You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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It’s time for the 138th 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.

Is Anna Pavlova still training? Is Tatiana Nabieva still training?

Anna retired at the end of 2015. The previous year was a great one for her, as she won the European silver medal on vault, and performed well in several international competitions as an all-arounder, but she spent all of 2015 dealing with injuries and couldn’t compete at world championships. Azerbaijan qualified an Olympic test event spot, but it was clear the spot would go to Marina Nekrasova, and so knowing she had no shot at another Olympic Games and knowing her body wouldn’t hold out until Tokyo, she opted to end her career there. As for Tatiana, she is still training despite retiring after the 2012 quad. She continued to train in her retirement and hilariously made it onto Russia’s worlds team in 2014 due to the lack of depth, which was awesome. She didn’t come back seriously enough to be an Olympic threat this quad, but after Rio, she said she now really wants to finally make an Olympic team (she missed out in both 2012 and 2016), and is training with Tokyo in mind.

Why don’t the U.S. women train the spins that the Chinese are famous for on bars?

Their bars coaches have different styles, it’s as simple as that. The Chinese are basically the only gymnasts in the world who do intricate pirouette work like that, and they probably grow up in the system learning those combinations from an early age so they can perfect them in time for senior elite competition. In the U.S., the majority of gymnasts go through the J.O. system, which doesn’t require anything close to that level of difficulty, so most club coaches wouldn’t have a need to teach those combos. Since pretty much every elite coach in the country has way more J.O. level 10 experience than elite experience, almost no elite coaches have coached intricate pirouette combos before and when they do have gymnasts who turn elite, they work on other ways to build difficulty on bars using their foundations from previous levels. The one elite coach who has really taught something similar to the Chinese style was Liang Chow. Even he mostly sticks to the more common J.O. bars skills and foundations, but he tried to add some of the more intricate pirouettes into Gabby Douglas’ routine in 2012, and he also added a bunch of front giant pirouettes into Norah Flatley’s routine at one point, which ended up being a great look for her. But even she wasn’t as ‘prepared’ for it as the Chinese are, because she came up through the U.S. system with a very different style and it was a huge deal to see her break from that traditional style and do a more Chinese routine.

Why won’t Ericha Fassbender be competing for Florida this season?

She is ineligible to compete this season, but according to her bio “could return to the team for the 2018 season” which means it’s most likely an academic issue. If athletes don’t meet certain academic standards in NCAA, they are not allowed to compete or even train with their teams. I read that she is conditioning with the football team, and that once her grades go up, she can petition to get back on the team. My guess is that this info is accurate, but without speculating about Fassbender in particular, gymnasts have also had full or partial season suspensions due to disciplinary reasons. I haven’t heard of anything related to that with Fassbender, but aside from academic probations, disciplinary issues are also a common reason to be temporarily ineligible to train/compete.

Which athletes at UCLA are on scholarship going into the NCAA season? Will such a large incoming class affect their ability to recruit down the road?

It’s hard to say because this info isn’t fully publicly available. They’re allowed 12 full scholarships, and I *think* right now the full scholarships belong to the Glenns, Angi Cipra, Pua Hall, Mikaela Gerber, Felicia Hano, Madison Kocian, Peng Peng Lee, Hallie Mossett, Katelyn Ohashi, Kyla Ross, and Macy Toronjo but it’s hard to say for sure. No, a large incoming class now will not matter for future recruitment. An ideal incoming class has around four gymnasts on scholarship, but anywhere from three to five would be common if there are smaller upper classes. UCLA has a huge freshman class of nine, but they ALWAYS have a huge freshman class because many are walk-ons. They only have five scholarship freshmen which is pretty normal. Some years may have only a couple of incoming scholarship freshmen if they only had one or two scholarship seniors graduate the year prior, but it generally ends up balancing out.

Why did Geza Pozsar settle in Sacramento after defecting rather than with the Karolyis?

Geza Pozsar has been somewhat outspoken in the press about the Karolyis being abusive when they were working together in Romania. In 2008, Emilia Eberle (who now goes by Trudi Kollar) spoke candidly about the abuse she suffered while training with the Karolyis from when she was 12 until she finished her career. Pozsar confirmed the abuse and said there was nothing he could do about it, that he felt bad but didn’t know how to step in. He was one of many who worked with the Karolyis to discuss the abuse the Romanian girls suffered, and Eberle/Kollar actually ended up moving to Sacramento to work with Pozsar after she defected nearly a decade after the Karolyis and Pozsar did. My guess is that when they got to the U.S., Pozsar wanted to part ways with the Karolyis and had family or friends in Sacramento? Or something else lured him there, but either way, defecting allowed him to get away from both Romania and the Karolyi regime.

Can you explain the evolution of the uneven bars?

Yeah, so they basically started out as a set of parallel bars like the men compete on. Then in the 1940s, someone was like let’s set the p-bars to different heights! And that’s why people sometimes call them the ‘uneven parallel bars’ to this day. Because they literally took a set of p-bars and raised one bar so that they were uneven.

Women competed on these ‘uneven p-bars’ and mostly performed strength and balance elements at first, and then got a little fancy adding the hip circles and belly beats and wraps. At the end of the 1960s, equipment manufacturers decided to make uneven bars their own thing, taking into account the growing difficulty of skills on the uneven p-bars to add tension cables so the bars could be set further apart, which allowed for even greater difficulty, like the saltos and dismounts the men were doing.

Because the women kept adding bigger and bigger elements to their performances, routines shifted from the tight fluid transitions and wraps to those based on swings and releases, though they were limited by the closeness of the bars. So in the mid-1980s, they increased the distance between bars and that gave rise to the routines we’re more familiar with today.

Why can’t countries create a system similar to the U.S. women’s program? Why doesn’t China realize their system doesn’t work?

Many have and are modeling systems after the U.S. elite program. But most countries don’t have 320 million people, 150,000 kids enrolled in competitive gymnastics, another million or so enrolled at rec gyms, and about 800 full athletic college scholarships as alternatives to the elite path. Other sports are less expensive and don’t require as much skill at the competitive level, so gymnastics is never the most popular sport, and those who do get involved in competitive gymnastics usually have a pretty lofty goal…how many parents of six-year-old level fours will tell you their kid is a future Olympian? Literally all of them (and they’re ALL ON INSTAGRAM sharing every second of their journeys, thank the LORD).

But when most countries will have about ten gymnasts max who become internationally competitive elites, once kids and their parents realize they don’t have a big future in the sport, they quit, which means these countries have less depth at the higher levels. In the U.S., kids who make it to level 9 or 10 at a young age more often than not have Olympic goals. But then they give it a shot, get nowhere near the scores needed, and at 12-13 they realize they’re never gonna go to the Olympics. But that’s okay! Because at that point, an NCAA scholarship is firmly within reach. At any given time, there are close to 1000 U.S. level 10s in the country who have routines they could compete at the international level and still receive fairly strong scores (some club gyms in the U.S. take their kids to international competitions, and these kids — with zero elite experience and L10 routines — often beat kids who train in their own countries’ elite programs). Many countries don’t even have 1000 kids in competitive gymnastics, let alone 1000 kids who can compete at that high level. So the U.S. is successful in part because they have a strong development program, something other countries are trying to replicate, but also because they have this J.O. system feeding into both the elite AND collegiate worlds, building up kids who could maybe be Olympians, but if it doesn’t work out, they can get a scholarship worth about $200,000 instead. Depth. It’s key.

Obviously other countries also have a crap ton of people, and while not all of them have the money and resources to fund programs like this, China does. And yet China doesn’t use the U.S. model. They instead have scouts from a state system going to kindergartens and picking kids based on things like body type and strength, so only the ‘chosen ones’ get to go through the super intense and strict training through the city team, then the provincial team, and eventually the national team in order to become an elite gymnast. At all levels, there are only about 7000 competitive gymnasts in China compared to the 150,000 in the U.S. When kids end up not working out, the Chinese program doesn’t have scores of reserves and they’re left with only a small pool of highly competitive athletes. BUT China has seen how the U.S. is doing it and they actually recently started building rec gyms and lower-level training programs as an alternative.

In China, the state sport system is under immense criticism, and there are attempts to popularize ALL sports, not just gymnastics. But right now, the majority of China’s population sees gymnastics as an elite sport, one that requires blood, sweat, and tears. This is coming at a time where many Chinese parents want their kids to have normal, happy childhoods. At the rec gyms in Shanghai, none of the parents want their kids to be Olympians or go the elite route…they just want them to stay healthy and have fun doing it.

So even though the Chinese system is probably going to undergo some huge changes in the coming years, it’s not going to happen overnight. They need to figure out how to combine the fun and happy rec gyms with a system that will create disciplined athletes who can achieve success. It’s not going to be easy, but at least there’s talk and the directors of Chinese gymnastics know what needs to happen. It’s not that they haven’t realized it. They have, and their biggest fear is “becoming Romania.” But it’s not as simple as making the change to the elite system itself. The elite system changes are the last piece of the puzzle. Before they can do that, they have to change people’s minds about the sport itself.

Do you think Bela and Martha Karolyi will help the Romanian program at all now that they are retired in the states? Perhaps as consultants?

No. I don’t know how else to answer this aside from…just no. There are probably many reasons why they wouldn’t go back, both on their end and Romania’s end, but yeah. It’s not gonna happen.

How is Simone Biles going to train this quad if Aimee Boorman moved to Florida?

She wants to remain at her gym in Houston, and will work with whoever is in charge of the women’s team program when she returns to the sport. At this point, after Aimee did all of the foundational work with Simone in terms of building skills and everything, Simone doesn’t really need much more than a motivator. She could go into a gym on her own and do the skills and routines. She just needs someone to manage that talent, and I think it’ll be more about finding a good personality fit than like, having the best gymnastics coach ever.

All of the MG Elites have a distinct salute and flexible shoulders. Do they have a specific training?

Not really? Maybe they work more on shoulder flexibility but I don’t think anything they do with their shoulders involves a specific training…probably just a stylistic thing they picked up from a coach.

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

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17 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

    • Oh yeah, they’re big on that…it took me a long time to catch on to most skills on bars, and when Nastia came back in 2012 in podium training at the U.S. Classic I wrote about how she was “just doing pirouettes” and never heard the end of it because her “pirouettes” were actually Onos and Healys! I was totally like “should I be impressed by this” hahaha. I seriously knew NOTHING about bars. Now it’s my favorite event to watch for those little intricacies!

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  1. Dude, it’s rather bananas that Nabieva has never made an Olympic team. That seems wrong somehow. Nabs for 2020, I say!

    Also I kinda loved that whack 2014 Russian Worlds team. Nabieva AND Kramarenko, who got a freaking zero on vault at 2007 Worlds, basically for not using her noggin. Plus Sosnitskaya in AA finals and then not on the team at all in 2015. It was all weird and fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Other countries just don’t have the same structure that US does. You can find a fully equipped gym at every other corner. In Brazil, I can count in only one hand all those gyms around the country. The sport is just not as popular.

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  3. UGHH sorry I sent this as a question on accident… sorry Lauren 😦
    Adding on to the China thing, it’s going to be REALLy hard for them to model the U.S. system. Like Lauren said, the kids that do do the recreational “fun gymnastics”, as they call it, only do it for fun and fitness. For most families, they do not want their children to go down the path of the state sports schools, because without something like NCAA that they can fall back to, if they don’t end up making it to the Olympics, it’s hard to get their life back on track basically. At these provincial teams and at the national team, they train full time, and they do do some schoolwork but definitely not what the other kids do at regular school. And the college system in China is so different, too- basically based on ONE test, instead of a wholistic (lol I hate that word now) approach like they use in the U.S. Some athletes in China with national/international success are able to get into college after their retirement because of their success, but most of the athletes simply don’t get to that point.

    That’s why a lot of the stories you hear are that the athletes come from not well-off families. They send their children to do sports so that the children can have a possibility of a brighter future, (because in poor rural areas, they just don’t have the resources to be academically on par with the level of well-off folks in the city) and I guess if they make it to the national team, can earn a salary and have living expenses covered. (I’m not sure if they do that for provincial teams though, since SCS’s story said they had to pay for her gymnastics initially so I’m not so sure anymore).

    On the other hand, in the U.S. you do sports if your family is well-off and can pay for all the coaching and traveling expenses. And sports seems to be a large part of the culture; it seems that every kid has had some sort of recreational sports experience. Here in the U.S. the mentality seems to be that sports can not only teach fitness, but also teamwork, work ethic, etc. In China there isn’t really that mindset; while some families send kids to do extracurriculars, the main focus is always academics, because again, that’s pretty much the only thing that counts towards getting into college. And the school system itself is different- in the U.S. a schoolday typically ends at like… around 3PM, so students have time to do other stuff, but in China, some schools are boarding (you can go home on Sundays), and most schools have a lot of “self-study classes” basically you sit in a room and do work by yourself when teachers walk around, and I think these often go late into the night, so even if the school isn’t boarding, there simply isn’t much free time to do… anything.. let alone a competitive sport. So in China it’s like all-in (state sports school system) or nothing almost.

    Sorry this was so long and I hope I got things right lol. So the tl;dr is basically you can’t model the U.S. system until your country’s structure and mindset changes…. but China def. seems to be recognizing the need to make some changes to their program and are doing some of that.

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    • Yep, everything you said here is mostly correct. About SCS, the parents probably had to pay tuition at a sports school. These sports schools feed into the provincial team. Once she tried out and made the provincial team, she got a minor salary.

      Another thing I want to add is that gymnastics is just not a popular sport for parents. It’s popular enough among the public for tv and commercial purposes. But if I had one child, why would I want to choose gymnastics? Training is so harsh and packed because gymnasts tend to peak younger. Tennis and swimming are more popular choices now in China because kids can “grow” into the sport and still have a bit of free time for education. That’s why almost half of Chinese tennis players know English. The only gymnast I know who can speak English is Li Xiaopeng and that’s because he has an American wife.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Geza Pozar absolutely did work with the Karolyis in the US. He didn’t coach alongside them, but a lot of the Karolyi stars’ floor routines were choreographed by him.

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    • also does the one arm pirouette work Valeri Liukin did with a lot of his gymnasts not count as being similar to the Chinese style?

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      • The Healy/Ono and other front giant work Valeri coached is literally what the Chinese do. Chow also coaches that style of bars, sometimes. But in general, it’s not popular here whereas the Chinese do it in literally every routine.

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