Why is it that we only emphasize the very end of something? As evidenced by the photo at right, it’s really the process that’s the fun part. Look, socks!!!!! Of my very own cables-and-lace design!
Stuck landings in gymnastics are just about as important as stuck landings in real life. It’s usually what you do during the bulk of the routine/class/business meeting/knitting project/friendship/day that really counts, not how quickly you walked out the door when the day finally ended. In real life, we comport ourselves as though every moment counts, and gymnasts do the same thing, because tiny steps on the landing only add up to ten percent of the overall deductions in an average gymnastics routine.
We talked about extension and amplitude yesterday. Today, it’s form and execution. Elfi Schlegel compliments gymnasts who have great form and execution all the time–Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, along with the Chinese team, got most of those compliments today–but she doesn’t really explain what “great form” really means and how gymnasts “execute” moves well.
There are only a few body shapes the human body can make under duress: straight/slightly arched, bent at the hips, and bent at the hips and knees. Gymnastics “form” is just a measurement of what shape the gymnast made compared to the shape specified by the code of points for a particular skill; good or bad execution expresses the degree to which they deviated from that body shape.
Straight-body moves like handstands require the legs, arms and hips to be lined up and stretched into a near-straight line, with the insides of the ankles touching (rather than crossed). Bent-hipped body positions can be done with the legs/ankles together (piked) or the legs separated (split or straddled), but the knees cannot be bent and the hip-bend must be at least 90 degrees; if your bent-hip position is a split position, that means at least a 180-degree split. Tucked positions require at least a 90-degree bend in both the hip joint and the knee joint, and the ankles again should be together but not crossed.
Deviate from the specified form for a skill and execution deductions kick in. Each 10 or 15 degrees of deviation in an execution deduction–the difference depends on which apparatus–has a set deduction. There’s one deduction for missing 10 degrees in your 180-degree split and another for missing 20 degrees in your 180 degree split; deductions for each 10-degree bend at the hips in a layout position; even deductions for not having your hips bent enough in a pike. If your arms were bent in a handstand on bars, there’s a deduction for that, and it too is specified to the very degree. Flexed feet, crossed feet, head position, and too much arch in a straight-body position are also incorporated into execution deductions.
It takes time to train your eyes to see all of the different angles of deduction, time to see all of the body parts at the same time, but it doesn’t take much to appreciate it when you see a skill done right. At least not when you understand how amplitude, extension, form and execution all come together.
It’s always nice to see a stuck landing, but it’s the confluence of great execution, high amplitude and precise extension–and not the endings–that make a routine world-class. It’s not the end of the day that makes a job worthwhile, or a goodbye that cements a friendship.
It’s the middle part, and as any gymnast will tell you, the landing of one routine just means it’s time to prep for the next apparatus, the next routine This week, Huan-Hua (on the left, with Katie) moved on to the next routine, and even if endings don’t count for everything, they should still be celebrated with a good application of beer.