Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fancy Seeing You Here!!!

Today’s list is going to be something I like to refer to as the Marisa Tomei Underdog awards. For those of you who have never heard of her, she was an actress who, in one of the most surprising Oscar wins yet won the best supporting actress Oscar for her role in a movie called “My Cousin Vinnie' back in 1995 (This is gymnastics related, trust me.).
Well, it is a bit of an understatement to say that people were very surprised when Tomei’s name was read out by Jack Palance at the ceremony. She was up against some very illustrious opposition (such as Vanessa Redgrave who many think was the actual winner) and the film itself hadn’t been considered that great critically. This is not to say Marisa wasn’t good in the film. I have seen it. She was pretty funny. But after the Oscars, for years in fact, a rumour went around that Palance had actually read out the wrong name from the card and Tomei was not actually supposed win the gong.
Personally, I don’t buy that particular rumor. In fact, I like to think that for once, the Academy was awarding a new and interesting underdog talent.
Anyway, the reason I am banging on about Marisa Tomei is because sometimes, in gymnastics competitions, we bigger fans kind of know what’s the most likely result will be. Or, as the Beijing all-around illustrated to us, we know who’ll be on the podium, we may just be surprised by the order in which they climb up there. The change in the code has made predicting winners an even easier task in some ways. Just by knowing the A score of gymnasts in any competition, we can often work out whom, at least, has a chance of a medal (and of course, how their reputation for good or bad execution will duly affect it).
This is why we find ourselves resigned to (but not always happy about) seeing a bouncier, more athletic gymnast like Johnson on the floor podium, while the lovely, but less difficult routines of someone like Anna Pavlova, no matter how much we admire it, do not medal. And this is why we find ourselves confronted and often disheartened by a system that awards Cheng Fei’s vault fall over Alicia Sacramone’s impeccable form or Vanessa Ferrari’s Aarhus win with the fall on beam, but we also understand it in terms of this new system. We already know and understand gymnasts like Ferrari’s and Cheng’s existent scoring advantages.
Even before the scoring change, in the days when the Eastern Bloc remained supreme, if you knew the field, and knew some start scores, you could generally guess who was going to end up with the lion’s share of the hardware. Often, it was just a matter of picking what combination of Romanians and Russians would end up on the podium!
But every now and then, in a competition, someone sneaks through the prelim into a final. Some underdog, like Tomei, slips under the radar pointed in the direction of all the bigger, more famous gymnasts and claims themselves a medal.
And these days, as more and more countries improve in the sport, we see competitors from places we would never have dreamed of seeing twenty, even ten years ago climbing on top of that medal podium.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I find this one of the most exciting parts of the sport today- that we still get to be surprised by a sudden, less noticeable talent emerging from behind the obvious stars. This is why, in today’s list, I will be celebrating some of my favourite dark horse wins of gymnastics…..

Emilie LaPennec’s Athens Bars Gold

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find it pretty exciting when someone from anywhere but China, or the USA or Russia (in the Khorky years) wins bars. Emilie Le Pennec’s win in Athens was the most exciting upset of the meet. It was particularly exciting because Queen Khorky was present, but also because there was a full-twisting Geinger thrown into Le Pennec’s stunning bars mix. Unfortunately Le Pennecs seemingly mighty talent AA wasn’t used as successfully to her advantage in the Melbourne Worlds AA the next year. What a pity. She could have been a contender….

Mo Huilan’s Silver on Vault in Atlanta

It is not so much that Mo Huilan was a dark horse in the vault finals. She had already unveiled her double Yurchenko throughout the year, and her beautiful, typically Chinese form already gave her an execution edge over some of the messier competitors. But I consider this a dark horse win because, until then, who would have even imagined a Chinese woman winning vault? Chinese women were renowned for the beam and bar work, but were never considered having the kind of explosive power required to get over the horse high enough and far enough to win. But there was Mo, flying through the air, dropping as gracefully as a swallow and taking that silver. In doing so, she also paved the way for people like Cheng Fei who, in later years, was only accepted onto the Chinese National team because of her prodigious vaulting talents.

Lyssenko's beam gold in Barcelona

When Tatiana Lyssenko took out the Beam finals back in 1992 in Barecelona, it was not such a surprise that she could do it,- her prelims scores and difficulty values were high- but it was that there were so many contenders in that particular competition- all capable of taking the gold- that it was so wonderful that she prevailed.
But as the finals began, one by one, each of her competitors fell from the beam. Yes, it was one of those beam finals. Then along came Tatiana, who got up there and performed this unwavering, beautiful routine that might have won even if practically everyone else hadn’t literally dropped by the wayside. It was one of those rare moments of brilliance in the face of a very, very lacklustre final and I still remember the commentator telling us, during her routine, that Tatiana claimed to love the beam “Because it obeys me.” It certainly did that day.

Jade barbosa's AA Bronze in Stuttgart

Remember the confusion of the commentators as Jade stood there and cried and cried as she found herself in third place at the Stuttgart AA finals? Remember how the male commentator thought she was dissapointed at dropping from 1st to 3rd, while the woman assured him that, no she was probably just absolutely overcome at winning a medal at all?
Jade Barbosa’s performance and consequent medal in the AA’s was one of the most refreshing and exciting things I have seen in gymnastics in a long time. I mean, who was this girl with her hellfire vault, rock steady (until floor) routines and sweet, sweet smile? Where did she come from?
Not only was it wonderful to see such a great new gymnast being rewarded, but it was also wonderful to see an another acknowledgment (in medal form) of the way Brazilian have come on in leaps and bounds in gymnastics over the last ten or so years under Ostapenko and co. I just wish Jade could have come through with the goods at Beijing, but it was not to be.

Ludivine Furnon's Bronze on floor in Sabae worlds in 1995

I had to toss up wether to include Ludivine’s floor bronze in 1995 or Severino’s gold in 2005 in this piece. Eventually I chose Ludivine’s. I have talked enough about Severino in this blog, and Furnon’s was a first for France in so many ways-the first floor medals, and I believe the first medal at Worlds full stop. Also, Ludivine’s routines were just beautiful, kicking off what is slowly becoming a French tradition in interesting and lovely floor work. Her work is also said to be a demonstration of why Adriana Pop became such a sought-after choreographer, being among her first protégés after Pop emigrated to France.

Cassy vericel Bronze on floor in Stuttgart

Speaking of French women, Cassy Vericel was another nice surprise in the Stuutgart AA, continuing what is now becoming a trend of French women stealing in and snatching floor medals from under the top contenders noses. Vericel might not be as artistic or have as much personality as other, but that routine was hit hard and clean on the night, and the signalled the all-round improvement in French gymnastics, hinting at how and why it would be possible for the French women to have such a successful run at the Euro team medals last year.

Beth Tweddle's Gold on bars at Aarhus

It was a well-known fact before Worlds started that Beth Tweddle had a routine and a talent big enough to compete with the best on bars at Aarhus. But there weren’t many who thought she had the amplitude or the form over some of her main competitors, particularly Nastia. But then Beth went out there and did the routine of her life. Finally, her outstanding bars talent was rewarded. As lovely as it was to see Beth run around the small stadium with the Union Jack wrapped around her back, it was even more touching and funny to hear those crusty old Brit commentators get all choked up over it!

Elyse hopfner hibbs 3rd on beam at Aarhus

This was one of those great, great event finals moments where everything came together so beautifully for a gymnast whose routine deserved the attention it finally got. The fact that it began with a brilliant aerial into two layout step outs and included an impeccable double spin didn’t hurt either. I am not sure what was sweeter to see, Elyse’s slightly stunned smile on winning the bronze or her coach Carol-Angela Orchard’s manic cheering when she nailed her landing.

Australian team placing 3rd in Anaheim

We’ve talked about this before. I think we all know that Australia probably would not have been up there in the medals if China hadn’t been penalised, or Russia hadn’t screwed up quite so badly, but for an Australian like myself, it was still indicative of just how far Australia had come in gymnastics for them to even be hovering anywhere close enough to the leaders to snatch that medal from them at the such an opportune moment.

Daiane Dos Santos gold on Floor in Anaheim.

Of course, word had gotten out about Dos Santos before Athens, but who can honestly admit this girls incredible, incredible tumbling did not stun them that day? I mean, she couldn’t dance for anything and, as Coach Vick would have said in Stick it, she was ‘popping her clutch all over the place’ over-rotating every single landing. But really, she was probably just grateful she didn’t go out of bounds, and besides, how HIGH could that girl jump? I was happy to sacrifice a bit of artistry (just this once) to see THAT tumbling. It was a spectacular moment in gymnastics. And the way she bounced up and down like an excited kid (which I guess she was) when she won was a sight to behold.

Monette Russo 3rd AA at 2005 worlds

Call it a home court advantage if you like, but Netty’s AA bronze medal was a one of the best things that ever happened to Australian women’s gymnastics, up there with Lisa Skinner making it to floor finals in 2000 and Holly Dikes making commentators all over the world wet their pants with excitement at this exciting this new gymnastic presence. Monette Russo’s performance at the Melbourne worlds was evidence both of her great talent, but also the Peggy Liddicks savvy instincts in selecting the steadiest, most psychologically unshakeable gymnasts to compete for Australia. There were so many gymnasts out there from all over the world who could have and should have won that bronze medal, but didn’t because of nerves and poor performance. It was Monette who held it together that day.

And there are so many more- Verona Van De Leur’s floor medal, Jana Biegers surprise second place in the Aarhus AA, Patricia Moreno’s three-and-a-half twisting floor medal. Holly and Chellsie sharing a gold on bars, to name a few. But it is all I have for today.You guys can provide the rest!!

1 comment:

  1. I love LaPennec! GREAT BLOGGING! :)