You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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It’s time for the 196th 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.

In 2016, we saw tons of veteran/older gymnasts competing which was great! Why do you think there is more longevity in the present day than in the past? Is it the trend of the peak age getting older?

The trend has definitely been going up in the past decade, which is awesome! I think in addition to gymnasts trying to train for longevity rather than one big peak, it also helps that many gymnasts are finding opportunities to compete at a high level when the young seniors in their country aren’t as strong. So as the veterans keep training and competing at a high level, when new gymnasts come up and are unable to meet that level, they generally end up retiring early, often before they might reach a high level of their own.

That kind of describes Romania perfectly, as with Catalina Ponor sticking around until the age of 30, many 16-year-olds who came up last quad felt like they’d never be in contention for an international assignment with Catalina around, so they retired before the age of 18. But it’s the same in many other countries where the rising seniors just aren’t as strong. If federations want to keep teams competing at a high international level, they want to give their veterans incentives to stick around and keep competing. Germany and the Netherlands are a good example right now…both teams have FABULOUS senior groups, where the majority of their gymnasts are in their 20s. But if all of these 20-somethings retired and the young seniors had to take over, they’d be nowhere near at the same level, so these federations have no reason to kind of phase out the veterans.

In the U.S. it’s been the opposite, with the national program being kind of blasé about veterans. Martha Karolyi’s attitude has always been like “they can come back if they want to, but our developmental program is strong enough that we don’t need them.” While we saw at worlds this year that the younger seniors weren’t quite as polished as last year’s team was, they still got four medals from two gymnasts, a 16-year-old and a kid who had been in elite for only a few months. Veterans help the U.S. but the foundation isn’t built on having veterans compete the way it is for most other countries.

Seriously, if you got rid of every country’s gymnasts born prior to 1999 this year, the majority of countries would be in shambles. And so if you’re 25 and the star of your country’s gymnastics program with no prospects coming up that can oust you anytime soon, you can bet most federations are going to beg you to stick around, and the incentives for doing this can be great. Especially in smaller programs…pretty much all of the top gymnasts in places like Iceland, Finland, Malaysia, Austria, and so on are in their mid 20s.

So all of that, plus some gymnasts really just love doing the sport and because most of those who have been around for a long time have ways to earn money from it, they figure they might as well stick around. It’s becoming more like a job than just something you do as a teenager before going to college and moving on, which is what it kind of used to be in the days of yore. When I talked to Kim Bui at the American Cup this year about going into her fourth Olympic cycle and being 31 in Tokyo if she makes it, she was like “I love gymnastics and my body can handle it, so I might as well keep going!”

The majority of gymnasts competing internationally at a high level are still 16-18, with something like half of the gymnasts at worlds this year in that age bracket, and that’s how it will probably skew for a while because kids that age aren’t in college/university yet, don’t have to worry about jobs/raising a family, etc…but the fact that nearly half are in their 20s or older is awesome!

Is there a reason gymnasts travel to other countries to have surgery performed? Why don’t any of them come to the U.S.?

Some do come to the U.S., like Yao Jinnan going to Texas when she had her shoulder surgery. But often if you live and train in Europe, it’s easier to go to another European country because it’s close enough to make the logistics of everything work out.

Also, Germany tends to be popular even for some (non-gymnastics) U.S. athletes because they’re sometimes able to do more with medical innovations for a variety of sports injuries that are harder to get approval for in the U.S. because there often tends to be a lot of red tape involved with experimental surgeries and treatments.

Kobe Bryant goes to Germany for his knee pain because the therapy he gets — called Regenokine — isn’t available in the U.S. due to FDA regulations, which mandate that “all human tissues can only be minimally manipulated,” otherwise this and other biological treatments would be classified as a drug and subject to much stricter governmental regulations.

Why are bar routines less innovative than they were in the 80s and 90s? Why don’t gymnasts do bar mounts?

With the current open-ended scoring on bars, gymnasts have to pack in as many high-difficulty skills into a short routine as they possibly can, and so they tend to be more run-of-the-mill because they’re building difficulty scores based on element values, not on how unique or original their routine is. A gymnast could very well do a bunch of unique transitions if she wanted to, but with many of these skills only worth B or C values, they wouldn’t be competitive at all.

Just look at Tabea Alt with her two new skills on bars, the Zuchold half and the stalder version of the tucked Moors. Her routine became incredibly unique with these two new skills, but they’re both only rated a C, so we probably won’t see them become very popular when gymnasts are going to want to stick with D and E transitions and D+ dismounts if they want to be competitive for finals.

As for mounts, because the more difficult mounts tend to be more risky than they’re worth, gymnasts would rather use the interior of their routines to build difficulty through highly-valued elements and connections, especially since there’s a flow and rhythm to those skills, whereas with a higher-difficulty bars mount, they take the risk of doing the mount and falling within the first second of their routine, and then they also don’t really get any possibility for CV out of them. Gymnasts and coaches find the best ways to use the code for their advantage, and quickly realize what’s going to help them get high scores and what will hinder them. Unfortunately, more unique skills and bar mounts will mostly hinder them from getting high scores.

Do you think Gabby Douglas could’ve performed a more difficult bars set in Rio?

Yeah, I think she had a few more skills and upgrades in her, but I think the last-minute upgrades wouldn’t have been as high-quality, which is why they probably held off on having her upgrade. They obviously want to make routines as difficult as possible at that level, but if the added difficulty begins to compromise the quality of the routine, they’re definitely not going to do that, at least in the U.S.

Is it a deduction for a layout stepout if you land with your chest below horizontal? It seems impossible to land one fully upright.

Yes, your chest below horizontal is definitely a deduction. Even though it’s hard to land in a perfectly vertical position on beam, there is still a big difference between someone who is leaning slightly forward and someone who is so under-rotated that her chest is at her knees.

I was reading about Aly Raisman contracted to attend the Melbourne World Cup every year for the entire quad. If she decides to return to training, do you think it’s possible we could actually see her compete here?

It could be possible. I’d guess she would have to clear it with Valeri Liukin, since it’s not a competition club gyms can send athletes to (they have to be sent by the federation), and since the Melbourne World Cup is generally held a bit earlier than U.S. gymnasts tend to start preparing to be competition-ready, she might not have competitive routines at that point in the year, but I could see her doing something watered-down or even an exhibition of some sort.

There have been some judging and doping scandals in rhythmic gymnastics in the past, but for the most part artistic gymnastics has remained pretty drama-free. Is rhythmic higher pressure or something?

I don’t know a lot about the rhythmic coaching culture but it seems like it’s way more intense than artistic. I mean, we get horror stories from some artistic gyms, but rhythmic seems way beyond that and I don’t know what to attribute it to. It seems many of the gymnasts who make it to the top in rhythmic are in very controlled coaching environments, and there are many stories involving doping scandals, judging scandals, sex scandals, coaches starving gymnasts, and last year, one rhythmic gymnast in Bulgaria attempted suicide after withdrawing from contention for the Olympics. There’s drama in artistic, but rhythmic drama is the definition of extra.

Part of me wants to say that because it’s not as highly-publicized or talked about as artistic, it allows coaches and federations to get away with much more, but this is only really true in the U.S., as in many other countries rhythmic is much more popular and front-and-center in the media. While it’s not innately higher-pressure than artistic, I think the coaching culture adds to that pressure and makes it a super pressure-filled environment, depending on the federation or club gym, but yeah, the personalities in rhythmic in general just seem to lend themselves to this hyper dramatic and scandalous sort of culture.

Do you know who designs the team leos for any of the countries?

Many use GK outside of the U.S. Alpha Factor is also a big one, Ozone, Milano, Agiva, Quatro…these are all some pretty popular leo brands outside of the U.S. for national team leotards, but GK has gone international and it’s not surprising to see a Chinese gymnast in GK (though I believe the current leo sponsor for China might be Anta Sports, or at least it was last quad).

The quad has barely just begun but based on routines you’ve seen so far, do you anticipate any skills being devalued in the next code of points because they’re too common?

Not really…I’d say wolf turns again, but they were a problem last quad and weren’t downgraded, so I doubt we’ll get it this quad. Also, wolf turns are insanely popular within the U.S., but internationally they’re not THAT abused so it’s probably not a priority. I could maybe see them rethinking the value of a double tuck on floor, which seems almost compulsory levels of easy at this point, but that aside there’s nothing that really sticks out as being too common given their difficulty value.

Russia has struggled with endurance, but I see the gymnasts doing some conditioning every now and then on Instagram. What do they do in practice if they don’t work on improving endurance?

Every gymnast does conditioning, so seeing Russians conditioning on Instagram doesn’t mean their conditioning program is great. They likely do work on endurance, because if they didn’t do any cardio or endurance work they would be even worse off than they are now, but they might just need to change up the kinds of endurance training they’re doing, or take it more seriously. Many times the gymnasts who struggle with endurance are the gymnasts who tend to not take conditioning seriously or cheat on the time they put in for conditioning. Other times, that gymnast might just not be built in a way that supports high-endurance activity. Not every gymnast’s body is made for high-endurance activity, and it doesn’t matter how in-shape someone is…endurance can still be a struggle.

While rewatching some competitions from last quad, I realized there were lots of camera moments where the gymnasts awkwardly made conversation while waiting for scores. Do you think NBC will ever come back with fluff pieces? Those were more interesting!

They tend to have a lot of fluff pieces…but generally the fluff pieces go at the beginning or end or in between rotations in a meet, not while they’re waiting for scores. Because it could take a few seconds or a few minutes for a score to come up, it’s hard to casually throw in a pre-edited piece of video because if a gymnast gets her vault score really quickly after vaulting, they’ll want to move onto another routine, not spend a few minutes going through a fluff piece that could’ve come in at the start of the meet, or before that gymnast vaulted.

Do you think Peng Peng Lee will return to elite?

No, not at this point. 2016 would’ve been her time to come back but I think she’s just been too injured to handle elite physically at this stage in the game. Though it would be cool to see her make a run for 2020 on bars and beam or something, like for an individual spot.

Who designs the arenas where international competitions take place?

The meet organizers. If it’s a major international competition like the Olympics or worlds, the FIG gets involved and there are actually specifications that come into play that the meet organizers have to follow.

Why are people so obsessed with Laurie Hernandez’s bars? Her D score wasn’t huge and she was never consistent.

I think when she was younger they were quite good, but I was always SO confused in 2016 when everyone was like “she’s going to Rio for bars and floor!” when she was literally going for beam. Her bars were okay, but they weren’t clean and her technique was so bizarre (and in some ways, incorrect) that she wasn’t going to score very well there internationally. A mid-to-high 14 is still a great score on bars, but people seemed to think she had a 15.5+ routine when in reality…just no. I think while Simone Biles had some form issues here and there on bars, she was definitely better overall at the event. I mean, her stalders looked nice? But beyond that she was not a “bar worker” in the traditional sense and I remember screaming repeatedly in my live blogs last year when people would be like “bars and floor specialist!!!!” about her.

D scores have gone down consistently each quad because they count fewer elements or remove requirements. As the code stands now, is there much left to cut in the future? Will they cut it down further? What’s the point?

I think they’re just trying to figure out what works best for the competition and occasionally that means adding or getting rid of requirements. I don’t think they’re purposely trying to make the scores lower, and in the future, who knows — we could see additional requirements in the CR section or something to make the scores go up.

I think the only reason they got rid of the required D dismount CR was because so many international gymnasts couldn’t safely train D dismount elements, and so instead of just getting a tenth or two lower for their lower skill value, they were also being penalized for not having a higher-level dismount, which is really unfair and doesn’t help smaller programs trying to grow. Now the majority of gymnasts are still doing D or higher dismounts because they want that extra element value, but for those who struggle with dismounts at that level, they can do a B or a C and not get too docked, score-wise. It’s also great for gymnasts coming back from injury who are unable to work at full strength.

So I fully understand why this change came into place, and most changes are meant to improve the quality of routines. Gymnastics is a sport that should be constantly changing rules and requirements to make sure it’s working for a majority of international gymnasts, and so D scores and how high they can be are irrelevant.

The E cap on dance elements makes sense but on bars transitions it doesn’t work with skills like the Komova I and II being worth the same. Do you think the technical committee will ever figure this out or will we see an endless amount of van Leeuwens forever?

I wish they’d figure it out. I get why there’s a cap on dance elements on beam and floor, and I also get why there’s a cap on pirouettes on bars, but the transitions cap on bars just makes no sense to me, since many transitions have the potential to be more difficult than some same-bar release elements. A Komova I and II being worth the same is just silly, and it really limits the potential for innovation.

Why aren’t more Zamo or tsuk 2.5 vaults performed? Is the entry more difficult than one with a roundoff or front handspring? How would you rank the entry difficulty levels for both?

Skill-wise, a handspring is easier than a roundoff, but power-wise, many gymnasts find it’s much harder to generate power through a front handspring. I haven’t done actual gymnastics in like 20 years but I could go into any open gym right now and do a front handspring off a vault table into a pit, but I wouldn’t know the first thing about how to do a Yurchenko and would need actual skilled coaching and a lot of time spent in the gym to learn one.

But even though it’s harder to teach a Yurchenko entry, once they pick it up, it’s easier to generate power through the roundoff back handspring than it is through a front handspring, and so DTYs and Amanars become much more common than tsuks with an equal number of twists. We do see a considerable number of tsuk doubles in elite, at least internationally, but I think the issue with the tsuk 2½ is that gymnasts find it harder to generate the power to get that vault around due to the handspring-style entry.

Will China ever adapt their training and routine development to align with the new code?

I think they’ve been trying to adapt as much as possible, and they were kind of on the forefront of adapting to the new code’s beam changes this year, even though the connection-heavy routines caused some struggles internationally this year when judges weren’t willing to reward many of their shaky connections. China’s issue isn’t that they’re not adapting to the code, but that they struggle with consistency. On paper, they should have a team that could rival the U.S., but their gymnasts mentally just aren’t as strong in most instances, and they struggle with turning promising routines into high scores because of this.

A lot of people seem to think the U.S. has always been weak on bars, like Romania, but the U.S. has far more medals on bars than on vault. Is this misconception due to four-year-fans or a lack of dominant bars specialists?

I think even some hardcore fans tend to think the U.S. is “weak on bars” despite their history of success there, especially in recent years. In comparison to Russia and China last quad, yes, the U.S. wasn’t as strong, and bars definitely was a weakness in the 2012 quad, when they only had Gabby Douglas as someone who could legitimately challenge for a bars medal while everyone else struggled to break a 15. Also, last quad some of the team’s highest collective scores at worlds and the Olympics came on bars. If anything was a struggle last quad, it was beam, which looked much better in Rio than it had earlier, but in team competitions prior to Rio, beam was always the weakest. I think because China and Russia had the bars gymnasts who could consistently get scores above 15.5, even though the U.S. had a TON of gymnasts who could score a 15+ and even though their overall bars depth was much stronger than Russia’s and China’s, they looked weak in comparison…but I think having Madison Kocian and Gabby Douglas on that Olympic team last year showed that the U.S. could also produce gymnasts with sky-high difficulty and scores.

Are gymnasts like Brittany Rogers or Ruby Harrold potentially returning to compete in Tokyo? Do you see any NCAA gymnasts besides MyKayla Skinner potentially coming back to elite?

Brittany was thinking about it but after missing out on the worlds team this year, I’ve heard she might want to retire…but I think she’s still training or at least playing around in the gym, so we’ll see what she’s able to do going forward. I haven’t heard anything about Ruby wanting to retire, but after watching Marissa King try to make the 2012 team after several years in NCAA, it’s not going to be easy for Ruby to make it happen, especially if she doesn’t take any time off and just tries to jump right from finishing her final NCAA season into trying to make the 2020 team. I think MyKayla is the most likely to come back to elite in the U.S. based on those currently in NCAA, just because most others seem to be far past their bodies handling elite level skills and training whereas MyKayla was in probably the best shape of her life this past year, but I’d actually love for Brenna to come back and give it one more shot with some crazy epic bars set.

Do you know if Aliya Mustafina has graduated from university yet? How was she able to stay on track with her studies or how was Vanessa Ferrari able to join the army?

I believe Aliya graduated from the Russian State University of Physical Education, Sport, Youth and Tourism right before she had her baby? I can’t remember timing-wise but I remember her studying for exams in the spring, around the time she was hanging out at nationals, and I think she graduated shortly after.

I’ve seen photos of rhythmic gymnasts on private planes for competitions. Is it common for teams to travel like this or is it mostly teams with several top gymnasts?

I’ve never seen it in elite, I don’t think, aside from Grace Quinn’s dad flying Texas Dreams around in private planes on occasion, but if a rhythmic program is successful and has lots of sponsors throwing money at them, I can see them wanting to book private plane travel. Even the U.S. women when traveling to worlds and the Olympics flies commercial, usually in coach. With NCAA teams it can be cheaper to hire a private plane than to book dozens of commercial tickets, especially when teams traveling to various meets can change, because it can get expensive to constantly have to change the names on flight tickets and cancel tickets for those who end up unable to go…so the big SEC teams that travel with huge teams and entourages will often just fly private.

Would countries like Japan, Great Britain, or Germany need the big four countries to stumble in order to medal or do they have extremely capable gymnasts and routines that could overtake them simply by outperforming them?

I think of the three Japan has the best shot at being capable of reaching Russia or China this quad, and wouldn’t need bigger teams to stumble, though while Germany and Great Britain have strong potential lineups for the coming years, I think they’d still need to rely on mistakes to sneak in and get a medal.

A thought while answering this, but how sad that the “big four” isn’t really a thing anymore? RIP Romania.

Why do gymnasts like Seda Tutkhalyan, Claudia Fragapane, or Larisa Iordache hit in practice and qualifying but then stumble in finals? What makes a gymnast consistent?

It’s usually just nerves. The pressure in qualifications generally isn’t as great as it is in finals, and while there’s an expectation of making finals, that expectation is very different from the immense pressure that comes with the expectation of hitting in a final. A gymnast might go through qualifications like it’s no big deal, but then they make a final, sometimes unexpectedly, and they’re like oh crap. That’s when it hits them that they have a medal on the line and it really ends up getting to them. Others have this mentality right off the bat in qualifications, but for some the pressure of finals just makes a generally cool and calm competitor end up freaking out.

Do you think the FIG will ever deem vaults like the Amanar and Cheng to have too similar of an entry to be competed in vault finals?

No, because the entry isn’t similar at all…yes, they both have a roundoff, but the Amanar has a backwards entry and the Cheng has a forward entry, which in turn makes the Amanar a backwards layout off the table whereas the Cheng has a forward layout off the table, two VERY different skills.

If the U.S. could field a team of NCAA gymnasts for worlds, who do you think would make it?

Based on last year, since I definitely got this question in the spring and just took 300 years to respond, I’d bring MyKayla Skinner and Maggie Nichols as the all-arounders, Elizabeth Price for bars and floor, and Katelyn Ohashi for beam.

Who choreographs the Russian routines? They seem to have gotten stranger and less cohesive over the last two quads. Do you think this has to do with creative difficulty or technical difficulty?

I think there are a couple of choreographers who work with them, and some girls have different choreographers so it’s not all coming from the same people…but yeah, I think much of the choreography tends to be really bland and stale, so it’s always very funny to hear that they’re “the most artistic” because they really haven’t been in a long time. But Ksenia Afanasyeva and Aliya Mustafina had the same choreographer IIRC, and Ksenia’s routines were magical whereas Aliya’s were blah, so it could just be more about the performance than the actual choreography itself. I do think Angelina Melnikova’s routine this year was incredible and she was incredible at performing it, and they do seem to put more effort in the routines that will get out in front of an international crowd, but yeah, I definitely wouldn’t consider Russia the most creative or artistic country at all and I think a lot of this just carries through from how they looked over a decade ago even though it doesn’t apply anymore.

Why does it seem like parts of the code were incorporated by people who have never competed gymnastics? Do you think people on the technical committee have perspective that’s much different from current gymnasts?

Most people on the technical committee are actually former gymnasts and coaches (and current judges), but haven’t been in the trenches so to speak for quite some time so what they perceive based on watching the sport will definitely have a little bit of a remove from those actually competing. It would be cool to have a couple of athlete reps on the technical committee to give their perspective on ideas for code changes that come across the table, but I honestly don’t think the code is anti-gymnast or anything. A few rules and changes don’t seem to always make sense but in general in a sport that is constantly innovating and changing, I think they’re just trying to keep up with everything as best as possible.

I was watching some old competitions recently, and I love split-leg elements like giants on bars and double layouts on floor. Why don’t we see these anymore, and why does it seem like they never really caught on?

I actually dislike these elements and how they look so much, and I don’t know why! I think in general with split-leg elements it’s harder to gauge how clean they really are, because it’s harder to see the positioning and how exact it is compared to a double layout with legs together where you can see any leg separations or splits and know what to deduct. Everything in the sport is about aesthetic and how things look, so skills like these that are meant to look kind of broken and busted were probably just phased out for this reason alone…though I don’t know if there was an actual real reason or what the consensus was like according to those who judged the sport and made the code at that point in time when they disappeared. They’re definitely cool and unique, don’t get me wrong, but from an aesthetics standpoint they don’t fit the sport super well.

What are the different types of camps in the U.S., and what goes on at each? Is physical abilities just conditioning or does it involve basic skills? Do you know what they’re tested on? Are verification camps more of “can you compete your upgrade” or about helping to teach skills and construct routines?

Usually camps during the hiatus (post Olympics or worlds until February of the following year) tend to be more physical abilities and skills-based, whereas verification camps happen during the competitive season and are actual mini-competitions. The hiatus camps are more about routine construction, conditioning, and working new skills, whereas the competitive season camps are about monthly check-ins to see who’s in competitive shape and who isn’t. Verification camps also happen in the lead-up to competitions and help select teams, and they also can qualify gymnasts to that season’s national championships, so they do these camps as if they’re actual competitions on competition surfaces with judges and everything. The hiatus camps are a little more laid-back and coaches don’t expect gymnasts to be whipping out full routines or landing a million double layouts on a competition-regulation mat off bars or whatever, so if a double layout is a new skill, they might just train them into the pit and get constructive criticism from other coaches at the ranch, while the national team staff will evaluate as well and be like “that’s a great upgrade, I’d love to see it in verification by March” or “that’s not gonna work for her, maybe she should try a triple full instead.”

Do you think MyKayla Skinner (or any former elite NCAA gymnast) would consider doing what Alicia Sacramone did in order to be ready to make it to Tokyo?

I think what Alicia did was SO rare, we probably won’t really see it happen again. She went to college close to home with the expectation that she was going to be doing elite simultaneously, and because she was undisputably one of the best in the country/world at the time, AND because she didn’t love Brown as a school (I remember her saying it was way too liberal for her learning style), it made sense for her to leave and focus full time on elite while going pro. She always seemed about 50% committed to NCAA and college in general, but most gymnasts who go to NCAA do it because it’s the next logical step for them, and wouldn’t even consider dropping it halfway through. I could see someone like MyKayla coming back to elite after an NCAA season, but yeah, Alicia was in a unique position that no one else in NCAA has been in ever since, so we definitely won’t see anyone drop NCAA fully based on who is currently competing at that level.

In figure skating, a skater performed an illegal backflip at the 1988 Olympics and received a deduction. Are there any illegal skills in gymnastics? Has anyone ever performed one in competition?

There are a few banned skills in gymnastics, and no one has really competed them since they’ve been banned, though prior to them being banned we obviously saw them happen. In WAG, the Korbut flip is banned on bars, as is any skill that requires standing on the high bar, and the Thomas salto is banned for women, a development that happened after Elena Mukhina was paralyzed in 1980, though men are still allowed to compete these.

If compulsories were brought back, do you think the current ranking of gymnasts would be the same?

For the most part, yeah. Even though people think the open-ended code is all about “difficulty valued more than execution!!!111!111!!!1” the gymnasts who get on the podiums tend to be proficient at both. It’s very rare to see a gymnast with super high difficulty but horrible execution make it into a final, let alone medal. This doesn’t mean every gymnast will have perfect execution, but the best gymnasts in the world will have a pretty solid combination of the two. There isn’t one gymnast I can think of at the top of her game internationally who would lose her status as a top-ranked gymnast should a compulsory routine become required. Even Maria Paseka, whose form was atrocious this year, has great basics and only looks so bad on her super difficult Amanar and Cheng because her body is physically destroyed…but give her a compulsory vault and she’d rock it, so it wouldn’t protect us from having to see her Amanar and Cheng in the optional round.

Why aren’t rules more uniform across MAG and WAG? Besides getting skills named, what are some other major rules that are different between the two?

They actually just updated the rules for WAG that will allow women to get skills double-named and named at non-world/Olympic events, so PROGRESS! Aside from actual skill/routine-related rules and the rules that determine how many gymnasts can compete at worlds in an individual year, there aren’t that many differences. But ultimately, MAG and WAG are two different sports with two different technical committees and even though they’re both under the same governing body, you can’t really compare the two or why rules are different between them because they have two entirely different groups of people making rules and voting on things. They do use one another as examples, though, so I’m glad the women’s technical committee saw the skill-naming rules in MAG and decided to adopt those same rules for WAG.

Why aren’t there as many Australian gymnasts in NCAA as there are Canadians or British gymnasts?

Probably just the distance. It’s hard to be that far away from home, and while some love going to the U.S. for college, many others prefer to stay at home and get a college education there while continuing to train elite. Also, because of the international status of Australian gymnasts, not all of them can get NCAA scholarships or have their educations funded by an outside source, and paying for a U.S. college education is a huge expense, on top of the expenses like flying back and forth halfway across the world several times a year, living abroad, etc.

Are back injuries more common in gymnastics now or am I just now noticing it? What would the risks be for that kind of injury?

I don’t feel like they’re any more common now than they have been before? Maybe more prominent gymnasts are dealing with back injuries but I feel like stress fractures and general muscle soreness have always been fairly common. Usually the back injuries you hear about are related to chronic pain related to repetitive movements as well as impacts from hard landings. Then you have more serious neck/back/spine injuries from hitting your head on a landing, but these are definitely more rare whereas overuse injuries are probably part of daily life for most gymnasts.

Why are some gymnasts able to continue their career successfully after a major injury and others are not? Is it physiological or psychological?

It could be either, or a combination of both. It depends on the gymnast. A gymnast who gets a knee injury doing a difficult vault could have a mental block on that vault for the rest of her life and never be able to do it again, or she could be fine mentally but her knee could never fully heal and she might not be able to physically land any skills on hard surfaces without dealing with excruciating pain or repeated injuries.

What is a Maloney?

A Maloney is the toe-on entry version of the Shaposhnikova, a low-to-high transition on the uneven bars.

It seems a lot of the big four gymnasts are less technically sound than others in the past. Does this usually start when they’re younger before they’re on the national team? Is technical accuracy less of a priority?

I don’t really see this, aside from Romania and maybe some of the Russians, but either way if their technique isn’t as strong, it’s usually the result of their developmental training. Bad technique is hard to break, so a super talented gymnast who gets her foundational training from a coach who isn’t great or who doesn’t know how to correct these issues might be able to do tons of great skills but will always be a little ‘off’ in how they look if she can’t break bad habits. At some gyms there are coaches who push difficulty over execution no matter how bad it ends up looking, but in general a good technical foundation isn’t less of a priority for most gymnasts and coaches. Sometimes gymnasts with form issues — which are different from bad technique — do end up getting on podiums, but if a gymnast has truly bad technique on most of her skills, she probably won’t be able to pull off a very high score.

Why do some gymnasts prefer their bars more chalked than others? Do a lot of them spray the bars like Viktoria Komova does?

It’s all just about personal preference. Some like the bars with less chalk and some like them fully coated. It depends on what they’re used to in their gym, how their grips make their hands feel, and whatever makes them feel more secure when swinging.

What has Svetlana Khorkina been doing lately? Is she still working with the Russian gymnastics federation?

She said she wanted to work with the FIG at some point and I think she’s involved with the Russian federation in some capacity (apparently as a vice president of some sort, though I’m not sure what she does). She’s married to a former general in Russia’s Federal Security Service and she has a son. I just kind of picture her sitting on a throne eating strawberries watching endless YouTube videos of the current generations of gymnasts across the globe and calling the press on speed dial to scream about how when she left the sport it ended forever.

Why is the last tumbling pass of a floor exercise considered the ‘dismount’?

Because even in the absence of actually dismounting from the apparatus the way you do on bars or beam, there are still dismount-related rules on floor, and so they refer to the last tumbling run as the dismount so any dismount-related rules can apply to it as opposed to just saying “the last skill” because that could be interpreted as a dance skill and you best believe that every coach in the universe would find a way to take advantage of that loophole.

Do you know if/what the top eight countries pay for medals at the Olympics? Do they pay for medals at worlds as well?

Off the top of my head, I don’t. Some countries have this info released in various news articles surrounding the Olympic Games, and for golds it’s generally in the range of about $100k or in that neighborhood. Some countries pay for world medals but it depends. Others will give gifts worth a lot of money, like jewelry or cars.

Getting to and competing at the elite level is pretty expensive, at least in the U.S. Is it like this in other countries? Are most elite gymnasts from well-to-do families?

In most other non-U.S. countries, gymnastics and other Olympic sports are government-funded, so kids who show promise at an early age will be put through the sport by the government so that it’s no financial burden for families. Even in many western countries in Europe it’s more like this than it is like the U.S., where gymnasts train at an early age in private clubs their parents pay for, with the only funded spots going to a handful of gymnasts who make the national team, and even these spots are funded by the national governing body for the sport, not by the government. In the U.S., a majority of gymnasts who compete at the elite level are from well-to-do families, though if kids tend to show talent at a young age and their families can’t afford the cost of elite gymnastics — especially paying for tons of travel for their kids and coaches to get to the ranch and meets — there are some scholarship options available and various GoFundMe kinds of sites that pop up for those who really need the extra help. I’ve also heard of middle class parents refinancing their homes and things like that to help cover the costs in the U.S.

Does Russia value rhythmic and artistic gymnastics the same? Are parents more likely to enroll their kid in one over the other?

Not being from Russia and seeing it first-hand, I’ve heard rhythmic is the more popular of the two, and by a lot. If I had to guess, parents might want to put their kids in rhythmic over artistic, but I’ve heard of a couple of cases where gymnasts in rhythmic were moved into artistic and vice versa because they were physically more suited to one over the other, so sometimes even if a parent wants their kid in rhythmic, it doesn’t necessarily always happen that way.

I heard that Martha Karolyi had some skills she would suggest gymnasts perform because they were difficult but less likely to end up with mistakes or deductions. Do you know what skills these are?

I don’t know what skills she personally thought were difficult but less likely to end up getting deducted but based on what I know about the sport, my guess is wolf turns — which have very few deductions — are numero uno on that list of hers. Probably also Yurchenko-style vaults, which is why there isn’t as much vault diversity in the U.S. as you’d see elsewhere.

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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38 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I just kind of picture her sitting on a throne eating strawberries watching endless youtube videos of the current generations of gymnasts across the globe and calling the press on speed dial to scream about how when she left the sport it ended forever.

    *Dies laughing*

    This is perfect.

    Anyway, I’m wondering if the rep the US has for being weak on bars is in part due to the fact that the first big US gymnastic starts like Mary Lou Retton, Brandy Johnson, and Kim Zmeskel weren’t known for being excellent bar workers. Overall in the 80s and 90s in the team competitions it seemed like bars tended to be a strong rotation with vault being the weaker rotation but I think people often tend to judge a country by its stars and Nastia is our only household name gymnast who was super dominant in bars that I can think of off the top of my head.

    I also don’t remember Romania being known for being weak at bars starting until the 2000s. They got plenty of bars medals in the 80s and 90s.

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    • For the US, I agree, but, I’d argue our top stars tend to be weak on bars RELATIVE to the other events, because Jordan, Simone, Laurie, or even Shawn weren’t horrible on bars, and other countries like Romania would beg for an Aly Raisman bars set, but relative to their other events, bars was weaker… So under the open ended code, it seems fans began to think the US is weak on bars overall.

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      • Agreed. A gymnast can’t be a top all arounder at the world/Olympic level with one terrible event. Aly was terrible at bars at the beginning of her senior career which is why she only came in 13th in AA at the 2010 world’s. But yeah, by 2012 they were decent. Competent but not beautiful.

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    • I mean no one was saying the US was weak on bars prior to open ended code. I specifically remember in Athens that the US was going to make up a lot of ground on bars.

      The US has a reputation for being weak on bars because it is the only event we haven’t dominated since the open ended code. Lauren has pointed out before that it’s less about the US being weak and more about China/Russia/other countries being strong. The reputation first came about around 2008. The US lost the Olympic Gold because of bar work. In 2012, Russia beat the US on bars by 2 or 3 points. In the last quad, the US was strong but other countries also improved, so while Simone and co. were winning every possible medal on every other event, we weren’t winning many bars medals. Again, I think ultimately the US is not weak in bars, but has little to no advantage over other countries. By contrast, watching the US women on the Floor is like watching a completely different sport.

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    • The first World’s gold for the USA was bars (1978), and the first event final gold at the Olympics was also bars (1984). Retton and Zmeskal were not super weak on bars, especially Retton who won an Olympic bronze on the event using an interesting but now banned skill, the Retton flip. Yes, they were “power” gymnasts, but the Karolyi power gymnasts (including Strug) were at least competent on bars and it’s hard to think of a major Karolyi gymnast that was truly terrible on bars in my opinion. Part of the reason was that gymnasts were forced to be all-arounders, and gymnasts that were truly terrible at bars were probably weeded out.

      The early part of the 90s was a good time for American bars and we even had high caliber medals from people like Miller and Chow. The second part of the 90’s lacked medals on bars, but had innovations from people like Maloney and Ray. Speaking of Sydney, the best event for the USA in Team Finals was bars, and it’s not even close. Remember when we had three bars champions for Olympic contention and only took one to Athens? Didn’t do too much harm, since the US still won two medals on bars in the event finals. Even 2005 was kind on bars with gold and silver. The US qualified two to bars finals in 2006, even after Memmel had to pull out due to injury, and one silver isn’t a bad result.

      The US’s relative weakness on bars started in 2007 as we only really had Nastia to compete for top bar workers in the world. That relative weakness on the US team helped China immensely in Beijing. We still had Bross and Sloan as decent bars workers in 2009-2010, and they did well and placed on podiums although they weren’t dominant by any means.

      The 2011 cohort for the USA was one of the best in its history, but only one member excelled on bars and she has not been the most consistent in event finals. This cohort is very influential overall because it started the USA’s dominance in team finals, but it’s their influential status and longevity that skews our perception of the USA as a weak bars country.

      Once we move to 2013 and to the present, we see that US has won several medals and qualified to all bars finals, so there has been improvements after 2011-2012. However, there are several top countries whose main strength is uneven bars (Russia, China, Germany), and others with top contenders (GB), so the possibility of dominating the bars is still slim because of how competitive it is.

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    • I think that was my question/mine was one that was morphed into that, and the big one I had in mind was in 2001 when the top 2, Alina Kabaeva and Irina Tchachina, were found using a banned diuretic and had their medals redacted/were banned from competition for awhile, the whole shebang. Clearly, there are others on the training side, but that’s the biggest one I know of on the world competition level in recent years. (I’m a much bigger artistic fan)

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  2. You said “men are still allowed to compete these.” Was that a typo or did you really mean men can do moves that include standing on the high bar? Because I totally want to see that! (And see it come back in women’s.)

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    • I meant that in relation to the Thomas salto…I actually don’t know if men can stand on the high bar though! Would be cool if they could start their routines from standing on the high bar and get their momentum that way. In elite, instead of jumping up and pump swinging to get her momentum during training, Bridget Sloan used to stand on the high bar and jump down into her swing which was always so badass.

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      • Hey Lauren.
        No standing on the bars for men either! I do wish we could stand on the pbars though!
        The new MAG code also got rid of all roll out skills, so no Thomas anymore. My head and brain are stoked about it too!

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        • Thank you! Ugh, standing on high bar would be so cool, and p-bars too…would lead to so much innovation on p-bars especially! That’s also great about the Thomas…I feel like I vaguely remember a bad roll-out injury at worlds a few years ago, maybe just prior to 2012, and being like why are these a thing?!?!?!

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  3. Lauren you obv know this but for the questioner: Ferrari is only kind of in the army. In some countries gymnasts (and other athletes in sports where it’s hard to get sponsorships etc.) join the army as athletes as a way for the state to pay for their training etc. They are real members and I know in Germany and Austria at least they have to do basic training for a few weeks with other athletes (presumably a safe, won’t-get-you-injured version …) but their ‘army duties’ are just doing their regular training and competitions. They probably have other obligations to the army but they’re not expected to actually participate in army activities with regular soldiers, and as far as I know they can just quit when they retire? It’s just a way to get them a state salary basically. I have no idea why they aren’t just paid directly, like the GB gymnasts are for example, but that’s just the way it is in some countries. I don’t know much about Italy but it’s very common in Germany – Eli Seitz, Sophie Scheder, Marcel Nguyen and others are ‘in the army’.

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  4. Sophie Scheder got knee surgery in Colorado this year to tack on to the surgery in the US question. Also, I actually feel that if there was an NCAA worlds team I would probably put Price on vault and floor and then replace Katelyn with Kyla on Bars and Beam, just because I feel that if you put Ross and Ohashi on a worlds stage with their current routines, Ross would edge out Ohashi just because Ross has much more attention to detail; I’m not saying that Ohashi just chucks around trash looking skills, because she doesn’t, but Kyla’s routine is definitely much more polished and put together.

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  5. My niece actually trains at Gage. When picking her up I Brenna was home for break working on skills/conditioning. I asked her if she is gunnung for a specialist spot in Tokyo ( in a joking way) she responded if her body allows! So our dream may come true! 😊 she is super sweet also.

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    • YAY! I would love that so much. I love Brenna, she is one of the gymnasts I have a closer relationship with and she’s always been very sweet and such a great person. All I want is for her to succeed.

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    • I actually think that is absolutely made up. Brenna has said multiple times she is done with elite. So bad that people just want to spread rumors.

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  6. Sorry just wanted to add, Thomas saltos are totally banned for men now as well… Thank god! It is beyond me why people thought it was a good idea to start doing flips head first into the ground.

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    • I was actually told back when I was a gymnast that the reason they were banned for women and not men was because women’s center of gravity is lower down, thus making this type of skill much more dangerous. I have no idea if this is true or not. Well, we did demonstrations showing women’s center of gravity is lower (holding a layout/flat position on the beam, find your balance point), but I don’t actually know if this makes the move more dangerous for women. My coaches told me that and so I accepted it as true.

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  7. “It’s very rare to see a gymnast with super high difficulty but horrible execution make it into a final, let alone medal.”
    I agree with this… except for three words. Diane. Dos. Santos.

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  8. ok, the leotard question. There is Dreamlight. They are cute. I have seen some in Worlds and Olympics and at the US Nationals. I know the China team uses them too, so does the Romanian team in the little ones.

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  9. This was honestly one of the best editions yet! So many good questions and you answered them all really well, Lauren. Thank you!

    The Komova I/II thing bugs me so much! I’ve been surprised to see so many Bhardwajs this season and last since they’re can ruin your momentum if you don’t hit them right and they’re only an E just like the easier transitions. I loved all of Tabea’s creative new bar skills, even if they aren’t the most difficult they made her routine really interesting and she does them well. I really hope more gymnasts will do this as well!

    Also, you’re so right about MyKayla. Her form just in her first NCAA season was SO MUCH better than it was during Nationals and trials. I’m really proud of her. Definitely could see her trying for a specialist spot, since she still does some of her more difficult tumbling passes and has done her elite vaults into the pit during practices just for fun.

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    • Thank you!! And yes to both of your comments, totally agree! The Bhardwaj especially surprised me as well…I think so many of them have more deductions than they’re worth!

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    • She could try but I think if Jade was around the spot would go to her. She has better form and difficulty. Also, Queen Simone will come back and negate BOTH of their spots.

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      • Simone will not negate their spots because Simone isn’t a specialist. Assuming she’s healthy by Tokyo (since she claimed her Olympic skills are back) she’ll be on the main team.

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      • In my original comment it was *they not they’re. Ugh. Typos.

        Yes Jade kicked ass this season but she’s going to be starting collegiate gymnastics next year which takes a different toll on your body. Given, that she’s been level 10 until this year, she may be able to withstand competing weekly and still be in the same form to be able to try for a specialist spot. I meant MyKayla seems to be handling well and has improved, looking better than she did when she was an elite at the last trials. Of course so many things can change in the course of a few years but depending on where the team strengths are in 2020, I could see both of them being specialist contenders. No reason as of now we couldn’t have both!

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  10. Regarding air travel, 90% of the gymnasts travel economy class. The best way to see the gymnasts is to take a plane on the Monday after the championship ends: the airport is packed with all the delegations wearing their track suits. After the European Championship in Cluj – which has one of the tiniest airports in Europe – the waiting area before boarding was full with gymnastics royalty : Oleg, Artur, Dmitri, Pablo Brägger, Oliver Hegi, Ellie Downie, Mélanie, Coline (the French had a direct plane to Paris though), Lukas Dauser, Philipp Herder, Elisabeth Seitz, etc… all hanging around, buying souvenirs and vaguely decent food. 75% of the people there were gymnastics related and it was such a cool atmosphere. Since there were just a few planes leaving on that day, most of the gymnasts flew to or via Munich (the Germans, the Swiss and the Ukrainians). It was nice to see them being relaxed and having sincere camaraderie between them. Philipp Herder from Germany and Yevgen Yudenkov from Ukraine looked adorable when they were wincing at the not so nice souvenirs available in the shop (weird Draculas made of wood and wool). I was sitting next to Eddy Yusof on the plane and we compared our Candy Crush scores. Such a cool guy. Pablo Brägger and Oliver Hegi are the sweetest and nicest men ever. They were on the other side of the aisle and they only said nice things about other athletes. Such gentlemen.
    When I came back from Montréal, I met the Swiss again, the Romanians (Catalina has the most perfect and delicate complexion I’ve ever seen, I was captivated, this girl is striking with grace and beauty). I traveled with the Russians. Elena and Angelika had lots of stuffed animals. When entering the plane, all the old FIG officials turn left to the business class and all the gymnasts turned right to the economy class……………….

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  11. ”… and the Thomas salto is banned for women, a development that happened after Elena Mukhina was paralyzed in 1980, though men are still allowed to compete these.”

    This isnt quite right. Roll-out skills (including The Thomas) were completely legal all the way through the 1992 Olympics. In fact He Xumei performed a Thomas in Barcelona. If anything, they were probably finally banned because of Hwang Bo Sil’s accident at the 1991 Universiade.

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    • I’m pretty sure with Mukhina it’s where the conversations started…so it wasn’t a direct “she got injured, roll-outs are OVER!” response but rather it kicked people into gear in trying to get the skill banned even though it continued on for years following.

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  12. Re: Australian gymnasts and NCAA. Some gymnasts training elite in Australia decide not to focus on university entry subjects in high school and take the non-university entry courses. This means they’re not eligible for college entry in the US and therefore NCAA isn’t a possibility. I remember this happening to one gymnast in particular ages ago…Chloe Sims I think who actually went to Utah and started training before being told the NCAA didn’t accept her high school qualification. And agreed with Lauren that international students have to get a scholarship to be able to afford it! University education in Australia is much cheaper than in the US and a lot of students go to their local university so why not keep training elite and go to school for cheaper at home?

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