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Stretching Out
Stretching Out

Written by Dwight Normile    Tuesday, 19 January 2010 11:19    PDF Print
The Show You Love to Hate & Vice Versa
(21 votes, average 3.76 out of 5)

Like many old weekly soaps, such as Dynasty and Dallas, Make It Or Break It has succeeded in generating interest via unbelievable story lines and unscrupulous characters.

I wrote an unflattering review of Make It Or Break It before it came out last fall, and then watched about half of the episodes before giving up. I expected all the gymnastics cliches, which came in abundance. But I suppose the infamous gas-station scene — where Kaylie and friends did cartwheel flip-flops to ward off their would-be assailants — told me I should have been doing something more important, like disinfecting the kitchen trash can or expressing the anal glands of our Basset hound (don't ask).

Even though I fully understand I am not among the target audience for this show, I decided to tune in again last night, just to see what I had missed and why people love to hate it — and hate to love it. Afterward, my only regret was that I'll never get that hour back again.

Here are 10 observations from MIOBI:

1. Including actual gymnastics in a show supposedly set in a gymnastics club has become too much of a hassle for the producers. Last night's gymnastics scenes totaled about 20 seconds. Apparently, the interior of the Rock is about as boring as, well, the inside of any gym. And the daily grind of workouts is even drier. Instead, why not jet (privately!) to L.A. for a party or two? And Payson can get another doctor's opinion while there. Now that's creative, if not convenient, script writing. Is it just me, or does the plot have a "Make It Up As We Go Along or Break It" feel?

2. The sequence of Emily tucking after a pirouette and then slinging a double flyaway was certainly interesting, considering the stunt double was obviously about to jump off. It reminded me of American Anthem, when Mitch Gaylord's high bar dismount at the big meet somehow hovered over the ground forever as the camera panned the emotions of every other cast member. He probably did a quintuple-twisting octuple by the time they showed him land.

3. Lauren is the best tumbler on the team; she flip-flopped on BFF Kaylie last night, just like she does with every other character, for that matter. But you already knew that.

4. Payson looked really confident strolling the red carpet, despite the back brace. Maybe it was the experience she gained earlier in the season when her team put on its own fashion show.

5. The line "Goodnight, Butterfly" made my two teenaged kids laugh and roll their eyes.

6. Emily and her boyfriend seem to speak in text.

7. It was odd to see a promo for Secret Life of an American Teenager, plugging an appearance by Shawn Johnson. (BTW, happy 18th, Shawn.) My daughter said, "Shouldn't she be on MIOBI?"

8. I wonder if, say, Bridget Sloan, works part-time at a pizza joint. "Marta, is it OK if I miss the first two days of training camp? I couldn't get anyone to cover my shifts — not even my mother."

9. The music is the best part of this show.

10. The music is the best part of this show. (Sorry, but out of complete indifference, I could only come up with nine observations.)

Feel free to add a 10th to the list.

Written by Dwight Normile    Wednesday, 30 December 2009 10:08    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Codes, Comebacks and Cinderella
(39 votes, average 3.38 out of 5)

As the calendar flips to 2010, we reflect on the past 12 months of the unpredictable world of gymnastics. Here's hoping the new year will provide even more excitement.

Code of Points: The Women's Technical Committee boldly lowered the required skills from 10 to eight, while the Men's Technical Committee did not. The result? Across four events, a woman must do 24 skills and one vault, while across six events, a man must do 50 skills and one vault. Whatever happened to gender equity? Of course, as I've stated numerous times, I commend the WTC's decision. That said, I must say the women have gotten a bit severe in their execution deductions. I've always trumpeted that perfect execution should take precedence over risky difficulty, but I just can't see where some of the deductions are coming from now.

Most Popular Combination: The most common high bar combo might well be a Takemoto-Yamawaki (layout Voronin), even if the latter often morphs into whatever the gymnast must do to clear the bar and regrasp. The most common for women? Hmmm. Anything to a flip-flop-layout on beam.

My New Rule: I offer the following proposal to the FIG. To reverse the trend toward marathon routines, reward those that satisfy the requirements with the fewest number of skills. Makes perfect sense to me. So in the apparatus finals, for example, a tie would be broken by the number of skills. Fewest wins. Under this rule, Beth Tweddle would be even harder to beat.

The American Cup Jinx: After winning the 2009 American Cup in Chicago last February, Fabian Hambüchen and Jordyn Wieber sort of fizzled. Hambüchen still competed for much of the year, winning the Europeans and the first two legs of the Champions Trophy, but he had to withdraw from the biggest meet of 2009: the World Championships. Late in 2009 he gamely competed in the Champions Trophy final, at less than 100%, and finished second. Wieber's chronic hamstring was aggravated early last summer at a national team training camp, which knocked her out of the U.S. championships in August.

2009 Nadia Comaneci International Invitational: The inaugural competition named after the 1976 Olympic champion scored a 10.0 for the field it drew to Oklahoma City: Clubs from Romania, Russia, Ukraine, Mexico, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan and the United States. 2008 Olympic floor champion Sandra Izbasa won the all-around, but later in the year tore her Achilles' tendon while preparing for worlds. Here's hoping we see Izbasa back in 2010.

Russia Returns—Briefly: The two Ksenias, Semyonova and Afanasyeva, went 1-2 at the Europeans in Milan in April, but were practically invisible at the worlds in October. Granted, the latter left London prior to the meet because of injury, but Semyonova, fourth all-around at the Olympics and the 2007 world champ on bars, had the worst results of the Russian women in London. For the record, Semyonova won the Europeans with 58.175, which would have been golden in London.

Swiss Peaks: Ariella Käslin continued her ascent in the Swiss record books after making the Olympic vault final. She won the event at the Europeans and placed second at worlds. Of course, much of her success comes from her ability to vault a handspring-rudi, which carries an unusually huge value in the women's Code (6.3). I predict that we'll begin to see more women attempt this vault in 2010.

Obituaries: The gymnastics world lost several notable individuals in 2009. Japanese great Yukio Endo, IG founder Glenn Sundby, 2009 world bronze medalist Yuri Ryazanov. Others included Pierre Chabloz, Irina Gabashvili, Claus Haller, Tom Cook and Levi Torkelson.

Comebacks: While the gymnastics world awaits the possible comebacks of 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin and all-around runner-up Shawn Johnson, who are holding firm on their decision to keep that option open, Alicia Sacramone announced her intention to return to competition in 2010. Of course, comeback promises are much easier to make than keep, especially when those old aches and pains start to return.

More Comebacks: Comebacks are not only for gymnasts. Former FIG photographer and long-time IG contributor Eileen Langsley began shooting a few meets in 2009, and Dave Black, former photographer for USA Gymnastics and IG, joined the IG tour to the London World Championships. Apparently, shooting gymnastics is just like riding a bike, judging by their beautiful photos in recent IGs.

Biggest Cinderella Story: Kayla Williams, for sure. A Level 10 champion in the spring, Williams became the first American vault world champion in the fall. Regardless of what the rest of her career holds, she will always be a world champion.

U.S. Women: The world all-around gold by Bridget Sloan in 2009 gave the U.S. a stranglehold on that event, after Shawn Johnson's victory in 2007 and Nastia Liukin's Olympic triumph in 2008. With Rebecca Bross a close second to Sloan in London -- and no doubt having gained a huge dose of experience in the process -- look for an American to challenge for the 2010 title, as well.

Asian Domination: Considering that Japan's Kohei Uchimura won the world all-around title with plenty of room to spare, and China hogged half of the 12 golds in London, it is safe to say that Asia will be a major player in 2010.

Thank you to all who contributed to IG in 2009, and happy New Year.

Written by Dwight Normile    Saturday, 26 December 2009 09:56    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Mazeika takes over — and other notes
(20 votes, average 3.40 out of 5)

IG Editor Dwight Normile offers his take on Kevin Mazeika, the new U.S. men's national team coordinator, and various other topics from around the gym world.

USA Gymnastics just named Mazeika as its new men's national team coordinator, replacing Ron Brant, who took a job at the USOC. I think the good-natured Mazeika is an excellent choice. He coached the last two U.S. Olympic teams, winning silver in Athens and bronze in Beijing. He has plenty of talent to work with in this quadrennium.

Mazeika, 48, will no longer coach the elite program at Houston Gymnastics Academy, but said that Norimasa Iwai will assume those duties. Iwai, who has coached at HGA for two years, was captain of the Japanese men's team at the 2000 Olympics, where he also was a rings finalist. Mazeika also said that HGA gymnast and 2007 world team member Sean Golden, who tore his Achilles' tendon a week before the 2009 Visa Championships, is "doing great [and] ahead of schedule on his rehab."

Less time in the gym will enable Mazeika to attend national team training camps at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs (every six weeks), and also travel to various clubs. Whether he will be named head coach of the 2012 team is "a decision for the Men's Program Committee," Mazeika told IG.

Though the 2012 Olympics will feature five-member teams, the world championships in 2010 and 2011 will still have six-member teams. With an influx of young talent, the U.S. men could be on an upswing from 2008, when they won the bronze.

"I think we're in great shape, and it's going to be my job to keep the ball rolling," Mazeika said.


• Here's an outtake from my interview with Shawn Johnson, which will appear in our January-February issue. The question referred to the new rule in the women's Code of Points, which requires only eight skills instead of 10: "Yeah, that's definitely great. The new Code is different. I've been trying to learn it and figure out what [it] is about and what I would need, and things like that, and see if it suits me. But we'll see. It'll be difficult."

• Here's an outtake from my interview with current vault world champion Kayla Williams, whose story will also appear in our January-February issue. I asked her if she had any gymnastics role models when she was younger: "Of course, Mary Lou Retton, because she's from West Virginia and I'm from West Virginia, and I wanted to be just like her. But [also] Dominique Dawes, definitely. She was a powerful gymnast and graceful, and it was just beautiful gymnastics all at the same time."

• Super choreographer Adriana Pop, who has been creating routines for the top Chinese women for the past few years, stopped by the IG offices last week. She said she will return to China again in 2010. She also said she really enjoyed working with Nastia Liukin and Courtney Kupets for the Progressive Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular, which will air Jan. 10 on NBC (check your local listings). Pop is based in Marseille, France, but still travels frequently to share her expertise. Word has it that Japan is also interested in hiring her.

• 2006 world all-around silver medalist Jana Bieger placed sixth at the 2009 U.S. championships but was not selected for the world championship team. If the Olympics are her goal, I think Bieger, who was born in Germany, should explore the possibility of competing for her native country as early as 2011. Germany placed 10th at the 2007 worlds, which qualified it to the Beijing Olympics, where it finished last (12th). There is no guarantee that Germany will qualify a full team again, but Bieger, 20, could probably be an invaluable asset.

• Did you know that former rhythmic gymnast Vera Marinova Atkinson, who works for British Gymnastics and who ran the press room at the 2009 London World Championships, is one of the three judges on "Dancing With The Stars" in Bulgaria? She is absolutely revered in Bulgaria.

• The FIG is progressing in its investigation on the fluctuating ages of China's Dong Fangxiao and Yang Yun, both of whom competed at the 2000 Olympics. A Disciplinary Commission, composed of Rached Gharbi (TUN), Margarida Dias Ferreira (POR) and Marc Schoenmaekers (BEL), will announce its verdict on Feb. 26, 2010. But do we really care anymore?

Written by Dwight Normile    Tuesday, 22 December 2009 07:28    PDF Print
Stretching Out: Gifts for the gymnastics world
(15 votes, average 3.93 out of 5)

The holiday season is in full swing, and IG Editor Dwight Normile has compiled a wish list for the gymnastics world. He's just not sure if anything he's requesting can be gift-wrapped.

Kohei Uchimura: Continued health. His style and technique at the 2009 World Championships renewed my faith that beautiful gymnastics can exist under this Code of Points. Now, if the judges will only reward him properly.

Bridget Sloan: The respect she deserves. It's difficult to replace the likes of Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson as the new face of women's gymnastics. But Sloan, who never won a U.S. junior title, is just now coming into her own and is extremely balanced across all four events.

Rebecca Bross: A short memory. The world all-around runner-up has plenty of time -- and talent -- to redeem herself.

Jonathan Horton: An even shorter memory. I hope his London debacle somehow fuels his motivation like never before.

Maxim Devyatovsky: Nothing. He just won the Champions Trophy, which came with a brand new Mercedes, for crying out loud. With a history of quitting, he's a much different gymnast when something tangible (and expensive) is at stake.

Fabian Hambüchen: A patch of good fortune. After struggling at the 2008 Olympics, he missed the 2009 World Championships because of an untimely ankle injury. The ankle forced him to miss the third of four legs of the Champions Trophy (he won the first two), and he ended up one point behind Devyatovsky after the final stage.

Yin Alvarez: His own reality show. His unbridled enthusiasm has the potential to draw widespread interest to men's gymnastics, whose athletes are among the toughest in the world but rarely get the respect they deserve among the general public. "Gym With Yin"?

Jordyn Wieber: Perfect health. I'd like to see what Wieber, the last gymnast to beat Bridget Sloan (2009 American Cup), could do at the 2010 Youth Olympics in August.

Koko Tsurumi: An extra twist in her vault. The 0.80 she conceded on vault (Yurchenko-full) to all-around world champion Bridget Sloan (and runner-up Rebecca Bross) would have made the difference between third place and becoming the first Japanese woman to win the world all-around title. Still, the bronze was a good start for this amazing gymnast.

Ana Porgras: Same as Tsurumi's gift. The slight Romanian was the second highest all-around qualifier at the worlds in London, 0.10 behind Rebecca Bross. With a stronger vault, she will become a much more serious all-around medal contender.

Nicolae Forminte: A healthy Sandra Izbasa. The Romanian women's coach showed up in London with an inexperienced squad, having lost Izbasa, the Olympic floor champion, to an Achilles' tendon injury.

Lauren Mitchell: Better bars. The talented Aussie, who placed fourth all-around in London, is one event away from surpassing compatriot Monette Russo's world all-around bronze in 2005. By the way, Mitchell, Tsurumi and Bross were the only women to win more than one medal in London. They each won two.

FIG Men's Technical Committee: New vault values. Decrease the value of every men's vault to help bring the final scores in line with the other events. Subtracting about 0.50 per vault should do the trick.

FIG Women's Technical Committee: E-scores in the 9.0s again. A good rule of thumb: "If it doesn't detract from the artistry, it shouldn't draw a deduction." Personally, it doesn't bother me if a pirouette is completed more than 10 degrees past vertical, as long as it doesn't interrupt the flow of the routine. A better evaluation tool might be to reward gymnasts who happen to finish a pirouette at vertical. But don't deduct. (That goes for the men, too.)

IG Readers: Satisfaction. Here's hoping all of you get what you want within the pages of IG in 2010.

As usual, I'd like to read your own gift suggestions below...

Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 11 December 2009 15:48    PDF Print
Stretching Out: 10 random thoughts on 2009
(13 votes, average 2.92 out of 5)

As the year comes to a close, IG Editor Dwight Normile reflects on the previous year in the world of gymnastics.

1. After polling gymnasts and coaches about the idea of lowering the required skills from 10 to eight for men, I was perplexed that several said it would make the sport more dangerous. Their claim was that gymnasts would then try to do as many hard skills in a row as possible in a shorter routine. Aren't they doing that now?

2. Referring to No.1: After reading the responses to our poll (which appeared in the December issue), I realized a better question for the men would have been, "Should there be a total skill limit for each routine?" That would certainly solve the problem of marathon routines that have 25 skills. What do you think? How many skills, A's included, should be the max for a routine?

3. Security at London's O2 Arena will need to improve in 2012, when the Olympics are in town. At the worlds in October, media went through a security check point every day. I guess the security officers got tired by the end of the week, because one day the lady didn't even ask me to open my laptop bag (which we had to do previously). When I placed it on the table, she pressed down on it with both hands, and then said OK. This was disturbing. The only item that exploded in my bag was a banana I had packed for a snack.

4. Speaking of food and security, I had purchased a jar of Nutella (a chocolate spread) in London to take home for my family. I placed it in my carry-on, which made it onto the plane in London. But after we landed in Newark, N.J., and went through security again, my Nutella was confiscated. "We get Nutella a lot," the security woman told me apologetically, holding up the small jar. Now I know. I also learned that Nutella is available in the U.S.

5. At the worlds, China won six gold medals with six different gymnasts. Tellingly, China did not enter anyone in the men's all-around competition. With team size shrinking from six to five for the next Olympics, I wonder how many of those six gymnasts (four men, two women) Chinese officials can place on the 2012 team and still win the team titles without sacrificing too many apparatus golds.

6. The emergence of Kayla Williams on vault and floor and the planned return of Alicia Sacramone, who is strong on the same events, could make for an interesting subplot at the 2010 U.S. championships. Whom would you select for a world team, if you could only choose one?

7. Danell Leyva's super-emotional coach/stepfather Yin Alvarez has taken some heat for his frenetic fits of frenzy after routines. Some claim it's an act, but I don't believe it is. He must be doing something right, because he has one of the most productive men's clubs around (Universal Gymnastics in Miami).

8. Some IG readers have wondered why we discontinued our "IG Mailbox" page in the magazine. I think the answer is simple: readers tend to voice their opinions on the IG messageboard now. We'd love to hear your viewpoints on current issues in the sport. Just email them to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

9. The U.S. gymnasts were just announced for the 2010 Tyson American Cup, March 6 in Worcester, Mass. Rebecca Bross will be one of the two American women, as world champion Bridget Sloan declined because she needed a break. A third invitation has yet to be offered for the second U.S. woman. Defending champion Jordyn Wieber, who has been slowed by a sore hamstring since last summer, is reportedly not back to full strength yet. The two U.S. men will be Jonathan Horton and Tim McNeill. Six non-U.S. gymnasts will be added later to complete the men's and women's fields.

10. Finally, who do you think will emerge as the men's and women's stars in 2010? Please leave your comments below.


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