Thursday, December 11, 2008

More Please!

The one thing that has pained me most lately, like it has pained most of us with the pre-Beijing version of the code, is just how uniform gymnastics has become.  So many of the same moves have been used over and over again.  So many floor routines resemble each other in their choreography because of the use of similar patterns of skills to achieve required difficulty.  Lift leg turns on beam have become practically prerequisite.  Vault medals depend on how many twists you pack into a Yurchenko.  Ending your floor routine with a double pike is the standard. 
There are, of course, still a lot of wonderful innovations and unique stylings that come through in big contests, and they seem to shine even  more in the face of all the sameness surrounding them.
Of course, we all have our certain gymnastic individual predilections.  I am sure there are even people out there who get excited over a side-somi on beam or a double layout bars dismount. I have found I have my particular favorites and all this You Tubing lately has led me to compile a list of things I love to see in gymnastics.  And just like that hungry little brat Oliver Twist, I want some more dammit!
So today, I present you with a list of things I wish were used a bit more in our favorite sport and show that there is still room for originality....

1.  Interesting Music choices on floor.
I am always surprised when i see documentaries where gymnasts and coaches talk about how hard they work to find unique and interesting music for their gymnasts to use that will suit their style and personality.  I find it surprising because I find so many choices of floor music to be, well, just blah.  Like take Shawn Johnson's most recent choice of music for example.  I totallly and completely respect her desire to find a more mature sound to match her growing maturity as a gymnast, but the music she picked? Hmm.  At least that last cutesy piece of music she was using before STOOD OUT.  The new one is just a little bit to even, too nothing to punctuate her dynamic tumbling.  It leaves me completely uninspired and certainly doesn't augment her weak dancing.
On the other end of the scale, a lot of people were aghast at Vanessa Ferrari's decision to use the vocals from the Fifth Element soundtrack.  I thought it was a great idea.  I'm not sure her dance lived up to the largesse of the music, unfortunately.  But I still thought it was brave and interesting choice.  So much classical music just begins to sound so similar and so many gymnasts use it that it is hard to stand out from the crowd.  Some manage, though.  Anna Pavlova made a great stand-out choice.  Shannon Miller's violin piece matched her particular brand of leggy grace.  Cheng Fei just gets it written for her!
Some make bolder choices and make them well.  Isabelle Severino was a genius for finding great modern stuff that didn't overwhelm her gymnastics, unlike Zammo, whose choice of Prodigy was, well, bizarre.  Some really think about the age of the gymnasts.  Remember Mo Huilan's typewriter music? Omeliantchik's birdie?  Moceanu's Devil goes Down To Georgia? Perfect cutesie music for cutesie gymnasts.  
There have also been great experimental choices.  Bogey was a stunning example.  Dasha Joura paired whacky with whacky as did Mitova with her Blues for Kook experimental dance years ago.
Why then do we see so many dull musical accompaniments?

2.  Exciting Leap/Skill Beam Combinations.

I mean really, there are so many types of leaps, jumps and saltos, it can't be that hard to come up with interesting leap/skill combinations on beam, rather than a lot of the same same leap varieties we seem to get lately.... can't it?  
A recent personal favorite of mine was Shawn Johnson's three move combination from a split leap to a pike jump to a back tuck- mostly because she often executed them so cleanly and dynamically.  Just watch her Beijing AA sequence to see it done brilliantly.  But i also appreciated the re-appearance of the pike leap from her.  Gymnasts rarely go for pike leaps it seems and its nice to see something even a little different.  
Going back in time, I adored Qiao Ya's stunning split leap into punch front in her 1994 routine. It was pretty and unique.  I also appreciated Tasha Schwikert's full turn in tuck jump linked to half turn in split leap.  She was a master at turning jumps, but this one that she actually dared to combine rocked when she hit it.  It also suited her punchy, athletic style.  If you're not graceful, don't try too hard to be, I say.  It will only fail you.

3. Double Fronts

We need more double fronts.  We need them in any shape and form because they never, ever fail to impress.   A lot of people complain about Nastia Liukin's form on her floor double salto, but i think too much is made of her tendency to cowboy.  It just seems particularly ungainly because everything else she does is so freaking graceful!  Produnova was always a favorite of mine, particularly for her proclivity for forward salto moves.  Her running double from the beam was astonishing.  The little Lilipod's rarely-repeated double front half-twist gave it a run for its money though, as did Dos Santo's double piking arabian(?).  They make me whoop out loud every time!  They always seem to have the element of surprise.

4. Extension and Flexibility moves on Floor 

I don't just mean handstands.  I mean the lovely walkouts, the laid out twisting moves made close to the floor, the stretched out moves gymnasts used to have time to do in their routines.  They were always an important element of most compulsory floor routines but they have been disappearing slowly from optionals over the decades.  If you aren't sure what I mean, watch Lavinia Agache's 1983 Worlds floor routines, or Tatiana Lyssenko's 1993 routine on floor.  They also used to appear on beam too, like in Andrea Cacovean's beam work.  They offered an easy opportunity to innovate.  Nowadays, fewer gymnasts use them, though Liukin, Pavlova, Hong and Peng-peng Lee stretch and bend to show off their lovely lines on floor.  I especially think it is a pity because it would aid a lot of the smaller gymnasts in achieving a length that would help give them those elegant lines the judges seem to adore on taller gymnasts like Liukin and Izbasa.

5.  Pretty leaps. 
Good high split leaps can be impressive, and there is nothing more gorgeous than a perfectly executed Yang Bo or sheep jump (though they have, you have to admit, become a little passe due to overuse because of their difficulty rating). But i would love to see some different kinds of leaps. There are gorgeous ones that are so under-used.  Double stags can be gorgeous as long as the knees don't close more than at a right angle.    Nastia Liukin's cabriole is just stunning on floor and i don't understand why more gymnasts don't turn to their ballet training for more interesting and graceful leaps for choices.  Maybe because they aren't doing as much ballet training as they used to.  In the eighties and nineties we used to see a lot more of them, with cabrioles, cat leaps and atitude leaps being part and parcel of the more celebrated dance-y routines.  Just go to the Lilipod to see how ballet and folk moves were appropriated to make both graceful and difficult dance combinations.

6.   Graceful turns.

I am so sick of the leg up turn on beam.  I am sick of it AND I am sick of it being done badly!  I am tired of badly executed spins on floor too.  Sometimes I wish less emphasis was placed on turns so we wouldn't have to see gymnasts fail them repeatedly.  A brilliantly done triple turn, like Ponor's and Hopfner-Hibs on occasion are pretty wonderful to see though and Betty Okino, of course, introduced the Okino to beam, did it beautifully as well.  But for elegance, originality, and a breath of fresh air, i have to say, my taste turns to the very simple, very pretty turn en attitude.  The leg can either be in front or behind, i don't mind.  I just think it looks lovely and balletic and so, so graceful.  I was so happy that Ksenia Semenova used them in both her floor and beam routines this year because she did them so well.

7. Original Bar Mounts.

I can kind of understand many beam coaches tending toward the safe easy beam mount.  The NBC  commentators used to always talk about Marta Karolyi's desire to just get her girls on beam and get them going without necessary dangers off falling right off the bat.  And I guess Alicia Sacramone's unfortunate fall in Beijing is testament to why this might be a wise, if boring choice.  I would still argue that there are plenty of less difficult but still interesting beam mounts.  
Same goes for bars.
What i really miss is  when people actually used to make an effort to mount the bars in an interesting way.  I understand the girls just want to get down to business there too, but a little variety wouldn't go astray.  It doesn't have to be too over-the-top.  I even enjoyed simple mounts like Milosovic's half turn jump into kip.  At least it wasn't a straight leap onto the high bar.  Gnauck's high bar version was cool too, and Onodi's full turn on was so, so pretty.  My personal favorite is Martina Polcrova's front salto to hang she did over the low bar.  Very, very cool.
8. Unique Close-To-Beam Moves

I like a bit of interesting movement close to the the beam. It's a requirement, so why not do it well? I have to pick on gymnasts like Shawn Johnson here, when they sit or lie down on the beam,  pose for a second as if to say; "Hey there judges!  See, I'm doing my bit close to the beam.  Note it down, will ya?" and get right back up again. Other use it as an opportunity to stand out. Shaposhnikova of course is the first to come to mind with her dynamic bar-like moves around the girth of the beam back in the eighties.  Silivas's and Moceanu's mounts, with those neck stand sequences were also interesting and exciting to see.  Hollie Vise and Shayla Worley always had knock 'em dead flexibility moves that kept kept them contorting close to the beam.  Shaposhnikova also used to roll across the beam, at a right angle, balancing on the small of her back.  I loved that move.  A  couple of gymnsts utilized head and back spins to put a bit of wow into their work too.  Zammo also did a brilliant mount, flipping over the beam and then doing a back hip circle around it.  I'm sure the judges appreciate the originality too, so more please!

9. Strong Planches

I love a good planche, though they are less used these days, probably because of the need to find faster types of difficulty moves considering what now needs to be packed into a routine.  Again, Shaposhnikova was a champion at this particular skill.  Lately,Vanessa Ferrari has been doing a fabulous planche as part of her mount sequence and she nearly always executes it brilliantly.  Jana Bieger, on the other hand used it to less effect over the last couple of years, rarely holding it long enough to make it as impressive.

10.  Non-Yurchenko Vaults!

I know the code make this difficult to win medals with, but I love to see a vault, any vault that doesn't involve a Yurchenko entry or a count-the-twists-difficulty rating.  Something, anything, a little bit different will do.  That's why i loved Produnova's front vaults, the McIntosh vault, and Khorkina's vault choices.  They are rarely able to be executed as neatly as layout Yurchenkos, but at least these girls are mixing it up a bit.


  1. I love Shawn's music this year but then again I love August Rush (the movie it's from).

    I think the problem with grace nowadays is that gymnasts don't take dance classes like they use to. Its happening in Figure Skating as well.

  2. agree so much. PLEASE new turns and tumbling! and mounts! a;kdgh;aldg

  3. Excellent excellent list. Couldn't agree more!

  4. I love attitude turns. I don't do gymnastics, but I've been doing ballet for 9 years. I always liked Nastia because she combined some ballet into her gymnastics. I think it'd be cool if a gymnast did a front attitude to passe to back attitude to arabesque turn. Nice picture of the ballerina. She's doing a nice back attitude on pointe.