Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Peaking at the Olympic Games

One of the greatest struggles for coaches is to train their gymnasts so that they peak at the right moment. Think Nastia Liukin in the 2005-2008 cycle. She emerged onto the scene as reigning Junior US Champion and won the senior title in 2005, and went on to perform very well at the 2005 World Championships in Melbourne (2nd AA and 1st UB). An ankle injury took her out of all-around contention at the 2006 World Championships, where she only competed on bars. She struggled in 2007 with this injury and with the emergence of young Shawn Johnson, who blitzed the field in 2007 and 2008. But perhaps for Nastia, the shift of the spotlight was a blessing. She was able to regain her skills quietly in the background, and focus on her strengths (beam and bars). She did manage to beat Shawn at the American Cup (largely due to Shawn's fall on her new Amanar). But I don't think anyone expected the brilliant performances that she would pull out in Beijing, which was why it was all the more thrilling.

Nastia's debut senior competition- the 2005 American Cup

Nastia's all-around performances in Beijing that won her the gold medal

Love her or hate her, you've got to admit that her performances were near flawless that day. She performed with such confidence, looking back it is no suprise that she took the title. I do believe that Shawn was the better athlete (more consistent), but in the end it's about who does the best on the day of the competition. 

In 2011, we saw a young Gabby Douglas, a new senior compete for Chow's alongside Shawn Johnson, who was making her first comeback attempt. Gabby's power and athletic ability were obvious, but nervy performances meant that she finished way down in the standings. Marta obviously saw great potential in this young lady, and she made the Worlds Team to Tokyo, where with a much improved performance placed 5th in the qualifications behind team mates Jordyn Wieber and Aly Rasiman, and qualified to the bars final.

Gabby's very rookie performance on beam at the 2011 US Nationals

Gabby's World Championship experience obviously did wonders for her confidence and she came back very strong in 2012, with impressive routines on all four apparatuses (including an Amanar on vault). She ALMOST took the Nationals title over Jordyn Wieber and raised many eyebrows. The transformation was astonishing, people were starting to believe that Gabby could win the Olympic all-around competition. It seems like Coach Chow worked his magic with her as well, and Gabby sailed her way through the Olympics all-around final to take the title over Russia's top qualifier Viktoria Komova, and team-mate Aly Raisman, who faltered on beam.

Gabby's MUCH improved floor routine from the 2012 US Nationals

Gabby and Chow share a moment after the all-around final in London

Both Nastia and Gabby did not experience the same hype as Shawn and Jordyn leading up to the Games. You have got to wonder if that helped them in any way.  

Article by Imogen Browne (Follow on twitter @Iflip4gymblog)

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