Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A short defense of Aly Raisman

Aly Raisman to claims she lacks artistry: "You know what's really unartistic? Falling." [Gym Examiner]

Above is the fake headline I came up with that Blythe over at Gym Examiner put in her funny recurring feature about made-up gymnastics headlines. This line really sums up why I love this gymnast so much--she seems to be one of the few that remember that gymnastics, first and foremost, is a sport and being the belle of the ball doesn't matter all that much if you keep falling on your ass or if your teammates can't rely on you to hit when it counts. Aly just knows how to hit and it's been a long while since we've seen a gymnast like her. You know, the type that doesn't make your heart leap into your chest every time she mounts the apparatus, that doesn't aggravate your acid reflux.

As to the claims of her lack of artistry--well, I'm not going to argue that she is particularly artistic, whatever that means. I will say that athleticism is beautiful and she has that in spades. The beauty that Raisman brings to the sport, to the height of her somersaults is as gorgeous as watching Michael Jordan pushing past his opponents to make a layup.  (I'll let David Foster Wallace describe this sort of aesthetic: "Jordan hanging in midair like a Chagall bride, Sampras laying down a touch volley at an angle that defies Euclid.") These examples aren't pretty in the classical sense of the word but pretty and artistry are not necessarily synonymous. 

And let's not forget the falling--nothing is more disruptive to the flow of a performance than an actual stop. A fall mars a routine much more than an unpointed toe. It's not just about loss of points when this happens. It's about how the performer loses the audience, too, who up until that moment had following raptly. That's very unartistic if you ask me. 

Am I going to argue that Aly has the best form and execution? Hell no and she should be deducted for those errors. But artistry is more than form and flexibility. 

And this current crop of Russians, though possessed of lovely flexibility and toe point, are by no means the artistes that their fans hold them out to be. (I don't think even the most ardent fan after hearing Komova's hellacious new music and accompanying "choreography" could call her routine artistic. But I'm sure some will try.) Though we wish them to be, they are sadly not the inheritors of the stunning Soviet legacy. (Long live the 1989 World Championship Team Gold Medalists!) 

And none of today's Russians are the Second Coming of Anna Pavlova--the ballerina or the gymnast. 


Bekalynn said...

Sigh the height is fine/cool on her tumbles. But the form is terrible. Its far harder to do a skill with GOOD form than it is to do it with poor form. Other than the height there's is nothing easy looking about Aly's gymnastics is either...

And this is artistic gymnastics so having good form is important. I'm sorry but i do NOT want gymnastics to go into the eye sore direction, which is what it will go into if you reward people who chuck skills with horrific form. Say what you will about Shawn-I found her boring but Shawn at least had nice form.

Bekalynn said...

And as for Komova. Do I love Komova's floor routine no. But Komova still even with that floor routine has gorgeous lines, hits some BEAUTIFUL positions, has gorgeous toe point. These are things Komova has worked on. And once again do you think its easy for Komova to be able to do things beautifully- NO. She has to work no doubt twice as hard as Raisman to have her gymnastics look beautiful. I want more Komova's in this sport, and the Komova's are not rewarded for what they do.

Dvora Meyers said...

I never denied that Komova has lovely form, toe point, and flexibility. Never would. But none of these equals to artistry. Nor did I deny the difficulty of executing skills with proper form and technique. Again, though, that's not artistry. All of that aids artistry but it is not necessarily artistic.

I would argue that most of Aly acrobatic elements on beam and floor are done with tremendous ease. But we are crossing into very subjective territory here since you will counter that they seem heavy to you. Let's agree to disagree.

The problem with demanding artistry is that it, too, is highly subjective and therefore exceedingly difficult to quantify for the purpose of scoring. I'd rather just see form and technique properly rewarded/deducted and end this silly argument over artistry. I feel like it's the gymnastics equivalent of that tired hip hop argument about what is "real" hip hop? It's boring.

And obviously when we're discussing artistry in regards to gymnastics, we're grading all of these gymnasts on a curve anyway. Few of them meet the artistry demands of dancers.

That you prefer Komova style gymnastics is fine. It's what you like to see. But that doesn't mean that gymnastics like Aly shouldn't be successful because they are simply not your cup of tea.

Kathryn said...

Thank you for this post! I do not agree with anyone calling Aly's performances "chucking skills", she clearly has a better hold on skills then most gymnasts -aka she does not fall or wobble when she performs said skill... I am not "team" anyone but I hate to see this wonderful gymnast, and the backbone of the US team be thrown under the bus time and time again. PS how about that leap after her last tumbling pass on floor the 2nd day of trials? It was wonderful but was not praised the way it should have been (a la gabby in the American Cup).

Dvora Meyers said...

Aly did leap very nicely out of her final pass but I won't praise it or Gabby's--I'm very against these code whoring leaps. But yes, it was well-done.

And I'm glad that others appreciate Ms. Raisman. Fans have such a narrow conception of what a "gymnast" should be. I can appreciate Komova's work. But as someone who has danced for years, I fail to see how she is more artistic than her competition. Jordyn has one of the best floor routines out there, hands down. And she performs the shit out it.

Bekalynn said...

Its not just about whether you have nice choregraphy on her floor routine. Jordyn's choregraphy is fine maybe better than Komova's. But is her lines, better than Komova's no. And she's certainly not better than Afan. Toe point extension, lines that matters. And if you want to argue its just about body type I'll make a point of giving some tapes of the 1988 Olympic AA champion, who COULD point her toes and do things with much better form, artistic flair than Raisman..

Once again Raisman has really great height on her tumbling and I liked her DTY, but on everything else, can you name one thing that's done with pleasing form? And one could argue artistry isn't lines. But I will say for me gymnastics at its best SHOULD have beautiful lines, movement. Period. a gymnast like Komova with beautiful lines/difficult skills SHOULD win over gymnasts who do not have these things...It should be rewarded because its hard, and it makes the sport better to watch. Not to mention with the injuries that are rampant in this sport. Asking girls to perform with good toe point-form-extension rather than encouraging super difficulty could SAVE on injuries.

Sevrine said...

Dvora - I keep hoping to find something new here - your fake quote from Aly Raisman was hilarious and too too perfect, given what's going on in London. You rock!!