Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The crouch turn

Watching the lovely Lauren Mitchell from Australia perform on the beam this weekend in Canada reminded me of something not-so-lovely that she does on the apparatus (and also on the floor exercise)--the crouch turn.

(She does it at 1:00)

The first time I saw this performed was in 2003 by Terin Humphrey who did a triple in a sit and as her mount.

I'm not denying the difficult of the maneuver. I've tried to do one on the floor and can attest to how hard it is. But it is also quite ugly, especially when the revolutions exceed 360 degrees. In those turns, the gymnast flail their arms. Their upper bodies give the impression that they are nearing disaster, at the edge of the abyss. Merely watching them provokes anxiety.

Though both Humphrey and Mitchell bring quite a bit of flail to their turns, the Australian's is the messier of the two. And she uses it on floor exercise as well and it doesn't fare much better on the more expansive apparatus. This turn appears at :54.

The only incarnation of these turns that I can stand is Rebecca Bross' on beam because hers is usually flail free. Why? It's not because she is much better than Mitchell. It's because she does only ONE revolution. I'm sure she tried a second, possibly third. And I'm sure it looked terrible, which is why they dialed her back.

Like Humphrey, she uses it near the start of her routine at approximately :20 in.

This isn't merely meant as a criticism on Mitchell. It goes out to all the gymnasts and coaches that attempt dance maneuvers that far exceed their ability to perform them.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Long Way Around

For the birthday of legendary music producer Rick Rubin, Dan Charnas has compiled a list of his top 25 tracks for Complex magazine. Some of the choices are unsurprising--"99 Problems" with Jay-Z, "Under the Bridge" with the Red Hot Chili Peppers to "It's Yours" by T La Rock. These are all unmistakably Rubin-esque (as opposed to Rubenesque, which means something entirely different), but Charnas highlights several songs that one wouldn't have necessarily associated with the iconic producer. Among them is a song from the Dixie Chicks.

After lead singer Natalie Maines voice her opposition to George W. Bush and the incipient Iraq War in 2003, the group found themselves abandoned by their traditional country fan base. Enter Rick Rubin who produced their subsequent album, Taking the Long Way.

Their lead-off single, "Not Ready to Make Nice," understandably got the most attention since it seemed to be a direct answer to their critics. However, the track Charnas chooses to highlight is the softer, subtler title track, "The Long Way Around." The whole song, which is lovely, truly speaks to the experience of leaving a small town or insular community, of not doing what you were raised to do.

Well, I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself
But I, I could never follow
No I, I could never follow

There is such truth in these lyrics. I've often said (and heard others say) that the choice to leave the Orthodox is not the easy one. Falling into line, even if it means adhering to more rules, is often the simpler decision. "Guess I could have made it easier on myself," sings Maines. Easier, yes. But bearable? No.

Here's a lovely live version of the song:

And Happy Birthday to Rick Rubin--thanks for all the great music.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The knee is a prototype

This past Saturday night, I put on my leopard print drop crotch pants (like I always do) and went out to a friend's birthday party where I proceeded to get funky. At some point during the night I got down into a split because the music called me to do that. Once resting, crotch first, on the floor, I started to bounce to the beat in the split, moving slowly away from my point of origin, much to the enjoyment of everyone else  present. However when I finished and stood up, I rolled up my pant leg and checked on my knee and there it was--a bump and incipient bruise. I went directly to the kitchen and made a small baggie of ice which I put on my knee. Cause there is nothing sexier than being at a party and icing a joint. I'm so shocked I didn't go home with anyone that night.

Saturday night was not the first time this knee (or the other) has given me trouble. It started back in college when I took an unfortunate fall while ice skating and was made worse by practicing gymnastics. When I finished college, I had to have my knee scoped. My surgeon informed me that I had very little cartilage left and the prescribed six weeks of physical therapy.

It's been nearly ten years since I've had that surgery and though the surgery improved my mobility and pain from what it had been, no matter what I did, the knee never reverted to its pre-injury state. This same sentiment has been echoed by Shawn Johnson recently when discussing her own recovery from a much worse injury (torn meniscus, MCL and ACL) and many of my friends. It seems like every active person I know has some trouble with their knees.

Which leads me to conclude, that no matter how wondrous the human body is, some parts work better than others and for longer periods of time, and the knee is perhaps the most flawed of them all. It's like the thing was never even beta tested by God or the Great Spirit or Mr. Big Bang. It's like He/She/It never looked into a crystal ball and predicted that someday humans would start doing sports and would need stronger ACL for better lateral control. The knees we've all received are clearly prototypes that somehow stuck.

The knee, clearly, never went through a beta testing period. Or maybe this is the beta testing period and once the Almighty is done figuring it out, He'll/She'll wipe us out and create a superior race who never know the pain of an ACL reconstruction and never complain about walking up and down the stairs.

I mean, isn't that the point of global warming? Destroy life on the earth and in order to replace us with folks possessed of the next generation in knee technology?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Scam, hype and competition

Today over at Deadspin, I have a feature about the American Cup, an "expose" of sorts about the lopsided nature of the event. Obviously, this is nothing new to fans of the sport who have a love-hate relationship with the event--we hate on the NBC coverage of it and complain about the scores being too high, but we always tune in.

As I note in the article, I think the American Cup's biggest issue is not the event itself--though it has a history of not being competitive on the women's side, more and more events these days are also struggling. In fact, two of the four World Cup events in the FIG series have been canceled. It's the coverage of the event itself that is really damaging as I noted in the piece. Gymnastics fans in particular are international. If you are a fan of basketball or soccer or baseball, etc. then you don't often have to go abroad to follow your sport. Usually, the domestic scene is large enough to occupy the fans year round.

Not so with gymnastics. Elite gymnasts are a small and well, elite, bunch. While it is possible to have conversations about just American gymnasts or just Russian ones or Romanian (and so on and so forth), to really engage with the sport, you need to talk about it internationally. The history and development of the sport is so spread out that a true fan doesn't just talk about domestic athletes. This, I believe, engenders greater respect for all gymnasts, regardless of nationality. And in turn, it angers us fans when we see these foreign athletes unfairly maligned.

Also, as fans of a sport that is judged, which is to say subjective (I know some might argue this point but there really is no getting away from it), we realize that talk and buzz are not mere entertainment. They can influence outcomes. In sports like basketball, it doesn't matter what people are saying about a player if he can't sink a shot when it counts. This is another reason that I think fans are wary when one team or gymnast gets overhyped.

Anyway, I hope that fans out there didn't mind too much taking an oft-discussed topic--the legitimacy of the American Cup--out of the forums and onto the Gawker family of sites.

(And go Gabby! I want to watch her bar routine on a continuous loop.)

More on agunot

Today over at the Forward, I have a short op-ed on the Sisterhood blog about the present "get" controversy and what should be done about it. As I argued last week, I believe that we are asking the wrong question--it's not, "How can we make this man give his wife a divorce?" It's "How do we empower women through Jewish legalistic means to get one for herself?"

The rabbis protesting and picketing might feel quite good about their "progressivism," but in 2012, women shouldn't need to be "rescued" by rabbis. That idea perpetuates the notion that women are a protected, subordinate class, just like children. We need equality. We shouldn't have to make extraordinary appeals to rabbis to be freed from a dead marriage.

One astute reader observed that the current Modern Orthodox activity in regards to agunot reminded her of the Cindy Pearson line (made famous by Barbara Ehrenreich) "Breast cancer provides a way of doing something for women without being a feminist."

This reader then commented, "I see support for prenups and for individual agunot as being a way for the Modern Orthodox community to feel pro-woman without addressing their deeper issues."

Already I've been accused on the Forward's site as being someone who drops something because it is "inconvenient" for me, which (according to this person) negates my credibility. First of all, that person speaks like he knows me, which I'm pretty sure he doesn't (though it is possible that we've met because I forget people all of the time). But to address the substance of his charge, that I drop things because of "inconvenience"--true sometimes but the matter I wrote about has nothing to do with that. Rabbis, in their formulation of get and halacha, aren't asking women to wait six hours after eating meat or to not use electricity on Shabbos. Those are things that can be characterized as "inconvenient." But asking another human being to remain at the mercy of her husband because you don't recognize her as an equal? That's not inconvenience. That's injustice. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Beth Tweddle--a modern day Doris Fuchs-Brause?

After the American Cup in Madison Square Garden, I had the lovely opportunity to talk (gym) shop with a fellow gym blogger. And when the conversation turned to the  uneven bars, we both expressed admiration for Great Britain's Beth Tweddle, who has medaled numerous times on the event at the world championships, Europeans but not at the Olympics. A few days ago a profile of this athlete was published in which she described her disappointment after the Olympics in Beijing where she placed fourth on the event, just out of the medals and we talked about how wonderful it would be for Beth to medal on the bars in front of the home crowd in London.

I talked specifically about why I loved Beth on this event, above most of the other bar workers out there (though after seeing Douglas live on Saturday, she just shot way up my list), and above many of the Chinese because she moves dynamically from bar to bar and has (what I think is) the right ratio of pirouetting elements to release moves. While I don't deny the incredible difficulty of what the Chinese can do with all of the different turns and grips, I'm not exactly riveted by it. After two turns, I want some change in tempo, so to speak, whether it's a release move or a transition to the low bar. (On the other end of the spectrum are routines like the one Shayla Worley used to do--a series of unconnected release moves, all some form of straddle Tkatchev. Just as the routines with the endless pirouettes, this is also quite boring to watch.)

And then I came home to this video of Beth in my Facebook newsfeed from the English Championships:

As many other excited fans have noted, Tweddle has upgraded her dismount to a double twisting double somersault from the one with a single twist she did for the past decade, ratcheting up her difficulty in hopes that this will help her win the gold in London. (I sure hope it does.)

Though the dismount impressed me, I was once again blown away by her dynamism, how powerfully she moves from turns to release, from bar to bar. Given a lot of the more "static" routines out there, this is highly original work.

And in her work I saw a glimpse of the past--specifically Doris Fuchs-Brause's bar routine at the 1966 at the world championships in Dortmund. Her routine is revolutionary in that it moved swiftly from bar to bar at a time when pauses between moves were commonplace.

Unfortunately, Fuchs-Brause didn't even earn a spot in event finals, much less a medal. Here's hoping that Tweddle gets rewarded for her originality in her home country in five months.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Al Trautwig's finest work

Yesterday's televised version of the American Cup featured some of the very finest of NBC's commentary (which means to say the very worst) and some of the best chestnuts belonged to Al Trautwig, the resident "average Joe," who is supposed to ask the questions on behalf of the non-gymnastics experts out there.

One of yesterday's competitors at Madison Square Garden was Bronx native John Orozco and you better believe that NBC did as much as humanly possible with it. In addition to a fluff piece about Orozco growing up on the rough and tumble streets of Beirut, er, I mean the Bronx, Al had these verbal gems about the northernmost borough in New York City.

Before introducing the fluff piece, the camera zoomed in on Orozco's pores and Al narrated, "His road to this American Cup is a lot like the streets of New York--filled with human potholes."

What exactly are "human potholes" Al? Anyone? From what the little piece showed, Orozco hails from a tight knit, loving family who have had their share of troubles but nothing extraordinary in its pathos. They live in a rough neighborhood and support themselves off of a civil servant's family. Not wealthy and certainly not able to handle the expenses that go into training an elite athlete, but they are not about to make a movie of the week about him just yet.

But Trautwig was not yet done with the bane of NYC drivers' lives. After Orozco's fall from the pommel horse, Al said, "New York City where John Orozco is from is a city with many potholes and that was one on the way to London."

Hey Al--we get it. New York has a lot of potholes. And I guess to the folks in other parts of the country who were watching the competition, NYC is nothing more than the pothole riddled, graffiti covered capital of godless secular Jewish atheists. And while that's true, most of us pay little or no mind to the potholes because the majority of New Yorkers take mass transit. Next time compare Orozco's tribulations to the subway system, will ya?

But while we're awkwardly linking competitors' family backgrounds to what is happening during the meet, let's extend the same courtesy to Danell Leyva. As you probably know if you watched the broadcast because they mentioned it about a thousand times that Leyva and his family left Cuba when he was just one years old.

"Just as Danell and his parents fled Cuba and Castro for the U.S. and with that high bar routine, Leyva has run away from the other competitors with the American Cup title."

See, I could work for NBC too. (Anyone want to start an online campaign?)

Friday, March 2, 2012

30 Rock on the Olympics

It's an Olympic year and tomorrow some of the top gymnasts in the world (but mostly a lot of up-and-comers and some fresh faces) will compete at the American Cup at Madison Square Garden. I will be there in person (though I will not be reprising my walk to MSG--I'm over those sort of shenanigans. I will take the subway) so I won't be privy to what will obviously be hyperbolic NBC commentary and a lot of talk about London.

Anyway, I'd prefer to listen to Wesley Snipes on 30 Rock (not the tax evading actor but a potential Liz Lemon suitor) wax anxious about the Games.