The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

U.S. Classic – 7 Things We Learned

1) Jade Carey is a thing

Our first real-life glimpse of Jade Carey did not disappoint. On vault, Carey showed a Tsuk 2/1, followed by an Amanar (which ties for the most difficult vaulting program being done in the world right now).

Her final average for the two vaults was 14.475. That’s the kind of score that would be good enough to make event finals at worlds but is not a guaranteed-medal situation yet. There were clear deductions in these vaults, but the good news for Carey is that many were not built-in. She received a 0.3 ND on the Amanar (which she landed with more control in the touch warmup, just one crossover step), so not dancing OOB on the Amanar alone would bump her up and put her among the very best two-vault scores in the world this year.

Her Tsuk also scored 0.350 higher at the ranch than it did here, though the pronounced piking on the second twist probably keeps that E score from going too, too high. We could very well see this average go up as the summer continues, and doing so would remove some of the doubt in what already looks like a fairly compelling worlds case.

And then there’s floor.

That’s some big tumbling, you guys. Not sure if you noticed. I’m actually not mad at her 180 position on the switch full either, which is the more impressive accomplishment. The 13.950 this routine received is right on the cusp of being a worthy score to take to take to worlds for floor (I’m looking for 14s), but this was with an error on the landing of the final pass and getting nailed in the D score for completion of dance elements. The potential to break 14 at nationals exists.

Carey got a 5.7 D for this routine, but she’s going for 6.0. I’m sure she didn’t get full credit for the split leap 1.5 (it was more like a split leap 1.15), and probably got the double L downgraded to a single as well. That would get her D down to 5.7 but also reinforces how there really is room to improve on an already-competitive 13.950.

The Chaplins are like, “I KNOW, RIGHT? BLOOP.”

Vault and floor will rightfully get most of the attention, but Carey has the makings of a Sturdy German on beam as well.

2) Riley McCusker is a famous inventor

The meet didn’t go awesomely for McCusker, with mistakes on all three of her events.

At the same time, it’s just Classic, and she’s only just back from injury within the last 30 seconds. My main questions are more along the lines of why it was so important for her to compete at Classic than they are about her actual performance. Although she didn’t seem to be still suffering from any injury problems (just lack of numbers), so no harm done. This was also tons better than American Cup, a meet she was actually prepared for.

Above all, McCusker’s meet will be remembered for her interpretive invention of a couple new skills and combinations. First, the Stalder Tkatchev tucked.

(On a real note, you can do the tkatchev straddled, piked, and laid out, so why not tucked?) At least she has enough height to tuck it and live. Some don’t.

We also learned about the front 2/1 to gainer front tuck.

Still, after American Cup and then this Classic performance, McCusker is starting to get the inconsistency label. That label can be easily erased by going 8-8 or 7-8 at nationals and we’ll never think about it ever again (we have the memory of goldfish children), but it’s an issue to keep an eye on.

This year has been ripe with 2009 parallels mostly because of Jade Carey being Kayla Williams redux, but if we keep this “2017 is 2009” role play scenario going, Riley McCusker would be Rebecca Bross. As a new senior, Bross botched bars at Classic and again on the second day of nationals (which dropped her down to 3rd overall after being 1st on day one). The prevailing narrative after nationals that year was, “Is she consistent enough/ready to be one of the AAers at worlds?” And the answer was…she fell in the AA final but still yes? I guess?

3) Ragan Smith is ready for you

I suppose that means Ragan Smith is Bridget Sloan? The young one who stuck around for the new quad and is now the veteran?

Along with Carey, Smith was the big winner at this Classic, showing up looking polished and aggressively prepared even at this early point in the season, with upgrades on both bars and beam that were good enough to win both apparatuses. Smith winning beam is no surprise (the only surprise was…15.350? I mean, she was the best one but let’s talk about that scoring). Bars is the more interesting development because Smith brought a 6.0 D. A 6.0 has been about the standard we’re looking at for bars-specific gymnasts this year, and yet this is RAGAN SMITH we’re talking about.

Fun story: here’s Ragan Smith on bars in 2013

versus 2017

Now, this routine scored 14.550, so it’s not like she’s suddenly going to be a bars gymnast and contend on that event (the US certainly still has a spot open for someone to go to worlds for bars). But, Smith’s score does raise the expectation for what others need to do. If you’re not beating Ragan Smith on bars, you don’t have the claim to a bars spot.

4) Alyona Shchennikova is a winner

Winning Classic (and not just winning Classic but doing it by a landslide while counting a fall) is a big deal for Shchennikova. It likely doesn’t have significant implications when we look ahead to worlds this year, but this in itself is a major career accomplishment. Most “second-tier elite on the NCAA track” gymnasts don’t get that. (Other than Olivia Courtney in 2009. 2009 THINGS!) It proves that Shchennikova is more than a bars specialist, that she is a useful team gymnast who can record a very competitive all-around score.

In terms of those who are trying to defeat McCusker to make a case for an all-around spot at worlds, Morgan Hurd is probably the one best poised to do that, but I’d put Shchennikova very close in the next spot because of what she did here.

Bars remains her best event, of course, and she showed a very competitive 6.2 D here (which ties McCusker for the highest in the US), though her 14.500 score did fall just a tad below Smith. If she wants to be considered for bars, she’ll have to beat Smith at nationals as well as beating Locklear, who will have a lower D but presumably higher E. Locklear gets an incomplete for Classic since she didn’t compete bars and showed only her downgraded routine in podium training.

5) HAVE YA HURD?

If you’re wondering when I’m going to stop saying that, the answer is never.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle because she didn’t do the AA was Morgan Hurd, whose floor routine didn’t have the new-toy, big-tumbling flash of Carey’s but ended up scoring just a tenth lower, tied for the second-highest D of the day and close to the top floor scores for the US so far this year. Hurd had one major struggle on beam but also managed to hit this time, so it counts as a win.

If she carries through what she did on beam and floor at this meet to the other two events at nationals, she can get a 56 and challenge for the podium.

6) Jordan Chiles isn’t there yet

The lack of AAers here was an opportunity for Jordan Chiles to make her triumphant return and yell, “SURPRISE!,” which happened only in a couple places. The Amanar looked solid enough and garnered the highest vault score of the day (that alone keeps her in conversations), and she managed to get through bars, which is not her event. Hitting beam was still a problem (in that it didn’t happen), but Chiles also fell down the standings on floor, with just a 5.1 D, which is the bigger problem because that’s supposed to be a good event for her.

Chiles was going for 5.6 D with this routine, so she obviously got smashed in the D score in addition to some sluggish landings that did not look final or peaked yet. To be an actual AA contender this year (which looks like her path now that Jade Carey is a person), she’s going to need to get closer to her intended difficulty.

7) Trinity Thomas is not gonna be IGNORED

Like Hurd, Thomas’s performance went under the radar because she competed only bars and beam, but she finished third on both events, showing a competitive 5.7 D on bars and an exceptionally clean (if lower difficulty) beam routine that received an 8.7 E score.

Controlled, elegant, and well-executed. A dream. She should be in the AA picture come nationals. It may just be an issue of not having the D through four pieces.

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