Who was better the second time around?

Dominique Dawes was better in her second Olympics than her first.

Dominique Dawes was better in her second Olympics than her first.

“She was as good in her second Olympics as she was in her first. You can rarely say that about a gymnast.”

So go my thoughts on now injured Russian star Anna Pavlova, who blew out her knee at the DBT Cup earlier this month. Maybe that’s not quite accurate — Pavlova was in the hunt for an all-around medal in Athens (and probably would have gotten one, had she been competing in the leaders group in the all-around. Although in top form in Beijing, she made too many mistakes to really challenge for an all-around medal there.

Still, Pavlova’s achievement is pretty incredible: How many gymnasts look as good in their second Olympics as they did in their first? Few names pop to mind.

Americans Dominique Dawes and Shannon Miller come to mind, particularly Dawes, who didn’t come into her own in gymnastics before sweeping the titles at the 1994 U.S. Championships. (Dawes and Amy Chow looked OK in Sydney but perhaps suffered from a little lack of prep time before beginning very serious training in 2000. My opinion is both were better in 1996.) Kerri Strug came into her own in 1996.

China’s Liu Xuan looked far steadier and more experienced at the 2000 Olympic Games than she did in Atlanta. Lavinia Milosovich, Gina Gogean and Simona Amanar and their Olympic performances in 1992 and 1996 (Gogean, Milo) and 1996 and 2000 (Amanar) are the reason the Romanians have the reputation of consistency that they do.

Men’s careers are more easily traced by an arc, rather than a line from one Olympics to another the way the women are. American Blaine Wilson, who competed in three Olympic Games, reached his apex in his second in 2000. So did John Roethlisberger, who competed in Barcelona, Atlanta and Sydney. Assuming he would have competed in 1996 had he not ruptured his achilles in Atlanta, Ivan Ivankov was best in his “second” games too, in Sydney.

Paul and Morgan Hamm were at their best in Athens, all grown up after Sydney. From the way Paul Hamm looked at the U.S. Championships in June before breaking his hand, he would be among the very few one could say looked as good in their third Games as they did in their second.

Then there are ageless types like Oksana Chusovitina and Jordan Jovtchev, whose gymnastics looked the same in 2008 as it did in 1996, and Italian ringmaster Yuri Chechi, who won the gold in Atlanta and made a surprising comeback to take bronze in Athens in 2004.

I’m always a bit suprised to see France’s Dimitry Karbanenko still on an Olympic roster, though. It was like watching 1988 Soviet team member Sergei Kharkov competing 10 years ago for Germany. Li Xiaoshaung got his greatest honor the second time around. Yang Wei took three tries to win an Olympic all-around.

Beth Tweddle, Daiane dos Santos and Daniele Hypolito seem not to age much, either. Svetlana Khorkina looked a tad young in her first games, best in her second and somewhat frightening in her third.

Who wasn’t better the second time around? Hmm — Henrietta Onodi. Yelena Zamolodchikova. Svetlana Boginskaya peaked around 1990 and wasn’t quite the same in 1992 or 1996. Vitaly Scherbo, but that’s a case of extenuating circumstances.

Sexy Alexei Nemov was perhaps less, um, enthusastic the second time around, but he got the big prize in the end. You got the sense that by his third time in 2004, it was just all about fun.

Anyone else?

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6 Responses to “Who was better the second time around?”

  1. Matt Says:

    Nadia was pretty damn good both times around, as was the eternally wonderful Vera Caslavska. Nelli Kim also fared very well both times.

  2. Ian Says:

    “Although in top form in Beijing, she made too many mistakes to really challenge for an all-around medal there”
    Correction: Anna’s AA performance was almost flawless. Her BB and FX were perfect, her VT had the highest B score behind Nastia and her UB set was severely penalised for its lack of difficulty but was otherwise great. The only reasons she didn’t medal in the AA, were her low A scores and her being underscored as usual.

  3. Jake Says:

    Miller took beam gold in Atlanta but I thought that she was definitely better in Barcelona. Milo was nowhere near as good in Atlanta as she was in Barcelona and even though Gogean did better in Atlanta her form and difficulty were much better in ’92.

  4. Becka Says:

    Lisa Skinner? 3 time Olympian, and definitely looked more complete a gymnast come Sydney as opposed to Atlanta. That said, she would have looked even better were she not carrying that knee injury that prevented her competing more competitive vaults.

  5. Nik Says:

    Allana Slater I thought was better in 2004 than in 2000. More mature and more elegant

    Also, I think that Pavs should have medalled in Athens, she should have got the bronze over Zhang Nan especially with the mistake Zhang made on her bars dismount. I remember almost crying for Pavs, who was so devastated.
    She looked great in Beijing but she just didn’t have the difficulty. Im glad she stuck around though, she is a true class act

  6. Ali Says:

    I agree that Lisa Skinner looked incredible in Sydney compared to Atlanta. Having her in our team for 3 Olympics has helped shape our next young crop to learn you don’t have to stop after 1 Olympics… if you still love it then go for it!!

    Also yes I thought Allana looked much more assured of herself in Athens.

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