Olympic Difficulty Part 3: Balance Beam


Full Twist contributor Anna Rose Johnson continues to , compare gold-medal winning routines of the past to those from more recent years. Previously she has looked at both Vault and Uneven Bars.

The balance beam might be the most controversial apparatus of all. This year’s World Championships beam final was full of inquiries and score changes. And remember last year’s Olympic Games, with the dispute over the bronze medal (the inquiry and tiebreaking procedure)? How about at the 2000 Olympic Games, when Yekaterina Lobaznyuk (2nd) and Yelena Produnova (3rd) were unhappy with their finishes?

In this post, I will be discussing six Olympic champions who were incredible beam workers and knew how to hit a difficult routine!

Tatiana Lysenko’s 1992 exercise was the epitome of a gold-worthy routine. It was flawless right down to the stuck dismount. You may recall that Shannon Miller led in the beam final right up until the very end, when last-up Tatiana pulled out the routine of her life. Unlike Shannon, who got a second chance in 1996, Barcelona was Tatiana’s final Olympics.

Shannon capped off her Olympic experience in a big way with her elegant routine in 1996. which included her incredibly hard eponymous skill, was polished down to the last finger movement. It’s interesting to watch Shannon’s routine now and compare her difficulty to what’s happening nowadays—because it still looks super hard! After the all-around final in 1996, where Shannon had problems on floor exercise, it was a triumphant finish for her.

Liu Xuan’s routine in 2000 was quite daring, and she hit when it mattered most. She had been close to quitting the sport earlier in her career, but she stuck with it and ended up winning gold. She also won the bronze in the all-around, where her highest score came on beam. She was a member of the Chinese team that initially won the bronze team medal, but eventually third place was awarded to the United States after the discovery that Dong Fangxiao was only 14. Fortunately, Liu retained her beam gold.

Looking back, Catalina Ponor’s 2004 gold medal-winning routine was quite obviously the bridge between old school style and new gymnastics. The skills were all there, but the artistry was, too. Catalina was not as much a balletic dancer as Tatiana and Shannon were, but her poise in between acrobatics was very noticeable and appreciated. It’s fascinating to think that Catalina’s 2004 routine was not far removed from the performance that won her a respectable fourth place in 2012. The difficulty is practically the same, and even her dance moves are basically unchanged! I love that she was able to make an old quad routine get right back in the mix in 2012.

In 2008, Shawn Johnson showcased brilliant technique in the highest caliber of difficulty. Her full turn was exquisite. She was right up on toe and held up her leg at horizontal longer than anyone else I’ve seen. Her acrobatics were stunning, but what I liked best about Shawn’s 2008 routine was her ability to make dance moves look effortless—not forced. (The cartwheel in this performance is my favorite part.)

Deng Linlin’s win in 2012 was the pinnacle of a decorated career. She won the 2008 Olympic gold with team China, won beam at the 2009 Worlds, and placed second on beam in 2010. Deng qualified to the 2012 Olympic beam final in fourth, and competed in the final after a rock solid routine by her world champion teammate Sui Lu. Deng performed what was probably her very best ever and won the gold with a 15.600 (6.5), the highest beam score in London.

Let’s take a look at the content of their exercises:

2012: Deng Linlin/CHN: split leap mount, front tuck, two flip-flops to a layout,  swingdown, split leap, switch ring leaap, front walkover, swingdown, side aerial, sheep jump, back tuck, wolf jump, split leap, full turn, two flip-flops to a double pike dismount.

2008: Shawn Johnson/USA: two flip-flops to a two-foot layout, front pike, standing full, switch leap, layout step-out, two-foot layout, switch leap, split jump, pike jump, back tuck, full turn, cartwheel to sit, round-off, full-in dismount.

2004: Catalina Ponor/ROM: Onodi, flip-flop, one-armed flip-flop, layout step-out, split leap, Kotchetkova, front walkover, flip-flop, back pike, full turn, Omelianchik, round-off, full-in dismount.

2000: Liu Xuan/CHN: Press to handstand, Healy to rear support, split leap, double stag jump, two flip-flops to a two-foot layout, wolf jump, back dive with a quarter twist, split leap with head skyward, switch ring leap, round-off, double tuck dismount.

1996: Shannon Miller/USA: Press to handstand, split leap, Omelianchik, swingdown back extension, front tuck, flip-flop, to two layout stepouts, full turn, Miller [back dive with a quarter twist to handstand into a half pirouette], back walkover, split leap, wolf jump, round-off, full-in dismount.

1992: Tatiana Lysenko/USSR: Single leg cut to sit, cartwheel off knee to handstand, one-arm handstand, flip flop, three layout step-outs, front aerial, double stag jump, full turn, Chen [back tuck open swingdown], split leap, sissone, round-off, double tuck dismount.

What are your favourite gold medal winning Beam routines? Leave a comment below. 

Image via Getty Images.


  1. Charlie says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t address how much routines have changed. Deng Lin Lin barely stops to take a breath. She goes from skill to skill to skill, connecting many of them. Connections weren’t necessary in the 90’s like they are today. Also, there is no longer room for bits of flair like Lysenko’s one-armed Handstand or Shannon Miller’s beautiful choreography.

    It’s also important to mention how leaps have changed. In the 90’s, few gymnasts were taking their eyes off the beam.

    It seems you didn’t compare the routines as much as simply describe them.

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