Posts Tagged ‘Vitaly Scherbo’

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?

The lost art of Laschenova

July 17, 2008

One of the few gymnasts who combined genuine artistry with genuine power was the USSR’s Natalia Laschenova, who had the misfortune of being on the same Olympic team with 1988 Olympic champion Elena Shushunova and the great Svetlana Boginskaya.

Her “In the Hall of the Mountain King” routine is one of the great routines of the decade. How many elites today would be capable of doing a roundoff backhandspring double back from a hurdle like that?

Natalia Laschenova, 1989 World Championships All Around, Floor Exercise:


Happy birthday Hamms

September 24, 2007

Happy quarter century to those Olympic competitors, website virtuosos and sometime Ninja Warriors Paul and Morgan Hamm. May they both have many more successes, in and out of the gym.

Paul and Morgan a few years ago...

Wishing the twins happy birthday is as easy as going to their website, where both sporadically post video updates, clips from old competitions and the occassional out-of-the-gym hangout, and signing the guestbook.

The Hamms are currently attempting a comeback after taking two years away from competitive gymnastics to focus on college. Both have now graduated from Ohio State University.

Paul and Morgan a bit more recently.

Their first steps toward a third Olympic Games came at the 2007 U.S. Championships in San Jose in August, where they competed on pommel horse and floor exercise, which Paul won. Paul is reportedly training all six events, while Morgan is said to be training four.

Paul’s floor routine from the 2007 U.S. Championships:

The twins are not only focusing on having success in competition, but in putting some originality back into a sport that has many of its performers using the same or similar combinations to curry judges’ favor. Both are professed admirers of Belarus’ Vitaly Scherbo, who dominated the sport the way few ever have during the early 1990s. Scherbo was not only a great competitor, he was inventive, and I’m sure he’d approve of the originality and artistry with which the Hamms are seeking to reinfuse the sport.

Vitaly Scherbo’s poise and originality at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle: