Sunday, August 21, 2016

Remembering the Road to Rio

For as long as we can remember, the slogan/hashtag for Rio was Road to Rio. Great Britain's hashtag was #everyroadtorio and for the longest time, I couldn't understand it. It wasn't until I saw each gymnast compete at this Games and had time to reflect that I realized what it meant. Every gymnast, or athlete for that matter, has had a different path that brought them to the Rio Olympic Games. For some, their arrival at the Olympic Games seemed inevitable. For others, it was a fight to the last minute to earn their federation's spot. Some were returning Olympians, some were first time Olympians. They all ended up in the same place but each journey was different. I just wanted to take a moment to remember some of these athletes and their magnificent journey to Rio.

I'm not quite sure when I first noticed Giulia Steingruber but I did and I'm glad. She became a senior in 2011 and made event finals on vault at both the European and World Championships. At the time, she was vaulting a Rudi (front handspring 1.5) and a Tsukahara full. She finished 5th in vault event finals. Steingruber was selected as Switzerland's sole representative in London 2012 and knew she needed to hit big vaults to make the vault event finals and have a shot at a medal. She upgraded her second vault to a Tsukahara double twist which she unfortunately fell on and finished 9th, just outside of the top eight spots that make an event final.

But, yes, you read that right. A Tsukahara double twist. That vault was quickly abandoned and for 2013 worlds, Steingruber was back with a new vault. A double twisting Yurchenko. This vault is the favored vault of most gymnasts and if able, gymnasts can upgrade to the ever elusive Amanar or two and a half twisting Yurchenko. However, shortly after learning that, Steingruber suffered from a case of the "twisties." For unknown reason, gymnasts (and other athletes like cheerleaders or divers) develop this fear of twisting and loss of air awareness. Hoping for a few international vault medals, Steingruber was suddenly held back by this mental block. She would vault again but downgrade to a full twisting Yurchenko and suffered a few injuries at competitions sustained on vault.

With divine healing power and fighting spirit, Steingruber was back and dominant. She was training a new vault - a handspring double twist which is not currently in the Code of Points. Steingruber was also rapidly upgrading floor exercise to a difficult routine that would hopefully challenge for a medal.

Steingruber came to Rio with a solid chance for a high all around finish, and a possible vault and floor exercise medal. She decided not to show the new vault and made the vault final anyway. Even better, she showed two clean vaults, a Rudi and a solid DTY that has challenged her time and time again to earn the bronze medal. This was the first ever artistic gymnastics Olympic medal for Switzerland. It was a long road from upgrading vaults to switching vault families, having to deal with injuries and mental blocks, but Steingruber did it and has the medal to show for it.

Ellie Black is one of the returning Olympians from London 2012. She turned senior in 2011 and has just continued to improve since then. in 2012, she was given one of the largely contested spots for Team Canada. Her vault and beam routines are what helped her most compliment her teammates and earn that spot. In London, Black qualified to the vault final and helped Team Canada to their highest finish ever - 5th place. She later got injured after doing her first vault in the event final. Since then, Black has just continued to improve. She's attended Universiade Games, Pacific Rim and Pan American Championships, numerous World and Challenge Cups, and has steadily built her name to where it is now. In Rio, the team just missed out on the team final but Black was able to finish the all around final, which she did not make in 2012, in 5th place, the highest ever for a Canadian woman.

Sanne Wevers turned senior in 2007. Yep, 2007! She was eligible for the Beijing and London Olympics but missed out in 2008 and had injuries that essentially kept her out of the running in 2012. Sanne Wevers was always known as a great beamer. In 2013, she had one of the top scores on beam and was a hopeful to make the beam final at worlds. Unfortunately, she fell immediately on her round off full twisting back handspring mount and had several errors afterwards and did not qualify for the event final.

From there, the troubles continued. She remained one of the best beam workers in the Netherlands and in the world but was either unable to make finals due to poor performances or then fell in finals to miss out on medals at both European Championships and World Championships. The end of 2015 is when Wevers' luck seemed to change. At the World Championships, she won the silver medal on balance beam. She continued in 2016 with an upgraded routine that she was able to hit more often than not, both domestically and internationally. At the recent Olympic Games, to the delight of many, Wevers' won the gold medal on balance beam.

What an accomplishment for Sanne Wevers! She went from missing out on 2 Olympics to helping to qualify a team to the 2016 Games and winning the Netherlands first individual women's artistic medal.

There were a few 2014 Youth Olympians that are now 2016 Olympians. Flavia Saraiva, Wang Yan, Ellie Downie, Sae Miyakawa, Seda Tutkhalyan, and Tutya Yilmaz all had a great showing at these Olympic Games.

Tutya Yilmaz of Turkey finished 10th in the all around at the Youth Olympic Games. She also made the vault and floor finals. If you've followed me, you know that I consider Yilmaz the gymnastics love child of Aly Raisman and Alicia Sacramone. She has that same level of attack and poise when competing and has very difficult skills, the highlight being her back handspring layout full on beam. I've wanted to send her to Brestyan's for training camp to work on her consistency but maybe she doesn't need it. After a long wait in preliminaries, Yilmaz had the beam performance of her life with all eyes on her. She nailed every single skill and dismounted with the approval of a roaring crowd. She finished with a 14.5 (6.3 D) and in 13th place on balance beam.

Seda Tutkhalyan was the all around winner at the Youth Olympic Games. She has since continued to show great potential but struggled with consistency. Tutkhalyan was initially not on the provisional Olympic team but with the confirmed absence of Ksenia Afanasyeva, Tutkhalyan was able to fill the hole. Despite earlier worries of consistency, Tutkhalyan managed to beat out Angelina Melnikova for the all around spot, coming in ahead of teammate Aliya Mustafina as well. She performed well again in the team final. Tragedy didn't strike until the all around final where Tutkhalyan, with a real chance at a medal, fell on her balance beam dismount and twice on floor. Despite the heartbreaking performance there, it is important to remember that Tutkhalyan was a rock for the team for both qualifying and the team finals, helping Russia to just beat out China for the bronze medal.

Wang Yan did well in 2015 but then had a very rough start to her 2016 competitive season. She was always on China's team for her strong floor and vaults though it seemed like event finals were out of the question. After some rest and refocusing, a strong and sturdy Wang Yan returned and proved to be one of the rocks for Team China. She made both the vault and floor finals where she finished 5th and helped China earn a bronze medal in the team final.

Ellie Downie has been a trailblazer for Team Great Britain. In 2015, she earned Team GB their first individual AA medal at the European Championships. At the 2015 World Championships, she helped the team to an historic bronze medal. At the Olympics, Downie was a favorite for the all around final and possible a few event finals. Unfortunately, Downie had a scary fall on floor exercise which took her out of the floor final. She then returned to the arena to finish on vault. Downie had done enough to make the all around final but just didn't have the best day. She did show an upgraded routine with a Patterson dismount on beam but fell. As the sole qualifier to the all around final for Team GB and after such a scary fall, Downie did an excellent job fighting for herself but also for her team. She finished in 13th place.

Flavia Saraiva helped Brazil to an 8th place team finish and earned a spot in both the all around and beam event finals. She withdrew from the all around to focus on beam where she finished 5th. In the team final, Saraiva contributed on both beam and floor helping her to become one of the darlings of this home Olympic Games.

Sae Miyakawa was a vault medalist at the 2014 YOG. She made the Japanese worlds team and helped the team to a fifth place finish. She also competed in the floor final where she tied for 4th. Miyakawa is known for her very difficult floor routine with tumbling difficulty that can rival that of Simone Biles. Due to an error, Miyakawa did not make the floor final. However, she did help Japan to a 4th place finish. Their highest finish in nearly 50 years.

Every athlete has had a different road to Rio, all worthy of celebration. Whose career have you reflected on after watching the Olympic Games?

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Adjusting from Elite to UCLA

We sat down to catch up with Felicia Hano (Fish) as she heads to UCLA in pursuit of furthering her education and partaking in college gymnastics. This is a follow up to our interview with Hano earlier this year, in February. You can read that interview here.

At the time of this interview, Fish had just returned from orientation where she signed up for her Pre-Business Economics Major classes for Fall quarter. Her schedule looks something like four hours of conditioning and training Monday through Friday followed by her classes. “In summer, the team is taking pretty much the same classes. We’re taking German Philosophy and then we’re taking a World Arts & Cultures class. It’s to get GEs (general education requirements) out of the way.”

Fish is currently training at West Coast Elite where she had initially trained before training for elite with Gym-Max. She visits Gym-Max once a week, due to the long commute and has an established mutual understanding of the schedule with Coach Jenny.

Hano’s elite career came to an abrupt end when she was injured on vault during podium training at the 2015 Secret US Classic. She later had surgery for multiple torn ankle ligaments. She spent the remainder of the pre-collegiate season rehabilitating the injury and getting skills ready for her college career. “In college, the main focus is staying healthy. Miss Val (Valerie Kondos Field), Chris (Waller), and Randy (Lane) don’t want me to do anything that I could possibly hurt myself doing. Especially for freshman year after coming off from an injury. I’ll do the skills I’m comfortable with and (can) compete and perform really well.”

(You can also find video of her bar routine on the Gym-Max youtube)

Recovering from the injury was a difficult process as the tumbling star recalls missing just that, tumbling. “I was most happy to get back doing double layouts because that is my skill. Everytime I do them, I love them. That’ll be in my floor routine for sure!” As a freshman, Fish will “test the waters” with her collegiate routine but hopes to “throw some harder skills” during sophomore year when she “feel[s] more comfortable.”

This year, with the help of Miss Val, she hopes to stray from “Choosing Dauntless” to a more serious and character driven routine to add a little flare and sass to her floor performance. “I know what type of music I want. I have songs that I like but it’s the process of putting them together and making sure it all flows together. It’s definitely different than elite because elite I was so straight faced, so focused. In college, and Miss Val knows too, in college, I want to do something a little sassier. So hopefully some smiles in this season coming up.”

When asked about her thoughts on the US Olympic team she beamed with pride, “I’m excited to watch the Olympics especially Team USA because I know those girls on a personal level and it makes me even happier to see their dreams come true.” In regards to whom she was closest with on the Olympic team, she responded with Simone Biles since Simone had been verbally committed to UCLA in the past and would interact with the future class on a regular basis. Fish was especially supportive of Laurie “because she has overcome and gone through a lot with injuries.” She also acknowledged the depth of Team USA by suggesting that they could send three different teams and still to do well.

The UCLA gymnastics team will most likely hold viewing sessions for the Olympics. It would be of great importance to her and Kyla Ross since “Kyla and I have gone to camps and we know those girls and are really happy for them and want to see them do well.”

A photo posted by fishhh💋 (@felicia_hano) on

Fish is excited to join her close friend and former West Coast elite teammate Hallie Mossett, and Gym Max teammate Kyla Ross at UCLA. “I talk to Hallie on a daily basis. We used to train together at West Coast Elite back in the day. I’m really close with her and she told me, ‘If you ever need anything just ask me. If you need advice, just come to me.’” She finds that “familiarity will be around them” and the Glenn twins (Anna and Grace) will make the college experience a memorable one. Her Gym Max coaches, Jenny and Howie will try to attend every home meet to support Hano, Ross, and Team UCLA.

It’s been an inspiration watching you recover from injury and take on other challenges. We wish you luck in your collegiate endeavors as you embark on this journey!

Special thanks to KRAppreciation.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rio 2016 - Notes from Podium Training

The Olympics are finally here! While tomorrow is the Opening Ceremony, competition has already started for soccer. In gymnastics, the men had their podium training yesterday while the women had their session today. Thankfully, we had access to the US during training and here are a few notes from the women's session today.

Note: The gymnasts warmed up and then saluted the judges. The saluted routine is the one I'm calling the "competition" routine.

Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman
None of the athletes really went "all out" in terms of performance but the skills were all there.
- Hernandez: Overall hit routine. It's weird to see her not in full Baby Shakira/Human Emoji mode. The dance moves were there. Her tumbling was good, just the front double full was a little questionable.
- Douglas had trouble on all of her dance elements I would say. She fell out of her opening double Y and was in a huge lunge going into the L turn which brought her dangerously close to going out of bounds. Her tumbling, however, was great. Her full in to back tuck was also solidly connected. It wasn't rebounded per say but connected just as well as Ferrari's had been.
- Biles and Raisman were both incredibly solid and hit
- Kocian on floor is so impressive to me. She doesn't need to do it at this point but I suppose that's part of why she made the team. I really like this routine.

There's lots of discussion about the lineup here but there are a few things to consider. First off, it's podium training, everyone competed and the lineups are subject to change. Sure. Secondly, Simone has to warm-up 2 vaults so her going 3rd on floor, gives her a little more time to rest her legs before going again on vault. And, yes, she's last in the vault lineup but warms up first.

Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas,  Aly Raisman, Simone Biles
- Hernandez was short on her warm up DTYs but did well on her competition one. She seemed to twist a little late. Maggie assured Martha that she shows up on competition day.
- Douglas was also short on her warm up vaults but had a very solid stick/near stick in her competition routine.
- Biles has to warm up quickly since she has to do a second vault. Others were still doing timers or FTY when she went for her first Amanar. And stuck it right down the middle. Her competition one was landed offsides and then she hopped out of bounds. She warmed up a Lopez then did a great Cheng. The vault final will really be interesting with Hong working the TTY.
- Raisman! She stuck the crap out of her warmup Amanar. This one was her competition one with just the slightest shuffle. But right down the middle. She tried not to smile after the warmup one but then she saw Simone and they gave each other the largest smiles. It was a sweet moment.

Uneven Bars
Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez
- Raisman usual routine. First off, the girls warmed up full routines on bars and beam. Her first one was head on and loked fine. Her competition one was from the side and looked ... like Aly
- Biles had a few minor things in her routine - leg separation on her Maloney and gets a little stuck in her full pirouette after it. Otherwise, good routine.
Funny moment: Biles gets down and sees Aly without grips but wonders if they have to do another routine. They find out they only need to repeat if they have something to work on and Aly has a huge sigh of relief.
- Douglas hit an excellent routine. She was working very hard to get every handstand and she did. She also did her full difficulty routine with the Chow 1/2 and everything went well, including a stuck double layout dismount.
- Kocian hits a great routine. Martha praises her for going for one of the connections but asks for a little more on her Jaeger release. In her competition routine, she had a little shuffle on the landing. In her follow up routine, she gets great height on her Jaeger, enough to frighten me, though she catches  a little close, and she sticks her dismount.
- Laurie Hernandez went last on this event. One would think she's going last on the event because she won't compete it but Martha hasn't made a decision yet. Sure. Hernandez, though, has a rough routine with her usual leg separation on the stalder full but then she also has a leg separation on her Pak which isn't her usual. The next routine was better and she sticks her dismount. I think she was a little rattled because she was last up for warmups when the "30 second warning" went off.

Balance Beam
Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Simone Biles
Confession: I was maybe 75% focused on beam. Things went well, overall.
- Douglas did ok with some hesitant connections. She hit her full once and the second time had a slight leg up wobble.
- Raisman hit. A little crooked on Patterson but otherwise ok.
- Hernandez was doing well until the second half of her routine when she had one bend at hips wobble and another small wobble. Good double pike dismounts though.
- Biles hit. She went for a second routine and didn't do her second layout step out. Her Barani is her Barani. Otherwise, her full in looks great. Repeated that and it again looked great.

And there you have it. Overall, team USA looking incredibly solid. The big question is who will do the all around.

Aly and Laurie? What about Gabby? Based on today's competition, Douglas is definitely going to be one of the all around gymnasts. She looks better than she's looked for most of the year. Raisman was her usual self, the question being left to the judges on beam connections and execution. Hernandez made things tricky. She is a great uneven bar worker and could have certainly been used in team finals but during bars and after, she got a little nervy. Based on her competition today, I wouldn't put her in the AA and she's a question mark for bars in team final. But what about the whole year before this? This is all true but if you can't handle the pressure in podium training, how will you do when the lights are truly on? Personally, I think Laurie will be fine but I don't think she'll be in the all around.

There's also the fact that Douglas and Raisman are USA's defending all around gymnasts. The same way that Aly competed bars over Maggie Nichols at Worlds 2015 to put Raisman in the all around, the same will likely happen here. It's tricky since Laurie went pro so technically she is marketable but she doesn't have the same fan base... yet!

Speaking of Laurie going pro, I thought it was weird if she wasn't doing AA as well but after seeing the beam lineup, it makes sense. She could possibly take Raisman out of beam finals. Based on the routines we saw today, it'll be tight. And, to be quite honest, I wouldn't count Douglas out on beam either if the other two have any errors.

All I will say is that podium training made me incredibly excited for competition to start!
Opening Ceremony Aug 5, 7:30 PM ET
More of the Olympic schedule - MAG and WAG - can be found here

What did you think of Podium training? Who do you think will be the all around gymnats?