2015 Secret Classic Thoughts: Juniors

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I know, I know – it’s been way too long since Classics and I’m just now getting to part 2.  Hey, look on the bright side – at least I got around to it before nationals!

Diving right in, I just have to say that I’m so, so happy that Laurie Hernandez won.  I’ve been a huge fan of hers for years (as you can see from the post I did a while back highlighting her floor – that was over a year and a half ago, holy crap) so I’m very excited that she has been able to recover from injury this strongly.  She absolutely NAILED her bar routine and her floor was as great as ever.  I think it’s worth noting that she only finished .6 behind olympic champ Aly Raisman (albeit with a fall) and would have placed 6th in the senior competition by 1.5 points.  She could absolutely be a factor for Rio 2016 and I’m crossing my fingers that she can stay healthy and continue to improve.

Ragan Smith had quite a good competition topped off by an incredible floor routine.  Lauren from The Gymternet called her “a teeny tiny Aly Raisman“, which seems a fairly apt description.  I have to admit that Ragan hasn’t been on my radar much before this, so I will definitely be keeping an eye out for her at nationals and throughout the rest of the season.  I’m interested to see how she and her coach handle her training and upgrades within the next year, as she is age eligible for Rio.

Jazmyn Foberg showed a great beam routine and a good vault but didn’t have the best day on her other two events, leaving her in third.  If I’m remembering correctly, she was pretty dominant last year but seems to have possibly had some setbacks this year – has she been injured?  I can’t remember.  Anyhow, there will definitely be some fierce competition between her, Ragan, and Laurie at nationals.

Can we just talk about Deanne Soza for a minute?  Her comeback has been incredible.  If you didn’t know, Deanne dealt with a very serious eye infection earlier this year that left her temporarily blinded, and at the time it was unclear how much of her vision she would be able to recover.  Even without this amazing story, I would have been blown away by her bars.  I’m so sad that she didn’t hit her dismount because she was GORGEOUS for the rest of the routine.  Seriously one of my new favorite bar workers!  She stays so tight and has a beautiful toe point.

Another junior who caught my eye on bars (and beam) is Gabby Perea.  While her difficulty isn’t quite there on bars, she also has lovely form.  On beam she has some crazy hard skills, including a standing full!  I will be very interested to see what skills (and nerves) she brings to nationals.

I have to say that I didn’t catch any of Morgan Hurd’s routines live, although I went back and re-watched them later.  I remember her from her first Nastia cup, and she looks so grown up and confident now!  Even though she was a little jittery on beam, she has some unexplainable presence on that even that really catches my attention.  She is absolutely lovely on bars and her floor, although lacking a little in difficulty, has some very nice touches.  Even though she’s currently not in the top tier of juniors, I just have a feeling about this one.  I don’t think we’re seeing nearly all of the potential she has and I think she will be a big factor in a few years as a senior.  Definitely one of my absolute favorites.

Shilese Jones’ floor exercise is reminiscent to me of the first routine of Simone’s that caught my attention.  Although she’s a little rough around the edges at the moment, I think that she is definitely one to keep a close eye on throughout the next couple of years.  She has some amazing tumbling with the potential for even more.

Sydney Johnson-Scharpf is someone who I always watch due to an unending sense of loyalty that resulted from me seeing her floor routine from this meet several years ago (floor starts at the 2 minute mark).  Although she has improved tremendously over the past year, I do have to say that unfortunately I feel that none of her floor routines so far have quite lived up to the potential I feel that she has.  As odd as it is, that level 9 routine is my favorite of hers so far!  I haven’t given up hope, though – I’m still waiting to be blown away by a similar routine at the elite level.

I believe that all I saw of Maggie Musselman was her beam, but she had gorgeous lines there.  I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her other routines at nationals.

General thoughts:

  • Wow, Texas Dreams has about eleventy juniors in this competition and they all look like they’re about 4’0″.
  • Per usual, Laurie Hernandez’ leo looks fantastic on her solely because of the fact that she’s Laurie and she’s amazing and not through any virtue of the leo itself.
  • I’m really happy with the lack of injury/scary skills on the junior side of the competition this year.
  • I find it interesting that Twistars has basically dropped off the face of the planet since Jordan Weiber’s retirement.  Alyssa Al-Ashari was their only gymnast, junior or senior, and she placed 25th.
  • I also find it interesting that out of 37 juniors, 36 competed all 4 events (Megan Freed scratched floor) while only 11 of 18 seniors did the same.  I like the emphasis on being proficient in the all-around.
  • Janky wolf turns… janky wolf turns everywhere.

Overall, these are just the gymnasts who caught my eye enough for me to remember a couple of weeks later – I know this only highlighted a few juniors out of a huge field.  If you were impressed by the performance of anyone I missed or if you have thoughts on anything I mentioned, definitely leave a comment!  I love reading other people’s takes on both specific routines and individual gymnasts in general.

2015 Secret Classic Thoughts: Seniors


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Let’s just pretend that it hasn’t been forever and a day since I last posted, m’kay?

On to the Classic! Guys. This meet had me SO excited. I have so many thoughts about so many things that I’m just going to try to put down in a coherent fashion, so forgive me if it’s a little haphazard. I was going to try to do everything in one post but it would be so freakishly long that I figured I’d better split it by juniors and seniors.

First: Simone. My gosh, is that girl something else. She truly is in a different class from all of today’s other active gymnasts. If you judged solely by the effort she seems to put out, you’d have absolutely NO idea that she’s currently competing the most difficult skills in the world. It’s insane. I have no words. I also admit that I have a little soft spot for her just because I noticed her before she was “big” – I still remember the day I saw this floor routine and, after the first pass, immediately thought “dang, that girl is going places”.

And on that topic, her new floor routine is amazing (and you can see a great breakdown of her difficulty here). I LOVE her new opening pass (laid out full-in) because she just floats it so beautifully that you almost aren’t sure whether she actually twisted. And her other passes look so easy as well, especially her tucked double double. If she ends her career without trying a triple double, I’ll be surprised. I have to admit that my fantasy floor routine for Simone includes a laid out double double, a tucked triple double, and a laid out double arabian. Unrealistic? Yes, but a girl can dream, right? And while we’re on the subject of completely unrealistic fantasies, sometimes I drool over the idea of Simone vaulting a Produnova and a TTY in a vault final. Don’t judge. On a more realistic note, I’d like to see her add some form of a full on beam.

Anyways, moving on… next topic of discussion is Aly and Gabby, comeback queens. I was seriously impressed by these girls this weekend, and I was completely blown away by how Gabby nailed every single event after having what appeared to be a very rough podium training. Maybe during the past couple of years she’s gotten to a point where she’s better under pressure? Anyways, maturity looks good on her. She’s definitely grown a lot but it doesn’t seem to be impacting her at all. And Aly gets serious cred for busting out her amanar and her insane floor routine. I was so crushed when she sat her piked double arabian pass… it looked like she second guessed herself on the punch front at the last second as her knees went soft right when she landed the double arabian. I cannot WAIT to see what these girls bring to nationals.

Maggie Nichols was also a great surprise. She’s not completely unknown but has definitely been one of the lower higher-level girls the past couple of years, if that makes any sense at all. This year, though, she’s bringing her A game and it’s quite impressive. It takes a lot of guts and grit to break into the ranks of the top girls, so I’ve gotta hand it to her. She’s awesome. Watch out world, Maggie’s coming for ya.

Bailie Key… I’m not quite sure what to say about her. She’s very, very good – great, even. But I can’t help but feel that after all the hype over her past couple of years as a junior, her senior debut fell just the tiniest bit flat. I think this has to do with both the top-notch comebacks of Aly and Gabby and with the fact that she has grown quite a bit within the last 18 months or so. I’ll be really interested to see how she gets a handle on things from here on out now that she’s actually competing with the big dogs.

Poor Kyla had a really rough go of it on bars, and I couldn’t help but get all feel-sy when the crowd rallied for her after her falls. Girlfriend doesn’t have anything to prove here – everyone knows what she’s got going for her. I really hope she can get her upgrades consistent, because otherwise I’m worried that she’ll slowly fade into the background with the resurgence of some of the higher-difficulty gymnasts (Gabby, Aly, Maggie). She really is a lovely gymnast and I’d hate to see that happen. I always love watching her perform.

Mykayla Skinner just did not have a good day. I’ll be interested to see how she pulls together for nationals. I feel like she ALWAYS falls on beam after nailing it in practice, which stinks because I’m always wondering how she would score if she could just stay on. I do feel a bit sorry for her because I feel like Gabby & Aly’s comeback is going to render her basically obsolete for worlds etc.

I haven’t really taken a lot of notice of Alyssa Baumann before, but her beam is GORGEOUS. It’s such a shame that she had a fall, and believe me, she knew it too. She was NOT happy with herself. I believe she only competed bars and beam this meet, so I am really interested to see if she goes all-around for nationals.

I was really interested to see Sabrina Vega compete because she was a big favorite of mine back in the day. It was really awesome in a weirdly poignant way, because the last time I saw her she was a (relatively) little girl and now she’s definitely an adult. I’m the same age as she is so in some way that I don’t really have words for it was an unexpected reminder of how I’ve grown up. Anyways, I was disappointed for her when she crashed her floor pass, but I’m crossing my fingers that she keeps plugging away and whips out something awesome at nationals!

Polina Shchennikova just kills me every time because I’ve always felt like she was a gorgeous gymnast and has so much potential but she’s just never quite “there”, you know? She’s one of those girls that would be a frontrunner in so many other countries but isn’t quite cutting edge enough to make her way to the top in the US’s crazy depth – at least right now. I would love to see her make me eat my words in the future.

Injuries – I saw Felicia Hano’s live during podium training, but missed Marissa Oakley’s during warm ups. That must be such a major disappointment – I can’t even imagine. Here’s hoping for a swift recovery for both girls.

Well, there’s my disjointed rambling on the seniors, so I hope you enjoyed! For more Classics talk, check out The Gymternet’s live-blogged recap of senior competition. GymnasticsCoaching.com also has several interesting posts, including this fascinating graph charting the senior’s D and E scores. Spoiler: Simone is first in both, but second place might surprise you!

I’m hoping to do one of these posts for juniors in the next couple of days, but life has a funny way of making me crazy busy all the time, so we’ll see!

Ksenia Afanasyeva – floor queen

Ksenia Afanasyeva has been vying for my spot of “favorite floor worker” since her gold medal at the 2011 Worlds. She carries herself like royalty on the floor and has an undefinable something – poise, elegance, “it” factor, and more – that I just can’t get enough of.

This is one of my all-time favorite floor routines. I absolutely love everything about it, especially the way even her smallest movements are calculated to draw the viewer in. To me, Ksenia exemplifies what floor should be about – high difficulty, but tempered in such a way that allows her to really interpret the music. I think that’s what some of the best routines have in common – the gymnasts explains the music to the viewer, gives it meaning – wordlessly saying “this is what it’s all about“.

That’s why, to me, Afan will always be one of floor’s greatest queens.

Fans don’t REALLY want more artistic gymnastics

Before I lose you at the title, bear with me through the post. I’ve had some interesting thoughts on this topic lately that I haven’t really seen addressed elsewhere.

Background: artistry is currently a very hotly debated topic in the women’s artistic gymnastics world. Opinions range from “artistry cannot be consistently quantified and judged, as it is subject to personal taste” to “well, it is ARTISTIC gymnastics”, and everywhere in between. As if this weren’t confusing enough, within the subgroup that does want some form of artistry to be mandated within the sport, there is much disagreement about what qualifies as artistry, if artistry is nothing more than great execution, and how artistry ought to be required and/or rewarded by the code.

Additional posts on artistry that may be very helpful in immersing yourself in this issue may be found here:

The Development of Artistry – from The Couch Gymnast

The Artistry Dilemma – from GymnasticsCoaching.com

The State of the Art and The Artistry Fallacy – from Rewriting Russian Gymnastics

How Gymnastics Talks About Bodies in Code – from Deadspin. This article really gets into the varying opinions as to what constitutes “artistry” and how some may be unfair and restrictive to certain gymnasts.

OK. Now that we’ve established some background in the topic, I’d like to examine an angle that I haven’t seen discussed, and in doing so, prove the seemingly absurd claim in my title.

First, let’s talk for a moment about what artistry is. According to the Dictionary.com entry, artistry is defined literally as the following:

1. artistic workmanship, ability, or quality
2. artistic pursuits
3. great skill

Digging a little further, the term “artistic” is defined as:

1. conforming to the standards of art; satisfying aesthetic requirements: artistic productions.
2. showing skill or excellence in execution: artistic workmanship.
3. exhibiting taste, discriminating judgment, or sensitivity: an artistic arrangement of flowers; artistic handling of a delicate diplomatic situation.
4. exhibiting an involvement in or appreciation of art, especially the fine arts: He had wide-ranging artistic interests.
5. involving only aesthetic considerations, usually taken as excluding moral, practical, religious, political, or similar concerns: artistic principles.

From this definition, it seems apparent that artistry is subjective. The sayings “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” certainly apply here. Wildly varying tastes account for much of the debate over what exactly constitutes artistry. Additionally, the dilemma over fairly and consistently scoring something so subjective and elusive is now clearly highlighted.

So now we’re back to square one: artistry is confusing, opinions vary over what it really is, and most people really want to see it make a comeback.

Or do they?

By most or all of the definitions of the word “artistic”, power tumbling could be considered an artistic sport. Power tumblers definitely “show skill or excellence in execution”, and yet one thing many complain about related to the lack of artistry in floor routines is the number and difficulty of tumbling passes. Clearly, the artistry that most are looking for in women’s artistic gymnastics is more than just excellent tumbling, or Simone Biles would be considered today’s most artistic gymnast.

So what is it?

My theory is that, although people term it “artistry”, the vast majority are not looking for more “artistic” gymnastics.

By and large, people are looking for more elegant gymnastics.

“Elegance” is a much narrower subset of artistry about which many, many more people would agree. For example, all dance may be considered art, but pointe is unquestionably elegant while few would give such a label to breakdancing. Many who say they are searching for the return of “artistry” are actually looking for elegance to make a comeback, especially those who long for “the good ol’ days” or point to the Russians as an example of what should be nearer to the standard.

To further this point, let’s look at some real world examples.

Exhibit A: Viktoria Komova vs. Lloimincia Hall – floor routines.


(Floor routine starts at the 6:00 minute mark)

Examining these routines: Viktoria’s routine showcases the more “classic” side of both women’s floor and Russian gymnastics. This routine would be typically considered “artistic” to the majority of people, although some state that Viktoria seems disconnected from the music and doesn’t sell the routine well.

Lloimincia’s routine is very bold and different, yet I have seen it used as an example of “alternate” or “unorthodox” artistry on more than one occasion. She is definitely enjoying herself on the floor and works well with her music and the crowd. Her execution is excellent, definitely fulfilling definition #2 of “artistic” as listed above.

Both of the routines may be considered artistic, yet few would claim that they wish to see WAG trend in the direction of Lloimincia Hall, while many use Viktoria Komova as an example of the direction our artistry should be headed.

Why is this? Again, the real difference here boils down to elegance. Viktoria has a very classical, elegant routine, and Lloimincia’s, while arguably equally artistic, can hardly be characterized as elegant.

Exhibit B: Nastia Liukin vs. Shawn Johnson – Beijing beam routines. Nastia vs. Shawn in Beijing may very well be the most well-known case in the “artistry vs. power” debates.

Examining the routines: dissecting artistry in a beam routine is quite different from and perhaps much more difficult than doing the same with a floor routine. For most, it’s simply a case of “I know it when I see it”. Because there is no music and no real possibility for actual dance outside of dance elements (leaps etc.), artistry in beam is much trickier to define and judge than that in floor. I think the BBC commentators in these particular videos do an excellent job in contrasting the routines and examining each’s strengths and weaknesses.

Liukin’s strengths in this routine lie in her fluidity and flexibility. Again, we see a routine that is more “old school” than its more powerful counterpart, containing less tumbling and more dance elements. Liukin executes this routine very well, with few or no visible errors aside from the dismount. One weakness may lie in her upper body carriage during parts of the routine, as some criticize her for having claw-like hand positions and stiff shoulders, head and neck during leaps and choreography.

Johnson’s routine is based off of high difficulty and is packed with crowd-pleasing tumbling and acrobatics, an example of a beam style that will become increasingly more popular in the years to come. Johnson also executes her routine admirably, with rock-solid landings on all of her skills. As the commentators point out, she may struggle with flexibility at times.

Although Johnson and Liukin both show excellent execution, high difficulty, and good rhythm, the vast majority of viewers would consider Liukin’s routine to be much more artistic than Johnson’s. Why is this? Besides execution, difficulty, and rhythm, what elusive, unquantifiable “something” does Liukin’s routine possess that many viewers look for?

Again, the answer is elegance. While both athletes perform excellently here, Nastia’s routine is unquestionably more elegant than Shawn’s.

So where does this leave us? What is the point of this post?

Well, I for one find it very interesting that many fans mis-label elegance as artistry. As elegance is a more quantifiable and narrower subset of artistry, it would seem that it would be easier to judge and reward within the code. However, is this really a goal to strive for? Many excellent gymnasts, both those competing currently and those in history, would not be considered elegant; but anyone has the ability to be “artistic”, that is, to present what they view as art. In the case of Simone Biles or Shawn Johnson, their artistry may very well lie in their power and execution of tremendous tumbling and their ability to sell a routine to the crowd. As beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, no one can really look at any gymnast and declare for a fact that they are not artistic.

However, the flat truth is that it generally takes a certain style and body type to be considered “elegant”, and not every athlete possesses this. Should athletes like Shawn and Simone be required to comply with a code that rewards elegance? This seems unfair, but many would argue that today’s code, which rewards high power and difficulty, is unfair in the reverse way to gymnasts built like Nastia Liukin. In addition, no matter what the code rewards, gymnastics is inherently “unfair” to tall athletes. No matter what, a six-foot-two gymnast will never represent team USA’s women’s artistic gymnastics in the olympics.

To me, it seems that after examining all of this, the real question here is: should gymnastics be a sport for everybody? A code trending more towards power and difficulty will reward gymnasts like Shawn Johnson and place those like Nastia Liukin at a disadvantage, while one rewarding elegance would do the opposite. Is the code always inevitably biased towards one type of gymnast, and more importantly, is this alright? It is widely accepted that activities like basketball or ballet require certain features that the athletes themselves have no control over. Few, if any, feel offense that a five-foot-two male would not succeed in the NBA. Is gymnastics a sport like this? Are features outside of the athlete’s control embedded in the requirements for success? Should gymnasts who do not meet the current “ideal” still be able to succeed, or is conforming the name of the game?

Thoughts? I really would love to see a discussion on this. I’m not sure of my position on this entire issue myself, especially on the artistry vs. elegance thing. For instance, I do have a soft spot for the elegance of “the good ol’ days”, but I absolutely love Laurie Hernandez on floor, even though wouldn’t consider her style of dance particularly elegant.

What say you?

New elements!

The FIG YouTube channel is now uploading videos of new elements from Worlds in October.  Check it:

A “Biles”

A “Moors”

For more, see FIG’s YouTube channel.

Related:

Laurie Hernandez – floor progression

Laurie Hernandez is one of the floor exercise’s rising stars in the junior ranks, so I thought it might be fun to follow her progression through various floor exercises over the years. 2010 is the earliest I was able to find on YouTube.

2010 Elite Qualifier

Tumbling passes: double pike, front handspring-front layout-front tuck, 3/2 layout.

2011 Elite Qualifier

Tumbling passes: 3/2 layout to front layout, double pike, front handspring to front layout 1/1, double tuck.

Notes: I love how well she handles all of the music mishaps before the routine! Her smile is infectious.

2012 Secret Classic

Tumbling passes: punch front layout to 2/1 front layout, 3/2 layout to 1/1 front layout, double pike, 5/2 layout.

Notes: same music as 2011, but I think the choreography and Laurie’s ability to interpret the music have obviously matured a lot in a year. This is the routine that first hooked me as a Laurie fan.

2013 P&G Classic

Tumbling passes: double arabian, piked full-in, punch front layout to 2/1 front layout, double pike.

Notes: I love this new routine! I think it really showcases Laurie’s personality and she seems to be enjoying herself on the floor.

Well, someone has certainly always been a dynamic (and flexible!) little firecracker! I always think it’s interesting to follow an athlete’s progress on a certain event, and on floor especially it’s easy to see growth not only in a gymnast’s difficulty but also in dance ability. I believe that Laurie has stated that she’ll be keeping her 2013 routine next year as well, so it should be interesting to see how she and her coaches choose to fine tune and/or upgrade pieces of the routine in the future.

Related:

Keep an eye on: Trista Goodman

I stumbled across this gymnast in a post from Swing Big.  Trista Goodman is 9 years old and training level 9 at Olympus School of Gymnastics.  Check out her developmental video:

I really, really like what I’m seeing from Trista on bars in this video! And in fact, she is the Region 1 level 8 bars champion:

I’m excited to watch Trista develop as a gymnast in the future, and I’m hoping some video footage of her level 9 routines will surface as the 2013-2014 competitive season really starts to get underway. Definitely a gymnast to keep tabs on!