Onwards to 2023
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I know that this newsletter should be an end of the year wrap up where I reflect back on the good and bad in gymnastics and the world as a whole, but I don’t really want to do that. For me, 2022 has been the kind of year I’d rather forget. I’m looking forward to 2023. It sure beats looking backwards, at least for me.
In terms of gymnastics, it’s embarrassing to admit—especially for someone with a gymnastics newsletter—that I wasn’t super engaged with the sport this year. The last time I was this disengaged from gymnastics was during the 2005-2008 cycle, which were the years right after I graduated from college. I was trying to figure out my adult life and I thought that I was supposed to outgrow the sport and leave the fandom for more “mature” pursuits. Oh how silly I was back when I was 21! (I also jumped out of an airplane with a torn meniscus and moved to LA without having ever visited—two weeks after surgery and one week after I got my driver’s license—so I wasn’t making great decisions back in those days!)
My reasons for spending less time with gymnastics this year have a lot to do with what has been going on for me personally, which I talked about here in this piece explaining my prolonged hiatus from newslettering. I am planning to get back into the gymnastics groove during this coming year.
I actually published more stories about figure skating this year than I did gymnastics, which makes sense since this year was an Olympic one for the marquis ice sport. I’m particularly proud of this piece about Madge Syers and how gender lines were blurred in the early years of figure skating. But the one I find myself coming back to the most is this article I wrote about doping and Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva. That has spurred me to do more research into the history of antidoping and the Olympic movement, and I hope to write more about this topic in the coming months.
And given that we are about to start a new college gymnastics season in the next couple of weeks, I just want to link to this piece I wrote about the “narrative” of college gymnastics being “happy.” While this may be true for a great many of the gymnasts, it’s important to not get too carried away in this narrative. There is continuity between club/elite gymnastics and NCAA gymnastics. This doesn’t mean that I think we should watch the upcoming season with suspicion and skepticism. I will be enjoying the hell out of it, but with the knowledge that the joy and fun I’m watching is not the entire story. Matriculation doesn’t necessarily mean the end of abuse and trauma.
But I can’t let 2022 end without offering some positive wrap up thoughts. This was, after all, the year that Rebeca Andrade of Brazil was officially crowned “best gymnast in the world” and that is something that deserves to be shouted from the rooftops. I’ve already written quite a bit about Andrade—how her talent was surpassed only by that of Simone Biles, how her career had been thwarted by three ACL tears since 2015—after her successful run at the Olympics in 2021, where she won all-around silver and vault gold. But this year Andrade finally won the world all-around title. While it was the result that we all expected, I held my breath every time she mounted the apparatus to perform her routines. She didn’t turn in a faultless performance, but it was winning nevertheless. (And it wasn’t really close.)
Here’s Andrade’s vault from the all-around finals, which was definitely one of the best vaults performed at the 2022 world championships. (Perhaps only surpassed by the one she did in warm ups, which I believe she stuck. Feel free to fact check my memory on this one.)
Beyond the victory itself, it was so special to watch fans online rooting so hard for Andrade to win and then rejoicing when she did. Fans have wanted a victory like this for Andrade for so long and when you’re a true gymnastics fan, you celebrate when the very best gymnast wins, even if they defeat athletes from your country. Andrade is, without a doubt, the best female gymnast currently competing, and her success is great for herself, for Brazilian gymnastics, and the sport as a whole.
On that note, one of my wishes for the coming year is that gymnasts who haven’t yet had the opportunity to shine as much as their talent dictates they should will have happy and healthy seasons. In particular, I’m hoping for U.S. national champion Konnor McClain, who has dealt with her father’s death and injury, to be able to get out there and perform to the best of her ability. McClain, despite all she’s gone through, still managed to show off one of the best beam routines of the year en route to winning the U.S. senior title.
I’m very excited about some of the things I’ve got cooking for 2023, including an interview with the subject of one of the most popular gymnastics children’s books so stay tuned! (Her name rhymes with Lorrance Fork.)
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Stay safe and Happy New Year!