Posts Tagged ‘Mary Lou Retton’

Revisiting Emilia Eberle’s gymnastics

November 21, 2008

She’s known for that awful floor routine — and now, for her accusations that Bela and Martha Karolyi physically abused her and others while she trained on the Romanian national team. What she isn’t so known for is her very clean work on beam and bars.

I wonder why not. Eberle’s work from the 1979 Chunichi Cup and 1980 Olympic Games is quite impressive. On beam she reminds me of a combination of Olga and Nadia, and her swing on bars and some of the neat moves is great. Her double pike off beam had to be one of the first performed. If she weren’t of the same era as Nadia, Nellie Kim and Natalia Shaposhnikova, perhaps she would have been better remembered.

Emilia Eberle, 1979 Chunichi Cup, Uneven Bars:

Emilia Eberle, 1979 Chunichi Cup, Beam:

The judges thought she was pretty good, too. Eberle won silver on bars at the 1980 Olympics.

By the 1980 Olympics, Eberle had mercifully been given a new floor routine. If the music sounds familiar, it’s because Mary Lou Retton used it in 1984.

Emilia Eberle, 1980 Olympics Event Finals, Floor Exercise:

Where was Carly?

August 23, 2008
Reigning Olympic champ Carly Patterson wasnt in Beijing this summer.

Reigning Olympic champ Carly Patterson wasn't in Beijing this summer.

It was one of the many thoughts flitting through this blogger’s brain in the aftermath of Nastia Liukin’s golden all-around performance.

The Dallas Morning News apparently had the same question.

Someone obvious was missing Friday morning in Beijing as North Texan Nastia Liukin won the women’s gymnastics all-around Olympic gold medal: Carly Patterson.

Television cameras cut to Houston’s Mary Lou Retton, who in 1984 became the first American woman to win the all-around gold. There were shots of coaches, the ever-present Bela and Martha Karolyi, and several other Olympic luminaries.

But what about Patterson, the darling of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, whose megawatt smile and pepper-pot style captured American imaginations when she won America’s second all-around gold?

She watched the games from Louisiana, with family.

“I wanted to be there, for sure,” said Patterson, 20, who lives in Allen and is pursuing a singing career. “I don’t really know what happened. I wasn’t invited.”

Hmmm. On one hand, someone — USA Gymnastics or WOGA or even NBC or the FIG — could have seen to it that the reigning Olympic champion was invited to the big party in Beijing.

Then again, Patterson has expressed little desire to remain involved with the sport, at one point redoing her website and inviting readers to click a link to “read about her former gymnastics career.” (It has since been redone and gymnastics is a little more prominent.)

USA Gymnastics President Steve Penny’s comments indicate there may be some hurt feelings on both sides between the 2004 Champ and the U.S. governing body of the sport that made her famous.

Was it fair of Patterson to pout in print? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Regardless of how she seems to have moved on with her life (applaudable) she was the Olympic champion. What do you think?

Nastia Liukin, Olympic Champion: Wow!

August 15, 2008

Nastia Liukin salutes the judges after her balance beam routine, en route to the all-around gold in Beijing.

Nastia Liukin salutes the judges after her balance beam routine, en route to the all-around gold in Beijing.

With elegance, style, poise, her signature pink leotard and a ton of flawlessly performed difficulty, Nastia Liukin captured the women’s all around gold medal, living up to promise and expectation that’s surrounded her since she won her first junior national championship in 2003.

Shawn Johnson took silver, while China’s Yang Yilin proved her all-around mettle, leading after two rotations and finishing with the bronze.

It was a class field that performed wonderfully. There was nary a huge mistake, save Jiang Yuyuan on vault. Yang, given her relative lack of experience and the enormous pressure to follow up Yang Wei’s heroics before the home crowd, also had the meet of her life. Her bronze was well deserved.

Liukin, however, was the class of the field, putting together the four best routines she’s done in years and not giving an inch to her competitors. So she was underscored on vault. Maybe Johnson was a bit underscored on bars. Maybe Yang was overscored on beam. The best woman still won. That’s all that matters right now.

What I liked most about this competition was that Liukin in some ways did something that seems almost relegated to old school gymnastics — she stuck her landings on vault, her beam dismount, and on that very difficult first tumbling pass. She polished every movement. She made it look easy. Johnson, despite sticking her bars dismount cold, did not. They talk about that a lot in gymnastics these days, but we so rarely see it now, particularly on vault.

When Liukin retires (and I hope it’s not this year) she’ll be remembered as one of the greatest American gymnasts ever — for her heritage, for her elegance, for her innovations (she was gutsy enough to attempt a quad on floor), for competing as a senior elite for three long years before the Olympic Games, for not listening to people who said she was too old, for not listening to people who said she was a two event gymnast, for not letting that ankle injury consume her, for maintaining a healthy rivalry with Johnson, a gymnast who is day to her night, and continuing to believe in herself.

She’s not the new Mary Lou. She’s nothing like Mary Lou, except in spirit. Maybe in 20 years some artistic kid will come along and they’ll wonder, “Could she be the next Nastia?”

Fantastic, Nastia. Just fantastic.

Those controversial Moceanu statements

July 24, 2008

A very young Dominique Moceanu.

Paul Hamm isn’t the only one saying controversial stuff as The Olympic Games approach.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Dominique Moceanu called for Bela and Martha Karolyi to be shown off the U.S. Team selection process.

Former U.S. Olympian Dominique Moceanu, who at 14 was part of the 1996 gold-medal team, said Tuesday night that USA Gymnastics team coordinator Martha Karolyi once grabbed her by the neck and slammed her face into a phone, and that former coach Bela Karolyi twice berated her about her weight in front of national teammates.

Moceanu, in a telephone interview with The Times, expanded on comments she made on an “HBO Real Sports” report that first aired Tuesday night in which she called for the Karolyis to be removed from their positions with the national team.


Jennie Thompson reflects

June 4, 2008

Jennie ThompsonJust in time for the Olympic Games, Inside Gymnastics Magazine is running a series of profiles on…people who never made an Olympic team.

What an original idea. This is the time of the quadrennium when we remember people like Mary Lou Retton, whose agent probably fields about five phone calls a day from reporters who want her to give a blow-by-blow of her Los Angeles experience.

While Retton’s story is terrific, there are a lot more that aren’t told. Inside’s interview with Jennie Thompson, who might have been a two-time Olympian had things been just a little different, is excellent.

Among other things, we learn:

— Jennie and husband Clint are pregnant with their first child (due at the end of the month)
— Jennie thought about the 1996 Olympic Trials as “just another meet”
— Jennie coaches at Northwest Gymnastics in Spokane, Wash.


Jennifer Sey: Speaking up

May 1, 2008

Jennifer SeyWith her new book Chalked Up, 1986 U.S. Champion Jennifer Sey expounds on what is by all appearances a long and painful struggle with depression caused by thr rigors of elite gymnastics training.

The book’s title says it all: Chalked Up: Inside Elite Gymnastics’ Merciless Coaching, Overzealous Parents, Eating Disorders and Elusive Olympic Dreams.


Terin Humphrey: The moments

March 19, 2008

Terin HumphreyCarly Patterson was the “it” girl, the one with the big chance to become the next Mary Lou Retton.

Courtney McCool was the upstart senior with the impeccable form who some thought could win it all for herself.

Courtney Kupets was an amazing comeback story — the girl who had weathered a potentially career-ending injury and come back better than she’d been before, all in less than a year.

Mohini Bhardwaj had defied all odds and made an Olympic team eight years after she was expected to be at her prime.

Annia Hatch was living the American dream.

And Terin Humphrey was the girl, who despite not being a particular Olympic favorite (some doubted she’d make the team, given that the USA had so much talent to choose from) wound up standing on a podium in Athens all by herself with a silver medal around her neck.


It’s over.

November 17, 2007

If she throws an Amanar, Shawn Johnson is likely to win the all-around competition in Beijing.

That’s right. The 2008 Olympic all-around competition is over.

An interview with Chow Liang by International Gymnast Magazine editor Dwight Normile affirmed that Chow’s prodigy, 2007 World Champion Shawn Johnson, will soon be back to full training following treatment for a stress reaction in her right shin.

“World champion gymnast suffers slight injury, gets better, returns to training” isn’t the news. What is, as Normile gently reminds readers, is that Johnson has and may continue working on her Amanar — a Yurchenko vault with 2.5 twists — which she came within a few seconds of performing at the U.S. Championships in August.

Chow couldn’t say what changes, if any, he would make in Johnson’s routines for 2008, but we might see her upgrade to a 2-1/2-twisting Yurchenko on vault. After all, she almost competed it at the Visa Championships last August. “We did it during the warm-up,” Chow said. “I almost had her do it — almost. I probably felt one month short (of preparation) back then. I didn’t want to take any risk.”

Johnson probably doesn’t need to do an Amanar to win the all-around in Beijing. But if she does, it would put everyone else nearly out of contention to catch her.

The 2008 all-around champ -- and this event is why.

At the 2007 Worlds, Johnson won by 1.25 points over Romanian Steliana Nistor and was 1.325 ahead of bronze medalists Jade Barbosa and Vanessa Ferrari, both of whom would have placed above Nistor had Barbosa not fallen on floor and Ferrari on bars.

But even crediting Barbosa and Ferrari with eight tenths by assuming their mistakes were flukes, Johnson is still pacing the field by more than half a point.

Risk of injury aside, Johnson has almost nothing to lose by competing this vault. Whether or not she stands it up, if she can get credit for attempting an Amanar, her start value on vault will balloon by seven-tenths of a point. If does stand it up, even with a huge hop or lunge backward, she’s going to get a score that’s out of this world. They might as well mail the gold to Iowa as soon as her feet hit the ground.

Recall Barbosa’s 15.9 for a decent Yuchenko 2.5 during the all-around final. Johnson got a 15.175 for a nice DTY.

Jade Barbosa, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Vault:

Shawn Johnson, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Vault:

We may see silver and bronze contenders attempting two-and-a-halfs just to get the start value boost. It’s almost surprising we haven’t seen it yet. Of the top 10 in Stuttgart, only Johnson, Barbosa and maybe Ferrari look as though they have what it takes to land that vault on their feet.

Barbosa would be a threat, as her tumbling is equally difficult, but she’s proven less consistent on her better events, and the small form breaks she gives away on bars and beam will likely keep her chasing Johnson. Although this might be selling the 2006 World champ a bit short, it doesn’t seem like Ferrari has quite enough power to do an Amanar.

Vanessa Ferrari, 2007 World Championships Team Finals, Vault:

Why is it that vault, arguably the least exciting event, always seems to decide these things? In 1984, it gave Mary Lou Retton the gold and enduring fame. In 2000, it cost Svetlana Khorkina what was basically presumed to be “her” victory. In 2008, it may well seal Shawn Johnson’s.

It’s almost funny — if either Alicia Sacramone or Cheng Fei threw a triple twisting Yurchenko, their scores would be so high as to put them in contention for the all-around gold, despite the deficiencies both have on bars.

Natasha Kelley and coaches part ways

October 25, 2007

Olympic hopeful Natasha Kelley is now training with Terry and Tamara Walker at Cypress Gymnastics Academy in Houston.

Natasha Kelley has jumped from one married couple to another.

In what is now month-old news, Kelley, runner up at the 2006 U.S. Championships and 2007 American Cup, has left coaches Dan and Ashly Baker of Stars Academy to train under the tutelage of Terry and Tamara Walker of Cypress Gymnastics Academy in Houston.

Cypress produced 1997 U.S. Junior champion Marlene Stephens, and 2000 U.S. vault champion Kendall Beck, though not under its present coaches. Stanford standout Lindsay Wing also trained there for some time, though during the runup to the 2000 Olympic Games, Wing left coaches Debbie Kaitschuck and Deana Parrish to train with Kelli Hill in Maryland.

Despite her American Cup finish, 2007 hasn’t been the best year for Kelley. Battling a fracture and tendonitis in her left heel at Nationals, she placed 10th in San Jose and was left off the World team. Reportedly Dan Baker gave her a rather harsh talking-to after she left a full twist out of her planned 1.5 twisting Yurchenko during day two of the competition.

Wonder what Mary Lou Retton has to say about this transition? The 1984 Olympic all-around champ has been a hugely vocal supporter of the Katy, Texas native in the past, even going so far as to say that politics kept Kelley from winning the 2006 U.S. Championships over Nastia Liukin.

“I felt the scoring was unfortunate,” Retton told sportswriter Eddie Pells after Nationals last summer. “I believe Natasha Kelley should have won this competition. She was strong. She hit all four events with confidence.” That last part was perhaps a dig at Liukin, who capped off an unusually poor second day with a large mistake on balance beam.

Natasha Kelley, 2006 U.S. Nationals Day Two, Balance Beam:

Nastia Liukin, 2006 U.S. Nationals Day Two, Balance Beam:

Retton aside, Kelley has been criticized for poor form on a lot of her dance skills, but she’s also proven herself as one of the U.S.’s more solid beamworkers. It’s doubtful that playing musical coaches the year before the Games is going to get her on next year’s Olympic team, but she certainly has a bright collegiate future ahead of her if she wants it.

Natasha Kelley, 2007 U.S. Championships Preliminaries, Floor Exercise:

The Bakers appear to have moved on as well — Brown’s Gymnastics of Houston reports that the have purchased the facility.

Shawn Johnson Day

October 12, 2007

Mary Lou Retton got a Wheaties box.

Carly Patterson got a Wheaties box, the talk show circuit and a fledgling singing career.

Shawn Johnson doesn’t have the Wheaties box yet, but she’s doing the talk show circuit and she’s already got something neither Olympic champions Retton nor Patterson did: A day.

Iowa governor Chet Culver will personally welcome the newly crowned world all-around champ to the Iowa State Historical Building Oct. 17 for what the Des Moines Register calls “Shawn Johnson Day.”

Forget day. 2007 has clearly been Shawn Johnson year. She’s been American Cup Champion, American Classic Champion, Pan American Games Champion, U.S. National Champion, World All-Around Champion, World Floor Champion, all within the span of about seven months. 

It’s worth noting that Johsnon only lost one meet as a junior in 2006 as well.

2007 World All-Around Champion Shawn Johnson performing the floor routine the solidified her title.

With all the positive energy swirling around her, one has to wonder what’s in store for the 15-year-old dynamo in 2008. When Kim Zmeskal became the first American woman to win a world all-around title in 1991, there were few media appearances and those focused on what the Olympic year would bring.

To paraphrase a Sports Illustrated article written four years later, after the 1991 Worlds in Indianapolis, the doors of Karolyi’s gym were open and herds of reporters were asking, “How many golds will you get in Barcelona?”

How things have changed in a decade and a half. Everyone’s so stoked about Johnson’s win in Stuttgart that Beijing still seems very far off. Johnson’s also been featured on ABC News as Person of the Week, and she just did a spot on Ellen Degeneres’ daytime show. Nobody’s really talking about Beijing, and when they do, it’s about whether or not she’ll make the team, not how many medals she’s worth.

That’s as it should be. Charmed as her life may seem, Johnson’s going to be under pressure like she’s never known next summer. She should get the opportunity to savor her latest triumph without having to focus on the unknown future.

Johnson on Ellen:

And as ABC News’s Person of the Week: