Trials 2016: The Olympic Team Is Nobody

Continuing their mission to make everything complicated and impossible, the men concluded the first day of Summer Winter Cup last night, and it went terribly. At least for me.

If you don’t start behaving, NO ONE’s going to the Olympics. I WILL TURN THIS CAR AROUND.

Sam Mikulak remained a lock for the team but aggressively botched his first two routines, still somehow managing to score 14.975 on PBars even with a fall. This competition successfully confirmed that Sam Mikulak could strip naked, glue tassels to his nipples, and do the macarena and still get a 16, while also doing nothing to deter conspiracy theorists who believe that the Chosen Ones will get the Chosen Scores regardless of performance (see also: Jake Dalton’s floor).

In the most important news and the only topic any right-minded person cares about, things didn’t go great for Paul Ruggeri on high bar for 14.650. It’s not so devastating if you look at the actual results (Paul remains in the top 3 on three events even after last night’s competition), but in the world of gymnastics where narrative is king and evidence is merely the court jester, it’s not a good look.

I said in the preview that selecting a team is way easier when Ruggeri is doing poorly and as such he couldn’t give the selection committee any reason to slap him with the alternate paddle, but that’s just what he did. Let’s all hope he gets saved by the algorithm. Everyone except Chris Brooks has messed up high bar at some point during the process, but Ruggeri did so more recently than some of the others.

He isn’t helped by NBC’s framing of the team race…


(Whittenburg and Naddour are locks now…? Dalton isn’t…?)

Contrary to the power of the graphic, Ruggeri’s primary argument for the team right now is that he still ranks ahead of Donnell Whittenburg on both floor and vault (Ruggeri has the higher average and peak scores on both events across the summer competitions). As Whittenburg continues to fall in the race to be the 2nd AAer (another 5th place finish last night), his own arguments are becoming rings and PBars, rather than floor and vault as we sort of expected them to be. His scores on floor and vault so far can be matched or bested by a number of people, while his rings is his rings (almost always) and he won PBars on night one.

I do think Whittenburg probably makes the team. I don’t think he’s more valuable than Dalton, though, who should not be framed as in some random fight with Ruggeri for a last-ditch spot.

I also take issue with Naddour as a lock. I recognize that he did himself a huge favor by hitting pommel horse (just as significantly, pretty much everyone else looked awful there). He also scored well on rings and looked half un-terrifying on vault, but I have a lot of trouble putting together a team with Dalton, Whittenburg, and Naddour on it because of DEAR GOD HIGH BAR. You’re potentially losing a legit full point on high bar by having to use one of them instead of Brooks or Ruggeri, which is not cool. If you’re saying both Whittenburg and Naddour are locks, I start to have serious issues with adding Dalton as well. And Dalton needs to be on that team.

If you do put Dalton, Whittenburg, and Naddour on the same team, basically your only option to fill the team out is with Mikulak and Orozco, otherwise pommel horse is guaranteed to be just as big of a mess. I’m once again starting to think this might be the team because it’s the milquetoast compromise that isn’t completely horrible anywhere and is sure to frustrated everyone, but it’s giving away so much on high bar.

Speaking of these other lovely complications to the whole mess, let’s get to my other darling beloveds Orozco and Leyva (or as Emily Blunt calls them “dos Latinos”…never forget what happened there). Orozco and Leyva were both…kind of good in some places on the first night. LIKE WE NEEDED THAT, GUYS. THANKS A LOT.

I’m not even addressing Leyva’s stuck best-ever vault because don’t toy with us. We’ve lived through the trauma.

Elsewhere, Orozco nailed PBars and HBar, while Leyva nailed PBars and …nailed? HBar with routines that would be quite viable in a team final context. Orozco, however, somewhat shot himself in the foot later by not-so-nailing pommel horse. Leyva hit pommel horse but still scored 14.675, which is a very good score and usable for the US but also not exactly a TAKE ME SPECIFICALLY FOR POMMEL HORSE score. The same problem we’ve always had with Leyva on horse.

In this area, I don’t really disagree with NBC’s construction of the race (WHAT). If you’re too nervous about using Orozco and Leyva on pommel horse (justified), then they become PB and HB gymnasts, the same as Chris Brooks. All three would bring the same thing to the team, and Brooks has been the most consistent and has the highest peak scores of the three on both events. He got somewhat overshadowed there last night because of the Leyva and Orozco “comeback” performances, but Brooks still has the numbers on his side.

Brooks also remains the #2 AAer, which is a boon for his argument. The #2 is supposed to be Whittenburg, but he hasn’t shown the consistency at all so far in the trials process. Right now, Brooks is your #2, but the argument for Orozco to take that spot instead of Brooks is that he just “might” give you a usable PH score 1 out of every 4 times, which is something, and that his horse misses can still score better than hits from Brooks, Whittenburg, Dalton, or Ruggeri.

Donothan Bailey finished fourth! I know! That’s so cool. Of course, it reflects more on how everyone else screwed up than anything else, but still!

Yul Moldauer had some strong performances until high bar, though he remains not quite TAKE ME TO THE TEAM FINAL on any event to make a push for the five. I need him to go for 2017 worlds, though, once all the grandpas quit or take breaks to let their bodies heal.

Akash Modi has been on the periphery of the argument because of his potential on horse, but a 14.125 there only hurt his case. He still scored better than nearly everyone. Womp.

Hope that clears up nothing!

9 thoughts on “Trials 2016: The Olympic Team Is Nobody”

  1. I also am concerned about the HB issue if the team is Sam, Donnell, Alex, Jake, and Donnell. I’ll take the risk on pommels and switch Alex for John.


    1. Jake is pretty good on high bar though! He was 4th last night and none of the guys ahead of him are as good on floor, vault, or rings


  2. “Donothan Bailey finished fourth! I know! That’s so cool. Of course, it reflects more on how everyone else screwed up than anything else, but still!”

    Reminds me of 2015 Nationals, where everybody was falling off everything, and at some point you could practically see Chris Brooks think, “If I don’t fall off anything, I could totally medal…” IIRC, he downgraded a skill or two on HB to increase his chances of a hit routine. It seems, on the one hand, like kind of a sad way to place well, but on the other hand: if everybody else is falling off and you’re not, then you deserve something for your solid-if-not-flashy gymnastics.

    I want Paul to go to the Olympics so bad, and it’s basically because he’s so pretty. I’m a big Leyva fan in part because of his habit of saying not-sexist and not-homophobic things. But I like their gymnastics, too.

    Sam won our hearts by being a really good guy as well as a good gymnast. My kid and I visited a practice at Michigan a few years ago, when Sam was on the team there, and he was one of the people, along with Coach Xiao Yuan, who noticed us and took the time to talk to my kid about gymnastics. “The handstand is the foundation of everything!” Xiao told him. Sam also (and here you can hear my kid saying, “Mom, do NOT tell that story again!”) took my kid to the bathroom when he needed to pee. I mean, he’s just a really decent guy. You can’t help but like him.

    But the prospect of an Olympic team that needs to rely on Sam hitting six routines in the same competition scares me.


    1. “But the prospect of an Olympic team that needs to rely on Sam hitting six routines in the same competition scares me.”

      You couldn’t have said it better, writesupenn. I have -237% confidence that Sam will hit all his routines in finals. If I had to guess, he will fall at least 3 times between Quals and AA Finals. God love him, but his consistency is for sh!t. He’s lucky his difficulty is high, and the judges give him scoring gifts. Those gifts will not be happening in Rio though.

      Spencer, I completely agree with you about Donnell & Alex being locks. I’d rather have Jake and Paul on this team then Donnell. Like you said, his floor/vault routines are consistently outstcored by others, and I don’t see the point of bringing him only for Rings/PBars. I’d rather have Dalton in finals on those events because I trust him to hit more. And seriously, since when was Alex a lock? Because of pommels? Didn’t people say that 4 years ago, and he was left off the team anyways? He’s a better all-around gymnast than 4 years ago, for sure, but I don’t think he’s a lock. Our biggest problems (besides Pommels, obvs) seem to be PBars & HBar. I’d rather get high scorers on those events, and let pommels suffer.


  3. I really don’t get the Ruggeri obsession. He seems like a lovely person, his gymnastics is just not my favorite. I much prefer Dalton’s floor, and lots of other vaults and HB compared to Ruggeri. Not gonna lie, I hate the wonky round off (and his hair is quickly going the way of Brooks’s former ‘do). He will have to be stellar on Day 2 to make the team.

    Naddour is going to make the team not because of PH alone, but PH + Rings. He’s not a lock, but I’d say pretty close, especially if he hits night 2.

    I do agree with NBC’s framing of the team, but I think Dalton is pretty much a lock over Ruggeri. Whittenburg has been frustratingly inconsistent, but USAG loves him and he can contribute 4 events in TF (plus I am ok with sending him as an investment for the future. He just need to clean up and gain consistency) . That Brooks/Leyva/Orozco spot should be interesting. I think Brooks deserves it, and let’s hope he can eek out a 14+ oh PH.


  4. Can we add Simone to the men’s team? Women would still SLAY without her and she’d kill it on floor, vault and probably PH and PB. Problem solved! #kidding #notreally


  5. So like, not that I think its goin to happen, but what IF they didn’t take Whittenburg? Wouldn’t that open things up a bit for them to take someone who was stronger AA and on HB like Brooks(if we are thinking Mikulak, Dalton, Ruggeri, Naddour or something like it)


    1. The issue is, I think both Dalton and Whittenburg need to be on the team. Not really because of floor and vault even but because they are both tremendous on rings and Dalton is pretty good on high bar and Whittenburg is very strong on pbars.

      Pommel horse is going to be a gamble no matter who goes. Modi kinda killed his chances falling off the other night and neither him nor Kimble is strong enough in other areas to really contribute to the team. I think the 5th spot goes to Leyva because he’s pretty good on high bar and pommel horse ( I know Orozco is better on high bar, but I also don’t trust him on pommel). Unfortunately for Brooks, he’s a jack of all trades and master of none, meaning I think he’ll be an alternate again.

      This team lineup looks pretty good IMO:

      Floor – Mikulak, Dalton, Whittenburg
      Vault – Mikulak, Dalton, Whittenburg
      Rings – Dalton, Whittenburg, Naddour
      Pommel – Mikulak, Naddour, Leyva
      PBars – Mikulak, Whittenburg, Leyva
      High Bar – Mikulak, Dalton, Leyva

      I think the bottom line is if you want a stronger lineup on High Bar and Pommels you’re going to have to compromise elsewhere. With Pommels being such a crap shoot anyways I don’t think it’s worth it.


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