Friday, July 20, 2012

The Battle of the Facial Hair: Louis Smith vs. Krisztian Berki

In order to be good at pommel horse, you must have facial hair. It's a rule.

Dear Louis and Krisztian, You better not shave. Otherwise, my theory is null and void. xx, Uncle Tim

Today, we're going to talk about the pommel horse. I can hear your groans. Most gym fans don't know much about it; most commentators don't say much about it; and most gymnasts hate it, but there are a few lucky schmucks who are crazy good at the pig. Take, for instance, Louis Smith and Krisztián Berki.

In case you haven't been following men's gymnastics, let me get you up to speed. British 'Stache has the highest score in the world (16.375). Australian 'Stacheless (Prashanth Sellathurai) is a close second (16.2), but he will not be competing in London, which is a shame because I wanted to hear Tim, Al, and Elfi pronounce his name. So, British 'Stache's biggest competition is Hungarian 'Stache, who has posted a 16.05.

British 'Stache and Hungarian 'Stache are indubitably two of the major players, but before I compare them, I want to talk a little about the event itself. It's a confusing one for most women's gymnastics fans who are curious about men's gymnastics, and I hope that a quick 'n' dirty explanation will help a few readers. So, avid MAG fans, please pardon the long caveat.

A Question That You Should Never Ask a Male Gymnast: Umm, Is That Hard? 

When watching a men's competition, semi-dedicated gym fans can gauge difficulty on most events. They know that a double layout is more difficult than a double tuck. They know that adding a twist makes things harder. But on pommel horse, there aren't any double tucks, and while there are a lot of twists and turns, all the skills look the same.

While I don't have time to explain the entire freakin' code to you, let me help you understand pommel horse a bit better. Like any event, some skills are easier than others (Duh!), but there are very few "super moves," to borrow the term from Make It Or Break It. That is, there are very few Es, and there is only one F (if I counted correctly) in the Code of Points. Many gymnasts will compete D skills, like this one:

This is called a Li Ning (performed by Kristztián Berki). Basically, the gymnasts cuts (or swings) one leg in front, drives his feet up in the air, does a quarter turn as he swings up to handstand on one pommel, and then, does another quarter turn as he comes back down.

Yeah, that ain't easy, but pommel horse gets even harder. As the Li Ning might suggest, any skill done on one pommel is pretty tough, and most of the masters like Louis and Krisztián perform a butt load of skills on one pommel. Tim Daggett usually likes to point this out by saying something to the effect of, "All these skills on one pommel are really, really hard." And he's right; they are.

But "these skills" have names! That's like saying, "Hey, you," or "Woman, get me a beer." I HATE THAT! So, today, we are going to call things by their names. We started with the "Li Ning," and we are going to continue by talking about the "flop."

It's a ridiculous name--one that conjures up images of male gymnasts whose leotards are a little too loose in the crotch. Unfortunately, it's not that titillating. A flop in men's gymnastics is a specific combination of skills done on one pommel. These skills are called "pommel loops" and "Stöcklis."

Pommel loops? Stöcklis? Mother-effin' umlauts?

This is when your head might explode. Instead of letting that happen, pour yourself a drink. It's Friday; you deserve it.

Feeling better? I promise that we'll take things real slow. First up: the pommel loop.

A loop is a circle that a gymnast performs with his belly button facing one end of the pommel horse. As you can imagine, a pommel loop is the same thing but done on one pommel (the little handle the gymnasts grab onto). This is what it looks like:

Here, you can see British 'Stache do 2 pommel loops. (His legs are rotating counter-clockwise.) In the last shot, he is starting to turn for his first Stöckli.

That wasn't so bad, was it? Don't put your drink away just yet. We still have to talk about that skill with the mother-effin' umlaut: the Stöckli.

A Stöckli is a circle done on one pommel, but it adds a little twist. Before the gymnast initiates the circle, he does 1/4 of a turn, and when he ends, he does 1/4 of a turn. Again, Mr. Smith is going to help us understand.

This is his first Stöckli. It comes right after his second pommel loop. In his first shot, you can see that he he has done a 1/4 turn. In the third shot, he does his second 1/4 turn.

This is his second Stöckli. In the first shot, you can see him doing his first 1/4 turn into the circle. In the last shot, you can see Smith completing his last 1/4 turn.

So, Louis Smith's flop consists of a pommel loop (L), another pommel loop (L), a Stöckli (S), and another Stöckli (S), which can be written like this: LLSS. In the Code, that combination is an E.

There are other skills that you can do on 1 pommel, but it's Friday. The last thing you want to do is talk about doing Russians on one pommel. (Get your mind out of the gutter.) For now, celebrate! You just finished your first pommel horse primer! Happy Friday!

With that out of the way, we can talk about Louis Smith and Krisztián Berki.

The Showdown: British 'Stache vs. Hungarian 'Stache

The execution panel uses a variety of criteria to evaluate the men. Did his body brush against the  horse? Are his hips and shoulders square? Does he have a rhythm when he is swinging? Did he start turning too soon? Are his hips as open as they could be?

Personally, I care most about the last question. I'm not afraid to admit it: I, Uncle Tim, am an extension snob. I like my men as long as possible, and Louis Smith just doesn't do it for me. He tends to circle the pommel horse with a permanent pike in his body.

Dear Louis, Who taught you to circle like that? GAH! xx, Uncle Tim

Unfortunately, this is not an easy fix. Bad habits are never easy to break, and this one is especially challenging because, by elongating his body, the gymnast distributes his weight differently, which, as you can imagine, requires the gymnast to find a new center of balance when circling. That's not something that you can change in a week's time.

So, we'll have to settle for Louis's pikey circling for now. If you're a big Louis Smith fan, don't worry! His unsqueezed, loose bottom is not a gold-medal-dream-killer. His routine is the hardest in the world, which puts him at an advantage (7.1 to Berki's 6.9), and I should mention that Louis doesn't incur a deduction every time his hips are closed. Instead, the Code allows for a global deduction, meaning that the judges can take a medium (0.3) or a large (0.5) deduction for lack of body extension. My guess is that the judges take three tenths--if they take anything. (Most judges aren't as snobby as I.)

When it comes to Krisztián... I swoon. That man's butt is TIGHT on those circles. There's no way that I would take a global deduction for his extension. His lines are another gift from the gymnastics gods.

Going into his Li Ning:

Swoon. Uncle Tim Berki has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

I'll be making gymnastics Valentines this year.

Berki's extension is not the only thing that endears him to me. I love when non-gymnastics-powerhouse countries win medals at the Olympics. Granted, it hasn't been that long since Hungary has won a medal in men's gymnastics. Szilveszter Csollány won gold on rings in 2000. Even so, I wouldn't mind seeing a Hungarian win a gold 12 years later.

I suppose that the same could be said for Louis Smith and the Brits. Great Britain is not necessarily a gymnastics powerhouse, but they are rising in the ranks, which is exciting to see. I'll admit that I was channeling my inner Yin Alvarez in 2008 when Louis Smith won the bronze on pommel horse. It was Britain's first individual medal in 100 years, and it would be a touching story to see Louis come back and win gold.

All things considered, though, I think that Krisztián is a better swinger. Time will tell us what the judges think.

Unfortunately, the judges won't tell us whose facial hair is better. So, what do you think? Who wears it better? British 'Stache or Hungarian 'Stache? Responses must include difficulty and execution scores.


  1. "In order to be good at pommel horse, you must have facial hair. It's a rule."

    Zhang Hongtao?

    Too bad he's not a US citizen, or he'd be going to London to beat those other two.

  2. I was about to choose which guy wears the facial hair better, but unfortunately even this article was not enough to inject me with enough knowledge to judge! I still learned a lot though <3.

  3. I love watching pommel horse but have been slow to learn the moves. Thanks for the primer. I guess it takes a 'stache to get to the Olympics and be a major contender. I like Louis' stache better but would rather watch Berki if I have to choose.

  4. Thank you so very much for the info! Keep it comin'!

  5. Hajrá Magyarország!