Monday, October 17, 2011

Final Thoughts on Worlds

So I just finished watching Universal Sport's coverage of the 2011 World Championships and I have a few final thoughts on the competition results.

First, I'm so happy for Aly Raisman and her bronze medal on floor exercise. She is such a team player and when I spoke to her before nationals, she mentioned that she would really like to medal on floor ex after having unexpectedly placed 4th last year. I was so pleased to see her receive an individual accolade.

As to the primary problem that most fans have with her -- her lack of artistry -- well, I must agree. I won't make the argument that she is actually artistic, like I did for Jordyn Wieber, who demonstrates excellent technique and form as well as an engaging performance style. But even if the toe point, hands and flexibility are sub-optimal (which they are), she does have one of the better choreographed floor routines in the world today. It moves well across the mat, features some interesting dance elements and works with music, not in defiance of it. Raisman is really doing the best she can with her skill set. Now if only Komova could find a choreographer who could help her maximize her tremendous dance potential.

I, like many, were disappointed with China's performance. Though Sui Lu (!) and Yao Jinnan did exceptionally well for themselves in Tokyo, the same cannot be said for the rest of the team, most notably Olympic champion He Kexin, who fell off the uneven bars in preliminaries never to be heard from again. Given the fact that teams will be reduced to five members next year, it's unlikely that a one event specialist, much less a one event specialist who falls on her only apparatus, will be taken to the Olympics. While she is exceptional on bars when she hits, I'm pleased with this development -- the reemergence of all-around gymnasts. I've never gotten into the idea of using specialists. (A note on Yao's floor music -- a medley from West Side Story is fine but did you have to sample every single tune in the musical? An additional note that my friend pointed out to me -- more gymnasts should use Broadway show tunes since they are relatively easy to move to. Just a thought.)

The leap passes on floor: I've been thinking this for awhile but only writing about it now -- what is up with those leap passes on floor? You know, those supposed joined leaps with only a full run between the two elements. Seriously, the girls run nearly as much for a tumbling pass as they do between these two supposedly linked dance skills. And it looks awful and rarely goes well with the music. Difficult dance moves are hardly ever that -- dance. Just because a gymnast does a clean triple turn or a switch leap with a turn, it doesn't mean she actually danced those moves, especially if she breaks the flow of her exercise to set up the turn for a seeming eternity while looking down at the floor before finally going for it while inelegantly hiking her shoulders up to her earlobes. Decidedly not dance.

On meeting expectations: Jordyn Wieber and Viktoria Komova. Both athletes were rightly and highly touted before this competition and both more or less delivered. Wieber, despite her bars error in the all-around, seems like the calmer competitor of the two, but I do worry about her heading into the Olympic as the world champion. That's certainly a lot of pressure but hopefully she'll be able to manage it the way Shawn Johnson did. Perhaps it was the fact that Komova is still recovering from an injury but she didn't strike me as the fiercest of competitors at these championships. While I enjoy artistry and elegance in gymnasts, competitiveness and ability to withstand pressure is what earns my respect.

Depth: Though I did publish a lengthy article about the practices of Martha Karolyi and how they might negatively impact the Americans' chances for team gold in London, it is really undeniable that they are the team to beat right now, especially when you consider how deep the team is and how many athletes will be vying for a spot next year (including Nastia Liukin, who just announced that she plans to return to form on beam and bars). Unfortunately for the Americans, depth matters less when it comes to a five person squad.

Individual qualifiers: Was anyone else here rooting for the gymnasts from countries who hadn't qualified teams to London to medal here? Sure, I love the work of the Chinese and Japanese but in event finals I was hoping for other guys to overtake them so they could punch their tickets to London. I was so excited that Alexander Shatilov from Israel medaled. Also, it's always hilarious to watch this six footer stand next to his fellow competitors during award ceremonies. I swear, Shatilov on the bottom step of the podium is taller than Uchimura is on the top of the medal stand. Here's for Shatilov thwarting two stereotypes simultaneously -- that Jewish men are short as are gymnasts.


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