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.
YOU MEAN SIMONE HAS THE HIGHEST D SCORE IN THE LAND???
(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?
Olympic-selection may come down to picking five based on the other events and just assuming there will be a usable third floor worker in there, because there will be.
In terms of Classic performance, however, many many people will be looking to assert themselves as more Raismany and less pelotony to change the script. But unless you’re a clear #3, floor cannot be used to make an argument.
Among the challengers, floor will be critical for Skinner in determining where she sits right now. Is she Tier 2 (possible alternate material) or Tier 3 (just making up the numbers at trials)? Right now, she’s borderline, largely because she has been caught in the difficulty department by so many others and no longer claim crazy-high difficulty as her exclusive jam.
These floor difficulties are also a good reminder that Jazmyn Foberg and Bailie Key are people in spite of falling off the radar of our mayfly attention spans. Simply making it to trials is going to be a fight this year, and it’s truly no guarantee for either. Only the top eight AA at nationals are promised a spot at trials, and the rest must be invited. Martha does not invite a lot of people to her parties. Fourteen went in 2012, but that year included a lot of non-AAers who had to be included like Liukin, Li, Sacramone, and Bross. This year will have fewer specialists (unless injuries…), so it doesn’t necessarily have to be fourteen again. Being competitive on floor with Nichols/Hernandez/etc would help the cause for those who don’t make the top 8.
You’re not going to get all those connections.
Still, a clear group of six has already established itself as the US’s potential Olympic beamers as those top six (sorry, Alyssa, let’s just focus on making trials) have the difficulty to get a viable score, but other than Simone, nothing is settled on beam.
One beam characteristic we have to get used to this quad is the change in Raisman’s status. She does not inhabit the same “she needs to go because she’s a rock” position this time around. She has looked much more tentative on beam than she did in the 2012 quad and doesn’t always get enough CV to make up for lapses in execution. Her position is not secure.
Beam will be Hernandez’s most important event at Classic. She’s the US’s second-best beamer right now, but she’ll need to prove this summer that a Hernandez beam has a definite advantage over a Douglas beam or a Nichols beam (or a Raisman beam) to make that matter, a “the team needs her” advantage, not just a “she got second by .150” advantage. The same is probably true for Smith because beam is also her best event, although she’s lower down the depth chart than Hernandez.
The difficulty is pretty equivalent among all five of these non-Biles contenders, so can the new guard out-execution the old guard? And by enough margin to get a team spot because of beam?
Ah, the question of the bars specialist. Our favorite topic.
BUT DOES THE US NEED A BARS SPECIALIST????
Looking at the D is particularly helpful in this case. Kocian leads the way with a very useful 6.6,
But let’s say the US didn’t want to take a bars-only gymnast. Then, the US would have to replace her routine with someone else in the 6.0-6.1 Biles/Hernandez/Nichols territory in TF. Since execution is pretty consistent across this group, anyone taking a spot away from Kocian/Bars-Specialist would need to provide the team with more than five new tenths across the other events to justify that decision. Who could bring that?
As it stands now, the best-scoring US team would include one of the 6.5-6.6 bars specialists, BUT WHO? Ah, the fight will be thrilling. Kocian v. Locklear. Summer 2016. Pay-Per-View. Kocian as the default from 2015 Worlds with the slightly higher D, Locklear as…the one who’s healthy right now. Both compelling arguments.
The others hoping to get into the fight would be Dowell and Gowey, though they would need help from the others in the form of injuries and mental collapses because they’re currently on the outside looking in. Dowell used to have the D edge going for her, but she has downgraded to a 6.5 lately in the hope of gaining some consistency, which didn’t exactly pan out at Pac Rims. Gowey might be healthy sometime in the next millennium. Classic is wildly critical for both to try get into the bars mix somehow and break up the Kocian/Locklear-fest.
Of course, the ideal three bars workers for the US at the Olympics with no other considerations would be Douglas, Kocian, and Locklear all together. It’s not happening, but I will say it’s not completely ridiculous. If Douglas were to show up with an Amanar and a TF-able floor (big if), she, Biles, and Raisman could theoretically cover the other events and make it work.
Much more likely, those top four bars specialists will be slugging it out for one oh-so-coveted spot.
So much depends upon an Amanar.
The US has enough theoretical Amanars, with four different ones shown in the past year and the potential one from Douglas, but other than Biles, each of them is drowning in question marks.
Much of team selection discussion at this point seems to be coming down to the Nichols/Hernandez Throwdown of ’16: Rumble in the Hair Ribbon Aisle, and vault would be the most decisive event in that battle. A Nichols Amanar would negate a Hernandez beam advantage, but then again, Nichols tore her meniscus training that Amanar and is in a race to get back at all, let alone get that vault back. Without an Amanar, Nichols becomes quite expendable.
The twist would be if Douglas gets her Amanar back, a vault which has been concealed behind a year-long cloak of “IS SHE GOING TO DO IT THIS TIME?” mystery. A Douglas Amanar would be very good news for Hernandez and very bad news for Nichols, since it would direct the Nicholsnandez Throwdown onto other events and make vault somewhat moot.
That is, as long as Raisman’s Amanar is usable, which is far from a given. Her vault is an egg-beater at the best of times and has been a little fallsy so far this year. That’s what makes this so complicated. We can make all the prognostications we want about who should fill out the last few spots on the team, but we’re in “E) Not enough information provided to solve the problem” territory until we see the state of the summer Amanars.
And then there’s One-Armed Willy, with her Cheng and much-improved Amanar. She (along with any other Amanar Pipe-Dreamer out there) is desperately hoping Nichols and Douglas can’t manage to show up this summer with perfected Amanars. That would make a number of other gymnasts suddenly seem a lot more useful.