Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Couch Gymnast's Top Twelve.........


I have always preferred AA and event finals over team finals in major gym competition.  To me, gymnastics is about individual endeavor, while in other parts of the world, for many people, its all about the team.  Don't get me wrong, I love the drama and excitement of the team comps, but i just get bored about it being about the same countries sometimes. 
At least with the two per country rule in the AA, you always get to see a diverse range of gymnasts from different places, and the event finals, with their focus on specialists open up the competition even more. I love the variety that comes with these sessions.
Still, there is something to be said about the intense battle between the top four or five for the three medals. It's such a showdown at every major competition, particularly since Romania stopped ruling supreme.
And I do get into team comps, even if i don't get as excited as about the others. (I still can't bring myself to watch the team Beijing finals again since i saw them live.  It was all so intense I can't do it over again!)
So, todays list is going to be about my favorite competitive teams over the years.  There are definitely some countries i love more than others, but there are also combinations of athletes within those teams I have loved more than  others.  
I love them for various reasons.  Sometimes it's a about sheer gymnastics greatness, sometimes its about achieving feats not achieved before by certain countries.  Sometimes it's about politics, sometimes its about combinations of personalities. Sometimes it's just because i love them. 
So today, here is a list of my  top twelve competitive teams.

12. Ukraine, 2000 Sydney Team (fourth)

I picked Ukraine for this last spot because of nostalgia for the last time they 'hit it'.  They seemed to be coming on strong for a brief minute, taking that fourth spot- the best result in a while. But then, after that...nothing.
 There was some great gymnasts on that 2000 team, like Karpenko who coulda-shoulda-woulda been an AA champion.  It was great to see them doing so well, especially when their country was struggling so much.
I have mixed feelings about Ostapenko himself, but i hope, hope hope he injects some strength back into the Ukrainian team.  They do not lack for raw talent, but they need someone strong in charge to give them a bit of mental strength.  Then maybe fourth place won't be so surprising next time.

11. U.S.A 2004 Athens Olympics Team (silver)

This was not a team effort i loved particularly.  It was too addled by injury and strange line up changes and it's champion a girl i just can't bring myself to like.  But as individuals, i just loved most of this team to bits and it contained some of my favorite American gymnasts to date.  Courtney Kupets is one of the toughest little bits i have ever seen snap an achilles.  And she is just so sunny in a not-an-annoying-way. She and the ridiculously cool and elegant Courtney McCool are the reasons i will never stop loving the Gymdogs, despite their boring tendency to win everything.  Terin Humphrey was a stunner and i was ridiculously pleased when she won an individual medal. I have always adored the ex-wildchild Mohini Bhardwaj steadiness and grace.  She was like the gymnastics version of Jennifer Capriati for a minute there.  I can never forget that image of her standing in the corner trying to prepare to go on beam for her team with about ten minutes notice, or the way she grabbed Carly Patterson afterwards and gasped that it was the worst thing she had ever had to do!  And as for Annia Hatch, every time i see one of her vaults, i just gasp.  She was astonishing. Sigh.  I Loved those girls.

10. Italy 2006 European Champs (gold)

You have to admit, it was kind of insanely wonderful when Italy pulled past both Russia and Romania to take the team gold in Volos.  The strengths of Vanessa Ferrari's high scoring wow 'em beam and bars, the solid work of team stalwarts Bergamelli and Giovannini and the impressive work of up and comers like Parolari, paired with weak unevens bars rotations by the big powers saw them move right up the ranks behind Romania.  Then, at the last minute, with an incredible rotation on floor, Italy managed to overcome Romaina by a mere .1 margin.  It might be considered a small margin for most things, but it is a huge margin for the new international power that italy has become in women's gymnastics.

9. Australia 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Team (gold)

I picked this team because it reminds me of what Australia lost too early. Monette Russo, one of the steadiest, strongest gymnasts we ever had succumbed to injury just a little too early for my liking.  Both Chloe Sims and Hollie Dykes were also on this team and both retired surprisingly early for their many fans.  I have two competing trains of thought on this one.  It makes me a little concerned to see two such formidable talents burn out too young in a country where, while I am sure pressure to perform is very much present, it is not nearly at the intensity it is in others.    At the same time it makes me appreciate the Australian lifestyle where these girls can leave the sport and take up other opportunities that might better suit them-though of course I am heartbroken to see them go.  
Hollie is involving herself in dance which is lovely to hear because she moved so prettily and Chloe is just the right kind of personality to thrive and have an awesome time in collegiate gymnastics.  I can't wait to see her compete again in such a fun environment!  Naomi Russell also left the sport- not sure why- though she had a great effort on uneven bars.  Ashleigh Brennan was actually the only one of the group to make it to the Beijing team this year.

8. Spain 2001 Ghent (fourth)

Remember when Spain started coming on strong in the late nineties and early thousands?  They were like a flashfire, burning up and then disappearing before they got a real chance to take off.  But they were such a treat to watch on vault and floor. At Ghent with talents like Moro and Gomez and Moya, the girls also kicked some great butt on beam and bars.  Ugly leotards aside, Spain was a real treat to watch.  I wish they'd gotten a world team medal at some point back then because they don't seem to be coming back to remind us they were once here.

7. Brazil Beijing 2008 Team (eighth)

I love what has happened to Brazil over the last decade and even though they didn't have the results they were hoping to have this year, the Brazilian team was made up of evidence of just what had made Brazilian women's gymnastics so great recently.  Jade Barbosa, the best all-arounder they've ever had.  Danille Hypolito the trail-blazer.  Diane Dos Santos, the most spectacular tumbler artisitic gymnastics has ever seen. The talented Lais Souza and the up and coming talent of the younger Ana Silva and Ethiene Franco.  And it was so, so heartwarmingly funny to see them freak out and cry, and then discover they hadn't actually missed out on the team finals at all!

6. Australia 2003 Anaheim Team (bronze)

I have talked about it a lot.  I know it was a bit of a default bronze, butit's still amazing enough that  Australia were  close enough to snatch it after the Chinese penalty lost them the medal.  Also, this team represented to me a changing of the guards in Australian gymnastics, with it having both the older, wiser and beautiful gymnastics of Allana Slater and the wonderful new work of Monette Russo.

5. Russia 2000 Sydney Olympic Team (silver)

Who didn't love these girls despite their less than stellar performances in the team comp?!  Led by those bad girls Khorky and Produnova, who were all tough looks and spunk and attitude.  They were so entertaining.  Accompanied by the talents Labazniouk and Zammo they showed off some brilliant gymnastics, even if they couldn't pull off the gold. Besides, even if it was a little bit bad-sportish, it was kind of hot when they yanked off their medals after the ceremony. I love a bit of drama so I loved every second of it.

4. U.S.A 2008 Beijing Olympic Team (silver)

It's probably because of the intensity with which the media was focussed on these girls leading up to Beijing, but I feel like their Olympic preparation  was part of my every day life, even more so than with the Aussie gymnasts.  I knew what Chellsie Memmel ate for breakfast before I knew what Georgia Bonora looked like.  And because of the intense American gymnastics coverage I had been able to follow Nastia, Chellsie, Shawn and Alicia since they were tiny little mites right up until the point they walked or limped up to the podium. Bridget and Sam were newer to me to, but i liked 'em anyway. I will never stop being fond of these girls.

3. Unified Team 1992 Barcelona (Gold)

Oh, it was the last Soviet hurrah,  wasn't it?!  What insane talent there was among this team with the likes of Bogey, Galiyeva, Gutsu, Lysenko, Chusso and Grudneva!  Some of them made it to multiple Olympics, nearly all of them have tasted individual gold at a world level and here they were training together for the last time for they were split between the former soviet states.  Better for Russia politically perhap- but for gymnastics, nothing was ever the same as it was when these kinds of champions competed together.

2. USSR 1985 Worlds Team (gold)

Another ridiculous array of talent in one small group.  Mostepanova, Shushanova, Omeliantchik, Yurchenko, Baraksanova.  Every single one of them was brilliant in some way.  But the highest concentration was of innovation in this gang.  We had Mostepanova who didn't get the Onodi named after her.  We had  Omeliantchik who revolutionized floor work with the super-cute tumbling extravaganza"birdie" routine and had a half-on vault to call her own.  We had Yurchenko who changed vaulting forever, Shushunova who had THAT move on floor as well as doing the first 1.5 Yurchenko ever and having a release named for her on the unevens.  And finally we had Baraksanova whose grace on floor was renowned.  As a group of gymnast they were sheer brilliance.  They were trailblazers for the sport.

1. Romania Athens Olympics 2004 Team (gold)

It is often said how amazing it was that Romania brought a brand new bunch of young girls to Athens completely different from  the champs of Sydney and still clinched that team gold. But oh what a phenomenal bunch of girls they were!  Ponor was a powerhouse on three events and a wonderful team leader. Rosu was an insanely good vaulter.  The two of them had an edge of maturity the team needed to remain on track through the session. Oana Ban was the cutest little dynamite on floor.  The very young Eremia's beam effort in the teams was exquisite, as was Sofronie's floor.  Her lyrical and lovely floor exercise was one of my favorite routines of that Olympics and Stroescu provided a steady if not as brilliant presence as the others. I don't care about the Romanian weakness on bars-their sheer talent and dynamism on floor and beam more than made up for it! It was such a pleasure to watch these girls win.  They deserved it more than anyone there, and not because they are Romania and they were expected to win, but because they were so unbelievably good that day.


  1. Just wanted to let you know I love your blog! I read it everyday over here in the US. I appreciate that you give attention to other countries, especially the lesser known. It's nice to read about other gymnasts besides American ones. So thank you and keep posting!!!

  2. I love you choice of teams... especially no.1! I'll never forget watching them in 2004

  3. Great choice!
    But I would add the 2008 ECH French team. Even with Severino injured, they were fantastic!

  4. Ukraine did not finish 4th at sydney. They finished 6th. They got 4th in prelims, but fell apart in finals.

  5. How come you left off the mag-7? They were AWESOME.

  6. I really enjoyed this post!

  7. Ah, the Ukraine team at the Sydney Olympics ended up finishing sixth after team finals. This was after Kvasha sat down one of her vaults and Roschupkina had a meltdown on the Floor.

  8. oops. My bad. I meant to say quals. Ukraine came sixth in finals peeps. Thanks. Still love 'em though.
    And yes, no chinese team yet. Have adored chinese athletes but not a whole team yet. I'm sure the way they are going, it won't be long!
    Did love the mag 7 just not as much as other US teams.
    As for France, they were going to go in, but i changed mind at last minute and put in Ukraine for ole times sake.