad to encourage their kid to try something unsafe when the coach is not looking (I've seen that). Close enough for one crazy woman to shout repeatedly at her teenage cheerleader who was afraid to do a back tuck during her private lesson, "KAITLYN!*  I'm not paying all this money for you not to do this trick!" (I've seen that too).

So I've concluded a few things. The best viewing area is a very discreet one (see balcony description above). Gyms without viewing areas aren't trying to hide something or piss you off.  If you spend an inordinate amount of time in a viewing area, consider picking up a hobby, but if you're still spending an inordinate amount of time in a viewing area, lay low and let the coaches do their job.  That's what you're paying them for.

*(blog posts will henceforth refer to all small children as Madison, all teenagers as Kaitlyn).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Follow this gymnast

Just got the latest International Gymnast in the mail (I've been a subscriber since 1989 and I keep telling them on my renewal form that after 20 years I should get a discount. This has not worked yet).

Anyhoo, it reminded me of my intentions to start a regular gymnastics blog, in which I would inform, entertain, and gossip about the greatest sport in the world.  And not so much on the stuff you see on TV as much as the regular, everyday, run of the mill gymnastics issues like dumb rules and ugly leotards and nutcase parents and bad coaches and the inexplicable prevalence of scary Tsuks in level 9ish competition.  And then I'd punctuate it with a nifty youtube clip.

Despite the "not so much on the stuff you see on TV" promise, I'm gonna throw this out here today.

Behold Mattie Larson.

I dig her!  She's so pretty! And gymnastically: powerful, confident tumbling. Natural dance ability. Mature presentation. But the best part is, she understands that if you're gonna be on national TV, you should slap on a little makeup. She looks her age, she has a figure, she's not a weird little squeaky underdeveloped automaton. Too bad her sad, sad leotard reminds me of this:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


       When Nadia won Olympic gold in 1976, what made her famous wasn't just her run of perfect 10's throughout the competition, but the fact that she was fourteen years old. Four years prior, Olga Korbut was the darling of the games as a 17-year-old. Suddenly she seemed ancient.

        The age issue in gymnastics has always been controversial, and minimum age requirements have bounced back and forth over the years.  Recently China was stripped of their 2000 Olympic team medal when it was revealed that they had competed an underage gymnast. 

         Is it so bad that some of the best athletes in our sport are young teens? Maybe not. There's a lot to be said for the inspiration they give to very young children to get started in gymnastics or other sports.  And if they're that good at fourteen, why make them wait? Just as child violin prodigies may headline a symphony at Carnegie Hall, some of these gymnasts are simply that gifted. 

         But a big problem I have with gymnastics is this huge rush to the upper ranks. As the standard age becomes lower and lower for the elite level, there's a trickle-down effect.  And your 14-year-old level 6 is feeling ashamed for being fourteen and "only" a level 6. And beyond specifics, I've got another problem. Here I am trying to convince my husband that gymnastics is the hardest sport, and his argument is frankly a good one: "How can it be so hard when your best athletes are just teenagers?" 

          Thanks to my trusty DVR keyword:gymnastics setting, I happily stumbled upon the recent Pacific Rim Championships, which had both junior and senior competitions. And Jordyn Wieber is this amazing 14-year-old. These girls were so solid in the competition. Really, really impressive. And then they lined them up for an interview.  And it was so painful, that then and there I realized that maybe fourteen is not a good age at all for a gymnast. Any gymnast. Any person, really. 

          For the sport of gymnastics to be more respected, we need representatives who are older and more experienced. Because they're going to be scrutinized in the gym as well as in the press. I'm not sure that 14-year-olds should be put under the pressure of performing in front of millions of people around the world and then having to talk about it. At fourteen, I was 75 pounds of awkwardness and ill-advised bangs. I couldn't handle the pressure of conversing with a sophomore. 

          These girls dominated the competition, and they are fantastic gymnasts. But, they can still be fantastic when they're 18. Or 20. And they'll have added experience, knowledge, and poise. So what's the rush?