The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – April 25, 2017

It’s an emergency Tuesday edition of Things Are Happening because Things. Are. Happening. Well, one thing in particular.

A. (But also B…and C through S.) GEORGIA

So, the Georgia died.

In case you were laboring under the misapprehension that the NCAA season ended after Super Six, let me get you up to speed on all upsets that have been recorded since then.

Georgia qualified to nationals this season, but from the moment the team boarded the Hindenburg for their trip to St. Louis, it was all a little…

The meet ended with a 195.800 and a last-place finish after everyone scored a 2 on everything.

And I know exactly what you’re thinking: this sounds like it was Jasmine Arnold’s fault!

Once Georgia returned from nationals, the Gymdogs became the first-ever team to count a fall on beam after the season ended with the bizarre announcement that Danna Durante had called Natalie Vaculik, Jasmine Arnold, and Caroline Bradford into her office and said,

At first, Danna said, “I feel like there should be as much confusion and as many random rumors as possible about this, so I’m not going to say anything and just let this weirdness sit there. That works always.”

Shockingly, that ended up being a poor choice, so she called up Emily Giambalvo and was like, “Instead, I’ve decided to make everything worse,” adding an official comment on the situation:

“Dismissal makes them sound like a problem, which they weren’t.”

Yeah, it was one of those “congratulations” dismissals. You know those? They were dismissed from the team just for being so gosh darn great.

Not helping.

This didn’t make a ton of sense to a lot of people (i.e., me) because, first of all, like you just realized that Arnold and Bradford aren’t going to contribute competition routines? Breaking news. As for Natalie Vaculik, she was sick at the beginning of the season, came back for a couple bars routines, but was never totally recovered enough to train at full strength consistently or get into the final lineup. Still, a healthy Vaculik contributes a lineup-worthy bars routine, a possible beam (yikes, but the whole team is yikes), and a backup vault. That’s a useful member of the team.

The whole dismissal went over super well.

Who knew that gymnastics people would react strongly? Almost unimaginable.

So, if it wasn’t about gymnastics performance, they weren’t “a problem” (seemingly ruling out disciplinary or academic issues), and they didn’t choose to leave the team (dismissal), then what exactly was going on here?

Clearly, something was happening that we don’t know about, but it’s one of those frustrating college gymnastics situations where coaches/programs try to maintain a level of secrecy that’s just not tenable, especially for a very public decision like dismissing three gymnasts. Coaches want huge crowds and passionate fan bases, but then when something happens they don’t want to talk about (like dismissals), they suddenly try to act like this is Level 6 where they don’t have to be accountable to anyone. You can’t have it both ways.

When something weird happens, you have to explain yourself.


Yesterday evening, word comes that Danna Durante herself has been fired.


So, the lesson is…don’t cross a Vaculik?

Lots to unpack here. Particularly, the question of whether firing Durante was based on performance because…her overall season finishes were pretty solid. This year’s team could have and should have finished better than 12th (this was an 8th-9th kind of team), but it was also a down year in terms of talent and wasn’t really a Super Six-level squad.

While Durante has not been a miracle-worker in terms of taking unknown Level 10s and making them into national stars in the way, say, KJ did at Iowa State/early Oklahoma, the Durante teams at Georgia have (overall) fulfilled their potential and met the expectations we would have for these gymnasts. Durante did more, and with less, than Jay Clark did in his three years. These aren’t Suzanne results, but these aren’t Suzanne gymnasts. So, then, you can say recruiting is the problem, but the future classes already look(ed) stronger.

Sure, the dismissal stuff was super weird and handled terribly.

So, maybe there has been extra nonsense going on behind the scenes, but if we’re just talking about performance and where coaches stand in the “being crazy” rankings, Durante wasn’t on my list of coaches that needed to be fired. I thought she was doing a pretty good job with what she had.

The one I feel for in this is Samantha Durante, who was set to start at Georgia next year—without a scholarship because her mom was the head coach. Now it’s like, “Well, crap.” She’s a top recruit who would be on scholarship at tons of schools (so why would you stay at Georgia right after they fired your mom, without a scholarship?), but it’s quite late now. If I’m a coach with a scholarship still open for next year, I’m making some calls today.

What this means for the three gymnasts who were dismissed (or for Lauren Johnson who was looking for a fifth year) is still up in the air since the new head coach will probably have some views on the topic, but we don’t know who the new head coach is yet. The new head will have a lot to work with (at least theoretically given the incoming classes), so we could get into discussing possible cool, young coach nominees.


(This GIF obviously refers to Suzanne. I shouldn’t have to explain these things.)

Give her all the golden stilettos she wants. Pay her in airports. WE NEED THIS.

Watch, Georgia announces tomorrow that they’ll be interviewing Rachelle Thompson, Rene Lyst, Jim Stephenson, and Kathie Klages for the position.

T. Kim Landrus

Also yesterday, we learned that Illinois and Kim Landrus have parted ways, which would have been a story, but Georgia was like, “Pa ha ha, you’ll have to try harder than that. What’s an Illinois?”

So as of now, we already have head-coach openings at Georgia, Illinois, Penn State, Michigan State, and NC State. It’ll be an interesting month…

U. Lacy Dagen and Ashley Hiller

Two more bite the dust, as both Lacy Dagen and Ashley Hiller have been released from Florida. The school, not the state. Although……genie, you’re free.

It’s a bloodbath around here these days. Dagen has been on scholarship at Florida but missed her freshman year with a torn ACL and nearly all of this most recent season with a torn meniscus. She’s not the first gymnast who has had injury problems and then chose to leave to try her luck at actually getting healthy elsewhere, rather than medically retiring or something. (And then there’s Baumann who elected to stay home to rehab her injury rather than being at Florida.) You wonder about a trend…

The latest development on the Dagen front is the news that Jazzy Foberg will be graduating a year early and joining Florida for next season. I guess we know where the free scholarship is going. Look how that worked out! Florida did the same thing when Colussi-Pelaez transferred to Oregon State, allowing Alex McMurtry to join a year early.

Hiller, a walk-on, was a necessary backup on floor last season when the lack of depth required it, and she has a competition-usable vault. She’s not going to make a lineup with a full-strength Florida team, but her 9.7s would be useful on many lower-ranked teams. I could totally see her getting a scholarship for her last couple years on other teams where she would actually compete.

V. Honda Award

Speaking of injured Florida gymnasts, Alex McMurtry won the Honda Award, which is awarded to the gymnast who was the most bestest at being great during 2017. She now advances to compete against the winners of the Honda Award in the other women’s sports to see who is the best woman. Overall.

W. GymCastic

We’re off this week sipping mai tais and being fanned by our loyal housemen Sven and Julio, but we’ll be back next week with an episode all about Euros and this Georgia nonsense.

X. Beam routine of the week

Danna, we hardly knew ye.

(Also, Bart, what are you saying about?)

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