Rope climbing. Not just the domain of Martha’s physical abilities testing at that haunted snake farm. At seven different Olympics from 1896 until 1932, climbing a rope counted as Olympic gymnastics. On five of those occasions, individual event medals were awarded for excellence at rope climbing (the other two times, it was included as an apparatus in the men’s all-around).
The first Olympic rope climbing event—appearing at the inaugural modern Olympics in 1896—was also the most intense. The rope was 14 meters high, just shy of 46 feet. It would never again come close to that height, with the next-highest Olympic rope climb ever contested coming in more than 13 feet shorter.
The 1896 competition originally had to be postponed due to darkness, but when it was brought back the next morning, a whole five people showed up to compete. The Zhaoqing Challenge Cup vault final owes it so much. Only the two Greek competitors fully completed the rope climb, with Nikolaos Andriakopoulos taking first place in 23.4 seconds. Standings were supposed to be based on both time and style, but sadly the rules for how style was evaluated have not survived. It’s a great shame for all of us. I badly need a document about how best to reflect an artistic theme through the medium of rope-climb arms.
The method for scoring or judging an event like rope climbing (Time? Style? Elbow pointiness?) and how to compare it to other apparatuses proved a conundrum that was never really solved, especially in the years when the rope climb was included in the all-around.
Yesterday, Alyssa Beckerman posted the Google Doc we’ve been waiting for our entire lives, her account of some of the emotional manipulation and callousness she experienced during her time as a cast member on The Miss Val Show and what went down prior to her much-discussed removal from the team.
At this point, I just want to know where I can preorder the hardback.
Alyssa’s account illuminates some of the inherent contradictions of the Miss Val Positive Coaching Retirement Tour (smyoosh that like button if you’re old enough to remember when Miss Val wasn’t considered “the warm and fuzzy healthy coach”) and pulls back the curtain on how the power dynamics and inherited bad advice in college gym can lead to equally toxic environments as elite. But in addition to that, it’s simply nice to get (part of) the story of Alyssa’s gymnastics saga from her own perspective, rather than from all the other very not-Alyssa, antagonistic perspectives we got during her competitive career.
We’ve been through this before, but the gymnastics-NBC-complex’s treatment of Alyssa was among the worst ever. And that’s a really deep category. The way she was spoken about—in public, on television—during the 2000 process was flat-out ugly. I mean, “sometimes Alyssa has too many windows open, and she leaves the drapes open as well” is branded on my brain forever, but actually what the hell kind of thing is that to say about someone during your trials broadcast? We, as viewers, were told many things about Alyssa’s personality and behavior and what was wrong with it by a lot of people—MLT, NBC, Val—all of whom weren’t Alyssa.
I was reminded via DMs that I never did the third part. So…here’s the third part? (Part 1, Part 2)
Quite unusually, the beam final in Sydney was a chill and undramatic affair compared to the magma tsunami of controversies that marred most of the women’s event. The vault height embarrassment, Andreea Raducan’s cold medicine, and the Chinese age falsification were problems for another day. The beam final was just some gymnastics. No one even fell!
The two greatest individual stars of Sydney—Andreea Raducan and Svetlana Khorkina—both barely missed out on places in the final with 9.6s in qualification, and the absence of world silver medalist Raducan (as well as one of the strongest beamers of all time, Kui Yuanyuan, who was injured in qualification) opened the door for some unexpected medalists in what was largely a wide-open final.
The final became even more wide open when world champion and gold medal favorite, Ling Jie, did not receive her intended 10.0 start value. Ling had received a 10.0 start value in qualification, yet her exactly identical routine in the event final received just 9.90 (so perhaps the beam final was dramatic after all). The start value issue, coupled with a leg-up wobble on her beautiful back handspring + Onodi combination, spoiled what otherwise should have been the gold-winning routine.
Rather, it was her teammate Liu Xuan who took advantage to swoop in and snatch the Olympic title—despite originally qualifying in just 7th place—with her sublime Yang Bo, layout to two feet, and stuck double tuck. The only noteworthy error in the routine, a balance check on a stag ring, was not enough to derail her title hopes since all the competitors suffered something of that nature in their routines. Five out of the six judges agreed that Liu was the rightful champion, while the dissenting judge from Kazakhstan had Liu in 4th place behind Ekaterina Lobaznyuk, Elena Produnova, and Tatiana Yarosh—the three gymnasts from former Soviet republics, he says implying nothing at all.
I wasn’t planning on doing one of these today, but…things happen.
This week, Ashton Kim and Kennedy Baker both wrote about their experiences at Texas Dreams—or as Ashton (and everyone’s legs) refer to it, Texas Nightmares.
Both statements are worth reading in their entirety, especially as several of these tales take Texas Dreams from the territory of “ah, these are adults who did not realize the damaging effect their words and actions had on the minor gymnasts they coached and could perhaps learn…” to the territory of “OH GOD.”
I mean, I’m not sure there’s any coming back from the HARROWING story of Kim cutting Kennedy’s hair right before nationals. Dear gymnastics coaches: why are you psychotic? Asking for an everyone.
We all woke this morning to news that D-D Breaux is retiring from LSU after a storied 175 years as head coach of the program. She has been there for so long and done so much that her retirement can’t really be considered surprising, but I was definitely also thinking she had a good 8 decades left in her and would stay on as coach exactly until LSU won her a national title.
In terms of influence—being there from the beginning and building a small group of 1980s-haired gymnastics nomads into a powerful civilization by face-burning anyone who stood in her way—D-D should be mentioned right along with her trailblazing conference cohorts Suzanne and Sarah. But I’d say it wasn’t until this most recent stint of LSU success that her significance started to be consistently and rightfully mentioned in the same sentence as Sarah, Suzanne, Greg, Val, and the like.
In this current era, we’ve seen the attendance really start to blossom, we’ve seen LSU start consistently winning conference titles and emerge as a perennial threat to win nationals. With that status inevitably comes recognition of the person who has been building up those stones for decades.
Today, I return to the land of the gymming…and almost wrote the year in the post title as 2015. So that’s where we are.
A. Gymnast AllianceNetherlands
The gymnast alliance is growing ever stronger, with the biggest news yesterday coming from the Dutch federation, which announced the surprisingly intense move of shutting down the women’s elite program while an investigation is launched.
So, what does this mean?
The elite gymnasts will still be able to train independently at their clubs, but national team activities—which means both camps and competitions—will be stopped indefinitely, and coaches Gerben Wiersma and Vincent Wevers are currently suspended from coaching as the federation investigates further action.