Sunday, 30 November 2008

Olga Mostepanova and the 1984 Alternate Olympics.

In 1984, there was a Soviet led boycott of the Olympics in LA. Other notable gymnastic countries that boycotted were Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and East Germany.
At the world championships in 1983, the Soviets finished first, East Germany third, Bulgaria 4th Czechoslovakia 6th and Hungary 9th. The Olympics went ahead with half of the top ten countries boycotting!
Instead of the Olympics, the Soviets held games in a number of different locations. The gymnastics branch of the friendship games was held in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia. The women competed in the usual format.
The team results were: 1st-Soviet Union, 2nd East Germany, 3rd Czechoslovakia. If all the countries had competed together at the Olympics and been given the same scores, the results would have been as follows: 1-Soviet Union, 2nd East Germany, 3rd Romania. I'm sure you'll agree that a lot of the talent was obviously missing from the 1984 Olympics. Probably the most talented gymnast missing from the games was Olga Mostepanova, although the 1983 world champion, Natalia Yurchenko was also absent.At Olomouc, Olga has an outstanding competition, finishing first in the all around with a perfect score of 40.00.Undoubtly, Olga would have finished ahead of Mary Lou Retton had she been present. In fact, given the scores from the friendship games, if all countries were present in LA, Mary Lou would have finished third, also behind the Czech gymnast Hana Ricna.

Olga also won gold on vault beam and floor. She finished with a perfect beam score of 20.00 after having scored 10 for every beam performance of the games. Here she is on the beam:

Olga competed at the 1985 world championships and won gold with the soviet team, however shortly afterwards she disappeared from the gymnastics scene.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Is It Just Me.....?

Or has Fabian forgotten something?
I have to say.. he's a lot more attractive sans glasses, he looks a bit like a mouse, no?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Anna Pavlova - Our Heartbreak Heroine

Well, it looks like the winner of my veteran poll is Anna Pavlova. Anna is known for her amazing combination of grace and power. Personally, I love her dance and find her name fitting (after the famous ballerina).

Anna began gymnastics because her parents ran a gym. She is still coached by her mother.

Let's take a look back at her time on the gymnastics scene. Anna first burst onto our screens in 2000, when she competed in the Junior Europeans, Gymnastics Challenge and Russian Championships.
At the Europeans, Anna and the Russian team bagged gold, while Anna placed 5th in the all around and 1st on uneven bars. All at the age of 12! Below is her winning bar routine, look how tiny she is!:

In 2001, Anna competed in the Goodwill Games, winning silver on balance beam. She also competed in the European Youth Olympics Games, where she finished second all around and first on balance beam.
By 2002, Anna had become a big fish in the junior pond. She placed 1st all around at the Europeans, as well as taking the gold on vault and with the team. She polished off the event with a silver on balance beam. Here she is. Just look at those bangs!In 2003, Anna joined the senior ranks and made the Russian team for worlds. Individually, Anna qualified for the all around, vault and floor finals. Here came the first hints of her consistent inconsistency. In the floor final she stumbled out of her tumbling and finished 7th, in the vault final she finished 5th and in the all around, 10th.
In 2004, 1st place finishes on beam and all around at the Russian Championships helped her on her way to being named to the Olympic team.
At the Olympics, Anna won bronze with the team and vault, whilst finishing 4th in the all around and on balance beam. Below is her beautiful beam routine from the all around final:

Anna competed at the world championships on 2005 and 2006 continued to give heartbreakingly just outside the medals performances with a number of 4th 5th and 6th place finishes internationally. Within Europe and on home turf, Anna did better, with a gold and three bronze medals in the 2005 Russian Nationals and two silvers and a bronze at the 2005 Europeans.
For the majority of 2007, Anna disappeared from the world stage. The only competition she competed in was the Shanghai World Cup event. I'm not sure why, perhaps injury. Anybody know?
Wherever she was, she was back with a vengeance in 2008. In my opinion, she looked stronger than ever and had begun competing her (beautiful) double layout again.She helped the Russian team to a silver medal at Europeans, while finishing 5th on floor and vault.
Pavlova made her second Olympic team as team captain and I, amongst many others I'm sure, was ready for her to do well. Pavlova performed beautifully in qualifications and made the all around, beam, vault and floor finals.
Unfortunately, in the team finals, things started to go wrong. Anna fell to her knees on her double piked dismount on floor exercise, this combined with mistakes from her team mates left the bronze medal out of their reach.
Below is her beautiful floor exercise from the all around final:

In the vault final, Anna vaulted before the green light and scored zero. Without the mistake, she would have had a very good chance of a bronze medal. Her zero vault was beautiful and it was so sad that she didn't get the reward she deserved. Still unsettled by this, Anna went on to perform badly on floor and thus finished outside of the medals. Below are her vaults:

By the beam final two days later, Anna was performing better but missed out on bronze by 0.05 in another heartbreaking 4th place finish. Personally, I think she deserved bronze.

After the Olympics, Anna moved onto the World Cup competitions. Currently, Anna is ranked 3rd on vault and beam and 13th on floor exercises. She will be invited to at least two world cup finals. However, Anna will be unable to attend as at her last world cup event she injured her knee. Later reports confirmed that she had torn a ligament in her knee.

I'm crossing my everything that she doesn't retire!!!!
Here's to Anna!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Unusal Cool Skills

Don't you just love it when people come up with really unusal things to include in routines? Here's some of my favourites.

Elena Shushunova 1988 Floor Routine

You have to watch very closely to catching this one, but her second tumbling line includes a backhandspring using her knees. Crazy!

Jana Bieger 2005 Balance Beam

Speaking of knees... Jana Bieger completed a back tuck to one knee into front tuck to knees. How did she even think of it? Unfortunatley, Jana no longer competes it.

Yelena Produnova 2000 Floor Routine

She was awesome for a lot of reasons, but here in her floor exercise check out her straight front into double front combo. Also, on the originality front, her split leap withalf turn, half turn to splits on floor, windmill to splits (I think that's what it is... just watch!!)

Svetlana Baitova 1987 Balance Beam

Svetlana used a similar mount to canadian junior Peng Peng Lee. I believe she was the first to use seperated leg flares to mount the balance beam

Beth Tweddle 2008 Uneven Bars

Her new combo, which I think would be a toe on Tkachev with half turn, half turn into pak. Very cool, amongst the other great things in her bar routine

Elvire Teza 1997 Balance Beam

Check out her full twisting yurchenko loop to a back hip circle. Also, don't miss her sideways Yang Bo jump. This girl was just brimming with originality.

Monday, 17 November 2008

My Favourite Gymnastic Commercials

Over the years, gymnastics has been used to advertise many products, from tyres to laptops, here's my top five:

5. Pneu Egger
This one makes me giggle.

4. Nickelodeon 1992
I'm not sure who the gymnast is in this advert, but I like it because it's old school:

3. Bonaqua
This advert features Belarussian rhythmic gymnasts Inna Zhukova, Svetlana Rudalova, Liubov Charkashyna and Valeria Kurilskaya as well as some clever computer graphic:

2. Adidas Commercial- Nastia Liukin & Nadia Comaneci 2004
This was shown during the 2004 Olympics, when Nastia was still 'the next big thing' I love how they've been brought togther in a way that seems so real.

1. Audi Commercial 2008
The first time I saw this advert, it was Plus, it ran in the UK and we don't get a lot of gym ads over here. It's really clever too, making it my favourite gymnastic advert. It features a group of Hungarian gymnasts, imitating the motions of a car engine:

Thursday, 13 November 2008

A Brief History of Vaulting

The first Olympic vault champion was the Soviet gymnast, Ekaterina Kalinchuk. Unfortunatley, I couldn't find any footage of her, or infact, any refrence to her other than she won the medal by 0.1 with a 19.20. She scored a 9.70 in the compulsory vault, and a 9.50 in optionals.

The first vault champion I could find (decent) footage of was Vera Caslavska, a Czech gymnast (who is very well documented, by the way), in 1968:

She scored 9.90 for this vault and won with a total of 19.775
This was her second vault gold, with the first coming in 1964.

In 1976, the vault was won by Nellie Kim. She finished with a score of 19.8, 0.35 ahead of the field including Nadia Comaneci.

I'm sure we can all see the improvement in difficulty between 1968 and 1976.

In 1980, the Soviets won vault again with Natalia Shaposhnikova, who is more well known for her uneven bars element.

At this point in time, gymnasts were allowed two attempts and the best score was taken.

Two years after the olympics came the debut of one of the most famous vaults, the Yurchenko:

This became a staple vault for gymnasts and still is today, all be it with a bit more twisting. In fact, every olympic gold medalist on the vault since 1988 has used a yurchenko vault. In 1988, Sveltlana Boginskaya was the vault champion using Yurchenkos, a tucked full and a straight full. In 2008, Hong Un Jong became vault champion using a 2.5 twisting Yurchenko.

There has been a lot of fuss recently about the Amanar vault. First performed by Simona Amanar at the 2000 Olympics, the Amanar is a 2.5 twisting yurchenko and notriously difficult. Here's its debut:

The yurchenko made the path for other vaults using the round off entry, the Podkopayeva (A roundoff, half on, front pike with a half twist off), the Khorkina (round off, half on, tucked rudi) and more recently the Cheng (roundoff, half on, straight rudi). Here's the most difficult of these, the Cheng:

Remember this?

I have to admit, I'd forgotten about North Korea's previous vaulting achievements...

Kang Yun Mi won the silver at 2003 worlds and qualified to the 2004 Olympic final in second place.
Here's her Amanar from Qualifications:

Monday, 10 November 2008

Remember The Name

The history books are full of names that we all remember; Nadia Comaneci, Olga Korbut, Svetlana Boginskaya. But what about the other amazing gymnasts that are less well remembered? Let's take a look at a few, see how many you remember..

Elivira Saadi completed for the Soviet Union between the years of 1967 and 1976, earning two Olympic and four world medals. In 1973, she was the top soviet, winning the balance beam, floor exercise and all around title at national championships. She was beautifully graceful, elegant and danced like a woman instead of a pixie. Her more old fashioned gymnastics and taller, less child-like looks, meant that she lacked the wow factor for the judges. Take a look at her floor routine, look for the turns in attitude that we were all so impressed by this Olympics:

Rodica Dunca was a Romanian gymnast. She was a member of the 1979 world team that lead Romania to their first victory over the soviets. In 1980 she earned the all around title at Champions All. She was also a member of the 1980 Olympic team and placed 7th all around. In 1981, she earned a bronze medal on balance beam at Europeans before retiring in 1982. Here's her balance beam, the apparatus she was best known for. She has a traditional Romanian style, with beautiful long legs. Look for the impressive back sumi to scale:

Simona Pauca placed third behind Mary Lou Retton and Ecaterina Szabo at the 1984 Olympic games. Another Romanian, she also earned a gold with the team and on balance beam. After the Olympics, she disappeared from the world stage. Supposedly a fight occurred between her parents and the coaches and she was forced to move back to her home club. She kept training until 1986 when she retired. Here's her beam:

Olga Mostepanova never made it to the Olympics, because of the 1984 Soviet Boycott. However, at the friendship games, she almost completed a clean sweep, winning the team, all around, floor, vault and balance beam. During the competition she was given twelve perfect tens. In her time she also won five world medals. Here's her floor exercise, for some reason she reminds me of Lili Pod:

It strikes me that East Germany created many amazing, yet little remembered gymnasts. One example is Dagmar Kersten, who won a gold on uneven bars at the 1985 world championships, as well as a bronze at the 1988 Olympic games. She added this to her haul of 2 Olympic and 5 world medals. Here's her bars. I love the dismount.

Silvia Mitova was a Bulgarian gymnast. She competed at the 1992 Olympics and probably would have been a bigger deal if she'd been a Soviet. Such a shame about the fall in event finals or i believe she could have medaled, she certainly deserved to. Here's her floor exercise, just look at the first pass!

So, who do you think from the current scene could fade into the background? I always seem to forget about Chellsie Memmel...

Sunday, 9 November 2008

No olympics would be complete without.... A gymnastics scandal!

Lets take a look back at the Olympic scandals of the last twenty years...

2008- I'm sure you all remember this one. The age old age debate. I won't go into details, this topic has been done to death

2004 saw Paul Hamm awarded the Olympic gold medal, however after the competition it was reported that the winner should have been the Korean Yang Tae Young due to an incorrectly calculated start value. Medals were not re-awarded and Yang Tae Yound had to settle for bronze.

2000- We just couldn't get enough scandal in the Sydney Olympics, we saw Andrea Raducan win gold in what was said to be a 'tainted' all around competition with many falls resulting from the incorrect height setting of the vault. Of course, no one was happy with this but we were even more unhappy when the medal was later revoked in a drugs scandal!

1996- The noise in Atlanta supposedly led to poor performances from some gymnasts who were unable to hear their music. Most notably was Roza Galieva who had been removed from the all around 4 years earlier.

1992 -Speaking of Roza Galieva, she was withdrawn from the all around competition with a 'knee injury' in order to let her team mate, Tatiana Gutsu, compete. Tatiana fell from the balance beam during the team optionals and thus finished as only the fourth highest Soviet, not qualifying for the all around. The Soviet coach felt that Tatiana had a better chance at gold- and he was right.

1988 - The USA finished just out of the medals after a 0.5 deduction after enforcement of a little-used rule. The team alternate, Rhonda Faehn remained on the podium whilst a team member competed.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

My Favourite Olympic Moments 2008

10. Not really a moment, but the venue really made this Olympics special. The vibrant colours just made it all seem magical and almost made up for getting up at 5am to watch!

9. Sandra Izbasa’s floor exercise gold. Not necessarily for the performace (although it was fantastic), but for keeping alive the Romanian flame.

8. On that note, the Romanian bronze. Although I am a big fan of Russia, it was nice to see Steliana Nistor to be rewarded for all she’s gone through for the team over the past couple of years.

7. He Kexin’s awesome release move combos and that amazing laid out jaeger. Sure, the rest of her routine wasn’t perfect, but she certainly had the wow factor, so credit where it’s due.

6. Semyonova’s floor exercise and overall all around performance. Before the Olympics, I’d only really seen her on

bars and beam, but she certainly proved that she could be an all around force for the future. Her floor, like Anna Pavlova’s, was beautifully danced and reminded me of the old soviet gymnastics. I especially loved the turns in attitude.

5. Daiane Dos Santos’ amazing tumbling. This girl deserves credit. If only she could clean up, she would be an unbeatable force.

4. Nastia’s vault in the all around final. Unlike some, Iam not bewitched by the American media into thinking that all nastia’s performances are perfectly executed (or anything close to that, in fact), but this vault was special and deserved higher than a 9.5 in execution.

3. Li Shanshan’s beam in qualifications was breath taking. Difficult and beautifully performed. It’s performances like that that make me wish the perfect ten was still around, because it was truly deserving.

2. Anna Pavlova’s beautiful floor routine. She truly is an amazing gymnast and just watching this routine when she did it as well as we all knew she could was special. It’s such a pity that she didn’t go home with a single medal.

1. China’s team gold. I was rooting for them, so my reaction was somewhere along the lines of Cheng fei’s. You could tell that it meant so much to her and that really added to the moment. Age debates aside, Cheng fei and the rest of the team thoroughly deserved this gold and the moment will stick with me for a long time.

Unhappy Olympic Endings

It seems today that the slightest slip can be taken by the media and turned into the unhappiest of endings, but a look back at gymnastics history can reveal times when a sad ending was far more than an unexpected slip from the balance beam.

The first women’s gymnastics Olympic team event was held at the Amsterdam Olympics of 1928. The home nation of Holland took the gold. Today, an Olympic gold medallist can rely on a comfortable life post Olympics. However, Helena Nordheim, Estella Agsterribe, Anna Polak and Judikje Simons (all members of the gold medal winning team), and their coach Gerrit Kleerekoper, were all killed in gas chambers 15 years later. The only Jewish member of the team to survive world war two was Elka de Leve.

In 1948, the Olympics were held in London. Czechoslovakia were dominant in the team competition, which is surprising due to the late injury of a team member. After arriving in London, 22 year old Eliska Misáková became ill and was assigned an iron lung. On the day of the team competition, she died of paralysis.
When the Czech flag was raised at the medal ceremony, it was decorated with a black ribbon.

In Mexico City, 1968, the soviet women took their fifth team title. Years later, in 1994, a member of the team (Olga Karasyova) appeared on German television, claiming that she and the whole team had been forcibly impregnated prior to the games to raise their levels of male hormones. Girls without a boyfriend or husband were forced to have sex with their coach. Ten weeks later they were given abortions.

One of the most political gymnastic figures is Věra Čáslavská, who famously turned her head down away from the soviet flag during a medal ceremony. However, she paid for this act of defiance as the authorities made sure than she remained unemployed for the years after the Olympics. Every year she appeared at the office of the sport minister requesting a job, for seven years she was refused.

The favourite to win the 1980 all around title was defending world champion, Yelena Mukina. Sixteen days before the Olympics, Mukina broke her spine during practice. She was unable to speak for six months and was paralysed until her death in 2006.

Many would say that an Olympic medal isn’t a matter of life or death. But after Svetlana Boguinskaya came third in the all around at the 1988 Olympics, this was such a disappointment to her coach that it reportedly contributed to his suicide three days after the games. Sveltlana went on to win the all round title at the 1989 world championships and dedicated her medal to her former coach, Lybov Miromanova.