perfection is possible

blatherings about gymnastics

Performances Worth Remembering

Posted by Rawles on December 7, 2008

So, I have this habit wherein I enjoy wandering around YouTube looking at vaguely obscure videos of gymnasts I know and/or like back when they were juniors or before anyone cared about them and suchnot.

In these travels, I occasionally come by videos containing really great routines or skills that I often didn’t know said gymnasts had done or were not widely broadcast, etc. This is fun! And exciting! To me, anyway. And in the hopes that it will be, at least, mildly entertaining to you, I’ve decided to share these as I encounter them. You may have seen them, you may not have, but either way, they’re worth remembering.
Few would accuse Carly Patterson of being an especially exciting gymnast and, truly, I would not be one of those few. She always seemed to lack a certain amount of feeling, to be a little robotic. Frankly, she just wasn’t that interesting. And while I don’t hold the fact that she parlayed her Olympic glory into a “singing career” against her in the way that some gym fans do, let’s face it: it is and probably always will be a very hilarious development. Not really in a good way. But one thing that I could never fault Carly Patterson for was her almost freakish ability on balance beam. Everything she did was so preternaturally light and floaty it was almost mesmerizing. This video is from a 2002 podium meet.

What’s most remarkable about this (besides her being like 13 and doing the double arabian dismount), I feel, is her back full (:16). Not only does she do it with actual, honest-to-goodness true full-in technique (i.e. doing a full twist and then the salto, instead of twisting during the salto), but it’s not even really tucked. I look at this and feel like she could have trained up to a full-twisting layout. But then when she dropped the tucked/piked back full for a plain layout, it wasn’t that great, so who knows. What I do know is that this is pretty awesome and that it’s disappointing that by the time Carly made her successful run for the Olympic AA title in 2004, there really wasn’t much left of interest in her balance beam routine outside of her bitching dismount. But, oh, there was a time!

Three more, after the jump!

I make no bones about the fact that I am very fond of Bridget Sloan. I love her clean lines and tumbling, her candid nature, and her potential. Like many, I’m also a sucker for an underdog story so from Worlds team alternate, to dark horse, to Olympic silver medalist appeals to me a lot. In addition, going from guaranteed only a single event in prelims to doing all around there and placing 10th in the world (with errors) isn’t too shabby either. All said, I’d love to see a time when the stars all align and Bridget does some great(er) things. Until then, however, I do enjoy watching this floor set of hers from 2007 US Nationals.

This is not her best performance of this floor routine. Not by far. You would probably want to check out the Beijing Test Event for that. She has some control issues here, bounces about a bit, but the reason I always come back to this routine again and again is because she opens it with what might be the best piked full-in I’ve ever seen. Sky high, great form, and cold stuck.
I count myself among the many, many people who were deeply disappointed that Chellsie Memmel was injured yet again before she could actually show off what she had been building towards leading up to the Olympics. Another disappointment of mine was the fact that on the one event that she did get to do, Chellsie wasn’t really at her best. There was, of course, her wildly uncharacteristic fall in prelims; then, in team finals, it was passable, but it also wasn’t approaching as good as she could do it. Different code acknowledged, this routine from the 2005 US vs. SUI meet is a great snapshot of her capability.

While, of course, the Hindorff immediate Pak salto immediate stalder Shaposhnikova combination that makes up the meat of this routine is sick as all get out, what actually catches my eye the most is the fact that she takes the jam before her dismount straight up to handstand. Something that, in later years, one almost forgot that she could do. Of course, in later years, she was somehow still doing the jam-to-handstand after completely screwing up the rotator cuff in her shoulder, so, as always in the case of Chellsie Memmel, there’s something to be said for her drive.
I always feel sort of bad for Jana Bieger. She came up to senior at the same time as Nastia, so she was never going to be the big story, but she started off right there in the thick of it. 2005 US Nationals was nothing but her, Nastia, Chellsie, and Alicia. I don’t think NBC even showed anyone else. Not even once. Then the Fab Four all trooped off to Worlds and not only was Jana the only one who didn’t walk away from Melbourne a world champion (or triple double world champion in Nastia’s case), but she only competed bars and didn’t make it to any finals at all. Then she came in third at nationals again in 2006, but no one really seemed to care since they were too busy fantasizing that Natasha Kelley wouldn’t be completely torn to shreds by international judges. Then 2006 Worlds should have been her moment to shine! Chellsie and Nastia went down with injuries, landing her in AA finals. She hit, hit, hit, and won silver. Then, she went on to take silver again in the floor final. Aaaaand…still no one really seemed to care. Indeed, no one cared to the extent that by 2007 Nationals, she went from #2 gymnast in the world to not having a single one of her routines broadcast over the two day competition. Sure, she was out of shape and had a meet so horrible that she was left entirely off the worlds training squad. And sure her form and general…energy seemed only to get worse and worse as the years passed. But it’s sort of hard to take such a intense case of Always the Bridesmaid Never the Bride.

She’s USAG’s very own Fallback Girl, who keeps hanging around, doing her thing, like in 2008 going for the Olympic team despite the fact that Marta clearly had little interest in her, only to be named alternate and not be called in despite the numerous injuries. And she seems to be right back at it again going for 2009. And at this juncture I’ve completely lost track of where I was going with this. Anyway, all this said, Jana doesn’t tend to even garner much sympathy from the gymnastics fandom at large because of the almost universal derision for her gymnastics. I won’t say said dislike of her gymnastics is not understandable; there are her form problems, her aversion to ever pointing her toes, and complete lack of artistry. Then her gym has a plodding feel to it, sort of heavy all around. Which is why, having known this Jana Bieger for these past few years, it’s weird, refreshing, and a little sad to look at this routine of hers from the 2004 American Classic.

It’s actually…sort of lovely. I don’t believe that choreography has to be balletic to count and she works with this to make it count. Then there’s the tumbling. Even in her current incarnation, Jana still tries for some big tricks, like including both a full-twisting double layout and a double layout in her floor routine, but she chronically goes out of bounds and also seems to run out of gas halfway through every routine. But here, she’s bouncing from beginning to end and manages to include a double front, a tucked front full through to triple twist, a Randi (!), and finish with a double arabian. Every twist fully completed, every salto high and tight, and good landings throughout. So, kudos, Jana Bieger. Whatever may have come later, this is some badassery worth remembering.


6 Responses to “Performances Worth Remembering”

  1. Soapy said

    Jana has such a wide tumbling repetiore and she was a lot cleaner as a junior.

    Sometimes I wonder if she would have been better off doing trampoline and tumbling.

  2. Rawles said

    I’ve never been able to figure out whether it was coaching, injury, puberty, or some combination that seemed to swallow up all of her potential.

    Maybe tramp and tumbling would have served her better in the long run.

    But then, as a World AA, floor, and team silver medalist, it’s not as though her elite career is a great failure.

  3. DustPuppyOI said

    I think the closest that Carly has gotten to a full twisting layout on the beam is in the 2001 Goodwill Games AA – Balance Beam.

  4. TCOisbanned? said

    Jana: LOVE the music! That really is a beautiful and motivational piece. Makes me feel like cheering. (so much music is bad). Also, I like some variety in rolls and kips and such. (liked Memmel’s old stuff too.) Appreciate that more than the balance beam derived hand waving. she really had her legs together on the DF and the arabian double also. Looked like Ivana Hong.

    Plus I just feel a lot of ugly duckling sympathy for her.

    I still wonder if she’d done a radical chicken/fruit diet like Memmel did, if that would have improved her gym and also helped with judges (who in women’s seem to judge on some catty things like appearance.)

  5. TCOisbanned? said

    Umm…that’s not a jam HS. Nowhere close, really. (Not even trolling.)

  6. TCOisbanned? said

    Shawn is badassery too. And that’s a great word. I’m stealing it.

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