Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Uchimura's Kolman: A Breakdown

I know that some people will hate me for saying this, but I'm gonna say it anyway: Kohei Uchimura's Kolman on high bar is a hot mess. (In case you don't know what a Kolman is, here's an explanation.) It's always been a disaster waiting to happen, and in London, spectators finally saw the train wreck happen.

Fortunately, most of us did not see Kohei's scariest release, which happened during podium training when he peeled off the bar, flew through the air like a rag doll, and landed flat on his back.

Dear gym gods, thanks for sending your angels to watch over Kohei. Amen.

Fortunately, most of us only saw his fall in team qualifiers when he completely missed the bar and landed on his feet. Still a hot mess, but a safe(r) hot mess.

As I assume you know, there are varying degrees of hot messes. Some people are Amy Winehouse hot messes. Others are Lindsay Lohan hot messes. And still others are Britney Spears hot messes.
Kohei's head on Brit's body = Creepy!

I think that Kohei's release is a Britney Spears hot mess, in that it is fixable. But it's gonna need a lot of work if it's going to be presentable. Heck, it, like Brit Brit, might even need some rehab.

But before we can fix anything, we need to diagnose the problem. So, let's take a look at what's going wrong...

What the F...?

When you see a hot mess, you can't help but ask yourself, "What, what, what are you doing?" And when Kohei is tapping for his Kolman, I can't help but ask myself, "What, what, what are you doing?"

For those who do not know what a tap is, it is how a gymnast swings through the bar. Depending on the skill the gymnast is doing, the swing changes. Let's take a look at a fairly standard tap swing in preparation for a Kolman:

Here's Fabian Hambuechen preparing for his Kolman. Imagine that you are looking at a clock. On the giant swing before the Kolman, the gymnast should pull up on the bar around the 1 o'clock mark. Why? So that he can pull down on the bar even harder around the 7 o'clock mark and continue to pull down as he swings through the bottom. Why? So that as his body is rising and as he is releasing the bar, the metal bar reacts to the downward force, springing upwards and flinging Fabian in the air around the 1 o'clock mark. (We'll get to the release part in just a second.)

Think of the bar like a trampoline. The physics are somewhat different, but the same basic idea applies. On a trampoline, a gymnast needs to sink downwards in order to be catapulted upwards. So, the higher the gymnast jumps, the farther he can sink down into the trampoline bed; and the farther he sinks down, the higher he can fly. The same is true for the high bar. The gymnast needs to yank up on the bar, which allows him to pull down harder on the bar as he swings through the bottom, which allows the bar to fling him upwards as he releases the bar.

Bearing that in mind, let's look at how Kohei preps for his Kolman.
Keep in mind that Kohei is swinging the other direction around the bar, so he should pull up on the bar around the 11 o'clock point (rather than at the 1 o'clock point).

Kohei pulls up on the bar when his shoulders are almost at the 12 o'clock mark and his feet are at the 11 o'clock mark. The initial upwards movement might be a little late, but that's not the real problem. Things start to go wrong when he pulls up on the bar again when his shoulders are at the 2 o'clock(ish) mark. (At this point, there usually is a little bounce in the bar, but it really looks like Kohei is pulling up on the bar here.) This creates a strange bounce in the bar as he swings through the bottom.

As you can see, he yanks down as hard as he can around the 5 o'clock mark, which most gymnasts do. However, as he swings through the bottom, the bar bounces back up. This is bad news because the bar should bounce as Kohei is letting go of the bar--not when he is swinging through the bottom of the bar. This means that the bar is not going to catapult him as high as it should.

Clearly, Kohei and the bar are not working together. It reminds me of a little kid trying to learn how to swing. As the swing moves forward, the tyke's legs go backwards, and as the swing moves backwards, the tyke's legs go forward. This, of course, is adorable, but the same cannot be said for the elite gymnastics version. When the bar springs upwards as Kohei swings through the bottom, I want to defenestrate myself. End of story.

Sure, sure, sure... Unsure, unsure, unsure...

Believe it or not, Kohei's tap swing is only part of the problem. The other part of the problem has to do with how Kohei releases the bar. He releases the bar as if he were in need of deodorant.

Rule #1 of Abandoning the Hot Mess Lifestyle: Remember to wear deodorant.

If you were alive in the 90s, you will recall the the "Sure, sure, sure... unsure, unsure, unsure" deodorant commercials. Well, Fabian is the "sure" person, and Kohei is the "unsure" person.

When the gymnast releases the bar, his shoulders should be open, and his ears should not be visible. He should be "sure"--like Fabian.

I'll admit that Fabian's Kolman is not as good as it could be. He catches it a little later than I would like him to.

As Fabian lets go of the bar, his head stays between his arms. We cannot see his ears at any point, which is exactly what we want because this body position allows Fabian's body to rise upwards to its maximum height. And, in turn, he can let his momentum carry him over the bar. 

The same cannot be said for Kohei...

Kohei is "unsure" throughout his Kolman. After swinging through the bottom, his head pops out, which causes him to close his armpit angle. And when that happens, his kneepits close up, too.

Get this hot mess some deodorant for both his armpits and his kneepits!

To put it in gymnastics terms, Kohei pulls in towards the bar and starts tucking too soon. Whenever this happens in gymnastics, the results are not going to be pretty. Usually, we see this on dismounts, and the gymnast usually ends up whacking his feet on the bar. But what happens when a gymnast does this on a Kolman? Let's take a look...

In the first screenshot, we can see that Kohei's body is not as extended as it should be. If his head were between his arms, his body would be more elongated, and he would have more height when he travels over the bar. Additionally, by closing his shoulder angle, Kohei directs his body backwards over the bar rather than up. Consequently, when it is time to catch the bar, he has to streeeeeeeeeeeetch his arms, and even though he manages to get both hands on the bar, he unfortunately cannot grasp the bar firmly with both hands, resulting in a scary situation.

Luckily, he was okay! Wear some deodorant next time and open those shoulders up!

One of the seven wonders of the gymnastics world

It's hard to say if Kohei developed a terrible tap because he was releasing the bar with a bad body position or if he learned to release the bar incorrectly because he had a terrible tap.

Regardless, one thing is certain: I do not know how Kohei ever catches the bar. His technique is always such a hot mess. And I really do mean that. Even when he does catch the bar, his technique is atrocious. Let's take a look at his second attempt at a Kolman during the team qualifiers in London...

He starts by pulling upwards twice on the bar.
His double pumping causes the bar to bounce upwards as he swings through the bottom (as you can see in the second photo below).
As his body nears 5 o'clock, he throws his head back for the remainder of the skill, limiting his height and sending his body backwards over the bar (instead of launching his body upwards and letting his momentum carry him over the bar).

Honestly, Kohei's pretty lucky because he barely gets his hands around the bar.

Like I said, how he catches the high bar, I don't know. It's, like, one of the seven wonders of the gymnastics world or something. It's, like, a metric buttload of wrongs somehow make a right. It's, like... Kohei, STOP DOING THAT!

Little boys around the world,

Feel free to admire Kohei. He's a spectacular gymnast. But please, please, please don't try to mimic Kohei's Kolman technique. You're going to find yourself frustrated.

That said, please imitate Britney Spears as much as possible. Anyone who sings about threesomes is clearly a great role model.

Uncle Tim


  1. Very interesting read. I'm astonished that Uchimura has such terrible technique with the Kolman considering he's the best gymnast in the world right now.

  2. can't think of a nameOctober 3, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    this was an interesting read. however, it kind of seems like people are looking for reasons to pick apart his techniques because of his mistakes in london. Not that I'm saying he's beyond criticism, but why didn't anyone mention this before? it's not like he's a new gymnast lol he's been around for a while.. if his technique was such a hot mess then surely it would've been noticeable a long time ago?

  3. Do you know if it's just his Kolman where he has terrible technique on? What about his Kovac from WC last year?

    1. His head position has always been worrisome. As for his tap, it varies from skill to skill and from meet to meet. His 2009 performance at the Japan Cup is interesting. (Video: His tap for his piked Kovacs doesn't produce that horrible bounce as he swings through the bottom, but his tap swings for his tucked Kovacs and his Kolman do. In this particular case, it looks like he is more patient with the piked Kovacs, and he rushes his tap swings for his tucked releases.

      If you watched a different meet, you would see something else. (At some meets, he had a tendency to bend his arms when letting go of the bar for Kovacs-style releases. Another big no-no.) It looks like he was always tweaking his technique in order to accomodate something (perhaps a new bad habit? perhaps a new problem in training?). I'm impressed that he made this technique work for him for so long. In London, unfortunately, it did not.

      Personally, I think that he needs to learn how to do the skill with his head in a more neutral position, and he needs to find a tap swing that complements this new body position. But most gymnasts would be hesitant to do a complete overhaul, especially if the old technique (with constant adjustments) worked for so long. We shall see what happens in the future.

      Regardless of his technique, he always had lovely toe point when he performed the skill!

    2. Thanks uncle tim for the analysis on his other releases.
      I wonder if he's just unsure about his Kolman releases. He's always looked kinda hesistant about them.