Thursday, August 29, 2013

2006 and beyond: The Top Nations in WAG

At one point in history, Romanians danced like this

and the Americans were lucky if they won a World medal against the "red army" of the Soviet Union and, to a lesser degree, East Germany.

Now, neither the Soviet Union nor East Germany exists. Arm waving is dancing. And Tumblr would have a meltdown if the U.S. didn't win a medal at a World Championships.

Since the open-ended scoring system was adopted in 2006, American gymnasts have been the team to beat. It doesn't really matter how you look at the numbers. You can look at total medal count…
…or at the total number of gold medals per country…
The United Kingdom of Beth Tweddle!

…or a side-by-side comparison of medals each year…
The Beijing Olympics were Russia's Sydney, weren't they? They've rebounded from it nicely.

Heck, they've even won a decent number of medals on uneven bars.

Ana Porgras, the last Romanian bar worker

Who said the Americans can't do bars?

Okay, to be fair, if you made a list of uneven bar gold medalists since 2006, the U.S. would not be on that list. Then again, the same could be said about the Romanians on bars, or about the Chinese in the all-around, or the Russians on beam…

Which got me thinking, When was the last time the "Big 4" have won gold medals at the World Championships?

Let's break down this chart.

1. China: Since 2008, we have seen the Chinese gymnast grow as all-arounders. But the question remains, When will we see a Chinese gymnast win a gold medal in the all-around? The preliminary entry list for the Chinese women consists of Yao Jinnan, Shang Chunsong, Zeng Siqi, and Huang Huidan. Adequately strong on bars, beam, and floor, Shang Chunsong has potential to be an all-arounder, but she's still vaulting a Yurchenko full like it's 1992. So, if China is going to win a medal in the all-around this year, Yao Jinnan's the nation best bet. But with gymnasts like Aliya Mustafina in the mix (and potentially Kyla Ross and Simone Biles), a gold medal seems unlikely, though not unfathomable.

2. Romania: Yes, we could crack endless jokes about the Romanians on bars, but it's not just Romanian bar routines that are struggling. It's their entire program. Though Romania entered the 21st century as one of the strongest teams in the world, it has struggled to keep pace with the other top teams. At the past 5 World Championships, they have won a total of 1 gold medal (Ana Porgras on beam), and at the past 2 Olympics, they have won a total of 2 gold medals (Sandra Izbasa on floor and vault). Indeed, many countries would be thrilled to have a gold medal. Period. But most countries don't live in the shadow of Nadia Comaneci.

Will this quad be better for the Romanians? Do you think Diana Bulimar and Larisa Iordache can right the ship? (FYI: As far as I know, Romania has not named its World team, but I'd be shocked if those two weren't on it.)

3. Russia: I didn't realize this until I started putting together these charts, but it has been a decade since Russia has won a beam medal. Ludmila Ezhova was the last Russian gymnast to win a World or Olympic medal on beam. The year: 2003. The color: Bronze. (Since the disbandment of the Soviet Union, a Russian has yet to win a gold medal on beam at the Olympics.)

This is not to say that Russia is bad at beam per se, but they aren't particularly good at it either. Readers, I want to hear what you make of this. Why do you think the Russians aren't more successful on beam? And who do you think will break the cycle? Will Russia have to wait until Maria Kharenkova is a senior?

4. The United States: I'm tired of the "America is to uneven bars what linebackers are to ballet" conversation. So, let's have another one: Why are American gymnastics fans obsessed with finding the next bars and beam worker? Whenever selections come around, the conversation bifurcates in two directions: Who will be good at bars and beam? Who will be good at floor and vault? Unfortunately, that's not how the American system works.

Let's just take a look at who has placed on beam in recent years.

Yeah, there are a few girls who have been good at bars and beam, but those girls have also been good at all-around. Not surprisingly, under Marta "Beam Queen" Karolyi's watch, America tends to produce world-class all-arounders who are also world-class beam workers. Call it very Romanian. Call it what you like. But it's a formula that has worked for the U.S. so far, and I don't anticipate that Marta will try to change that.

Well, I have posed many questions. Now I'd like to shut up and hear what you think. Leave a comment below if you so feel inclined.

Related Posts:

2006 and beyond: The Top Nations in MAG
2006 and beyond: The Best WAG Gymnasts
2006 and beyond: The Best MAG Gymnasts


  1. It's Diana Bulimar not Chelaru lol

  2. Weren't the WAG participants for Romania chosen? I thought it was Izbasa, Bulimar, and Iordache.

    1. Romanian Nationals start on Sept. 7. I'd be surprised if they named a team prior to Nationals.

    2. They have been unofficially chosen. Unless any of them are injured, they will attend, the Romanian federation has stated this. They have accepted only 3 world spots for Izbasa, Bulimar and Iordache. Ponor, Chelaru, Racea, Haidu, are all retired, and their new seniors are just not good enough.

  3. I think it is really unfortunate the way the code changed because it is clearly built to favor the Americans, whether intentional or not. Back in the day when artistry actually mattered, Russia, and Romania thrived because they had the perfect balance of artistry and difficulty. But now that artistry no longer matters, those countries still put their effort in preserving the beauty of the art form, instead of turning into code whores who focus on nothing but difficulty. I am positive that if Russia dropped ballet classes and instead added conditioning and tumbling, they would be dominate once again. However I hope they never do, because though they are not rewarded for it, I personally would watch someone beautiful like Myzdrikova all day every day over the most "artistic" US gymnasts be that Finnegan, Maroney, or whoever. I think it is really sad the direction that gymnastics is headed in. Unless there is a serious change, I do not doubt that in 10-20 years we are going to see all Raismans, whose difficulty is so high that there is no point to even attempt at having any artistry. I really really really really hope that the
    Russians/Romanians/Chinese and all who deserve it, start getting rewarded for their artistry.

    1. Romania has not been artistic since the 80s when Adrian Goreac was the head coach. Under Octavian Belu, Romania dominated in the 90s and 2000-04 by competing safe consistent routines with "enough" difficulty. They did not take risks, and they did the exact same arm movements in the corner of the floor mat to rest before a pass that they did on beam. They typically performed to folk music on floor to demonstrate Romanian patriotism. They were boring, but rarely faltered.

      It's not the lack of artistic appreciation in the code that has been problematic for Romanian gymnastics. It's the emphasis on difficulty. They never packed their routines full beyond the requirements like the Russians and Chinese were known to do during the "10.0" system. They are no longer rewarded for doing "enough" difficulty, they need to do a lot of difficulty and take risks. Remember, Romania is a small country of 20 million people, competing against USA (300 million), Russia (143 million), and China (1.3 billion). It is difficult to find enough girls capable of performing the level of difficulty currently required for podium finishes in international elite gymnastics in such a small nation. The bigger countries have more gymnasts to choose from and the gymnasts grow up fiercely competing for even a spot on the national team, not to mention a spot on an Olympics or World Championships team. It used to be this way in Romania also under the 10.0, but not so much anymore.

      By the way, you should check out one of the most infamous competition results that led to the new system of points in gymnastics. Watch Gina Gogean's gold medal winning beam routine from the 1997 WC. Then check out Kui Yuanyuan's routine for bronze and Svetlana Khorkina's routine for silver. Now tell me, who was artistic, who was difficult, and who should have won? If you answer Gina Gogean to any of those questions, it would greatly surprise me.

      I don't think the new code is so wrong if the execution was accurately scored. That way, gymnasts with perfect execution but lower difficulty would be right in the mix with gymnasts who have high difficulty but imperfect execution. It's important to have both beauty of form and difficulty as the ultimate goal in gymnastics, but allow the balance between the two to be a sliding scale based on the gymnast's own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities. And judge the artistic merits of each gymnast as an individual rather than by nationality.

    2. I see what you are saying but I can't say that I agree. Everyone knows that Gogean was probably the most unexpressive, unartistic, and frankly boring gymnast. But she does not represent all of Romania. Raducan was great on floor, Milosovici,Bontas, Stroescu, and so on. On beam, yes they were robots. But not on floor. They had unique choreo, not your pose pose arm wave walk around nonsense that is American choreo nowadays.
      Either way, my point still remains that artistry needs to either be rewarded more. There is no point in lowering difficulty, unless you lower the differences. Which in the long run, would do the same as emphasizing artistry more. It would make the hours focusing on artistry, less damaging to the Russians, Romanians and Chinese.
      I completely agree about execution though. It is ridiculous. They say that doing a lower valued routine, often makes up the difference through execution, but it never does. Take Chunsong vs Iordache at Anadia this year. Larisa had a 6.9 vs Chunsongs 6.5. Larisa had a huge wobble, about 3 balance checks, and a triple twist dismount that barely made it round. Not to mention her complete lack of artistry. Chunsong had not a single noticeable error, just the teensyist of balance checks, and a low chest on her double pike dismount. Yet her execution was .1 higher than Larisa's? It was absurd.

      Whatever is specifically wrong with the code, it needs to be addressed, which unfortunately I do not think is going to happen for many years, if at all.