Sunday, October 23, 2011

Which gymnasts wouldn't have been successful had they not been able to specialize?

Here's something I've been wondering about since the announcement that the Olympic gymnastics teams would be comprised of only five members (instead of six) and subsequent move back to favoring all-around gymnasts over 1-2 event specialists--which gymnasts might we never have heard of had they been forced to be competitive on all four apparatuses?

Since the introduction of the 3 up, 3 three count team finals format, specialists, those gymnasts who are truly exceptional on 1-2 events but not really well-rounded in general, have become an important part of any team's strategy. Indeed, the Chinese supremacy on uneven bars in 2008 had a lot to do with an athlete named He Kexin, who competed on just that one apparatus. On balance beam, you had Li Shanshan. On floor and vault, you had Cheng Fei (who ended up adding balance beam and doing well there, too). But would they have ever achieved prominence had they been forced to be competitive on all four events?

And there are other gymnasts who have benefited from this more forgiving competitive format--both Alicia Sacramone and Catalina Ponor have experienced tremendous success despite not competing on bars. (It has recently been announced that Ponor will resume bars training and given how weak Romania is on that particular event, she'll probably be able to have an impact for her team and perhaps make herself competitive in the all-around.)

The last time Sacramone competed on bars was in 2006 and though she had fairly decent execution (though with several missed handstands), she carried a very low degree of difficulty and admitted to being afraid of the event. She stopped training the apparatus, partly at the suggestion of Martha Karolyi, who probably assured her that she would never be called upon to compete on bars in a team competition.

Would Alicia made Olympic and world championship teams had she been forced to compete in the era before 2000? (I do realize that starting in 92-2000 years, one or two gymnasts on the team would be off the hook for one or two events, but even so, you wouldn't really call any of those gymnasts "specialists" the way we understand these days. All-around athletes still dominated those eras and teams were still largely selected based off of 4 event prowess.)

The answer to that question is a very strong "maybe." Now obviously, if different rules were in effect, Sacramone and others would have trained differently. Certainly, she would never have stopped training the event. And many have speculated that she could've been top 3 all-around (at least in the U.S.) if she could put together a mediocre routine on bars. While that certainly may be true, I think that's also a testament to how much the all-around field has weakened since the introduction of the 3 up, 3 count rules.

What do the rest of you think about the reversion to all-around athletes? And which gymnast(s) who were successful in the specialist era would have been out of luck had they been forced to compete on all four events? Or would those athletes have been competitive albeit with a glaring weakness on one event? 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

OWS and XOJane: a rant

I have spent the last few weeks following the exploits of the Occupy Wall Street protesters (several of the devoted are good friends of mine) and have been down there a few times myself, finding the site and its durability to be quite inspiring. And online, I have read vociferously on the topic, heartened by the protest movements it has inspired all over the country and world. I don't know how this will all end and if it will have the impact that many of us are hoping for--a realignment of our national priorities, a more equitable tax code, compassion for the poor-- but it is nonetheless exciting to see so many involved.

And then I read this over at XOJane, Jane Pratt's online follow-up to the significantly better Jane and Sassy. In it, Cat Marnell discusses her past experience with "drunkorexia," which is not recognized disorder in the DSM but has something to do with college coeds who don't eat but only drink alcohol, do drugs and party.

This blogger, Cat, has already received a lot of flak for a previous post in which she flippantly discussed her idiotic and irresponsible birth control choices (or lack thereof). And while I also found that piece abominable, enough has been said on the topic. I'm more interested in ranting about the drunkorexia post.

The whole time I'm reading her article, I'm wondering-- how did she manage to stay in school, get good jobs and get ahead in her career when so many who have not put a foot wrong (or have barely stepped out of line)-- the ones who have worked hard their entire lives, did exactly what society told them was necessary--have found themselves under piles of student debt, unable to find proper jobs with health coverage? Now, I'm not begrudging Cat her healthcare even if she chooses to practice the stupidest forms of pregnancy and STI prevention imaginable but her steady climb up the career ladder despite being a seemingly irresponsible individual is highly upsetting, given that even she admitted to not making an effort in school and staying out all night partying and pissing away her trust fund.  (I would also add that I don't think she is quite talented as a writer but since that is entirely subjective and Jane Pratt has already commented on trying to develop young voices so perhaps Marnell will become a better thinker and writer. Or not.)

While I understand that acting like a shortsighted fool might seem like a prerequisite for working in the fashion industry, but given the times in which we live and the protests going on in our streets, I find Marnell's flip writing style about abusing her privileges -- whether it's monetary or medical (her choice of Plan B as birth control is predicated upon the fact that she lives in New York where the morning after pill is very accessible)-- to be even more difficult to defend.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Michigan gymnasts out and about

There is an excellent first person account in Out Sports (actually it's a double first person account) from two former University of Michigan gymnasts-- one who came out as gay during his collegiate athletic career and one who remained closeted and came out only at the very end of college.

Evan Heiter, who had come out during his college days, wrote the following:

In gymnastics, there's not denying the presence of gay-athletes is felt stronger than in other sports. However, what most don't realized is that this creates a fiery passion for some heterosexual gymnasts to defend themselves and cut others down.

As a gymnastics fan, one of the questions I often heard when I admitted my love for the sport was, "Aren't a lot of those guys gay?"

"Not to my knowledge," I responded when I was younger, while acknowledging that I simply didn't know much about the sexual orientation of male gymnasts (not that it ever really mattered to me anyway). To them, I would cite the names of male gymnasts who were married with kids, without realizing that this did not necessarily prove heterosexuality. But to be fair to my younger self, I simply wasn't aware of a lot of gymnasts who were out at the time.

Evan's statement in Out Sports reminded me of this question I used to get asked a lot. I guess (and this is pure speculation so please don't kill me) that perhaps many male gymnasts are questioned about their sexuality because so many people associate the sport with females. At least in the United States, the best (and in many cases, only) known gymnasts are all female-- Mary Lou, Shawn, Nastia, the entire Magnificent Seven. A lot of folks don't even know which events are done by women and which by men. (I also get asked a lot if I did rings, to which I respond-- Thank God no! Bars were taxing enough on my minimal upper body strength.)

The fact that there sport is often associated with women may make, as Evan's statement seems to indicate, male gymnasts even more defensive of their heterosexuality and insistent on the hetero-normativity (that should be a word, like nativity) of athletes in the sport. This, in turn, may make it more difficult for male gymnasts to come out of the closet, which is very unfortunate.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Change in selection procedures

As anyone who reads this blog with an interest in gymnastics (as opposed to an interest in Judaism) then you know precisely how I feel about the U.S. women's gymnastics team's selection procedure.

For those of you who feel the same way about Martha's policies, I've got good news -- it has just been announced that the Olympic team will be chosen immediately following the Olympic trials. It seems that the fan response to Alicia Sacramone's injury as well as some unflattering press has led USA Gymnastics to make this very sensible decision.

To those who might point to the success that the U.S. achieved at the most recent world's using Martha's methods, I would be quick to point out that the very same team could've been chosen right after Nationals. They simply took the top all-arounders (Wieber, Maroney, Raisman), the top bar scorers (Li, Douglass or Mackenzie Caquatto, who wouldn't have injured herself at a selection camp) and Alicia Sacramone and then selected an alternate (Vega). Same team, no extra selection.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out this summer. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why isn't gymnastics more popular?

As I was explaining my absence from The Anti-Girlfriend last week--it was simply too much to juggle world championships, this site and another site (not to mention a job)-- I posited that perhaps gymnasts are the most anti-girlfriend of all athletes.

It's something I've been thinking about for awhile-- not the un-dateability of gymnasts but why the sport itself will never be a big spectator sport. This also puzzled me when I was younger. Why, I wondered, did people want to watch golf or basketball or baseball but not gymnastics? After all, what is cooler? Putting around on the green or flipping on the beam? (Please forgive me for that rhyme.)

One of the conclusions I came to (which I also discuss in the anti-girlfriend post) is that in sports such as soccer or golf or baseball, the weekend warrior and the elite athlete are separated by degree. Most people can play soccer or imagining playing soccer on some level even if they don't play very well. If you run you can certainly envision running faster. Same goes for basketball, baseball and most certainly golf. It is not hard to imagine oneself doing any of these activities.

As for gymnastics-- not so much. Unless you've done gymnastics (and even if you have), watching gymnastics leaves you in awe. It very rarely inspires flights of fancy during which you believe you could actually do anything you just witnessed onscreen. It creates awe, which is a form of distance. So every four years in the context of the Olympics, gymnastics is popular. But because it is viewed at such a literal and imaginative distance, it will probably never attain a mass popularity.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Proselytizing with gymnastics

Since I've started working at JTA, I've manged to write three stories (two short news brief and one longer piece) and an annotated video slideshow about gymnastics for the site. This content is then disseminated to JTA's domestic and international clients. As one sports-minded colleague noted, there have been more JTA stories on the sport in the past four months than there have been in the five years he's been working at the company.

Needless to say, I'm pretty pleased with myself. I've always said it is my goal to spread gymnastics unto the masses. (Also, breaking and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.)

You can read my latest brief about the success of Aly Raisman and Alexander Shatilov here.

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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Some additional thoughts on the Slate gymnastics story

As I've already blogged, a few days ago an op-ed that I wrote about the women's gymnastics team selection procedures and how they seem to be misguided and ultimately work against the goals of the program was published by Slate.

Though the somewhat sensational tone of the headers were outside of my purview, I'm grateful to the editors over at Slate for leaving my main argument nuanced and intact. It was an article about strategy, not about victimization, which is not the general theme of stories about women's gymnastics.

One day later Jezebel published a story, also timed to the world championships (this and the Olympics are the only times that the sport receives more than scant coverage) that fell along the more traditional lines. It was about the recent spate of accusations of sexual abuses that have shocked many. It was written by a writer and former top notch gymnast who unbeknownst to her, had been trained by a coach that had abused other students.

(For those of you who may not have heard, famed coach Don Peters was accused of having sex with one of his pupils in the 80s, and accounts from team members seem to corroborate this awful tale. I, for one, believe the accusers and hope that USA Gymnastics investigates these complaints and examines its procedures to deal with sort of situation better in the future.)

I have no quibble with the Jezebel story, which can be read in its entirety here. Crimes should be exposed. I've always been in favor of airing one's dirty laundry in public. (Any of you who have read my criticisms of the Jewish community know that very well.)

My problem is that the author used some anecdotes to argue that abuse is more widespread in the women's gymnastics program though there is no evidence to suggest it is. While it's very tragic, this happens in all youth sports. Also, this is the sort of coverage we've come to expect when the mainstream takes an interest in our sport -- to emphasize both the femaleness and victimhood of the athletes. To these writers, they are self-directed and motivated individuals last, young girls and victims first.

It was more eloquently stated by a wonderfully intelligent and insightful friend, who read both my story and the Jezebel post. "The Jezebel piece still feels like -- innocent gymnast girls victimized by pervy authority figures. It sort of ghettoizes gymnastics."

As to my Slate story, she said -- "I like your approach of talking about gymnastics as a sport that needs to pursued strategically, not as some feminized dystopia."

She continued, "But taking a tack that's not about gender, age, sex, etc. and doing exactly what you just said is really smart and important for normalizing how we talk about all sports."

I hope that I and others who are passionate about the sport get additional opportunities to have deeper conversations about the sport that move beyond the NBC hype and sexist themes.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Artistry Fallacy

I have just watched the women's all around finals and read some of the responses on the gymnastics message boards and I have to air some long-held grievances around the issues of dance and artistry. Among fans and gymnastic writers there seems to be a pretty obvious bias -- that if a gymnast is seen as having a more balletic style and body type, she is deemed artistic and therefore a good dancer.

As I was reading International Gymnast's previews of the women's teams and all around, Wieber's weakness was listed as "artistry" in addition to bars (which I agree is by far her weakest event). I wouldn't consider Wieber to be lacking in artistry. She performs with excellent form and technique. And her floor exercise is well-choreographed to the music and Wieber does an excellent job of engaging with the music and the audience as she performs it -- eyes off the floor and into the audience. To my mind, performing skills that are more than mere arm waving to the music and acknowledging the audience is a sign of good artistry. It's just not a balletic type of artistry.

If we followed the gymnastics logic about dance then hip hop dance would not be considered artistic. Really, nothing aside from ballet or a dance style that is done with a perfectly upright and rigidly held carriage would be considered artistic. This view is unfair to other styles that are less polished but by no means less artistic and less in tune with the music.

Victoria Komova, by contrast, is a gymnast with enormous dance potential but suffers from bad choreography and an introverted performance style. There is a lot of arm waving in her routine and a lot of it are merely flourishes -- added in to merely do something as opposed to being truly intentional and interpretive of the music. There are also several "rest" moments when all energy stops flowing. Even when the choreography allows you to pause, a dancer shouldn't just take a break. The pause should accentuate something in the music -- the pause itself is also dance and should be treated as such. Though it shocks me to say this, Vanessa Ferrari made excellent uses of slow moments in her routine in Tokyo -- she didn't relax but used them to convey a sultriness. (By the way, these are criticisms I have of many, many routines, not just Komova's. I'm merely using her as an example since she has been labelled "artistic" in opposition to Wieber's so-called lack of artistry.)

Don't get me wrong -- Komova is a lovely gymnast with great extension, form and technique, and I wouldn't have at all minded her coming out on top in the all around. She is certainly a worthy champion. Furthermore, coming off ankle surgery in May, she was hardly at her best in Tokyo. Next year, she will surely a greater force to be reckoned with when she brings back the Amanar vault. I hope Jordyn and John Geddert go back to Michigan and work on some upgrades cause they will need them in London to hold of Komova as well as a returning Mustafina. (Not to mention, Anastasia Grishina.)

But this is a rant about artistry, not start values and competitive results. If dance is important to the sport -- and I would say it is not highly prioritized, judging from the routines we see -- I think we need to expand our notions about what it means to be artistic.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The leadership of Martha Karolyi

Today on Slate I have an article questioning the wisdom and leadership of Martha Karolyi.

I penned this critique on Thursday after I awoke to the news of Alicia Sacramone's ruptured Achilles tendon and  Aly Raisman's minor ankle injury. This prompted me to start mentally composing an essay about the U.S. selection procedure, which I think is incredibly counterproductive in that our top (often older) gymnasts are sidelined with injuries before the competitions begin.

This was a conversation I've online with several other gymnastics fans and the outcry at Sacramone's injury seems to indicate that many others share this view. Even if Sacramone's injury has absolutely nothing to do with the multiple training camps, there is a sense that many of the injuries have a lot to do with Karolyi's methods.

As I watched the American girls compete and win yesterday in such spectacular fashion, it suddenly struck me -- perhaps not by design (since no one, certainly not Karolyi, wanted Alicia to get hurt), Martha got the only team that could train the way she wants them to. With the exception of Raisman, who was the veteran at 17, the other five girls were 16 and younger. This means that they are still young enough and not so beat up as to be able to withstand her methods. This does not bode well for older athletes next year.

In this video, Mike Canales, an orthopedic surgeon, husband to 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu and a former high level gymnast himself, asks Martha about the rash of injuries that have befallen the Americans. (This particular question comes at 9:20 in the video but watch the earlier parts if you want to see Moceanu and Canales speak to the American and foreign gymnasts. Imagine that NBC!)

When asked whether these injuries will change the manner in which the team is selected, Karolyi said no and then added, "It looks like the younger generation is breaking in." She then went on to list many young seniors or juniors who will eligible for next year, which sort of confirms my earlier suspicions.

As Canales noted at the end -- out with the old, in with the new.

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.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Where have all the velour leotards gone?

Like most avid followers of gymnastics, I spend a fair amount of time being blinded the iridescence that are gymnastics leotards. I've already written a couple of times about the trashy-tastic fashions that dominate the sport. But as I was studying this year's offerings at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo I was struck by what I didn't see -- velour and crushed velvet leotards.

Shannon Miller in velvet at the 1996 National Championships

When I first started doing gymnastics, my mother took me to a dances store and bought one of those short sleeve black ballet leotards which I wore over my leggings. I didn't know much about fashion back in those days. 

Anyway, after I started going to more practices and reading gymnastics magazines, I came to covet the crushed velvet and velour leotards and was so proud when my mom finally purchased a purple tank version for me to wear to gymnastics classes. 

Thereafter I purchased several leotards made of that fabric and loved them all even if they weren't exactly breathable. But at some point over the last 6 or 7 years, gymnasts stopped wearing them. I can't point to the exact time this style fell out favor but I've been racking my brain, and it's been awhile since I've seen one in elite competition.

Jordyn Wieber wearing the latest, non-velvet fashion

Where have all the crushed velvet leotards gone?

Asking that question put me in mind of this song. Just replace "cowboys" with "crushed velvet."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Alicia Sacramone Naked in ESPN's The Body issue

As many of you gymnastics fans know, U.S. team captain Alicia Sacramone has had to withdraw from the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo after injuring her Achilles tendon. I have a lot more to say on the matter but not right now.

Anyway, on the same day that this unfortunate event took place, Alicia's photos from ESPN's "Body" issue were released. Though some conservative gymnastics fans might find this shocking, she is only wearing marginally less clothing than she wears in competition. Little spandex leotards don't offer much in the way of coverage.

Check out the video from the shoot:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Can't -- the four letter word the Orthodox use far too often

A short essay I wrote about how overused and deeply entrenched the word "can't" (I realize it's really a contraction) has become in the Orthodox Jewish vocabulary.

It goes a little something like this:

“I can’t eat at the mall food court,” I explained to a friend when we were shopping. “I can’t go to that party - it’s on Shabbos.” Or, “I can’t do a back flip on the balance beam.” After such frequent use in daily religious life, the word had wormed its way into other situations. It’s also the way Orthodox Jews regard rabbinic prohibitions, as though they were physical impossibilities, as many would consider a back flip on a narrow plank.

 Check out the rest over at the Forward's Sisterhood blog