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Stretching Out
Stretching Out

Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 01 October 2010 10:57    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Sloan, Cal and other subplots from a busy week
(13 votes, average 3.62 out of 5)

From comebacks to program cuts, injuries to age flaps, plenty is happening in the gymnastics world right now. Following is a weekly roundup of sorts.

Bridget Sloan: The defense rests?

With the U.S. women's team for the Rotterdam worlds to be named next week, the fate of defending world all-around champion Bridget Sloan (shown here) remains a mystery. At the Visa championships in August, where Sloan protected injuries and competed only on balance beam, U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi assessed Sloan's chances of making the team as such: "She's right at the almost impossible situation."

Marvin Sharp, Sloan's coach, told IG today, "It is just going to be a matter of time. Is there enough time to get in world routine shape? We are giving it a try, but have to keep the future in mind, as well, and not risk pushing beyond a reasonable level."

For a top team like the U.S., the Rotterdam worlds represent bragging rights only, since the top 24 teams advance to the 2011 worlds in Tokyo. So reading between the lines, it doesn't sound like Sloan is prepared to make a serious challenge as an all-arounder. We'll find out next week if she goes at all.

"We are hoping to be on the world team," Sharp added. "We are hoping to help in any capacity that will assist the USA in a successful world championships."

Cal Gymnastics

The men's and women's gymnastics teams at UC-Berkeley were dropped Sept. 28, along with baseball and women's lacrosse. Rugby will be reduced to a club sport. The timing was odd, considering former Golden Bear gymnast Tim McNeill was hired in August to coach the team. Barry Weiner retired earlier in the summer, having coached the team to NCAA team titles in 1997 and ’98.

Cal gymnastics has a rich history, and 2012 would have been its 100th year in existence. Its first national championship was in 1968, under coach Hal Frey, who won another in ’75. For more about the Cal tradition, visit CalGymnasticsForever.com, the site that was launched to help save the program.

"We are extremely disappointed in the decision that was made, and are very saddened by this outcome," said former Cal gymnast David Kruse, who said that $400,000 in pledges over three years was raised via Cal Gymnastics Forever.

McNeill, meanwhile, says his contract goes through Aug. 24, 2011, "so both the team and I will continue on until then." Athletes from the dropped sports have the option of keeping their scholarships or transferring without sitting out a year of competition.

McNeill, who was petitioned to the U.S. team in August even though he did not compete at the Visa championships, told IG that his own training is under way. Strong on pommel horse and parallel bars, two critical events for the U.S. men's program, McNeill has an excellent chance of picking up where he left off last year at the London worlds, where he placed seventh all-around and fifth on pommel horse.

Germany's Predicament

The German men's team took a big hit when it lost national champion Marcel Nguyen, who fractured his right fibula while tumbling at a meet against Switzerland and Romania on Sept. 25. It's never good when a tune-up for worlds knocks out your top all-arounder.

German star Fabian Hambüchen, who did not compete on floor or vault at the German championships or the tri-meet, is hopeful that his sore Achilles' tendon will be 100% for worlds. With Nguyen out, the team really needs him.

"My doctor and I are very optimistic about competing in the all-around in Rotterdam, but it just depends on the healing process," Hambüchen told IG. "I'm in shape on four events and just need to wait for the 'go' of the doctor for floor and vault."

Hong Su Jong/PRK

With a birth date of March 9, 1989, currently registered with the FIG, North Korean Hong Su Jong would have been 15 at the 2004 Athens Olympics, where she was registered with a 1985 birth date. She was her team's third-best all-arounder in Athens, placing 50th in prelims. Nullifying her team's results, which is what recently happened to the Chinese women for the 2000 Olympics, would hardly make a difference. North Korea finished 12th out of 12 teams in Athens, and won zero medals.

The odd thing about this whole mess is that Hong's birth year changed for subsequent world competitions, while the birth date for Hong Un Jong, who we assume is Su Jong's twin, remained consistent at March 9, 1989.

"My staff is about to check the various documents we have in our archives, and I am looking into the matter," FIG General Secretary Andre Gueisbuhler told IG today. "The further procedure to be taken in this case will be decided in the forthcoming days."

Stay tuned. Will the North Korean federation claim it was all a clerical error?

Shawn Johnson/USA

If you want to see Shawn Johnson back on Dancing With the Stars this season, you can vote her on. DWTS will be bringing back 10 former couples, and the Cha-Cha and Freestyle dances of Johnson and partner Mark Ballas are up for vote on the DWTS website.

Science of Gymnastics Journal

This free online technical magazine, edited by Slovenian Ivan Cuk, just celebrated its one-year anniversary with issue No. 4. To say that Cuk is merely a student of the sport would not be accurate. He's extremely passionate about gymnastics, and smart, too.

The journal is mainly composed of contributed articles, with submission guidelines available on its website. Each issue is downloadable in PDF format. Click here for more information.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 17 September 2010 12:25    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Warnings, comebacks, predictions
(8 votes, average 3.75 out of 5)

USA Gymnastics and the Ukrainian Gymnastics Federation were "warned for negligence" by the FIG Presidential Commission for their failure to announce the return to competition of formerly retired gymnasts.

As reported already, the athletes involved are artistic gymnast Alicia Sacramone (USA), shown here, and rhythmic gymnast Natalia Godunko (UKR), both of whom were required to announce their return to competition six months prior to entering a meet. By not doing so, they violated WADA and FIG Anti-doping rules.

Romania's Marian Dragulescu received the same slap on the wrist recently.

The FIG news release also stated: "All FIG Member Federations have been reminded of the respective rules and informed that no more exceptions will be made …."

Wonder why exceptions are being made at all?

My suggestion to all gymnasts: Never announce your retirement, because most of you come back anyway.

Regarding Sacramone, I think she has a real shot at winning the world title on vault at the Rotterdam world championships next month. She made the world vault finals in 2005 (bronze), 2006 (silver) and 2007 (bronze). I thought her two vaults at the Visa championships last month looked cleaner and more dynamic than the same vaults Kayla Williams used to win the 2009 world title.

Paul Hamm

Speaking of comebacks, I chatted with Paul Hamm recently about his return to the sport. And I hope he heeds the above news item, because the U.S. could really use him next year when the qualification to the 2012 Olympics tightens. Hamm says he's still in the beginning phase of his training, putting in about three hours each morning under the watchful eye of Andrei Kan at his former club, Swiss Turners.

"He's really good at putting me in my place," Hamm says of Kan.

And does Hamm ever feel like giving up during this latest comeback?

"Every day you have a little bit of that, but then you realize you're getting better," he said.

Hamm, who visited troops in Iraq in August with three other Olympians, understands the new math of the five-man team that will be sent to London 2012. He has always been extremely balanced across all six events, and pommel horse, a soft spot for the U.S. men, has always been more of a strength than a weakness.

"[The five-man team] is a situation that's probably good for me," he said.

Hamm said he planned to visit various gyms as the summer ends. He wanted to train with Jonathan Horton at Cypress Academy in Houston; the gym at Ohio State, where he trained for the 2004 Olympics; and the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Shawn Johnson

If you haven't visited Johnson's website recently, check out her new training video, called "The Journey Begins." Looks like she's completely healed from the torn ACL, since she tumbled a double pike on the regular floor mat (landing on a 4-incher). For her to take the time to create this video tells me that she's proud of her progress so far. And to have an upbeat coach like Liang Chow helping her each day, how can she not give it a go?

For me, two questions remain: Can she get back to where she was in 2008? And if she can, will it still be competitive in 2012?

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Thursday, 19 August 2010 11:43    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Stoica, Singapore & the IG Tour
(11 votes, average 3.18 out of 5)

The September IG is coming out soon, and it includes an interview with FIG Men's Technical Committee President Adrian Stoica. I asked him several questions about the Code of Points, such as whether the MTC considered lowering the counting skills from 10 to eight ("no"); does he think the men's routines are too long and should have a skill limit ("it is not necessary"); and how could Kohei Uchimura score an 8.775 (execution) on high bar at the 2009 worlds for one of the most beautiful routines in gymnastics history (he agreed, somewhat)?

There is a lot more to the interview, and Stoica was diplomatic, of course. But I also appreciated his candor. After all, he's got a tough job.

Men's Vault Proposal

Speaking of Stoica, I read with interest his proposal for men's vault in the July FIG Bulletin. Stoica is suggesting that men do two vaults in all phases of competition, and their final score will be (DVt1 + DVt2)/2 + [10-(Sum of average deductions for Vt1 and Vt2)].

It's not as confusing as it sounds. Here is a practical application: Gymnast does a 7.0 first vault and a 6.6 second vault. His final D-score is the average: 6.8. His execution scores for the two vaults are 9.6 and 9.4, so his final execution score is 9.0 (add the deductions from both vaults and subtract from 10). Final score: 15.80.

The gymnast can do the same vault twice without penalty, but he must do two different vaults to qualify for apparatus finals.

Stoica is soliciting feedback from "specialists around the world," so here goes. If the goal is to bring the average vault score down, and in line with the other five apparatus, then I believe a simpler solution would be to lower all of the vault values. Doubling the execution deductions from a single vault would also accomplish the goal. But I am fundamentally against any proposal that adds to the already taxing physical requirements of the male gymnast under this Code. If the MTC eventually decides to shorten men's routines across the board, then I'd consider the two-vault rule.

Youth Olympics: Kamoto and Komova

Yuya Kamoto and Viktoria Komova have been the gymnastics stars of the inaugural Olympics in Singapore so far, and I can't help but think the U.S. made a big mistake in not sending one of its top junior women, such as the extremely talented Jordyn Wieber. At the Visa Championships in Hartford last week, I asked U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi if she regretted not sending a gymnast to Singapore. She said "yes and no," and then gave various reasons why they chose not to send someone. "Maybe we would have decided differently if we knew the personal coach could go," she said." Eventually, the IOC permitted the extra coach, but the U.S. had already turned down its women's spot. But I'm left to wonder how every other major gymnastics nation found a way to participate. Any time you can compete in—or even win—a meet that has the word Olympics in it, you should go for it.

IG Tour to Rotterdam

There is still time to sign up for the IG Tour to the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, site of the first IG Tour in 1987. Kermit and Jean Davis organized that inaugural tour, and they are still running the show today. The tour dates are Oct. 14-25 and includes airfare, hotel and tickets to all gymnastics sessions. Email International Sports Exchange for information: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

National Gymnastics Day — September 18, 2010

Click here to find out how your gym club can participate and help support the Children's Miracle Network. National Gymnastics Day was established in 1999, and more than $1 million has been raised.

My Story

After printing "My First Front Flip(s)" in July on the IG website, I asked readers to send in their own personal stories about their experiences in gymnastics. Funny, sad, inspirational, whatever. We received some great ones, and they will appear in future issues of IG. The first will be published in the October issue, and it was written by a woman whose love for the sport inspired her to launch her own gymnastics magazine. (I won't say who she is.) Everyone has a story, so please tell us yours.

"My Story" Submission Guidelines: Email text (750-1,500 words) to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . Subject Line: "My Story." Attach JPEG head shot and/or other photos relevant to your story. Images should be at least 300K.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Tuesday, 20 July 2010 15:33    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Welcome back, Paul Hamm
(22 votes, average 3.86 out of 5)

When Paul Hamm opted for retirement after winning the 2004 Olympic all-around gold, I was against it. Not that it was up to me, or anything. But I wanted to see what kind of winning streak he could put together, since he had won the 2003 worlds in Anaheim, too. The U.S. had waited a long time for an all-arounder of Hamm's caliber, and then circumstances drained his motivation right at his peak.

Through no fault of his own — but rather to a judging error — Hamm ended up in a very public debate regarding the legitimacy of his Olympic title. He was forced to defend his gold medal immediately after it was placed around his neck. So it was understandable that he might want to take a break.

I was pleased when he and his twin, Morgan, decided to come back for a run at 2008, even if Paul's chance at dominating the quadrennium in the all-around had already passed.

Then, after he worked himself back into national-title form by the spring of 2008, Hamm sustained a hand injury on parallel bars at the U.S. championships in Houston. A fractured fourth metacarpal ultimately aborted his return to the Olympics. And even counting his ill-fated fall from p-bars at those nationals, Hamm still logged a 93.450, 3.70 clear of second place.

China's Yang Wei won the 2008 Olympic gold with room to spare, scoring 94.575. Current world champion Kohei Uchimura, who fell twice from pommel horse, was next with 91.975. Hamm would have made it much more interesting in Beijing.

I've often said that comebacks never surprise me, but Hamm's does. And it's one that I welcome. He'll be close to 30 by the summer of 2012, but perhaps a few years younger, physically. He hasn't trained non-stop since 2004 like many of his contemporaries. And even though only five gymnasts will make the 2012 Olympic team, Hamm's all-around ability should make him a lock.

Hamm recently quit his job at Breakwater Trading in Chicago and has been training a bit at his old gym, Swiss Turners, in West Allis, Wis., where coach Andrei Kan has been "just kind of busting my butt [laughs]." He's also reconciled with his old coach, Stacy Maloney, whom he left after the 2003 worlds. Hamm says he will train full-time at either Swiss Turners or the USOTC in Colorado Springs.

Hamm told me his goals for 2012 are to help the team and to contend in the all-around and on high bar. He's also aware of Uchimura's current dominance.

"He's one of the people that is motivating me right now, because I see him and I realize how darn good he is," Hamm told IG. "And it makes me want to beat him, because of what an accomplishment that truly would be. But he is very good. He's an awesome gymnast."

After 2012, Hamm says he can always go back to his job in Chicago. But for now, he's putting his gymnastics career first.

"That (job) will be there for me later on, and I don't know how much longer my body will last," said Hamm, adding that he'd like to return to competition at the 2011 Winter Cup. "So I'm not going to let this opportunity pass me by."

When I spoke with Paul at length about his comeback, his voice revealed an enthusiasm that was missing after 2004. Time seems to have healed a few wounds.

Welcome back, Paul. Give it your best shot.

Read the complete interview with Paul Hamm in the next issue of IG.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Tuesday, 13 July 2010 09:28    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Here's My Story; What's Yours?
(17 votes, average 4.24 out of 5)

IG has received some wonderful personal stories through the years. An upcoming issue, for example, will include "A Girl and Her Knee: One gymnast's candid account of what really happens after you tear an ACL" by Diana Gallagher. Two summers ago, Kathy Nimmer submitted "What Matters Most," her inspiring account of learning gymnastics while losing her eyesight. Betsy Cooper wrote "Gymnastics from the Other Side: How television and the Internet have changed the fan experience."

Everyone has a personal story, whether it's funny, sad, embarrassing or inspiring. And IG would like to share your stories with its readers. So if you are a gymnast, coach, judge, parent or diehard fan, send us your story. (See below on how to submit your story.)

As an example, following is an edited version of a story that first appeared in the May 1993 IG.

My First Front Flip(s)

By Dwight Normile

My name is Dwight, and I'm a gymnasticaholic. I'm addicted to gymnastics and have been for a long time. I think there are a lot of us out there, some more seriously affected than others.

It all began in elementary school. My older sister was on the high school gymnastics team, and I got dragged to her meets. At first, I was one bored fourth-grader, but I soon fell under gymnastics' magic spell. I was amazed that these seemingly normal high school students could perform complete flips — on a basketball floor! — under their own power. It just didn't seem natural, or possible. Hence, the lure of the sport for me. I wanted to learn how to flip, and the sooner the better.

Unfortunately, I had nowhere to practice, no one to teach me. At age 10 I wanted to do gymnastics, but it was frustrating to know I had to wait until high school to join the team. You can only do so much off the diving board in summer, or at home. I managed a back flip to my knees on my bed once, cautiously aware of an eight-foot ceiling. But when I tried to show a friend my new skill, I leaned back too far on the takeoff, landed off the bed, and crashed my neck hard against the wall. I quickly learned how humbling and humiliating gymnastics could be. Not to mention painful.

Not satisfied with flips aided by diving boards or bedsprings, I devised a plan to execute one on my own. My first solo front flip took place in the fall of 1966. I was 11.

After raking leaves in the back yard one day, I was struck with a brilliant idea. If I piled the leaves at the base of our hill, I could create an above-ground pit. The angle of the slope was just enough to help me complete a flip. It was perfect.

Realizing my attempts might be limited, I summoned my sister to record the historic moment. "Bring your Polaroid Swinger," I ordered.

I wanted my sister to snap a picture precisely when I was upside-down, so my friends would believe in awe that I had actually done a flip. She agreed to try. I paced off my approach at the top of the hill, knowing how crucial the takeoff point would be. I was ready. My Jack Purcells felt light and springy, my V-neck sweater loose yet soft to help absorb a rough landing.

My plan was to jump off the top of the bank, flip hard, land on my feet and plow into the leaves with a shoulder roll. After all, I would be landing halfway down a hill. If I didn't roll, my momentum would surely slam me into the side of the house.

Like all gymnasts, I faced the moment of truth as I contemplated the next few seconds. No backing out now; the camera crew was poised and ready. My biggest fear was landing on my butt, which would mean a painful defeat, physically and psychologically.

I had done front flips on trampolines and off diving boards, but now I would try one without the aid of springs—or mats. To me, this was what gymnastics was all about. A success here would elevate my status among peers. "He can do a flip," they would say.

OK, no more stalling. "Ready?" I asked my sister. She nodded. Feeling a bit like Evel Knievel, I ran, jumped, tucked and experienced my self-created thrill to its fullest. Everything went to plan. It was all so easy.

"Did you get it?" I asked, brushing leafy debris off my sweater. We waited for the instant photo to develop before our eyes. In fear of missing the shot, my sister had snapped the shutter immediately after takeoff. (A Polaroid Swinger is slightly slower than a Nikon D3.) I was still upright, barely off the ground. I had no proof. Better try again.

My second attempt was also a success, the photo perfect this time. I now had visual evidence that, at age 11, I was a little nuts. And for that I blame gymnastics.

How to Submit Your Story

Email story to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Subject Line: My Story

Copy and paste the text of your story (between 750-1,500 words) into the body of your email.

Attach JPEG head shot and other photo(s) relevant to your story. Images should be at least 300 K in size (or straight from your digital camera).

 


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