Friday, August 1, 2008

Thoughts on Paul Hamm's Injury and He Kexin's Underage Status
























As anyone who is even a remotely avid gymnastics fan should know by now, Paul Hamm pulled himself out of the 2008 U.S. Olympic MAG team. I was shocked to hear this news, but there is no time for the U.S. men's team to look back now. Raj Bhavsar, who was controversially sidelined in Athens as an alternate, was chosen to replace Hamm and will finally be in pursuit of his Olympic dream that was taken away from him four years back. (It is worth noting that the USA men gave up .887 to Japan on rings at the 2004 Olympic MAG team finals, and eventually lost the gold by .888. Bhavsar averaged a 9.7875 at the 2004 Olympic Trials, the highest rings total for any of the U.S. men, and the U.S. winded up counting a 9.125 in Athens TF from Jason Gatson) For those that are wondering whether USA can medal now that Paul Hamm is out, the answer is yes. Check this out:



With Raj on the team (Thanks to Denn333 and TCO from WWGYM for contributing the Nats/Oly Trials average scores )
USA MAG Weighted Average of All Four Scores from Nationals/Olympic Trials: 276.45
Dropping the lowest of the four scores for each gymnast: 278.517

Team Placements From 2007 Worlds
Gold: China(281.900)
Silver: Japan (277.025)
Bronze: Germany (273.525)
4th: USA(272.275)
5th: Korea (269.95)
6th: Spain (269.40)
7th: Russia (269.20)
8th: Romania (267.75)

Team Placements from 2008 Europeans (Not entirely comparable because of 5-3-3 format instead of 6-3-3)Note: Scores were not averaged here, I am just providing averages to show what there consistent scoring potential amounts to)
Gold: Russia (prelims: 273.175, finals: 272.45, avg: 272.8125, +3.6125 from Worlds)
Silver: Germany (prelims: 268.00, finals: 269.575, avg: 268.7875, -4.7375 from Worlds)
Bronze: Romania (prelims: 266.275, finals: 268.95 avg: 267.6125, -0.1375 from Worlds)


So, as you can see from these team totals that USA easily has the potential to medal, even without Paul Hamm. USA (or any other team) would need a Miracle that would leave even Miracle on the Ice in the dust to overtake China. However, a bronze medal, or even a silver, is still a definite possibility for the USA men in Beijing. Japan should be a top contender for a medal, but it is worth noting that while there have likely made upgrades since last year the team is missing Hisashi Mizutori, a two-time World AA medalist. Mizutori suffered a shoulder injury and delivered a disastrous performance at the 2008 Japanese Olympic Trials which kept him off the team entirely. Though a healthy Mizutori is perhaps not as valuable to Japan as a healthy Paul Hamm would to USA, Mizutori contributed five scores in team finals last year, four of them which were solidly over 15. USA ultimately needs to hit well in prelims to get a good draw for the team finals (teams ranked 5th and 6th after prelims end on pommel in team finals, whereas finishing 3rd or 4th would enable USA to finish on floor which would be more ideal). Let us take a look at potential line-ups for team prelims and finals:


FX

Prelims: Hamm, Hagerty, Horton, Spring, Bhavsar
Finals: Hamm, Hagerty, Horton (possibly Spring if he can upgrade his last pass, currently a double twist)

PH

Prelims: Hamm, Bhavsar, Tan, Horton, Hagerty
Finals: Hamm, Bhavsar, Tan

SR

Prelims: Tan, Horton, Bhavsar, Spring, Hagerty
Finals: Tan, Horton, Bhavsar

VT

Prelims: Bhavsar, Hamm, Horton, Spring, Hagerty
Finals: Any of the first four (Hagerty's vault is easier), Spring had the highest average among the members of the team from Nats/Olympic Trials and Hamm's score of 16.4 from Nationals Day one was the highest recorded from a member of this team at those two meets.

PB

Prelims: Spring, Bhavsar, Horton, Hagerty, Tan
Finals: Spring, Bhavsar, Horton

HB

Prelims: Hagerty, Hamm, Spring, Horton, Bhavsar
Finals: Hagerty, Hamm, Spring

Note: The prelims line-up for HB will be a relatively large decision to make, with Raj Bhavsar's AA prospects on the line. The weighted averages (40% Nats, 60% Trials) from Nats/Olympic Trials for Tan and Bhavsar's HB routines were 14.13 and 14.03 respectively, a mere .1 difference between the two. However, Tan's personal best on this event was a 15.05 from day one of Trials, whereas Bhavsar's is only a 14.1. However, Tan is capable of bombing to the fullest degree (12.55 on day 1 nats, 13.85 on day 2 trials) so he won't be touching team finals on that event. USA shouldn't be in danger of missing team finals, though they would want to get into the top four in prelims so that they won't have to end on pommel horse (5th and 6th ranked teams after prelims have to end on pommel horse). And while Raj and Joey Hagerty will not be looking at an AA medal, Raj did finish ahead of Joey on both days of trials in the AA. I would have to say Bhavsar has earned his status as an AAer at the Olympics.


Why Was Raj Bhavsar Picked Over Sasha Artemev?

Though it would at first seem logical to pick are strongest (when he hits) pommel horse worker given that pommels is USA's weakest event and all the more weaker without Paul Hamm, the powers that be for the U.S. men's selection committee decided to go with a different strategy. Looking at the overall picture, Bhavsar could contribute three events in team finals. Artemev on the other hand would only contribute on one event over Bhavsar, that of course being pommel horse. Rings is almost a given for Raj to perform in team finals, with parallel bars and vault being quite definite possibilities as well. Bhavsar outscored Artemev by sizable margins on all three events, and looking at the Nats/Trials weighted averages of Bhavsar vs. Artemev:

PH

Artemev: 14.83
Bhavsar: 14.14

Advantage: Artemev 0.69

SR

Artemev: (Using Spring's average instead because he is stronger here than Artemev): 14.805
Bhavsar: 15.580

Advantage: Bhavsar .775

VT

Artemev: 15.855
Bhavsar: 16.005

Advantage: Bhavsar 0.15

PB

Artemev: 15.220
Bhavsar: 15.440

Advantage: Bhavsar 0.22


Overall

Advantage: Bhavsar .455



Picking Artemev would've ultimately meant that the USA men would've thrown Bhavsar's .8 advantage on rings over Spring in favor of Artemev's pommels, which for a hit set could score roughly 1.3 over Bhavsar. That leaves .5 in Artemev's advantage, but could USA seriously trust him to hit a pommels set that he hit one time out of four during the Olympic selection process in the ultimate pressure cooker of all, Olympic team finals? That would be a HUGE gamble. Artemev is so much better at pommels than Bhavsar that he could fall and score roughly the same as a cleanly hit routine for Bhavsar on that event. However, if Artemev were to fall in team finals than we would lose that .8 on rings, plus around .3 for vault and parallel bars, which totals to a 1.1 loss. Though Bhavsar is unspectacular at best at pommels, his reliable contribution on the other three apparatus, rings especially, is a much safer and smarter way to go when looking at all of the different ways this gap can get filled. While Paul Hamm is a devastating loss for this team, choosing Raj Bhavsar to fill in was indeed an intelligent choice for the U.S. men's team, whose medal aspirations will continue to burn alive when they kick off the competition as the first qualifying subdivision on August 9th, 2008.


He Kexin Age Debate-From Rumor to Media Firestorm


The accusations and rumors of the Chinese falsifying birthdates have produced an intense debate among the gymnastics world wide web ever since He Kexin starting winning world cup meets on uneven bars by skyscraper margins at the beginning of the year. However, it was just last week when the New York Times published an article on the subject matter, saying that Kexin, a favorite for uneven bars gold and Jiang Yuyuan, a top all-around gymnast, are indeed too young to rightfully compete in the 2008 Olympic Games. China, USA's top rival in the women's team final at the Olympics, apparently also had Yang Yun compete as an underage gymnast at the 2000 Olympics, where Yun won bronze with her team and individually on uneven bars. This has attracted the attention of the Karolyis, who commented in the NY Times article and stated that these girls are indeed underage. However, the Karolyis insist that there is nothing that can realistically be done to punish the Chinese or to prevent cases like this from happening in the future.

Falsifying ages of gymnasts is almost as synonymous with women's gymnastics as gymnasts falling off the beam. Cases of this have dated back to the 1980s, when the Soviet Union and Romania, the top two teams of the day, were later found out to have falsified countless gymnasts' birthdates to compete in world and/or Olympic competition. However, one of the most well-known and widely publicized age falsifying cases happened to a North Korean gymnast by the name of Kim Gwang Suk. Competing on the grand stage for the first time at the 1989 Worlds, Kim was competing as a "15" year-old when many believed she was 12 at the very oldest, likely more around 10. Kim's innovative uneven bars set was complete with two skills that would eventually bare her name. (straddled release move with a front flip into the bar, currently an F rated skill and a giant 1.5 to mixed grip, currently rated at a D) Kim's innovative bar set attracted attention at the '89 Worlds, but it would be two years later when she was rewarded with a gold medal and a perfect 10 at the 1991 Worlds for her daring display of athleticism on the bars. However, Kim was met with far more skepticism than congratulation after her Worlds win. Suk came to the 1992 Olympics as one of the favorites for uneven bar gold, all the while claiming to be 17 with missing front teeth and a tiny 4'4'' frame suggesting her age was anything but. Bela Karolyi thought Kim was underage, commenting famously "Her milk teeth are falling out, which is a good indication she's not even 11." The judges weren't convinced either, shutting Kim out of the medals when many believed her bars performance in event finals was worthy of at least a bronze.

Eventually, the North Korean team was banned from the 1993 Worlds, but Kim was allowed to keep her '91 World bars gold and all of the other medals she won. Now, in such a case where age falsification was proven, North Korea broke the rules and were caught. However, allowing Kim to keep all of her medals while technically an underage gymnast speaks volumes to the fact that while this age requirement is perhaps a good idea, it will ultimately never be followed by those with any chance to act otherwise (i.e. the Communist countries), because the consequences are meager at best. If the rule cannot be enforced, why is there such a rule in the first place? Several gymnasts admit afterwards (Goegan, Marinescu, and now Yang Yun being recent examples) that they were indeed underage to compete at the Olympics, in addition to other international meets such as the World Championships. Is there anything that can be done? You are doubtful to ever find either the FIG or IOC doing a damn thing in these kinds of scenarios, and things are unlikely to be any different this summer and beyond. The most we can realistically hope for is if the Chinese gymnasts' scores are lower than deserved.

The Olympic Games is where the best athletes from around the globe come together to compete for the glory of victory, and the pride of one's own sport and country. He Kexin is said by many to be the best bar worker in the world. So if she's the best, bloody let her compete without any of this age restriction nonsense. I can understand the FIG's worry for young athletes to compete in major events before they are mentally ready, but several cases have proven that young gymnasts can compete at an exceptionally high level and perform well to boot. Nadia Comaneci won the European AA title at the age of 13 and when on to score her seven perfect 10's at 14 at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. And of course we have the current case of United States figure skaters Mirai Nagasu, Rachael Flatt, and Caroline Zhang not being eligible to compete for the senior world championships when they are clearly USA's top 3 skaters at the moment, not the 3 ladies (Kimmie Meissner, Ashley Wagner, Bebe Liang) who we had to send to senior Worlds. Does that make sense? I think not. Nor does allowing the best bar worker in the world, who has hit EVERY bar set this year (including one in front of the Chinese president), be scrutinized for being too young when China will realize she is an asset to the team regardless of her age.

If China is willing to risk putting Kexin and Jiang Yuyaun (who was no slouch herself at last year's Worlds and has only gotten better at meets since then) on its Olympic team when there is a possibility of getting caught with "cheating," then these gymnasts have to be mentally and physically ready for the Games and have to be proven assets to the team. Those qualities are a requirement for any athlete wanting to compete in Beijing, and if the Chinese are gowing to all the trouble of falsifying birth dates to get these girls on the Olympic team, then that alone proves that their ability is most definitely worthy of competing at the Olympics. It should be up to those in charge to decide whether a gymnast is mentally and physically ready for the biggest competition of their life, not an age rule that is going to be broken anyway.

Ultimately, we are all different and the same is true for the athletes. One gymnast can peak at a very early age (which could prove to be the case of Kexin) and some athletes, Alicia Sacramone being an example, will end up peaking at a later stage of their career. And of course we have the inspirational Oksana Chusovitina looking better than ever at 33 and about to compete at her 5th Olympic Games. But to deny athletes who are early bloomers of competing at the biggest meet of their life is unfair in my opinion. I in no way support China's cheating, or anyone's cheating for that matter. However, I will be the first to say that He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are exceptional gymnasts that deserve to compete in the Olympic Games. They have the skills, polish, and they have proven that they are good competitors as well. In the case of another young Chinese gymnast who didn't make the team, Sui Lu, it was clearly too much too soon for her. However, the case differs per athlete, and some will reach their peak at a young age and some when they are older. So my final words are these: FIG, why keep a rule you cannot impose anyway, and why require several top gymnasts' dreams to be put in hold (or require cheating) when the Olympics is about the best in the world coming together to battle for the gold? I believe whole-heartedly that He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are too young, and I believe China is indeed cheating by letting them compete. But could you imagine an uneven bar final without He Kexin, an all-around final without Jiang Yuyuan, or a team final without either athlete playing major contributions to China's quest for gold? I certainly couldn't.


Tribute to Paul Hamm

Paul Hamm's relatively shocking announcement to take himself off the Olympic team could indeed be the end of this gymnast who did wonders for USA's success and kept viewers captivated over stunning gymnastics and stunning comebacks alike. The U.S. women's team was always the team that won the medals, got all of the attention, and attracted viewers to the sport of artistic gymnastics. The men's team never had such luck. After a team gold medal at the boycotted 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the U.S. men finished a dismal 11th in 1988. A 6th place would follow in 1992, and 5th have to do in 1996 and 2000. Through the years of John Roethlisberger and Blaine Wilson, the U.S. men could still never find their potential. Then all of a sudden came Paul Hamm, a cool head under pressure who had the entire package of difficulty and execution. Despite inconsistency at the 2000 Olympic Games and a missed shot at a world AA medal at the 2001 Worlds which resulted in a bloody nose as opposed to an intended podium finish, Paul staked his claim to the top at the 2003 World Championships, winning the AA over nemesis Yang Wei of China. Paul also helped the team win a silver medal, and was looking for even greater glory one year later in Athens.

August 18th, 2004. The USA men had won silver, a glorious result in comparison with past finishes. But the AA final was scheduled to be Paul Hamm's tonight. The scoreboard after three rotations read Paul Hamm's name at the top, with top rival Yang Wei not too far behind. Staring down the vaulting runway, Paul had done this vault several times in competition before and it wasn't of anyone's concern that he would perform it any differently. As he sprinted forward, disaster loomed. Suddenly, Paul found himself not standing on the blue mat in between the white lines, but sitting down inches away from the judges. The fall meant no gold, a medal of any color seemed out of the question. However, mistakes clawed their way into other gymnasts' routines, and all of a sudden Yang Wei was off the high bar. A door had been opened. With two events remaining, Paul nailed his parallel bar set like there was no tomorrow. Needing a 9.825 to get AA gold, Paul delivered a performance for the ages, and ended up as with the gold meal that a short 30 minutes earlier most would've considered improbable for Hamm to get, having to climb 11 spots after his disaster on the vault. But it was Paul Hamm who conquered the most impossible of tasks and ultimately got the job done.

On that night, I knew hardly anything about gymnastics, but I jumped up and down with excitement when I saw Paul Hamm's name plastered in the first place column on the scoreboard. But a short two days later, an incredible comeback would be marred by an incredible scandal. When all was said and done, Paul Hamm would remain the champion, but was now perceived by almost everyone in a different manner. Not an athlete who had one of the greatest Olympic comebacks in history, but an athlete who had slipped by a scoring error to win a gold that didn't belong to him. Three years later, Paul Hamm began a stunning comeback. Victories at the Winter Cup, American Cup, and the Pacific Rim suddenly made everyone realize that the Paul Hamm vs. Yang Wei rivalry would get one final chance on the sport's biggest stage after all.

Paul was in the best form of his life by the time Nationals came by, and a broken hand suffered in the last seconds of his parallel bars routine would prove to be the undoing of finally proving to be the world's best gymnast in Beijing, this time without debate or scandal. Paul Hamm withdrew his position from the team when realizing his contribution could not be utilized because of an ill-timed injury, a decision painting a picture far away from what many have said about Paul's supposedly arrogant demeanor. While Paul Hamm's Olympic aspirations have been fulfilled twice and his bid for a third Games will have to come to a close, at least for now. This paves the way for Raj Bhavsar to finally achieve his dream to become an Olympian after all of the turmoil of being an alternate in 2004 when many considered him worthy of making the team. And for me, that is bittersweet. Paul Hamm put the USA men back on the map for medals, and Hamm himself has certainly inspired more than a few people when it comes to coming back when all appears to be over. With Hamm, one should always expect the unexpected, and if he comes back to go for London 2012 as good as ever I honestly wouldn't be surprised. Who knew Wisconsin cheese created champions. Kidding, of course. But Paul Hamm has always amazed me, whether it was coming back after a fall on the vault to win the Olympic AA crown or looking in the best shape of his career after a 2 1/2 year break from gymnastics. And I seriously doubt that is the last we will be seeing of him, even if he is nowhere to be found in a gym.


That is all.











7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree about the age requirement. It's a stupid rule that only ends up hurting the western countries who aren't able to falsify documents. Would the U.S. women have ended up higher on the podium with Nastia in 2004? I haven't looked at the numbers, but it's a shame for a girl to be passed over in favor of a less desirable candidate because she was born a few months too late.

It is also a shame that the international gymnastics community allows for such lax enforcement of the rule. It is giving an unfair advantage to other countries (like China, North Korea, USSR, Romania), and cheating young western gymnasts with the abilities out of an opportunity to try for the Olympics.

TCO said...

Nice writeup. I think in fairness (to best gymnasts, as well as lack of enforceability) that they should have no age limit.

It's too bad, but there are some physical reasons that girls have advantages over women. yes, not always...but look at the clear difference with men and women. Men more than double their strength from 12 to 20. Women get boobs.

So while I'd rather see women dominate WAG rather than girls (GAG?), for reasons of aesthetic and social and safety...I just think we need to admit biology and let the 12 year olds and 20 year olds fight it out. And there are going to be some 12 year olds that win. At least at times.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. Paul and Morgan both are fantastic representation of our country. True sportsmanship and tenacity. I'm most disappointed that Morgan is unable to compete all around to defend for his brother However, I know Paul & Raj are friends and Paul can live vicariously through seeing his friend's dream come true.

In terms of the women's age requirement, I like it. Personally, I like seeing the maturity of the sport. I compare it to going to see a youth ballet recital versus going to a professional ballet. Yes, many of the youth could end up being professional but the immaturity shines through and it is almost annoying to watch at times (see Dominique Moceanu's "Devil Went Down to Georgia" routine). Versus the maturity of just a few years and the beauty of a routine by the likes of a true professional like Shannon Miller (her 1996 "Two Guitars" routine). I don't care who scored better, which was better to watch?!

Anonymous said...

Personally, I am not convinced that He Kexin, or any other young Chinese gymnast, is truly the best in the world. I am more than certain there are outstanding junior gymnasts in other nations who are capable of challenging these Chinese girls. If all juniors were allowed to compete (i.e. no age rule) then the competition would be a fair and accurate determination of who was truly the best in the world. But most of the world's junior gymnasts will not be at the Olympics when they deserve to be there as much as the Chinese do. In my mind, any titles the Chinese may "earn" will mean nothing because of this.

Ron said...

This was an excellent post. Your number-crunching and calculations about the men's team were impressive. We agree with your tribute to Paul Hamm as well.

In fact, we invite you to write a guest blog for StickItMedia, our men's gymnastics site. We like the way you write.

Email us!

Anonymous said...

The Olympics are supposed to see the best athletes in the world compete against each other. Imposing age limits is unfair - especially on those who are only just too young for one olympics, get a single chance at 19, and are past their peak at 23 vs another gymnast born a month earlier who competes as 16 and 20 years old. This is also a problem in Olympic soccer, albeit they only allow 3 players over 23 per team I believe - ageist at the other end. Just stupid. Medical grounds aside (eg weightlifting, where bodies can't handle it before bones and joints firm up), let the best compete!

Anonymous said...

I think the cheating on age and the detention of petitioners speaks volumes about the CPC's gangster mentality.