Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Evolution of Dismounts on Parallel Bars

Dismounts on parallel bars (or p-bars, as the insiders say) have given us some of the best facial expressions of all times. For example...

(Unfortunately, the gymnasts do not receive bonus points for making me laugh. Though, they should.)

I wonder if gymnasts made those faces back when they used to do this...

Back in the 1960s, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Bruno Grandi was in his 30s, gymnasts did not do double somersaults off the parallel bars. Some like Shuji Tsurumi (above) did bitchin' dismounts like pike-open-halves. Others, like Franco Menichelli, did a simple layout.

Nowadays, you'll never see those skills because they are too simple. (A back layout is an A, and a pike-open-half is a B.) Which is a shame because there's something so beautiful about a tight arch position.

The 1970s

In the 1970s the tucked double back became increasingly more common. Here's an animated gif of Sawao Kato performing one at the 1976 Olympics:

Nowadays, tucked doubles are considered a C, which does not fulfill the D dismount requirement. At the time, however, in both the 1968 and 1975 Codes, this was considered one of the most difficult dismounts. (It was a C. A was low difficulty, B was medium difficulty, and C was high difficulty.)

Believe it or not, even though double somersaults are the norm in the twenty-first century, they, unlike platform shoes or perms for men, were not an instant fad in the '70s.

Bart Conner never looked better.

In fact, during that decade, gymnasts competed a large variety of dismounts. For instance, in 1975, Jack Laurie, a gymnast for Southern Illinois, competed a front 1 1/2. 

1975: C-High Difficulty
2013: C

In that same year, Stephen Bizal, a gymnast for Penn State, competed a straddle vault with a momentary one-armed side-handstand.
1975: B-Medium Difficulty 
2013: Not in the Code of Points

In 1976, Alexander Ditiatin competed a full off the side...

1975: C-High Difficulty
2013: C


Sorry, once I started yearbooking Bart Conner, I couldn't stop.

The early 80s was an interesting time in men's gymnastics. The Code of Points still required gymnasts to be original, meaning the gymnasts were supposed to show new movements or new combinations. Yet, the tucked double back had become pedestrian. It felt like everyone was doing it. If you've ever watched the 1984 Olympics, you know what I'm talking about. In Los Angeles, that dismount was used more than Phantom of the Opera floor music at a Level 8 state meet.

That said, there still were men who performed unusual dismounts. For instance, here's Koji Sotomura's bail to a double tuck off the end (1983):

In 1985, there were A, B, C, and D skills. This dismount was a C.
In 2013, it will be a B.

Others, like Alexander Kolyvanov, would take that dismount and add a full twist (1986):

1985: D
2013: D
At the time, this was called a Kajitani, named after Nobuyuki Kajitani who performed only a double back in 1984. While the skill still appears in the Code of Points, his name is no longer attached to it.

It probably helped that Kolyvanov was, I believe, 14 and 4'5". That ain't an easy dismount to put to your feet if you're tall.

If you weren't 4'5", you had other options. For instance, you could do a double front off the end like Sven Tippelt did in 1986:
1989: D
2013: C

While all those dismounts were super duper neat-o, they aren't what will make the 1980s stand out in gymnastics history. That task was reserved for the double pike dismount. Yup, the 1980s ushered in the infamous era of the double pike dismount. I'm not entirely sure who competed this dismount first, but the earliest video I found on YouTube features Bogdan Makuts. Take a look at his double pike from 1980:

1985: D
1989: D
2013: D

In the late 80s, the double pike became the new double tuck, and 

it would stay that way for over 20 fraggly years!

As they said in the 80s, "Barf me out!"

Seriously, I would hate the 80s "to the max," if it weren't for Hiroyuki Kato, the man who gave us the full-twisting double back in 1989. Yes, you read that correctly. The gnarly dismount that Marcel Nguyen did in London was performed for the first time in 1989. That goes to show how much of a badass Kato was.

Unfortunately, I could not find a video of Kato performing his dismount, so here's Akash Modi at the Pac-Rims in 2012:

This dismount was listed in the 1985 Code, even though it was not performed until 1989. In 1985, it was listed as a D. In 1989, it was a D. In 2013, it will be a G, which will be the hardest dismount on parallel bars.


In the 1990s, we saw a lot of double pikes. A lot of them. But we also saw people try to incorporate unique dismounts. Some, like Zoltan Supola, failed. Check out the dismount he tried to perform at the 1993 McDonald's American Cup. 
This was called a Kwon, and in 1989, it was a D.
In the 1997, the Code changed. It went from having A, B, C, and D elements to having A, B, C, D, E, and Super E skills. The Kwon was a C.
Thankfully, this skill is no longer in the Code of Points.

Side note #1: If you need two spotters, you probably should not be competing that skill.
Side note #2: What elite gymnast eats at McDonald's? That's like having Weight Watchers sponsor a sumo wrestling tournament.

Not everyone failed, though. Some, like Jair Lynch, had success. Jair competed a tucked double front with a half, which was unique dismount in an era of double pikes, and I'm guessing that performing something unusual helped him win a silver medal at the 1996 Olympics.
1997-2000: E
2013: F

John Roethlisberger invented a completely original skill and had it named after him. Take a look at the Roethlisberger:
1997-2000: D
2013: D

It's kind of an ugly skill, but I'm sure people think the same about Edvard Munch's painting The Scream.

The 2000s

Anyway, at the turn of the millennium, we saw, you guessed it, more double pikes. FML. The good news is that, in recent years, we have started to see a wider variety of dismounts. For instance, 2008 bronze medalist Anton Fokin performed a tucked double front, a skill that Daniel Corral would perform in the 2012 parallel bar final. And of course Marcel Nguyen performed his Kato in 2012, which probably helped him earn a silver medal, seeing as the dismount was both difficult and unique.

(Moral of the story: Compete a Kato. Otherwise, you are dead to me. Just kidding.)

As I look ahead to the future, I have faith that the days of unique dismounts have not passed us by. David Belyavskiy is proof of that. In 2011, when most men were doing backwards double pikes, he decided that he would take that skill and reverse it. Now, a front double pike is named after him.

This dismount appeared in the 1997-2000 Code, even though it was not named until 2011. In the 90s, it was an E. In 2013, it will be an F.

Before I conclude this mini history lesson, I should mention that a few borderline insane men have been working on triple backs, which, as far as I know, have yet to be performed in competition.

Daisuke Nakano, you are one crazy dude.

Yes, that's real. This isn't Make It or Break It or American Anthem. You did not just watch a double tuck-switch-camera-angles-extra-flip. Like I said, you have to be a little bit crazy to train one of those.

Anyway, so there you have it: the evolution of p-bar dismounts, as told by Uncle Tim with the help of many YouTube users. Personally, I'm looking forward to a new quad with fewer double pikes. A boy can dream, can't he?


  1. See this for A Hiroyuki Kato by Hiroyuki Kato:

    1. Arigatou gozaimasu. I need to learn Japanese!

  2. This is an awesome series. I am a gymnastics fanatic who thinks men's gymnastics is every bit as cool as women's gymnastics. I love learning more about the sport.


  3. The full twisting double tuck was performed by Li Ning in China in the mid 1980s. He never bothered to do it internationally as there was no need. What killed dismount growth was the connection bonus within the routine. Why add more in at the end when you had to combine skills in the middle just to survive?

    Now that we have no connection bonus and more stable code it would be interesting to see if we will see more diverse dismounts. The code is encouraging this with the higher difficulties associated with these skills.