Friday, August 24, 2012

The Evolution of the Roche Vault

Unless you've been living under a rock (or at the Rock with Lo, Payson, and Kaylie), you've seen a gymnast do a handspring double front vault. In men's gymnastics, this is called a Roche, which is not the same as a roach.

These are roaches.

This is Jorge Roche, the man who can claim this vault as his own.

This is how you pronounce his name.

If you don't know who Che Guevara (gay-BAH-rah) is...

With that cleared up, we can talk about the evolution of the vault.

The 1980 Olympics

YouTube has a video of Jorge Roche performing his vault at the 1980 Olympics, but I refuse to post it on this blog. (If you're tech savvy enough to find my blog, you can find the video yourself.) It's some scary stuff. When I was 4, I saw the bogeyman in my closet, and I thought that I would never see anything scarier. I was wrong.

Here's a still from the video:

I've seen that body position in many a 1960s episode of Batman:
The difference, though, is that the TV extra was getting paid to hit that body position. Jorge? Not so much.

And if you've ever seen an episode of Batman from the 1960s, you can imagine how Jorge's vault ended.
Seriously, in comparison to Jorge's 1980 vault, Yamilet Peña Abreu's first Produnova attempts look safe.

The 1988 and 1992 Olympics: Sergei Kharkov and Grigory Misutin

To Jorge's credit, front handspring vaults were a pain in the ass on the old horse. For those of you who never had to sprint down a runway towards a leather turd supported by a metal frame, let me explain something.

Because of the old vault's width, it was impossible to place your hands on the horse shoulder-width apart.
Nowadays, the vault table is so spacious!

Unless you had narrow shoulders, you placed your hands side by side on the vault.
What the old farts had to do

It's hard to get a good push off the vault when your hands are side by side.

Seriously, put your arms above your head with your hands shoulder-width apart. Lift and lower your shoulders. Now, put your hands side by side. Once again, lift and lower your shoulders. (I hope that you're doing this in the office, and everyone's staring at you.) Which one's harder to do?

Yeah... blocking with your hands side by side ain't easy. But you know what made front handspring vaults even harder? Having a bulbous head. Just think about it. How could you place your hands on the horse with a bulbous head? Your noodle would just get in the way, and your hands would just slide off the sides of the vault. I saw it happen once. I swear.

Dear Reader, I'm kidding about the bulbous heads. People with big heads usually just stick them out, thus avoiding any problems. xx, Uncle Tim

Are you starting to see why the Roche was so impressive back in the day? Here's Kharkov doing the vault in 1988:

And Misutin didn't even cowboy in 1992! Marry me, Grigory!

Gym gods, thank you for the blonde men of the Soviet Union. Amen.

2000 Olympics: Marian Dragulescu

Fast forward a few years to the turn of the millennium. In 2000, bleached hair was still in; N'SYNC was still in; and so was the long horse vault. While gym gods like Alexei Nemov were inconsistently landing handspring double fronts, Marian Dragulescu decided to add an extra half twist.

What a crazy dude. In case you missed it, he did that on the old turd vault.

We're not worthy!

2004: Anton Golotsutskov's Zimmerman

If you know one thing about history, it should be this: Where there's one crazy, there's always a bunch of crazies.

Gymnastics history is no exception. Meaning: Dragulescu was not the only dude who decided to add an extra twist to the Roche. Thomas Zimmerman followed suit, creating his own version of the front handspring double front with a half twist. But instead of performing the half twist on the second salto like Dragulescu, he performed his twist on the first flip, thus doing a back tuck as his second salto.

If I am not mistaken, the Austrian gymnast debuted this vault on the international stage in Anaheim in 2003. Unfortunately, I could not find a video of Zimmerman performing his own vault, but here's one of Anton Golotsutskov doing it.

2004: Leszek Blanik

While many gymnasts were still trying to learn a Roche and others were toying with the Dragulescu, Polish Beef came along.
His calf muscles are the size of my quads.

He decided that a Roche was too easy. He had to do a handspring double pike instead.

Blanik, like Dragulescu and Zimmerman, is bordering on being labeled "bat shit crazy," but none of the aforementioned has quite reached BSC status.

2009: Ri Se Gwang

In this world, there are crazy people. Then, there are people who are bat shit crazy, and we love them. In the vault world, the batty ones tend to be the one-uppers. They say things like, "Blanik and Dragalescu, your vaults are too easy! I'm going to combine the two!" Ri Se Gwang was one of those guys, and he competed a handspring double pike with a half twist on the second flip.

For the record: This vault is not named after Ri, but he's kind of the go-to example of someone competing a piked Dragulescu. He does, however, have a vault named after him: It's a full-twisting double back Tsukahara.

I wish that Ri Se Gwang had been able to compete in London. He had some of the best vault faces.

Sorry, these never get old for me.

There you have it: a brief history of the Roche vault. Well, it is a history as complete as YouTube will allow. The big question, of course, is,

What's next?

My answer, unfortunately, is somewhat unfulfilling because I don't know what's next. I wouldn't mind seeing a handspring triple front. INTO A PIT. But on the competition floor? NO WAY! I have yet to think to myself, "Wow! That guy could easily do a triple!" Mostly, I think, "He could never do a triple, and I hope he doesn't try." So, my guess is that someone will try to add an extra half twist or full twist to a Dragulescu or a Zimmerman.

Only time will tell, and while we wait with bated breath, I will leave you with this little Irish blessing: May you never have to sprint down the runway towards a leather turd, and may your gymnastics never be compared to an episode of Batman.


  1. Hey thanks. I'm trying to get more into men's gym and a history lesson really helps!

  2. Personally, I think before we get more crazy double somersault vaults with extra twists we'll instead see cleaner double fronts...maybe? In the years and years and dozens of Roche vaults done by guys I can only think of like...three, that can actually give some decent form as in knees either together or less than shoulder-width apart; Blanik, Huang Yuguo and another Chinese guy from the late 90s to early 2000s that competed in one of those friendly USA-ROM-CHN meets. Other than that, I've got nada, but in comparison to maybe three really good double fronts there have been more that've done the upgrades to the I think not even though I hope so!

  3. This may be a stupid question but: why was the men's turd-vault lengthways and the women's sideways?