Friday, 28 June 2013

The Olympians: When They Were Young

Anyone that makes it to the Olympic Games has to start somewhere. Gymnasts typically begin at a very young age. Watching these videos puts into perspective the amount of work, dedication and sacrifice that these gymnasts go through to make it to the Olympics.

A very young Aliya Mustafina and future Olympic Champion

1/ Nastia Liukin (USA), 2002 
Here is 2008 Olympic all-around champion on beam at the 2002 Woga Classic (aged 12). She already has some impressive skills, including her acro series, side-sommie and front tuck (with some form issues). The basis of her choreography is there. Think of the number of beam routines that she must have performed in her lifetime! Her Olympic beam routines were quite literally years in the making.

2002 Woga Classic, Nastia Liukin

2/ Cheng Fei (CHI), 2003
The Chinese star competed at the 2004 and the 2008 Olympics, where she lead her team to gold for the first time in Olympic history. She was an especially powerful gymnast and her strengths were floor and vault (most unusual for a Chinese gymnast). Here she is on beam at a Japanese junior meet at age 15, where she shows some pretty amazing skills!

Japanese junior international competition, Cheng Fei

3/ Aly Raisman (USA), 2007
Here is a 12 year-old Raisman competing on floor 5 years before she won gold at the Olympics. Interestingly the routine reminds me of some of her Dancing with the Stars performances! Of course the tumbling is excellent, and even at this age she was incredibly comfortable on floor and loved performing for a crowd.

Parkettes Junior Invitational, Aly Raisman

4/ Aliya Mustafina (RUS), 2006
Here is Aliya, around 11 years old on floor. As graceful and precise as ever, she showed promise back then. She went on to become the 2010 World Champion and won 3 Olympic medals in 2012, including gold on the uneven bars.

2006 Friendship Classic, Aliya Mustafina

5/ Larisa Iordache (ROM), 2009
The level of difficulty that the Romanian juniors have on beam will never cease to amaze me. Clearly Iordache was destined for great things at age 12.

Topgym 2008, Larisa Iordache

6/ Kyla Ross (USA), 2009
The youngest member of the Fierce Five has always been a strong beam worker. Here is her beam routine from the 2009 US Junior Nationals (aged 12). Three years later, she helped the US Team take gold at the Olympics.

Prelims, 2009 US Junior Nationals, Kyla Ross

7/ Viktoria Komova (RUS), 2008
Back in 2008, aged 12, Viktoria performed a very difficult acro series on beam- flic, layout step-out, arabian. She has since removed this combination from here routine. Her beam work has always been lovely to watch!

Viktoria Komova on beam at the 2008 Voronin Cup

Post by Imogen Browne (follow on Twitter @Iflip4GymBlog)

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Then and Now: Sandra Izbasa (ROM)

Sandra Izbasa is a Romanian gymnast who celebrated her 23rd birthday earlier this week. She is a double Olympic Champion (floor in 2008 and vault in 2012), and has been one of Romania's great leaders and stars through a difficult period in Romanian gymnastics. She made her senior debut in 2006, where she placed third in the all-around and second in the beam final at the World Championships
A very young Sandra in 2006 (credit: Tom Theobald)

In 2007, Izbasa and team mate Steliana Nistor lead the Romanian team to third place in the team competition at the World Championships, helping them to gain momentum heading into the Olympic year. She qualified to the floor final at this competition, but finished in 8th position.

Nistor and Izbasa were close team mates (credit: Tom Theobald)

At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Romania relied heavily upon Sandra's performances on beam, floor and vault, where she scored over 15 on all of those events. In a tight finish, the consistent Romanians beat Russia out for 3rd place. Sandra went on to win the floor final with a fantastic performance to a great piece of music. The tumbling is absolutely excellent, and is definitely one of the best routines of the decade.

Sandra's gold medal routine in Beijing

Izbasa's beam routine from the team finals

Sandra returned to gymnastics in 2009 only to tear her achilles tendon, whilst tumbling in the second half of the year. She returned to competition a year later, and came back strong, winning floor at a World Cup Event in Ghent.

A very blonde Izbasa in 2010 (Brigid McCarthy TGC)

Izbasa became the European floor and vault champion in 2011, extremely impressive results for someone making a comeback after tearing an achilles tendon. However, an injured foot meant that she was not able to compete at the 2011 World Championships, which damaged the team's chances of earning a medal.

At the London Olympics in 2012, a healthy Izbasa suprised everyone by her amazing performance in the all-around competition. Great performances everywhere from the veteran (even on bars, by far her weakest event) meant that she finished in 5th place- an amazing achievement for a gymnast at her second Olympic Games! She and her coaches must have worked extremely hard to produce this result and should be commended. Team Romania finished in 3rd position, edging out China for a medal. Sandra qualified to both the floor and vault finals, and managed to win the vault after McKayla Maroney fell on her second vault. A mistake in the floor final meant that Izbasa could not defend her Olympic title on floor. It's a huge shame that she wasn't able to pull the same one out that she did in team finals!

Sandra in the all-around final in London

Sandra with her gold medal in London

Sandra has had a long and successful gymnastics career. She has been a great leader and anchor for the Romanian team for six years. After the Olympics she took some time off an enjoyed the benefits of being an Olympic champion and a national hero. Much to the joy of her fans around the world, she has committed to training for the 2013 World Championships in Antwerp. Her maturity and experience will greatly help the younger up-and-coming gymnasts such as Ocolisan, Jurca, Munteanu and Tudorache. I'm sure that Bulimar and Iordache will benefit from her leadership as well! We wish Sandra the best of luck with her gymnastics this year, and hope that she decides to continue on in 2014!

 Sandra and Catalina lead younger gymnasts Larisa Iordache, Raluca Haidu and Diana Bulimar to victory at the 2012 European Championships

Article by Imogen Browne (Follow this blog on Twitter at @Iflip4gymblog)

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)

Saturday, 15 June 2013

New Zealand Gymnasts at the Victoria Championships

Several elite gymnasts from New Zealand competed at the 2013 Victorian Championships held in Australia last weekend. These included Jordan Rae, Anna Tempero and Samara Maxwell in the senior division and Charlotte Sullivan, Millie Williamson, Hanna Malloch, Mackenzie Slee, Courtney McGregor and Tara Purvis in the junior division. All girls train at the Christchurch School of Gymnastics, with the exception of Jordan (Tristar Gymnastics, Auckland), Samara (Impact Gymsport Academy, Auckland) and Mackenzie (Hutt Valley Gymsports, Lower Hutt).

New Zealand's Junior elite team and coaches from a competition in Perth earlier this year (front: Mackenzie Slee, Millie Williamson, Tara Purvis, Charlotte Sullivan ; back: Hanna Malloch, coaches, Courtney McGregor). Photo from NZL Women's Gymnastics Team Facebook page)

Jordan Rae has represented New Zealand at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo. She also competed at the 2012 London Test Event, achieving good results. Anna Tempero, Samara Maxwell and Mackenzie Slee are newcomers to the elite stage, after moving out of the New Zealand 'steps' system (see here for an explanation of this system).

Jordan at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi

Last weekend the girls competed against Victoria's best gymnasts including Georgia-Rose Brown, Kiara Munteanu (seniors), Alex Eade and Eliza Freeman (juniors). Charlotte Sullivan was 3rd in the junior all-around (behind Eliza Freeman and Alex Eade) with a combined score of 97.450. Jordan Rae finished 4th in the senior all-around (94.53). Apparatus placings are listed below.

Charlotte Sullivan (CSG): 2nd beam, 3rd bar, 3rd floor 

Hanna Malloch (CGS): 3rd beam

Mackenzie Slee (HVG): 2nd vault

Courtney McGregor (CSG): 1st vault

Jordan Rae (TRI): 2nd vault, 2nd beam, 2nd floor and 3rd bar

Samara Maxwell (AGA): 3rd floor

These are great results for New Zealand's relatively new elite teams, who have already had some competitive experience this year in Perth and at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival. Particularly promising are the talented group of juniors who we expect to see much more of in the coming years.

Courtney performing a switch leap (photo by Nadia Boyce, photographer for The Couch Gymnast, used with permission)

Article by Imogen Browne (Follow this blog on Twitter at @IFlip4gymblog)

Saturday, 8 June 2013

New Faces: Rebeca Andrade (BRA)

Rebeca Andrade is one of Brazil's bright hopes training for the 2016 Olympics, which will be held in her home country. She is currently a junior and has won serveral competitions including the Brazil Trophy and the Nadia Comaneci Invitational this year and the 2012 South American Championships. She is an incredibly strong gymnast and shows impressive tumbling with good height, not unlike Daiane dos Santos, who was a World Champion on floor back in 2003.

Rebeca at the Nadia Comaneci Invitational this year (Photo credit:

She is a good all-arounder, which is great for Brazil as they look for new talent heading into the 2016 Rio Olympics. With the move of Aliya Mustafina's coach Alexandrov to Brazil, Rebeca and the other girls on their national team will hopefully receive the coaching that they need to perform well. After a disappointing qualifications round at the 2012 Olympics, where Brazil failed to qualify for the team final, they will be looking to make that final in 2016.

Below is Andrade's floor routine from the Nadia Comaneci Invitational. She shows great amplitude in both her tumbling and leaps, and has great control over her landings. Her choreography is very age-appropriate and she expresses herself well. 

Andrade's 2013 floor routine

She is also powerful on vault and competes a DTY with ease. She is also training an amanar, which will help her very much as an all-around gymnast.

Rebeca training an amanar in Brazil- looks ok to me!

Also linked is her beam routine from the Brazil Trophy this year. She is comfortable with her routine and has a good repertoire of skills, with clean execution, not to mention good flexibility. This girl is definitely going to be one to watch over the next quad! 

Article by Imogen Browne (Follow me on Twitter @iflip4gymblog)

Friday, 7 June 2013

Coaches Corner: Competition Season Is Here!

It's that time of year again (at least in New Zealand and Australia anyway!). After months and months of conditioning and working on new skills, we are finally ready to perform routines in front of the judges. Time to get out the club leotard again!

In New Zealand, we work on a 'steps' program rather than 'levels'. In Women's Artistic Gymnastics, there is step 1-10. Each step has an 'overs' and an 'unders' age-group category  each of which receives medals for first, second and third place. The teams can consist of up to five gymnasts from the same club, from either age category. Three scores from the four apparatuses contribute to the overall team score.

From Gymsports New Zealand

Steps 1-5 have set routines and choreographed floor routines, which makes comparisons easy for the judges. Step 6 has optional routines and is the first level where gymnasts are allowed to have unique floor routines, performed to their own choice in music. Overall, this system works well, especially after the introduction of the two age categories which helps to even the playing field. Steps 7-10 are regarded as 'senior levels' and these girls compete two days, day one for the all-around and team competition and day two for apparatus placings.

As a coach, all we can ask if that our athletes perform to the best of their ability. The idea of competitions is to show everyone how much they have progressed and have some fun doing it! Often athletes will remain at the same step for longer than a year, this helps them to be able to perfect their routines. Gymnasts from Step 5 upwards can be selected to compete at the National Championships for their region, the biggest annual competition held in NZ.

Article by Imogen Browne 
Follow on Twitter (@Iflip4gymblog)