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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Best floor routines ever: Silvia Mitova

This may be my favorite floor routine, ever. I like the simple, bluesy music. I like that she doesn't seem like  a powerhouse but manages to pull off the big tumbling passes--her landings are a little low but she covers well. 

But the best part is the choreography because it flows well and it's seamless with the tumbling and dance (jumps, leaps, turns) requirements. Bad choreography is a such a terrible plague of elite level gymnastics. It just makes me cringe when I see a world class athlete on national television with a routine that looks like they made it up last week (which was a plot line for Make It or Break It but that's another story for another day). I sort of wish she were just a little more expressive, but maybe I've been watching too much So You Think You Can Dance.

I give you Silvia Mitova. (not her best performance of this routine but the best quality video)

A year later, she seriously improved her tumbling, in both difficulty and execution (aside from those cowboyed punch fronts anyway). She also summoned all colors of the visible spectrum to unite in a loud explosion all over her leotard. But I love it. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Favorite bar routines: Kim Gwang Suk

I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat in the crowd for this routine, which won the 1991 World Championships. A couple of things make it interesting. A new skill is named after the gymnast that first performs it in competition, so the second release move you see here is named for Kim Gwang Suk. I'm not sure I've seen more than one or 2 other people compete that skill since 1991 (and in fact she was competing it as early as 1989). AND she's doing it in connection with her first release move, a Tkatchev (also called a reverse hecht).

But what makes Kim Gwang Suk particularly interesting is the age controversy surrounding her. Check out the stats at the beginning of the routine...age 16, 4'4" and 60 lbs. (And here's a tangent--broadcasters no longer show weights of gymnasts on TV--so as not to glorify the abnormally small girls, I think?) Also note--she's missing a front tooth. The coaches claimed she lost the tooth in an accident in practice. That may be true, but what was not true was North Korea's claim that she was 15 years old... for 3 consecutive years.

The North Koreans have been banned on and off from international competition because of age falsification issues. Does Kim look 16 in this clip from 1991? You can also see videos of her in 1989 where she doesn't look 14, and 1987, where she doesn't look 12. Could she possibly be doing these skills at 9 or 10? It seems impossible....but you never know with the North Koreans. On top of her age issues, in all likelihood she was overtrained and undernourished.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Favorite beam routines: Yang Bo

The Chinese have been consistently the most beautiful beam workers for the past, oh, like 25 years. So I don't understand why more people don't copy their style. Yang Bo was among the best in the world in the late '80's and early '90's. Despite the sad ending, this beam routine from 1989 is a great example of her total-package routine: big tricks, effortless flexibility, innovation (that's a "Yang Bo" jump in there), and that sharp yet graceful, Chinese-style movement.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Four things I can tell you about rhythmic gymnastics.

Nine years ago I toted my newfangled digital camera down to the convention center for the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships. Rhythmic gymnastics, I'm told, is wildly popular in places like Bulgaria and various tiny European nations which were subdivided into even tinier nations in the '90's, while still serving primarily as a punch line in America (see: Old School with Will Ferrell).

I don't know as much about rhythmic gymnastics as you might think, because it's a totally different sport from artistic gymnastics. "Artistic gymnastics" is the official name of regular old gymnastics, FYI. (I remember being asked--more than once!--"So, you do what, beam, bars, cartwheels and things?....now do you also do the ribbon and the ball?" Yes, that IS a dumb question. It's sort of like asking a water polo player if they also ride horses.)

Anyway, I still have the photos from that competition, the quality only somewhat affected by the 2.1 megapixels I was packing in 2002 as well as the Katrina swill in which the photo CD wallowed for a couple of weeks. So despite the quality, I think you'll get an idea of how amazing rhythmic gymnasts are.  This Worlds was group only, as opposed to individual routines, and I can tell you group rhythmic--that's 5 girls performing together (or 6; they like to switch it up)-- is way more exciting. Here's what else I can tell you about rhythmic:

  1. They used to wear plain old leotards like real artistic gymnasts, but some time in the '90's got the go-ahead to break out the tricked-out costumes. It's always more fun when you can critique performance AND fashion. 
  2. Thanks to Cirque du Soleil, lots of rhythmic gymnasts go on to actually earn money. So if you like Cirque du Soleil, don't be hatin' on rhythmic. It's pretty much the same wackiness.
  3. The downside: disturbingly, the judges seem to really favor emaciated contortionists. As far as I'm concerned, a 190 degree split is pretty; a 270 degree split is cringe-worthy. And beyond aesthetics, it's absurd to still be talking about the dangers of being so underweight in this day and age. Though many would joke otherwise, rhythmic IS a sport, and I can't imagine how these unhealthy girls are able to perform. (I did read an interview recently 
  4. Rhythmic gymnastics--as I've found with every sport, from horse racing to beach volleyball to football--is infinitely more impressive when you see it in person. If you ever get the chance to attend a competition, do it.
So that's your rhythmic gymnastics primer, and now I will show you exactly why rhythmic gymnasts are pretty darn awesome. Take a look at these photos...specifically, these last one.

 They probably have the most fun coming up with interesting poses, because there's a lot you can do with five girls and several random objects. Ahem.

 This pose, for instance, would make a nice fountain.

 Somewhere in here there are five girls.

Notice how these gals look fairly healthy? They probably finished last.

 The better teams are more precise in unison--this is a pretty good example of a team hitting the same angle at the same time. This is a held pose, by the way, not a kick.

By contrast, this team is not as good--see how all their angles are totally different? Leg height, the angle of the knee bend, and even chest height--they're all over the place. Well, at least they have pretty ribbons.

 Is this just a little too close for comfort? Awkward.

Sometimes not pointing toes can be interesting but it's sort of driving me nuts here, like the giant poster of the yoga girl in Dick's Sporting Goods doing a split with open hips and a big old flexed foot. 

Behold, the winning team. And the reason why this is so impressive is: this is their opening pose. So what happens is, they get out there, wind themselves up in ribbons, hit this pose, and wait. And wait. And wait, just like this, till the music starts. And if you doubt the athleticism of rhythmic gymnasts, you can try this in your living room right now...and you don't even need a ribbon!