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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics: Tracee Talavera

This is pretty darn cute:

Now watch how Tracee adapts when the event transitions from the close settings for beats and wrapping skills to the wider settings for release moves.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics--Mary Lou Retton

Everyone knows the name Mary Lou Retton, but since 28(!) years have passed, most young gymnasts have never seen her performances. Mary Lou was my introduction to gymnastics, and there has never been a better ambassador for the sport. She's so well remembered for her happy personality that few may realize that she was very much ahead of her time in terms of difficulty. On floor, a double layout opening pass/ tucked full-in second pass is difficulty that would hold up today in competition.

Here she is, a few months before the Olympics that made her famous. Even though the second pass has a fall, it's a great clip to see the speed and height of her first pass, the double layout.

In the Olympics, it came down to vault, and again, she was so ahead of her time with a powerful layout full twisting Tsukahara.

Worth noting: this documentary style commentary mentions that "it was determined that Retton needed a perfect ten." This was determined by viewers, commentators, coaches, etc. The judges, who remain at one apparatus for the competition, would not have known what score she needed for the win.

Mary Lou was so popular that you could buy, among other officially licensed Mary Lou gear, your own Mary Lou leotard. My prized leotard (as well as a fabulous Mary Lou-endorsed purple stirrup pants-sweatshirt combo) was lost to cousins in the hand-me-down shuffle, but this awesome workout book/cassette tape is still hanging out in my closet back home:

Friday, February 24, 2012

KipQuest 2012! Youth is Wasted on the Young

It's a month into my goal of relearning a kip, and I feel great. But not because I'm kipping like my childhood light-as-a-feather-self. I haven't actually been on the bars yet.

But I've stuck with my workout plan--a minimum of 3 days a week at the gym-- and THAT is a big accomplishment when you have three young children. Okay, so this past week was a bust. We had three days off for the Mardi Gras holidays, and vacation is the nemesis of exercise. One morning, I did do twenty-five pushups and then read Vogue while in a plank position. Surely that counts for something. 

Today, the nursery at the Y is closed for floor refinishing so no hip-hop-kick-box for me. So yesterday was my single workout of the week. As a kid, I'd take off for family vacation, sit in my splits a few times throughout the week to stay stretchy, and go back to the gym without a problem. As an adult, taking a week off is a huge setback. When starting back, my numbers of repetitions go down, my distance decreases from pathetic to laughable (yes, I do hit the treadmill on occasion, and I hate every minute of it), and my inhaler becomes my best friend. 

Most adults understand how to push themselves harder than kids do. Kids are drawn to gymnastics because a) they enjoy it and/or b) it comes easily to them. But once it starts to become difficult, they're inclined to quit in frustration or reduce focus on the difficult part. For instance, beam came easily for me but vault didn't; but did I push myself even harder on vault? No. I wanted more and more beam because it was more enjoyable, and I did the bare minimum on vault because not only did I hate it, but because I told myself, "I just wasn't meant to be a good vaulter." 

As an adult, I find workouts unfulfilling if there isn't a slight element of torture. Now, feeling exhausted, sore, and sweaty means that I'm making progress. I remember, as a child, being assigned ten leg lifts and feeling smug because I was getting away with such easy conditioning. But did I challenge myself to do more? Of course not. Meanwhile, chin-ups were more difficult, so I'd do six good ones and three half-way ones and say I did ten. Could I have done ten good ones? Absolutely. But did I want to do any more work than I possibly had to? No. So progress stalled, and I never became the gymnast I could have been. Still, I think that's probably typical adolescent behavior. The teenagers you see at level 9, 10, elite--they're the ones that understand how to push themselves, and that's an extremely rare quality. 

So what's the difference in kids and adults? I guess kids are programmed to desire instant gratification ("I'm never going to do giant swings; I've been trying forever and it's just not happening, so why bother?") and will behave a certain way despite understanding the long-term consequences ("skipping giant swings will mean that I won't make my goal of competing at level 9, but I guess it's just not meant to be"). 

As an adult, there's something urgent about racing against the clock to prove that you can still be as fit as a teenager. You have to get rid of that baby weight, and you have to be able to run around with the kids in the yard, and you have to haul two gallons of milk in one hand and a toddler in the other. You find yourself ticking items off a list just to say you've done them (marathons, anyone?). You want to look as young as you feel (23) even though you're somehow, impossibly, 35. But you also realize that in order to feel as good as you did when you were young, you just have to work much harder at it.

I'm almost ready to start working on the actual kip itself. But you don't train for a marathon by running one everyday (see, I'm learning from you, crazy runners), so right now I'm concentrating on getting strong before I make any attempts. And I'm hoping I can make it this weekend to The New Orleans Jazz Invitational for a little inspiration. It's the annual meet hosted by Empire Gymnastics, where I used to work.  Maybe while I'm there, I'll remind those kids not to cheat on their chin-ups. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics-- Gabrielle Douglas

Thinking about the Olympics...better review another hopeful! I really like Gabrielle Douglas. She needs a little polish but she's young yet. She seems like she was just a natural born gymnast; she's got an effortless quality about her. Which is not to say that she's always perfect--but she seems so full of potential.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics-- Aliya Mustafina

With the Olympics less than six months away, it's time to start looking at the hopefuls. Aliya Mustafina is recovering from an April ACL tear (a vault injury), but I hope she's good as new in time for London because I love her bars:

I'm not crazy about her floor routine; I know she's got to fill requirements, but her dance is almost entirely arm flourishes. However, I think it's interesting to watch this for the camera angles on her tumbling--notice how much her legs cross in the air. You have to be a great tumbler and fast twister to accomplish a 3 1/2 twist--but I'll cringe to watch her land, with all that torque, on a freshly healed knee.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Your daily dose of gymnastics-- Beating the Bars

Beats (that's slamming your hips on the bar and pumping your legs for momentum) were a staple of bar routines up until the early 80's. Once bar routines got more difficult, the bars had to be set wider to accommodate high-flying release skills. Here's a little more background on belly beats.

Karin Janz (East Germany) did this really creative routine in 1975: 

Maxi Gnauck (East Germany) was still doing beats in 1985. Here's Maxi, incorporating some more difficult release skills and giant swings (that's circling around the high bar in a handstand position) on bars set close enough to beat. 

In just a few short years beats would be completely out of fashion--with the bars set wider, gymnasts could extend their bodies more fully in a giant swing, generating more speed and height for the difficult release moves. 

By 1988 most routines were similar to Elena Shoushounova's, with the bars set much wider, though still close enough to reach the high bar from a seated position on low. 

Finally, bar sets today are wide enough for a gymnast to swing almost fully extended without even straddling her legs or piking at the hips to get around. Unfortunately, there are fewer ways to transition for high bar to low bar. The only easy way is to stand on the low bar. Every other way to get from low to high involves an extremely difficult release.