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If I saw this as a kid I probably would have joined the gymnastics team
April 15, 2014 8:53 PM   Subscribe

Lousiana State University sophomore Lloimincia Hall becomes an Internet sensation after her perfect 10 performances in the floor exercise, combining gymnastics technical proficiency with hot dance moves.
posted by divabat (73 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sometimes I kinda wish that Olympic gymnastics would move up the minimum age so that Collegiate gymnastics would become more the norm at least in women's gymnastic. Yes some nations would still cheat on the ages but I think it might be a healthier ideal to hold up in terms of athletic excellence even if the level of difficulty might take a hit in the short term.
posted by vuron at 9:01 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


There was one routine where she did the white-mouse-will-not-explode rump bounce. That's just amazing. And I looked at who I think are the judges faces expecting holier than thou looks of disapproval, and they were just straight up grinning with glee. Fantastic fun. And she seems like she's really enjoying being on the team.
posted by cashman at 9:03 PM on April 15 [2 favorites]


I love how much she looks like a superhero. I want to watch her fight crime and then do dance moves in celebration.
posted by Mizu at 9:05 PM on April 15 [30 favorites]


Can you expand on that vuron? Would she not be able to compete in the Olympics in 2016 if she wanted to?
posted by dilaudid at 9:07 PM on April 15


Fucking rad.
posted by supercrayon at 9:07 PM on April 15


My understanding is that simply put older athletes simply aren't competitive at the Olympic level especially not in the All-around competition. There is generally room for a couple of event apparatus specialists at the Olympics but they typically go to people that have the the potential of getting Gold medals at that apparatus and clearly outshine the all-arounders by a significant margin. This seems to commonly be uneven bars and possibility vault specialists. I can't remember the last time the US used a floor specialist at the olympics. Some other nations bring floor specialists but they are generally less competitive in the team and all around competitions.

But even if she wanted to compete the level of difficulty between collegiate and olympic floor routines is massive and the way Olympic gymnastics is set up definitely disadvantages older athletes and when we are saying older athletes someone who is 20 could be considered old in women's gymnastics.
posted by vuron at 9:16 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


I love how much she looks like a superhero. I want to watch her fight crime and then do dance moves in celebration.

I'm soooo glad I'm not the only one who saw that.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:29 PM on April 15


I'll be even more explicit: Women's gymnastic events become much more difficult as you gain weight, your hips become wider, and your bust becomes bigger. Which all happens as girls go through puberty and become young women. So the most successful female Olympic gymnasts tend to be those who start as early as possible and learn the fundamentals at an extremely young age, then train like demons as soon as they are 12-14 years old. This can even have the additional effect of delaying puberty for a while.

None of this is true for men. Many of their events require obscene amounts of upper body strength. Stuff that would be nearly (or possibly completely) impossible before you've completed your body's physical development. That's why you do not see male Olympic gymnasts who are 14 years old and plenty who are in their mid 20s. Because you need a fully developed man's body.

tl;dr - Olympic "Women's" gymnastics requires a girl's body. Olympic Men's gymnastics requires a man's body.
posted by Justinian at 9:29 PM on April 15 [75 favorites]


It is probably obvious that I think this is utterly sexist and a bad thing.
posted by Justinian at 9:32 PM on April 15 [25 favorites]


And honestly it could pretty much be solved by either increasing the minimum age or by expanding the number of events to include one or more events that don't favor prepubescent bodies. If there was something equivalent to the Rings or Pommel that simply were too challenging to do without full development you could change women's gymnastics dramatically but the current model just favors maximizing strength to body size ratios and minimizing rotational distances.
posted by vuron at 9:38 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Men compete in 6 disciplines, women girls currently compete in 4. Add two strength disciplines to girl's gymnastics which require considerable upper body strength and everything would fall into place.

As vuron says, currently you have to have a good strength/size ratio but not a lot of upper body strength in absolute terms. There need to be a few disciplines which emphasize absolute strength.
posted by Justinian at 9:42 PM on April 15


Meanwhile, another gymnast greets defeat with admirable grace and a sense of humor.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:00 PM on April 15 [19 favorites]


bravado!
posted by mannequito at 10:03 PM on April 15


That girl is made of rubber and muscle.

(Women's gymnastic costumes still make me cringe, though. Why can't the legs be covered and the arms bare, instead of the full crotch exposure?)
posted by jokeefe at 10:10 PM on April 15 [5 favorites]


Sometimes I kinda wish that Olympic gymnastics would move up the minimum age so that Collegiate gymnastics would become more the norm at least in women's gymnastic.
...
My understanding is that simply put older athletes simply aren't competitive at the Olympic level especially not in the All-around competition.


So then why have it? The Olympics is the apex of competition. I don't see why those at their peak should be excluded, just so more aging athletes can compete.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:23 PM on April 15 [1 favorite]


Granted that I haven't followed gymnastics for awhile now, but it's been a long time since I've seen a floor routine in the women's competition where the dance moves didn't look stilted and/or like a tacked-on afterthought to the acrobatics and tumbling passes. I love this routine.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:45 PM on April 15 [4 favorites]


The Olympics is the apex of competition. I don't see why those at their peak should be excluded

Because they aren't at their peak physically in any meaningful sense of the word. Unless you think the peak for female physicality is almost prepubescent.
posted by Justinian at 10:54 PM on April 15 [7 favorites]


I like this. Gymnastics, especially Olympic gymnastics, confine creativity to an archaic ideal.

I've said this before - the sports selected for the Olympics are limited to what a wealthy citizen of the United Kingdom in the nineteenth century might engage in.

To add to EvaDestruction above the floor exercise seems more tumbling runs [which are awesome] with incidental flourishes at the corners.

I say that we need more Korfball.

The lists of demonstration sports is hilarious.

Summer.


Winter.


Gymnastics, amongst other "judged" sports has become ossified.

I'm glad for Lloimincia Hall.
posted by vapidave at 11:33 PM on April 15


Mincie is great!

It's really cool to see her get so much popular attention this season- she's been great for a long time.


Can you expand on that vuron? Would she not be able to compete in the Olympics in 2016 if she wanted to?

Not vuron, (or Justinian), who ably explained the (unfair and sexist) differences in the body type that men's and women's Olympic gymnastics reward. Will also add that another (smaller) element is that college gymnastics and elite gymnastics ("elite" here is the gymnastics' governing body's term for a specific class of competition, instead of just "very good") have different scoring systems. College gym uses Junior Olympic rules, which still have the perfect 10 score, and elite gymnastics uses an open-ended scoring system. I'm not an expert on the differences, but the JO rules don't reward difficulty in the way that the elite rules. As a result, most NCAA gymnasts, even the best ones like Mincie, don't do difficult enough routines to be Olympic-level elite gymnasts.

A couple of gymnasts have finished their NCAA careers and then continued on to some elite meets, but not at an international level. It's much more common for elite gymnasts to transition to NCAA and compete less difficult routines after their elite careers are over (usually by their late teens). Actually, many NCAA gymnasts never competed at the elite level. Instead, they were good Level 10 (the final JO level and the level just below elite) gymnasts who perform relatively easier skills than their elite counterparts, but perform them perfectly over and over. (Mincie was a Level 10 before starting at LSU). In NCAA, where teams compete every weekend, that consistency is much more valuable than it is at the elite level, where athletes might only have a few meets per year.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 11:39 PM on April 15 [9 favorites]


All members of the women's US Olympic team in 2012 were 15-16 years old, except for one. Alexandra Raisman was 18 years old--a fully mature young woman--during her Olympic run in 2012. Look at her floor exercise here, starting at 11.00.

By comparison, the members of the US men's team were mostly 20-21 years old, with the oldest member an ancient 26. And this team was considered very young overall.

As a result, most NCAA gymnasts, even the best ones like Mincie, don't do difficult enough routines to be Olympic-level elite gymnasts.

Yes, the difference in difficulty between Raisman's tumbling routines and those performed by Mincie seems pretty huge--which isn't meant to take anything away from Mincie. She is competing and winning in a different realm which I never fully appreciated before.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 12:49 AM on April 16


"... Unless you think the peak for female physicality is almost prepubescent."
posted by Justinian

I dunno, lets ask Nadia Comeneci.
posted by marienbad at 1:48 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Comăneci was competing in completely different era. You might as well talk about Jim Thorpe or something.

Alexandra Raisman was 18 years old--a fully mature young woman

I loved Aly Raisman's floor exercise performance! And, yeah, it was good to see a young adult compete. But note even Raisman is very tiny at 5'2" and maybe 110 pounds.
posted by Justinian at 1:54 AM on April 16


I'm kinda not sure what the reference to Comăneci meant to be honest. She was absolutely brilliant, of course, but that doesn't mean it's a good idea for elite women's gymnastics to be targeted at 15 year olds.
posted by Justinian at 2:00 AM on April 16


i say we need more Korfbal

Korfbal is a highly technical sport, and in my experience if you don't know the intricacies, it's not much as a spectator sport. If you do know them, it is awesome to watch.

Here, try out a high level dutch competition game:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RryYTlzi-i0
posted by DreamerFi at 2:13 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


My goodness she looks powerful. They should develop a team sport around these moves, it would be awesome.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:16 AM on April 16


The thing I don't like is that she makes dancing look effortless, fun and sexy, whereas my (humiliating) lived experience suggests otherwise.

Being able to dance well and confidently is not a bad superpower to have. Beats catching fire or growing claws.

And completely in agreement that "women's" olympic gymnastics are kind of gross (not to take anything away from the athletes themselves).
posted by maxwelton at 2:50 AM on April 16


Oops. Dreamerfi I would love to watch and learn Korfball. I apologize if I seemed sarcastic.
posted by vapidave at 3:34 AM on April 16


Alexandra Raisman was 18 years old--a fully mature young woman--during her Olympic run in 2012. Look at her floor exercise here yt , starting at 11.00.

The next routine is by the 2012 silver medalist, Catalina Ponor. Ponor won gold in 2004, retired, and then came out of retirement (which, in her case, included heart surgery). She was 24 (turning 25) during the 2012 Olympics.

I strongly recommend watching through Ponor's routine if you watch Raisman's. They're both phenomenal, plus the video linked has a legitimately happy, joyful announcer whose enthusiasm is infectious.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 3:50 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


No sarcasm spotted, vapidave - it was just a generic comment on korfbal on the one hand and the olympics caring about sports being interesting enough for people to watch.
posted by DreamerFi at 4:29 AM on April 16


Thanks for sharing this. She is totally great, and I would love to see a team full of women like her at the Olympics.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 4:37 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Wow!!! It's early for me and that had me up dancing!! What a remarkable athlete! Amazing!!
posted by pearlybob at 5:05 AM on April 16


As much as it bothers me when athletes do this*, can she go to Country X and compete for them? We saw this in speed skating this winter (S. Korean skating for Russia, I believe). From previous comments it sounds like she might not be a medal contender, but "Former Olympian Farce First" sounds pretty good to me.


*I don't know exactly why it bothers me, other than it bumps a native out of competition
posted by Farce_First at 5:50 AM on April 16


My husband and I were just discussing this, watching our toddler try to do a handstand. One of our kids did very well at gymnastics as a kid, and the discipline, teamwork and hard effort made it a great sport for a while for him, until an injury and other stuff intervened. But I am adamant that my daughters will not do gymnastics unless they are begging us to. This is from hours and hours at the gym, watching the boys and men train alongside with the girls and women. My son was weight conscious, but the girls have to monitor their weight always. You need to be a certain ratio, and then adapt that to your particular shape, and it's just this constant awareness that your body must be constantly graceful and contained. While the boys do these powerful jumps and twists and pulls, the girls are far more often dancing and balancing.

There's overlap, but the boys will get to train into their late twenties, and the girls have to pack it all in before their twenties, so their school and social life gets sidelined for this short intense competition, right when puberty is changing their bodies dramatically and - it was amazing to watch these girls train, but brutal. They do amazing things, but the cost to get there is so high.

Lloimincia Hall looks nothing like the young girl gymnasts I mostly saw. She looked powerful and strong and like someone with a body that creates beautiful movements. If she's one of the possible routes for gymnastics for women, I would be more comfortable letting my kid start.

And absolutely, if they did something like rings or more bar work for women, it would be great. The girls used to muck around on the rings after practice, and they had so much fun. And rhythmic gymnastics for men!
posted by viggorlijah at 6:46 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


Very cool gymnastics routine.

As for the age issue, why not have different age classes for women's gymnastics? Like weight classes for other sports?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:31 AM on April 16


My child (10) loves gymnastics, and is really good at it, but there's a reason I won't allow her do it more (formally) than in Sunday morning classes, and that 3/4 of her out of school activities are musical rather than, well, you guessed.

She is Chinese. She is tiny and slim and strong, and she is an absolute Power Puff. The gym people all want her to go serious. She's a natural candidate for this stuff.

I'm not having her devoting herself to something at which she will peak at 14, when she can grow musically all her life. Fitness, yes, absolutely. Competition, no, no, no.

Flips on the front lawn with the cat, absolutely.
posted by Wolof at 8:14 AM on April 16 [6 favorites]


Elite gymnastics is basically all consuming both on the time of the athlete and the parents even if you are lucky enough to live somewhat near an elite level coach. And there is basically no future in it unless you happen to be the right age during an Olympic cycle and be literally the best in the world in the all-around.

The cost to benefit ratio is simply insane given the extremely short duration of actual ability to compete at an Elite level.
posted by vuron at 8:24 AM on April 16


"... Unless you think the peak for female physicality is almost prepubescent."
posted by Justinian

I dunno, lets ask Nadia Comeneci.


"Peak of physicality" is heavily dependent on sport. The peak of physicality for sumo wrestling is very different than that of cycling. Nadia Comeneci was at the peak of physicality for the design of women's gymnastics, which favors athletes that are small, slender, and prepubescent (this is even reflected in judging, where smaller gymnasts are regarded as more "artistic" than more muscular gymnasts performing . It is possible to change the event design of women's gymnastics so that they favor fully-developed women's bodies by adding strength elements to the competition. The addition of strength elements in no way decreases the impressiveness nor fitness required to perform the movements.
posted by schroedinger at 8:34 AM on April 16 [4 favorites]


Here's a list of the all-around gymnastics gold medalists by age since 1952. I think people have a slightly exaggerated idea of the youth of the women's medalists. Comaneci was an outlier at 14; there's also only one 15 year old. The others, even in the modern era, range between 16 and 20. I'm not really sure that one needs to get quite so "won't somebody think of the children" about 16-20 year olds devoting themselves to a dream of Olympic glory. And while it's certainly true that the male gymnasts peak a little later (ranging, in the same era, from 20 to 28) it's notable that none of them are repeat winners. That is, just like the women, they have their one shot at Olympic glory, and that's it.

I do think there's a slightly patronizing attitude in some of this pearl-clutching about the age of the women gymnasts. Tom Daley, the British diving star at the London Olympics, was 18--right in the typical age range of the women's gymnastics medalists--but you didn't see any of this tsk-tsk-ing about his choice to participate in the sport. He's assumed to have agency in a way that a women of the same age seems not to be.
posted by yoink at 8:36 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


It is possible to change the event design of women's gymnastics so that they favor fully-developed women's bodies by adding strength elements to the competition

True. You could also lower the hoop in basketball and make it a sport less dominated by tall people. Change the rules, different people will have the advantage. It's not obvious to me that that makes it more egalitarian, however. It will just be a different set of physical criteria that become ideal for that sport.
posted by yoink at 8:42 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


It's got nothing to do with age and everything to do with how the structure of the events and bias of the judges result in intense pressures on competitors to adhere to a very specific aesthetic body type that is not necessarily in line with top athletic performance.
posted by schroedinger at 8:42 AM on April 16 [3 favorites]


The others, even in the modern era, range between 16 and 20.
I think that's because in the modern era there's been a minimum age of 16 to compete.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:47 AM on April 16 [2 favorites]


True. You could also lower the hoop in basketball and make it a sport less dominated by tall people. Change the rules, different people will have the advantage. It's not obvious to me that that makes it more egalitarian, however. It will just be a different set of physical criteria that become ideal for that sport.

I figured this would be the argument. Look, here's the breakdown:
- Women are supposed to look like delicate, graceful, slender flowers
- Pure power and strength events don't look delicate
- Women with muscles don't fit this delicate, slender aesthetic
- Let's take out women's strength events, ugh, who wants to see that
- Let's rate slender women as more "artistic" than their more muscular counterparts
- Let's include silly requirements for dancing in women's floor routines, but don't require them for men
- Oh look, suddenly there is all this implict and explicit pressure for women to fit a tiny and slender body type that happens to correspond with societal stereotypes about femininity, often to the detriment of athletic performance

But you're right, lowering the hoop in basketball is totally equivalent to changing the aspects of a sport that arose out of societal beliefs regarding how women should look and perform.
posted by schroedinger at 8:50 AM on April 16 [17 favorites]


I think that's because in the modern era there's been a minimum age of 16 to compete.

The minimum age was 14 up to 1981, was 15 from 81 to 97, and was raised to 16 in 1997. So, no, it is not the case that it has been a minimum of 16 throughout the modern era of the games.
posted by yoink at 8:53 AM on April 16


If you're defining the modern era as the era when nobody under 16 won the all-around, then it is the case, because a 15-year-old won in 1992.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:56 AM on April 16


- Let's take out women's strength events, ugh, who wants to see that

So which "strength events" were removed from the women's gymastics programs?

Different sports require different sets of skills and put a premium of different sets of innate abilities. You, it seems, think the only skills of any value are the traditionally "masculine" ones. Presumably your ideal Olympics would ban both male and female diving (no obvious "strength event" there!), I imagine it would look pretty dubiously at table tennis (really, shouldn't we force them to play at least tennis--that's clearly more physically demanding!) etc. etc.

Or, you know, you could say "hey, there are some sports that allow small, agile people to shine and that's cool, just as there are some sports that allow super quick people to shine and great big beefy people to shine etc. etc."
posted by yoink at 8:59 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


If you're defining the modern era as the era when nobody under 16 won the all-around

As I didn't, I'm really not sure what your point is. I said "the others, even in the modern era, range from 16-20" i.e., "apart from the 14 year old and the 15 year old I have already specifically mentioned, the others, i.e. the ones who aren't that 14 year old and that 15 year old that I have already specifically mentioned, range from 16-20." Really, it's not that difficult to grasp.
posted by yoink at 9:02 AM on April 16


Women's college gymnastics is kind of a weird sport. Most of the competitors are past their prime, plus a lot of them have suffered some really serious injuries over the years. Leg braces everywhere! Plus if it's not scholarship, there are a lot of competitors who just aren't that good, and never competed well at a younger age, but are just there to fill out the roster. I guess this is more obvious in gymnastics because each person has to stand on their own with their own score.

The top teams can be amazing to watch, but there are only a half dozen of those, mostly in the south.
posted by smackfu at 9:08 AM on April 16


So which "strength events" were removed from the women's gymastics programs?

Rings and parallel bars, which both exist in men's gymnastics. Women also have balance beam instead of the pommel horse, which is an obvious tradeoff of strength for "grace" and balance. Both have floor and vault, women have uneven bars while men have high bar. Women end up with four events total while men have six.

As an aside, there are also tumbling and uneven bar moves men are allowed to do that women aren't because it's considered too "dangerous".
posted by schroedinger at 9:24 AM on April 16


Different sports require different sets of skills and put a premium of different sets of innate abilities. You, it seems, think the only skills of any value are the traditionally "masculine" ones. Presumably your ideal Olympics would ban both male and female diving (no obvious "strength event" there!), I imagine it would look pretty dubiously at table tennis (really, shouldn't we force them to play at least tennis--that's clearly more physically demanding!) etc. etc.

That's a rather unfair characterization of my argument. I'm pointing out that the evolution of women's gymnastics closely corresponds with how we expect women to appear and act, and events and judging are implicitly set up to reinforce these gender norms. The addition of strength events would do nothing to women's gymnastics except require women to be stronger, which would inherently bias towards older competitors.
posted by schroedinger at 9:33 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


That was tremendous! She is tremendous! Yay!
posted by rtha at 9:48 AM on April 16 [5 favorites]


"Different sports require different sets of skills and put a premium of different sets of innate abilities. You, it seems, think the only skills of any value are the traditionally "masculine" ones. "

Dude, seriously, come on. If you wanna take swipes like that at her, she'd be justified in asking why you're so invested in defining prepubescent women as beauty ideals, and I don't think you want to go down that road.
posted by klangklangston at 9:55 AM on April 16 [1 favorite]


So, a few weeks ago I shared the first video on Facebook and it started a little shitstorm when one of my acquaintances responded with something to the effect of, "No. She's clearly a talented athlete; why does she have to ruin it with those stripper dance moves." Ugh.

Shocked, I watched the video again and again - I don't know much about gymnastics, but, I mean, c'mon - she's flipping through the air and clearly OWNING IT. There's a moment, right before "September" where you can catch a smile on her face. I think I know that smile - you see it on the face of athletes who are in total control and have another gear to go and it going to rock it.

One of my friends mentioned that the video is also a brief history of black dance: "go-go, electric slide, dance line, hip hop, stepping..." just so badass and fun.

BTW, after much searching, I finally figured out where I heard the marching band fanfare from her routine - it's Shout It Out (originally by too short), and I heard it the first time in the movie Drumline.
posted by elmer benson at 10:21 AM on April 16


This antithesis between powerful, athletic and slender and graceful seems odd to me, at least in terms of attaching moral judgements to them and ideologising them. Both types of sportswomen bring something unique to their performance, and both work unimaginably hard for what they do.

For me personally, the enchantment with gymnasts and similar performers lies precisely at the crossroad between strength, power and perfect control of the body on the one hand and, on the other, the seeming ease and joie de vivre they convey, be they robust and energetic and explosive, like Lloimincia Hall in the post, or this performance from the 1988 Olympics, or more ... dreamy (?) and delicate gymnasts, like this and this, or, for example, someone like Setlana Khorkina (who, by the way, is 25 in the video – there are quite a few more gymnasts 18 and above than people seem to be aware of).

Personally, I prefer lithe, elegant, balletic gymnasts (or those who due to their physique or whatever else create that impression); at the same time, the performance in this post (or the many, many Olympic gymnasts who display strength and power rather than elegance) leave me equally gob-smacked and in awe at the fact that human beings can be so masterful and hard-working. If they also obviously enjoy what they are doing and carry you along with the joyfulness of it, as is the case with this performer, it’s just amazing and energizing and wonderful! But to just assume that the more ... gender-conforming gymnasts is some sort of “delicate flower” or wimp seems utterly bizarre to me. I also feel a bit chided and condescended to – like throughout my life I have failed at performing “woman” properly because I prefer the more balletic performers. Gymnasts like Nadia Comaneci and others (for example Emilia Eberle - second in the link) were some of the very, very few female role models we had in communist Romania – generations of girls idolised them, and we could identify with them precisely because they seemed closer to us (even to 4-5 year old me) than any of the other ... 3-4 women in the public eye. And since we seemed to live in a country that was pretty much shit at everything, it made a huge difference to us that one of the most “national pride” generating things was carried by women, and especially by women who were more like us, sort of girls. Due to them (and then a much wider net, including Mary Lou Retton in the video above – the first American I truly every looked at, all smiles and strength and boundless energy) my friends and I spent our childhood swinging on trees and doing “gymnastics” in parks and everywhere we could; we were stronger and fitter and more independent-minded at 12 and 13 than ever since.

As an aside, there are also tumbling and uneven bar moves men are allowed to do that women aren't because it's considered too "dangerous".

And this is actually where my disenchantment with gymnastics began: at top levels, the stakes were increasingly raised to be better than the competition (ironically, the young teenage trend in gymnastics began for similar reasons), including strength-based elements of increasing difficulty levels, some borrowed from male gymnastics. Years ago I had an acquaintance who had trained in Deva, at the school that Nadia Comaneci et al. trained at (but she was there more than 10 years later) – she had severe physical issues due to training accidents, a colleague of hers was paralysed at 14, several others had had multiple back operations, others yet had serious and recurring leg-problems etc. They were doing much less ballet and expression training, whilst a lot of emphasis was on strength building. Performances were more and more marked on clear measurable given by flexibility, balance and strength, than on “artistic expression”, and a lot of the more serious injuries happened during highly acrobatic/ athletic exercises. I don’t know how differences in degree of difficulty are measured by experts, but to my non-expert eye even these two (starting with min 7:20) floor exercises by Nadia Comaneci look very different in that sense, even though they are only 4 years apart. The first one, to me, looks much more like Lloimincia Hall, whilst the second one is a clear step towards the more athletic, acrobatic, strength-based gymnastics of more recent Olympics (by the way, Nadia in the second video is two years younger than Lloimincia, hardly pre-pubescent).

I don’t know, I love gymnastics, but I am increasingly feeling uneasy about it. I have no idea when and how someone like Lloimincia starts training, and what that involves, but I have heard my fair share of gymnastics-related horror stories, at all but the most amateur level. Elena Mukhina, slated to be the rising star of the Moscow Olympics, trashed Nadia Comaneci and her equally good Soviet colleagues at the World Championship in 1978, by introducing specific male moves and other, unheard-of exercises into her routines, some invented specially for her by her coach, who had previously been a coach for male gymnasts. She was 18, and expected to overshadow everything that had been seen before. The coup de grace for the Oplympics was to be the Thomas salto - an incredibly dangerous move from male gymnastics. She had an accident, and, at age 20, just a couple of weeks before the Olympics, she was left quadriplegic. There are many other similar, though probably less famous, stories, to do with strength and flexibility training, weight policing (regardless of whether you train at high Olympic level or not) etc. Things are not always great for men either. Equally difficult is what children have to go through to have a go at "the dream", one example I found of youtube is this documentary on kids aged 3-10 from China groomed for the Olympic team (1, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLTvHH1yll4, 3, 4, 5, plus another one). To my possibly undiscerning eyes, these look harrowing. And it seems that over-training (possibly for the Olympics) and under-training (maybe by starting too late in life, or being "amateur"-level in terms of training, yet attempting relatively high-level stuff), can be equally dangerous.
posted by miorita at 11:04 AM on April 16 [7 favorites]


- Women are supposed to look like delicate, graceful, slender flowers
- Pure power and strength events don't look delicate
- Women with muscles don't fit this delicate, slender aesthetic
- Let's take out women's strength events, ugh, who wants to see that
- Let's rate slender women as more "artistic" than their more muscular counterparts


Did you actually watch the FPP video, or the linked one of Aly Raisman? These women are not "delicate, graceful flowers." They are short, but heavily-muscled athletes. If you ever met Ms Raisman in person, you would never describe her as delicate. My daughter trains in the same gym (not in the Junior Olympic program, for the same reasons as Wolof*), and is slender and light. All the Elite gymnasts in that gym are built like Raisman.


* My daughter is 11, and like Wolof's, they really wanted her in the Junior Olympic program. When they wanted to move her from Level 4 to Level 5 some years back, and told us there would be practices 5 days a week starting at 3pm, we decided it wasn't going to work. Every new coach who trains her tries to get her to go over to the Olympics program, but her music is even better than her gymnastics, and she could not do both.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:01 PM on April 16


So which "strength events" were removed from the women's gymnastics programs?

Women competed on the rings and parallel bars until 1952. Balance beam and women's floor didn't involve any tumbling for the first few Olympic cycles of the sport. It was all dance (with some stuff like jumping jacks thrown in).

These women are not "delicate, graceful flowers." They are short, but heavily-muscled athletes. If you ever met Ms Raisman in person, you would never describe her as delicate. My daughter trains in the same gym (not in the Junior Olympic program, for the same reasons as Wolof*), and is slender and light. All the Elite gymnasts in that gym are built like Raisman.

I recognize the enormous athletic prowess (not to mention mental toughness that is the polar opposite of "delicate") it takes to compete at Raisman's level, and I absolutely agree that elite gymnasts are crazy strong and ripped as hell. At the same time, the sport is right now having an extremely live debate about what makes women's "artistic" gymnastics artistic, and on the women's side, "artistic" is very clearly understood to mean long, lean and balletic, not how well you do dance steps. Gymnasts like Svetlana Khorkina (miorita linked to a program of hers above) or Nastia Liukin are considered more "artistic" than a power tumbler like Raisman.

The FIG (the gymnastics governing body) has even changed the rules in the past couple of Olympic cycles to promote "artistry" by requiring certain dance elements on floor and adjusting some routine composition rules to ensure that gymnasts can't lean too heavily on their tumbling skills (without getting too technical, gymnasts basically have to dance whenever they aren't physically tumbling, even when they're setting for a tumbling pass, and they have to dance in between each tumbling pass). Even before that, for years there has been a requirement that women perform a certain pure ballet turn on floor and beam. The only problem is that the floor and beam are made of suede carpet and no one can perform ballet turns on carpet. Every gymnast wobbles out of it and looks like an ungainly giraffe (although they could perform the turn perfectly on, you know, hard wood), and yet there it stays, like, as Aaron Sorkin would say, "a gym sock on a shower rod" because women's gymnastics is "artistic."

All the artistry rule changes are a reaction to criticism from more traditional pockets of the sport that women's gym had just become "tricks" and "pure power" rather than what it was "supposed" to be, an awkward chimera of bad ballet and world-class tumbling.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:24 PM on April 16 [3 favorites]


Basically, I think you can be amazed and impressed and awed at the incredible dedication, mental toughness, and pure athleticism required to be an elite women's gymnast, while also questioning the development of the sport for a, being sexist and b, placing dangerous physical demands on teenage athletes whose bodies and minds are still developing.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 12:26 PM on April 16 [7 favorites]


Is the ballet training required internationally for this sort of gymnastics? How does that work in non-European countries - do they still have to learn ballet, or are they able to incorporate their own cultural classical dances (or something else entirely)?
posted by divabat at 12:38 PM on April 16


All the artistry rule changes are a reaction to criticism from more traditional pockets of the sport that women's gym had just become "tricks" and "pure power" rather than what it was "supposed" to be, an awkward chimera of bad ballet and world-class tumbling.

That was one of my points above though: to the extent that "votes" on Metafilter count, I have a strong preference, personally, but shared quite widely where I come from, for the "awkward chimera" (and the drive for more athletic approaches was seen as a sort of ... American colonisation and imposition of US values, a sort of "now that WE are here, we'll do away with the negligible Soviet/ Eastern European Firlefanz and give this sport what it has truly been waiting for all this time"!).

When I watch gymnastics, I do NOT see "bad ballet and world-class tumbling", I see something amazing that kind of makes my heart sing, regardless of style (powerhouse versus forest sprite versus swan-in-human-body). It is a bit like ballet, a bit like circus, a bit like athletics stuff, but still, a thing all of its own. But to keep its soul, to me it needs the artistry - be it what Lloimincia has, or what some of the differently expressive gymnasts linked above have.

As I said above though, beyond any discussion of which style of gymnast is "best", I feel that my enjoyment of the sport under any guise has been marred by the many horrific stories I've heard. I know that many sports come with a high risk of injury, especially at a competitive level, but this one seems particularly dangerous, exposing really quite young children (if you want a respectable degree of achievement) to possibly life-changing injury, and with negative impact frequently continuing into adulthood. Sometimes this can be lethal. In this context, the plea for "away with the carpet on floor and beam" and more emphasis on strength seems mis-placed. To me it seems that more protection is needed, not less, and a return to slightly mellower days might be desirable, rather than further progress into more strength-based, athletic, and dangerous performances.
posted by miorita at 12:45 PM on April 16


As an LSU alumnus, I take great joy from this wonderful performance. It's all the sweeter for coming against Alabama, a team whose name my children are forbidden to say unless they whisper it with their heads hung low in shame. Geaux Tigers!
posted by wintermind at 12:56 PM on April 16


Is the ballet training required internationally for this sort of gymnastics? How does that work in non-European countries - do they still have to learn ballet, or are they able to incorporate their own cultural classical dances (or something else entirely)?

My understanding of the rules (which, one, they are opaque and a million pages long and non-intuitive, plus I'm an unqualified amateur) for elite is that there are certain moves that must be performed- you have to do a complete turn with one leg in releve or higher, you must do a jump in which you turn (I think) 180 degrees in the air. (For tumbling, you have to tumble both forwards and back). You have to meet those composition requirements, and on the dance side they are all drawn from ballet as far as I know. Then, you are scored on your eight most difficult moves. Anything you do outside those moves is choreography that doesn't count towards your score, except that you aren't allowed to just stand there, so you have to move in some way. You don't have to do ballet for that part, and some gymnasts do more modern dance type stuff. I think you could incorporate whatever style of dance you like, as long as you meet the composition requirements. I don't know of any routines off the top of my head that would be what you're describing, but I'm not the most well-versed fan out there. Me not knowing about them doesn't mean they don't exist!

When I watch gymnastics, I do NOT see "bad ballet and world-class tumbling", I see something amazing that kind of makes my heart sing, regardless of style (powerhouse versus forest sprite versus swan-in-human-body). It is a bit like ballet, a bit like circus, a bit like athletics stuff, but still, a thing all of its own. But to keep its soul, to me it needs the artistry - be it what Lloimincia has, or what some of the differently expressive gymnasts linked above have.

Oh, dude, I LOVE gymnastics. Like, I have an Aliya Mustafina picture as my tablet wallpaper and sometimes when I'm having a bad day I turn on my tablet just so I can say, "Hey, Aliya! What's up!" Like, out loud. If I ever need a sockpuppet account here, it is going to be "viktoria komova's sheep jump" because have you SEEN that sheep jump? It's just disgustingly, heart-stoppingly perfect. I definitely agree that there is complicated stuff going on in gymnastics with regard to national styles and the "power" vs "artistry" divide, and I don't think gymnastics needs to be good ballet to be good gymnastics. It's a thing of its own. There's a lot to talk about and develop there, that's all. I think there's complicated gender system stuff going on along with the complicated national identity stuff. Sometimes they are opposed and sometimes they are in harmony. (I really liked reading about how important Nadia was to you, both as a girl and as a Romanian. I love Nadia. It's really cool to hear more about what she meant to someone who was watching her from her own country while she competed.)

In this context, the plea for "away with the carpet on floor and beam" and more emphasis on strength seems mis-placed. To me it seems that more protection is needed, not less, and a return to slightly mellower days might be desirable, rather than further progress into more strength-based, athletic, and dangerous performances.

Oh, god, I meant "eliminate the turn" rather than "eliminate the protective padding." Oh god. I agree that the sport should be less lethally dangerous, especially since it seems to be lethally dangerous exclusively to women and girls. It doesn't kill the men. The FIG already "bans" some of the most dangerous skills (by giving them low value rather than banning- interestingly, they reserve the real bans for things that make routines look less "artistic"), and they could both ban more and change the scoring system to encourage athletes to perform safer skills. On that I think we agree.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:13 PM on April 16 [2 favorites]


I think another thing to keep in mind is that while a lot of the all-around Olympic champions have been in the 16-18 age range, and a "normal" teenage girl would be physically adult at this age, those girls have been doing such rigorous training that many of them are still prepubescent, physically speaking. Can't link now but I think there is a lot of literature that many of them don't start menstruating until after they are done with Olympic-level competition because they don't have enough body fat to trigger puberty.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:25 PM on April 16


There's a huge difference between a little girl and a small woman. At her off-campus apartment the phone rings. It is her insurance agent calling with a few impertinent questions. Kerri Strug answers them all, resolutely polite. "I haven't started going through puberty yet," she tells the caller. "Because of gymnastics you go through it later." Low body fat combined with intense training and diet control can cause amenorrhea, the suppression of menstruation. It happened to Strug's hero, Mary Lou Retton, as well as Strug's Olympic teammate Shannon Miller. Delayed puberty is the cause of Strug's chirpy Betty Boop voice, which she cheerfully lampooned in an appearance on Saturday Night Live last fall.

In Jennifer Sey's memoir "Chalked Up," another parent at the gym asks Sey's father, a physician, if there's any way to keep his daughter from getting her period. The girl is growing faster than her teammates and her father is afraid she is going to develop out of gymnastics. Sey's father replies, "Sure, get her pregnant."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 1:35 PM on April 16


It's not obvious to me that that makes it more egalitarian, however. It will just be a different set of physical criteria that become ideal for that sport.

I'm okay with emphasizing a different set of physical criteria which are less misogynistic and unhealthy.
posted by Justinian at 2:41 PM on April 16


Did you actually watch the FPP video, or the linked one of Aly Raisman? These women are not "delicate, graceful flowers." They are short, but heavily-muscled athletes.

I'm not talking about what the athletes are. To me the athletes are intense creatures of strength, power, and grace. There's nothing delicate about them. So why all the dance moves? Why the de-emphasis of strength events? Why the glittery costumes and makeup? Because there is pressure for female gymnasts to drape themselves in stereotypical trappings of femininity. I'm talking about what the judges prefer female athletes to be. Elements of the sport are specifically structured to get this result. The same way overly-muscular female figure skaters are derided as "manly", female gymnasts get higher artistry scores simply if they're thinner.
posted by schroedinger at 3:22 PM on April 16 [5 favorites]


I would totally donate to a Kickstarter to fund Derek Hough working with this girl.
posted by amtho at 3:23 PM on April 16


Oksana Chusovitina won a silver medal on the vault at the 2008 Olympics at the age of 33. Not exactly the rule, though.
posted by asok at 3:34 PM on April 16


Here is her floor routine from 2008.
posted by asok at 3:35 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


And here is Mark Heap on Big Train wearing a leotard with covered arms and exposed legs. This is what you made me think of, jokeefe.
posted by asok at 3:45 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


Wow, Snarl Furillo, that earlier thread you kinked to is great! I love these two great video links to uneven bar routines that are no longer possible today (one by Olga Korbut and one by Nadia Comaneci - both incredible), this comment on the move of uneven bar towards something more like male bars, the prominence of obvious strength moves in current routines, why some people prefer the routines that display both strength and grace, accidents, and some discussion on difficulty levels in gymnastics, like this comment.

Thanks.
posted by miorita at 7:04 PM on April 16 [1 favorite]


> I think another thing to keep in mind is that while a lot of the all-around Olympic champions have been in the 16-18 age range, and a "normal" teenage girl would be physically adult at this age

Especially African-American girls, on average. Which raises another topic that's sort of trivial and sort of important: is it possible to buy tinted chalk? As long as they're going to be judged on their appearance, it's going to put darker-skinned gymnasts at a disadvantage.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:38 AM on April 17


The current all-around World Champion is a black American girl named Simone Biles. I don't think judges held it against her that her skin didn't match the chalk.
posted by swerve at 1:23 PM on April 18


Mincie had a bad landing on her last tumbling pass today and didn't qualify to event finals at Nationals. :( She did help LSU squeak into the Super Six so she could still (theoretically) get a team national championship but she won't get the event title. :( She kept her head though and put up a great vault and beam. If anyone wants to watch the live stream this weekend it's here (the NCAA site is shitty, so it says there are no events, but there are- Super Six for the team championship Saturday and event finals Sunday, all times are Central even though they say Eastern. The links SHOULD show up day-of.): http://www.ncaa.com/liveschedule

She's only a junior so she has time to kill it next year. :)
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:04 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]


Racism and artistic gymnastics is a pretty good detailed deadspin piece on some of the points discussed here.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:04 PM on April 18


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