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Stretching Out
Stretching Out

Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 08 May 2009 12:04    PDF Print
Women’s NCAAs: Random Observations
(23 votes, average 3.57 out of 5)

CBS Sports will air its coverage of the 2009 NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships from Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, and our exclusive IG coverage will appear in the June issue. Meanwhile, I offer the following impressions that stuck with me after my trip to the Cornhusker state in April.

Courtney Kupets: This Georgia senior really was in a “league of her own,” to borrow the description by Gym Dogs coach Suzanne Yoculan. Her biggest mistakes over three days and 12 events were minor: tiny hops or shuffles on a couple of vault landings in apparatus finals. She was machine-like, but not robotic. Her routines had energy, amplitude and also some risk. She also doesn’t follow scores or results. When I asked her if she thought her score from the first prelim session would hold up as the winning all-around score, she didn’t really know what her total was.

Suzanne Yoculan (Georgia)

Suzanne Yoculan: Retiring after 26 years and a record 10 NCAA titles, Yoculan will be missed for the edge she brought to the sport. She was one of the few coaches who learned how to fill seats at home meets (Utah’s Greg Marsden and Alabama’s Sarah Patterson have done it, too), and only time will tell if the Gym Dogs continue to draw such a faithful following in Yoculan’s absence. I hope her energy and name don’t disappear completely from women’s NCAA gymnastics.

“I think it will create a void in that she has raised the bar,” LSU coach D-D Breaux said of Yoculan’s retirement. “She puts an excellent product on the floor. I’m going to miss her personally as a friend, but as a coach I have a tremendous amount of respect and the job she does with her team, day in and day out.”

Super Six Format: In our annual NCAA Preview earlier this year I was surprised that a common suggestion from the top coaches was to limit the finals to four teams. The term “Super Six” has become unique to women’s NCAA gymnastics. But with only four events, six teams cannot competed simultaneously, so two byes become part of the six rotations. In terms of spectator involvement, the meet is difficult to follow because the byes stagger the running totals on the scoreboard. I just don’t think the schools that have never made the Super Six are going to want to drop to four teams anytime soon.

NCAA Scoring: Women’s collegiate gymnastics catches a lot of flack for its bloated scoring. If we compare it to golf, a 9.8 would be a par; it will neither hurt you nor help you. A 9.7 is a bogey, a 9.9 is a birdie, 9.95 an eagle, and a 10 is a hole-in-one. When you understand and accept this, the meets are interesting because, as a viewer, you can tell which team is hitting and which is not. There is an excitement with NCAA team competition that you don’t feel at the various World Cup meets around the world.

Floor Exercise: Not burdened by the need for high levels of difficulty, the current women’s floor routines include subtle, entertaining choreography. The routines have morphed from aerobics exercises of a decade ago to a hip-hop style that has its moments. I’m not quite sure how the judges evaluate this “dance,” but it’s fun to watch. As a team, UCLA was especially adept at this style, but coach and choreographer Val Kondos Field has always been a step ahead in this area.

Floor Mats: I’ve harped on this before, but using four-inch landing mats in the corners of the floor mat is a huge distraction to the event in terms of aesthetics. Not many gymnasts used them, but when they did, it looked unprofessional when the coach would kneel down to draw chalk lines (and not always accurately) to simulate the corner. Can judges really tell if a gymnast steps out of bounds when the lines aren’t straight? When meets are often decided by .10 or less, this quirk of the event doesn’t make sense.

I can understand that many of these collegiate gymnasts have chronic ankles after years in the sport, and that offering a soft landing will keep them healthy. But that’s all the mats should be used for; no further tricks should be allowed after landing, such as a punch front, because the cushioned landing makes such skills considerably easier.

Floor exercise mats in Lincoln

Floor Mats Again: Given the technical expertise of today’s equipment manufacturers, why not design a floor mat that features two “soft” corners for landing, designated by a simple boundary line. The springs have become so bouncy that some gymnasts can’t control their landings no matter how hard they try. If they land a bit stiff-legged, the mat rebounds them right back into the air.

Ashley Priess: It was good to see Priess, who dropped out of the sport at the start of the 2008 Olympic trials process, compete with such conviction for Alabama. Just a freshman, Priess was one of her the Crimson Tide’s main contributors. I asked her what happened between a year ago and now. “I think the biggest thing for me is I found teammates and girls and best friends that have all kind of picked me up and taken me under their wings and restored my love for the sport,” she said. “If you don’t love the sport … then ultimately you’re going to burn out. And for me that’s what happened. It’s not like that for everybody.”

Skill Level: No, college gymnastics is not elite gymnastics, but there were plenty of difficult elements and combinations on display. Nicole Ourada (Stanford) did a Pak immediate Stalder; Maranda Smith (Florida) tumbled an easy piked full-in and dismounted bars with a barani-out; Whitney Bencsko (Penn State) had perhaps the best piked full-in of the meet; and Brandi Personett (Penn State) tumbled a layout full-in back-out like it was nothing. West Virginia’s Mehgan Morris swung wrong-grip front giants, Georgia’s Grace Taylor caught a Comaneci between the bars three days in a row; Melanie Sinclair (Florida) did a high Hindorff on bars; and Arkansas’ first two gymnasts on beam, Jaime Pisani and Alex LaChance, mounted with risky front somis.

Written by Dwight Normile    Thursday, 12 March 2009 13:50    PDF Print
A Tribute to Glenn Sundby
(20 votes, average 4.85 out of 5)

Glenn Sundby, who founded INTERNATIONAL GYMNAST magazine in 1956, is 87. He has faced some health issues in the past couple of years, but would be delighted to hear from the worldwide gymnastics family. You can send cards to him at this address: Glenn Sundby, Tenenbaum Villa, 3463 Circulo Adorno, Carlsbad, CA 92009.

In the meantime, we offer the following story about Glenn's life in gymnastics and passion for serving the sport through his publishing efforts. It first appeared in the January 1993 issue of IG. And at the end is a special proposal for all of you.

The Sundby Saga
After 43 years in publishing, Glenn Sundby is gymnastics' biggest promoter

At 14, Glenn Marlin Sundby was the smallest in his class, still too light to be a 98-pound weakling. Knowing conventional sports were out of the question, Sundby thought gymnastics might be the answer. After all, he had always wanted to learn a handstand ever since he saw his uncle do one. So he went out for the gymnastics team at University High School in West Los Angeles in 1936. "It took me a year to learn a handstand and a year to learn a kip," Sundby laughs.

1950s: Sundby, in a handstand, with sister Dolores and George Long atop a 25-story hotel in Miami Beach

In short, he wasn't very good that freshman year, so he didn't bother trying out as a 10th grader. But he did spend that sophomore summer at Santa Monica's famous Muscle Beach, a playground for acrobats, weightlifters and Hollywood stunt workers. Sundby's skill increased so quickly he rejoined the gym team as a junior and became the school's top scorer.

Muscle Beach became Sundby's hangout — and professional training ground. He met people like Jack LaLanne, Steve Reeves, Vic and Armond Tanny and Joe Gold. Reeves went on to become Hercules, LaLanne pioneered an exercise show (and now pitches juicers), and Vic Tanny and Gold made their marks in the health club business.

Sundby built his future at Muscle Beach too. That's where he met his handbalancing partner, George Wayne Long, and the two hit the road in 1939 to perform in "anything from carnivals to theatres to small nightclubs." Sundby was only 18 at the time, but his father's sudden death had forced him to choose working over attending college. "Wayne and Marlin" did their thing, but after seven years, itched for a change. "We decided we needed a trio, because the girl always helps the act," Sundby says. "So we taught my sister, Dolores, and she joined us and we just traveled around doing shows everywhere."

"The Wayne-Marlin Trio" was based in New York City, and Sundby, looking for something extra to do, launched his first publishing effort in 1949. "A lot of friends discouraged me," he says. "They said, 'What do you know about type? What do you know about agates?' It didn't bother me. In spite of all the conflicts, I just went ahead and said, 'I'll do it,' and had fun."

ACROBAT For about two years, Sundby published ACROBAT magazine with the volunteer help of a few friends. Dick Wilson, who had an art background, helped with the layout, and Joe Shuster contributed a cartoon, "The Adventures of Jim Nast." Wilson went on to become Mr. Whipple ("Please, don't squeeze the Charmin!"), and Shuster had already created the Superman comic book character.

"The final curtain for ACROBAT came when we joined "Spike Jones and His Musical Insanities" and traveled all over the country on one-nighters and one-week stands for the next five years," Sundby says. "Our final tour with Spike was to Australia in 1955, with a stop-over in Hawaii. On our return to California, which had become our home base, we decided to break up our act. My sister got married and my partner became a Jesuit Brother, tired of traveling at the ripe old age of 34. At 36, I retired to manage the property investments I had made during the previous few years."


Sundby balancing work and pleasure at THE MODERN GYMNAST office in the late 1950s

Retired? Not for long. "Since I had the time and a little capital I thought I would try publishing again," Sundby says. "Five years after I quit doing the ACROBAT magazine I was still getting letters from subscribers. So, as a hobby, I went back into it a little bit. First, I sent out a card that asked, 'Would you like to get a gymnastics magazine?' And those cards that came back gave me a mailing list. Then I did my first complimentary edition (December 1956) and sent it to everybody, free, with a subscription form. I sent out probably 2-3,000 magazines and got back about 450 subscribers. And by the time I got the first official issue out — May '57 — from there on it was just up and down, and I had incomes from the properties that kept me going.

"I did everything in the first magazines. I took most of the pictures, wrote all the articles, did all the layout, stapled them together and trimmed the edges, stuck all the stamps, and sorted them all into bundles for the post office. But it was kind of exciting and fun. It was a challenge, but at the time it was not a livelihood. But through the years it came to a point where I either had to make it a business or quit."

And there is one thing Sundby just won't do, and that's quit. "The interest in gymnastics was low in those days, and the growth was slow," Sundby recalls. "But my interest and the need for the magazine seemed to be important to me, so I hung in there, selling my properties little by little to keep it going."

The 1960s brought new challenges to Sundby, and he met them head on. He helped found the U.S. Gymnastics Federation (USGF) and was on the committee that selected Frank Bare as executive director. Sundby served as a vice president and THE MODERN GYMNAST became the unofficial publication of the USGF.

"When he committed to the USGF (now USA Gymnastics) when it was brand new in 1962-63," Bare says, "there was a lot of pressure on him, politically, that his magazine would suffer, etc. But he never wavered. He just hung in there from day one, and even though we were not the governing body (the AAU was until 1970), and we didn't have any money, and we didn't have any clout with anybody overseas, he nonetheless decided that that's the way he was going to go. He's always been such a great idea man, and he believes in what he's trying to do."

In 1963 Sundby started the Santa Monica Gymfest "to have a fun competition where all could enjoy gymnastics without caring who won." After covering the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Sundby married Barbara Bach, and four years later they adopted a son, Scott.

In 1965 Sundby continued his quest to serve the sport better. "Originally, we did mostly men in the magazine, because women's gymnastics was not that big," he says. "And the women were complaining, so I decided to try a magazine just for women, MADEMOISELLE GYMNAST, and it lasted a few years until the cost of doing two magazines became prohibitive.

Sundby sits proudly in his office in 1966


A new name and a new look, the GYMNAST combined men's and women's gymnastics in 1972. But the sport itself was not thriving and again the magazine faced trouble times. Until the Munich Olympics, that is.

"Something's come along each time we were about to go over the edge," Sundby says. "The Olga Korbut phenomenon of the 1972 Olympics stimulated interest in worldwide gymnastics, and we had a tremendous growth in the magazine."


Nadia Comaneci's domination of the 1976 Montreal Olympics fed more fuel to the fire, and Sundby's magazine took on yet another new name, but one that would stick. "Dr. Josef Goehler was doing OLYMPISCHE TURNKUNST magazine out of Germany, a very fine magazine in several languages," Sundby says. "When that magazine folded I asked Dr. Goehler to be our foreign correspondent, and in the process, changed the name to INTERNATIONAL GYMNAST."

Always looking to promote the sport more completely, Sundby started up ACROSPORTS in 1975 and took over GYMNASTICS WORLD from RUNNER'S WORLD in 1977. The former became the official publication of the U.S. Sports Acrobatics Federation, which Sundby co-founded with George Nissen. GW became sort of a children's version of IG.

Neither magazine made it past 1982, but both served a purpose at the time. You see, Sundby never was the type to make a profit and use it on himself. He always put it back into the business. But many outsiders believed he was living the high life, rich from his gymnastics publications. That was never his style, nor his goal.

"I think so many people over the years haven't supported the magazine because they never felt he needed it," Bare says. "So many of them would buy one issue and pass it around the gym, which they probably still do, with the idea that, 'Well, Glenn travels all over the world, and Glenn lives in California. Therefore, he probably doesn't need any support.'"

Instead of support, Sundby received competition when the USGF came out with its own magazine — one that resembled IG quite a bit. The USGF's publication came 'free' as part of a gymnast's annual registration fee, so IG felt the effect in its circulation. Gymnasts just entering the sport didn't know there were two different gymnastics magazines, even after they had seen both.

"I felt the USGF was a non-profit foundation, and I was fighting an unequal battle with one hand tied behind my back," Sundby says. "But I figured, 'This is American, that's their right.' They used to have a newsletter, which I fully agreed with. I think they should have a newsletter. What bothers me is that the USGF is the federation of the AAU, Sokols, Turners, YMCAs, etc. All of these groups are under the federation. But when you look in their magazine you don't see reports from all these organizations."

Sundby has seen more than one gymnastics magazine sprout up trying to imitate what he has been doing for 35 years, but when he's at an event, he learns what the people really think. "They say, 'We skim through their magazine but we sure look through yours,'" Sundby says. "They like the depth and the detail that we have."

That's because of Sundby's tenacious character. That's why every score for every gymnast at a World Championships or Olympics is printed in the magazine. That's why he took individual head shots of all 305 gymnasts at the 1985 Montreal World Championships — during the competition. (And he got most of them to smile.) That's why all of the teams that competed at Barcelona are pictured in the 1992 Olympic issue.

"To me, every Olympic competitor is important," Sundby says. "They are the best from their country. Win or lose, it is an honor they can pass on to their grandchildren with pride."

Sundby among the photographers at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

Leafing through the more than 500 publications Sundby has produced is a nostalgic trek through gymnastics history. His magazines and posters fill most every gym in the country, and subscribers feel a special bond to their own collections. If not for Sundby, the magazine would never have made it into the 1960s, let alone the 1990s. "I have a tenacity of some sort," he admits. "It's not talent, it's just not giving up."

"There are some people that you'll meet — not many — throughout your lifetime that are completely devoted to a particular idea," says Bruce Frederick, long-time Education Editor for IG. "And sometimes the devotion isn't rational and people think that you're crazy. But these people persist, and in the end they accomplish things."

But usually not alone. Sundby has had many instrumental co-workers along the way. "Dick Criley was very helpful," he says of his Associate Editor. "And, of course, Bruce Frederick was very helpful as an historian."

There is something about the man that evokes a fierce loyalty where his long-time employees are concerned. Before she passed away in 1983, Office Manager Eleanor Brown had "held him together" for 23 years, and Carolyn Booth (the pleasant voice that answers the IG phone) is now in her 17th year.

"Glenn is a unique person, in his personal life and in his business," Booth says. "He would give away the store to friend and stranger alike. He always looks on the positive side of gymnastics, and everything in his life, which he attributes to his deep faith in God. He also has a way of seeing things and carrying through, even when no one else thinks it is possible."

Sundby, who always ended his editorials with "Have a Happy Handstand," admits that the magazine couldn't have survived without the multitude of contributors from around the world. While Dr. Goehler's monthly reports were integral to IG's international coverage, Eileen Langsley has unselfishly shared her excellent photography with IG readers for more than a decade.

But nothing lasts forever. As the 1990s hit, Sundby found himself finalizing a divorce from his wife and searching for someone to purchase IG. Now he is handing over the publishing reins to Paul Ziert, who coached Bart Conner to Olympic gold in 1984 and who now manages the careers of Conner and Nadia Comaneci.

Sundby isn't retiring, though. After his daily morning workouts — "I can finally do a hollowback press again" — he stays busy working at his latest project, the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in Oceanside, Calif. He'll remain as a consultant to IG, but his boundless energy will be directed toward opening the Hall of Fame, once and for all.

Like his early magazine ventures, Sundby sees a parallel with the Hall of Fame. He conceived the project in 1977 but couldn't begin work on it until 1986, when he finally found a facility in Oceanside. (In 1996 Ziert and Conner moved the Hall of Fame to Oklahoma City, where it is still growing today.)

Sundby may have been small and sickly as a child, and he may not have been a top-level gymnast, but his impact on gymnastics worldwide may never be matched. "He's the most decorated person in the sport," Frederick says. "There's no one who's gotten more awards than Glenn."

The awards mean little to someone like Sundby, though. "I have enough plaques, enough awards to last me for the rest of my life," he says. What's really important to Sundby is his life's work. "Is gymnastics a better place since I've been here?" he asks. "Have I made a contribution to the sport that gave me health?"

Indeed, he has, many times over. On behalf of Glenn Sundby, Have a Happy Handstand.

Sundby poses for the January 1993 IG cover


If you've read this far, you must be like so many of us who absolutely love gymnastics. When I was in high school in the early 1970s, my older sister subscribed to MODERN GYMNAST. She bought me a subscription too. I carried it everywhere. By the end of each month, I had read my "MG," cover to cover, numerous times. I kept my subscription going until 1982, when I joined the IG staff. IG has truly become my life, and my sister still subscribes.

I know I'm not alone in my love for gymnastics. I recognize the names of some of you who have faithfully written Letters to the Editor for years. Abby, Anita, Toby, and everyone else. Thank you.

Remarkably, IG is one of the longest-running magazines of any kind in the world. So I am asking all of you to do something special for Glenn Sundby. Something to keep his publishing dream alive and well for many years to come. And we all know how difficult that can be in the Internet age. But I remember Glenn often saying, "A little bit from a lot of people can make a huge difference."

Here is what I propose:

To IG Subscribers: If IG has had a positive impact on your life, send a subscription to someone you know will love it as much as you.

To Non-subscribers: Sign up today online. You won't regret it. I know I didn't.

We all need to give back to Glenn Sundby, the man who sacrificed so much to help so many. I'll be the first to make a difference. Today I have bought a subscription for my niece, who is a gymnast in Maryland. Who will be next?

Thank you,
IG Editor Dwight Normile

Written by Dwight Normile    Monday, 27 October 2008 16:35    PDF Print
Stretching Out: 15 Halloween Costume Suggestions for the Gymnastics World
(21 votes, average 1.95 out of 5)

With Halloween approaching, I hereby offer the following costume suggestions...

Valery Liukin: Yoda

Wise master of the Force of gymnastics and fatherly teacher of Nastia. His patience and wisdom proved a winning combination in Beijing.

Nastia Liukin: Neck Tie

Liukin can't seem to win when it comes to ties. She tied teammate Chellsie Memmel for the 2005 world all-around title, but was bumped to second with what may have been the most ridiculous rule ever: score truncation. Then, ties were permitted at the worlds in 2006 and 2007, but not at the Olympics in Beijing, where Liukin lost a share of the uneven bars gold to He Kexin because of a tie-breaker.

Liukin recently told me that she would have been more upset with her Olympic silver on uneven bars had she not already won the all-around gold. She said that winning an Olympic gold changed her life, and that it opened numerous doors: charity work, appearances, etc., that would have otherwise remained shut.

Oksana Chusovitina: Fountain of Youth

This costume might be a little tricky to create, but if the 33-year-old Chusovitina can win a silver medal in her fifth Olympic Games, I'm sure she can handle it. (Remember the shower costume from The Karate Kid? Something like that.)

Shawn Johnson: Smiley Face

No explanation needed. (Come to think of it, the Smiley Face could go as Shawn Johnson.)

Smiley Face Shawn Johnson

Liang Chow: Smiley Face


Jonathan Horton: Dart

His dismount landings in the Olympic team final helped stick his team on the medal podium.

Fabian Hambüchen: Cheerleader

This is not much of a stretch for the exuberant German, but it's the best I could come up with.

Paul Hamm: Ghost

After a great comeback, he disappeared because of a broken hand. Will he reappear? (His coach, Miles Avery, recently told me he knew nothing about another Hamm comeback.)

Leszek Blanik: Pole Vaulter

He's from Poland. He's the Olympic vault champion. (I credit IG's Amanda Turner for this one.)

Vanessa Ferrari: Volkswagen

The 2006 world champ has lost some horsepower since her big win in Aarhus.

Beth Tweddle: Quick Change Artist

I'm not exactly sure what this costume would look like, but that's what she was on the uneven bars in Beijing.

He Kexin: Birth Certificate

I fear this has been a popular costume for years, and not just for the Chinese.

Jordan Jovtchev: Olympic Gold Medal

It may be the closest he'll ever come to it.

Qiao Xin: Propeller

The Chinese pommel horse god swings so close to horizontal that he probably creates lift on the apparatus.

Justin Spring: Spiderman

I have no clever reason why Spring should be Spiderman, other than it seems to fit him. Plus, he's built kind of "spidery," is he not?

Justin Spring as Spiderman

Feel free to contribute some of your own costume ideas...

Written by Dwight Normile    Tuesday, 07 October 2008 09:04    PDF Print
Stretching Out: A Bit of Russia in the Heart of Texas
(10 votes, average 4.70 out of 5)

The irony is almost too great to grasp. An average corner shopping center in Plano, Texas, is as nondescript as the next, with a Home Depot, a Braum's, and tucked in between, a WOGA.

WOGA? Passers-by can only wonder what is hidden behind the giant letters on the darkened glass. A chic boutique? A hip, new form of yoga, perhaps? Step inside the former grocery store and you quickly understand. Instead of spills on aisle three you see skills everywhere. On balance beam, uneven bars, pommel horse. OK, I saw a few spills, too.

It's 10 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and I am attending a media event that has made Plano proud. The mayor is there. A local news station, too. All are present to see the WOGA trio of Nastia Liukin, Carly Patterson and Hollie Vise, as well as their combined 21 Olympic and World Championship medals.

It's an intimate homecoming. Vise, a junior at Oklahoma, drove down the night before; Liukin had a few days off from the 2008 Tour of Gymnastics Superstars; and Patterson, who is still pursuing her music career, lives in the area, having moved back from Los Angeles.

The interior of the WOGA club in Plano, Texas.

Co-owner Yevgeny Marchenko tells me how the 31,000-square-foot gym came to be, how he and partner Valery Liukin built the above-ground pits because the landlord wouldn't allow any digging. (Thank goodness for that Home Depot next door!) He wistfully explains how Sept. 11 seven years ago scrapped their original plans to build their dream gym. But he also urges me to stop by their newest WOGA (they have three gyms), which is not too far away in Frisco. (I do.) It opened a few months ago, and Marchenko speaks of it as a proud father would his newborn child (photo below).

Valery and his wife, Anna Liukin, oversee the Plano gym, and I'm surprised by how many boys and girls of all ages are training at this hour. While most U.S. gymnastics clubs are virtually empty during the day, this gym is humming with focused activity. I am told that this is the first of two daily workouts for many of them. In between they will attend a partial day of school at nearby Spring Creek Academy. The atmosphere feels a lot like a gym I visited in Moscow years ago.

This doesn't surprise me. Liukin and Marchenko, who left the Soviet Union when it dissolved in the early 1990s, merely recreated the proven system that made each of them champions in their respective disciplines: Liukin in artistic gymnastics, Marchenko in sports acrobatics.

Again, the irony hits me. WOGA — World Olympic Gymnastics Academy — is a little bit of Russia in the heart of Plano, on the northeast corner of Custer and Parker. Gymnastics is the main focus of the day, and with no pressing time limits in the gym, kids can hone and perfect every last skill. An express lane no longer exists in this building.

WOGA's new gym in Frisco, Texas.

I see 2007 U.S. junior champion Rebecca Bross, a transplant from Michigan, swinging through routines on the bars. She missed the nationals last summer with three broken bones in her foot, but is looking sharp here. I realize that, for most of the people in the gym at this hour, gymnastics is their life. It is not just an after-school activity. The pace of practice is unhurried but steady. Few coaching comments are heard. Many of the gymnasts seem to be on autopilot, their workouts comfortably shaped by habit, driven by ambition.

The rare corrections I hear from Valery are matter-of-fact in tone. His gymnasts are working in an extremely difficult and technical sport, and he's there to pass along years of expertise. The gymnasts' motivation surely comes from the history of the gym, and giant signs on the wall are constant reminders.

Two of the vinyl banners honor the Olympic all-around titles of Patterson in 2004 and Liukin this year. Marchenko coached Patterson, and Nastia is coached by Valery. One gym, two coaches, two Olympic champions.

Mind-boggling as that is, I stop to wonder if the 2012 champion might also be here, chalking up for her next turn. Perhaps she is, over on aisle three.

Log onto for a photo gallery of the media event.

Written by Dwight Normile    Tuesday, 23 September 2008 03:22    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Beijing, London and the Phantom 10.0
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Like all Olympic Games, Beijing 2008 represented both an end and a beginning. Careers have concluded for some gymnasts, while others will battle a new generation as the next quadrennium begins. The first big test will be the 2009 World Championships, to be held from Oct. 13-18 at the 02 Arena in London. Individual all-around and apparatus titles will be on the line, and with various veterans retired, a few surprise world champions could emerge.

Look for Fabian Hambüchen, Kohei Uchimura and Jonathan Horton to be among those chasing the men’s all-around title. With the right motivation, Paul Hamm could win in 2009 too. It’s a pity to see all the hard work he put in go to waste, but then again, he’s already won a world all-around title.

It may be premature to predict another duel between Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, given the opportunities both are enjoying at present. So if neither shows up in London, Russia’s Ksenia Semyonova would lead my picks to win the women’s title. But I would never count out Chellsie Memmel, who won in 2005 under the same meet format.

China’s Yang Yilin and Jiang Yuyuan are also likely candidates, assuming the Olympic team gold didn’t end their careers. A Chinese woman has never won a world all-around title, and 2009 might be ripe for the picking.

Speaking of the Chinese women, did anyone else notice how much a few of them struggled in Beijing with the sole circle transition from low bar to high bar? Their technique, for which they are generally so well known on bars, was simply abominable on this element. I don’t buy the excuse that the skill is difficult for short gymnasts, because Shawn Johnson did it very well. The Chinese seemed to shoot their legs toward the high bar without opening their shoulder or hip angle enough. This created no forward rotation and left them in a virtual dead hang on the high bar. He Kexin, who won the event, was one of the biggest culprits.

Something else I’ve noticed for years about the Chinese on bars is their skill selection. Correct me if I’m wrong (and I don’t mind if you do), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Chinese gymnast do a free hip-reverse hecht, Stalder-reverse hecht or sole circle-reverse hecht. They are primarily a Tkatchev and Jaeger program, complemented by numerous elgrip combinations. It’s a simple palette of skills, but then again, most artists (painters, musicians, etc.) stick with what is comfortable and familiar.

I’m not sure what mandates were established for judges under the current Code of Points, but I thought some of the execution scores in Beijing were a bit severe. If Nastia Liukin had done the vault she did in the all-around final 20 years earlier, at the Seoul Olympics, she would have scored a 10.0. Or at the very least, 9.95. In Beijing, her execution average was 9.525.

If the FIG is going to promote the concept that the 10.0 is still part of the open-ended scoring system, then it should allow gymnasts to score one occasionally. Or at least get close. I’m not suggesting the 10.0 become as common as it was at Seoul 1988, when 40 were awarded. But as it stands now, who will ever remember what Liukin scored on that beautifully stuck vault?

That vault was a salient moment in the all-around final, and had the potential to market gymnastics to the masses. Its score, however, conveyed a different message to viewers, who could only deduce that it must not have been that special. Under the circumstances, it was remarkable.

When the new Code was introduced in 2006, I was OK with losing the 10.0 as the final score because I thought we’d finally see it again in the B-score. Remember, the 10.0 had disappeared since the 1992 Olympics, when only two were awarded.

Apparently, it has become extinct.



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