Monday, August 27, 2012

The Dragulescu: A Breakdown

So... you can do a good handspring double front. Now you think you're ready for a Dragulescu. But are you really sure?

This is a Boybomb, which is different from a Dragulescu.

Just because you have a good handspring double front doesn't mean that you are ready to add an extra half twist. The Dragulescu is a whole different beast. With a Roche, you can get by on strength and speed, but with a Dragulescu, you better have good technique.

So, what makes for a good Dragulescu? And what separates it from a Boybomb? Let's start by looking at the master himself, Mr. Marian Dragulescu.

Marian Dragulescu

For whatever reason, I've always called Marian Dragulescu "Draggy Dragulescu," and since that's my nickname for him, I had to glam him up a bit.

Now that he's looking every bit as fabulous as his vault, we can look at his technique.

Believe it or not, the hurdle onto the springboard is key. It is the first sign of how the gymnast will execute his vault. If his chest is up, it is likely that the vault will be good. If his chest is down, he is probably going to rush the vault, which will prevent him from hitting the correct body positions.

As we can see in Draggy Dragulescu's vault, he keeps his chest up during his hurdle, which shows me that he is not going to crunch into the horse. Instead, Draggy allows his body to extend over the horse, giving his heels time to rise into a tight arch position. (See arrow in the 4th photo. To be fair, since his head is sticking out, it is more archy than tight-archy.)

It's impossible to over-stress the importance of this arch position. If you worked on a handspring front vault or a toe-on front off uneven bars, you know why. But if you haven't, think of it in terms of the bend and snap in Legally Blonde.

This move, if you might recall, generates enough speed and power to break a UPS man's nose.

Well, the Dragulescu requires a similar movement, which is powerful enough to put the gymnast on his feet.*

But there is a slight change in the motion. The Dragulescu requires the bend-snap-bend. The gymnast must bend into an arch and then snap and bend into a tuck as quickly as possible. When the gymnast snaps his body from a tight arch position into a tuck position, he changes body shapes, and that shape change generates the rotation needed to land on one's feet. The bigger the arch, the more the gymnast's body changes. The more the gymnast's body changes, the more rotation he has. The more rotation he has, the easier it is to land the Dragulescu.

Don't believe me? Let's take a look at what happens when you don't arch.

*I recognize that there is more to the vault than the arch. I could talk about hand placement and timing, but that would require me to talk about vectors and biomechanics. I'll pass on that. I still have nightmares that I didn't pass high school physics and now have to retake the class. Besides, there are academic papers on the subjects. Not wanting to encroach on someone else's territory, I'll stick with the arch, which seems to be a problem--even for younger vaulters who are learning handspring fronts.

Philipp Boy

Mr. Philipp Boy will be our non-example. Here's his Boybomb from team qualifications in London:

During Mr. Boy's hurdle onto the springboard (photo 1), you can see that he is already leaning forward. This tells me that he is not going to stretch his body out over the horse. He's going to kind of nose dive into the vault, which means that his heels will not have time to rise into any form of an arch.

Sure enough, his body flatlines in the third photo, and without the arch in his back, the change in his body shape is not as drastic as it needs to be. His bend-snap-bend does not generate enough rotation to get this vault to his feet. In the end, he crunches his ankles.

Unless you are Daniel Tosh, you do not enjoy seeing someone injure himself at a gymnastics competition. Unfortunately, Mr. Boy's injury comes as no surprise. He never had good handspring technique--not even when competing and landing his Roche. Look at part of his vault from the 2011 World Championships:

Mr. Boy lands his vault with plenty of height, so it would seem that he is ready to add an extra half twist. The problem, though, is that Mr. Boy was able to perform his Roche because of his strength, speed, and size. He never had a good heel drive, and adding the extra half twist requires a little extra oomph. Without the arch at the beginning, Mr. Boy's (mini)bend-snap-bend just isn't enough to rotate two flips with a half twist. Thus, the birth of the Boybomb.

Please do not think that I am trying to pick on Mr. Boy. I love him. I even made thank you cards with his face on them.
His vault simply is the most salient example of a Dragulescu fail in recent gymnastics history.

Igor Radivilov

Other gymnasts, of course, had minor problems with the Dragulescu. Igor Radivilov was one of them.

If you saw the vault finals, you would think that Mr. Radivilov is perfect in every single way. But during team finals Mr. Radivilov had a mini crunch of the ankles, and since his low landing teaches us something else about the Dragulescu, let's take a moment to study it.

Mr. Radivilov's heels rise quite nicely, and he hits an arch position. But his right foot is moving faster than his left when he hits the vault, which causes two problems. First, his crazy legs cause him to rotate at an angle. This sideways salto may have worked in his favor if he were twisting in the other direction, but because his right foot is leading off the vault, he has to do an extra eighth of a turn (or so) in the air. The Dragulescu is hard enough without having to twist more than necessary, and as you can see, Mr. Radivilov does not quite make his half twist all the way around.

Second, because his legs are askew, he cannot push off with the same amount of force with both hands. This limits his height off the table and contributes to his low landing at the end. Had his legs been synchronized, he probably would have had a much better landing.

Final Thoughts

So, there you have it: the Boybomb and the Dragulescu as performed by a bunch of drag queens. The difference between the two comes down to the arch. It doesn't have to be a Jakob-from-So-You-Think-You-Can-Dance-Touch-Your-Head-to-Your-Butt-Hey-Boy-Hey arch, but there must be an arch.

Dear Elite Gymnasts,

I know that my internet voice does not reach your ears, but maybe a friend of a friend of a friend of a... can pass this message along to you: if you want to do a Dragulescu and  if you like your ankles, work on your front handspring technique, especially the arch at the beginning. 

Uncle Tim

Dear Little Gymnasts,

You should not be reading this blog, but if you are, stop doing so and use your time more wisely. Go do 5,000 tight arch rocks, and do them every day for the rest of your life.
Uncle Tim

P.S. I think that Radivilov is the best drag queen of the three.


  1. Who would have thought that legally blonde could help me learn proper vaulting technique. I started working handspring front drills and this post really helped me visualize that arch position needed when blocking.

    Now off to do 5000 arch rocks (while catching up on your previous posts)

  2. Prince Boy in particular can be inconsistent on the double front sometimes too, unfortunately :(

  3. Kind of forgetting about the block...
    And also that a strong hollow body is important right before the hands hit the table.

    It's really like the bend and snap, then bend

  4. Did you guys see Kohei's Dragalescu?

    And this looks like a better TTY than he did in that other video. Not a bad Vault EF setlist: the Uchimura into the Dragalescu. (Though of course it didn't happen this year.) As for his Drag technique, clearly not as good as Marian. From what I could tell from doing the frame-by-frame analysis on youtube, he hits the board well, gets to the table fast with that nice slight shoulder angle, but doesn't have the heel-drive for the tight arch shape. He also bent his knees super early and cowboyed like he thought there was a horse waiting for him on the mat. But he repels off the table nicely and pulls it around. What a bad-ass!
    -Coach Dan

  5. This...


    1. ...And I forgot to mention that an Aerobics instructor here from Miami used to incorporate the "bend and snap" move into his step class. (And everybody had to do it...)
      Can you believe it? lol

      (I love how insightful your posts are, and always really clever. Great job!)