The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – June 11, 2020

A. Kurt Thomas died

Last weekend, we received the news that Kurt Thomas died following a stroke. Really the first US men’s gymnastics star, Thomas won the world floor title in 1978 in Strasbourg and joined Marcia Frederick—who won the bars title at that same meet—in becoming the first Americans to win a gymnastics world title.**

Thomas emerged at the 1976 Olympics (ultimately his only Olympic Games) but had not quite come into his own yet, placing 21st AA and 7th with the US team. His transition into a world force came with that victory in 1978 and continued at 1979 worlds in Fort Worth, where he cleaned up with five medals—including wins on HB and FX and a silver in the all-around—proving himself to be the equal of Dityatin and Tkatchev, as well as an essential innovator with his flares on pommel horse and roll-out on floor.

He would have been on the 1980 Olympic team had the United States sent a delegation, but alas. Of course, he then went on to far more culturally critical work, starring in the greatest action film of all time, Gymkata. Let us never forget. His pro status left him ineligible for competition for much of the 80s, but he did make a comeback attempt in the early 90s, placing 16th AA at nationals in 1992.

**The US had won Olympic gymnastics titles before at the sparsely attended home Olympics in 1904 and 1932, and Frank Kriz won the Olympic vault title in 1924 in Paris, but since vaulting that year involved jumping over a horizontal bar before contacting the horse, I think we can chalk that up to being basically a different sport.

B. Black Lives Matter

In last week’s edition, I ran through a number of the statements from black athletes about their experiences in NCAA gym, and we’ve seen a few more come out since then, most prominently from former Auburn gymnasts like Kennedy Finister and Telah Black.

We’ve also seen more articles about Tia Kiaku’s situation at Alabama, including a particularly disturbing story that her mom relates about Dana Duckworth being like, “I think your daughter might be a slut because you’re a single mom.” I mean, that’s not what she said, but that’s also absolutely what she was saying.

These stories continuing to come out—along with their associated “I AM TEH LEARNING” responses—has stoked calls for these coaches to be fired, which…..it may happen, I have no idea. (I was kind of waffling about whether to put this up today in thinking, “You know someone is going to resign the millisecond after I hit publish. You know it.”)

These stories reveal unacceptable behavior so I’m not going to be weeping if someone does get “asked to resign,” though these stories also reveal failures throughout the athletic departments, which means that accountability is always going to have to be on more than just the gymnastics coach who said the bad thing. Because if the athletic departments had acted appropriately after the complaint was made about the coach doing the racist thing, we probably would never have heard the story.

And this is just gymnastics. Imagine the filing cabinets these schools have for coaches’ behavior in those other sports. I guarantee you these aren’t the worst examples. If you start enacting real, warranted accountability, then doesn’t the whole ziggurat have to go? Are they really going to be willing to do that? I kind of think…they’re not.

C. NCAA Movement

Emma Brown, a freshman at Denver last season, is transferring to LIU. It’s the biggest get yet for that program, which only increases expectations that LIU will be able to hit the ground running. Brown worked her way into the beam lineup last season, typically for 9.825s and 9.850s, and was also inserted into the floor lineup after Lynnzee Brown’s injury.

Mercedez Sanchez, of “being that one who seemed enjoyable on the UCLA sidelines” fame, has moved on to San Jose State as a fifth-year graduate student transfer. While Sanchez never competed a scored routine for UCLA, she did improve quite a bit on bars over the years and showed an exhibition-level routine this past season that would make SJSU’s lineup.

Kailey Gillings was at Arkansas for the last three seasons, showing a January beam in 2019 and January bars and beam in 2020 (beam scores 9.575 and 9.550). She will follow former teammate Michaela Burton in transferring from Arkansas to Pitt to finish out her college gymnastics career.

Georgia has added Jah’Liyah Bedminster to its 2021 team, and the team will hope to get at least a supporting full on vault from her. She’s never really had the results or consistency on bars, but I also look at her excellent Ray there and think, “hmm,” especially given Georgia’s need on bars. But really, my favorite thing about this release is that Victoria Nguyen is referred to as only “Victoria.” She needs NO last name.

Auburn has added Gabby McLaughlin from Texas Dreams to the 2021 team, a gymnast who regularly qualified to JO Nationals with her all-around scores and whom I imagine they’ll hope to get at least a beam routine out of.

Note: Last time around, I neglected to mention that Derek Galvin, UNC’s head coach for several lifetimes, announced his retirement.

D. Larisa Iordache

The only bright light, Larisa Iordache, has announced that she plans to return to training with the aim of earning an Olympic spot by placing in the top two AA at the now-December European Championship. It’s the only thing keeping any of us going. The end.

E. GymCastic

WATCH HERE Club Gym Nerd members can watch the podcast being recorded and see some of the gymnastics we discuss, plus get access to all of our exclusive interviews and Behind The Scenes episodes.  Please login to your Club Gym Nerd account to listen and/or watch this episode. Not a member? Join here. GYMKATA This week, the episode Jessica and Spencer have been training in the woods for their whole lives: Gymkata. In 1985's action film spectacular, the dear departed Kurt Thomas must travel to the very real and geographically consistent nation of Parmistan to try to survive THE GAME, a totally unnecessary obstacle course where people kill you at the very beginning. We discuss: For a closed central Asian nation, everyone sure is American and can come and go as needed Very 3-dimensional female characters with clear goals and lines (JKKKKKKK) MULLETS Men holding giant birds for no reason Cool technological weapons, like a…little axe? That thing where you find a dead body and hear a BOIYOINGGGGG sound The most accurate depiction of US military presence in Asia ever committed to film A horse just decking some dude An actual character named Thorg How Kurt Thomas is fully, unironically good at action movie The "Village of the Crazies" and how it gets DARK A guy in a white robe with the butt cut out (!) And of course, the iconic town square pommel horse fight: featuring RANDOM GOAT JOIN CLUB GYM NERD Join Club Gym Nerd (or give it as a gift!) for access to Behind the Scenes episodes. Buy our awesome clothing and gifts here. We have a Ukraine Fundraiser design, all proceeds go to the CARE Ukraine Crisis fund. RELATED EPISODES & RESOURCES Donate grips and tape for Ukrainian gymnasts Donate to family of Alabama volunteer assistant coach in Ukraine To follow the effects of the Russian invasion to Ukraine on gymnastics, go to Gymnovosti The Leotard Episode: Part Deux NCAA Championships 2022 Winter Cup Recap Spitfire: The Movie (Commissioned) Nadia: The Movie (Commissioned)
  1. GYMKATA
  2. The Leotard Episode: Part Deux
  3. The Leotard Episode
  4. NCAA Championships: A Victory for Execution (and Curses)
  5. NCAA Preview & Jesolo Mime Recap

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