What’s What & Who’s Who: Gymnastics

You better have depth

A team sends six athletes to compete in each event, with the top five scorers counting toward the team score. Occasionally, a seventh gymnast will participate as an exhibitionist, although her score does not count toward the team or individual rankings.

The gymnasts are often honored for individual performances, in addition to the more important team score.

The best things come in fours

At each meet there are four events: vault, uneven bars, beam and floor routine.

For the vaulting event, a gymnast sprints down a runway and jumps onto an angled spring board, propelling herself head first onto a vault — a square platform raised approximately four feet off the ground. She then uses her arms to flip off the vault. Her momentum helps her to somersault through the air and then land on the other side of the vault.

For the uneven bars, two bars are placed parallel to one another and set at different heights. The gymnast performs a variety of complicated moves, going back and forth between the two bars.

For the balance beam, the gymnast performs a routine on top of a four-inch-wide beam, scurrying back and forth and executing a variety of moves.

The floor exercise encompasses a routine executed on a padded mat that incorporates music, dance and tumbling moves.

The perfect 10

For each event, the scoring begins out of 9.5 points. From this initial number, up to 0.5 points are added depending on the difficulty of the routine; the individual score is based on execution. Points are taken off for various shortcomings, including falling during a routine, lack of variety in elements or even a slip of the leotard above the hip bone. A perfect individual score would be a 10, meaning a perfect team score — five gymnasts in each of four events — would be 200.

Look out below

These girls fall at practice every day, doing everything from “splitting the beam” (use your imagination) or simply falling on their face from any number of different pieces of training equipment. Occasionally, the crashes cause more than bruises — last year’s captain, Sarah Peterson ’07, dislocated her elbow executing a difficult routine. Because the sport is so dangerous, coaches spot difficult routines during practice.

Oh, what these eyes have seen

Yale head coach Barbara Tonry has been coaching the successful Bulldog team since 1973, the first year of the program.

If only I had my youth

For most of the girls on Yale’s team, college gymnastics is less intense than high-school gymnastics. Because gymnasts generally peak in their teens, the college-aged gymnast generally does not practice as much as she did in high school or before. Many of the athletes say their bodies can’t handle the strain. This can be a difficult transition during the gymnasts’ freshman year, since less time is devoted to gymnastics in college and the style of competition is focused more on team results than individual results.

Doing it all

Three girls on the team compete in all four events: captain Kristen Campbell ’08, Brigitte Kivisto ’10 and Alina Liao ’09.

Stick It (2006, Kaltenbach Pictures)

There’s at least one movie for every sport. But apparently Hollywood did not follow actual gymnastics protocol for this one … shocker! In real life, gymnasts would not have been allowed to perform the stunts seen in the movie.

Passing notes

A long-standing team tradition calls for the captain to give “cheesy notes” — brief messages of encouragement — to each girl on the team before a meet.

Making a name for themselves

Currently, Liao is ranked fourth overall for the all-around event in the ECAC, including second for the balance beam and fourth for floor routine. Kivisto is tied for 15th in the ECAC, and Campbell rounds out the top of the Yale squad with a ranking of 29th.

Smarty pants

Four girls out of the 11 on the team were high-school valedictorians: Sarah Hughes ’09, Cynthia Leung ’08, Liao and Laura Lombardi ’08.

Atop the Ivy

As of Jan. 28, Yale was ranked as the top Ivy team. There are four Ancient Eight schools with programs — Penn, Cornell, Brown and Yale. The Elis are currently ranked as the fifth-best team in the ECAC.

Next victim

The girls are home this weekend, competing against Alaska-Anchorage at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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