Olympic Trials in Review

Back from Olympic Trials!

If you want all the details on what went down on the floor, in the arena, in the mixed zone, and on various random street corners outside the venue at trials, be sure to listen to our GymCastic recaps of night one and night two, featuring a full breakdown of that time John Macready blindfolded those girls and made them crawl on their hands and knees to find his treats, along with a very heated, very confusing argument about whether Aly Raisman should do the AA at the Olympics.

If you weren’t at the meet, you missed out on……like not that much. You’re fine. Although you were denied a lot of marching, and waving, and hugging, and more marching, and more hugging, and Amelia Hundley, and more Amelia Hundley, and Christina Desiderio almost dying on bars while Bill Strauss was like, “I can’t,” and John Orozco’s falsetto, and Aly Raisman nearly falling backwards off the podium and landing on her head right before beam. Plus, you missed out on your complimentary post-competition trash bag full of cereal, presented by Kellogg’s. Kellogg’s: Here’s a trash bag.

The absolute highlight of the whole competition was seeing thousands of little kids excitedly grab their free bags of mystery swag after the meet only to realize that it was just cereal. It was like watching MyKayla Skinner walk out for the team announcement all over again, but a thousand times in a row.

MyKayla was not happy with her cereal, you guys.

But then again, you got Trautwig instead, so you entire life is a nightmare. I can’t wait to watch and recap the NBC broadcasts. Don’t worry. It’s coming.

Mostly what we learned inside the venue is that the team is Laurie Hernandez and literally nobody else. The audience basically chanted her name every time she coughed, stepped, or sparkled. Surprisingly, it was all very Simone Who, especially on the second day. There has been a lot of discussion about what this year’s Fierce Five nickname is going to be (because life is garbage), but based on the audience’s behavior at trials, the nickname is Laurie.

There was momentary twitter excitement at the fact that their first initials spell out GLAMS (which is not a word), but then I figured out that their last initials spell out BRKDH. So, nickname achieved.

Now I’m getting a jump on the catchy nickname for 2020. How about Fierce Four And Also Then Two Other Random People? Rolls right off the tongue.

Laurie definitely got the most name-chanting of anyone. There was a little Gabby chanting as well for emotional support, and then there was a really sad moment when Maggie’s family tried to get a Maggie chant going and the rest of the crowd was having exactly zero of it, once again reinforcing the None for Maggie Nichols theme of the summer. Poor Maggie.

As for the Olympic team itself, I suppose I should have thoughts other than “inevitable team is inevitable,” but that’s sort of where we are. Although, if you want a good laugh, you should read all the sports reporters presenting some serious hot takes about the unfair Olympic team selection process in their first-ever articles about gymnastics. Reading people who don’t know anything about gymnastics trying to explain gymnastics to other people who don’t know anything about gymnastics is a real treat. It’s like playing a game of telephone at a school for the deaf.

Nothing that happened at Olympic Trials changed anyone’s mind, other than perhaps ensuring that Skinner and Smith got alternate spots over Nichols, which I didn’t peg coming in. I thought Nichols was going to finish higher in the all-around, but what became clear from trials is that without an Amanar, Nichols is simply in the pack and not ahead of the pack.

Now, let’s get to Drama Gabby, because that seems to be what all the hubbub is about. It’s fascinating to be separated from the narrative in a case like this. During the weekend, I wasn’t really checking twitter or reading what anyone had to say or hearing the commentary, viewing the competition with my own mind as the sole narrative force, so my main takeaway from Gabby’s performance at trials was not SHE’S FALLING APART. It was that she hit her necessary routines. She hit bars, beating Simone by an average of 2-3 tenths, and proved a viable enough backup on vault and floor.

It’s certainly not the expectation we had for her coming into the summer, as the #2 AAer in the country, but at trials she hit the minimum standard necessary to retain her place. That’s about as complimentary as I can be for her performance, which was not particularly good, but she wasn’t losing that spot unless she melted down on bars. Which she didn’t.

Starting with classic, it became quite clear that the US’s three beamers will be Biles, Hernandez, and Raisman, so Douglas falling on beam twice was a blow to her individual goals but was of only moderate importance to the team, just one notch more significant than Kocian falling on beam.

Only after leaving the competition was I informed that Gabby falling on beam was the biggest deal in the whole wide world.

The team that was ultimately selected is not the highest-scoring team based on nationals and trials, but it is the team I would have selected if I were in charge. It is also the Marthaiest possible team, one based on two primary defining factors, depth and potential.

We know a few things about Martha’s decision making. She likes having at least four TF options on each event, and she doesn’t change her mind at nationals or trials (hence having decided on this team in April and shouting it from the rafters to everyone who would listen). Martha does, however, tend to change her mind at the major competition itself based on training and qualification. Which, beyond the possibility for injury, is why TF depth is exceptionally important to her in terms of selection.

Take 2012, when Wieber was expected to do beam in the team final but was removed from the lineup after the judges adequately evaluated her Hate Sandwich in qualification, or 2015, when Raisman would have vaulted in the team final but was removed in favor of Douglas after Raisman triple-jumped her landing in qualification. The luxury of being able to swap someone out at the last minute (usually for Gabby) has been a defining characteristic of US teams, which is the counterpoint to the quite valid argument of “if you’re taking Gabby for bars, why not take Locklear?” Locklear is not a backup. Douglas could be. In case Raisman’s vault looks wonky again. In case things change on beam. In case someone melts down in qualification. In case. In case. In case. Douglas will be right there.

I would have been more inclined to at least consider Locklear to go along with Kocian because of that high scoring potential, but that team has minimal backup depth and is highly un-Martha. Even though Gabby had a weak meet, at her weakest, she still provides critical safety and reinforcements on a team of five.

A similar argument can be made with regard to Skinner. She’s not a backup on her non-good events, but Skinner’s omission likely has more to do with the second critical characteristic of this team, betting on potential.

The “controversy” over taking Douglas instead of Skinner is a vague macrocosm of the scenario with the Romanian spot, except with the opposite decision made. Rather than take the one who looked stronger at trials, Martha is taking the gymnast with the bigger upside and betting on things to come into line over the next four weeks (much how I would have preferred Romania to view Iordache). Skinner hit her absolute peak at trials. Douglas certainly didn’t, but her absolute peak is much higher than Skinner’s.

The US has the luxury of thinking this way because even if Douglas repeats her trials routines at the Olympics, the team is still in a very comfortable position with the other four. A team of just Biles, Raisman, Hernandez, and Kocian would still win. But, if Gabby does return to Gabby level by the Olympics, then it’s a huge bonus and the US will suddenly be bringing its most talented possible team. So, why not bet on that possibility when you have a safety net that can do the heavy lifting if Gabby does end up having another bad one?

I do think that part of the trouble being caused by this team selection is the oft-repeated US WAG lie of “it’s not what you’ve done in the past; it’s what you do right now.” That’s false. It has always been false. And of course it’s false. What you’ve done in the past is taken into account, it does matter, and it should matter. Not to take Douglas’s past accomplishments, demonstrated talent, and typical season trajectory into account would be to unnecessarily disable the team and inhibit it from the heights it could reach.

That’s why, when Martha Karolyi, Terin Karolyi, Tatiana Karolyi, and Rhonda Karolyi took their unnecessarily long walk of fame around the arena (I can’t believe you think I like attention!) and into the selection dungeon, my only real question was whether Macready was going to hit them with a t-shirt gun on the way out.

No luck.

41 thoughts on “Olympic Trials in Review”

  1. Okay, you’ve persuaded me. I had doubts/concerns about the Gabby selection (even though I understood the TF reasoning, I still felt that Gabby’s selection was likely too influenced by non-gymnastics factors.) That may well be true, but you’ve laid out a solid gymnastics argument I can run with. Plus, if Gabby wasn’t on the team, the team name wouldn’t be BRKDH and *that* would be a tragedy as big as Kocian’s vault according to Marta.

    (BTW, completely *love* your elite gymsplaining writeups. As someone who attended Trials, “Kellogg’s: here’s a trash bag” = FTW.)


  2. YES thank you. You are right about everything and for some reason that makes me feel better about the state of the world. And by “right,” I of course mean that you are saying things I agree with.


  3. I’m largely apathetic about the entire debacle, but this is a very concise and reasoned analysis. Nice work.

    Mostly, though, I’m commenting to applaud your use of “Hate Sandwich”. God that’s funny.


  4. I get why the team that was chosen happened. But I think it’s VERY unfortunate that as a result of this choice, either Aly or Laurie won’t get to compete for the second AA slot, when all the numbers this year support their bids far more than Gabby’s. Isn’t that a consideration worth discussing? Or was that always the plan, regardless of Gabby’s numbers?


    1. Honestly, I hope both do. They’ve swapped places since P&G’s and Trials, and honestly, I think they’ll do better anyway. They’re almost at the same level, and Gabby is a little below them, IMO. I see why they took Gabby as a backup, but I don’t think she should do the all around in qualifications, because unless the girl Martha chooses (Laurie or Aly) have a meltdown, one of those two is going to get the spot.


    2. I think there’s a good chance Gabby doesn’t do AA in qualifying, she’s been to the Olympics before and is known to hit when it counts, so I can see her doing bars in TF but not quals. She really isn’t in the hunt for an UB medal so I don’t think that’s going to be a factor. That being said, if the deciding factor for AA qualification is UB, Aly is the one who is most likely to miss out since she’s by far the weakest on bars. I definitely see Laurie competing on bars in quals because it will likely be a factor in deciding who competes in bars in TF between her and Simone. So I think Laurie will do AA in quals, whether she beats Gabby/Aly for the second spot is less certain, but I do think she’ll get the chance. Aly said at Classics that she knew Marta didn’t want her to do UB even in qualifying, so based on that it seemed like she had accepted that she may miss out on the AA final.


      1. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Finally some sense! I completely agree with you Susie.
        My one hope though is that Marta will let Aly compete all-around. It is not like Gabby is up for any event final medals really so why not let Aly try as Gabby is just along for the team ride.


    1. What was this? I think I must have missed this photo this weekend… but not surprised it was Mykayla to do such a thing.


      1. Doesn’t look like I can attach it here, but a fan tweeted the USA Gymnastics picture of the 5 main team members and had taken out Gabby and photoshopped MyKayla in her place. Skinner retweeted it, and then deleted it about 5 hours later… You can see it on most any discussion board today…


      2. Based on other things she has posted on social media in the past I think she lacks maturity and insight. Retweeting that picture was very tacky. Showboating after her floor was also immature in my opinion (I realize teenage girls have silly inside jokes but it came across inappropriate). She seemed to be celebrating very prematurely as she was in no way a sure bet for that spot. Maybe somebody should have tapered her expectations. I do feel for her. Anybody who works that hard has the right to grieve the loss of their dream. But her behavior is not impressive.


      3. I actually like skinner dab! Sure, it’s a little silly but she had the routines of her life trained her asses off for it and deserved to have a little fun. I wouldn’t read it as a prematured “I am on the team victory” dance….. Yes, the picture thing is a little poor taste though but…I do feel a little for her….


    2. I’m not usually impressed by MyKayla’s behavior and haven’t been a huge fan of her gymnastics this quad, yet managed to be pulling for her this weekend. My initial reaction to her “dab” (that’s what that was, right? I’m old) was somewhere in between “inappropriate” and “Maybe don’t let Martha neck pinch you tonight if you don’t want to end up strangled.” But then I remembered that MAG exists and Danell Leyva’s dad is a human who exists and it didn’t seem so bad.


  5. I guess the problem I had with Olympic Trials is how they tried to put on this huge charade that the Trials were a fair fight and really mattered when the team was so obviously predetermined from the start. The NBC commentators were clearly payed to push the predetermined narrative. This was extremely apparent in how dramatically they changed their tune on Gabby’s Olympic chances from questionable at the end of her beam to certain at the beginning of her floor despite nothing changing in that period of time. (Almost like they were given orders from above to justify the eventual decision to viewers.) It just pains me to know that girls like Mykayla and Ragan were probably allowed to think they had a shot if they did well in Trials when they never really did. I’m not going to say if I agree with the team decision or not, but if you’re going to pick the team in May then why even have a trails? To a casual viewer the whole thing would just seem kind of fishy and not put the sport in a positive light.


      1. I don’t believe it has to be a separate event though. Many other countries is many sports have their national championships and Olympic trials as the one competition. So they could just combine it with P&Gs.

        But then they would have one less event to sell tickets for!


    1. Yeah, what they should have made explicit is that the trial is just one factor not the LAST WORD factor. a lot of people who only tune in for this one time and maybe also only see PG would rightly go: wtf?


      1. I agree that it should have been made explicit to the casual viewers – but the gymnasts and the coaches all knew going in that Trials are just one competition/criteria that is considered. Gym nerds have been debating the likely team for the past 12 months and Skinner was never really in the conversation. I’m glad she had a great trials competition, especially after what happened at Nationals but did she really think that one good competition would guarantee her a spot? If so, her coaches have done a poor job of preparing her. Alternate is a fabulous result for her and it’s a real shame that instead of celebrating that she is resorting to devaluing a team-mate who wasn’t even part of the selection process.


  6. Who do you think will get the chance to do all 4 events in the qualification round in order to qualify to the AA Finals? My hope is Simone, Laurie, and Aly…but that would mean Gabby wouldn’t compete bars in the qualification round (assuming Madison will compete UB in quals).


  7. I guess I should be thankful that some of the drama surrounding Gabby and the cloud of glitter surrounding Laurie are taking some of the spotlight (and therefore, hopefully, some pressure) off of Simone, but if these Olympics don’t end up being an all-out freaking coronation of Queen Simone, I’m going to lose it. Three-time world champion, superhuman domination of the sport should be enough of a “storyline” for NBC to push, and it’s not like Simone has the personality of a wet blanket and no marketability.

    And Aly. Because always everything Aly all the time please and thank you.


    1. YES!! My thoughts exactly. The last thing I want to see is NBC push some “showdown” between the reigning Olympics champ and Simone, which we all know is not a showdown at all. Gymnasts only get mainstream media coverage every 4 years, and Simone deserves it more than anyone.


    2. I’m with u. let the drama focus that way, Simone will focus on her training. she said she has more in store for Rio. I think she was talking abt working on her technique and execution and perfection of sticking that vault. Simone is an amazing gymnast with a great storyline of dominating worlds 3 times and not to mention those gold medals she snap up. I pray that God keep her healthy no falls and to shine bright like a diamond in RIO. pure talent.
      reganbead bucket


  8. I absolutely think Gabby will do bars and vault in qualification. Lauries vault is not half as good. less height, less distance, more sloppy legs. I think Laurie was INCREDIBLY overscored at Trials and I could see her being the Kyla ross of this team. Kyla was getting 15.5+ on bars domestically and didnt even break 15 at the olympics. I think the same is with Laurie.


    1. Even if Laurie doesn’t do vault in team finals she may still do AA in quals. The only apparatuses that are questionable in quals are bars and beam. The only question for beam would be do you put Gabby or Madison up, since it’s Gabby’s worst event. Bars I tend to think Laurie will do in quals to decide if she’ll compete there in TF, we know Gabby and Madison will do bars in TF but between Laurie and Simone the scores could go either way hence why quals is important for both. I tend to think in regards to vault, whoever scores higher between Gabby and Laurie will vault in TF, since again it could go either way. I also think we may still see an Amanar from Gabby at the Olympics, if she brings it back then she makes a better argument for doing the AA in quals.


  9. The whole selection process is a joke. They pretend that trials are consequential but it’s a charade. They’re barely meeting after the second day of competition so the decision was long over. They also pretend that there is a “selection committee”, but we all know that no one on that committee has the balls to buck Martha. You’d need Dominique Moceanu or Tasha Schwikert to play that role, but that’ll never happen. So why not just say that trials occur at Nationals, the selection committee is just Martha, and individual coaches are dismissed from duty after that for 6 weeks of torture, starvation, and pinched necks at the ranch.


  10. People are forgetting that the team selected were the top 5 at nationals which is a massive part of the selection process!


    1. I totally agree. And people need to STOP with the Gabby vs. MyKayla crap! Taking 2015 and 2016 meets in which they both competed in, it’s Gabby 4, MyKayla 1. Gabby beat her 4 times in the past 2 years! And that’s not including Worlds last year….where MyKayla was the alternate. Plus MyKayla is a sore loser. I understand her frustrations, but she can only blame her coach and herself. Other gymnasts are saying that they knew coming in to Trials whether they had a shot or not. MyKayla seems to have been dumbfounded. You can’t show up for one meet and expect to make an Olympic team! And if she keeps retweeting stupid stuff, USA Gymnastics and the USOC need to give her alternate spot to Maggie. At this point I do not want MyKayla (even as an alternate) representing this country.


      1. months ago the gymternet predicted that team the only one that was questionable was kocian/ aston show down. Martha had no other choice because gabby is a back up. skinner is average on bars and beam. I never had skinner on this team. I had Nicholas and after she became injured I question that. a 2015 Nicholas placing 4th without any injury, a strong vault and floor an above average beam and bars would hve been the only one to take gabbys spot. unfortunately no amanar and 6th didn’t cut it. Gabby can and will do bars in Team finals to rest simone and I think she should do vault 2 to rest laurie. her dty is far better than laurie who had lots of gifts. the next big topic is the unfairness of the AA who should do it in TQ. kocian is definately doing bars she needs to qualify to EF. simone will do bars 2 no if or buts there. if Gabby do bars then aly or laurie will be axed. I would b happy for a showdown between laurie and aly. my only hope is for simone to have her shinning moment in rio.


  11. Since Gabby is our eminent “backup”, I’m dying to see her go up on beam in team finals and do that switch split half to see what international judges do with deductions… possibly the worst element performed at trials.

    No matter what happens Malibu Gabby will be released after Rio! So everyone will be happy!

    Also, everyone has talked about how Gabby never revealed an Amanar despite repeated comments that it was coming. But what about the upgrades on bars that never appeared? Was it the knee fracture that prevented this? Or was it Chow? Probably Kittia’s fault.


  12. The one storyline I have ZERO patience for is Aly’s cryfest for her AA medal. Bitch you can’t compete under a set of rules, then complain after the fact when the rules don’t work in your favor. She KNEW going in to 2012 Olympics that they used a tiebreaker. You can’t agree to compete, then complain about it afterward. Plus, PLUS, she benefited from both the tiebreaker on beam (to beat Cata for bronze) AND the 2-per-country rule, yet I don’t hear her EVER advocating for giving back her beam bronze OR giving up her spot to Jordyn. She’s super immature and the ONLY thing she ever talks about is “Gymnastics is the only sport that breaks the tie.” Stop whining and get on with it! If you don’t like the rules, don’t agree to compete in the first place!


    1. In answer to anonymous: Aly qualified as the first american at team qualification, second was Douglas, so Wieber lost the spot to Douglas.


    2. I never hear Aly complaining about that. I’m sure she wants the spot but she truly seems team oriented. Can someone fill me in?


    3. When did Aly *ever* complain? The only thing she said about the tie-breaker was “that’s gymnastics.” Stop trying to stoke drama.


    4. Do you want some cheese to go with your whine?

      Not sure what planet you’re living on but no tiebreaker kept Wieber from the 2012 AA – she just wasn’t good enough that day and finished behind her two USA teammates. It was fair and square. BTW — Aly won the AA qualification in 2012 and Gabby was second followed by Jordyn. So if someone should’ve given up their finals spot it was to Jordyn it was Gabby.


  13. Aly bitches about it in lots of interviews. Basically saying it isn’t fair that she didn’t win a bronze medal in the AA. And to clarify – I know Aly didn’t win a tiebreaker for that AA spot. The point I’m making there is she benefited from the 2-per-country rule. She never advocates for changing that because it didn’t cost her, but she complains about things that didn’t go her way. She also bitches about her tiebreaker loss in the AA while saying absolutely nothing about winning the tiebreaker on beam. She comes across as ungrateful, with a chip on her shoulder. Brilliant gymnast, but petty.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s