Sorry. It's quite hard to...um... put guitar chord sounds into words...
An interesting little discussion is broiling over at The Gymblog. Just who IS Australia's "best ever" gymnast?
I don't think we have just one. I don't know if we ever will have one, whom we all point to as The One who put us on the map and whose name will echo through the ages. Our Retton, Our Comaneci, Our Liukin, Our Tweddle, Our Khorkina. We have several who fit unique categories, that's for sure, but I personally couldn't nail it to just one.
1. Longevity - Lisa Skinner, 'nuff said. Three Olympics! After numerous retirements, no less!
2. Most Decorated - Allana Slater. A World Cup gold medal and some silvers and bronzes. Multiple Commonwealth Games gold medals. A World Championships bronze medal. Three national all-around titles. A competitor at two Olympic Games and four World Championships. Granted, she never got a World or Olympic gold but all that other stuff is surely not to be sniffed at!
3. Highest Achiever - Well, this one would have to go to our first and only World Champion. And it's a guy! Philippe Rizzo boasts two world championships medals, a gold and a silver on high bar. Three world cup gold medals (formerly ranked world #1 on high bar) and multiple minor medals on the same event. Three Commonwealth Games gold medals. In terms of the women, Monette Russo boasts two World Championship bronze medals, one as an individual and one as a team member. No other Australian woman can boast this result just yet, and thus far she's our highest ever all-around finisher at a Worlds.
4. Innovator - Tie. Trudy McIntosh and Dasha Joura.
McIntosh: First (and only, I think!) Australian to compete a double layout with full twist on floor. Had a vault named after her.: handspring layout front with full twist. When she didn't compete this vault, she still competed one of the hardest out there, a layout handspring front.
Joura: The first Australian to vault a Yurchenko-double internationally, one of the few to compete a double layout on floor internationally. Our second-highest AA finish at a World Championships (fifth) and quickly catching up to Allana Slater's world cup medal tally. Equalled Slater's three national titles. In 2008, scored the equal highest score on floor in the world (15.750).
Should we look to our torch-bearers as the 'best ever'? Hughes, Allen, Monico? Should we go by medal count, number of competitions, placings? What makes The Best, I ask you? On an international level, I get frustrated when I see the Johnsons and the Liukins of Team USA winning world and Olympic medals like crazy. But do we see them on the world cup circuit? Do we see them at small invitationals at clubs other than their own? Well, only when they're there for autographs and photos. It's great that Nastia won the fight for artistry in winning the AA in Beijing. It's great that America got a new Shannon Miller in little Shawn at Stuttgart. But where are these girls when Glasgow, DTB, Cottbus, Massilia, Shanghai, or Moscow World Cups roll around? I hate that the Karolyis don't send their world championship team members to prestigious competitions. I last saw Memmel and Sacramone in world cups in 2005. What's happened since then? I'll believe a world championship medallist when I see them dominating elsewhere. If you're #1 in the world, don't just prove it in one place. Throw your weight around, try different venues and equipment to prove you can win elsewhere. It's no good just working the cameras at The Big Show. Sometimes the smaller victories, the non-televised, non-lucrative events, are just as vital to a gymnast's development and their reputation overseas. I like the American girls a lot, but just wish I could see them on a network other than NBC and in a venue other than Downtown USA!
Back to Oz. I think Joura is on the right track to better Russo's 2005 Worlds bronze. Many argue that Russo only won it thanks to errors by others (beam once again being the downfall for the likes of Tweddle and Zamo) in an already depleted post-Athens field. I personally don't think she was our 'best', she certainly made some great achievements but I'll admit her career was rather short. Joura has good difficulty levels and remarkable execution. She's getting her name known overseas. Consistency is her only real enemy, but she must be commended for overcoming her beam bobbles in recent times. She could go all out and win some real hardware in 2009 and 2010. She could get what it takes (it what we perceive that it takes) to be the best.
When you really think about it, thus far Slater's looking good for a quote-unquote 'Best Ever' title. But we're talking about a whole new generation coming through now, who are already making names for themselves on the world cup circuit and building on their experiences in Beijing. We could see a female World Champion within the next quadrennium. Slater's medal tally could be toppled in a shorter time than it took her to earn hers. Memories of our team bronze in 2003 could be stamped out when a silver or a gold comes within our reach. And London 2012? Only time will tell.
'Best' is only 'Best' for so long. Human endeavour shows that records can be broken and one person's efforts can be bettered, given time. A certain Mr Phelps showed us that (even if, y'know, he does look like a horse in a man costume...).
I just hope our next great hope can make it to the top without a daily dose of toasted BLT sandwiches and whole halves of cow, burned off by mad laps of the local baths.