Think Again

May 1, 2011
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Everyone knows what a back flip is, but do you know what an Arabian double front is? I didn’t think so. In gymnastics there are four events, vault, bars, beam, and floor, each challenging your physical and mental capabilities. Yes, most of you can probably do a somersault, but that is just one of the first skills we teach to pre-schoolers. I’m talking about the stuff you would see on TV. Since you are scored on how perfectly you perform your routine, gymnastics ends up looking easy, but in reality it isn’t.
First comes vault. Can you imagine running full force at a stationary object? Your brain would tell you to slow down and stop so you wouldn’t hit the object. But no, in gymnastics we run full force at that vaulting horse. We jump onto a springboard, extend our hands onto the horse and try to instantaneously push ourselves off while attempting to blindly throw our bodies in the air, flipping over the horse. Then on top of that, we must try and find where the floor is and stick our feet to it. Sounds easy right? Well if you’re not convinced at how hard this is to do, try and imagine parallel parking your car. Imagine having to do it and every time you parallel park the car it is in the same exact spot. When you pull up to the car next to you, you’re the same exact distance away; you back up the same amount, you turn your wheel exactly the same amount, and pull forward the exact same amount. Now parallel parking is easy when you just do it and don’t have to worry about it being perfect. When we vault our running steps have to be exactly the same or we can’t take off with the correct foot; when we jump off the spring board our feet have to be at the top of the board so we get enough power; when our hands are on the horse our body has to be perfectly straight so we rebound off right away; when we flip our toes have to be pointed, our legs need to be together, and we have to be in the correct position; when we land our chest needs to be upright and we are supposed to stick the landing, in other words stand completely still. Now would you like to try?

Next, according to Olympic order, comes the uneven bars. Bars is all about swinging, handstands, and release moves. Bars is my favorite event; I feel like a little kid swinging on the monkey bars at the playground. One of the hardest things to do on bars is a release move. A release move on bars happens so quickly; you only get one chance to grab the bar where you are either right on so you catch the bar perfectly; so close, you uncontrollably bend your arms and must quickly attempt to stop your face from hitting the bar; or so far away that you completely miss the bar and end up falling flat on your stomach onto the mat underneath you, as the crowd goes “Ohhhh”. As you swing down under the bar, your toes reach up for the sky, while your body turns upside down and flips back to right side up. All you see is the gym spinning around you; you are floating like a butterfly, time stops. Then in that one moment as chalk particles swirl around you, you have sight of the bar again. You stretch out your arms so far they feel like they are going to rip out of their sockets as your fingers re-grab the bar. All the while, the force of gravity pulls your body down as you swing back under the bar, holding on for dear life, and kip back up to a handstand. But wait you’re not done, you still have the rest of your routine to do. Even though bars is one of the shortest routines you will do, next to vault, every gymnast that gets off bars is breathing heavy, basically because you are swinging so fast, using all of your energy and might to get around the bar. It’s one of the hardest anaerobic activities out there.

Now if you thought bars was hard, try turning and flipping over a four inch wide piece of wood that is four feet off the ground. That’s Balance beam. It is the one event that almost every gymnast in their career has been afraid of at one point or another. Doing back flips on floor is easy, but when you do one on beam it is a totally different story; as you swing your arms and push off your legs you hope and pray that your feet find those four inches. Now when we do a back flip on beam, just like on vault, our knees need to be together, our bodies need to be in a tight ball, and our feet must land back on those four inches with our chest upright. No wobbling allowed! With only four inches to stand on it doesn’t give you much room for error. If you are a little crooked or off, there is no hope for you; you are going to fall off the beam or flail your arms like a bird as you bend backwards and your leg goes up in the air while your toes dig and grab the four inches of wood in a desperate attempt to stay on the beam. Balance beam is usually what makes or breaks a gymnast; like in hockey where scoring is crucial to success , being able to flip, turn, and leap on four inches, and actual stay on, is a critical component to succeeding at competitions.

Last comes floor. Floor is usually the most fun event to compete because you get to perform your routine to music. As the music starts, you briefly dance around to a corner of the floor to get ready for your first tumbling pass. You take the biggest and fastest three strides you can possibly make and then throw your arms up in the air as you drive your leg over your head with all your might. As you flip your body upside down backwards and reach your arms back up to the sky, the force of gravity pushes you down into the floor. Yet somehow you still manage to rebound back up into the sky and flip and twist your body as far and as much as you can. Then you look for the floor as your feet find the blue carpet. A smile appears on your face, and you continue the rest of your routine. If you don’t tumble high enough or rotate fast enough you are going to land on your face; if you flip and rotate too much you will end up on your butt or out of bounds. There have been multiple injuries when gymnasts land, such as when they don’t bend their knees and end up hyper extending them or when they over rotate and instinctively put their hands down, despite learning the dangers of doing so, and end up hyper extending or breaking their elbows.

Yurchenko, tsukahara, gienger, tkatchev, and shaposhnikova are just a few words of our gymnastics lingo for skills that you will never master. An Arabian double front, which I mentioned in the beginning, is when you jump up, do a half turn, and then do two front flips in a row and land on your feet; now it’s your turn. Now close that jaw dropped mouth, wipe that astonished look off your face, and next time you assume gymnastics is easy you may want to think again.





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