Wednesday, August 6, 2008

USA Women Podium Training Commentary

Here is my commentary of podium training session #2 that will feature team USA. Chellsie has been confirmed that she won't be doing any events besides uneven bars. The girls were wearing dreadful pink leos that Nastia Liukin is shown wearing above. Italy, Great Britain, and Japan are the other nations performing in this podium training session alongside the U.S. girls.


Warm-ups: Everyone looked pretty good in warm-up, good double-double from Shawn and nice double arabian from Sam P. Nastia is looking solid on all of her tumbling passes shown thus far.

Sam P: Replaced her opening double-double with a piked full in which is a .2 downgrade, she also opened up with a piked full-in at last year's Worlds and at the Italy Grand Prix meet, very odd that she never does it in international competition. Nice 2.5+front layout full and triple turn. Very uncharacteristic fall on her double arabian, she looks like she might be injured. Layout 1.5 twist and double pike were kept as separate passes, like she did at trials. The routine she did here would only come out to a 6.2 with everything credited. Martha was not happy with this routine.

Bridget: Very nice 1.5 twist through to triple full. Two steps out of her piked full in, didn't go OOB however. Excellent front double twist, legs ever so slightly crossed in the air. Good triple turn. Tiny hop on her finishing double pike but this was an excellent routine, could legitimately compete here during team finals.

Alicia: Interesting that they are putting her before Nastia. Downgraded leg-up double turn to a regular double turn, she usually got that skill around so this is an odd decision. Nice full-in, step backward on landing. Split jump 1.5 that shock horror, actually makes it around! Double arabian, step OOB. 2.5 twist+front layout, looked like she landed OOB. OOB again on her double pike, a set like that in prelims would definitely keep her out of event finals, especially considering that she has no upgrades (where did that triple twist go?) to show for.

Nastia: Small step back on her layout front full+layout front double full combo pass. Good double front, cowboyed as usual. Foot touched the line on 1.5 twist+Rudi but that wouldn't be considered OOB. Leg-up double turn looked a little short. Step forward on her 2.5 twist pass, overall a very nice routine and much improved now that her ankle isn't giving her issues.

Shawn: Nice double-double but looked like she might've been OOB. Whip+triple full, looked all the way around! Replaced double turn with leg-up full turn. Front full+Rudi, short of rotation and low landing. Vanessa Ferrari just did a nice double pike off BB. Full-in, definitely OOB. Good routine, not her best though. However, rotating the whip+triple full is a lot more important than her Rudi. With the whip+triple downgrade she would lose .2 CV (no CV awarded to A+D combos, only A+E) and .1 for the skill being downgraded to a 2.5 twist. However, a Rudi being downgraded would lose nothing for CV (CV is still awarded, even for repeated skills) and would count the double turn, a B, instead of the Rudi. That would only be a .1 difference in A-score, whereas underotating her triple full would be a .3 difference.
Shawn did another attempt of her front full+rudi afterward and it was much improved. However, she tried it a third time and fell, she looks frustrated but Chow is still calm and smiling. Did it one more time and landed it without error.


Liukin: Really nice Yurchenko 1.5, tiny hop on landing.

Sloan: DTY, bent legs but a very nice landing, Martha liked it. She is looking very sharp and confident thus far.

Peszek: Superior form than Sloan, however looked a tad underotated but I think they would still credit her with a DTY. Big step backward but stayed inside the lines, overall a decent vault and Martha liked it.

Johnson: Took a big step on her Amanar but the 2.5 twists looked complete. I think she is very aware of her possible downgrades on some skills, especially considering that after she underotated her Rudi she practiced that skill three more times before the U.S. moved to vault.

Sacramone: Very solid Rudi, little piked down and close to the table but a very clean vault.

2nd Round of Vaults

Liukin: Nice yurchenko 1.5, small step but her vaulting is looking very secure and confident.

Peszek: DTY, better height and rotation, small step on the landing. Definitely an improved vault from her 1st attempt.

Sloan: Took a step forward but a good vault, her landings are cleaner than Sam P. here so I would pick her to lead-off in team finals on this event.

Johnson: Took two steps on the landing of her Amanar, Martha exclaimed "that's the one" but this vault looked underotated.

Sacramone: Even better handspring Rudi, just a slight hop back. Superb DTY for the second vault, but where is the Amanar? With Hong Su Jong out it's possible that Sacramone has bowed out of doing that vault for event finals to prevent further injury and to stick with the two vaults she has done for years to medal.


Peszek: NBC only showed her dismount, a full-twisting double layout with a small step.

Sloan: Handstands were a little short on stalder-full and in-bar stalder, awkward step forward on full-twisting double layout dismount.

Johnson: Gienger was very closely caught and Valeri Liukin had to touch her when re-grasping the bar. Missed bail to handstand and had to stop routine, I've never seen her make that error before. Good toe-on full, however, and some of her handstands were better.

Memmel: Jam to handstand was very short and had a couple form breaks, otherwise a good routine but not her best. Double front looked fine, Valeri touched her on the landing but she stuck it.

Liukin: Did routine up to pak salto, everything looked great except for a late handstand on her Ono 1.5 pirouette.

2nd Round of Bar Routines

Peszek: Caught jaeger a little close to the bar, giant full was short of handstand and layout full-in dismount had a step on the landing. A good routine but is unlikely to be doing this event in team finals.

Sloan: Two steps forward on the landing and slightly short on her in-bar stalder but everything else looked great, definitely an improvement from her first bar routine.

Johnson: Sizable step on her laidout double-double but a very nice routine from her

Memmel: Only showed 2nd half of routine, much improved jam to handstand and nearly stuck a double front. By the looks of her double front her ankle appears to be doing fine. I wonder if in the event where USA would have a bad beam rotation in prelims whether Martha would want her to tough it out and compete that event in team finals, she looks to be capable even though she has said she will only do bars for the competition.

Liukin: Very nice routine, had a little push from Valeri on her dismount and took a step back on it, but landed with her chest upright which is an improvement. Ono 1.5 pirouette was again late, but a very nice set indeed.

Afterwards: Bridget Sloan later did the last section of her bar routine and nearly stuck her layout full-in dismount. Shawn Johnson had a small step afterwards on her laidout double-double dismount. Excellent jam to handstand to double front dismount with a stuck landing from Chellsie Memmel. Liukin's double front 1/2 dismount had the tiniest of hops on the landing. Martha is very happy with the bars rotation. Later on we saw a double tuck dismount off beam by Imogen Cairns, which was stuck.


Peszek: Very nice set, a small step forward on her double pike and a little wobble at the end of her acro series. Her issues on floor were very uncharacteristic but Sam was solid everywhere else.

Sloan: Fall on her back handspring-layout acro series, first big mistake she has made in this training session. Otherwise solid, but missed the connection on her switch leap+back tuck.

Sacramone: One of the best beam sets I have seen from her; connected both her front pike+back tuck combo on the mount and her front pike+layout step out. Looks ready to be the beam lead-off girl in team finals.

Liukin: Excellent set apart from a very unusual wobble on her side somi, which likely would've been a .3 deduction had it been done in competition. Stuck dismount and front somi to scale looked like it was held long enough to recieve full credit.

Johnson: Full turn didn't make it all the way around, and low chest and a slight foot adjustment on the landing of her standing full twist. Everything else was spot on, complete with a stuck full-in dismount!

Second Round of BB Routines

Peszek: Fall backwards on double pike dismount, small wobble on sheep jump but everything else was solid.

Sloan: Nice set! Stuck cold double pike and hit her back handspring+layout step-out series from earlier perfectly. Had wobbles on the front aerial+side aerial combo (front aerial in particular) and wavered ever so slightly on her front aerial to scale. Big improvement from her first set and very strong work overall during podium training.

Sacramone: NBC didn't show mount but rest of the routine was very solid minus a slight wobble after her leg-up full turn and a hop on her double pike dismount.

Liukin: Slight hop on dismount, legs still a little crossed in the air. Had a wobble on her side somi, that element never gives her issues. Front somi scale didn't look like it was held long enough, but still a great set from Nastia. By far the most consistent gymnast out on the floor for USA in the podium training.

Johnson: Very low chest on standing full, was off on her layout step out+back pike series yet saved it very well. I think they would've given her the credit for the leg-up full turn in this set, she held it pretty well. Little step on full-in, very nice routine but first set was superior.

Thoughts on Each of the Girls

Shawn Johnson: Not her usual self in this podium training session, that's for sure. However, she didn't look that bad and for all of you out there going OMG the world is over because Shawn blew podium training, I beg to differ. Shawn has never had issues on bars with the skills she had yesterday, and she can do the front full+Rudi very well even though it was inconsistent. Her Amanar rotation and whip+triple full rotation has improved, and remember with the whip+triple she would lose .2 more than what she would lose with a downgraded Rudi. Beam was excellent as always and her second bars routine was very good as well, and I think right now she is just getting adjusted to the equipment and the atmosphere. If her Olympics turns into a Zmeskal Olympics I would be sorely disappointed.

Nastia Liukin: Looked very confident on each piece of apparatus, just some minor issues here and there but strong nonetheless. Vault and floor, the two power events that Liukin regressed considerably on during her ankle injury are looking the strongest they have in a long time. Uneven bars was excellent as well and showed an improved dismount on top of that, and her balance beam was Pacific Rim TF worthy minus those uncharacteristic wobbles on her side somi.

Alicia Sacramone: She looks pretty tired if you ask me, but at least she has stepped it up on beam now that Memmel is not doing that apparatus. However, floor? We were supposed to be getting a triple twist upgrade, which she apparently did at the selection camp, and now she has stuck with her old routine. With the way she performed on that event today, I can honestly say there is no need for her in team finals on this event with Johnson, Liukin, and Sloan outperforming her. Of course, Sacramone is still capable of much better and barring something unusual should still do that event in team finals given her experience. However, I would say FX finals are out of reach unless if she can magically hit all of her landings to her capability come prelims. Though one mustn't forget that Sacramone had the highest execution mark on floor in the qualifying at last year's Worlds even with a big step on her last pass that went OOB, so it is the B-score where she really has the potential to capitalize on.

Chellsie Memmel: While Memmel is not doing that 7.2 UB set she said she had in the works, her bars looked event final worthy and her ankle looked perfectly fine on her double front dismount. However, Martha K. and Co. know how valuable Chellsie's bars there and while Memmel could probably tough it out and do beam, they can trust Sacramone for that apparatus and let Memmel just focus on bars and not risk further injury. It is such a shame she won't be doing the all-around because she really deserved to do it, she was peaking at the right time and was being extremely intelligent with the pacing of her comeback. However, she appears to be doing fine and will look to not only do bars to her full potential, but will also be lending off her immense experience to some of her younger teammates.

Samantha Peszek: Peszek could really be a further asset to the team if she could hit her floor exercise to her potential, but now that she has downgraded on that event yet again I don't think we will see her in team finals there. There have been several instances where Sam has looked disastrous in podium training but delivers excellent competition routines, so hopefully her FX, and her BB dismount on her 2nd routine, were merely additional cases of that. Her vault looked pretty strong, however, and while she is unlikely to be doing bars or beam in team finals she is a decent back-up option on both of those events if another emergency is to arise. She will be doing AA in prelims, and while she did look solid on three events she really needs to step it up on floor to make a further contribution to the team. With Chellsie's injury, Samantha is confirmed to do AA in prelims.

Bridget Sloan: Sloan's fall of beam in the last rotation was unfortunate because she looked more than on her game throughout the entire training. Her second bars routine was TF worthy in my opinion, as was her floor exercise. Vault is still a question mark because of her bent legs, however her landings were consistently solid so she may indeed be picked over Peszek to be the lead-off girl in team finals. Had a good second BB routine but Sloan has the lowest scoring potential of all the USA girls on that apparatus. Chellsie's injury meant that holes were needed to be filled on the power events, and I am glad to see that Bridget has stepped it up and looks like she will be making a very necessary contribution to the team.

Overall: Some inconsistencies here and there and that is of course expected for a podium training session. Chellsie's injury won't impact the team too badly, provided that Alicia maintains the solidity of her beam work and all of the girls score to their potential on floor. Liukin, Memmel, and Sloan looked solid and ready to go. Peszek had issues on floor which need to be fixed if she looks to compete in team finals there, and will obviously look to keep improving her DTY vault. Alicia has work to do on floor, especially when it comes to staying in bounds and controlling landings. With a lower start value on that event she has absolutely no room for error if she wants to get into FX finals and medal there. Johnson looks rough around the edges, but did show all of her skills and will hopefully bring her A-game when the competition begins on August 10th, 2008. Team USA will certainly need everyone to bring their A-game if they want to hold off China for team gold, and that concept will hold true for every player.

That is all.

Women's Podium Training Session-China and Romania

Whether it is to add a perspective and knowledge on things or to provide commentary if NBCOlympics doesn't work for you, I will be doing my own "quick hits" tonight on my blog for the podium training session#1, featuring medal contending teams China and Romania.

9:59 EST Gymnasts are marching out.

10:02 China is warming-up on beam, Romania on vault. The event order of the podium training session will be the same as the actual team prelims.

10:06 Yang Yilin had a fall on her front aerial+side aerial combo, hit that combo perfectly while Chinese were warming up. Otherwise a good set.

10:09 Deng Linlin, excellent beam set aside from a low dismount landing on her double pike.

10:11 Li Shanshan had an exceptional beam set, though did have a low chest and one step on her double pike. No Y-scale turn.

10:15 Cheng Fei went before Deng Linlin and had a very solid set as well, awkward landing on her 2.5 dismount, however. Jiang Yuyuan fell on her back tuck+sheep jump (fall looked savable) and was off alignment on her Ruflova. Odd how Yuyuan went last on this event, her weakest. Yilin just hit her front aerial+side aerial perfectly.

10:19 Nistor was very distraught after doing her vault (which NBC didn't show). Bela Karolyi is in the stands, talking to the media. China is done with beam.

10:22 First rotation is concluded.

10:24 Romania is moving to bars, China to floor. Not surprisingly, He Kexin is not doing floor and didn't do beam.

10:33 Deng Linlin was listed as "He Kexin." LOL Took a step on double arabian, underotated triple turn, and also underotated her 2.5 twist at the end of her combo pass.

10:37 Yang Yilin, could've gone OOB on her first pass (view was obstructed but it looked like she went out), triple twist was possibly short of rotation and had low landings on her combination pass and finishing double pike. This definitely was not her best routine here.

10:40 Jiang Yuyuan, very good tumbling and expression. Had a low double pike and an underotated triple turn but otherwise flawless.

10:42 Cheng Fei, has switched her routine around and put piked full-in for her second pass, whip+triple for her 3rd, and 2.5 twist to dismount. If I am not mistaken I believe that puts her routine at a 6.6 A-score, the same as Shawn Johnson. Really excellent set, chest was low on her double-double (as it normally is) and whip+triple full was a tad off but Cheng looks like she is in fine shape for these Olympic Games.

10:44 China put Li Shanshan last on floor, don't know why they're putting their weak links last in the lineup and whether they will do that come time preliminaries. Rotation 2 has concluded.

10:49 DTY from Deng Linlin with one step, did another one later that was almost identical. As expected, Shanshan is sitting this event out.

10:55 Showed parts of Nistor and Izbasa's beam routines and they looked good, minus a very dropped back (even more so than I remembered it being) on Nistor's "Nistor." Two good Amanars from Cheng Fei, remember she hasn't even tried the Amanar all year long. Yuyuan did another Amanar, but with a big step to the side and was possibly a smidget underotated.

11:02 Cheng Fei just landed on her knees on her Cheng vault attempt, first major mistake from her during this entire podium training session.

11:04 Cheng Fei did her Cheng again, much improved. Had one hop and piked down the last half twist of the vault, and a low chest on landing. Very solid vault though, definitely still the prime favorite for vault gold.

11:05 Gymnasts marching to final piece of apparatus, which for China is uneven bars.

11:09 Deng Linlin crashed her piked jaegar, and had several missed handstands. Great laidout full-twisting double back dismount.

11:12 He Kexin did some skills include her jaegar1/2+jaegar combo, and her 1.5 pirouette into her tucked full-in dismount. Step on the landing but looked excellent as always.

11:15 Full set from Deng Linlin, very low dismount. Hit the jaegar she missed earlier but broke form. Had several missed handstands. In the event that China would have to use Linlin to do UB in TF a door would come flinging open for the United States.

11:17 Yuyuan crashed her jaegar, otherwise a good set. Falls on beam and bars for Yuyuan in this podium training session are a bit unusual for this generally consistent gymnast.

11:20 Yang Yilin had a low landing on her dismount and failed to go over the bar one of her pirouettes, Yang too has looked a tad off her game the entire night.

11:23 Excellent set from He Kexin, small hop on landing and had a loss of swing on her shoot transition to the high bar.

11:24 Yuyuan made her jaegar afterwards without issue, but went over on a stalder1/2 on the low bar and had to let go of the bar and do it again. Yuyuan also had a step forward on her double layout dismount.

11:25 Saw Izbasa and the last two tumbling lines of her routine (1.5 twist+rudi and triple twist). Looked a tad sluggish, and triple twist was underotated and had some crossed legs as well.

11:30 He Kexin went back and did another bar routine. Did an even better routine complete with a stuck dismount. Almost overarched a low bar handstand, however, but this girl is so bloody consistent it will be a tall order for anyone to beat her in uneven bar finals.

11:33 This now concludes the women's podium training session for subdivision one. Most of the footage was on China, and here are my comments on each member of the team.

Cheng Fei: She is peaking at the right time, enough said. Excellent on her three apparatus; she is going to be tough to beat for floor and vault finals. Did indeed go for the 6.6 A-score on FX, and with Johnson playing with fire on some of her skills (whip+triple twist in particular) and Izbasa looking a bit shaky, Cheng could indeed be the one to beat on that apparatus. A fall on her first Cheng vault is a tad alarming, but she did her second one just fine so I don't think it is much of a cause for concern. Balance beam looked very solid as well and has wisely stuck with her 2.5 dismount.

Yang Yilin: Did not see her DTY, but looked hot and cold throughout the training. Had a fall on beam, several landing issues on floor and had a couple problems on uneven bars as well, especially with not making it over the bar on that one pirouette that I mentioned previously. Is probably just working out the kinks with a lot of these elements, as she is generally a very solid competitor under pressure.

Jiang Yuyuan: FX looked great, but was shaky elsewhere. Her Amanar vault may have been a tad short of rotation, and she did step sideways and over the line as well. Uneven bars she had two major errors on, her jaegar being one and her stalder1/2 on the low bar (which she did in a separate routine) being the other. Balance beam looked very confident and then all of a sudden was off the beam on her back tuck+sheep jump. Some very uncharacteristic errors in this session from Yuyuan, but like Fei and Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan generally does best under pressure.

He Kexin: Will not be doing BB and FX, which we knew all along. Did not see her DTY but UB looked fabulous as always.

Li Shanshan: Interesting how China put their weak link last on every apparatus, and for Shanshan that was bars and floor. Looked OK, not great, on those apparatus. Her balance beam, on the other hand, was stunning. Truly a master of that event, however her sheep jump form could've been better and the same can be said for her dismount landing. With that said, the rest of that routine was spot on and I think if she were to repeat that podium training session BB set she would have BB gold pretty much locked up.

Deng Linlin: China's decision to take Linlin primarily for beam looks to be paying off, Deng had a great routine with few wobbles in sight. Also hit two nice DTY's, and while her floor was decent I believe China will shy away from wanting to use her there in team finals, and the same can definitely be said for bars. Had some issues with uneven bars as I mentioned previously, but otherwise performed well.

Overall: Obviously China has no plans to peak in this prelims session, however what is interesting with China is that they are not dealing with any of the jet lag and time-change issues that the other teams have so what we saw tonight should be a good indication of what we're going to see in prelims. The team looked very solid, however Yilin and Yuyuan in particular had some issues here and there. I didn't notice any upgrades with the exception of Cheng Fei's floor routine. China is pretty set with all of their team final lineups in terms of being competitive with the USA and all of the other teams. While I would say this team will be tough to beat, I wouldn't say they are unbeatable.

That is all.

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:


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


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


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


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.


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


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:


Artemev: 14.83
Bhavsar: 14.14

Advantage: Artemev 0.69


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

Advantage: Bhavsar .775


Artemev: 15.855
Bhavsar: 16.005

Advantage: Bhavsar 0.15


Artemev: 15.220
Bhavsar: 15.440

Advantage: Bhavsar 0.22


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.