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Monday, December 19, 2011

Gymnastics and North Korea

With the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in the news, I was reminded of a fascinating documentary I caught on Netflix (available on instant play or DVD). A State of Mind is a fascinating rare look inside the secretive country, and even more interesting--it focuses on two gymnasts.

For a time, North Korean gymnasts were right up there with the best in the world--see this bit on Kim Gwang Suk, 1991 World Champion on bars--but age-falsifying scandals caused them to be banned from competition for a while. The gymnasts in A State of Mind are not training in traditional artistic women's gymnastics, but instead do a form of group performance gymnastics incorporating artistic gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and acrobatics. However, this isn't a film about gymnastics; it's about daily life, work, and goals in North Korea.

What we see from the people of North Korea is a god-like reverence for "The Dear Leader" and a conviction to anti-American propaganda so earnest that it would be comical if it weren't so scary. The great question remains, do the people of North Korea truly believe in the cult of Kim Jong Il, or do they simply know that they are required to? Now that he's gone, maybe we're closer to finding out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Phan Thi Ha Thanh

Phan Thi Ha Thanh is the first Vietnamese gymnast ever to medal at Worlds. I love it when someone bursts onto the scene from someplace you don't expect. Here she is on vault:

She's a lovely vaulter and all, as you can see, but let's talk about her leotard.

I kinda love it!

So the red and white is a little pepperminty. But I'm really digging the style. The high collar with the faux plunging v-neck--it's a little costumey, but in a good way! Dramatic! But still sleek enough to be sporty. I'd like to see it in red and black so it doesn't remind me of candy canes.

 I see it's a Christian Moreau.

Let me tell you a little about Christian Moreau. When I went to the 1991 World Championships, not only did I get to watch my gymnastics idol, Svetlana Boginskaya, in person, but I noticed she had the most fabulous leotard I had even seen. A PAISLEY VELVET leotard. It emitted heavenly sun rays and made birds in surrounding communities whistle beautiful chirping melodies.


Well, it was 1991 and paisley velvet and Nirvana and Crystal Pepsi were awesome.

Christian Moreau had a booth on the trade floor and I picked up a small catalog. I browsed that little pamphlet till it tore to pieces. Sadly, oh so sadly, I never did get my own Christian Moreau leotard. But I kept that catalog till Hurricane Katrina viciously ripped it from my bag-o-leotard-catalogs. (What, you don't have a bag-o-leotard-catalogs?) Christian Moreau is a little hit or miss, but back to the moral of our story, which is something like this: Phan Thi Ha Thanh-- excellent vaulter, Vietnamese trailblazer, fashion-forward gymnast.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Real Nadia and Teodora

I know a lot of my non-gymnastics friends have loved Nadia, the movie, but most have probably never seen footage of the actual gymnasts.

Nadia was the first female to compete a double back (she and Soviet gymnast Nelli Kim were the first to compete it at the Olympics) and as you can see, this was before spring floors were in use. I learned on an old Nissen mat like this (I'm not THAT old, it's just that my gym's equipment was) and I can tell you, lack of that extra springy boost is only one obstacle; the other is lack of cushiony softness when you land...in a heap...as I frequently did. She's 14 here, this is before the Olympics made her a household name. Nadia doesn't land in a heap:

Seventies style is something I can't get on board with. Everything about that decade was sorta hideous. What I DO like about the 70's are the wacky, inventive bar routines. Did you just go back and replay Teodora's mount five times? And did you compare it to the way you used to jump onto the furniture, half-flip style? Just me? Okay.