Thursday, July 5, 2012

Chasing Superman - Part 1: Orozco's Vault

And so the Olympic hype begins.

The U.S. media has pitted Danell Leyva and John Orozco against Kohei Uchimura, who has been nicknamed the "Superman" of men's gymnastics:


When the newspapers mention Uchimura, they tend to reference the 2011 World Championships, where Leyva and Orozco qualified to the all-around finals just behind Superman. It's a subtle way of leading readers to believe that the Cuban refugee and the boy from the Bronx could find themselves on top of the podium.

While I'm not here to make predictions about the all-around finals, I will say this: I desperately want to channel my inner Yin Alvarez. Meaning: I want an American to medal in the all-around so that I have every excuse to jump up and down, fist pump, yell at my TV, hug everyone around me, and maybe even weep tears of joy.


Yin is a younger, sprier version of Bela Karolyi, and he's sure to be all over your TV screen this summer. His step-son, like John Orozco, will be in the medal hunt, and if either gymnast is going to wear gold around his neck, he has some work to do.

Yin knows it. Head coach Kevin Mazeika knows it. And I know it.

And in this series of posts titled "Chasing Superman," I'll explain how Team America can improve their routines.The first part in this series is dedicated to Orozco's vault, and I am affectionately calling it, "John Orozco's Right Arm Is, Like, Really Strong." You'll understand why in a second.

Hold onto your seats, kiddos, because this website is about to get super kitschy.

If you saw John Orozco nail the landing of his vault on the second day of Olympic Trials, you might think that John Orozco is a terrific vaulter. But history tells a different story. On the first day of Trials, he fell flat on his booty, and for those of us who had been watching his routines for some time, it was not a surprise. Unfortunately, his butt and the mat had been flirting for quite some time, and it was only a matter of time until they met.

Olympic Trials


Let's start with the first date. John begins by flirting with other mats:


As you can see in the photo, John is heading straight for the mats off to the right. This can't be good, and even Michelle Tanner is shocked. See!



Luckily, John straightens himself out and launches his booty into the air in--more or less--the right direction:


In America, there is a strong booty culture: some men consider themselves butt men; dancers pop their booties; and female gymnasts enjoy sticking out their booties, resulting in buttoreography. On vault, however, launching your booty in the air is a bad thing. I used to tell my little vaulters, "If you start your vault with your butt, you're going to end your vault on your butt."

John quickly realizes his grave error, and he quickly squeezes his booty and throws his heels over his head. Unfortunately, he's so focused on firing his gluts that he forgets about his arms:


With bent arms and an atrocious shoulder angle, John starts twisting way too early.

BLOCK! THEN TWIST!

Since he twists then blocks, he pulls his left arm off the vault too quickly, allowing his right arm to do all the work.

After launching himself into the air with one arm, John puts a dagger through my heart:


This part of John's vault makes me want to change into sweatpants, turn on romantic made-for-TV movies, and cry as I eat a gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. Luckily for my waist, I do not want to eat my feelings every time I see bad form, but with John, it's different. I'm in love with John's clean form. In fact, I'm so in love with his form that, whenever he bends his knees or flexes his feet, I feel like we just had a lovers' quarrel.

Dear John, please fix your form, or I will gain 10 lbs. during the Olympics. xx, Uncle Tim

Anyway, back to John's vault. He flips once and twists twice, but since he blocked with one arm, he does not achieve the height he needs to finish the vault:


He knows that he is in trouble, so he bends both knees, which makes me want to eat two gallons of ice cream instead of just one.

By now, you should know how this vault is going to end...


...with a 1960s Batman onomatopoeia. I warned you that this post would be super kitschy, and I did not lie. Nor did I lie when I told you that John Orozco's right arm is, like, really strong. All in all, not a bad finish for a one-armed block off the vaulting table.

Rewind: AT&T American Cup


As someone who wants to cheer for Team America in a way that only Yin Alvarez could, I wish I could say that John's vault at Trials was a fluke, but he's been performing this vault, in the same way, for quite some time.

Let's rewind to the AT&T American Cup in March, where John almost had the same results. Like I said, his butt and the mat had been flirting for quite some time. Take a look for yourself:


Are you there, gymnastics gods? It's me, Uncle Tim. Why are old habits so hard to break? Amen.

It's hard to see it, but in the third photo, Orozco's right arm is working overtime yet again. His shoulder angle is more open, which is the reason why he did not fall. But in an effort to crank two twists around, he picks up his left hand too soon. Cognizant of his error and in an effort to prolong his courtship with the mat, he starts bending both knees in the air--two more gallons of ice cream for me!--in preparation for a low landing. The end result is a duck walk:


Which is cute if you're playing Simon Says with a group of kindergarteners dressed in duck costumes, but in men's gymnastics, not so much. What gets my goat is that one commentator called it, "A good vault." Yes, he landed on his feet, but if Orozco's right arm weren't, like, really strong, John's butt and the mat would have had an intimate moment. In fact, his right knee almost gently caressed the mat.

The good news is that John can fix these problems if he focuses on the mechanics of the vault. Convinced of John's ability to improve, I'd like to close with an open letter to Team USA's head coach: 

Dear Coach Mazeika, if you read this, please fix John's left arm before the Olympics. I don't want to eat several gallons of cookie dough ice cream, and I don't own sweatpants that are appropriate for work. xx, Uncle Tim

Afterword

As I unsuccessfully looked for videos of Orozco's vault from the second day of Olympic Trials, I found this little gem:


2 out of 4 ain't bad?

Okay, I must stop myself before I become too disgusted with the poorly photoshopped images and the kitschy animated gifs. As you eagerly await the next edition of "Chasing Superman," please pray to the gymnastics gods that Mr. Orozco will become a little more ambidextrous.

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