Nellie Kim pondering whose skills to erase from the code next
It’s time for the 248th 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.
Who is the gymnast with the most skills in the code of points? How much value does this have for gymnasts? Has a gymnast ever extended her career or come out of retirement to get a skill named?
With every revision to the code, some eponymous skills get removed so this probably changes from quad to quad, and the code itself is a mess and needs someone to actually go through and be like “why are all of these people missing” and FIX IT (that, and almost every single name is spelled incorrectly).
But officially, using what’s actually listed in the code at this very moment, Nellie Kim has the most at eight…she kind of went through at one point and gave herself credit for everything, and she currently has three vaults, two beam skills, and three floor skills listed under her name. Next in line is Oksana Chusovitina with five (two vaults, two on bars, one on floor), and then Svetlana Khorkina has three (one vault, one on bars, two on beam).
Funnily enough, Svetlana has actually had eight in the various codes over time, including another vault last credited in 2006, the Markelov and a stalder 1½ on bars last credited in 2005, and a jump on floor last credited in 2001. Technically she may have the largest number officially named for her, though since half of them have been erased from the code, she no longer has the most actually in there at the moment.
I love that Nellie got elected technical committee president in 2004 just as Svetlana was retiring and Nellie was clearly like “BUH BYE” and took away all her skills as a parting gift.
I remember team girls at my gym had ballet a couple of times a week. Is that not the case anymore? How can we improve the overall state of artistry in the sport? Gymnasts can’t keep their legs straight or toes pointed these days.
Gymnasts still do ballet. Ballet in gymnastics won’t be the thing that teaches pointed toes or straight legs. These things come from gymnastics drills but unfortunately as skills get more difficult, these little things end up becoming less of a focus. A gymnast doing a double double is probably told a billion times to point her toes, but when she’s actually competing a double double, she probably has about a billion other things on her mind and the toes are the first thing to go.
Doing more ballet won’t help a gymnast point her toes in a double double, but ballet DOES help gymnasts develop more of a sense of movement for events like beam and floor, and many qualities gained when studying ballet can absolutely improve someone’s gymnastics. But ballet and gymnastics are two vastly different things, and only doing a couple hours a week of ballet won’t turn gymnasts into ballerinas. Many of the techniques for doing leaps and turns differ immensely between the two sports, and so it’s not that gymnasts can’t turn like a ballerina, but they’re taught a different technique for getting a turn around on a carpet as opposed to in pointe shoes.
I’m all for gymnasts who also use ballet to enhance their gymnastics, but at the end of the day, they’re two different things and becoming a ballerina won’t help a gymnast on her quest to being the best in the world. Aesthetically, it can go a long way, but at the end of the day it’s not going to be the thing that wins an Olympic gold medal for a gymnast in the current code of points, and so it’s not the main focus for coaches and athletes.
Why did Rebecca Bross go pro so early? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to wait and preserve her NCAA eligibility?
One of the great questions of our time, honestly. I heard that her dad was a sports agent and he suggested that she should go pro, but yeah, that was a weird quad and while she looked to be the best at the start of the cycle, it became super clear that the top talent in that quad wouldn’t turn senior for another couple of years and making the Olympic team on its own wasn’t going to be easy, let alone being the star of the team walking away with millions in endorsements. A bad decision, but hopefully one younger gymnasts have learned from (which seems clear as even Simone Biles was reluctant to go pro until after 2015 worlds), and while it would’ve been great to see Rebecca in NCAA, she is at least thriving in her current job and seems to be very happy and well adjusted.
Why do people associate Mihai Brestyan with the ‘old school’ ages of gymnastics coaching? Do you think he’d be a good national team coordinator?
I think they just associate him that way because he’s older and has been around a long time, not because he necessarily fits the same method of coaching. He’s definitely of the quiet, strict, and intense type, which also fits that old school vibe, but he definitely doesn’t fit the abusive stereotype, at least not based on anything I’ve heard about him in the U.S. There are rumors that exist about abusive behavior he showed while coaching in Israel, but I can’t find much about it…not cool if true, but in the U.S. he was generally one of the more level-headed coaches, at least publicly.
What are your thoughts on Carlotta Ferlito given that her comments were so long ago?
I know that she has apologized to Simone Biles, and that Simone has said she forgave her, but beyond that I hope that she has thought about what she said and has made a conscious effort to change her ways and attitudes because a comment like that goes way beyond a simple apology. It wasn’t just her being mean, it was straight up racist, and the only way to really come back from that is to prove that you’ve made a conscious effort to change. I hope because she was young, it was a case of her being ignorant and not actively racist, and I hope she has educated herself on why racially insensitive comments like the ones she made are so terrible. I also hope that she has learned to be more respectful toward her competitors. I’m not her biggest fan because of the comments she made…they make it harder to root for her as a gymnast even knowing she has apologized. But I also think she deserves the chance to learn and grow from mistakes made as a teenager, and now that it’s been over five years, I hope she is smarter and more aware of/sensitive to how she speaks about people who don’t look like her. I don’t think people should be canceled forever because of ignorance or mistakes, and I love people who work hard and show an effort to become better.
What do you think of placing judges around the apparatus so they can see more angles?
This is what I want more than anything in the world. Judges having just a side angle on vault and bars especially is literally insane to me when they’re missing potentially a half point of deductions at LEAST. I think beam is fine the way it is, they don’t miss much from that angle, but floor could also use some more variety in judging positions…though nothing is as ludicrous as not having variety on vault and bars.
How likely do you think it will be to see a non big-three team making the podium at worlds or the Olympics? Do you think it would require a meltdown from one of the top teams?
I think it’s absolutely possible. It almost happened in 2018, and while Russia and China still have some advantages compared to smaller up-and-coming programs, these smaller programs are quickly closing the gap which is why teams like Canada, Brazil, Japan, and France were legitimate medal threats in Doha. It was really only falls (or in Japan’s situation, losing half the team) that held these teams back. At full strength and hitting every routine, however, I think there is a great chance for upsets in the coming years, and not just from one up-and-coming team, but from several.
How did Shawn Johnson lose by such a big margin in Beijing when everyone expected her to win?
It wasn’t really a huge margin. She and Nastia Liukin had gone back and forth at every competition that year, and the title was really going to come down to whoever had the better day. It wasn’t so much about Shawn doing something wrong and losing the title, but rather Nastia having probably the best meet of her career and winning it. Shawn more or less scored about the same that she did domestically on all of her events (minus a few tenths) but floor, where if I remember correctly, she had to downgrade one of her passes. She also had a couple of landings that weren’t great. Nastia came into the final rotation about a half-point ahead of Shawn, and with Shawn at her best on floor, she could’ve had a fighting chance to tighten that gap and perhaps win, but she ended up not being at top strength and I think she knew how difficult it would be to get back on top going into that final rotation. She really needed Nastia to make mistakes, but Nastia was pretty much perfect that day and that’s why she won.
What do you think in terms of the progression of upgrading backwards tumbling in the MAG vs WAG code? Like how a double back with a full twist to a double double goes from D to E in MAG but E to H in WAG.
I think it mostly makes sense given the context of other skills and difficulty values in either discipline. For MAG, the current highest-difficulty skills are a lot higher than they are in WAG, and with the highest-valued skill being an H, it means less of a spread than WAG has, which means skills that seem like vastly different levels end up being really close together value-wise. A triple back is an H in MAG, for example, and a tucked triple double is a G, so when looking at these skills and how hard they are, it doesn’t make sense at all to value a double double at an F…so they make it an E, but then that looks too close to the full-in.
For WAG, they don’t have a lot of the most superbly difficult skills that MAG does, and they have a wider range going up to the I now, so they have more room for these skills to be separated and spread out. It makes more sense to me than MAG does, and I’m almost concerned to see what will happen if women eventually start doing triple doubles or triple backs…will they extend the values or just start cramming everything in? I personally think they should keep extending values, because if someone is doing a freaking triple double, yeah, they should probably get at least a full point in difficulty for it.
If so many gymnasts can do a triple twist on floor, why can no one do a TTY?
On floor, gymnasts use their legs to set into a tumbling element but on vault they’re using their arms. Even with the additional height of the table, it’s much harder to get momentum and amplitude from pushing off of the table with your arms than it is to push off from your legs on a springy floor. On floor, a skill like a triple also involves just a single layout. Gymnasts start on their feet, do a single backwards rotation, and land on their feet. On vault, because they start out upside down and have to land rightside up, they’re technically doing 1½ backwards rotations instead of just the one. When it comes time to add twists, a triple is relatively easy for a top elite on floor, whereas in terms of Yurchenkos on vault, a double ends up being comparable.
Why hasn’t anyone competed a laid-out arabian double front since Daiane Dos Santos? Is it more difficult than a double layout with a full twist?
Yes, because it involves front tumbling, which is harder than back tumbling. It’s not about the twisting at all, but rather the fact that a Dos Santos II involves a front double layout, which is super difficult and awkward to get around. Gymnasts are starting to regularly do a back double layout with two twists on floor, but we only just got the piked double front from Brenna Dowell a few years ago, and we have yet to see a front double layout from either the women or the men, which I hope highlights how insane a front double layout is. Doing one out of an arabian is easier because you have the benefit of building momentum from back tumbling instead of punching into it or doing it from a front handspring, the way a front double layout will have to be done, but it’s still an insanely hard shape to get around and it makes a full-twisting double layout feel easy in comparison.
Where is Natalia Kapitonova?
She competed at a regional meet early in 2018 but then I believe was dealing with an injury and had to miss nationals. When she returned at the Russian Cup, she was pretty rough on all of her events in addition to having some falls, and she looked similar at the Voronin Cup in December. She probably just hit her peak as a senior when she was around 16-17. I know she grew a ton going into 2018, so that also probably factors into it, but she’s still training and wants to keep going toward Tokyo so I wish her the best!
What are the deductions on a Pak salto?
The big ones are usually leg separation and how it’s caught, whether at a bad angle in the clear support or too close/with bent elbows.
TV broadcasts mention that Amanda Borden was a ‘demonstrator’ for the compulsory beam routine and traveled around the country. How did the process of ‘demonstrating’ routines work in terms of selecting people? Were there other notable demonstrators?
Now that everything is online, this isn’t really necessary anymore, but back in the day they would hold a congress for teaching the new compulsory routines to everyone who needed to know them, and so they’d have a gymnast for each event to showcase the routines at each one. I haven’t heard of anyone else notable who has demonstrated routines…they were probably mostly national team gymnasts whose coaches recommended them or something? Sorry, no real insight into this aside from what people say because it’s not super common knowledge and so many records and notes from the 90s and earlier no longer exist.
So far in the new quad, beam consistency and aesthetic seem to have gone down considerably. Do you think the ‘new’ rhythm deductions, which push the gymnasts to pause as little as possible, can be among the reasons why skills are chucked?
Yeah, for sure. I think people see that the routine must be fluid and eliminate pauses, and so they end up rushing which just leads to a very poor-quality routine. There are still some gorgeous and aesthetic beam routines out there, but most are at a lower level of difficulty and so don’t end up in the finals, but I was so happy to see Liu Tingting get it together last year and not only make the final but win because her routine has just about every quality I need in a beam routine. Also, in Montreal I sat about 10 feet from the beam and fully understood why Pauline Schäfer was the only gymnast to surpass an 8.0 E score at that meet…she has that quality of movement that should be an example to every beam worker out there, and while her difficulty isn’t as crazy as some of the bigger routines, she is flawless and I’m glad they chose to celebrate that special kind of quality she had last year. I think it’s going to get better as the quad goes on, and there are some with the potential to continue developing a better quality of rhythm in their sets, so I’m excited to see what comes.
Does Aliya Mustafina have an agent like Simone Biles does?
I’m not sure how it works in Russia, whether she has an agent or whether everything goes through Round Lake. I know for press you have to go through Round Lake to speak to her, whereas with Simone and the gymnasts in the U.S. with representation, you go through their agents…but she must have someone managing her opportunities beyond the gym.
What was the name of the gymnast who, briefly, was as good as Mary Lou Retton when they were both about 13 years old and training under Bela Karolyi?
I can’t find her name anywhere but know who you’re talking about and have heard her story in the past…now whenever I search the Karolyis and their gym, only abuse-related stuff comes up so I’m partly like “yay y’all deserve it” but also partly like “well now I can’t find literally anything else.” The only one coming up for me as a teammate of hers during that time period is Julianne McNamara, but not the one who was like, paired with Mary Lou at the junior level. Anyone else better at life than me and want to tell me?
Ugh, I thought I had edited this and saved but apparently it got erased…the basics of what I said was that someone on Twitter let me know they probably mean Dianne Durham. Not who I was thinking of at all (slash I forgot she trained with Mary Lou) but it’s probably correct. I was picturing someone who was 13 and as good as Mary Lou but then dropped off the face of the earth and stopped training, but Dianne was actually fab, and then she got injured right before the 1984 Olympics, tried to petition onto the team, didn’t make it, and then retired.
You’ve mentioned a few times that Martha Karolyi didn’t want to take McKayla Maroney to the Olympics and was pressured by Steve Penny. Is there a person you know who she favored instead?
I’m not sure if she favored someone else or just wanted to see how things played out at nationals and trials before calling her an absolute lock in the way girls like Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman were. I know she said she would be into McKayla if McKayla could show more on floor, because her issue wasn’t McKayla, but rather that McKayla only had one usable event for team finals, and it was hard to justify her Amanar on a team of five when you had four other girls who at that point were doing Amanars and you could’ve had, in an ideal world, a fifth gymnast who was a queen on bars and beam, which is where the biggest gaps were. We all know Martha was always about the team.
I think her saying that publicly was more about getting McKayla motivated to be competitive on more than just that one event. In the late spring when she said this to the press, there were still a few other legitimate options for the team, but I think even though Steve really pushed hard for McKayla, with the way she ended up looking as a strong option on floor at trials, I think even Martha would’ve been happy with that and probably would’ve ended up truly wanting her on the team, especially as others who were at one point strong contenders ended up not really working out.
Why do some gymnasts compete ‘upgraded’ skills that aren’t worth more but are objectively more difficult? Like the piked full-in off of beam, for example.
Hmmm…that’s the biggest glaring example to me, but I’d say the double front and the arabian double front being rated the same on floor is also insane, as it’s much harder to punch or do a front handspring into a double front than it is to have the benefit of the back momentum going into the arabian…I also think it’s nuts that a Dos Santos II is considered to be just as difficult as a double double or full-twisting double layout. There are a few of these on floor but I think front tumbling is vastly underrated there in general.
Is there anyone out there doing a MAG version of your Q&A?
No, but I answer MAG questions! I just don’t get a lot. I have a pretty healthy MAG knowledge and answer every question I get, and if there’s something I can’t answer, I reach out and ask friends for help, especially related to skills on events I’m not as familiar with, like pommels.
Why does Nebraska place consistently pretty well at the end of every season despite many people often underestimating them? How does their future in NCAA look?
I think people underestimate them because they don’t have any stars. I remember when it was a HUGE DEAL for them to get Kami Moore and Grace Williams, both of whom had been elite for a hot second, but generally they’re more than content to go after the girls who consistently reach the top of the charts in J.O. and these girls end up working out extremely well for them. People don’t follow them as much because they don’t have the insane skills or routines that people go crazy for, but they tend to hit beautifully, solidly, and consistently, and so it’s never a shock to see them make it to the end of the season at a high level.
Of course, because they don’t have any of the flashier routines, they’re not attracting the attention like the top programs do and judges are more reluctant (subconsciously) to give them 10s for every breath they take even though some of their routines match up to the 10s we see elsewhere, but I think we can usually count on them for nationals at the very least, if not the team final. If they keep up the strategy they’ve been using, this is kind of how their future seems as well…it’s really too bad judging isn’t as fair to them as it is for others, though.
Are falls off of balance beam deducted at the same amount? If someone falls gracefully are they deducted less than people who flop around and try to save it before falling?
Yes, they’re deducted at the same amount…you don’t get deducted for a million wobbles and then a fall if you end up falling. Some will try to save a fall because they think they CAN save it, but others know that if their center of balance is even remotely off, there’s no chance at saving it, so they just hop off without a fight. Either way, both are just getting the point deduction, though there are some awesome fights I wish got bonus!
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Article by Lauren Hopkins