Posts Tagged ‘Simona Amanar’

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?

Johnson unlikely for 2009

November 8, 2008

Shawn Johnson tells the Des Moines Register she’s unlikely to compete in 2009. Rick wonders if this means she’s retiring for good. Johnson even disclosed that she’s not sure whether she’ll return to her high school in West Des Moines, Iowa.

Like the comeback after a potentially career-ending injury, the comeback after a successful Olympics is long and grueling. How do you go back to four to six hours in a gym after you’ve been the face of McDonalds? It’s a question Johnson and Nastia Liukin are likely to be asking themselves. Despite Johnson’s claim that she’d “give anything” to feel more Olympic magic, she may not realize what four more years is really going to take from her.

Only a handful of female gymnasts in the past decade have come back from successful Olympic experiences, and only two — Shannon Miller and Dominique Dawes — have been American (Tasha Schwikert doesn’t count because you can’t really call 2000 a success for the American women). The others include Lilia Podkopayeva (though her return was so brief it was almost non-existent), Simona Amanar, Andreea Raducan and of course, Svetlana Khorkina, who always looked better the year after an Olympic Games. than she did at the Games themselves.

A scene from Podkopayeva’s short retrurn to international competition in 1997, at the European Masters:

Lozhechko, Khorokhordin rebound to win Russian Championships

February 29, 2008

Russian Yulia Lozhechko capped off her comeback by winning the Russian Championships.What a comeback for Russian veteran Yulia Lozhechko.

The timeline of Lozhechko’s last six months goes something like this: September: Competes at the World Championships in Stuttgart. Falls on her beam dismount (a Patterson, or an Arabian double front) in team preliminaries, which knocks the 2007 European balance beam champion out of event finals.

October: Is unceremoniously thrown removed from the Russian National team for not obeying her coaches and throwing a safer dismount on said beam routine.

February: Makes stunning comeback to win the all-around at her first competition back on the national team.

Lozhechko literally came from out of nowhere on the second day. She wasn’t even mentioned in International Gymnast Magazine’s rundown of the preliminary competition. Russian veteran Anna Pavlova, apparently on the strength of her new Amanar vault, bounded into the second place spot behind Lozhechko. A duo of Ksenias (Afanasyeva and Semyonova, the latter the defending world bars champion) took bronze.

“I trained this for a long time — in fact I learned it six years ago,” Pavlova said. “Awhile back Yelena Zamolodchikova was doing this vault, when I was just beginning, but for many years nobody was doing it. Certainly, I had some silly mistakes over the course of the competition, but of all the apparatus I am happiest with how I performed on the beam.”

Other than Simona Amanar, who threw the vault in competition once and only once, I believe Zamo was the first woman to do the 2.5-twisting Yurchenko. It was at the 2001 French International, if memory serves.

That competition also featured a fabulous vault by 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Yang Yun of China, who threw one of the more perfect handspring front layouts ever done in international competition. She literally looked like she was flying.

Yang Yun, 2001 French International, Vault:

Russian veteran Sergei Khorokhordin came from behind to steal the Russian Cup title from 2007 European Champion Maxim Devyatovsky, who was also pulled from the Russian team for bad behavior in Stuttgart in September. Deviatovsky’s crime was pulling out of the all-around in a show of poor sportsmanship after he took himself out of contention for the title with a fall on parallel bars.

He also left the arena before the meet was over, which may have gotten the Russian delegation in some hot water with the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) since it’s against the rules for a non-injured gymnast to do so.

Devyatovsky certainly limped around quite a bit after that rotation, but coaches seemed to think he was faking. Maybe the FIG did too.

Devyatovsky had been in position to make a Lozhechko-like comeback (he was first in the qualifying round) but finished fourth after a fall on high bar. Yuri Ryazanov was second, ahead of Dmitry Gogotov.

Ponor retires — again

December 13, 2007

Romania's Catalina Ponor says she's retiring for good.

Triple Olympic gold medalist Catalina Ponor will not be heading to Beijing this summer, USA Today reported Wednesday.

Ponor, the last Romanian superstar coached by Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang, reportedly informed the Romanian federation of her decision to retire earlier this week.

“There are medical reasons and I don’t want to take any chances,” she said, according to Realitatea TV. “I am now focusing on my university studies and I want to spend the holidays with my family.”

Ponor retired after winning the beam at the 2006 European championships, in part because of her knee problems. She returned to competition this spring and helped Romania to a bronze medal at the world championships in September.

Ponor’s relationship with her coaches and federation has been somewhat contentious since the Athens Olympics, where some argue that she stole the show by winning gold on balance beam and floor exercise.

She also recognized as the team leader of the bulletproof Romanian squad that beat out the U.S. for the gold in the team competition.

Her bout of partying after the Games may have played a part in Belu and Bitang’s throwing in the towel as the Romanian National Team coaches. The duo wound up taking jobs in the Romanian government. Nicolae Fromite, who coached Simona Amanar during her long and successful career, succeeded them.

After disappointing Romanian finishes at the 2006 World Championships, Ponor resurrected her career, ostensibly planning to lead the team at the 2008 Olympics. She brought Bitang out of retirement as well to coach her.

But disappointments this year, including the Romanian team’s third place finish at the World Championships and her own finish out of the medals on balance beam in event finals may have galvinized her decision to retire anew.

The Romanian team looked better in 2007 than it has all quad, but its gymnasts were not where they were prior to 2004.

Ponor was known for her extremely difficult combinations on balance beam and expressive (for a Romanian) dance on floor exercise.

Catalina Ponor, 2006 European Championships Event Finals, Balance Beam:

The nefarious full turn with leg held up

October 25, 2007

Amazing how this relatively low-value skill appears to be more difficult for many gymnasts than, say, a back handspring, layout stepout series.

In her commentary for WSCN at the 2007 World Championships, Tasha Schwikert noted that she’s seen so many people do full turns with their leg up on balance beam and either fall or take a major deduction that she’s wondering if it’s even worth the risk.

I agree. Few look truly calm doing this skill, even when they pull it off flawlessly. And that happens a lot less than one would think.

Koko Tsurumi, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Balance Beam:

Yang Yilin, 2007 World Championships Team Qualifying Round, Balance Beam:

Xiao Sha, 2007 Chinese Nationals Event Finals, Balance Beam:

Ekaterina Kramarenko, 2007 World Championships All-Around, Balance Beam:

Vanessa Ferrari, 2006 World Championships Event Finals, Balance Beam:

More sympathy should be given to Li Shanshan, who fell doing a much more difficult variation of this skill during event finals at the World Championships. Ferrari also often takes a small deduction for it, but props to both for doing something truly difficult.

Li Shanshan, 2007 World Championships Event Finals, Balance Beam:

Vanessa Ferrari, 2007 European Championships All-Around, Balance Beam:

One of the most beautiful, albeit slightly overrotated, turns with the leg held way up was done in 2001 at the American Team Cup by China’s Kang Xin. What’s most impressive, I think, is the way she sold it — and the rest of this marvelous routine.

Kang Xin, 2001 American Team Cup, Balance Beam:

The subject of deceptively hard skills on balance beam brings to mind the compulsory beam set from 1992 to 1996. The cartwheels, forward rolls and fouette jumps gave four of the Mag 7 (and numerous others, including Simona Amanar and Kui Yuanyuan) all sorts of problems in Atlanta.

Jaycie Phelps, 1996 Olympic Compulsories, Balance Beam:

Amanda Borden, 1996 Olympic Compulsories, Balance Beam:

Dominique Dawes, 1996 Olympic Compulsories, Balance Beam: