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JESSICA: Welcome to GymCastic episode 11! We are super excited to have Miss Val joining us later today. And I’m here with my fabulous co-hosts:
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora Meyers from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: And I’m Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com. And we’re so sad Spanny can’t be with us today, but she’ll be here next time. And she’s even more upset that she can’t be here today, let me tell you, because she loves Miss Val. So what do we have going on this episode? We’re going to talk a little bit about what’s happened in the news for the past two weeks. There’s been the whole… fall season in Europe is going on right now, so we’re going to talk about that. We’re going to talk a little bit about fantasy connections that we would like to see in gymnastics. And I’m super excited about that because I could think about this in my head all day long. We are also going to talk a little bit about some history in gymnastics, too. And before we get to that I want to remind you guys how you can support the show. Tell your friends to listen, share a link to the podcast on your Facebook, on Twitter. Rate us on iTunes, we love getting rated and comments on there, and the more ratings we get, the more listeners we get. And you can also visit our sponsors on the website or of course Elite Sportz Band. I want to thank you guys so much for the support, and remember that you can find any links to routines or things that we talk about on the website. So if you want to watch that Gala routine from Dragulescu it will be linked on our website. And with that, let’s get into the news. Blythe, what’s been happening?
BLYTHE: Yeah let’s talk about this routine from Dragulescu actually off the top. It is not the most prevalent piece of news that we’ve got, but it is one of the most interesting videos on the gymternet right now. The Gala happened in Mexico and it was attended by some pretty famous names. Catalina Ponor was there Dragulescu was there, Rebecca Bross was there back and sort of doing gymnastics for the masses and looking very good as well. What did you guys think, especially of Dragulescu’s performance? Because he did two very interesting routines, one with Ponor and one by himself, with music. Surprisingly good dance moves, and quite the fashion statement as well. He had fake tattoo sleeves, he had a fur vest, and it was interesting to say the least. What did you guys think?
UNCLE TIM: Well in terms of his own floor routine, I mean his dance moves were great, he did, what, Michael Jackson and Gangnam style. It was good. I just couldn’t get over the vest the entire time. It was like… going to… a gay club. Like, a tacky one though. It was just bad. But I was really impressed with him, his dancing. And I thought it would have been great if we had him on tour. But alas, it was only Americans this year.
DVORA: Just kind of picking up on the gay club thing. See, I don’t really enjoy watching these galas. And I’m thinking… maybe I’ve been coming to it with the wrong mindset. Maybe it’s just all camp. It’s really… the gala, the tour, all of it is just a gay nightclub for gymnasts.
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
DVORA: Do you agree? Disagree? I think if I approached it that way, I’d have a much more positive outlook on these gala performances.
JESSICA: This totally explains the silver suits that they were wearing for when they did their p-bar routines [laughs]
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
JESSICA: Again if I think about it like that, this is much more enjoyable. Especially if I think of it as like gay club camp from the 80s, then I could you know appreciate it even more.
DVORA: Right like I’m just thinking now, I love to go to gay clubs and dance because you don’t get bothered. Maybe that’s how I need to now approach watching it. It’s like, this is a club that I could go to and no one will try to touch me or grope me inappropriately, you know.
DVORA: [laughs] a gymnast gay club. This is the only [laughs] this is the only way I feel like I can make this… I’m sorry I’m just not a huge fan of the galas. I feel like it’s the only way I can think about it so watching them is enjoyable. If it’s just incredibly incredibly camp-y.
JESSICA: Yeah I agree, I can’t stand the galas in general. I’ve never seen anything like this that I liked. And I watched… like the routine he did with Ponor, the thing I loved about it is he had the biggest smile on his face. Like I have never seen that guy smile so big. It was adorable! I was just like oh my God. Like already his gymnastics is amazing, if he had added that smile while he was competing, ah! I mean it was great to see him so happy. Now let’s talk about Ponor’s outfit though. What was going on? She had a black dress and black tights on and it was like poofy. It wasn’t completely form fitting. Is this a reaction to the conservative Catholic culture in Mexico? Is this like, she’s turning over a new leaf? Is it some sort of orthodox Romanian holiday? I didn’t understand her outfit at all. I was shocked. Completely shocked.
BLYTHE: Well you notice with Ponor, she’s very well known for wearing these high cut leotards. You know, in the legs, they expose her hip bones. And she has said, I think, that she’s like “guys I don’t do that on purpose, it’s just the way my body is.” And I notice that this outfit was sort of the opposite of that in that it was cut in at the shoulders. So with Ponor it seems like there’s just always some interesting cuts going on, whether it’s on the lower half of her body or the upper half of her body.
JESSICA: [laughs] right? Because her boobs were almost falling out and she had to like pull it up so that her boobs wouldn’t fall out the side. So yeah, anyway.
UNCLE TIM: And I’d like to point out that the commentator, at least on the YouTube video, said her last name as “Porno” instead of Ponor. She says “Catalino Porno.” And I’ve talked about porn enough in Spanish to know she said Porno. So.
JESSICA AND BLYTHE: [laugh]
JESSICA: I did, I listened to that ilke 12 times in a row because I was like wow, she really does say that [laugh]
UNCLE TIM: And the one other thing I’d like to mention is Enrique Tomas Gonzalez Supiera, he did three whip backs in a row which just makes me happy.
JESSICA: I love a whip back
UNCLE TIM: I miss that, I miss the three whip backs.
JESSICA: Yep. I liked Rebecca Bross’ attempt to do something different and her… that sounds so mean I’m so sorry. But I mean… I appreciate that she’s doing this kind of thing and enjoying her gymnastics. I liked her little booty shorts and her little top, that was cute. I think the problem with her artistry, her performance aesthetic, is that she approaches dance as a jock and not as an artist. So she reminds me of when I take my husband… once a year he has to go to Cuban salsa with me. And he’s like “there’s a way to do it and you do it like this and this is the correct way, I did it right, right?” But it’s like the beat and getting the rhythm is something that’s always a little bit.. I mean he can be on the beat, you know, but it’s the rhythm. Never quite gets there. And that’s the same way I feel when I watch her do her dance performances. It’s kind of like, there’s just that element of a connection with something greater than just the sport that’s kind of missing. But I like that she’s trying to do this. But the moment when she sort of like, danced underneath the low bar in front of the other gymnast. It didn’t look like she was trying to like dance with her, it looked like she was doing some kind of football move and she was like blocking her and she was going to run and like tackle her any second. But it was a nice, you know, she’s branching out, it’s a start.
DVORA: Well, I mean Rebecca Bross, I mean some gymnasts are just better suited to competition than they are to these kind of non-judged performances.
DVORA: Not everyone can do both of them.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah and I think…
DVORA: She can get better, but
UNCLE TIM: I think if you give her good choreography too, she can do it well. But I think this is a little more freestyling unprepared dancing and that might not be up her alley. But I think tour showed that she can dance if you give her the right choreography.
BLYTHE: What gets me about these tours is, you know, the gymnasts are doing like 3, 4, 5 shows, and you already see an improvement in the presence that they have and the command that they have on their dance. Maybe part of it is the fact we discussed last week that they are not having to do the incredibly hard leaps and turns and put that much focus on it, so they have more time to think about, you know, a flick of the arm or a look at the audience. But I’ve just boiled over at how much better the style and the choreography is when, they don’t have to do those things. I agree that the gala performances aren’t maybe as polished as they once were. But at the same time I think it is good for the sport and for the gymnasts to have this experience because hopefully they take something from it and they bring it back when the serious competition, the international circuit, starts up again in 2013.
JESSICA: And I totally agree with that. And also, this is for a Mexican audience. This isn’t for us. This is for Mexican television, and that totally works there. Like, that is, like… their TV shows and soap operas and that kind of stuff totally sells there. So they know their audience there well, so I agree with that.
UNCLE TIM: And I think the funniest routine was the ring routine where, I can’t remember which gymnast got up and did some skills And then the other guy was kind of his apprentice, and he, you know, is struggling to pull himself up, and then he tries to do an iron cross and his arms go through the rings. I don’t know, it was entertaining. But I am also used to watching Mexican television, so.
BLYTHE: Alright, so we got a lot of other competitions that have been going on. As Jessica said, the European circuit is in full swing for the fall/winter meets. And I’m just going to give a kind of brief rundown of the highlights. What happened just today, actually a few hours ago, is Elizabeth Price, the US alternate – or excuse me, replacement athlete. USA Gymnastics wanted them referred to as replacement athletes and not as alternates for the Olympic Games. Elizabeth Price, she won the Stuttgart World Cup. She did a huge amanar. She looked in fantastic shape. And she beat her competition – Elisabeth Seitz of Germany was second followed by Giulia Steingruber of Switzerland, and Elizabeth Price was on top by 2.5 points.
BLYTHE: So huge congratulations to her, she is… oh Jess, are you having problems?
JESSICA: Oh, no, sorry [laughs]
JESSICA: That was a “damn, two points!” Anyway, yeah, no daaaamn! [laughs]
BLYTHE: [laughs] Elizabeth Price did a fantastic job. She is going to the Glasgow World Cup next weekend, and it’s got to be hard to look at her as anything but a favorite to take that meet. The amanar, it just blows everybody else out of the water, and she’s fantastic on the other events too. But really, having that vault in your repertoire, especially at an international competition like this where maybe you don’t have the strongest people on vault, that sets her apart. And so, bravo for her. It’s great to see her getting a moment in the sun. It’s great to see an American on the international circuit where we haven’t seen that much of the American women over the past few years. Anyway. Also in Stuttgart, Philipp Boy has sadly announced his retirement from gymnastics. That was maybe something that was coming, given what he did at the London Olympics and actually on the World Cup circuit last year. That scary fall. And he just hasn’t quite been the same gymnast since. It’s a shame. But wishing him all the best and hope that he stays involved in the sport at some level. The Japanese men won the team title at the Stuttgart World Cup, and Japan and Russia and Great Britain went 1-2-3. Some of the teams, including the Japanese and the British have brought sort of a mix of veteran competitors. Japan has Kenya Kobayashi who I believe was at two World Championships this quad. And they’ve also brought some newcomers. One to highlight would be Frank Baines from Great Britain. He’s been a junior. He is sort of an up and coming daniel Keatings. And of course Daniel Keatings, I hope he stays around for the next quad. None of these guys are terribly old and so, especially on the British team, I think the oldest team member was 23. So we’ll see a lot of them during the next four years. But Britain,the men, are very very strong. They continue to be very strong and so they’ll be an exciting team to watch. Also, Aliya Mustafina, back in competition at the Stuttgart World Cup. She’s the first of sort of the big women’s Olympic stars to come back in competition. And obviously she hasn’t taken much of a break from training. She looked very fit, she looked in shape, she watered back on her dismounts a little bit, but she did basically full bars and beam sets. Not the hardest she can do, but hey, you know, she looked really good. And yeah, just a huge respect for Mustafina. What do you guys have to say about that? And just sort of about the Russian performance that we’ve seen so far in Stuttgart.
JESSICA: I’m stoked that she’s back, and I’m stoked that she’s just looking great and enjoying her continued success. I mean, I think she’s going to be a huge star, so I’m glad to see her kicking ass still. And she still has the motivation.
DVORA: Has she really gotten taller? Because I remember you noted that on the Gym Examiner website.
BLYTHE: Yeah a little bit. I would say so.
DVORA: Because she was already quite tall.
BLYTHE: Yeah she’s already you know 5’2 or so during the Olympics. Kind of pushing 5’3.
JESSICA: So if she grows to 5’5, maybe she’ll be as good as Khorkina.
BLYTHE: You know what I like about Mustafina? And I don’t know if I want to start this discussion about bodies. But Mustafina is not… she’s not rail thin like Komova is. And she just looks like a very normal person. And I think that is so good to see that. And she is so good! And I just want to say that I love seeing that in the sport. And she’s so beautiful and so elegant. And she’s dealt with, you know, her maturing body very well. And I think that’s awesome to see.
DVORA: Yeah she’s definitely definitely really handled the transition. Because she also transitioned at a time when she was also recovering from a torn ACL, which is even more impressive. But she’s really handled it remarkably well. So, I enjoy that as well. I enjoy watching her a lot. Perhaps one of my favorites of the quad.
UNCLE TIM: I like how puberty is a dirty word for you, Dvora.
DVORA: Transitions! Transitioning!
UNCLE TIM: [laughs]
JESSICA: It is!
DVORA: No I just think it’s just weird to discuss someone else’s like growth and development who’s a teen. It’s just a very like… as an adult, it makes me feel weird. I would’ve felt weird if people were discussing this when I was 14 or 15 years old.
DVORA: Or 16
BLYTHE: We’ve got to ask some gymnast that at some point, you know. “How do you feel about people talking about your development?”
JESSICA: I know. Didn’t Shannon Miller talk about that once in an interview? And she was just like yeah, it’s really awkward, but it’s a true reality of the sport. I think… we’ll have her on and we’ll talk to her about that, yeah. But I feel like it’s also so different for guys. I feel like guys it’s like yeah you get your man strength at puberty. And like you know for women it’s like you’re either going to gain weight or you’re going to handle it really well and become extra powerful. Which is like you know, which is nice. But it can be really hard.
DVORA: But for guys, most of the guys are not really famous as gymnasts..
JESSICA: When they’re.. yeah
DVORA: Yeah, so that’s the other thing, is that no one discusses it because they kind of show up on our TV screens fully grown for the most part.
DVORA: So there isn’t a discussion because we don’t watch it happen.
BLYTHE: Speaking of maturity in gymnastics, it’s a good segue to the Ostrava World Cup, which took place last weekend. And we have… the gymnast who won floor is a sort of known name but from 10 years ago, 12 years ago. Barbara Achondo of Chile, she won floor. She put on an absolutely stunning performance. And the thing is, she’s 29 years old. And so she’s looking at the dirty 30. And we have seen over the past…
JESSICA: [stifles laugh]
BLYTHE: …5, 6, 7 years these 20-somethings who are doing extremely well. You talk about Beth Tweddle. You talk about Yelena Zamolodchikova. You can talk about Marta Pihan-Kulesza. You can talk about Alicia Sacramone. But there’s nobody who, except Chusovitina, who’s really broken the 30 barrier. Can you guys think of anybody? I can’t.
JESSICA: The dirty 30 barrier!? That’s the best [laughing]
DVORA: I’m turning 30 in six weeks why are you doing this to me?
JESSICA: [still laughing] the dirty 30!
BLYTHE: One of my friends recently turned 30…
JESSICA: [continues laughing]
BLYTHE: And she had a party and she was like “come and celebrate the dirty 30 with me.”
JESSICA: I know, where did that come from? [laughs]
BLYTHE: I think that’s brilliant, the dirty 30, so
DVORA: Yeah I have a few friends who’ve done that. I hope that 30 is exceptionally dirty.
JESSICA AND BLYTHE: [more laughter]
JESSICA: I’m so stoked. When I saw this, I was like I can’t wait to blog about this. Like I’m so happy to see more gymnasts competing later in their lives and having success, which is great. Great great great. It’s inspirational at so many levels.
BLYTHE: She looked absolutely fabulous at this meet. And it wasn’t just the tumbling. The tumbling was good, but the dance, the polish was superb. I think it is one of the best routines that I’ve seen in this quadrennium. And she just put so much of herself into it and so much grace and so much beautiful presentation. If you haven’t YouTubed it, I completely recommend it. Because this is an example of the things we were sort of talking about here, and this is what gymnastics and floor exercise can be. So, Barbara Achondo. Fantastic. Hope she continues. She actually did win the Chilean National Championships this year. Nobody really paid any attention, but she did win. And she came out of retirement after more than a decade. And, just looking fabulous. Can’t say enough about it. Elsewhere in Ostrava, other surprises. I don’t know if they’re really surprises, but 2011 vault bronze medalist at the World Championships. She is from Vietnam. Her name is Phan Thi Ha Thanh. And I’m so sorry if I completely butchered that. She won vault. Bart Deurloo of the Netherlands, watch out for this kid. He’s kind of the next Epke Zonderland, but with better all around capabilities. Bart won high bar, first kind of major international World Cup win for him. Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece stunned Brazilian Olympic Champion on rings, Arthur Zanetti, and he took that event. And Oleg Vernaeve, who also won the Blume Memorial held in Spain last week, he won parallel bars. And the Blume Memorial was won on the women’s side by Anna Dementyeva, the fan favorite 2011 European All Around Champion. And nice to see her back in competition looking very good after kind of a difficult year with some injuries and not making the Olympic team and what not. Top Gym has also taken place, sort of on the other end of the spectrum with the youngsters. And that Canadian youngsters are looking fabulous. Shallon Olsen who burst onto the scene as a 10 year-old two years ago, she won the all around at Top Gym. This is her second time, at least, competing at this competition, which takes place just outside of Brussels in Charleroi in Belgium every year. And they do a very nice job putting it on. Rose. Rose Woo was second. She is also a Canadian junior to watch, and they’re going to be very exciting, the Canadian women’s team. They were 5th at the Olympic Games, of course, and they have a ton of talent coming down the pipeline for them. So I’m very excited for Canada in this next quad. Third place in the all around was a young Welsh gymnast named Georgina Hockenhull. She has also been at Top Gym for a couple of years. I want to say she made her first appearance there in 2010. And she’s very exciting to watch. Very steady on balance beam, and a good asset to the British team. She also competed at the Junior Europeans for Great Britain this year. And you know like Canada there’s a number of Welsh gymnasts who are coming down in the junior ranks and looking very very strong. Over in France there was the elite Massilia Competition which takes place every year in Marseille. Excellent. excellent, beautiful meet to watch as well. And this one was taken by Evgenia Shelgunova, who is the reigning silver medalist in the junior European ranks. And Shelgunova, she reminds me a little bit of kind of a more Russian Rebecca Bross. And she is quite stunning as well. And she showed up with her teammates Viktoria Kuzmina and Maria Kharenkova, who is also going to be very exciting to watch in the next quadrennium. China brought three very interesting young gymnast, and Chen Siyi was the all around silver medalist. She did a terrific job as well. And Sweden’s Idea Gustafsson who won the Northern European Championships for the second time about a month ago, she was in third place there. Over in Romania, Andreea Iridon won the Romanian National Championships. She is, I believe 15 years old, and so she’ll be a senior next year. And maybe she’s the next Ana Porgras. She has a terrific beam set, very pretty floor work, and looks very ready to kind of storm the international scene. And that’s about what I’ve got. Guys, what do you think? What else is going on?
JESSICA: I just love that at the… was it the Blume Memorial that Chusovitina took like 4th?
JESSICA: Yeah. Which was crazy. I was like she’s retired, she’s not retired, she’s just like still competing. She’s just having fun. I just love that she’s still going. The other news is that Paul Ruggeri’s Respect My Step video that he talked about when he was on and Jermaine talked about is on Respectmystep.com and check out his video. It’s really freaking cool. It’s sort of a combination between like capoeira and martial arts and gymnastics and dance all put together. And it’s really really cool. Like this is exactly the kind of floor routine for men I would like to see. Really really cool. Ok should we start into the discussion of our fantasy connections? Fantasy skill combos? Or wait.
DVORA: Real connections though.
JESSICA: Yes not crazy fantasy… like, that can’t actually be done.
DVORA: Or also not like, connections that requires you to leave your leg up as a way of connecting.
BLYTHE AND JESSICA: [laugh]
JESSICA: Yes, real connections. I’m going to start with my first, my bar combo that I totally want to see. So, bare with me here. Full twisting shaposh, which is the Seitz, immediate uprise, then you go right into a free hip full pirouette, then when you’re on the downswing you do a sole circle and you do a 1.5 twist out of the sole circle holding onto the bar – remember like Ekaterina Szabo used to do way back in the day? So now you’re facing away from the low bar again. And then you go right into a full twisting tkachev. No problem our of a half of a swing. So you have to be super freaking strong like Seitz or Anna Li or someone incredible like that. But that would be so cool. It would be all like twisty, everything twisting all in a row.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. The Szabo move is no longer in the code though.
JESSICA: I know! I tried to find it and I was like what the hell, why isn’t it in there. It totally should be. I remember someone used it in college a couple… it was probably a long time ago now. But that’s a hard move and it’s really cool. I don’t know why it’s totally out. Does that mean it’s like not worth anything? If it’s not in the code anymore?
UNCLE TIM: On bars I’d love to see a hop full into a delchev. They’re like my two favorite skills on uneven bars, but nobody does delchevs anymore. Or not many people.
DVORA: Didn’t… hasn’t that been done by Yelena Piskun, or am I totally imagining that? The hop full into a delchev.
UNCLE TIM: Might have been.
DVORA: I just know we haven’t seen it in like a decade at least.
UNCLE TIM: Yeah.
DVORA: If it happened, which it might not have [laughs]
JESSICA: Speaking of delchevs, my other awesome move that combines… my other combo that I want to see that combines a men’s move or maybe a move from when the bars used to be closer together. I would love to see… so you’re on the high bar facing the low bar, and you do a stoop through, almost like you’re going to do a stoop through to sit on the high bar, but instead of sitting on the high bar you stoop through, shoot your legs through, then you let go with one arm so you do a half turn. Now you’re half turned and you’re swinging toward the low bar, and you do a pak from that.
JESSICA: No one does that stoop through move. It used to be common a long time ago, but it looks really… it looks cool but it’s super easy. I mean, you know, super easy relatively speaking.
BLYTHE: I’ve been thinking about twisting. And one thing that I wouldn’t mind seeing is the Seitz like you said sort of full twisting Maloney to immediate Bhardwaj. So basically you go up, you do the full twist, then you kind of rewind and you come back down and you do the Pak salto with a full twist coming down. Also I got to thinking about kovaces on uneven bars. And there’s been couple of gymnasts who’ve said “Yeah! I want to learn a kovacs.” And Anna Li was one of those. So supposing you did the kovacs facing the low bar, and you did a pak salto out of your kovacs
BLYTHE: How wild would that be?
JESSICA: That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!
DVORA: I feel like it would have to be a tuck pak salto. Like, just coming out of the kovacs.
BLYTHE: Yeah maybe. But I think like you look at what Tatiana Nabieva did with her toe on…
BLYTHE: …layout tkachev over the bar really
JESSICA: It was beautiful
BLYTHE: And then she was able to do a pak salto out of that and that was just an absolutely stunning move.
JESSICA: That would be freaking awesome. You would have to kill… either kill your swing so hardcore so you didn’t do the highest pak salto ever to control it, or you’d have to just like… you’d have to just catch at a lower angle so that you could… because it would be really hard to control that. But that would look so freaking cool. I just don’t know how you could ever do it facing the low bar, a kovacs, unless you’re so short that you can actually tap facing that way and not hit the low bar. Like Rose Woo right now from Canada, she can tap toward the low bar.
DVORA: As long as you can remain fully stretched out
JESSICA: Right, as long as she stays under four feet tall, she can do that
DVORA: I want to see like more same bar release moves. But I used to be really excited watching high bar and I’m not even sure if you could do this really on uneven bars is like consecutive tkachevs.
BLYTHE: Oh yeah it’s possible.
DVORA: It’s possible, but it’s just.. as a kid I loved watching Rustam Sharipov do like three you know… I don’t know how many release moves he used to do in a row. It just was very exciting. And the excitement builds with each one, because you just want to know how many more they’re going to add. So I would love to see a woman be able to do at least two of them consecutively on the uneven bars.
BLYTHE: Yeah. And the only person I can think of who actually did that was Elise Ray back in 2000. She did toe tkachev to immediate tkachev.
BLYTHE: And can you imagine if she added a gienger after that. Toe tkachev, tkachev, to gienger, to bail. Something like that.
DVORA: Larissa Fontaine in 94, she was doing tkachev gienger to straddle pak salto which is not… I mean it was fine, but not quite as exciting as two consecutive tkachevs.
BLYTHE: Yeah and right now you’ve got Shang Chunsong from China who had a great amount of success at the Asian Championships a few weeks ago. Now she does… I forget the combination. It’s something to gienger. It might be tkachev to gienger. It might even be like toe tkachev to gienger. But it’s a nice combination as well.
JESSICA: I totally want to see, speaking of bar stuff, I want to see on high bar, I want to see someone to a delchev – I love the delchev to, it’s one of my favorite releases – the delchev catch in mixed grip into a full twisting yaeger. Which is like almost impossible. I don’t even really know if you could do a yaeger from a mixed grip catch or you’d have to switch on the way… swing through. It would be so freaking hard, but it would be awesome. Because it would be like twisty and then super twisty.
BLYTHE: You know what move on bars you never see is the strong. Lori Strong’s 1.5 twisting bail from high to low. And imagine if you did like a def to a strong. You would never stop twisting.
JESSICA: Oh my God! I love that kind of stuff.
BLYTHE: But wouldn’t that be amazing? And I think there was some discussion about the strong in the code. It’s an E but only if you finish in a handstand on the lwo bar.
JESSICA: Which is nuts!
BLYTHE: Which is like not even possible. Lori Strong herself never even got close to that.
JESSICA: And think about how dangerous, honestly how dangerous that would be to really catch and stop in a handstand vertically. I don’t like that. I think you should pass through handstand while you have your hands on the bar, but to actually like plop on the bar like that is just kind of… I don’t know.
DVORA: Well imagine what would be possible if the last several codes of points have been so fixated on handstand in vertical. If you do something really cool like Anna.. what was it, her rybalko never comes close to landing in a handstand, but how cool is that?
JESSICA: Yeah I know. Because you can’t do it catching in a handstand. Like even, yeah.
DVORA: The code is just so obsessed with it. And it’s like the only thing that matters in bars is landing everything in a handstand, so I feel like we cut ourselves off from really interesting possibilities if gymnasts were allowed to catch past vertical.
JESSICA: Yeah and I like the… some of those bails that you just shoot past the low bar, it looks so cool because it looks like you’re going to fly into the stands, then they catch the bar and keep going. Like I would like to see the strong, and I wish they would change it. Or they would just downgrade it. Like if it’s a D instead of the E like that’s fine, you don’t have to land in a handstand but it’s still freakin cool and it’s worth doing you know. What about high bar? Do you have any more combos you want to add, Uncle Tim?
UNCLE TIM: Yeah. So you don’t really see this at all on men’s high bar, but men can do the stalder and free hip and toe-on tkachevs and they’re called a piatti. And so i’d like to see a stretched one of those into a balabanov, which is stretched tkachev. So it’s like a toe on stretch tkachev into a stretch tkachev. And that would be a D and a D release and that would give the guys two tenths of connection bonus, so I think that would be a great combo. And I’m also, as I said in the uneven bars, a fan of the hop full. But I want a man to do a hop double full into a def. So a full twisting gienger.
JESSICA: Ooh I love that. High bar, I want to see more like twisting into twisting instead of pirouettes. Ugh, pirouettes. Ok, so let’s get into our discussion this week about—we’re going to continue our discussion with, kind of the history of gymnastics in the United States. So Uncle Tim, what do you have for us?
UNCLE TIM: So this week we’re going to talk about the Sokols which are the Czech equivalent of the German Turners, basically. The movement, as you might expect, started in Prague by a man named Miroslav Tirs, and just as we saw with Germans two weeks ago, the Czech movement was a response to the politics of the time. For many years, the Hapsburgs were in control of the Czech lands, which were sometimes called Bohemia and sometimes called the Lands of Saint Wenceslas—with Christmas coming up, I thought that was appropriate. Anyway, as you can imagine, people typically don’t like being ruled by foreigners, and Tirs saw gymnastics as a way of creating a Czech national identity. You know, something for the common people to be proud of. And what’s interesting is that they even created a uniform. They wore loose pants tucked into high boots, a braided jacket, and a hard, round Montenegrin hat with a falcon feather. And Sokol, by the way, means “falcon” in Czech. And then they would march through the streets of Prague, and they earned the reputation as the Czech National Army, which might sound funny to us but, you know, a few weeks ago we had Allison Taylor on, and she mentioned that the WOGA gym was considered the Red Army, alluding to both the color of their uniforms and the fact that the coaches came from communist countries. Anyway, as we know, WOGA eventually abandoned the red look and has had different uniforms and warm-ups, and I guess I’m curious—what are some of your favorite warm-ups that we’ve seen over the years? They don’t have to be from WOGA.
JESSICA: Oh god. It’s, you know what, I can only think ones I think of I can’t—the one I really like are the ones that are straight Adidas old school, because Adidas is classic, and then I can only think of the ones I really can’t stand, like when Utah dressed up like spacemen with their silver, and apparently they don’t have any seamstresses in, or tailors in Utah, all of the entire state, because they never hem them so they always look like they’re wearing their brother’s pants who are eight feet tall and plays basketball. And then, of course, there’s Parkette’s, with the over-bedazzling. So I like a classic Adidas look, I think I’m just—and I would like to see some breakthrough Puma, maybe some Juicy but without Juicy on the butt, of course, because that’s extremely tacky. And so is Pink across your butt, hello. Very tacky.
DVORA: I can only think of the stuff I hate, too. Sorry. I mean—I know that as we were talking to Miss Val, I enjoy UCLA’s leotards because they’re just classic and understated, and they’re blue or they’re white, and there’s some bedazzling, but never too much, and I just can’t handle—maybe it’s because I’m from New York and I just want everyone to be wearing black all the time, and everything to be nicely tailored—I can’t handle the bedazzling or just all that. Just keep it simple. It’s just a warm-up suit.
UNCLE TIM: Awesome. So, continuing on with the history. Tired of being ruled by the Hapsburgs, some of the Czechs ended up leaving, and when they did, they brought their gymnastics tradition with them to the United States. In 1865, the first Sokol center was established in St. Louis, but you also have to remember that this was kind of towards the end of the Civil War in America. Things were a little unsettled, and the Sokol center basically collapsed within a year, but in 1866, a Sokol club was established in Chicago, and throughout the nineteenth century, more and more clubs emerged, many of them being in the Midwest in places like Milwaukee or Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Detroit; Cleveland. Anyway, from time to time, the American clubs would travel to Prague to participate in their gymnastics festivals, and in that sense they maintained contact with their fatherland. Despite this contact, the Sokol halls in America did differ from those in Europe. In the Czech land, most Sokol clubs borrowed space in schools and even taverns, and I would love …
UNCLE TIM: … to get drunk and do gymnastics. In the United States, most of the clubs had their own training halls. In addition, while the clubs in the empire had lectures and had libraries, American Sokol clubs did a lot more. They had amateur theatre groups, singing clubs, drum and bugle corps, and offered English classes to the new immigrants, which sounds so strange to us in the 21st century, because usually you have a gym, and you do gymnastics in that gym, and that’s that. So, what are your thoughts? Do you think that gymnastics clubs should try to diversify their offerings? Should they have theatre groups or bugle corps or cheerleaders? What do you guys think?
JESSICA: First of all, never cheerleaders, unless they have to start with gymnastics and learn safety and strength first so that they don’t kill themselves. But absolutely, I think that diversifying is a great idea, and I’ve been to a couple gyms that have started to loan out a portion of their gym too, where they have their weights and their cardio equipment, they’ve started to lend it out to personal trainers who will then train the parents, so that the parents, instead of just sitting there and waiting and watching their kids, they can actually work out while their kids are there, and I also think that what GAGE has done is genius. They have the gym, and then across the street they have kind of a party-circus-swimming, like, acrobatic activity center, so you can learn a little trapeze, and it’s just like fun stuff for kids, and I think it’s a great idea, just like I think the same thing with every kind of acrobatics you can have them incorporate, because just staying with artistic gymnastics doesn’t work for everybody, so diversifying is brilliant. So I think, if there are some gyms next to bars, woo! Genius.
DVORA: I feel in college, there was definitely alcohol and gymnastics occasionally mixed.
UNCLE TIM: [[Laughs]] It’s probably not the safest thing, please don’t try this listeners.
DVORA: Yeah, cautionary tale, people. Don’t.
JESSICA: Talk about blooper videos, woo.
DVORA: It would be mostly me. I just wanted to quickly add, it’s on the topic of Sokols, but I actually interviewed one of them. Someone in the 1948 Olympic team. Remember in 1992, when they were like, “U.S. Women haven’t won in a team medal in a non-boycotted since 1948”? That was the bronze in 1948, and I interviewed—she might be the last living member of that team, but she’s just a feisty old lady who lives in White Plains now, and she spoke about their training, and I can’t remember any specifics, but she, her family was from the Czech Republic and she trained at the Sokols.
UNCLE TIM: What events did she compete on?
DVORA: She competed, you know, on stuff like parallel bars, but also sometimes on uneven bars, beam. She said you weren’t allowed to do flips or handstands on beam at that point.
DVORA: She competed on the flying rings. And she—at that time, the mats were what we would consider blankets, and they kept spotters near the rings at all times because they were quite high, and you really could hurt yourself cause you really didn’t have any mats to land on.
JESSICA: Seriously, flying rings is no joke. Like, if you peel on flying rings, you’re going really far away.
DVORA: Centripetal force. She was just really funny and fierce old lady to talk to for a few minutes, and she, you know, I tracked her down and when she called me back, she said, “I didn’t realize I was on the internet!” Which I thought was pretty adorable.
JESSICA: We’ll have to link to that article, and there is a Sokol gym in New York. There’s probably more than this, but I know there’s one in New York that has adult gymnastics, so they’re really staying, just like the Turners, they have very much stayed true to that gymnastics, and this kind of training-for-all principle, which I just love to see that that’s carried through so many years.
UNCLE TIM: And so, to kind of tie those two things together. In the 1890s, the Sokols tried to attract the masses to their gym, and they tried to simplify the skills that they were training to attract other people, and they also opened their doors to women. Before that, in the 1860s until the 1890s, it was primarily men who they were training. And also, you know, what has also happened to the Sokols? They are still around, as Jess mentioned. They have an adult gymnastics class. I think that the Sokol club in New York follows me on Twitter. I know that there’s one still in Chicago because my grandfather just attended the fundraiser a few weeks ago. But, I guess, the thing you also have to understand is this was a gymnastics club based on ethnicity, and typically the first generation of immigrants maintains strong ties to the fatherland, the second generation, you know, not quite as strong, and the third generation even less. And, I mean, it’s hard to maintain a gymnastics club based primarily on ethnicity, but there are still some around. And so with that, we conclude this portion of the history of gymnastics in the US, and next week I think we’ll switch the focus from ethnic clubs to the YMCA, and if my cohosts are lucky, I might dress up like one of the Village People. So…
UNCLE TIM: [[Laughs]] So there you have it. The Sokols.
BLYTHE: Oh, please do that.
JESSICA: Alright, now we’re going to bring you the first part of our epic, awesome interview with Miss Val.
JESSICA: So let me tell you about Miss Val a little bit. So her name is Valorie Kondos Field, but she became known as Miss Val because of her background in dance. She was a professional ballet dancer in the Capitol City Ballet in Sacramento, California, where she grew up, the daughter of Greek immigrants; and she also was a dancer in Washington DC with the ballet there. She came to UCLA as an undergrad and was a choreographer for the gymnastics team, and was there when the men’s program was super-crazy. They had, like, every Olympian on the team, and Mitch Gaylord and Peter Vidmar and all those guys were there. And she ended up being the head coach and led the Bruins to their first National Championship, and then they’ve now won six National Championships. And one of the things that Miss Val is really known for is her choreography, not just her work as a choreographer, but also really pushing the limits of artistry and choreography in gymnastics. So we’re going to start our interview with her now, part one of our interview, and it was really, really interesting for us because it started out with her asking us questions, and we were like, “wait a minute, is there where the life lesson stuff starts? We weren’t prepared for this!” So it’s a good thing we did our homework, so we think you guys will find this a very enlightening interview. Alright, here it comes.
JESSICA: First thing we ask people if there’s anything you definitely you want to talk about, that you’ve never been able to talk about, or something that you’ve never been asked that you’ve always wanted to have been asked?
MISS VAL: Ok. What do you think that is?
JESSICA: Umm, I would say, um…overuse of Toradol in gymnastics? The painkiller.
MISS VAL: [[Laughs]] Ok.
JESSICA: Ok. We’ll skip that. Is there anything you do not want to talk about or we should not discuss?
MISS VAL: Well, the one thing that I always think is very touchy and have been wary about talking about is why gymnastics matters, because I don’t come to this—I don’t come to this profession as a gymnastics fan. You know, you’re all here as gymnastics fans. I’m not here as a gymnastics fan. I’m here as someone who has a tremendous amount of respect for athletics, and in particular the sport of gymnastics.
MISS VAL: Ok, silence, you guys have no…
JESSICA: Ok! No!
DVORA: This is way too deep for ten AM.
MISS VAL: Ok, got it.
DVORA: No no no, I’m just like….so, could you just—cause actually I was thinking as you were speaking, that I wish we were recording at that moment.
JESSICA: We are recording. We’re on. At this moment.
DVORA: So can we just jump back for a second? What was the question, that you were looking to be asked? Or not asked? I’m sorry, I just got a little confused, as I said. I apologize.
MISS VAL: No, it’s fine, it’s fine. I’m always wary about, when I’m being interviewed, to me it seems like it’s kind of it’s light fluff. What do you think about artistry? Ok, well I can talk about artistry until the cows come home, right. And I’m fine to talk about that, because people want to talk to me about artistry all the time. I think that it’s a very deep, philosophical conversation to have, but it’s about, why does gymnastics matter? Because, to me, athletics is about bragging rights. Being able to say, “We beat you.” What’s so—why is that important, in what we do? Why is my job important? Why are you guys doing this radio station? What is the relevance of this radio station, besides sheer entertainment? Do I sound like I’m Debbie Frickin’ Downer?
DVORA: No no no! It’s, like, I feel with in an existentialist sort of territory. Like, why—so you don’t want to be asked, and I wasn’t planning on asking you why gymnastics was important, but I will stay away from that.
MISS VAL: Say that again?
DVORA: I said I wasn’t planning on asking you why gymnastics matters, because I think we come from the assumption that it—well, we all love it, and that’s kind of our starting point for discussion.
MISS VAL: Right. So let me ask you, why does it matter?
DVORA: I can’t say that it does. I mean, I can’t say it does more than anything I enjoy in this world: writing, telling jokes. And that’s what it boils down to, I’m saying, in people’s lives here.
JESSICA: I mean, I think I will argue that, for me, I feel like literally saved my life in the past, and—let’s get super deep right away—and I feel like anything else, like sports can be a—it doesn’t matter what it is, it can be sports, it can be art, it can be your favorite subject in school, it can be whatever, it can be a way to find your higher purpose, to make the world a better place, to get through a horribly hard time. It can be all of those things, and if it’s done correctly, and if it’s done right with the right intention behind it, then it can be a way of really improving yourself as a person and helping other people to become good people too, and that’s why it matters.
MISS VAL: I agree, because I think once you get—excuse me, I cut someone off.
BLYTHE: No no, you didn’t, I cutting you off, go on.
MISS VAL: I mean, as a dancer, coming into the world of athletics, I struggle with this: I struggle with the 90% of doing what I do being able to say we beat you. We beat Florida, we beat Utah, we beat you, you know? And that part of it is so insignificant to me. I love it when I’m on the floor, because I find that I’m very competitive, which I didn’t know I growing up that I was competitive. And I’m extremely competitive. But at the end of the day, I think gymnastics matters because it’s, from what both of you just said, it was, any type of athletics challenges you and your core foundation, to—really, I mean, I sound like an army commercial, with the “be all that you can be”, but no sport greater than gymnastics challenges you and develops your discipline and focus to…I don’t think there’s anything else that in life that someone could do on a daily basis that challenges you at that level like gymnastics does physically and mentally. So that’s why I love my job, cause I think gymnastics matters.
DVORA: Well, I was just going to add, I mean, after I give my response that essentially that we’re not saving lives here, but I think gymnastics matters to me because it—I mean, you view things with meaning, and me coming from an ultra-religious background, and finding a sport like gymnastics that really played with the gender roles and what I was being told about what was expected of me, I got two very different messages, so it changed my life.
MISS VAL: What kind of background do you come from?
DVORA: Ultra, like, Orthodox Jewish.
MISS VAL: Oh, ok. Ok.
DVORA: So, pretty much, but…yeah. So, I think, it’s not just the sport itself. It’s everyone thinks and brings their views and activities, whether it’s literature or sports or, specifically in my case, gymnastics. I mean, viewing has certain types of meaning, and it meant a lot to me, and it really informed my feminism in many ways.
MISS VAL: Great. And I tell the girls that all the time. I tell my girls, when you’re in a meet, and the meet starts with the National Anthem, it’s my opinion is that before you start thinking, you know, “Please may I have a safe meet”, “Oh please can I win this meet”, whatever, the first thing you do is look at that flag and realize and appreciate the fact that few other countries allows you, as a female, to play a sport, and allows you, as a female, to be scantily clad and not wear a lot of clothing in order to allow you to play the sport to your best of your abilities, because a lot of countries, A. You wouldn’t be allowed to do it, and B. You’d be walking around covered from head to toe.
DVORA: Yeah, and, my, as I said, my background—I didn’t walk around covered from head to toe, but I wore long skirts, long sleeves, and was told that this was an activity that was ok when I was younger, but once I turned twelve I would have to stop it. And when I didn’t it created all kinds of, you know, emotional turmoil, but I definitely came out better for it. You know, figuring myself out in terms of what I wanted versus what people were telling me I should want. But, you know, it’s hard to state what the significance is without your personal experience. Is gymnastics, is it important in and of itself to do a back handspring on the balance beam?
MISS VAL: No.
DVORA: Probably not as important as, you know, rescuing someone from a burning building. But, what does that back handspring mean to you? What is your backing, what are you breaking to it? And then…
MISS VAL: And, well, what I think for as a young girl, as a seven year old, for you to develop the determination and the courage and the mental focus to be able to perform the back handspring on four inches is what shapes everything else in your life, and that is what allows you, a young girl, to grow up to be a strong, confident woman, to make a difference. Not that you’re going to, not that gymnastics, I mean, makes all gymnasts grow up and out there, but I think gymnastics is for a woman the foundation to jump off and do whatever they want, because…ok, well, I don’t want to get off topic here. So we can go back. What do you guys want to talk about?
JESSICA: No no, go on.
DVORA: Precisely what we want to talk about.
MISS VAL: I remember, we had our once has our Chancellor, she had never seen a gymnastics meet and she came to the Pac 10 Championships that we hosted a while ago, and she owned a very successful PR company. And she asked to come speak to our team the day after our meet, and so we had a team meeting, and she said, I just want to tell all of you, she says, I don’t know a thing about gymnastics more than you, but what I got out of that meet was that there were seven teams there, and every single young woman that was on the floor had this developed understanding of being part of a team, something greater than herself, but had developed the ability to go out and perform, as an individual, while calm and poised and confident, and then assimilate right back into the group. She said, those were the exact type of people that I would hire in my company. Someone that understands the bigger picture of the company, but I can send out and I know will be confident and poised and mature and focused, when they represent my company as an individual.
BLYTHE: I find that really interesting but it kind of does relate to a question I had asked a couple, I was thinking of asking, a couple of years ago, or a year and a half ago there was an article in LA Times about Alyssa Kitasoe, who used to be on the team, and her difficult transition. So it seems like, what is your challenge as a coach to help these young women who spent their entire lives identified with gymnastics, transition away from the sport, while at the same time you’re coaching them at how to be successful in competition? It seems like a weird, like a strange challenge, almost.
MISS VAL: The challenge that I see is helping them understand that gymnastics isn’t—helping them to see that their gymnastics training, especially when they’re in college and you get four years of it and you get four hours a day of it, of gymnastics training—use this as a life skill course. Use gymnastics, the hours that you’re spending every day in a gym, as another class, as another university class in life skills, and then developing life skills, developing that strategic planning that you have to have in order to be ready to compete in January. Develop your sense of focus and discipline and consistency to purpose, use gymnastics as a life skills course, and not as something that defines you, whether you have succeeded or failed, whether you have won or lost. That part doesn’t matter, in the big scope of things. But if you can use this as a launching pad to life, then you help someone like Alyssa Kitasoe, go from being defined by her weight and her body fat percentage and whether she hits a beam routine or not, to defining herself as this strong confident woman who is able to put on this beautiful costume, leotard, and go out and perform with confidence in front of a thousand people, so…time to help them shift that mindset. is difficult, but it’s something that’s very, very clear to me in my role as their coach.
DVORA: Obviously anything we do in our lives we can apply those skills to other sectors of our lives for the most part. But what’s really interesting to me is how do the gymnasts stop thinking of themselves as gymnasts once they stop doing it?
MISS VAL: It’s very difficult. Very very very very very difficult. It really is changing their mindset. Right now, I had a conversation two days ago with Monique de la Torre. She is a senior. She’s in the best physical condition of her collegiate career. She’s doing beautiful gymnastics and she has a labrum tear in her shoulder that is preventing her from training as much as she can and from really enjoying this last year of her gymnastics career as much as she can because she’s in constant pain. But she’s been cleared to train because it’s not that big and it’s not getting bigger so she can train to tolerance. She was in my office sobbing the other day. She said, “you know I don’t want to look back at the end of the season and just have regrets that it wasn’t everything that I wanted it to be.” And so I’m having consistent dialogue with her about stop basing the value to the team and the value of gymnastics based on whether you’re going to go out there and make a squad, make one of our top 6 or score 9.9s or higher. Stop basing your satisfaction meter on that and start basing it on everything that you have learned over the three and a half years you’ve been here and how you can develop your leadership skills and really make an impact and what your legacy will be for this team. The entire time she was sobbing about not being able to train. She kept talking about Niki Tom and how much she learned from Niki about perseverance and consistency to detail and making each day a masterpiece. I said if you were given two choices and one choice is God came down and said ok Monique. You’re going to compete in the national championship. You’re going to score 9.9 on three events at the NCAA. Or ok Monique. You’re not going to be able to compete much this year because your shoulder’s just not going to allow you to but you’re gonna leave a legacy here like Niki Tom and the future generations are going to to talk about Monique de la Torre like you’re talking about Niki Tom. Which one would you choose? And she said Oh God I would do anything to have a legacy like Niki Tom. I said well that’s 100 percent in your control. And so having constant conversation like that to get her to change her focus and then you hope that at some point they have an “a-ha” moment and they switch. They get it. There’s no guarantee that they’ll get it during the time that they’re in college but if you keep planting that seed and watering it, watering it, watering it hopefully at some point in their college career or after that they will get it, that their value is not based on what they do but their value is based on their intentions.
DVORA: And in that same article, you mention your own difficult transition from after you stopped dancing professionally. Do you use your experiences, your own personal experiences in helping the girls kind of come to terms and learn to transition and learn to figure out a new path after they stop doing gymnastics?
MISS VAL: Yes, absolutely. That was one of those things in my development as a coach, when I switched from- when I first got the coaching job and I was trying to be like all the other successful coaches and so I started talking like a coach and acting like what I thought a coach was and I failed miserably and was not being true to myself at all. And then I literally read Coach Wooden’s definition of success and kept saying become the best that you are capable of becoming and that word you kept growing and growing and growing in my mind and I realized I was trying to be the best that Greg Marsden could be or Suzanne Yoculan could be or Sarah Patterson could be and wasn’t being the best Valorie Kondos that I could be. I really just took a hard look at everything that I had learned as a professional dancer and having had a long career as a professional, classical, disciplined dancer and how I could apply that to leading a group of sixteen young women. And there was so many similarities. I kept telling myself stop trying to be what you think a coach is and start being a teacher and a leader and share your experiences of what you went through in the dance world which are very very similar to that of a gymnast.
DVORA: And kind of speaking about that dance background, we always ask the gymnast what was their most embarrassing moment because a lot of times the coaches don’t have backgrounds in performance. And you have a background in performance, what you are some of your highlights as a dancer, let’s say funniest or most embarrassing moment that you had.
MISS VAL: My most embarrassing moment, which ended up being most most memorable moment that has helped me, especially in my speaking career. I was doing a solo. I was on stage and I remember I was being spotlit so there wasn’t a lot of lighting. I was in this pool of light in the middle of the stage and I had to do this series of plie high kicks on point. Plie high kick. Plie high kick. Like eight of them. And by the fourth one, my point shoes flipped out from under me and I landed flat on my tailbone. And it was that moment of truth when you can either crumble because you quote unqoute failed or you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off and realize that everybody makes mistakes in life and what I do from here on out is what’s going to determine my significance in this performance. So I jumped up. Everybody was silent. The whole audience, it was like they weren’t even breathing. And I just kind of shook my head and laughed it off and kicked up and danced my heart out for the rest of it, the rest of my solo and I got a standing ovation at the end of that. And I carry that with me. It’s one of my most memorable, enjoyable moments. And when I speak, you know my girls often ask me if I get nervous before I speak. I never get nervous because it’s those human moments, that is when you connect with an audience or when you connect with another person or in a relationship. It’s being human. Not being perfect. Be human.
DVORA: It’s sort of like in sketch comedy when you watch it and you know you’re enjoying it, but it’s always fun when an actor kind of breaks and starts laughing. I’m thinking of Saturday Night Live. Those are just always fun moments. You don’t want it all the time, but every once in a while you realize they’re having fun, they’re in the joke. We’re all in this together kind of situation which I think people really respond to.
MISS VAL: And that people can laugh at themselves. You know, it’s why we like bloopers so much. I can’t tell you. When I’m speaking, I don’t speak with cards because they mess me up. I get my bullet points in my head. I do thorough preparation when I speak, but I don’t use cards or notes. And there are times when I’m going off, I’ll be speaking to a thousand people and I’ll say what the heck was my point? I can’t even remember my point. And everybody will laugh. It’s like they get drawn in that much more. So that’s a really important lesson I try to instill in these athletes on my team is that please don’t ever think that your success is based on being perfect. It’s not. And that is another great joy of coaching. I can’t tell you an athlete that has had a perfect meet even though they got a 40. They haven’t had a perfect meet. Vanessa went 9.98 at national championships last year. You know, it wasn’t perfect. You’re going to have mistakes. And it’s how you work through them that is a life skill and that will carry you through everything else you do in life.
DVORA: It’s interesting that you say that because obviously gymnastics is so identified with perfection and the 10 and when gymnasts are interviewed and coaches are interviewed, they are always talking about how they’re trying to be perfect, trying to do everything right. And it’s interesting that you say that. You seem to be de-emphasizing when you’re teaching the girls. You’re de-emphasizing perfection.
MISS VAL: I emphasize intention. I get really excited when we have a hard day, when we’re struggling and girls are falling all over the place. Because now let’s see what kind of team we are. Now let’s see what type of character we have. Now let’s see what we can learn from today. Those are the exciting teaching moments for me.
DVORA: Can you think of another sport or several other sports that emphasize perfection? I’m thinking more of the traditional sports like basketball, football. You know you have fumbles. There isn’t the same sort of emphasis on no mistakes. None whatsoever.
MISS VAL: I think it’s golf.
DVORA: Golf. That’s one sport I don’t know about.
MISS VAL: Only because there’s no one to pass the ball to. It’s just you. It’s just like gymnastics. You get nervous up there on the beam. You can’t pass the ball to someone else. You’ve got to finish that routine. Second of all, golf, you can hit that drive out into the rough but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the game. It’s just like gymnastics. You can have a fall on beam but if you pick it up and finish that routine, that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose the meet. Golf reminds me a lot of gymnastics because you cannot play a perfect golf game. You can’t. And it’s very difficult, near impossible, to have a perfect meet on four events. But it’s how you work through them that will determine whether you’re still successful at the end of it or not.
DVORA: So kind of piggy backing on that thought would you say that, and we’re talking about more international elite gymnastics, do you think that removing the 10 and kind of removing the pretense of perfection is a good idea ultimately in development?
MISS VAL: I don’t think it’s a good idea because the flipside of this coin, of what I’m talking about is that we can never forget that our sport is entertainment. And we always have to be very conscientious of our fanbase. And we need to make it fun, we need to make it easy to understand, we need to make it that they feel that they can come in and be a Monday morning quarterback, where they feel that they can come in and make strategic planning on the skills and the order of competition and all that. And I feel that taking away the ten has taken the fans out of it more because it’s difficult to understand. Entertainment! Let’s not forget that! Entertainment. When we lose our fanbase, we cease to exist.
DVORA: So kind of thank you for leading me into one of my other questions perfectly. So recently a friend of mine went unprompted by me, I don’t even know how this happened, to the last stop of the Tour of Champions. I had not had the opportunity to see it because I was out of New York and had already happened in LA by the time I arrived here and she hated it. She absolutely hated it. She asked if she could write a review for my site and I just put it up. The problems were that it just seemed very messy, unprofessional and I wonder if I wasn’t so enamored of the sport, since I watch gymnastics with a 13-year-olds brain half the time, would I enjoy something like the tour? And how do we expand, how do we reach out to people in these entertainment settings to people who aren’t obsessed with gymnastics?
MISS VAL: So what’s the question?
DVORA: She was complaining that the tour was unprofessional. The skill level was very low. She went to the tour because she spent the summer watching the Olympics and she loved it. She had enough knowledge at this point to know that she saw really spectacular stuff on TV and she’s going to a live show and she knows she’s not getting anywhere near that in terms of skill level and for her, the dance aspect, the performance aspect wasn’t enough to compensate. The performance wasn’t necessarily good enough to make up for the lack of difficulty. And so how do we present gymnastics in professional settings? Because you can’t demand that the guys and girls do their full difficulty all the time. That would be a disaster on a 40-city tour. But on the other hand, she’s not 13. She said she felt like, you know, she wasn’t 13 and screaming in the audience. It wasn’t who she was. She wanted to see a good show. And she felt like she didn’t get to see one.
MISS VAL: I think that’s marketing though. I think that when you do a post Olympic tour or a post Olympic showcase, and it should be marketed towards people who simply want to get close to their idols. It should be all about the celebrity aspect of it and the show performance of it. It’s not a gymnastics showcase as much as it is a celebrity showcase. You get to see these men and women that you have seen in this intense, disciplined competitive setting, you now get to see them with their hair down and having fun. And so a 13-year-old girl is going to love it. And the response that I’ve heard from the tour is that it is exactly that. The people that showed up wanted that. The best part of the tour was the autographs because they got to be up close and personal with these celebrities. I think there’s two different concepts there. It’s really about how you market it. We market our program at UCLA as the best dollar value entertainment in Los Angeles. We are less expensive than a movie. You’re going to come in and you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours. From the top of the show to the finish of it. It’s going to be tight run show. It’s going to be something that you’re going to be able to bring your family to, your children to and not have to worry about sitting next to students who are yelling profanities or the hecticness of something like a basketball game, which is great but the basketball culture and crowd is different from gymnastics. Elderly people can come and not have to worry about the congestion of going to a football game or a basketball game and so because of that, we are the top female competitive sport in Los Angeles by our fanbase.
DVORA: I agree that if I had gone to the tour, I would have been excited just to have been in the same arena as a lot of the Olympians, but what does this say to someone who watched the Olympics and loved it and decided to just go to the show, what does this say to the potential to branch outside of the 13-year old uber fan demographic—
MISS VAL: Well I just think it should have been marketed differently than you should have known what you’re getting. And that tour, USAG is not in the business of putting on tours. And so, John MacReady does a great job hosting all that and I didn’t get to see the tour because we were out of town when they came to LA. But the fact that Nastia took her performance to something else besides trying to do a floor routine or gymnastics, I thought was great because you got to see her in all her beautiful splendor but I think if USAG is going to put on tours, they should hire someone who does that, that puts on shows. Let them direct and develop a tour and then market it for exactly what it is. And I think it’s an important part of our sport. I think it’s great for us to be able to see the Fierce Five having fun with their hair down; they’re normal girls. And for the men’s side, for us to see them as the sexy hot-bodied men, because you don’t necessarily get that in their whites. I think that aspect is really really really important. I would love to see USAG develop a tour that is the same thing that a lot of ice skating tours do. You don’t see them doing a lot of circles and quads but it’s very entertaining. I’ve wanted to do a gymnastics Nutcracker for years.
DVORA: Oh you should.
MISS VAL: I’d just have to get the funding and line up a producer.
JESSICA: I’m on it.
MISS VAL: I’m on it.
DVORA: I have a friend who does a break dancing version of The Nutcracker and it’s kind of amazing. We’ll all go see that.
MISS VAL: Ok! I have the whole thing all story-boarded out. I just think it would be amazing.
DVORA: Yes please! So I know you get asked a lot about artistry, but so here’s some more inevitable artistry questions. A lot of people have just watched the Olympics. What is the challenge in choreographing a floor routine and not making it look like a stock floor routine, because my feeling is that a lot of the floor routines out there, the movements are interchangeable. It doesn’t matter what piece of music is playing, if you increase the tempo, or decrease the tempo, nothing feels special or specific to a given floor routine. So how do you create floor routines that are specific for the gymnast, for the music, and for the personality?
MISS VAL: Well first of all, you have to have incentive to want to do that. And that starts with the Code of Points. So even though I fluctuate back and forth on this whole artistry issue, whether you reject or reward for artistry, you have to make it important. It’s just like we spend an enormous amount of hours on landing drills, every type of landing possible because in college, landing is a huge part of your sport. Landing and sticking a dismount appears to be of more value than having good form. So we spend an enormous amount of time on that. And if artistry was rewarded, then you would have incentive to bring people in, our choreographers, that can develop a performance in that minute and 30 seconds. But it doesn’t matter so why are you going to spend any money or time, why are you going to waste any money or any time in developing that when the Code of Points doesn’t dictate that it has to happen? You don’t.
DVORA: And what about like previous generations’ Code of Points because we have talked about the decreasing artistry, or seemingly decreasing artistry. It’s something that’s really hard to measure obviously. What would you like to see changed in terms of how to incentivize it? So we kind of go back a little bit.
MISS VAL: Well I had a really great conversation at the NCAA’s with Kathy Johnson. People don’t ever like to go backwards, but she was saying and I totally agree with what she was saying. Judges will be far less willing to deduct for artistry than they would be willing to award for it. So if we get back to the system like rich originality and virtuosity, where you take your start value— let’s just say your start value is at a 9.7, let’s say in college, your highest start value is a 9.7 or a 9.8 and you give them the ability to reward for artistry, I think that would differentiate between the teams more than asking a judge to deduct for lack of artistry.
DVORA: So it seems every four years, every time we talk about this, we know this! We know that artistry has been de-emphasized. The Code of Points does stuff like well we’re going to make these incredibly difficult leaps and jumps part of our difficulty score. And that’s our way of saying that artistry matters. If a turn can give you bonus like a tumbling pass can give you bonus, then of course, we are saying that this matters. Do you think that this has worked out or has it backfired in many ways?
MISS VAL: Well artistry has nothing to do with leaps. It doesn’t have anything to do with them. When I think of artistry, the component of artistry in a score isn’t necessarily about the level of skills in leaps and jumps and turns you’re doing. That’s not artistry. That’s skills. That’s just like if you do E leaps, it’s like doing an E tumbling pass. It’s just another skill. The artistry is, and you know I’ve listened to your last broadcast or podcast and I totally agree. I think to put it as simply as possible, it’s about evoking some impressive emotion, or emotion based on an impressive performance. And it doesn’t matter if you like the style. I think you said you never wanted to see a hip hop choreographed floor routine in your life. But that’s just your personal preference. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad artistry.
DVORA: Well it’s certain gymnasts doing them
MISS VAL: We all know those performances that draw us in, that just captivate you and that is what should be able to be rewarded. I think we could all talk about Aly Raisman, being our Olympic floor champion. Would she still be the floor champion if there was an area to be able to reward for artistry? Yeah she probably would still be because her routine was near flawless. Would someone else who had made a mistake, like one of the Russians, have scored higher with rewarded artistry? Probably. I’m not saying that Aly Raisman shouldn’t be the Olympic floor champion.
DVORA: I just wanted to add to my statement about hip hop in gymnastics, Ariana Berlin. I enjoyed watching her hip hop routines. So it’s not all of them. You have to have an understanding of the type of movement.
MISS VAL: Interesting thing about Ariana, and I love the fact that you brought her up. When we choreographed her routine, I would tell her the types of movement that I thought should go in this particular place and she would put the steps in and specific choreography in and then I would take those steps and make them more gymnastics-friendly, to look more like a gymnastics performance rather than a hip hop dance in a leotard. Because to be honest with you, the movement didn’t look good without the baggy pants and the tank top. They looked awkward in a leotard. I took those movements, I cleaned them up, made her have really clean lines as much as I could. At first, when she was a freshman, she fought me on this. She did not want to dilute the hip hop dance look. And I said well that’s great for hip hop performance. Ours isn’t a hip hop performance. It’s a gymnastics performance. And so we went back and forth, back and forth on that. We finally started understanding it, and when she started buying in, she started scoring well. And being appreciated by the people like you that don’t wanna see hip hop on the floor. But that’s a classic example of what I’m talking about. You would never ask for anyone to do a hip hop routine on floor, but you appreciated the artistry of it because she did it cleanly, it was choreographed to the music, it was interesting to watch, and it kept your attention.
JESSICA: Ok. So next week we will bring you the rest of our interview with Miss Val. And I promise you it’s even better than the first half if that’s possible. We don’t have Spanny this week so we don’t have all of our listener feedback but I just want to do a couple of things. I want to give a shoutout to our amazing transcribers. They are awesome. And I want to remind you guys that you can find our transcripts on the website on the transcript page. And they are working on the current episodes and they are slowly adding the original first episodes as well so I want to thank them so much and we also wanted to remind you guys that there’s the gymnast in Washington state who was recently paralyzed I think last week. And she is trying to raise funds for her care and they’re going to have to change her house. There’s a lot of things that people don’t think. There’s insurance costs and the hospital but there’s so much that has to be done to someone’s house to accommodate someone who’s in a wheelchair. They have to put a ramp in. They might have to change the bedroom. There’s a lot of things that they’re going to have to do for her to adapt and be able to continue living the life that she was living before in a new situation. So they’re asking everybody in the gymnastics community to just donate $1. There’s way more than a million gymnastics fans and gymnasts in the US and just one dollar will make a big difference for her. So you can go to her website. It’s goteamjacoby.com or you can look at her Twitter hashtag. It’s #beoneinamillion and we’re wishing her the best and hoping they can raise some more money to help her with her future care.
ALLISON TAYLOR: This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. elitesportzband.com We’ve got your back.
JESSICA: Visit elitesportzband.com and save $5 on your next purchase with the code: gymcast. Thank you all for listening this week. Next week, we are going to bring you the second half of our interview with Miss Val and it’s even better than the first half because in next week’s episode she’s going to tell us about why so many of her athletes have a desire to go back to elite after college and why they do so well. I was really surprised about what she said about why Canadians do so well in the NCAA. She talks to us about the programming deflated athletes build up their self esteem if they’ve had trouble or haven’t been as successful as they wanted before they came to college and also she told us about what she told Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross about going pro which is very interesting. All I could think of was Oh my God is Kyla Ross going to go to UCLA? So stay tuned for next week because it’s even better than this week’s episode so look forward to that. Thank you all for supporting this show. Remember to tell your friends to listen. Download us on iTunes. Link to us on Facebook. Click on our ads. We just appreciate your support so much and remember you can find us on iTunes, Stitcher. You can always listen on the website and find links to things we’re talking about on the show on the website. We’re on Facebook and Twitter. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can always find us at Skype and leave us a voicemail message. 60 seconds. Leave us your name and city. And the number is 415-800-3191. For Gymcastic, this is Jessica O’Beirne from masters-gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: This is Blythe Lawrence from The Gymnastics Examiner
TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: See ya next week!