The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Women’s P&G Championship Preview

Onward we travel to Women Part 2: The One That’s Slightly More Meaningful Than the Last One. It’s nationals, which means everyone needs to start trying now, doing the all-around, and maybe showing an Amanar or something. At the classic, we didn’t get any desperately chucked Amanars. I mean, come on. What is wrong with you people?

Classic did provide partial answers to a few pressing Olympic questions, but for the most part, I gave it a C- because of how many people didn’t compete events I wanted them to. (The most frequently competed floor skill at Secret Classic was nothing.) One routine? What are we even supposed to do with that? Nationals will be better.

While it’s not the final step in the Martha-brick road—we’ll hear a lot about how everyone is supposed to be at 90% this weekend (Oh no! I was competing at 92%! What will I do?!?!)—nationals will be the first legitimate opportunity to compare everyone on all the events at the same time and will provide our most viable glimpse so far of what a top three on each event might be.

But until then, we still have a number of wispy, ghostlike issues that hopefully will look a good deal more corporeal by this time next week.

1. Minnesota Maygie

The Queen in the North’s meniscus is easily one of the top-five most famous cartilaginous clumps in US gymnastics history. It has single-handedly provided us with nearly all the uncertainty and meritless speculation we could have ever wanted from an Olympic selection process. Maggie Nichols’ level of competitiveness will be the single most important piece of new information we get from nationals.

Expectations should be tempered. Not only is it unrealistic to think that she’ll be all 2015 Worlds coming right off knee surgery, but this is also more or less her classic. She’s on a displaced timetable and won’t necessarily be expected to roll into St. Louis and perform at exactly 91.3% like the others. Nichols’ true competition of consequence will be Olympic Trials.

At the same time, we did learn an important lesson in 2012 from Nastia, who taught us that Sprawling Hair Shanty Town is the new bun. Also that even though we might say, “It’s just nationals. There’s still time to put together a bars dismount before trials,” mmmm…not that much time.

It’s unrealistic to expect a massive change in level in just two weeks. People don’t tend to upgrade between nationals and trials. I have to think that Nichols needs to show all her intended difficulty (*cough* Amanar *cough*) at least in podium training at nationals, especially while living in Martha’s Funhouse of Verification and Proving Yourself.

2. Koclear – How important is D?

Depending on how things go this weekend, the Kocian/Locklear bars specialist showdown may soon become all that we have left in our lives. While Locklear emerged victorious from round 1, there are still two remaining rounds to allow Kocian to get back on her feet. What’s most interesting about this Kocian/Locklear rumble is that it has sort of unexpectedly become a mini-referendum on the importance of difficulty versus execution.

Kocian has the difficulty (6.7 to Locklear’s 6.5 when both perform their full CV), but Locklear beat Kocian at the classic while not even getting her full D score. That certainly put a dent in Kocian’s argument.

Then again, a 6.7 D is quite hard to ignore, especially when the defining characteristic of international execution scores this quad has been bunching, resulting in an inability to separate different levels of execution effectively.

At worlds last year, no bars execution score went above 8.933 (Douglas TF), and the reason we had that horrid sister-wives bars podium is that all of the gold medalists’ execution scores were bunched within a measly three-tenth range. At the Olympics, could we expect the execution difference between Locklear and Kocian to be the 0.450 it was at classic? At all of 2015 worlds, the lowest bars E score for an American was 8.550, and the highest was that 8.933. A margin of less than four tenths across the whole team.

If all the high-level hits get the same relative execution score, Kocian’s difficulty becomes a bigger asset for her.

3. Gabrielle Vaultlas

Because of sheer fatigue from waiting for that damn vault for over a year, I’m done talking about Douglas’s Amanar. Her bars routine and her “third- or fourth-best on the other events” status is currently enough to get her on the Olympic team anyway (though not necessarily enough to make her the #2 US AAer). No matter what she’s performing, though, her vault will be a significant benchmark.

If Douglas does whip out the Amanar at some point, everyone else might as well pack their knives and go, but even if she continues doing the DTY, I’d expect it to be the highest-scoring DTY at the event. It will therefore set the standard to determine the true value of the more difficult vaults (the value of, say, a Skinner Amanar to the team is measured by how much it outscores Douglas’s DTY).

But there would also be significance in comparing a Douglas DTY to other DTYs, which brings us to…

4. Hernandez v. Douglas – Rumble on the leg events

This isn’t to say they’re competing with each other for a spot on the Olympic team. But, if both do end up going, decisions will have to be made about which one is the better choice for floor in TF, and the same could very well be the case on vault in an Amanar-Amanar-DTY team final setup. This direct comparison would be valuable for lineup prognostication.

It will also have tremendous implications for the all-around. Of course, nothing is guaranteed, but if Raisman, Douglas, and Hernandez do all make the team, someone’s going to have to sit out the all-around in qualification. It could be Raisman because of bars, but Hernandez could just as easily get Nicholsed because she doesn’t have the status of the other two. A second-place AA finish at nationals or trials will be critical for her (and for any member of the group) to secure an argument as an all-around gymnast.

Hernandez is right in the mix for that #2 spot. She finished just a smidge behind Raisman at Pac Rims (with her old bars difficulty), and is largely neck-and-neck with Douglas’s current routines. Douglas has a one-tenth edge in bars difficulty (and should gain a couple more tenths because of execution), but Hernandez is capable of making that up on beam, rendering the two pretty even and leaving the decision to the leg events. Douglas is better on the DTY than Hernandez, but Hernandez’s year-high on floor is a tenth better than Douglas’s. So….eeeeeee! If being most excited about who finishes second at nationals is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

5. Withdrawals

My sincere apologies to those desperately clinging to the mystery of Bailie Key as a way of keeping this selection process interesting for as long as possible. Key withdrew from nationals today, presumably as a result of the lingering multi-year injury that Kim and Chris described with the helpfully specific “back stuff” in the latest Aunt Flo Beyond the Routine. Remember a year ago when Key was 100% on your prospective Olympic team?

Jazzy Foberg joined her in withdrawing from nationals on the heels of a poor showing at Secret Classic. When in form, Foberg will be a very competitive senior AAer and should be in the mix for 2017 worlds. Both Key and Foberg have time before they’re supposed to start at Florida (Key is fall 2017, Foberg is Fall 2018), so both could stick around to be major early-quad players in 2017-2020. You should probably already start getting excited about the selection for 2017 worlds. It’s not too early.

I’ll be interested to see how strong that Olympic need is in Key and whether she at least initially tries to make a run at 2020. That’s so so so far away, but she was the NEXT BIG THING for so long, and her name was put in the same sentence with Olympics for so long, that it can be hard to shake.

6. Battle alternate

If you care about things that ultimately don’t matter (as I do almost exclusively), the fight for the three alternate spots will be fascinating. The US will do everything possible not to have to use an alternate and nearly always replaces from within the named team when an injury does occur, but you never know.

If we’re liking Biles, Raisman, Douglas, Hernandez, Kocian, Locklear, and Nichols as the big seven right now, provided Nichols comes back in some kind of competitive form, that gives us five team members and two alternates, leaving one spot for the rest: a spot that’s really anyone’s game, from Skinner to Smith to Baumann to Gowey to Hundley to Dowell. While it may be silly and desperate to invest energy into thinking about who gets the third alternate spot on an Olympic team, welcome to my world.

7. Raisman things

Right now, I have Aly Raisman penciled in on vault and beam and penned in on floor.

She’s doing floor in the team final. Beyond that, her ability to deliver TF-worthy scores on vault and beam, as she did at classic, have rendered the selection process considerably less complicated than it seemed before. But of course, replication is the key. Raisman must produce those routines (that 2012y Amanar, that 15 beam) again and again at nationals and trials to keep the likes of Nichols and Smith and Skinner down in Battle Alternate instead of Battle Team.

8. Simone’s damn barani

I have to get something about Simone in here, right? The problem with Simone is…come on. Let’s just fast forward to the Olympics already. Nationals and trials are just an exercise in patience and preparation for her. They’re basically a really well-attended podium training, with nothing specific on the line during her performances other than staying healthy at all costs. She’ll just jog through with a casual 62 and then hop back into her hermetically sealed quarantine cube.

But we need to find something to make into a problem, and since her Cheng looked way too comfortable and fine at Pac Rims, we must turn back to that barani.

I don’t like that thing.

Not from day one. I am so not inviting Simone’s barani to my birthday party. It’s her only skill across four apparatuses that looks uncertain, undercooked, and unbefitting of her acrobatic ability, inviting the wobble that ensures the skill is not really worth its value more often than not. A year later, I’m still not convinced it should be in the routine, and I will be eagle-eying it at nationals to make sure I’m right so that I can then complain about it throughout the whole Olympics. Hooray!

9. Trials qualifiers

We don’t know exactly how many people Martha, Little Martha, and Littlest Martha will invite to trials, but the race has been shaken quite a bit by the withdrawals of Key and Foberg. This opens up some more spots, not only removing some degree of pressure from a gymnast like Hundley (who seemed borderline before) but also allowing perhaps a Schild or a Dennis a better opportunity to sneak in there.

It all comes down to the specialist invitations.

In 2012, the committee ended up taking the top 10 AA from nationals, along with specialists Liukin, Li, Bross, and Sacramone (as well as Maroney, who didn’t finish nationals that year—as we recall from the million.5 concussion replays we got to see).

This year, however, we don’t have as many specialists. Just Locklear, and perhaps Kocian if she continues being all Kocian and doesn’t get the AA back. The committee could expand the field of all-arounders this time to invite those finishing in the tweens, but it could just as easily keep the numbers down to 10 AAers with one or two specialists. The committee hasn’t exactly seemed interested in bringing people just to make up the numbers in recent years.

So, do the withdrawals of Key and Foberg mean that two fewer people get invited to Olympic Trials or just two different people? This is the question.

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