Nadia Comaneci

Nadia Comaneci: Simone Biles’ difficulty is almost equal to men

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Nadia Comaneci racked up airline miles last week, appearing at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Shanghai last Wednesday and the Tribeca Film Festival in New York on Friday, as she is the subject of a documentary.

The nine-time Romanian Olympic gymnastics medalist and first woman to score a perfect 10 at the Olympics discussed the sport today with OlympicTalk at the debut of her film, “Eternal Princess,” directed by Katie Holmes.

OlympicTalk: What’s changed with Romanian gymnastics, recently falling behind the U.S. and Russia?

Comaneci: It’s always the four big powers. The place has shifted, because the U.S. right now is dominating the world of gymnastics. But, you know, it’s always the U.S., China, Romania and Russia. When you think about it, in the United States, there are about four million kids who do gymnastics. In Romania, I think we have a total of 500 in the entire country. So, it’s a big base here [in the U.S.]. And 2,500 clubs to do gymnastics. That’s a lot to choose from.

OlympicTalk: What do you think of Simone Biles?

Comaneci: I don’t think anybody can top her right now, because she’s really, really, really good. It just has to do with how healthy she will stay, because it’s one more year until the Olympics. That’s still a long time.

OlympicTalk: Mary Lou Retton said Biles “may be the most talented gymnast” she’s ever seen. Do you agree?

Comaneci: I think she’s the best tumbler and [performing] more difficult gymnastics than we’ve seen. With how much ease she does the vault and the floor, and the difficulty she does there, it’s almost equal with what the guys are doing right now.

Editor’s Note: Biles does a Yurchenko with 2 1/2 twists on vault (an Amanar, which other women do). The most difficult version of that vault being done by a man is the Yurchenko with three twists. On floor, Biles opens with a double layout with a full twist. The hardest version of this skill from the men is the double layout with a double twist, which has been done by many men and for a while, according to USA Gymnastics.

OlympicTalk: Can [Romanian World all-around silver medalist] Larisa Iordache challenge Biles?

Comaneci: I think she can challenge her, because she’s good enough on four events. It’s the same thing, she needs to [stay] healthy to be able to compete.

OlympicTalk: When was the last time you were in Deva [the gymnastics capital of Romania]?

Comaneci: I was there a few years ago. It’s changed, but it’s still the mecca of preparation there. That’s where the gymnasts come from.

OlympicTalk: If you could change one rule in gymnastics, what would it be?

Comaneci: I would bring back the [perfect] 10 [scoring system].

Vitaly Scherbo weighs in on Kohei Uchimura

Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s first Olympic track and field medalist, has coronavirus

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Ehsan Hadadi, Iran’s lone Olympic track and field medalist, tested positive for the coronavirus, according to World Athletics and an Iranian news agency.

“We’ve received word from several Asian journalists that Iranian discus thrower Ehsan Hadadi has tested positive for coronavirus,” according to World Athletics. “[Hadadi] trains part of the year in the US, but was home in Tehran when he contracted the virus.”

Hadadi, 35, became the first Iranian to earn an Olympic track and field medal when he took silver in the discus at the 2012 London Games. Hadadi led through four of six rounds before being overtaken by German Robert Harting, who edged the Iranian by three and a half inches.

He was eliminated in qualifying at the Rio Olympics and placed seventh at last fall’s world championships in Doha.

Jordan Larson preps for her last Olympics, one year later than expected

Jordan Larson
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Whether the Tokyo Olympics would have been this summer or in 2021, Jordan Larson knew this: It will mark her final tournament with the U.S. volleyball team, should she make the roster.

“I’m just not getting any younger,” said Larson, a 33-year-old outside hitter. “I’ve been playing consistently overseas for 12 years straight with no real offseason.

“I also have other endeavors in my life that I want to see. Getting married, having children, those kinds of things. The older I get, the more challenging those become.”

Larson, who debuted on the national team in 2009, has been a leader the last two Olympic cycles. She succeeded Christa Harmotto Dietzen as captain after the Rio Games. Larson started every match at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.

As long as Larson was in the building, the U.S. never had to worry about the outside hitter position, said two-time Olympian and NBC Olympics volleyball analyst Kevin Barnett.

“She played as if she belonged from the start,” he said. “They will miss her all-around capability. They’ll miss her ability to make everyone around her better. She’s almost like having a libero who can hit.”

Karch Kiraly, the Olympic indoor and beach champion who took over as head coach after the 2012 Olympics, gushed about her court vision.

“It’s a little dated now, but somebody like Wayne Gretzky just saw things that other people didn’t see on the hockey rink,” Kiraly said in 2018. “And I remember reading about him one time, and the quote from an opposing goalie was, oh my god, here he comes, what does he see that I don’t see right now? She sees things sooner than most people.”

Larson grew up in Hooper, Neb., (population 830) and starred at the University of Nebraska. She was a three-time All-American who helped the team win a national title as a sophomore. She had the opportunity to leave Nebraska and try out for the Olympics in 2008 but chose to remain at school for her final season.

She earned the nickname “Governor” as a Cornhusker State sports icon.

Larson helped the U.S. win its first major international title at the 2014 World Championship. She was also part of the program’s two stingers — defeats in the 2012 Olympic final and 2016 Olympic semifinals, both matches where the U.S. won the first set (and convincingly in 2012).

“It just gives me chills thinking about it now,” Larson said of the Rio Olympic semifinals, where Serbia beat the U.S. 15-13 in the fifth. “That team, we put in so much. Not just on the court but off the court working on culture and working on how are we best for each other. How can we be the best team? How can we out-team people? Certain teams have a better one player that’s a standout that we maybe didn’t have or don’t have. So how can we out-team the other teams? We had just put in so much work that was just heartbreaking.”

Larson and the Americans rebounded to win the bronze-medal match two days later.

“I don’t know anybody that didn’t have their heart ripped out. It was just a soul-crusher of a match,” Kiraly said of the semifinal. “More meaningful was what a great response everybody, including Jordan, mounted to the disappointment of that loss.”

The U.S. took fifth at worlds in 2018 and is now ranked second in the world behind China.

Larson spent the past club season in Shanghai. The campaign ended in mid-January. She hadn’t heard anything about the coronavirus when she took her scheduled flight back to California, learning days later that LAX started screening for it. Now, she’s working out from her garage.

Larson is in line to become the fifth-oldest U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball player in history, according Olympedia and the OlyMADMen.

Her decade of experience could go a long way to help the next generation of outside hitters, led by three-time NCAA champion and Sullivan Award winner Kathryn Plummer.

“If you’re coming into the USA program as an outside hitter, in the next year or the quad or the quad after that,” Barnett said, “the measuring stick is going to be Jordan Larson.”

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