Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gym Gems

Or, "10 Things I Love About You."

These are the things that make gymnastics such a magical experience for me as a viewer. Sometimes, it's all in the details.

1.) Thoroughly, and consistently, pointed toes. Especially during release moves.

There is nothing that kills a great bars routine for me - other than an ugly fall - like flexed feet. But even if the gymnast does a decent job most of the time but flexes in a release move, the spell is broken for me. The aesthetics have been marred. If I were a judge, I would probably kill routines on lousy toe point.

I'm supposed to be listing the things I love, and I've veered off into annoyances. That's another post for another day. Anywho...I love pointy toes.

2.) A few months ago on IG, someone mentioned that they hated squeaky uneven bars. I kind of love them.

I love the satisfying creak as a gymnast builds up power or transitions. I love the slap of their hands grabbing the bar after a transition from low to high. I love the "thud" on the beam during a full-length tumbling pass. I love landings that look light but sound finished. I want to see a cloud of chalk dust billow up in a slow-mo replay of a great pass on floor or a vault that's stuck cold.

I just get so much satisfaction from the sensation of the equipment doing its part. It's gritty. It has texture. It lets the blood, sweat and tears of training trickle into the aesthetic perfection of a finished product.

I can't find a good example of the creaky bars, but if someone has one, please let me know!

3.) Beam passes with four connected elements.

I get that these might not be especially valuable anymore, or might post more risk than they're worth, but I really love a tumbling pass on beam that has the viewer wondering if the gymnast has enough room. It gets me every time.

4.) Floor routines that are choreographed to the music - not just the code.

I hate how the music on floor has really become just background noise. Routines rarely seem to have been designed with the music in mind, and that's a real shame. Dancers could never get away with this, and I hate that, as long as they can throw a few big skills, gymnasts can. It should be a true performance, not a labored instance of going through the motions. A floor routine should ALWAYS be very "Look at me!" And if the music is treated as a simple accessory, that idea is really lost.

I was never a massive Moceanu fan, but her floor routine in '96 was perfect for her. It suited her personality, her skill level and it all WORKED. Everything about it was a performance. Even for those who prefer a more classical floor set, it's hard to argue that her routine didn't match the music.

Khorkina is another one who really, genuinely knew how to perform, and every routine was a chance to play to the crowd. Her floor routines were always carefully crafted. Lilia, too. She was magical on floor, partly because her routines respected the music.

Wow. I could keep going on this one, because I think if we get back into the eighties and seventies, I'll just keep naming people with great floor routines.

5.) Beam shoes.

Like most gymnasts, I probably wouldn't use them, either, but I loved how they looked when they were common.

6.) Big old heavily secured grips.

I love it. It's such a contrast to the sleek, refined look of gymnastics. It reminds us that this is, in fact, a SPORT, and there is necessary equipment. They make it seem like the gymnast is READY. Like she's prepared her mind and body and she's GOT this. I just love it.

7.) Chalk and spray bottles.

When I see gymnasts chalking up, I always want to, too. I love the smell of chalk, and the way it bursts into the air and fills the space. Chalk is amazing.

8.) Effortlessly stuck landings.

There's nothing more satisfying than a dismount that flies followed by an easy, (mostly) chest-up landing. Even a mediocre routine seems somewhat sensational when the landing owns. But a stellar routine loses something when the landing is not perfect.

9.) Oversplits and hyper-extended knees.

I love Nastia Liukin's legs (mind out of the gutter, folks), and I know it bothers a lot of people how they almost look like they bow forward, but I LOVE it. I love the tension in a slight hyperextension. And I love a split that goes above and beyond the call of duty. It looks like true commitment to me. This is likely why I've always liked Nastia so much - she has the aesthetic qualities I love.

10.) Elegant hands.

I love balletic hand positions. I hate awkward monster fingers. Hands should look soft on beam and floor, and always in saluting the judges. Basically I appreciate it when a gymnast remembers that she HAS hands and feet and opts to do something with them rather than leave them by the wayside as she chucks another ugly ass skill.


  1. #4, oh the agony of #4. I loved Kim's rock around the clock routine. When they're wandering around with music that is just around in the background...that's shopping not an FX.

    On #6. Sometimes I wonder if the gymnasts from countries who use thin pieces of gauze (?) that they pull tight with their teeth think we're pretty wimpy for using the grips.

  2. If you not use grip from the early age you can't you later .From some country is too expensive to use grip so...

  3. "If you not use grip from the early age you can't you later"
    Bull, I trained with a girl who didn't use grips early on because she hated the feel. She switched gyms and now uses them and I asked her why and part of the reason was her coach made her but that she wouldn't go back. So yes you can go bakc

    I hate Beam shoes. to me totally disrupts the look of the line.

  4. I couldn't care less whether people actually use grips or not. I just like how it looks.

    carly patterson's beautiful stuck dismount (2004 AA beam)

  6. Oh, yeah, that WAS a good one. Her beam was magnificent.

  7. Jen, I know that, I understand, I like it too. I was just responding to that your statement that if you don't use grips from an early age, you can't later

  8. Sorry, Kat, I wasn't very clear - I was responding more to Ela with that comment. It seems odd to me to feel the need to defend a lack of grips when no one is saying that grips are mandatory.

    This conversation is lowering my IQ. lol

  9. ahh ok. I never used grips because I felt really unsafe on the bar with them but then again I didn't stay long enough

  10. Hey Jen, I can't rememeber if this is the post you mentioned it on, but last night I was watching the LondonnAA my sweet mother had recorded for me earlier this year, and....crap... I think it was Deng Linlin, or maybe Li Shanshan....had squeaky bars!
    You know, now I am always going to think of you when I hear them!!
    BTW thanks so much for your support on the thing that turned into yet another Nastia vs Shawn thing that wasn't meant to be so much of a thing!
    Also, I love your blog. You make me laugh.
    The Bouch Gymnast

  11. You know I heart me some Couch Gymnast. People get so stOOpid over some things. God forbid you say anything less than glowing - even if it's not really even a criticism - about Nastia or Shawn. The idiots will come a'runnin' to misspell and heavily punctuate at you!