Posts Tagged ‘Liu Xuan’

Who was better the second time around?

November 27, 2008
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?

Liukin: Young in spirit, if not in body anymore

October 31, 2007

Nastia Liukin

Two-time U.S. champion Nastia Liukin celebrated her 18th birthday by telling International Gymnast Magazine’s Amanda Turner that the 2008 Beijing Olympics might not be the swansong of her career.

“I am really focusing on this year coming up, but I’m definitely not thinking about retiring right away!” said Liukin, who lives and trains in Texas. “I can’t imagine my life without gymnastics right now. I would like to continue for as long as my body will hold up.”

Liukin has generally seemed pretty good about recognizing that the Olympics aren’t the be-all and do-all of one’s life, or even one’s gymnastics career. It’s a healthy attitude, and one that will help her out a lot if next summer doesn’t quite go as planned.

“My heart is in the sport more than ever, and I am simply loving what I do,” she said. “I feel like I have worked so hard and so long, and to just finish next year would be almost strange.”

Eighteen seems about the age when gymnastics commentators — if not gymnasts themselves — start thinking about retirement. The talk from the NBC trio at the 2007 U.S. Championships in August was fraught with the idea that Shawn Johnson will only be 16 in Beijing, while Liukin will be 18, nearly 19. Sheesh. Maybe that’s why younger gymnasts do better in international competition — they know nobody’s about to ask them what their retirement plans are at the post-meet press conference.

It should be noted that even in gymnastics, Olympic gold medalists don’t all come in young packages. Liu Xuan was 21 in Sydney. So was Svetlana Khorkina. Shannon Miller was 19 in Atlanta.

Shannon Miller, 1996 Olympic Games Event Finals, Balance Beam:

Liukin, who is tied with Miller for most medals won by any U.S. gymnast at the World Championship competition, might see that as oine reason to keep competing after Beijing. Breaking Miller’s record would be a unique accomplishment, and solidify her place as one of the greatest American gymnasts of all time.

Not that it needs much more solification — from here, eveything else should be looked at as icing on a very golden cake. Happy birthday, Nastia.

— Further reading: Liukin good at age 18 from NBCOlympics.com

Another innovation from Liu Xuan

October 4, 2007

China's Liu Xuan in flight.

Seven years after her retirement, China’s Liu Xuan continues to amaze me with her creativity. Xuan, who was considered too old by her coaches to be competitive at the 2000 Olympics, stunned everybody by striking gold on balance beam with the routine of a lifetime during event finals. Not to mention the bronze she got in the all-around when Andreea Raducan was stripped of her title.

Liu’s golden routine on balance beam from the 2000 Olympic Games:

Thanks to Aleksas Trotter’s Youtube channel, I discovered that Liu was perhaps the first to perform a Jaeger with a half turn on uneven bars, which countrywoman Li Ya amazed everybody with at Cottbus in 2006 by performing it in combination with a second Jaeger.

Liu Xuan on uneven bars at the 1998 Sagit Cup:

Li Ya on uneven bars at Cottbus in 2006:

Liu also pioneered a one-arm giant, which she performed in combination with a second one-arm giant into a Geinger in 1995 and 1996.

Svetlana Khorkina is given tons of credit for her innovations on all events, particularly bars, and deservedly so. But the Chinese gymnasts of the 1996 generation, especially Liu, deserve the same.