Head Coverings, Dancing With the Stars, and Five at the IX With Dvora Meyers
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, August 28, 2021
Gymnasts Will Be Allowed to Wear Head Coverings
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG)’s executive committee met this week and provisionally agreed to allow head coverings for female gymnasts —- including, but not limited to, hijabs. The covering will need to be tight-fitting, expose the gymnast’s entire face, and be the same color as her competition attire. We hope this means we will see a greater geographic, cultural, and religious diversity in the sport once the rule takes effect.
Suni’s Going for that Mirrorball
Dancing with the Stars announced that Olympic all-around gold medalist Sunisa Lee will appear on the new season (its 30th!), premiering Monday, September 20. Nadia Comaneci commented on the tweet: “Super cool.” Yeah, it is. Gymnasts have a good track record on DWTS; Shawn Johnson and Laurie Hernandez each won her season, while Aly Raisman made it to the finals and Simone Biles and Nastia Liukin each finished fourth on her respective season.
Danusia Francis is Off the GOAT
Danusia Francis, who rather famously received the highest execution score of the qualifying competition at the Olympics after performing two toe-ons and a graceful dismount, will not appear on Biles’ Gold Across America Tour, aka the GOAT. Francis tore her ACL in training at the Olympics.
Francis also told International Gymnast about her Tokyo experience. “I’ve accomplished my dream,” she said.
Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France will join the GOAT. We cannot wait to see her beautiful gymnastics spotlighted in this setting!
We Love a Comeback
British gymnast Claudia Fragapane, largely sidelined since 2019 after she tore her Achilles, will make a comeback at the World Challenge Cup event in Koper, Slovenia, from September 2-5.
And Larisa Iordache of Romania will make her comeback after injuring her knee in Tokyo at the World Challenge Cup in Mersin, Turkey, in 2022.
About Those World Cups
The FIG announced the locations for four 2022 Apparatus World Cups: Cottbus, Baku, Cairo, and Doha. They also announced five World Challenge Cup locations for 2022: Varna, Mersin. Osijek, Paris, and Szombathely.
NCAA Olympians Getting In the Swing of Things
We got a glimpse this week of Lee in Auburn’s gym, her first college training video. Lee’s Olympic teammate Grace McCallum was spotted on Utah’s Instagram in training as well.
Riley McCusker asked us all in an Instagram story to crowdsource her floor music, and we all cried about the “Hamilton”-themed elite routine we never got to see this year due to McCusker’s injuries.
Required Media Consumption
Gracie Kramer, the former UCLA floor star and last year’s Utah State volunteer assistant coach, popped up on YouTube with a great take on Jade Carey’s gold medal floor routine.
MyKayla Skinner gave us a quick rundown of fun and quirky MyKayla facts.
Insider wrote about the head covering ruling by the FIG.
Tweet of the Week
Simone Biles living it up in Cabo with her friends.
Five at The IX: Dvora Meyers
Dvora Meyers is the author of “The End of the Perfect 10: The Making and Breaking of Gymnastics’ Top Score — From Nadia to Now,” about the change in gymnastics scoring that went into effect in 2006. She writes an awesome newsletter (go subscribe! Do it now!) called Unorthodox Gymnastics, which shows off her fabulous interview skills and love of research (and, of course, of the sport of gymnastics). Dvora lives in Brooklyn with the best dog ever, Lizzie, who occasionally guest-writes the newsletter. Full disclosure: I have the pleasure of copyediting Unorthodox Gymnastics, and man, Dvora makes me a better writer. Here are her thoughts on the open-ended code vs. the 10, her takes on the Tokyo Olympics, her dream interview, and more.
1. Which athlete competing now would do well under the 10 system? And vice versa — whom from the past do you think would have had a great career under the new code?
The second part of this question is somewhat easier to answer because there are so many gymnasts from the 80s and 90s who really went above and beyond, in terms of difficulty, under the 10.0 who would’ve been richly rewarded under the current rules. (Though, to be fair, some of these gymnasts did quite well in their own time.) One of the first names that springs to mind is Olesia Dudnik, who did a double twisting Yurchenko in 1989 and a beam set so difficult that it would only take some small tweaks to make it competitive today. (The tweaks would be needed to address the peculiarities of the current rules and its requirements; the intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the exercise needn’t change.) She did an aerial-layout stepout-layout stepout; a round off-full twisting layout, which was a little tucked; and a roundoff back handspring-triple twist dismount. Her routine would be valued 6.2 in the current code. Unfortunately, Dudnik, who had a standout competition at the 1989 worlds, wasn’t much of a factor beyond 1989-90 due to injury.
Another pick for me would have to be Vanessa Atler. Her floor tumbling was glorious as was her vaulting. She only did that handspring laid out rudi once in competition. I know that after, she suffered ankle injuries so maybe that vault wasn’t possible for her after 1999, but it was most certainly ahead of its time and certainly one of the best versions of that skill ever performed. I wonder if she might’ve continued doing it had the rules been different or what other tumbling or beam skills she had up her sleeve had the rules incentivized upping the ante, difficulty wise. And while we’re discussing the 97-2000 quad, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Kristen Maloney’s outrageously difficult floor program in 2000. Yes, her form was rough but one could imagine that the high D score would help make up for it. And we’ve seen other gymnasts in her mold since then do quite well, such as Aly Raisman and MyKayla Skinner.
And I will die on the hill that Cheng Fei should’ve been the 2004 Olympic champion on floor exercise, out of bounds and messed up turn be damned. Catalina Ponor had some great turns and jumps but she did the “standard” four passes that so many were doing at the time and the form on her twisting elements was not great whereas Cheng had some truly special tumbling in her opening double double–a skill that, while almost compulsory now, was quite rare back then–and ended with a triple full, not a relatively easier double pike. But under the 10.0 system, she couldn’t build a cushion for herself from doing extra hard passes to help absorb the other small deductions. (And since Cheng got to compete under both sets of rules and did quite well under the open scoring system, we don’t have to really wonder about how she’d fare.)
The thing about this game of “What if?” is that if the rules had been different back then, the gymnasts who did the comparatively “easy” routines could’ve and would’ve upped their difficulty level as well; as we know, gymnasts often practice skills that are more difficult than the ones they end up competing, especially back then.
As to the first part of the question, I find this one more difficult to answer, chiefly because the 10.0 rules were hardly uniform across the decades. Do we mean the 80s to the mid 90s? Or after 1997 through to 2004, when the base score was lowered and the gymnasts had to earn more bonus? In this period, more than in the previous ones, the 10.0 functioned more as a start value and an execution score all in one; in 1992, for instance, you never heard anyone talk about gymnasts starting from a 10 but after 96, you heard it constantly. (The exception to this was vault. After 1992, there were distinctions made between a full twisting Yurchenko and those with 1.5 and two twists.)
I just scanned the all-around results from “2020” Olympics and was looking for a gymnast who would’ve done better under the old rules and I really couldn’t come up with anyone. Do we mean someone who performs with a lower degree of difficulty but has stunning execution? Or someone who does original elements that the current code doesn’t seem to want to reward? While there are some gymnasts who “chuck” difficult skills with poor form, in my opinion, many of the gymnasts with the top D scores also do quite well in execution, such as Rebeca Andrade. Incredible difficulty across all four events and so, so clean. While many of today’s top gymnasts would’ve done quite well competing under the 10.0 system, I can’t necessarily point to any currently competing and say that they would’ve fared better under those rules or that their gymnastics was better served by the 10.0. This is even true for someone like Sanne Wevers —
I don’t think a beam routine constructed around turns and leaps as her winning 2016 one was would’ve been able to contend for medals with a version of that under the 10.0 rules.
It was easier to answer the second part because it is easy to think of gymnasts who were ahead of their time in terms of their acrobatics, but what exactly are we looking for here now–a gymnast who is behind the times? Everyone is doing their everything right now.The top gymnasts usually end up successfully adapting to the rules of the time.
2. What is your most enduring memory of watching gymnastics on TV? If there is a moment that really turned you into a fan for life.
The 1992 Olympics as a whole were it for me. I was at the perfect age to get hooked. I was 9 and had recently started gymnastics. The U.S. had a star in 1991 world champion Kim Zmeskal. And though the Soviets were competing under the banner of the Unified Team, they were still the Soviets in terms of dominance and gymnastics quality though I don’t think I understood the greatness that I was seeing at the time.
But timing and life stage probably was the biggest component of me becoming an uber fan. I was at this perfect age to get truly swept up. It’s hard to say whether I would’ve become obsessed with gymnastics had my exposure happened when I was even a little bit older. The gymnasts I admired were around 7-8 years older than I was, similar in age to teen stars on TV shows. Old enough to feel somewhat aspirational but young enough that I could still identify with them.
What truly sealed the deal for me was that my sister had recorded most of the competition for me while I was away at sleepaway camp in the Catskills. This meant I could watch the 1992 Olympics again and again and again. I remember a few months after the Olympics coming down with a nasty flu and staying home from school for a week. All I did was watch the 1992 Olympics on VHS and I continued doing that even after I recovered. I knew the routine order and scores by heart. I even knew which commercials came right before the break was over and the competition resumed. In a way, this sort of reminds me of something I read in one of Karen Armstrong’s books–I can’t remember which one though–about how religious ritual takes an event that might’ve happened only once in a historical sense and transforms it into something that keeps happening. Due to my obsession and my VHS tapes, the 1992 Olympics kept happening for me, over and over again.
3. Who has been your favorite gymnastics-related person to interview?
I personally love talking to Hardy Fink, one of the minds behind the open ended scoring system, because every time he and I chat, I end up learning something new or considering an issue from a different perspective. His knowledge of the sport is unparalleled.
Also, not gonna lie: Interviewing Nadia Comaneci was a particular thrill. I mean, how could I not get excited about talking to her?
4. What is an interview you would love to do?
Aliya Mustafina. She clearly says what’s on her mind and gives good quotes. A journalist’s dream. Plus, she seems cool as hell. Now to add Russian to the languages I’m studying on Duolingo. Give me ten years and I’ll be ready to do it.
5. What was your favorite single gym moment from the Tokyo Olympics?
It’s unfair to be forced to choose just one so I’ll give you a few. Try and stop me.
If we’re including podium training, how can you not discuss Simone Biles’ nearly stuck Yurchenko double pike? Magnificent.
Jordan Chiles’ joy in the team final as she came back from her qualification errors and rallied the team after Biles had to withdraw.
Every time Rebeca Andrade did anything–we’ve known for years that she had the talent to be on the podium but she’s had such a terrible run of luck–three torn ACLs–that I doubted that we’d ever see her compete at this level. It was so exciting to watch someone like her do as well as we all thought she could do.
And Biles’ event final beam routine. The cathartic release I felt–and I think we all felt–when she hit a nearly flawless set after a week of pressure, twisties, and withdrawals was enormous. It was beautiful to watch her complete her arc of the 2020 Olympics in this fashion.