It’s time for the 326th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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Who has a “textbook perfect” Pak salto? The code’s description of how to deduct for catch angle confuses me, and I see it performed so many different ways.
I often use Viktoria Komova as someone with a textbook Pak in terms of everything BUT the angle of the catch…her shape in the air, her legs glued, the aesthetic with the hyperextension and toe point…just perfection. She actually makes her incorrect catch position look correct because everything else looks so good, I’m like, I don’t care if her catch is wrong.
Vika’s catch actually looks kind of similar to the stick figure in the FIG’s drawing, but the stick figure and Vika would both probably get deducted at least 0.1, if not 0.3, for their angle, hahaha. The catch for a Pak should be within 0 to 30 degrees of handstand. Anything between 30-45 degrees is 0.1 deducted, and anything greater than 45 degrees is 0.3. Here’s the drawing for reference:
I think MOST Paks are caught incorrectly and look more like this, though, so it’s hard to come up with a good example of a correct catch…but Ashton Locklear always comes to mind. I also just got VERY lucky. I was trying to find one of her bars sets with a good side angle and not only found one, but it also happened to be a Flip Fly Tumble video that literally has a protractor over where she catches her Pak. WE ARE BLESSED!
Her catch puts her shoulder to hip angle right at 30 degrees, and with the way she’s arched/hyperextended, judges in real time might even see this more as 10-20 degrees, so I doubt she’d ever get deducted for the angle. #OpticalIllusion
She’s also one who has what I’d consider an “acceptable arch” in the air. The shape in the air comes up for debate often, because technically, a Pak is a “stretched salto” which means a layout, and normally, layouts with any arch to them look sloppy, whippy, and not well-controlled. But a slight arch in a Pak that IS controlled is just aesthetic af, so a slight arch is not only allowed, but also preferred by many.
I love a good slight arch in a Pak, but I also love the super straight Paks, too. I remember always absolutely loving Bailie Key’s being in a perfect layout position when she was a junior, and Nina Derwael and Simone Biles both do their Paks pretty nicely laid-out, but they both lack some aesthetic, and the catch isn’t quite there for either of them as well.
For me, it really just depends on each one individually and how well they’re done. The “slight arch is acceptable” language is also kind of ambiguous, because there’s nothing said about the angle of the arch, so it becomes one of those “the judges know it when they see it” kind of things…and I also feel like I also know it when I see it in terms of what I prefer. Nastia Liukin’s arch was way too much for me, for example, and in general I think if your feet/butt are arched past your head or if your body is basically making the letter C, it should probably be deducted. But I think what Ashton and Vika do is okay and I prefer their slight arch to the fully straight body, generally.
Here are Nastia’s and Vika’s Paks side by side for reference:
(Look at Vika tricking us like she’s going to catch at that angle when we all know she’s going to drop down basically to a horizontal front support the second her hands touch that bar. SIGH.)
I think regardless of personal preference, Nastia’s arch absolutely shouldn’t be considered “slight” and would need to be deducted, but I feel like there are people who aesthetically do prefer arches like that in Paks. As long as they’re actually holding the position and aren’t just chucking their body sloppily to the low bar, I guess I’m not too mad at it…but since the skill is technically a layout, I do think a significant arch goes beyond what should be allowed.
So to answer the most basic part of your question, I guess a “textbook perfect” Pak for me would have to be Ashton’s catch plus Vika’s everything else. But honestly, Ashton’s on her own is pretty textbook and probably very rarely got deducted for anything. Even though I prefer the overall look of Vika’s for aesthetic reasons, I think Ashton’s is more of the perfect textbook example if you needed something to look at like, how should my gymnast be doing this skill from start to finish?
Was there any backlash for taking Courtney McCool out of the team final in Athens? Was there any explanation? She didn’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt that the others received.
I don’t think there was backlash…I mean, I’m sure she was pissed, I’m sure her coaches and other people on her side were pissed, but I don’t think anyone at the national team level was penalized for it or even reprimanded for it. I agree that the decision was a harsh one, but I think they also had to make a decision to include the top three performers on each event in the team final, and because Courtney showed that she wasn’t a top three gymnast on any event, it was kind of like…how would we use her if she didn’t score in the top three even on her best events?
While I love six-person teams, that’s an issue that can arise when you have teams where a lot of the talent is concentrated in a smaller number of gymnasts, and I think had everyone who made the team been healthy in 2008, we probably also would have seen someone not compete in the team final then as well…not even because she did anything wrong, but just because they really only needed five of those gymnasts to fill out a three-up three-count roster. And I think Martha even may have preferred to restrict her teams when she could, which is why she also didn’t use Anna Li in 2011 or Brenna Dowell in 2015. It’s almost like she’s trying to prove that everyone else needs six gymnasts but she doesn’t, because she’s that good.
Going into Athens, I believe the hope was that Courtney would be a top-three gymnast on a couple of events, most notably beam, and given Courtney Kupets’ injury that caused her to ask Mohini Bhardwaj to go up last-second for her on beam in the final, I’m shocked that they didn’t at least have Courtney McCool as the back-up there…but since she had the weakest routine in qualifications, there probably was some concern that she wouldn’t be in a place to hit under pressure. A good team coach would trust a gymnast to come back from something like that and would’ve worked with her to get her in a place to be ready for the team final regardless of how qualifications went, so in that sense it does feel more punitive than anything…but also having seen her qualifications routines, I also would’ve been like…uh oh. What do we do with her now?
Did Bailie Key retire?
Yes. Unfortunately, while Bailie gave NCAA a shot with a single beam routine for Alabama in 2018, she just wasn’t able to get back on track after all of her injuries and surgeries, and she ended up medically retiring after the 2019 season. She’s still at Alabama, and is now a nursing student.
Could you explain more about how ‘walk ons’ in the NCAA work? For walk on athletes, are they still scouted by the school or do they apply? Do they have to pay for all their own travel to compete with the team? Thanks!
Most walk-ons aren’t recruited, but rather bring their interest to the coaching staff by letting them know, hey, here’s my J.O. history, here are my skills, I’ve been recruited by all of these other programs, but your team is my dream team and is the only one I want to join, I know you couldn’t offer me a scholarship, but I’m willing to walk-on if you’re willing to take me. At that point, the coach will either be like, hell yeah, free awesome level 10, or if they’re not a good fit for whatever reason, they’ll turn them down.
I have also heard of rare occasions where someone will apply to a university, get in, and then approach the team later on like, hey, I was a level 10 gymnast but retired or for whatever reason didn’t want to do NCAA, but now I’m interested, can I train with the team and see how it works out? It’s incredibly rare but it has happened.
If someone does walk-on to the team and makes the roster, any costs related to the team – like travel, leos, etc – is covered by the team’s budget. That’s part of the reason why a team will sometimes limit the number of walk-ons who travel, or just the number of walk-ons involved, period. Technically teams can have however many walk-ons they want, but if you have 15 walk-ons, that means you also have to budget for 15 extra gymnasts, and most teams can’t afford all of those extras when they’re barely scraping by with the budgets they have for their scholarship kids. Walk-ons also need to be coached, and not every gym has a big enough coaching staff to make sure everyone’s getting the attention needed, so that can also be a concern. Some teams get lucky to have volunteer coaches or student coaches, which is why I think a program like UCLA can have so many walk-ons…but if your program has a small budget and just a head coach plus two assistants and no one extra, it’s not going to be manageable to allow for more than just a couple of walk-ons.
Where are the Karolyis now?
One of life’s greatest mysteries. I’ve heard they went back to Romania, but I think they’re still in the U.S. just living out retirement on the downlow, keeping a low profile and staying away from the press. I believe their daughter and her family still live in Texas and I’ve heard Bela is sick, so my guess is that they’re staying with/near their daughter…and I’m also pretty sure that with all of the legal happenings, they probably can’t leave the country.
What are those conference awards supposed to mean in college? How are they decided? Is it a big deal? What do they get?
What conference awards? Do you mean like…SEC champion or Pac 12 champion? Conferences are basically like “divisions” for college gymnastics, and each conference gets its own championship meet at the end of the regular season to determine a champion, kind of like how in J.O. gymnastics they’ll have state champion and regional champion before the national champion (or in baseball they’ll have the AL East divisional champion, and then the American League champion, and then the World Series champion). Most team sports have divisions, conferences, leagues, or other ways to divide teams within larger organizations, and throughout the regular season, college gymnastics teams mostly compete against other teams within their own conferences, so conference championships just exist to determine the top teams or athletes in each conference for the season. For some sports, conference championships actually serve as a way to move teams to the next stage of postseason competition, but for NCAA gymnastics, it’s really just a way to celebrate the end of regular season, with rankings and regionals the way to move up the ladder to nationals.
Or do you mean the weekly conference recognitions like SEC gymnast of the week? These are just simple ways conferences can recognize and honor top athletes within the conference. All sports have them. They usually just pick whoever had the highest scores of the week in whatever categories they have, and don’t get much deeper than that. It’s not really a huge deal and they don’t get anything for it, but they get to have “eight-time SEC gymnast of the week” in their bios or called out in the commentary during their routines, so I guess that’s something, hahaha. It’s mostly a recognition/honor thing.
In men’s floor, when stepping into a corner after a skill set, the athlete almost slides his second foot to meet the other. Is this to avoid a step deduction?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what they’re doing…just avoiding taking a step, which wouldn’t be allowed.
Why didn’t Jazzy Foberg compete for Florida in the 2019 season?
She had elbow surgery in the off-season and wasn’t able to recover in time to compete. The hope was initially that she’d be able to join the team later in the season, but she was never able to get to a place where that was possible, so she ended up not wanting to rush it and taking the entire season off to focus on healing.
Can you explain the different “positions” in an NCAA lineup?
There really are no “positions.” There are six spots in a lineup, and the first to go up is the leadoff, while the last to go up is referred to as the anchor. None of the other spots really have names that are used commonly, though sometimes you’ll hear a commentator say “in the five-spot” instead of “up fifth.”
I feel like while there are no real “positions” in a lineup, there is usually a psychology to them, so mostly what you’ll see is coaches trying to figure out what works best for their teams. There is no perfect puzzle, but every team has some way that they like to use their lineups to create the best scoring potential. Most common is putting up the weakest gymnast as the leadoff and the best gymnast last so that scores can build from low to high, but sometimes, coaches may want to put a weaker gymnast in the anchor spot because if judges are subconsciously score-building, then a gymnast who may normally score a 9.75 as a leadoff could come into an anchor spot and get a 9.9 with the same exact routine if she goes up after a gymnast who gets a 9.95. Other times, coaches like putting really steady, solid, calm gymnasts up first on beam to get the rotation off to a good start, or they’ll put someone really energetic up on floor to get the hype going.
It really depends on the team. If you follow certain teams throughout the season, you can see all of their lineup trends and how they change based on what works and doesn’t work, and then by the time they get to postseason, they’ve tested a bunch of different scenarios and can see what will best suit them going forward for the meets that matter the most.
If you were to add/remove events from MAG and WAG so the number of events were the same, what would you do? Please answer (a) removing two events from MAG, (b) add one to WAG, remove one from MAG, and (c) add two to WAG. What events would they be?
I would probably add one to WAG and remove one from MAG to make it fair. I would probably remove…p-bars? I don’t even really hate p-bars, I just feel like, do we really need TWO swinging bar events for the men? We get it, you can swing and pirouette and flip on one bar, but can you also do it on TWO?! P-bars is like beam for me in that it’s so technical, I love it if it’s performed brilliantly…but it’s just so rarely performed brilliantly, so instead we have to suffer through 200 blah routines just to get to the one or two that are truly fantastic. So let’s get rid of p-bars, and we can let the guys who are great at it just do exhibitions for us, capice?
For WAG, I’ve always said I want a trampoline event. Something like double mini, that way it’s like vault in that it’s short and sweet so they don’t have a fourth endurance event on top of already doing bars, beam, and floor, but they’re also doing a little more than just vault since they’d get to have combos and connections and things like that, not just a one-and-done start value cherry picked from the code.
I just rewatched Dominique Moceanu’s interview with Dateline. Jane Pauley said in it that Shannon Miller also sought emancipation from her parents as a teenager. I’ve searched and can’t find any confirmation. Do you know if it’s true?
I can’t find anything about this in terms of it being in any articles or quotes of her having said it, but I think the last time I remembered hearing about this years ago was not so much due to issues with her parents taking advantage of her financially, but more related to her wanting the freedom to get around things that were limiting her in terms of being able to make what were essentially logistic decisions for her career? I was an emancipated minor for that reason, because I had a career and by 16 it just made sense to eliminate the middlemen (my parents) for contractual things that took way less time if I could just handle them myself (it was also beneficial because I no longer needed a guardian when I traveled for work, and I could rent a hotel room or apartment on my own). That’s why it stood out to me when I heard about Shannon, because the reasoning was similar to my own in that it seemed more logical than out of necessity due to abuse like it was for Dominique. But I have literally no idea where it was that I would have heard that…it was probably a decade ago or longer. I would imagine an interview with Shannon? I also think she just considered it knowing it could simplify things for her, but didn’t actually go through with it. I feel like in the 90s/early 2000s everyone was getting emancipated…basically every child actor in New York I knew was emancipated by 15 or 16 just to simplify things, even if they still lived at home and mostly were still under their parents’ care. Now I feel like it’s just not a thing anymore unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Russia and China seem to be the only top countries that have thriving MAG and WAG programs. Is it anything Russia and China are doing that the U.S. and Japan are not? What leads to a country having an outstanding program for only one discipline and not the other?
Many federations separate the different disciplines so much, it’s like, you’d think MAG and WAG would essentially be the same thing, but in the U.S. MAG and WAG are basically just about as different as rhythmic and parkour, and it’s similar in many other countries, where the only connection is that they’re housed under the same national governing body. The coaches, national team staff, training centers, and resources are just entirely separate and different, and what one program gets might be working out fantastically for them, but what another program gets might not be.
In Russia and China, meanwhile, there is more of a connection between MAG and WAG, at least in terms of resources and training facilities. This is probably because being state-run, their national team training centers truly are “national” and the athletes are getting salaries and assistance from their federations that gymnasts in other countries don’t get at the federation level. Russia even has the same head coaches between the two programs, and I feel like for both Russia and China, a lot of the decisions made are made for the benefit of both MAG and WAG, not for one over the other, or one without the other. It’s more communal, there’s more interconnectedness, and it leads to more of a balance in terms of how they’re able to perform on the international stage.
In the U.S. in comparison, because the women have a winning program, they tend to benefit in ways that the men’s program doesn’t in the sense of more money and resources being funneled into the women’s program, and on top of that, most of those on the women’s national team still live at home and have their parents taking care of them, whereas the men are either at universities or are full-on adults and don’t have the same level of support that a teenage girl or young woman still living at home would get. The adult men in Russia and China are taken care of by their federations just as the younger women are, so there’s no disparity in the way that there is in the U.S., and I think that has a lot to do with why the U.S. men just aren’t as set up for success as these other programs are.
Looking at it from Japan’s side, where it’s the men that are so successful while the women are behind, this is a country that seems to do everything right on both sides. Even though they don’t have a state-run federation in the same way Russia and China do, the top athletes do get support at the national level. Japan also has an absolutely thriving collegiate gymnastics program that creates tremendous depth for both the men’s and women’s programs. Their club and high school programs are also very strong, and I feel like 20 guys or gals could get injured and Japan could still send full teams to worlds with some degree of success. I think we also have to recognize that not every program is going to necessarily always have the talent to be wildly successful, whether on the coaching end or the athlete end. Japan seems to be doing really well with its women’s program, and they have a ton of gymnasts doing DTYs, a ton of gymnasts who can get a 51-52 AA, but they seem to be missing that link to get to the next level, and whether that’s a stronger developmental program, a more knowledgeable coaching staff, stronger athletes, I don’t know. We always seem to get really promising juniors who are at a good level for juniors, but they mostly just stay at that level. They don’t burn out, which is good, but they don’t advance, either, so whatever Japan has in the men’s program that IS getting the men to go a step further just doesn’t exist for the women, I don’t think.
Anyway, the reason for the U.S. men not being at the same level as the U.S. women is obviously a different reason than the reason why the Japanese women are not at the same level as the Japanese men…and I think for any other federation that sees unbalance between its MAG and WAG programs, you’d also find that the reasoning is probably also very specific to that program. There are many reasons for this, not just one catch-all, though for most you’re going to find that a disparity in resources between the two programs is often key, whether it’s intentional (e.g. if one program just isn’t prioritized) or not.
I recently watched the 2008 Olympics and noticed that Nastia had front landings for vault, her dismounts, and all of her tumbling passes. The commentators didn’t mention anything. Do you know why this was the case? Does she like them better, or was it because of an injury?
She said that after her ankle injury that she first suffered while training at world championships in 2006, landings on backwards elements just hurt so much more that she could barely train hard landings, and she eventually realized that front elements (or blind landings out of backward elements) made her able to do gymnastics without being in constant pain. I think the bars dismount was most crucial for her to change, but she also decided that everything else would also have to become a front landing if she wanted to save her ankles, so they made those adjustments to keep her healthy going into Beijing. I remember dying laughing because she once posted a list of her dream skills on Instagram and it was like, all of these super wild skills on bars, and then on floor it was like “double pike” hahahahaha. Just Nastia things.
What’s the largest bug in the current code of points that you absolutely want to fix?
Not so much a code of points bug, but a rules bug…gymnasts born in the final eligible year to compete in the Olympic Games are able to compete at the Olympics but not in the qualifier the year before, which is absolutely ridiculous and means gymnasts that turn 16 in the Olympic year from countries that don’t qualify a full team do not have a chance at qualifying. If the FIG is going to continue holding the Olympic qualifier the year before the Games, I want to open up that qualifier to ALL Olympic-eligible gymnasts (meaning this quad, gymnasts born in 2004 should have been allowed to compete at 2019 world championships). Nothing makes me angrier than this.
For the actual code…aside from a lot of random skill values just feeling “off” to me, I’d probably take away the transition cap on bars, write the entire section explaining baranis on beam (because I honestly don’t think the women’s technical committee knows what they’re talking about when determining what’s what here), and I’d make beam less formulaic. There are too many “B+B+C (B must be this, C must be this)” kind of bonuses and not enough “connect three of whatever the hell you want” bonuses. Their bonuses are so limiting and lead to everyone doing the same exact series, with entire sections of skills completely ignored, so I’d be like here are a couple of allowed acro combos that are worth 0.2 or 0.3, but if you are truly going after those 0.1 bonuses, literally just do three of whatever in a row and make it good.
Do you think the double L turn should be worth a letter grade higher than its somewhat ugly knockoff version “double forward attitude with hand support?” It’s quite unpleasant to see this trend spreading so fast in recent years.
So while a double attitude isn’t really aesthetically great in gymnastics, it’s actually not all that easy, and the position needs to be held just like a horizontal leg position needs to be held. I personally find the horizontal leg position much easier in terms of holding the shape, and when done correctly, a front attitude can be beautiful, so I do think they should exist in the code at the current value matching the double L turn. The issue is that no one is doing them correctly, so I’m hoping that those who are just chucking them are getting the shape deducted, at least?
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Article by Lauren Hopkins