You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

It’s time for the 152nd 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.

I’m desperate to see Aliya Mustafina come back after she has her baby. Other than Oksana Chusovitina and Larisa Latynina, have there been any gymnasts with successful returns after having a baby?

To the international elite level, I don’t think so…I think I maybe heard of someone from one of the Latin American countries who did it at one point but I only vaguely remember this and don’t remember even slightly who it was or where she was from or if I’m even remembering this correctly, haha. (Edit- Thanks Kristen for confirming that I’m not going crazy…this was Leyanet Gonzalez of Cuba, who was the gymnast responsible for inspiring Annia Hatch to make a comeback! Also thanks to Cherity for reminding me of Lisa Mason’s brief return and of Goksu Uctas Sanli’s comeback this year coming after having a child.) A few have done it at lower levels, like Julia Sharpe, who gave birth to twins at age 27 and then eight weeks later went back to competing for MIT’s men’s club team, because why not? Oh, and Brooklyn Doggette of West Virginia missed last season in NCAA to have a baby, but was back this season for her senior year.

With Trump’s new immigration policy, I don’t see Irina Alexeeva’s citizenship being fast-tracked. Could she compete under the Olympic flag if she doesn’t get US citizenship in time and can’t compete for Russia?

No, I highly doubt this is a case that will open up a need for her to get the opportunity to compete under the Olympic flag. That only really happens if an athlete would have made their country’s Olympic team or qualified through a trials process but can’t attend under their own country’s flag because of something like geopolitical changes (as with South Sudan in 2012, because as a new state, they hadn’t yet formed an Olympic Committee), international sanctions (as with Yugoslavia when the country was under U.N. sanctions in 1992), and suspensions of a country’s Olympic committee (as with India in 2014 when its Olympic committee had problems with its electoral process). A girl who could make the U.S. team but isn’t a citizen wouldn’t really be a priority. Also, Trump’s new immigration policy doesn’t affect Russia really at all…honestly, if anything, Russia probably has more favor than any other country since Putin is apparently our true leader, hahaha.

Will we ever see Sabrina Vega do the all-around at Georgia?

Maybe in the future if they need her on vault or bars, but those were never her strong points. She’s always been a great beam and floor gymnast, and that’s where she’s standing out in NCAA, but I could see if there were injuries or something and she needed to step in on the other events, they’d probably have her go for it. They’re not gonna sacrifice the better vaulters and bar workers just to give her an all-around spot, though. That’s not how NCAA works.

Is there something like double-sided tape that gymnasts can use to avoid super wedgies from their leos?

I think some use hairspray or butt glue like gals use for swimsuit competitions in pageants. But with the activity level as high as it is in gymnastics, it can be impossible to keep leos still even with double-sided tape or hairspray or butt glue.

Is there a DVD I can buy of the competition in Rio?

I think NBC puts out highlight DVDs for the Olympic Games, but I haven’t seen anything like that for Rio yet. The only DVDs that are available seem to be bootlegs people are selling on eBay for like $15 or so.

Can you explain the difference between Level 10 and elite gymnastics in the U.S.?

Level 10 is part of the J.O. system, which has compulsory and optional levels from 1 through 10 and uses the perfect 10 scoring system. Level 10 is the highest in J.O., with about 1000 competitors across the country at any given time, and most have NCAA competition as a goal. The majority of NCAA gymnasts came up through the J.O. system and were recruited based on the routines and skills they showed as level 10 gymnasts.

Elite is separate from the J.O. system, but obviously since J.O. is the main gymnastics system in the U.S., pretty much every single elite will have competed level 10 before going elite (though sometimes gymnasts who are really talented level 9s will end up going right from level 9 to qualifying elite…Alyssa Baumann was only a level 9 for a few months when she qualified elite at age 11, so she never competed level 10).

Only a small percentage of level 10s end up attempting to go elite, and most go for it at a young age, around 10-13, though you do occasionally see a 17-year-old who’s been a level 10 for five years decide to give elite a try before she goes off to college. Gymnasts have to pass compulsory and optional qualifiers if they want to go elite, and the elite routines are much more difficult and involved than level 10, so a gymnast’s training time almost doubles between the two levels. Most don’t want to make the sacrifices necessary for elite, and many who do qualify elite will drop back down to level 10 within a year or two because it’s a really huge commitment. Also, gymnasts can’t compete both level 10 and elite simultaneously. Once a gymnast qualifies elite, she can no longer compete level 10, and has to petition to drop back down in order to do so.

So long story short, all elite gymnasts came up through the J.O. levels system in the U.S. and were at least a level 9 if not a level 10 before qualifying elite, but elite kind of branches off away from the J.O. program with different people in charge.

What is Vanessa Atler doing now?

She wrote a children’s book about gymnastics a couple of years ago and she’s also the mom of a little boy. I think she’s also coaching gymnastics but I think she’s sticking to lower levels at the moment.

Do men have artistic requirements? It doesn’t seem to be considered in scoring for men, nor is it mentioned during commentary.

There are no requirements, but there is supposed to be an aesthetic and finesse to men’s gymnastics, and they can technically get deducted for not reaching a certain standard (there’s a super vague “other aesthetic errors” deduction category that this fits into). The code of points says something about how gymnasts must never increase difficulty at the expense of aesthetic, but I mean, in practice this isn’t really happening. Floor exercise is where it’s easiest to show artistry in MAG, and their exact language doesn’t say “artistry” but it does say all elements must form a “harmonious rhythmic exercise.” I highly doubt anyone really gets deducted for not having a “harmonious” routine though, because no one is really doing impressive stylistic floor routines in MAG. I think Yul Moldauer’s was the first floor routine I ever saw where I was like WOW, that was actually more than just tumbling and arbitrary hops into corners. So anyway, there’s an expectation of artistry, but not a requirement, and even though the language is there in the code, no judges in MAG really make it a priority.

Why is a Chusovitina or a Rudi vault more difficult than a Zamolodchikova? The Zamo has a twist off the board and an extra twist that the Rudi doesn’t have…are tsuks easier than a straight handspring?

Yes, in general tsuks are easier than front handsprings because the flips in tsuks are backwards whereas the flips in handsprings are forward. A front layout is much harder to compete than a back layout, which is why tsuks and Yurchenko entry vaults — both of which have back flips off the table — are generally rated lower than handspring and Yurchenko half-on entry vaults — both of which have front flips off the table. So yes, a handspring Rudi, aka a handspring front layout with 1½ twists, is harder and has a greater difficulty value than a tsuk with two twists, just like a Yurchenko half-on front layout 1½ is harder and has a greater difficulty value than a Yurchenko double.

Could Maggie Nichols come out of retirement to compete elite again? What would her NCAA routines score in elite competition?

Yes, I could see it happening. She would need upgrades to fit elite standards, but it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to bring a few of her skills back to make things work because she’s missing a few requirements and doesn’t have enough high-level skills in each routine. Her NCAA routines would have D scores of 5.0 on vault, 3.4 on bars (she’s missing the full pirouette and different grips requirements in elite), 4.2 on beam, and 3.6 on floor (she’s missing the front salto requirement). So her NCAA routines on their own wouldn’t be super competitive in elite, but a few minor fixes could bring those scores right up, and if she can keep her execution as clean and consistent as it’s been in NCAA, she can definitely score well internationally.

Who is the guy who does carpool karaoke with the UCLA girls? What does he do?

That’s Cory Tomlinson, who at one point was a team manager but I believe he graduated and no longer serves in that capacity, though he still helps out with the team in other ways? I think his dad was Miss Val’s boss at some point, or the person who initially hired Miss Val, so he had a family connection at the school and Miss Val liked him and brought him in to help out.

How does the postseason work in NCAA? What is seeding?

In each week during regular season, teams earn scores that factor into the RQS, which is the regional qualifying score. The RQS ranks each team, and at the end of the regular season — which concludes with conference championships — the teams’ rankings determine (a) whether or not they get to go to regionals, which is the first stop in postseason, and (b) which regional competition they will attend.

The top 36 teams from regular season get to go to regionals, and the top 18 are seeded into the various regionals based on their ranking while the teams ranked 19th through 36th are sent to various regionals based on their geographic location. Seeding is how teams are ‘planted’ into the bracket for postseason. The top 18 teams are seeded in a way that each regional meet will have one team from the top six, one team from the teams ranked 7th through 12th, and one team from the team’s ranked 13th through 18th.

Here is how the seeding generally works:

Regional 1- teams ranked #1, #12, and #13 plus three ranked #19th-36th
Regional 2- teams ranked #2, #11, and #14 plus three ranked #19th-36th
Regional 3- teams ranked #3, #10, and #15 plus three ranked #19th-36th
Regional 4- teams ranked #4, #9, and #16 plus three ranked #19th-36th
Regional 5- teams ranked #5, #8, and #17 plus three ranked #19th-36th
Regional 6- teams ranked #6, #7, and #18 plus three ranked #19th-36th

Regionals are a “hit when it counts” kind of deal with the teams that finish in the top two spots on that day earning a bid to nationals. You can see that the way seeding works, the top six teams from regular season are basically guaranteed a spot at nationals if they hit at regionals because chances are, no other team in their regional is going to come close to them, and the teams ranked 7th through 12th also have a pretty fair shot, though there is usually at least one upset every year, especially with the teams ranked about 10th through 12th, since their competition is pretty closely ranked and is only sometimes tenths apart from them in the RQS.

Why doesn’t Aly Raisman have a ‘natural swing’ on bars? Is there some sort of physics behind it? Does it have to do with height or body mass?

I don’t think it has to do with her height or body mass, because there are gymnasts built like her who have more natural swings, but rather with her style of movement, which is sometimes a little clunky on bars. There’s no fluidity to her swing and you can see the effort behind it, if that makes sense, and at times it looks like she’s almost fighting the bars to get them to obey her movement compared to gymnasts who know how to make the bars work for them. People tend to think that body type equals nice bars swing, and while yes, some body types are more aesthetically pleasing on bars due to long lines or hyperextended knees or whatever, there are plenty of more muscular gymnasts who also have great swings. I actually love the more muscular, aggressive bars swings. There are some super nice Maloney to Tkachev combinations that look so incredibly fluid and natural despite it being a super power-driven combo. Aly did that combo and it was never quite what it needed to be, but I’ve seen other gymnasts with similar body types but a more natural swing get it to this magical point so that it looked like those skills were supposed to be connected. That’s what Aly’s missing in her swing, I think.

In Eythora Thorsdottir’s Reykjavik routine, it was clear that all of her new and unique connections had the new code in mind. Do you think she’s done it this early because she’s already gearing up for worlds?

I mean, worlds are probably on her mind, just as they’re on pretty much every top senior competitor’s mind, but no one really starts prepping for worlds in January or February. The girls competing now are mostly doing it to test out new elements so that they know what to go home and work on as they go into the bigger competitions later this season, like Euros in April and then worlds in October. Someone like Eythora isn’t going to go full speed ahead all year long because she wants to compete at worlds. She’ll ease her way in trying out new combos, try to be at 90-100% for Euros, then go home and work on things a bit more, maybe do a friendly meet or two, and then come back at 100% for worlds. The meets happening so far this year are basically just lots of practice meets. They’re helpful to get routines sorted out and to see how you’re going to be judged, but no one competing right now is on a nonstop trajectory from here to worlds.

Do you know of any gymnasts who have used Broadway music for their floor routines (apart from the Phantom routines)?

Funny that I should get to this now because Claudia Fragapane’s new floor routine is “The Nuttycracker Suite” from Thoroughly Modern Millie. I saw that show 11 times on Broadway and literally screamed when I heard it on the live stream. Aside from that the only one I can recall recently is Ragan Smith’s West Side Story routine, one of the British juniors doing a song from Wicked a couple of years ago, and lots of girls have done variations from Fiddler on the Roof, including Alice Kinsella of Great Britain at the moment. I personally want someone to use the “Jailhouse Rock” dance break from All Shook Up on floor. I think it’d the perfect high-energy big tumbling routine that gets audiences going nuts because it’s a recognizable song that everyone loves, but jazzed up in a way that makes it more entertaining in this medium. Anyway, I think showtunes in general were more popular in the 80s and 90s? It’s definitely not a trend anymore but you do get the occasional music from a musical.

This is my first time following the whole NCAA season and I can’t get behind Auburn, especially at home meets where I find myself actively rooting against them because of the ‘gymnasties.’ Is there a story there or are they just a nasty group taunting people?

Lots of other sports have fans like these whose sole purpose is to root against the visiting teams. It doesn’t really translate to gymnastics at all, especially if you’re a gym fan and just appreciate the gymnastics in general no matter which team is competing. I think Arizona State has a similar kind of weird fan club that taunts visiting teams, and like, yeah that’s fun at basketball games or football games or whatever, but it’s really inappropriate to be taunting another team while they’re on beam? I mean, you do you, but maybe save the loud taunting for other moments of the competition when there’s no one competing on a four-inch block of wood who could get seriously hurt if she loses her concentration due to some frat boy screaming nonsense in an otherwise quiet arena.

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. 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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20 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I believe Madison Kocian also went straight though to junior elite from level 9 and even made the national team in 2009 (WOGA things I guess).

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  2. There have been many gymnasts who’ve used Musical Theater songs. Hernando’s Hidaway was super popular in the late 90s. Kristen Maloney used Broadway in, 98 or 99 I believe.

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  3. Artistic deduction ions are definitely taken on both floor and beam in WAG. In fact there are two inputs necessary in the scoring system at international competition….the first for artistry, the second for execution faults. It’s rare that an international gymnast has zero in artistry deductions, especially on beam. The artistry deductions are very specific…..there’s no avoiding them if the requirements are not fulfilled

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    • That’s interesting, I’ve seen a couple of breakdowns at recent meets where in the entire competition, zero deductions were taken for any routine! And both were lower-level competitions with girls as young as 12, so it’s not like it was a bunch of Lieke Wevers clones or something. I found that interesting because I always heard artistry deductions were getting very strict and that’s why the U.S. brought in artistry coaches in this past quad for a few of the girls. Maybe at the FIG world cup/world champs/Olympic level it’s more strict but at lots of the lower-level meets I was surprised to not see anything!

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      • When we judge ‘levels’ competitions we always are easier on the younger gymnasts (under 13 years) on artistry deductions as we could otherwise take the maximum deductions. But once it comes to national championships, or even levels with older gymnasts, we are pretty realistic in artistry deductions. At European Championships I remember taking 0.7 in artistry from one of the gymnasts in the junior competition on floor. 0.3/0.4 would be a very common artistry deduction.

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        • Ahh, interesting and good to know! I forgot the competition I was recently watching but it was something like one of Germany’s Bundesliga meets or something similar so it would make sense if they were lenient there compared to Euros or a higher-level national meet.

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      • Place Lieke Wevers as an example of ” artistry” almost makes me cry. As a jazz dancer, I can say she has amateur intermediate level. It is whar i already said, she does all the piroutes because she cant do something else in high Level, smart move of daddy coach. But thinking she has artistry, it is a prove that there is no more Silivas and russian divas in gymnastics, just a bunch of robots.
        Eythora is better in that, she really can dance and is gracefull.

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        • I mean, comparatively to most gymnasts, Lieke is artistic. That just speaks to the level of artistry in gymnastics right now. Artistry is about making people feel something with a routine/performance and I will say that seeing Lieke’s routine up close and just seeing her face/heart that she’s putting in, it made me have an emotional reaction. Eythora is also a good (probably better than Lieke) example of artistry but Lieke still ranks higher on the artistry level than probably 95% of gymnasts.

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        • Diva, I can tell you can`t stand the Wevers twins, but there is no need to be so nasty about them. Artistry is a very subjective “measurement” and just because you don`t see it, doesn`t mean it isn`t there. And Daddy being smart is a compliment in my book, why do you have to be so nasty about her dad coaching her. He is coaching them very smartly and uses their strengths.

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  4. I sent the gymnasties question earlier in the season. One of my favorite moments was watching DD Breaux pacing in front of them to protect her athletes. I’m sure she was polite, but I was just so happy when that happened. She was behind the barrier making sure they didn’t pull that crap with her girls. I loved it!

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  5. Pingback: You Asked, The Gymternet Answered – Natasha Konwitschny

  6. I would die if I ever saw someone compete a floor routine to a song from Rent. I bet there will be lots of Hamilton routines though.

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