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Monday, December 17, 2012

The International Gymnastics Hall of Fame-- Video Blast!

I stumbled across an IGHOF video as I was looking up some other footage, and I discovered a really great little library of gymnastics history! Each inductee has a brief video summary of their life in gymnastics. I've learned some things about gymnasts I was already familiar with and some things about gymnasts I'd only heard of. 

Go to the IGHOF YouTube page or start with a video like the one about Agnes Keleti, below, and you'll soon be clicking through a trail of fascinating videos. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Video blast!

I haven't posted in a while. What can I say, November and December are just crazy busy.

Still, I do find time to get sucked into gymnastics videos on YouTube. Here are some I highly recommend:

Cathy Rigby competes compulsories in the 1972 Olympics
I just love watching stuff like this because I know that if I had a time machine I could be in the Olympics. I know if I had a time machine I should probably do something noble like warn people about an impending disaster or assassinate Hitler or something, but come on, a cartwheel on beam? That's it? I'm there.

Faster, Higher, Stronger: a history of gymnastics in the Olympics (BBC)
This is a great documentary and includes quite a bit of old footage I've never seen before, including European chicks that don't shave their armpits, tee hee hee.

NADIA! In its entirety, in higher quality than the one I previously linked to
My kids have now seen it and agree that it's pretty much the greatest movie ever made. (With Spanish subtitles.)

Sporting Greats documentary about Nadia, so you can compare with the fictionalized movie account.
Has anyone ever asked Nadia what she thinks of her movie? That would be my number one interview question.

The Secret of Deva documentary
A fascinating glimpse into the daily lives and training of young Romanian gymnasts. Interesting how they must achieve approximately level 7 or 8 (handsprings on beam, giants on bars) before they ever compete.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Re-learned trick of the day!

Today I was all

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Your Daily Dose of Gymnastics: Kristie Phillips

One time my dad came home with this awesome magazine for me:

which I later cut up to use on a gymnastics-themed mobile for a school project.

Kristie Phillips is probably the only gymnast ever to appear on Sports Illustrated in a non-Olympic issue. I was a superfan!

In what's probably her first television appearance at only 12 years old, she already has a really creative, unique routine. (Creativity--remember that?) Notable in the commentary is that a) at first they think she's falling on her signature mount, and b) when you don't know anything about gymnastics but are serving as a commentator, all you can think to remark on is the size of a girl's feet.

Here she is at her best:

Unfortunately, gymnastics being gymnastics--pressure, hype, growth spurts, injuries, bad days-- she just missed making the 1988 Olympic team.

But what's great about Kristie Phillips is that she didn't let that disappointment define her gymnastics legacy or the rest of her life. After checking college cheerleading and stunt work off her list, and starring in a completely fabulous straight-to-video low budget action flick which I will someday sit down and watch in its entirety, she reappeared in 1999 at age 27 with enough difficulty to compete at Nationals.

These days she owns a gym, and while I'm busting my butt just trying to kip (and granted, she's a child prodigy and I'm just a regular gal), she can do this at 39:

Jordan Jovtchev, Oksana Chusovitina, and Kristie Phillips too-- proof positive that, given the right conditions--encouraging event specialists, competing teams of 6 or 7 instead of 4 or 5-- gymnasts could absolutely extend their elite careers well into adulthood. And maybe even us regular gals could still have a little fun in the gym, three kids later, at thirtysomething years old. All for the love of the sport.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kips and Kitties

Guess who did a kip today! ME!

Back in March, considering the possibilities of relearning a kip at 35--er, 36 now-- I asked, "Will it take a month? Six months? A year?" (Read about that here).

I realize now that labeling one post "KipQuest 2012" was pretty optimistic. After all, we're nearly into 2013.

After a bit of a slacker summer (it's hard to haul three kids to the nursery at the Y three or four times a week), I've been sticking to a good weekly workout schedule: usually one day of cross train class, one day of random treadmill/machines/stretching in the gym, and one day of kickbox/hiphop class. I feel great, but I still hadn't tried a kip since my failed attempt in December.

For a couple of months now, I've been teaching a preschool gymnastics class twice a week. Actually, I should probably consider that part of my workout schedule, because a class of 2, 3, and 4 year olds will keep you on your toes! It's been such a fun challenge to come up with new ideas and creative ways to teach gymnastics-type skills to tiny little toddlers. The kids seem to have a great time, and teaching this class now, as a mother of three, brings a whole new perspective and understanding that I didn't grasp as a teenage beginning coach. It's also a bit like herding cats. Very cute little cats in leotards that ask to go to the potty a lot.

Anyway, not wanting a bunch of sweet little tots to find a twisted pile of decrepit old broken limbs upon their arrival, I hadn't actually tried to use any of the gymnastics equipment myself. Usually I get there and start setting up equipment in preparation for the class. But today--I felt strong! I felt flexible! I felt uninspired trying to come up with a creative preschool obstacle course. So I figured, might as well have a swing while my brain reboots.

First attempt--strike one! Immediately I felt strained all over. There aren't many common exercises that can adequately compare to the full-body assault that is a gymnastics skill. Maybe burpees? But not exactly. Maybe 10 tight-body perfect-form burpees with a clap in the pushup would be equal to a kip. CrossFitters are like, "what? I'm superstrong!" Yes. That's what gymnastics skills are like. Don't believe me? Try it.

So I decided to go set up a little springboard with a block for the kiddies to jump to. Then an incline mat to roll down, then, I thought, just one more try. So I abandoned my preschool circuit and one more time--jump! Grab! Swing! Toes up, roll the hands, and OOOF--right to the ribs! But yes! I was on top of the bar.

Here's what it looked like.

So, not the flying, floating sensation of my youth. But, that's just the first one.

After class, I tried two more. Falls, both of them. But to my credit, that was AFTER frog jumps and bunny hops horsey gallops and snowball rolls and wall walks and tumble track and swingy swings. Preschoolers--if I can handle them, I can handle a kip.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Yesterday I didn't feel like driving all the way to the gym so I ran down the street. Worst four minutes of my life. Running sucks.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Oksana Omelianchik

I have a cousin who visited the Soviet Union before its dissolution and he returned to the USA explaining that all they ever ate there were cucumbers and tomatoes.

Soviet great Oksana Omelianchik definitely had that cucumber-and-tomato diet look about her; here she is at 15 looking like she's 9 or 10:

Her size is listed at 4'7" and 66 pounds--not that that was unusual for gymnasts of any country in the 1980's and 1990's. This was in 1985 and Oksana won the world title thanks to this innovative and balletic and way cute routine:

Now, I'm on the record as saying I detest the cutesy. But OO gets a cutesy hall pass for this one, on account of technique and exuberance and commitment to the part.

The floor routine made her famous but I love how her bar routine is reminiscent of 1970's style--all hechts and twists and whatnot--but updated with release skills for the 1980's:

But wait, there's more! You also get a really elegant beam routine!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: When Choreography Mattered

It's Saturday! Why not take the time to watch two, count 'em, two intriguing floor routines. Bulgaria doesn't count for much in the international gymnastics scene these days, but in the 1980's they were a force to be reckoned with.

The first thing you will notice about this routine is the gymnast's name: Khrabrina Khrabrova. It is a completely unpronounceable tongue twister and makes me giggle. But I'm sure there a bunch of Bulgarians sitting around trying to say McKayla Maroney five times fast.

The second thing you will notice is the attention to the dramatic choreography. I really dig it.

Then we have Elvira Teza. The French, like the Bulgarians, come and go on the international scene. They stepped it up in the 1990's and Teza was a big star for them. Check out her lovely dance:

Teza was also known for crazy skills like a cross-beam full twisting back handspring to hip circle.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Romina Plataroti

If there have been any other remarkable gymnasts from Argentina, I can't remember them. Sure, this is something I can google, but I'm far too busy for that. So the only Argentinian gymnast one must familiarize themselves with is Romina Plataroti.

Look her up on YouTube and there's not much that comes up. But I used to watch her 1991 Pan Am Games floor routine obsessively. I even mimicked her dance style and skills and threw them into my own sad little optional routine.

The 1991 Pan Am games featured, for the Americans, the second-string gals who wouldn't be going on to the World Championships in Indianapolis that year. Still, they tore up the competition and the winner, Stephanie Woods, went on to a great career at Alabama (Roll Tide). The competition was held in Cuba and the audience, most of whom had probably never seen a gymnastics meet before, cheered and screamed and booed like they were at a football game. 

Now's the time to insert my usual disclaimer: I'm explaining this all from memory. Google it and let me know if I've got my facts mixed up. I'm here for nostalgia, not journalistic integrity.

Back to Romina Plataroti. She's now a sports psychologist or some such. But it's definitely worth checking out her claim to fame: a really excellent, dramatic floor routine. To do that, you have to go to 0:40 in this clip:

For the record, I also really enjoy how her leotard looks like a swampy-fingered monster claw is grabbing her from behind.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Keep It, Toss It, Bring it On: Balance Beam edition

I mentioned the other day how much I miss the standard 3-skill back tumbling pass on balance beam. But that's not all.

Beam used to showcase a variety of elements. Strength, balance, and flexibility were important--and even required. At one point there was a requirement of a 2-second balance hold--that could be a scale, a handstand, or a v-hold, for instance. But most folks went beyond that requirement anyway. You'd see a beautiful flexibility pose as well as an impressive press handstand to a planche. Because it's what any routine needs--variety. Dynamics. Risk. Proof of mastery of ALL beam elements.

The routines we saw in the Olympics were stock, unimaginative, graceless. Shown here is Sui Lu of China performing the routine which would later win her a silver in London.

Run, punch, flip. Run, punch, flip.

Here's what needs to be changed:

  • Instead of a two-element acro series, an elite gymnast should be required to do a three-element pass--or at least have motivation in the form of bonus points. 
  • Require a mount that is on par with the difficulty seen in the rest of the routine. No swing-a-leg-over mounts. Those are for preschoolers. 
  • Eliminate front/back tumbling connections. In other words, calling a front aerial-[armswing]-backhandspring a connection is a total cop-out. 
  • Require a handstand of any kind, not necessarily held. It IS the basis for most of what we do in gymnastics, after all. Handstands are beautiful, synonymous with the sport, and come in endless variations. 
  • Deduct for plain walking steps in between elements. 
  • Discourage side somis, because they're ugly. 
  • Reward artistry--the code has a section on how to deduct for insufficient artistry. I'm just not sure they actually apply it. 

Shannon Miller's routine in 1996 had a much greater variety of skills and was in many ways, more difficult than Sui's routine of today. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Gymnastics and the Size Factor

Having gymnastics in the international spotlight, being viewed by millions who haven't experienced the sport on a personal level, inevitably brings up certain age-old discussions. One of those issues is gymnast size.

I definitely noticed that this year's women's team is one of the tallest ever. Raisman, Ross, and Wieber are all listed at 5'2", Maroney stands 5'3", statuesque by gymnastics standards. Gabby Douglas at 4'11" is petite, but certainly not abnormally tiny. I recall when gymnasts Shannon Miller, Kim Zmeskal, and Kerri Strug were at their peak in the early nineties, and all were something like 4'6" to 4'8". Now THAT's tiny.

My sister always joked that I was so short because each time I hit the vault it hammered me shorter. Gymnastics can't actually stunt your growth, but there's lots of speculation that it could indirectly contribute to athletes' short stature. One suggestion is that the gymnasts are exercising so much that puberty is delayed, and therefore growth spurts are delayed too. Dominique Moceanu has a fascinating new memoir, Off Balance, in which she states her belief that she finally had a growth spurt only when she escaped the restrictive diet imposed by Bela and Marta Karolyi. (One hopes that we are past the age of restrictive diets in child athletes, but with the Karolyis and other old-school coaches in the mix, who knows?)

At any rate, I find that most people now believe that you MUST be small to be a gymnast. Some parents ask if they should bother putting their tall child in gymnastics. Some athletes claim they used to be gymnasts but had to switch sports because they got too tall.

Here's the truth:

  • You don't have to be short to be a gymnast. 
  • Gymnastics doesn't stunt your growth. 
  • Tall gymnasts can be just as good as short gymnasts. 
  • Short stature doesn't necessarily give you a natural propensity for gymnastics.
There are definitely sports that attract the tallest athletes. Basketball. Volleyball. Longer legs certainly have an advantage when you're competing in hurdles. If I could swim as fast as Missy Franklin, she'd still beat me to the wall because she's a foot taller than I am (I think that makes mathematical sense, right?) 

There ARE a few reasons why most gymnasts tend to be short, but they're not as obvious as what draws tall people to tall-person-sports. 
  • Gymnasts have to be extremely strong, fast, and agile. So do lots of other athletes. But no matter how athletic you are, if you're a child who is a foot shorter and twenty pounds lighter than your peers, it's very difficult to keep up in team sports. Basketball and soccer are popular for kids, but are extremely intimidating when your opponents, and even your teammates, are so much bigger than you are. Therefore these little-bitty, naturally athletic kids search out individual sports where they don't have to directly encounter or compete against big people. 
  • Sports equipment doesn't offer advantages to small people. I remember playing softball. I could barely grip that giant ball with my stumpy little fingers, so it was really hard to throw. But guess what. They won't let you throw a nice tiny baseball instead. Meanwhile, a 4" wide balance beam is not terribly intimidating when you can stand on it with your feet side-by-side.
  • The tiniest kids are often used as the example. So if a coach wants to demonstrate the proper body position for a skill--say, a cast handstand--they're often going to grab the littlest kid and stick them on the bar and physically manipulate them, like a rag doll with wire limbs, into the correct position for the other gymnasts to see..."See where her shoulders are? See her hollow body position?" Now she has a better feel for the proper position and an extra turn at trying it.
  • Of course every gymnast is going to be spotted, and that's an important aspect of gymnastics training. But as mentioned above, when you're smaller, it's definitely easier for the coach. So the smaller kids often just have a better feeling for where they're supposed to be in the air and what position their body is supposed to be in. Which is not to say coaches can't spot big kids--but when you spot a tiny kid on a back tuck, you can shove them high into the air, relative to their height. When you spot a big kid on a back tuck, you're lifting more weight and they are not going to go as high, relative to their height. You spot a tiny kid on a back handspring, you can literally hold their legs together with one hand. A teenager learning a backhandspring, sometimes you just have to shove and hope you don't get kicked in the head. (Worth noting: now we use lots of tools such as spotting belts, bungee belts, and trampolines to help spot. It's a great equalizer, and a reason why tall people can be good gymnasts too.)
  • Once gymnasts get to a high level, being taller can be a disadvantage when you're trying to fit a complex tumbling pass across the diagonal of the 40' x 40' floor without going out of bounds. So taller folks sometimes have to get a bit more creative when working within the confines of standard-size equipment. 
  • And then of course it may be true that tiny kids are just naturally quick and strong and flexible because it's easier to be in control of a tiny body--unencumbered by the gangly awkwardness of arms and legs held hostage by the cruel growth spurts of childhood. That's how we see you abnormally tall folks, anyway. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Olympics: Keep it, Toss it, Bring it on

I don't have time to build a comprehensive list, like a responsible blogger would, of the best and worst aspects of the Olympic gymnastics competition. So it's all pretty random. And I'll add more as I'm able.

Keep it: Shannon Miller did an excellent job as a commentator. She didn't generalize, she didn't make big mistakes (Oksana Chusovitina is originally from Uzbekistan, Al Trautwig), she remained impartial and offered up praise for gymnasts of all nationalities. Most importantly, she knows her stuff. Unfortunately, if you weren't lucky enough to watch the live feed and instead had to rely on NBC, you were stuck with the Trio of Doom....

Toss it: Tim Daggett, Elfi Schlegel, and Al Trautwig continued their reign of terror by ensuring that every gymnast was insulted or stereotyped, and confusing the hell out of anyone without a working knowledge of the sport. Tim and Elfi could be heard spouting off gems like, "Gymnastics 101: Stick the landing!" while a thoughtful Al mused after one performance, "Balance beam, balance beam."

Keep it: Meanwhile in the Twittersphere (gawwwd, I hate Twitter), Samuel L. Jackson offered up hilarious one-liners and called out the the commentators for their inane remarks and glass-half-empty attitudes. He's the only reason I have Twitter.

"Dance element trouble?! She was dancing in there somewhere????!!"
 "That was the "wait up Gurl y'all walkin' too fass " stagger on the beam! W/ a WTF DISMOUNT!"
 "Uh Oh, Pommel Horse next! Thass like Balance Beam for dudes! Horse def has US men's numba! Oh well, Go USA!"
"Luvvin' Tim's Positive Analysis of Gabby's chances!....NOT!"
I hope Tim's HAPPY!!! He's the Largest DEDUCTION in my Joy! HEMORRHOID!"
Toss it: Samuel makes a great point when even he questions the presence of any dance at all. Hitting a pose is not dancing. Running clear across the floor for a switch leap, also not dancing. I actually think the American team does a pretty good job of fitting some actual dance into their floor routines. But I cringe when watching Catalina Ponor, a fantastic tumbler who has the most embarrassingly poor choreography. Her teammate Sandra Isbaza hardly seemed to notice there was any music playing. (I guess she was hoping for a Silvia Mitova moment--what with the very similar, understated bluesy music--but the movement and music seemed completely incongruous.

Toss it: The jumps out of the tumbling passes are killing me. Even worse are the standing back tucks out of tumbling passes. Limit routines to one rebounding jump out of a tumbling pass. Deduct for lack of continuity when a back tuck or other skill that seems out of place is performed.

Toss it: Why are we still wearing paper numbers? Completely unnecessary. I know this is nitpicking. But it's stupid, right?

Bring it on: PLEASE. We MUST develop a way to reward artistry. My vote would be to give artistry/choreography bonus: 0.0 bonus for unsatisfactory artistry (Catalina Ponor, Beth Tweddle) 0.1 for acceptable artistic presentation (Gabby Douglas), 0.2 for excellent artistic presentation (Aliya Mustafina, etc.), and 0.3 for outstanding presentation and choreography (Victoria Moors, etc.).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Epke Zonderland wins the whole Olympics

From start to beyond the finish, Epke Zonderland had the Olympic moment everyone wants to see. A routine that makes people gasp, an amazing dismount with a drilled landing, and a reaction of pure happiness and joy. And while it was obviously, and officially, the most difficult routine of the Games, it was the routine that makes you say, I wish I could do that.

Why do gymnasts love gymnastics? Why will I never slog through a miserable marathon for some stupid "bucket list?"

Because running feels like hell; gymnastics feels like flying.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vanessa Ferrari's schizophrenic leotard

HUGE goings on in the world of gymnastics today! But as exciting as event finals was, let's talk about Vanessa Ferrari. Specifically, Vanessa Ferrari's delightfully awful leotard.

Big props to VF for shaking things up! Italy is known for fashion, and thinking outside of the box can yield fantastic results. Unfortunately no one achieved fantastic in the making of this beauty, but at least we all had something to interesting to look at.

This is a photo of my computer screen, pardon the quality, but in a panic I had to grab this image quick.

Yes, that's sleeveless on one side, 3/4-sleeve on the other (3/4 sleeves ALWAYS make your arms look stumpy. ALWAYS. BAN THEM.). But wait! A window to her shoulder! Perhaps she has a muscle ailment and can apply the Ben-Gay directly through the handy access port. I'm thinking this leotard would score in the twelves. (Twelve is bad, right?)

In the end, she's an awesome gymnast. And if I were an Olympian, I'd wear whatever the heck I wanted, too. Brava, Vanessa!

Monday, August 6, 2012

McKayla Maroney, as it turns out, is human

And now she knows what she needs to work on. I won't speculate as to what caused her to fizzle out on her second vault. Pressure? Nerves? Overconfidence? It can't be the lack of a podium one-touch warmup, because the first one was great. But I would like to point out that for vault, more than any event, allowing each gymnast a quick run or two would be a wise nod to athlete safety. When spatial awareness is of the utmost importance, imagine the difference going from the floor of a warm-up gym to an elevated podium in a massive arena. Then you'll hit a springboard that sees less use than the one in the warmup gym, and may be a little tighter--for better or for worse.

My second safety concern is for Yamilet Pena Abreu and anyone who takes a cue from her strategy. Before the Games, I read one of those articles about gymnastics where the sport's jargon is consistently misused. It said, "McKayla Maroney will attempt the Amanar vault." Obviously not written by anyone who knew anything about the competition, because in the gymnastics community, we know Maroney wasn't planning to "attempt" anything--she was going to PERFORM it. The "attempt" was made during the learning process.

It WOULD be accurate, however, to say that Pena Abreu was planning to "attempt" a handspring double front, because I'm not sure she can actually do it! She sat it down in prelims, and no matter the difficulty rating, it's silly to be able to qualify with a missed vault. I get the feeling that each time she goes, it's just a crapshoot. She doesn't know if she'll make it, but she's not afraid to try. And that's a very dangerous precedent to set. I'm sincerely worried for her safety.

Dwight Normile at IG suggested that a fall on vault should be deducted more than 1.0. And that makes sense; while a larger mandatory deduction would have cost Maroney any medal, it would have prevented Pena Abreu from qualifying with a failed vault.

Finally, I am so happy that the legendary Oksana Chusovitina is getting the press she deserves. Check out the great article about her and 39-year-old Bulgarian Jordan Jovtchev.

Friday, August 3, 2012

NBC Coverage: A blight on the sport of gymnastics

I have a great idea. This fall, let's take Matt Lauer and [insert whichever botoxed beauty is the current co-anchor], and have them call all televised NFL games. Let's tape delay all games so we can eliminate the 3rd quarter altogether--it's probably not that important, after all--and for the remaining quarters, let's replace coverage of every other play with shots of the players on the sidelines and melodramatic fluff pieces of the most popular guys.

This would never fly with football fans, yet this is how gymnastics is presented. World-class athletes in one of the most popular Olympic sports are reduced to campy characters on cringe-inducing reality TV.

In the past twenty years, we've seen fewer and fewer broadcasts, more uninformed and embarrassingly melodramatic commentary, and massive reduction of the number of routines and gymnasts viewed. At a time when gymnastics is on the world stage and the general public is clamoring for more, NBC is giving them less and making a mockery of it too.

The goal of FIG and USA Gymnastics should be to grow the sport, not make it seem totally inaccessible. NBC coverage, fluff pieces, and commentators are counter-productive to this goal and are an utter embarrassment to the sport. I'm not sure if there's any way for USAG to get us out of a contract with the devil, but they are the governing body of the sport in this country--don't they have any influence AT ALL on how gymnastics is broadcast?

Dvora Meyers has been doing a fantastic job of translating gymnastics for the masses, injecting a healthy dose of sarcasm and wit while demonstrating a keen knowledge of the sport. Her pieces are often featured on Deadspin and she's got the best gymnastics blog around, Unorthodox Gymnastics. She's also way funnier than I am and a qualified professional writer, so please take a moment to read the following spot-on article, and forward it to every gymnastics enthusiast you know. Who knows, maybe we'll spark some change.

Fake, Jingoistic, And Stupid: Gymnastics Coverage Is The Worst Part Of NBC’s Olympics

Dvora Meyers


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Golden Gabby

Wow! What a great competition. Well deserved for Gabby, and a bummer of a tiebreaker for Aly. Komova and Mustafina are such beautiful gymnasts.

The Russians are the new standard for excellence on uneven bars. I'm now more excited to see them than the Chinese on that event.

My 5-year-old just asked, "Is the one in the gray coat the American?" We saw how bad the gray looked during the team medal ceremonies...wish they'd just wear the USA ones they wear on the floor!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

US Gold--Predicted, Deserved, and Won

Oh live internet feed, I love you. I was able to ignore find ways to occupy my kids and glue myself to the computer for a couple of hours today, because I knew I wouldn't be able to avoid the news before prime time!

I decided to take a few notes throughout the competition.

Victoria Moors: Definitely one of the best floor workers in the world--a great example of beautiful choreography that flows well with the tumbling passes. I so wish she had qualified to floor finals! And she would have, if she'd scored in prelims how she did here in team finals. Bummer.

I love Russian bars. However, I still don't care for their giants: Nastia-style arch/knee bend over the low bar. I don't know why this isn't considered bad form.

Catalina Ponor: I'm not a fan of the Romanians' manic, swingy-arm dance style, but wow, solid beam routine.

Beth Tweddle: Big moment at home, so why the silly choreography? It's sort of bad. Good thing she has bars to make us forget the cringe-worthy dance.

It was at this point that somebody's big boy underpants got wet and that took a bit of time out from my notes.

Then, my kids decided they actually needed lunch in the middle of gymnastics. Silly children.

So my play-by-play didn't make it up to International Gymnast standards, but then they're not trying to view AND potty train.

At any rate, I at least had to include a little fashion commentary.


USA: More red. Again, not my favorite. I wish they'd come up with something a little more sleek and color-blocked and slightly less bedazzled. 

 Russia: I still don't love red. But I do like the way their leo picks up the traditional style motif that we're seeing on their warmups and apparel, and applies it in a sweetheart design. 

 Great Britain: I like the blue. The sparkly bits aren't too distracting. Not my favourite (see what I did there?) British leo ever, but it may be the best overall of this finals. 

Italy: I find the blue an odd choice. I know red/white/green can be a tricky combination to translate to apparel. But adding blue is not the answer.

Japan: A little too busy for my taste. They love lots of graphics. The zebra stripes down the arm were a bit much. 

 China: China rarely strays far from the red leotard with yellow stars or accents, a color combination that always reminds me of McDonald's. At least this time it looks like the material's a bit of an upgrade: they're frequently seen sporting cheap-looking crushed velvet. 

 Romania: Two things are always certain about Romanian leotards: a) the sleeves will be pushed up, and b) I won't love it.

 Canada: Red. I like when the Canadians get a little crazy and go with different colors, but...it's just... red. And bedazzling. 

USA Team Warmups. I find these a little sad. But when you're biting a gold medal, who cares?!

Seeing Red

I don't often post about men's gymnastics, just because it's not really my area of expertise. But even though the pommel horse is a complete mystery to me (where does each skill start and end??) I DO love to watch it. One thing I am qualified to comment on is attire, and there was lots of red going on. Red may be my least favorite color for gymnastics apparel. Specifically, red pants. It's just too much.

Red pants for the Brits:

And the Chinese:

And the Japanese:

And the Germans:

And the Americans:

Ukraine: A nice change (I hated seeing them realize they wouldn't medal after all):

I DO like the US men's tanks. Sporty, not too embellished.

But I'm calling for a moratorium on red pants. Try a neutral. Try navy. Then if you still like your red, don't let me stop you. But really. Red is very...RED.

Anyway, disappointment for the US team, but these guys are young. Plus, there is a huge accomplishment in that every team member is qualified to a final. That's impressive.

The highlight of the competition was definitely the remarkable performance from the British team. It's a great lesson to athletes of all sports that often bronze is the greatest victory.

Monday, July 30, 2012

For the greater good of the sport, it's time for some changes

Anastasia Grishina is another gymnast that missed qualifying for the All-Around Finals because of the two-per country rule. 

I'm loving all this gymnastics coverage! I know we're not even into finals yet, but my crotchety old-lady self can't help but think that of a lot of rules and trends that need to be overhauled, big time.

Obviously, the 2-per-country rule is ridiculous. If you want to determine the best gymnast in the world, shouldn't you include the 4th place finisher from prelims before you'd include the 25th place finisher? Not so long ago--early 90's??--it was a 3-per-country rule. The Soviets could easily sweep the medals. And they were that good, so didn't they deserve to? But with the breakup of the USSR, the depth of the individual republics' teams gradually diminished. Frankly, I think there was some sour grapes going on--if we can't sweep, no one will. My friend had a suggestion I liked--top ten make it regardless of country, below that, apply the rule of two.

The main rule I hate is the 5-3-3 team format--5-man team, 3 gymnasts compete, 3 scores count. The ideal team format is what we saw in Atlanta--7-6-5: 7-man team, 6 compete,  5 scores count. The advantage of the 5-3-3 format goes to the countries without a lot of depth. Again--in Atlanta you were still seeing products of Soviet training; now that those republics (as well as other formerly-strong small nations--Bulgaria, Hungary, etc) can't field deep teams, of course they're happy that a "team" means only three scores.

In the grand scheme of things, it benefits the sport to put as many athletes as possible in the Olympics. How many swimmers are there, for crying out loud? With all the different stroke/distance combinations, it seems like there are a hundred swimmers on the US team alone. When the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) chooses to bring fewer and fewer gymnasts to the world stage at a time when the public is clamoring for more, they are shooting themselves in the foot! These small teams also reduce the odds that teams will bring specialists like the great Oksana Chusovitina (who is still able to compete BECAUSE she can focus on her specialty) and the complete badass McKayla Maroney. They need to take a cue from swimming and enable as many gymnasts as possible to participate, because it brings more publicity for the sport. Let each country bring a team PLUS specialists, if they choose. Now THAT would be interesting.

Now that I've fixed all the regulations in Perfectworld, let's talk gymnastics specifically. A certain husband asked me, "Why do they do all that stupid dance? Why don't they just tumble? That's what everyone wants to see." Well, I LOVE a well-choreographed routine and a gymnast who can dance--it's part of the history and evolution of the sport. But I see his point, because not only are the routines not engaging, but the TV production of recent years is not allowing the music to be heard!! Back in the long-long-ago, like 1989, the best floor routines had a seamless flow from tumbling to dance. Lately, most of the routines are so crammed full of tumbling and jump requirements that the "dance" consists of a few choppy poses. So instead of seeing three excellent tumbling passes connected with graceful dance, you're seeing three excellent tumbling passes, one additional unimpressive tumbling pass, and lots of running around and robot moves.

The stupid jumps and back tucks out of big tumbling passes have got to stop. I'd much rather see a nice controlled lunge--also an integral part of traditional women's gymnastics. Bring back the lunge finish!

Know what I want to see on beam? A three-skill tumbling pass. Twenty years ago, every gymnast had a flip-flop-layout-layout pass--except the really great ones that did flip-flop-flip-flop-layout-layout or even flip-flop-layout-layout-layout. Routines from twenty years ago shouldn't look harder than routines being done today. Also, I wanna see a pretty handstand. Or a lovely valdez. Something. Anything. Anything other than trick, stop, trick, stop, trick, stop.

Now I don't want to be a complainer--there are totally great things going on at these Olympics. McKayla Maroney's rafter-grazing vault in prelims made even aforementioned cynical husband exclaim, "WOW!" The hours dedicated to gymnastics coverage are a real treat (now if we could just get that type of coverage in between Olympics). I love seeing ground-breaking, beautiful gymnastics, no matter who's doing it. But for the sport to progress, the rules and regulations need to progress.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Meet the US Women's Gymnastics Olympic Team

The Olympics are so close now, I can't stand it! I thought I'd offer this handy dandy primer for the not-so-gymnastically-inclined as a preview of who to look for as we head to London.
The gymnasts selected for the Olympic team--Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and alternates Sarah Finnegan, Anna Li, and Elizabeth Price--are no big surprise. What IS surprising is the defeat of Wieber by Douglas at the Olympic trials. Very interesting! 
Still, Wieber's probably going to win the whole darn thing. She's coming in as World Champion and she's a rock solid all-arounder with high difficulty, more powerful than balletic, not unlike Shawn Johnson and Carly Patterson before her. 

Douglas hasn't shown the consistency, but she's peaking at the right time. She exudes personality and charisma, in that Mary Lou sort of way. Even if she doesn't beat Wieber, she could end up as the media darling (see: Nastia Liukin vs. Shawn Johnson).

Here's what's interesting about McKayla Maroney: pretty much everyone in the sport of gymnastics agrees that she is the best vaulter in the world. And yeah, she IS the reigning world champion on vault, but it's more than that. It's that every time you watch her vault, it's the best vault you've ever seen. Unfortunately she's not consistent on anything else--but when you make hardened old geezer coaches swoon with one skill, you earn your spot on the team.

Aly Raisman is almost a great all-arounder, but for her weakness on bars. Her strength is her intricate and difficult tumbling--in particular, her opening pass, 1 1/2 twist through to double Arabian, front layout, makes her memorable, and that's really important when you're performing for judges who have seen it all. All gymnasts should be striving to make themselves memorable.

Kyla Ross has been on everybody's radar for a while now as a junior. So she's the youngster of the bunch, but she's consistent and overall a very lovely gymnast.

Factor in the Romanians, Chinese, and Russians--and the US is the team to beat.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Team Dowdy

I know there are only so many variations on Opening-Ceremony-Americana-style, but I'm a bit disappointed. The guys, I guess they're ok. But the poor girls. That skirt? With that blazer? That's the silhouette that women of a certain age and certain size wear that's sold at JC Penney as a pastel-colored  twofer.


I mean, I know they need comfortable shoes for the opening ceremonies. Lots of walking and standing, and we can't have our best athletes messing up their feet. But those things look like 1940's toddler shoes. Maybe up close they look better?

Okay then.


I guess once you commit to that heavy outfit, it's not like cute summer sandals would go. So maybe next time they should start with shoes--say, cute summer sandals--and work their way up. And then figure out what would go--a fun little dress, maybe. Something that you could dress up or down. Something that doesn't look like a Love Boat crew uniform.

That polo pony logo--I know Ralph Lauren fancies himself and his logo as The Style of America! or whatever, but funny how when it's time to give yourself credit with your big old honking logo, there's no such thing as over-accessorizing.

There are some items in the line that are a little less frumpy, like this little dress which has an even bigger polo pony.

It skews a little casual, but if it were up to me, I'd go with something like this for the Opening Ceremonies. But then I'm not gazillionaire Ralph Lauren.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Counting down to London!

I've been out of commission, blog-wise, for a bit, due to end-of-the-school-year craziness, sick kiddies, tonsillectomies, etc. But I definitely need to catch up because I'm super excited about the Olympics. I don't know if I just became this sentimental fool after having kids, or what. But every time I see Olympic commercials I just get choked up. I'm such a dork for the Olympics.

I love this:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Make It Or Break It--Triple the tucks, triple the layouts, triple the awesomeness!

"Make It Or Break It is so terribly delightful. And delightfully terrible. No need to recap the whole thing, but I enjoyed meeting one Ms. Regina Turner, the new head of the NGO. Not only did she show up at the gym in business attire (snicker), but she doesn't know the difference between a tuck and a layout. The whole episode talked up Jordan's triple back bars dismount (and showed lots of double tuck dismounts edited to look like triples), but suddenly Regina was "looking forward to seeing that triple layout." Hey, I was too.

I'm sure MIOBI has at least one gymnastics consultant in addition to all the knowledgable stunt doubles, so I just figure they don't listen very well. So on that note, here is a brief primer of gymnastics lingo.

Saying simply "double back" (or triple, or whatever) usually indicates a tuck position. Otherwise we'd say double pike (hips bent, legs straight), or double layout (body fully extended and straight).  
Using the word double or triple always indicates the number of rotations WITHIN a single skill. I've heard a kid say in cheer-speak: "I can do a triple backhandspring." No kid, you can't, because there's no such thing. You can do three back handsprings in a row. (And the third is probably a headspring in which you will eventually break your arm, but I digress. Slapping my own wrist for gymnastics snobbery).  
"Flip flop" is short for back handspring, and it's actually a term that's used. "Flic flac" is an antiquated short form of back handspring and we laugh when commentators on old videos say it. 
"Flip" is slang, and a broad term; it doesn't indicate a specific skill. For instance you tell me you're gonna do a flip, but that could be a back tuck or a whipback (also called whipover--a back handspring with no hands). A coach wouldn't ever simply tell a gymnast, "Today we're working on flips." 
"Salto" is the technical term for flip. All skills involving a rotation (flip) in the air with no hands, from a two-foot take off, are referred to as saltos. However, no would ever say (as a gymnast in MIOBI did one episode), "I'm working on my back salto." It's just too formal.

Disclaimer: there's always going to be some variation when it comes to regional vernacular. Heck, maybe everyone in Wyoming DOES use the term salto. But I've never met a coach from Wyoming.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Your Daily Dose of Gymnastics-- Elena Shushunova

The last routine I posted featured an original namesake skill from Lori Strong that I would love to see more of today.

You can't browse videos from 1987 without seeing Elena Shushunova, and the "Shushunova" on floor--a straddle jump to a prone position--is one of the most OVERutilized skills. I was even surprised to see the term used in a televised cheerleading competition. Sometimes gymnastics skills get lost in translation on the way to cheerleading. Sticking a Shushunova in your floor routine was an easy way to get a difficult dance skill credit; I believe it used to be a C-rated skill but can't imagine that it still is. (Is the Code of Points online? I need that.) What was an impressive, high-flying jump from the originator later became a commonly-seen lackluster bellyflop from the lower-level masses. 

Here's Elena in 1988, finishing up with her Shushunova skill, but also competing one of the few roll-out tumbling passes ever done by a woman (now prohibited). I do like her original transition for back-to-back tumbling passes: a backhandspring step out onto the wrong leg directly into a round-off. Then off course a fabulous 80's trend (besides that lovely hairdo, off course): knee-handspring!

Make It or Break It--The most accurate teen gymnastics soap ever to depict national training camp

Just caught up on this week's Make It or Break It. It was hilariously awesome as usual. The girls have been at "training camp" the entire season, and coincidentally, I just happened upon this description of national team training camp  by Shawn Johnson.

So in fictional Gymnasticsland, the girls are pairing up to make up short routines for each other (huh?), making chicken parmesan in their tricked-out apartment for their parents who are visiting for an exhibition (I bet that's Karolyi-approved), and struggling with full-twisting back handsprings (snicker). Meanwhile, coach is flipping through photos of gymnastics greats in the middle of practice. Don't worry girls, he knows exactly what he's doing!

I did sort of dig the concept of the throwback leotards--in grayscale!

Shawn tells us that she's usually eating salmon or chicken with salad or fruit, and she's probably not making it for a visiting parent in between workouts. She'd be a little more comfortable in a nicely furnished apartment, but it IS actually a camp facility, so the cabins probably aren't quite as stylish as the accommodations in Gymnasticsland. But really, the funniest thing about MIOBI is that every workout involves some sort of fun activity, rather than intense training.

OK, that's probably not the funniest thing.

Maybe the funniest thing is how, when there's a wide shot of all the athletes hanging outside on the training center campus, they're all in the middle of very vague, half-hearted twisting and stretching.

But in spite of all that, I HAVE to watch MIOBI. I'll take corny gymnastics over no gymnastics.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Lori Strong

Lori Strong was a very successful Canadian gymnast who became a very successful University of Georgia gymnast. She's got a skill named after her on bars: a Strong is a 1 1/2 twisting shoot over from high to low bar. It's time for some folks to take a look at this skill: with bar sets spread so far, there's a limited supply of interesting transitions. It also provides a change of direction, which is a requirement. So why aren't we seeing it more now?

Maybe it's because even Strong herself, had trouble controlling her form in that crazy fast twist. She as competing it as early as 1987--maybe earlier?-- and 5 years later, you can see how wild it is in the replay. But very cool.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Make It or Break It is the best teen soap ever set in the cutthroat world of gymnastics.

Confession time.

I LOVE Make It or Break It.

I also don't want to admit that I love boxed macaroni or Kris Kross or approximately six teaspoons of sugar in my coffee, but I might as well come clean for all that too.

When it first came out I watched an episode, and I felt exactly the same way that Dwight Normile of International Gymnast did: "aimless," implausible," "cliche," "unbelievable," and finally, "simply too bad to be true." (Chuckle at the full review here.)

But last summer when I had a rare spate of time to myself, I turned on Netflix for a little background noise while sewing. I rolled my eyes. I laughed out loud. The melodramatic competitions! The corny teen romance! The obvious stunt double editing! The ridiculous inaccuracies!

Over the course of the next few weeks, I watched all forty episodes. Like you do with a really bad show.

Or a really AWESOME show.

So it asks you to suspend reality a little. But doesn't all TV programming ask you to suspend reality? (Heck, even reality shows aren't realistic.) There's probably not a doctor or attorney out there who will tell you that they've seen an accurate medical or legal show.

Frankly, I think MIOBI strove for a bit of realism in the beginning, and now it's just embracing the campiness of it all. Compare it to Glee, which started out campy (and was good); then it started taking itself very seriously, and now it pretty much sucks. Intentionally campy shows are often pretty fabulous--Ugly Betty comes to mind--as long as you can keep them a little interesting. Toward the end of its run, Ugly Betty got a little stale, so it remains to be seen whether MIOBI can endure much longer. That the Fug Girls heartily endorse the show gives me hope.

So now I embrace it for what it is, a campy soap opera set in a gym, and as a gymnastics enthusiast, I'm just happy for ANY gymnastics to be on TV. And if that involves rebellious pregnant gymnasts working at pizza joints, backstabbing world champions with cruel stage mothers, 6" wide balance beams, DJ Tanner, this dude, and confused bisexual teens with eating disorders--because teen soaps have to include AWARENESS--then I'm there.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Public outcry over a dieting seven-year-old may be a telling sign of the obesity epidemic in America

When Dara-Lynn Weiss wrote about her seven-year-old daughter's struggle with weight for this month's Vogue, it was clear that the problem was as much mom's as it was daughter Bea's. Weiss admitted to a lifetime of food and eating issues, including starving herself, using dangerous medications, and trying every fad diet. When Bea was seven years old and four feet four inches tall, the pediatrician indicated that her weight, 93 lbs, was unhealthy, and thus began Weiss's struggle to manage her daughter's diet. 
The article is not available online but you can read a synopsis and typical criticism here.
Weiss readily admits to being "incompetent" and " woefully inconsistent." She goes on to explain all the mistakes she made, and how miserable the diet made her daughter. Diet and exercise finally brought Bea down to a healthy weight--but now that her struggle has been publicized, critics are gasping. "What a horrible mother," they cry. "She's practically guaranteeing an eating disorder!" 
But the thing is, they're already dealing with an eating disorder: the child eats too much! (Weiss describes how "there wasn't anything [Bea] didn't absolutely love eating" and "she polished off adult-sized plates of food" at four years old).
Helicopter parents have spent years dishing out love-yourself-psychobabble because they're so afraid their children will feel bad about themselves, or worse, get angry at them. One thing they fear most is the dreaded NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE, because they don't want to "give" their kids anorexia or bulimia! And what has been lost in all this handle-with-care-parenting is the ability to be firm, to tell kids no, to teach kids health and wellness and self-control. 
When you work at a gymnastics facility, you have a front-row seat to other families' eating habits. And it's often shocking. When I was little, a Happy Meal was an infrequent treat, sometimes dinner during a long road trip to grandma's. I've seen a mother feed her kids Happy Meals as a snack, before workouts, three days a week. Many parents think a full-size Snickers on a regular basis is appropriate for a small child. Mothers often bring snacks in case their toddlers get hungry; a quart-size bag completely stuffed with Goldfish crackers is not unusual. 
What I often see in the general public is a complete inability to gage what portion size is appropriate and what amount of exercise is appropriate for a child. Then you have extreme cases, like the author of the offending article, who has a history of disordered eating, and consequently, no clue how to instill good habits in her own child. Critics complain that Weiss's diet tactics were "selfish" and "immature," but I think she's actually representative of many of today's parents who have struggled with their weight.
Look, parenting can sometimes be difficult and unpleasant. I hate telling my kids that they have to go get their shots. But it has to be done. I hate telling my kids, over and over again, to make up their beds, when it's so much quicker and easier to do it myself. Undoubtedly, a loving parent wants to simply tell her overweight child she's beautiful just the way she is--because that's true!--rather than tell her she needs to lose weight. But the challenge of parenting is finding a loving way to do the hard stuff. 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Your Daily Dose of Gymnastics: Lilia Podkopayeva

Lilia Podkopayeva was a huge fan favorite in the mid-nineties. Not MY huge favorite, mainly because I think she took the cutesy route and I'm not a fan of cutesy. However, one thing is undeniable: she's probably the best female front tumbler ever.

These days front tumbling is much more commonplace than it was in the early to mid-nineties and Lilia Podkopayeva was at the forefront of that trend. Still, no one since has been able to tumble forward as effortlessly as she. The speed and rhythm of her front handsprings and double fronts are the same as if she were tumbling backwards.

The routine shown here is not the worst cutesy offense I've ever seen; at least it's got a classical style to it. Lilia was known for balletic routines, incorporating leaps and turns more suited for the stage. Her fouette turns may not impress dancers but are deceptively difficult: multiple turns are not easy when you're sinking into a layer of carpet and foam. Most gymnasts do "outward" turns from a lunge (turning in the direction of the front leg) because inward turns (ballet style from fourth position) aren't ideal on the narrowness of the balance beam or the softness of the floor.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Repetitive repetition (see what I did there?)

Christine "Peng Peng"--or Peng Peng "Christine" Lee-- is another talented Canadian. I'm still not sure which is her real name and which is her nickname. I'm sure a quick google search will yield an explanation if you're just that curious.

Here's her bar routine, which is fine. I think. I have no idea what she did, other than FOUR toe-on skills in which she steps down one leg at a time. It's fricking distracting. Maybe that's the point. I don't know if this routine is amazing or mediocre, because all I remember are those step-downs.

It's been a while since I've been very familiar with the Code of Points, and obviously things have changed in the past few years, because I still don't know if 14.0 is a good score or a bad score. What I do know is this: there is, or was, a deduction for repetition.

We had a level 8 once who did a lovely beam routine and we thought she should have scored higher. Her tumbling pass was flipflop-flipflop (2 feet), and her dismount was flipflop back tuck. (Laypeople: flip flop is shorthand for back handspring.) Upon asking the judges, we found that they deducted for repeating a skill three times. Had she stepped out of one and landed on two feet with the other two, there would have been no deduction--this is an error of composition, if I'm not mistaken.

So Peng Peng here, I suppose, is not getting deducted because each toe-on skill is actually different. In addition to the toe-on transition from low to high, she's got a toe-on to handstand, toe-on handstand half pirouette, and toe-on handstand full pirouette. From an aesthetic standpoint, this is the same skill. But according to the Code, these are three different skills--and of course the step-down itself is not a skill--and therein lies the loophole allowing her to repeat that novelty step-down so many times without penalty. Still, as with the case of Victoria Moors' lovely and difficult routine vs. Lauren Mitchell's sloppy and difficult routine, the Code is being carefully worked to the gymnast's advantage. Yet there's no room to apply a reward or deduction based on aesthetics or just the general feeling that this step-down issue is like a nervous tic and you just want to tell her to stop doing that already.

Unless they ARE deducting for composition. Who would know, when I still don't know if a 14.0 is good?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Pacific Rim Championships and My New Favorite Floor Routine

I enjoyed the coverage of the Pacific Rim championships yesterday. Jordyn Wieber did what she does, winning easily. But my vote for best routine of the competition goes to Victoria Moors of Canada. Superior tumbling, with actual choreography. Yes, you can fit [really lovely] dance into a routine with four tumbling passes.

It's insanely annoying that that routine scored lower than this sloppy performance by Lauren Mitchell of Australia. Finishing tumbling passes with jumps--in Lauren's case, very poor jumps--has already been overdone to the point of absurdity. (Check out the embarrassing split jump after her second pass.) Still, her difficultly was 0.3 higher so I guess it doesn't matter that she's hiding every single landing with an ugly jump. Is this somehow better than a controlled lunge? Once again common sense is trampled on my the Code of Points.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Plague

I've had a bit of a set-back in my workouts. I seem to have the plague. Less sympathetic folks will tell me it's just a bad cold/cough/sinus infection, but I assure you, I have the plague.

When you have children and they get sick, first of all you have to stay home with them, and then you catch it, which doubles the down time. Poor kid, he doesn't get the benefit of an Ibuprofen-Sudafed-Codeine-Afrin-Antibiotic cocktail with a twist of Vicks Vaporub. But now both of us are feeling much better.

So, today was the first day in a week I've been able to work out. And yes, I've become the sort of idiot who starts to get anxious when I miss too much. Guess I'll start packing my running shoes on vacations too.

I try to run a mile on the treadmill while I watch the Today show, but I was trying to take it slow today. So instead of my standard sprint-style, get-it-over-with running-on-my-toes, it was the old 12-minute-mile Shuffle of Misery.

Which makes me wonder. Big time runners, what are you doing? It's sort of a hot topic these days, running heels-first or toes-first. Are you using the ugly 5-toe running shoes? I'm a better sprinter than long-distance runner (I may have mentioned that once or twice), so I've been running on my toes, and it does feel better on your legs overall; it's just a more natural running motion.

And from a gymnastics perspective, a lot of what we do is emphasize the natural springing motion of the ankles. Using your ankles/toes gives you more bounce than using your knees alone; when you see kids doing slow, lumbering tumbling passes, it's partly because they haven't learned to bounce with their ankles/toes and their legs are having to do all the work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Old Gymnast, Old Tricks: My Story in International Gymnast

One way to get into International Gymnast magazine: make fun of yourself! I had to chuckle when the editor mentioned how much he also hated running. 

Here's the story copied below. Or read it in the March 2012 issue of International Gymnast, my favorite magazine since 1989. :)

I'm not sure if it's the current trend in general, or if I've just reached the age, that it seems like everyone I know is running 5K's and 10K's and competing in triathlons and training for marathons.

I have a theory about this.

I don't for a minute believe that all these people actually enjoy running.

Oh, I’m sure some of them do. I guess they just love huffing and puffing through the neighborhood, feeling the wind in their hair, hearing the acorns crack under their Nikes. But frankly, I think that many people run races simply to have something to work toward. They want a reason to exercise, a way to get credit for the hard work they've put in at the gym.

I'm a terrible runner. But I have to say, I've considered it myself: How can I test myself, how can I feel some sense of accomplishment, what sort of goal can I set that will give more purpose and direction to my workouts? The clear answer is with an organized race. As an adult, it’s pretty much the only way to satisfy that competitive urge, whether you're driven by the other athletes, or you just hope to set a personal best record, or you want that sponsor-list event t-shirt to prove you did it. 

But you know what? To heck with that! I hate running. It's boring. It's miserable. It's not so great for your knees.

So instead I'm setting my own fitness goal--one that doesn't involve running. And to do it, I'm going to need to borrow a set of bars. Just for a few minutes…at some point. But not yet.

I struck upon the idea a few weeks ago when was celebrating my daughter's 5th birthday. We had her party at the local gymnastics academy and we had the run of the whole place. That's when I did something that always drove me crazy when I was a coach, working parties. Gymnastics parties are for the KIDS, you know. No adults on the equipment, please. No size-13-dad-feet on beams; no grandma, purse in hand, on the parallel bars (I saw that once). 

But I just couldn't help myself. It was all so enticing! Ever so discreetly, I casually sidled over to a set of bars. With a furtive glance to see if anyone was watching, I quickly felt for adequate chalkiness. I saw the opportunity, and I took it.

I jumped, reached for the bar, took a nice glide--wait, not so nice. Funny how I couldn't seem to extend myself at the end of that swing. Why should that be hard? It's just swinging! I straddled to make it easier, but the tops of my legs were really burning. Toes to the bar...almost. How many times had I coached little girls, "Don't throw your head back!" (Did they also feel like they were wearing concrete helmets?) Now, to pull right up...ooooph! Or not.

A kip, the very building block of any bar routine, is no longer a part of my skill set. My kip is GONE. Sure, I can still break out a respectable handstand to impress my kids. I could probably even eke out an ugly cartwheel on beam if I needed to. But what I imagine when I drift off to sleep at night, is that sensation of a perfectly timed, smoothly swung, straight-armed kip.

The glide kip, to me, represents all that's great about gymnastics. It's the skill that gives young gymnasts fits. You can spend hours trying, month after month, knowing you’re strong enough and oh-so-close, but you can't quite understand the technique or master the timing. And it's tricky: you have to pull, yet push; you have to let your hands roll around the bar when you want to hang on for dear life. 

Then one day, you finally jump! glide! pull! push! and find yourself perched on top of that bar for the first time. You experience a moment of such utter delight, such pure joy, that all you can do is laugh and yell and kick your legs in victory because your arms are finally doing what they're supposed to do by suspending you up on that bar. I loved watching friends, and later students, learn that trick. There's nothing like seeing the surprise on a kid's face when they make their kip for the first time. It's like Christmas morning. 

Hundreds or thousands of kips will follow, and it just becomes another basic skill. But I still remember the simple pleasure of gliding on that bar and feeling like it was easy. 

THAT is my goal. Some folks get satisfaction from crossing a finish line, but I want the satisfaction of completing a skill. I want to float up to that bar like I did when I was twelve. 

Here's what I’m up against: I understand what to do, but I'm no longer fit enough to do it. I now realize that I spent my youth bemoaning my mediocre gymnastics ability, when in fact I was actually quite athletic and strong. Eight years ago I was still playing around the gym where I worked, then having three kids in five years made it easy to stop exercising. But for the past two years--I'm 35 now-- I've worked out at my local Y two or three times a week. I've found that a cross-train class is really similar to the conditioning we did in gymnastics--and as an adult I push myself more because I'm striving to get the best workout possible in the shortest amount of time. I also enjoy a cardio-kickbox-hip-hop class--much more fun than the treadmill.

I'll need to modify my workouts a bit. I'm aiming for three or four times per week. I'll have to add in some more purposeful exercises, elements to serve as kip drills.  It should be easy to get in some extra abdominal work (ab classes are offered at the Y because everyone wants a flat stomach), but outside gymnastics, I've found, the hip flexor gets no love. So I’ll have to find time to get in all those leg lifts and V-ups I’ve been missing.

Now about those bars. The biggest challenge for an adult wanting to do gymnastics is finding access to equipment. My kids' local gym doesn't have an adult class, so I'm prepared to pay for a private lesson. Those can be costly, but most of my preparation will be at the Y I already attend. I also have the option of trekking the hour and a half back to the gym where I used to work. And because I'm not attempting something dangerous--skills involving rotation in the air are definitely no longer in my realm of possibility--I feel I can practice the skill itself on a sporadic basis. 

Finally, I’ve got my gymnastics blog, www.opinegym.com, to keep my friends abreast of my progress. Maybe I’ll get others thinking outside the box to find their fitness motivation or better yet, recapture something they loved from childhood.

And that's my game plan to relearn a kip. I think you can teach an old dog new—or old—tricks. Will it take a month? Six months? A year? There's only one way to find out.