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.
Interestingly, Raisman’s Amanar has never actually been used in a team final. She vaulted the DTY at worlds in 2010 and 2011 and didn’t vault in the team final in 2012 or 2015. Still, her Amanar may be needed this year, and if she lands well enough she can prove her status as reasonably TF-able. (Anything over 15.300 ensures that it’s going to outscore an excellent DTY, so that’s the number to watch.)
Douglas’s Amanar is like the werewolf of gymnastics: it only appears during the full moon and may or may not be a figment of your imagination. We’ve been hearing how close it is for a year now, but at some point we’ll need to see it, even if it’s just the work-in-progress version we met on the first day of nationals in 2012.
In 2012, Douglas hit a good Amanar at the American Cup, but she didn’t hit another good one until the second day of nationals.
At this point, Douglas and Raisman are on the team in dry-erase marker (the official stability-status ranking goes pen, dry-erase marker, colored pencil, crayon, pencil, white-out), but if they’re both showing usable vaults, that means the remaining spots on the team can be decided by the other events, not vault. Maggie Nichols needs Gabby to be vaulting a DTY to provide her with an opening onto the team if she gets her own Amanar back.
2. Kocian Watch 2016
Who is the chosen bars specialist? At least until next week? Ah, questions, questions. Kocian held that status in 2015, but then she got injured because she’s Madison Kocian and of course she did. Without Kocian, Ashton Locklear stepped back in as the bars specialist du jour and the inevitable Shiny New Toy syndrome took over.
Now, Kocian will attempt to return from her lifetime of injuries, and her bars performance versus Locklear’s will be telling, the first direct comparison of the country’s top two bars specialists in nearly two years.
3. The all-around
With two days of nationals and two days of trials still to come, it’s reasonable to think that the people who don’t need to prove anything (Simone and no one), or who are already hanging on by a thread (everyone), might take it easy this weekend. (In 2012, Raisman and Ross were the only team members to do AA at classic.)
Raisman always does every event at every meet because of leg muscles, so she’ll do six all-arounds before breakfast, but depending on what Douglas and Biles decide to compete, this may still be an opportunity for someone like Laurie Hernandez to snatch an unexpected win and make her case for a second all-around spot that is still very much up for grabs among the likes of Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, and Hernandez.
Which brings me to…
4. Laurie Hernandez beam
Mostly because I’m 98% obsessed with it. We know this routine is impressive, but we still have to determine whether it is a luxury or a necessity.
At Jesolo this year, Hernandez scored .350 better than Raisman and .550 better than Douglas on beam, and if she repeats that feat, that could go a long way in making the argument that the team gains enough from her beam that it’s worth taking her for that piece rather than focusing on that third floor routine or a janky Amanar.
5. That third floor routine
If we assume Biles and Raisman will do floor at the Olympics, and as yet there’s no reason not to assume that, we’re left with one floor spot open to be won. My instinct is that the other three events will be more decisive in determining the fourth and fifth team spots, but perhaps someone can surprise. I’ll be watching the floor standings to see if anyone separates herself.
At least by enough to keep herself in consideration, like a Skinner, or enough to throw herself into the mix, like a Foberg. Foberg doesn’t have one standout asset for the team like Hernandez does on beam, but her peak floor difficulty is quite competitive with (or better than) the other contenders, so a high floor finish at classic could throw her back on the radar, at least at Ragan Smith levels.
6. The WTFU
A hallowed and sacred part of every Secret Classic is the WTF upgrade (or “What the fupgrade”), the terrible, terrible idea that someone came up with to increase D score that will never be landed, never receive credit in a bajillion years, and never see the light of day ever again after Saturday. I’m just excited to find out who gets the honor this year. Bets?
7. Is anyone challenging the big 7?
And this is item #7! SEE WHAT I DID???????
For as much talk as there is about this Olympic selection being more uncertain than it was in 2012 (and I do agree with that), the most realistic teams seem to revolve around the same tiny group of seven gymnasts: Biles, Raisman, Douglas, Nichols, Hernandez, and Kocian/Locklear. That’s not that many people or that many different team compositions. Beyond that, there are the Smith and Skinner types in the “you’ll make a lovely alternate” category, who could be joined by several other gymnasts, but I’m hoping someone shows up to crash the party of the seven. Or at least the party of the lovely alternates. This process is too long for everything to stay the same the whole way.
8. Trials cutoff group
If you’re like me, you’re as fascinated by the race to make trials this year as you are by the race to make the ultimate team. There’s a ton of depth in the second tier right now, which means that plenty of contenders who would normally be expected to make up the numbers at trials will be at the mercy of the selection committee in deciding how many miserable peasants are worthy of advancing from nationals. Several could do themselves a lot of good by proving their specialist/event credentials during classic.
We know that the nine mentioned in the previous section will go to trials, and then we have that next group with Key, Dowell, Foberg, Baumann, Schild, Gowey, and that might already be too many people (that’s 15, and 14 went in 2012), and I haven’t mentioned Hundley or that question-mark costume named Norah Flatley yet.
At least a couple someones (if not four or five someones) who are legitimately good won’t even go to trials unless Martha’s senioritis is really getting out of control. A gem like Alyssa Baumann won’t earn a direct place out of nationals (top 8 AA), so she’ll have to prove that her beam score is competitive enough to make her a viable specialist candidate, one who is worth looking at again at trials.
Similarly, Gowey theoretically has the difficulty on bars to compete with Kocian and Locklear, but she is currently much farther down the depth chart, with Emily Schild a step below her on bars but more compelling as an AAer. All of these gymnasts will be trying to knock each other out of those last few spots, so keep an eye on their placements on key events. It’ll be a rumble.
If you’ve ever spent any time on the gymternet, you know it’s pure gymternet-cred to say, “Weirdly, I’m actually more excited about the juniors this year than the seniors,” even though you say that every single year and it’s barely true. But it’s never true in an Olympic year. Everyone’s more excited about the seniors. Non-Olympic-eligible juniors never count as real people until next quad. There will be plenty of time to deal with them then.
Though, of note, there are craploads of juniors this year. 47! In an Olympic year! Compare that to 26 who competed at Classic in 2012, and 27 in 2008. Why so many more? This is the biggest junior elite field of the whole quad, which is odd because we’re supposed to see way more junior elites in the first two years of the quad, when everyone still has dreams, and then they all fall away once they realize that life is cold and unkind before the next quad’s crop begins the process again.
So just be prepared for the junior session to take your entire lifetime to complete, and then you’ll die right before the last routine like an ill-fated scientist who’s just about to cure cancer. The touch warmup will be measured in geological time. The juniors begin six hours before the senior session. We’re hoping that’s enough time.
10. IT’S CALLED THE SECRET CLASSIC AND THAT’S ALSO A WORD WITH A MEANING
Playing a rousing game of Count The Puns is perhaps the most entertaining part of the whole competition. No human being can resist. BECAUSE THE MEET IS A SECRET AHAHAHAHAHA. I would like 100 points right now for not saying, “That’s why the Classic is so big…it’s full of secrets” when discussing the juniors. Thank you very much.