What we learned (cont.)
Posted: Sunday September 9, 2007 1:28PM; Updated: Sunday September 9, 2007 10:01PM
3) The U.S. men are better than anyone thought. Who could possibly have predicted that Jonathan Horton, 21, a University of Oklahoma senior, would finish 4th in the all-around in Stuttgart? Last year in his first appearance at world's he was brutal, finishing 69th in the qualifying round and scoring less than 13 points in three of the six rotations. This year he suddenly became the Hamm-apparent, a model of consistency throughout the competition. His weakest event is the pommel horse, and if Horton improves there he could be the anchor the U.S. men have so desperately needed since Paul Hamm left after the 2004 Olympics.
As for Hamm, if he continues his comeback and is able to get himself back into top form before Beijing, he just might find a supporting cast even stronger than the one he had in Athens. Alexander Artemov is a potential medalist in the pommel horse, while Kevin Tan finished fourth in Stuttgart in the still rings and Guillermo Alvaraez finished fourth on the floor. All those fourth place finishes have left the U.S. men hungering for more, and to a man they believe it will fuel their training for the next 11 months. They know that a medal, certainly bronze and possibly even silver, is in their grasp. "When you're sixth or seventh no one gives you any consideration," says Tan. "But when you're fourth, they can't ignore you."
4) The Chinese men are in a class by themselves. No one will come out and say it, but the rest of the world is competing for silver. The Chinese now are where the Soviet Union men (and, later, the Russians) were in the 1980s and early '90s, and the Japanese men were in the 1960s and '70s. A juggernaut. Led by Yang Wei, who in Stuttgart became the first man since 1926 to win back-to-back All-Around titles at Worlds, the Chinese have such difficult start values they can afford to make mistakes and still come out on top. "Yang's routines are packed with so many bonus points that he can fall from the high bar and still win the overall by two points," says U.S. all around champ David Durante. Adds Horton, "It's almost like all the other gymnasts know he's going to win." The Japanese, whom many thought would challenge the Chinese men in Stuttgart, looked tired and dispirited while finishing second. They, not the Chinese, appear ripe for a fall. The U.S., Germany, and Russia could challenge them for second in Beijing.
5) The rising fortunes of U.S. gymnastics are the predictable result of the free market and globalization. Why is America great? Because it keeps attracting the best talent in the world in various fields, talent that immigrates knowing that hard work and skill will be rewarded. By money, by medals, by fame -- whatever floats your boat. USA Gymnastics has been blessed with a plethora of such coaching talent, and that trend is only going to grow as success builds on success. Newly crowned world All-Around champion Shawn Johnson is coached in West Des Moines, Iowa by Chinese born Liang Chow, who immigrated to the U.S. in the early '90s. Two-time U.S. champion (2005-06) Nastia Liukin, who also won an individual gold medal in the beam in Stuttgart, is coached in Parker, Texas by her father, Valeri, who won four medals (two golds) at the 1988 Olympics while competing for the Soviet Union. Nastia's gold in beam, however, moved her ahead of her father in the world medal count. "He Dad, I beat you," the glowing Nastia said. "I have seven, you have six!" Alexander Artemov, the 2006 US all-around champion from Morrison, Colo., is coached by his father, Vladimir, a member of the Soviet National team from 1977-88. Scaramone is coached by Brestyan, the former Romanian coach. Samantha Peszek of Indianapolis, a world team member specializing in the vault, is coached by a former Chinese national, Peter Zhao. And Jana Bieger from Coconut Creek, Fla., 2nd in the all-around at the 2006 Worlds, is coached by her mother, Andrea, a former Olympic gymnast for West Germany.
All these coaches have immigrated to the U.S. in the last twenty years hoping to live the American dream. In so doing they've immeasurably raised the level of U.S. gymnastics, and it's not going to stop, because the talent, interest, and support for the sport in the U.S. just continues to grow. Meanwhile, the state sponsored centralized support for sport from former gymnastic powers like Russia and Romania has totally eroded. Thus the brain drain continues, and it is tilting toward the United States.
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