Miller and Moceanu on gymnastics today

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By Anna Rose Johnson

It’s undeniable that gymnastics has gone through a lot of change over the decades. I am fascinated with comparing gymnastics today and how it was years ago. The 1990s are a particularly interesting time to look back on—it was truly the bridge between “old school” style and modern gymnastics, and they were also the heyday of televised gymnastics. I have previously written a series of posts for Full Twist about how the difficulty in Olympic gymnastics has evolved since the 90s

Part 1: Vault

Part 2: Bars

Part 3: Beam

Part 4: Floor

More than anything, the 90s are probably remembered most for the glorious performance by the Magnificent Seven in Atlanta. It has been 18 years now since the U.S. women’s team won the 1996 Olympic gold. I caught up with Magnificent Seven teammates Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu to get their opinion on how gymnastics has changed since the days of their Olympic experiences.

 

FT: What do you think has changed the most about gymnastics since the 1990s?

SM: So much has changed! The scoring system, the equipment, the make-up of routines and, of course, the skill level. Gymnastics is an amazing sport in that it’s always evolving, always pushing the envelope.

DM: The amplified emphasis on difficulty and the declining value of artistry has been the biggest change in gymnastics. Some would argue the term “Artistic” should be dropped from Women’s Artistic Gymnastics. While there are exceptions, the genuinely artistic gymnast does not stand a chance against the trickster with marginal execution in today’s international competitions. While we can all admire the athleticism of today’s routines, the emotionally moving performances of Dobre, Boguinskaia and Podkopayeva appear to be a thing of the past.

 

 FT: What do you think of the high difficulty showcased in competitions today?

 SM: It’s very impressive. As an athlete, it was always fun to try skills that no one had ever done before. And it’s clear athletes still feel this way. We’re always looking for something extra, a twist, a flip, a way to make a particular skill stand out.

DM: I don’t take issue with a high level of difficulty, because it’s a natural progression of our sport and a vital component of gymnastics. My issue is that the increase in difficulty has occurred oftentimes at the detriment of execution and artistry. Skyrocketing difficulty requirements compounded by the drop of compulsory exercises has led to Artistic Gymnastics morphing into a shell of its former self. Compulsories separated the great gymnasts from the good ones and built much-needed suspense for the later rounds of competition.

Regrettably, the FIG has struggled to find a suitable balance between execution and difficulty. This is evident in the current Code of Points which is ruthlessly lopsided toward difficulty. The FIG’s plan to make execution deductions harsh backfired wretchedly. Since the execution score is capped at 10.0 and the difficulty score has no ceiling, gymnasts and coaches quickly realized the path of least resistance to a high score was to heap on the difficulty, because judges were reluctant to give high execution scores.

 

FT: It’s been eight years since the “perfect 10.0” scoring system was abolished; do you feel that it was a negative or positive change?

 SM: A little bit of both. On the one hand, the perfect 10.0 was such a symbol of our sport. Many people have come around to the new scoring system but I do feel that we lost a little bit of what made our sport special; the idea of perfect and knowing when you hit it. On the other hand, gymnastics is a sport that is constantly changing and you have to be prepared to roll with the punches. I do my best as an “expert analyst” or commentator to explain the change while helping viewers understand the big picture of what is happening during a competition.

DM: It adversely affected the landscape of the sport for the reason that it made difficulty the priority in gymnastics. The 10.0 based judging system allowed each piece of apparatus to be uniformly weighted. For example, today vaulting has become too heavily weighted for the women because it’s often the event where the highest scores can be achieved. It simply does not make sense to make the most concise apparatus worth the most points in a team and all-around competition. The loss of the 10.0 continues to leave athletes, coaches, judges, and spectators in limbo. The decision to abolish the “perfect 10.0” has been the single most detrimental decision in our sport’s modern history. It took away the most recognizable symbol of our sport’s pursuit of perfection.  In many ways, the decision robbed us of our identity.

 

FT: The U.S. women’s gymnasts don’t compete in as many competitions as you did in the 90s—how do you think this affects their performances during the year?

SM: I guess I hadn’t really thought much about that. They may not be competing in quite as many competitions with regard to international meets but with the added training camps they are certainly having to be prepared each month to show readiness. Each coach needs to make that decision with their athlete on when to compete and when to rest.

DM: Less competitions has likely prevented more injuries on our national team.  The semi-centralized system of training camps places a great deal of emotional and physical mileage on these young women, so more competitions would add to an already heavy load.  Now if USA Gymnastics lessened the number of training camps and increased the number of competitions, perhaps a positive trend would reveal itself.  Nevertheless, Team USA will continue to dominate women’s international gymnastics as long as the talented individual coaches continue to train athletes and the rest of the world (namely Russia and Romania) continue to deteriorate.  The U.S. Women are virtually a permanent fixture on the medal podium at the Olympic Games and World Championships since 2003, so I don’t see how participating in more competitions could possibly have a more positive effect on the performance of the team.

 

FT: The FIG only allows two gymnasts per country to compete in World and Olympic finals. Do you think this is better or worse than the “three per country” rule of the 90s?

 SM: I don’t think it’s better or worse, just different. We mention, often, how many changes are made each quad and this was just one of many changes. The important thing is that you know the rules ahead of time. My coach always told us “Let’s understand the rules, then let’s get to work.”

DM: It’s worse. Look no further than Jordyn Wieber’s unfortunate situation at the 2012 London Olympics. When a World or Olympic all-around final consists of less than 25 competitors, not only does it seem like an abridged meet, but it makes purchasing a ticket almost unreasonable. All-arounders are on their way to extinction if the current trends continue.

I understand the FIG Executive Committee wants to increase popularity of the sport around the world, and the IOC must make cuts in the number of athletes permitted to compete to allow more sports into the Olympic Games, but the two per country rule has hurt Artistic Gymnastics in a BIG WAY, because the all-around final and event finals are not a true measure of “the best” in the world.

 

FT: What is the best part about women’s gymnastics today?

SM: For me it’s just enjoying the amazing athletes we have competing. Of course, my truly favorite part is watching my son jump on the trampoline laughing uncontrollably, but maybe I’m biased.

DM: The loyalty of the fans is the best part of women’s gymnastics today. Despite the turmoil of the Code of Points, the perpetual judging controversies, loss of the perfect 10.0, and complicated rules, the loyal fans of our sport continue to attend competitions and maintain a dialogue about gymnastics. The internet has allowed the sport to transcend geography, so it can be enjoyed by so many people. Social networks, blogs, YouTube, and message boards pertaining to gymnastics demonstrate that the passion for this great sport is alive and well. Perhaps if the FIG Executive Committee listened to the fans a bit more, gymnastics could reach unbelievable heights of global popularity.

Many thanks to Shannon and Dominique for sharing their views with Full Twist! 

 

13 Comments

  1. Christian says:

    Shannon Miller is so cool. It’s funny how as a gymnast she often didn’t seem like the most outgoing or approachable person, but now I really appreciate her good attitude and balanced approach to things – she seems to be the kind of person who really tries to see both sides and understand different points of view, which is actually pretty rare and very admirable. She’s a fantastic role model, and not just in a ‘she won lots of medals!!’ sort of way.

  2. Hai says:

    Christian, I agree with you. Rather than taking a negative approach at the evolution of our sport. Every sport has to evolve with the time. Everyone looks back at the time of the old 10.0 system as being perfect, but they were NOT!!!! Remember how the 10 system can be SO misused by reputations AND unscrupulous judges!!! Two examples were Silivas compulsory vault score at the 89 Worlds and the whole controversy of Miller and Gutsu vault scores in AA at 92 Olympics!

  3. Irene Valle says:

    im from México, i really aprecieted Moceanu critical analysis, becouse she had to much for said and would be nice everyone lissened. Artistic gimnastic should never forgett the expresion, form an beautifull part o art and not be just athletical.

  4. Anthony says:

    I find that Dominique has such a negative view of the new code of points that is hard to find her opinions to be unbias. yes the lost of the 10 system was a little shocking at the beginning, but its been almost 10 years and 2 olympics game with it. so if at this time some people don’t get it, they never are going to. personally i think it was a change for the good because it was unfair to have someone perform a DTY and another perform a Amanar and both Gymnast get say a 9.8 when clearly one had the better difficulty. what I do agree on with Dominique is that the execution judges should be more punishing on those who perform a routine with bad form or lack of fluidity and grace. but the 10 system was too reliable on subjectivity.
    I also agree that the 2 gymnast rule is ridiculous and unfair. it makes no sense to have gymnast that are not capable to compete with the top gymnast just there as representation of nations. imagine the competition on the last olympics with weiber and Jinnan in the mix it would have been epic.
    the changes i will make its to go back to 36 gymnast in the all around for the women because they do only 4 apparatus. take the top 24 qualifiers and then add the next 12 qualifiers excluding the countries who have 3 already in the top 24.In event finals they also should be able to add 4 more gymnast to each event and only the top qualifiers because its a event final you want the best.
    finally i will keep the teams as 6 gymnasts per country and will do away with 3 up 3 count. because quite frankly gymnastics its a pressure cooker already if you want a good competition with Gymnast competing at their best this need to be system 4 up 3 score count.

  5. Megan says:

    Very interesting to read their views. I agree with the comments above; Shannon was a wonderful role model as a gymnast but has proven to be an even better role model as time has gone by. I love her optimism and how she seems to accept that although the sport has changed, it’s not necessarily all bad. Thanks for this interview!

  6. Gymnasthole says:

    I appreciate Shannon’s positive attitude. She was always one of my favorite. She was THE artistry of the ’96 Atlanta Mag 7 team, yet she seems to embrace all styles, and not have to bash and tear one style down over another. Every gymnast simply does NOT have the long, almost brittle limbs of Khorkina’s, so Svetas style wouldn’t fit every athletes body type. Gymnasts should build routines around their own physical and personal style, and I see absolutely nothing wrong with that.

    I find it completely laughable that Moceanu is so negative and griping about artistry. Her FX in ’96 wasn’t a ballet tour de force either, it was very much in the vein of many US FX we see today. As was Zmeskal’s floor in 92 (which was different than Millers in 92.) Kim and Dom was full of power, but were they wearing invisible pointe shoes? Um.. NO! It didn’t make their routines any less viable then, and it doesn’t make them less viable now. Biles’ and Ross have contrasting styles, and that’s completely fine by me!

  7. Lily says:

    What would Moceanu know about Artistry? All she did was shake her butt. Still bashing the sport too.

  8. Jody says:

    Dominique hit the nail right on the head. She should be the new president of the FIG! It’s great to see someone willing to express their opinion and speak out about the poor state our sport is currently in. Changes need to be made. Shannon’s responses were boring and predictable, and offered little of value.

  9. Kate says:

    I like what Moceanu was saying, I agree there is a massive lack of artistry now, but I find it funny she is commenting on it when I think the biggest abusers of difficulty over artistry is Team USA. If we went back to the ‘Perfect 10′ system now I do wonder how some of the worlds best would fare.

  10. Emmanuelle says:

    Really Jody? All she did was shake her butt? did you not watch her in 1998 with her beautiful riverdance routine. Her bars were much improved and her beam was absolutey artistic. What about her compulsories in 96, which were some of the most articistic out there in how she interpreted it. She was THIRTEEN when she shook her butt. You sound completely ignorant.

  11. Jody says:

    Emmanuelle, I think you are talking to Lily, not me. Maybe you should retread my response.

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