Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Top 5 Series: Uneven Bars

But first, in news that I would like to sub-headline with "can I get a hell yeah!?", I have discovered through a source that LJ user rawles has written some fine entries on the 'basics' of women's gymnastics for the amateur watcher. Everything from score calculation to need-to-know vocab is there, with helpful pictures. I recommend it for my friends and family who never know what the hell it is that I'm going on about. Smiles and polite nods all 'round. Enjoy!

So begins Episode 2 of this miniature epic quest, fellow hobbits. Today we look at my favourite routines from the 'second' event in the gymnastics rotation, with Uneven Bars performances from Team Australia. This list was harder to shorten than the vault one (wait 'til I get to Floor, yeesh! I think that'll have to be a Top 10-er) but I've done my best to choose routines that actively reflect good form and composition (although I'm no expert).

5. Hollie Dykes, 2007 World Championships preliminaries

View it here

A lot of people held their [collective] breaths as Hollie began her routine. 2006 had shown Hollie to be a somewhat inconsistent performer on bars, and this resulted in changes of composition to try and iron them out over the new year. This was one of few error-free routines for Team Oz in Stuttgart and thankfully counted towards the team's score to get them to Beijing. It's a shame she has stepped down from the squad and will miss the Olympics [most likely], she had such lovely, fluid technique on this event. Gorgeous toepoint.

4. Allana Slater, 2000 Olympic Test Event.

View it here

She debuted a double-double dismount, noice! As Liz says, she was the first girl in Australia to do it. We haven't seen (m)any in the team since then. Shame about the vomitrocious pink leos. She always had great leg form and toepoint. You don't see too many hop-full to Geingers these days...

3. Brooke Walker, 2000 Olympics

View it here

A morale-booster for Australia after a disasterous vault rotation. Australia made up some ground on bars with good routines from the likes of Slater, Skinner and of course Miss Walker. Brooke was known for powerful swings, particularly with inverted giants, and that exciting Deltchev. A steady performance worthy of a smile.

2. Daria Joura, 2007 Olympic Test Event

View it here

After flubbing it at Worlds, Dasha came back with a bang in the Beijing preview. She rocked her Comaneci release and stuck her dismount (with a deserved smile!). I particularly like her delighted jumps as she leaves the podium. Listen out for team-mate Lauren Mitchell's calls of encouragement. Let's hope for a similar performance in August.

1. Allana Slater, 1999 Nationals.

View it here

Yes, here she is again but you can't go past a 'perfect' 10.0! Granted, it wouldn't have scored quite as such on the international stage but a great achievement for her regardless, particularly in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics. The stuck dismount clinched the score.

Still to come- Balance Beam!

Saturday, January 26, 2008

This Blog is Girt By Sea

Happy Australia Day, to Aussies and Ausophiles here and overseas. Have a beer, sniff some wattle, hug a wombat. Do whatever takes your fancy and celebrate our right to live, work and vote without fear of persecution and to represent our country in all manner of endeavours on the international stage.

I'd throw in a "So Where the Bloody Hell Are You?" reference but...y'know... impressionable children might read this :p

MAG team member Luke Wiwatowski and gym team mascot "Bruce"

I'm not too festive today because I had to work (damn), and am going to bed early because I'm at work again at 5:00 tomorrow morning. So in lieu of a fancypants entry, here's a little parochial something to warm the heart of your eucalyptus-soaked cockles on this ocker-casion (har di har har). One of my personal favourite poems, Green and Gold Malaria by the fantastic lyricist Rupert McCall...

The day would soon arrive when I could not ignore the rash
I was obviously ill and so I called on Doctor Nash
This standard consultation would adjudicate my fate
I walked into his surgery and gave it to him straight
“Doc, I wonder if you might explain this allergy of mine
I get these pins and needles running up and down my spine
From there, across my body, it will suddenly extend
My neck will feel a shiver and the hairs will stand on end
And then there is that symptom that a man can only fear
It’s a choking in the throat and the crying of a tear”
Well, the doctor scratched his melon with a rather worried look
His furrowed brow suggested that the news to come was crook
“What is it Doc?” I motioned “Have I got a rare disease?
I’m man enough to cop it sweet so give it to me please”
“Well I’m not too sure” he answered, in a puzzled kind of way
“It seems you’ve got some kind of fever but it’s hard for me to say
When is it that you feel this most peculiar condition?”
I thought for just a moment and then I gave him my position
“Doc, I get it when I’m standing in an Anzac Day parade
And I get it when the anthem of my native land is played
I get it when Meninga makes a Kiwi-crunching run
And when AB grits his teeth to score a really gutsy ton
And I got it back in ‘91 when Farr-Jones held the Cup
And I got it when Japan was stormed by Better loosen Up
I get it when the Banjo takes me down the Snowy River
And Matilda sends me waltzing with a billy-boiling shiver
It hit me hard when Sydney was awarded with the Games
And I get it when I see our farmers fighting for their names
It flattened me when Bertrand raised the Boxing Kangaroo
And when Perkins won from lane eight, well, the rashes were true blue
So tell me Doc” I questioned “Am I really gonna die?”
He broke into a smile before he looked me in the eye
As he fumbled with his stethoscope and pushed it out of reach
He wiped away a tear and then he gave this stirring speech:
“From the beaches here in Queensland to the sweeping shores of Broome
On the Harbour banks of Sydney where the Waratah’s in bloom
From Uluru at sunset to the mighty Tasman Sea
In the Adelaide cathedrals, at the roaring MCG
From the Great Australian Bight up to the Gulf of Carpentaria
The medical profession call it ‘Green and Gold Malaria’
But forget about the textbooks son, the truth I shouldn’t hide
The rash that you’ve contracted here is ‘good old Aussie pride’
I’m afraid that you were born with it and one thing is for sure
You’ll die with it young man because there isn’t any cure.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Top 5 Series: Vault

Here begins a small collection of some of my personal favourite Aussie performances. Mind you, I started watching gymnastics 'offishullee!' around 1997 when I was only about 11, therefore forgive the lack of anything particularly archival or ground-breaking. I'm also at the whim of what YouTube has available.

We begin with the traditional 'first' apparatus in the competition order: Vault.


Not my favourite apparatus (not a lot of peoples', actually) but the likes of Cheng Fei and Alicia Sacramone are changing all that. It's becoming quite an exciting contest now. On the local side of things, I always loved Trudy's landmark 'McIntosh' vault, and can't wait to see a few more Yurchenko doubles feature in the elite squad this season.

5. Melissa Munro, 2004 Pacific Alliance Championships

View it here.

Not the most difficult vault (thanks Bart and Tim for letting us know that a piked Lucconi's worth 9.4 but no thanks for raining on any attempts by Mel to upgrade), but she performs - and lands - it very very nicely. She competed the same vault at the 2004 Olympics and managed a similar dainty landing.

4. Lisa Skinner, 1999 World Championship trials

View it here.

Aaaah, back in the days when Foxtel would broadcast national competitions and duels. And you could tape them while watching, instead of having to set the recorder for 3am. Like Brennan, what she lacked in power Lisa made up for in execution, notably with this Yurchenko 1.5!

3. Ashleigh Brennan, 2006 Commonwealth Games team trial.

View it here.

Not a powerful vaulter alongside the likes of Russo or Joura, but a very neat one for sure. A Yurchenko 1.5 done very neatly made her a suitable addition to the team.

2. Trudy McIntosh, 1999 International Team Championships.

View it here.

Just a twist away from her signature vault, the McIntosh, Trudy's laid-out handspring front vaults were powerful (though often difficult to maintain good form in) and laid the foundations for a vault that would propel her (literally) into medal contention on the world stage.

1. Daria Joura, 2007 World Championships preliminaries.

View it here.

Perfect antidote to a shaky competition. A Yurchenko double with great height and no big shuffles. A fantastic vault for Dasha and an asset to the team's total. Dammit, if we're not wearing green-and-gold in Beijing I will eat my hat!

Coming very soon in this series: Uneven Bars!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"I can dream, Jim!"

Applause if you got the Tripod reference there.

So Dwight Normile from IG, rather than actively pursuing change in the sport through journalism and campaigning for a usurper of EVILBRUNOGRANDI's fascist FIG dictatorship, he's written yet another column writing off the skills of gymnasts without thinking outside the box and seeking out the sources of the problem (cf. The FIG Code). Also, he seems to neglect that US gymnasts, as much as I admire the way they go for big skills, often commit these crimes too.

So let's have a look-see at some of this week's list, Skills and Combinations I'd Rather Not See Anymore.

Tumbling: Any twisting somersault that finishes in a forward landing, unless it is followed by a skill which completes the pass aesthetically. In other words, no more roundoff, flip-flop, 2.5 twist dismounts, since they are virtually impossible to stick.
True, but I suppose that's the appeal of them. Mind you, "any twisting somersault that finishes in a forward landing" is equally difficult on any apparatus so you're sweeping a bit wide there. Byebye to Cheng Fei's Olympic vault title, I suppose, with that logic. But if a gymnast is watering down and sticking double twists, only to consistently get beaten by one doing a 2.5 twist (albeit with a shuffled landing) shouldn't they at least have a go at a 2.5? And if you think about it, most of Liukin's (bless her pink bejewelled cotton socks and gloves) 2005 floor routine that scored the silver at Worlds was twisting somersaults, two(?) of which I believe had a front landing, though if you want to talk cheated or unstuck twisting somersaults, I'm sure there would be many out there in interweb land shouting two little words: Catalina Ponor!

Uneven Bars: Any skill in which the feet are touching the bar but the hands are not. So no more sole circles on the low bar where the gymnast merely stands up and reaches for the high bar.

That could be deemed hard to judge, ie where a jump to the high bar ends and a standing reach with small hop off begins. I guess in the same way that in the Walking event in athletics makes for challenge in judging where both feet may have left the ground.

Balance Beam: Rulfova. It's difficult, sure, but it's just not very pretty.

Depends on who does it. Many of us felt that Hollie Dykes could've done a nice one as she already did a Korbut flip and the Rulfova is just a step up. The lighter and daintier a gymnast (Cheng Fei did a good one at the Olympic Test Event), the nicer it actually is. I just think it's funny that when a lot of people see one done, they gasp because they think it's accidental, like the gymnast unintentionally straddled their legs in the flip and landed on their biscuits. I can just imagine them thinking "geez, that must have hurt but she sure hid it well!"

Any skill that lands on the beam with a thud. What comes to mind immediately is Daria Joura's Shushunova.

...and anything attempted by Natasha Kelly, wouldn't you think? Sorry, you know how I feel when somebody knocks Sassy Miss D :p Thuds can't be helped. Looked at all the awesome acro in Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs' routine. Unique and difficult stuff that is naturally going to result in a heavy landing. I haven't heard anybody complain just yet. The more spring and amplitude required for the move, the more of a "thud" it is going to make. And more difficult skills are being asked for in this new code so look at what's really causing the thuds. You've seen that sideways Shushunova what, one or two times? It usually doesn't make that much noise when she lands it; I'd say it's an improvement on the ones the Aussie girls used to do on beam that saw them follow it through with a hip circle around the beam. THAT was a thudder. Nearly knocked the beam over. The biggest thumps and thuds I've heard in the gymnastics world come from the floor mats the USA uses. Watching footage from the Pacific Alliance Championships and American Cup, I am immediately deterred by the heavy thudding of the floor mat. It's like they've got big rusted metal springs under there or sheets of metal... or the microphones are way too close to the mat. It really takes away from routines.

Side somi. This skill is just plain ugly on beam. It's better suited for the circus, where an acrobat does about 10 of them in a row as he circles the ring.

Once again, it depends on who does it. I don't *lurve* side somi's but I don't hate them. Yes, you included with your list a rather unsightly picture of Kristina Vaculik to illustrate your point, but there are some nice ones out there. Lithe gymnasts (Nastia Liukin, Ash Brennan come to mind) are capable of somewhat straight-legged and nearly-landed side somi's, they're not totally impossible. Side elements are also required under this new scoring code, so if you're so desperate to get rid of them you're once again going to have to take it to The Man (see first line of last paragraph). And Bruno ain't gonna like that much. A circus? Please. That really is unkind. The only thing circus-y about gymnastics is the three-ringed one that rolls around when the judging panels get together.

Mounts that really aren't mounts.


!? I don't know about you, but I am yet to see a mount sequence where a gymnast gets UNDER the beam, backwards, and begins with their dismount...you're not making sense here, Dwight. If you're talking about piddly little tuck jump mounts onto the beam, then I totally hear you, but unless the FIG technical committee minions make an official rule about it, there's not much you can do. There are some interesting mounts out there.

Like this one.

Or this one.

This one is very cool.

Are they mounts? Or not mounts? Help me out here.

Instead of having a whine about what skills aren't done nicely, go directly to the source and do something about the rules, particularly ones that could result in the exclusion of some very nice gymnastics. FIG 'President' Bruno Grandi wants to change the age limit for competing at Olympics and World Championships from 15 to 16. So taking that rule for what it is had it been in place earlier, America's pocket dynamo Shawn Johnson (and elegant 14-year-old teammate Ivana Hong) would have missed '07 World Championships selection and subsequent medal wins. Funnily enough it could have also eradicated the achievements of Grandi's fellow Italian 'stallion' Vanessa Ferrari in 2006, whom he practically accosted when he discovered she'd won the all-around.

The contradictions just... make me...dizzy...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Can Has Photographik Comparryson?

Ok, let's get it out there: This blog mistress *lurves* cute baby animals. When I have absolutely nothing to do (once work, study, karaoke and blogging are done with) I like to look at the picky-tures found here or here.

So I thought to myself, after a weekend of the usual karaoke and fine dining (neither of which I excel at), that Aussie gymnastics is surely a movement that adheres to (nay, embodies) CO.com's Rules of Cuteness, some of which are as follows:

#35. If you try and eat your own appendage, it's cute.

#8. Piles of a cute thing jack up a cuteness rating exponentially.

#15. A small ear to head ratio is cute.

'ello Mr Frodo, are we goin' te Mordor? etc etc etc...

#29. If you flex your paws repeatedly in a kneading motion in the air for no reason, it's cute.

#37. If you tilt your head to a side, it's cute.

#2. If you look helpless, it's cute.

(Late entries for the international edition of this post included Nastia Liukin and her adorable candidacy for the above rule #2:

and the Mackie sisters who utterly embody rule #7 - a thing, accompanied by a smaller version of that thing, is always cute)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Shiny Happy People Holding Hands

Many thanks to other bloggers who've been giving AGB a bit of a shout-out (or should I say "props"... to a lesser extent "snaps"?). I didn't think too many were reading this (particularly anyone overseas) so it means a lot that you think my words were worth mentioning to the general public.

I just wanted to clarify a few things this morning. Things that have arisen from my own re-hashing of blog entries here.

Ostensibly I'd like to explain that I'm not a typically antagonistic person, I don't set out to make enemies or frustrate people. I wouldn't like to make a habit of it. I was rather a geek through most of my primary and secondary schooling but my alleged wordy intellect belies a kinaesthetic clumsiness (what we in the trendy young-adult realm dub 'being totally unco') and a perpetual desire to stop the words coming out of my mouth as I'm saying them. In other words, this dork is a bit of a dunce sometimes.

Just to let you all know that for all my criticism, I do respect that at the very least, GA is keeping the sport running in this country and continuously allowing fans the chance to see their favourites comepete at all. Heck, they got a World Championships here. And while I don't love all the things that national coach Peggy Liddick does or says, I admire any woman that can take over a national sporting program, keep it running every year and get its athletes competing internationally. Not that anyone's holding a gun to my head or anything as I write this, I just thought I'd get it out there.

So I complain and critique quite a bit, but I don't hate. I'd hate to be hated back... I mean, surely this cute little accent of mine is enough to get me out of trouble, officer? *bats eyelashes under akubra hat*

"Whadjoo call me!?"

If anyone would like to see that elusive footage of Dasha's double layout in training, YouTube user and all-around gymnastics multimedia wonder Nade uploaded an excerpt, doing the trick I tried (but couldn't follow through with uploading because my internet is beyond lame), filming it off the telly with a digital camera like The Little Engine That Could. You might have to crank up the sound a bit. Excuse the scrolling newsbar/s as well, Fox Sports seems to think we all have eight eyes and just as many brains to process it all. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Hustle Up! : An Examination of Group Dynamics

...sounds like a great title for my Honours thesis. Were it not for the fact that I'm, y'know, doing it in Linguistics.

By all accounts, Team USA could lead themselves around on the floor. They brim with such competitive confidence you wouldn't think they needed coaches shepherding them. They have an apt and admirable captain in senior Alicia Sacramone (who I believe actually acted as captain in Stuttgart last year). She gave her teammates a 'pep talk' to boost morale during the rotations and helped lead them to a team gold. She's a fantastic young lady with sass to boot. The team gelled magnificently. Team USA's huddles during competition (often done without the coaches) are always tight bundles of encouragement and solidarity. NCAA meets go one better, with big hands-in huddles, fist pumps and chants. Go team go!

Team 'Straya doesn't seem to do a lot of team huddles. There was a group hug with some laughs at the Commonwealth Games, when team gold was safely in Australia's hands once floor was over. And sure, there was a huddle-ish gathering after beam rotation in the Athens preliminary round. Mind you, it took a few minutes to manifest itself. Would've been better if the team could have done it off to the side and on their own.

Don't get me wrong, the team members are quick to encourage one another and call out advice on routines. It is most noticeable in smaller comps, like duels or trials. I had a little giggle in 2005 at the Australia v China meet when Dasha J was on beam, and this little ocker voice pipes out of Monette Russo: "ROWN-doff!" And if you watch Dasha's uneven bars routine in the final at the Beijing Test Event, all you hear is encouragement (and reminders) from fellow WA competitor Lauren Mitchell. Smashing stuff. Another WA alum, Allana Slater, was always quick to say "good job!" with a big grin to the girls during the team final in Manchester '02. I like hearing the girls shout "caaaatch!" when someone's doing a flight element on bars, it's like you're at the cricket. I don't quite know why but I actually prefer it to USA's ubiquitous cries of, "C'mon, you got it! Nice!"

After comps is good. During the comp would be even better.

But otherwise, there seems so little pep and vigour (whoops, nearly put 'salt and vinegar' there!) evident in the team when they're competing; particularly after a rotation. It's just a quiet walk back with a subdued smile and not a great deal of congratulations. Maybe it's because they don't walk into the arena with the knowledge that, even with a bad performance, they're still likely to make the top 3 (see previous post for 'defeatist cloud' notion)? Maybe it's because they fear the wrath they'll receive once they've erred? Who knows what it is. We may not need a team captain, but we sure as hell need some positivity out on the floor.

In other news, last night marked about the fifth time I've served Zeena McLaughlin at work. The fifth time I've held my tongue, slightly awed, not wanting to say anything as I scan her grocery items. What do you say to a retired hero of yours? Is it appropriate to ask if they're still involved with the sport at which they once excelled? I tend to make an arse of myself at the best of times around regular people so I just don't say anything. I don't think I will next time, either.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stuff gonna 'splode

Inspired by special agent Infrafrenata.
I don't mean to rock the boat, girls, but...

After yesterday's wibbly-wobbly rant (that I started sometime after lunch, left, re-thought and then finished at nearly 10pm last night), I came to the conclusion that: Enough's enough. I'd really like to write an open letter to Gymnastics Australia. I, and others whose comments I've read in online communiqué, would very much like to ask GA in no uncertain terms to treat the fans and athletes with more dignity, and establish useful incentives [or at least, some damn good reasons] for following the sport by considering any or all of the following strategies:

* Updating their online news page. It's two weeks into the new year, people. Get it together. Your office has been in operation since last week.

* Providing more in the Media Releases than just news we've already heard a week prior about competition results. See next point.

* Allowing the gymnasts to speak for themselves. Don't get me wrong, Jane Allen makes for a credible and good-natured interview subject from what I've read, but she and national coach Liddick are the only ones we ever hear from. It's dull. Let us hear it from the horse's mouth. I'd rather know what the athlete him/herself thinks about their performance.

* Doing something to liven up competitions (and I don't mean just bringing out a cheerleading team. I think more people snickered at them than clapped along at Nationals). I was quite shocked at being ushered away the minute the Australia v China competition ended last year. Nobody got to hang around to catch a glimpse of the athletes. The only people encouraged to cheer there during the event were the little pockets of gym club members who'd come from interstate training centres. See, people like NCAA gymnastics competitions because they embrace the fan. They encourage enthusiasm. Their gymnasts are out for autograph sessions and meet-and-greets and photoshoots after the meet. It's a real team atmosphere and breaks down the barrier between fan and hero. Even during the actual senior national championships (the shamelessly-titled VISA Championships which are televised). Fans sport posters and t-shirts and have a grand old time of it. It's quite touching for the athletes, too, because they know there are people out there who are gunning for them. My non-gymfan friend Michelle came with me to Nationals last year. She thought that the people who yelled and cheered were distracting and frustrating. No no, I corrected her. If anything we need MORE of those people around. It only sounded odd to her because it doesn't get heard often (if at all). Meets in the US always seem so much louder because the crowds there are encouraged to encourage the athletes! I really loved the vibrant Chinese fans at the AvC meet, with "jiaoyou!" echoing in the corners of Vodafone Arena. There were less of them than Aussie fans but with the noise they were making you'd have thought it was the other way around.
* Treating international guests with more respect. Nationals last year saw the visiting Chinese team wandering around during the competition, unguided, not knowing where to march to when the rotations ended or where to stand when stepping off the medal podium. And please, no patronising photo shoots with furry marsupials.

* Treating the national athletes with more respect. Celebrating them and, I suppose, showing how proud you are to be associated with them (rather than just highlighting how answerable to you they are). On the WAG squad page at the GA website, Tain Molendijk's profile page is blank, Kerby Purcell's picture is missing and the ones that are already on there (save for the WAIS girls) look terrible. Several of them are passport photos and it shows. It would look better if the girls all had AIS trackies on and got a photo day together. They deserve to look their best when they're on show to the public. They deserve, to be honest, to LOOK LIKE A TEAM.

"ZOMG WE'RE BFF!" Come on GA, more of this please.

* As Infy puts it: Not treating us like mushrooms(!) as we pay good money to see the athletes perform at Nationals/duel meets (and the like), and if someone is absent or under-performing, we have a right to know why. It's unfair that our star athletes are kept at such a distance from us (AIS location notwithstanding) because it leaves us in the dark and lets all manner of unsubstantiated, mixed-message rumours fly around which are no doubt detrimental to the athletes when they eventually catch word of them.

* Hopefully not considering glitter velour tracksuits. Ever. That would spell the death of Australian gymnastics for me personally. Heck, this ain't USAG.

* Just because they haven't won major Olympic medals (yet), doesn't mean we can't make the team feel like they have already... or deserve to.

In the apt words of comedian (and delightfully gangly stud-muffin) Frank Woodley: Get a bit of brainage!

Monday, January 14, 2008

It's Not All Smooth Sailing

Bear with me, it's a bit of a roundabout, ranty entry today.

Gymnastics in this country - its governance, its prominence, its reputation in general - is not perfect. No doubt there are many who would admit that. There often lingers a sentiment of disinterest in the sport despite it being, in its international scale, one of the most watched and most followed sports at the Olympic Games. What I find of utmost concern (coming from an inexperienced fan's point of view) is the air of exasperation present within the coaching and spectator bodies.

Take for example Peggy Liddick's comments in the piece posted recently about Hollie Dykes' retirement. I highlighted her apparent lack of sympathy or good wishes for the athlete in question. I sensed almost some resentment there, like she was sick of Dykes 'stuffing her around' (as we say here colloquially and it's not the innuendo it appears to be :P) and being insecure and insincere in her competition focus and performance. These comments were dissected in various forums, and points were raised about the rate at which girls who COULD continue the sport suddenly aren't (cf. Monette Russo, Sarah Lauren, Karen Nguyen, Jasmine Webb and now Dykes). Girls who just seemed like their heart wasn't in it anymore despite the horizon of at least one or two more competitive years (in Webb/Lauren's case, four or five) ahead of them. Lauren dropped out before the 2003 Worlds and 2004 Olympics even though she was a Commonwealth Games gold medallist just a year before; Webb missed out on selection for the '07 team with her departure; Dykes has now left before the Beijing Olympics. The motivations behind these retirements were speculated about in great detail, as were the attitudes of people to them. National women's coach Liddick seems to be demanding a lot from particular girls but not advancing the skills of others. She seemed to care a lot if Hollie couldn't hit her side aerial on beam, but doesn't seem to mind tuck-jump-on mounts being done by many in the squad. She talked up Hollie in the newspapers quite a bit but never mentioned the second girl competing at the moment to get a Yurchenko double (Kerby Purcell). Let's have a go at addressing those problems (and the one of getting more of the squad members to international assignments!) first. If it's something you have the power to fix, try and fix it.

At the 2003 World Championships, the USA lost several of its valuable team members to injury and illness. Seeming desperate in the three-up, three-count routine team final format, they called up their alternates and still went on to win a historic team gold. A fantastic effort for them and testament to the high standard of athlete training in the United States. Upon losing team members from our own side during the same competition (and the Athens Olympics), Liddick made a remark that basically alluded to the size and standard of the national WAG squad as it stands - that we don't have a lineup we can whip girls out of and replace them with equally competent performers, we have a 'handful' of elites competing at an international standard. If we lost girls during a preliminary round, there's no way we could make up for lost ground in the final. Not all the girls are at the same skill level. Mind you, Australia's population vs the USA's is not exactly the crux of the argument here. As someone remarked, this "the squad isn't big/good enough" attitude is a poor excuse (particularly coming from the woman in charge of the program) and blame shouldn't rest on the gymnasts themselves. It's a reflection of the standard of facilities and coaching in this country, and I suppose to an extent the administration of the sport as well.

A lot of fans question Australian gymnasts and their approaches to competitions. I can count on twenty eight hands the number of times I've heard variations on the question "Why can't Aussie gymnasts hit in the big meets?" Why is it that so many of our best performers fumble when it counts? Just a few examples: 2000 Olympics team qualification round where several vaults were crashed; 2004 Athens Olympics team qualification round where bars routines were fluffed, steps out of bounds were taken on floor and rock-steady Russo fell off beam; 2006 Commonwealth Games all-around where Hollie fell on every apparatus but still managed the bronze medal; 2007 American Cup where Dasha fell off beam twice and nearly stacked her vault; 2007 World Championships where falls/mistakes were counted on three out of four apparatus and we nearly missed Olympic qualification by one place...

Why do we never have a whole TEAM of rock-solid, high-scoring individuals?
What brings out all the mistakes?
Is it nerves resulting from inadequate mental preparation?
Is it the tiredness that comes with being trained too hard?
Is it distraction from being in front of the cameras and crowd?
Is it fear of the Tall Poppy Syndrome that might come should they succeed?

What is it? What brings on the inconsistency? How can we rectify this problem? How can we stop gymnasts succumbing to fear and feelings of pressure and inadequacy? How can we keep our squad flourishing?

There are a number of solutions, not all of them concrete, that in my inexperienced and rather powerless opinion could help bring about change in the national psyche of this sport. Because I'm, like, heaps pensive 'n' all that :P

First and foremost, gymnastics deserves to be recognised in this country. You'll find that a lot of Aussies think gymnasts train hard for four years' straight and only come out at the Olympics, which they approach with a "we'll never get close to the Romanians anyway" attitude. That's our main problem right there. They're not noticed an in a sense go into major competitions with defeatist clouds over their heads. Nobody realises that girls are competing (and often winning) all year round. National championships and duel meets aren't advertised, they don't get television coverage anymore like the American Cup/VISA Championships do. Thousands upon thousands of Aussies tune in annually to the EJ Whitten Legends football match; an Aussie Rules Football match where a spritely Victorian team takes on a ragtag team of celebrities and retired players. Sadly, Australia's gymnastics duel against reigning World Championship gold medal team China only got a 30-second radio spot and a small mention in the Herald Sun newspaper, somewhere in the back. If more people could have known they were getting a fantastic Beijing preview for a fraction of the price and journey, no doubt the competition would've had a greater attendance. It's great that Liddick and the Gymnastics Australia folks can get our girls into meets televised on NBC, but why not campaign for Nationals to be shown on tv again here (they last aired on Foxtel about seven years ago)?

I'd very much like to see more of this.

Sadly, our gymnasts don't get to be public figures. Highly-paid, highly-photographed or otherwise, so there is little benefit reputation-wise for them. Gymnasts don't get the attention football players, one-off-medallists and pseudo-professional sportspeople do (cf. Stephen Bradbury/Joe Hachem/various stars on the wrestling circuit). They don't get lucrative sponsorship deals or interviews about their progress. I never saw Olympian Allana Slater walking the red carpet at a movie premiere or shopping centre grand opening, but I no doubt saw Russell 'Rusty' Thompson (benchwarmer from the Barrangarragal Bilbies football team) and Alina Bigboobskya (expat Ukrainian javelinist who came 5th at the Sydney Olympics and released her own erotic-photography calendar) walking arm-in-arm there. I know who I'd have rather photographed and interviewed. Mind you, when gymnasts do get interviewed, they're addressed like they're six years old and kept perpetually imprisoned in a cupboard all day every day save for training hours. *sigh* Part of me thinks it's due to the fact that gymnasts can't drink beer or eat a lot of party/finger food or stay out very late so promoters just think they're not worth inviting (the b*****ds). Matt Shirvington, God bless him and his famous assets, is a different story. I've heard he can down a plate of sausage rolls and a seafood platter faster than you can say "equine tranquiliser".

Jana Rawlinson won a gold medal in hurdles at the World Athletics Championships last year after returning to training from maternity leave. Good on her. Better her than me. She was on the front cover of national newspapers and was a guest at various luncheons and charity events. 'Our Jana' went for gold and she got it. Philippe Rizzo struggled through five years of injury to win a historic World Championships gold medal while suffering another injury in 2006. He was in the sports section of two Victorian newspapers, again somewhere near the back, was a fleeting sports update item on the news broadcasts of three stations, and was nominated online by his own brother to be a guest on Andrew Denton's insightful and popular interview show Enough Rope (something I found quite accidentally when I wanted to request on the show's web guestbook that I'd have liked to see Phillip Noyce get interviewed if he hadn't been already). Rizzo has not yet made an appearance. But don't worry, the guy who holds the World Record for belly button fluff-collecting and a jailed politician have. No, that one's not a joke.

Why don't gymnasts get the attention? They more than deserve it. It shouldn't be just the Olympic champion that gets to talk in schools and thank Mum and Dad and God for this Sportsperson of the Year Award. I find gymnasts incredible role models for young people (if you put to the very back of your minds the occasional Playboy spread and lies about athlete age). Gymnasts are fine examples of fitness, dedication, time management and sportspersonship. They're not the ones pursued by police overseas on drugs charges. They're not the ones starting fights in pubs and clubs. They're not the ones on tax evasion charges. They're not the ones slinging racial remarks on the field. I'd have found it rare (and altogether odd) two years ago for someone out in Chiswick-Upon-Crumpet to be burning Hollie Dykes effigies and waving Death to Her and Her Good Toepoint placards.

This? Not so much.

Also, I might add, the Australian Olympic Committee has made a chicken-and-egg move with funding that affects many non-mainstream sports. They introduced a Medal Incentive Funding scheme about a year ago, whereby any athlete that wins a world cup or world championships medal in their sport will receive a certain amount of funding. But only AFTER they win. So I feel sorry for the Olympic sports that don't get a great deal of fanfare or funding in the first place (badminton, tae kwon do, kayaking)... how are they going to challenge for a world cup medal if they can't really afford to get a whole team there in the first place? Seems a bit of an illogical rule.

And if, like the rest of us, GA is nervous about Australia's upcoming performances in Beijing, why don't they try and do what the US does and lobby to get equipment for the gym that's made by the Olympic suppliers? That's why they adapt so well when the big event rolls around: they've already practised on it. Literally, try and get the Olympic equipment at home. It's worth a try. Even if it's just the beam, as that's our nail-biter apparatus.

Ultimately (and here concludes the rant), I find it sad that there is so little benefit, so little incentive for gymnasts in this country, hence so much apathy on the part of the athletes and some coaches. It all comes out looking like a fruitless, thankless exercise. I can't help but feel that gymnasts will never get that highly publicised, everybody-stay-up-late-to-watch-them-in-finals, let's-all-gather-in-Federation-Square-and-watch-them-on-the-big-screen-together treatment we saw the Socceroos get in the FIFA World Cup Final.

I think that at a macro level GA needs to re-strategise this year about how to get the sport in the public eye and how to get the athletes more motivated. Support for the team needs to be evident in the lead-up to the Games, beyond just adolescent cheer squads at Nationals and a small Facebook group (*shameless plug*). On a micro level, Liddick needs to adopt a less scathing attitude with the athletes and work to get them more confident with difficult skills as they learn them with their coaches. Get them world-class, get them consistent, perhaps adjust the national qualification score to be slightly higher so all the hard work doesn't have to be done in Canberra alone, work not just with them but with their coaches as well. Just don't lament that it's out of your hands and that you've tried everything you can. There's always another way to approach something.

*hops down off soapbox*


Saturday, January 12, 2008

An Aussie Goes NCAA

MLC Gymnastics team member and 2005 national vault champion Lynn Denblyden (formerly Silcock) has joined the ranks of the University of Florida 'Gators', who last night competed in a season kick-off meet against the University of Illinois-Chicago. Florida won the day, totalling 197.125 versus UIC's 187.825, and on home turf as well!

According to the competition results, Lynn [back row, far left] didn't actually compete last night but along with fellow recruit Alicia Goodwin, she will make a valuable asset to the Gators roster in her role as an all-arounder. Florida next take on reigning (thrice consecutive!) national team champions, the University of Georgia. Hopefully Lynn will get to strut her stuff on the competition floor soon!

One Step Closer

...or should that be one plummet closer?

Mad pike skillz. She has them.

As I reported yesterday, former AIS elite gymnast Alex Croak is competing at the National Diving Championships in the hopes of being selected for the Beijing squad. The latest news on her progress is that she won the first event on the program, the 1m springboard, and is apparently working on some more difficult, world-class dives to add to her repertoire.

Read about Alex's transition from gymnastics to diving in a Sydney Morning Herald article here.

Good on you, Alex! Best of luck for the rest of the competition!

Image courtesy Fairfax Media/Getty Images

Friday, January 11, 2008

Reasons to be Cheerful

Ok, so we were all a bit down after the news of Dykes' departure. Well, the past 24 hours have brought some good tidings (though not particularly ones worthy of a choir and red pompom hat).

1. It was quite literally a matter of good timing. Last night in a fit of boredom I flicked onto the cable sports channel Fox Sports News. Which, to explain for any international readers, is...well, exactly what it says it is. A 24-hour sports news channel owned by the Foxtel (cable provider) network. Anyway, here endeth the extraneous information. I instantly had to chuck a video into the VCR as they began to talk about gymnastics (FSN as of late highlights football, cricket, rugby, cricket, cricket, golf, cricket, basketball, cricket)! It was a profile piece on the WAIS girls, namely Dasha and Lauren with some insight from their coach Martine George (who *really* deserves to take the reins from La Liddick for a day, she has a much better rapport with the athletes in my opinion). We saw them training on floor and beam respectively. Both were quite articulate in front of the camera, talking about their experiences at the Beijing Test Event, which they took back to share with their team-mates at training camp, and their expectations for the Games themselves. Dasha is rocking a cute little Betty-Boop style haircut and Lauren has braces (I feel your pain, little Loz!). Miss D talked about working with Adriana Pop, whom she liked very much, and thinks it must be reciprocated because "I can do my [floor] routine ... kinda okay!" with a modest laugh. Lauren did some acro skills on beam. No new ones, but she was sticking her punch front somi and two-footed-front-aerial-to-front-somi cold. Martine highlighted their World rankings and medal chances. We saw them also do a few tumbling drills on the tumbling strip and Dasha stood up a double layout. A DOUBLE LAYOUT, PEOPLE. How freaking awesome for her, hope she keeps working at it and puts it into her floor routine eventually. A couple of months ago we heard she was working on a whip-triple twist, so that's looking like some fantastic upgrading!

2. Sydney Olympics team member and 2002 Commonwealth Games medallist Alexandra Croak is looking to crack into the 'shadow' national diving squad from which the Beijing team will be named. Alex has already become the first ever Australian (male OR female) to medal at two consecutive Commonwealth Games in different sports (Gold with team and silver on vault in Manchester 2002; Silver with synchro partner Melissa Wu in Melbourne 2006). Good luck to them and all the divers this year.

Alex and Melissa: Synch or Swim in Beijing?

3. My tiny little blog is getting a tiny little following. *appwause* Thanks to people who have been giving me feedback, it is most helpful and above all: encouraging. You're the people I'm doing this for!
4. Melbourne got some rain today, albeit just a short shower! Two straight days of 40+ (celcius, up to 47 in parts of WA!) is just a leeetle bit exhausting.
Photos courtesy of Nade and Fairfax Media

Thursday, January 10, 2008

*Insert Expletive Here*

Hollie Dykes has retired. Good on the Courier Mail for typing her name wrong in the headline, though, the silly duffers. That's going in her scrapbook, y'know. Liddick's attitude? Don't get me started. Real sour grapes, no "goodbye and good luck".

There was talk Hollie had taken time off for injury (one of many we've come to hear her fall victim to). Talk she was just moving back to the Queensland Academy of Sport after being on-and-off with injury and light training since 2006 (AIS is more and more proving to stand for Athletes Injured Serially. Why there more than any other state training centre?) and talk she really had thrown in the towel. Now we know.

I really, really, REALLY hope she gets struck by some divine inspiration and opts to return because despite all the flack she got for being inconsistent, she was a beautiful gymnast to watch. Dainty and balletic and precise, she was such a unique competitor and a medal prospect for Beijing... she was capable of 16 and above when she hit and to see her, Liukin and the likes of Li ShanShan duke it out in the final at the Games would have been fantastic, and whoever won gold would have done so justifiably - truly beautiful gymnasts are few and far between in these days of the new scoring code.
If the decision is final in Ms. Dykes' eyes, then I wish her the very best of luck in whatever she pursues. We, the fans, will miss her a lot.

Hollie Johnston Dykes

* Member of 2006/07 World Championship teams (7th all-around in the former)
* Gold on beam, 2007 Australia vs China
* Silver on beam, 2007 National Championships
* Gold on beam, 2006 DTB World Cup
* Gold with team and on floor. Silver on beam. Bronze all-around (qualified in 1st place), 2006 Commonwealth Games
* Bronze all-around, 2006 Pacific Alliance Championships

Peace Out.

Happy Birthday to my brother Matt who turned 24 today! :D

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Staffan Söderberg: The Listening Woman's Crumpet

When gymnastics as it appears in the Commonwealth Games and Olympics features on television here in Oz, we are treated to perspicacious, delightful, eloquent, insightful (apologies to Tim Minchin there) voice of WA's Liz Chetkovich, commentator to the stars. Usually accompanied by some ill-informed, more-comfortable-doing-boundary-riding-at-the-football jingoistic bozo, but nontheless an admirable job gets done.

When NCAA gymnastics is broadcast here on ESPN, we get the parochial yet enthusiastic tones of Amanda Borden.

When a World Championships filters through on cable months after the fact, with footage from internet streams, we're treated to the *extremely* excitable and borderline patronising audio feed of Bart Connor.

When World Cups/duel meets/memorial trophies/gala displays are shown on the sports channels here, we get the dulcet Scandinavian tones of Eurosport's Staffan Söderberg.

*heart goes pitter-patter*

Ah, Staffan. Staffy. The Staffmeister. Where do I begin?

For a few years, Foxtel broadcast international competitions accompanied by the commentary of some creaky-voiced Austro-Hungarian love monkey whose name I never quite caught. His voice was quite deep and he always suffixed routines with a perplexing upward-inflecting "Mmmm!?" as if to say, "well, what did you think of that?" though he never seemed to follow it up with any further comment. It was like 'Love Song Dedications' without 80's love ballads and ads for Dingley's bargain lingerie outlet...

Then came SS, whose competition commentary quietly announced itself at the ungodly hours Foxtel decides to air gymnastics. I thought to myself "either the usual guy got his plums seen to, or this is a totally different commentator". Well, suprise suprise, there was in fact a new guy on the scene. A new guy who also happened to be Swedish golden girl Veronica Wagner's coach so that's a damn good achievement too. Staffan, with his stilted English and mixed proverbs, found a place in my heart next to the one reserved solely for pierced unicycle riders, spritely university Arts students wearing corduroy vests, and Stephen Fry.

First off, the Swedish lilt is a cute one. He mixes his "y" and his "j" sounds, so as we watched Irina Krasnyanska mount the beam in Ghent, we learned that were in for a fantastic performance from this "wonderful Jew-krain-yan yimnast". He sometimes puts the emphasis on different parts of a word, so last year we saw "HAWlie Dykes" on the "UNNY-ven Bars" up against "Polina MEEller". And it's never out of place to here a drawn-out sentence with excessive pauses, like: "Ve now see the veemen MORCHing in for the............ BAHlance beam....raw-TAYSHion.... you see there are........EIGHT........girls compEEDing..."

However, I do adore the sing-song way he says "Oksana Chusovitina", it's so rhythmically perfect.

I like that he uses metaphors but can't always get them right - a gymnast who fell off pommel was described as having a "bad day on the office". I respect that he explains the code a little and highlights particular combinations and their alphabetical difficulty value. I admire that he is honest about the quality of what we're watching and being overtly grateful for a unique routine when one comes up. He was quite direct when describing the '07 Ostrava Cup beam final as "not very good", even acknowledging that the eventual winner had balance checks and wobbles.

I love that he makes jokes! As Philippe Rizzo mounted the high bar in Glasgow 2005, he was described as measuring "160[something] centimetres tall, 65 kilo's heavy... or should I say, 'light'!"

What a champ. We love you, Mr Söderberg, keep up the great work.
Staffy and Virre, flying the flag for Sweden

Monday, January 7, 2008

Go Hard or Go Home

Upgrades and 'Tricks' I'd Like to See for '08 and Beyond...

aka Mez goes off into a heady, slightly ranty gymnastics-centred wish list

* Dasha Joura to get an Amanar vault (Yurchenko with two-and-a-half twist). She's got quite a lot of power doing the Y-double already and I think she'd definitely be a stronger chance for an all-around medal with a harder vault. Jade Barbosa is just one of the medal favourites performing the vault (she's doing the Cheng vault as well!), there has also been talk of world champ Shawn Johnson upgrading to it as well.

* Lauren Mitchell to put a half/full twist into her somersaults on beam or even attempt an arabian. Straight front tucks just don't really cut it, I'd love to see her up her difficulty (code permitting). She's mentioned in interviews that she will be adding skills to upgrade her routine in time for Beijing, maybe a skill like this will be in her repertoire. If Natasha Kelley can do it, Little Loz can do it!

* Someone like Mel Jones or Shona Morgan to get a Yurchenko double. I don't know if Kerby Purcell is old enough, but if she's not, we can't afford to have just one on the whole team!

* A Markelov/Khorkina on bars! Gosh I love those when they're done well. Someone with nice execution and good swings should have a crack at it, someone like Melody Hernandez (hopefully those retirement rumours were untrue), Hollie Dykes (ditto) or a dark horse like Fiona Coley (she of the exciting stalder -> immediate Pac salto).

* Something more than tucked double front/back dismounts off bars. I don't care who would do it, let's just mix things up a bit!

* Double layouts on floor. Last I heard Chloe Sims did one at QLD state champs/trials or something along those lines last year (one of the small comps in Chandler?) but apparently wasn't too successful on it. We saw footage of Hollie training one last year, and she did one in '05, but it never manifested itself in later routines so heaven knows what happened. I'd love to see a power package like Mel Jones go for one.

* No more running punch front fulls on floor as tumbling runs!

* Back layouts on beam to TWO feet. Nationals this year was somewhat disheartening, with the majority of girls doing back handspring -> layout stepout. Either just a single one, or doing two (and a little messily, I might scathingly add). I miss Trudy Mc's explosive acro sequences.

* Shona and Georgia B to distinguish themselves from one another. They have very similar skills on beam and floor, and for the past two years have been viewed as somewhat interchangeable in lineups. One was reserve at Worlds in '06, the other in '07. Of the dynamic Waveley duo, Shona could be the breakout gymnast on vault, where Georgia could pull out something suprising on beam. She does do a fantastic Rulfova...

*If Chloe has so much power in her running double front (to the point where she's run out of bounds or rolled forward, as we've witnessed on several occasions) they should consider having her follow it up with a punch front, like Daria Bijak used to. Unfortunately she often has the same problem on beam with her double front dismount. She should perhaps do a series before it *sudden insane realisation* could she try a Patterson (flip->flip->double arabian)!? ...nah, now I think I'm going too far :p

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Oh No He Di'int!

*dusts off diatribe hat and squeezes into into cranky pants*

Seriously, John Roethlisberger: What. The. Crap.

I wasn't going to post anything today ("suuuuure!" I hear you chorus) but I found myself a tad incensed by a blog entry posted at IG2 about the recent Good Luck Beijing Olympic Test Event. I was frustrated by it for a number of reasons, chief among them being that I was pretty sure "prideful" isn't a word (or at the very least, the correct one in the given context).

"...anyone who thought the test event was supposed to be a preview of the gymnastics we are going to see next summer at the Olympics, well, you were sorely disappointed. It looked like the World Championships hang-over was in full effect... It may have been the worst gymnastics meet I have had the opportunity to attend. "

Yes, it was a post-Worlds competition and many of the world's best were excused at the discretion of their coaches. But the 'worst' meet? I don't know, buddy, some pretty unkempt stuff was going on here in the eastern suburbs in the early 90's when I was a young and inexperienced competitor. But way to stomp all over the achievements of the athletes who medalled in Beijing! And the test events are intended less as previews for the audience, more for the athletes themselves as a 'dress rehearsal'. Heck, they don't really have to have an audience there at all but for the efforts of corporate sponsors and tourism boards. It's the equipment the athletes need to adapt to for the event more than anything.

He then detailed just 3 teams on the men's side: Japan, China, USA. Apparently the ONLY standouts were Lu Bin and Fabian Hambuchen of Germany. Thank heavens I subscribe to the
real IG
, whose reports from the event were far more comprehensive, and not this narrow-minded dribble (I might stoke the fire by saying that said narrow-minded dribble website provides the most unflattering competition pictures for the public. All crotch-shots taken during uneven bars skills or horrid grimaces made during flight elements; their January magazine cover features a rather unsightly photo of Shawn Johnson in mid-air). You'd think he'd only watched web highlights of the comp.

With regards to the women, he mentions only 3 athletes: Cheng Fei, Chellsie Memmel and Bridget Sloan. Funnily enough only one of these three (Sloan) actually medalled in the all-around. Great Britain/Canada/Ukraine/Australia did send national apparatus champions and girls who'd also medalled in World Cups so in that respect they're certainly nothing to sniff at. You *did* see host-country-girl Jiang YuYuan win the all-around, didn't you, John, and the up-and-coming Aussie bright spark who came second? Not to mention the striking Ukrainian winning bars? Furthermore, how was seeing Chellsie Memmel back on the floor a highlight? THE highlight, for that matter? She was practically snickered into the next quadrennium once her floor routine was finished. She lacked the polish of several other competitors (including team-mate Sloan) and I don't think it was particularly wise to send her to this competition. I mean, by virtue of your own previous comments, she actually contributed to this 'worst meet ever'. I'm glad you're in Camp Cheng Fei like the rest of us, but there was a whole field of athletes there and I was quite suprised you sought to only highlight 3.

Another grammatical grumble:

"To be frank, Beijing is by far the dirtiest and smoggiest city I have ever been."

...Preposition, anyone? Of course not everything is completed, but look at the finished result in Athens. We all had negative expectations there when we saw the diggers and dustpiles still working with mere weeks to go, and Sydney hastily signed Nikki Webster out of rehab just in case (with Human Nature on call to do the anthem again; sadly the parade of Victa lawnmowers had been put out to pasture but Kevan Gosper assured us all we'd make do somehow) but they pulled it together on their own and exceeded all our expectations.

Let me be frank, John: Please count yourself lucky. You are a journalist in a very privileged position to get to go to competitions like this and get paid for writing about them. Many of us (myself included) wish we could have attended this competition as an affordable precursor to the Olympics. You don't have to love every competitor but at least be fair in your assessment of the roster in its entirety. After reading up on the event during the competition proper, and hearing the positive reactions from its participants, it seems like you're the only one around here that I see holding a half-empty glass in Café Beijing. If this is what we can expect from Inside Gymnastics staff reporting from the Games when they roll around, I'd be only too happy to terminate their Event Press accreditation passes and advise them to direct their funds toward activities upon which they would be better spent (cf. Freshman Composition and Photography classes). Of that act, I shall be very prideful.

"Wahey! Apparently, we're mediocre!"

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Seeing Double

Promising USA junior Mattie Larson = Retired Aussie champ Monette Russo?

I 'unno. Just a crazy thought...

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Summer of Sams

I really shouldn't be neglecting the efforts of the Men's squad as flagrantly as I appear to. Sorry about that. Two members, in particular, sharing the same name but very different gymnastics styles, have made some landmark achievements over the past gymnastics season.

National MAG champion Sam Offord (SA) has been nominated in his state's Sports Star of the Year Awards, thanks to his efforts at the last Commonwealth Games and in the World Championships. He's the first South Australian national champ in 27 years(!), and also won three other national apparatus titles this year. Vote for Sam and read more on him here!

Sam Simpson (QLD), pictured at top, is to be Australia's sole representative at the 2008 Olympic Games after his placing at the 2007 Worlds and winning the Oceania Olympic wildcard slot. Sam is the 2007 national floor and vault champion. He also valiantly spoke out against team-mate Philippe Rizzo's exclusion from the Games thanks to FIG technicalities which have been deemed controversial by many. Read the article here.

Image courtesy Fox Sports Australia

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Who's Who in the Aussie Squad?

Australia kicked off its '08 Olympic Games preparations with the naming of the AIS/Gymnastics Australia Olympic Squad, from which the Beijing team will be named (Australia has qualified a full women's team and only one male representative to the Games) . Nationals this year will certainly carry a bit more weight, so no pressure, girls!

But just who are these potential Olympians? Please bear in mind that the following profiled athletes are senior competitors; some athletes visiting the Olympic training camp are juniors.
Without further ado, the girls vying for Olympic selection are...

Georgia Bonora (VIS/Waverley Advanced)
- Member of the 2006 and 2007 World Championships teams (acted as team reserve in the latter)
- Bronze All-Around, Beam, Floor at 2006 Nationals, 7th All-Around in 2007
The Quiet Achiever. Strongest on floor and beam, but would benefit from skill upgrades and tidying-up of leg form

Ashleigh Brennan (VIS)
- Member of the 2007 World Championships team
- 8th All-Around, Bronze on Floor, 4th on Beam at 2007 National Championships
- Gold with team and Silver on Floor at 2006 Commonwealth Games
The Dainty One. Elegant on floor and beam, but often appears nervous. Confidence is the key to consistency

Hollie Dykes (QAS/AIS) *
- Member of the 2006 and 2007 World Championships teams (7th AA in the former)
- Gold with team and on Floor, Silver on Beam, Bronze AA at 2006 Commonwealth Games
- 5th AA, Silver on Beam at 2007 National Championships
- Bronze AA at 2006 Pacific Alliance Championships
The Balletic Beauty. Capable of very high beam scores when she's "on", apparently working on double-layout on floor.

Daria Joura (WAIS)

- 2006 and 2007 National Champion All-Around, Vault, Floor
- Member of the 2006 and 2007 World championships teams (5th and 10th AA respectively)
- Gold on Floor, Silver on Bars, Bronze on Vault at 2007 Stuttgart World Cup
- Silver All-Around, Bronze on Bars at 2007 Beijing Olympic Test Event
The Star Performer. One of our best medal chances in the All-Around/Floor/Vault/Bars finals and a joy to watch competing; hopefully will get the floor scores she rightfully deserves this year

Melanie Jones (AIS)
- Member of Australian team, 2007 Aus v China/Aus v Japan
- Bronze on Vault, 2007 National Championships
- 6th AA at 2006 National Championships
The Pocket Rocket. Dark horse for a team spot, most likely Floor and Vault. A powerful gymnast who would benefit from skill upgrades (something national coach Peggy Liddick noted and seems to want to personally work on)

Lauren Mitchell (WAIS)
- 2007 National Champion on beam, Silver All-Around and on Floor
- Member of the 2007 World Championships team (5th in Beam final)
- Silver on Beam and Bronze on floor, 2007 Stuttgart World Cup
- Silver on Beam and 4th All-Around at 2007 Beijing Olympic Test Event
The Little Powerhouse. Best hope for a beam (and possibly floor) medal, needs to get the shakes out of her system. A gutsy tumbler who is garnering international attention

Shona Morgan (VIS/Waverley Advanced)

- Member of 2007 World Championships team
- 6th AA at 2007 National Championships
- Silver on Vault, 2007 National Clubs
- Member of 2007 Aus v China/Aus v Japan teams
The Suprise Package. Competent performances in 2007 Worlds team. Strongest on bars and floor but has much the same repertoire as club-mate Bonora

Chloe Sims (QAS/Moreton Bay College)

- Member of the 2007 World Championships team
- Bronze All-Around and on bars, Silver on vault at 2007 National Championships
- Gold on Bars, 2007 Aus v China
- Gold team, AA at 2006 Commonwealth Games

The Unpredictable One. Is on-and-off with consistency but the team could use her big beam and floor skills when the time comes

Olivia Vivian (WAIS)
- Member of the 2005 and 2006 World Championships team
- Silver on Bars, 2007 National Championships
- Gold on Bars, Silver with team at 2007 WOGA Classic
- Gold on Bars, Silver AA at 2007 IGI Chicago Style event

The Acquired Taste. Strongest on bars but execution scores are sometimes questionable. Don't know if it would be a smart move to put a sole-apparatus specialist on the team

Visiting Juniors:

Kerby Purcell (VIS) - Held in high regard for her powerful vaulting
Amber Fulljames (QAS) - Asset to the bronze-medal QLD team this year, dynamic on floor

Other Chances for Spots:
Emma Dennis (VIS) - National junior champion, competed well at the Japan Junior competition
Tain Molendijk (WAIS) - Another WA gem, with flexibility of movement and bright personality

*NB: Strictly speaking, Hollie Dykes is not listed on the Olympic Squad roster as it appears on the Gymnastics Australia website. If this is a true reflection of Dykes' standing in the national squad ranks a) I think this is a big oversight and might not work in Liddick's favour as b) Hollie scores higher on beam than Mitchell and has 2 World Championships and a CommGames under her belt. Even if she hasn't been a rock-steady performer of late, we'd definitely need her beam scores this year.

Photos from Gymnastics Australia/Australian Institute of Sport

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Melbourne Feels Some GymLove

What a send-off for 2007. Off the back of the Sports Tonight AIS gymnasts-in-training profile piece featuring Commonwealth Games gold medallists Hollie Dykes, Josh Jefferis and Philippe Rizzo, two-time national champion and Olympic hopeful Daria 'Dasha' Joura garnered some attention over the airwaves and in print!

Image courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (WA) 2007
Dasha was interviewed on 3AW Melbourne radio's Sports Today progam on Sunday 30/12 where she talked briefly about life as a gymnast. She impressed the hosts with her effervescent nature and positive outlook, and was patient enough to detail the kinds of preparations she is making for the Beijing Olympics without bogging the hosts down with jargon (the peril any gym expert faces). Dasha even took time to pepper the discussion with anecdotes about her childhood, 'growing up in the gym'. On the same day, she featured in articles from The Age [see link] and the Sydney Morning Herald newspapers. Good on you, Dasha. Here's hoping more attention comes your way on the road to Beijing!

Entry the First: "G'day" etc etc etc.

Welcome to the Australian Gymnastics Blog, and what I hope will become a unique space dedicated to the efforts of those most admirable individuals - Australian gymnasts.

I'm Mez, from Melbourne, and consider myself one of many avid artistic gymnastics fans. I shall be your hostess on this madcap venture through the world of gymnastics, and welcome any input from experts and fans.

Inspired by the likes of The A-Z of Australian Gymnastics http://www.geocities.com/australiagym_az/ (love your work, ladies) this site will, over time, feature commentary and multimedia highlighting the career highs and lows of elite gymnasts competing for our country.

This is my first foray into blogging and, fittingly, I've launched this page on January 1, 2008. This year, Team Australia will again try its hand at Olympic gymnastics competition, in Beijing. Both MAG and WAG squads have experienced their share of difficulties and disappointments over the past season (to paraphrase Basil Fawlty - Don't. Mention. The Worlds!) as well as fantastic successes that bought them international media attention and a lot of expectation in the lead-up to the Games in August.

On behalf of fans here in Australia and around the world, I wish bucketloads of good fortune for our athletes this year and in the years to come.

The green light's on, let's hit the ground running!