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Stretching Out
Stretching Out

Written by Dwight Normile    Wednesday, 12 August 2009 21:54    PDF Print
Horton Surges to Midway Lead at U.S. National Championships
(6 votes, average 4.17 out of 5)

IG Editor Dwight Normile blogs from the 2009 Visa (U.S.) Gymnastics Championships, which began Wednesday in Dallas.

DALLAS — The senior men began battle for national bragging rights Wednesday night, exactly one year after the U.S. men rallied for Olympic bronze in Beijing.

Only two members of that team — Jonathan Horton and Joey Hagerty — were in the competitive field, while the coaching ranks included Justin Spring (Illinois) and Kevin Tan (Penn State). Raj Bhavsar decided not to compete, and Sasha Artemev had shoulder surgery in January.


Jonathan Horton

David Sender, who did not make the Olympic team because of a fluke injury (sprained ankle) on the eve of the U.S. Olympic Trials, came to Dallas as the defending national champion. And after his first two events, he looked like a man on a mission. After hitting rings, he boomed a Yurchenko-double pike that landed quietly with only one small step. Sender pumped his fist, a rare show of emotion from the guy so many felt sorry for last year. Then he followed with a handspring-layout front with a double twist (and another fist pump). After a couple of medium errors on parallel bars (low peach) and high bar (tucked giant after Kovacs), Sender threw a marathon on floor to pad his lead (Lou Yun mount, double layout dismount).

In the final rotation, both Sender and his closest pursuer, Hagerty, fell from pommels and rings, respectively. Horton, who had fallen from pommels in the second rotation, needed to nail high bar to take the lead after day one. And that's what he did. It wasn't the crazy routine he used to win a silver in Beijing, but Horton, who is back with his old club coach, Tom Meadows, still threw a layout Kovacs, Kolman and Kovacs. He stuck a conservative (for him) dismount of layout full-out and scored 15.900 to lead Sender 91.250-90.600. Cal-Berkeley's Tim McNeill climbed to third at 88.500.

"I'm 23 years old; I should know how to compete by now," said Horton, who admitted he was not yet in top shape but still felt like he should be able to perform well. He also said he would like to finally win a senior national title after so many close calls in the past.

Sender has already told officials he will not be available for the 2009 World Championships in October since he is starting veterinary school at the University of Illinois this fall. Still, he's hoping to defend his national title. "It would be a nice way to go out," he said.

Universal's Danell Leyva, just 17, struggled on pommels to finish in a tie for fourth with Wes Haagensen (USOTC) at 88.350, and Steven Legendre (Oklahoma) rounded out the top six with 88.300.

Stay tuned for Friday's competition, when the senior national team will be decided, as well as the six-member squad to worlds.

Cool Skills...

  • Steven Legendre (Oklahoma): running double front, punch double-twisting layout front (hand down)
  • Jake Dalton (Gym Nevada): Lopez vault worth 7.3, which scored 16.25 (Kasamatsu-double twist)
  • Danell Leyva (Universal): jam, dislocate, immediate hop to undergrips on high bar (and he got some air!)
  • Jonathan Horton (Cypress): roundoff, 1-1/2 twist, punch double front
  • David Sender (Stanford): Yurchenko-double pike (like it was nothing); handspring-layout front with double twist
  • Alex Buscaglia (Stanford): roundoff half-on, layout rudi vault; full-twisting Tkatchev on high bar
  • Tim McNeill (Cal-Berkeley): his peach handstand on parallel bars was so good it looked like a free hip on high bar

Notes...

  • David Sender is wearing a uniform with a logo for ShoNakamori.com, his friend and Stanford teammate, who suffered a torn ACL at the Japan Cup in July. The logo is for Nakamori's blog, "ShoNakamori.com," so check it out.
  • 1996 Olympian John Macready worked his usual magic with the crowd during the one-touch warm-ups between rotations. He's a real entertainer who grew up in a Hollywood family.
  • Former Olympians Steve McCain and Alicia Sacramone provided color commentary to the audience via radio.

Click here for detailed results.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Wednesday, 12 August 2009 16:40    PDF Print
Orozco Claims Third Consecutive U.S. Junior Men's Title
(4 votes, average 4.00 out of 5)

IG Editor Dwight Normile reports from the 2009 Visa (U.S.) Gymnastics Championships, which began Wednesday in Dallas.

DALLAS — John Orozco won his third consecutive U.S. junior title (14-15) with room to spare. He posted the top all-around total of both age groups (86.850), with Sam Mikulak (SCATS HB) second with 83.500. Orlando Metro's Jake Martin placed third with 81.050. Orozco and Mikulak went 1-2 last year, as well.

Coached by Jason Hebert at World Cup Gymnastics, Orozco was in class of his own, even with a fall on vault (handspring front with double twist), the only event he did not win. He started his day on pommel horse, a weak event for many U.S. all-arounders, but posted a 14.700, his highest score of the meet. He will compete again Friday night with the seniors, and has a great chance to make the senior national team. Born Dec. 30, 1992, Orozco is from Bronx, N.Y., and has his sights set on the 2012 Olympics.

Cameron Rogers (Zenith), a 17 year old from Mint Hill, N.C., nailed his parallel bars routine in the final rotation to jump from a tie for fourth to first in the closely fought 16-18 division. Rogers, fifth in 2008 in the 14-15 division, eclipsed Jesse Silverstein, 82.150-82.100. Christopher Turner (WCOGA) posted second-place finishes on his final two events, parallel bars and high bar, to place third.

Cool Skills...

  • Dylan Akers (Cypress): easy tucked double-double off rings
  • Zachary Chase (Cascade Elite): Kasamatsu-1-1/2 on vault
  • Colton Wolf: high layout triple-double off high bar in warm-ups
  • John Orozco (World Cup); tucked full-out off parallel bars (a bit low on the landing but well within his potential)

Fun Stuff... Universal coach Yin Alvarez, who may well be the most excitable man on the planet, is as animated as ever. In fact, it looked as if he picked up six inches on his vertical leap from last year.

Scary moments...

  • Mario West (Preston), who has a body builder's physique, tapped early on a Tkatchev and caught in a front support, almost like he meant to. Later, however, he peeled off on a double layout and did a 1-3/4 to his chest. He scratched from the remaining events.
  • Colton Wulf (5280 Gymnastics) stiff-legged the landing on a Yurchenko 1-1/2 and was attended to by the trainer. He was OK, too.

Other Notes...

  • The junior men's competition used senior FIG rules, which allow skills such as a Thomas salto on floor.
  • 2008 Olympian Raj Bhavsar will not be competing this weekend, according to his coach, Kevin Mazeika. Might we have seen the last of him in competition?
  • 2008 Olympian Sam Peszek will compete in three events (vault, beam and floor), as she has a torn labrum (shoulder), which will require surgery after the 2009 World Championships in London.
  • The venue, the American Airlines Center, is definitely top-notch. The interior looks futuristic with the multitude of luxury boxes that occupy the full perimeter of the arena.

John Orozco (center) won his third consecutive U.S. junior title in Dallas. Sam Mikulak (left) finished second ahead of bronze medalist Christopher Turner.
 
Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 07 August 2009 16:56    PDF Print
U.S. Observations, Other Random Thoughts
(18 votes, average 3.06 out of 5)

The Visa (U.S.) Championships in Dallas, Aug. 12-15, will prove many things, such as who is really in shape and who is likely to make the team to the 2009 individual World Championships in London.

I say likely, because the six-member men's world team will be named in Dallas, but the four-member women's squad won't be selected until October, during the second of two training camps. The first camp (Sept. 8-12) will include national team members (based on all-around totals in Dallas) and the top two finishers on each apparatus. A minimum of eight gymnasts will be invited to the final training camp (Sept. 30 - Oct. 4).


Coach Marvin Sharp and Marta Karolyi

Nastia Liukin

The performances of Olympic champion (and local resident) Nastia Liukin will be most anticipated, even if she plans to compete only on uneven bars and balance beam. Liukin could win both, which would be a good start in her quest for a spot on the world team. Remember, she has stated her goal of setting the American record for most world championship medals. Liukin and Shannon Miller are currently tied with nine.

With the 2009 Women's Code of Points putting limits on acrobatics on both beam and floor, Liukin could benefit. "The FIG has been talking about this idea for a while, that women's gymnastics is called artistic gymnastics," says Marta Karolyi, U.S. women's national team coordinator. "And Nastia comes close to what FIG wants. ...it's a Code that definitely will enable her to stay in the sport very long." The decrease from 10 to eight skills, which the Women's Code adopted this year, could hurt Liukin on uneven bars, where she used to compensate for her relatively low Start Value on vault.

Shawn Johnson

Will she return to elite gymnastics? Maybe, maybe not. "She's definitely considering resuming her training, but she just doesn't know the time frame," Karolyi says.

Our next issue of IG includes a story on Johnson's coach, Liang Chow, who offers his assessment of Johnson's return to the sport.

Johnson is supposed to be in Dallas next weekend with the rest of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, so no doubt she'll be asked that question, oh, about 2,008 times.


2008 U.S. champion David Sender

Men's Code of Points

Unlike the 2009 Women's Code of Points, which now evaluates eight skills instead of 10, the men's Code remains virtually unchanged. I believe it was irresponsible of the FIG to maintain such stringent requirements for male gymnasts, who already have two more events than women. What ever happened to the "homogenous" Code of Points for all disciplines?

"For the men's side, the artistic part of the sport really isn't emphasized that much anymore," says Ron Brant, U.S. men's national team coordinator. "It's really [about] difficulty and who can carry the most difficulty, not that the coaches around the world would totally agree with that. But that's the direction it's gone."

Men's Competition

David Sender is "in great shape" and ready to defend his national title, according to Thom Glielmi, Sender's former coach at Stanford. Sender looked brilliant at times at the Maccabiah Games in July, and like any other title contender, needs only to avoid a major meltdown in Dallas to win. Beyond 2009, however, Sender is unsure of his gymnastics future. "Dave is sitting on the fence with continuing his gymnastics after this year, and I know he will weigh his options in continuing with training/competing versus going to vet school," Glielmi says.

Others to watch include Jonathan Horton, who, believe it or not, is still looking for his first national title; Danell Leyva, just 17, who knows how to get the most out of himself; and Steven Legendre, who has the mindset to compete well. Also, look for Guillermo Alvarez, Joseph Hagerty, Glen Ishino, Paul Ruggeri and Berkeley's Bunthuwong brothers (Kyle and Kyson).


Bridget Sloan

Women's Competition

Is this Bridget Sloan's year? It would seem so. After competing in Beijing, nerves should not be an issue, even if she tends to look a bit uptight in meets. But maybe I'm misinterpreting that for focus. One plus is that she's had Samantha Peszek as a training partner at Sharp's Gymnastics this year. And let's not forget about Ivana Hong and Rebecca Bross, both of whom train alongside Liukin at nearby WOGA.

Considering Comebacks

Am I surprised that Alicia Sacramone plans to return to elite gymnastics? I was — for about two seconds. After decades of seeing gymnasts retire and return multiple times, I am more surprised when they don't come back. After the aches and pains disappear, 'retired' gymnasts feel great again and often return to what they know best: training. History shows, however, that comebacks can be much easier to start than finish. But if Alicia still has some good gymnastics left, she should go for it.

Elsewhere, 2007 U.S. world team member Sean Golden sustained a ruptured Achilles' tendon on Wednesday while performing his floor mount, a piked Arabian double front with a half. He had surgery Friday, and his coach, Kevin Mazeika, says they're already talking about getting stronger on rings and adding another event to his arsenal during rehab.

From Dallas to Waco

As a follow-up to our story in the May IG, "Texas Tumble," we reported that Baylor University would be adding a women's sport. Gymnastics was supposedly in the mix. Baylor has announced it will add — drumroll, please — women's competitive cheer for the 2010-11 academic year. Make no mistake, Baylor's choice represents the path of least resistance in terms of Title IX compliance. No other Big 12 school offers cheer as a varsity sport, nor does the NCAA sponsor a championship.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Friday, 26 June 2009 00:00    PDF Print
NCAA Women's Rules Could Change for Better
(3 votes, average 4.33 out of 5)

The proposed all-scores count format could finally lead to a new champion, writes IG Editor Dwight Normile.

In May, women's collegiate coaches voted 60-3 to dump the Super Six in favor a "four-on-the-floor" final at the NCAA championships. Their rationale was that the six-team final was not fan- or TV-friendly, since rotation byes skewed the running totals and rankings of the six teams.

Considering the lopsided vote, it would be a surprise if the proposal is not accepted by the NCAA, which is expected to make a decision soon.

"I still have some concerns about whether this will get through, because it's got to go to the Championship Management Council, and those are administrators and typically they don't know a lot about gymnastics," Utah coach Greg Marsden told IG. "So this is not a done deal yet."

A second major rule change in the proposal calls for the elimination of the throwaway score. The six-up, six-count format would be used only in regional and national competitions, which is both good and bad. It is good because regionals are where teams advance to the NCAAs, so perennial powers like Georgia, Alabama and Utah wouldn't automatically advance. It is bad because the regular season would retain the six-up, five-count format.

"It just doesn't make sense to me that you qualify with different rules than you're going to use once you get into post season," says Marsden, who was in favor of a five-up, five-count format.

"The point here is, the strong teams are still going to have the best chance to win, but this [all-scores count] scenario also gives a team that maybe is not quite as strong, but is very consistent, an opportunity on a given night to beat a team that's more talented than they are," Marsden says. "The purists may struggle with that, but from building drama and interest in our sport, I think it's important that a lot of people on a given night can ... have a chance for success."

Though Marsden has created a huge following in Salt Lake City for his Ute gymnasts, he's concerned that the sport needs to make some changes to increase interest at the championship level.

"We've just been stagnant," he says. "In the beginning we were the jewel of women's athletics in the NCAA. We were out-drawing everything. A lot of us felt we've got to do something to create more interest in our sport."

Attendance in Lincoln, Neb., for the 2009 NCAA Championships suffered, mainly because the Cornhuskers failed to qualify a full team to the event. The 2010 NCAAs will be hosted by Florida, but the 2011 event will go to Cleveland, a neutral site. The NCAA negotiated with various cities to host a number of championships, and women's gymnastics was included in the package.

"That was a surprise to us," says Marsden, who wouldn't be against trying a permanent neutral site, like men's baseball (Omaha) or women's softball (Oklahoma City). "If it was a place that really embraced our championship and did a great a job and would give us an opportunity to grow our attendance, I'm in favor of [it]."

Only four colleges have won the women's NCAA gymnastics championships since its inception in 1982: Georgia (10); Utah (9); UCLA (5); and Alabama (4). And while those who voted against the proposal may think the chances of a new winner will lessen even more, I think the opposite might happen sooner than you think.

"This certainly has the potential to mix things up," Marsden says.


Confetti falls following the 2009 NCAA Women's "Super Six" in Lincoln, Neb.

 
Written by Dwight Normile    Monday, 22 June 2009 20:57    PDF Print
Stretching Out: 'Make It Or Break It'
(28 votes, average 3.75 out of 5)

There is only one word to describe ABC Family's new series: unbelievable, writes IG Editor Dwight Normile.

I saw the pilot of "Make It Or Break It" a couple of months ago (when it was called "Perfect 10"), after ABC Family sent a DVD to IG for some feedback. As tactfully as possible, I told them the plot needed some help if they wanted the series to survive. I don't think they got the hint.

Most fans figured it was too good to be true when they heard a gymnastics series was in the works. They could only hope that their favorite sport would be presented somewhat accurately. But the show is not geared for diehard fans. It's for the casual viewer, who would never know that:

• gymnasts have personal cubbies or lockers, not parking spaces;
• a sloppy tucked Tsukahara will not get you into the nationals, let alone the Olympics;
• and a coach would never allow a gymnast who just CRASHED ONTO HER NECK to compete her second vault after calling an ambulance.

Well, I take that back. Anybody knows that last one.


Lauren Tanner (Cassie Scerbo) in a scene from ABC Family's "Make It or Break It"

The plot, which managed to include nearly every gymnastics cliché in the first episode, is simply aimless.

The storyline unravels — sorry, unfolds — at a gym called The Rock in Boulder, Colo. No problem there. The script succeeds in creating a villain in snotty Lauren Tanner (Cassie Scerbo), who immediately hates newcomer Emily Kmetko (Chelsea Hobbs). Lauren feels her rightful rank on the team is threatened by Emily and does everything in her power to keep herself in the top three at the national qualifier. That includes sabotage and, when that doesn't do the trick, ratting out a friend to the coach.

As the show feebly attempts to identify its variety of subplots, you find yourself caring less and less about all of the characters.

For a while you actually admire Payson Keeler (Ayla Kell) for her integrity, but her spoiled-brat meltdown in the closing scene puts an end to that perception. Her little sister seems nice enough, since she does gymnastics just for fun (another cliche), and her mom (Peri Gilpin, who portrayed Roz on "Frasier") appears normal. But they aren't central to the clumsy scheming that drives the plot.

Just when you think you've seen enough, which is any time after the opening credits, the implausibility multiplies. The Rock hits bottom at the end, when Tanner's ubiquitous and meddling father admits that he hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Kmetko. (Gee, wonder where Lauren learned her values?) Then he calmly blackmails the coach with a compromising photo and forces him to accept a job in Denver with half of The Rock's team, including his daughter. Is this a cop show?

Several former collegiate gymnasts work as stunt doubles, and their gymnastics is strong on some events, if not poorly edited. UCLA's Natalie Padilla (2007-08), Jordan Schwikert (2005-08) and Ariana Berlin (2006-09) double for two of the lead characters, and Tasha Schwikert (2005-08) is cast as a gymnast.

Heidi Moneymaker (1997-2000) was a stunt double in the pilot, and Karin Silvestri Coye (1995-97) is the gymnastics coordinator. Others include Courtney Kupets (Georgia), Ashley Postell (Utah) and Renae Moneymaker (San Jose State).

Despite using real gymnasts for stunt doubles, "Make It Or Break It" is not about gymnastics. And even after we accept that, we're still left with a show that is completely unbelievable. It's simply too bad to be true.


Dwight Normile, a former gymnast and gymnastics coach, has been editor of International Gymnast since 1982.

If you watched "Make It or Break It," tell us what you thought below!

 


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