Posts Tagged ‘Oksana Chusovitina’

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?

10 things that should have happened during the Olympics…

October 7, 2008
Nastia Liukin was fabulous in Beijing -- as it should have been.

Nastia Liukin was fabulous in Beijing -- as it should have been.

…and did.

1. Nastia Liukin should have won the women’s all-around. With a highly respectful nod to 2007 World Champion Shawn Johnson, only Nastia combined the balletic artistry that makes gymnastics a truly special sport with the difficulty that makes people say wow. Not only that, she stuck almost all her critical landings during the all-around final — on vault, off beam and on that tricky front-full, front double full first pass on floor.

Liukin’s performance in that all-around final was a throwback to the “perfectionist” gymnastics of old — and hopefully, an inspiration to the perfectionist gymnastics to come.

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Who stays, who goes?

September 19, 2008

After the Olympics there’s usually a flurry of discussion and speculation — who will continue, and who’s retiring? This ongoing post will attempt to chronicle that.

Staying. Chellsie Memmel, at least through the 2009 Worlds. Hard to blame her — despite the Olympic team silver, Beijing was hardly her dream competition.

Going. Alicia Sacramone, who has hinted she might try diving.

Staying. The bionic Oksana Chusovitina, who was given $20,000 Euros by Li Ning to help pay for son Alisher’s lieukemia treatment.

Staying. Beth Tweddle, who wants to compete in London at next year’s world championships.

Going. Romanian Marian Dragulescu, the — so close! — two time Olympic vault champ, who announced plans to become a coach.

Going. Morgan Hamm, who told the press that he’s done. M. Hamm plans to marry and attend chiropractic school.

Undecided. Paul Hamm, who apparently is trying to choose between an advanced degree in business administration or further competition. Hey, the MBA will always be an option, Paul — Olympic-caliber gymnastics won’t.

Undecided. Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, the big winners of the Games. Johnson has professed that she’d “give anything” to do another Olympics, while Liukin has mentioned 2012 in a few interviews but seems more focused on breaking Shannon Miller’s world championship medal count, which could happen in 2009.

Staying. Non-2008 Olympian Yelena Zamolodchikova and Lyudmila Yezhova Grebenkova, the grand dames of the talented but aging Russian teams.

Going. Aussie Olivia Vivian, to the talented and often under-appreciated Oregon State University.

Staying (likely). Yang Yilin. After her performance in Beijing, do you think the Chinese government is just going to let her retire? She could be even better in 2009.

Other German Olympians

June 12, 2008

A little housekeeping: Germany named the rest of its men’s and women’s Olympic teams Tuesday. Joining Fabian Hambuchen, Marcel Nguyen, Philipp Boy and Eugen Spiridonov on the men’s team will be Robert Juckel and Thomas Andergassen.

On the women’s side, Jolene Mobius and Anja Brinker will join the University of Utah’s Daria Bijak, Oksana Chusovitina, Katja Abel and Marie-Sophie Hindermann. Kim Bui is the alternate.

Jolene Mobius, 2008 American Cup, Floor Exercise:

(via Gymnastics Coaching, Difficulty plus Execution)

Bijak to Beijing

June 11, 2008

Utah's Daria Bijak is headed to Beijing.The Desert News, one of two outlets that covers the University of Utah gymnastics team thoroughly, is reporting that Utah sophomore Daria Bijak has been named to the German Olympic team.

Long time coming. Bijak missed the 2000 Games with an injury, and Germany did not qualify a full team in 2004.

Germany named four men’s athletes: Fabian Hambuchen, Philipp Boy, Marcel Nguyen and Eugen Spiridonov — and three women: German champion Oksana Chusovitina, Katya Abel and Marie-Sophie Hindermann. The Deseret News article does not name who the other two female Germans named to the team were.

Bijak joins other Ute Olympic team members like Cheryl Weatherstone (Great Britain 1984), Missy Marlowe (USA 1988) and current teammate Gael Mackie (Canada 2004).

Bijak, 16th all-around at this year’s NCAA Championships, is one of the few (if not the only) NCAA vaulters to do a handspring laid-out front.

Daria Bijak, 2008 German Championships, Vault:

Daria Bijak, 2008 German Championships, Floor Exercise:

She keeps going, and going, and going, and…

June 10, 2008

Oksana ChusovitinaIt was a touching story of a mother’s love for her son and how she leveraged her sport to pay for treating his leukemia.

Then came the bang worthy of a surprise symphony:

“My goal is to keep going until London in 2012,” 32-year-old Oksana Chusovitina told Reuters in an interview last week.

Whoa. Chusovitina was tapped to lead the German women’s Olympic team, which will include Katya Abel and Marie-Sophie Hindermann, fourth on uneven bars at the 2007 World Championships. University of Utah sophomore and Olympic hopeful Daria Bijak kept herself in the running for a berth by finishing fourth at the recent German Nationals.

I suppose people were thinking Chusovitina might retire after Beijing. I’m beginning to assume she’ll be competing elite at 50.

German star Fabian Hambuchen will lead the men’s team, which will also consist of 2008 German Championships silver medalist Philipp Boy, Marcel Nguyen and Eugen Spiridonov.

Cottbus Cup: Alive and then some

April 13, 2008

Brazilian Jade Barbosa watered down at the Cottbus CupWhen I started reading International Gymnast Magazine back in the mid-1990s, one of the first articles I came across was about the decline of the Cottbus Cup.

This was 1997. The field that year was particularly weak, and as memory serves, IG pondered if the competition might not go the same way as other smaller comps — i.e. into non-existence.

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So few slots, so many questions

March 7, 2008

In theory, by March of an Olympic year, we should be getting a better idea of who’s going to be on the Olympic team in most countries.

China is not most countries.

Here are Deng Linlin and Guo Weiyang, two from the People’s Republic whose success at the just concluded Doha World Cup may contribute to their own Olympic surge. Guo won gold on high bar in Doha. Deng won gold on beam and silver on floor.

She didn’t do too shabbily on vault, either, winning a bronze behind Germany’s Oksana Chusovitina and Russian Anna Pavlova.

Deng Linlin, 2008 Doha World Cup Event Finals, Vault:

Guo Weiyang, 2007 Chinese Nationals Event Finals, High Bar:

Ksenia SemyonovaMatters aren’t much clearer when it comes to the prospective Russian women’s team, either. Ksenia Semyonova is the reigning world champion on the uneven bars, but Lyudmila Yezhova Grebenkova keeps coming up with big results at smaller meets. Ksenia Afanasyeva had a great competition at last week’s Russian Cup.  

Add veteran Pavlova to the mix, as well as the stalwart Yelena Zamolodchikova, Svetlana Klyukina, Yekaterina Kramarenko, Polina Miller, Kristina Pravdina, Anna Grudko, Irina Isayeva, Daria Elizarova and Yulia Lozhechko. There’s no dearth of talent in Russia.

Who goes? Who stays? Who knows?

Good grief.

Anja Brinker: 2007 German Sportswoman of the Year

February 22, 2008

German giant Fabian Hambuchen deservedly got a lot of press when he became Germany’s Sportsman of the Year 2007 in December.

Much less fanfare has been made about rising German talent Anja Brinker, a 17-year-old from Herkenrath who was 10th all-around at the 2007 European Championships. Brinker’s specialty, like countrywoman Marie-Sophie Hindermann’s, is the uneven bars.

Anja Brinker, 2007 European Championships Event Finals, Uneven Bars:

Anja Brinker on balance beam.The German women’s team, which also includes Hindermann, former Soviet Oksana Chusovitina, Katja Abel and possibly Utah sophomore Daria Bijak, is formidable. Imagine if they had Jana Bieger as well!

It seems almost certain that the U.S. and China will be the top two women’s teams in Beijing this summer, but with those five, who knows? German gymnastics might even be in a position to upset a Romania or Russia for a bronze. Too bad Bieger resists trying to make the German team…

(via GYMmedia.com)

Women’s artistic gymnastics: 12 to watch in ’08

January 3, 2008

Shawn JohnsonFor so long, the Gymnasts to Watch have come from four countries of the world: The United States, China, Russia and Romania. As we move into 2008, it is quickly becoming apparent that the best gymnasts are not exclusively from these four nations.

With the help of coaches who have migrated from South America to New Zealand, Korea, Germany, France, Italy, Australia, Great Britain, etc., international gymnastics is flourishing in ways it never has before.

Some of those who will be contenders for numerous Olympic medals aren’t mentioned on the following list. We know who they are. But sometimes the stories of the underdogs are equally compelling. Oksana Chusovitina’s fifth Olympics? Come on. That’s an achievement even those who snap up most of the gold in Beijing will never accomplish.

Shawn Johnson, USA: The 2007 World Champion will have all eyes on her this season, but she’ll be dealing with maintaining her position at the top of the podium instead of simply claiming it, as she did in every contest she entered last year. Many fans may watch Johnson with apprehension. After all, Johnson’s idol Kim Zmeskal, whose gymnastics greatly resembled Johnson’s own, looked darn unbeatable too going into 1992.

Shawn Johnson, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Floor Exercise:

Beth TweddleBeth Tweddle, Great Britain: The most decorated gymnast in British history (a term I never thought I’d hear again after Shannon Miller retired) Tweddle is going into 2008 with what seems like all of England marching behind. Freak injuries in podium trainings and the like have robbed Tweddle the opportunity to compete her best at so many competitions.

Beth Tweddle, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Uneven Bars:

Jiang Yuyuan, China: She’s China’s rising star and a potential late-blooming all-around threat. With the Olympics being held in Beijing, it’s hard to imagine that Jiang won’t do well.

Jiang Yuyuan, 2007 World Championships Event Finals, Floor Exercise:

Aisha Gerber, Canada: She looked like the next Yvonne Tousek at the 2006 American Cup. After a tumultous 2007, with new coaches Kelly and Sue Manjak cheering her on, a revitalized Gerber wants to compete for Canada in Beijing. In order to do so however, she’ll have to prove she’s more worthy than Kristina Vaculik and Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs.

Aisha Gerber, 2006 American Cup, Floor Exercise:

Vanessa Ferrari, Italy: The competitive spirit obviously rages inside this one. The question will be if she can hit all of her events — in the same day.

Vanessa Ferrari, 2006 World Championships All Around, Floor Exercise:

Daria Joura, Australia: She’s been a spunky and well-choreographed presence on the international scene since 2006. If she does everything she’s capable of in Beijing, she could be in the top five on several events.

Daria Joura, 2007 American Cup, Floor Exercise:

Hong Su Jong, Korea: Despite their particular prowess on vault and uneven bars, the Koreans have gone relatively unnoticed internationally. But at the 2007 World Championships, Hong showed the same vaults as Cheng Fei — an Amanar and Cheng’s own signature vault, which some argued Hong did better in Stuttgart. With Brazilian Jade Barbosa also performing the Cheng, it will be a battle to determine who’s going to do what in 2008.

Hong Su Jong, 2007 World Championships Event Finals, Vault:

Anna PavlovaAnna Pavlova, Russia: The gymnast once deemed Svetlana Khorkina’s successor on the Russian team has limped along since Athens, which was the last competition she really looked alive at. The rudderless Russian team has looked thrown for a loop most of the quad as well, despite immense depth and talent from upcoming juniors. The thing is, Pavlova nearly pulled off the upset of the quad in 2004 (many argue she should have had bronze), and there’s a feeling she does have more to give. If she puts the extra effort into her performance in Beijing as she did in Athens, we could see more from her and the Russians this year.

Anna Pavlova, 2004 Olympic Games All Around, Floor Exercise:

Bridget Sloan, USA: One of the USA’s “Bubble Girls,” the 2007 World Championships alternate is getting attention for her clean gymnastics, personality, consistency and self-choreographed floor routine.

Bridget Sloan, 2007 Beijing Test Event All Around, Floor Exercise:

Cerasela Patrascu, Romania: With veteran Catalina Ponor gone for good, this girl could be the top Romanian in Beijing. Her form is good, her skills are difficult and her presentation has a wonderful quality to it. Expect her — and not teammate Steliana Nistor, deserving as she is — to be the one to watch this year.

Cerasela Patrascu, 2007 World Championships Team Prelims, Uneven Bars:

Yulia Lozhechko, Russia: She’s got the long bodyline — if not the sass — of Khorkina, and her quality and steadiness on balance beam is thoroughly impressive. After being unceremoniously thrown off the Russian national team for disobeying her coaches in Stuttgart, one can only hope Lozhechko put her head down and kept training.

Yulia Lozhechko, 2007 European Championships Event Finals, Balance Beam:

Oksana Chusovitina, Germany: It’s taken four Olympiads, three countries and one child for Chusovitina to get to this point. Regardless of how she performs, whether or not she qualifies for vault finals, how could anyone not cheer for this woman?

Oksana Chusovitina, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Vault: