Thursday, April 12, 2012

Coming Back for the Olympics

Sorry about my absence. I have not blogged for several months now. I have some good reasons, but mostly, it is procrastination. Also, blogs, for me, take heaps of time and energy. Sometimes, I think there is no reward in this. I am not a gymnast. I merely sit on my computer chair and spout opinions that may have little basis. I fear that I have nothing to add to the multitude of excellent blogs out there

But my blog has been viewed over 6000 times, so that cannot be true.

So I think I will give this blog another whirl, especially since the Olympics are coming up.

Leading up to these Olympics, you will see more opinion pieces and commentary, but I am also keen on getting some data analysis going. You see, in the real world, I am a bit of a data geek. In the gymnastics world, data called scores are produced and I am keen to play with this data and see whether it teaches us anything.

When one does data analysis, a very important thing is asking the right questions. These are a few that I am interested in. Leave a comment if you think of any more:

  • Do all around competitors get advantaged or disadvantaged when they excel at one piece over another? (I am especially interested in floor and uneven bars on the women's side)
  • Are there "country biases" in scoring?
  • How easy is it to predict winners by difficulty scores?
I am sure there are more though!

Overall, I am curious about what the next few months will bring. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

This lack of Sportsmanship needs to stop!

I have mentioned a few things that I do not like about gymnastics. One is the way that people criticise the weight of gymnasts and former gymnasts when it is absolutely none of their business. But I think in general, some fans are very hard on certain gymnasts and attack them for simply... doing gymnastics their way, or winning a competition they feel another gymnast should win. I am not going to name the blogs or message boards that I am thinking of. I do not want to encourage traffic to go to these sites.

Jordyn Wieber won the All Around. In my opinion, she deserved it, but to use a cliche, it could have gone either way.

Vika Komova was not performing all the difficulty she was capable of. Her Amanar was MIA and it is possible that she is still recovering from her ankle injury. I few months ago, some bloggers were hinting that she would not be at worlds, which was thankfully wrong. Considering this, I think silver is an excellent result.

Jordyn has crazy difficulty. Her own coach mentioned that she did not have an ideal competition. I think that she will only get better and better, as she has been doing ever since I became aware of her gymnastics. Maybe she does not have ballerina moves, but she has a certain attitude and pizzazz about her which I enjoy watching. I LOVE her floor routine. Her beam is also lovely, and you can say that bars is her weakest event but you cannot say that her routine lacks uniqueness. She was the only all arounder with an Amanar vault. Nuff said. Maybe she does not wave about like a mad thing as some of the others do, but if she has asthma, she might need to save her energy for... um... tumbles. It makes sense, since tumbles give her points and waving of arms, while pretty, gives little discernible advantage under the current code.

So I do not think that pouring scorn on her is classy at all. In the other finals, there has been less scorn, but still some controversy. It is the opposite of classy. Some people just need to get a life.

Also, this expression "code whoring." I have mentioned before that I hate it. If you put rules out there, people are bound to work out ways to make those rules help them win. What gymnast is going to do a pretty routine for the fans when they know that it gives them zero chance of a medal? If that is their goal, cirque or gymnastics tours make more sense than elite gymnastics.

I mean, in other sports, is working out a technique that makes you run a race faster (without drug taking/blood doping) cheating or I dunno, race-whoring? At the last rugby world cup, the winner, England, won most games by kicking goals rather than running across the line with a ball in their hands as rugby players generally do. Lots of rugby commentators hated that they could win games like this, but they directed their scorn at the rules. Not the players or the team. Gymnastics people need to take a leaf out of their book, seriously!

I really hope that Jordyn is patting herself on the back right now (she is definitely flexible enough to do that!). She has a lot more maturity and class than the haters. I hope people are wrapping support around her, and sheltering her from the ugliness. Unfortunately, I am sure she is smart enough to be aware of what is happening. It's not fair. You can argue all you can over unfairness of results, but attacking people who have nothing to do with the results is creating two wrongs. Two wrongs don't make a right.

Rant over.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Musings On The Past Month's Happenings

Sorry I have been away so long. I am back now, although I don't really feel like I have much to add to the commentary around the internet about all that has happened.

I could talk about what a massive splatfest Visas was. But plenty of other bloggers have done that better than I could ever hope to. I have already talked about the fact that the code of points means gymnasts chuck their skills rather than perfecting them. I have already talked about how stupid this is.

There is the matter of poor Becca Bross and her poor knee. You could blame Liukin has Blythe did. I think that Bross, as a 18 year old, would have had a lot of say in what she did. You can always look back and say coulda shoulda woulda. Hindsight is 20:20 or maybe even better. Liukin played a high stakes game in his gymnastics, pushing the envelope with difficulty. He was the ultimate trickster of his time. His daughter did an insane bars set. Bross also does insane difficulty, and so does Ohashi. Difficulty has won Liukin a number of battles - and he lost this one.

Yet these gambles are encouraged by the way that modern elite gymnastics is done. As I have said many times.

I feel excited about all of the talent that is emerging. The Russians look amazing. The USA looks like the team to beat for me. The Worlds look like they will be a wonderful competition. But I know they will be tinged with regret for me, because a number of the best gymnasts in the world will be too injured to be there. This is not good for the sport in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gymnastics and the Weight Issue

There is one thing about being a gymnastics fan that makes me feel conflicted. When I am reading the fan sites, I hate reading about how some gymnast is fat, or needs to lose weight. If a blogger or commenter wants to insult a gymnast, the word fat is likely to be used, which is rather silly, since very few gymnasts are fat.

In general, I hate hearing people being called fat because in my mind, fat is a noun that is used to describe lipids or body fat. As an adjective, I think that it has mutated into an insulting word which has nothing to do with how much body fat someone carries around. Fat can mean lazy, or disliked for some reason. In general, I do not believe that any gymnasts are fat, even in the sense of the adjective.

I think that this is a reflection of society as a whole. As a society, we are obsessed with how we look. Models almost look like bags of bones at times. Growing up in a society which recommends thinness is not easy for anyone except the minority of people who have that body type.

I can imagine that it would be even more difficult for gymnasts. A leotard is not a very forgiving piece of clothing, and if I were having a 'fat day,' I would not really want to wear one. I would feel naked. No one has a perfect body and a leotard would leave every imperfection for the world to see. I guess that gymnasts are used to it though.

I find it funny that male gymnasts seldom find their bodies under scrutiny. Yet the bodies of female gymnasts, who are often younger and less able to deal with criticism, are often fair game. One example is the Bama gymnasts in 2010, another the criticism of Shawn and Nastia. In my opinion, body scrutiny should only be acceptable when someone is coaching or offering nutritional advice to a gymnast. Other people are unlikely to have the full story, so why should they be expressing opinions and giving advice? When people don't know the full story, their advice is bound to be wrong.

I have heard stories of gymnasts being weighted. The stereotype of gymnasts being weighted often comes up in gymnastics shows. I think taking the weight of a gymnast could be very misleading. There are many routes to losing weight which would not benefit a gymnast: losing a limb, or an organ, losing muscle. Not all weight is created equal.

Fat - as in the noun - can sometimes be seen as dead weight. It is weight that gymnasts need to carry which does not have a function in the many skills that they perform, yet at the same time, some fat is needed in the body. The barrier between the brain and blood needs lipids in order to perform its function of keeping dangerous chemicals out of the brain. Many other cells need fat, and women need to carry a certain percentage of fat around to maintain a good bone density mass. Having good bones helps with gymnastics because broken bones mean time out.

I do wonder about claims regarding gymnasts having eating disorders. I know that many gymnasts would have a specific diet as any athlete would. Keeping the balance would take a lot of skill and work. I think that the lifestyle of an athlete could be very stressful, which could case overeating or under-eating. I am going through a lot of stress and for me, finishing a meal is hard work. My good friend finds that she eats without effort when she is stressed. Both reactions are recognised by the medical profession. This does not mean an eating disorder. I know people who have had eating disorders and I think that it would be very difficult for someone in the acute stage of one to be able to continue gymnastics. Eating disorders can take over your life to the extent where there is no room for anything else.

Weight will always be a big deal in the gravity-defying tricks during gymnastics, but I wish that people would let up on criticising bodies of female gymnasts. To me criticism of form, lack of artistry or skill difficulty is ok, but weight is the business of the gymnast, and their coach and their support team only. Putting down gymnasts based on their weight is rude, misguided and often ignorant.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The age debate - my take

Hi all

I am very sorry about my absence. I have been working about 45 hours a week and studying 20+ which leaves me little time for blogging. On top of that, the hard drive of my faithful yellow laptop is goners. So I did not have the means to blog either. I could use my partner's computer, but I could never be on it long...

I have been inspired by Gymnastics Coaching regarding the age limit in gymnastics and what should be done with it. I am torn. I would like to protect gymnasts from the worst aspects of the sport, yet I can see merit in the argument that a rule that cannot be enforced is useless.

Protection of young gymnasts, especially the ones from totalitarian countries, appeals to me. Stories about the Karolyis, and many other accusations have flown around over the years. This is not all sour grapes by failed gymnasts. Olga Korbut made accusations of rape about her own coach, even though she had a very successful career. But let's not pretend that coaches are unique in being able to abuse and exploit children. Some parents do that as well.

The pressure of competing on a large world stage is massive whatever your age is. Well, I think. Truth is, I don't know. I have never competed on the world stage.

My take is that gymnastics training, like any training can be positive or negative. When I learned ballet, I had a teacher who screamed at her students, belittled them and generally played power games with them. I remember her telling us that we would be in big trouble if we made mistakes during performances. I was scared to go to ballet. I gave up ballet. My singing teacher gave constant praise as well as constructive criticism, and worked to the personalities of each student in terms of teaching performing. I would always go off stage thinking of what I had done wrong (which my teachers would often fail to spot), and what I could work on. She would build me up. My friend was the opposite, and so my teacher had very different ways of motivating her. I sang for several years.

I am guessing that it is the same with gymnastics. I think that mentally, doing high level sports or other hobbies can be a positive or negative experience depending on how it is done. Kids who are competing in high level competition need support wrapped around them. They need to know that their self worth is not dependent on their results. How does that get policed? - well, parents are the first line of defence. If a kid is unhappy, most parents will withdraw them from gymnastics or that particular coach. The second line of defence needs to be the sport itself. If a coach is harming their athletes, they should not be coaching, because they are giving the sport a bad name. Many of the worst potential coaches may be prevented from coaching by criminal and reference checks. Thirdly, the police may sometimes need to get involved when serious harm is done.

I can see that the risks of young people being involved in high level sports is high, but if it is done properly, I do not think it is a reason in itself to stop young people from competing at a high level. I think that being older, athletes in a worse position since they would understand the long-term consequences of falling off the equipment, but they would have the skills to deal better with competition, and they would have had time to develop mental toughness, and experience that may enable them to do better in competition.

But maybe I am the wrong person to be making assumptions about young people performing at a high level. What do gymnasts who have competed in the Olympics at 13 or 14 have to say? What was positive? What was negative? I think we need to hear some of their opinions.

One question that I do want to ask is whether any of the skills that gymnasts do are harmful when they are introduced too early. I was inspired by Katrina bringing up the example of a ballerina dancing Swan Lake at age 8. She was dancing en pointe, which is dangerous for foot growth when training begins before age 12 according to the International Association for Dance Medicine and Science. I wonder if many skills that gymnasts do fit into this category, or even a category of slightly higher risk when skills are introduced to early.

I am aware of assertions that older gymnasts are more likely to get injured - but how can you prove that this is solely about age? Is this about age or the body saying "enough is enough" after years of doing the same movements? Is it simply the case that some gymnasts are doing movements that they should not do to increase start values? Is it bad training methods? Again, I am not sure. I am asking these questions, but I should not be the person answering them, because I do not feel qualified.

I hear the pragmatic "cannot be enforced so why do it" argument, and to some extent, I agree with it. But I do think that the issue is much more complicated than that. One thing is for sure. I want older gymnasts to stay on the scene, because they add a lot to the sport. I do not want another 'pixie only' era in gymnastics.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Of scoring and injury

I have seen the video of Ms. Mustafina. Like everyone else in the gymnastics community, I am not happy about it. There is a lot of debate on the gymnastics coaching website and many other places about who is to blame for her injury. I see it as a combination of things. Yes, her twisting form is similar to a pretzel. Yes, her coaches should have corrected it. Yes, she should have stayed with the DTY and less twisting elements. Yes, gymnastics is a dangerous sport.

But I have to say that the Code of Points is partially to blame here.

On paper, it looks great.

In reality, one part works: the difficulty score. Start values are based on skills and are open-ended. If a gymnast gets the skills, they get the start value. If anything, some of the time, gymnasts are given gifts in start value when they are unable to get skills completely around. This happens a lot with Amanars. Why is this? I think one thing is the fact that these scores are able to be reviewed. Appeals can happen, and judges have to be very sure before taking points away from gymnasts. Maybe judges look bad when appeals are successful as well.

The bit that does not work is the execution score. As I have said before, execution scores need to be open and challenge-able. They also need to be enforced. Having differences between awesome routines and wobbly ones is important. This means that winners are predictable as Bridget was saying.

We have a code. We put gymnasts in the mix.

These gymnasts want to win. They are used to sacrificing their time, putting their bodies through pain and sometimes even moving away from their families. They have to work very hard to become elites, let alone successful elites.

Naturally, they and their coaches will compose routines that ensure the highest scores. If they can add an extra difficult skill to ensure that they make the podium, they will. Even if they hit 50% of the time, having more difficult elements may be preferable because some hits and some misses may be better than sitting in the middle of the pack all the time. If built in deductions are smaller than the value of the skill, it is worth keeping it there. With the way that execution scores are currently enforced, built in deductions are only greater when there is a fall, or another major error.

Some bloggers have called people who use the code to get high scoring routines "code whores," but I do not think this is fair. They are just gymnasts and coaches who are cleverly using the code to get the best possible results.

Sometimes gymnasts/coaches may put in do-able but imperfect skills to up a start value. You can call this bad coaching. You can also call it using the reality of the current system to best advantage. But the question is, should the code protect gymnasts from themselves or their coaches? Should we tolerate and even encourage risky, high difficulty skills with sub-par execution as the current code does?

The sport has changed rules where difficult skills have hurt gymnasts before. You only have to look at the sport's hall of shame to see that: Mukhina, Gomez, Sang... In Mukhina's case, the fall meant a change in code. The skill she fell on, along with some others, is now illegal. But injuries like Mustafina's, though serious, are not in the same league. I still think that they are bad for the sport. I respect hard skills. I really like what the new code has done for the uneven bars, but I would prefer good skills that gymnasts can do cleanly and safely to lots of injuries and wobbles.

I agree with the commenter on my last post that we need a happy medium between perfection and difficulty. Right now, I think that we have gone too far one way. I wish that we could bring back good execution.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Scams and Execution

I am sorry about the lack of posts. I started a new job about a month ago, and it has already taken over my life in that I have not been able to leave work before 10pm for two nights in a row. So much for the nine to five job I was offered.


The scam cup came and went. Like Spanny and Lauren Hopkins, I think the right decision was made. Many have said that Wieber did not earn her score in floor, but I agree with many others who say that Mustafina did not earn her scores in beam and vault.

However, if the code of points punished crap execution more, there would be no debate.

Consider this, exhibit A:

Look at the last pass. In that pass, in case you did not notice, Zmeskal did not control her power sufficiently and she stepped out. That was the competition done for her right there. In that moment, the commentators could confidently say she would not take home a medal. They were right.

Now, there is exhibit B:

It is hard to miss her fall, which is a much bigger mistake that Zmeskal's. The commentators thought the gold medal was gone for her. They were wrong. In the American cup, the ladies in first and second both had falls, as did most of the competitors.

Why? The bottom line is that Zmeskal and her competitors knew that they could not step out, let alone fall. Now, competitors chuck all the difficulty they can, and hope the will stay on.

Even if they don't, winning is still possible.

Once the new COP revision comes up, FIG is going to have to work out what it really wants. Does it want ever-increasing difficulty with people chucking skills to get a few tenths whilst knowing that crappy form is a-o-kay. Or do they want some cleaner gymnastics.

If we have to stay open ended, falls need to be docked at least two points. Small deductions need to be 0.3 or more. 0.1 is not enough. A huge bobble needs to be 1.0.

Right now, chucking fugly skills is worth it. This risks falls, injury and sore eyes for spectators. When a Patterson is well done, like Patterson herself did it, I want to watch. Ditto Tweedle on bars, ditto Rosu's Amanar. But I prefer a well done layout full over any of those skills done with ugly form.