Thursday, 21 June 2012

Thursday's Thoughts

Comeback Queens?

With the average age of female gymnasts much higher than it used to be, more and more gymnasts are continuing to compete or come out of retirement. But how easy is it to conquer the comeback?

In the USA in particular comebacks have been a major part of this year's Olympic journey. Five of the six members of the 2008 Olympic team were hoping to repeat the achievement and try for the 2012 team. Bridget Sloan is the only one of these five members who never officially retired, though injury has kept her out of major competition for the last couple of years. Her comeback from injury has earned her a place at the USA Olympic Trials at the end of June. Her sheer delight at still being part of competitive gymnastics was evident at the Visa National Championships and the fact that she is still working all around is a great bonus. Alicia Sacramone also had a successful competition at Visas, which earned her a place at the Olympic Trials. Alicia feels that she has a lot to prove after falling twice during the team competition in Beijing and realised that retiring on that note was not the way she wanted to leave the sport. Concentrating these days on her two best apparatus, vault and beam, Alicia has worked up over the past two years to give very solid routines which placed 1st and 3rd at the recent National Championships.

Things haven't been so smooth for all the gymnasts trying to make a comeback though. Earlier this month, Shawn Johnson announced that her injuries were forcing a retirement and she would be unable to progress any further with her Olympic journey. I found this a great shame, as I was always a fan of not only her gymnastics but her bubbly personality and fabulous smile. Chellsie Memmell also ran out of time along the way to the Olympics, unable to secure the score required for her to progress to the National Championships or Olympic Trials.

So that leaves Nastia Liukin. The fifth member of that 2008 team who is trying to make a comeback. There has been much speculation about the reigning 2008 champion and her ability to be ready in time for the games. So far, she has proved that her beam skills are coming close to where she was 4 years ago, but even so there are still many tweaks and improvements to be made to her beam routine before Trials. But bars is where she wants - and needs - to shine if she is to impress the selection committee. Only two full bars routines have been seen from her in competition since 2008, neither of which were a success. Despite this, she has been accepted to Olympic Trials, where she has one last chance to show the selection committee and the rest of the world that she is ready to compete at the highest level.

So is a comeback really worth it? In certain cases absolutely, and none more so than Romania's Catalina Ponor. At the age of 24, it is not four years but eight since she competed in an Olympic Games. In Athens 2004 she not only helped her team towards the gold medal, but also took two individual medals on beam and floor. Her recent performance in the 2012 European Championships in Brussels showed that 8 years on she has lost none of her talent or style. She led her team to Gold ahead of a strong Russian team as well as taking a Gold medal on beam and a Silver medal on floor.

I for one look forward to seeing the contrast of the maturity of these comeback queens alongside the youth of the newcomers.

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