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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Best in the Worlds, continued

Sorry for that break in the action, now where were we? Oh yes!

There was the best leotard from Worlds--prize to Great Britain for this understated number.

Let's look at a few more.
China's never put a lot of effort into their leotards. They almost never stray from red, but sometimes the yellow is a mish-mash swirl of a print on the front. So I have to consider this an upgrade from the usual. Still a lot of room for improvement, however.

Yikes, no! This is not improvement! White crushed velvet with sparkly green bits and orange flowers. However, I do appreciate the effort.

Here's the Netherlands in a leotard that I'm not crazy about, mainly for the weird, very square shape in the color blocking at the top. But...ya know what? It's growing on me. It's flattering and slimming, on account of the color down the side. Blue and orange is a combination that's sorta heinous, just ask any poor sucker from Auburn or Florida. (As an Alabama fan, I'm obligated to say this.) (Truth be told, I don't mind the combo as long as the blue outweighs the orange.)

 But the redeeming quality is the nice pop of color when they raise their arms. Sure, it's too bad that it's orange, and we've caught her arms at a bit of an ungraceful moment, but the idea is that it makes your arms look nice and long and that's a good thing.

Let's talk about purple. 

It's a great color for leotards. But almost no countries have it for a national color. It's OK, countries, to branch out a little; we won't think you unpatriotic. The Australians have been embracing purple ever since former Shannon Miller coach Peggy Liddick moved down under and told them how sad their green and yellow leotards were. No one's ever told me why Australia's colors are green and yellow when their flag is red, white, and blue, but I suppose I could google it, or ask Siri.

So purple from Australia on the left, and Gabrielle Douglas of the US on the right. It's a great color for her! Also a prettier purple than the Australians. Aussies, I'd like you to reverse that leo and show me black on the bottom and purple on the sleeves. I still like it, though, just nitpicking here.

Speaking of purple. 
 Bonus points for matching your hair to your leotard. Or 0.2 deduction, I haven't decided.

Roll down your sleeves.
I like this look for Germany. It's a happy medium between old-school color blocked leos and new obnoxious swirly snake ribbon embellished leotards. It's a wee bit busy, but still pretty flattering and nice placement of colors. But dude. ROLL YOUR SLEEVES DOWN. It will look SO much better when you roll  your sleeves down. You are giving yourself stumpy arms.

Roll down your sleeves.

Russia and Canada went for a similar color, and I like it. I'm not thrilled with the polka-dot effect of the crystals on Canada's leotard, but I realize I gave top honors to Britain when they had the same issue so I guess I can't complain. I just liked that one enough to overlook the polka-dottiness.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Best in the Worlds

Let's start with the most important.

Best leotards: Great Britain

It's simple! It's understated! It's navy, which is lovely on everyone.
And then, surprise! Nice little pop of color with the clever placement of a Union Jack on the back. Of course the style is marred a bit by having to pin her competition number on. Remind me why we're doing that? Any reason we should pretend every Brevet judge doesn't recognize all the top competitors by name and face?
Meanwhile, I think I'm gonna have to do a retrospective of British leotards, because lately they are all pretty awesome.

More to come. I'm a little busy at the moment. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

What in the Worlds needs to be changed?

For me the worst part of the 2011 World Championships was realizing my DirectTV had taken my Universal Sports Channel away and lumped it in with a $12.99 a month sports package! (Guess what DirectTV--obscure sports watchers and football-baseball-basketball watchers--two different audiences.) Well, NBC stepped up with some fairly decent coverage! With www.universalsports.com and the FIG Youtube channel, I'm managing to view some interesting stuff that NBC won't show.

Anyway, thoughts, opinions, and observances:

  • The US was so dominant that I actually wish the others had been better, for a little more exciting competition. 
  • Maybe China's got some better girls waiting back home, saving up for London 2012? The Chinese are usually so exciting to watch, but they just felt a little ho-hum to me. 
  • To make the World Championships more special, more understandable, more memorable, we need to return to the odd-year format. (Or have we? I can't keep up!) After Indianapolis FIG launched some crazy schedule of random World Championships. "Well this year we'll have Worlds for All-Around in the spring, and then team in the fall! Then next year it'll be Event Finals only, and skip a year, then a full Worlds the following summer!" No one can keep up. It's too confusing, even for those in the sport. How can we recruit new fans and athletes if it's too hard to follow? INCONSISTENCY from FIG is what's killing gymnastics. Ironic, right? 
  • And on that note, reinstate the 10. 
More notes to come....

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I Triumphed at the World Championships

This is Kim Zmeskal, not me.

With the World Gymnastics Championships kicking off in Tokyo, a double take at that 2011 date made me realize that it was 20 years ago that the luckiest kid in the world made an appearance at the 1991 World Championships in Indianapolis. And I guess that statement could apply to Kim Zmeskal, who won the whole thing and became the first American to do so. But really I'm talking about me, a crafty 14-year-old who convinced my parents to let me cut school so we could all fly to Indiana for a long weekend.

My campaign to attend Worlds (slightly different from the Zmeskal strategy of spending couple of years racking up fistfuls of golds in national and international competition) involved strategically placing signs and notes all over the house reminding my parents of my many fine qualities and accomplishments. "A fine student and devoted gymnast!" proclaimed President George Bush from one poster. "Of course she deserves to go to the World Championships!"

I have to say that I never thought it would actually work. When my dad finally said, "OK, call the number and see what tickets are available," my first reaction was disbelief, and then I suddenly felt the urge to turn to a camera, Ferris Bueller-style, to remark, "They bought it!"

We arrived in Indianapolis the final Friday of Worlds; the Women's All-Around competition would be held that night. When we reached downtown, I felt like a chocoholic that had just entered Willy Wonka's factory. Gymnastics banners were hung on every post lining the street. Our hotel's grand lobby had giant flags featuring the World Championships logo. From our room, I peered out the window at the Hoosier Dome, right across the street, and watched as gymnasts, coaches, and fans from around the world roamed around.

My mom would attend All-Around finals with me on Friday night, while my dad would accompany to the first day of Event Finals on Saturday. We decided to duck into a small fast food joint inside the hotel lobby for a bite to eat before the competition. After we spotted two girls approaching another customer, my mom whispered to me, "Is that somebody famous?"

I could hardly contain my excitement...Chris Waller was eating there! Gymnastics was my Hollywood--if Johnny Depp had walked in I wouldn't have been more thrilled. But I was terribly shy--I ate my whole slice of pizza before my mom told me it was now or never; Chris was about to leave. I finally plucked up enough courage to approach him, and got the first of many autographs for my collection. Giddy from this achievement, I practically skipped to the Hoosier Dome.

We had sprung for the $32 gold level seats--seems like such a bargain now!--and I was amazed to find myself sitting in the front row behind the beam. The field was amazing. The US was the best it had ever been, with Kim Zmeskal, Betty Okino, and Shannon Miller all realistic contenders for medals. Every team from the Soviet Union was a dream team, and this year was no exception. Svetlana Boginskaya had long been my favorite gymnast and she showed up in the same leotard she wore when she won the 1989 World Championships. (I ALWAYS notice leotards). While much was made of the Zmeskal/Boginskaya showdown, as a gymnast, you always pull for your favorites, no matter where they come from.

1991 was a fantastic time for gymnastics. New skills were being developed, artistry was celebrated, the USA was becoming a powerhouse team with more depth than ever. Gymnasts like Oksana Chusovitina, Tatiana Lysenko, Christina Bontas, Silvia Mitova, Kerri Strug, and Lavinia Milosovici all made their mark on this Championship. The all-around and event finals competitions were broadcast in primetime; I had to have my friend record them to VHS for me so I could watch later and try to spot myself in the crowd.

But Kim Zmeskal was the star and the clear winner. Kim had a beautiful, unique style and never seemed to break form. She exuded confidence, and her method of slightly arching and opening her arms out of a powerful vault or tumbling pass was a lovely bit of stylization that set her apart. Her reverse-planche handstand with one leg bent became a signature pose, and her big-band swing floor routine featured another iconic Zmeskal move--her middle tumbling run of three whipbacks to a double back. By the time she got to her last event--floor, providentially--everyone in the arena knew that she could win the title. The roar of the crowded increased exponentially with each whipback, and by the time she landed the double back, the music was completely drowned out by the cheering. The home crowd was definitely on her side, but she would have won that competition anywhere.

Gymnastics history was made that night, and I was there. For years and years, this trip was the highlight of my life. It didn't matter that the world team members were my age, while I was still struggling through my mediocre level 7 routines. I had a passion for gymnastics and my parents understood that this competition, and not my own competition, would be the most exciting experience of my gymnastics "career."

Many parents of mid-level gymnasts spend a lot of money on a plane ticket, hotel room, and entry fees for their child to compete at a meet far from home. If parents and coaches would occasionally eliminate one meet to instead organize a trip to view an international competition, I truly believe they would witness many positive effects. My trip to the World Championships reminded me why I loved gymnastics. It reminded me why I stayed in gymnastics when a spot on the cheerleading squad might have been mine for the taking and a considerable boost to my social status. It gave my parents more understanding --high-caliber gymnastics is infinitely more impressive in person than on TV--of why I could watch the sport for hours upon hours. And I think it gave them an appreciation of gymnastics as a healthy distraction from the pressures and drama of adolescence. I was never a star gymnast, but as friends burned out and never looked back, I remained devoted to the sport. If more coaches devoted even just a little time toward developing their gymnasts' appreciation of the sport, I believe they would retain more students, both recreational and competitive.

So parents and coaches: make an effort to take your young gymnasts to the National Championships, or the American Cup, or the Olympic trials. Let them mill around and bring their cameras and buy a program to get autographed. Buy the T-shirt, spring for the good seats, if you can. (And if you can pay $200 for that rather garish leotard, you can spring for the good seats.) Fill those arena seats to let the world know that gymnastics is every bit as exciting and difficult and worthwhile as the NFL.

After the excitement of the All-Around final, Saturday was a fun day of roaming around, cornering gymnasts for autographs, and checking out new products, equipment, and gymnastics apparel at the convention center. I was in heaven. It was my Disney World and Super Bowl rolled into one. That evening we saw the first night of Event Finals, with men competing on floor, pommel horse, and rings, and women on vault and bars. The highlight of the competition was tiny North Korean Kim Gwang Suk with her outrageous bar set.

It's hard to believe that competition was twenty years ago. It remains one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I know there's a kid in Tokyo now, having the time of her life and making memories to share with her own kids twenty years from now.

And now, here's Kim in that famous moment: