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Things Are Happening – May 13, 2016


1. Liu Tingting is a thing

Charitably, in our time of devastating gymnastics need with only piddling little world cup events to keep us warm, the Chinese Nationals have arrived to save the day. Get ready to have sudden and arbitrary opinions about the Chinese gymnasts again.

For reference, all the cool kids are super into Liu Tingting right now, in case you want to seem popular. She’s like the snap-bracelets-in-1989 of Chinese gymnastics. Everyone’s wearing at least three of her. The even cooler kids were really into Luo Huan for a second, but her existence hasn’t gone great in the last few competitions, so she’s like SO a month again. Off the face of the earth! Now they’ve moved on to Lu Yufei and Zhu Xiaofang.

But, in real results that don’t have anything to do with coolness rankings, Shang Chunsong won both the TF and the AA final, obvi. She remains China’s best and sole medal-competitive AAer. I mostly hesitate to have any expectations for Shang in the AA because her vault continues to be something that wouldn’t make the lineup of a top-30 NCAA team, but with Iordache undergoing an Edward Scissorhands amount of hand surgeries (see below), the Olympic AA field is starting to look quite shallow and weak. I still expect a Russian to pull it together somehow for bronze, but if it comes down to a fight with Steingruber, Black, Downie, etc, then Shang can win AA bronze in Rio.

In more noteworthy developments, Mao Yi is a real thing now. She made the Worlds team last year, but she was sort of in the “you’re also here” part of the team with Chen Siyi, at least in my mind. The DTY she’s showing right now, however, has far superior distance and chest position to the other options, who are still a little two-inches-from-the-table/show-me-on-the-doll-where-the-mat-touched-you, just like at 2015 worlds. Even more significantly, Mao proved here that her floor is not just usable but necessary in a TF scenario.

It’s appropriate to lose yourself in that quad spin, and while routines that rely on spins for difficulty make me more than nervous, it’s not just about the spin because of the tumbling combos, and China desperately needs this “arm wave and an uncomfortable smile” of a routine.

I’m all for the 3.5+front pike trend. It’s much less objectionable than the 3/1+front tucks, which are also still here in force and are among the reasons China gets stuck down in the 8.0-8.3 execution range instead of 8.5-8.7, with the under-rotating and the coming in horizontally. I’m still not sold on the idea that the CV makes those passes worth it since they’re such deduction traps, but the connections do guard against downgraded twists.

Another future Olympian, power specialist Wang Yan, continues to be not Cheng Fei at all, disappointing everyone. WHY AREN’T YOU CHENG FEI???

Also, this happened.

I would say Adi Pop phoned this one in, but that would be disrespectful to phones.

Palate cleanser:

So obviously this can never see the light of day.

On what seems to be China’s presumptive Olympic team (2015 worlds minus Chen Siyi), Wang would be required to do beam in TF, which is not heart-healthy cuisine. That’s one of the reasons people have started to look at Liu Tingting as a vitamin supplement and as a shiny new toy to play with while we ignore those haggard old 18-year-olds we’re SO tired of.

She has a cool acro series, relatively competitive difficulty, and better style than we’ve come to expect from Chinese beam lately. It’s not ideal, as exemplified by that mid-routine attack of vertigo for no reason, but she can put up an acceptable performance. On the flip side, she landed her AA-final DTY in the shape of a rhombus, so that’s not great.

Fan Yilin has done well to make herself more than a He Kexin one-event pony, upgrading to a difficult beam routine that the team will actually want to use rather than resign itself to using. She fell on bars in the team competition, connecting her pak directly into HELL NO BYE, but she has accrued enough bars status as a glorious unicorn (and the team’s best bars worker) that one fall will matter exactly zero.

In worse news, Yao Jinnan attempted to come back at this meet, and we’ll just pretend it never happened and never speak of it again.

2. JO Nationals, cliff-notes version.

The competition concluded last weekend (results), and USAG is populating youtube with a whole host of videos that will be very helpful come NCAA-preparation times.

It’s a lot of videos, but here are the highlights I’ve come across so far that you should probably know about, with primary attention paid to 2017 NCAA gymnasts. If this were a Buzzfeed article, it would be called 10 Must-Watch Videos from JO Nationals Beyonce Slay.

1. Your new favorite Alabama floor worker. (Although, Kim Z’s background body language is the #1 highlight of this routine.)

2. Here’s Cassidy Keelen showing off Cal’s new anchor beam routine.

3. Dear Rachel Dickson, please get in that Georgia beam lineup yesterday.

4. Taylor Houchin introduces all of Nebraska to her beam splits.

5. This routine will make Tom Farden very happy.

6. How soon can you get to Palo Alto? Please don’t say 2018.

7. Shut up, you beauty.

8. Just LSU things.

9. Don’t hate me for my stuck DTY.

10. Also, 16-month-old Jaymes Marshall’s Shawn-manar

3. Ponor (and Iordache?)

In case you were worried that Romania’s general disastrousness and old-soup-can-where-a-gymnast-should-be team situation would mean we’d be deprived of Romanian selection OMGDRAHMS this time around, you were wrong.

First, we heard this week that Iordache was having Hand Surgery 2: Bitang’s Revenge that would keep her out of the Olympics, news which has since been denied by that paragon of transparency, the Romanian Gymnastics Federation, which has stated that all gymnasts are totally still in the running. Mmmhmm. They’re definitely sending Maria Holbura.

Either way, things aren’t looking great. Obviously. Iordache is still not healthy two-and-a-half months out of the Olympics, and Ponor is a three-event gymnast. Oh wait, sorry. She’s doing giants now. SHE’LL WIN ALL-AROUND SILVER.

Why is Ponor training vault and bars, exactly? Even if she gets the spot, is it really realistic to think of her as an AAer now? No. It isn’t. Wouldn’t her time be better spent perfecting beam and getting floor back, two events where she could still make a final, rather than on a wild goose chase for the AA? Crazy pills.

The only way Romania salvages even a shred of anything this year is with an Olympic medal. A healthy Iordache could medal in the AA, but if it is indeed Ponor going, beam is her best shot. They’d need to put all their eggs in Ponor’s beam basket.

4. More Penn State

Another week, another article about how awful Penn State is.

This time, Sam Muhleman Brown is coming forward to explain why she worked with the program for 11 seconds and then quit because of its intense horribleness (you know, like people do in programs where there’s nothing wrong). She blows up the party line expressed in every single “anonymous” comment that these gymnasts are just bitter and lazy and didn’t want to put in the work to be college athletes.

“You hear in the media, ‘These are just sour grapes,’ said Brown, who spent just six months as a PSU assistant. “But I experienced it. I was a Division I college athlete. I know what it takes to be successful at that level, and I know what’s going on is wrong.”

She also reinforces what we already knew, that this “ongoing evaluation” is a nonsense farce because the school, you know, hasn’t even talked to her about what happened.

I don’t understand what Penn State gains from letting this drag on, especially while providing only canned, vague, disingenuous drivel as a response. There’s no way this ends well for them. At this point, what recruit is going to look at Penn State and say, “Ah yes, that program with weekly articles about how toxic and abusive the coaching environment is. That’s the one I want. I, too, hope I can contemplate suicide and take prescription drugs I don’t need!” You can’t base an entire roster strategy around people who got kicked out of SEC programs.

5. Olympic Draw

The Olympic draw was also announced last weekend, giving the Chinese women the joy of starting on beam in the first subdivision for the second time in the last three Olympics. BUT NOW THEY WON’T MAKE EVENT FINALS. (Yes, they will. It’s China.)

Overall, it’s a welcome draw on both sides. The major teams are spread out, resulting in very few clunker, nap-time subdivisions. For the men, Japan and Brazil are in 1, the US and Great Britain are in 2, and China and Russia are in 3. For the women, there’s China in 1, Russia and the ROU/SUI mixed group in 2, Great Britain and Brazil in 3, the US/Netherlands in 4, and Canada/Japan in 5.

The US teams have been given very convenient midday times, with the men’s qualification group running right up into, but not overlapping with, the USWNT’s much-anticipated group match against France. Couldn’t have planned it better myself. We’ll make a whole day of it. YAY OLYMPICS.

6. American Classic

Qualification to this summer’s events for the non-specials (predominately those who haven’t already achieved the necessary qualifying score at a national team camp) is taking place today at the ranch as the second-tier juniors and seniors try to get their qualifying scores to the various bigger shows. It’s the Christina Desiderios, and Morgan Hurds, and Lauren Navarros. Jaymes Marshall, of the above Amanar, is also there to be all Amanary, as is Irina Alexeeva, the WOGA gymnast who turned heads at JO Nationals a couple years ago when everyone was like, “HER NAME IS RUSSIAN SHE’S MY FAVORITE.”

We’ll see how it turns out. It’s the first cut of many we’ll experience this summer. And it’s not the deepest.

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