Sunday, August 21, 2011
Nationals: A Reflection
So much of today's coverage of Nationals on other sites has focused on the injury to Rebecca Bross. It is devastating indeed. Blythe from the Gymnastics Examiner (and now Universal Sports) has gone on to blame Valeri Liukin for having Rebecca perform the vault. Rebecca was injured earlier this year and struggled on the vault in training. I'm not going to blame Valeri and I find it to be a rather easy excuse on Blythe's part. It is true that Blythe attends a lot of meets, but I must say that I question her knowledge of the intricacies of preparation (physical and mental), as well as her gung-ho attitude toward a sport that is coming apart at the seams.
When Aliya Mustafina tore her ACL earlier this year, Blythe Lawerence blamed Alexandrov for having the Reigning World Champion for perform her signature vault at the second biggest competition of the year. Gymnastics is a sport about confidence. Without successful repetitions in the gym and in competition, a gymnast will not have the confidence to nail their skills. One could make a compelling argument that gymnastics has pushed for difficulty in its quest to make the sport 'objective' to such an extreme that the demands of the sport are no longer manageable in order to keep gymnastics a marketable sport. Rivalries and names are the key to any sport. When stars may only have a scant few meets at the top, it is terrible for sustaining recognizable interest in the sport. I may not watch baseball often, but I know who Derek Jeter is when I turn on my TV and am more likely to keep on the game to see what Derek is up to due to his recognizability. By causing gymnasts to burn out and injure themselves, the sport is doing a disservice. Mind you, the sorry excuse for artistry and choreography on all events is noticeable to anyone who has an ounce of aesthetic sensibility (which I question if Blythe has given her lauding of routines by Alicia, Shawn and Jordyn on floor---but it pays to be glib if you want to keep your press pass.)
It is important to note that Rebecca Bross' abnormal frame has been discussed for years. Her knock-knees have been dissected and debated by many (and not just because they're eyesores when one expects a top gymnast to attain a beautiful line.) We've all said that Rebecca Bross would blow out her knee for good one day and it looks like it happened. Rebecca has a bum knee from an injury in '08 and a bad ankle from last season. The combination of the two can be deadly for a body that needs to handle the torque of gymnastics. The injury was going to happen at some point. It had already appeared that Rebecca's body and mind were not nearly as sharp as in years past.
Martha Karolyi didn't have an issue with Rebecca performing the Double Twisting Yurchenko, as she is a champion who landed the vault on night one and has performed the vault successfully countless times. With Worlds just eight weeks away, Valeri was doing his job by getting his protege back on track in terms of her preparation. After an unexpected withdrawal from Classics due to not having her shit together, Rebecca needed to get going on all events in order to have a prayer of getting back to the form of the top three gymnast in the World she pays her coach to prepare her to be. One thing about training with Valeri Liukin (like Bela Karolyi), is that he pushes his gymnasts to the edge of their ability. WOGA is not Amanda's Alternate Academy or some place where Amanda Jetter hopes to sneak her way onto a team. WOGA's goal is to train champions. Parents pay Valeri to make their kids champions and accept that pushing as a way of life, the way dozens of parents did at Karolyi's whose children retired long before a college scholarship was ever an option. Had Rebecca Bross' aim been to go to Alabama, eat and enjoy life, she could've gone to Texas Dreams, claimed the last spot on the National Team, rehabbed eight months a year and had a fulfilling life. Bross is a gymnast who aims for the top and in order to do that, constant pushing is necessary. There is nothing easy or gradual about Bross' or Ohashi's preparation. When it goes well, we applaud the coach. When there are injuries, we need to blame someone and go back to them. In many ways, the injury is a mere reality of the danger of the sport coupled with Bross' body's deficiencies and the harsh consequences of being an elite gymnast under the current code.
Jordyn Wieber's win should do wonders for her confidence. A few missed Nationals, a sloppy win at the American Cup and trouble in Italy may have left her mental game a bit rusty. Wieber will be tough to beat at Worlds with her Romanian-style physical condition. It will take every ounce of Viktoria's technical and artistic superiority to beat the assembly-line-style robot from Michigan.
Shawn Johnson is rediscovering the competition inside her. The skills need to come next. I'd definitely send Shawn to the Pan Am Games in order to see how far her mental and physical game can return. Now that the fear of failure seems to be dissipating, her confidence is returning. While Shawn is not a slim and trim gymnast, her added inches are greatly helping her to finally achieve a semblance of the natural line that was missing on her previous frame. It remains to be seen if she can hang with the best in the world, but she may give it more of a college try at camp and get away from the chalk bowl now that she has belief in what her body and mind are capable of.
Gabby Douglas may be worse off than Rebecca Bross after balking her dismount twice on day two. Her disastrous Nationals will not be forgotten or forgiven by Martha Karolyi. Her only hope at resurrecting her career is every other girl dropping like flies.
Alicia Sacramone's body looks to be deteriorating once again. Months back, we heard that she was feeling sore all over after training floor again. The rest of her gymnastics just isn't sharp like it used to be and her floor routine lacks the impressive spark it once had. Needless to say, mounting with a triple full is something wannabe elites did at Parkettes circa 1999. Alicia has been passed on vault by McKayla Maroney and it is quite possible that she will be the lowest scorer on vault for Team USA during team finals. Her stock beam routine's only value is its consistency. Frankly, Alicia is looking far more like a place holder until juniors develop and other veterans return to top form. Her famed 'leadership' didn't enable her to get her own shit together when things went south in Beijing. Then again, she failed to do a complete floor routine during the training camps and even lost her position in the lineup before the games began due to a body that simply gave out. History could be repeating itself.
Aly Raisman is a solid Oregon-Trail ox who looks to be on track for another team. Try not to die of laughter every time Mihai, Aly or Tim Daggett act like she is actually paying attention to the finer details of her bar routine.
Chellsie Memmel looks on track to get in the best shape of her life and injure herself for yet another big meet. It is important to note how sharp she is actually looking. Chellsie's mental fortitude on beam alone should warrant a trip to Worlds. Unfortunately, she may not be able to push her sore shoulder to get her full bar routine in order for Worlds. It all depends on how injured Chellsie actually is. Her personal injury history would cause anyone serious pause before they had her going for broke.
Sabrina Vega is still the front-runner for the alternate position. One of the girls from Legacy Elite should be named to the World squad, unless Martha wills Bridget Sloan to pull another rabbit out of her ass. Remember, Bridget Sloan was actually the World Champion... how very random indeed. Anna Li should be added to the National Team within a few days and on her way to camp. Martha will likely keep all of the veterans training and on the starvation diet for as long as possible. The new generation just isn't cut from the same cloth.
Nastia Liukin played coy with Andrea Joyce before cutting her off when discussing her comeback. The inner diva is returning after her weeks at St. Vincent's boot camp and one can only wonder how far she will go now that she is guaranteed to have her father's full attention. The combined desires of Valeri and Nastia may be tough to beat for anyone other than Beth Tweddle.