The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

2015 US World Championship Team

You might have heard, but some big, earth-rattling news came out today: Norah Flatley has announced for UCLA.

I can’t think of anything else that happened.

I guess there was the other tiny matter of the US World Championship team. We’ll have to muster the energy to distract ourselves from National Norah Flatley Day to think about that for a moment. In what would certainly have been a surprise earlier in the summer and would have been a pretty big surprise after nationals as well, the team is Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Douglas, Kocian, Dowell, and Skinner, with the alternate to be named as late as humanly possible. It comes as less of a surprise now after the withdrawal of Ross, the apparent natural-disaster implosion of Key, and the Spoiler Alert Roster from the end of September that told us this was the way things were leaning, though I’m still scheduling time for a sad-nap about Alyssa Baumann.

Unlike normal, it isn’t immediately clear which gymnast will be the alternate in this group, but it looks likely to be Dowell or Skinner, with Skinner making the most sense to me. I won’t entertain the blasphemy that it might be Nichols. I won’t. Skinner is usable on vault and floor, but she wasn’t top three on those events at nationals, which kept her out of all the highest-scoring team permutations as she came in behind Raisman’s Junkanar on vault and variously behind Douglas and Nichols on floor. We can hope Raisman’s Junkanar has become slightly less junky in the intervening months. Floor will be the closest battle on this team through training, and I’m sure that third TF spot won’t be decided until after qualifications.

At the same time, Dowell also didn’t make a mark on the highest-scoring team permutations at nationals either because, even on her one bars hit during the summer competition season, she scored the same as Biles and wasn’t in the top 5 on the day. The main lesson, once again, is that camp matters and Nationals…not so much. Honestly, this is as US team that probably won’t need its alternate even if an injury occurs. There will be strong, likely backups already in the 6. 

It’s a huge accomplishment for Dowell even to make the seven, a prospect I thought was iffy when she announced she was deferring (which I still question because even with making this team, the Olympics remain a very tough ask), but it ended up being a perfect confluence of events for her with Locklear not able to get her difficulty back and Kyla pulling out. Suddenly, a bars door was open and she walked right through it.

As for Bailie Key, has anyone ever gone from pre-summer lock to not-even-the-alternate so quickly without an injury? I do have to say, it was always work to try to shoehorn her into teams with a “maybe she can do bars?” argument. What became apparent at Nationals is that she isn’t necessary to the team on any event, and if consistency has become a problem, that seals it. If she’s going to have any hope for 2016 at all (dreams that were pretty much just decapitated), she needs an Amanar and they need to go back to the drawing board with that beam routine. To me, it’s a tear down. Start from scratch. She was a beam star as a junior, and she should be a top three beamer for this team right now. The fact that she isn’t close to that is a problem.

Beam. I’m hoping this roster indicates that Gabby Douglas is doing another one of her late-season beam renaissances because otherwise this team is looking a little light on beam. Maybe not light, but questionable compared to its potential score. Baumann seemed to have a chance at a beam spot because she’s capable of gaining a solid five tenths over the scores Douglas, Nichols, and Kocian were getting at nationals. To see her not among the seven tells me that a third high-14s beam score must have emerged during the camps to make any Baumann benefit negligible. Or Martha just really likes MyKayla Skinner’s company. 

If Skinner is indeed the alternate, the conversation about who goes on which events in qualification gets very interesting. Especially for Aly “I’m coming back because of unfinished business in the AA” Raisman. Watch that space in the coming weeks. It’ll be fun. Also, the US competes in qualification at a totally reasonable time for us this year. Mid-late morning (depending on where you are)! On a Saturday! What is this exciting witchcraft? 

%d bloggers like this: