Secret Classic is just Secret Classic. It’s the first step, not the decisive step. It’s never truly going to ruin anyone’s chances all by itself (which is code for “don’t write off Madison Kocian just because of that”), but this year’s competition did reveal a couple key changes in the D-score rankings as well as reinforcing the viability of several contenders on specific events, gymnasts who were closer to question-mark territory before the meet (which is code for “Aly Raisman had an important meet in spite of bars”).
So, as before, I have taken the current difficulty scores for the senior elites advancing to nationals and arranged the Ds by size, now updated to include the routines performed at Secret Classic if they reflected an upgrade (or change in composition—for instance, I put Rachel Gowey’s bars D back down to 6.3 from 6.5 as it appears she’s no longer doing inbar skills).
Once again, I removed the stick bonuses from the D scores because stick bonuses are the work of a multi-headed demon creature from below the sea and serve only to make the US scores even more misleading and unrealistic than they might be otherwise. Yurchenko fulls for seniors are also awarded just 4.7 instead of 5.0 at US competitions (because only stupid foreign jerks who are totally untalented do Yurchenko fulls), so I restored those to their actual 5.0 D level as well.
Among the Timmy D comments heard ’round the gymternet during the competition was the categorical statement that Aly Raisman will not be doing bars in qualification at the Olympics. …OK?
Now, will Aly Raisman have the weakest bars routine on the Olympic team? Yes. But that didn’t stop Martha from holding Nichols out of the AA at worlds last year to give Raisman a shot at qualifying, only to have Nichols return to the lineup to perform her first bars routine of the competition in the team final (a conventional-wisdom no-no, but a decision that worked out well).
I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it happened again at the Olympics. Though imagine the hell that will be raised if, say, Laurie Hernandez gets held off of bars in qualification so that Raisman can do the all-around instead of her.
Raisman has the D-score edge among the second AAers, though we know that D is not always everything. Douglas and Hernandez both upped their Ds over the weekend to stay close in that very tightly packed group between 24.6 and 25.4 that can ultimately end up in nearly any order on any day.
If a Locklear/Kocian does end up taking a spot on the team, we’re likely looking at a qualification lineup with three AAers, one three-eventer, and a bars specialist doing only bars. Deciding the three AAers will be as difficult and drama-filled as it was at worlds last year, only 10x greater because OLYMPICS.
Because so many people elected not to compete floor at the classic since they don’t want their legs to be made of fishing line and a dream catcher in two month’s time, floor gets an incomplete. We’re pretty much at the exact same place we were before Secret Classic, with Biles, Raisman, and Question Mark slated to do floor at the Olympics.
The issue of the third floor worker will still be a major category to watch as we head into nationals and trials, with Hernandez, Nichols, and Douglas all theoretically viable options. Will anyone separate herself enough to make a floor routine a determining factor?
Raisman did herself a favor with the beam routine she showed at the classic, breaking 15 with a performance that, while it may not be a top-three routine at nationals and trials, looked perfectly usable in a team final. It was the most securely she has performed this year, and the connections didn’t look nearly as tentative as at times last year or earlier this season.
Those looking to make a name for themselves on beam were dealt a blow by Raisman’s score as even Alyssa Baumann’s brilliant routine beat Raisman by just 0.250 when the stick bonus is removed, which is not enough of a margin for a one-event specialist. Ragan Smith botched her new Patterson dismount to finish .350 behind Raisman, which wasn’t a good sign for her in terms of the general impression of her consistency or her likelihood of outscoring Raisman by a specialist amount.
Interestingly, though, Raisman was going for a 6.5 D and received 6.2, and I would be fascinated to know what she didn’t get credit for. Was it connections? (Overall, the judges were extremely charitable across the competition in awarding beam connections, with many paused connections receiving the benefit of the doubt, which we all worry about because of creating unrealistic expectations in a Wieber 2.0 situation.)
Or, was it skill downgrades, like the switch 1/2 not getting credit, or the layout being viewed as too whippy, or the front pike being viewing as tucked? All possible. We need receipts.
Still, even with a 6.2, her beam routine is useful and did outscore Douglas’s, which was more tentative and had to include an ice-skating-panda-bear of an insane save. Now, we have to wait to see what Hernandez brings to the table at nationals as she is the clear front-runner among the newbie beamers to get one of those three spots.
Baumann did do herself a favor with her beam performance, definitely increasing her chances of making it to trials. She was sitting on the bubble with Gowey and Hundley before the meet, but all three did quite well and have put the pressure back on the likes of Foberg, Schild, and Key heading to nationals. If it’s 14 again, a couple of these gymnasts will be the odd women out.
The most significant developments at Secret Classic took place on bars. It might as well just have been a bars meet. Everything else was a circumstantial sideshow.
Critically, Ashton Locklear scored 0.750 more than Biles did. Biles is most likely going to be the #4 bars worker on the Olympic team, with bars an opportunity to rest her during the team final so that she’s not doing every event every minute of every day. But, Biles always could be used. This massive 0.750 advantage for Locklear, however, reconfirms the need for a bars specialist because that’s not just a paltry couple-tenth advantage over the Biles backup routine. Even taking into account cray E scores, that’s not a margin that will be bested by a specialist on any other event.
Laurie Hernandez also showed an upgraded routine with a 6.4 D, scoring .300 more than Biles. With that, Hernandez now just needs to be a couple tenths better than Raisman/Douglas on beam at nationals to make the case that she brings more to the table than someone with an Amanar would. If she’s picking up more than five tenths across the other events, that negates an Amanar.
Gabby “Don’t Call Me Gabby” Douglas also brought out an upgrade with a shap 1/2 that bumped her difficulty up to 6.5 in a routine that also looks refined, prepared, and efficient. She was already going to do bars for the US at the Olympics, and this performance just confirms how much this will help the team.
Now to the landmark case of Kocian v. Locklear, what is quickly becoming the most compelling part of the Olympic selection process.
Round One goes to Locklear, but it’s not over. Crucially, Locklear beat Kocian on bars even though Kocian got her full 6.7 D while Locklear did not get her full difficulty. Locklear won on execution with a supremely clean routine, featuring in particular a bail that is worlds better than it was in 2014-2015, while Kocian had a few leg moments and an uncharacteristic shuffle on dismount.
But, these are things that can go away, so I’m not declaring an overall winner yet. Kocian could just as easily be the one who wins by 0.150 at nationals, though Locklear’s form looks the more reliable right now.
There’s also Kocian’s beam fall, but I don’t care so much about that because it’s a total red herring. Neither Kocian nor Locklear is doing beam in an Olympic team final (or qualification), so Kocian falling on beam matters exactly as much as Raisman falling on bars. She’s not here for beam.
The Raismanar delivered. That vault was the best Raisman’s Amanar has looked in approximately an ice age, lowering my Dubious-O-Meter from 9 to about 6.5 in terms of using Raisman’s Amanar in a team final. I still need to see if this vault can be recreated regularly at nationals and trials, but if it can, this vault solves a lot of problems and answers a lot of questions because it’s clearly going to score multiple tenths better than a good DTY. Then, the US would just be looking for one more vault.
If even that. As stated, the advantage that Insert Name Of Bars Specialist Here can bring on bars, and the advantage that Hernandez looks capable of bringing across bars and beam, are worth more than an Amanar. An Amanar alone is no longer going to be enough to get someone on this team (unless it’s Maroney/Biles level, which no one’s is) because it’s not going to outscore a solid Dougie DTY by more than can be gained by Locklear bars or a Hernandez bars/beam combination. It won’t be worth knocking one of them off a team just for a vault.
Any prospective Maggie Nicholseseses (in spite of how many pipe dreams we have about them triumphantly rolling into nationals on a steed made of phoenixes and sticking Amanars all day long), would have to bring an Amanar along with another event, like floor, that outscores the others by multiple tenths.
This is the problem for Skinner as well. We were specifically informed during the broadcast that Skinner is still in the mix because of her Amanar (which now appears to be her #1 vault instead of the abomination), but her Amanar scored only 0.350 more than even Amelia Hundley’s serviceable DTY. Not enough for a specialist if that’s the only event on which you’re helping.