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Hawkeye gymnasts showcase power on the vault

BY MATT CABEL | FEBRUARY 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Don’t blink — you might miss it.

Vault, the fastest event in gymnastics, is over in an instant.

On the vault, male and female gymnasts perform different actions after gaining speed down a runway and launching off a springboard.

In the air, the gymnast pushes off the vault horse and will perform a twist, a 1½ twist, or a double twist. To “stick,” or get a perfect landing, gymnasts are not allowed to move, and their feet must be set.

“You can do a great vault, but if you step, the judge is going to bring the score down a lot,” Hawkeye freshman Alie Glover said. “It’s basically trying to get the vault as good as you can and then get the landing stuck as well.”

The gymnasts can choose how far they want to sprint down the 80-foot runway. Sophomore Emma Willis, for example, runs for around 77 feet before performing her vault.

“I’ve seen people with the most powerful vaults who only take seven steps in a hurdle,” Willis said. “They make it around quite fine.”

An added difficulty of the vault comes with its placement in the rotation. For home meets, the GymHawks perform on the vault first. The time delay between the warm-up, team announcements, and singing of the national anthem makes it difficult for gymnasts to fully warm up during the touch period.

There are numerous styles — referred to by gymnasts as “families” — which the gymnast can perform on the vault. Iowa performs from group three, the Yurchenko style, named after Natalia Yurchenko, a Soviet gymnast who created the move in the 1980s.

The Yurchenko style vault features a round-off entry onto the springboard, and then the gymnast goes backwards, which is the most common entry form. What vault style a team uses depends on the team members, their strengths and the recruiting class.

“With the vault element, you need obviously the speed to get into the horse, and then you need to be able to get onto the horse strong and tight,” Willis said. “With that comes the snap, where you follow with your full or one half, depending on who does it.”

Landings on the vault have been a difficult feat for the GymHawks this season. Senior Emma Stevenson said vault landings are something the team needs to improve on after her team failed to stick a landing on the vault in a meet against Michigan State and Illinois-Chicago Feb. 8.

“We do drills every day — we run lineups trying to get sticks; we put pressure on,” Glover said. “We’re trying to do anything we can to really make it easier to get those landings under pressure.”

In practice, the GymHawks do many exercises away from the actual vault horse. One exercise includes the gymnasts jumping and turning off a high bar as they would during the aerial part of the routine. Gymnasts perform this to replicate the height, but they land on a cushioned mat, which allows for more repetition. The softened mat works to prevent injury that would likely occur from the repetition of the event’s hard impact.

“You’re really having to base everything on spacial awareness and orientation,” Iowa women’s gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby said. “It would be like if you take just a random person and have them jump up and do a full turn with their eyes closed off the curb. Most likely, they’re going to fall over.”

Assistant coach Jacob Lee will also have the gymnasts balance on yoga balls to strengthen the balance component.

“You have to know where you are and what muscles to fire to be able to make that landing easily, with the least amount of impact,” Libby said.

Stevenson described the event as a powerful, yet calm. The senior said it’s difficult to approach the event with a lot of energy or hype, because too much energy makes it easier for the gymnast to make mistakes.

“That’s the balancing act of vault,” she said. “You have to really be able to calm yourself down enough to focus but also get yourself hyped up enough to do that powerful vault.”


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