bad ‘press’ for elite gymnastics

by Rick McCharles

I’ve been avoiding weighing in on a rekindled controversy buzzing on the internet right now.

But the time has come to put things in perspective. I’ve heard too many alarmist and wrong statements.

Parkettes in Pennsylvania, one of the top elite women’s gymnastics programs in the world, invited CNN into the gym a number of years ago to do a documentary.

Now … CNN editors could have done a piece showing how strong, dedicated, determined and fantastic are elite gymnasts — but that would not get good ratings.

An expose sells far better.

If you did not see the original documentary, it’s on YouTube:

part 1
part 2
part 3
part 4
part 5

CNN PRESENTS: Achieving The Perfect 10 – transcript

What got things abuzz again was a new edit montage including clips from the documentary. Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

It’s much better in every way than her original montage.

Aside from trying to generate ad revenue for CNN, a secondary purpose of the documentary was to bring some facts to light:

  • elite women’s gymnastics is very difficult
  • coaches (in all sports) sometimes get emotional; say and do harsh things
  • injury rate is quite high, especially overuse injuries
  • All true. I commend CNN for that. The general public needs to be better educated.

    I advise athletes and parents of athletes NOT to accept invitation into an elite program unless you understand the risks.

    Any coach who steps “over the line” should be disciplined and reprimanded. Even jailed.

    Elite gyms should have an open door policy, parents welcomed to bring cameras and camcorders any time.

    Girls who are unhappy with their elite training in Artistic have many other options: diving, cheer, circus, dance, fitness, etc. (I know a half dozen girls who switched to pole vaulting and were nationally ranked within a year.)

    Here are the facts waiting to be highlighted by a future CNN documentary: (Don’t hold your breath.)

  • there are no better “protected” young female athletes than gymnasts
  • gym clubs are one of the few places in their lives where there is no profanity
  • gymnasts are the fittest females of any Olympic sport
  • ex-elite gymnasts go on to be disproportionately successful in their adult lives
  • Gymnastics, trampoline and tumbling are still, in my opinion, the best sports available for girls. From that starting point they can do anything.

    I go to many multi-sport coaching conferences. Each and every time I come away thinking that gymnastics coaches are the most impressive and dedicated of all. Our sport is the most difficult — and it develops the best coaches and athletes. Period.

    Leave a comment below if you have something to add.

    The bad reputation of Elite Women’s Artistic Gymnastics, especially within the medical community, is one of the biggest issues faced by all gymnastics coaches.

    And I’m expecting a flood of bad press surrounding the selection of the American Team to the 2008 Olympics. There are many good candidates — but only a few can qualify.

    The stories of those who do not make THE TEAM is are stories the media can sell.

    random handstands club – Facebook

    If you have joined the social networking site Facebook (free) search under Groups for “Random Handstand Club“.

    Regular people have already submitted over 1000 photos of handstands from all over the world.




    UPDATE: Scott Bird pointed out other handstand clubs — in fact, there are 75 different handstand groups on Facebook.

    The biggest, I think, is “Random Handstand Club“.

    Floor Plan – Canadian Nationals 2007

    I’ll understand if you are NOT interested in seeing a detailed view of a massive competition set-up.

    But if you are, email me and I’ll send you the FULL floor plan as a large Excel (XLS) file.

    small screenshot sample

    Of course the final floor layout was much different than this, after tinkering. And the Floor Managers changed the configuration for some competitions depending on what was needed.

    American Championships 2007 San Jose

    I’m looking forward to a great show in California. It will be more exciting than last year as Worlds in Germany is scheduled soon after.

    official Championships 2007 website


    Many are more interested in the Congress and Trade Show. That will likely attract over 2000 coaches and other leaders in our sport. Three days, over 135 sessions. Check the list of presenters. (to be confirmed)

    The line-up is impressive, as usual, but lacks many new voices, especially non-American speakers. Do organizers think there is no-one outside the States who can improve Congress? Or am I missing something?

    I expect to be there, anyway. If you are too, be sure to get your tickets before July 15th when prices go up.

    CONGRESS and TRADE SHOW – home page


    Best of all, perhaps, is the 1-day Gymnastics National Business Conference Aug 15th. I’ll post that event separately once I have all the information .

    Gym Chat – online Gymnastics community

    Social networking for the MySpace generation.

    Fluorescent colours, jammed with options. I don’t know where to start. You’ll have to see it for yourself.

    Roxanna Ehsanipour from Gym Chat tells me they are getting a great response to the free gymnast websites offer:

    They are packed with features: upload pictures/videos, post youtube videos, blog, message, connect with friends, organize schedule and competitions/results, custom design or use templates, plus more.

    Also, we have a lot of privacy / security options in place, such as choosing friends only/public/all public view settings, friends only/members/all message post settings, and choosing how your gymnast web is indexed in the Find Member search.

    … No web design or programming experience necessary!

    I am surprised more competitive athletes don’t have their own websites. This may be a better option than MySpace or FaceBook.

    Clubs can use an easy web builder to upload new schedules, results, pictures, videos, etc. and design their own teams web and build on their team community.

    No more waiting for the web designer to make updates or high maintenance fees. Also on Gym Chat, check out pictures, news, videos, post/rate your gymnastics club, chat on our gymnastics message board, plus more!


    Essential for this old blogger, however, are RSS feeds which can tell me when something new goes up on the site.

    So far you can subscribe by RSS from these pages:

    Gym Chat Message Boards

    Gym Chat Classifieds

    More feeds will be added.

    Though it’s not geared at my generation, I have a feeling Gym Chat will be popular with female gymnasts.

    Leave a comment if you’ve have some feedback on the service.

    Olympics 2012 Logo animations are cool


    Worst symbol EVER.


    Get Outdoors – Olympics 2012 Logo Announced: Wow, That’s Ugly! – Outdoor Blog

    Many are embarrassed in the UK.

    But the concept, I like. Check the animations on the official London201 site. It’s iPod commercial meets The Matrix.


    The video on the website has been changed. (Perhaps they are being rotated.) UPDATE: The “effect” I liked so much was pulled because of complaints it might trigger epileptic seizures.

    To see the iPod – Matrix clip click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

    video – advanced bar-to-bar transfers

    One of the best clinicians I know is Svetlana Degteva, many years coaching at Gymnastics Mississauga in Toronto, Canada.

    Though a petite female, she decided to coach Bars herself, spotting everything. (Tkachev is a bit intimidating.)

    She recently presented a half-day clinic on advanced bar transfers including Pak, Shaposhnikova, and others.

    Instead of showing the best performers at Worlds on video, she brought a video of her own girls — different heights, different levels of ability, typical problems — and this was much appreciated by the attending coaches. She is very honest and unpretentious.

    Click PLAY or watch a short sample (of her much longer video) on YouTube.

    A few notes from the clinic:

  • all girls can do Pak and Shaposhnikova, regardless of their height though technique will vary.
  • if the kids understand the skill, progress is much faster. Have them draw new skills to get a feel for their comprehension.
  • it’s almost impossible to aspire to be competitive at the highest level unless you have 3-times-a-day training and a special school arrangement. (She does not have this now though she did in the former Soviet Union.)
  • with limited training time, physical preparation is even more important.
  • things will go wrong. Kids lose skills. Kids miss skills. Be prepared for anything and everything.
  • DegtevSvetlana175.jpg

    Svetlana “has a Bachelors degree of Physical Education and Sport from Lvov University in Ukraine.

    Ms. Degteva is a former Russian National Team Coach and an International Judge.

    She has coached at every level in Canada and produced many Provincial and National level Champions and medalists, as well as a number of World and Olympic Team members.”

    Gymnastics Mississauga bio

    If you are looking for an elite clinician who can relate to the problems of the regular coach, contact Svetlana directly via her club.

    ===== Want more?

    video – spotting the “Pak”

    video – spotting Pak – part 2

    vault runway problems

    Setting up for the Canadian Gymnastics Championships competition, my first question was:

    Why is the Double Mini runway so much thicker and better than the Vault runway?

    (I want the thick one for gymnasts.)

    Next: Does anyone recall the vault runway that was attached to a wooden base attached to the vault horse? (Spieth sold such a configuration years ago. Everything hooked together. Nice.)

    It’s 2007 and the runways at a competition are still moving around. This seems like an easy-to-solve problem without using endless rolls of expensive duct tape.

    no way to attach runway to horse

    We put concrete blocks on the end of our runways to help stabilize them.


    Trampoline and Tumbling folks actually lashed (yellow strap) the Double Mini to weights to help stop it from moving around.


    This is nonsense. There must be a better way.

    Please leave a comment if you’ve seen a better solution in competition.

    vaulting beatboard springs – hassle

    Words to live by:

    “The fewer restrictions, the better.”

    It’s a slight problem changing the number and configuration of springs in a beatboard during a gymnastics competition. No doubt.

    FIG — for the Athens 2004 Olympics — finally established that only 3 different beatboards would be available. And that the springs would NOT be adjustable.

    That was a change. But reasonable, perhaps, for the very best athletes in the world.

    (I just learned that one of the main reasons for that rule was that too many springs had been stolen from international competitions.)


    To my shock, when I arrived at the Canadian National Championships 2007, the 3-beatboard-only rule had been applied to EVERY gymnast at Nationals. Even tiny 60lb girls were not allowed to change the springs. Even on Bars. Even on Beam. (Swapping over the boards was a nightmare for the equipment crew.)

    This rule is a mistake. And a classic case of imposing regulations that might be reasonable at the Elite level on developing age group athletes. We’ve seen this same wrong thinking dozens of times in the past.


    In the US Jr. Olympic program coaches change springs and even the height of the vault horse without restriction. There is plenty of time on Vault to do so, even in a fast competition.

    To their credit, the Men at Canadian Nationals decided not to enforce the rule. For Women it was enforced, despite the fact that it is nearly impossible to police. I noticed in one occasion that Women’s coaches warmed up in the training gym on one fixed set of boards, then competed on a different set. It was very confusing to be sure which fixed set of boards was allowed at each level.

    Obviously the correct beatboard regulation is that which optimizes the safety of the developing gymnast. Let the coach change the springs as needed.

    one of 3 spring configurations for the National Novice division

    I’ll send this recommendation to the Technical Committees of Gymnastics Canada.

    Do you have dumb rules appropriate to international athletes imposed on your kids?

    If so, leave a comment.


    Here are some facts that you may want to add to your blog to ensure that your readers have complete information.

    Novices have the option to vault at 120 cm or 125 cm.

    The Novices have different board configurations than the Open, Junior and Senior categories. On Vault only, the Novices have the choice of 4 configurations specifically set for them. They also have two specific configurations for Bars and Beam.

    We offered to the coaches, during the coaches debriefing at Canadians, to return to an optional spring configuration. The answer was NO. Not one coach expressed a desire to return to the “old” rules. I can assure you that the safety of their gymnasts is of the utmost importance for these coaches. The same comment applies to GCG personnel.

    The configuration of the boards in effect for each apparatus / category is stated in a document that is circulated to all HP clubs and P/T Associations and is posted on the GCG website.

    There is a spring configuration monitoring process in place for the competition gym that works rather well after only 1.5 years of implementation. During the coaches debriefing session, we even discovered who was the coach who changed the configuration of one board in the training gym!

    Finally, the international rule regarding boards is two boards per apparatus, not three.

    Thanks Lise.

    Retton, Roethlisberger, Karolyi – video

    “USA Gymnastics: Behind the Team” follows the path of the nation’s top gymnasts as they prepare to represent the U.S. on the world stage in 2008.

    During the next 15 months, the “Behind the Team” online series will feature interviews with current and former athletes and coaches, behind-the- scenes looks at training camps and competitions and will give a glimpse of the life of an elite U.S. gymnast.

    “This is the story of some of the most talented gymnasts in the world and their journey to capture their sport’s highest accomplishments, essentially told in the first person,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “It is a look at USA Gymnastics that hasn’t before been available, including intimate conversations with athletes and coaches, inside-the-gym access to training regimes, and behind the scenes previews of make-or-break competition.” …

    1984 Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton, three-time Olympian John Roethlisberger and legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi, who has coached numerous Olympic and world champions, are among those featured in the first webisode …

    Gymbrooke Sports News » USA Gymnastics: Behind the Team

    It’s very well done. Check out the inspiring new video linked from the AT & T Blueroom.