Category Archives: Great Moments in Gymnastics

The Legend of Aliya and the Acro Series

August 11, 2016.

A Thursday.

By all accounts, a perfectly ordinary Thursday.

But for beloved defender of the kingdom Aliya Sparkle-Hair, it was the day she would become a legend. It was the day she would march into the women’s all-around final, gaze up at the glowering, blood-encrusted maw of that notorious villain Actually Doing An Acro Series, and utter those brave, immortal words, “NOT. TODAY.”

Not all heroes have swords, we learned from Aliya, and sometimes the strongest choice a hero can make in the face of a villain is to do nothing at all. (Like literally nothing. She didn’t even come close.)

No, Aliya Mustafina did not perform acrobatic series that day, or even attempt one, but if bravery, integrity, and the quest for justice  were composition requirements, she would receive All. Five. Tenths.

But how did we get here? How did we reach such depths in this epic conflict?

It wasn’t always this way. Like most hero-villain duos, Aliya and Actually Doing An Acro Series were not so different at first. Some might say, even friends.


They laughed and played, frolicking through the lush meadows of the Sparkle-Hair kingdom, blithely ignorant of the fierce battles that would await them in the coming years.

It was not until 2012 that Actually Doing An Acro Series began to reveal her true nature, to expose her jealousy and aggression through her pattern of petty efforts to take down the rightful queen.

But like any proper monarch, Aliya Sparkle-Hair simply smiled, adjusted, and endured.


Sadly, Actually Doing An Acro Series’ schemes only grew more insidious with each passing year, and our hero Aliya was left with few options.


“Whatever,” she said. “Your mom’s face doesn’t display true rebounding action.” Continue reading The Legend of Aliya and the Acro Series


Bronze Is The New Gold: The Bronze Movie Giveaway!


I have them!

And they’re for you!

Today may officially be the start of men’s Olympic podium training, but…come on.


Much more importantly, the gymnastics movie of our time, The Bronze, is out on DVD and Blu-Ray. Now. RIGHT NOW.

BUT WAIT. In honor of the release, the good people at The Bronze have provided me with two gift packages to give to two of you lucky readers, each package including a Blu-Ray copy of the movie, an Olympic Viewing Kit with all kinds of The Bronze-themed swag, and a bunch of special mystery prizes! (Good ones. Wardrobe and props from the movie.)

Here’s what you need to do to win all this cool stuff/my eternal friendship: Leave a comment (one comment) on this post stating your all-time favorite Olympic bronze medal performance.

And that’s it. At the end of women’s qualification day (August 7th, 9:00 ET/6:00 PT), I will pick the two most attractive people, and they’ll be the winners. Just kidding. This isn’t life. It’ll be random.

Also, be sure to include your (non-public) email in the email field when you leave your comment so that I can, you know, contact you about your victory.


American Horror Story: The Ranch

Now, listen to the audio version of this post.

So, this happened. Don’t pretend it didn’t.

On the first day of women’s nationals, NBC brought us a protracted Bela gargle masquerading as a profile of how the Karolyi ranch has shaped the last nine months of American gymnastics, starring Laurie Hernandez, that picture of Kerri Strug, and some of a camel.

Let’s begin, shall we?

The voice of Kristen Bell greets us to tell us that it has been a year since her best friend, Lilly Kane, was murdered.

Probably at the ranch.

As Kristen explains, there’s a place that’s known all around the world simply as “Martha’s Secret Forest Murder Camp.” Or, I mean, “The Ranch.” Yeah, that’s it. That’s what everyone calls it. Nothing else.

It welcomes dreams, desires, dedication, and like not even that many torn ACLs anymore I swear.

Meanwhile, Bela is busy disposing of the body.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 11.44.27 AM

Unckie Bela is just sort of committing random and unnecessary acts of deforestation—if a tree falls in the forest, does it say, “YOU CAN DO IT”?—while sliding into your nightmares like…


BA-dum. BA-dum, BA-dum.

Apparently, Bela is the star of gymnastics, which is why it’s important to profile him for 98% this piece even though he has nothing to do with the current program or gymnasts and has basically been dead for 10 years. Don’t forget your history, guys. He’s important. “I coached Mary Lou, and Kim, and what-do-you-call-her, and the ugly one.” Thanks, Bela. OH THE MEMORIES.

Also, did Bela just try to name Carly in that list of his champion gymnasts?

Although to be fair, I couldn’t tell if he said “Carly” or “Grlrgly.” Each as likely as the other.

Martha is also here. WHO?

We catch up with Martha Claus as she emerges from her glorious forest palace, clutching a list of who has been naughty and who has been thin.

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 10.26.27 AM

This is also our first introduction to Kristen Bell’s fabulous and self-consciously accurate pronunciation of Martha. She hits that t like a BOSS. That’s like how Dominique Moceanu pronounces it, except without the cauldron of roiling magma. Continue reading American Horror Story: The Ranch

When Wolf Turns Go Bad

The fear.

The anger.

No matter where we come from, no matter who we are, all humans are bound together by the irrepressible storm of pain and fury we experience whenever anyone assumes the telltale position.

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The wolf turn.

Man’s greatest predator.

Our fear of it is instinctive, animalistic, coded in our DNA. Like all primates, human beings inherently mistrust the wolf turn as a defense mechanism to ensure eye preservation. It’s just too dangerous. Too unflattering. In all contexts. Always. For everyone. There’s a reason no one looks at the Mona Lisa and says, “This would be nicer if she were squatting.”

But I believe we can be better than this. We can rise above our basest instincts and, through a process of exposure therapy, shrug off our irrational fear of the wolf and embrace it for what it truly is: a hilarious disasterpiece that may be gymnastics’ greatest gift of all.

And with so much material, how could we ever tire of our newest friend?

At Secret Classic alone, it brought us the old Texas two-step…

That was a double. What? Shut up.
Ending pose!

The ingredients are 1.5 cups wolf turn, and half a cup “grandma’s vertigo is getting worse.”

The 1.5 wolf turn can also be connected directly to Surfin’ USA for 0.2 CV.

Got it, got it, got it, got it, STOP CRAP. Continue reading When Wolf Turns Go Bad

Great Moments in Beam Choreography

End of post.

While Catalina’s attempt to explain the schematics of her plan for a space railroad may be the gold standard, Ponor is far from the only member of the “Is this…what is this?” beam hall of fame. The US system has been churning out champions left and right for years and years.

For artistry. We do so much for artistry. And has it ever said thank you? Even once? Pssh.

I mean, who can forget The Legend of Ol’ Flappy?

Fly away home, Nastia. Fly away home.

Like any great artist, she inspired a generation who wanted to be just like her.

Nope. Fallen out of the nest.

We all remember where we were the first time we saw this revelation.

Scholars have hotly debated the author’s intent in this piece since its debut, and they may never stop. Is she advertising an old-people smoothie juicer? Milking a hover-cow? Explaining how many Memmels it takes to screw in a lightbulb? (Four?) Perhaps it’s intentionally ambiguous. For art.

Continue reading Great Moments in Beam Choreography

The Great Candle Ceremony of Deva

A weekend without NCAA gymnastics. What’s a person to do? Sorry, that’s a silly question. Obviously, the answer is curl up and enjoy a moving bedtime story about how not having a father figure makes you fall on beam at the Olympics, starring our esteemed host with the least, Traut Alwig, and his dearest confidant, the oboe of aggressive narrative.

Grab your paper cup cathedral candles and your daddy issues because we’ve got a lot to get through.

The year was 2000. Everything was terrible, including probably your hair. Bela Karolyi had been commissioned to crush the US gymnasts into tiny cubes so as to save space on the flight to Sydney, Ragan Smith was literally one month old, Maria “Her?” Olaru reigned as defending world champion, and Russia was single-mindedly bent on erasing the shame those caterwauling American chicken buckets brought upon their country’s honor four years previously. Oops. Never mind. I’m sure you’ll win another team gold soon. Well, at least there’s still the all-around final. Nothing scandalous or painfully unjust will happen here and then be remembered forever.

The fluff before the storm. We were so innocent. It was a different era. We had to churn our own butter and make our own scandals out of nothing more than popsicle sticks, an old boot, and a shot of a couple Russian gymnasts stepping off a bus completely unremarkably.

We kick things off with a breaking news update from Trautbot. Mission control has dialed his vocal pitch matrix all the way down to Implied Russian Cheating Bass (one notch below This American Score Seems Too Low Baritone) to inform us that in an all-around final, only three gymnasts per nation may compete (so few!), but the Russians are such diva rebel divas that they brought four to the arena. Those bitches. They’re totally trying to cheat and put a pair of Groucho glasses on Zamo and sneak her into the all-around final as Fakeryna Shutupskaya from Tumblestan. BUT YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED! YOU’RE NOT ALLO…oh, you mean Prod is injured and this is normal because no one cares how many gymnasts arrive at the arena? 

Really, the bigger scandal here is that Svetlana Khorkina was riding a bus. A BUS. Svetlana Khorkina does not ride buses. Not now, not ever. Would you make the moon ride a bus? Or the stars?

All is not well in the Russian team, but like…more than usual. This is symbolized by the wistful fading sunlight of dashed dreams and stolen glory near something Kremliny.

Wait a MINUTE. That’s the exact same wistful fading sunlight of Russian sadness they used during Atlanta when it symbolized the decline of the Soviet machine intermingled with the aching internal pain of Leeeeeeeeetle Roza Galieva four years after getting personally victimized by Tatiana Gutsu! But which is it?!?!? What does it really mean?!?!?! I don’t know what to think!

In this particular instance, RussiaHasASad2.mpeg is being used to introduce the first annual NBC Living-Parents Championship, in which we check out how many living parents all the gymnasts have and then base everything they have accomplished on the stability of the father figures in their lives. Note: all older males are important father figures to these lost little girls. Got it? Got it.

Both Zamo and Prod’s fathers have died, which led Prod to sit in the gym in black and white while gradually transforming into a glamorous 1940s movie star.


Don’t weep too much for them because their fathers were swiftly replaced by Leonid Arkayev. PHEW. ALL BETTER. Just as long as there’s a father figure somewhere, someone who can use Prod’s legs to extinguish a forest fire and then kiss her on the lips. You know, dad things. Remember that time Andy Memmel kissed Chellsie on the lips after a routine and Daggett quickly had to go, “IT’S HER DAD DON’T FREAK OUT PLEASE AHHHH.”

Because of Arkayev’s fatherly guidance and fatherly direction of fatherhood, Prod eventually becomes in color again (in what we can only assume is a Pleasantville-type situation), and she instantly gets herself a cool new Russian strutting jacket and dead-of-winter skirt.

The flag of Russia. 

Unlike Prod’s, Zamo’s father died very recently, undermining the narrative about getting into gymnastics in search of some ersatz discipline and leadership that could only ever come from an older Russian male, so we’ll just ignore that. Her dad was a soldier, and in case you didn’t know what a soldier looks like, here are four random ones kidnapping this giant doll of Macaulay Culkin and using it as a battering ram to storm the palace.

I feel like someone should have looked into this. That shot is very “back before the accident.”

Because Zamo doesn’t have a living father, she fell on beam in the team competition. That is the reason. 1+1=2.


For cold-diva-villain-narrative reasons, the Russians took off their silver medals shortly after receiving them, frigidly choosing not to sleep with them for 16 months, wear them on Ellen, and get 15 misguided self-drawn tattoos about the experience because it’s an honor just to be nominated. That’s what good people would do. The Russians, however, are insulted and fixated, which are Russian fluff synonyms for American qualities like driven and inspiringly motivated by the quest for excellence.

Of course, it would be inappropriate to talk any more about the Russian team without mentioning its most important member, Ostrich Zach Morris.

Trautwig explains that the team is guided by the intense edge of Svetlana Khorkina’s haircut, callously leaving out the equally important dual influence of the Yelena Produnova shaved eyebrow lines that practically raised me. They’re all the education anyone ever needed. But now that we’ve mentioned Khorkina for no other reason than to show a couple shots of her looking gaunt and divay, we can get back to Zamo and the tears.

Zamo didn’t make the all-around final, but since there’s no Andrea Joyce to go, “Sup with those tears, yo? Tell us about your dead father. Was this performance supposed to be a tribute to him and now isn’t because you fell?” Zamo is simply forced to Wieber for a while in the corner and wait for her Roza Galieva ex machina, which comes in the form of Prod, as we learn that Prod suffered a tragic overuse injury to her mournfully-staring-at-my-knee muscle on the eve of the final. 

-“Yelena, we need some footage to use in case something bad happens, so could you just sit there for the next couple minutes looking Russian?”
-“I don’t know what that means.”
-“You’re already doing it perfectly.”

We should probably get out of here so Prod and her knee can spend some quality time together, so let’s move on to the Romanians. We now join the annual Deva Gymnastics Candle Ceremony That’s 100% About Gymnastics, already in progress. It is the most hallowed of Romanian religious traditions in which the entire town of Deva shuts down for Gymnastics Prayer Day and every citizen shoves a candle into a paper cup and trudges into the local cathedral to pray that Claudia Presecan doesn’t take that call from that Japanese magazine.

What absolutely nobody did here was film a nonspecific religious ceremony and then spend multiple fluff pieces implying that it’s a prayer ceremony for the gymnastics team that the whole town engages in. Nope. Never.

Their family is the town of Deva, and their father figure is Octavian Bellu. He’s not their coach. He’s their father figure. If you thought maybe their family was their actual family and their father figure was their actual father, you would be wrong. It’s Deva, and it’s Bellu. “His girls” are all orphans.

Please also note how Bellu has way nicer candle cup than any of the gymnasts got. That’s like a professional grade, multi-story Deva candle cup. No wonder they’re having to pose for Japanese magazines. #equalcandlecupsforequalwork

Because of the power of candle cup ceremonies about gymnastics, the Romanian women win team gold, leading to the most awkward and fantastic victory celebration of all time, when Bellu tries to lift up Raducan but all the limbs just get lost in an indecipherable swamp of billowing blue 1990s track suits.

Nobody knows. It’s like one of those giant inflatable tube people outside car dealerships.

Nothing could possibly go wrong now. I mean, she’s just sitting in a park, probably taking some ill-defined medication that I’m sure is fine.

No, Andreea! Don’t do it! Not the Sudafed!

Of course, Romania’s success isn’t all about Andreea Raducan. There’s also some of the least enthusiastic praise of all time that we can give the rest of the gymnasts. “The persistent consistence of the team includes Simona Amanar and is completed by Maria Olaru.”

“Hey, Maria. Please drape yourself over this beam the way no one has ever, like a crafty snake that just bewitched a lost traveler. Cool?”

But now it’s time for the colors to get 100 times brighter and the music to get 100 times lighter to introduce Elise Ray. We find Elise sitting on the serenely suburban stoop of her family home on 4th of July Boulevard in Applepieburg, where she is joined by the first three people who answered the casting call for Typical American White Family. 

Elise’s coach is a woman, which doesn’t fit the guiding father-figure narrative, so we’re going to discuss it none. It’s not even necessary because Elise is a proper American, so unlike in the evil and inhumane Russian and Romanian systems, Elise has parents who have shown the common decency to be alive and sit on that stoop aggressively supporting her while being able to afford to go to Sydney.

We’re really hit over the head with Elise’s apparently glorious and idyllic life. I mean seriously, she might as well be prancing through a peaceful meadow with a loyal butterfly attendant. Oh wait…

It’s her post-Bela therapy butterfly. Smile through the pain, smile through the pain. Act like you’re really excited to share a plane with Bela.

The all-around final is quite simply the only important thing she’ll ever do and will define how she is viewed for ever and ever, so she better huddle on that chair and stare out the window pensively imagining everything about this competition going wrong and it being a miserable experience in every way. I mean, all her dreams coming true.

Because they totally will.

The end.