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Monday, August 18, 2008

World Records

posted by on August 18 at 11:13 AM

OK, this is my last (or second-to-last) post about gymnastics, I swear.

But after the event finals in vault (go North Korea! what?) and floor last night, I went on a YouTube bender, calling up famous routines from the ’70s and ’80s to demonstrate to my friends how much the sport has mutated in the last thirty years. If there were world records in gymnastics, the current crop of athletes would be smashing them on every event, even without corset swimsuits and deeper pools or whatever they’re blaming the speedy swim times on. It’s insane how much more difficult it is to be an Olympic gymnast in 2008 than it was in 1976.

The most hilarious changes are on the uneven parallel bars. Check out Olga Korbut in 1972. Standing on the bar? GOOFY.

Here’s He Kixin earlier this year (click here for English commentary; I can’t embed it):

Or try Nadia Comaneci in 1976 (14-year-old gymnasts at the Olympics were A-OK then):

And Nastia Liukin now:

It’s almost a different sport.

Finally, because you know you want to see someone dislocate their hip on purpose in an Olympic sport (check out the girl at 2:14), here’s a disgusting rhythmic gymnastics montage:

The American team failed to qualify in rhythmic gymnastics, so don’t expect much from NBC. But other channels should show a few routines later this week.

UPDATE: OK, it is simply a bizarre coincidence that Savage was scoping the rhythmic gymnasts on YouTube while I was composing this post. My opinion is that rhythmic gymnastics is circus performance with an extra helping of eating disorder, that athletes should not attempt to attain this level of flexibility without developing the muscles to support their joints, and that the group routines are fucking amazing. How do they get all the equipment to fall in different places at the right time? Crazy.

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That's OK, I don't want to see rhythmic gymnastics. Even if the US was the favorite to sweep it, it's still lame.

Posted by Mike of Renton | August 18, 2008 11:21 AM

I agree with your beam comparison, but the uneven bars - that old one looked pretty cool and inventive compared to what we see today. But anyway, GOOFY is right - the whole damn sport, especially that foward flip with quarter turn that Luikin did on the beam. Totes goof.

Posted by boyd main | August 18, 2008 11:39 AM

great post Annie!

Posted by Non | August 18, 2008 11:39 AM

I ignore gymnastics three years and 50 weeks out of every four years, and then for two weeks pretend I'm some kind of expert, but I agree that they're totally different. The only thing that distinguishes Nadia now is her confidence and lack of balance checks on the beam - her skills aren't that hard.

also, when was the decision made to put the uneven bars farther apart? that's made a huge difference in types of skills possible.

finally, go check out kim gwang suk on youtube if you haven't already. She was the north korean underage gymnast from 1992 and she has this crazy F move on the uneven bars.

Posted by mk | August 18, 2008 11:42 AM

You can see the uneven bars are much further apart now than in 1972. It appears that back then the point was how they transitioned from one bar to the other. Now they might as well just eliminate the lower bar and make it like the men's high bar.

Posted by David | August 18, 2008 11:48 AM

Gymnasts got better, the routines got more daring because time marches on. When we were kids, my sister and I would watch Nadia and pretend that our own routines would include stunts such as standing on the top uneven bar doing 10 jumping jacks, doing a solo "Schleemel - Schlozzel" skip and dismounting into one of those Russian cossack dances the Fonz did. We also had an avacado-green rotary phone in our living room then.

Posted by Ah, youth | August 18, 2008 12:11 PM

@5... i thought those transitions were pretty cool looking.

Posted by infrequent | August 18, 2008 12:14 PM

Bah. Back when I was an Olympics gymast we did our pommel horse routines on a REAL HORSE.

Posted by Fnarf | August 18, 2008 12:20 PM

@8: Funny you should mention that. The vault for both men and women used to look like a pommel horse without pommels. Now it's a "table" or whatever--totally different shape.

There is this thing called equestrian vaulting too--pommel like things and a blanket on a real horse. I did it at summer camp once.

Posted by annie | August 18, 2008 12:24 PM

Olympic gymnastics will continue to be tainted until they reinstate bull leaping.

Posted by Greg | August 18, 2008 12:41 PM

"He hate me" -- unfortunately not a Luiken quote.

Posted by captain obvious | August 18, 2008 12:57 PM

I think many of yesterday's champions might admit they did so well largely thanks to the athletes and trainers who came before them, who pushed prepubescent recruiting, training technique, nutrition, and corporate/state sponsorship as far as they could so the next generation could push it along further. Today He, Liukin and Phelps stand on the shoulders of Korbut, Comaneci and Spitz and their army of vintage coaches. A couple more Olympics, and other, even sleeker kids will stand on the shoulders of today's heroes, who will be thanklessly derided in turn.

And did anyone else catch Ron Judd's heartfelt pitch for Eric Heiden as an Olympic champion who accomplished way more than anybody on the scene today? Judd's logic was good, his writing was excellent, and Heiden was sooo cute and modest, turning down an offer to have his picture on the Wheaties box to preserve his anonymity. Plus, he had 27-inch thighs. Sigh.

Posted by tomasyalba | August 18, 2008 1:10 PM

Nobody's disparaging the gymnasts of yore. Well, I do feel the need to disparage the famous multiple medalist Larissa Latynina a little bit. Her backwalkovers were even ugly.

But I think women's gymnastics is getting fairly close to a difficulty ceiling, at least on some events. The difference between the difficulty of gymnastics in the 90s and 00s is minimal compared to the difference between the 70s and 80s—and that's in spite of a massive scoring change that rewards difficulty over execution.

Posted by annie | August 18, 2008 1:34 PM

Most Difficult - Nastia Liukin
Most interesting/Beautiful - Olga Korbut. She's the easy winner to my eye.

Posted by Adam | August 18, 2008 2:04 PM

@12: I read it too and thought he made good points.

Posted by Greg | August 18, 2008 5:26 PM

It would have been impossible for Korbut to do the same routine as Kixin as the uneven bars are now much further apart. (It doesn't just look that way because Kixin is only four feet tall.) The current dismounts would be impossible, since there is no room to do a rotation at more-or-less full extension.

No excuse on the beam, tho. And Nadia Comaneci is considered one of the pioneers of the more acrobatic style on that apparatus. Imagine how much the sport sucked in the 60s!

Posted by Joseph | August 18, 2008 6:23 PM

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