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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics-- Svetlana Boginskaya

She's always been my favorite!

She makes vault look floaty.

I love, love, love this compulsory routine.

I could probably do this beam routine if I had a magical paisley leotard.

And I really like this music.

Still going in 1996.

KipQuest 2012! Where I'm at.

You may recall, I've set a goal to relearn a kip. Phase one is simply to work out more in order to get strong enough to complete the skill. Two weeks in, I look really similar to this chick

because we both have longer-than-shoulder-length hair. 

So here were my workout resolutions:
  • Go to gym 3-4 times per week. Check! (previously I had been going 2-3).
  • Add more leg lifts (and similar) as drills for kipping action. Check!
  • Stay longer than 15 minutes even if there's not a class holding me for 45 minutes to an hour. Check!
The last one is the hardest because I tend to bumble around the gym, skipping over intimidating equipment, if I don't have a particular assignment. I'm pretty proud that I run a mile each time I go, but that's all you're getting from me, runners. One miserable mile is torture aplenty. My plan is to continue this routine for a while before I actually try another kip. 

Meanwhile, ManArms up there says she goes  to the gym 1 1/2 hours, 6 days a week, tops. That's not crazy excessive. What the heck is she doing?? (Probably not killing time untangling her headphones or flipping through her iPod.) 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Soviet Dream Team, Svetlana Boginskaya

Finally I've come to my favorite gymnast of all time, Svetlana Boginskaya. I've dropped her name before, sometimes in reference to her completely awesome use of paisley in athletic apparel, also in reference to my experience at the 1991 World Championships. But I'm long overdue to feature her routines.

She won the 1989 World Championships, and her floor routine was a huge hit. The choreography was delightfully bizarre and the music was a weird contrast. She towered over her competitors and her tumbling had a sort of floating quality--she seemed to rely on technique more than power. Love it or hate it, it's a completely memorable routine; we don't see a lot of those these days because gymnasts have to pack in the skills to meet increasingly difficult requirements.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Soviet Dream Team, Svetlana Baitova and Natalia Laschenova

Today I'm continuing the lineup of the amazing Soviet team that won the 1989 World Championships in Stuttgart. My little VHS tape of this rotation in this event was worn to a thread. YouTube is seriously a gymnastics enthusiast's dream.

Svetlana Baitova is probably the weak link on this great team, but the choreography is still so lovely:

In contrast here's Natalia Laschenova with one of my favorite routines of all time:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: The Soviet Dream Team

At the 1989 World Championships the Soviet Union had what I consider to be the dream team of gymnastics. My personal favorite, Svetlana Boginskaya won the all-around, but most striking was how every single Soviet floor routine was its own intriguing little balletic performance (to say nothing of the superior tumbling).

Most notable of all was Olga Strazheva, whose avant garde performance to Stravinsky's Rite of Spring incorporated elements of the original ballet. To put it completely eloquently, the Rite of Spring opened in 1913 and blew everyone's mind because it was scandalously weird.

Here's Olga Strazheva in 1989:

Here's a bit of a Rite of Spring performance for comparison:

Stay tuned for other dream team members.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm the tenth place champion!

Do you like my lovely ribbon collage? That's just how I poke fun at myself. A blue ribbon is synonymous with first place. Red is for second, and white is for third. After that, as you can see, it's reject colors.

Most meets these days don't even give ribbons. Everyone gets a medal, and I do mean EVERYONE. First place looks the same as tenth. Some meets don't even give placements--the entire field of competitors is divided into thirds. The top third are the gold medal winners, the middle third get the silver, and the bottom third get the bronze. I guess that's good for little bitty kids. Everybody leaves with a neck full of medals.

In my first meet, I'm pretty sure I left with two green ribbons. That's sixth or seventh place. And I was happy to get them. That sort of sums up my "career." Sure, I ended up with a few blues, reds, and whites here and there. But you know what made those wins sweeter? The fact that I was so used to beige, brown, and maroon.

Kids will be okay if we don't toss copious amounts of participatory bling at them. They'll be okay if we tell them they didn't win or even that they placed last. Maybe they'll work harder next time, or maybe they'll learn to be genuinely impressed by and happy for the kids that win all the time. Maybe they'll eventually develop a delightfully self-effacing wit.

Once I coached a group of very young first-time competitors. They were so cute, and they seemed to be having fun. One mother wasn't impressed, and at the end of the season she pulled her kid out of gymnastics. She said: "How am I supposed to tell a six-year-old she didn't win?"

Well, gee. How about, "You didn't win."

But also, how about, "You didn't win, but you did fantastic. You've learned so much and you're getting better and better every day. Did you have fun? Don't forget to congratulate your teammates and clap for the girls that DID win."

I was not always a good sport. One time when I was about ten, I cried because my own teammate got a higher score on beam than I did, when I thought I did better than she did. What a rotten kid I was that day. My coach got very angry at me, and boy, did I deserve it.

That spurt of brattiness aside, I learned to embrace my role as perennial green-ribbon-winner. I didn't expect to win, so I didn't feel pressure. I knew I wasn't heading for the Olympics, or college gymnastics. I was just enjoying myself with a fun and healthy sport. I was pleased enough that I did have a few individual skills that were on par with or better than some of the blue ribbon girls, even if I wouldn't ever be as good overall. I did the best I could.

What if people told their kids, "Don't bother being on the varsity football team if you don't plan to go pro."

Or, "Don't bother writing a novel if it's not going to evoke comparisons to Tolstoy."

Or, "Don't bother graduating if you're not going to be the valedictorian."

So go on and keep score at the 5-year-old soccer game. Have an awards ceremony at school for the kids that make good grades. Don't worry if your kid comes home empty-handed from the gymnastics meet. Not everyone will come home with a prize, but they can handle it...or at least, they'll learn to. Maybe they'll even work their way up to tenth place.

Your daily dose of gymnastics: New skills montage

This handy montage shows new skills that were added to the Code of Points after the 2011 Tokyo World Championships. According to the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) here's how you get a skill named after you:
Gymnasts have the opportunity to present new elements at any official FIG event. In order for them to be included in the Code of Points, the submitted elements must be successfully (without fall) performed by the gymnasts during World Championships, Olympic Games or Youth Olympic Games and have at least a “C” value.
They also note:
 Apart from Christine Lee’s (CAN) 2 Flying Flairs mount on Balance Beam, a “B” element, all new elements performed in Tokyo were included in the list of elements as part of the WAG Code of Points, each named after the gymnast who first performed it.
Thus it's possible for a skill to have been competed years before (see first skill in montage) but never named after its true originator because that gymnast never competed it in World or Olympic competition.

My favorite new skill is the Seitz...really cool if she can learn to keep her legs together.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sticky the Stick Gymnast Demonstrates a Kip

So now that I've set my goal to relearn a kip, I find myself describing it to puzzled friends. A kip is THE fundamental skill of bars. You can't have a routine without one. Or two or three or four. There are variations on a kip, of course, but the first thing you learn is a "glide kip" on the low bar. 

To demonstrate, I've put my skills as a geometry class slacker to work and resurrected Sticky the Stick Gymnast. Sticky can only exist on notebook paper, naturally. (Acceptable variation: Sticky sometimes stars in the margins of spiral notebooks in her own flip-book motion pictures.) Oh, how I used to while away the hours devising clever and impossible bar routines instead of solving quadratic equations and whatnot. 

Sticky the Stick Gymnast will now demonstrate a proper glide kip:

Sticky will now demonstrate my current skill level:

Now test your kip savvy and see how many kips you can spot in this routine:

How many?

I count 5 kips (in different variations). 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Larissa Latynina and Beth Tweddle

I love watching really old bar routines because I can imagine that if I had been around in 1964, I totally could have been in the Olympics. Here's Soviet great Larissa Latynina:

And for contrast here's British superstar Beth Tweddle, whose current routine is one of the most difficult in the world yet is imbued with that 1960's and 70's sense of creativity and unexpectedness.

There used to be a judging parameter--many still mourn for the loss of this requirement, in part because it's just a great slogan-- called "ROV." Risk, originality, virtuosity. I think Beth Tweddle's routine certainly embodies these principles. I think we all need a little ROV in our lives.

Find your unorthodox fitness goal!

Yesterday at the Y, I stopped to speak with the instructor after a class which has evolved from cardio-kickbox to cardio-kickbox-hip-hop-zumba. It's totally fun if you like to dance, and it's a great workout.

"I have to tell you about my new goal," I told Kelly, who I knew had been a gymnast as a kid and is now a fitness instructor and cheerleading coach, mother to a bunch of kids and still looks ridiculously fantastic.

I told her how I hated running and I had nixed any notion of ever setting that sort of goal, but I decided I needed to relearn a kip on bars. She was excited. "I'm gonna hold you to it! My goal is to do a full by my 40th birthday, which is in two weeks!" (For my non-gymnast friends, a full is shorthand for a flip in a stretched position with a full twist.) She said she is trying to motivate some of her cheerleaders who are learning fulls by challenging herself to do it along with them.

"Whoa," I said, "I am so not there." My last handspring was in 2003.

But that's okay. Maybe after I get a kip, I'll find the motivation to learn a full for my 40th, too. Fortunately, I've got five years to work on that. (I'm not making any promises here. A kip is what I said, and I kip is what I meant.)

So, we've each got our goals and it's great to know that others have the same idea--find what appeals to you, and figure out the means to get it done. Later I turned on the computer to find this awesome story:


I love it!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Guess who's training for a marathon!? Not me.

Because of my enthusiasm for the sport, many people assume I was some hotshot superstar gymnast. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I had my moments: handstands and strength holds, I'm your girl. Finding obscure skills on beam to meet difficulty requirements, my specialty. Flexibility was a hallmark. I was the unofficial resident choreographer.

Unfortunately, I had the air sense of a turtle. I had no self-discipline; I didn't push myself nearly as hard as I should have. I collected green ribbons.

Green ribbons are what you get after first (blue), second (red), and third (white) are handed out. Then maybe yellow...orange...purple are handed out. Imagine what place you are when it gets down to brown and pink. I collected those too. I have beige ribbons. Beige.

But I digress.

Lucky for me, you don't have to be a hotshot superstar to teeter on the edge of the floor and try to fit in 10 or 12 back handsprings across the diagonal just to see how fast you can go. You don't have to be great to fling yourself off the bar and float through a flip to land on a nice squishy mat. You don't have to be very good at all to really impress your classmates by doing tricks on the playground that would impress absolutely no one in the gym.

Is it any wonder, then, that I find running a little stale...a tad mind-numbing...somewhat unfulfilling? Yet running is the go-to exercise and races are the must-have goal for most people over the age of 18 that aren't good enough for college or professional athletics. It's not like a 35-year-old can join the swim team or take up pole vaulting. Unless you live in New York and it's the latest fitness craze. In which case a gym on every corner would offer pole vaulting classes for $300 a pop, taught by the pole-vaulting guru to the stars.

Where was I? Oh yes. Running.

I certainly admire all you runner-types. I honestly don't want to insult your favorite activity. You are all amazing and crazy, and I mean that in the best way possible. Truth be told, I'm only down on running because I am insanely jealous. I'd love to be able to hoof it around the neighborhood for a few miles and feel the freedom and the exhilaration and...um...whatever it is that you like about running. All I feel is my lungs, exploding.

Fortunately, I've found the workouts I like--cross train classes and cardio-kickbox--and I'm feeling more fit than I have in years. In fact, I even thought of signing up for a run, just for the challenge. But then I reminded myself, "Self, you hate running."

Do you hate running...but you're doing it anyway? Were you good at something when you were younger? Maybe it's time to revisit it. That's my plan.

The folks at International Gymnast magazine were kind enough to laugh at my slightly wacky resolution. You can read my story about the personal challenge I'm setting for myself in the March issue.
Me, 12 years old