It’s time for the 165th 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.
If you could completely redesign the sport of women’s gymnastics, would you, and how? Would you change events? Would you score differently? Would you take leo deductions?
I definitely wouldn’t take leo deductions. In fact, I’d probably take away the pageantry of leos overall and require them to be more sporty because while there is obviously an expressive/artistic side to gymnastics, I think that should come totally from the athlete’s movements/physical expression, not from what is essentially becoming a costume. They’re not allowed to use props or anything else ‘theatrical’ so I think taking away the costume aspect will make it more respected as a sport so we can still appreciate the artistry through forms of expression that don’t involve costumes, and then we can also make the athleticism more a focus.
I’d probably also want to make a lot of the judging aspects more technical using kind of what is becoming popular in streams now, like judging height and distance and angles and things like that with actual measurements rather than judges eyeballing it. I know the Japanese are working on something like this with lasers now, but I think taking away some of the subjectivity would also make the sport more ‘legitimate’ in the eyes of the mainstream. I actually don’t mind the leos or the subjectivity so much personally, but the sport is always under criticism and so I think some subtle changes like this could make it more widely-accessible.
Finally, I think I’d want to increase the number of events to make it so that there becomes more of a true all-around aspect, which makes it harder for gymnasts to get by on one or two good events like sometimes happens now. The best example was probably McKayla Maroney circa 2011 when she was second at nationals with nearly a 16 on vault and then scores in the mid 13s to low 14s on her other events. I think it makes the all-around more like a true and balanced competition with six events, like the men have…so while I don’t know what I’d want those events to be, I think I’d prefer something like this for the women.
Can gymnasts wear their 2016 Olympic leotards in competitions in 2017?
It depends on the country and/or gymnast…some will wear them again and again and again and again and AGAIN. Some retire them (though I can’t think of anyone that did that from 2016). Some individuals will choose to wear them (in Canada, only the Olympians get those leos, so it’s like a mark of honor to wear it at a meet like Elite Canada or nationals), but other countries keep them in the national team kits and so you won’t see them at individual meets but you’ll see them at other competition the national team attends (like the U.S.).
Do you think Liu Tingting has a chance to be the 2017 world beam champion?
Yup! Routines like hers are hard because since the bulk of her difficulty comes from connections, she has to make sure she actually hits all of them and gets them credited…but if she has a good day she absolutely could win it. I really hope she does. Her beam is unmatched so far this year.
Why is a front toss less difficult than a front aerial despite both landing two feet at the same time?
A front toss is more like a front tuck than an aerial, except it takes off on one leg with the back leg kicking over whereas in a front tuck, both legs go over together at the same time (which is why a front tuck is harder than a front toss). In a front toss, the gymnast is making a tuck shape, but in an aerial, the body is fully extended…think of it kind of like a front version of a back layout stepout. I guess a front toss is almost like a marriage between a front tuck and a front aerial, but it’s a little easier than both.
Do you think Simone Biles would be able to snag a medal in each of the events she medaled on in Rio if she comes back in 2020?
Maybe? I’m not a fortune teller. It would depend on how well she came back, if she’s able to get her difficulty back, if she’s able to get her level of execution back, and it would also depend on the field and who she’d have to contend against. I think she’s superhuman so I’m pretty sure she could come back fairly easily and win medals, but some of the greatest gymnasts in the world haven’t been able to come back to a standard they were at when they were at their peak, so while it’s totally possible, we can’t assume it’ll happen no problem.
Is it against the rules to stand on the low bar to get to the high bar?
For elite, yes. A jump from the low bar to the high bar instead of a transition results in an automatic five-tenth deduction, so they can do it, but it wouldn’t be worth anything as a skill and you’d get a pretty hefty deduction.
What do you think attributed to the downward trajectory of Chinese gymnastics since 2008, especially compared to the U.S.?
I think they put every strength and resource into 2008 to have a top showing at home, and it’s not that they purposely said “okay, that’s done, time to chill!” but without having something big like hosting the Olympics to motivate the program, it’s clear they let some things slide, and it’s possible even that the program stopped getting as much funding as they had for 2008, which also hurts the program.
That coincides with a growing concern in China that parents have about putting their kids into strict training regimens…fewer parents are willing to hand their kids over to provincial or national training systems because they want their kids to have ‘normal’ childhoods. The state-run system is very old-fashioned in the eyes of younger parents, who would rather put their kids into sports as a recreational activity, which is a more western notion.
So fewer kids have been feeding into the system, which over the years is creating less depth. The Chinese federation has noticed this, and they are in the process of building more rec gyms to encourage parents to get their kids involved with the sport, and then from there, they’ll be able to take the super promising ones into the national system…but building this new kind of developmental system will obviously take time.
I think another problem is that they don’t seem to train individuals…it’s more like, these are the skills we train, so these are the skills you will compete. That means front giant work for gymnasts who don’t have that kind of shoulder mobility, triple fulls to punch fronts for everyone on floor, and so on. Most programs are able to create better individualized routine construction. Even Russia, which isn’t super individualized in terms of what and how they train, notices certain strengths and weaknesses, which is how we get Seda Tutkhalyan’s bars. China has difficulty bonuses at home for certain specific skills, so girls who shouldn’t be doing these skills end up doing them anyway because it’s how they impress the national team staff.
So I think it’s multiple things all coming together at once…no longer having to host the Olympics and impress at home, a changing idea of childhood in China, a lack of individualized attention in training. They do have some great talent, but their problem is mostly about a low level of depth at the very top, which is a result of some of those things I mentioned.
Why is it that most host countries end up reaching their peak after their host Olympics are over? Is it because juniors benefit from a burst of Olympic funding? Are there other factors?
Similar to the question above about China, I think host countries do get more attention and funding from up top when they’re expected to do well at home, and sometimes that can translate into a strong generation going into the next quad, but I don’t think every country goes through that. Great Britain did look mostly better this quad compared to 2012, at least in some ways, but it wasn’t like a radical transformation or anything. And both China and Brazil ramped up the programs going into 2008 and 2016, respectively, but China didn’t reach a peak after it…China’s peak was in 2008 right when they wanted to be. Brazil definitely benefitted from their Olympic funding bringing in great experienced coaches to train a whole new generation of coaches, but even they are still relying on mostly previous quad gymnasts to continue leading them this quad. There is some carry-over, but I think most host country peaks when you look back through history tend to be AT the Games, not in the following quad.
Do you think the U.S. will bring more specialists to this year’s worlds or just three all-arounders?
It depends on what they end up having this summer…if they have a handful of all-arounders but also gymnasts who could medal on events without being all-arounders, I think they’ll take two all-arounders and two specialists. But if they don’t have any specialists who are real medal contenders, it makes more sense to take three all-arounders. I have a feeling this year it’ll end up being two all-arounders and two specialists, especially if MyKayla Skinner comes back and ends up being a threat on vault and floor (or if not her, if we get a surprise vaulter like we did with Kayla Williams in 2009). In this situation, you’d have MyKayla/a vaulter and Ashton Locklear (bars) as medal hopefuls, so they could go along with two all-arounders who also have some event medal potential, and that makes for a pretty good group. That’s similar to what they had in 2009, compared to 2013 where their top event contenders were also their top all-arounders, so they had no need to use specialists since none of them were likely to medal. But if we don’t have MyKayla and/or Ashton for whatever reason this year, it’s hard to see who else could go as a medal hopeful specialist, in which case they’d probably go the route of just taking the top three all-arounders.
Why is there a lack of good floor music and artistry in general? People criticize the U.S. but Russia has had so many bad floor routines in terms of choreography and artistry.
Russia’s routines last quad were some of my least favorite in the world and yet people continued to call them ‘artistic’ because they had…slow ‘pretty’ music I guess? I don’t even know. They’re getting better this quad, but last quad was abysmal. I think the focus for most of a gymnast’s career is on perfecting difficult athletic elements, so you have kids coming up the ranks who are amazing athletes, but then they need to add an artistic aspect to their gymnastics, and they’re like WHAT?
Gymnasts are trained to learn a movement and perfect it, and you can’t really teach artistic expression, so many struggle with it. They’re used to technical directions like “point your toes, tilt your chest back, extend your arm through your fingers” and they can master these aspects, but then they get an artistic direction like “feel the music” and they’re like ummmm WHAT? It’s like teaching a kid nothing but math for a decade and then being like “okay, now write a poem.”
I think the most artistic floor workers tend to be those who are naturally expressive performers, but most kids who are like that end up in dance or acting, not gymnastics, which attracts more left-brainers it seems. But when we do get the more emotionally expressive right-brained kids in gym, it makes for some fabulous routines, like Laurie Hernandez (especially back when she was like ten years old and possessed more artistic energy in her pinky toe than any senior elite had in her entire body) and one of my favorite wee ones from Jesolo, Alessia Federici. These are kids who are naturally outgoing and explosive in life, and that’s what translates so well into their floor routines.
I talked with Kyla Ross’ artistry coach back in 2013, and she said Kyla was SO perfect, when you give her choreo, she’s asking all of the technical questions like “where should my hand be?” and “where should my eyes point?” and their whole job was to break her of these perfectionist habits. It became more like “just DO IT, don’t THINK about it!!” Good artistry is less about exactness and more about moving to some outside sensation that forces you to move — smell, sight, taste, sound, etc. It’s impossible to really teach someone how to express themselves to something, and if you naturally in life are more reserved and technical, as many gymnasts tend to be, then you as a floor performer won’t be able to express as well as the judges and fans would like you to.
So I think it’s just the simple fact that the majority of those who tend to excel at the sport tend to be more left-brained, which works really well for them in every aspect of the sport but artistry.
What happened with Roxana Popa and Yao Jinnan?
Roxana injured her knee on beam last spring, and then had surgery…she’s still planning on coming back but after her surgery in October 2016, her doctors wanted her to stay out of gymnastics (training skills) for a year because the reason she kept getting hurt was because she kept coming back too soon and competing on a painful injured knee. She hopes to be back to contend for Euros in 2018 but it’s been over a year now since she’s done anything, so we’ll see what she’s able to do. Yao Jinnan had shoulder surgery in the U.S. in early 2015, and had about a year-long recovery period, but when she came back in 2016, she was nowhere close to her old skill level and didn’t make the Olympic training squad.
Why does the U.S. hold championships so late compared to other countries?
Since they serve as one of the two main selection meets for worlds and the Olympics (for worlds, they go mainly off nationals and the selection camp and for the Olympics, they go off of nationals and trials), they like to hold them as close to the competition as possible so they can see the gymnasts close to peak competition strength. Other countries have other meets they prepare for and also have different priorities from the U.S. Some countries don’t use nationals for selection at all, because nationals are multi-level and aren’t really an elite-only competition the way U.S. nationals are. So Belgium will hold nationals for every level and won’t prioritize it as a selection meet, which is why in some years the top elites don’t even bother preparing for nationals because other meets — like friendly meets — are used for selection and that’s what they prepare for. Other countries use nationals for selections for other meets, like Euros or Asian Championships…and pretty much all Scandinavian countries used nationals as the selection meet for Nordic Championships this year, because that was their priority, so they all held nationals within the weeks leading up to Nordics. But the purpose of U.S. nationals is to determine the national team and to start the selection process for the worlds or Olympic team, so it makes sense to hold them as close as possible to the meet for which they’re determining a team.
When a gymnast falls off bars or beam, how long do they have to get back on? What happens if they go over that time?
They get 30 seconds to get back on. If they don’t, they get a 0.3 ND penalty.
Why does Simone Biles cross her toes when she vaults? Does it help her? Is it something she can’t help doing?
It’s probably a habit she picked up because she struggled keeping her legs together in that layout position, so in order to force her legs together, locking one foot over the other became her way of correcting herself. Even though it comes with a deduction, it’s not as aesthetically bad as having split and messy legs throughout the entirety of the vault, so it’s not perfect but it’s an improvement.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins