Articles by "Behind The Scenes of Gymnastics Blogging"
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Since the last quad, Women's Artistic Gymnastics has experienced huge changes. With a more diverse pool of international talents, the traditional "Big Four" of the sport, namely China, Romania, Russia and the United States of America seem less relevant today. We are honoured to have gymnastics experts of each of the "Big Four" members to share their views on what to expect of these countries in the coming quad, what the situation is like for these teams, and whether or not they can sustain their legacies. 

For China, we are delighted to have Chinese gymnastics insider Bless the Blossoming Flowers of Chinese Gymnastics  (祝福體操小花們) to discuss the prospects of the Chinese WAG team.
Plagued by injuries and challenged by rising rivals, China needs more than bars and beam to stay on top
(Photo @ Bless the Blossoming Flowers of Chinese Gymnastics)

On Expectations of the Coming Worlds
Fan Yilin’s bar routine and the other three girls’ difficulty level and choreography on beam have significant advantages, and Wang Yan’s difficulty on vault is also within the medal-hunting zone. However, injuries is the biggest challenge for China now. Both Liu Tingting and Luo Huan are the main all-rounders for Team China, yet due to lack of time to wind down from their active participation in various events during the National Games as well as to recover from injuries, it is a huge pity that they have to withdraw from doing all-around in the World Championships.

On Team Dynamics
After the National Games, many veterans have decided to retire. At the same time, a new batch of talented new seniors will enter the National Team. There will also be adjustments in the coaching staff, but these will only be conformed later. Generally, quite a few new girls have already shown huge potential, such as Chen Yile, Du Siyu and Li Qi, who may become the anchor of the Chinese WAG Team this quad. It is also believed that some girls who are yet to show their full potential this year will peak after a year or two. We will also see more all-rounders than specialists in the Chinese team due to the team competition format in the Tokyo Olympics.

On the Successors
Chen Yile has excellent coordination, learns skills quickly and has relatively good consistency, while Li Qi has good execution (especially on beam) and has that Chinese flair in her performance, which may be favourable in terms of judging. If both can keep up with their work, they will be able to shine in the world stage. However, though Chen Yile and Li Qi have performed quite well this year, they will need more experiences to further establish themselves. For instance, both girls fell on beam earlier in the Japan Invitational due to inability to adjust to environmental factors such as the audience’s cheering. These can only be overcome by experience.

On the Coaching
Team China’s scores in Rio has not been desirable mainly due to decreased quality of execution when compared to 2008, and lack of understanding of current judging. China’s decreased quality of execution is mainly seen in the increasing prevalence of crossed-legs in twisting elements, as well as pirouetting angles and height of releases on bars. To combat that, the team has already started to construct routines in a way that prevent mistakes made from performing these elements to minimise deductions. And as for enhancing understanding of current judging, the national team has modified its strategies to enable more key gymnasts to participate in international meets such as the World Cup series, and is considering inviting international judges to judge internal competitions.

Lack of artistry is another issue faced by China, which is resulted from lack of dance training and the rather introverted personalities of the girls. To address this, the team now regularly invites world class choreographers to give dance training and choreograph routines. There are also dance competitions for female gymnasts under 12 in national competitions to encourage gymnasts to become greater dancers.
Wang Yan, now the veteran of the team alongside Fan Yilin, are possible medal contenders on vault and bars respectively.
(Photo @ Bless the Blossoming Flowers of Chinese Gymnastics)

On Sustaining the Legacy
Team China in the Tokyo quad has unlimited potential, but it is also full of challenges. China has limited potential this quad because of the good number of new seniors or to-be-seniors who are already possessing the ability to compete against veterans. Together with the new changes in the National Team, I believe that China can come back very strong. However, this journey is also full of challenges with the young gymnasts being more prone to mistakes due to lack of experience, as well as the rising of teams which are not traditionally known for their WAG team, such as Great Britain and Japan, who, as the host of the next Olympics, is rising at a pace that is comparable to China in the 2004-2008 quad. This demands more innovation in both technical excellence and increasing talent pool from Team China.

It is, however, almost impossible for China to come back as strong as in 2008. The preparations for winning team gold in 2008 was the most extensive ever in the history of China WAG, and will not be repeated unless China hosts another Olympics. Moreover, Team China’s technical level on vault and floor is still behind the USA and even Japan, and when compared to Russia’s bar work, Team China still has gaps to fill in terms of routine construction. It is also seen that China’s talent tool is not as strong when compared to western countries, thus if China wants to maintain competitiveness in Tokyo, they must strength their weakest events and include more talented gymnasts into the talent pool.

Interviewed by Valerie Theodora Ko
Since the last quad, Women's Artistic Gymnastics has experienced huge changes. With a more diverse pool of international talents, the traditional "Big Four" of the sport, namely China, Romania, Russia and the United States of America seem less relevant today. We are honoured to have gymnastics experts of each of the "Big Four" members to share their views on what to expect of these countries in the coming quad, what the situation is like for these teams, and whether or not they can sustain their legacies. 

For Russia, we are delighted to have veteran gymnastics blogger Elizabeth of Rewriting Russian Gymnastics to discuss the prospects of the Russian WAG team.
Team Russia for the 2017 Montreal World Championships. (Photo @ Angelina Melnikova's instagram)
On Expectations of the Coming Worlds
I am expecting the new format of the Olympic Games (four all arounders in the team event) to be a great leveller in world gymnastics over the coming years. Hopefully, this change in format will be a steadying influence, reinforcing the need for good execution and consistency across all apparatus and, perhaps, stemming the flow of the reckless hyper difficulty that so often wrecks the rhythm and aesthetic of the sport. The fact that Simone Biles is resting this year will also make the forthcoming World Championships one of the most open in many years for women’s gymnastics. It is an AA and EF only World Championships with no team event, so we will have a chance to see how individuals are progressing.

On Team Dynamics
The women’s team is full of talent and promise, but does not have the same cohesion and impetus as before. Without the unifying, talismanic force of Mustafina, things seem to have fragmented somewhat; there isn’t really a team leader. I (perhaps sentimentally) hope that the kind, lion-hearted Tutkhalyan will be well enough to take on this role – she is the one they all seem to turn to for support and friendship – but a foot injury that took her out of Europeans is still in recovery. Competition is tough, and without a strong leader (coach, gymnast, whatever) the team will flounder on the podium.
Will Angelina Melnikova deliver for Russia?
(Photo @ Silvia Vatteroni)
On the Successors
Melnikova should be able to compete for gold in the all around. She is hugely talented and ambitious and deserves a good competition in Montreal, having made great progress since the Olympics. She is the only gymnast in a long time to attempt to combine difficult tumbling with consummate choreography in the floor exercise. But will she cope on an emotional level? The Russian girls are very nice to each other, but Melnikova seems to need to take herself out on a limb to compete for gold. Winning is difficult enough as it is, without competing from a position of isolation. Montreal will be a crunch time for her as she fights to find a balance between being the leader, or being led. Of the first year seniors, I like Eremina and Ilyankova best: Eremina for application (see how well turned out, carefully prepared and serious she always is at any competition) and Ilyankova for innate talent. I would like to see them both on the team, given an opportunity to prove themselves, and I would be happy to see Eremina medal anywhere, and Ilyankova to take gold on bars. Perhaps somewhere in that mix of diligence and flair, the Russians will find their pathway to Tokyo. Paseka and Spiridonova are strong specialists, but will they both find a place in a team that must emphasise the development of all arounders? In general, however, it’s a real pepper-pot of a team this time round, with lots of potential but not much concrete to recommend individuals. According to an interview in International Gymnast this week, veteran Daria Elizarova will prepare for Worlds, contingent upon a good performance at the University games. This has an ominous ring of plausibility to it given Elizarova’s strength in the power events and the lack of strong floor workers on the Russian team. Perhaps Perebinisova will have a role to play there. Maria Kharenkova is back in training but looks to be an entirely different gymnast, long and elegant, from the tiny stick of dynamite who did so well on floor and beam in the 2012 European Juniors. I hope to see her at the University Games, but will she have enough for Worlds? No, I am not mentioning Komova – she has yet to convince me that she will make it back to full fitness physically and mentally.

On the Coaching
The head coach remains Evgeny Grebyonkin – he is the one who leads the technical effort of coaching, is hands-on and hardworking, calm, kind and popular with the girls. Valentina Rodionenko is more of a spokesperson or figure head whose ‘national coach’ label is recognition for the important support role she has played for years to husband Andrei Rodionenko, and she plays this role across both men and women. This year the coaching leadership team has been strengthened by the addition of a younger generation of coaching and PR specialists, for example Zamolodchikova and Garibov. Valery Alfosov has already cemented his authority over the men’s team. With the Rodionenko couple receiving important Presidential (‘Order of Friendship’) awards for their work, this all seems to signal a subtle, gradual changing of the guard. The Rodionenkos will probably remain for years as a ‘steadying hand’ during the transition period to new head coaches, but it would be good to see a leader as strong as Alfosov at the helm of the women’s team, too. It can’t be easy for the girls to have to dance to two different conductors.
Russia was delighted to clinch silver in the 2016 Rio Olympics Team Competition. 20 years ago Team Russia was left in tears when they had to settle with silver (Photo @ Seda Tutkhalian's instagram)
On Sustaining the Legacy
Komova’s potential return, and the revival of new mothers Mustafina and Afanasyeva are all far too unsure to factor into this discussion. Actually, it is somewhat depressing to think that the team relies on hopes based on past glories quite so much. The Russians need to begin to look forward and to make it difficult for old-timers to make such comebacks. There are many others who bring specialist talent to the team – but few who consistently impress. My instinct is that selection will favour the young gymnasts in an attempt to ‘bring through’ talent to season for the coming four years. I do not feel a strong sense of direction for the Russian women at present, however, and at Worlds I think we will see a finely balanced battle between established and emerging nations, with many different gymnasts medalling. Their men may be sizzling with well-channelled ambition, but I sense a luke warm quality to the women’s preparations this time round.

Interviewed by Valerie Theodora Ko
Since the last quad, Women's Artistic Gymnastics has experienced huge changes. With a more diverse pool of international talents, the traditional "Big Four" of the sport, namely China, Romania, Russia and the United States of America seem less relevant today. We are honoured to have gymnastics experts of each of the "Big Four" members to share their views on what to expect of these countries in the coming quad, what the situation is like for these teams, and whether or not they can sustain their legacies. 

For Romania, we are delighted to have Mihai Parvulescu of Fangymnastics to discuss the prospects of the Romanian WAG team.

After missing the Rio Olympics, Larisa Iordache is looking to make a glorious redemption in Montreal
(Photo @ Silvia Vatteroni)
On Expectations in the Upcoming Worlds
Mihai: Montreal is going to be a really interesting competition for us, the Romanians. We all know what happened back in 1976 and Nadia’s legacy is quite a thing to be proud of. From my perspective, that was the turning point of the Romanian gymnastics, when our system went from a random level to something spectacular, that have lasted for about 4 decades.

Coming back to present day, I definitely expect good things from Larisa and Catalina, in Montreal. They worked hard the entire year for this competition and I’m sure they are going to give everything they have in order to succeed.

Larisa is in a great shape, probably the best she has ever been into. She will fight for the podium in the AA and also on beam. Not to forget, she improved a lot on bars, in terms of consistency and how she feels the whole routine. But her biggest challenge is also her biggest strength, the beam. She is capable of great performances in Montreal. She has the difficulty, the execution, the personality and the vibe necessary to be on the top of those podiums. Fingers crossed. J

Catalina, on the other hand, has a good chance to fight for the podium on beam. We all know that beam is her middle name, right? J She is one of the greatest beam workers gymnastics has ever had. Her endurance on floor is not quite there yet, but I know her spirit and that she will raise the bar when it counts the most. Her challenge would be the way she is going to cope with pressure, especially in an eventual beam final.

On Team Dynamics
Mihai: The depth of talent in Deva is quite tight, to be honest. Things are not on the right track and the rate of progress is on a low note. A lot of gymnasts retired, other left Romania and chose to represent other countries (e.g Olivia Cimpian), some of them have been dealing with long time injuries. Also, the way coaches managed the situation raised some concerns. But I hope for a better future…soon. J

But still, we do have some gymnasts who will be an important asset to the team. Denisa Golgota is probably the most important name out there. Also, coming back from injury and a two year hiatus is Laura Jurca. Not to forget Ioana Crisan who will be competing in Montreal . But, beside all these names, it is mandatory to create them the right performance environment.
41 years after Nadia Comaneci made Romania's name big in gymnastics, will this legacy be sustained in 2017?
(Photo @ Catalina Ponor's instagram)
On Successors
Mihai: To be honest, it would be very difficult for someone to reach the performances these 2 ladies achieved throughout their carriers. But it’s not impossible because you never know. Anyway, as I said before, the most important talent at the moment is Denisa Golgota, but besides vault and floor, she has a lot of work to do because on beam and on bars she is still far behind the international avarage level. Other names to keep in mind: Silvia Sfiringu, Daniela Trica or Lisa Marchidanu.

To fight for a team medal in Tokyo? Usually, I am an optimistic person, but first of all I must say that it would be difficult to qualify a team for the Olympic Games. In just one year the Olympic journey will start and at the moment I cannot name a full Romanian team. The next following months will be very important in the process. The clock is already ticking.

On Coaching
Mihai: The system eroded during the last one or two decades. It reached its climax at the end of the 90s and the beginning of the noughties (2000 -2004) with those 5 consecutive Team World titles and two Olympic Team Titles. That would have been the perfect time to prepare the future, based on those great-great performances. But those who were in charge at the Federation didn’t do that and the following decade, up to present time, we survived due to the tradition that this sport has in Romania. All the problems were just like a snowball that started rolling down the hill, becoming bigger and bigger, if you know what I mean.

But that’s history, we cannot change it anymore, unfortunately. The most important aspect is that a change has come, quite recently, in August. Andreea Raducan is the new President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation and from my point of view she is the right person for that position. I trust her and I know her spirit. A great fighter and a true champion who will put a lot of heart and soul in the whole process. She will definitely work on a project for the future of gymnastics. We will have to wait, have patience and trust her decisions.
Two-time Olympic Champion and current President of the Romanian Gymnastics Federation Andreea Raducan is hoping to restore Romania's gymnastics glory. (Photo @ Silvia Vatteroni)
On Sustaining the Legacy
Mihai: Our system has always targeted the team as the main objective. Beam and floor were just our signature events. I would also want to mention vault here, because we had great results on this piece of apparatus as well. But the system was more focused on the team competition. We always tried to make a strong team, covered on all events as good as possible, and to fight for medals. If the team was strong, all other individual results would come by default, somehow. We also had and still have a big obstacle – the uneven bars. That is probably the main reason why we have only 2 AA World Champions (Aurelia Dobre & Maria Olaru) and 2 AA Olympic Champions (Nadia Comaneci and Andreea Raducan).

I would prefer Romanian gymnasts to capitalize on their strengths and to train smart and not losing time on events with no perspective. If someone is good on vault and floor, let’s give her more time to train on those two events. 2 Olympic medals are better than an AA place, outside the podium, right? But on the other hand, with the new rules regarding the number of gymnasts within a team, you would need all the gymnasts to be ready to compete on all 4 events. So it’s kind of tricky, but the key is how you manage your resources, especially the human ones, and based on that to draw the overall strategy.

Yes, I do think and believe Romania will come back on top. Is not going to be an easy journey, it is not going to happen tomorrow or next year, but in 1 or 2 Olympic cycles we can make our way back, step by step. We need to have a lot of patience, to work as smart as we can and with long term objectives. Let’s give Andreea Raducan all our support and to shout together: “Hai, Romania!” (=Come one, Romania!) J

Interviewed by Valerie Theodora Ko

Since the last quad, Women's Artistic Gymnastics has experienced huge changes. With a more diverse pool of international talents, the traditional "Big Four" of the sport, namely China, Romania, Russia and the United States of America seem less relevant today. We are honoured to have gymnastics experts of each of the "Big Four" members to share their views on what to expect of these countries in the coming quad, what the situation is like for these teams, and whether or not they can sustain their legacies. 

For USA, we are delighted to have the founder and editor-in-chief of The Gymternet Lauren Hopkins to discuss the prospects of the American WAG team.
Team USA looking to another successful World Championships. (Photo @ Ragan Smith's instagram)

On Expectations of the Upcoming Worlds
Lauren: I think while it won’t be the best worlds EVER, largely due to the immense international depth in addition to the U.S. working with a slightly weaker team than they have in recent years, they could still manage a pretty solid medal haul, somewhere in the neighbourhood of about 4-6 medals depending on how they do compared to the international competition. What always makes the U.S. stand out is that even if they don’t always have the top difficulty or come in as frontrunners on certain events, they’re almost always super consistent, and they really know how to compete. Often, in the past five or six years, you’ll see that a U.S. gymnast who isn’t expected to win will end up getting a medal solely because of mistakes/falls from others, because the U.S. girls are generally quite clean/consistent, which is their biggest strength. So I don’t expect major domination, but I do expect that we’ll see solid, strong performances throughout their meet, which will result in a respectable medal count.

On Team Dynamics
Lauren: I think the team this year is great in that there are two clear all-arounders, one specialist for vault and floor, and one specialist for bars and beam. Everyone has a very specific, clear-cut role, unlike in 2013 when due to a lack of complementary specialists, they ended up having a messier situation that resulted in them just using three all-arounders, leaving them unable to maximize their total potential for medals. Ragan Smith is definitely the soul/backbone of the team, and has potential to medal in the all-around and on two events. She’s not a Simone Biles coming in to completely dominate, but she’s definitely a frontrunner on her events, and has the added benefit of being super strong mentally right now, which will take her very far both individually and as she’s able to inspire the team.
New elite gymnast Jade Carey is a pleasant surprise to the USA roster (Photo @ Jade Carey's instagram)

On Successors
Lauren: I think Morgan Hurd is a dark horse who will shine, more just for who she is than for her gymnastics, because she brings so much love and passion to the sport. She’s not a frontrunner for any medal right now, and has struggled with consistency and injuries this season, but she had a fantastic performance at camp and I think she’s the kind of person who will bring it when she has to. Plus, I think people will fall in love with her as a performer, on floor and in general. She’s just so much fun to watch and is someone who can definitely sneak in at the last minute to surprise.

Jade Carey is also kind of a dark horse in that she only just qualified to elite a few months ago, and so even though we saw what she could do this summer and expect her to do well at worlds considering she has the highest vault difficulty combo along with Wang Yan, I think she’s still a dark horse in that she came up from out of nowhere to make this team and probably medal, which is insane.

On Coaching
Lauren: [Regarding Valeri being the co-ordinator] There really isn’t much of a difference, aside from him maybe not being as “scary” to the girls who sometimes felt so in awe of Martha that they were always nervous around her. Valeri is tough but more quietly assertive. In terms of the regime itself, because so much is actually a collaboration between Valeri, Rhonda Faehn, and the entire women’s program board/committee, not much on the day to day has changed or will change but I mean, they did allow videos at the selection camp which is something Martha NEVER would have let fly!

I don’t think the ladies are affected by all of the controversies and allegations at all. They’re here to do one thing – compete. They’re not ignorant of everything, but they also just have such a focus on their ultimate goals that they are able to push through all of the negativity surrounding the sport and just do their job. They all probably have thoughts and feelings about what has happened, but that’s not where their focus is at all.

On Sustaining the Legacy
Lauren: I don’t think this worlds will be as successful as the last quad, just because so many of the top gymnasts have taken a step back for now and the current crop of seniors isn’t quite at that level, but I do think they’ll be successful for themselves even if they’re not dominating and taking the gold on every event.

As for motivation going forward to Tokyo without any major competition, I don’t think they need another competitive team to push forward. I think their motivation is the gold itself, not beating other teams…they obviously happen to beat those other teams when they’re winning gold, but their motivation isn’t ever “let’s beat Russia today!!” It’s “let’s win the gold today!!” and in that sense, it’s more something they’re doing for themselves, not something they’re doing to beat someone else. I think they’ll also be super motivated to keep up the trend of winning gold going forward, and probably use past teams as inspiration, like, “the 2012 team did it, the 2016 team did it, and now we’re going to do it too!”

Interviewed by Valerie Theodora Ko
Rick McCharles is one of the oldest and most popular gymnastics blogger. He is the webmaster of Gymnastics Coaching.

We caught up with him to chat about his blog, the Produnova vault and others

Gigi: Tell us about yourself?
Rick: I was born in Calgary, Canada in 1957. Got into gymnastics about age-12. Loved it immediately, though I had little talent. Very quickly I turned into a career coach, judge and coach educator.

Gigi: How and When did you start blogging?
Rick: In 1999 I learned how to post online putting together a website for Kyle Shewfelt, in advance of his first Olympics in 2000. I recall trying to explain the concept to Kyle around Christmas 1999. Not many gymnasts had sites at that time. But he liked the official home pages of Holy Vise and Andreas Wecker. Those were our first inspirations.

Gigi: What have you learned from your experience with blogging?
Rick: It opened my eyes. Before 2000 I was narrowly focused on Artistic Gymnastics. Online I learned about other acrobatic disciplines. The tag line of my site is: “tumbling, tramp, diving, cheer, acrobatics, circus, dance, martial arts, X sports … and more”
All children should start with Artistic Gymnastics and Trampoline to develop motor and physical fitness. Later they should look at their options in other sports.
YouTube was the biggest breakthrough. Suddenly everyone could see what was happening around the world.

Gigi: You vote on banning Produnova vault, why?
Rick: Double fronts are the most dangerous skills. Just a small error can result in catastrophic injury.
FIG WTC has not found a way to discourage dangerous performances of that Vault. I had been certain that “fixing” the problem with Produnova would have been one of their highest priorities when revising the 2013-2016 Code. I was wrong. FIG WTC did nothing.
Indeed, any female gymnast who survives the crash landing is rewarded greatly under current FIG rules. For example, Fadwa Mohamed should have been scored 0 points in prelims of African Championships 2014.
The judges were not confident nor courageous enough to give her a zero. She went on to win African Championships on Vault with an equally dangerous performance in the Final. Everyone in the arena could see that the silver medalist was a far better vaulter, but the high difficulty score of the Produnova is impossible to make up.
We cannot trust the judges to deduct enough for dangerous landings, therefore the vault must be banned. The only alternative is to devalue Produnova greatly. I feel that’s a worse solution.

Gigi: But don’t you think it is better to have rules where it prevents or discourage a gymnast from competing a skill they can’t do than simply banning the vault especially that there might be other gymnasts out there who could be capable of competing it?
Rick: Roll-out skills are banned on Floor. Produnova is equally dangerous.
Nobody is calling for the ban on roll-out skills to be lifted. Many WAG could compete Thomas safely. The difference is that Elena Mukhina, 1978 World Champion, was left a quadriplegic from one bad Thomas salto.
My fear is that it will take a catastrophic injury on Produnova for FIG to finally ban it. The top vaulter from India is training it now. That means we could have 3 or more attempting it at Worlds 2014. If there was a serious injury at an FIG meet, how would FIG answer media questions?
Each cycle WTC should reevaluate banned skills. If the landing mat and/or spring board are improved, that vault could be returned to the Code for the next cycle.

Gigi: Do you think that the reason why we are not seeing a lot of vaults from non Yurchenko families, has to do with the change of the vault table.
Rick: It’s changing. Elite coaches are working more on Tsukahara and Handspring family vaults. If FIG wants more variety in vaults, however, they must lower the value of Yurchenko vaults. Or increase the value of non-Yurchenko vaults.
The table is easier and safer for all vaults. It was one of the best changes to FIG rules ever.

Gigi: What about the recent changes in the rules (like the corner rule for example), what do you think about that?
Rick: I like it better, overall, than what we had in the past. If you watch European Championships 2014 Floor, for example, the choreographed corners looked quite good. I did not feel the competitors were unsafe not being unable to rest prior to their tumbling lines.
That said, I like best WAG being allowed just one corner to stand with feet together for up to 2 seconds. It can add drama to that tumbling line.

Gigi: You suggested that the FIG should improve the vault landing mats, can you tell us about that?
Rick: The easiest change would be to require our current FIG double-mini landing mat for Artistic. Especially for MAG Vault. The double-mini mat is wider, longer and better at absorbing impact force. (You might even convince me to un-ban Produnova if WAG could land on that mat.)

Gigi:  What other things you suggest the FIG to do?
Rick: FIG does a good job of communication and coach education. They are leaders in Olympic sport.
Sport medicine and sport science commissions should be more vocal. Have more influence on decisions of Executive and Technical committees. Safety is not foremost on the mind of decision makers right now. It should be. Gymnastics is a dangerous sport.
I look forward to the coming restructuring of World Cup events. FIG International competitions could and should be much more important. There must be a way to bring in the USA to more FIG events. It’s a loss for our entire system that USAG will not send a competitor to the Youth Olympic Games 2014, for example.

Gigi: After their Olympic success, American gymnasts make a lot of money out of sponsorship deals and media appearances, do you agree that their long time coaches should take a percentage of it?
Rick: That’s up to each coach and gymnast to negotiate. But all coaches should take note of the unfortunate public breakup of Excalibur Gymnastics and the Douglas family. Clearly their financial agreement was not formal enough. Excalibur should get some of the credit for helping develop an Olympic Champion.

Gigi: If you were to make changes in the Cop/rules, what will you change?
Rick: I preferred the “perfect 10″ code and am looking forward to Dvora Meyer’s book due to be published before Rio.
THE END OF THE TEN: The Fall of Perfection in Modern Gymnastics
Stuck with our current open-ended Code, like most everyone, I’d like to see Artistic Gymnastics routines that are interesting and entertaining.
Good examples are Victoria Moors and Claudia Fragapane on Floor.
Becky Downie on Bars. Epke Zonderland on Horizontal Bar.
I’d also like to see great quality of execution. Even artistry. (Gymnasts pushing the limits of difficulty, like Epke, are not always also artistic.)
Kohei Uchimura and Kyla Ross at the 2013 Worlds, for example. Most of the Longine’s Elegance Award winners typify clean gymnastics.
Artistry is very difficult to measure quantitatively. Instead, I’d ask that FIG judges simply apply the Code as written. Kohei would have a far greater advantage over his nearest rivals if every execution deduction was taken.
Next, I’d ask FIG to monitor whether or not the same routine gets the same score from every panel of judges, everywhere in the World. In 2014 that score can vary 1.0 or more.
Scores today are not valid, reliable or consistent.

Gigi: Back to blogging, what are the biggest challenges you face as a gymnastics blogger?
Rick: No big challenges. Getting access to high speed internet as I travel is often a hassle. At the 2014 NCAA Championships it was easier to drive to McDonalds than to use the arena wifi, for example

Gigi: What other blogs do you like?
Rick: I post an annual Best of the Gymternet.
To name a few of my favourites: Brigid McCarthy and friends – The Couch Gymnast, Albert Minguillón i Colomer, Nora Schuler & Elizabeth Long – The All Around, Full Twist, Swing Big, Triple Twist, Tony Retrosi’s Gym Momentum and, of course, WOGymnastikA.

Gigi: Your one of the oldest and most viewed gymnastics blogs, do you earn money out of your blog?
Rick: Earning revenue is not high priority for Gymnastics Coaching. But I don’t turn away advertisers who’s product I know, trust and use myself. In fact, I’m quite proud to be supported by some of the best names in the business. Their ads appear on every page of the site. 2-3 million unique visitors a year.
That said, the site itself brings in at least $4000 / year. More importantly, because of my site I get invited to many competitions, training camps, clinics and Congress events. Though I’m a volunteer at most of those, the honoraria helps. I visit 40-50 gyms a year on those trips.

Gigi: How would you like to see your blog in the next few years?
Rick: I plan no major changes. And have made very few changes over the past number of years.
It is what it is. A quick daily catch-up for gymnastics coaches of what’s going on around the world.
I’d like it to load faster. To have fewer words. More links. More graphics and video.

Interview by Gigi Khazback Farid
Brigid on left
The Couch Gymnast editor and creator, Brigid McCarthy chats with us about how to make your blog a success, her experience on running TCG and her opinion on the rules and CoP of gymnastics.

Gigi:  Tell us about yourself 

Brigid: I live in Australia, I am in my mid-thirties and I work in a couple of universities. I am a lecturer in media and communications and in sports media. I love teaching, but I also love my research work.I just finished my PhD on sports journalism and blogging. I don’t just work in the area of sports, though. I do research in other areas of popular culture and media, too. For example, I am also working on a study that historicises the depiction of women’s friendships in television. 

In my (what?) spare time I socialise as much as I can because research can be lonesome, which usually involves lots of eating out, or dinner at friends because, well, I live in Melbourne and food is what we do best! I see a movie every single Monday on cheap night with a friend, another Melbourne ritual. I drink too much coffee, see live music when I can, travel whenever possible, take photos while I am there, and spend too much time in the University Agora, drinking coffee and whining about the state of the world with my dear friend Jason instead of in my office. I also write fiction when I can. I actually did my Masters in creative writing and majored in English in my undergrad. 

Gigi: When and how did you start blogging in gymnastics? 

Brigid: I started blogging about gymnastics about a minute after I started blogging. I’ve always written in some form, and I started blogging as soon as I discovered there was such a thing. My first was a blog called List a Day, where, obviously, I was going to write a list a day. I remember my first post was about places I wanted to visit. Within a week, I realised I wanted to write about gymnastics. It was an old love, and one I was rediscovering thanks to the gymternet. Then I wrote a post about dumb things commentators have said over the years, Gymnastics Coaching linked to me and then all of a sudden people were reading and it was fun and social and I just kept going and then TCG became a thing and it never, ever stopped being fun. 

Gigi: How did you come up with the blog’s name (The Couch Gymnast)? 

Brigid: It was just silly- a play on the idea of the armchair sports fan/expert, as I was never a serious gymnast, but also the fact that every would-be gymnast seemed to be put in classes because they wouldn’t stop flipping off the couch! I don’t know how many gymnasts have given that reason in interviews I have done.

Gigi: You are a very successful blogger and your blog is one of the most popular gymnastics blogs, tell us what should a blogger expect if they want to have a blog as successful as yours? 

Brigid: Hmm, in my experience of watching gym blogs come and go, this is what I’d say. 
1. It’s hard work. Harder than you think. Be prepared. 
2. Frequently update (therein lies the work). People get over it if you never update. 
3. Don’t just repeat information people can get anywhere. 
4. Have a voice, have an opinion, have a fresh take.
5. Be critical, for sure, but be kind too. Remember these are young people 
(the gymnasts and the readers) 
6. Have a sense of humour. It’s more fun that way, and besides, you’ll need it. 
7. If you are not enjoying it, then it is not for you. 

Gigi: How did you meet TCG’s contributors? 

Brigid: I met them all online first, including my two editors Lauren Hopkins wrote to me at some point, a year or two ago and we wrote back  and forth for a while in that frenzied way you do when you find a fellow gym fan on the same page as you. She wanted to contribute and started writing articles. I knew straight away that she was smart and mature and I trusted her, so we got her accreditation and she started covering US meets. We didn’t actually meet until earlier this year when she put me up in her dorm in NYC for a night after I got off the train from New Orleans and we were due to drive up to Mass the next day for the American Cup the next morning. It was great to finally meet her. 
Bea Gheorghisor and I met in 2010 in Rotterdam. We had written before that, and she already wrote for TCG and I really respected her opinion and her thoughts. We had coffee in between my work for the Federation there and she was as lovely and insightful and smart as she seemed via email. She started writing more regularly later after she stopped her own blog and asked if she could write more regularly for TCG (I was secretly over the moon!) 
Those two are the best thing that ever happened to TCG and I am so glad we work together now. I have been fortunate to meet some others, like Diana Gallagher, who write the awesome Flipside column, at meets, but most others, even my longest termers like Giulia Holzer and Isabel Zamora I have still never met as we are scattered all over the world. 

Gigi: Can someone pay their bills through gymnastics blogging? 

Brigid: We only took advertising on a little while back and we haven’t been paid yet, but I highly doubt it! I fact, I am positive. Unless you go all out like something like Gymnastike. 

Gigi: What’s the hardest thing about blogging? 

Brigid: There’s a few things I’d say I find tough: 
Staying updated all the time in those times when you don’t have time to always be ‘on it’ (that is the part that is much easier now there are three of us!) 
The sleep-deprivation at major meets can be tiring (but kind of funny) 
Constantly negative, rude, or nasty commenters. I find them exhausting and demoralising. 
The long hours in general at busy times. Why didn’t you ask me the best things?! I am going to answer it anyway. The best things about blogging are: 
Writing a piece you are really proud of. 
Writing a piece a gymnast is really proud of. 
Covering big meets like Worlds: so exhausting, so fun, so hilarious (that would be 
because of the other bloggers/media largely) and SO busy in a good way. 
Meeting other bloggers, fans, photographers etc. 
Doing fun collaborative stuff like The Fashion Police, Junior Watch, TCG Awards 
and Love it or Hate it. 
Creating a place where any gym fan can have a chance to contribute their voice. 

Gigi: How many hours a day do you work on your blog? 

Brigid: It depends. With three of us, there are now sometimes days I don’t have to do anything. But before that, sometimes it was anywhere between an hour and, in really busy times, several hours. 

 Gigi: How do you like to see your blog in five years? (Or what change are you planning to do on your blog) 

Brigid: I’m more a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants blogger. So you’ll have to wait and see. 

Gigi: How many hits per day is average for TCG. 

Brigid: Depends. In really slow periods it can be as few as a few thousand. During big meets it can be huge. 

Gigi: If you had the chance to design a new CoP for gymnastics, what would you do?

Brigid: Fix how artistry and dance elements are awarded. That I know for sure. But then when I ask myself ‘how?’, within five minutes of thinking it out I feel compelled to put my head down on the desk and shut my eyes and moan ‘too hard’.

Gigi: What do you think about the two per country rule?

Brigid: I put my head down on the desk and shut my eyes again! No, generally, I am down with it, I’d say. More in the sense I have bigger issues that stress me, like team sizes and age rules and bad leotard cuts.

Gigi: Who are the gymnasts you would like to interview in the future?

Brigid: I have no major preferences. I just like interviewing gymnasts who have a something to say. Many are shy or don’t have much to share. I don’t blame them, many of the WAG girls spend all day in a gym and they are young. It’s an awkward age to do media. That said, some are really, really fun to interview and are bright and excited with interesting things to say.

I prefer to interview coaches and former gymnasts, honestly. That’s where the riches of experience and hindsight offer so much insight into our sport. Wish I could go back and talk to so many former gymnasts from the 70s and 80s. I’d love to one day create and publish an oral history of gymnastics using extensive interviews from around the world. It’s a dream of mine.

Gigi: What would you like to see in gymnastics in the next three years?

Brigid: What I love to see every year: older gymnasts staying in the sport for the love, beautiful artistry, some new wow skills, some awe-inspiring wunderkinds, less injuries, coaches who keep it in perspective and care for their kids and don’t forget they are kids, some surprises, some comeback queens and most important, something unique.

Gigi: Other than gymnastics, what else do you like?

Brigid: In sport, or in general? Okay, considering I don’t know which it is, here is a bunch of things I like. Things I like this week, anyway, in no particular order. Clara Chambellant’s Onodi on beam, tennis (the only other sport I love), travelling (always and ever), my friend’s cat (you have no idea how cute it is- I am actually stalking a cat on Instagram, seriously), Joan Didion (“We tell ourselves stories in order to live”. Word, Joan), Orphan Black (how does Tatiana Maslany do that? Seriously, give her an Emmy already), my new MAC March Mist eyeshadow shade, Fruitvale Station and its star, Michael B. Jordan (film and actor’s performance broke my heart this week), my student whose homework made me laugh (unintentionally, I think) three times yesterday, watching my students actually mange to tear their eyes away from their Iphones in class for a brief time because they were so compelled by Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke, Olga Strazheva (oh yeah, that’s every week), the fact that Ekaterina Kramarenko
is at Massilia this weekend (baby girl better stay on beam this time), my friend El’s fatteh dish at UAE (yum), the pea and ricotta toast at Mixed Business, the fact I realised I may be able to go to Worlds in China next year, that I finally finished this week’s ‘So What Did I Miss’ edition. It took forever.

Interview by Gigi Khazback Farid