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USA vs. USSR and ITC

December 2, 2010
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2010 Pacific Rim Championships (photo: gymnastics.org.au)

Some commenters have been asking me why the Americans doesn’t compete much internationally, and it has been a bit difficult for me to come up with answers that make complete sense, since honestly it doesn’t make much sense to me at all. There were two meets in the 1980s and 1990s that I think the USA (and other teams who attended) would benefit from bringing back. Those are the USA vs. USSR (Russia) and the International Team Competition.

USA vs. USSR was a competition held in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. It showcased what you would expect: A team from the USA vs. a team from the USSR in a dual meet. Because of their dominance in the sport, the Soviets always won the team competition, but the USA generally did well, even taking the all around three times in 1897, 1989 and 1990. I think that with they way this quadrennium is looking, USA vs. Russia would be a great meet to bring back. I would love to see it with a team competition format of 6-6-4 giving everybody a chance to compete for the all around, with teams consisting of at least two seniors and at least two juniors. It would give the fans a great opportunity to see rising stars in the sport in a nice televised meet, along with giving some B team gymnasts and juniors a chance to compete internationally under the pressure of a team competition.

ITC or the International Team Competition was held five times from 1997-2001. It consisted of teams from the USA, China, Romania and in 1999, Australia. In 1997-1999, there were both junior and senior competitions but in 2000-2001, juniors and seniors competed together. For basically the same reasons as I believe a USA vs. Russia meet would be valuable, I would love to see ITC return, with the same format that I have proposed for USA vs. USSR. In fact, they could event be combined into the same meet and become a huge ITC.

Russia and Romania competed in some dual meets this year, but they have competed against teams such as the Netherlands, Great Britain and France. I am not trying to take anything away from those very talented teams, but they simply aren’t great match ups for the powerhouses, except perhaps Great Britain.

Here are some currently existing meets that the USA either does or can compete in:

The Pacific Rim Championships could probably be on par with the ITC, but it unfortunately isn’t. The first issue is that it is usually held during or close to the European Championships, so the Russians send a B team. The second is who the USA choses to send to it. This year, for example, they sent their top 3 juniors and top 3 seniors at the time. Pacific Rims, in my opinion, would have been a great place to give some gymnasts with little international experience a chance to compete under pressure. The US team won the meet by approximately 15 points over China. They also competed at the Jesolo Grand Prix this year, which they won by approximately 2 points over Russia. They did not send a full junior team, but to be fair they didn’t really have enough healthy juniors to make one at the time. Judging by the scores and the gymnasts on each of the teams, the USA sends its A team to Pacific Rims and its B team to Jesolo, which is fine, but I think that they may have gone a little overboard with their pacific rim team. Why did they have Sloan compete, who was injured? And why did Alexandra Raisman compete three times internationally in a very short period of time? Those girls had already proved themselves in pressure situations internationally, so I would say go with someone less experienced, like Mackenzie Caquatto or Cassie Whitcomb. Perhaps the margin of victory would be less, but the experience for those gymnasts and the knowledge about their ability to hit under pressure would be an enormous help when it came to choosing the team for the World Championships.

The USA could also take advantage of certain meets like World Cups. Would it really kill them to send a girl to one of these competitions? I hope that at the very least, they will give the opportunity to some of the gymnasts who are turning senior in 2012, because they will need experience if they want to make the olympic team. The competition isn’t always great, but it is sometimes decent. These competitions would be one more place to do what is so important for all US gymnasts: prove themselves to Marta. Also, I suspect that they are invited to the Japan Cup, since the men go. Why not attend? They lose a lot of opportunities to test out gymnasts throughout the year. And despite the long travel time, who would refuse taking a trip to Japan, France, Germany, Great Britain or Russia?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. melanie permalink
    December 2, 2010 5:43 PM

    I would argue that, at some point, international assignments aren’t about proving oneself; rather, they are about practicing a certain set of skills: it seems unfair to expect a gymnast to be sharp and competitive on the international stage if they don’t compete — and compete often. Although I do agree with your point about Sloan — that she ought not have been slated to compete while she was injured — Raisman was (and still is) relatively new to competing internationally, and, as a first year senior, needed as many international outings as possible to compete before the world championships.

    Sure, dual meets and international team competitions are interesting, but there’s also a whole series of international meets — the world cup — to which the USA rarely sends gymnasts, and to which they should, not only for the experience it could provide gymnasts on the B team — or on the A team — but because the sport’s profile suffers for not having gymnasts from the top countries compete at every — or many — meets.

    • December 2, 2010 9:46 PM

      “I would argue that, at some point, international assignments aren’t about proving oneself; rather, they are about practicing a certain set of skills”
      That’s true for the more experienced gymnasts for sure, but it does seem that international assignments are all about proving oneself for the gymnasts who do not have as much experience and perhaps do not have a history of consistency. Maybe I am just getting this from the way that NBC portrays Marta, but that seems like it’s the system. It does seem like the US wants their girls tom for the most part, be in top condition when they compete internationally, therefore international competition becomes less about trying out new skills and more about results. Lots of international gymnasts seem to compete in the kind of condition that Sloan was in at Pacific Rim.
      “Raisman was (and still is) relatively new to competing internationally”
      Maybe Raisman should have been at Pacific Rim, but what I find odd is that the US sent their top 3 juniors and top 3 seniors, while the other top teams didn’t. Instead, Raisman could have gone to a world cup in may or june (when I don’t believe she competed), and another gymnast who didn’t do the american cup and jesolo could have competed.
      “Sure, dual meets and international team competitions are interesting, but there’s also a whole series of international meets — the world cup — to which the USA rarely sends gymnasts, and to which they should, not only for the experience it could provide gymnasts on the B team — or on the A team — but because the sport’s profile suffers for not having gymnasts from the top countries compete at every — or many — meets.”
      There are two reasons I suggest hosting a dual meet. The first is that the US would have people coming to them. A concern for them could be that going all the way to france to compete is harder for them than for the Russians or Romanians. The second is that the pressure and atmosphere of a team competition would be different from that of an individual competition. I am hoping that US world cup attendance goes up this year, since the american cup is becoming a FIG world cup. Maybe if Russia, China and Romania turn down their spots again, the Americans will see how important it is to attend these events, not only for the sport but for the other gymnasts involved.

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