Friday 24 August 2012

Time for a change . . .

The Olympic journey this summer has been amazing and has created plenty of blogging opportunities. Now though I feel it is time for a change - I will still be blogging, but probably not every day as I have done so far. There is plenty of blogging still to be done and I still have plenty of ideas, but if you have any suggestions on things you would like me to write about please let me know (details on my Contact page). In the meantime, why not check out some of my previous posts or follow me on twitter (@GymFanBlog). See you all soon!


Thursday 23 August 2012

Thursday's Thoughts

Vault scores in the new CoP

With the Olympics now over for another four years the rules and regulations are due a rethink. The provisional Code of Points for 2013-2016 is now available to download and while it can be a bit wordy and long it always worth a flick through. Do bear in mind that this is still provisional at the moment and not all the changes may see it through to the final draft. After looking through, the main change stands out as being the scores on vault. While there are new requirements and connection values on the other apparatus, the scoring of vault looks set to have a complete overhaul.

The main changes will be to those gymnasts looking to qualify and compete in the vault final. For gymnasts just competing one vault (for the team final or all around final) it will be pretty much the same though some vaults have had their D score changed. For example, the highly difficult Amanar vault will be decreasing in difficulty from 6.5 to 6.3. If you are wanting to try for the vault final though you do of course have to compete two vaults. At the moment the gymnasts' two vaults are scored completely separately then averaged to give the final score: the D and E score of vault 1 are added together to give the score for vault 1, the D and E score of vault 2 are added together to give the score for vault two, then the scores for vault 1 and vault 2 are averaged. In the new Code of Points this scoring system will change and only one execution score will be given. Basically, the two D scores of the vaults will be averaged, then all the deductions (from both vaults) will be taken off a single E score. This will then be added to the average of the D scores to give a final score.

Sound complicated? I was really unsure at first quite how it would look in practice and whether I liked the idea, but the more I got used to it the more I like it. So how does it work in practice? Here are a few vaults with the difference between the old and the new scoring system:

Sandra Izbasa, London 2012 VT Final
Old scoring system:
VT1: D (6.1) + E (9.233) = 15.383
VT2: D (5.8) + E (9.200) = 15.000
(15.383 + 15.000) / 2 = 15.191
New scoring system
D: (VT1 (6.1) + VT2 (5.8)) / 2 = 5.95
E: 10.000 - VT1 deductions (0.767) - VT2 deductions (0.800) = 8.433
5.95 + 8.433 = 14.383
As you can see, Sandra's score would come out much lower in the new scoring system than it does in the current one, but the same will be said for all the gymnasts. Sandra had good execution on both of her vaults as well as moderate difficulty, meaning her score will still be fairly high compared to others.

Yamilet Pena Abreu, London 2012 VT qualifying
Old scoring system 
VT1: D (7.1) + E (7.833) = 14.933
VT2: D (5.8) + E (8.666) = 14.466
(14.933 + 14.466) / 2 = 14.699
New scoring system 
D: (VT1 (7.1) + VT2 (5.8)) / 2 = 6.45
E: 10.000 - VT1 deductions (2.167) - VT2 deductions (1.334) = 6.499
6.45 + 6.499 = 12.949
You can see that Yamilet, who fell on her first and very difficult vault, would score very low under the new code with all the deductions coming from the single E score. Until now she has relied on her extremely high difficulty to get her into vault finals but you can see that this will no longer be an option under the new scoring system.

McKayla Maroney, London 2012 VT qualifying
Old scoring system 
VT1: D (6.5) + E (9.400) = 15.900
VT2: D (6.1) + E (9.600) = 15.700
(15.900 + 15.700) / 2 = 15.800
New scoring system
D: (VT1 (6.5) + VT2 (6.1) / 2 = 6.3
E: 10.000 - VT1 deductions (0.600) - VT2 deductions (0.400) = 9.000
6.3 + 9.000 = 15.300 
Although McKayla had that unexpected error in the vault final, you can see that her excellent vaulting in qualification would still be rewarded in the new scoring system. Because she has high difficulty as well as excellent execution there are very few deductions to take.

Overall, I think I like the new system. There will be no more cases of gymnasts making the final or taking a medal if they have had a fall, both of which happened in this year's Olympics. Instead, the focus will have to be on good quality vaulting and after all, is that not what it should be about?

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Wednesday Worries

3-up-3-count rule

There has been a lot of debate about various rules within gymnastics since the Olympics and today I want to turn my thoughts to the '3-up-3-count' rule. This rule basically means that in the team final, three gymnasts compete on each apparatus and all three scores count towards the team total. This rule has now been in place for three Olympic cycles, starting in Athens 2004. Previously the format was the same as it is nowadays in qualification, being that each team can drop their lowest score on each apparatus. The last time this was the case in a team final was in Sydney 2000 when five gymnasts competed on each apparatus and only the top four counted towards the team total.

There seems to be much debate about why the rule was introduced but nobody quite seems to know for sure. The theories include a shorter, more dynamic final to benefit broadcasters and viewers, more teams in the final due to the shorter format, allowing other nations to compete for the medals and the scoring being less complicated for viewers. It is certainly true that the team final has a good dynamic and it is great that eight teams now get to compete, it is nice to see more gymnasts than just the same top nations each time. I can also imagine that those who only watch gymnastics at the Olympics for example would find it easier to understand that if a gymnast falls the overall team score will be lower. It has also been known to favour the less dominant teams, for example in the 2010 European Championships Great Britain took the Silver medal ahead of Romania who had to count two falls on beam.

It remains however that the top four nations are still pretty much unbeatable. You have to go back to before the introduction of the 3-up-3-count rule to find a team outside of the top four that medalled at a World event. Also, is the fact that the team finals are now shorter necessarily a good thing? We are treated to very little world gymnastics throughout the course of the year and I personally feel that the more gymnasts we get to see, the better! Not only that, it gives some of the lower ranked gymnasts in the teams more of a chance to compete and make their mark on the sport and for their team. It would also relieve a lot of pressure on the gymnasts. I know that there are people who say that the nature of a competition is about pressure and performance, but we have to remember that many of these girls who are competing are still incredibly young to have the pressure of their whole nation on their shoulders. Who can forget Alicia Sacramone in Beijing 2008, falling on beam and then on floor and feeling that she was to blame for losing her country the Gold medal? There are many people who believe that USA was indeed the best team in 2008 and surely the very nature of a team competition should be that it is not won or lost by an individual gymnast. I find it hard to comprehend the pressure that these young gymnasts must be under. For many it is simply the beginning of a very long competition with many more finals to come. Having to carry the fact that you have cost your team vital marks in the first final of the competition must make the rest of the finals so much harder. Then there are those who are on the team as specialists, imagine the pressure of being brought to the Olympics to perform one apparatus only and making a mistake. That must be pretty hard to recover from.

I personally would love to see the format of four gymnasts competing and the top three scores counting towards the team total. I find it hard to believe that this would discourage people from watching whether from the length of time or possible confusion with scores. I also feel that we would see a much better quality of gymnastics, not just that we would see more gymnasts performing but that they would really be able to give their all during each routine. Now that would be worth watching!

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Team Tuesday

The rise of the Italians?

Although Italy were not particularly successful as a team at the London 2012 Olympics, qualifying and finishing in 7th, this in itself was an improvement from the 2011 World Championships where they qualified down in 9th, failing to make the team final or secure their spot at the Olympic Games. Since then they have made some big improvements, taking the first of the last four team places at the London 2012 Test event, qualifying to the team finals at the Olympic Games and also taking the Bronze medal in the 2012 European Championships. So have they got the potential to carry on to bigger and better things or have they peaked already? A lot of that depends, in my opinion, on Vanessa Ferrari.

At 21 years old, Vanessa is by far the strongest member of the Italian team and has been for many years. She is one of the best gymnasts to come out of Italy and has been a core member of the Italian team for over six years. She became all around champion in her first senior year at the 2006 World Championships as well as taking Bronze medals on bars and floor. She has gained many other medals since then at World and European Championships and is still a consistent all around gymnast. After a quiet period in her career she has recently come back as strong and competitive as ever and is looking to regain her winning ways. She was instrumental in helping the team to qualify for the Olympics as she was in helping the team take the Bronze at the European Championships and gain a place in the team final at the Olympic Games. With Vanessa's success to look to, it can only help to inspire the rest of the team and I hope that she continues in the sport for many more years to come.

Carlotta Ferlito is one of my favourite Italian gymnasts at the moment. She is consistent all around and her work on beam is absolutely delightful. She has a grace and elegance that is present in many of the Italian gymnasts and she presents all of her routines beautifully. Other notable gymnasts in the Italian team at the moment include Elisabetta Preziosa who works with style and fluidity, and Erika Fasana who has incredible power.

With so many great gymnasts to choose from it is perhaps no wonder that Italy are doing quite well for themselves at the moment. The problem is that apart from Vanessa Ferrari's routines, and Carlotta Ferlito's beam, the Italian gymnasts simply do not have the difficulty to take the next step. They generally have fantastic execution, but need to rely on the mistakes of others in order to place well. I really hope that they can build up their difficulty and keep challenging the best of the rest even if they cannot reach the top four nations. But I also hope that they do not lose any of their style and beauty in doing so as the Italian team are always a delight to watch.

Monday 20 August 2012

Magic Moments Monday

The magic of the top four nations

The London 2012 Olympics proved once again that the top four nations of USA, Russia, Romania and China really are in a league of their own in women's gymnastics. In the competition where medals were dominated by these four countries, what was it that made each of them magic?

What made Team USA magic?
In my opinion it was the sheer dynamic of the team that helped them so much. The depth of talent in the USA meant that so many combinations of girls were possible but 'The Fierce Five' was definitely the best combination in my opinion. Not only did all of these girls have the drive and the desire to succeed, they also had the focus and determination and a great attitude. Each one of them is capable of working as an individual as well as a team and is capable of keeping going through the good times and the bad. But what is more important in my opinion is that these five girls as simply the best of friends and are always willing to support each other and cheer each other on.
Best moment of the Games?
There are so many to choose from really, but it has to be winning the Team Gold. This was the USA's main aim coming into these Olympic Games and all five girls put everything they had into these performances. They had all had mistakes in qualifying but when it mattered they gave their absolute best - actually, I would say they gave better than their best! They really did excel in this competition, working brilliantly as a team unit and posting the best scores possible. The sheer delight and emotion these girls showed when the scores came up and they realised they had won will stay with me for a long time.
Star of the team?
For me it has to be Aly Raisman. She has been the rock of Team USA for so many years now and has always played a background role, but these Games gave her the chance to shine in her own right and that is exactly what she did. She was the most decorated American gymnast at these Games, taking Bronze on beam and Gold on floor to go with her team Gold. She was voted the team captain and it is a role she took on very seriously. She was there for the other girls when they needed her, supporting and encouraging them throughout. Used to being in the background she was definitely one of the stars of London 2012.

What made Team Russia magic?
For me it is the passion that made the Russian team successful. Each member of the team desperately wanted to succeed and gave their all to try to make it happen. Wearing their hearts on their sleeves, you could always tell how these girls were feeling. They were equally as happy to share their joys and their tears with us throughout the competition and they really did put their hearts into every performance they gave, making them an absolute delight to watch.
Best moment of the Games?
Bars has always been a strong apparatus for the Russian team and for these girls this was no exception. Their height and flight in their release moves is spectacular and their beautiful form in all of their moves makes their routines look elegant and effortless. They posted consistently high scores on this apparatus and of course the Gold medal on bars went to Russia's Aliya Mustafina.
Star of the team?
Without a shadow of a doubt, for me this has to be Aliya Mustafina. Not only has she spent the last 18 months fighting back against injury, she finished the Games as the most decorated female gymnast, taking one Gold, one Silver and two Bronze medals. Not only that, she was also there to support her team mates in times of need, encouraging them during competition and comforting them through upsets. She acted with grace and maturity throughout these Games and set a real example of good sportsmanship throughout.

What made Team Romania magic?
I personally believe that the mix of youth and maturity in the team is what gave them their wonderful team dynamic. The wealth of experience of Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa contrasted beautifully with the youth and exuberance of the rest of the team. Each of these five girls worked incredibly hard to get to this point, with the restructuring of the team that has taken place over the last couple of years. Their hard work paid off though as they took the Team Bronze medal, a feat that seemed impossible just a couple of years ago.

Best moment of the Games?
Their floor exercises are always what I think of first when I think about the Romanian team. The styles of floor exercise are very different within the team, again highlighting the combination of youth and maturity, but each routine suits the gymnast perfectly. I really feel that I can see the character behind the gymnast with every one of their routines that I watch. I was utterly delighted that we got to see all five girls perform on floor at some point during the Games as I find each one of their routines as captivating as the next.

Star of the team?
This is a tough decision for me, but I think I will have to go with Sandra Izbasa. Not only did she take Romania's only Gold medal (on vault), she also gave a fantastic performance in the all around to finish in 5th place. This returning Olympian seems to have taken less of the spotlight than her fellow returning Olympian, Catalina Ponor, but I feel that she really gave her all in her performances and deserves the recognition.

What made Team China magic?
With China I feel that their diversity is their strong point. Having historically always been strong on bars and beam, they have made a real effort to improve their floor and vault work. Although vault can sometimes still be a bit weak, especially without Cheng Fei, their floor work has improved dramatically over recent years and is often delightful to watch. Bars and beam as always remain strong for the Chinese and their work on both of these apparatus is astounding to watch when it is performed at its best.

Best moment of the Games?
This has to be the beam final, with China taking the Gold and Silver medals. I have to admit I was surprised that Sui Lu did not take the Gold as I thought her routine was absolutely delightful as always. She moves so beautifully and elegantly on beam but with amazing power and difficult skills. Deng Linlin did also perform a fantastic routine though. The Chinese always seem to make their work on the beam look absolutely effortless and always perform with great style.

Star of the team?
This is another difficult choice for me, I feel I could justifiably choose any one of these five girls, but I think I have to go with Deng Linlin. Making a comeback on the Chinese team, she really excelled herself throughout the Games taking the Gold medal on beam and finishing 5th in the all around final. A good way to make a comeback!

These four teams really have given us some fantastic gymnastics throughout these London 2012 Olympic Games and have been an absolute delight to watch. I cannot wait to see what they all have in store for us in the future.

Sunday 19 August 2012

Sunday Surprise

On the road to Rio?

When Brazil qualified a full team to the Olympic Games at the London 2012 Test Event in January I was absolutely delighted. There were so many Brazilian gymnasts that I wanted to see perform at the Games I was thrilled that they would all get to be there, rather than just having one representative. But it was after this delight that the surprises began and unfortunately they were not good ones.

Jade Barbosa
Jade Barbosa is by far my favourite Brazilian gymnast. We have been treated to her lovely gymnastics for many years now. Since 2007 she has been competing for Brazil and winning medals. Well known for her excellent vaulting, she is beautiful to watch on all four apparatus. I was so excited that we would get to see her in London - or so I thought. Back in July there was a dispute between Jade and the Brazilian National Team about sponsorship and the team uniform. Jade initially refused to sign the form saying that she would wear the team uniform as it clashed with her sponsorship obligations. When she backed down and agreed to wear the uniform, despite risking her sponsorship, she was told it was too late and she would no longer be considered for the team. Did Brazil make a mistake? In my opinion, yes. Jade Barbosa is one of their top all around gymnasts and could have contributed significantly to the team score as well as challenging for an individual medal on vault.

Daiane dos Santos
Daiane is another Brazilian gymnast that I was really looking forward to seeing and thankfully she was chosen for the team. Now age 29 she has been competing for her country for over 13 years. She is a beautiful gymnast with real sparkle and personality. She is best known for her floor work which is dynamic and full of character. These days she only competes on three apparatus rather than all around, focusing on floor, bars and vault. She gave steady performances on vault and bars, though she lacked in difficulty and occasionally in execution. Her floor though was a joy to watch but unfortunately it scored slightly too low for a place in the floor final, which I was really hoping she would manage and she definitely had a good chance of. It is such a shame that she did not make it to any of the finals as I would have loved to have seen much more of her in the London 2012 Olympics.

Daniele Hypolito
Out of all the Brazilian women who made it to the Olympics, Daniele is the one whose performances surprised me the most. Another veteran of the sport, at 27 she has been impressing us with her gymnastics for many years and was the other Brazilian gymnast I was really looking forward to watching this summer. Unfortunately the Games did not go according to plan for Daniele, failing to even make the all around final which I and many others were expecting her to do fairly easily. She started qualification with mistakes on floor and never really managed to put things right. She had another relatively low score on vault and none of the Brazilians scored well on bars. She did manage to finish with a good beam routine, but her score was not high enough to take her to the final and in the end she finished qualification in 37th place all around. That was definitely not what any of us expected.

The other three members of the team were much less well known than their team mates of Daiane dos Santos and Daniele Hypolito. There was also an injury just before the start of the Games meaning that an alternate had to step in at the last minute. The team finished 12th, in last place, and did not qualify to the team final. By this point that is one thing I was frankly not surprised about.

So where does that leave the Brazilian team as they head to Rio 2016, their home Games? Daniele Hypolito has already said she would like to compete in Rio and I am sure that Jade Barbosa would love to compete in 2016 if only to put this year behind her. I really hope that they work towards their home Games as they have some very exciting gymnasts and some great work. It would be lovely to see them shine in Rio in 2016.

Saturday 18 August 2012

So Close Saturday

Closing the gap on the top four?

For a long time now the top four nations in women's gymnastics have been USA, China, Russia and Romania. They have dominated the sport for many years meaning that the best result that the rest of the world can hope for is 5th place. But who are the ones that are closest to the elusive top four and is there a chance they might be able to catch them?

Until recently, Japan have been the team to beat for the 5th place spot. They took 5th in Beijing 2008 Olympics and also at the 2010 World Championships. In the 2011 World Championships they qualified in 5th place but ended up placing 8th in the team final. In the London 2012 Olympics they struggled more, qualifying in 6th but finishing down in 8th. This is a shame as they have some great gymnasts on the team at the moment but they are starting to get more competition for that 5th place from some up and coming teams.

Great Britain
The British team have really started to make great progress in gymnastics in recent years. In fact in the London 2012 Olympic Games GB was the only country to win a medal other than the top four nations in any of the finals, when Beth Tweddle took the Bronze medal on bars. Things have been looking pretty good for the team as a whole recently as well. In the 2010 World Championships they qualified in 5th but eventually finished down in 7th, but at the 2011 World Championships they managed to claim that 5th place spot in the Team Final after qualifying in 8th. In the London 2012 Olympics they again qualified in 5th but were edged out in the finals to place 6th.

Canada were the most recent team to take the 5th place, in the London 2012 Team Final. They had qualified down in 8th but gave a fantastic performance to take 5th in the final. It was the first time they had qualified a team to an Olympic Final and they certainly made the most of it.

So can one of these teams actually close the gap and start rivalling the top four? Unfortunately it would seem not at the moment. Although all three of these teams are performing exceptionally well at the moment the difference in scores still seems that bit too high. In 2008 the gap between 5th and 4th was 3.925 and the gap between 5th and 1st was a massive 12.200. In 2010 the difference between 5th and 4th was 3.199 and 5th to 1st had a difference of 5.500. In 2011 the 5th to 4th gap was 2.742 and the gap from 5th to 1st was 9.741.1n 2012 the gap from 5th to 4th was 3.590 with the gap from 5th to 1st 12.792.

Why then are the gaps so big? What is it that makes the the top four teams so seemingly uncatchable? In my opinion it is partly to do with the fact that these four countries have managed to build a gymnastics presence that both their countries and their fans expect to see. Their continuing success in the sport breeds more success, with their countries perhaps more willing to fund a programme that is seen to be working. These top name gymnasts have become stars of their country, generating interest both within the country and worldwide and making the sport more popular and well known in their respective countries. In the USA in particular gymnastics is one of the most popular sports for girls, helped of course by the success of the USA gymnastics programme and its star gymnasts but which in return brings a wealth of new talent into the sport. This success also brings the talent of top coaches to help hone the skills of these athletes into top level, top difficulty gymnasts.

Hopefully the relatively new success of teams such as Britain and Canada can help to do the same for their countries, attracting revenue, coaches and young new stars into the sport to keep building on their successes and start challenging for the top spots.

Friday 17 August 2012

Friday Favourites

Queen of the Beam

Catalina Ponor is a truly amazing gymnast who came out of retirement after over three years away from competitive gymnastics in order to help rejuvenate the Romanian team in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics. She originally retired in December 2007 due to ongoing injuries but was persuaded to return to training in March 2011 with the newly reinstated National coaches of Octavian Belu and Maria Bitang who had coached Catalina and the Romanian team to great success previously.

The Romanian gymnastics programme had been struggling since the resignation of Octavian Belu and Maria Bitang in 2005 so in 2010 they were asked to return in an attempt to help prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games. Catalina also made the decision to come back from retirement to rejoin her old coaches and help to reform the team. In the Athens 2004 Olympic Games the Romanian team, coached by Octcavian and Maria and including Catalina, had been practically unstoppable winning four of the six available Gold medals including team Gold, and Gold on both beam and floor for Catalina. Would it be possible to recapture some of the magic eight years later?

Earlier in 2012, at the European Championships, Romania started making their presence felt, beating the Russian favourites for the team title. They were clearly delighted with their win and Catalina posted excellent scores on all three of her events in both qualification and the team final. She qualified to two apparatus finals and medalled in both, taking the Gold medal on the beam and Silver on floor. The Queen of the Beam was back in business.

Coming into the Olympic Games all the focus was on the Americans and the Russians, but Catalina simply came in and got on with what she had to do. She posted great scores on all three of her apparatus in qualification, making individual finals (as expected) on beam and floor and helping the team to qualify to the team finals, though down in 4th place. In the team final Catalina upped her game, posting better scores than qualifying on two of her apparatus and only slightly lower on the third. On beam she showed us exactly why she has earned the reputation as being an expert on this apparatus. She delivered a beautiful and practically flawless routine to post the highest beam score of the day with a 15.416. Although the team as a whole did not manage to beat Russia this time they did edge ahead of the Chinese to take the final spot on the podium and the Bronze medal.

Beam was the first individual final for Catalina and after her superb routine in the team competition I could not wait to see her perform again. Unfortunately this time she was unable to perform to the standard we had seen in the team final. She had increased the difficulty of the routine but had two major errors, one after her double spin and one after the full twisting back flip. She did add in her incredibly difficult dismount, the full twisting double pike, which is very rarely seen in competition these days. Being the second gymnast up she had a long wait to find out her fate. Initially, she was placed in third and believed she had taken the Bronze medal however an appeal from the USA saw Aly Raisman's score increased by 0.100 which took the Bronze medal away from Catalina on a tie break.

Floor was now the only final left. Could she manage to do what she had not done in the beam final and take an Olympic medal, eight years after her last appearance at an Olympic Games? The fourth one up on the floor, Catalina gave an absolutely exquisite performance. Her tumbling was diverse and her landings were nailed, but most of all she really presented the routine superbly and sold her performance. In the end she could not quite match the difficulty of Aly Raisman but she came away with the Silver medal.

It would be hard to imagine almost any other gymnast coming out of retirement after three years, and not just competing but medalling in an Olympics eight years after her last Games. But those of us who knew Catalina knew that she could do it, and she did it with style. Her grace, elegance and maturity brought another dimension to these Olympic Games and I am absolutely delighted that we had the chance to watch her compete once more.

Thursday 16 August 2012

Thursday's Thoughts

NCAA Gymnastics

As a Brit I know very little about the concept of NCAA or the format of the gymnastics programme. I do know that it is very popular and a great way to keep watching some fantastic gymnasts as they further their skills as well as their education. With three British gymnasts competing in the programme next year (Danusia Francis - UCLA, Marissa King - Florida, Becky Wing - Stanford) I decided it was about time I learned what it is all about. So here is my 'Beginner's Guide to NCAA Gymnastics':

There are 82 Universities in the USA that offer gymnastics as part of the collegiate sports programme. Each university has a team of gymnasts, some who will compete all around and some who will specialise on specific apparatus. The focus of NCAA gymnastics is the team. When you are competing, you are always competing as part of the team and hoping to to beat the other teams on both a weekly and an overall basis. Within the team of gymnasts there is already competition amongst themselves to get the chance to go and compete at each of the meets. During each meet, six gymnasts perform on each apparatus with the top five scores counting towards the team total. All routines are judged out of 10.

The competition season begins in January with competitions most weekends. Initially the competitions are held between universities within the same 'conference'. This basically means that all the universities have been put into groups and will compete against all the other teams in their group. The competitions can be either two teams going head to head or sometimes three or four teams competing together, some being held at their 'home' university and travelling 'away' to compete at other universities. After all the teams have competed within their conference, the top 36 teams nationwide qualify to the regional finals. The regional qualification score is taken by adding their six highest scores, at least three of which must be from 'away' meets. These are then averaged to give the RQS (Regional Qualifying Score) with the top 36 scores gaining qualification to the regional competitions. The five highest scoring all around gymnasts who are not part of a qualifying team and the top gymnast on each apparatus that is not in a qualifying team also advance to the Regional Championships.

There are six regional competitions, with six teams competing in each one. The top two teams of each regional competition then advance to the NCAA National Championships. This time it is the top two all around gymnasts and the top two gymnasts on each apparatus, who are not linked to a qualifying team, who advance to the National Championships.

The National Championships are held over three days. Day one is qualification for the team finals and event finals. Qualification consists of two semi-finals, each one containing six of the teams as well as the individual gymnasts. The top six teams qualify to the team final and the top four gymnasts on each apparatus advance to the event finals. This is also the day where the individual all around champion is crowned. Day two is the 'Super Six' team final. The six teams who have made it this far go head to head, battling it out to see who will take the much coveted NCAA title. Day three is the event finals. Although it is meant to be four gymnasts qualifying on each apparatus, any gymnast with a tied score can advance meaning that there will usually be more than four gymnasts in each final.

From what I have seen and heard about NCAA so far it is a much more relaxed and fun way to compete. The focus is on execution rather than the high level difficulty of elite gymnastics and everything is about the team. The girls are out there not only to compete but to have fun and support each other. There is always a great crowd and a great atmosphere. If you have not come across NCAA gymnastics before it is definitely worth a look.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Wednesday Worries

Two per country rule

Among the controversies created during the London 2012 Olympic gymnastics competition was the two athletes per country rule. Although this rule has caused its upsets in the past it was more talked about at these Olympics than it has been before mainly, of course, because the reigning all around World Champion, Jordyn Wieber, failed to qualify to the all around final. This was not due to poor performance on her part - finishing 4th all around in qualification out of 60 cannot be considered substandard by anybody's terms. It just so happened that out of the three gymnasts who qualified above her, two of them happened to be her team mates. It really goes to show the depth the current USA gymnastics programme that their three all around gymnasts placed 2nd, 3rd and 4th in qualification. With gymnasts this good, should they not all be allowed to compete for the all around title? Jordyn Wieber was the most talked about gymnast who suffered from this rule but she certainly was not the only one affected by it. Russia's Anastasia Grishina, GB's Jenni Pinches and China's Yao Jinnan would also have qualified without the two per country rule.

The rule was apparently set up to allow more countries to be included in the all around competition. It can indeed be easy to forget that there were in fact 48 countries competing in the gymnastics at the London 2012 Olympics, many of whom never made it further than the qualification competition. With the top four nations so dominant and those 12 countries with full teams fielding more than one athlete in the all around competition, let alone on each apparatus, it is perhaps easy to see why this rule was thought to be a good idea. With 24 gymnasts proceeding to the all around final it would still in fact be possible for the 12 teams to fill all of those spots though I doubt that would ever be likely to happen in reality. The reality this year was that in the top 24, 16 countries were represented, 8 of which had two gymnasts competing. That sounds fairly evenly spread but even if the two per country rule had not been in place there would still have been 14 countries included in the all around competition.

What I would personally like to see is the rule changing back to how it used to be - the top 36 gymnasts qualifying to the all around final with three gymnasts per country allowed. With the current teams being made up of five gymnasts, it is highly unlikely that any team would have more than three gymnasts working all around so it would mean that all of them, if they qualified high enough, would get to compete. It could be argued that that would take away some of the competition but surely for these girls, who spend so much time together and become good friends, it can only ease some of the pressure and tension they face at these big championships. It would also make for a much more interesting final if there were more girls battling for the medal. It would of course also dramatically improve the inclusion of other countries. If we had had a 36 place final with three gymnasts per country in this year's Olympics there would have been 20 countries represented in the final. Nine of these countries would have had one gymnast, six countries would have had two gymnasts and five countries would have had three gymnasts competing. This would make such a difference to so many of the teams and individually represented countries. It would also be much fairer as no gymnast would be left out purely because of the country they represent. These gymnasts have fought hard enough to make it to the Olympics, surely they should all be given the opportunity to compete fully in the Games once they are there.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Team Tuesday

Canada's Best

Canada were one of the teams that had to wait until the London 2012 Test Event earlier this year to try to qualify a full team to the Olympics. They did so in 2nd place behind Italy but it would not be easy to break into the top eight teams who had already qualified at the 2011 World Championships. With only the top eight of the twelve teams qualifying to the Team Final they had a big job to do in qualification if they wanted to make it through. It was also something they desperately wanted as no Canadian team had ever made it to the Team Finals at the Olympics before.

The Canadians started the qualification competition on bars where they competed well and posted steady scores. Beam saw some problems though and two of their gymnasts posted low scores. One of these low scores would have to count as three of the four scores on each apparatus count to the team score in qualification. Floor was next and some great performances, putting the disappointment of beam well behind them. I especially love Victoria Moors beautiful, elegant and expressive floor routine but unfortunately the score was not high enough to earn her a place in the floor final. Their last apparatus was vault where they again posted good, steady scores and both Brittany Rogers and Elsabeth Black qualified to the vault final. It was then a wait to see if they had done enough to qualify to the Team Final as there were still two more subdivisions of qualifying to go and five other teams who were yet to compete. They had done enough, but only just. Canada qualified in 8th place, but even that was reason enough for celebration - they had done what no Canadian women's gymnastic team had ever done before by simply qualifying for the team final. Their goal for the Olympics had already been achieved.

Team Final
Having already done what they had set out to do, the Canadian girls seemed more relaxed in the Team Final and really seemed to enjoy their performances despite the pressure of the 3-up-3-count rule. They started on floor where we saw another beautiful routine from Victoria Moors and all three gymnasts made a good start to the team final on this apparatus, finishing Rotation 1 up in 4th place. Then on to vault, and all three vaulters bettered their score from qualification. By the end of Rotation 2, and half way through the competition, Canada were still in 4th place. Bars was next and another steady rotation and although they scored slightly lower here than in qualification it was not by much. By the end of Rotation 3 Romania had finally caught up to the top three, after their poor start on bars, and pushed Canada into 5th place. With one more rotation to go, could Canada hold on to that impressive 5th place? It was on to beam and this was where they had posted the lowest scores in qualification. They did not have the same problems here though - they all posted steady scores and then waited while the other gymnasts finished competing. The final scores came in and Canada had managed to hold on to that 5th place. Not only had they achieved their goals by qualifying to the team final, they had surpassed them by finishing in 5th place, ahead of the rest of the pack who were all chasing the top four nations of USA, Russia, Romania and China. To put this 5th place finish into perspective, only 1 medal out of all 18 awarded in the women's gymnastics competition went to a country that was not one of those top four nations. To know that as a team they were closer to the top four than anyone else is an achievement indeed. This team of Elsabeth Black, Victoria Moors, Dominique Pegg, Brittany Rogers and Kristina Vaculik had given their all and must feel delighted and very proud of themselves, especially as this must have been a tough competition for them with one of their star gymnasts and their team captain, Peng Peng Lee, out with injury.

The achievements did not stop there though. Dominique Pegg qualified to the all around final where she gave a great account of herself and finished 17th overall. There were also two Canadians in the vault final. Unfortunately, Elsabeth was injured during her first vault and unable to finish competing but Brittany Rogers vaulted well to finish 7th.

This has been a really strong Olympic Games for the Canadian team and I am really looking forward to seeing much more of their beautiful and innovative work in the future.

Monday 13 August 2012

Magic Moments Monday

Danusia Francis

Danusia Francis has had many magic moments throughout her GB career. She has been a regular member of Team GB, representing her country at European and World Championships. She is now hoping to make magic over in America where she is heading this autumn to study at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) and compete as part of their NCAA gymnastics team. Here she answers a few questions about her GB career and her hopes for the future.

You've had an amazing career with British Gymnastics and now you're heading over to America to study at UCLA. Why did you choose to study over there?
When given an opportunity like that I feel like I would only be saying 'what if' if I hadn't chosen to study over there. And I am a big believer in having no regrets and living life to the fullest. In the words of only live once!

What subjects will you be studying?
In the first year I have chosen a variety ranging from English to sports science and I would love to eventually major in communications.

You're going to be competing as part of the collegiate gymnastics team for UCLA. What does that entail?
It entails major team spirit and commitment to your performance as a team more so than in elite gymnastics.

Will you still continue to represent GB or will you just be focusing on NCAA gymnastics?
I'm not too sure yet, I have some goals in mind but I will definitely be taking it one step at a time and judging it on how my body is coping and how my school work is going. But it would be a huge honour to represent GB again in the future!

What are you looking forward to most about competing in America?
I'm most looking forward to joining the Bruins and competing with them, they made me feel at home straight away when I visited. I'm also looking forward to the atmosphere of competing to large crowds on a regular basis.

Other than gymnastics, what else are you looking forward to about life in the States?

I'm looking forward to living the life I see in the movies!! Going to the beach, playing beer pong, watching American football and everything else that's to come!

What will you miss about life in England?
The tube!! You can get anywhere! My friends and family and my 2 cats and my dog! Definitely not the rain! I'm a flip flop girl at heart!

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Worlds 2011 was so much fun and being able to cope with that pressure and help to qualify a team for GB was such a proud moment! Also the whole trip in general was so unforgettable.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Hmmmm hard question there has been so many! Europeans 2011 was my first senior international and I really enjoyed it with my coach Vince who took me on a segway tour round Berlin afterwards that was pretty memorable!

What are your ambitions for the future, gymnastics and otherwise?

My ambitions are to have the best time at UCLA and get a good degree!! To become a TV presenter for T4. Maybe carry on some sort of performing. But just to stay happy and work hard to achieve my goals!

Danusia will be competing for the Bruins (the UCLA sports team), with the competition season starting in January 2013. Click here for my 'Beginners Guide to NCAA Gymnastics' post to find out more about the competition and how to follow Danusia and the Bruins' progress.

To follow Danusia on twitter click here.
For the UCLA Bruins gymnastics page click here.

Sunday 12 August 2012

Sunday Surprise

The end of an era

My main surprise today has to be that the London 2012 Olympic Games are already over. Has it really been just over two weeks since we were watching the opening ceremony and speculating about the competition ahead? And could any of us have possibly predicted some of the outcomes? Today I just want to take some time to reflect on the competition that has had us enthralled over the past two weeks and some of the surprises it has brought us, good and bad.

Although the Brazilian team had had many problems coming into the games, including losing a star member of the team due to sponsorship issues, and last minute injuries, there were still two very experienced members of the team who were expected to impress. Daiane dos Santos gave a good performance on floor, her best event, but unfortunately her score was not high enough to make it to the final. Daniele Hypolito, normally consistent all around had a dreadful qualifying competition and failed to make the all around final. Her best score of the day (on beam) was again not high enough to take her through to the final. The surprise for me therefore was not that Brazil finished last as a team but that Brazil was not represented in any of the finals. I feel this is a great shame as they have some excellent gymnasts in Brazil. I really hope that they come back strong and give a good account of themselves in the next Olympics, their home Games in Rio 2016.

Not only did the Canadian team make the Team Final for the first time, they performed amazingly well to finish a brilliant 5th place. Even with their team captain Peng Peng Lee out with injury, the five Canadian girls had a fantastic Games. They were represented by Dominique Pegg in the all around final and had two members of the team in the vault final. Canada are definitely on the way up!

Jordyn Wieber
I've said it before but I'll say it again - very few people could have imagined not only an all around final without Jordyn Wieber but the fact that she didn't take an individual medal at all throughout the Games. What did not surprise me is the way she conducted herself throughout. I wish her a speedy recovery from her suspected stress fracture and look forward to seeing her competing back at her best again when back to full health.

Yao Jinnan
I would not have thought, two weeks ago, that the 2011 World Championships Bronze medallist would be leaving without a medal at all. Even taking her thigh injury into consideration qualifying was a disaster for her, leaving her without a place in the all around final and only one event final on bars. The only really steady performances she gave throughout the Games were on this apparatus but even so it was not enough for her to take a medal, finishing in 4th.

Larisa Iordache
Romania's Golden Girl unfortunately proved to be anything but during these Olympic Games. She had shown such promise earlier in the year, posting a brilliant all around score at the 2012 European Championships and was considered by many to be a contender for the Gold medal. Injury was to play its part though and although she finished the all around competition in 9th place, fantastic by many others' standards, everyone knew she was capable of so much more. Her qualification scores were so poor for her that she did not make any of the event finals. Romania made the decision to substitute her in to the beam final but again she had a disastrous time, falling off the apparatus and finishing down in 6th. I hope she can put the disappointment and injury behind her and come back and show us exactly how good she is once more.

Asuka Teramoto
This Japanese gymnast really impressed me these Games. With more well-known team mates of Koko Tsurumi and Rie Tanaka very few people had seen anything of Asuka before these Games. What impressed me most about her was that she just got on with her routines so steadily throughout the Games. She did not respond to the pressure and posted consistently good scores throughout the whole competition. Definitely one to watch in the future.

Aliya Mustafina
For me the surprise here was not Aliya competing well. Since finding out she was definitely aiming for the London 2012 Olympics I never had any doubt that she would push herself to make sure that she made it. What surprised me is just how well she performed and how she raised her game throughout the competition. She went from strength to strength and by the end of the Games she was performing as well as she did in 2010 before her injury. She really is a phenomenal gymnast and a phenomenal person to find the strength to do what she has done. I was utterly delighted to hear that she will be continuing to train for Rio 2016.

McKayla Maroney
This really does have to be the biggest surprise of the whole Games. Who would ever have thought that McKayla would come away as the Silver medallist on vault? You could tell by the reaction of Sandra Izbasa when she realised she had won the Gold that it was as much of a shock to her as everyone else. McKayla has only ever sat down one other vault in the whole of her competitive career, back in 2009, and she seemed as shocked as the rest of us to find herself on the floor! I have no doubt that she will come back better than ever - and who knows, maybe we will be seeing a triple twisting Yurchenko soon . . .

Gabby Douglas
I admit it - I still was not convinced that Gabby could go through the whole competition cleanly without succumbing to the pressure. Although she had one slight mistake in qualifying on floor she hit every routine when it mattered, not just performing them solidly but performing them brilliantly. She really has shone throughout these Games and is a very worthy winner of the All Around Olympic Title.

It has been a truly amazing Olympic Games. There is still so much to think about and talk about, and I am looking forward to rewatching, reliving and sharing all the amazing moments of the London 2012 Olympics for many weeks to come!

Saturday 11 August 2012

So Close Saturday

Fourth place finishes

Not doing as well as you had hoped to or finishing out of the medals is always going to be tough, but the people I feel for the most are those that finish in 4th. Knowing that you have only just missed out on being on the podium and taking a medal must be really hard. So today I would like to give a shout out to the efforts of those who finished in that dreaded 4th place in these London 2012 Olympic Games.

Team Final - China
Although many people had been writing China out of the medals this year, they came into the Games as the reigning Olympic Champions so will have had real hopes of getting a medal of some colour. In qualification they finished in 3rd which will surely have fuelled their medal hopes. On the day that mattered though it was not to be. The 3-up-3-count rule really affected the Chinese team who had to post some low scores after mistakes. With bars being their only really strong piece it was just not enough to pass Romania who had a much better day than in qualifying and posted good scores on three of the four pieces. Such a shame for the Chinese team who must be so disappointed to have dropped from 1st to 4th, but injury and inconsistency meant that they were unable to make it into the medals on this occasion.

All Around Final - Aly Raisman
Aly Raisman had caused shockwaves in qualifying by being the highest scoring American and therefore earning an unexpected place in the all around final. She was second only to Viktoria Komova in all around qualification so hopes must have been high, not just for Aly but throughout USA that they would be able to take two medals in this final. Aly certainly started well, posting higher scores on vault and bars than she did in qualification, finishing Rotation 1 in 2nd place, but after the excellent performance of the two Russians on bars she was in 4th by the end of Rotation 2. In Rotation 3 we saw what was really Aly Raisman's only weak performance of the whole Olympics, having some big wobbles and having to put her hands down on the beam on the middle of her routine. She was down in 5th after Rotation 3 but floor was next, Aly's strongest piece. She gave a fantastic floor performance and finished the competition with exactly the same score as Aliya Mustafina in third, but the tie break rules placed her in 4th (click here for my take on the tie-break rules). This must be by far the worst way to finish, knowing you got the same score as the gymnast who took the Bronze medal but ending up without a medal and down in 4th.

Vault Final - Janine Berger
The shock of this final was of course that McKayla Maroney sat down her second vault and only ended up with the Silver medal rather than the Gold. Sandra Izbasa was delighted to take the Gold and Maria Paseka took the Bronze. Germany's Janine Berger gave an excellent account of herself in this final though with two great vaults - maybe she has been watching the great Oksana Chusovitina! She scored a mere 0.034 less than Maria Paseka who took Bronze and I believe that she was capable of a medal with the vaults that she performed.

Bars Final - Yao Jinnan
Being a Brit I have to admit to being slightly biased and absolutely delighted that Beth Tweddle took the Bronze medal. I do feel sorry for Yao Jinnan who finished 4th though. Suffering a thigh injury she had an absolutely dreadful qualification with bars being the only apparatus she did not make a mistake on. This was therefore her only final and her only chance of a medal. She did perform her bars routine brilliantly on all three occasions throughout the Games, in qualification, the team final and the apparatus final but it was not to be on this occasion, finishing in 4th and leaving without a medal at all.

Beam Final - Catalina Ponor
This was another final where the 4th place gymnast had good reason to feel upset with the result. Aly Raisman was the last gymnast up on beam and when she finished her routine she was placed 4th, not affecting the top three of Deng Linlin, Sui Lu and Catalina Ponor. However, an inquiry was put in about her difficulty score. The inquiry was accepted and her score was increased putting her in joint 3rd. The tie-break rules came into effect once more and it was Aly Raisman who was successful on this occasion. It must have been absolutely awful for Catalina Ponor. Not only had the initial results put her in the Bronze medal position, she ended up losing that medal through an inquiry and a tie-break. I am sure that she herself would agree that her routine was not as perfect as we have seen it previously but it was such a shame that she ended up without a medal in this way.

Floor Final - Vanessa Ferrari
The last final of the London 2012 Olympic Games and another tie-breaker to decide who would get the Bronze medal and who would end up down in 4th. In this case, Aliya Mustafina won the tie and took Bronze leaving Italy's Vanessa Ferrari without a medal. Vanessa Ferrari is an excellent floor worker and a Bronze medal here would have been Italy's first and only women's gymnastics medal of these Games and only the second medal to be taken by someone not part of the top four teams (the only other one was GB's Beth Tweddle on bars). Such a shame that even when a gymnast not from one of the top nations makes a final and scores high enough for a medal they end up coming away without one.

All 98 of the gymnasts who competed at the London 2012 Olympics have every reason to be proud of themselves whether they did manage to take a medal or not, and I sincerely hope that those who finished in 4th place and just outside of the medals can look back and be proud of what they did achieve.

Friday 10 August 2012

Friday Favourites

Living the dream - Jenni Pinches

When she was 11 years old Jenni Pinches was filmed for a documentary called 'A Different Life'. One of the first things she said in the documentary was "My ultimate aim is to just be in the Olympics and just compete in the Olympics". Seven years later, Jenni is proof that dreams can come true.

I was really delighted when Jenni was named to the London 2012 Olympic Team as I have loved watching her over the last couple of years. She has been a regular member of Team GB since she turned senior in 2010 and has gone from strength to strength. She is energetic and bubbly and her liveliness always shows through in her performances. She really seems to have gained in confidence this year and has the results to prove it.

Jenni made a fantastic start to her Olympic Games in qualification, working on all four apparatus and posting good scores throughout. The team started on beam where Jenni was up second and started off with a steady score of 13.100. Then it was on to floor where Jenni was first up for the team. Her fantastic floor performance wowed both myself and the home crowd. It was a very expressive routine and her tumbling was fantastic. Her reward was a great score of 14.100, the second highest score for the team. Vault was next and a great DTY for Jenni, again showing us the great form that got her the Silver medal at the 2012 British Championships. She achieved a good 14.366 and then it was on to bars. Not one of Jenni's best pieces, she was up first for the team on bars. A steady 13.700 score and her qualification competition was done. She placed a brilliant 21st all around but due to the two gymnasts per country rule she was not eligible for the all around final as Hannah Whelan and Rebecca Tunney finished above her.

The Team Final was next and again GB were starting on beam. With three gymnasts competing on each apparatus and all three scores counting the pressure was really on. Unfortunately for Jenni the nerves started early on. She had a big wobble near the beginning and then fell off the beam on one of her leaps. The rest of the routine was good but the damage had been done and the score was 11.833. After the competition Jenni was quoted as saying "It was embarrassing and disappointing so I wanted to really prove I could perform for the country and the team, on the floor and on the vault." Floor was next for the team and Jenni was up first. Could she put the disappointment of beam behind her and prove herself on this apparatus? The answer was a very definite 'yes'. She gave an amazing performance, full of energy and expression. The response from the crowd was fantastic and there were times when I was amazed she could still here the music! Her tumbling was practically nailed throughout and she scored a personal best floor score of 14.366 - and the best GB floor score in the team final. Vault was the last piece for Jenni as she was only competing on three of the four apparatus in the team final, and was therefore her last performance of the London 2012 Olympic Games. She vaulted yet another fantastic DTY earning her another personal best score of 14.833 on vault.

What a way to live out your dream and your lifetime's ambition! She gave some fantastic performances and helped the team to record their highest ever team place at the Olympic Games by finishing 6th. She delighted the audience with her energy and bubbly personality and was a sheer delight to watch. She has said that she is not targeting a place in Rio but I for one hope we will be seeing much more of her in the future.

To watch the documentary 'A Different Life' click here.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Thursday's Thoughts

London 2012

The London 2012 Olympic Gymnastics competition is over and I have so many thoughts I am not quite sure where to begin. Some of them I have written about already and there are many more that I intend to cover in some detail over the coming weeks, so what I want to do today is have a brief look at my "12 for 2012" - 12 things that stood out for my over the duration of the Games.

1) USA dominance
From the first medal of the Games to the last, the American women were present and fighting throughout. They won a total of five medals from the six finals, taking three Gold, one Silver and one Bronze, meaning that half of the available Gold medals went to the USA. In the team final they took the lead right from the start and never let it go. They won the team final by a massive 5.660 lead over 2nd place Russia. Dominance indeed.

2) Gabby Douglas
I have to admit to being sceptical about Gabby's performance and consistency in the past but the more I watched this girl throughout the Games the more impressed I was with what I saw. She was absolutely phenomenal in qualifying, team final and the all around. She never seemed to put a foot wrong (quite literally) throughout what was a fantastic competition for her. The event finals unfortunately proved to be a different story and we saw what looked like a physically and emotionally worn out gymnast. This should not detract from what has been an amazing achievement from Gabby who performed her absolute best when it mattered the most.

3) Jordyn Wieber
A lot has been said about Jordyn over the last few weeks and I do not intend to go over it all in detail again here. What I would like to say though is how impressed I have been with Jordyn's attitude and sportsmanship throughout. After the initial (and very justifiable) tears at realising she had not made the all around final we saw nothing but support and encouragement towards the rest of the team, both in the team finals and throughout the event finals. She was the first to offer her congratulations to the others on a good routine and stuck by her team mates in what can only have been a very difficult and emotional time for her. I was delighted to see her handle herself with such class and maturity.

4) Injury
This was always going to be an issue these Olympics and it was an issue that started way before the Games did with many gymnasts sustaining injury in the weeks and months coming up to the games and not being able to compete. The problems did not stop there though. Many of the gymnasts who made it to London suffered injury in the final days of practice including McKayla Maroney, Larisa Iordache, Yao Jinnan and possibly even Jordyn Wieber. All of these gymnasts were determined to compete having made it this far but in many cases this proved quite costly. Whether it was due to the injury, loss of training time or lack of confidence in their bodies none of these injured athletes found themselves able to give their best.

5) Comeback Queens
I was delighted to see so many returning Olympians at this Games. I find it makes a much more interesting competition to see youth alongside maturity. In the Romanian team both Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa returned for a second Olympics with great success, as did Britain's Beth Tweddle and China's He Kexin. The gymnast that impressed me the most though was Aliya Mustafina. Although only 18 and competing in her first Olympic Games she was making a different kind of comeback. Returning to competition less than 18 months after surgery for a torn ACL, she proved that she is still one of the best gymnasts of the day, taking four medals (including a Gold on bars), one for each final she entered. Now that is a successful comeback!

6) Youngsters
There were quite a few first year seniors in the Games with varying degrees of expectation on their shoulders. Larisa Iordache was probably the youngster most was expected of, but injury meant that she was unable to show what she was really capable of and was unable to live up to expectations. Anastasia Grishina was another youngster we saw less of than we thought we would. Mistakes from her alongside dominant performances from her team mates meant that she did not make any of the finals. It was more of a success story for Kyla Ross and Rebecca Tunney though. While Kyla did not make any individual finals she was a key part of the USA team and you could tell that she was delighted with her performances in the team competitions - as were her team mates. Rebecca Tunney qualified to the all around finals (the youngest gymnast to do so) and finished a fantastic 13th.

7) Specialists
We saw many gymnasts competing as specialists this games, the most notable ones being McKayla Maroney, Maria Paseka, He Kexin and Beth Tweddle. McKayla, Maria and He only competed on one apparatus each throughout the whole of the games, but to great success. All three of them took home apparatus medals, McKayla taking Silver on vault, Maria getting the Bronze on vault and He taking the bars Silver medal. Beth Tweddle competed on two apparatus, floor and bars. On floor she was first reserve for the final and on bars she won the Bronze medal. What I found interesting was that Beth was the only gymnast to win a medal, throughout the whole of the Games, who was not part of the top four nations of USA, Russia, Romania and China.

8) Home crowd support
It must have been an amazing experience being one of the GB gymnasts competing in the London Olympics. The support from the crowd was absolutely fantastic and must have helped the gymnasts in their performances. It was wonderful to hear such support for British gymnasts and there were times when I wondered if the girls would be able to hear their floor music over the cheers of the crowd!

9) Coaches
So much is said about the greatness of the gymnasts that the coaches can often get overlooked. These people put in the most amazing effort to help their gymnasts achieve their best, keeping them calm when things are going well and keeping them going when things are not. None of these gymnasts could be where they are today without their coaches and I believe they deserve to be recognised and celebrated.

10) Leotards
Always a controversial issue, I have to say I was very impressed by the majority of the leotards worn at these Olympics. Team leotards generally reflected their country's colours but were relatively simple rather than overbearing and distracting. There were some very questionable leotards in some of the finals however, but I will leave those for another day . . .

11) Glitter
If there was a theme for the London 2012 gymnastics competitions it would have to be "Glitter". It is a long time since I have seen so much sparkle in one place! Honestly though, I have to admit that I liked it. The sparkle on the leotards and the glitter in the hair all combined to make the competition even more dazzling.

12) Expect the unexpected
"Glitter" may have been the theme for London 2012 but the motto has to be "Expect the unexpected". Would you have believed me if I told you even just a few months ago that Jordyn Wieber and Yao Jinnan would not qualify to the all around, McKayla Maroney would take Silver not Gold on vault, Larisa Iordache would finish the all around down in 9th or Giulia Steingruber would not be in the vault final? London 2012 has shown that absolutely anything can happen in gymnastics!

Wednesday 8 August 2012

Wednesday Worries

Make It or Tie-break It

Amongst all the wonderful and memorable moments of the London 2012 gymnastics competition there will be some moments that are remembered for the wrong reason. Tie-breaks seem to have played a major and very controversial part in this year's Olympic competition. Much of the controversy seems to stem from the fact that very few people know about or understand the tie break rules. This is not only the case for the so-called 'four year fans' who only watch gymnastics during the Olympic Games but for many others besides - because the tie break rules do not exist in any competition other than the Olympics.

When I was looking through the scores for the various competitions I was amazed to find out just how much the tie-breaking rule was used in making important decisions throughout the Games. I found four instances throughout the women's competition and four in the men's. That means that although eight gymnasts benefited from the rule, eight gymnasts suffered as a result. I can only imagine how it must feel to be one of the gymnasts whose hopes were dashed by a rule that does not exist in any other gymnastics competition.

Some of the most crucial (and also most talked about) tie-breaks involved a tie for 3rd place in the finals. In the women's All Around Final Aliya Mustafina and Aly Raisman both scored 59.566 and were tied for third place, Aly Raisman and Catalina Ponor both scored 15.066 to tie for third in the beam final and in the floor final Aliya Mustafina and Vanessa Ferrari tied for third with a score of 14.900. With the tie break rules in effect, three of these girls missed out on a medal, leaving many people wondering about the fairness of the judging system. In the apparatus finals (beam and floor in this case) the decision is made based on the execution score (the score out of 10). If one gymnast has a higher execution score then the tie is broken in her favour. In the beam final, Aly had a difficulty score (D score) of 6.300 and an execution score (E score) of 8.766 to make up her total of 15.066 whereas Catalina had a difficulty score of 6.600 and an execution score of 8.466 to make up her 15.066 score. Because Aly's E score was higher than Catalina's, she won the tie and the Bronze medal and Catalina was left down in 4th. Similarly in the floor exercise Aliya had an execution score of 9.000 to Vanessa's 8.700 meaning that she took the Bronze medal and left Vanessa without. In the all around competition things are slightly different (but no less confusing). In the case of a tie in the all around, it is the sum of the three highest scores that breaks the tie. In this case, Aliya Mustafina's lowest score was a 13.633 (on beam) so that score was discounted and the sum of the other three apparatus scores gave her 45.933. For Aly Raisman, her lowest score was a 14.200 (also on beam) which was then dropped to give her a sum of 45.366 from the other three apparatus. Therefore Aliya's score of 45.933 beat Aly's score of 45.366 and Aliya took the Bronze leaving Aly without a medal at all. Confused? Exactly!

In the men's competition it was not a case of someone being left without a medal but there were two instances where the colour of the medal was decided by a tie-break. In the floor final both Kohei Uchimura and Denis Ablyazin scored 15.800. With it being an apparatus final the tie-break decision was made on the execution score. Kohei Uchimura had an E score of 9.100 and took the Silver medal whereas Denis Ablyazin's E score of 8.700 left him with the Bronze. In the pommel horse final it was the Gold medal at stake and the title of 2012 Olympic Pommel Horse Champion. Krisztian Berki and Louis Smith posted identical scores but it was Krisztian Berki's higher execution score of 9.166 that earned him the Gold medal and the Olympic title, and Louis Smith with an E score of 9.066 had to be content with the Silver.

Yet it was not just in the finals where the gymnasts' fate was determined by the tie-break rule. There are three instances of a tie-break being used to determine the last place in an apparatus final and therefore determining three gymnasts' chances of a medal. In the men's pommel horse qualification Max Whitlock and Mykola Kuksenkov both posted a score of 14.900 to be joint eighth qualifiers, but as only the top eight can qualify to the event finals a tie-break decision had to be made. In this case it was Max Whitlock who had the higher E score (8.500 as opposed to Mykola Kuksenkov's 8.400) and took the last place in the pommel horse final. In both the men's and the women's floor qualification there was a tie for the eighth and last spot in the floor final, but in both of these cases it was more complicated. For the women it was between Aliya Mustafina and Beth Tweddle. Aliya had a D score of 5.900 and an E score of 8.633 but had a penalty of 0.100 which gave her a total of 14.433. For Beth it was a D score of 5.800 and an E score of 8.633 that gave her the 14.433 total. In this case, as they both had the same E score it was Aliya's higher D score that broke the tie and gave her the last place in the final. It was the same thing in the men's floor qualification. Denis Ablyazin and Ryohei Kato had the same score and were tied for the last place in the final and again both had the same E score. Denis Ablyazin posted a D score of 6.900 and an E score of 8.833 but had a 0.300 penalty to score 15.433 and Ryohei Kato gained his 15.433 with a D score of 6.600 and an E score of 8.833. Denis Ablyazin's higher D score gave him the last place in the floor final. What I found really interesting is that all three of the gymnasts who won the tie-break and got a place in the finals won a medal on their respective apparatus. Max Whitlock took Bronze on the pommel horse, Aliya Mustafina took Bronze in the floor final and Denis Ablyazin took the Bronze medal in the men's floor final. What could Mykola Kuksenkov, Beth Tweddle and  Ryohei Kato have achieved if they had been given the chance?

Ironically, in the men's parallel bars final there were nine gymnasts competing not eight. Why? Because Hamilton Sabot and Zhang Chenglong both posted a score of 15.366 to tie for the eighth and final place in the parallel bars final, but because they posted identical D scores (6.500) and E scores (8.866) the tie could not be broken and both gymnasts got to compete in the final.

So should the tie-break rules stand? Or should the format for the Olympics be the same as every other major gymnastics competition (including the World Championships) where a tied score is just that - a tied score with no need for it to be broken? It is a question that I think will be asked time and time again over the next few months and years even before coming into the next Olympic Games. Personally, I believe that the rule should be abolished and a tied score should mean that two gymnasts can share a medal or that nine gymnasts can make a final. How about you?