Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reflections on Women's Team Finals

Today the U.S. women won the team gold medal at the world championships in Tokyo and now after watching all of the routines (I managed to watch most of the competition before work this morning but didn't want to comment until I had seen them all), I will share a few, not-so-short observations. 

First of all -- congrats to the U.S. girls. They certainly did a terrific job thus far at these championships despite losing two athletes to injury before the start of the competition. They didn't miss a single routine in a meet full of misses. Job well-done!

I want to single out Aly Raisman, who really stepped up as team leader after Alicia Sacramone had to withdraw. I was so touched by the pep talk she gave McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber before they went to the final event, floor exercise. It's great to see her rise to the occasion, both as an athlete and leader.

My favorite gymnastics moment: McKayla Maroney's Amanar vault. Gymnastics fans have long known that she did one of the very best 2.5 twisters in the world, but it has seriously improved at these championships. I've never seen anyone do the vault so high before. (Same goes for her 3.5 twister on floor ex-- she just seems to float in the air.) Here it is in all of its glory:


I was also so impressed with how Gabby Douglas comported herself at these worlds, especially after the disastrous nationals she had. I think most fans were hoping for the best, which ended up transpiring, but fearing that the pressure would get to her. I'm pleased that she proved me wrong. She probably also did wonders for her confidence heading into this Olympic year. 

While I felt really bad that Anna Li didn't get to compete -- I was a huge fan of her UCLA career -- I must confess that I don't like single event specialists. Though allowing a gymnast compete on less than four apparatuses does allow her to extend her career or gives careers to gymnasts who would otherwise not have one (imagine if Sacramone, who seemed to be allergic to bars, had to compete during the 1988-1992 era -- she may have never made a world team), I do think that an athlete should be expected to contribute more than one routine to the team. And with the squads reduced to five girls for next year's Olympics, I think we can all expect to see fewer one event gymnasts compete. 

As the rest of the teams:

Much I'm sure will be made over the margin that the U.S. won by -- it will feed perfectly into NBC's pre-Olympic hyped up narrative -- but I wouldn't get cocky just yet. Aliya Mustafina will be back next year and she will be joined by Anastasia Grishina in addition to a fully healthy Viktoria Komova. Yes, Komova didn't have a stellar team finals but she is not fully back from ankle surgery and she managed to beat Jordyn Wieber in the prelims without the benefit of the highly rated Amanar vault. If the Russians add their Amanars back into their lineup, they will present a formidable challenge to the U.S., especially since they are strong on bars where the Americans are weak.

China had a disappointing competition. It seems like they lost the competitive and mental edge they had in the years leading up to Beijing. Back then, they seemed so focus on improving their mental game as much as their physical abilities. I won't say that they have become as notoriously inconsistent as they had once been but the focus seems to be missing. That said, they still have lovely bars and beam.

Romania in two words -- Catalina Ponor. The return of the triple gold medalist from Athens has been remarkable. She only started training six months ago and seems as fit and consistent as she had been in 2004 at 17. Her beam is sharp and consistent (kudos for throwing the full twisting double back dismount in prelims -- hope we see it again in event finals) and her double layout on floor is lofty. Her twisting form on her triple full and vault is still an eyesore. I wonder how much better Romania will fare when Sandra Izbasa returns and Larisa Iordache is eligible to compete. I'd say that at the very least, they'll be able to overtake China if it continues to compete this inconsistently.

The rest of the teams weren't really able to challenge for the podium but I was so happy that the Brits qualified for the final guaranteed team spot for London. There they will compete a full squad in front of their hometown crowd. I am saddened that Beth Tweddle didn't make bar finals. I really prefer her style to that of the Chinese. Though both are difficult, I really like the way Tweddle attacks bars -- I much prefer to see a gymnast do a combination of pirouettes and releases, moving from bar to bar, instead doing a series of very difficult turns and grips punctuated by a Jaeger flip on the high bar. It's just not very dynamic or fun.

Here is Beth's routine from team finals where she rocked it:


More thoughts tomorrow after the men's competition.



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