You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

bela

Dear lord

It’s time for the 310th 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).

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Watching Athlete A raised a lot of questions… has Kerri Strug ever spoken up about the Karolyis? I know Dominique Moceanu wrote about their abuse in her book, but I couldn’t find anything about Kerri. Has anyone on the 1996 team spoken up about sexual abuse with Nassar? 

Kerri hasn’t said much about the Karolyis, aside from a little blurb on the Heavy Medals podcast, but even that wasn’t really explosive. She always seems to be on the side of having had a good relationship with them. When Kerri got married in 2010, both Dominique and the Karolyis were invited, and I remember Dominique posting a photo on Twitter (see above!) of Kerri and Bela Karolyi recreating their iconic 1996 photo of him holding her with the boot on with commentary that was like “EVEN AT HER WEDDING BELA HAS TO BE THE CENTER OF ATTENTION!!!” or something along those lines, which like, fair point. This was a decade ago now, so maybe Kerri’s feelings have changed slightly, but she clearly wanted them at her wedding and like I said, she hasn’t said anything too negative about them since, so I think it’s fair to say that she either had one of the better experiences with them, or doesn’t yet realize that some of their treatment was abusive.

No one on the 1996 team has spoken up about Nassar as far as I know, aside from Dominique saying she wasn’t a victim.

Why did Laurie Hernandez change gyms?

She didn’t! She went home to New Jersey during the coronavirus pandemic, and because things in New Jersey are slowing down while California is experiencing a massive surge in cases, she decided to train at ENA Paramus for the time being, though she has said she does plan on returning to Gym Max if she’s able to. Laney Madsen also recently left Gym Max to train at World Champions Centre, but I feel like Houston is just as out of control as California right now, so this might just be a personal decision and not a coronavirus-related one.

Could USA Gymnastics ever be dissolved completely? Could another organization try to compete? With Dominique Dawes not having her gym associate with them, will her athletes compete Xcel? 

I don’t think the organization will ever be fully dissolved, and any restructuring that comes from outside will probably still keep the core structure of how it operates as well as probably even some of the people who are involved at the top. I think there are ways to gut and restructure the elite programs, but the problems within USA Gymnastics are at every single level, so even if the elite programs are dissolved, there’s still the overall cultural problem that affects kids in the J.O. program, the Xcel program, the recreational programs…so many clubs have abusive owners or coaches on staff, and it doesn’t seem to really matter what kind of safety checks are in place at the highest levels.

The national governing body isn’t going to be able to police every member club, and even with any safety checks required to be in a club gym with children, there are still going to be SO many people who slip through the cracks. The sad thing is that this is true of any activity where kids are involved…whether you’re in gymnastics, or dance, or football, or chess club, or church, or school, there are always going to be ways for terrible adults to take advantage of children in one way or another, and no matter who is in charge or how programs are restructured to prevent this, the truth is that abusers are going to continue to be able to manipulate people and get away with things. I can see ways to monitor the elite programs, since they’re in the public eye and are now being examined under a microscope, but abuse is happening at every other level of the sport and this ISN’T being closely followed.

As for Dominique’s gym, not every gymnastic club in the U.S. is a USA Gymnastics member club. This means that they don’t compete in the USAG programs, which includes elite, J.O., and Xcel, so Dominique’s club wouldn’t compete in Xcel if she’s not planning on turning it into a USAG member club. There are still other ways to compete at lower levels outside of USAG (AAU is the largest national organization outside of USAG and uses modified USAG codes, some states have their own programs like JOGA in New Jersey, and high school gymnastics also doesn’t require athletes to be part of USAG), but it sounds like Dominique doesn’t want any competitive opportunities at her gym at all, so it’ll likely be more of a recreational-only club where the focus is on fun, not results.

Edit: I could have sworn I saw in an article that Dominique wasn’t going to be doing competitive gym in her program, and that she didn’t want to participate as a USA Gymnastics member club, but her website says they’ll be offering both J.O. and Xcel via USA Gymnastics, meaning that her club must be a member club. Maybe she had a change of heart and decided that competitive gym within USAG isn’t inherently bad, and that if she focuses on positive coaching over getting results, she can make it work?

What’s the latest update with Steve Penny and Rhonda Faehn?

Nothing super new, really…I believe Steve is still under investigation and more things will come to light that could potentially take him down, but Rhonda isn’t under any sort of investigation, and shouldn’t be, honestly. She didn’t act perfectly in her response, but she did what she thought she was supposed to do by taking it to Steve, who told her he was handling it and that he couldn’t say anything more than that because the FBI was involved. It’s the same thing he told the athletes’ parents, who also trusted that it was being handled. Her mistake was trusting Steve and the board to do the right thing, and I know she and others who didn’t call the cops themselves deeply regret “following protocol” instead of going above Steve’s head. It’s horrible that it played out like this, but there’s nothing criminal in how she acted, and she’s also never acted to cover things up, and instead has been pretty forthcoming with the receipts, so I think if anything she’s been one of the only people involved at the highest levels who has tried to make things right. If nothing else, she’s essentially blacklisted from every gymnastics job in the country, so between that and having to live with the guilt of not doing enough, I think that’s more of a punishment for her than any criminal slap on the wrist would be.

Do you have any scoop on whether the Heavy Medals podcast will be an exposé on the Karolyis or a puff piece? Based on the preview I could see it going either way.

I received this prior to the podcast coming out, but having listened to it, I see it definitely as more of an exposé, and found that I learned a lot more about the Karolyis than I thought I already knew. It’s absolutely worth the listen!

I’ve heard athletes only have so much time to defer after signing their NLIs. How will the delays to international competition this year with coronavirus affect gymnasts planning to try for Tokyo and then start in college?

I think we’ll end up seeing a lot of exceptions with a lot of things affected by the coronavirus, so I think the post-NLI deferment period will allow for athletes to take more time if needed. I do think most athletes know by now if they’re going to defer or not, in which case they’ve probably already reached out to their programs to let them know, and I’m sure most coaches are incredibly understanding of this, especially knowing that the 2021 collegiate season might not even happen, or might be severely limited.

What happened to Nastia Liukin’s Grander app?

I assume that it just wasn’t super profitable or something, or that it was just difficult to coordinate or figure out what to do with, so she just decided to give it up? I loved the idea of the Grander Summit, and the idea of using an app for successful women to “inspire” and “empower” girls and young women, but it didn’t seem like it was sustainable in many ways. Also, when I googled it to find out information, Grindr comes up first, which is delightful.

If you could add one trampoline and tumbling event to WAG as the fifth apparatus, what would you pick? What about for MAG?

I personally just love double mini trampoline, so I’d add that for both! I guess it might be too structurally similar to vault, though, so regular old trampoline might make more sense to add something a bit different. Plus, there’s no hard landing involved, and some elite programs around the world (like China) actually have a trampoline component for their younger developmental artistic gymnasts, so there’s definitely a link between the two and I think most artistic gymnasts would be able to transition well.

Standing on the high bar isn’t allowed in a routine, but if a gymnast falls and then stands on the high bar to jump into her swing, is that still allowed? Is there a deduction?

No, I don’t think this would be allowed in competition, though I see it in warm-ups every now and then. I’ll never forget seeing Bridget Sloan do this back in 2012…I happened to be right near bars during podium training at trials, and when I saw her climb up onto the high bar and then just stand there for a solid ten seconds, I was like, is she going to do the Korbut?! I truly freaked out. But then she just jumped down and caught herself, and she did this a few times, sometimes as a drill for catching a Tkachev release, and other times to jump-start momentum into a skill.

Why does Al Fong wear gloves when he spots?

He actually made a video about this because he found it funny that people were obsessed with his gloves. His reasoning was that it protects the gymnast, because he’s seen it happen where a kid falls and the coach who grabs them might scratch them with their fingernails or something while catching, and he said they also have better traction when holding onto a kid who falls, because sometimes (especially with younger kids who don’t have air awareness yet and don’t know how to fall) you have to grab a kid by the leg, the arm, anywhere to stop them from landing dangerously, and the gloves give him a better grip when this happens. He said they also protect his hands when he’s adjusting the bars, because his hands get caught sometimes and it’s better that the skin of the glove gets caught than the skin of his hands.

Are there female gymnasts who are much taller than average gymnasts who would be successful?

Absolutely! It’s a myth that you have to be super small to do gymnastics. I feel like in the 90s, every gymnast I was obsessed with was like 4’9″ or something, and so I and many people have always assumed that gymnasts have to be super small to be successful, but since then the average height has definitely gone up (even though I read a Slate article in 2016 that said the average female international gymnast’s height was 4’9″ at the time, and, uh, no, lol…maybe the average among, like, Simone Biles, Flavia Saraiva, and the Chinese team, but most gymnasts in Rio were not that short).

I’m somewhere just over five feet tall, and most gymnasts, especially at the international level, are significantly taller than me, and very few are under five feet. The worldwide average height for women is 5’3″, with European women skewing a bit taller (around 5’5″ to 5’6″ on average) while Asian and South/Central American women are generally a bit shorter (around 4’11” to 5’0″). I’d say the average gymnast is now much closer to the global average height than in the past, with the majority in the 5’1″ to 5’3″ range, and a few (like Nina Derwael at 5’6″) above global average.

Being short and compact in gymnastics is simple physics…if you’re short and have a ton of power, you’re going to fly higher and faster. But very few gymnasts have the “perfect” gymnastics physics body. Taller gymnasts can still work with what they have, and while it might not be easy for them to do the same kind of tumbling someone like Simone Biles is doing, they still have room to construct routines that work for their specific body type and can be very successful with that. And outside of the elite level, looking at NCAA, tall gymnasts are incredibly common…two of the recent best NCAA gymnasts of all time, Maggie Nichols and Kyla Ross, are 5’6″ and 5’7″, respectively, and I’ve known of several gymnasts who have reached 5’9″ in NCAA, way above the average height for a woman!

Was McKayla Maroney known as a junior? Was she an obvious vaulting legend, or was she flying under the radar until she turned senior?

She was low-key known as a junior for her vault, but she wasn’t someone who was looked at as having major Olympic potential until she became a senior. In the 2012 quad, the big juniors to watch for London were Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross, with Sabrina Vega also pretty heavily in the conversation back in 2009 and 2010, while pretty much every other junior people were obsessing over (like Katelyn Ohashi and Lexie Priessman most notably) wasn’t going to be a senior until the 2016 quad (yet they stood out as all-arounders ahead of most of the 2012-eligible juniors because they were doing a dumb amount of difficulty at like 12-13, lol).

McKayla had her Amanar as far back as 2009, from what I recall, but it wasn’t yet great and looked a bit chucked. Her coaches at Gym Max also kept her pretty limited on her other events, so at 14, she wasn’t doing very much at all on bars, beam, or floor, and girls with FTYs were far outscoring her in the all-around. When she moved to AOGC, her new coaches ramped up her difficulty on her other events, and her Amanar became brilliant (though obviously in hindsight at a great cost to her as a human being). But with two great days at an overall super messy 2010 nationals, McKayla was a huge surprise to get all-around bronze, and I think that’s when people first took her seriously as more than just a kid throwing an Amanar. But she was nearly 15 by that point, so definitely more of a late bloomer in an era where Jordyn was a standout at 10-11 and most other juniors were recognized at 11-12, and I think that’s mostly because Gym Max paced her so well with her difficulty, which kept her from peaking until she needed to after AOGC took over. I fear her career trajectory would’ve gone an entirely different direction had she started out at AOGC.

Is grunting a thing in gymnastics? Are there gymnasts who grunt straining for power or timing purposes like in tennis and we just don’t hear them?

Ummmmm…not really, I don’t think? I sometimes can hear the men on rings make little noises, but I’ve sat ten or so feet away from pretty much every apparatus at one point or another in dead-silent arenas and you honestly hear more coaches grunting than athletes, hahaha. The women are always pretty quiet, while the men mostly hold their noises in until they dismount and then they let it all out in a guttural roar.

What is the highest E score that has been given in the new code? Has anyone received a perfect 10?

I believe Nastia Liukin’s 9.8 on beam at Pac Rims in 2008 is the highest international execution score in the open-ended code of points, and I have to say while this is probably a BIT much, at the same time, I’m like, yeah, that routine was essentially as perfect as beam can be, so I wouldn’t have hated if they gave it a 10. But in major international competition, I think McKayla Maroney’s Amanar getting a 9.733 in the 2012 Olympic team final and then a 9.766 in the 2013 world championships event final wins, while domestically, Simone Biles got a 9.9 for her Amanar in 2016.

Has a woman ever performed a Kovacs on bars?

So I didn’t know about this until it was shared with me on Twitter today, but apparently a Chinese gymnast tried a Kovacs, but was “so low, her ponytail hit the bar” on her salto, so the FIG was like NOPE, STOP. According to the tweet, this same gymnast also lost her two front teeth while training on bars, which the Chinese federation said was from a straddle back, but it was probably from training the Kovacs.

I looked into it further, and it seems like this was likely Ling Jie (yes, the famous Ling from the Ling pirouette, and also a world and Olympic bars medalist), who in a 2013 interview said she trained the Kovacs when she was TWELVE, in the mid-90s. LAWD. I don’t think she ever actually competed it, and I’m sure there have been others who trained it or attempted to train it, but this is one story that exists of it kind of happening.

I think even if the FIG does say a female gymnast would be allowed to compete it eventually, having the low bar there is not only limiting in terms of driving momentum, but it’s also dangerous because it would be in the way if a gymnast fell, so I can see why it wouldn’t be very safe. I do think we’ll eventually see someone try to compete it, or at least train it and share if they’ve been able to catch it, and I’m dying to see it, but I’m also terrified.

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 ask “what do you think of [insert gymnast here]?”

Article by Lauren Hopkins

29 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. Pingback: You Asked, The Gymternet Answered – SportUpdates

    • HAHAHA. I think it was in People magazine and they called it the recreation or something? Dominique also shared a personal photo of Bela hanging around Kerri for the whole reception IIRC…I just remember her being VERY pissed off that she had to be in the same room with him and she definitely let her feelings out about it.

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  2. My gym growing up was part of a group called the Midwest Area Gymnastics Association (yes…MAGA), located mostly in Minnesota, with a few teams in Iowa and Wisconsin. Our code was so different from USAG JO. It was actually closer to what elite is now, where skills/connections were worth certain amounts and deduction were taken from the total. A great front handspring vault might earn you a 4.8 score, while one with a fall (-.5) and bad form, might earn you a 4.0. Scores wouldn’t get to the 8.0+ range until you were doing double backs or tsuks or release moves. For a gymnast that would match up with Level 5/6 JO, you would probably expect scores in the 5-6 range. For the youngest girls, it wasn’t uncommon to see 2.5s (2.0 was the lowest score given). Most gyms had teams of different skill levels. My gym had Blue, Pink, and Green team, with Blue being girls with skill that would probably match up to level 6+ in JO. Competition would typically match up higher level teams together in divisions. Top 4 scores from each team counted toward the team total on each event. Kids were in 4 ages groups: Novice (9 & under), Children (10-11), Junior (12-13), Senior (14+). At smaller competitions that didn’t have divisions, you might be a more Level 5 gymnast competing against someone whose skill level was more of a Level 8.

    When I was 13, my family moved to a new state and I joined a USAG/AAU JO gym. We had to figure out what level I qualified for. We had to send a video into the state level association of me doing my best skills on each event. It was eventually decided I could jump into Level 7, and didn’t have to test out of the lower levels in competition. Our gym was USAG only for those looking to continue into optional. Most of the kids competed AAU instead. Some of us did both. You could usually count on AAU scoring being a bit higher. I don’t know if it was regulations or just judges being less strict. They used the same music and compulsory routines and USAG.

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    • MAGA HAHA. I love it! That sounds awesome…I’m only somewhat familiar with JOGA in terms of regional programs, so I hadn’t heard of MAGA, but that sounds really cool, and I love the structure of that code.

      I also don’t know much about AAU in terms of those who do the J.O. levels, since most J.O.-level gymnasts prefer to do the USAG competitions to be on track for NCAA/elite, but I have friends that do AAU as adults (in Xcel levels I believe) and they love it and say it feels way less demanding.

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    • The scoring thing is interesting because I competed JO in the late 1980s under the class system (I was class 4) and I remember all of our scores being super low. Like in the 4s was common and 5s were considered good. So I wonder if everyone was just terrible (although I’d think for just completing the required vault you should get higher than a 5) or if it was a scoring system similar to what you had in MAGA (lol).

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  3. I’d throw in Bridgette, Aly and even Wofford(remember when she moved to WOGA about the same time as LeDuc and everyone lost their minds) as being hyped up over McKayla. She really wasn’t a top junior girl.

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    • Yeah, Bridgey was huge for a minute until she got injured…Aly was another late bloomer as a junior and like McKayla didn’t really jump into the mix until she was 15…and yeah, I remember that whole WOGA gang with Wofford, Ohashi, LeDuc, Kocian, Baumann…that was a KILLER junior group at nationals in 2010, and people were obsessed with that whole team!

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  4. In Kerri’s book, she details how when she came back to Karolyi’s in 1996, her parents had a sit down meeting with Bela where they essentially said “you can’t train her like you did when she was 14, and it you do we will pull her out.” Dominique Moceanu mentioned this on her book as well and wrote about how Bela and Marta treated Kerri like an adult/much more respectfully than they did others. As a result, I think Kerri ended up with a more positive relationship with the Karolyis than most.

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    • Oh, interesting! I haven’t read her book. Good for her parents, then…I’m glad they stood up to him and helped her find a situation that was much better than what the others endured.

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      • Lauren I would very much recommend reading Kerris book. I would even recommend reading Belas book because just by reading Domis and KErris book alongside with Belas, you will see that Bela is full of it and most of it is lies, especially reading it now will be very interesting.
        Oh and thank you for all of these IATGA posts.

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        • I should. I feel like I read a couple of gym memoirs and was underwhelmed at how the ghostwriters were awful and got everything wrong (minus Aly’s book thanks to Blythe, and Jennifer Sey’s book because it was actually great), so I am definitely anti-gym memoir, but I feel like now going back and reading all of the 90s memoirs would be so interesting.

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  5. Geza Pozsar in his interview with the skating lesson on youtube mentioned even when Kerri was younger, he never yelled or mistreated her because she was such a hard worker, as well as her parents being wealthy. He said Bela treated poor Hilary Grivich like a dog, she came from a poor family, and Bela treated her poorly. 😦

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  6. Literally the second I saw that picture of Kerri and Bela, I said out loud “Dear god”, then I saw the caption. 😂😂😂 Normally a picture says a thousand words, but that pic only needed two

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    • HAHAHAHA, someone asked once if I could caption all of my pics in case the gymnast was unfamiliar and I was like “yeah!” but this one only has one caption that matters.

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    • A Kovacs is when a gymnast does a regular giant, releases the bar, does a backwards salto over the bar, and catches on the other side. It’s super common in MAG, and has many body shape and twisting variations, but you need a ton of momentum to get enough height for the release, so for WAG it’s pretty difficult because of the low bar being in the way, limiting your tap swing on the giant. Men can also wind up with more giants into their releases, like women do into their dismounts, so they can build more power and speed, whereas women can just do the one giant with a weaker tap swing.

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  7. I think one of the things I hate most about BEla, And there are many, is the way he always has to be the centre of attention. Interesting how this is accepted for him, and other men who are like this, but women who act like this (Khorkina and the likes) are judged way more harshly usually. I agree about Korks being judged harshly, but usually there is definetely a gender bias.
    Anyway men like Bela make me want to claw my eyes and ears out. Many “documentaries” of gymnastics are ruined for me because all you see is this camera hogging idiot

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    • I totally agree, and I hate the way the media completely enabled him. Like someone said on the Heavy Medals podcast, the media was creating a monster. And you’re right that a woman could never be seen trying to be in the spotlight like that without serious criticism.

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  8. I am quite surprised with Laney’s departure from Gym Max. She needs competitive experience but being a Bulgaria national team member means she will not do elite competitions in the US. When occasionally she has an international assignment it is quite obvious that nerves get to her because she lacks experience. Maybe her best option would be the NCAA route to get more experience and do Euros/world cup representing Bulgaria, eventually maybe 2024 Olympics.

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      • It’s really not that far of the question. The score she got with a good day at Euros last year (48.399) would’ve put her in between Chuso and Ting Hua-Tien at worlds qualifications, meaning she’s capable of the score. It’s just rare that she hits as well as she did at Euros, and she can’t afford a single fall to be in the mix. She needs confidence and more competitive experience first, and then a focus on fixing her skills and adding more difficulty so she has a cushion. Euros last year was her international debut, and worlds was the third international meet of her career. She was very clearly full of nerves, but with another three years of fixing her technical issues and competing as much as possible, qualifying for Paris should be pretty easily attainable. Not a guarantee, obviously, but absolutely worth trying.

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