JESSICA: Hey everybody, this is Jessica. Before this episode starts, I just want to tell you guys that we had some technical difficulties that were not discovered until after we finished recording. And I want to apologize for those. I don’t know why it sounds like there’s a tiny carpenter in the background the whole episode. [laughs] I don’t know what that is. Maybe there are termites underneath the desk. But I can assure you that we are testing new sound equipment, trying to find a better way to do the sound. And I will tell you that the Jonathan Horton interview, the sound was great. So there were no problems during that part of it and just bear with us, it’s episode six, we’re still trying. And we really appreciate you guys hanging in there will us. So here comes episode six.
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JESSICA: Welcome to GymCastic, the best gymnastics podcast in the entire world. This is episode six. We’re going to bring you our interview with Jonathan Horton. We’re also going to talk about the changes in the vault code. I’m Jessica O’Beirne from Masters-Gymnastics.com, and I’m joined by my fabulous co-hosts
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
SPANNY: Spanny Tampson from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora Meyers from Unorthodox Gymnastics
JESSICA: I have exciting news: we are now on Stitcher. It’s a really cool radio app, it’s kind of like a podcast app that creates radio stations for you or podcast stations for you. So check it out. You can download the app, you might have it in your car, it’s a really cool app so really excited to be on Stitcher. You can always find us on iTunes and of course listen to the website at gymcastic.com. And we’re also on Facebook and iTunes. If you have any feedback, questions, answers, if you have comments, send them to us there. And I’d like to remind you guys that the Azarian Gymnastics meet us coming up. It’s a Masters meet. It’s super fun. It’s called… [laughs] the Master’s meet is called “Never Too Old for Gold.” Master’s meet are so fun you guys. Google, look up videos of adult gymnastics meets, they’re just totally fun, irreverent, and you get to do everything you never got to do as a level gymnast. So if you want to come to SoCal in November and check it out, defnitely go to masters-gymnastics.com and check out the details and the registration form is there. And with that, we are going to get into the news. Blythe, what do you have for us today?
BLYTHE: The big thing from last weekend would be the Mexican Open which was won by favorites Brenna Dowell of the USA and Oleg Veriaiev, a very exciting young competitor from Ukraine. It was a terrific meet to see gymnasts who probably should have been in the Olympics, and certainly are of the international caliber to be in the Olympics And either they didn’t quite make the gymnastics team – their country’s team – or something else prevented them from going. But i was very impressed with the South American guys in particular. Jorge Hugo Giraldo who, at 32, is doing gymnastics like he’s about 22. And Sergio Sasaki from Brazil, who’s a very exciting young competitor, only 20 years old. Guys, what did you think of the Mexican Open? I know we’ve all seen the videos online.
JESSICA: Alright well I just have to say that crazy weird gala thing, oh my God. I mean last year we had to put up with… who was it that did like the eird sexy child routine with the pull-up socks?
SPANNY: Afanasyeva. She did the leotard with boots and pigtails
JESSICA: Oh my God
SPANNY: Only topped this year by Dementyeva’s thing with the skirt pulled up to her chest so she looked like a red lampshade with a scarf. But then she dropped the scarf. I don’t know what that’s about. Like, trying to be cute, but sexy, but really inappropriate.
JESSICA: yeah and then the whole thing when they did the… Jessica Ortiz and the guy did beam and she like put his pants on but they were like big ass sweat pants and she did p-bars. Like… I don’t understand why it was entertaining. Like I love the fact that they’re making a big effort with this meet. I think it’s a great idea. Any huge international invitational like this is great. It’s great that it’s on TV. Good for them. It’s great for the sport. They have Nadia in the front row. But, you know, like what the hell. Let’s pick up the… lete’s really pick up the entertainment value in the gala.
BLYTHE: No I disagree I thought it was fun. When you have a gymnastics tour that features John Macready running around in a diaper, to see Jessica Gil and Jorge Giraldo you know sort of changing gender roles seems pretty tame. But, I think the gala is a great part of gymnastics, and I’d like to see more of the American meets, which are so serious, lighten up afterward and have a bit of fun.
DVORA: Was there a gala at the Olympics this year? I feel like they didn’t do it.
BLYTHE: No there was none this year. There as in 2008. There was going to be then they canceled it back in January. Nobody knows why really. I think the 02 Arena was probably needed for basketball.
JESSICA: The thing with the gala that always bothers me at the Olympics, as an aside, is that basically it’s a way of the gymnastics federation getting the gymnasts to do a show for free. And then I don’t know maybe they do get paid for it. But it seems like they probably don’t. But anyway that always bothers me. But I mean I agree I love the idea of a gala, but like it needs like a director maybe or you know a little directions. Tighten up the entertainment.
DVORA: That would cut into profit margins [laughs]
JESSICA: But still
DVORA: Just put them out on floor in weird costumes and see what happens. And as we all know, gymnastics fans, because we are an underserved population, even if we complain about it, we’re going to watch it. So there is little incentive I think sometimes to improve the entertainment quality because, I don’t know about you, I will make fun of it, and then I will watch it, and I’ll probably watch it twice.
BLYTHE: There’s been a Romanian retirement. Amelia Racea, the 2010 European beam champion has decided she feels she can no longer progress in the sport, and so she has decided to call it quits. There’s also some questions about the status of Diana Chelaru, who was one of the Olympians this year. She has reportedly moved back to her hometown to train, and left the National Training Center. And generally when you do that you’re either ready for a hiatus or you’re on your way to retirement. But you never know. She’s still pretty young. She has a lot of gymnastics left in her I think if she chooses. But after Olympics, after having won a bronze medal, you do have to wonder, you know, does she think that’s enough and is she ready to move on. Liang Chow, Shawn Johnson’s coach and Gabby Douglas’ coach is going to write his autobiography. We don’t have too many details on that, but that should be exciting. We don’t have a lot of coaches writing books these days, and so Chow has a very unique story and hopefully he will do a nice job in telling it. And so you can look forward to that. Upcoming meets: there are the Northern European Championships, the German Bundesliga Finals, the Arthur Gander Memorial, which takes place in Switzerland, followed by the Swiss Cup – which is perhaps the best partner meet, the girls and guys compete together as a team – and the Romanian Junior Nationals, I believe at the end of this month. And that’s about all I’ve got for this week. Guys, anything else?
JESSICA: Well the NBC… the gymnastics… NBC had the tour on TV, so we watched that. And I don’t know, I think was great that it’s on TV, you know. I think basically it was a big commercial for Kellogg’s, which I’m fine with that. Because if Kellogg’s wants to pay for me to watch gymnastics, I am all for it, I will buy Kellogg’s products. But I think it was a mistake to start with the rings portion where they all get in the Olympic rings. I think it was a mistake to start with that portion of the show. It’s clearly like the most boring part. I don’t know why they would start with that. I think that the Party Rock is the best one. Or the one that they do with the two acro… acro couple and rhythmic altogether and then Nastia comes out in the middle. Like I really like that one. So it was kind of weird. And the production quality was pretty low, you could see the camera men all over the place. And there was like a whole bunch of segments where you couldn’t see the trampolinists. Like one was below the camera and one was above. It just seemed like it was really… it was a paid commercial and they didn’t spend a lot of time on it. But that said, I’m really happy to actually see it on TV. I think that’s great, and I hope that brings more fans in. i hope that they got enough people to make it worth bringing up the production quality for next time.
SPANNY: I’m just wondering, because I believe in the NBC version of this show, in the rings, because the 5 weren’t there so it was Alicia in the rings, and I’ve seen other stuff where they have Nastia and Alicia. Is Chellsie butt hurt about this? How come she’s never in the rings? She went to the Olympics, she has as many Olympic medals as Alicia Sacramone does. She’s never in the rings. Just something I was wondering about.
JESSICA: The rings thing is like totally political. Like, I think it’s like a big deal who gets to sit in the rings, and I totally agree with you.
SPANNY: Do they get paid more I was thinking? Is it like a status thing where like “oh that’s a featured role, you can go up there unless you get paid x amount of dollars.” But Chellsie’s featured, she does her own floor business and things like that, so that’s some shady rings business.
DVORA: Spanny, is it time for me to write another article in support of Chellsie? Is that what I’m hearing? I’ll pitch it, see if anyone actually takes it. Chellsie’s not allowed on the rings! [laughs] Someone call USA Gymnastics.
SPANNY: We have to email Steve Penny immediately.
JESSICA: So that’s the news for this time. And now we’re going to talk a little bit about the women’s vault code. Uncle Tim, take it away.
UNCLE TIM: So today we’re going to talk a little bit about vault changes. And there have been many blog posts written about this topic, and so I’m not going to go over every single detail. But to start I’d like to note that there have been a couple downgrades. For instance a handspring Rudi was worth a 6.3 is now worth a 6.2. The amanar was worth a 6.5, it is not worth a 6.3. The cheng was also worth a 6.5, but it’s now worth a 6.4. Another big change is how they are scoring the event finals. In the past they have usually averaged the two vaults, so if you score a 15.5 on the first vault and 15 on the second vault you ended with a 15.25. Now they have made it a little more complicated and there are kind of two parts to it. First they average your difficulty score, and then they take… they add together your total deductions for both vaults and then subtract that from the 10. So let’s say that you competed two 6 vaults. So difficulty score 6, that’s easy, average 6. Then you got one point off on your first vault and one point off on your second vault. So 10 minus 2 is 8. And you have the difficulty score of 6 plus execution score of 8 and you would get a 14 for your final score. And I think they’ve changed that to prevent the people from winning medals who have fallen on one of their vaults. And so my question for you guys is what do you think about these changes?
BLYTHE: Before the amanar, in the last quad, doing an amanar gave you a huge advantage. It’s very hard to attain a certain value of 6.5 on any other event. So if you could do that vault and get that 6.5 and it was also scored very very well, e-score wise, if you could land it. And that’s not to take anything away from the people like McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber who were doing phenomenal, phenomenal e-scoring, you know… phenomenal execution on those vaults. But was it a little unfair if you have somebody doing a double twisting yurchenko competing against somebody doing an amanar? Is the vault that much harder? I think that’s the question the FIG asked themselves. And do they want gymnasts who can very easily tear an ACL trying to land that vault, trying to do it because it’s that high e-score. And I think the answer they came back with was no, they’d rather see some rudis or people just doing a really nice double twisting yurchenko. And so they knocked it down a little bit. And yeah, I’m kind of for it. I think it will bolster international competition, and that’s what we all really want to see right?
DVORA: I’m actually a little mixed. I do recognize that doing an amanar perhaps gave a gymnast an unfair advantage on the vault, and I would like to see more vaults from different countries that are like [inaudible]. So maybe like handspring entry vaults. I do think it gets kind of boring when everyone’s doing a roundoff back handspring entry vault. But on the other hand, the double twisting yurchenko has now been around for over two decades, and it’s still… I’m getting bored seeing that. And I would like to see gymnasts start going for more difficult vaults. And they are, and I do think that giving certain vaults a bit of a scoring advantage pushes it in the right direction. But does it push it toward injury? That’s where I’m mixed. Because the amanar is a really dangerous vault, I don’t want to see busted ACLs all over the place. But on the other hand, I would like to see the events start to move forward. Because like you said, we’ve been seeing double twisting yurchenkos since the late 80s, really become a regular thing in the 90s, and I kind of want to see more of the otp gymnast more and more attempting more vaults.
SPANNY: I agree that the amanar is not in proportion to the other scores. I don’t know that I agree with lowering the value so much as I agree with bringing the values of other various vaults up. The handspring vaults need to be brought in line with yurchenko vaults, things like that. But also, because… I think there’s such an unfair opinion… I don’t know “opinion,” but… the vault scores too high, that gives you an advantage, but what about bars? You know are we going to say that Beth Tweddle, we should downgrade her routine because it’s not fair that her bars routine is too hard I think? There’s sort of a mentality where vault is a less of a gymnastics event than the other three, so it’s just not fair to score it highly in relation to the other events. So that’s why I think the problem could be solved by again, re-evaluating a lot of the start values, but not just bringing down the most popular vault or the one that’s the highest scoring. I think they need to re-evaluate tsuk entry vaults and handspring vaults. I think that might bring it a little more in line.
BLYTHE: Well that’s a great point because maybe, you know we’re saying “oh the amanar needs to be downgraded.” Maybe the amanar doesn’t need to be downgraded, but maybe it just needs to be a little bit easier to get a 6.5 start value on bars, or on beam, or on floor. And so that way you kind of have an equalization that each event is as important in an all around competition.
DVORA: And vault unlike bars or beam, you really just have the value of the vault. There’s no loopholes you can find, or like “if I connect these two skills, I can bump up my start value.” So, in a way I do think giving some of these vaults generous start values is fair because if vault is your best event, then you can’t finagle a higher start value the way you can on you know… the way you can jump out of a tumbling pass on floor, or the way you can connect two skills on balance beam. You really can’t play with the rules that way you on vault. You just, you do the vault, it has a defined start value, and you get judged for it. So, if your best event is bars, you can kind of play with the rules, you can be a Beth Tweddle. And obviously it’s very hard to get a 6.5 start value on bars. But we saw… you know, no one is complaining that Komova got a 7.0 start on bars. You know, I mean, technically she had an advantage there.
UNCLE TIM: The big difference though is execution score.
UNCLE TIM: Your execution score on vault is usually a lot higher than it’s going to be on bars. And so, that’s kind of where the playing field changes a little bit on vault.
SPANNY: I feel like I’ve had decent e-scores on vault… you know 2009 Worlds, they did a good job. Since then, it’s been crap. Absolute crap. And I think if they need to address scoring with the events, it needs to be with the e scores. If you’re chucking a Maria Bee Farm amanar, you should not be scoring anywhere as high as you did. It’s not safe.
SPANNY: And instead of rewarding the girls who do really well… or no, instead of punishing the girls who don’t do well… you know what I mean.
JESSICA: Yeah, execution score needs to be way way way more… like it needs to be valued more. They need to deduct more for poor execution because, hello, why do you get hurt doing an amanar? It’s because you have poor execution. It’s because you’re not finishing your twist before you land. It’s because you’re twisting into the ground. That’s why the accidents happen. And you know part of that entire thing is safety. Like safety is a huge issue with execution score. That is why execution is so important, and so it needs to be valued more.
DVORA: Does anyone else kind of see… especially in women’s gymnastics, this anti-amanar ferver a little bit directed at the American team. Because you can make a lot of arguments about American’s artistry in other events, but they really had amazing execution on those amanars. Especially the ones that competed in team finals. Not necessarily talking about Aly Raisman, she also had some funky leg issues. But the three girls that went up in team finals had great execution. So even if we beef up the execution score and really become more strict on execution on the amanar, that wouldn’t have affected the American women in team finals.
DVORA: They had spectacular execution.
BLYTHE: It would have been a few tenths.
UNCLE TIM: You know what the girls have learned to do is to do almost a quarter on… not quite a quarter on but like an eighth on, and I don’t know if they’re actually getting deducted for that. Like, they start twisting on the vault, and I don’t know, I think they could get knocked down a little more. Especially Jordyn and Gabby too, they twist a little bit onto the vault, and that makes off. McKayla’s is beautiful, I think she deserved her execution score. But I think there could be other places that they could get deducted more.
JESSICA: And this is the question I have about Maroney that’s come up with this. Is the 10 actual perfection? Or is the 10… should the 10 be awarding the person who’s done it better than it’s ever been done in the history of gymnastics at this point. Should she have gotten a 10, you know, what do you guys think about that? Because there’s been a lot of like “why not just give her a 10.”
BLYTHE: That’s a loaded question, because if you look back at the 10s in the past…
JESSICA: They weren’t 10s!
BLYTHE: You can find errors on replays. You can find errors sometimes just watching it. And it was a different era. And sometimes it feels like the 10 was really for what looked like perfection, and sometimes it was for what you said Jessica, which was “hey, that was really phenomenal and she stuck it.” I don’t know, hard to say.
DVORA: I was also… when you’re… I was talking to a level 6 compulsory judge, and scores are really about ranking people. And what I felt about Maroney’s, I felt the executions scores were pretty high on vault for everyone, not just the American’s. I actually watched team finals like last night because I apparently had nothing to do on a Friday night…
DVORA: …than watch them again. And I’m watching Komova. And she did actually a pretty nice one, but she comes into the horse, her arms are pretty bent, aside from landing to the side she only scored I think a few tenths behind the Americans. So I think that there were high execution scores all around, and I felt that Maroney’s… I mean yeah you can take what you can find, but really if Maroney was being scored on the same scale as everyone else, she actually would have ended up with a 10 in execution. They really hammered her for mistakes that they probably don’t even deduct for anyone else. And maybe because her vaults are that good. So I just think the ten should’ve been handed down in terms of like properly ranking and maybe keeping it fair across the board. Not necessarily because you couldn’t find a single deduction. But as we all know, you watch Nadia’s first 10, and she shuffles forward on her landing. I mean, it doesn’t… I always just kind of thought it was very context-based. It’s not “this is the absolute perfection”
DVORA: But this is perfection in this competition.
JESSICA: Totally agree.
SPANNY: I agree with you. But I think that getting the judges to screw the pooch when they score the vault… you know, an alright vault like Aly’s amanar with a 9.466 or whatever it was she scored. Well, how many more tenths are you doing to… again, Maroney’s vault from team finals. There’s just, you know, even though there were deductions, I think she kind of gave it the old Shannon Miller college stick. [inaudible]. If we’re really splitting hairs, I don’t… it’s kind of a shady stick, had some soft knees. Still, was it five tenths better than Aly’s… yeah anybody else’s? Absolutely. And I think they put themselves in a position where they should have scored her higher to be relative to the other vaults.
UNCLE TIM: I have one other question for you guys. Do you think they should do two vaults again, or do you think they should stick with the one vault. And if they do two vaults do you think you should use the new scoring system for averaging. Rather than just averaging the two final scores, use this new averaging system of… that kind of places more emphasis on execution. Making it difficult to fall and still win a medal in event finals. What do you guys think? Do you miss the two vaults, or stick with the one?
SPANNY: I absolutely miss two vaults. That said, I kind of hate the vault rule where they’re like “oh they have to be from different families and they have different flight directions” and all this crap. Like, you’re limiting your options even further than they already were. I miss the old days where you had to do two vaults. What was it, both 92 and 96 where… yeah it was the same vault, you could do it twice, it was averaged in one meet, best of the other. Because then you’re going to see people… if you’re chucking double fronts or like a front on vault, you can’t just crash at this point. I think in a situation where it was average of two vaults without the restrictions of this vault, you know, they have to be in different families, different flight paths and everything, I think you’d be forced to see a lot more consistency.
DVORA: I have a quick question. Are we talking about, say, in all around or team finals? Or are we talking about event finals obviously where you have to do two vaults. Are you referring to doing two of the same vaults for like the all around, is that the question?
UNCLE TIM: Sure. I’m talking about the all around. So for instance, 96, some gymnasts chose to do an easier vault then a harder vault in team finals, like Shannon Miller. Do you think we should go back to that? And then you average their difficulty score and then you take their execution and add it to that.
DVORA: Well I want to address this first part. I do think that I did appreciate seeing two vaults, especially now that the vaults are getting harder. And, you know, you see someone, let’s say, land an amanar, and you’re just thinking “that girl got lucky.” I like to see her do it again. And then average. I’m not sure which mathematical formula I would prefer, I’m really terrible at that kind of thinking. But I would like to see girls do two vaults for an all around or team finals and they were averaged in some way that they both count. But especially you know… I want to see that you really can do that. When you take your first amanar off that mat practically onto the judges, I’m thinking you got incredibly lucky
DVORA: And I want to see you do it again. And that’s kind of my thought. I would like to see two vaults. I guess it also… when you talk about like the execution as compared to other events, I think you know it kind of helps in a way because now you’re doing more than one skill. Because one reason execution scores I imagine are lower on other events is that there are so many more opportunities to deduct. So I do think that if you do two vaults, give the judges more opportunities to find deductions the way they can on balance beam and bars and floor exercise.
BLYTHE: I’d like to see two vaults come back as well. I think you run the risk of, if you say they have to be from different families like an amanar and a front pike which is a bit anti climatic maybe. But I really did appreciate the idea of being able to better your first vault. So if you could do it twice, that would be fine. Or you could opt out of doing a second vault and just keep your first score. So I guess what I would like to see it not an averaging of the two scores, but just taking the best one. And having everybody do two.
JESSICA: Yeah. I think like the days of… in terms of doing two different families, I’d like to see two vaults too. But in terms of doing different families, like, since when do we care about people showing they can do different things anymore. Like I feel like yeah we have different… there are elements that are required and segments that are required on each event, but like that all went away when compulsories went away. Like prove you can do this perfectly and this perfectly, no. Let me just see your crazy ass do an amanar for your first vault then try a triple for your next vault. Like, that’s what I would like to see. Like try your easy one first then go nuts on your last vault. That is the kind of finals I think are exciting, and I would like to see that. And I don’t really care that it’s from two different families. I care more than you can do it safely and that it’s exciting for the crowd. So if you can’t do front vaults safely, then you already had to do that when you were a level 8, so just go straight for the, you know, go straight for the thing that you can do well and do it really hard and safe.
SPANNY: I want to say real quick I’d have to verify this, I want to say there are some other finagle-y rules that are kind of weird. Like you can’t… you’ll get deducted for your first fault now. Something in there like that. Which I just think the FIG is basically saying “F-you safety” and they’re trying to take away every safety precaution available.
JESSICA: Wait, you’ll get deducted for your first fault?
SPANNY: Like yo know before you could run past the vault
JESSICA: Oh yes!
SPANNY: You know if you step on the board…
JESSICA: Now if you step on the board, it’s a full vault?
SPANNY: I just wonder why? What does that… It’s more in line with men’s gymnastics. Too bad because it’s a safety thing. Why are you, you know, like, it’s a nit-picky thing.
DVORA: And also I think I can count perhaps on both hands how many times in major competition we’ve seen gymnasts do that. It’s like why change a rule that rarely comes into use? And when it does it comes in for a very valid reason, like your steps are off. You could really hurt yourself. I can, you know, I forgot the Russian… was it, which Russian did it? What year was it? I mean there were a handful of them
DVORA: When they lost the World team medal
DVORA: I can count… I’ve seen a few of them. But there aren’t’ that many that I mean, you know, this is a trend and we must stop it. It just seems like it happens every once in a while and probably prevents an injury when it does. When a gymnast is able to run past the springboard and the vault rather than go for the vault. And I have a feeling that if gymnasts are forced to go for their vaults or knew they were going to be deducted, they would just go for it. And then we’d see some pretty horrific injuries as a result.
JESSICA: Yeah I agree I think that’s a really bad decision. I think if you have to run up… even if you have to run up on the board and you have to balance yourself not to kill yourself and fall off the podium, like I kind of feel like you should be able to touch the vault. But then again I can see like touching the vault and then halfway start like sliding over on your stomach. Not that I ever did that in my gymnastics career [laughs] but yeah. But that could be something you wouldn’t want to do. But yeah I think it’s too much.
SPANNY: Yeah. And I think too when you do… so if you can’t touch the board, that’s like the critical moment. Like you know your steps are off right before your hurdle. Well oh wait, now I’ve got to avoid the board? I can see people dive rolling like to the side just to avoid touching the springboard. And it just seems so unnecessary. I just want to ask whoever’s in charge of the FIG decided these little things, what country submitted this? You know, which country thought this was a big enough issue like they’re saying that “we need to implement this, this is serious business for us.”
JESSICA: Yeah I agree. I think it’s just encouraging more Daniel Purvis vaults where you go off to the side and straddle a judge’s face. Whatever judge enjoyed that introduced this.
SPANNY AND UNCLE TIM: [laugh]
DVORA: Now I just have a very interesting visual in my mind [laughs]
JESSICA: [laughs] –
JESSICA: Ok so let’s get to our interview with Jonathan Horton. We’re so happy that he could come on the show, and he’s really an amazing guy. So we’re going to bring that to you right now.
BLYTHE: Two-time US Champion Jonathan Horton, now 26, was the emotional leader of the US men’s London Olympic team. Known for his daredevil skills on high bar and all around prowis, Jon ended a six year drought for the US men in the all around at the World Championships when he won bronze behind Kohei Uchimura and Philipp Boy in 2010. Jonathan wasn’t satisfied with AMerican men’s 5th place finish in London and has already committed to another four years and trying to make the Rio 2016 Olympic team. Well Jon thank you so much for coming on the show. How are you? What’s happening?
JONATHAN: I’m good. I’m right smack in the middle of our 4o city tour. The Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions. And I think we’re actually in Memphis. I wake up in a different hotel every morning and not really sure where I’m at but I’m pretty sure we’re here in Memphis and got a 7:00 show tonight. Show’s been going really really well. We’ve really enjoyed doing it. The cast is great. Production, crew, everybody. So as soon as this is over I’ll go back to the daily grind of training.
BLYTHE: I have to ask you. I saw a tweet from you maybe 10 days ago in which you said you nearly died on the tour. And I went and saw the tour in Seattle where I live. And I was very impressed by the rings movements where you guys must be like 20 feet in the air. How is that as a gymnast?
JONATHAN: [laughs] Well I mean I don’t think I would have actually gotten… I think would’ve like hurt myself maybe slightly. But no I just went up on the rings and my grip slipped off on a really simple skill and I was hanging down on one arm. And it’s pretty entertaining for all my teammates to watch I guess. But no we’re definitely taking some risks. We’re doing some stuff that takes us out of our comfort zones for the show. And we love doing it. I mean I love being up high. I love doing fun tricks. And it’s really one of the things thatmakes the show you know, I guess what people have been saying is, you know, Cirque du Soleil-type I guess.
BLYTHE: It is. And is doing Cirque as something as you wind down your gymnastics career ever something that appeals to you?
JONATHAN: You know actually when I was younger it was something I really really wanted to do. I’d be like “wow that’d be so cool to go be in a Cirque du Soleil show” or something like that. Now I’m getting older and my body is a little more beat up and I don’t think it would be the lifestyle for me. I’m going to go for another four years and try to make the team in Rio and I think I’ll probably be hanging up the grips after that.
BLYTHE: How’s your body feeling right now after that push to do London and to do your very best in London?
JONATHAN: You know surprisingly my body feels pretty good with the exception of my shoulder. I’m having some issues with my shoulder that I’m having doctors check out. But other than that I can’t complain, I feel really really good. I’m sure as soon as I get back to the gym and I’m trying six hours a day, six days a week, I’ll be reminded of what that daily soreness and everything is like again. But I think I definitely have another four in me where I can handle it. And I’m still getting better, you know, I’m even learning some skills. And I think all of us actually surprisingly are learning new tricks while wer’e on tour. Which isn’t something that happened in 08 because everyone retired after that except me. But I feel good, I’m ready to go. Didn’t exactly have the London Olympics that I wanted to have so I’m fired up, motivated, and ready to push another four.
BLYTHE: The gym nerd question would be, what new tricks are you guys learning on tour? Can you give us some specifics?
JONATHAN: Yeah actually a lot of us on parallel bars – just because we don’t have a vault, our floor isn’t normal, we have a special air floor that really throws us high. So we have a pommel horse, high bar, parallel bars that we can really learn a lot of stuff on while we’re here. So I think like John Orozco the other day learned a skill on the parallel bars called a Makuts where you do a half of… well it’s actually a 3/4 Damianov up, and then 3/4 of a healy down. And so the rest of us started trying it and I think Alex Naddour learned it really fast, Jake Dalton learned it, I’m even pretty close and it’s like an E in the new code. So that’s one of them. And then personally I learned a front double pike between the parallel bars where I catch my arm, which is also an E and I’d like to start using that. Let’s see, also I’ve been doing a lot of high bar. I’ve been trying to step up my game so I can be more like Epke. Start connecting all my releases an stuff. So I play with that a lot every day, even started doing it in the show. Missed it in the show the past couple times just because it’s so new, but I’m connecting my Kovacs to Kolman.
BLYTHE: Nice! Epke’s really set the standard on high bar hasn’t he?
JONATHAN: Do what now?
BLYTHE: He’s really set the standard on high bar for the next quad.
JONATHAN: Oh yeah
BLYTHE: Do you feel that?
JONATHAN: Absolutely. Yeah you know any time you connect three releases like that in a row, the wow factor from the judges, the crowd, the coaches, you know even the other athletes, it’s set. And you know I thought I was cool in 2008 doing my three releases, but now he’s doing my routine with them all connected, so I’ve got to step up my game.
BLYTHE: Can you take us back to London after men’s team prelims. You had all talked for years about being in a major competition, major international competition, ahead of the Chinese and the Japanese, and here you were at the Olympic Games. And you were in first place after that men’s qualifying. Can you tell us just what it was like and how you guys went through the next few days?
JONATHAN: I mean, any time we can for, I guess, some short period, call ourselves the best, it feels good. You know I know it was only prelims, but you look up at the scoreboard and you see yourself sitting ahead of China and Japan and everybody else, I mean it’s a really good feeling. And I circled the guys up after that meet was over and basically said, “hey let’s keep our heads on straight, let’s stay humble here, we know we’re a good team, we’ve gotta do it one more time.” And you know everybody got really really excited. We had always told ourselves throughout the past four years, we are good enough to do this, we are good enough to win an Olympic gold medal. And that day we proved to ourselves it was possible. You know and it was a lot of pressure. I kind of look back on it now and think maybe I should have somehow even calmed the team down more. I think we got too excited I guess. But you know you live and you learn. Experience in competition is so important for us. And the whole team concept of gymnastics, if there’s one thing a lot of people don’t see as big as I do – you know I know all around, individual events, it’s… most people look at gymnastics and say well it’s only one person up there doing it, it’s an individual sport. The team competition is just as big to me and you know I’m going to keep pushing for that. And I’m a firm believer that these guys are going to be able to do… learn from this team competition. We’re going to be really good the next four years.
BLYTHE: What was the difference for you guys between prelims and finals? Everybody watched finals and just saw kind of about halfway through the emotions, the sadness. Was it just an off day? Was it the pressure of being in first place after prelims?
JONATHAN: I think it was a combination of a lot of things. I do think there was a lot of pressure involved. The expectation was set. And with the exception of myself, it was a young team. WE had guys on that team that had never been to a World Championships. Sam Mikulak. But you know it’s the Olympic Games, it’s a whole other beast. So I think pressure did come into play. You know, 19, 20 year old guys that are going to continue to compete, they’re going to get better, they’re going to learn how to deal with that. But I think you know maybe other than that it just simply put was a rough day. You know we had guys making mistakes they don’t normally make. Walking off the floor going, “ugh I feel good I don’t know why I did that.” You know when Sam messed up his dismount on floor, he literally was like “I thought I was going to stick it, I don’t know what happened.” And then Danell, I hadn’t seen Danell miss a horse routine in a meet or in practice in forever. And he just you know he was confused. And… so many different things come into play. You know John Orozco was very emotional just because I think he puts so much pressure on himself. That’s just the kind of competitor he is. He’s such a perfectionist. And he made a couple of mistakes and he just couldn’t believe it. You know I just kind of… I told the guys this isn’t our last time here together. We’re going to do this again, we’re a young team. And you know hopefully I’m back with them again in four years but I think we showed the rest of the world that United States, because of what we did this year at such a young age, we’re going to be a powerhouse for quite some time.
BLYTHE: After the 2008 Olympics, I imagine that being at the Olympics changes you as a person and as a gymnast. What do you think the younger guys are going to take away from the experience of London?
JONATHAN: Well I think they’re going to take away the same thing I took away from World Championships in 2006. In 2006 we got 13th place as a team, and it was probably one of the worst days of my entire life just because you know it was my first Worlds, I had such a high expectation of myself, the rest of the team, we expect so much. You know we really believed we could have medaled at that Worlds. And to get 13th place was just… it was devastating. I mean I think a lot of us were wondering if we would ever make a World team again because I think we had a lot of doubt in our mind. But what I think these guys will take away from London is pretty similar, and that is you know… I don’t want to say how to deal with failure, but how to overcome adversity by motivating yourself. I finally, I remember in 06, I could have gone two ways. I could have said to myself, “I don’t want to compete anymore internationally. Too much pressure, can’t handle it.” But instead of that, I went the other route and told myself, “I’m going to work harder than I ever have in my entire life. I’m going to start eating right, I’m going to start sleeping right, I’m going to balance my school with my training, and I’m going to be the greatest gymnast that I’ve ever been in my entire life because of this moment.” And I think that the same thing will happen with the London 2012 team. I think this is going to drive us. I think it’s going to push us. I think every single one of those guys including myself, we’re going to remember what it was like to know that we could have won and that we weren’t even on the medal podium. We’re going to have that memory, and it’s going to push us. You know I’d sometimes like to think failure.. .there’s nothing more powerful than failure if you use it right. And I think now that we have gone through the game, we have another driving force that’s going to push us every single day to Rio.
BLYTHE: What was the best moment of the Olympics for you?
JONATHAN: Best moment… honestly I hadn’t really thought about it too much just because the Olympics in itself is pretty awesome the entire time. I would say probably first day competition prelims. Walking out on the floor. Just because they had the entire arena kind of blacked out. i guess you could still see some of the pink, even without the lights on. But we walked out into the arena, and they just had the music playing, and all the sudden all the lights came on. And we had no idea how many people were in that arena until the lights came on and we just look around and we were like wow. This is awesome. And I just turned around – I was in the front of the line, you always do shortest to tallest and I’m the little guy on the team – and I turned around and I looked at everybody and they just had smiles on their faces. Like, this is incredible, we’re at the Olympic Games, there’s like 15,000 people in this arena here to watch gymnastics. And it was a feeling unlike anything.
BLYTHE: Did the pink shock you a little bit? Was it also a feeling of wow, we’re at the Olympic Games, and the arena is completely shocking pink?
JONATHAN: [laughs] It was a little bit of a shock factor to that. And to be completely honest it was hard to get used to. We had a training gym. It was a quarter mile away from the actual competitive floor. And in the training gym it had this special ceiling where sunlight could come through. It wasn’t super bright, but they had pink all over the training gym too just so people could get used it. And when the sun came through this gym lit up like Christmas morning. And it was like you almost had to squint because it was so bright in there. And so we just had to I guess get used to it. Just swinging around on highbar doing kovaces and stuff like that is definitely… definitely throws you off a little bit. But you know luckily we had a couple weeks to get used to it, and by the time we got to the arena it was no big deal at all.
BLYTHE: It was also very hot in the training gym, wasn’t it?
JONATHAN: Again I think it had to do with the way the ceiling was designed. Because at night it was amazing, it was cool in there. But then during the day the sun would shine through, and it was like doing gymnastics on the sun.
BLYTHE: I can imagine. All of the reporters sat at the sidelines and watched the training and drank bottles and bottles of water and we felt very sorry for the athletes in the middle of the day. And it must have been 90 degrees in there, seriously.
BLYTHE: After the tour is over, you will go straight back to training? No break at all?
JONATHAN: Yeah I’m going to go straight back. I mean tour is kind of a break in itself. I mean we’re doing a lot of shows, a lot of gymnastics, but not the type of training and conditioning that we do day in and day out for competition. So I’ll probably go home and take two three days to just rest and recuperate and get my mind straight. But after that you know I’ll be pushing again. My goal is to compete and do well and be at Championships this year and qualify for another World team and just keep pushing. you know I feel like this is an important year for me to get back on my feet and just see what I can do.
BLYTHE: In 2009 you talked a little bit about not being fully prepared for the competitive season and how Nationals went quite well for you actually but then the wheel came off the track with the World Championships. When you’re looking at 2013, how are you going to prevent that from happening?
JONATHAN: Well… I can’t completely tell you that it will be any different this time around. It hink 09 Worlds was you know one of those just bad days where everything just kind of crumbled at the wrong time. But it’s extremely hard to get back into the kind of shape that you want to be in. After the Olympic Games that’s just reality of it. Especially when you go on tour for three months. And I know every single one of us will get back home and we’ll start training and it’ll be difficult. You know we have to get our endurance back, there will be some skills that just feel off for a while. but that’s just how it goes. And I told several people in 09 I got lucky with how well I competed at Visas. And then my inconsistencies caught up with me at Worlds. So hopefully I can get back into shape fast this time around. And if that doesn’t happen… but you know I feel like I’m a much more experienced competitor now and I’m just going to trust myself and hope everything falls into place.
BLYTHE: And go back to event finals in London. You had a really impressive high bar final after the disappointment in team finals. It was a terrific finals by everybody really. Were you happy with your performance there?
JONATHAN: Oh yeah absolutely. You know everybody’s coming up to me and they tell me, “that was the most incredible high bar in the history of men’s gymnastics.” And I’m like you know what, I didn’t medal, but it’s pretty cool to say I was a part of that. You know it was ridiculous just every single guy nailed their routines, there wasn’t a single error, and I can’t complain. That was the best high bar routine I have ever done, hands down. I didn’t stick my dismount, but I rewatched the routine, I caught everything perfectly, I didn’t bend my arms out of the swing, everything was smooth, and I knew I had to be flawless to even be close to the top three guys just because I had the lowest start value in the entire final. But no it was incredible. And I don’t like to complain about anything but I thought I was scored a little bit low compared to… my routine in prelims was good, but my routine in finals was you know what I thought was 10 times better and I actually scored lower. But that’s just the way it goes. It was finals. But it was amazing to be a part of.
BLYTHE: We were all holding our breath and wondering if you would throw your triple twisting double layout dismount in event finals. Were you training it at all and do you plan to bring it back in the future?
JONATHAN: No I think that dismount is retired. I’ve gotten to the point where I am a little older and I can get through these routines with big skills. But it’s really really hard to get the type of endurance that I had when I was in college for that kind of dismount. You know I’ll continue to do a double double layout off high bar. You know I’ve even considered doing a triple back which is pretty easy for me. But something about that third twist is just… it’s so difficult. And all the past four years I was trying to get it back, trying to get it back, and it just wasn’t happening. So I actually had to go back, relearn a double double just to get the air sense again, and I think the Olympics was the first meet that I even competed it at. So I’ll probably stick with that from here on out.
BLYTHE: Ok. I do have to ask if it was hard to watch the women win the team gold medal after the guys finished.
JONATHAN: You know, I’m surprised anyone ever asks me that because it was hard. And I remember me and the other four guys, we sat around the room and we watched them do it. And we were happy for them and then upset for ourselves at the same time. And you know we’re not the type of team to expect a pity party or anything like that. But I think it was ok for us to be upset for a while. You know it was natural. And it was tough to watch because we know that could have been us and it would have been an amazing thing for USA Gymnastics. But again like I was saying before, that was just more fuel to the fire. It was motivating and after we sat around and watched that were all kind of ansty. We were like we need to go train, we need to get in the gym and start working out because four years from now that’s going to be us. We’re going to make it happen. And it’s tough. We watched it knowing we had worked that hard just like them. We just didn’t have that kind of day. But you know we were proud for the girls and the girls did an amazing job. But we want to do it too.
BLYTHE: Could you give us a little bit of insight into the personalities of your Olympic teammates? Who’s the quiet intense one? Who’s the class clown? Who’s the party animal? That sort of thing.
JONATHAN: [laughs] Well let’s see. I guess I’ll go one at a time. I’ll start with John Orozco. He is… I mean we call him Ninja for a reason. He’s the silent Ninja. Doesn’t really say too much, he just does his job. He’s kind of like… he’s like a wizard or something. He just does what he knows he’s supposed to do. Every now and then he’ll crack a joke and say something but he really is a quiet guy. And you know I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing but the rest of us are pretty loud so I guess it’s kind of nice to have the quiet guy on the team. I say the clown is probably Danell. Danell.. actually he goes from one extreme to another. Danell will be super quiet at one moment then the next moment he’s the funniest weirdest kid I’ve ever met in my entire life. Just with all his little antics he does. You know he wears nothing but purple all day every day until he’s competing. He draws funny pictures, he’s actually a really good artist. He watches cartoons constantly. That’s literally all he does. He watches cartoons on his computer. Then there’s Sam, who is probably one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever met in my entire life. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s always willing to help you know anybody with anything. You know and I wasn’t really close with Sam until the Olympics, but got to know him and now I consider him one of my best buds. He’s like my brother. And there’s Jake. I don’t know really how to describe Jake, I guess he’s kind of like me I guess. Him and I are both pretty similar. He goes from serious to funny to… you know just wants to be doing something. I guess he’s a busy body. And him and I are both pretty similar. We ride motorcycles, like fast cars. You know so I guess that’s the only way I think of describing him is he’s a lot like I am.
UNCLE TIM: So can you describe briefly what the Olympic Village is like? We always hear that it’s such a giant party, and I was just wondering if you could tell if that’s true or if you could share maybe some of the experiences that the team had this year?
JONATHAN: Yeah sure. I honestly did not know where the giant party thing came from. The Olympic Village was, until the very last night, was probably one of the most serious places I’ve ever been in my entire life. It was really cool, just the idea of being in this confined area with all the greatest athletes in the world, was… it’s pretty crazy. And the cafeteria is probably the main spot where everybody goes every day. I mean it’s like the size of two football fields put together. You know and it’s pretty nuts when you walk in there and you see Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte on one side and then Usain Bolt sitting on the other side. You know it’s pretty insane. I really didn’t think even on the last night it was a huge party. I remember we finished the closing ceremonies when everybody… it was like 1:00 in the morning and everybody I guess was hungry so we all went in the cafeteria. It stays open 24 hours a day. And I guess everybody decided they wanted to sing and dance in the cafeteria and jump all over the place. So that was really the only crazy experience from the Village. But in terms of things that I have heard, read in magazines, or heard on TV about the Village, I’d say it’s completely false. I didn’t see any of it.
UNCLE TIM: And during the Olympics there was some controversy about the amount of armpit hair the Japanese men had.
UNCLE TIM: And in general we’ve noticed a trend toward less body hair in men’s gymnastics, but then there is Mr. Chile who had the hipster stache and he made two finals. And so we were kind of wondering what’s the deal with body hair and men’s gymnastics?
JONATHAN: [laughs] I honestly have no idea how to answer that. I have never even put a second thought into body hair on male gymnasts. Some guys have their preference. They like to shave. And some guys like to go au natural. I don’t really know. I don’t think there’s really a trend, I think people are just going to do what they want to do.
UNCLE TIM: Do you think that your aesthetic body… your look affects the judges or anything?
JONATHAN: I mean I would like to think if you shave you know your arms and your legs and everything, you’d be more aerodynamic and more aesthetically pleasing. But look at you know like you said the Japanese guys. They don’t really trim or shave or anything like that and they’re absolutely beautiful gymnasts to watch. And the guy from Chile, you know he’s really graceful, really powerful, and fun to watch on floor. Even with the stache. So I can’t really say it affects anything.
UNCLE TIM: You’ve said that your goal in life is to make gymnastics as big as the NFL. What are the barriers to making that happen now? And what do you think gymnastics needs in order to overcome some of those barriers?
JONATHAN: Well it’s definitely an ambitious goal of mine. I think the sport in itself is amazing to watch, and when people see it, even first time spectators, they’re blown away by what we do. Unfortunately, you know I think gymnastics can grow, I think it can be a much more popular sport. It will never be as big as the NFL or NBA or baseball or anything like that. But I do think it can become more popular if we can somehow get people to understand what’s going on. It’s such a tough sport to follow because of the intricacies of it. You know people see a high bar routine like Epke Zonderland and they compare it to a guy like me, and they see, “ok wow Jon Horton did all those moves, but then Epke did it all connected, how is the score affected by that? How does Epke have almost an 18 start value and Jon Horton has a 16.8? You know what little intricacies in there actually change that score?” You know people see it and they’re wowed by everything but they don’t necessarily get it. You know I think the other barrier that we have to overcome is how do we make meets more fun to watch. I think we need more music, I think we need… the types of things that go on during an NFL football game need to be going on during gymnastics. You know the halftime shows and crazy things like that. People need to have more incentive to want to come see these competitions because they are fun. They could be really spectator friendly if we got the right people involved in putting them together.
UNCLE TIM: So if you could change one thing about the rules of gymnastics, or about an event, what would you change?
JONATHAN: I think the number one thing that I would change is somehow speed it up. If you’re going to have you know the Olympic Trials this past year, I thought it was awesome that we went one at a time. Every single person in the arena was able to watch every routine. But I think it would have been… I don’t know how to do it, but if you could speed up judging somehow. You know you don’t want to mess up the proper score that could come through, but… you know this is the barrier that I’m talking about. How do we do these things? Speed up the competition, throw…you know, I don’t know if guys necessarily need to have choreographed routines to music. But you know pick a song. When I’m in the middle of a high bar routine, blast some super fun song that the crowd can really stand up and get into. So I think those are… I know you asked for one thing, but those are two things that I think about all the time, you know, that would really make a meet more exciting.
UNCLE TIM: So what would be your high bar song?
JONATHAN: [laughs] I don’t know, there’s so many. I really like upbeat rock and roll when I’m trying to get into training. Maybe something along the lines of a Linkin Park song or 311 I don’t know, Rage Against the Machine. Those are my three favorite bands, so something really upbeat, something that people would also recognize.
UNCLE TIM: We had Anna Li on our show a couple weeks ago and she shared with us some funny anecdotes from the tour. And she told us a little bit about the outfits that the girls wear and the names they gave the outfits. Can you give us any funny anecdotes or insights… behind the scenes insights from the tour?
JONATHAN: [laughs] Well I don’t really have too much about our costumes or anything like that. They’re definitely pretty interesting. We have like our flying squirrel uniform that we use on high bar. It’s got wings on it, that’s kind of cool. We make fun of ourselves a lot whenever we do parallel bars because our bright shiny silver outfits with the capri pants. I’m not really sure whose idea that was but we wear it with pride. [laughs] Other than that, you know the only funny behind the scenes thing that I can think of is our scooter gang. We had a gang called the Dirty Scooter Boys. And we even made customs hats. Basically it started… I guess we run back and forth back stage so much on concrete with bare feet. And we were starting to get a little tired of it, it starts to hurt your feet and ankles. And one day we were at a Walmart and I think it was Alex Naddour that was like, “We should all buy razor scooters. Then we won’t have to run back and forth anymore.” And everybody was like, “Yeah, let’s do it, that’s genius.” So we went and we bought these scooters and we told each other, “nobody can have same one.” And so Chris Brooks got a black one, i got this yellow and blue one where the wheels light up, Alex Naddour got a pink one. So we all got different scooters and we all have names now. So since my wheels light up, I’m “Underglow,” Chris Brooks is “Black Mamba,” Alex Naddour is “Sweet P” since he’s pink. And so we got these custom hats made with our names and DSB on the front of them. And we literally, between numbers, we are like ripping it back and forth just like flying from locker room to the arena staging area. And it’s pretty funny, everybody makes fun of us. And we’ve had a few wrecks and crashes and stuff but it’s really entertaining.
UNCLE TIM: And earlier in the interview you kind of alluded to some plans for the future. So what do you think you would like to do after gymnastics?
JONATHAN: Let’s see after I’m completely retired no longer competing…
UNCLE TIM: Yeah.
JONATHAN: Let’s see. You know I’ve thought about a lot of different things. I’ve really gotten into some motivational speaking kind of on the side which I enjoy. I never thought that would be something that I’m really into, but it kind of gives me an adrenaline rush. I like speaking in front of people. I’ve done a university tour for one of my sponsors, Deloitte, where I go to a bunch of different universities all over the country and give like a 15 minute speech. So it’s pretty simple. I really like it so I might roll with that. You know I would love to somehow get into broadcasting. i think you know… Tim Daggett, I’ve always loved what he does. And I don’t know if I could… I always make fun of him, I’m like, “Hey Tim I’m going to steal your job whenever I’m done.” And he just kind of laughs at me. But you know I think that would be a lot of fun if I could sneak my way into that somehow. And I’m also planning on being a family guy one day. So my wife is in medical school, she’s training to be a pediatric anesthesiologist. And so I don’t think I could ever be a stay at home dad, but if I could spend a lot of time at home taking care of our kids one day, I think I wouldn’t mind doing that too.
UNCLE TIM: And can you tell us what your most embarrassing gymnastics moment is?
JONATHAN: Oh most embarrassing gymnastics moment. Let’s see. Probably when I broke my nose on high bar at the 2007 Winter Cup. I was being a complete goon trying something that I shouldn’t have been doing and trying to be a little showy at the same time and smashed my face on the bar and broke my nose and blood went everywhere [laughs]. So it’s unfortunate but I think that video probably has more YouTube hits than any of mine. So, kind of embarrassing now that I think back on it and how dumb I was.
UNCLE TIM: Well thank you very much for being on our show. We greatly appreciate your time and it was fun talking to you.
BLYTHE: Thank you.
JONATHAN: Yeah I appreciate you guys having me on, anytime, yeah.
[[LISTENER FEEDBACK SEGMENT]]
JESSICA: So Spanny has a listener feedback for us this week. So what do we have?
SPANNY: Yes I do. First let me say thank you for rating and reviewing us on iTunes. I ask that you please continue to do so. Whether it’s a good or bad review. You know just rate us so that we are visible. You can always tweet us, email us, Facebook us. You know we’ll try to respond to everything. Word of the podcast is getting around. Paul Ruggeri tweeted that he hears the show is awesome and that he’d like to be on the show, which we say, thank you, Paul Ruggeri, we will absolutely have you on the show. And make that invitation open to anybody, if you would like to come on the show, and if you have something pertinent to say we would love to hear it. Also you can email us at email@example.com. Email from Katy Lovin. She’d like to discuss… again we had the podcast discussion about the gymnastics media portrayal of our sport. And we touched on it a little bit with Tim Daggett, and he explained to us kind of why NBC does the “grandma in Wichita.” That sort of thing. What Katy is mentioning is, opinions on the real obvious plot lines. The diva storyline that everybody was frustrated with over the Olympics. And a few of the other real kitschy things that they have gone after. The “we are family” storyline from the 2000 Olympics with Romania where the fluff piece would have you believe that all of Deva went out at night and they lit candles to pray for a young gymnastics team to win gold in Sydney. When really it was some Orthodox holiday and they filmed it. I would like your opinions on NBC’s, I mean for lack of a better term, we’ll call them plot lines. Storylines. This year it was, that awful song. I mean maybe it was cool the first time I heard it, that Phillip Phillip Phillip Phillips song that is now the gymnastics theme song. What are some of your opinions on specifically NBC’s portrayal of our sport?
DVORA: I didn’t participate in the first podcast, and I listened to the Tim Daggett interview. I was very excited to just kind of hear his take on it. And I was you know fairly impressed with what he was talking about and the struggles of working with a big corporation, a big conglomerate like NBC and trying to get certain routines on the air. But the thing he didn’t address, and I think that’s what this particular listener’s reader is addressing, isn’t so much the routines are being shown. And I know that foreign viewers and gymnastics fans are always disappointed in the lack of foreign routines. And he did an adequate job of explaining why that is. But he didn’t really talk about the narrative that was left. The narratives that are then imposed onto these routines, onto these competitors. And a lot of people this summer had a problem, I think in particular – I know I did – with the diva plotline that was imposed on some Russian gymnasts. Who, at least according to what I saw on TV, didn’t really seem like divas. They seemed disappointed in the outcome which was understandable. But it’s just NBC was committed that they were divas, whatever that means. And even Mustafina waiting for the uneven bars, waiting for her turn, Al Trautwig asking, “Have you seen any diva moments?” And Tim to his credit obviously says no
DVORA: but why was that even… why was that a question as someone is waiting for the green light? And my opinion of this diva story line is it’s a little sexist. Because female athletes you know expressing ambition and disappointment and all the normal athletic emotions that come along with the Olympic Games are kind of tarred with this “you are a diva.” Which is ultra feminine, dramatic, and, in American culture, highly negative term for the most part. And I was disappointed Tim Daggett’s responses didn’t really address how the narratives are created. Obviously they have to amp up drama because they aren’t catering to gymnastics fans who just want to see the routines, they want to hear about start values and are interested in that side of it. But why such negative storylines to attached to say some foreign competitors, such negative and sexist storylines, a lot of the time. That I find really disappointing and I don’t think he addressed that in his interview.
JESSICA: Tim we’ll talk about that next time you’re on the show.
SPANNY: And I think even he would agree… I can’t imagine anybody with any… even fans, anybody that’s not a four year fan, isn’t kind of tired again with the narrative of diva. And on the other side of the spectrum, you know, “oh the Russians crying, they’re divas, that’s bad.” And then we focus on you know, during prelims we focus on Jordyn and her tears and on the other side of the spectrum, “poor Jordyn, poor baby girl.” Why does it have to be either or? Again, like Dvora was saying, why can’t we address that these are athletes who you know have emotions. They’re happy, they’re disappointed, a whole range of emotions. Why do we have to put them into these categories, and then focus on them incessantly. It’s just dumbing down the audience. I understand yes, grandma in Wichita, but there has to be people who follow the sport beyond these paint by number emotional responses.
DVORA: I would definitely agree with that. And having, as I said, having just watched the entire team final again last night, every time Jordyn Wieber mounted an apparatus or even looked or was in the way of the camera, they brought up her prelims tears, her disappointment. So obviously that was a really.. focal point for them. And in terms of the non gymnastics fans, in terms of the four year fans, I was able to pitch these stories to big publications about the way NBC frames their coverage, and pitched it to websites like Jezebel, and they were immediately snapped up. So I don’t think it’s just gym fans that are annoyed at the portrayal because mainstream publications, when I wrote to the editor of Jezebel about the diva story, you know two of writers wrote back and they were like “oh my God we hate it so much.” You know and so to this idea that non gymnastics fans are only interested in these hyped up dramatics, I don’t think that’s true. Because I hear my friends who don’t care about gymnastics at all and indulge me three out of every four years complaining about it as well. So I think there is a way to do it more intelligently in a less insulting way to the athletes and to the viewers. But NBC isn’t exploring it and I think it’s for a variety of reasons. I think one of the reasons is that improving the coverage I don’t think will improve their ratings. I think the Olympics, gymnastics in the Olympics will always be popular. We happen, with particular Olympic team, happened to have an incredibly photogenic, personable group of young women who were favored for the gold. So they were going to have high ratings no matter what. I don’t think NBC has an incentive to change the way they’re covering it because I don’t think changing the narrative changes the viewership. I think we’re responsible as journalists to do it differently, but I don’t think you can find a profit motive to change it.
SPANNY: I want to know what changed between, again the comparison between Jordyn and Kim Zmeskal. What changed in 1992 when we saw… when Kim Zmeskal was disappointed in her performance. She was bad ass, she was a tough girl. You know and that was kind of her story line. Again, now we compare her with Jordyn, who I think is every bit as emotionally tough or physically tough. She’s not known for showing a lot of emotion on the floor. Why the change 20 years later? Oh now its emotional, she’s an emotional girl, she cries. And that’s what we’re focusing on. What happened to you know focusing on athletes being tough. And that’s probably like Dvora was saying, NBC is probably just going with what they know.
BLYTHE: I think on this topic, like Spanny you asked what’s the difference between Jordyn in 2012 and Kim Zmeskal in 92. And honestly I would kind of say the difference is the coach. NBC had filmed this whole storyline about Bela Karolyi training the girls like tigers. They ate the food that the tigers eat and they survive this whole process. It’s not like they make the Olympic team and were favorites and were so strong and were going to win. It’s like they survived the process of making the Olympic team. That was that kind of, forgive me for saying it, emaciated generation in 1992 of injuries and girls looking very unhappy in international competition. And so you had be tough just to get to the Olympics and survive the whole process of training under Bela. And that’s not… I think that’s somewhat of an unfair criticism of his coaching, but that was the storyline they chose to pursue. Whereas in 2012 it was a lot more… wholesome in some ways? Thanks to social media we understand that these gymnasts are real people. They’re not little robots that live in this factory and breathe only chalk. They have real personalities and they like Justin Bieber and they really are teenagers and they get the opportunity to be teenagers. And when they have a teenage moment, you know who wouldn’t have cried if you were ni Jordyn Wieber’s position. We see that as well, and unfortunately if you tune in once every four years, all you see is her crying. And you think oh you know she’s normal, she’s a teenager, she’s not tough. And that’s an incorrect portrayal of her, but it depends on where you come in… where’s your entry point into the story you know. Even if it was the summer of 2011 and yousa w her dominate Nationals and you saw her do very very well at the World Championships, you wouldn’t have thought that. But if all you’re doing is watching Olympic prelims, then that might be the impression that you get. But it’s all about framing, and NBC has to do what they have to do. They have to assume that maybe the majority of the people watching their gymnastics broadcast during Olympic team prelims don’t know very much about the athletes. And so I guess they made the decision based on that
JESSICA: I think that one of the main problems is that we’ve had… basically the gymnastics narrative was framed in the Pretty Girls in Little Boxes [sic] era. And If you guys aren’t familiar with that book, or listeners, do not buy it. Go to the library and check it out and you will see why gymnastics is portrayed the way it is for the last 20 years. It’s because of that book. And I think that it was an important book to come out. There are important stories that need to be told, and there was an era where gymnasts were treated like they were in a communist country and they should be ruled as if they have no rights and no voice. And important things like that book came out and it really changed I think how training was done. Like things really changed, gymnasts stood up for themselves, and coaches who were involved but didn’t train that way really made a point of treating their gymnasts really well. So it’s not that that kind of… I just feel like that narrative that gymnasts are children who are semi abused is the narrative that was framed, and it’s been really difficult for the media to break away with that. It’s kind of like once something’s out there, it sticks in people’s minds for years and years and years. I’m so glad that you know… and the way that they’re portraying the Russians I feel totally still goes back to Cold War era kind of narrative. Like the Russian diva. The great… who’s like this is the only way you can rise in this society because everyone’s supposed to be equal and gets their same ration of bread. So this is the only way you can actually get your own apartment and a pension for the rest of your life. So I think that it’s… you know Trautwig is that age and maybe the producers. I don’t know. NBC gymnastics producer, get at us as well and come on the show and tell us what it’s like and how old you are and what frame gymnastics you put it in. You know maybe their marketing tells them that most of their viewers are in that age that they’ll relate to that kind of narrative you know. And so that’s why they do it that way. But I think that one of the biggest problems with gymnastics is everything is framed in abused children, and we haven’t gotten out of that. And I’m so glad that this Olympics with the age of the gymnasts going up, with social media showing that these girls have real lives, and being connected will hopefully change that narrative. But I think that’s the biggest problem is that we haven’t gotten out of Cold War, Pretty Girls in Little Boxes [sic] and hopefully by next Olympics that will change.
UNCLE TIM: I think another thing that shapes kind of the NBC coverage is also how the NFL is done. There’s actually a really interesting article in The Atlantic this month about NFL Films, which is kind of the organization, the company that shaped the NFL coverage. And acouple things in the article really stood out to me, is this idea about the announcer having the voice of God. And I think to us that’s kind of what Tim Daggett represents. He’s kind of this voice of God, and NBC finally has this person with this iconic voice. I mean he could probably get me excited about a bunch of senior citizens playing bocci ball. Like he just has this captivating voice. The other thing that they mentioned is that in the NFL they do look for drama and they do cover football as if it were Hollywood. So they try to get you into the huddles and to really see the people hitting each other so that there’s a lot of drama. And I think that also plays into NBC we see people crying, we see people in the huddles. And I think NBC is trying to do what we’ve done with NFL, and it makes sense because a lot of people who watch the Olympics are also watching other sports like football. And so I think that also played a roll. And then this year I think something for gym fans that was hard for gym fans because you watched in the morning. You got up super early and you watched basically choose your own adventure Olympics. You could you know watch floor, you could watch vault, you could watch high bar, and then you go and you watch the NBC coverage and you’re like, “wait, this is not how I experienced it this morning.” Like during men’s team finals the big storyline for me was “oh Ukraine is doing so well, you know they’re in third place, and nowwww they’re in fourth place…” And NBC did not put that up for obvious reasons because they’re interested in America rather than Ukraine. But for me it was kind of disappointed in that sense. It was like “oh… wait.” And then the last 30 seconds you’re going to tell me about Ukraine? What? No! Ukraine is doing well! And I thought they were going to actually have a medal. And then they didn’t. So I think this year was definitely different for gym fans.
JESSICA: The one thing that I think I learned being just a tiny bit involved in TV production is that you have to have like a storyline and you have to have some kind of adversary for someone to overcome. And the thing I don’t understand is that the Olympics itself is the adversary. So I don’t know, I don’t understand why they have to build another storyline outside of that. You have your own internal storyline as a gymnast. I have fallen every single time I’ve ever done a this bar routine at a major competition, and now it’s the Olympics, will I make it? Like with… what’s her name in bar finals, China, oh my God I can’t remember anyone’s name. Who was inconsistent all year and she barely made the Olympic team and then you know ends up medaling.
BLYTHE: He Kexin?
JESSICA: Oh He Kexin! Yes exactly. How could I forget her name, oh my God. Yeah like I mean that is the adversary. Can she overcome herself? It’s the apparatus, the competition, and your own history of competing. So and I think that makes the great sports moments you know. So I would like to see more of that kind of thing. You know because it’s not fighting, you know people aren’t really… there aren’t’ really hatred and if there is they’re not really going to talk about it. We’re not going to have the same storylines we see in the UFC or boxing.
SPANNY: Just a reminder we do have our Halloween costume contest coming up. Please submit any ideas you have, pictures, themes. if you just want to brainstorm. I’ll give you a hint: there are a couple sellers on ebay selling replica leotards of both Mary Lou Retton’s 1984 all around win and also the 1996 team final leotard which, trust me, they have to keep releasing new ones because they’re selling immediately. That should at least give you a base to start from. The good news is is that the winner of our gymnastics halloween costume contest is going to win a tshirt compliments of Cloud & Victory. If you haven’t checked out Cloud & Victory, find them at cloudvictory.bigcartel.com. I actually have one. I bought a gymnastics shirt Ross & Douglas & Wieber & Maroney & Raisman. They have a bunch of high quality… I mean granted they are ladies shirts, but really interesting gymnastics shirts that I did buy and that I would wear in public. They’re different. She just released a new one that’s retro, it says Montreal 1976, it’s red, it has the white Adidas stripe and it has both Comaneci and Olga Korbut on it
JESSICA: That shirt is so cool
SPANNY: Isn’t it?
JESSICA: Yes, you can get it in navy too.
SPANNY: I bought the shirt that I mentioned previously but I wanted it in a different color and she made that for me. So check out her website and participate in our contest so you can win one of her shirts because they are really cool. And I’m picky about shirts too, I’m really picky. They have to be soft and fit right and everything, which her’s does. Also want to give a shoutout to Chris Sacculo. I guarantee every single one of you listening actually knows who he is. He’s on YouTube. If you’ve ever watched a really awesome high quality montage, [inaudible]. This summer he and a buddy have gotten into actually writing and producing their own music to make the videos to. Every gymnast that they’ve made a video about has loved his videos. He’s really incredible. He made these really cool, we’ll call it the “Oath Images.” He took my Athlete Oath and just does incredible things and I think as a community we need really focus on the others in the community. He does such amazing creative things. You know I’m just always impressed by the things he does. He’s just top of the class right now. So Chris thank you.
This episode is brought to you by Elite Sportz Band. Elitesportzband.com. We’ve got your back.
Visit elitesportzband.com, that’s sportz with a Z, and save $5 off your next purchase with the code gymcast. So that’s going to do it for us this week. And we want to tell you guys, especially Katy Lovin, thank you so much for the email that you sent, it was amazing. Thank you guys all for your tweets and your Facebook messages. And especially Chris and Cloud & Victory for sponsoring our contest. And to our great sponsor Elite Sportz Band. And next week we are going to have it looks like Paul Ruggeri is going to come on the show and maybe Jermaine too, he’s one of the dancers and choreographers on the tour. So I’m really excited to talk to them, so if you have any questions for them, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter or Facebook us. And remember you can find us on iTunes and now on Stitcher. So check out Stitcher. I really like the app, I have it on my phone. Until next week I’m Jessica O’Beirne from masters-gymnastics.com
BLYTHE: Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner
SPANNY: Spanny Tampson from Spanny’s Big Fake Smile
UNCLE TIM: Uncle Tim from Uncle Tim Talks Men’s Gym
DVORA: Dvora Meyers from unorthodoxgymnastics.com
JESSICA: Thanks for listening, see you next week!