Things Are Happening – September 22, 2017

I’m back! Much has happened since I abandoned you, some of it even interesting, so let’s get into the highlights.

A. Worlds team drama

Finally, the FIG unveiled the nominative roster for worlds, meaning we kinda/sorta/barring any last minute tricks know who will be in Montreal in a week’s time. In case you missed it, I’ve already broken down the US team. Short version: without knowing the ranch scores, it’s fairly easy to justify this as a reasonable team, though one without “everyone here will win a medal” ability, which is a bit of a change from recent years. Much of the dissatisfaction with this team seems to be born of a feeling of “I just wish the options were better,” which is manifesting as “this was the wrong person to take.”

The drama and gymternet betrayals are not limited solely to the US, however, with the international field bringing its own wagonload of sturm und drang.

So, yeah, Italy. Continue reading Things Are Happening – September 22, 2017


A Brief Dispatch on the McCusker Withdrawal

I’m coming to you today from the Balance Beam Situation London offices (where I have successfully mastered using the terms courgette and aubergine, saying toilet instead of restroom, and spending an hour and a half on a train glaring at too-loud teenagers and choosing to be miserable the entire time rather than say anything about it—where’s my citizenship?).

As requested, here are a few thoughts and reconstructions of team possibilities based on the withdrawal of Riley McCusker from the upcoming US selection camp. What does it do to the US worlds team conversation?

What it does is throw everything in the bin (BIN!).

Here’s what I said the last time I discussed the US team:

Basically, if McCusker isn’t your clear #2 AAer…selection will become an all-around free-for-all.

Pretty much!

The US is now left looking for its #2 all-around gymnast, which is good news for the selection hopes of Chiles, Thomas, Hurd, and Frazier, the contenders for that spot. If I were Valeri, I would be tempted to say, “OK, whoever finishes second to Smith at the selection camp is my second all-arounder” because no one else has really claimed the spot so far this year. But of course, that’s basing the decision on one competition, which we don’t do. Martha raised us to believe that every competition is a selection competition.

Jordan Chiles’ second-place finish at nationals makes a very good argument for her, creating one of the more competitive teams the US can select. Continue reading A Brief Dispatch on the McCusker Withdrawal

Things Are Happening – September 1, 2017

A. Post Hiatus

First, a little housekeeping. You won’t see any new posts for the next several weeks as I will be gallivanting around England going, “La la la” and not sitting here writing things. I’ll be back in time for a few worlds previews before heading off to Montreal.

This post is a little longer than usual to tide you over.

B. Chinese National Games

Qualification is complete at the Chinese National Games, with predominately the usual suspects doing the usual things. Scoring looks fairly realistic because of domestic Chinese competitions. It’s not crazy tight like it used to be (everyone gets a 7.0 E!), but…normal. Worlds-level scoring. Calmer than pretty much all the other domestic competitions.

In the all-around, the leader is junior Chen Yile, just to establish what the internet is going to be obsessed with for the next year. She’s followed by Liu Tingting, then Wang Yan, Luo Huan, and Shang Chunsong in that order. They’re all quite tightly packed, so this result is not decisive, but it does reinforce the idea that Liu and Wang would be the two AAers for China at worlds. Luo really needs to start beating Wang to make her case since it will be very tough for Luo to get a specialist spot.

On vault, Wang Yan and Liu Jinru qualified 1-2, both performing their Rudi and Tsuk 2/1 combos. (Apparently you guys really don’t like the term Kas 1/1, though it is the more accurate reflection of the technique used. Yes, it’s a MAG term. But…so is Tsuk. I get scolded either way, so I’m not too bothered.)

On bars, Fan Yilin qualified first, well in front of the rest of the group. That’s a critical result in helping to make her case. If Wang Yan is one of the AAers, then China will definitely need to take a medal-contending bars specialist to worlds (because otherwise what’s even the point), and Fan is reestablishing herself as the top nominee.

I heard at nationals that this dismount (which Riley McCusker also performs) has been reevaluated to a D. It used to be an E. Continue reading Things Are Happening – September 1, 2017

The Wolf Turns of Nationals, 2017 Edition

Another year, another batch of wolf turns to find hilarious.

Mastering screwing up a wolf turn is a strange, particular art. The ways the wolf turn can go wrong are unceasingly numerous and intricate, each layer of fiascos more complex than the last. Much like an onion. Because you’re already crying.

And so we begin this year’s countdown of the best wolf turns nationals had to offer.

#10: The “Just a Li’l Bit of Barf”

A triple wolf turn is enough to make even the most experienced sailors hurl off starboard.

Better out than in.

#9: The Texas Dreams “Stand and Deliver”

There’s no need to bow afterward, ma’am.

If I squat at the end, it’s like I was squatting the whole time.

Inching up into in a wall sit and scooting around is for credit!

How many turns was that? Two? Four? When should I stop and stand up…AHH TOO LATE THERE’S NO TIME. Continue reading The Wolf Turns of Nationals, 2017 Edition

Things Are Happening – August 25, 2017

A. Tabitha Time

Stanford was ready. Less than two weeks after announcing that Kristen Smyth has been sent to a farm upstate with lots of open areas to run around, Stanford revealed that the prodigal daughter is set to return. Tabitha Yim has left Arizona after two seasons to take the head coaching job at Stanford. Yippee hooray!

It’s not a surprising move in that Tabitha is basically the most important thing to come out of Stanford since [insert important science reference I’m too lazy to Wikipedia here]. She was a star athlete at Stanford, became assistant coach, struck off to get her feet wet as a head coach elsewhere, championed smart changes to the sport, and now has returned to lead Stanford to glory (?) (TBD).

Her life experience as “broken elite who didn’t make the Olympics and then put herself back together mentally and physically and redefined herself as an NCAA star” should also resonate in coaching and recruiting. That’s like Stanford’s main demo. Plus, Tabitha’s track record in improving Arizona’s attendance (below) in the two years she was there provides a faint glow of optimism that she might make it a priority to step up Stanford’s marketing and attendance, at least from 0 to 1.

The issue I see arising is that it’s not exactly the fresh start many had called for. This isn’t Stanford wiping the slate clean after Kristen. Tabitha was Kristen’s assistant coach for five seasons, saw it all, and is very much part of that old guard. Will a team that was unhappy with Kristen accept Tabitha as bringing a real change of culture and environment?

For Arizona, there’s REALLY not enough time now before the year starts to search for a brand new head coach, so they have already announced that John Court’s blazers will be the interim head coach.

B. Russian Cup

Good old Russian Cup, getting Russian fans’ hopes up so that they can be cruelly dashed at worlds since 1842.

This year’s Russian Cup is being held directly on the heels of US Nationals, mostly so that Valentina can be like, “MINE TOO. Also this, my gymnasts over here.” As is typical with Russian Cup, an unclear and indecipherable level of Valentina Bonus has been in effect depending on the day and (probably) how much she hates the gymnast who’s going, so this competition isn’t really about the accuracy of the scores.

Also, I’m starting a vodka company called Valentina Bonus. It’s going to be undrinkable. Continue reading Things Are Happening – August 25, 2017

We Need to Talk about Worlds

By way of a recap of the second day of women’s nationals, I’m just going to talk about the worlds team. Because that’s more fun.

Item #1: Ragan Smith is a lock

We know this. Smith won the national championship comfortably, is the top all-arounder the US has right now, and is the current favorite to become the world champion in 2017. She did her job at nationals, showing her upgrades with zero misses and just one wobbleburger across eight routines. She’s fine.

Item #2: The second all-arounder

Unlike the US men, who are best suited focusing on event medals even if the team itself is a little…huh?, the US women will be expected not only to win the all-around but to snatch two of the three medals, which happened in every AA final of the last quad. And then Larisa Iordache wins the other medal and everyone goes home happy. Done and done.

The surprise of nationals came from Jordan Chiles suddenly standing up (and accidentally going around three times) to take second place. She has improved tremendously across the three competitions we’ve seen from her this summer and has risen to take a place for herself in the second-AAer conversation, which she wasn’t even really in before nationals.

Also putting together a significantly hit performance was Riley McCusker, who went 8 for 8 to temporarily erase American Cup and Classic from our goldfish brains. SHE’S THE MOST CONSISTENT EVER.

McCusker finished third, but that’s a bit misleading. She would have finished second had FIG vault values been used at this competition. The FTY is a 4.6, but the US awards seniors only 4.4 for an FTY because of “Pull your ass together and stop doing baby trash, love Valeri and Rhonda” or something. Those extra four tenths would have put her into second over Chiles.

The expected upgrade back to a DTY for selection camp (presumably also aiming for her 6.1 D on beam instead of the 5.6 from nationals) keeps McCusker in a favored position for the second AA spot. She still has to show it and hit it—the DTY is not the most comfortable skill for her—but she does lead the conversation despite the rankings from nationals. The difference now is that she has company, and it’s not the company we expected it to be. If Chiles had hit her vault on the second day of nationals, she would have been at 57 in the all-around, which is not a casual score to beat. McCusker has to upgrade and hit at selection camp because the pressure will be on. She can’t cruise to an AA spot. Continue reading We Need to Talk about Worlds

Women’s Day 1 – In Review (Memoriam?)

Well, that wasn’t too helpful. Or maybe it was. I suppose that all depends on what you were thinking about the worlds team to begin with.

The general consensus seems to be that it’s not an amazing crop of seniors this year. There are exceptions to that at the very top, of course, but for the most part the juniors managed to outshine the seniors with more gymnasts showing an internationally competitive level of form, precision, and confidence. We also saw a surprising number of fulls on vault for US senior elites. This ain’t no 2007, people.

The GAGE juniors were at their first nationals, which is typically the “figuring out how things go” kind of nationals, and yet they were brilliant, stealing the show in terms of form, comfort with their routines, and use of “I just hit a routine and it makes me FURIOUS” face. The mid-range seniors, while typically showing more difficulty, were not as polished as the juniors. This difference is normal for a post-Olympic year, when there’s not a Simone or a Nastia who has turned senior.

  • Ragan Smith of course came out of the first day in the best shape, recording the top AA score of the year with a 57.400, despite having just a normal, OK, fine-with-a-wonky beam kind of day. She can expect to go higher for day 2.
  • Which brings us to: The beam scoring was wackadoo. Overall, the scoring didn’t seem out of control, but the execution scores on beam did create some odd rankings and were higher than what I hope we’ll see at worlds this year.
  • TD changed Smith’s floor music to be less racist! Hooray! Because that was even a situation! If you’re not up on the issue, the floor music Smith used in podium training opened with “Dixie.” Yada yada yada, it no longer opens with “Dixie.” Kim recut that music quick. Which was a good call. Although this really shouldn’t have been a situation in the first place. Do your research. Know what your music is.
  • Our presumed race between McCusker and Hurd for the second all-around position didn’t really come off, did it? McCusker was one of the few who will be happy with her performance on day 1: four hit routines and a comfortable 2nd-place in the AA despite vaulting only a full. With a repeat on day 2, she would solidify a worlds case. We shall see. I’m of course still worried she’s going to shatter into a million pieces every time she moves, but you know. Elite.
  • Jade Carey’s Amanar fall raised some concerns. The question for her heading into the meet was whether hitting at an international level was going to be an every-time thing. Because of that fall, she hasn’t answered that question in the affirmative yet. It’s just one meet, but Classic was also just one meet. To me, we’re still kind of getting an “incomplete” for Jade Carey on vault. BUT, Carey managed a very good floor score – despite what seemed a weaker routine than she showed at Classic overall because nothing matters – so inconsistency with hitting vaults may not matter too much because her floor combined with the possibility of vault looks to be more than the others have to offer for that spot. Still, watch the day 2 vaults. The score is 1-to-1 so far.
  • Ashton Locklear did not show her inbars, as she told us she wouldn’t. As long as she doesn’t show those skills, that means Shchennikova is still in the picture for bars (she fell on beam again like at Classic but was bumped down the rankings this time because of people actually doing the AA), though that position for Shchennikova will change if Locklear brings full D to selection camp. She’s quite close to Shchennikova as is, even with her downgraded routine. If Locklear doesn’t bring the upgrades by selection, then a number of different permutations open up, including by not limited to bringing Shchennikova to worlds for bars, or not stressing about a bars spot altogether.
  • Trinity Thomas is perfect. She was quite excellent on beam as the resident “nobody is allowed to do leaps but Trinity” of the US seniors, also receiving a big score on floor despite a couple short landings. Her low difficulty on vault—along with her crazy Pak on bars—kept her down in 5th, which is still a good all-around result for her, though she would be in 4th place if not for the arbitrary “doing a Yurchenko full” penalty that is imposed on the D score.
  • The fun game of the weekend has been trying to find ways to get Trinity Thomas onto the worlds team, though you have to do some significant logical contortions to get there. Right now, she’s not among the top-2 AAers, and her showcase events are beam (which won’t be a priority for specialists if the two AAers are Smith and McCusker because they’re two beamers already) and floor (where she’d be competing with Carey for a spot, Carey with the added argument of vault in her corner). May wishing make it so.
  • I enjoyed seeing Jordan Chiles get third in the AA. That’s the kind of placement she’s capable of getting when she hits four events. Vault and bars were quite clean, and she smartly toned down the attempted leaps on floor (scoring better than Classic despite weaker landings), and…get this…hit beam! The split full on beam needs to go, ideally replaced by a lower-difficulty dance element connected to a B to get series bonus. Chiles is not fitting into a worlds picture, but it was a strong improvement from Classic.
  • The best-fall award went to Leah Clapper for straddling the beam on her layout stepout series, grasping on for dear life by the legs, and then doggedly attempting to hoist herself back onto the beam for 78 minutes. Add it to the highlight reel.
  • Victoria Nguyen was not ready to compete here, with falls or as-good-as-falls on every event. She didn’t look like she was competing injured necessarily, just not ready to hit routines. She did perfect the one-armed release catch on bars, though.
  • Marz Frazier did not show us the Amanar that we were promised (ME WANT AMANAR), but she is much improved over previous seasons (if only “most improved” weren’t such a condescending award) and has turned herself into a competitive senior elite in the all-around.
  • Marissa Oakley on bars was a real highlight. Such nice toes, very composed, hit routine with a Fabrichnova dismount.
  • Simone and Laurie literally killed small children with their sheer presences when they walked by. It was definitely what a murder sounds like. 
  • Macready gonna Macready. The “blindfold young girls and make them snatch around the floor for hygiene products” apparently went so well at Trials that it’s back now. Great. 
  • As is frequently the case, floor music is less trashy in person when you have other things to be distracted by and aren’t really paying attention. I’m not saying it’s great; I’m saying I didn’t cut my own ears off. Emily Gaskins is the most compelling performer of the seniors right now by a landslide. She’s the one who makes you miss more important routines because you’re watching her floor. 
  • If you hit your routine and you aren’t Ragan Smith, you got an 8.1 E. Even if you’re Deanne Soza. 
  • We’re waiting on the juniors. O’Keefe and Malabuyo are ready to take over. Those two had the best meets of anyone, junior or senior. Even though they scored lower than Smith, they hit closer to their potential peaks.


P&G Championships Preview – The Seniors

The seniors understand the importance of maintaining a little mystery. After Classic, we still have a number of routines we’re waiting to see and a couple questions that must be answered so that we can put together a presumptive worlds team heading into the selection camp portion of the season. Let’s get to it.

Note: I’ll be at nationals in the stands with the rest of the peasants (which means I won’t be live blogging).

The title

There were moments this year when it seemed the race for best female gymnast in the US might actually be up for grabs for the first time in a quad, but the upgrades and level of preparation Ragan Smith showed on bars and beam at Classic reflect a gymnast who is rising toward world-beating level. While her closest competitors are attempting to return from injury and simply maintain their previous levels, Smith is performing at a rung above.

We haven’t seen vault or floor from Smith since American Cup, but as long as she shows up with the same routines (or upgrades) and hits six or seven of her eight sets at nationals, she should be the national champion and should record the highest AA score in the world so far this year, a mark which currently sits at 57.225. Very doable.

The second AAer

Beyond Smith’s own ability, the other reason she’s currently a clear favorite to become national champion is the injury status of her closest competitors. They’re not at full strength right now, but that also means they should have an exciting race among themselves to see who gets the (potentially temporary) seat as the other member of the all-around oligarchy. Continue reading P&G Championships Preview – The Seniors

P&G Championship Preview – The Juniors

The simplest preview of the competition at junior nationals is just Classic…but again.

Because the juniors tend to be farther along in their preparations by Classic (aiming to peak for nationals rather than for worlds/selection camp) and because their young bodies have not yet been destroyed by the harsh sands of time forcing them to skip most apparatuses at most competitions, the junior Classic acts as a far better predictor of what will happen at nationals than the senior Classic does.

For the most part, we’ve seen the routines we’re going to see.

The title

It was Emma Malabuyo who blew the field away at Classic with a two-point margin of victory, which elevated her from the #3-junior status she occupied in the long-lost past of two months ago and established her as the favorite for this week’s junior national title.

The most significant development in Malabuyo’s routines was her upgraded 5.4 D on bars, a more competitive number on a piece that had been a weakness compared to the other top US juniors. Her 14.300 on floor also demonstrated that she is able to pull in a number well above her competitors (here, there, and everywhere) by actually getting credit for all her attempted leaps. A REVOLUTION.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be smooth sailing at nationals. Maile O’Keefe isn’t going anywhere. O’Keefe ended up being the closest to catching Malabuyo at Classic (you know, just a casual two points behind), but that performance included a fall on beam and going over on a handstand/recasting on bars. Continue reading P&G Championship Preview – The Juniors

And None for Kristen Smyth, Bye

Well, we can’t say it hasn’t been coming…

Last night, at the most inconvenient possible time, Stanford announced that Kristen Smyth has “stepped down” as head coach. You know, like coaches totally normally do for perfectly normal reasons right before the school year is about to start. Nothing to see here…

She just happened to decide to step down.

I also love that they tried to bury the story on a Friday night like they think they’re in an episode of The West Wing. You’re college gymnastics, and the gymternet is seven days a week. Continue reading And None for Kristen Smyth, Bye


Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama