All Around Finals

If you recall I started this little project (the behind the scenes look at the World Championships) with a little apprehension. I was asked to do it by some, but advised not to by others. After considering the unknown, I felt that the educational benefit may be worth the pain I may have to endure. I strongly believe in coaches education and there are things you can only learn by living them yourself OR by listening to those that have gone before you. I hope I have accomplished this goal in some fashion.

Those that advised I not put my thoughts on paper were also quite fortuetous. It seems that there will be always those that would like to take things out of context, read between the lines or malign the true intention of the written message. I guess this is human nature.

Before I proceed with the days leading up to, and including the battle for the All Around Gold, I would like to clarify a couple things.

First of all, this U.S.A. team is very dear to me. Living with them for a month, watching them gel, watching them grow and then witnessing their efforts turn into a World Championship Title has endeared them to me for life. They are all very special young ladies. Any mention I have made of their performances or personalities in previous blogs was only done to illustrate how resilient and determined they all have been. Issues will occur in a process that spans 40+ days. Athletes will struggle and certainly at times not live up to their own expectations, let alone others expectations.  BUT it is their resilient, never say die attitude that has made this group so very special. If my message was clouded, I certainly apologize. The farthest thing from my true intention was to present these wonderful athletes in any light other than that of extreme respect and specialness.

Secondly, some people have taken my personal comments and molded them to support their vindictive and malicious attacks on the USA Gymnastics National Team training system. As an individual, I have opinions on how things should operate when it comes to the training of athletes (more specifically, Jordyn). These opinions may differ from the other coaches with similar goals and aspirations. The national team program has to bridle these different opinions in an attempt to build a viable, cohesive, productive system. Martha Karolyi is the captain of this ship. She has condensed these different philosophies into the most respected program in the World (the results speak for themselves). Sometimes I question decisions, but this by no means indicates a lack of respect or support for the system. The toughest job in the gymnastics world is Martha’s. She suffers the attacks for the failures and yet gets none of the credit for the glory. She handles it with the “team first” mentality that has guided the USA program to the most World and Olympic medals in the world (since she began in 2000).

Lastly, one of the most disheartening aspects of this entire journey is the constant attempt by adults to insert politics into the process. The lack of sportsmanship and respect for athletic achievement is alarming. Why must their be “controversy” with every medal awarded? Do people actually think that each winner actually manipulates the 30 plus judges to score in their favor? Really? Why is it that some countries never accept defeat without condemning the system but bask in self righteous glory when they win. Why do adults cry “scandal” each and every time their chosen favorite doesn’t finish as anticipated? Is this not, and has this not always been a subjective sport? Opinions will differ, but in the end when the system choses it’s champions, should we not all, as adults, set the best example of sportsmanship? Shouldn’t we represent our sport with the dignity that it deserves? Some fail to see this as an important component of sports.

All Around Finals

The emotional high from winning the Team Gold on Tuesday October 11th was physically and mentally draining. Being a part of only the 3rd such title in USA Gymnastics history is something that will be stamped in our memories forever. Rebounding from this emotional mountain was now the task at hand. All Around finals was set for Thursday October 13th.

We took Wednesday AM off to allow the girls a little extra sleep time and mental recovery time. Being a coach that never wants to take the day off prior to a big event, we had to get some amount of training in on Wednesday. The goal was to do the afternoon training session, a little bit of bars and beam, light floor dance, just smell the chalk dust so to speak, and then be done. Surprisingly, Ali and Jordyn looked refreshed, energetic. and ready to go.

Thursday AM, we scheduled a light work out. Basically a warm up, 2 touch warm up and a routine on bars, 2 routines on beam and done. Jordyn was on fire! Her attention to detail was right where we wanted it to be. Meanwhile we witnessed other countries struggling (I won’t mention names). Seemingly the cumulative effects of the team prelims and finals was catching up to many. Some coaches and athletes where slouching on the mats, resting between turns, simply running low on energy. Throughout the week, USA had been dominating the workout gym, with productive and enthusiastic training sessions. This had to be intimidating to some and today was one of our better days. We were very confident as we left the gym.

Going into any competition my best advise to coaches would be to relax. Then I think about this for a second and realize how ridiculous that thought process has to be when applied to the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS. It is impossible to relax…. but put on your best academy award performance of relaxing. For your athletes sake… act like you are calm and collected. I tried.

Prelim finishers 1-6 started on Vault, 7-12 on Bars, 13-18 on Beam and 19-24 on Floor. Jordyn drew second up on Vault and then 1st up on bars. Although we would never prefer to start an event, at least being the first competitor on bars would allow us to have the bars prepared properly. Often times we battle with teams that strip the bar of chalk or teams that use honey. This creates a tough situation in getting the bars re-chalked during your 50 second time allotment for warm ups. (The 50 seconds includes bar prep time). At least being first gave us an advantage in this area in that I could rotate early from vault and have the bars ready to go prior to the athletes rotating to the next event.

Vault went well but not quite as well as we had hoped for. Jordyn’s Amanar (2.5 twist) was the only one in AA finals and this would give her a huge .7 start value advantage. She did a good vault, but not great. She was overcharged and took a large step forward (a .3 deduction) and scored a 15.766. We were hoping for her normal 15.9-16.0 knowing that her main competition would be able to chop away at any lead with their strong bar routines. We finished the first round with a 0.6-0.7 lead.

The Bar prep advantage served as little advantage. Jordyn’s warm up did not go as well as we would have liked. The good thing about warm up is that it does not count. It is the competition that matters. Well in this case that went even worse. Jo struggled to get her rhythm right from the onset but fought very hard to stay on the equipment. She had a major break but finished the routine for a score of 13.8. Ali, who ran into a lack of bar preparation time and thus did not get in a good warm up, also struggled on bars. The USA Machine, the one that had completed 34 straight routines without a major break (54 including podium training), now had 2 back to back. The deflated feeling is indescribable.

When Jordyn has a mistake, step one is to stay away from her. She will be tough enough on herself, so nothing I could say was going to help at the moment. After her cooling off period, I reminded her of American Cup and how nothing is ever over until that last event is complete. We reviewed the importance of every tenth of a point, if she wanted to fight her way back into medal contention. We rotated to Beam more than a full point behind the leader Komova, and a little less behind the 2 chinese athletes (Yao and Huang).

Komova was first up on beam and although she did not fall, her routine had several balance checks, broken combinations and wobbles. Her score of 14.6 opened the door for Jordyn to cut into the lead. As I was reiterating the importance of every landing, presentation etc, Huang fell. Ali rocked a beam set to establish her climb back into the medal hunt. A few minutes later Yao also came off the beam. The awards podium was now up for grabs. Jordyn, in true Jordyn style, turned in a performance remeniscient of her American Cup beam routine. Except for a step on the dismount she basically milked that routine for all it was worth. Her score of 15.266 cut the lead to a little less and .5, and moved Jordyn into 2nd place overall. We were back in the hunt!

We knew that Jordyn was stronger on floor than Victoria Komova, but we didn’t know by how much. As the drama would have it, the 2 leaders were the last to perform. Ali performed her normal rock solid, powerful routine and scored a 14.9. It was Jordyn’s turn and we figured she would need to score at least 14.8-14.9 to have a chance at snatching the AA title away. She performed powerful tumbling, nailing every landing except for the 3rd pass. She went out of bounds and we feared this would be the determining factor. Her score of 14.9 was well deserved, but the .1 penalty meant a final score of 14.8. Komova is gorgeous on floor when she brings her A game. This particular night she fell a little short, missing a couple dance elements, rebounding out of a relatively easy tuck double back pass and then finishing her last pass with chest down and a step. I felt it was going to be close but lost track of my math skills.

When Komova was finished I went to Jordyn and told her how proud I was of her and the way she battled back into medal contention. She was visibly upset, mad at herself for the mistakes that could have cost her the World Title. I gave her a hug and then a little distance. Cameras were firing like machine guns trying the catch the emotion of the situation. When the score of 14.33 was posted I thought we had lost by .033 but when the USA delegation started going wild in the stands, a quick glance to the score board revealed JORDYN WIEBER on top. I was stunned and turned back to Jordyn. She immediately burst into tears. Tears of emotion, tears that represented the years of relentless effort and perseverance. Tears of pure joy! This is from a kid that never cries.

Two dreams were realized at that moment, Jordyn’s dream of being a world champion and my dream of coaching one. Tears away!

If you have enjoyed this blog, please feel free to share it.