Secret Classic Preview

It’s happening. No turning back now.

Secret Classic. This Saturday. The biggest little competition in gymnastics. I say that because classic isn’t really…important. It doesn’t matter who wins. If you screw it up royally, you can still become world champion later that year. And the popular kids totally only do bars and beam, anyway.

For reference, if we look back to 2012 Secret Classic, Douglas did three events and messed up beam, Wieber did two events and messed up bars, Anna Li fell on bars, and Ebee had several natural disasters on both beam and floor, all of which we remembered exactly zero percent once we got to nationals and trials when it was ALTERNATE SPOTS FOR EVERYONE. So, I would caution against reading too much into the inevitable falls we’ll see at classic. People can (and do) come back from them later in the summer.

At the same time, this competition will set the tone for the composition choices we’ll see this year (if you have an upgrade, it needs to be shown yesterday), which will better separate realistic from unrealistic team permutations and clarify who are the favorites versus the challengers.

It’s also just plain exciting because OLYMPIC SEASON YOU GUYS. Classic is the beginning of the end of this journey…

Oh no. No. I feel a fluff piece coming on. Can’t stop it. Run. Save yourself.

“It begins [PAUSE] as a dream. [CHALK BUCKET. ADJUSTING GRIPS TO INDICATE HARD WORK.] But for five young women [PAUSE] what was once no more than a fleeting fantasy [BLURRY BLACK-AND-WHITE FILTER OVER THE CHEERING CROWDS OF GABBY’S 2012 WIN], is just a few short weeks from reality. [COLOR AND RESOLUTION RESTORED. COPACABANA BEACH.] Rio de Janeiro. [CHRIST THE REDEEMER STATUE.] All those long nights, spent bathed in golden dreams of a land called Rio, come down to this. [TIME LAPSE OF ARENA FILLING UP. WATCHFUL EYES OF MARTHA KAROLYI] A vault. [MARONEY’S 2012] A stick. [SIMONE STICKING THE BILES] …A lifetime. [BACK TO THE GYM. SOLITARY FIGURE REMOVES TAPE IN THE CORNER AS THE LIGHTS TURN OFF.]”

OK, now that we’ve got that out of my system, for the hour at least, here are a few of the routines and people I’m most interested by and will have the keenest vulture eyes on during Saturday’s Secret Classic.

1. The Gabbanar and the Raismanar

So much of the team composition (whether Hernandez or Nichols is better suited to help the team, whether a bars specialist is required to up the D score), will be decided by how many people have viable Amanars. Nothing that occurs this weekend will be more critical than the State of the Amanars Address.

There’s no guarantee that everyone will do every event, especially the leg events, but I have to think that Proof of Amanar is among the top priorities for all the top non-Simones. Nichols isn’t competing, meaning we’ll have to wait to see where she is on her vault journey (it begins as a dream…), but Raisman and Douglas can set the vaulting tone. Continue reading Secret Classic Preview

Euros 2016: Meldonium? I don’t know her.

Maybe the meldonium was the problem the whole time. THEORY.

This weekend saw the conclusion of European Championship Episode 1: You Only Want Me For My Chest Muscles, featuring the men’s team and event finals.

-In the team competition, the Russian men began their (allegedly) post-meldonium (allegedly) era (allegedly) in a blaze of wondrous glory as it seems that Nikolai’s morning meldonium was how Valentina had been delivering her witch’s hex potion to the team this whole time. Now free from this heinous curse, the Russians were finally able to throw off their shackles and transform into a nostalgia-inspiring and largely unrecognizable flurry of…like…good. Lots of good. Hitting 18-for-18 good.

-Russia might as well have rolled into the team final wearing those weird masquerade-ball masks with the huge beak because I don’t even know who was waltzing with us this weekend. Nikolai with the good hair hit all his routines, Belyavskiy landed a vault (with his feet no less!), and Abliazin only Abliazined once on floor. (I feel like he also may have stepped out of bounds randomly before one of his passes, but whatever. Abliazin things.) It was remarkable. We’ll never see its equal. Seriously. So I hope you’re proud of using up your hit for the year already, Russia.

-Following qualification, it was clear that Great Britain would have needed a hefty dose of splatty-splatty-bang-bang from Russia to win this thing, and Russia did not acquiesce, leaving Great Britain with a perfectly respectable silver after its own solid performance. All the Brits pretty much hit to their capabilities, improving on the team total from qualification, but GB did not have the difficulty to best a Russian performance that would have made things challenging even for a Whitlocked British team.

-As expected, the battle for third came down to Switzerland and Ukraine, and it appeared that Switzerland had opened the door for Ukraine when the sheer gravitational pull of Pablo Braegger’s earring sent him careering sideways into a brick wall on vault, followed by Oliver Hegi taking a page from Greg Marsden’s book and making a very good case for four-on-the-floor as he dismounted high bar.

-Braegger should take some advice from Belyavskiy, who has worked very hard to adjust his earring technique, and it clearly paid off on his team final vault.

-These Swiss falls would have given Ukraine at least an opportunity to snatch that bronze, but then poor old Igor lurched up to high bar and said, “NO THANK YOU PLEASE,” scoring a handful of loose change and taking Ukraine right out of the medal hunt. There was no coming back from that disaster, and Oleg’s own minor catastrophe on floor simply sealed Switzerland’s ultimately gigantic margin for the bronze.  Continue reading Euros 2016: Meldonium? I don’t know her.

Things Are Happening – May 27, 2016

1. Some European gentlemen are here

Qualification has concluded at Boy European Championships, and as expected, Russia and Great Britain qualified well ahead of the rest of the field and will be fighting it out on Saturday to see who can take the moodiest team selfie. I mean…win a gold medal? Or something?

The title probably should have been Great Britain’s to lose, but following the withdrawal of Max Whitlock, the Fightin’ Faded Empires have had to put up a few D scores in the 5.8-6.0 range that they wouldn’t normally have expected to use. So, in spite of a qualification performance much cleaner and less Russiay than Russia’s, Great Britain trails by seven tenths and, in the team final, will need to rely on Russia to be very Russiay in several of the most Russian places in order to come away with the title.

Team Oleg and Team Pablo Braegger’s Earring also emerged from qualification within a reasonable range of each other and should duel for bronze. Meanwhile, Romania got a 1 on high bar and will be using Ponor from here on out.

In event news, there will be no Hungarians in the pommel horse final, no Germans in the HBar final, and Stepko didn’t make PBars, so…what is this world? Verniaiev made four events finals, just missing rings and pommel horse because they’re the stupidest. Denis Abliazin also missed out on the floor final after going OOB, because of course he did. If gymnasts could get deductions named after themselves, a 0.3 neutral deduction for going out of bounds on floor would be the Abliazin.

Also, we really need to start naming deductions. “She hits the Jaeger, but will get a Raisman.” “The judges will deduct for Chelle Stack on those back handsprings.”

In the junior event, One-Direction-haired little cherub Giarnni Regini-Moran continued being New Tom Daley and is really forcing us to have to try to remember how to spell his first name by nearly Bilesing the field to win the all-around.

2. The Classic roster of secrets

Fitting its name, the announcement of the Secret Classic roster was shrouded in mystery yesterday when shortly after its release, both Bailie Key and Norah Flatley were quietly removed from the list. Conspiracy. Government denies knowledge. The truth is out there. Continue reading Things Are Happening – May 27, 2016

Checking Out Some D – Classic Edition

Here we stand, firmly on the edge of the Olympic summer, a week away from one of the most anticipated days on the US gymnastics calendar, Secret Classic podium training. The moment of truth for every weird twitter upgrade rumor and composition question swirling around the US arsenal.

At this point in the year, the D situation usually remains shrouded in mystery, but with all the Pac Rims and Jesolos and actually-going-to-world-cups in 2016, this time we have a slightly better sense of what everyone is planning to compete. That allows for a somewhat more credible assessment of team chances and, more critically, what upgrades and performances we need to see at Classic for certain people to solidify or improve their standings in the national team hierarchy.

I’ve taken the US senior elites’ current difficulty and arranged the Ds by size, and at this point it should become clear that this whole exercise is simply an elaborate excuse to make a bunch of tired and infantile D jokes.

For this purpose, “current” difficulty means the highest awarded in competition in the last twelve months. I did, however, remove the stick bonuses from domestic Ds because of UGH, so hopefully these D scores are a little more realistic than actual reality.

Let’s begin with the overall picture.



(I’m counting the Amanar for Simone, not the Cheng, since that will still be her #1 vault, but with Skinner…do we know which way she’s leaning?)

This is the moment for the official disclaimer that I’m well aware that D is only part of the package. If we were to put together the five US gymnasts who would contribute the highest cumulative difficulty at the Olympics, it would be this (for the moment).


I don’t think you’ll get all that many people arguing that this should be the ultimate Olympic team.

But, a competitive D is an essential component if a gymnast is hoping to contribute on an event in the Olympics, so let’s break it down by apparatus.



As has been borne out by both difficulty and overall scores during the past year, Biles and Raisman remain the US’s essential floor workers.

Floor is Raisman’s primary (and some might argue sole) justification for a spot on an Olympic team at this point in her career, but in terms of confirming her status this summer, Raisman must retain a serious multi-tenth edge over all non-Biles floor workers. If other people start wiggling into a reasonable proximity to Raisman on floor, we might start looking at other team compositions that could gain back those couple tenths elsewhere.

Nichols was the #3 floorsy last year, but there’s a large peloton of very similar contenders in the low-6 D range, so no one else is really making a serious impact crater on floor. From Skinner at position #3 in the above list all the way down to Hernandez in position #9, will there be all that much difference in score? Continue reading Checking Out Some D – Classic Edition