Friday, November 9, 2012

Pommel Horse Primer: What the H is a Russian?

Yes, yes, these are Russians:

But so are these:

Russians are basically the pommel horse equivalent of a dog chasing its tale. Woof. Because Russians look so funny, they are pretty easy to spot. (Even a men's gymnastics neophyte can pick out a Russian in a pommel routine.) So, I have chosen to start my pommel horse primer with the Russians.

Yes, you read that correctly. I plan to write several posts that break down the most boring event on earth, which means...

You'll no longer have an excuse to call every skill on pommel horse a "spinny thingy."

Don't worry. I understand how boring pommel horse is, so on my honor, I pledge to make this process as easy and painless as possible. Meaning: There will be many tacky animated gifs as well as many poorly Photoshopped images.

I should also note that I will not be able to cover every single move in the Code of Points. (Believe it or not, the Gymternet is not a real employer! If it were, I might try to be more thorough.) But I will try to mention skills that many elite gymnasts are performing, and well, many gymnasts are performing Russians. So, let's get started by discussing Russians on the leather.

Yes, yes, this is a Russian in leather, but tell me that your mind didn't go there. Mine certainly did.

Russians 101: Stationary Russians

A Russian can be done almost anywhere on the horse. You can do a Russian on the pommels. You can do a Russian on one pommel. You can do a Russian on the leather on the end. You can do a Russian on the leather between the pommels. Some places are considered more difficult than others. For instance, a Russian on the end is considered one of the easier places to do a Russian.

Besides location, the difficulty of a Russian is based on the number of times a gymnast spins around. The more you spin, the more difficult the Russian is. In the animated gif below, Anderson Loran goes around 3 times (1080º), and since he does it on the end of the pommel horse, his Russians sequence is considered a D. (Had he done 2 revolutions, it would have been a C. Had he done 1 revolution, it would have been a B.)

Now, let's take a look at a training video that John Orozco put together.

John spins around 3 times, and he does it between the pommels (in the "saddle" of the horse), which makes it slightly harder than Anderson Loran's sequence. A 1080º Russian between the pommels is an E. (Had he done 2 revolutions, it would have been a D. Had he done 1 revolution, it would have been a C.)

But, Uncle Tim, why are Russians between the pommels considered more difficult?

Good question, Tiny Tim. Well, for two reasons. First, when doing the skill on the end, the gymnast has to clear the pommels only once during a revolution. However, when a gymnast performs a Russian between the pommels, he has to lift his legs over the pommels twice per revolution, which gives him more opportunities to whack his legs on a pommel.

Second, when working between the pommels, a gymnast typically has less surface area to work with.

Because of the smaller surface area, the gymnast's hand placements need to be more precise. On the end of the pommel horse, where there is more space, a gymnast has a little more wiggle room in terms of hand placement, making things a little bit more comfortable. It's like the difference between wearing sweat pants (end of the pommel horse), relaxed fit jeans (saddle), and hipster-tight skinny jeans (working on one pommel, which we did not discuss today).

Dear Reader,

I know that you were hoping to find a Photoshopped image of Alexei Nemov in skinny jeans. Admit it. Unfortunately for you, I believe that skinny jeans are cruel and unusual punishment. No human being deserves that torture--not even if it is doctored.
Uncle Tim

Well, kiddos, there you have it: your first pommel horse lesson. It wasn't that bad, was it? Now, go out and celebrate! Just try not to look like this clown, will ya?

No offense, Mr. Colbert, but if I ever see a woman do this dance move in her floor routine, I might stop watching women's gymnastics.


  1. Thank you! Anything that sheds light on the giant mystery that is the pommel horse is useful ... sometimes I feel like it's a conspiracy to alienate WAG fans from MAG. Does Louis Smith do Russians on one pommel? I seem to remember Mitch Fenner mentioning something about a skill he did on one pommel where he increased his difficulty between prelims and event finals (more revolutions, I guess?).

    P.s. I know you like Berki better, but I'm from Cambridge (like an hour from Huntington gym) so Smith is my local gymnastics hero :)

    1. Before interviewing Louis for GymCastic, I watched every interview available on YouTube, and during one of the TV vignettes, he was working on a 1080º Russian on one pommel. Unfortunately, now that he's on Strictly Come Dancing, YouTube has exploded with Louis Smith videos, and I cannot find the footage of him working on that skill.

      In the 2013-16 Code of Points, a Russian 1080 on one pommel is also an E--the same as a Russian between the pommels.

      By the way, I do like Louis Smith. I just think that Berki's circles tend to be a little cleaner.

  2. Pretty sweet guide, Uncle Tim! Loving the new theme colors too, I would admit that I'm guilty of being a transplanted WAG fan since in MAG I only know mostly about Vault, Hbar, and Floor which all have similar apparatuses in WAG, with knowing about Pommel the least.

    Referring to the "Russians on one pommel", Watching the BBC stream during the Olympics, Mitch did indeed mention the Russian 1080 (or the triple) on one pommel but I'm sure you already know that anyway, more specifically during the slow-mo replays and saying some "what ifs" for putting the skill in. I'm sorry I don't know more in regards to training videos and whatnot!

  3. I was watching a video about the "hardest skills in men's gymnastics" and what do you know, Louis's triple russian on one pommel came up from the 2011 Worlds Pommel final which actually came from a video that was under my uploads and under my nose this whole time, maybe you've seen it?:

    Not in training, but in competition...I dunno lol

    And just for kicks here is Prashanth Sellathurai's super-fast triple russian between the pommels from the same comp, maybe you saw this too?:

  4. Thanks. PH is interesting and I am enjoying learning the moves. It's still going to be a mystery for a while to this transplanted WAG fan so I will be following your blog with great interest.