A New Tendency in Gymnastics:
A Review of the 21st World Championships
The 21st World Gymnastics Championships, held in Moscow last November, was really a summit contest, at which Chinese athletes made a big haul as never before.
* Runner-up in the women's team competition;
* Third in the men's team competition;
* Li Yuejiu, winner of the men's floor exercise;
* Li Xiaoping, winner of the pommel horse;
* Ma Yanhong; fourth in the women's all-around and second in the uneven bars;
* Tong Fei, fourth in the men's all-around;
* Chen Yongyan, second in the balance beam;
* Wu Jiani, third in the balance beam;
* Huang Yubin, second in the rings
It warmed our hearts to hear our national anthem played twice and to see our national flag hoisted eight times in the gymnastic hall of the Olympic Centre in Moscow. China has made steady progress in gymnastics over the years: she placed 11th in the men's team event and seventh in the women's at the 1958 World Championships; fourth in the men's team event and sixth in the women's at the 1962 Championships; and fifth in the men's team event and fourth in the women's at the 1979 Championships. In individual events, Chinese gymnasts took a bronze medal for the men's vaulting horse in 1982 and a gold for the uneven bars in 1979.
At the Moscow fixture, the newly adopted compulsories were satisfactorily performed by participants from various countries, who showed a general rise in standard and litle disparity in strength. This is particularly true with the top six teams. Almost all their members reached the technical requirements in every respect and on every apparatus. Many displayed styles distinctly of their own.
The Soviet girls performed highly refined dance movements on the carpet, such as Ilienko's intricate raised-leg turns, the type found in the ballet. Also noteworthy were the horse vaults done by gymnasts from East Germany with full turn in second flight and firm landing; the graceful, well-thought-out postures taken by the American and Romanian girls on the beam, and the Chinese girls' high-flying dismounts from the uneven bars.
There were some competitors who showed patches of shoddy work here and there, such as poor turn around the long axis over the vaulting horse, inadequate back swing from support on the uneven barts, unsatisfactory handstand on the beam and lack of polish in the dance movements on the carpet - all of which should be overcome by improving fitness and technical training.
In the men's division, the concluding front saltos performed by Japanese and Soviet gymnasts on the carpet were extraordinarily beautiful as they were preceded by a stretched body posture. By releasing one hand instantaneously before doing the cross-grip biang swing, West Germany's Gienger and all Chinese performers on the horizontal bar impressed the audience with their seemingly effortless execution. Akopian from the Soviet Union was outstanding with his high flight off the vaulting horse. In this event, however, competitors from five countries each got an average of over 9.5 points for the compulsories, probably because these were rather easy to perform. In the other events, some movements still left much to be desired. Quite a number of gymnasts failed to bring themselves to a motionless handstand from backward roll on the parallel bars. Too many dismounts from the pommel horse were not high enough, and too few performers on the rings managed to keep their arms straight when they dropped to hanging scale rearways. It seems that a number of technical problems have to be solved if we want to see better performances at the next championships and Olympics. We should pay more attention to the practice of compulsories, which form the basis of all value parts and is the test stone of the level of training attained by a team.
In the optionals competition, most of the risky movements presented in Moscow were known to all and lacked originality. Perhaps the only novelties that deserve mentioning were the full in-full out performed by China's Li Yuejiu in the floor exercise, and his compatriot Ma Yanhong's hecht and salto with 1/1 turn to dismount from the uneven bars. The Soviet girl Davydova's jump forward with 1/1 turn and handspring salto forward over the vaulting horse would have been another praiseworthy stunt but for her faulty landing. Round-offs were performed on the springboard in mounting the beam and uneven bars as a means to fetch bonus points for their originality.
What was most remarkable about the championships was the fast developing technique of connecting risky movements rather than the movements themselves. The difficulty of Tkachev performed by Akopian on the horizontal bar was multiplied with a Gienger that followed it, thus adding ROV to the value parts. Another innovative idea was materialized by Hungary's Guczoghy by doing a Magyar spindle from croup to croup. Gushiken from Japan showed consummate skill in connecting difficult movements when he made a flying start in the floor exercise with double salto backward tucked to handspring backward and salto backward tucked with 1/1 turn.
Davydova's salto backward with 1 1/2 turn to salto forward tucked to stand also involved very difficult connecting skills and required great proficiency in performing the two component parts.
The increased difficulty and originality of connecting techniques had opened up a new frontier for many top-flight gymnasts who were almost at their tethers in developing more risky elements in their routines. Some people hold that if a gymnast can do a double salto, he must be potentially capable of doing the triple and even quadruple salto. In my opinion, there is always a limit to the capabilities of a gymnast in the short span of his or her athletic life. There have been too many tragedies in which gymnasts over-reached themselves, sometimes at the risk of their lives, trying to perform some "miraculous feats." As a matter of fact, linking one existing value part with another is in itself no easy task. Rather, it often involved much risk, difficulty and creativity and form an important aspect of technical development in gymnastics. There is no doubt that in the future, with the continuous renewal of connecting skills and the steady improvement of apparatus and training methods, new difficult stunts will be evolved by gymnasts of the coming generations. The lack of new value parts at the 21st championships, therefore, does not mean that the difficulty of gymnastic exercises has ceased to grow, but that it is growing in the form of more advanced connections between existing value parts.
The consensus of opinion among judges at the 21st championships was that more attention should be paid to the artistic value of gymnastic performances. Movements should be beautiful as well as difficult. Gymnastics as an art demands the execution of graceful movements that are technically most up-to-date and yet possible of accomplishment. It is wrong for anyone to place the risk element above everything else, in total disregard of the performer's safety. Difficult movements are meaningless unless they can be successfully executed, and no new stunts are of real value unless they possess gymnastic features. In any case, a good gymnastic performance must have a strong artistic appeal.