Monday, March 18, 2013

French Yin Claps and More! What We Learned at the 2013 French International

Here's what we learned at the 19 èmes Internationaux de France de Gymnastique...


1. The FIG needs to prepare the riot police.


Over the past few weeks, blogs have been buzzing about the legitimacy of Jake Dalton's stretched double Arabian. In fact, Jessica O'Beirne even threatened to riot if Jake received credit for a Tamayo (an F part).

Well, former wrestler Jessica O'Beirne may be overturning buses and body slamming any judges in the near future, as Jake Dalton continues to perform the questionable skill from his floor routine. You can't see it in the video, but his start value suggests that the "Tamayo" is still in.

[This number was updated on March 19, 2013. Based on the commentator's remarks, I originally thought that Jake had removed the Tamayo and replaced it with a double layout, which is a "duplo esticado" in Portuguese. However, I misheard her. She said "duplo TWIST esticado," which is a Tamayo in Portuguese. So, riot away, Jess. Riot away.]


2. Denis Ablyazin is becoming a slacker.


During his 7-tumbling pass floor routine, he's only doing a double layout, when he used to compete a double-twisting double layout. WEAK SAUCE!


Frankly, I prefer his double layout. It just kind of floats in the air.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Match-Play Reviewed: The Long-Time Gym Fan's Perspective

For quite some time, the gymnastics world has been buzzing about Justin Spring's match-play meet format. Will it work? Will people like it? Will it over-simplify the complexity of men's gymnastics? 

Unfortunately, I was not able to travel from San Francisco to Champaign-Urbana to see the meet, so I asked a few gymnastics fans to write their reactions. This post was written by Ono No Komachi, a long-time men's gymnastics fan and a consistent contributor to the MAG gymternet. Enjoy!

⁂     


Why do people watch sports?

In an effort to increase the fan base of men’s NCAA gymnastics, Justin Spring and Daniel Ribeiro of The University of Illinois, asked themselves just that question. The results of their discussions lead to an experiment that took place at the Illinois versus Minnesota dual meet on Saturday, March 8th, 2013.

As a person with an interest in the future as well as the present of men’s college gymnastics, I traveled to Illinois to see the experiment. What follows are my impressions of the strengths and weaknesses of the match point format, questions about some of the assumptions behind it, and suggestions on how to turn the weaknesses into strengths.

Strengths

The major strength of the new format is the elimination of much of the chaos and confusion of these meets by having one competitor compete at a time. I greatly enjoyed being able to see all the routines.

The head to head competition format provides spectators the ability to watch athletes directly face opponents, something that is missing from the traditional format but present in most other sports. I enjoyed trying to guess which routine would be the winner of each match.

The match point format also provides the opportunity for teams to use strategy based on reacting to what the opponent does, another element present in most sports but absent from the traditional format.

Being able to directly face one’s opponent and react to what the opposing team did may also make the meets more fun for the participants as well as the audience, and that aspect may help attract boys to the sport.

Problem areas

The meet was close to 3 & ½ hours long. This didn’t bother me at all. However, it will certainly be an issue for many people. I know many of the friends I have taken to meets would not have come if they knew the event would be this long.

The idea behind allowing coaches to make strategic changes to the lineups as the event unfolds appears to be to involve the audience in the meet by having them “think along” with the coaches. From the talk I heard from the spectators around me, this idea does have appeal. However, unless one is familiar with the past performances of all the athletes, their choices could look little different than a random lineup.

My major problem was the lack of availability of traditional scoring. The idea appears to be that the audience doesn’t understand F.I.G. scoring but does understand a team getting one point versus zero. I’m not sure how valid this assumption is, as someone with no understanding of the rules of gymnastics probably would have no more idea why one team got the point over the other than he or she would understand why one man got 13.3 and another got 14.6. All one needs to understand F.I.G. scoring form a sporting standpoint is the ability to determine if one number is larger than another.

I’m far from having a judge’s knowledge of the MAG code, in fact very far, yet for me the F.I.G. scores paint a bright picture of what happened during a meet. Removing them turned a picture with many colors into a monochrome one with many of the interesting details removed.

Although it wasn’t done in this case, I’m not a fan of stopping the meets once a specified score is reached. If meets are run in “Olympic Order”, this could bias the results in favor of teams who are strong on FX, PH, and SR. Even the changing the order of events becomes part of the strategy, I have issues with any system that reduces participation opportunities (including 5 up 5 count).* At least with 5 up 5 count, if a guy is good enough, he can make the lineup. With “abbreviated” match play, guys may end up not competing because of sheer bad luck.

Suggestions/Opportunities

To keep meets a reasonable length, it may be necessary to run two events simultaneously. If a man is being used in both events, one could be momentarily stopped while he competes on the other.

Show F.I.G. scoring to the audience. The “match point” format could still be used. One way to do this is to add an extra point to the F.I.G. score of the man who wins a particular match. This should lessen the probability of having a team with fewer points under traditional scoring win the meet. This format could also be a good tool to help those who wish to learn more about the traditional scoring. It is easier to get a general feel for which guy is better as opposed to calculating the exact score in one’s head, and each match would give fans immediate feedback on how well he or she was able to predict the result.

To help audiences follow along with coaches’ strategy in choosing lineups, it could be helpful to give fans information about the past performance of the gymnasts. This would allow them to follow along and also give some recognition to all the men on the team, as any one of them could be key to winning the meet.

The most important thing about this experiment was the willingness of the Illini to attempt to take control of their own destiny, as opposed to passively accepting the fate of certain death to which many have already consigned their sport.

Even if nothing comes of this experiment, the Illini have given the sport men’s college gymnastics hope and optimism – two things it sorely needs. For that and the willingness to take risks, they should be commended. Those things may not save the men’s NCAA, but without them it is truly lost.


*Editor's note: During the first part of the NCAA season, 6 gymnasts compete, and 5 scores count. After March 1, the team format switches to a 5-up-5-count format.

Here are some related links:

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Illini's Match-Play Meet Reviewed: The Student Perspective

For quite some time, the gymnastics world has been buzzing about Justin Spring's match-play meet format. Will it work? Will people like it? Will it over-simplify the complexity of men's gymnastics? 

Unfortunately, I was not able to travel from San Francisco to Champaign-Urbana to see the meet, so I asked a few gymnastics fans to write their reactions. This post was written by Alison Melko, a senior at the University of Illinois and, as she notes below, a men's gymnastics fan in training. Enjoy!

⁂     


I have a confession to make: I’m not as much of an expert on men’s gymnastics as I am with women’s. I could probably name every single female Olympic All-Around champion since 1964, but I might be able to name only one or two of the men in the same category. Perhaps it’s because I was re-introduced to the sport as a whole in 2007 by the movie Stick It, or maybe it’s because I have an unashamed ladycrush on Alicia Sacramone. It’s hard to ignore the men’s side of things, though, when you have guys like Superman Kōhei Uchimura sweeping a quad’s All-Around titles and the beautiful, beautiful creature that is Epke Zonderland swinging high bar.

I’ve already been to a decent chunk of women’s gymnastics meets during my 4 years here at the University of Illinois, but the only time I’d seen our men compete was during the dual meet against Iowa a few weeks back. So while the rest of my friends sat at home and screamed obscenities at their TVs as the Chicago Blackhawks had their winning streak thoroughly decimated by the Colorado Avalanche, I made myself a cozy little nest in the student section bleachers of Huff Hall in Champaign and settled down to watch the Illinois vs. Minnesota “Match Play” meet.

While women’s teams still use the “perfect 10” scoring system, NCAA men’s gymnastics uses open-ended scoring with separate difficulty and execution components. For the seasoned international gymnastics fan, this system isn’t really too hard to understand, but for the casual viewer, it can be pretty confusing. In a pre-meet interview, Illinois head coach and 2008 Olympic team bronze medalist Justin Spring explained that he wanted to try the new format to “create a little bit more investment, a little bit better understanding for the fans, and overall a better competition that people really like and can kind of make for a more exciting gymnastics meet.”

The meet’s format was the brainchild of Spring and his assistant coach, Daniel Riberio. Instead of each team competing on each apparatus separately, both teams would compete on the same event at the same time. Two gymnasts from the opposing team would compete directly against each other, and the judges’ would determine which gymnast’s routine was “better,” awarding that team a single point. The first team to reach 16 points would be the winner. The crowd would not be shown any official D-scores or E-scores.

(Official scores WERE recorded – after all, NCAA ranking is still a thing that exists.)

Gymnastics meets are not nearly as crowded of an event as men’s basketball or football, but a decent-sized crowd turned up for the meet nonetheless, including a small chunk of dedicated Minnesota fans. We were given small orange flags to cheer on our team and to wave whenever we scored a point. Normally I would be on my feet, screaming and cheering along with the rest of the students, but instead I was that awkward girl huddled over a laptop and typing furiously while screeching in frustration over U of I’s horrible WiFi.

Illinois competed first, putting up talented freshman Joey Peters up on floor. He hit a great routine that opened with a double Arabian and finished with a triple full, much to the delight of his team and the Illinois fans in the crowd. Minnesota answered with Matt Frey, who also threw an Arabian (or two) into his routine. The judges scored Frey’s set higher, and the first point of the meet went to Minnesota. We Illinois fans were not particularly happy about that one, and we let the judges know it.

Illinois actually went on to win the rotation, scoring 3 points to Minnesota’s 2. I ditched the laptop for a minute so I could do the Oskee Wow Wow with my fellow students. (Don’t know what that is? Look it up. We’re awesome.) Pommel horse was next, and I’m going to level with you guys: I know next to absolutely nothing about pommels except that Krisztián Berki is a god. The crowd seemed to really enjoy watching the routines, though, and the cheers grew louder and louder with each one. At the end of the rotation, Illinois was leading 6-4, and we celebrated with another round of Oskee Wow Wow.

Rings were another crowd-pleaser, and I had a good time trying to see how many variations of Maltese crosses were performed. It was during this rotation that the Illinois fans lost interest in booing whenever Minnesota got a point – they were saving their energy to cheer increasingly louder whenever the signal judge raised that little orange flag to signal an Illinois point. The crowd seemed to be genuinely enjoying the meet and having loads of fun.

Vault, one of my favorites to watch, was a huge surprise – Illinois took all five points and swept the event! Our team was leading 14-6 going to parallel bars, putting the win within our grasp. Minnesota won the first point, but we rallied back to take the second to make the score 15-7. Minnesota snatched up the next two points, which was starting to piss off us Illinois fans that were thirsty for a victory. Cameron Rogers of Illinois went head-to-head with Minnesota’s Adam LaFleur, and when that orange flag went up and gave us the win, there was much rejoicing among the Illinois contingency.

Even with the meet already decided, high bar went on like any other meet. Illinois didn’t have a single fall, but Minnesota counted three, and two of those were from just one routine. At the end of the day, Illinois steamrolled over Minnesota, 21 points to 9. Welcome to Champaign, Gophers!

I’ve seen larger crowds at gymnastics meets, but I honestly can say that I have never experienced such a unified and excited crowd at a gym meet. Normally at men’s meets, when a score is posted, there’s usually a scattering of applause and maybe a few cheers. I’ve overheard other students talking to each other, wondering if a 14.100 is a good score or if it means we’re in trouble. Even I, the girl who requested several days off work so she could watch the 2012 Olympic gymnastics competitions live, sometimes have problems understanding the score totals. I’ll admit, it was strange for me to not see scores posted at all, but the grand majority of the crowd didn’t seem to have any problem with it.

That, essentially, means that the different structure did exactly what it was supposed to do. People didn’t have to get caught up in a scoring system that made no sense to them – they were simply able to sit back and enjoy the difficulty, beauty, and originality of gymnastics. They were more easily able to engage themselves with the performances and feel the thrill of competition. There’s no guarantee that another meet like this one will ever be put on again in NCAA gymnastics, but to spread the love and enjoyment of the sport, I hope it will.

Stay tuned for the next review. In the meantime, here are some related links:

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rings Primer: 5 Variations of the Maltese Cross

In order to warmup for this tutorial, we must get our Buzzfeed on and look at pictures of adorable Maltese puppies.



Now that that's out of the way, let's talk about Maltese crosses.

1. The Jovtchev–E


This is not the Jovtchev (though it should be):

 This is the Jovtchev:
From an inverted cross, the Silver Fox dips his shoulders below the rings and then lifts his body into a Maltese cross. It's a pretty cool skill, but as you can imagine, it ain't easy. So, no one ever does it. I'm just including the element in the list because Jordan Jovtchev is my George Clooney.


2. Maltese to Maltese – E

This is one of those elements that confuses the crap out of most people. Starting in a Maltese cross, lowing into a back lever, and then lifting to a Maltese cross. That's one element. Not three elements. But one element.

I know that this sounds like the kind of stuff that the writers of Make It or Break It would invent, but believe me, it's real.

3. Iron Cross to Maltese – E

Even on steroids, I don't think I could do that.

 

4. Uprise to Maltese – E

As I pointed out in the last primer, during swinging elements, you don't want to see the gymnast's shoulders rise and then dip down. The gymnast should just swing immediately to the correct height. Jake does a fairly good job. There's a little dip, but it isn't horrible.

 

5. "Azarian" to Maltese – F

This skill is upgraded to a G if your pants fall off while performing it.
 Best moment of the American Cup?

For the extremely technical readers, this is not a true Azarian. As we learned in the last primer, an Azarian is a straight body roll that ends in an iron cross. But since gymnasts typically refer to any straight-body backward roll as an Azarian, we call it an Azarian to a Maltese.

Quiz


It's that time again. Exam time!

Don't groan and complain. If Louis Smith can answer questions in front of thousands of Brits, you can take a two-question quiz in the privacy of your own home. Here we go! Identify the Maltese elements.

1. Igor Radivilov, Ukraine


2. Kohei Uchimura, Japan



Answers: 

1. Azarian Maltese, Uprise to Maltese
2. Iron cross to Maltese, Uprise to Maltese

Did you get them all correct?

Yes?

WOOHOO!

Because of your excellent performance, I have a special present for you: a rare photo of Nastia's dog. It's a Maltese.
Obvs. This is not Nastia's dog. But seriously, when is Team USA's pink stage going to end?