2012. The Olympic year. Everyone's favorite time of life. People are excited, I get it. Man, do I get it. However, I still feel the need to remind the world about having realistic expectations.
Let me start by saying that Nastia Liukin's comeback is/was exciting. Of course it was exciting. Not since 1980 has an AA champion even tried to make the following Olympic games. She will always be legendary to the gymnastics community, and nothing will ever change that. Even 11th hour comebacks.
When it comes to all of these comebacks, my philosophy has always been "I'll believe it when I see it."In fact, when it comes to most skills or upgrades at all, I don't count my chickens before they've hatched. When I see it, then I will consider it. This goes for Russian Nabievanars, double Y turns on beam, triple twisting yurchenkos, and 7.2 uneven bar routines.
So like, Alicia, Chellsie and Shawn before her, I refused to get too excited about any planned routines from Nastia. Hope for the best, expect nothing.
Clearly, the internets do not share my same philosophy. If I had a dime for every time I read a predicted team lineup with Nastia anchoring bars and beam in London, I'd be richer than Miss Prada Backpack herself. But that's cool, it's fun to predict teams, whether they're feasible or fun or just full of all of the really pretty gymnasts that you want to see do beautiful gymnastics. It's the Olympic year! Why not.
After months and months and months of tweeted pictures of grips and rips, we got a tiny snippet of video from training at WOGA. And she looked great, considering this was the first time we had seen her do anything competitive on bars since 2008. It was a treat. Even though we saw selectively edited pieces of her routine complete with heavy Valeri involvement, the tittering began. Nastia was back!
People began to tentatively place Nastia on uneven bar podiums in London. It would be hard to top Aliya or Beth, but with Nastia's planned 7.5 routine, she could be right up there. And at least we know her competitors for gold are sixteen, amirite?
The next big fuss was during podium training for Classics. I refuse to call it the secret anything. Those present, and then the rest of the world (thanks to USAG!) were privy to a couple of half routines, even though Nastia wasn't planning on competing the event that weekend. Who cared, because we got to see Nastia do real life bars, and it looked good! The internet didn't need to see a full routine to know that Nastia was essentially a lock for the team. I mean, she will compliment Maroney perfectly, will she not?
As is my style, I kept a lid on any excitement I might have had. They were half routines, and they were heavily assisted by Valeri. But I mean, it was just podium training, so whatever. Spot away, Pops.
Finally, we reached Nationals. I refuse to call it Visa anything. We knew this was showtime, because Nastia was planning to compete beam AND bars! I could actually sense the salivation from artistry trolls through my computer screen. Everyone, including myself with my cold, dead heart, was excited for this routine.
Again, thanks to USAG, we were treated to some delicious podium training videos. So much more than Classics, we got to see almost an ENTIRE ROUTINE. Releases, connections and everything. Oh, the squealing! Nastia Liukin: two time Olympic champion. Nastia Liukin: two time uneven bars medalist. The headlines in the papers will read:
Like Stealing Candy from a Baby: Nastia Liukin Avenges Her Lost Gold Medal
As the papers were being sent to the printers, I pondered what I had seen. No dismount, but GREAT lines. The tkatchev seemed slightly less butt-scratchy, and her pak looked high and gorgeous, just like old times. I watched it once, noticed something, so I watched it again.
Why does Valeri keep touching her?
Like, spot, sure, but this was touching. Repeatedly. Every time she went up over the high bar, he boosted her up there. He pushes her into her gienger, and then catches her on her way down. He lets her leave the high bar by herself, but her catches her on both sides at the end of her pak. That's a lot of help for a session that is supposed to imitate the competition.
(enlarge that's what she said tee hee hee ho ho)
The internets were either largely unaware of these facts, or they chose not to care that Nastia still hadn't done a full routine without assistance. Nastia Liukin was still on her way to Team and Uneven Bars gold!
Then another video came out. What was this? SWEET MERCIFUL CRAP.
It was the dismount.
Those who watched this glorious event live could only audibly gasp-
-WHILE THE INTERNET FUCKING EXPLODED.
That dismount, it wasn't good. It was SO MUCH BETTER than her previous best, which was good enough for a lowly AA Olympic Championship.
Suddenly, my entire Twitter feed was nothing, literally nothing, but Tweet after Tweet with either thoughts about The Dismount, or a link to the video in question.
While I was waiting for the word #dismount to trend, I thought to myself "He totally tapped her, right?" He basically threw her up so that she could get enough height on the #dismount. Well, with that kind of power, of course she could get the height she needed to not only make the skill, but to stick it cleanly. #dismount.
I was not pleased. I felt as though I had been fooled. It wasn't so bad though, since apparently the ENTIRE PLANET (see above) was also fooled, they just didn't know it yet. They'd find out the next day.
That day was Day One of the Summer's Eve Championships. Those in attendance say that the crowd was electric, and they were all waiting for one thing: Nastia Liukin's new super-routine, in full, complete with #dismount. A good friend, we'll call her BoBo, noted that Nastia was STILL being assisted by Pops during the ONE TOUCH. Now is the time to be doing routines on your own, one would think.
You guys, it's NASTIA. Remember her? The Olympic champion with all those years of experience? Yeah, I think she can manage. She's a fighter, a competitors. Watch her rock this routine.
Nastia did not rock that routine.
Some believe that Nastia is over, through, off to the glue factory. Some believe that she will be able to gain such great strength and endurance in two weeks, that she'll be able to not only upgrade her skills, but also perform those upgrades consistently.
The Patterson. A difficult and innovative skill, this dismount is like the souffle of gymnastics: when done right, it is a true delicacy. When done wrong, you want to kill yourself.
Let's start with the master of the skill, Miss Carly Patterson herself. It was her namesake, her trademark, and it clinched her Olympic win. Let's discuss.
*click to enlarge, you're not stupid and already know that*
Now, it must be noted that Carly did her dismount out of a roundoff back handspring. The back handspring allows her to keep her body square as she pushes off for the arabian. She gets a significant amount of height off of the beam before initiating the twist. The cowboy position leaves a bit to be desired, unless you're a pervert, but most of the girls show the same level of cowboy in their Pattersons. (OK, that really sounded bad. Get your head out of the gutter, assholes.) She is still at beam height when opening up, which allows her plenty of time to really prepare for the landing. Even with the intense momentum she generates, she doesn't need a super deep squat to absorb the landing.
Aly Raisman is another high profile example of a good Patterson dismount. Unlike Carly, Aly uses just the roundoff to initiate her dismount. This presents the opportunity for her to cheat the dismount and twist too early, at the end of the roundoff. Fortunately, she doesn't seem to take this opportunity. Like Carly, she keeps her body square to the end of the beam, and gets a good set before she starts the turn. She cowboys a tad, but has plenty of height when she opens up for the landing. This is a dismount I have never seen her miss, and I never worry for her life.
And then there's Bross. Now, in fairness, I felt the need to compare a hit Bross dismount, and then a cannonball Bross dismount, or a Cannonbross.
Like Aly, Becca chooses to do her Patterson out of a roundoff. However, unlike Aly, Bross always seems to initiate the turn in the roundoff, so she her feet would land almost sideways as opposed to square with the beam. Instead of a half turn into a front tuck, she seemed to do kind of this sideways flip into her front tuck. It's bizarre. Despite the wonky takeoff, Bross manages to get huge height off of the beam. Like the rest, there's a bit of a cowboy, and Bross isn't as high as Carly or Aly when she opens up for the landing. Despite that, she manages a good solid landing.
One wishes Bross always did her safe, clean Patterson, but alas, it is not to be.
Unfortunately, we see way more of this cannonball type of dismount than we'd care to. It's easy to forget that Bross has ever done a decent Patterson, and demand that Valeri pull it from her routine. But isn't that what we love about Becca? She doesn't seem the type to water down, even at the cost of her knee or our sanity.
Notice again how early Bross twists, before landing her roundoff. Instead of reaching up and back behind her to set for the dismount, she reaches up and to the side. She doesn't get anywhere near the needed amount of height off of the beam, and as a result is still holding that delightful cowboy position until she is well below the beam. Now, this is when her dismount goes one of two ways. She opens up too early, and jams her locked-legs into the mat as hard as humanly possible, and ends up falling backwards. Or, she holds on to the tucked position for an eternity, and ends up diving to her face. So she gets to choose, either a busted ACL, or a knee cap to the eye socket.
Another athlete with a seemingly 50/50 hit ratio is Viktoria Komova. Her low stats seem more a result of not competing the skill often enough, but there still is a little gnarly technique. I haven't seen her compete it much at all, but for the sake of argument, I picked a recently landed dismount.
Komova's is tricky. Even though she does a roundoff back handspring into the dismount, she twists before her feet land at the end of her BHS. So, like Bross, she is facing the side as she takes off of the beam. This limits the amount of height that she is able to generate from the set, which all contributes to her landing the dismount lower than she should, and inevitably catapulting herself forward. It's intriguing, however, that she seems to have more height on the second salto than she does the first. So what do I know?
These two garner far less attention than those mentioned above, but both Kytra Hunter and Yulia Lozhechko had perfectly serviceable Patterson dismounts.
I know Courtney Kupets also competed a Patterson at one time, but I could only find one video and the quality was super shitty, so you'll just have to use your imagination.
So there you have it. The Patterson. Another beautiful skill that has high potential to be a complete knee buster.
The Amanar. The Scamanar. The Nabievanar. The Maroney. So many names, one single vault.
The vault du jour is of course, the one and only Amanar. Without it, you're screwed. Good thing everyone on the planet is trying one! But who does it best? Let's discuss.
Ha, just kidding. Obviously Maroney does it best.
as always, click to enlarge, blah blah blah
Height, form, perfection, glory. But who, if anyone, comes close to Maroney on vault?
Now, as of this morning, these were all currently competing gymnasts.
*sad kaboom for Cheng Fei*
Let us reminisce about what once was. Sigh. They just don't make them like that anymore.
Let's focus on Amanars that we know exist. Our first example, world champion Jordyn Wieber.
People give this vault a hard time, and I just don't understand why. In one million competitions, I've seen her land wrong twice: once when she was 13, and then once last weekend. Granted, those landings were terrifying. Still, I don't think that puts her on the endangered Amanar list. She doesn't get the pop off of the table that Maroney does. That will never happen, so get over it. I have yet to see an Amanar with tighter form.
Next is the divine Lady Douglas.
This was not her best outing, but it was the only time they've shown her vault from this angle, so use your imagination.
Dougie has that special brand of Chow vaulting. It's not my favorite. As shown, she twists so early, which combined with her wonky round off technique adds up to one iffy vault. THAT SAID, she is the Lady, so her vaulting automatically appears to be more acceptable to me. Her legs stay straight, for the most part. I like that. I do think though that as she grows, she will need to find ways to get this vault around other than spinning really fast.
Oh Kyla. This vault is... interesting. I have yet to see a non-terrifying version of it. Fun fact: you don't get bonus points for dismounting the landing mat. Someone should let Howie know. Positives: she gets a good bump off of the table, and doesn't resort to tucking her body to make it around (more on that later.) A little crossing of the legs, yet it's not egregious.
And then we have Aly.
It's a tucked vault, she doesn't make it all the way around, and yet she still seems to score well. This is where the judges fail us. Like with her Russian counterparts, the judges fail to score these deathtraps accordingly. Aly is lucky that she's built like an ox, which is helping her stave off injury, for the time being. But it won't last forever. I feel the same way watching Aly that I did with Mustafina. It is an injury waiting to happen, and instead of deducting accordingly, the judges are rewarding this risky behavior.
And did I mention that the vault is seemingly tucked throughout?
This is in direct comparison to former world champion, Aliya Mustafina, who famously blew out her knee doing this exact vault.
They are almost, frame-for-frame, the same vault. Aliya gets a little more height, which misleads people into thinking that the vault is acceptable and safe. It is neither. Had she ever been judged accordingly, I would see this vault for what it was, serviceable, but an injury waiting to happen. But for whatever reason, the judges seem hell bent on scoring vaults like this one, and Aly's, as if they were Maroney-esque. They are not. The judges fail the gymnasts, and the sport, when they allow dangerous vaults like these to score well.
Of course, one cannot talk about dangerous knee busting atrocities without mentioning the legendary Tatiana Nabieva.
It's a conundrum, because I was raised in a world where Soviets, and then of course Russians, did every skill beautifully. They were NOT chuckers, no sir. And now... this. It's upsetting.
I was pleasantly surprised when we saw a relatively simple DTY from Viktoria Komova last year as opposed to her Amanar. All reports had her chucking vault after vault, but failing to land them in training. So she went with the well-performed DTY, and for that, I give her and her coaches credit. Now, a year prior, Komova actually did have a lovely Amanar.
Now, the dynamics were not the best. I believe this vault was possible due to her size and speed. She has since suffered a growth spurt (Suffered is the wrong word. I wish I grew the way she did.) It has yet to be seen whether or not her Amanar will resurface. Russian artistry trolls would have you believe that as many as five Russians have trained and mastered the skill, and will be scoring 16.4 on all of them come London. We have yet to see one. One of two things will happen in London: We will see three beautiful and high scoring DTYS, or we'll see some horrifying chucked Amanars. Of the potential Russian vaulters, Komova is the only one I would care to see perform the upgraded vault, if it is safe. Not at the cost of her knees, however.
So, here's to the vaulters. Don't have an Amanar? Sucks to be you. Good luck surviving in gymnastics. Unless you are Alicia Sacramone or Oksana Chusovitina, in which case you can do whatever you want.
Oh Twitter. Oh teenagers. Oh teenagers with Twitter.
Shawn Johnson's super surprising not at all foreseen retirement has spawned a large number of reactions, most of which range from "No shit, we're not fucking stupid" to "Meh" to "OMGGGG no metals for America nowww!" Here are some of my personal favorites.
As always, click to enlarge. That's what she said.
So yeah. Shawn Johnson retired. Team USA remains exactly the same. The end.