Seventeen days. Seventeen whole days of barren desert wasteland until the beginning of the men’s Olympic Trials and women’s nationals, with nothing to quench our thirst but a mirage of Maggie Nichols doing an Amanar that turns out to be a cactus with a snake stuck to it.
What are we supposed to do? Snob out about salto positions during the diving trials by saying things like, “It’s just hard for me to watch diving because of all the cowboy technique…”? I mean, I guess we could do that. But it’s just not the same. IT’S NOT THE SAME I TELL YOU.
Still. One day at a time. One competition at a time. Just need to hit four-for-four. And, because all the competitions in the entire history of the solar system converged upon each other last weekend, several items slipped through the cracks, so it’s time to circle back around and address a couple of them.
For some reason, the women’s senior event finals at the European Championship took place in the middle of the night, almost like they were on a different continent or something. Really inconsiderate.
On vault, Giulia fully Steingrubered all over the place and used the D-score advantage from her rudi to sneak just ahead of Ellie Downie’s superior execution scores and win her first gold of the day. Bronze went to the extremely injured Ksenia Afanasyeva, who was so injured that she had to do two vaults in an event final.
DTY+Lopez is the event-final vaulting regimen of choice for pretty much everyone these days, which is why the rudi remains such a valuable asset for Steingruber. While the three Amanar+Cheng sisters (Biles, Hong, and Paseka) will be the medal favorites in Rio, Steingruber is setting herself up as the next best bet with vaults that will keep her ahead of Team DTY+Lopez and Team Prod Chucker.
Steingruber followed up her vault victory by also being clearly better than everyone else on floor, once again looking at Ellie Downie and going, “Peel me a grape, jester! Enjoy your trash silver!”
Silver remains a solid accomplishment for Downie since it was Frags who came into the final as the most likely challenger to Steingruber. Sadly, Frags nearly took a knee on an Ortho Ankle-B-Gone of a double layout, dropping her down to fourth and allowing Catalina Ponor to say, “88th European medal PLEASE AND THANK YOU.”
Ponor won two bronzes on the day, also successfully pretending that she totally meant to do that on her bhs 3/4 on beam to keep third place. She was edged out only by elegant swan Marine Boyer, who performed a minor teeter-totter but used superior difficulty to stay in second, and obviously Aliya Mustafina. Competition Mustafina strikes again.
Post #walkovergate in qualification, Mustafina delivered a more reasonable attempt at an acro series, two front aerials, in the team final and event final. It’s still BS as an acro series because there’s no actual rebounding which defeats the purpose of the requirement, but it’s much less pitiful than the front aerial + “front handspring.” Mustafina and Ponor were really the only ones in the beam final who didn’t compete like they had been recently possessed by a frigid river ghost, with Mustafina performing smoothly and confidently to snatch up all of her CV tenths and comfortably wristography her way to the title.
Melnikova and Becky Downie also came into the final as reasonable medal contenders, but Melnikova took a trip to Lungeville, Home of the Lunge, on her dismount, and Downie is so over beam forever and ever. Coming off the bars win, beam was just a bonus whatever nothing.
Given the score-scape we saw in qualifications and the team final on bars, I was a little concerned that Our Becky would be smacked with an anvil of deductions and thrown into a dungeon below the Russians in the event final. Triumphantly, however, Downie managed to pull out every skill she (or anyone) has ever learned for a full 6.9 D to provide her with just enough of a buffer.
She didn’t come anywhere close to suffering Downie Meltdown Times and ultimately managed to edge Spiridonova for the win by a mere .033. This margin was presumably an attempt to avoid another sister-wives bars podium from worlds. Well played, judges.
Spiridonova did not originally qualify for the bars final, but Russia decided to slap Melnikova with the Galieva treatment (AN INJURY…SHE DID NOT HAVE) since Spiridonova was always going to be their best chance for gold. Non-bad Mustafina also made another appearance in this final for bronze, but she didn’t have the huge D to challenge for gold/silver.
On to the next competition!
You know, the two places. Europe and Connecticut.
The man championships concluded this weekend and were no help whatsoever to anything at all. Sam Mikulak won obviously, only falling once in 12 routines, which is pretty encouraging by Sam-AA standards.
The major question coming into the event regarded the status of Jake Dalton. Dalton had a very good meet on his key events, reminding us that his floor, vault, and rings are not just helpful routines to the team but near-necessary ones.
Of course, this creates more problems than it solves when it comes to team permutations. It’s a big old mess. I will now recreate this mess for you using the medium of words.
We’ve been assuming that Mikulak and Whittenburg are the two locks (in spite of Whittenburg’s day 2 nationals terror), but Dalton and Whittenburg are pretty similar in terms of their useful apparatuses. If they’re both part of the team, the US then requires two more gymnasts who possess some very specific strengths, most urgently pommel horse and high bar.
(Of course, a five-person MAG team is always going to be eating some unfortunate scores, as the US did last year having to use Whittenburg on horse, but we’d all rather that not happen again.)
This dynamic hurts two other gymnasts who had impressive nationals showings, Brooks and Ruggeri. Brooks finished second all-around (I know!), and Ruggeri finished top-three on all three of his important events, floor, vault, and high bar. (Ruggeri and Dalton were the only gymnasts in the competition to finish top-three on three different pieces.)
The problem for both is the pommel horse situation, the balance beam situation’s muscly and sullen cousin. Ruggeri’s routine is too easy to be usable, and Brooks is really happy to get 14.000. When adding either to a team with Dalton and Whittenburg, that starts to be a problem. A real problem. On the scale of problems, it’s somewhere between Romanian bars and Russian health. So it’s bad.
The US, however, may very well end up just having to eat one Whittenburg/Brooks pommel horse in TF, at least given the way the team is setting up so far. I think both Brooks and Ruggeri would hope that the US ends up deciding to go for a Suck-It-Pommel-Horse strategy, maximizing the other events as much as possible and then just throwing up whatever nonsense on horse and praying for 14s. Or, they’ll hope the committee decides that Dalton and Whittenburg are just too similar to both be on the same team, but that would be a controversial little game to play. I’m leaning toward that game, but it’s still a controversial one to play. To get Ruggeri on the team, it seems like a must. Therefore, it is a must.
The urgent need on pommel horse will always keep Alex Naddour heavily in the conversation, though he didn’t much help himself all that much at nationals, falling on horse on the first day and falling on vault on the second day. Because he’s a pommel horse specialist who can also bring rings and (theoretically, but I’d rather not) floor and vault, he’s very appealing, and that 15.750 he scored on horse the second day is such a boost over the mid-14s the other contenders bring on horse that it’s near-irresistible.
Requiring someone on PH/HB to complement Whittenburg/Dalton is also what’s keeping Orozco and Leyva in the mix despite of poor nationals performances. Orozco’s frequent pommel horse falls may negate the value of his 15ishness, but he’s more than capable of a very usable score on both events and, at his peak, is pretty much the perfect counterpart to a Dalton. As for Colonel Dog Bite, the lure of his PBars and HBar potential will keep him around even though he needed a selection committee invite even to advance to trials. Oh, Danell. You heart-breaker.
Eddie Penev has also been in conversations mostly because his adorable method of walking is my spirit animal, though he had a poor first day of nationals. That really didn’t help because the US already has options on his big events, floor and vault, meaning it’s hard for him to get into the realistic permutations when Dalton and Whittenburg loom so largely on those pieces.
Then there’s Akash Modi, who’s also squarely in the hunt. His pommel horse routine is very compelling, largely because it’s not horrible, and he’s also TF-usable on PBars. If only he had a big high bar score. If Modi were usable on HB in addition to PH and PB, he would already be on the team. Marvin Kimble is in a similar boat since he is amazing on horse and is a real dismount away from being amazing on PBars, but he also lacks that one other critical event, along with the consistency to make a major case for himself.
Their potential on horse helps them stand out from the other newbies like Moldauer and Melton, who have impressive events here and there but probably don’t have the BIG NECESSARY SCORE to work into team permutations that smoothly or helpfully.
In other news, can I please try to make a team of Mikulak, Dalton, Ruggeri, Modi, and Orozco and die happy? Please? Do I need to back away slowly from the spreadsheets and put them away for a while? OK. Okay. But……OK.
The program committee named 18 gentlemen to trials at the conclusion of nationals, which is enough people that the list was mostly unremarkable, though a couple of the final committee spots did go to Legendre and Wynn (neither of whom had standout competitions) over Ellis Mannon, who finished third on horse.
Legendre and Wynn are Team Hilton and part of the old crowd, so it’s not surprising they made it, though it doesn’t look great visually to advance someone like Wynn, a (largely) one-event contributor who finished 5th on a piece where the US doesn’t need any more help, while eliminating Mannon, a one-event contributor who finished 3rd on a piece where the US definitely does need help. It’s ultimately moot because it won’t have any impact on the actual Olympic team, but it is a bit…hrmmmmmm.