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Including coverage of the 2012 Olympics, Aly Raisman’s homecoming party and the Tour of Gymnastics Champions can be found here.

PGC: CHATTER

Hollie Vise:

I didn’t get a chance to talk to Hollie much, but she informed me that she really loves being at this event even though she didn’t compete this year (she did at the last iteration). She told me that although she remembers how to do all of these skills, her body just won’t let her anymore. I did mention to her that there were folks who felt that her floor routine should have won NCAAs and she pointed out that she never did much tumbling, but hey.

Ashanee Dickerson:

Ashanee told me that the difference this time for Florida, which led to their winning, was that they really came together as a team. She suggested that that really came out in beam this year–both Dickerson and Hunter fell this year but unlike last year Florida came out and kept going and building scores.

I mentioned that Rhonda seemed like a more approachable coach and Ashanee laughed and said that yes, she is, she isn’t scary at all. As long as you do your job, show up on time and all of that, she is just nice. One of the more interesting ways Ashanee framed that is by saying that Rhonda isn’t “one of those coaches that just stands at the end of beam.” I guess Ashanee finds that more intimidating, which I can totally see.

As for the team generally, she confirmed my longstanding belief that Macko and Bridgey are completely adorable together and that the other thing–besides teamwork–that made the biggest difference was the influx of new students, in particular Bridget Sloan, who has been a rockstar for Florida all year. Cool fact: Ashanee will graduate in December with a degree in forensic anthro and hopes to work like CSI!

Jana Bieger:

Jana has no regrets. She knows that her body couldn’t have taken going to college; she would be just finishing up now, and she says that her body just couldn’t have handled it. She is aware that folks on the gym blogs (who she thinks don’t like her) talked a lot about her moving to Germany and competing for them and said that she considered it only as a stray thought towards the end of her career.

Being coached by her mom, she said, was good; she was able to separate home and gym. Well, to clarify, her mom was able to separate easily enough. Jana pointed out that since she was a teenager that separation could be a little harder for her. She is very happy to be where she is; she doesn’t miss the sport because she stays in just good enough shape to do this event. I was really glad to get a chance to talk to her; I always felt like Jana got a bit of a raw deal.

Vanessa Zamirippa

First things first: Zam will decide after this, so she will decide soon, whether to try for elite again. If she does do elite, she will continue to train at UCLA. I asked her about the differences between Miss Val and Marta and Zam said that Chris Waller told her that Val and Marta are actually very similar and that this proved to be true; both have an occasional sense of humor but both are, primarily, serious. With Miss Val, she told me, your personality doesn’t matter; what matters is how well you can hit, and how mentally and physically prepared you seem in training. That’s it. The other interesting thing she told me, given her hamminess at the comp, is that she feels like she had to tamp down her personality for college and could let it allllll hang out at PGC!

Chellsie Memmel

I started this interview with a little bit of swearing, in that I asked her how she feels about USAG after they were such, erm, well I used a word that I won’t repeat here. Chellsie told me that, first of all, she bears no animosity to the other national team girls. The situation was very tough, she said. When she was 16 and switched to training with her dad, she said that she already knew how she would train with every other coach; she’d been watching them for a long time. It might work for some people, she said, but not her. “I knew what it take,” she said, and she knew what she would have to do; she and her dad were able to work as a team and create the training plan together. It was very much a partnership.

I mentioned to her one of the sadder moments I’ve seen: when Becca Bross tore her ACL at 2011 Nationals. (I’m not going to link to the video because its disturbing). The video cuts around to various athletes, including Chellsie, shaking their heads. It’s always hard to see that, Chellsie said, but the thing was, she added, Becca had been landing that vault that way all week. Just as in the video, Chellsie seemed resigned, and sad. She said that she does hope that if more people enter into the admin and judging side of things that will really help. Her dad looked out for her, she explained; if the numbers were too much at camp, they just wouldn’t do the numbers, regardless of what the fallout with Marta and Co would be.

Chellsie seemed both happy to be there and participating in something low stress and fun and also resigned; it ended the way it ended, for her, and it sounds as though it was a tremendously hard time but she also seems happier, now. I’ve always been impressed with her ability to train smart and to speak up for herself, and she just reinforced that in this interview.

PGC: SEEN AND HEARD

One of my favorite things about covering any gymnastics competition is the chance to observe the athletes and the ways in which they interact with one another, the equipment and their bodies. 

The PGC began, as so many comps do, with warmups. This is another of my favorite things to watch. It’s always striking to me to see how much confidence these athletes have in their bodies’ competence. They know what they are capable of and watching them warm up reminds me of someone sharpening a tool. In every comp I’ve ever observed the athletes come out with an exact understanding of what they need to do and they do it at their own pace. Some do more running, others more jumping, others are more into stretching or galloping or arm circles or oversplits or doing saltos off the vault table or crunches or V ups on the bars. Some work multiple skills on all events over and over and some do one or two things on just a couple of events. It’s probably just my total nerdiness but I personally find this kind of thing fascinating. As I said in my event review post, one of the best things about this event is how relaxed these athletes were, and this definitely showed up the warmups–they was more joshing with each other, more high fiving–but at their core these are high level athletes who were focused on getting out there and warming up properly.

 

I bet you aren’t that interested in my thoughts about warming up and more interested in who did what. HAPPY TO OBLIGE.  But first, a few fun notes:

–did you guys know that Vanessa Zamirippa is a total ham? I did not. She was so high energy, like a 2 year old just after a nap and a cupcake, the entire evening. She was making faces, jumping around, cheering people on…during one of the (absurd, unreasonable and overlong) “waiting for TV” periods she hopped up on the rings to entertain the crowd, doing a skin the cat and something that the announcer called a Spleen-Buster, which seems like something that should definitely be in the next CoP.

–Anna Pavlova and Oksana Chusovitna spent most of their time together chattering away in Russian. I cannot even tell you how very very much I wish I spoke Russian! I said to one of the ESPN cameramen (we ended having a long discussion that covered gay rights, Penn State, sex abuse, drones, the GOP…) that I wanted to be able to interrogate Chuso about coming up in the Soviet system. By “interrogate” I meant “ask nicely” but he suggested that if I managed to hang a bare bulb from a ceiling she’d talk. He was kind of an odd cameraman. Ahem. Anyway, although Chuso and Pavs never trained together, and one could practically have birthed the other, it was really cool to see the friendship between them. Speaking of Chuso, another of my favorite parts of the whole thing was seeing the tremendous respect the athletes obviously have for her. Lots of high fives, lots of looking at her in awe. Which…duh.

Speaking of Chuso, she did several awesome pieces of gymnastics. Several vaults, of course, including a really lovely Tsuk full. On bars, she did both of her named skills in combo (hop full pirouette, full out dismount) which made me squeal out loud. Seeing gymnasts do skills that are named for them is always exciting. I don’t think she actually competed beam but she warmed it up, including several nice saltos. One of her challenges on bars was a jam to handstand, and the US team was then supposed to put up someone to do that as well. They didn’t have an athlete who could do it, despite the presence of one Chellsie Memmel, BAMF; although Chellsie used to do a beautiful jam to HS she told me she hasn’t done it since her most recent surgery. If anybody could pull that out cold it’d be her, but undoubtably smarter not to.

Chellsie didn’t do a ton of gymnastics–she told me she’d been voted team captain (duh) and she spent a lot of time talking to Nastia, who was one of the US coaches, and working on strategy. She did, however, do a beautiful, sky high double layout on the rod floor! Goes without saying that I could watch one of my favorite gymnasts do one of my favorite skills all day, and she floats her DLO, which is my favorite way to do them.

Also from Mother Russia, Anna Pavlova was super impressive. She beat out Josh Dixon for a head-to-head vault showdown and did a ton of lovely bar work, including some nice stadlers. She really looks good, too–very in shape. I didn’t see any HUGE GIANT skills from her, but she was elegant.

Bars was actually really cool. There was UB and also single rail (which is a little silly, since its basically just the high bar, and one of the best parts of UB is the transitions) but because of this there was LOTS of bars! Jana Beiger, who I guess I’d never thought of as a bar girl, turned out to be really good. A nice stadler-Hindorff from her (which Jade Barbosa fell on) plus a very impressive Pak-Shaposn -some sort of inbar salto. And what I believe was a full in dismount. Jana didn’t compete her classic back tuck to one knee but she did warm up a bunch, and it is really really cool. 

Laura-Ann Chong, who competed for Canada and then for Oregon State, turned out to be really impressive on bars as well. She competed a double front half out dismount, battled by Alina Weinstein of Illinois. Impressively, Weinstein had never made this dismount before–I think she’d never even TRIED it before–and she won against Chong! 

Zam was, of course, impressive all around, although she did make one mistake and splatted a Tchatev. She grinned and bowed. Ham, I say. On bars, you could see her holding her handstands as long as possible. She really is a lovely gymnast. Such great lines and form.

Brie Olsen, most recently of OU, was also really terrific. She had two standout moments. In one, she was called up to respond to a World team challenge to do a Shushunova on beam. Poor Brie had never done one before and ended up landing rather heavily on her belly, which I am sure was black for days afterwards. Probably still is. She was a good sport but ouch. Then on bars she did a (nice!) deltchev and then apparently one of the judges questioned whether or not it was ACTUALLY a deltchev…and we saw a glimpse of that Liukin temper when Nastia rather curtly informed Dominique Moceanu that it WAS a deltchev, with Brie adding that she’s been doing it her whole life. She won that point.

Oh! Alyssa Pritchett, who I confess I didn’t pay a lot of attention to while she was at UCLA, was really impressive. She actually did a nice double double on the rod floor, and some not half bad vaults–but that double double!

Jessica Lopez did a ton of bars. It was a little scary actually. She was also the only athlete there that I wanted to feed a milkshake to.

Kat Ding did only one piece of gymnastics in the actual competition but because of the way the rules work she did most a routine on ub, which was great to see. It was classic Kat Ding, crisp and clean, and she closed it with a gorgeous double layout. She told me she hasn’t done that dismount in a full year, thus making it extra impressive. 

OH. Catalina Ponor did some serious beam work. Including a full twisting back handspring, which, needless to say, is just beautiful, and she pauses halfway through it. She didn’t seem to be really chatting with anyone, but she did seem to be having a good time. That full twisting bhs is also  the only gymnastics I saw Shayla Worley compete (she warmed up some nice Onodis though). Worley and Ponor were going head-to-head with that skill, and the first time around Worley won it. Wisely, the Worlds judges cried foul and demanded the judges recount (the audience decided it the first time) and thankfully Avery and Moceanu made the right call and gave the point to Ponor. Now, Shayla Worley is a perfectly lovely gymnast, but come on. A full twisting back handspring on beam, Worley vs Ponor? Let’s not be silly here.

Ahem. 

In case it isn’t obvious I know nothing about men’s gymnastics. I do know that Dalton and Barbosa both did triple twisting double backs off high bar (Barbosa won) and I also know that during high bar, the guys were basically doing stuff that I’m not even sure are actual skills. For awhile, all you could hear was the sound of the splat as they hit the mat over and over again trying insane things. But of course once they actually started competing it was very, very cool.

 

I know, my MAG knowledge sucks. Sorry. 

 

PGC–all the images!

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Getting ready for intros

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Cool tat Chellsie!

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high fives

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Ab picture taken for a gay friend

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CHELLSIE CAN STILL DO A DOUBLE LAY

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Queen Wave from Zam

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round off

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Twisting Zam

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I think this is Sam Oldham, who is ADORABLE.

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take off…

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and flip!

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Josh Dixon

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Jade Barbosa, whose name I finally learned to pronounce this time.

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Alyssa Pritchett did a double double!

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Although I don’t think THIS is the double double.

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Andrew Smith

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Josh Dixon

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Dixon double pike

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Zam, I think

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Zam double pike

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Barbosa

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Barbosa twist

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Not sure who this is but its pretty

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Spinnnnn

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Pavs and Chuso spent a lot of time chattering to each other in Russian. I REALLY wish I spoke Russian.

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Zam

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Pavs on bars!

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kip up

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Anna Pavlova, Legend

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handstand

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Yes, I took a lot of pictures of Anna on bars. Problem?

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but here’s Zam!

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so I took a lot of pictures of Zam too

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Kat Ding!

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i think we can all agree that Kat was the best part of the Georgia team after Kupets left.

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the quite-impressive Brie Olsen.

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Seriously, she has skills.

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HS.

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I TOLD YOU

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watching bar prep amuses me

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They kept making jokes about getting Nastia to swing bars.

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Barbosa.

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and Barbosa again

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pretty sure this is Lisa Mason. she turns out to be pretty awesome.

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chalking up

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Kattttt Dinnnngggg!

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jumping to HB

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it was great to see her do bars, for real.

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just hangin out

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supergirl!

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she can still do a DLO dismount!

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handstand…

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and regrasp

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Oregon/Canada’s Laura Ann Chong, who was super impressive

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Zam/Chong

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did i photograph ANYTHING but bars?

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seriously

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Chong.

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stretching

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Chuso consults

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Pavs vault

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Pavs lands

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Brie Olsen

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Barbosa, I think

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lets talk about back muscles

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Twist off, always fun

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landing can be rough

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gettin some air

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rings is just nuts

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Catalina Ponor, Queen Of The Beam

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Queen Cata pauses during her full twisting back handspring, which is SO PRETTY.

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Cata celebrates being awesome

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Marissa King hops up

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Yes, Chuso can still climb a rope using just her arms. Sure.

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Chelllsieeee

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judges Miles Avery and Dominique Moceanu

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the officials

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Barbosa

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Jana Bieger, who can still swing bars quite well!

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Nastia preps

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Jana preps

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the most gymnastics Nastia did

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pbars

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swing baby swing

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swinnggggg

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Zam entertains the crowd

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Team USA celebrates

Team USA celebrates

PGC: Event Review

This past weekend I was lucky enough to attend the Professional Gymnastics Challenge. This unique event–I know I sound like a PR person but it really is a unique event!–brings together a huge range of gymnasts. Now, I’ll be honest with you, I know very little about MAG except that I do enjoy looking at them without shirts but on the women’s side the variety was pretty amazing. It was a cool mix of former US elites (Chellsie Memmel, Jana Bieger, Shayla Worley), NCAA athletes (Kat Ding, Vanessa Zamirippa, Brie Olsen, Ashanee Dickerson, Marissa King, Alyssa Pritchett, Alina Weinstein, Laura-Ann Chong) and international elites (Jade Barbosa, Lisa Mason, Jessica Lopez, and oh yeah, Catalina Ponor, Anna Pavlova and Oksana Chusovitna). The format was this: on Friday night, the athletes were split into two groups who battled; then it was USA vs The World, which was clearly meant to be the Main Event. When its on ESPN I am sure that that’s what the narrative will be. I am not allowed to tell you won until it airs, though.

So! The good vs the bad for this event!

The Good: 

the collection of athletes! I don’t know how the casual gym fan felt about this collection but for me, having NCAA faves, former elites and international legends all together was pretty amazing. I may have squealed when I saw Chuso. 

The one skill format. I won’t even try to explain the rules to you because they are super confusing but it was basically skill-by-skill rather than whole routines. As Jon Horton pointed out, the athletes tried all sorts of things that would be too dangerous to try in a regular comp, or combos they had never tried before. And on tumbling and vault, it was sometimes guys vs girls. 

Also, since the stakes were so low–bragging rights and some prizes–the athletes seemed to have genuinely having fun. There was a power outage at the beginning and it took a long time for the lights to come back sufficient for the ESPN folks to keep recording, and the athletes staged a dance party and some handstand contests. They seemed to be just focused on enjoying themselves. Of course their competitiveness came out, but it was clear that the primarly reason to participate was to have fun and try new things. 

I’m glad they didn’t bother with pommels. And using the rod floor was a great choice as well–better landing for the athletes, bigger skills for the crowd!

 

The Bad:

we kept having to “wait for TV” but since the event wasn’t live nobody could understand WHY we were waiting for TV. They were clearly going to edit it anyway, so god knows why we often had to wait twenty or thirty minutes for the comp to restart!

The rules were way too confusing. And audience participation, while a good idea in theory, ended up being overly complex. These two things made it drag even when the ESPN guys were letting them go ahead.

 

Overall, though, this is a really cool idea with an amazing selection of athletes. They just need to iron out the kinks!

 

Gallery

photo dump–2010 Nationals