Monday, July 29, 2013

Should the next floor champion be the best dancer or tumbler?

After watching this weekend's Secret U.S. Classic, I was struck by this thought--the next world champion on floor might win on the strength of her dance skills and bonus, not on her flipping ability.

Ksenia Afanasyeva currently has the highest start value on floor and that's mostly due to her turns (and leaps). She does a few really hard turns and connects them. While her tumbling is hard and clean, it's nothing to write home about. Two of her lines are so standard they're practically compulsory. Her opening is a double layout, while difficult, is hardly a noteworthy pass anymore. Her two whips into a triple twist is the only tumbling run in the routine that stands out to me. Still, it's impressive that she can maintain her difficulty level as she gets older.

Coming in right behind her in SV is Lexie Priessman who does four hard passes, including the rarely seen double layout full out and a double double. (And she ends with a full in, which isn't often seen in the last few codes where it's become de rigeur to dismount with a double pike.) I hated Priessman's last floor routine--too many music changes and the choreography was just plain awful. This new music and movement style suit her much better and she seems much more comfortable performing it. Her dance elements, however, are weak.

Then we've got Simone Biles, who had a really rough day on Saturday, but demonstrates some astonishing tumbling including the highest and fastest tuck double double that I've ever seen and a wholly original double layout half out. But once again, her SV isn't as high as Afanasyeva's cause she doesn't do as many of those valuable turns.

Aly Raisman, last year's Olympic champion on floor came from the tumbling camp--incredibly difficult and original passes--and did only a single turn to satisfy the requirement. She didn't up the value of floor routine with that. (But I much prefer seeing a single turn performed easily than a Memmel that requires a pause to set up and wrenching of the leg.)

In 2004, the "dancer" won out--Catalina Ponor. That year, she performed the same exact passes that everyone was doing (and with poor form to boot on the full in and triple) but did some complicated turns and jumps well. The best floor routine of that Olympics was Cheng Fei's (even with the step out of bounds in the event finals). Hard tumbling the whole way through, super impressive presentation, and impeccable form. That floor final was a travesty.

And a great Memmel turn isn't the hallmark of a wonderfully performed routine. Check out Laurie Hernandez's floor routine from Saturday. It was one of the best danced routines of the competition and yet she includes just a single turn that blends seamlessly into her dance. And she never stops dancing.

These turns don't necessarily benefit the "artistic" gymnast because they're really just like another trick. Instead of a tumbling skill, we have a turn skill.

Now if Afanasyeva was performing her 2012 (or even her 2011) routine, I would be more or less OK with her winning on the strength of her turns because in that routine, there was original refreshing choreography and dance. Like--actual movement, not just "handography." (I don't know if that term is new but I first heard it from blogger Lindsey Green on Saturday as we skyped through the Classic together.) But in the latest batch of Russian floor routines there is no dance whatsoever. None. But they pose dramatically, pause, do a turn, move to the corner, run for a pass. And then repeat.

No one is blaming them for milking the current Code of Points. (I'm sorry that I keep picking on them but they're held up as a paragon of "artistry" even as the rules have been most damaging to them.) It's more the skewed priority of the Code that I have a problem with. This Code has reduced the stylish Russians to handography to rack up tenths (and as Uncle Tim noted in a recent Gymcastic ep, the lack of dance might also be masking a lack physical conditioning). And the Code might give us a floor winner who is the best one in the meet at turns and leaps but nothing special in the tumbling department.

What do you think? Do you want the next floor gold medalist to win on the virtues of her leaps and turns? Or would you like your winner to have hard, well-executed tumbling even if they're less elegant in performance and presentation?

I know that in a perfect world, we'd get both--spectacular tumbling and fantastic dance. But we don't live in a gymnastics utopia. We live in the world Bruno Grandi created. 

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