You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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It’s time for the 102nd edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered! We apologize if we haven’t gotten to your question yet, but we try to answer in the order in which they were received (unless they are super relevant and need to be answered in a timely manner). Something you want to know? Ask us anonymously by going through the contact form at the bottom of the page.

Before, gymnasts deliberately began their tumbling passes with their heels in the corner of the mat and they’d pause before starting their passes. Now almost every pass begins with the gymnast looking into the corner, turning on one foot, and running. Is this a new trend in choreography or a requirement?

It’s actually a requirement! In previous codes, officials didn’t like that gymnasts spent several seconds standing in the corner catching their breath before running into their tumbling passes. Beginning in the 2013-2016 code, the FIG instated a rule that says “more than one stationary position on two feet” will incur a one-tenth deduction while an excessive pause of more than two seconds gets another tenth taken off.

Basically, a gymnast can only do the whole stand in the corner thing once, which she usually saves for her last pass when she needs to catch her breath the most. For the rest of the passes where she has only a split second to get into the corner before sprinting off again, she will typically dance into the corner and then quickly turn around.

Most gymnasts haven’t yet mastered the choreography into the corner, and so it often looks awkward (or worse, they stand in the corner on one foot like flamingoes), but some do it beautifully…I remember seeing a routine Olivia Dunne did a few years ago where her choreo into the corner was so effortless, such a smooth transition. I’m sure as choreographers and coaches figure things out a bit better, they’ll be able to make the corner rule work better for their gymnasts.

Why are judges present during podium training?

For competitions like worlds and the Olympics, each delegation brings a judge with them, and that judge typically goes to podium training as the right-hand-woman to the head coach, keeping an eye on how the athletes are performing so they have an idea as to how to create lineups and things like that. For instance, the U.S. brought Cheryl Hamilton to Rio, and not only was she at podium training, but she was also at Olympic Trials next to Martha Karolyi doing her own calculations for routines on top of what the trials judges were doing!

As a top international judge, Hamilton — who was the head judge on beam in Rio — has the best eye and knows about how each routine will score, so having her at podium training is super helpful because she can see two similar routines and say “you know what, Laurie Hernandez will get about a tenth higher than Gabby Douglas on vault, so put her in the team final.” Occasionally you’ll see each country’s judge “spying on” other countries and judging their routines to be able to go back and say something like “oh yeah, Aliya Mustafina will be huge competition on bars, Madison Kocian‘s gonna have to clean up this, this, and this if she wants to win.” So the judges are technically there to get assigned to apparatuses for these events, but their other job is helping their countries out in their preparation for each meet.

Why do people insinuate that Gabby Douglas is lazy or doesn’t work as hard as the others? Is there evidence of this?

I think lots of stories go around and people hear things and then things continue to spread. I, for example, have heard from several moms from her gym as well as a couple of coaches that in regular training, Douglas isn’t as motivated and really needs to be pushed (and not every coach can figure out how to motivate her, which is also an issue). Then this year, Martha Karolyi said something along the lines of Douglas needing major competitions as motivation, which is why she didn’t really reach her potential until worlds in 2015, and which is also why Martha decided to give her one of the American Cup spots this year…so she could have a reason to be motivated in the gym.

I find it similar to Bridget Sloan back in 2009, when she wouldn’t be as motivated at home, but then would get to the ranch and start competing and have a complete turnaround. It’s not necessarily a bad thing…it’s hard to be motivated, especially if you get in a rut in the day-to-day of being in the gym. I think Douglas obviously works very hard, otherwise she wouldn’t be an elite gymnast, but based on what many people around her have said, I think sometimes she has to be coaxed to do the more mundane and unglamorous tasks like conditioning.

It’s actually pretty common for gymnasts to reach this point, and she’s definitely not the only one. I think people talk about her more because for whatever reason, she’s not as well-liked in the gym community and so people try in whatever way to belittle her accomplishments by saying she’s lazy or whatever. It’s annoying.

At podium training for major events, the Americans do full routines from start to finish whereas other countries don’t. Which is more typical?

Hmmm…I don’t know which is more typical. I’d guess not doing full routines, given that most other countries don’t always do them? With the Americans, Martha Karolyi always liked to use podium training as the dress rehearsal for the competition, and so everything from start to finish is a first run, exactly as it is supposed to be during the meet. In podium training, rotations are timed, and most countries will use the full length of each rotation to train, doing pieces of each routine, going back to work problem skills, etc. But for the U.S., they go up, do the one-touch, go through the line-up, and bam, they’re basically done at that point and just hang around on the sidelines for the next event, just like they’d do during an actual meet. It’s a very smart way to train for major meets, because you get your one shot to get things right, and then you know what you need to work on for the competition day…it really helps prepare you mentally for only getting one shot during the actual meet. In a meet, you can’t stop your routine, test out a single skill repeatedly, take a break while others go up, and then get going again five minutes later. The U.S. way definitely makes more sense in terms of mental prep!

Do you think it’s justified that Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas were chosen to do the all-around over Laurie Hernandez? Could Martha Karolyi have used all four all-arounders in qualifications and then just used Madison Kocian in team finals only?

I do. Even at trials, even though Hernandez had the higher all-around score among the three, I didn’t think there was any way we’d actually see her in the all-around in Rio, and that’s mainly because of her bars. They were a risk, and yes, Raisman scores much lower on the event when the two hit, but Hernandez was way less consistent there and even though people expected her to get an all-around spot based on her trials scores, I wasn’t at all surprised when they said she wasn’t doing it. Eventually they said the reasoning was due to injury, but her coach said in an interview that she was totally shocked and “cried for a week” because it was so unfair given her trials ranking, so I don’t think she would’ve been that shocked/upset if it was due to a known injury keeping her out.

For the bars spot, Hernandez was fourth-best on the team ahead of only Raisman, but in the competitions leading up to the Olympics, struggled with various skills in almost all of her performances or in the one-touch before competing. So Douglas got in on bars over Hernandez because her routine was better overall, and Raisman got in on bars over Hernandez because her routine was more consistent overall. Because they brought a bars specialist in Kocian, the spots on that event were limited in qualifications, and so who got to do the all-around was decided not necessarily by who was the best all-arounder, but rather by who was preferred for the open bars spots. Based on Trials, I knew Hernandez absolutely wasn’t going to be Karolyi’s choice and so I was neither surprised nor offended by the decision. It’s 100% what I expected.

To answer your second question, they could have had all four all-arounders go up in qualifications and then had Kocian just go up in the team final, BUT then Kocian wouldnt have been able to qualify into the bars final, where she was a major medal contender. They definitely wouldn’t have thrown away a bars medal just to give a fourth person a chance to qualify to the all-around when there are only two all-around spots open.

Why is Simone Biles‘ wolf turn consistently so much prettier on beam than it is on floor? Is the surface of the beam easier to turn on? Does she have to keep her center better on beam whereas she has more room to flail a bit on floor?

I actually have no idea…interesting question, because I’ve never really thought about it before, but her wolf turn is definitely better on beam than it is on floor. I think you’re onto something in terms of it having to be pretty much technically perfect on beam because everything about that turn on beam is about control and precision, whereas on floor, most wolf turns are choreographed so that gymnasts just roll out of them or something, and so maybe there isn’t quite as much attention paid to the technique. I’m sure they MEAN to get them technically correct but in the rush of performing the routine to music and not having the freedom to take as much time in the prep because it has to match the music, they sometimes throw it away a little and just get it done.

Why was 2011 the turning point for USA women’s gymnastics? That was when their total dominance began, and why THEN? Is it basically that the ascension of the Americans aligned near-perfectly with the decline of other programs?

It’s partly to do with the fact that other programs were in decline, but that doesn’t necessarily explain why the U.S. women started getting SO good and SO consistent all at once. Winning meets by huge margins is definitely a result of other programs falling in their own sense, but I think what the girls who came in around 2011 all have in common is that they grew up in the new Martha Karolyi system. This was the first generation of gymnasts who had been following the same procedures basically since they started in the sport. They were all around age four/five/six when the Karolyi system began in 2001, so it was in existence before they even started competing, and by the time they reached TOPs and elite, everything had been in place and fully functioning. The girls who turned 16 in about 2010 and beyond didn’t know anything aside from a well-oiled machine. The program took in most of these girls at or around 12-14 and churned them out as the competitive little robots they became, girls who did so well under pressure because they grew up doing verification at the ranch and didn’t know anything other than how to kill it when it counted. I think even if other top programs around the world weren’t in decline, the U.S. could still have an edge and be dominant because even the best gymnasts in other programs aren’t as mentally strong as any of the U.S. women. That’s really what the edge is…not difficulty, not execution, but competing at worlds and the Olympics like it’s not a big deal at all.

When and where will the archived videos from the Olympics go up so I can see routines I didn’t catch during qualifications?

The only way I know to watch is if you have a cable login. You can go to NBCOlympics.com and they have everything archived, including all apparatus feeds, so you can watch every single routine there! That’s basically for the U.S. and if you have a cable login, though. That aside I don’t have any idea how to do it.

Aiko Sugihara is training a double Y turn on beam and submitted it at the Olympics. Do you know of anyone else that submitted new skills?

Yup! Unfortunately Sugihara ended up not getting this skill (which would’ve been an E element, the maximum for turns on beam) named for her, but a couple gymnasts did, including:

  • Houry Gebeshian (Armenia)- A hecht mount on bars with a push off the low bar followed by a full turn before grasping the high bar, rated a D
  • Marisa Dick (Trinidad & Tobago)- She got her first skill, a change leg leap mount done at the side of the beam landed on the beam in a split, named for her at worlds last year, and in Rio she performed this mount with a half turn, rated a D
  • Marcel Nguyen (Germany)- From the side of the p-bars, a free hip mount with a three-quarter turn to handstand, rated an E
  • Kenzo Shirai (Japan)- On vault, he successfully performed a Yurchenko 3½ which got a 6.4 start value

The FIG will also include two more MAG skills in the new code of points that were performed but not hit, so they won’t be named but they were still rated and put into the code just in case:

  • A layout double double release over the high bar, performed by Andreas Bretschneider of Germany and rated as an I element! He already has the double layout full release named for him, but fell on this new skill both times he attempted it in Rio.
  • A handspring triple front on vault, performed by Igor Radivilov and given a 7.0 start value (he sat it when he attempted it in vault finals)

Here were some more skills submitted but either not performed or not added to the code:

  • Giulia Steingruber (Switzerland)- She was going to be the first woman to attempt a handspring layout double full but ended up playing it safe and sticking to her Rudi (would’ve had a 6.6 start value)
  • Hong Un Jong (North Korea)- Hong went for a Yurchenko triple in event finals on vault but both under-rotated it and crashed (would’ve had a 6.8 start value)
  • Simone Biles (USA)- A Weiler full on bars, which she always submits in case she “accidentally” does one if she loses her focus on the Weiler half and takes an extra half turn to bring it back under control (#JustSimoneThings) (would have been an E element)
  • Katarzyna Jurkowska-Kowalska (Poland)- She had an awesome gainer layout double full off the end of the beam, which she hit at Euros but unfortunately fell on in Rio (would have been an F skill)
  • Lieke Wevers (Netherlands)- She submitted two skills on floor, a triple L turn and a triple attitude turn, both of which would’ve been E skills
  • Claudia Fragapane (Great Britain)- She submitted a switch leap double full on floor, which would’ve been an E
  • Rebeca Andrade (Brazil)- She was gonna go for the double back with 1½ twists on floor, something she has competed successfully in the past, but her injuries over the past couple of years limited her on this event, and she didn’t start competing it again until a month before the Olympics, so they probably decided it wasn’t worth the risk
  • Ferhat Arican (Turkey)- He went for a front double pike half dismount off p-bars, which would’ve been a G, but in Rio he ended up only competing a double front tuck half instead.

Why didn’t Larisa Iordache have anywhere to train in Rio?

Generally if the federation decides to bring an alternate, they have to set up both where the alternates will stay and where they’ll train. The U.S., for example, worked it out so they could use a gym I believe near Ipanema, and other countries did the same, looking for local gyms for their alternates. Some countries (like Italy and Great Britain) didn’t bring their alternates to Rio at all, and others with only one alternate instead of a whole team of them (like Romania) I guess didn’t bother really looking into it or figuring it out? I think Iordache ended up working out in the same gym as the Americans for a little while so I guess in the end they got her a place but yeah, most countries with only one athlete have nominative spots which belong to the athlete, not the country, so they don’t bring alternates because if their gymnast gets injured, the spot goes to the first reserve (which was Marina Nekrasova of Azerbaijan for Rio). Because Romania had a non-nominative spot, they were allowed to choose the athlete and could decide to replace her with an alternate. It could just be that Romania originally didn’t know they’d have the alternate travel to Rio, so I’m guessing they just didn’t get everything settled in advance.

Have a question? Ask below! Remember that the form directly below this line is for questions; to comment, keep scrolling to the bottom of the page. Keep in mind, we sometimes get about 50 questions a day and can only answer usually around 30 or so a week, so don’t be discouraged if we don’t get to you right away. We do not answer questions about team predictions nor questions that say “what do you think of [insert gymnast here].”

Article by Lauren Hopkins

15 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. Hi! Do you anticipate that your next book will be out by the end of the year? I’m having gymnastics withdrawals 😉

    Cheers,
    Amanda

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  2. About the wolf turn, those have always been easier for me and my teammates on beam than floor and it’s because on floor your leg has to be held up well above horizontal the whole time or you’ll hit the floor (obviously) while in beam you can “drop” it a little in the middle of the turn… obviously still not a lot and not for very long but it doesn’t have to be held quite as high for as long. I just looked at some of Simone’s beam routines (Pac Rims is the best angle I found to see this), you can definitely see there are parts where her free foot is dropped under the beam a tiny bit, then she brings it back up to finish

    (sorry i accidently asked this in the message before, ignore that!

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  3. Thanks for this article. I’m also wondering how I can watch all the videos. Anyone out there have any ideas for people in Canada? I guess we were spoiled after London with everything being on YouTube. Thanks!

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  4. I agree with the wolf turns on beam answer, I can do a wolf full on beam but not on floor. Also another gymnast who has better wolfs on beam than floor is Ragan Smith, where she even had a mistake on it at Pac Rims but never messes it up on beam.

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  5. Regarding Bretschneider: his first eponymous HB skill was the tucked double double over the bar (Bretschneider I), you described a Cassina. The other part was correct though…layout double double was submitted as the Bretschneider II

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