King Kohei bids us adieu

In the News

The legend retires. Uchimura Kohei made his retirement official this week. After missing out on high bar medals at both the Olympics and worlds, Uchimura said he was going to think about whether he’d continue, but ultimately the injuries he dealt with throughout the entirety of the 2020 quad left him only able to train high bar.

Devastated by missing out on the final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, he pushed through to world championships, where despite finishing sixth in the final, he felt the love from the crowd in his hometown of Kitakyushu, and had “no regrets” making this the last routine of his career.

Following 15 years of senior competition, Uchimura, 33, leaves the sport with seven Olympic medals, including the all-around golds in 2012 and 2016 as well as the team gold in 2016, and 21 world medals, six of which are all-around golds after he captured every title from 2009 through 2015. His most recent world medals include the silver on high bar and the team bronze at Doha in 2018.

This is gonna be good. Dagmar Kersten, the 1988 Olympic bars silver medalist who was unknowingly part of East Germany’s doping program after suffering a spine injury in 1985, announced on Instagram that she will be starting a podcast about her time in the sport. Now 51, Kersten coached the German junior national team until 2002, and after training in taekwondo to become a second dan black belt, she currently runs the Lohan Dojo martial arts school in Oldenburg, Germany. This is going to be a woman with STORIES, so if the podcast is in German, I’m hoping to find someone who can work on translating the most vital information.

Suni so famous. 2020 Olympic champion Suni Lee, who began her collegiate career at Auburn last weekend as the first Olympic all-around champion to compete in NCAA gymnastics, is consistently making headlines after her success in Tokyo changed her life overnight. Thanks to the NIL, Lee is going to be able to make bank while competing collegiately, and she told People this week that she’s launching an athleticwear collection with PrettyLittleThing. We love to see it.

Unfortunately, and infuriatingly, Lee has also been in the news a few times for the racism she faces regularly as an Asian American. In November, Lee said she was attacked with pepper spray when out in Los Angeles with friends, and more recently, Lee told the press that she has also faced backlash from the Hmong community after sharing a photo of herself with boyfriend Jaylin Smith, who is Black.

A lifetime of meets to watch. Staying inside to escape the cold and COVID? Katherine Keirns has you covered. The gym historian has compiled a playlist of 837 videos of international competitions dating back to 1975, which should keep you busy for years.

The German future. Emma Malewski, one of Germany’s rising stars and a 2024 Olympic hopeful, was featured in a Y-Kollektiv documentary that follows her through a day in her life at the Chemnitz Olympic Training Center. Malewski, 17, made her senior Euros debut in 2021 and earned a spot at Olympic trials, where she finished sixth all-around. Though she didn’t yet have the difficulty to challenge Germany’s top stars, Malewski has heaps of potential and with a bit more time could very well be a strong contender going into Paris.

Meet Updates

Elite Canada canceled. It’s like deja vu all over again…again. With Omicron on the rise, Gymnastics Canada has made the decision to cancel this year’s Elite Canada, which was supposed to be held in Vancouver beginning February 16. With all competitions held virtually in 2021, this means elite gymnasts in Canada have not had an in-person meet since Gymnix nearly two years ago, which is having devastating effects for young athletes trying to make the national team, get funding, and position themselves as candidates for NCAA scholarships.

In response to the severe restrictions elite gymnasts are facing while top athletes in other sports, like hockey, are allowed to continue practices and games as usual, the gymnastics community in Ontario – where restrictions have been especially draconian with a three-week lockdown currently in place – has created a petition to allow elite gymnasts back into gyms in hopes that the government will allow them to train in small groups of five athletes at a time.

2022 calendar. Outside of Canada, things are almost normal, with a great number of meets scheduled both domestically and internationally for the coming season. I put together a calendar for 2022 that shares everything we know coming up, and I generally add to this as more federations announce meets as they get closer, so keep it bookmarked!

The elite season will kick off next week with the first U.S. national qualifier held in Las Vegas and then a second qualifier held in Puyallup, Washington a week later, while the first international meet should be the WOGA Classic and its MAG counterpart, the Liukin Invitational, in Frisco, Texas on February 12…though it’s unclear at this point if either will see gymnasts flying in from outside of the U.S. The Cottbus World Cup is expected to be the first FIG meet of the year, beginning February 24 in Germany.

NCAA Corner

The rankings. Though several meets were canceled due to COVID protocol in the first week of the 2022 NCAA season, including the much-anticipated Collegiate Classic in California, a total of 44 teams were able to get the opportunity to compete. Five teams have already hit the 197 benchmark, and this is where the top ten currently stands.

1. Michigan 197.750
2. Florida 197.675
3. Oklahoma 197.400
4. Utah 197.100
5. Denver 197.000
6. LSU 196.950
7. Missouri 196.600
8. Auburn 196.050
9. San Jose State 195.950
— Iowa 195.950

It takes a team. Auburn shared a beautiful behind-the-scenes look at how a lineup decision was made in the team’s debut last week. After sophomore Tara Walsh, who didn’t get the chance to compete in her freshman season, showed impressive work on vault in practice, head coach Jeff Graba told Aria Brusch that while he thinks she deserved an all-around shot, he felt Walsh earned the right to lead-off on vault in Brusch’s place.

The video shows him explaining the decision to an agreeable Brusch, sharing the news with Walsh in front of her cheering team, and then Walsh hitting the Yurchenko full in competition, earning a 9.8. On the bus after the meet, Graba calls out Brusch as a selfless leader who put the team ahead of her individual goals, adding: “It takes a team.” Who put these onions in my eyes?!

Our first perfect 10. The first and second perfect 10s of the season went to back-to-back Oklahoma vaulters, as Katherine LeVasseur stuck her Yurchenko 1½, followed immediately by another strong 1½ from Allie Stern. It seems the judges hadn’t yet come down from their LeVasseur high while awarding Stern’s score, with Stern showing several small but visible errors…but as someone who loathes the lack of attention to smaller details in NCAA judging, even I have to admit that LeVasseur’s was GORGEOUS. I’ll give it to her.

Lynnzee Brown was so close. One of my favorite routines of the week was Lynnzee Brown of Denver on floor, where the super senior showed sass and sticks in her Destiny’s Child mashup to go 9.975.  The queen is back.

Let the injuries begin. Unfortunately, the return of NCAA means the return of injuries in bulk, with two of this year’s most-anticipated elite-to-college transitions cut short as Morgan Hurd had surgery for an ACL she partially tore last year and then finished the job a week before leaving for Florida, leaving her out for the entirety of the 2022 season.

Kara Eaker got off to a great start in her Utah debut, performing brilliant work on beam before going on to hit a 9.8 on floor. But then, her hand slipped while warming up a Yurchenko layout timer on vault, causing her to land awkwardly and pull out from the rest of the meet. Eaker is getting an ankle MRI this week, and will miss Friday’s home opener against Oklahoma, though her status for the remainder of the season is currently unknown.

As a side note, in addition to Eaker, the Red Rocks’ beam lineup last weekend included 2020 Olympians Amelie Morgan and Grace McCallum in the leadoff spots, two-time U.S. junior national champion Maile O’Keefe anchoring, and standouts Cristal Isa and Abby Paulson in the middle of the roster. This is what dreams are made of. Suddenly I’m a Utah stan.

There were a number of other injuries in the first week of competition, including both Sami Durante and Haleigh Bryant of LSU, and Hallie Thompson of UNC. Durante jammed her thumb on bars and Bryant felt pain while warming up floor, which turned out to be related to plantar fasciitis. Thompson’s injury, which happened on her bars dismount, is unfortunately an ACL tear, which will likely keep her out for the season.

Men compete, too. If you’re following the women’s NCAA season, why not also check out the men? Kensley Behel put together an incredible thread that details everything you need to know to become an NCAA MAG superfan, and the full schedule for the coming season is available on Road to Nationals.

Four teams competed in the first week, with Michigan currently leading the standings thanks to standout routines from Crew Bold, Nick Guy, and David Wolma. This week, they’ll face off against Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Northern Illinois, Ohio State, and UIC at the Windy City Invitational, while 2021 national champions Stanford will debut against their biggest rival, Oklahoma, at the Rocky Mountain Open, which also features Air Force, Arizona State, Nebraska, and the Rocky Mountain Pride.

Staying Social

Kamogelo Mokeke’s incredible comeback. The South African federation shared a tumbling run from Kamogelo Mokeke on Twitter, showing the gymnast – who lost her leg in a trampoline accident in 2017 – winning the silver medal in the level 4 15+ division at national championships, where she competed alongside able-bodied gymnasts. Read more about Mokeke’s story.

Minami Kazuki’s double double half-out to layout double front. This sounds like a straight-up lie, but no, Minami Kazuki showed off a double double half-out straight into a layout double front on Instagram this week. It’s the kind of thing where I’m like, sorry, this is impossible, while my eyes are literally watching it happen. The 21-year-old who won the silver medal on floor at worlds last year is truly in a class of his own.

Oksana Chusovitina’s front layout beam mount. Oksana ‘I Really Am Retired, I Mean It This Time, Stop Asking Me, It’s God’s Honest Truth’ Chusovitina is not only back in the gym, but she confirmed on the What Makes You Think podcast that she’s hoping to get the front layout beam mount named for her at this year’s Asian Games. The queen shared a video of the skill in December, and while it already looks pretty great, she has until the Games start in September to polish it up.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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