Thursday, October 30, 2008

Gymnastics: The Movie

Like a lot of people my age, I was converted to gymnastics by the movie Nadia, the film made not long after Comaneci herself defected from Romania, an event that captured headlines in Australia, a country that couldn't even begin to care about gymnastics, back then.
I remember the first time I saw it. I sat there in my neighbor's lounge room, mouth agape, and we watched the film over and over again. All summer long we watched the movie-when we weren't practicing flips on her trampoline or making up floor routines on her perfectly square stretch of lawn or hosting gym competitions with some other kids on the street, moving from house to house in pursuit of the best balcony railing to use as a beam, or playset to use for the bars event. Heather, my neighbor, was actually lucky enough to gymnastics classes, my parent cuoldn't afford it. That didn't stop me. Every saturday morning, when Heather got home from her class, I made her show me everything she learned. The we'd watch Nadia again.
I saw parts of the movie again recently, om television. It, you probably won't be surprised to find, isn't as great as I remember it, but it was a little trip down memory lane. Besides, it's a classic of its kind. Here's a few reasons to love/hate the movie Nadia.

- Though set in Romania, where parts of it were obviously shot, all the actors bear a sort of dubious American accent with a hint of something identifiably foreign. They couldn't find some Romanians to do it? Nah, they probably just thought we wouldn't read subtitles.
-The younger Nadia is a heinous actor. But they probably had a little trouble finding someone who could act and turn cartwheels.
-The young Bela Karolyi was believable in his almost manic hyperactivity and bulldoggish pursuit of greatness in his gymnasts. Not unlike the Bela we see these days, only younger.
-On that note, the Karolyis are way too good looking (is there any chance they were producers?) to turn out the way they did!
-The formation of the friendship between Nadia and Teodora is done through a daggy, daggy, daggy little dance routine (This irked me for the very same reason musicals irk me- they somehow know the same dance moves, move in complete unison, then act like it never happened. Weird) Someone on a forum once said that it is part of the Young and the Restless theme. I don't knopw if it is true. But I wish it was. That'd be hilarious!
-It did make me feel kinda sorry for the dad. Poor old dude, seeing this guy steal his daughter with his fancy gymnastics and champion talk.
-The actress playing the baby Nadia had just the right nasally-whiney tones to stick the line "But I wanna be a champion" in your head for the rest of the day after hearing it.
-The actress playing the older Nadia does actually does look a bit like Nadia Comaneci.
-But the film Teodora is way cooler and prettier than the original Teodora and you can't help wondering how the real Teodora felt about the storyline about her always being in Nadia's shadow.
-You've gotta love the heavily edited, not-even-nearly-perfect bars routine they use for Nadia's first ten.
-It does actually attempt to convey a little bit of the upset in internal Romanian gymnastics politics that Bela Karolyi caused when he shifted the junior centre away from Deva.
-The way they make Nadia look like a fatted pig stuffing herself before slaughter is kind of cruel. Nadia Comaneci must have loved this interpretation of her life...not.
-It had just the right amount of tension, body issues, hints of suicide and infighting to make enough DRAMA to keep you going until the end of the film!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Little bit of Aaaawwww....

I don't know about you guys, but I am tired, bored of writing my thesis and so sick of the library smell of coffee and carpet that I need some happy. Right now. So I thought I'd share a few of my favorite sweet moments I have found in my relentless piccy hunt for y'all...

Shawn and Nastia getting their laugh on. Love this as just one of the happier pictures taken of the US gang at Beijing. One of the things I do like about Shawn and Nastia is that they are always the first to congratulate each other. Also, I have to say, I was pretty damn happy to see Shawn win beam. Beijing would have been a complete write-off for her otherwise.

Oksana Chusovitina's kid Alisher is so damn cute as well as being such a lucky, lucky little boy for being in remission from his cancer. My favorite thing Oksana has ever told about him, was how, though she hadn't necessarily planned for him to take part in gymnastics, he simply marched up to her with an enrolment form from the school and told her, "You need to sign your name. I am a gymnast now!"

This is such a cute pic. Despite coming from different clubs; Lorena Coza comes from Romana, while Vanessa Ferrari comes from Brixia, the girls have spent a lot of time together in the various versions of the Italian National teams. Neither girls had quite the Olympics they probably hoped for. Injury and growth prevented Vanessa from even coming close to her 2006 Aarhus achievements, and Lorena, despite competing internationally for Italy often in the last few years in bars and beam and coming seventh at the Italian Nationals, went to Beijing only as a reserve.

The Hypolito's. Wow. Two of the best gymnasts to ever come out of Brazil. Two fantastic floor performers. Two incredibly powerful gymnasts. Two long (for gymnastics) careers. And they come from the same family. Nice to see they get along too!!

I know we've seen this pic bandied about a heap since Beijing, but it is truly, truly awesome. I can't help but wonder what Cheng is trying to convey to Alicia with that hilarious face and angry fist. Two giant personalities and two of my all-time favorites.

The cutest little pixie in senior gymnastics getting a congratulatory cuddle.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Little Advice from your elders.....

Ever want to teach gymnastics? People have been writing about how to teach gymnastics for the last century, at least. My university happens to have a bunch a manuals on how to train gymnasts from the sixties and seventies and most of them are pretty priceless. Until now, I always thought training gymnasts was all about great coaching techniques and sports psychology, little did i know it was about good grooming, taming the youth of today and discouraging acts of strength. here's some of it's choice pieces of advice on how to teach the young 'uns.

"The price to be paid for perfection is very high. There is no short-cut to the top. Indeed there is a great upsurge in the sport. This is mainly due to the influence of the television, but also due, I feel, to the realization that gymnastics could and does provide a healthy and morally acceptable outlet for our overly-exuberant youth of today."

"It is our privilege, indeed our duty, to ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience the fun of gymnastics."

"Try to know your gymnast and estimate her capacity for hard work; a lazy person will not succeed. Study her attitude of mind regarding her willingness to accept greater disciplines."
Pauline Prestidge, 1972.

"Remember the following fundamentals, a balance of ballet and difficulty, along with good grooming and a small sense of theater, and you are on your way!"

"For the teacher too, their are new horizons. She can 'observe' the results of her teaching in a concrete performance by her student. She can see her students, from the especially gifted, to the mentally retarded learn, progress and create."
Ernestine Carter, 1969.

"developing female gymnasts of an Olympic caliber is not an important objective of a competitive gymnastics program in our schools, but it is an objective that should be given some thought."
Eric Hughes, 1963.

"It is best if the spotter has a positive attitude and a sense of direction (!)"

"The student or athlete's abilities should be examined"
William Boone, 1944

"Because of their histories most sports have placed an enormous premium on strength, and they still do. The top shot-putters and discus throwers are extremely powerful men. Girls can enjoy these events, and should if they wish, but they ought to realize that they are in events designed for males.
But during the last generation gymnastics has broken away from trying to imitate the activities of men. No longer is there a premium on great physical strength. Instead, a show of of strength is discouraged. Emphasis is now on graceful, feminine activity.
So the great appeal of gymnastics for girls results from its history- the deliberate and intelligent effort to modify it. For this reason gymnastics has become the most appropriate sport for girls."

Frank Ryan, 1976.

No, it's not about strength at all...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Romania; Not just a Gymnastics Dynasty...

Remember when I wrote, well...complained...about Steliana's seemingly undying, addictive love for this particular white jacket?
If you don,t, basically i was pointing out the fact that every chance Steli gets to get her leo off, she jumps right into this number, which of course, picky wench I am, have an issue with.
One, it's white.
Two, it's so unbearable nineties it hurts.
Three, it's TOO SHORT!!! Does she not care about her kidneys? Because they are not getting a whole lot of coverage. And believe me, I saw an episode of House M.D (don't judge, we all love crap TV just like we all wore terrible clothes at times) and kidneys count, and they certainly don't like to get cold!

But what I didn't know, what I had no idea until today, is that, in fact, it might not be Steli's fault. She may have unwittingly influenced by one of her less famous, but possibly more influential elders. Romaina may also have a fashion dynasy on its hands. So basically..

It seems Ms Stroescu had quite the penchant for the white jacket and it seems she had more than one!

For those of you who don't remember Silvia, she was one of the new talents hauled in to replace Olaru and Amanar in the early to mid nineties in Romanian gymnastics. She wowed the 2000 Junior European judges, winning beam and floor and taking second place in the all-around. She never quite did as well in her senior career as an individual, but was part of the winning teams in both Ghent and in Athens team that triumphed in spite of much unrest in the Romanian gymnastics camp. Her favorite event was beam. She retired after a devastating back injury spoiled her final two years in the sport.
Her best friend on the National team was Catalina Ponor, and after retiring has kept out of the gymnastics world for a period. She planned to coach later on but wanted to be away from gymnastics for a few years. She managed to attend two different colleges, hoping for a degree in psychology which she would then take into sports psychology. In the last interview conducted with her, she was living in a flat under her parents villa with her three dogs and cat, had a boyfriend at college and had no plans to learn to cook while there was good food to be bought nearby. She wanted to travel to Hawaii again, where she had been once with the team, despite her fear of volcanoes ("I always want to keep a packed bag by the door of my hotel in case he (volcano) change his mind," she said!!!).

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Carly Patterson's Got Game?

So, first off I have to admit that I have never really had a soft spot for Carly Patterson ( I'm sorry, but I just think that girl always looks like she is thinking bad thoughts).
Still, I can't help but feel sorry for her. She has been completely usurped by the current Queen of U.S gymnastics, Nastia Liukin, who, it is fair to say has a lot more personality and oomph to carry any kind of post-gym career. And Carly's music is.... well.... not.
Even when she was a champion, she was always out-spotlight-ed by Queen Khorky, whether she beat her or not. Poor Carly never really had a chance in beating her in the personality stakes, even though, most of the time, her gymnastics was better, if not as lovely to watch.
Now she is trying to muscle into an industry where you need to ooze personality, and she has already proved that she hasn't even got as much to give as her gymnastics contemporaries, let alone all the music show business personalities she now has to compete with.
Also, it must hurt to see how quickly she was replaced. Carly, more than anyone must know what it feels like to have the juniors creeping up behind you, considering the next big thing was creeping up in her very own gym, making the last Olympic AA seem like they happened in the long-distant past.
I have to say I find it a bit strange how she has openly and publicly stated she wants to leave her gymnastics fame behind. I mean, really? How does she think she is getting the opportunities she is getting? Just from being a nice all-American girl with a okay singing voice? That irks me. There's nothing wrong with trading off fame to launch yourself a career.
I mean look at Bart Connor and Nadia Comaneci, they have built an empire for themselves, albeit mostly in the gymnastics world, but still, they would admit they are trading off their former gymnastics fame (well, Bart might have to admit he's trading of Nadia's!).
Gymnastics careers are fleeting. We all know that. Gymnasts have to find something after it all over in the gym and if they have gotten some opportunities due to their gymnastics fame, they should by all means take it.
I just think Carly should accept the truth that she is probably getting the opportunities she is getting because she is an Olympic Champion. And that's okay, Carly. Really, it is.
I guess i just feel like she is one of those sad child stars waiting to happen, you know? The saddest thing is that she seems a wee bit bitter already. It's too soon to be bitter.
Now, so that this isn't a completely negative post, I have to say that I was in awe of her beam work sometimes. She was so light! It was uncanny how she could land on a beam with barely a sound. My jaw would drop, without fail, every time I watched her catlike tumbling on the BB.

And now, to end on a humorous note, the thing i feel most sorry for CP for, is what I like to think of as her somewhat unfortunate "gameface!" (okay, to be fair, everyone pulls these face when gravity is doing what it is doing, but she did have a rather unfortunate habit of being snapped like this!)

Though there have been worse. This one of the most unfortunate 'gameface' moments I have ever had the dubious privilege to see! This is a South African gymnast, Francki Van Rooyen.

And this next piccy is one of my all-time favorite gymnastics photos. Don't you just wish you could read Martha's mind in this moment? Something tells me it would be the key to the Hags kingdom if you could read her thoughts right now!!

Friday, October 24, 2008

When things Don't Go Right..

Frustration must be one of the hardest parts of gymnastics, in both training and competition. You do your routines. You know your routines inside out, back-to-front, but it never, ever means you will necessarily perform them the way you wanted to. It also must be hard to deal with the things that come with being a gymnast; team politics, rumors, judges, the media and everything else that stands in the way of getting the job done. But that, is the nature of gymnastics. It might be a lack of concentration, a bad training session, elements out of your control in a competition, fans, personal problems, the press - whatever it is- it's gotta be hard when thing don't go your way...

I get very frustrated, especially if it's my favorite piece, the assymetric bars. I'm always getting told to calm down. I tend to sit and sulk, or pull a face. That's when Amanda (Kirby) tells me to sort out my face and get on with it.
Beth Tweddle

The hardest part for get on top of the beam and stay on it!
Vanessa Ferrari
I was probably pretty frustrating to work with, because if I ever did anything wrong, I would just start crying. And it wouldn't be because I was hurt or anything like that, or because I didn't want to be there. I love gymnastics, but it was because I was such a perfectionist that anything I did was wrong. You know, it just tore me up, and Steve dealt with that really well.
Shannon Miller

I really want to thank the team, especially because everyone performed much better than me. I want to thank everyone's performance today. It's been a great encouragement to me
Cheng Fei

They (fans) come up to me sometimes, of course. But instead of the broken-record approach of "Do you have the time, Miss?" or "Why do you look so sad?", they'll hold out a hand, documents, money and beg for an autograph. To them, I'm not an attractive woman, but just a famous athlete. Sometimes that sucks.
Svetlana Khorkina

Often if mistakes are made, frustration seizes, but as i was saying to a team mate last week, the day you sit there and feel nothing is the day that passion has ceased. Without passion, summoning motivation is impossible.
Dasha Joura

It is so upsetting that this happened. I can't even talk about it.
Anna Pavlova on her vault zero

I'm dissapointed. But I'm also mad.
Elise Ray after vault disaster in Sydney.

I would like to make a request, though. We'd like to be left alone, and not have to worry about the press making up scandals about our team. Right now, we have to focus on the Olympics so that everything can work out for us.
Maria Olaru

I thought i was over the bar, and I wanted to change my grip, and my hand just slipped. To make matters worse, I hit the bar while falling. As if the blisters I had on my hand weren't bad enough!
Simona Amanar on falling during AA at Tianjin

There were some very difficult times: the death of my father, but I knew it was his dream to see me make it to Sydney. Likewise, after Atlanta I lost a lot of my motivation: I had achieved my goal. Fortunately my coaches were able to bring me down to earth, explaining that I had to get back to work as I would not receive any preferential treatment.
Elvire Teza

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A spoonful of Pseudoephidrene...

May have ruined Andreea Raducans'memories of her competitive career, but it certainly didn't stop her winning the favorite Romanian Gymnast in this fortnights poll by about ten thousand miles. So here's a list of reasons (among many) to love AndreƩa.

She was almightily talented. Some might say duh at that, but it's hard to pick the real gems in such a talented lot as the Romanian. But Raducan was elected to the national team as a replacement for the retired Milosovic and Gogean, and replace them she did. She could tumble, and she could dance, and she had a hell of a lot of firepower for someone so darn short!

She was also as cute as a button. I will never forget watching some video of the Sydney Olympics where- I am sure it was in warm-ups but I can't remeber what day- when a gymnast, i think she was Australian, took a bad fall, and you can see Andreea's hilarious reaction in the background. Her look of horror then relief was so cute and funny! Andreea of course, despite the incorrect height of the vault, didn't mess up at all.

The girl was so damn loveable that her enitre country seemed to stand behind her in the aftermath of the Sydney drugs controversy. The president sent her flowers. 4000 students marched in a square in a town called Craiova demanding she get her medal back and 1000 well-wishers turned up with gifts and signs to wish her a happy birthday on her return from the games.

It was her father who decided she would be a gymnast. Given the choice, in her town, between athletics and gymnastics, her father, remembering the triumphs and talent of Nadia Comaneci, took the four-and-a-half-year old Andreea to her first gymnastics school where she ran straight for the foam pit, dived in and never looked back. She won countless medals for her home town club before being selected to Deva and eventually, the National Team.

She has had a successful career since retiring from gymnastics. She finished a degreee in journalism and has worked as a travel agane t and event promotion. She has even done modelling- and not the kind of modelling Ungareanu did. Andreea managed to keep her clothes on!

She doesn't seem to be affected by any body issues. In an interview she told a journalist quite candidly that she became overweight after her retirement but she didn't care. She did begin excercisng again, but more for fitness than woory about her weight. She told him she didn't want to worry about diets. "I feel good as I am" she told them. Fair enough too, I say! I'm sure she had to spend her entire gymnastics career watching her weight.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cartwheels in.....


It was very difficult to find much information in English, but gymnastics seems to be quite a popular sport in Iceland, which is unsurprising perhaps, because of the need for its population to involve themselves in indoor activities. There seems to be many gym clubs with many athletes in various parts of Iceland, as well as a strong team gymnastics culture. Due to population, however, there seems to be a lack of coaches to make its gymnasts an international force. The Icelandic National team compete in club meets in Sweden, as well as European, Northern European and World gymnastics championships. The highest ranking gymnast at the 2007 World Championships in Stuttgart was ranked 127th in the individual qualifications.

In an endeavor to improve their program, Iceland, like many countries, turned to Romania, to advertise for potential coaches. Candidates were invited to apply as a couple or as two individuals who were willing to work together. They would be living in a town called that had a population of eleven thousand people to teach artistic gymnastics and trampolining to 260 girls over a thirty hour working week. Another club in Gerpla advertised for coaches too, for the 1400 hundred-member-strong club, claiming that most members of the Icelandic national team had recently come from there in order to entice would-be coaches.

Ingibjorg H. Barnasson was very active in the women's liberation movement in Iceland and one of the pioneering teachers of school gymnastics. After attending the Women's School in Reykjavik, she continued her studies in Denmark, graduating in gymnastics.
She spent years traveling through countries like Switzerland and Germany in order to learn more about teaching. She taught gymnastics in the children's school of Reykjavik before becoming the principal.

Stano, writer of an Icelandic gymnastics blog, worked a as coach in a rapidly developing club called Fimleikadiel Keflavik until 1998 in Iceland. He describes working in a place so small that the apparatus had to be moved in and out of place before and after every practice. He fondly describes the enthusiasm and love for gymnastics from the students and the people around him, but remembers it as being very difficult to teach the sport at a high level. He must have had some success though, as three of his girls had made the Icelandic National Team. He also must have been a well-loved coach because in his blog he includes a letter by one of his former students who, though having grown up and having jobs and children, wrote of sitting down and watching old gymnastics videos together with another girl who took his classes and having great memories of their time in the sport.

Ragnhildur Steinunn was Stano's most successful student. He describes her as "never the leader of the group, but the one who was working while everyone was having a break." He described how she sacrificed a vacation to the Canary Islands in order to compete at the Icelandic Championships. It must have been worth the sacrifice for her because she won the first medal the club had received in ten years with a bronze on beam and over the years became on of Iceland's greatest gymnasts.

Gisli Gardarsson,an Icelandic theater director working all over the world, has not forgotten his past in gymnastics (edit!) In an article in Time Out New York magazine, he is described as being incredibly successful in his short career, having had work commissioned by the Barbican in London, and having had actors like Jude Law and Sean Connery vying for parts in his plays. He tells the journalist that he gave up being a nationally competitive gymnast mostly for financial reasons, but takes the physicality of his past career into his new one. "Because of my training, I know what the human body can do. And then we train intensively until the actors can do it too!"

Gigja Hermannsson is one of many U.S gymnasts who train in the states but compete for their native country. Though not yet an elite gymnast at the time of the article written about her in the Almaden Valley Times, she was able to compete for the Icelandic team at the 2003 Anaheim World Championship. This, however, was not an easy task, as Gigja had to overcome a debilitating bout on mononucleosis, in order to train and compete. Gigja came out of the Worlds ranked 124th in the world. Her coach, Donna Craig, said opf her achievement, "When the big day finally arrived, Gigja did a terrific job. Who would have ever dreamed that a young girl from the Almaden Valley could have fought through mono and propelled herself into the world scene in just four months? I am so proud of her."

(note, if any natives are reading this, please excuse dodgy spelling of Icelandic names!)