Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Emergence of Great Britain Made Euros Feel Competitive Again

The results at the European Championships used to be a good indication of how things would play out at the upcoming World Championships or Olympic Games. Tatiana Gutsu won the all-around in 1992 and went onto repeat that feat at the Olympic Games. Ditto for Lilia Podkopayeva.

And the competition itself was frequently fierce--with strong squads from Russia and Romanian bumping up against comers from the Ukraine and other individuals from less powerful gymnastics countries. (Remember when Belarus had medal contenders?)

But over the years, it seems like the significance of the Europeans have waned. With the emergence of China and the U.S.A. as major team powers, half of the strongest competition in the world could be found elsewhere. And then there is the the virtual disappearance of the Ukrainian gymnasts and the lack of depth from both the Russian and Romanian squads. It made the competition feel like a game of musical chairs where you never pulled away a chair. Everyone got a seat, er, medal. Needless to say, the European Championships had lost some of their luster.

This is why the rise of the British women in both the junior and senior ranks is a good thing for, not just the fortune of GB gymnastics, but the European Championship as a whole. This year I was actually excited to watch and see the competition unfold and was anxious/nervous about the outcome.  (I was rooting so hard for Team GB to take the title but I was thrilled to see them get silver.) But with the strength they've exhibited on both the junior and senior levels (especially with that talented batch of juniors). These teams seem like they have staying power.

But you might say--"Hey! The Italians have been in the mix, occupying the podium in the past decade too." While this is true and their progress as a gymnastics nation should certainly be applauded, I never got the sense when watching the Italians that they were primed to break out in a significant way at the worlds or the Olympics. They performed very well in the European theater but it never appeared that they had the depth and difficulty to contend against the other powers and make it onto a team podium at the World Championships. Also, much of their success is due to Vanessa Ferrari, who can't compete forever. (Or maybe she can...) Team GB (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Canada) seem like they have the goods to break out at the World or Olympics or both during this quad especially once some of their promising juniors are able to compete at the senior level. Their impressive medal haul at the Euros is not just an accomplishment unto itself but created momentum and is perhaps a sign of things to come for the program.

And if nothing else, Team GB made Euros competitive again. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why is Catherine Lyons' floor exercise so good?

Over the weekend, Catherine Lyons, the British gymnast that the entire gymternet seems to have an enormous crush on, made all of our dreams come true by winning the floor gold in the junior portion of the European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Here's her winning routine from event finals:

Unlike most of the other gymnasts in the world--elite and NCAA--her music is not heavily percussive, which opens up new choreographic possibilities for her. Most of her dance moves are in the contemporary/lyrical vein in the routine. (And the music should be familiar to any millennial who listened to the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack on repeat--it's Desiree's "Kissing You.") Unlike the "strike a pose" school of floor routine choreography, all of Lyons' movements flow one into the next. She doesn't even stop to prepare a turn. She just does it as though it's part of the dance. Also, the dance parts seemed to have been specifically selected for the music. None of the parts in this floor routine are interchangeable with one another. And there is no way she could use the same dance moves for another floor routine (as Aliya Mustafina seems to do--different music, same dance). Lyons' routine is truly special and I can't wait to see how she develops.

And yet I worry about the future of Lyons' floor exercise. 5.2 is a bit low when it comes to D-score. Even though her execution is quite lovely and she has been successful at the junior level, will she be able to increase her difficulty to be competitive at the senior level without sacrificing the innovative choreography that made us all fall in love with her in the first place? Will she be able to amass a high enough D-score without adding a fourth pass?

Personally, I've never been a big fan of four pass routines. Usually, at least one of the four passes are what I refer to as "filler" passes--far less difficult than the other three. I'd rather not watch that low difficulty pass and just go with three. I've had my fill of double pikes/double tuck dismounts from gymnasts who can tumble double doubles. I'd rather see difficulty increase in absolute terms--with fantastically hard, original skills--than watch gymnasts throw a lot of mid level skills into a routine in order to rack up the tenths. Give me three hard passes and a lot of choreography over four mediocre passes and uninspired dance.

And if you're Catherine Lyons, I'll take three average tumbling passes so long as you keep dancing like you're trying to win So You Think You Can Dance

Do I have a future writing romance books?

I know that I'm Ms. Gymnastics at the moment but I think I might have a future writing romance novels. A couple of weeks ago, News Corp announced that it would be acquiring Harlequin, the publisher of seemingly every Fabio-inspired book, I was inspired to come up with some titles that would meld the values of both entities. Such as "Foxy News" or "Missionary Positions." Because as Jack Donaghy famously said, "Synergy!"

Here are the titles and book ideas I came up with for the folks over at Elle. Feel free to suggest other, funnier titles. 

Done Being Niche

Gymnastics is not a niche sport. There, I said it.

Since I started writing about gymnastics, I've routinely fielded questions from folks about whether you can make a career out of writing about gymnastics. (You cannot but that is just as much about how you can't make a career about writing about a single subject. It's more of a testament about the writing profession in general.) I've heard a lot about how great it is that I've managed to corner this niche and sell a book. While I get their overall point, there's a patronizing perspective at work here, that my subject matter is small or uninteresting (allegedly) to a mass audience and that my success is due to climbing to the top of a very small mountain. It seems to have little to do with the quality of my work or analysis. None of this is intentional, of course, but it grates nonetheless.

Part of me has to wonder if gender plays a role in this line of questioning. Though men and women compete in gymnastics, it's more closely associated with women. The global superstars have largely been female. And I have to wonder if that plays a role in its marginalized status? Are sports that are more closely associated with females routinely considered "niche" even if participation and competition attendance numbers would indicate otherwise? After all, Utah routinely beat every other women's college sport in attendance this year--and that includes the basketball team. Yet I doubt that anyone would ask fans or followers of women's college basketball about their "niche" interest because basketball has strong masculine (and therefore athletic) associations.

This is not to say that I think that gymnastics receives widespread, mainstream attention at the same level of the major sports such as basketball and football. We all know that it does not. But the sort of attention that is heaped (or isn't heaped) on gymnastics isn't necessarily indicative of actual interest in it. We know that participation is high and that NCAA gymnasts often achieve celebrity status on some campuses. It's a year round sport, not some sort of oddity that is trotted out at the Olympics.

You can call the sport subjective. You can say it doesn't get a lot of media attention. But how about we stop calling it niche.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Big Book News: The End of the Ten

After five months of research, interviews, writing, and rewriting, I'm so excited to announce that I'll be writing a book about gymnastics, which will be published before the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Here's the official announcement, just released today:

Freelance journalist and frequent Deadspin and Jezebel contributor Dvora Meyers's THE END OF THE TEN: The Fall of Perfection in Modern Gymnastics, analyzing how various factors including the elimination of the "Perfect 10" have changed women's gymnastics in the last few decades, allowing the U.S. to become a dominant power in the sport, to Michelle Howry at Touchstone, for publication in Summer 2016, to coincide with the Olympics, by Allison Hunter at Inkwell Management (World).

Can't wait to get started on the writing and researching!