Monday, January 27, 2014

The Evolution of Artistry in Men's Gymnastics: 1985-1988

Yayziez! It's time to take on the nostalgists' favorite quadrennium (or one of them, at least): 1985-1988. For whatever reason, in many gym nerds' minds, those four years are held to be the apex of artistry. But was the Code really that stupendous? Let's take a look…

As we have discussed, virtuosity was the basis for artistry in men's gymnastics. To jog your memory, heres' a little timeline. As you'll see, defining artistry is as easy as licking your elbow.

1968: The definition of virtuosity was about inner stirrings--not to be confused with flatus:

"Virtuosity applies to the area of execution. There are virtuosos in all areas of art, in music, in rhetoric, in dancing, in gymnastics, etc. The virtuoso exhibits an unusual talent for artistic execution. A musician becomes a virtuoso when his brilliance rises above the level of technical accomplishment and so deeply impresses us that our very souls are moved. To do this, he must put his own soul into his work. A dancer shows his virtuosity when he, in his presentation, is able to express his virtuosity with lightness and superiority in movement so that, although driven to maximum exertion, the impression exists that he has yet to fully extend himself. It is similar in the case of gymnastics… He is able to capture the souls of the spectators and to fill their hearts with joy."

 1979: Everyone man's dream: To be above average…

Virtuosity is recognized and awarded when the following requirements have been fulfilled:

1. Flawless technical execution, using a new movement technique, higher than the present level of achievement, for example: Felge to handstand with extreme swing and straight arms during the entire movement on parallel bars.

2. A presentation with personal style, rich in movement rhythm and swing, executed in a precise and flawless manner, also showing advancement in  the development, as well as precise body form and regarded as above average.

1985: Philipp Boy should have competed in the late 80s because he, my friends, is a work of art

"Virtuosity is evident in gymnastics, when the basic accepted techniques of performance is exceeded. This is in reference to the the technical execution of certain exercise parts and connections, exercice [sic] parts and combinations performed with unusual technical execution, support positions and swinging elements and finally strength parts and their combinations. The presentation must be superior in quality without error and the exercise must resemble a work of art with emphasis on beauty in gymnastics."

In other words, between 1985-1988, artistry was no longer about our feels. Judges didn't give a darn if a routine made them tingle. In the late 80s, artistry was about finding routines that were performed with exceptional technique and without error.

Of course, we, gymnastics fans, could find problems with almost anything. From the $80-million Wittlesbach Diamond, known for its flawless clarity

to Beyonce,

nothing is perfect in our books.


And that includes every gymnastics routine ever performed. Even Nadia in 1976.

But let us try to suspend our curmudgeonly predilection for nitpicking, and let us make an attempt to find an artistic, virtuosic routine from 1988. It's gonna be hard, but we'll get through it together.

Sergei Kharkov

The sourpusses out there are gonna poo-poo this routine because Sergei Nastia-ed his double front. But you have to remember that today's standards for perfection and the 1980s standards were different. Cowboying, for instance, was more tolerated in the 1980s. Plus, that lovely layout stepout makes up for a multitude of sins.

Vladimir Artemov

A double layout is hard. Don't get me wrong. But it's clear that Vladimir was going for virtuosity points rather than "courage" points. When you watch his middle pass, you think to yourself, Is that the best you can muster after a double layout? I mean, that middle pass was very Kathy Johnson 1978 of him. That said, he did it so well!

Lou Yun

If someone claimed that Lou Yun's performance was performance, my chest would start burning like I had just chugged a glass of bad brandy. Don't get me wrong. Lou Yun's floor from the 1988 Olympics was not a bad routine, but when Lou Yun performs simple skills like a back tuck, you can see that his toe point is lacking. For me, the "basic accepted techniques of performance" have not been exceeded.

If you follow men's gymnastics today, this is still a common complaint lodged against many of the Chinese gymnasts. However, we must remember that nowadays, there are no rewards for virtuosity and for exceeding execution expectations. (I win at alliteration today!) Today, men's gymnastics is all about having your legs pointed enough or having your legs straight enough.

Vladimir Novikov

The opening pass is clearly one of the most badass passes ever performed in men's gymnastics, and the Manna into the ostrich stand into the back extension roll made me salivate a bit. But virtuosic? For me, not so much. Sure, he moves smoothly and elegantly, but the routine has too many visible errors.

What do you think? If you had to rank these routines from most virtuosic to least virtuosic, what would you say?


  1. Sasha Artemev is not related to Vladimir Artemov, although Vladimir does have a son named Alex.

  2. Least to most? Novikov, Lou, Artemov & Kharkov tied. But I would reverse the order if asked to list least artistic to most.
    I don't think any of these routines are the best examples of virtuosity. The latter three are wonderful examples of artistry and creativity, which are not the same thing at all.