Ziert’s top 10 from the women’s team final

September 6, 2007

Here’s International Gymnast Magazine publisher Paul Ziert’s take on the women’s team final in Stuttgart:

Wednesday, September 5

10. The Romanians is not quite where they want to be, but they are showing their usual signs of gaining momentum toward the Olympics. It seems bars will not be the Achilles heal for them in Beijing because Nistor and Patrascu are excellent, and I’m sure they will find another bar worker, or find some way to remotivate Izbasa, who was just not herself here.

Cerasela Petrascu on bars during the team final:

9. The British team smartly rested Beth Tweddle today. Beth will compete again in the all-around and two apparatus finals, so resting her gave some of her very young teammates a few extra chances to proudly represent Britain at the world championships. The team had already accomplished its primary goal of Olympic team qualification, so team finals was a chance to put more girls in the spotlight.

Beth Tweddle on floor exercise during the preliminaries:

8. Ksenia Semyonova, the lone bright spot in Russia’s unfortunate team final, reminds of what this program is still capable of. The youngest member of the Russian team at just 14 years old, Semyonova nailed her extremely lengthy and exciting bars routine again today for a 16.325. Too many of Semyonova’s compatriots from the spectacular Russian junior team are currently injured or have been forced to retire from injuries over the past two years. I think she will be a very big factor in Beijing!

7. The B-Panel judges must be drug tested. If our athletes are drug tested, why not the judges? They have taken a very bad Code and made it worse. If they can’t see how much we need to reward the Chinese on bars, they are enemies of our sport. ow I understand politics and I understand power ego trips, but what I don’t understand is stupidity. We can only survive this Code if the people putting it into play ie the judges use it to direct gymnastics in the right direction. The Chinese set an unbelievable standard for the direction bars should go, so please, to those four B Panel judges, get a very big stick and spank yourself!

Chinese on bars during prelims:

6. Yelena Zamolodchikova who gave her all here like she always does for Russia, but this time Kramarenko made a very silly error that threw away a bronze medal. She ran up to the table and instead of running around it or stopping without touching it, put her hands on the table to stop herself. As the rules state, she received a zero. Poor Zamo had to vault next knowing that no matter how well she did her Yurchenko double twist, her team would finish dead last. She charged down the runway with tears running down her face. This might be the last major competition we see her, and, I sure, she didn’t want to end this way. She has “the heart of a real champion.” How trite, but really true in her case.

Zamo on vault during team finals. knowing it didn’t matter:

5. Coordinators Marta Karolyi and Kathy Kelly for staying in the background and allowing the girls’ personal coaches do the coaching. This team looked much happier that the one in Aarhus, and, of course, they got the job done. I personally think than by the competition, all the coordinating and managing should be done. It’s time to execute, and the girls do better with their own coaches pushing their buttons.

4. Brazilian Jade Barbosa who turned in the highest All Around score today, 61.225. I wasn’t able to watch any of her routines because I was totally focused on the American/Chinese battle, but you can count on my watching her in the All Around finals.

Barbosa on beam during qualifying:

3. Newcomer Li Shanshan who after standing on the podium for more than 7 minutes while the judges argued over Cheng Fei’s score, stepped up and nailed her routine for the highest score on Beam and the third highest score of the entire Team Final – 16.275.

The third highest score of the entire Team Final:

2. The Italian team that quietly ended in 4th place using their star, Vanessa Ferrari in only vault(15.1) and bars(14.775). Although she usually scores higher on bars, it was remarkable that she was able to finish this routine considering that her cloth hand guard came loose near the end of her routine. She is really something to marvel at!

Ferrari loses her grip (and then really loses her grip!):

1. Alicia Sacramone was the star of the team finals. What a tough young lady she is! She did the best vault she has done so far here in Stuttgart (15.75), led off beam with a very solid routine under these conditions (15.60) and nailed her floor routine(15.325) with a little extra spice after leap series when her choreography has her rubbing her leg in the corner.

Alicia caps off team finals with a marvelous performance on floor:

Romania’s off quad

August 30, 2007

Some people have off years. In gymnastics, where a country’s talent is judged basically by its performance at a few World Championships and an Olympic Games, I believe there is such a thing as an off quad.

Take, for example, the U.S. women from 1997 to 2000. The top-level talent just wasn’t there. Arguably the two best gymnasts of the quad, Kristen Maloney and Vanessa Atler, had flaws that would have prevented them from being successful on the international stage (Maloney was plagued by injuries that never really healed and had comparatively poor form. Atler was deprived of two national all-around titles because she couldn’t hit her bar routine on both days of competition.)

By the time the 2000 Olympics rolled around, the American team was made up of two veterans who had prepared for less than a year and a rather unpolished 15-year-old, who, to Tasha Schwikert’s credit, matured greatly after her Olympic experience and went on to win two U.S. titles of her own. No wonder they finished off the podium.

Tasha in 2000…

…and two years later. What a difference!

Could the same thing be true of Romania this time around? The Romanians have certainly had a great run, but the departure of longtime national team coaches Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang in 2005 certainly hurt the team. The Romanians who competed in Denmark at the World Championships last year seemed to have improved somewhat on the artistic side, albeit at the expense of their famous consistency.

Silvia Stroescu, 2004:

Andreea Grigore, 2007:

One of the bright spots for the Romanians may be the return of triple Olympic gold medalist Catalina Ponor. Ponor, who could be thought of as the most consistent Romanian beamworker since Nadia Comaneci, retired after winning on her specialty at the 2006 European Championships and announced her comeback earlier this year.

Ponor is just what the Romanian team needs right now: A veteran competitor with a healthy thirst for victory. She can show promising newcomers like Cerasela Patrascu how to achieve good results in big meets.

U.S. men should play it safe in Stuttgart

August 30, 2007

The U.S. men have a very simple mission in Stuttgart: Stand up.

To be more specific, stand up and place in the top 12.

We’re not talking podium. We’re not talking medals. Sure, those would be nice too, but better than that would be the knowledge that the reigning Olympic silver medalists will be sending a full team to Beijing next summer.

Which brings us back to the standing up part.

Simply put, the U.S. men have to do better than they did at the National Championships two weeks ago, to say nothing of the debacle that led to its 13th-place finish at the 2006 Worlds in Aarhus, Denmark. A lot has been said about off nights, the fact that rings specialist Kevin Tan got food poisoning and scored a full two points lower than he’s shown himself to be capable of and how the team was less than a point away from making the top eight. Fewer excuses have been made for San Jose.

Jonathan Horton and the U.S. men have high hopes for the 2007 World Championships, which begin Sept. 1.

There’s no question the U.S. men throw big skills. Too big, perhaps. Just ask Justin Spring, who tore his ACL and took himself off the World team after attempting a double-twisting Kasamatsu vault at the U.S. Championships. Or Sasha Artemev, who tried to become the first man in history to land a triple-twisting Yurchenko. If they want to qualify for the Olympics, they had best use the route that David Durante took to winning his first national championship: clean, consistent gymnastics.

If that means Artemev downgrades to a 2.5 Yurchenko (or even a double), so be it. If it means Jonathan Horton doesn’t go all out on high bar, fine.

Because these guys deserve the opportunity to wow the Olympic crowd on the big stage in Beijing. They deserve a shot at the podium there too.

Let’s hope they don’t forget that they have to walk before they can run.

Nadia the politician?

August 29, 2007

A victory salute?

Nadia Comaneci is being groomed for a position in the Romanian Parliament if she wants it, Agence France-Presse reported this week.

Comaneci, best known for scoring the first perfect 10 in Olympic history (followed at close range by six more), has little experience in politics, unless you count a rumored romance with Nicu Ceausescu, son of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, during the 1980s.

Romania’s governing National Liberal Party (PNL) is hoping to persuade Comaneci to be its candidate for the country’s first European Parliamentary elections on November 25.

The list must be lodged by September 26 at the latest. And the lure of the Comaneci name is one which all parties are keen to harnass.

Comaneci’s name is being cited to head the PNL list, in place of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Mihai Razvan Ungureanu.

The US-based former gymnastics star is set to meet Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tariceanu to discuss the offer.

“I would be delighted if she (Comaneci) were to accept but at present there has been no discussions,” said PNL vice-president Norica Nicolai.

“We’ll know more (this week) … when our delegation meets to discuss strategy, the list and campaign team,” he said.

Nadia today.
Comaneci wouldn’t be first Romanian affiliated with gymnastics to accept a government position. After the 2004 Olympics, Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang, the volatile, outrageously successful Romanian national team coaches accepted positions as sports advisors to Romanian President Traian Basescu.

What does gymnastics have to do with Hepatitis A?

August 29, 2007

A: A lot, if you happened to attend the USA Gymnastics National Congress and Trade Show in San Jose Aug. 16 and accepted a complimentary beverage provided by Jamba Juice.

 The Hepatitis A virus.

According to an article in today’s L.A. Times, smoothies delivered to the Congress and handed out to those who visited the JumpSport booth were made by an employee who was infected with Hepatitis A.

Though the risk appears minimal, the California Department of Public Health said that people who consumed the drinks should monitor their health.

It could take 15 to 50 days for symptoms to appear.

Jamba Juice officials said they would pay eligible individuals their reasonable out-of-pocket medical expenses.

To report any illness, contact Jamba Juice at (877) 217-4780.

Full coverage of the 2007 U.S. Championships

August 29, 2007

…can be found here. Thank you, USA Gymnastics.

Alexis Brion’s double in back out pike

August 28, 2007

Just came across this clip of a 12-year-old Alexis Brion, who threw a double in back out more or less in the pike position back in 1995. At the time, Brion was about 4’1″.

Despite her obvious promise, Brion was never a top competitior as a senior. She did, however, have a very productive gymnastics career at the University of Alabama.

The only other person I know to have competed a double full in back out is the uncomparable Tatiana Groshkova, who won a silver on floor at the 1990 European Championships with this magnificent tumbling pass and routine.

Groshkova left the sport in 1991 when her Soviet coach Elvira Saadi moved to Canada. She came out of retirement briefly during the mid-90s, hoping to compete for the Netherlands, but it never happened. Saadi went on to coach some pretty impressive Canadians, among them Yvonne Tousek.

The Nationals Awards

August 28, 2007

A few wrap up thoughts on the 2007 U.S. Nationals, presented in Awards-show format:

Most Outrageous Attempt: Tie between Sasha Artemev, who went for a triple-twisting Yurchenko on vault, and Zeke Jackson, who threw (and unfortunately crashed) a triple back on floor exercise.

Jackson:

Artemev:

Surprise Sensation: 14-year-old Ivana Hong, who displayed not only elegance but power on by performing a double-twisting Yurchenko on vault en route to her fourth place finish. Everyone knew Hong was an artistic genius a la Courtney McCool, but the DTY really snuck up on us.

Way Underrated: Kevin Tan, the best American ringworker since Blaine Wilson. David Durante’s right about one thing: This guy could score a 16 or higher at worlds.

Way Overrated: Jana Bieger, who suffered numerous falls thoroughout the competition to finish ninth and off the World Championship team.

We Knew That Already: Shawn Johnson. It was obvious that she would win — we just didn’t know by how much.

She Got the Scores She Deserves, But…: Natasha Kelley, runner-up at the 2006 U.S. Championships. Kelley, whose beam routine is on par with Johnson’s in terms of difficulty, has been widely criticized for her poor form. And yes, she gives new meaning to the word awkward when she dances. While Kelley was given some extremely generous scores in 2006, she wasn’t that much worse in ’07, and yet the judges seemed to be going out of their way to amend last year’s mistakes. It’s too bad for Kelley, who would make a fine collegiate gymnast.

Could Have Been Better: Everyone on the men’s side except David Durante and Guillermo Alvarez, but particularly Jonathan Horton.

Don’t Say Anything Bad About Me, I’m Injured: Nastia Liukin, Bieger, Chellsie Memmel and anybody else who had a measure of success at this competition in 2006.

Weirdest Fall: Nastia Liukin on uneven bars, night one. Wait! Nastia Liukin on floor exercise, night two. Wait! Nastia Liukin on vault, both nights. Poor girl — this was not her competition.

Biggest Rebound: Samantha Peszek, who overcame three falls and a large error on the first day to place seventh overall and be chosen to train for the world team.

Thank Goodness They’re Back: Paul and Morgan Hamm. The U.S. men’s team is like the planet, and they’re Al Gore.

Fire Her Choreographer: Natasha Kelley and Jana Bieger both. Sorry ladies, but no. No no no no no.

Bieger (Kelley’s horror is posted above):

She Did Great and Nobody Noticed: Darlene Hill, ninth in the all-around, gave solid, crowd-pleasing performances on both days. Hill has a really nice combination of power and artistry, just no reputation, and that’s probably why her scores were fairly low.

This Won’t Happen Again Next Year: Liukin will bounce back. She’s come too far not to be great after all.

Bross new U.S. junior champion

August 28, 2007

Presenting Rebecca Bross, the newly crowned U.S. women’s junior national champion.

 Rebecca Bross won the U.S. junior championship in San Jose, despite falls on both days of competition.

To almost no one’s surprise, Bross ran away with the junior title in San Jose, despite falling on bars on the first day and beam on the second. Samantha Shapiro, who demonstrates amazing form for someone so young (she’s 14) was second. Phenom Jordyn Weiber, age 12 years and one month, was third.

All three should be extremely proud of themselves, but when it comes down to things, the junior national championships are not a very good indicator of who will be the next Shawn Johnson. (Johnson herself was 10th at the junior nationals in 2005.)

While some junior champions (read: Carly Patterson) have peaked at just the right time and achieved major success in the senior division, the junior nationals often seem more an indicator of who’s going to burn out once they hit the senior ranks (read: Kristal Uzelac, who won the title three consecutive years in a row and found that when she became age-eligible in 2002, her best years were already behind her.)

Bross is undoubtedly talented, but I’m not sure she has the “it” factor that some (Patterson, Dominique Moceanu, Nastia Liukin) have possessed. Her dance has been improved during the past year, but she struggles with some power on vault and leg form on floor (Bross, like 2004 U.S. Olympian Terin Humphrey, seems to be cursed with legs that look bent even when they’re not.)

Terin Humphrey's legs often appeared bent even when they were perfectly straight. 

Still, she has a great coach in Valeri Liukin, and perhaps more importantly, seems well-liked by National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi, who has already sent her to represent the U.S. at some prestigious events, including last month’s Pan American Games, where Bross was second in the all-around and first on floor exercise.

Bross is not age-eligible for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she’s already established herself as one to watch in 2009, when she’ll be eligible to compete as a senior. Look out for Weiber and Shapiro as well, but everyone in the top 12 of this crop is liable to mature into a spectacular gymnast. The person who may be the center of all the hype the year before London may be a complete unknown right now — someone like Johnson, who didn’t begin making her mark until the year after the Olympics.

Junior Women Final Standings:

1. Rebecca Bross, 119.40
2.. Samantha Shapiro, 117.50
3. Jordyn Wieber, 116.20
4. Chelsea Davis, 113.95
5. Rheagan Courville, 113.75
6. Mattie Larson, 113.70
7. Olivia Courtney, 113.55
8. Ashley Stott, 112.90
9. Corrie Lothrop, 112.70
10. Cassie Whitcomb, 112.60
11. Rebecca Clark, 112.40
12. Sarah DeMeo, 112.15
13. Kamerine Moore, 112.00
14. Amanda Jetter, 110.30
15. Sarah Persinger, 109.70
16.  Hallie Mossett, 108.95
17. Mackenzie Caquatto, 108.75
18. Alecia Musser, 108.25
19. Morgan Smith, 107.85
20. Sherise Clark, 107.00
21. Madeline Hanley, 106.65
22. Kaitlyn Clark, 105.05
23. Jenna Rachels, 104.90
24. Gabrielle Swart, 101.45

Shannon Miller to remarry Saturday

August 23, 2007

U.S., World and Olympic champion Shannon Miller will tie the knot with prominent Florida Republican John Falconetti Saturday, according to a report published today in the The Jacksonville, Fla. Times-Union.

Miller, the most decorated American gymnast in history, won seven Olympic medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games and eight world championship medals, five of them gold, between 1991 and 1996.

Shannon Miller is planning to tie the knot with Florida politician John Falconetti Saturday. It will be Falconetti's first marriage and Miller's second. The couple plans to honeymoon in Italy.Falconetti first met Miller at a celebrity golf tournament.

Three years later, at the age of 22, Miller married a physician named Chris Phillips. Miller filed for divorce in 2004, but the split was not finalized until last summer, according to this article in The Boston Globe. Apparently, it was ugly, too — Phillips accused Miller of having an affair with a male athlete, rumored to be a married gymnast, and threatening to expose him as being addicted to prescription drugs if he didn’t meet her demands.

Falconetti, meanwhile, shared the story of how he and Miller got together in the Times-Union’s article.

Falconetti, 39, said he first saw Miller, 30, when she was one of the celebrities playing in the Rick Wilkins Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament for Charity two years ago.

“I asked Rick’s father, Ray, who she was and immediately upgraded my sponsorship so she had to sit next to me for the whole weekend,” said Falconetti, president of Drummond Press.

Miller attends many such events each year and never gives out any personal information.

“He tracked my e-mail down through a publicist,” she said.

Best of luck second time around, Shannon.