Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Fav Floor Routines Part One- Golden Oldies

There is no better time to watch old routines than in the 4 year lull between the Olympic Games. In Women's Artistic Gymnastics, the Floor Exercise is one of the most exiting events. Gymnasts perform to music for around 90 seconds, combining powerful, explosive tumbling with graceful dance passages, including leaps and turns. The floor is a gymnast's stage, where they are able to express their own personality and put on a good show for the audience. A great gymnast is one that manages to engage the audience. Part One of these posts includes historical routines from the Atlanata 1996 Olympic Games and before. Being a 90's child, I have watched them, and fallen in love with them thanks to YouTube!

Nadia Comaneci, 1976 American Cup
This was the young Romanian's international debut. She captivated the commentators and audience alike with her stunning opening pass (a double back was a big thing at the time!). The slightly childish and cheeky choreography suits the 14 year old perfectly. The routine is made memorable by her trade mark 'straddled' back layout and the flick of the hand at the end of the routine. She scored a perfect 10, and went on to make history as the first gymnast to ever score perfect score at the Olympic Games

Nadia performs her floor exercise at the American Cup in 1976

Irina Baraksanova, 1985 World Championships, Optionals
One of the lesser known Soviet gymnasts of her time, Baraksanova performs to a beautiful piece of music used many years later by American gymnast Ivanna Hong. She uses her flexibility in her back and shoulders to create beautiful positions throughout the routine. Graceful and intricate hand movements add to the artistic flair of this routine.

Irina Baraksanova of the Soviet Union competes her floor exercise at the 1985 World Championships

Olessia Dudnik, 1989 World Championships
Olessia uses the music to accentuate her tumbling, which keeps to routine upbeat and exciting. Performed in a theatrical style, it is easy to believe that she is portraying a story with her movements. The central section is so expressive and lovely to watch. Due to composition requirements, gymnasts these days rarely take time out in their routines to focus on artistic segments. The stuck landing on the final pass doesn't hurt either!

Olessia's floor exercise, performed at the 1989 World Championships

Svetlana Boginskaya, 1996 Olympics
Demonstrating the typical 'diva' style of the Russians, Boginskaya takes it a step above the rest of her competitors by channeling her inner tigress. Although the choreography is somewhat bizzare, it suits her well. She has mastered the head flick, but the routine contains a bit to much hip-waggling for my liking! Nethertheless, she is entertaining, dramatic, powerful and graceful- exactly the qualities a champion should have.

The Russian Svetlana Boginskaya competes in the 1996 Olympic Games of Atlanta

Dominique Moceanu, 1996 Olympic Games
Moceanu, the 'darling' of the gold medal winning USA team brings the house down with her rendition of 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia'. She displays her incredible athleticism, poise and beautiful extension on her tumble runs. Most importantly, she looks as though she is enjoying the whole performance. And the crowd absolutely loves her- listen to the cheers at the end.

Dominique Moceanu, the youngest member of the winning USA team competes during team finals at the 1996 Olympics in front of a home crowd

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Article by Imogen Browne (@ImogenMireille)

Monday, 24 September 2012

Winning Balance by Shawn Johnson - Review

“Winning Balance” is an autobiography written by a 20 year old Shawn Johnson whose dream it was to make the 2008 USA Olympic Gymnastics Team. Johnson takes us on the journey from her childhood antics right through Olympic experience and onto her successful career as a contestant on the hit show “Dancing with the Stars.” I was enlightened by her writing and felt somewhat inspired after completing this novel as I felt a special connection between her thoughts and my own. Ever since I first saw her compete way back in 2006 at the tender age of fourteen, I could see her potential and have aspired to her ever since then. It’s not just her gymnastics I admire but her attitude, work ethic and her passion for the sport. It was a complete delight reading this book and to be quite honest, I was sad that it had to end!

From the first few chapters I couldn’t even begin to realise how perfect this read was for me. She writes, “So many people try to force success but my parents just wanted me to be happy, not necessarily a happy gymnast.”  Johnson’s every thought about competition and training that reached the page mirrored mine. For example, she has a rule that she doesn’t look at the scoreboard during competitions purely because she wants to focus on herself and nobody else. This is my mind set at competitions as I figure that you can only control your gymnastics. Johnson taught me throughout this book that a person’s courage may not always roar. It may just be the voice telling yourself that you’ll try again tomorrow. So often people give up because it’s the easiest way out but I find that trying something again will always be more rewarding. Even though I’m not an Olympic athlete, I found that I could relate to this book on so many levels. She was so close to giving up at different stages of her career but always fought through those hard times. Even as a five year old, her parents were told that she had no talent and that her gymnastics wouldn’t come to anything. Now that I know this, I admire her so much more as a gymnast now. After countless times of not being good enough, she persevered. It must feel good for her to be able to turn around to all those people and say “look at me now!” with four Olympic medals around her neck.

Throughout this novel, Shawn exposed her exhilarating Olympic experience. Along with all the competition preparation, the excitement of the Opening Ceremony and competing in front of a worldwide audience she explains her inner most thoughts and things that I hadn’t originally thought would have happened during the Olympic Games. I was surprised when she described her crush from the room below where they were staying in the Athletes village. It was adorable the relationship they had as she finally found someone who understood her motive to be an Olympic champion and train forty hour weeks. It was interesting reading this part of the book as these are the personal details that you never really hear of through the media. It gave me perspective on how hard it is for people like Shawn to maintain normal relationships yet how important they are. I learnt how crucial it is to have a balanced life-style between work, school, friends, sport and your faith. Shawn really grasped this idea throughout the book and it’s incredibly inspiring to see how she did it.

From reading this book, I realised how much of a down to earth and humble person she is. Going into the Beijing Olympics, she was expected to bring home the gold in the most anticipated competition: the individual all around. Much to everyone’s shock, she was outscored by her fellow American team mate – Nastia Liukin. The media portrayed the silver medal Shawn won as a bad thing but in this book she described it as being the best feeling ever. It was her most accomplishing moment. Being the modest sixteen year old she was at the time, she was over the moon by placing second at the Olympics even though many others were disappointed in her performance. She said it meant even more than her gold medal on the balance beam which signified to me the kind of person she is. She’s all about personal enjoyment and how achieving your own goals aren’t necessarily reflected by a gold medal. Her goal was to compete in the all around at the Olympics and that’s exactly what she did, getting the silver medal was just a bonus. She won in her own way which is a really important message people can take from reading this book. So often achievements are looked through without any recognition but everyone should be able to take pride in what they have accomplished, no matter how big or small the accomplishment is.

This book truly inspired me and it was in ways, an awakening about what I want to achieve in my future. Not only does her gymnastics inspire me now but her mind set and her various achievements not related to sport. If you have a dream, nothing can stop you from reaching it but yourself. Shawn emphasises that everybody is good at something and its people who utilise those talents who end up being the successful ones.  Shawn Johnson was just your typical small town girl except when she got presented with an opportunity, she ran with it. While reading this implausible book, I discovered how important it is that if you want to reach your goals, it’s imperative to believe in yourself. Once you have this quality, you’re invincible. “Winning Balance” is certainly a must read. Shawn Johnson is a perfect example of a girl who simply believed in herself and had a dream. After years of hard work, she achieved something most humans would never be able to do and is now a role model to numerous girls all over the world who will hopefully someday become the next Shawn Johnson.

Article By Olivia Browne (@biebeeerxo)

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Peng Peng Lee- UCLA's newest recruit

Christine Lee, or Peng Peng as she is known in the gymnastics world burst into the international scene as a junior in 2007 at the Pan American Games in Rio. The young Canadian impressed gymnastics fans around the world with her trademark beam mount flairs (usually reserved for Men's gymnastics). She performed many difficult skills, especially on beam and floor. Although the execution was not quite there, it was obvious that she would be the one to watch over the coming years.

Peng Peng demonstrates her artisitc flair during her Balance Beam routine in the Team Final at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio

Unfortunately for Peng Peng and fans alike, she sustained an injury to her back in 2008, which forced her out of elite gymnastics. Late 2010 and early 2011 saw her return to international competition. At the 2011 World Championships, held in Tokyo, Lee was the highest scored Canadian athlete after in qualifications with an all-around score of 54.632.

Peng competes on un-even bars during the team final at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo

Peng competes on beam and wears her trademark white lily in her hair

Peng Peng had an extremely strong debut in the Olympic year in 2012, performing well at both the London Test Event in January, and at the Pacific Rim Championships in March. Now a mature and composed competitor, she is most impressive on beam and floor. Her beam routine combines unique choreography with difficult skills including a standing full twisting back-sommersalt. Her movements are assertive, confident and performed with such fluidity that you can't help but be drawn into her performance. She could have easily medalled in London with a routine like this. 

Peng's stellar balance beam routine from the beam finals. She earned a massive 15.30 for this routine

Peng was not able to represent Canada at the 2012 London Olympics due to a torn ACL. The timing of this injury was most unfortunate, but Peng was able to remain positive and travelled to London to support her team as the 'honorary' team captain. She is obviously well loved by her team mates, as they wore her trademark white lily in their hair during the team competition at the Games!

Peng is continuing her gymnastics career at UCLA, where she will train under the Miss Val, the infamous Bruins coach. I can't wait to see what she will do with her floor routine (it's like Mattie Larson all over again). Peng, we wish you the best of luck at UCLA and look forwards to seeing your wonderful wonderful gymnastics for years to come. Welcome to LA.

Go Bruins! (Photo from Peng's twitter account)

Article by Imogen Browne (@ImogenMireille)

Queen Ponor: 2004-2012

Catalina Ponor (Cata) is one of Romania's most celebrated gymnasts. She comes from a country that made history in gymnastics with the greats such as Nadia Comaneci, who at the age of 14 scored the first perfect 10 in the summer Olympics of Montreal in 1976.

Nadia's perfect bar routine in Montreal. She went on to win three golds, one silver and one bronze.

Cata began training at Deva under coaches Octavian Belu and Mariana Bitang in 2002, at the age of 14. Two years later, she became the most decorated gymnast of the Athens Olympics where she won 3 gold medals, one for the team competition and two for individual competitions on balance beam and floor exercise.

Ponor's Gold Medal Balance Beam performance in Athens

She moves with such fluidity and finds the balance between athleticism and grace. Traditionally Romanian gymnasts are very solid on beam, it is a rare occasion to see them fall. Cata attacks her routine and holds nothing back, which is why she is a champion on this event.

Eight years later, at the age of 24, she competes for the second time in a balance beam final at the Olympics (she missed the 2008 Beijing Games altogether). After a slightly shaky yet respectable performance, she received the same score as America's Aly Raisman. Due to a tie-breaker she found herself in 4th place. She managed to gather her courage and rallied for a 2nd place finish and a silver medal in the floor exercise final, an amazing achievement for her!

Cata competes in the floor final at the London 2012 Olympic Games, silver medal performance

Immediately after the London Olympics, Catalina announced her retirement. She has since reconsidered this decision and plans to resume training until she decides what will come next. Hopefully she can continue the Romanian legacy in gymnastics, and continue to be a fabulous team leader and fierce competitor. She has inspired many (myself included!) with her amazing comeback, it would be awesome to see her continue for a few more years. She's got more to give!

Article by Imogen Browne (@ImogenMireille)