Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Martha: The Great Chess Master



Martha Karolyi is approximately 18 months away from retirement.  As she prepares for her final Olympic Games as a coach or administrator, she seems to be making a concerted effort to be going out with the best possible result.  A graduate of the school of sport, Martha knows all about using psychological tactics in order to maximize athletic performance, work ethic and ultimately, competition results.  As a personal coach, Martha (and Bela) trained elite athletes in groups of six.  At the core of each group were two rivals.



When Kim Zmeskal emerged through the ranks, she always had another gymnast to frustrate her, motivate her, compete with her and push her on a daily basis.  The Karolyis would pit their athletes against one another, often intentionally, to maximize work in the gym.  They figured out the best way to motivate each gymnast.  Kim Zmeskal was best motivated by being ignored, so Martha and Bela would shift their attention and praise to Amanda Uhereck (who became Betty Okino and then Kerri Strug---when Betty was too broken.)  In the process, one of the athletes typically rises and then the other one.  Dianne Durham had Mary Lou Retton.  Kristie Phillips had Phoebe Mills.  Nadia had Teodora.

As it stands, the US hit well enough at Worlds to be currently ranked second.  On paper, the team was probably only bronze-medal worthy if all teams hit.  With the 2012 Olympics approaching, the National Team has training duos established in four gyms (soon to be five) that could push the country to greater heights.  It is difficult to change coaches once a member of the National Team, as they do not want friction at the monthly training camps.  Yet, Martha Karolyi and Kathy Kelly encouraged Gabrielle Douglas to move to Chow's in her quest for an Olympic spot.  Not coincidently, Shawn Johnson happened to be in the gym trying to make a challenging comeback after a serious knee injury.

Right now, many of the key figures of the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Olympic Teams are training daily with someone else to piss them off to greater heights.

WOGA: Nastia Liukin, Rebecca Bross, Ivana Hong
Brestyan's: Alicia Sacramone, Aly Raisman
AOGC: Mattie Larson, McKayla Maroney  (with Anna Li for the next 6 weeks and oft-injured Shapiro)
Chow's: Gabrielle Douglas and Shawn Johnson


Coming Soon:
Legacy Elite: Anna Li and Bridgey Caquatto

Bridgey Caquatto is definitely an athlete who is used to being pushed by another gymnast.  The surprise addition of Anna Li to the mix will only help her in her quest.  Some athletes even benefit from a training  partner after being the sole elite in their gym for many years.  Bridget Sloan reached the peak of her career when Sam Peszek was at her side.  Sloan has made it known to college recruiter's that training is not her cup of tea, but it isn't difficult to imagine that having hard-working Peszek may have pushed her to train just a bit more intensely.  It is also easier for the National Team to divert resources around the country by having their staff work with the gymnasts on home-visits.

At January's training camp, Martha implored the gymnasts and coaches to work on big combinations of skills on Balance Beam and Uneven Bars.  Out-maneuvered by Team China in '08, Martha saw the Russians at Worlds and knows the US needs to be dominant across the board.  Don't be shocked if she becomes increasingly supportive of Nastia Liukin, Chellsie Memmel and Anna Li in the coming months.  The US needs much greater bars depth if it is to have any hope of being a contender this go-round.

Martha and Bela have always liked having teams with a mix of veterans of new-comers.  Cue Bela talking about generations colliding, as he has that speech down pat.  Martha has spent considerable effort grooming girls like Vega, Raisman, Ross and Wieber.  As those girls become more seasoned, Maroney has become the new apple of her eye.  Note that while Martha encouraged Gabrielle Douglas to switch gyms, she discouraged coaches from taking on Mattie Larson and had them tell her to 'work it out' with her coaches.  Mattie is unlikely to make another major international team, but she is still useful to Martha by hopefully sharpening McKayla into an Olympian.

Raisman will represent the US at next month's American Cup, which will mark her second appearance at the 'prestigious' event.  With another trip to Worlds likely forthcoming, the teenager may just wind up overtaking her veteran training partner for an Olympic spot.


27 comments:

  1. Our bar lineup is frighteningly bad! You're definitely right that Marta will start latching on to the older vets who can actually swing bars.

    I really don't think there was anywhere for Mattie to go... WOGA is too crowded, Brestyans can't help her bars, so there really weren't many options. Plus, Marta may be high on the AOGC coaches. Maybe Mattie and her coaches were just a little hotheaded after Worlds and needed time to cool off.

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  2. Mattie visited a few gyms and they all told her to 'work it out,' as though it was a standard line from above.

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  3. love it! Great job!

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  4. Sloan is actually admitting to college recruiters her distaste for training? Wow!

    It should be an interesting year and a half! Can't wait to see who comes out on top.

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  5. Excellent analysis.

    Romania is also the Mecca for witches, according to Yahoo!

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  6. One of my favorite posts! So interesting and makes so much sense... thank you.

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  7. Doesn't hurt that Marta has so many talented gymnasts in the pipeline. Love the piece!

    Bridget Sloan puts that out there? If its true then A) she is much more naturaly talented as an athlete then she's given credit for (if she puts minimal effort and still gets above par results and B) why bother trying for 2012?? She knows she won't be in the all around. She already did 2008 Olympics. She should enjoy college and NCAA competition. I don't get this need to try for *one more*. Makes no sense. Others like Memmel have redemption on their mind and are NCAA inelgible so their approach but IMHO, I'd counsel Bridget to enjoy college, enjoy being 18, move on from elite.

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  8. Bridget placed 4th in the world on bars. And she admittedly doesn't train as hard as she could... Why go to NCAA now and do watered down sets when she can still pump out pretty high level ones? For the top level elites, giving up most of the skills they worked hard to learn to do watered down sets in college isn't something that they all want to rush to go do. 2012 will be here before you know it, and I think Bridget would have serious regrets to go to college a year and half out from the Olys. Deferring for a year is really no big deal at all. I think one of her main goals for this season will be getting back to doing AA in competition while staying healthy!

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  9. Sloan will never make another Olympics!

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  10. Considering the US has next to no bar workers that I would put up in Team Finals right now (and someone like Nastia isn't even back yet), it would be very wise for someone like Sloan to stick around. We may need her on this event.

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  11. I think Sloan has a plenty good chance to make 2011 Worlds because of bars... If she can get floor back to what is was, her chances are as good as a lot of other people's, especially if the Memmel/Liukin/Johnson (don't want her on bars anyway) comebacks take longer that expected. It certainly can't hurt for her to try. I don't think everyone understands how poor we are on bars. The only reason why it wasn't a joke last year is because China and Russia were making mistakes everywhere.

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  12. I don't think Raisman and Sac are fighting for the same spot. Raisman is an AA'er with an above average floor routine. Sac is the top vaulter who is capable of Event Finals on beam as well. It's going to be really interesting how it shakes out from here because aside from Bross and a couple others, all of these girls have a weak event or two. Marta may have to get creative in how she plugs the holes.

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  13. Martha should just select teams the lazy way-- by Nationals results.

    Love, the USFSA

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  14. To the commenter above on Raisman and Sac....there is zero chance that they will be on the same team.

    Sac's comeback was nice, but to think that she'll still be desirable in 2012 is naive. Wieber and Maroney have Amanars and Johnson and Raisman know that they need theirs to be viable for the team. Aside from vault, where she wil be equaled and bettered, where can Alicia help? Her beam D-score can only go so high and same with her floor.

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  15. Weird that sharp has often talked about how hard Bridget worked, especially rehabbing after her injury in the spring of 2008 and getting back in time for the Olympics. I do wonder if that burned her out a bit, she has also been known to take several month long breaks post worlds or Olympics to recuperate in 2008 and 2009

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  16. Sorry but Sloan having a fair shot at 2012, let alone 2011 is a pipe dream. I like her grit to continue post 2008 and put herself in an awesome position when Bross faultered (Nationals & Worlds) but come on. She's been inconsistent on both bars and beam in 2011 and she even had time off to "rehab". She seems so sluggish. Her floor and vault are only so-so. But aside from that, look at everyone that is ready to pounce to take a spot (including her spot). Weiber, Marony, Ross, Luikin, Johnson, Memmel, Raismen, Bross... <--these are 8 great gymnast with individual events and/or all aroudn. Sorry but Sloan hasn't earned a spot on any one event in my mind :/

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  17. Sloan might not have made the World team in 2010 if the team wasn't so desperate for bar workers, and then Chelsea Davis's injury sealed the deal for her.

    I didn't know Li was going back to train with her mom, last I heard in interviews was that Jiani wasn't that impressed with her daughter's comeback prospects and was concerned about her being too injury prone. Did Marta convince her otherwise (in terms of being pragmastic about Anna's bar skills and also as someone to motivate Bridgey, since Bridgey's a bit of a space case)

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  18. @anonymous
    "Sloan will never make another Olympics!"

    I love the cynical Nostradamus's that populate these fora. In my experience, if you really want to motivate an athlete to kick everyone's ass, just tell them that it's all over.

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  19. To the comment "Sac's comeback was nice, but to think that she'll still be desirable in 2012 is naive". You're naive to think she won't make it! Do you really think she's made this comeback for shits and giggles? She hunting for an Olympic gold, and training her way to that. I guarantee you that by 2012 she will have upgraded at least one of her vault, and I wouldn't be surprised if she upgraded both; she will have upgraded her beam; and she will have an outstanding floor routine. I honestly can't wait for you to see that..

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  20. clindsey12 - I hope you're right! I'd love to see her on another Olympic team!

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  21. Right, Sac is the queen of upgrades and consistency...I forgot. We're talking about a girl who is older now and hasn't significantly upgraded since she became a senior. I wish her the best but the team in 2012 is only 5 athletes. So for she and Raisman to be on the same team, that means no Maroney and either Johnson or Wieber on bars. One or two of those 3 will go for the Amanar, guaranteed. As for Sac vs. Raisman, Sac can't possibly keep up with her in terms of difficulty and the world judges responded very well to her in Rotterdam.

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  22. Macko returning to the elite scene at Legacy will be Bridgey's motivator.

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  23. Macko should just stay at Florida. She ended her elite career on the highest note possible at worlds. She had the advantage of the U.S. being particularly weak and turned in a great performance. Going for 2012 will just be a letdown for her. She really does not stand a chance against the new talent and returning veterans.

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  24. I wouldn't count Macko out. She seems to be one who can bring it when the pressure is on. We saw it at Worlds. I think she's just getting warmed up. Would love to see her and Bridgey both at Worlds this year. That would be a great story.

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  25. Would be a great story, but where does Bridgey really stand out? I guess I don't know much about her.

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  26. I would love to be proven otherwise, but as it stands I'm surprised about the idea of the Coquatto sisters on the world's team. If they're training mad upgrades then great! Otherwise, I think the poster who said that Macko benefited from a weak US team (World's) is on the ball (although she did deliver). The team is gaining depth and I highly doubt we will see either of them on the world or olympic stage. Fortunately, we'll still get to see them at NCAA. :)

    As for Sloan... I think it's still up in the air. She might be a bubble gymnast if she's contending for 2012 but a possibility nonetheless. One thing is for sure, the contention of the US team very much depends on their bar workers - they need those SVs on UB if they are to challenge Russia, China, and maybe even Romania (come 2012).

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