November 30, 2011

An Important PSA

Every year, millions of unsuspecting Americans are diagnosed with severe LFE: Lack of Facial Expression. LFE can strike anyone at any time, even those with no family history of a complete disconnect between their faces and their moods or actions.

For decades, LFE was considered an adult-onset illness, afflicting those so beaten down by the various disappointments of daily life that they lost the will to care. In the last several years, however, researchers working with gymnasts across the country have begun to identify unmistakable signs of LFE in children as young as five, children who display no noticeable response to stimuli such as positive feedback or the accomplishment of a goal. These juvenile cases of LFE tend to reach crisis around the age of sixteen or seventeen, at which point they become chronic and, some argue, irreversible. 

With more and more cases gaining national prominence every year, it is natural to wonder whether LFE can affect you or your loved ones. Unfortunately, there is no 100% reliable defense against LFE, but it pays to be aware of the signs so that they might be addressed immediately. Early symptoms include a total lack of awareness of music (sufferers often maintain complete blankness even when music is jaunty), an inability to understand the concept of beat, and a profound deadness in the eyes, as if there were no more joy left in the world. Because sufferers of LFE have no concept of emotional interpretation of music, when instructed to dance they will often simply flap their wrists up and down in a manner one scientist likened to "a T-Rex waving goodbye." This excessive wrist flexion is a sign that the disease has advanced to a more extreme stage and that intervention is necessary.

While many people live for years with LFE, explaining away their illnesses with commonplace defenses such as "I just can't be bothered," "so what," and "meh," if untreated, the lack of expression can occasionally mutate into a permanent look of sour disappointment, a syndrome Dr. Valorie Kondos Field, lead researcher in Hitting Refresh Studies at the UCLA Institute of Calm Confidence, has termed "poopy face." Dr. Kondos Field is one of the few experts in the country who believes that LFE, even when it has advanced to poopy face status, can be cured.

Dr. Kondos Field with patient
Many of Dr. Kondos Field's patients suffer from LFE with severity as high as "Category 4" or "Second-Tier Elite" status. Treatment of these cases often must begin at a very primitive level. In the image to the right, taken from an intensive group treatment session, the doctor begins with mirror therapy, pointing out to patients that they possess items like teeth and eyes that may be used to communicate an attitude to others. In addition to mirror work, the UCLA Institute has also reported great strides from experiments with "stop looking like a hot mess" therapy and "Canadian exposure" therapy, both of which work by introducing the sufferer to her potential self and thereby raising expectations. If this treatment is started by the time the patient reaches late teens, Dr. Kondos Field insists that full a recovery can be made and that former sufferers might even one day become performers. Sadly, others are not so lucky.

The two cases above, captured in their natural habitats, are known as "Category 5" or "Irreversibly Elite." Unfortunately, in cases this severe, sufferers begin to experience varying degrees of cognitive disorder and may actually refuse the recommended four-year stint in a therapy institution, convincing themselves that there is nothing wrong or that the problem will simply improve on its own. Experts say that this thinking is misguided or even dangerous, and by increasing national awareness of it, they hope to be able to eradicate Category 5 cases within the next ten to fifteen years. 

November 29, 2011

Where Are the 9.9s?

Utah will hope Georgia Dabritz can bring in 9.9s on at least two events in 2012.

There is a common refrain, especially among coaches, that any team making it to the final session has a chance to take the national title.  Well . . . not quite.  While all the teams making it that far are talented, there is often a significant gap between the top contenders and the ones who should be pleased to get through the semifinals.  This gap can be measured reliably by the number of 9.9-quality routines.  The scores from Super Six in the last two years bear this out.

2011 Super Six - Routines scoring 9.9+
Alabama - 8
UCLA - 8
Oklahoma - 7
Michigan - 4
Nebraska - 2
Utah - 2

2010 Super Six - Routines scoring 9.9+
UCLA - 11
Oklahoma - 9
Alabama - 9
Stanford - 4
Florida - 4
Utah - 4

So what does this tell us?  (Other than making it painfully clear that 2010 was a much stronger year than 2011, which we already knew because we have eyes.)  It shows that even though the scores may appear similar, as we saw when Stanford and Florida finished within .250 of Oklahoma and Alabama in 2010, the disparity in quality of the top routines is often quite large and will dictate how the championships play out.
(As a side note, Florida managed six 9.9s in semifinals and seven 9.9s in regionals in 2011, which kept them afloat despite their beam performances, as opposed to Stanford, which did not advance past regionals due to suffering from severe 9.85-itis.)

November 28, 2011

2012 NCAA Schedule

The NCAA season is just a little more than a month away, so it's time to look at the road we have ahead of us.

Below is a schedule of the major meets that will be important to follow in 2012.  At first glance, a few important things jump out:

1) Note the scarcity of meets during the first weekend.  Alabama, Michigan, Oregon St., Stanford, and Nebraska (among others) won't compete until the second week.  Because of this schedule, most of these schools will be competing every weekend through conference championships without a break.  Pacing and resting major contributors will be paramount.  UCLA and Georgia may benefit by having that crucial week off at the end of the regular season.

2) Stanford only competes at home three times, two of which are their first two meets of the season. This means they will have to rely heavily on road scores for their RQS, which can be a risky little game.  (On the other hand, they will be incredibly reliant on their freshmen this year, and with the injury history there, the sparse schedule of only 9 total meets could be in their best interests.)  

3) There is a strong degree of difficulty overall.  Each of the top teams has at least 3 (and usually 4) meets against other top programs.  Even schools like Oklahoma and Nebraska that don't have built-in challenges against strong conference rivals have loaded their schedules.  This means that nearly every weekend has at least one interesting matchup.