Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Evolution of Artistry in Women's Gymnastics: 1977-1980

As I said last week, there are many opinions about artistry, but no one on the gymternet has looked at how the Code of Points has defined the term "artistry" over the years. So, that's what I'm doing. Our next victim is the 1975 Code of Points.

Heh. Well, we have a bit of a problem. My copy of the 1975 Code of Points is missing 4 pages, and those 4 pages are dedicated to the floor requirements. So, I can't say too much about artistry. Nevertheless, I did find a few noteworthy tidbits here and there in the Code.

For instance, in Valerie Nagy's introduction to the Code of Points, she wrote:

It is the judge's duty to solely use the Code of Points as a guideline when evaluating difficulty, composition of the exercise, movements and on floor exercise--harmony in music, i.e. the exercise as a whole.
Besides technical execution, harmony and expression as well as female grace must be considered.

We'll have some fun with the phrase "female grace" when we get to routines.

Before that, I'd like to mention one more thing about the 1975 Code. The difficulty values were based on the skills presented at the 1974 World Championships. At the time, there were three categories of difficulty: low difficulty, medium difficulty, and superior difficulty. Obviously, superior difficulty was the hardest categories, but you'll never guess what was considered "hard" in 1975…

  • A double turn
  • Roundoff backhandspring Onodi (what we would call an Onodi today)
  • A front handspring to a split
  • Anything from a full to a double full

Yup, those were skills of "superior difficulty" being performed in the 70s. If you thought that Victoria Moors broke the 2013 Code with an I skill (i.e. a double-double layout), the women of the late 70s shattered their Code to smithereens. I mean, a double back wasn't even in the 1975 Code of Points, and by 1978, one woman was competing a full-twisting double back. So badass.

But back to the dancing and prancing. Let's take a look at how "female grace" was on display at the 1978 World Championships, where the Nelli Kim tied for gold on floor exercise.

Apparently, "female grace" meant lying on your back while opening and closing your legs. (Hey, girl! Hey!) Seriously though, I'm never going to understood why this type of choreography is so pervasive in women's gymnastics. Le sigh.

Moving on… The woman who tied Nelli Kim was Elena Mukhina:

I've always had a conflicted relationship with this routine. Awesome tumbling? Duh. 

Good dance technique? Yes, she was a Soviet. Duhziez! 

Emotion? Eeeeeeh. It comes and it goes. I love the slow part around the 1:11 mark, but during much of the routine she suffers from LFE: Lack of Facial Expression. Expression, if you recall from above, was one of the things that Valerie Nagy wanted to see. Poor thing was probably huddled in a corner weeping in 1978.

By the way, at the 1978 World Championships, Mukhina was not the lone LFE sufferer. Emelia Eberle had a bad case of it, as well. But she made up for it by being eccentric. If you've never watched Eberle's routine, you have to. It will make you LOL.

If this were an NCAA routine, I'd probably love it. I mean, conceptually, it shares the same DNA as Mattie Larson's marionette routine. In both routines, an inanimate object comes to life and then plops back down on the floor at the very end. The difference, of course, lies in the type of object that comes to life. Instead of looking to the past, that is, to the ancient art of marionette, Emelia's routine looks to the future. She is some kind of electric, floor-humping robot--on a gnarly combination of speed and LSD. And at the end of the routine, instead of being lowered to the floor by her puppeteer like Larson is, Emelia's electric charge runs out, her acid trip ends, and she throws herself down on the floor in one final flourish.

At least, that's how I interpret Emelia's routine--as a futurist ode to LSD. Very 70s of her.

Finally, on the opposite end of the spectrum, we have Kathy Johnson, who tied Eberle for bronze.

In terms of "female grace," this is what the judges were looking for. Without question. Personally, I love how Kathy Johnson tilts her head and poses when she lunges out of her second tumbling pass. And the softness and fragility of her extended floor sequence at the 0:55 mark! This routine is certainly my favorite of the medalists. (And I'm not saying that just because Kathy Johnson shared her nachos with me when I was starving at NCAAs.)

Well, that's it for now. Next week, we'll take a look at the 1979 Code of Points, which made some significant alterations. As we'll discuss, the women's 1975 Code borrowed heavily from the men's Code, so, you might want to read up on the definitions of "virtuosity" and "originality" before next week.

À la prochaine!


  1. I love Elena Mukhina and Kathy Johnson, both were very elegant and beautiful to watch.

  2. That routine by Kathy is one of my all time favorite floor exercise routines. It's gorgeous, and when people ask what artistry is, I would say this epitomizes it. You do NOT see floor routines like this anymore...it's a real shame.

    I think her routine is superior to the other three, but I'm guessing her lower difficulty is what held her back in the standings.

  3. Loved reading this blog about Women gymnastics; specially working out with wood gymnastic rings is real great.