Blythe Lawrence headshot. Blythe commentates on many sports, including gymnastics and rhythmic gymnastics.

The State of Gymnastics with Blythe Lawrence

Release Date: September 14, 2023

We’re excited to share with you the second part of our interview with freelance sports journalist and commentator Blythe Lawrence (if you missed part 1, go back to episode 300). Last time we focused on rhythmic gymnastics, and now we’re checking out what’s up in the world of artistic gymnastics.

Follow Blythe on X/Twitter and Insta. She’s also been commentating the Invictus Games with fellow TKFLASTANI Olly Hogben!

Jill’s recent visit to the York Barbell Company’s Weightlifting Hall of Fame inspired this episode’s Seoul 1988 History Moment, in which she looks at the first gold medal victory for Olympic legend Naim Süleymanoğlu, aka the Pocket Hercules:


And a couple of pics from York Barbell’s museum:

Credentials from Seoul 1988 Olympics

In our visit to TKFLASTAN, we have news from:

In news from Paris 2024, there are concerns about flying taxis, the French diocese has opened a sports chapel, air traffic control is in control for the Games, and we have an update on the corruption investigaion.

In news from Milan-Cortina 2026, the mayor of Innsbruck has a proposal, and the short track speed skating minimum age is going up!

Thanks so much for listening, and until next time, keep the flame alive!

Photo courtesy of Blythe Lawrence.

TRANSCRIPT

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The State of Gymnastics with Blythe Lawrence (Ep 304)

[00:00:00] Jill:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of Keep the Flame Alive, the podcast for fans of the Olympics and Paralympics. If you love the games, we are the show for you. Each week we share stories from athletes and people behind the scenes to help you have more fun watching the games. I am your host, Jill Jaracz, joined as always by my lovely co host, Alison Brown.

Alison, hello. How are you?

[00:00:47] Alison: Hello. I am confused about what year it is. So I have been doing work all week. Obviously for Paris 2024. So I’ve been thinking in Paris 2024. I’ve been thinking in 2024 dates and looked at my driver’s license because I got a note about it needing to be renewed.

Mm hmm. And it said, you know, it expires in October of 2023. And I said, Oh my goodness, I’ve been driving on an expired license.

I said, no, no, I haven’t. You’re fine. Just go take care of it. So you know, if you go to the hospital and you have a head injury and they ask you what year it is.

[00:01:29] Jill: Oh, it’s so hard. I would be

[00:01:30] Alison: in. Big trouble. So, I have to be careful not to have any traumatic brain injuries between now and next

[00:01:36] Jill: year.

You also can’t say, oh, 1988 if you’ve been thinking in 1988 years too. I know. Well, I

[00:01:42] Alison: didn’t have the history story this week, so 1988 doesn’t exist until you tell me about it.

[00:01:48] Jill: All right. You know what else doesn’t exist until we tell you about it? It’s this week’s interview.

[00:01:53] Alison: This is true.

[00:01:54] Jill: And this is a good one.

It is.

Blythe Lawrence Interview

[00:01:55] Jill: We are excited to share with you part two of our interview with commentator Blythe [00:02:00] Lawrence. Blythe is a freelance sports journalist and commentator. You may have recognized her voice from many an OBS and gymnastics feed. If you missed part one of our interview where we talked about the state of rhythmic gymnastics, that is in episode 300.

So Be sure to go back and listen to that. Today, we take the conversation over to the artistic side of gymnastics to get some insight on the competition that we could see in Paris, 2024. Take a listen.

Blythe Lawrence, thank you so much for joining us. Talking about gymnastics, which you do commentate. What can we expect to be different about women’s gymnastics in Paris that maybe we didn’t see at Tokyo besides, besides the five people on a team versus four on the women’s side?

[00:02:48] Blythe Lawrence: Yes. There’s actually been a reversion to how it was in 2012 and 2016, in which we’ve got team members now back at five.

Whereas for the 2020 Olympic games, there was a new system that was tried out in which you had four member teams and then the strongest countries really had the possibility to qualify an extra two individuals who wouldn’t be part of the team competition, but who would still be contending at the Olympic games for individual medals.

And so there’s, they’ve gone back after that, what is new and different. I don’t know if I would say so much that from the code of points there’s anything that has really changed dramatically. Certain skills do kind of come into vogue and go out of vogue as the, uh, quadrennium pass. But this time around it’s really the athlete’s stories that we’re seeing that I think is the thing to get very excited about.

And we are very excited.

[00:03:45] Jill: And it’s so interesting because so many countries are getting stronger. I mean, it used to be Romania, Russia, the us and then, you have the emergence of China. Now we have [00:04:00] many European countries who are strong, you know, great Britain and Netherlands, and then South America is coming up too with Brazil.

So what kind of stories are we gonna see?

[00:04:11] Blythe Lawrence: I.

In women’s gymnastics. It has been the US and the rest of the world for a bit more than a decade now. But you’re absolutely right. The emergence of Brazil in particular and Rebecca Andra, the reigning world all around champion a gymnast from Brazil.

That’s something that we couldn’t have anticipated even 20 years ago. And you’re also right that Great Britain is appearing really strong Italy as well. And why not France? They are the Olympic hosts. They have a lot to say and they have some very good gymnasts and Japan as well. I’d have to add junior national team has looked absolutely phenomenal.

Some of those gymnasts will be eligible for the Olympic Games, and we might see in the years after Paris as well, quite a lot more from the Japanese women’s team. So that’s the women’s side. That’s exciting.

[00:05:05] Jill: Isn’t there? A woman from Mexico?

[00:05:07] Blythe Lawrence: Alexa Moreno from Mexico. She is a phenomenal specialist on vault. She has a world bronze medal. It was historic for the Mexicans when she won that five years ago, and she’s kind of re-emerged after Tokyo. There were some people who thought that maybe she had retired, she wasn’t doing a lot of competitions, but just in the past few months she has shown that actually she’s just as good as ever and so she’s someone that we can look forward to in the coming months.

It’s

[00:05:35] Jill: so exciting. I love seeing the sports develop in other nations and seeing them, some of these athletes get to the world stage and make an impact, just will help grow the sport throughout the world. It’s always so refreshing.

[00:05:52] Blythe Lawrence: Absolutely. And for many nations, for many years there has been the problem of getting good equipment, [00:06:00] getting a pair of uneven bars, for example, that wasn’t 25 years old.

A lot of gymnasts from smaller countries who weren’t very well known for gymnastics have often had to train on older equipment. Equipment that’s not state-of-the-art equipment. That when you get to the world championships and they have the newest, latest thing feels quite different and that can really throw off your technique.

But there have been initiatives to make sure that countries are equipped. With the latest stuff, the stuff that you’re going to see at international competitions, and I think that that’s really helped fuel the rise of some of these nations.

[00:06:37] Jill: What about on the men’s side?

[00:06:39] Blythe Lawrence: The men’s side at the top of the tree right now you have China and Japan. They’ve really kind of seesawed over the past several years.

And then you have a whole host of nations that could win a bronze medal. The United States is in there, Italy is in there. And then you’ve got sort of your wild cards like the Republic of Korea. Why not France, potentially. Great Britain has had an enormous surge in terms of the popularity of the sport and the results, and maybe more than any other nation in the past 10 years.

Great Britain has skyrocketed.

[00:07:15] Alison: what do you credit that to? Because I noticed that as well. Like all of a sudden the British men and women are in the mix.

[00:07:23] Blythe Lawrence: I credit it to them having hosted the London 2012 Olympics, and before that the athletes got lottery funding. So there was an actual groundswell of money that came in to fund athletes who before.

In Britain, you were on the national team and you were working as a substitute physical education teacher, or you were working in a grocery store, or you were ha, you had some kind of day job and then you were doing your training at night. And that’s just not the best way to be an elite athlete in any sport.

And the results kind of bore that out. But with the London [00:08:00] games, they did get money and they were allowed to become professional athletes and completely dedicate themselves to training. And what we’re seeing today is the fruits of that investment.

[00:08:09] Alison: So the big story has been Gabby Douglas and Sinisa Lee, and of course Simone Biles coming back.

Is that as big a deal as the un gymnastic press has made it out to be?

[00:08:21] Blythe Lawrence: In a word, yes. It is hard to. Say this because the United States has furnished us with so many incredible moments, really over the last 15 or so years, but this moment is really special. I cannot remember a time in modern gymnastics history in which you had three female all around champions from the Olympic Games who were vying to make the next Olympic team and looking as good as they do.

They all from the very little we’ve seen, and it is very little, so I feel I should couch what I’m saying in that we don’t really know what they’re capable of in competition, but given their past results, there is reason to be so excited.

[00:09:09] Alison: Now, do you know any more about Zsa Lee and she retired from college gymnastics because of illness.

Do we have any more info as to what’s going on with her?

[00:09:20] Blythe Lawrence: Her plan was always to go for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, and it’s very hard to do N C A A gymnastics and elite training at the same time. And so at the end of last year, she made the decision and formally made an announcement that after this N C A A season, she was going to move from Auburn back to Minnesota and take up training in her club the way that she had for the 2020 Olympic games.

And that was probably a good move given the depth of the US team and how competitive things are out there. And then at the end of the college season, she had some kidney problems and, uh, was not able to compete because [00:10:00] of those. But since then, it seems that they, things have resolved themselves and she’s back in Minnesota. She’s training at her club with her coach Jess Grabba. And she, from what she posts on social media, she looks very good, very promising. What

[00:10:18] Jill: is the difference between training for NCAA

[00:10:21] Blythe Lawrence: and training for elite?

It’s the number of hours that you’re allowed to do In the N C A A. You are capped at 20 hours a week. In elite gymnastics, there’s no cap. And during the Olympic year, I would say that most serious contenders for Olympic teams are doing 30 to four, eight hours a week in the gym. Full-time job. Absolutely a full-time job.

[00:10:43] Alison: One of the things that I talked about earlier was the Canadian women. I just wanted to go back to that for a second ’cause I was so excited to see them qualify a team this year. So tell me how fabulous they are, because I wanna be reassured.

[00:10:57] Blythe Lawrence: They are absolutely wonderful and. In some ways, they are a testament to the fact that going into a competition, you never can really project the outcome.

They were not potentially seen as bronze medal contenders. When you look at the caliber of the other teams in the women’s team final in Liverpool last autumn, but they simply had a great meet. They hit and they hit and they hit to the best of their capability, and they’re really marshaled by Ellie Black, who is a three-time Olympian.

She’s in her late twenties. She’s absolutely fabulous. She does gymnastics because not that she’s striving. For anything. Although she’s obviously wanting to give her best, she just loves the sport and she’s such a great ambassador, and it was so beautiful to see what was possible for the Canadian women and to see them just come up and take that medal and it was authoritative and it was historic and they also seemed to have a really [00:12:00] great time while they were doing it, so that was good as well.

[00:12:03] Alison: With all these women coming back and now we can call them women and not girls, how has that changed the sport when you see the competitors getting

[00:12:12] Blythe Lawrence: older? It’s been a wonderful narrative arc, really. There’s a tweet that’s been going around that says something like, it sort of mocks sports announcers for saying, here is so and so who is 32 and in their third Olympic games, what a miracle.

When, of course, 32 is quite young and you’re really in the prime of life. And gymnastics, of course, historically going back the last 50 years has been a sport where it was assumed until a while ago that you as a woman were at your very best when you were prepubescent. And once puberty hit, it was just all over for you and you had to absolutely get the most out of yourself before those changes happened.

But what we have seen over the last, oh, 20 years or so is that that’s actually not true at all. And now we are getting to a point where you are 27 and winning your first European titles after a decade on the national team. I’m thinking of Elizabeth Sights of Germany, who is the European champion on uneven bars in 2022.

And uh, and this seems to be more and more the story. I’d love to see a point where we are, no, we are no longer saying, oh this person is 30. And how tenacious and how wonderful It would be great if that were just

[00:13:39] Alison: normal. And speaking of tenacious and being around for a very long time, Jill’s favorite gymnast, and I’m gonna pronounce her name wrong, so you know who I’m talking about.

Sana Ana.

[00:13:53] Blythe Lawrence: That was lovely. Sanaa indeed.

[00:13:56] Alison: I was practicing. Indeed. So she’s been, this is gonna be, [00:14:00] she’s trying for number eight I think.

[00:14:01] Blythe Lawrence: Indeed. She is trying for Olympics number nine, I believe we can, we can, we can count ’em up. 92, 96, 2000, 2004. Oh 8 12, 16 20. And yes, this would be Olympics number nine if she’s able to do it.

The interesting thing about Sina is it has come out that she’s not going to attempt to qualify to the games through the World Championships this year, which is the most obvious pathway. But there will be some opportunities for her in 2024 to qualify as a, a specialist. And it seems that she is inclined to not go to the World Championships, but to prepare herself for 2024 instead.

It’s very interesting. So she’s, she’s

[00:14:43] Alison: still gonna be just doing vault

[00:14:46] Blythe Lawrence: most likely. At the World Championships in 2019. She got to the Olympic Games by doing the all around, and she’s shown that she’s still capable of doing all four apparatus, but would she get the scores that she needed in order to qualify again to the games?

That’s a bit more in question. However, her results on Vault are still as excellent as they ever were. You look at what she’s done on the World Cup Circuit this year where she is the World Cup champion and you see that the potential is still there. So it’s very interesting the tactics that she has chosen to employ, and maybe that’s the best thing for her.

It’s a strategic move and probably a good one.

[00:15:28] Jill: It feels like that with the age of gymnasts getting older, also the tricks are getting more difficult.

It’s harder for younger gymnasts or maybe not as healthy for younger gymnasts to try to keep up with that. Is that true?

[00:15:42] Blythe Lawrence: I’m not sure I would say that. The tricks are getting harder for your mainstream elite gymnasts to be able to put together a routine and get a good score. We saw it in the nineties where, for example, if you weren’t doing [00:16:00] double back dismounts off of the balance beam or double layouts, full twisting, double tucks off of the uneven bars, you weren’t going to be a contender.

But there is enough leeway in the current code of points that allows gymnasts to build difficulty in different ways. And maybe the best example of this is Vevers of the Netherlands who won the Olympic title on balance beam at the age of 24, doing a routine that while extremely difficult in terms of just keeping your balance, was not the most difficult in terms of pounding on the body.

And she was very, very creative and very smart in the way that she chose her skills and did combinations that got her bonus tense of difficulty that allowed her to have a huge difficulty score, but also really preserved her and kept her from having to train things with really difficult landings and things that would’ve put her body at risk.

So there is a way to do it, and I think actually it plays into more gymnasts being older and having more agency and being able to maybe dialogue with their coaches on a different level than they would have when they were 13 and 14 because they can read the code of points and they can come up with combinations for themselves and say to their coaches, Hey, this feels really good.

I bet I could do this. I bet I could nail it. And. You see that more and more, and I think it’s coming out in competition. And so gymnasts in this way, they’re able to make very smart choices for themselves, and hopefully that preserves them a little bit and maybe also prevents injuries. So I could

[00:17:45] Alison: go about 15 different places with that answer, but I’m gonna start with the, what I call the Simone Biles effect.

As in, everyone talks about the things that have never been done before. And the tricks. And the tricks and the tricks. Yet that [00:18:00] seems to be backing off a little bit from what you’re saying.

[00:18:02] Blythe Lawrence: I think that Simone Biles is a bit of an anomaly. I think it’s going both ways. Certainly, yes. Simone is a gymnast who is pushing the difficulty envelope in a way that it has never, ever been pushed before.

And. This is why she’s winning competitions with the margins that she does. It’s why she’s favored in pretty much every competition she enters. Not even pretty much just she’s favored in every competition that she enters. But apart from her, we are also seeing gymnasts who are able to do easier dismounts maybe, but have these great combinations in the interior of their routines or gymnasts who are relying on leaps and turns in their dance to get them valuable bonus tenses and then don’t have to tempt quite as difficult of a tumbling pass and can have it both ways and.

Maybe the code of points is allowing that more than it did in the past. And the scoring system too, difficulty and execution. Whereas before it was just you had to do a certain amount of difficulty and you would start at a 10.0 and be docked. From that, if you have phenomenal execution, now you can back off on difficulty a little bit.

But then you have the case of Simone Biles in which her difficulty is enormous and her execution is stellar. And so she is the best of both worlds. And on the men’s side,

[00:19:30] Alison: I worried about being able Balance. Balance. Yeah. The other place we see. Sort of the Simone bile effects on the men’s side is the high bar where things have been getting wilder and wilder. Do you expect that to continue for Paris?

[00:19:44] Blythe Lawrence: Yes. The thing that has made high Bar so exciting over the past several years is the potential of connected double flipping skills, the kovac release skills. And you had back in 2012, [00:20:00] Derland of the Netherlands, who won the Olympic title by combining three of these double flipping skills. And it was a routine like nobody had ever seen.

And there has been, there have been a few gymnasts, a very few who are able to connect the kova release skills the way that he has, but not so much in the biggest competitions. There’s a lot of training videos of, a, a Kova to a Coleman, which is a kova for the full twist. But. It’s pretty rare that we see it in international competition.

And you have someone like Tin Sic of Croatia, who is the Olympic silver medalist on Horizontal Bar who does connected catch of release skills. And those are great as well. But yeah, I mean, high bar, it just, it gets wilder and wilder and it’s maybe never been so wild as it has been the last few years.

[00:20:53] Alison: And a lot of Dutch, a lot of Dutch. What, what is happening in the Netherlands? Where they feel the need to risk death.

[00:21:03] Blythe Lawrence: Derland was special. Bart Loo, who is the other gymnast who actually comes to mind when you think about connected koach release skills, he’s got a world medal on High Bar as well. And he is somebody who announced his retirement not that long ago and actually has come back out of retirement and hopes to compete at the World Championships this year.

So obviously he feels that he’s gotten more to give. The Dutch success has been rather different on the women’s side and on the men’s side. The men, you’re right, it’s all about just sort of, Taking your life in your hands on horizontal bar and doing these amazing things. The women have gotten there the other way.

They have emphasized what they call the orange elegance the execution side of things. And so they might not do the most complex routines, but they do them really, really well. And that has stood them in good stead when it comes to Olympic qualification over the last couple of cycles. But yeah, the men, it’s gritty and it’s a bit raw.

It’s, It’s well executed as [00:22:00] well. But it is more difficulty focused, shall we say.

[00:22:03] Alison: So the other thing that we started to talk about was with the age going up and the gymnast having more agency, we obviously know all the troubles throughout gymnastics. What are you seeing changing?

[00:22:18] Blythe Lawrence: What I’m hearing from the gymnasts themselves is that they feel that they are more free to express themselves when it comes to having a say in their training plans with their coaches.

It’s not so top down when it comes to saying, Hey, I don’t like this. When it comes to, yes just being able to have a say in what they do and how they go about getting to the place where everybody wants them to be in their training. That said, you know, elite sports and any elite sport, not just gymnastics it’s just a very difficult world to be in at some points.

And sport is all about surpassing yourself, surpassing what you think you can do at that level. And. It’s not always a comfortable process and it seems that whether you’re quite young or whether you are going for your fourth or fifth Olympic games, you have to live with that. And that’s always difficult.

And it feels like there has been a reckoning over the past several years of what is too much. Everybody has their own personal line in the sand maybe. and just hopefully for gymnasts and for other elite athletes they have been more aware of when they are approaching that personal boundary for themselves and talking to people who can make it more tenable.

For them who can help them deal with whatever it is that they’re facing, whether it’s pressure, whether it’s physical exhaustion, whether it’s burnout and, and[00:24:00] knowing that if they need some help, hopefully it’s there for them. And hopefully they’ve got people and structures around them who can provide that for them.

That’s what I’ve taken away from several interviews with gymnasts. And I really hope it continues in this direction.

[00:24:17] Alison: Who haven’t we talked about that we should be talking about? Oh, either men or women.

[00:24:23] Blythe Lawrence: Oh, that’s a wonderful question. It’s so hard to project. I. This person is going to be the star of the world Championships or this person who has not really distinguished themselves up to this point, is maybe the up and comer. The gymnast that I always think of, although he’s gotten plenty of acclaim and rightly so, is Carlos Ulo of the Philippines who trains in Japan, who was a phenom from the age of like 15 and doing skills that could contend with the very best in the world.

And now he is fully mature and he does gorgeous, gorgeous gymnastics. And there’s a Japanese influence in his training because he lives and trains in Japan. His coach is Japanese. There’s so much beauty and elegance in everything that he does from the women. At the moment, I’m so excited to see what Gabby Douglas can bring to the floor.

She’s always somebody who had an enormous amount of difficulty. She was such a full package gymnast. She had flexibility, she had poise, she had elegance, she had brilliant execution. She had unusual skills, particularly on uneven bars. And she looks just great from the very little that she has teased on social media and.

I’m just so excited to see what a 27 year old Gabby Douglas can bring, because we’ve seen what the 16 year old Gabby Douglas could do, what the 20 year old Gabby Douglas could do. But many people agree [00:26:00] that once a gymnast gets into their twenties, the execution gets even better. The the sense of art, artistic content, the style it can all just kind of, bloom.

And I’d be very, very interested to see what that looks like with her at this point in her life.

[00:26:19] Alison: Rebecca Andjay just never gets old watching. No,

[00:26:24] Blythe Lawrence: no. She was incredible as a teenager and she is incredible as a gymnast in her twenties. And with Rebecca it’s so extraordinary when you think about the knee surgeries that she’s had and the recovery that she has had to face after each of those surgeries.

And you look at her and you see a gymnast who is performing like she’s never been injured. I run out of superlatives to say how amazing that is. Because she is truly extraordinary. She has such a wonderful just such a wonderful ability to do gymnastics, but above that and ability to overcome challenges that are thrown at her.

and she is a gymnast in a million. So

[00:27:15] Alison: what can the ordinary spectator, we recognize the tricks being so hard, and I think of Rebecca Andrey being really, really special and beautiful. What are we missing being difficult? That doesn’t look difficult.

[00:27:32] Blythe Lawrence: If I could write one thing into the code of points it’s a rather specific it small thing. I would like to see there be a requirement for a gymnast to do a handstand of some variation and have to hold it for like five seconds in the routine, whether it’s a handstand, pirouette, or a handstand, that begins or ends in some unusual posture or way.

[00:28:00] Balance beam is about balance and I think one of the basic things, one of the things that you learn when you are very young is to do a straight handstand on balance beam. And, and sometimes, um, as dazzling as the flips and the twists and the flips with twists are the things that really capture the imagination of a crowd are things like a simple middle split, done really well.

Or a handstand on balance beam done really well. And I would like at least on that apparatus to see that emphasized a little bit more.

[00:28:36] Alison: So I don’t wanna let you go without talking about a little bit of your broadcasting when you’ve got four events going at the same time. How do you focus

[00:28:46] Blythe Lawrence: with difficulty?

That, that’s the honest answer. Fortunately, I probably, fortunately I’ve never had to do any broadcasting on like a split screen situation because that would be very difficult. And to the commentators who do do that, like hats off to them What we do when we are in an arena is we actually watch monitors.

And every now and then you surreptitiously look up and sort of see what’s going on during the warmups and that kind of thing. But one of the golden rules of broadcasting, as I’ve been taught it, is that you need to talk to the pictures. And so that’s where your focus is. But of course, when you are sitting in an, in an arena and you’ve got four things or six things happening at the same time, it can be very hard to tell yourself, no, you need to not look around.

You need to focus on, on what the viewer is seeing, which ultimately makes a lot of

[00:29:44] Alison: sense. And then all of a sudden you hear this cheering from your left and to not look over there and see what’s going on.

[00:29:52] Blythe Lawrence: Yeah, every now and then there’s a little bit of a slight glimpse which can tell you a lot, but yeah.

and then [00:30:00] warmups, it, it can be a little bit different when you’ve got, like the wide shot of the arena or a panning around. Sometimes it’s very good as a broadcaster to be able to watch what the viewer isn’t seeing because then you can relay important information. But most of the time you really just stick to the monitor.

[00:30:20] Jill: This is a yes or no question, which I don’t like. When do you get the schedule of what you do? Like, do they assign you to one apparatus for the whole tournament? Do they assign you different apparatuses throughout the day? How does that work on your end for what you have to talk

[00:30:35] Alison: about?

No. Are they yelling in your ear all the

[00:30:38] Blythe Lawrence: time? No. No. Fortunately you are hired with the expectation that you will be able to deal with whatever is put in front of you, whether it’s balance beam or still rings or trampoline. They think that, you’ll be able to talk.

In a good way about everything that you see. So no, there’s no specialism. At least not for me.

[00:31:02] Alison: So you’re, where are you physically located most of the time when you’re doing commentary?

[00:31:08] Blythe Lawrence: Most of the time I’m in the venue. Occasionally I’m in an international broadcast center where they’ve got a, a row of, of sound booths and you go in there and you watch tv.

And you do your broadcast that way with a headset and a producer talking to you in your ear, queuing you, and sometimes giving little reminders or remarks and that’s the way that it works. But the best thing is to be in the arena because it just adds a bit of something. To the broadcast there, there’s a feeling that you have from being there, from sitting there, from watching it unfold before your eyes.

And you can sort of capture things like ambiance, whether it’s tense, whether it’s convivial, and I think that comes out in the broadcast. Hopefully that comes out in the broadcast.

[00:31:58] Alison: And are you on the floor [00:32:00] or are you up in a sky booth?

[00:32:01] Blythe Lawrence: It depends on the venue. Sometimes you’re up in the sky, sometimes you are pretty close to the floor.

Is like a, like broadcast press proceeds, if you will. And oftentimes there’s a whole block that’s set out for the commentators. So you might have, you might be sitting there and you’re doing the world feed and you’ve got the B B C behind you and you’ve got the Italians to one side of you and you’ve got the Dutch to the other side of you and you’ve got the French in front of you and everybody is really seeing the same thing on their monitors and everybody is doing their thing.

[00:32:36] Alison: And then if you have the Brazilians near you, then you really have to focus.

I just wanna add, have you, and I’m sure you have seen injuries in person in terms of during a competition and how that, how do you handle that?

[00:32:54] Blythe Lawrence: Yes. And maybe the simplest way to say it is you handle it with great care. Sort of secondly, they’re gymnasts. Firstly, they’re people. And if you do see an injury the first thing that you hope actually is that the camera will go away from the gymnast and that there won’t be a replay or anything like that. And then the second thing is, the medical personnel gets to them and is able to stabilize them as quickly as possible.

And yeah it can be very hard to call. you know, even just sitting in the press gallery, it can be very hard to watch. I’ve seen a fair amount of injuries. Nothing. Absolutely catastrophic, but still things that prevent a gymnasts from training for the next, eight months to a year, that kind of thing.

And it’s, it’s always heartrending to watch and

[00:33:56] Alison: they always show the replay

with the [00:34:00] sound. Oh.

Because everybody knows I sit there and I freak out whenever there’s an injury because of the sound. It’s horrible to watch. Yeah.

[00:34:09] Jill: Can we end on a happy note now? Absolutely. Okay. How about Chi Kata or American Anthem?

[00:34:16] Alison: Ooh,

[00:34:18] Blythe Lawrence: oh, difficult

American Anthem. How so?

No, wait, can I change my mind?

[00:34:27] Alison: We do all the time. Blythe. Don’t worry about it.

[00:34:31] Blythe Lawrence: I mean, they’re both so kitch, right?

But in, in that great way,

[00:34:38] Alison: Mitch Gaylord,

[00:34:39] Blythe Lawrence: man, I mean Mitch Gaylord an American icon, and you know, he still looks

[00:34:44] Alison: great. He has aged like fine wine.

Blake’s not disagreeing with me.

[00:34:56] Jill: Thank you so much, Blythe. You can find Blythe on Twitter. She is at underscore Blythe Lawrence on Insta. She is at Rose Blythe Lawrence. We will have links to those in the show notes. And you know, she’s been commentating at the Invictus Games with fellow Shukla Stani, Olly Hogben. I

[00:35:12] Alison: wonder if there is any food in Olly’s refrigerator that doesn’t go bad, because he is never

[00:35:18] Jill: home.

Probably doesn’t have food in his refrigerator. Fair enough.

[00:35:24] Alison: It’s got the one bottle of mustard and like a leftover garlic on the counter.

[00:35:30] Jill: If you haven’t been catching the Invictus Games, you can find them. In the UK, I think they’re on the BBC and there might be on another channel as well.

They are also on the Invictus Games YouTube channel. So we will have a link to that channel in the show notes.

Seoul 1988 History Moment

[00:35:44] Jill: It is the time of the show where we look at our history moment. All year long. We’ve been focusing on Seoul 1988 as it is the 35th anniversary of those games. It is my turn [00:36:00] for our story and I wanted to talk about weightlifting because when contributor Ben and I were on a little road trip in August, we discovered the York Barbell Company.

And the founder of York Barbell was a man named Bob Hoffman, who was a big wig in the sport. He officiated at London, 1948, Helsinki, 1952 and Melbourne, 1956. And the company now has a Museum and Weightlifting Hall of Fame free to the public. It has a bunch of Olympic items in it.

There’s lots of pins. There’s lots of badges. There is a plaque honoring York for being the weights and barbell supplier for LA 84 and they no longer are, Oh, put something on the list, man. The process to get weights certified to be Olympic caliber. It’s pretty intense. Apparently, we have heard from York barbell.

So they no longer are an official weight of the IWF, but they have been in the past and they also have a team champions cup from London, 1948 at this museum, which is really cool. And they have the credential For Richard Smith, who was an assistant coach for the U S men’s weightlifting team at Seoul 1988.

So it was really cool to , find this place and wander in and see all of the Seoul stuff that they had. That got me wondering about the weightlifting competition at Seoul. At the time, weightlifting was for men only and in this competition world, records fell by the wayside, total of seven new world records at these games, three of which were made by Turkish weightlifter, Nime Sule Manou, who at the age of 21 was competing in his first Olympics, but would leave a hero to his countrymen and be known throughout the world as.

Pocket Hercules.

[00:37:53] Alison: Oh, yes. Oh, I remember the

[00:37:57] Jill: nickname. Yes, the [00:38:00] Pocket Hercules. So, his story is really interesting. He was born Naim Suleymanov in Bulgaria in 1967, and he was only 1. 47 meters tall, or 4 foot 10. But that is not surprising given that his father was five feet and his mom was four seven. So he was kind of destined to be short.

The interesting thing was that his physicality was perfect for weightlifting. So it had something to do with your torso being so long and your legs being so long and the, length of your forearms and your upper arms being a certain, , ratio. And he had that in spades, but he, as a boy, he was also good in several sports, including swimming, which that talent got him into a Bulgarian sports boarding school.

at age 10. So he left home, went to school. As he got older and not much taller, coaches realized he was not going to be a world class swimmer, but they realized he probably would be a good weightlifter. So they steered him in that direction and these coaches were not wrong. So at age 14, he won the 1982 World Junior Championships beating 19 year olds.

Which, when you think about what a 14 year old boy looks like and what a 19 year old man looks like, very different. And he was already crushing the competition. At 15, he got his first world record, which was practically impossible for someone his age. And then he was on track to go to L. A. 1984.

Bulgaria joined the race. Soviet boycott. The other thing about Naim, as he was coming up in the weightlifting world, ethnic Turkish people in Bulgaria were facing really harsh persecution at the time. They were forced to give up their Turkish heritage, customs, language, and they were forced to assimilate to Bulgarian culture.

And in Naim’s case, he was forced to change his name to Nam Shalom on [00:40:00] off, which was a more Bulgarian interpretation of his name and the pressure to assimilate and the persecution and like the tracking of his family and him got really bad in 1986. He was competing at the World Cup finals in Melbourne.

He somehow managed to shake his Bulgarian handlers. And disappeared, and he showed up at the Turkish embassy, requested asylum, and the Turks flew him to Turkey where he would then become a citizen there. Nine changed his name to Suleymanoğlu, which was more Turkish. So this is his third name throughout his short life.

When you have somebody who defects or changes nations, as you remember, you have to wait three years before you can switch. We’re in 1986. So what does that mean for Seoul 1988? if the two countries can have an agreement, they will, there’s a switch involved. And of course, Bulgaria do not want to release Suleymanoğlu so he sat out competitions in 1987 and then Turkey ended up paying the Bulgarian government a million dollars to release him so that he could compete at the Olympics.

Needless to say that at Seoul, Nine was not just competing for gold. He was also competing to trounce Bulgaria. He did so handily setting three world records in the snatch, clean and jerk and total in the men’s featherweight competition. He beat Bulgarian Stefan Toparov by 30 kilograms.

Holy cannoli. And his opening lift, just the opening lift, was 7. 5 kilograms more than Toporov could do.

In the clean and jerk, even after Naim has set a world record, he kept going. And on his third attempt, he lifted over three times his body weight.

[00:41:56] Alison: My goodness.

[00:41:58] Jill: With a total of [00:42:00] 342.5 kilograms. He didn’t just out lift the competitors in his weight class, he also lifted more than the weight class above him.

Pocket Hercules

[00:42:09] Alison: is

[00:42:10] Jill: no joke. . So in weightlifting, there’s a comparison method called the Sinclair Coefficients, which compares lifters across weight classes. His Sinclair Coefficient from Seoul is the highest number ever recorded. To this day, so it’s also a good thing that nine was out of Bulgaria and did not compete for them.

They had gone into the Olympics expecting to win a ton of medals. Several competitions in, everything was going according to their plan. Bulgarians had five medals in five competition. And then the drug testing results started coming in.

Oops. so two lifters who had won gold tested positive for a diuretic that was used as a masking agent for steroids. They were disqualified. And then the Bulgarian Weightlifting Federation withdrew from the last half of the competition. Because their

[00:43:01] Alison: weightlifters were all going to

[00:43:01] Jill: get caught. Yeah.

They knew. So 9 1’s Turkey’s first gold medal in 20 years. He flew back to Turkey a hero with over a million people greeting him when he landed. He used the publicity to talk about the situation in Bulgaria and successfully got the rest of his family out of the country. He retired a couple of years later.

It honestly seemed as I read this, he had kind of a tough life because everybody in Turkey knew him and loved him. And there was a lot of pressure on him to do well. He retired for a little bit, came back a couple of years to compete at Barcelona in 1992, won gold there. He won gold at Atlanta in 1996.

He competed at Sydney 2000, but started with a weight that was too high. and couldn’t manage it. So he did not even come near the podium. He fully retired after that. He was the first person in Olympic history to win three weightlifting [00:44:00] gold medals. And throughout his career, he got 47 world records. After his weightlifting career was over, he became a politician and sadly he died in 2017 at age 50.

Due to liver failure caused by cirrhosis, which really, really sad. It sounded like he was beloved, but it sounded like he was local royalty in a way that could never escape the paparazzi, the crowds. And it just, that sounded like a tough part of his life, but it gilded biopic.

About him available on YouTube. Putting that on the list for movie club. I was gonna

[00:44:39] Alison: say let Fran know

[00:44:41] Jill: the results are in and we can announce the games that we’ll be focusing on next year. Next year we will be back to covering a winter games and we asked you to choose from Chamonix 1924.

Sarajevo 1984 and Lillehammer 1994. Thank you to all of you who voted and lobbied. The winner is Chamonix L’Originale. So we will be digging into the OG Winter Games 2024. so we will be excited to learn about them and. Maybe, budget permitting, we will be able to go there between the Olympics and Paralympics next year.

Budget will, uh, weigh heavily on our Kickstarter campaign. Le

[00:45:29] Alison: budget!

[00:45:32] Jill: So, yes, we will have a Kickstarter later on this fall to help us get to Paris 2024 be on the lookout for that. We’ve been preparing and we are excited to share with you some great Kickstarter incentives. Thank you.

TKFLASTAN Update

[00:45:46] Alison: Welcome to

[00:45:50] Jill: Shooklastan. It is the time of the show where we check in with our team, Keep the Flame Alive. These are past guests of the show, as well as our listeners who make up our [00:46:00] citizenship of Shooklastan.

[00:46:02] Alison: Alison Levine was competing when we recorded last week and she did in fact win that gold medal at the World Cup event in Rio.

She is home and recovering from her injury and doing okay. Her sense of humor was not damaged.

[00:46:16] Jill: Speed skater Erin Jackson won a bronze medal at the Inline Speed World Championships. Dr.

[00:46:24] Alison: Victoria Jackson gave the opening remarks for the Commission on the State of the U. S. Olympics and Paralympics to talk about the history leading up to the hearing.

[00:46:34] Jill: Former biathlete Claire Egan is on the Penalty Loop podcast for a three part series.

[00:46:40] Alison: book club Claire has made vlogs of her summer trip to Japan, including a tour of National Stadium where the Tokyo 2020 athletics events were. We’ll have a link to the National Stadium video in the show notes.

[00:46:53] Jill: And the dulcet tones jason bryant will be in belgrade announcing the wrestling world championships from september 14th through the 23rd.

Paris 2024 Update

[00:47:06] Alison: Mix and match Recorded on

[00:47:10] Jill: Kicking off our Paris 2024 news, shocking, there are concerns about the flying taxis. I wasn’t

[00:47:18] Alison: concerned. I was ready to get on, but you know,

[00:47:21] Jill: the French disagree. So according to Inside the Games via Le Monde, the French environmental authority has asked flying taxi company Group ADP to Reconsider their project scope due to concerns on environmental impact, including noise and visual pollution.

The authority also has security and safety concerns for the people being flown over.

[00:47:45] Alison: They may get, a short round American just falling out of the sky on top of them. And I guess that would be problematic. Imagine how many people I could take out falling out of a taxi. Like there would be a rugby [00:48:00] sevens team going down.

[00:48:02] Jill: Oh man, the Diocese of Paris. This has been putting together a Holy Games project, and part of that is they have opened up a sports chapel. It is called the Notre Dame des Sportistes Chapel in the Church of the Madeline, and that is part of their whole initiative. You can learn more about it at holygames.

  1. This is good. I will say this. Air traffic controllers have agreed not to go on strike during the period of Olympic truce, which runs, from the Olympics through to the Paralympics. So thank goodness.

[00:48:35] Alison: So we will be able to fly in and fly out.

I mean, the good news about. Paris travel, I guess, is that other major airports are not far away. Correct. You know, you can get to Madrid, you can get into Switzerland, you can get into Italy. I mean, if you had to. It’s not like when we were in Beijing. And if something happens, you’re just going to be in Beijing forever.

Tokyo, same thing. I mean, it’s an island. So this is a little less frightening in terms of we would never get home, but considering the issues with the air taxis. I do not want the air traffic controllers to go on strike.

[00:49:14] Jill: That is correct. And Paris is hosting the Rugby World Cup right now, so that has been like, maybe they’ll be going on strike during the World Cup.

We don’t know. But thank goodness they’ve worked this out. as far as I know, they need to get the Metro employees on board and the garbage collectors, right?

[00:49:31] Alison: That could definitely be a problem.

[00:49:33] Jill: And just a little bit of a follow up on those corruption investigations that we talked about a few months ago.

The Associated Press has reported that the investigations into corruption and influence peddling at Paris 2024 have revealed nothing serious. Very good news.

Milan-Cortina 2026 Update

[00:49:49] Alison: Finally, something not controversial from Milan and not about overspending. [00:50:00]

[00:50:00] Jill: So

[00:50:01] Alison: the IOC approved the change for the age for short track. So this was part of the ISU’s initiative that we talked about when we talked about for figure skating. Current minimum is 15. This coming season will be 16. And for the Olympic year, it will be 17.

So now this is true across the ISU events,

[00:50:21] Jill: which is good. That’s all short track, long track figure skating. It’s a good idea. Also a new development at Milan Cortina. And thank you to the mayor of Innsbruck in case you were listening. Because we talked about this and we’ve been talking about this for a while and you’ve had this idea. Right. So my

[00:50:40] Alison: original idea was based on what Stockholm was going to do.

Stockholm was going to have its sliding events in Riga, Latvia. And I said, why doesn’t Milan Cortina use San Moritz, which is very, very close. I mean, they were already spreading between Milan and Cortina and all the sliders love San Moritz. But now Innsbruck has gotten in on the fun.

[00:51:04] Jill: Yes, because Innsbruck is also not that far away.

Innsbruck is two time host of the Olympics, 64 76. Their sliding track is used all the time, and it’s a big stop on both the luge and skeleton, on all of the sliding sport World Cup circuits. The mayor of Innsbruck has sent a letter to Milan Cortina with the offer. Hopefully. Come to Austria.

[00:51:26] Alison: Instead of spending.

Hopefully Billions on a sliding center that nobody wants to build for you, right? I know not billions, millions.

[00:51:35] Jill: Oh, I would not be shocked if it went up to the, well, because now they’re at the point where the thing has to get built and now you have to offer a lot of incentives to get that built quickly because you need to have it in almost a year.

You’re talking like maybe 14 months tops to have that thing done. Let’s just say that can’t be easy to construct. You’ve already constructed one for Torino that had to close because it was so poorly constructed. [00:52:00] So why not use one that exists? Save everybody the hassle.

Give your citizens other things instead. as much as I love to develop the sliding sports, there’s got to be a different way to do that for a different, more cost effective way to do that in Italy.

[00:52:17] Alison: And honestly, another sliding center. In Western Europe, doesn’t do the sport any good.

[00:52:23] Jill: Right. Ah, well that’s gonna do it for this week.

Let us know what element of the gymnastics competition you are excited about seeing for Paris 2024. You can

[00:52:33] Alison: connect with us on XN Instagram at Flame Alive Pod. Email us at Flame Alive. Email us at Flame Alive pod@gmail.com. Call or text us at 2 0 8 3 that’s 2 0 8 flame it. Be sure to join the keep the flame alive podcast group on Facebook and don’t forget to get our weekly newsletter filled with other fun stories about this week’s episode.

You can sign up for that at flame alive pod. com.

[00:53:04] Jill: Next week, book club Claire will be back with a discussion about The Dirtiest Race in History, Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, and the 1988 Olympic 100 Meter Final by Richard Moore as we approach the 35th anniversary of that controversial race. So check out that book and let us know what you think of it. Thank you so much for listening and until next time.

Keep the flame alive.