We Need to Talk about Worlds

By way of a recap of the second day of women’s nationals, I’m just going to talk about the worlds team. Because that’s more fun.

Item #1: Ragan Smith is a lock

We know this. Smith won the national championship comfortably, is the top all-arounder the US has right now, and is the current favorite to become the world champion in 2017. She did her job at nationals, showing her upgrades with zero misses and just one wobbleburger across eight routines. She’s fine.

Item #2: The second all-arounder

Unlike the US men, who are best suited focusing on event medals even if the team itself is a little…huh?, the US women will be expected not only to win the all-around but to snatch two of the three medals, which happened in every AA final of the last quad. And then Larisa Iordache wins the other medal and everyone goes home happy. Done and done.

The surprise of nationals came from Jordan Chiles suddenly standing up (and accidentally going around three times) to take second place. She has improved tremendously across the three competitions we’ve seen from her this summer and has risen to take a place for herself in the second-AAer conversation, which she wasn’t even really in before nationals.

Also putting together a significantly hit performance was Riley McCusker, who went 8 for 8 to temporarily erase American Cup and Classic from our goldfish brains. SHE’S THE MOST CONSISTENT EVER.

McCusker finished third, but that’s a bit misleading. She would have finished second had FIG vault values been used at this competition. The FTY is a 4.6, but the US awards seniors only 4.4 for an FTY because of “Pull your ass together and stop doing baby trash, love Valeri and Rhonda” or something. Those extra four tenths would have put her into second over Chiles.

The expected upgrade back to a DTY for selection camp (presumably also aiming for her 6.1 D on beam instead of the 5.6 from nationals) keeps McCusker in a favored position for the second AA spot. She still has to show it and hit it—the DTY is not the most comfortable skill for her—but she does lead the conversation despite the rankings from nationals. The difference now is that she has company, and it’s not the company we expected it to be. If Chiles had hit her vault on the second day of nationals, she would have been at 57 in the all-around, which is not a casual score to beat. McCusker has to upgrade and hit at selection camp because the pressure will be on. She can’t cruise to an AA spot.

To say Morgan Hurd had a bad nationals is overstating it a bit. She had a bad first day on floor and vault, but she also hit beam better than we’ve seen her hit it this year and, on the second day, outscored McCusker in the all-around. Hurd is still very much in the pack of contenders, though it was McCusker, Chiles, and Thomas who improved their lots at this competition, while Hurd didn’t really.

Post-nationals, if we take the US seniors’ best scores on each event in 2017 and rank them, this is the all-around top 10.

All necessary grains of salt that these are very much best-case-scenario-plus-crack totals, but they do tell us that peak McCusker should have an edge on Chiles, and that when Chiles hits her Amanar, she should have an edge over everyone else.

Not to be lost in all this is Trinity Thomas, who was 4th at nationals, but finished second AA on the second day, and who is keeping herself competitive even with an FTY that got 13.3s. (Note: that 13.750 is from her Tsuk at Jesolo.) Thomas is healing from a stress reaction, which is a possible reason why vault hasn’t been so much, but if she were suddenly able to magic up a DTY, she’d more a more-than-legitimate all-around challenger.

Right now, Smith and McCusker do appear the most likely AA duo for worlds, but because we’re still waiting on some skills and some people to get back to full strength after injury, selection camp performance may be more determinative than it has been in past years when we’ve seen inevitable teams that were decided in April. Team selection is still dependent on what certain people bring to camp.

Item #3: The specialists

If we accept Smith and McCusker as the AAers (which is far from a done deal, but for the sake of argument), then the top-placing gymnasts other than those two on each event at nationals were VT – Carey; UB – Locklear; BB – Thomas; FX – Carey.

We’ll start with Jade Carey. She won vault (by default but still) and was second only to Smith on floor, which makes a good case for a spot since she has emerged as the top-scoring of the floor specialist options. The wrench in all of this was the Amanar at nationals, which was not at worlds level. The vaults we saw from Carey at nationals shouldn’t medal at worlds because if they did, that would be a really sucky vault final.

I’m not sure that makes a huge difference in her chances to make the worlds team, though, because as long as Carey is looking like a potential world medalist on floor, which she was with her 14.400 on the second day, she can get away with not being the queen of vaults. If she’s going for floor, vaulting may just be a bonus.

If you slot Carey into the vault and floor specialist spots, then you’re left looking for a bars and beam worker, of which Ashton Locklear has looked like the default option because of Ashton Locklear and bars. If she shows up to selection camp with her inbar skills and 6.0 D, I think she’s still probably the pick, but if not, it makes no sense to bring her to worlds. At which point we start looking at options other than the predestined team below.

Smith  Smith Smith Smith
McCusker  McCusker McCusker McCusker
Carey  Locklear Locklear/Carey Carey

This team would expect to contend for medals with Carey on VT, McCusker and Locklear on UB, Smith and McCusker on BB, and Smith and Carey on FX. It checks all the boxes, and I imagine it’s the one Valeri etc. hope works out. But, if Locklear isn’t looking medally on bars, things get messy. In a good way. For us, at least.

The thesis of team selection won’t simply be “who can fill in the spots where we have openings,” but “who can win a medal,” which is why I’m not yet sold on Alyona Shchennikova as the backup bars option should Locklear not have her difficulty. The 14.500 that Shchennikova has peaked out at this year is beatable by too many of the Russians, Germans, and Chinese who are likely to make the final. Shchennikova not being given an at-large bid to the national team also sends the message that she may not really be in the serious plans.

If Locklear isn’t looking sufficiently 6.0/9.000 by selection camp, the US may be better served ditching the bars specialist idea entirely and going with, say, hmm, Trinity Thomas. The problem for Thomas if she’s not a top-2 all-arounder is that her most competitive events are beam and floor. On floor, she currently trails behind Carey with room for only one of them to be a specialist. So…Thomas would go for beam? Which would be amazing, but she hasn’t been scoring as well as Smith or McCusker there.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
McCusker McCusker McCusker McCusker
Carey Thomas Thomas Carey

It would be more of a “and then Trinity Thomas just because Trinity Thomas” worlds team. Still, if you don’t have a medal-form Locklear, then Thomas looks like your next best choice.

Another complication is Jordan Chiles’ post-competition “bloop” revelation that she has a second vault (a Lopez, 5.2 D) that she plans to add to her Amanar. That would put her directly into competition with Jade Carey for a VT/FX specialist role.

Across two vaults, Chiles would have a four-tenth total deficit to Carey, but that’s not as huge a difference as it seems because Chiles should eliminate that deficit on Amanar execution alone. It’s impossible to make any kind of real determination because we haven’t seen the Lopez, but Chiles seems realistically capable of challenging/beating Carey’s vault scores. Where Carey possesses the true edge is floor, peaking at 14.400 this summer while Chiles has peaked at 13.700.

Of those four routines (Carey VT, Chiles VT, Carey FX, Chiles FX), the one that’s currently most likely to medal at worlds is the Carey FX, which bolsters Carey’s argument. Chiles would need to continue this exponential improvement on floor through the selection camp to change that scenario. Potentially, you could send both Carey and Chiles (Carey for floor, Chiles for the rest), but that doubles down on vault and floor without giving much attention to bars and beam and doesn’t seem the most efficient team.

If you decide that Chiles has the preferred vaults and want to make more efficient use of the remaining spots, you’d want Thomas in on floor as the next highest-scoring option. We’ll call this Team Be Still My Heart.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
McCusker McCusker McCusker McCusker
Chiles Thomas Thomas Thomas

It’s not the most likely scenario right now because it would leave home the potential score Carey can get on floor, but if Carey doesn’t continue with the 14.4-type scores and Chiles and Thomas have good selection camps, this team is a possibility.

If Carey keeps up the floor numbers, however, Chiles’ best bet to make the team will be as an all-arounder rather than as a specialist. It could happen.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Chiles Chiles Chiles Chiles
Carey McCusker McCusker Carey

Though we could slot Thomas into that spot just as easily.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas
Carey McCusker McCusker Carey

In fact, of all the teams I’ve mentioned so far, this last one is the team that contains the most top-3 finishers on each event from nationals, missing out only Locklear on bars and containing everyone else who went top three. I wouldn’t be mad at this team at all.

Basically, if McCusker isn’t your clear #2 AAer (in which case she should still probably go for bars and beam), selection will become an all-around free-for-all. FUN!

That free-for-all would include Morgan Hurd as well. I haven’t put Hurd in any of these options so far because her biggest obstacle right now seems to be that she doesn’t have “I CAN GET A MEDAL ON THIS SPECIFIC EVENT” gymnastics. When she’s on, she has very competitive scores on all four pieces, which makes her a compelling all-around threat and team contributor as this quad progresses. But for an individual worlds, if you’re looking for someone to go on bars, you’re looking at Locklear, beam you’re looking at Thomas, and floor you’re looking at Carey and Thomas based on the Trinity Thomas we saw at nationals.

Thomas’s improvements make it hard to get Hurd in there if she’s not an all-arounder because Thomas was better on beam and floor at nationals. Morgan Hurd needs some people to be not-great at selection camp.

I also haven’t mentioned the other newly minted member of the national team, Marz Frazier, who hit very well at P&Gs to make the national team but is the least likely of the 8 to make the worlds squad unless she shows up to selection camp with an amazing Amanar. Even then, she probably doesn’t have the beam and floor scores to get in there.

So, this is where we are.

Is it anything?

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42 thoughts on “We Need to Talk about Worlds”

  1. If you stick with your top 2 from Nationals and want to compliment that with a bars/beam and a vault/floor, I think it’s Smith, Chiles, McCusker, and Carey. I think Carey is the one that is the most tenuous. Carey still has more to prove to be sure of her spot.

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  2. Similar to 2016 Olympic selection, I think the team is locked at this point: Smith, McCusker, Carey & Locklear. And even if one of those 4 girls has a bad selection camp a la Gabby at trials, and someone else looks amazing like Chiles or Thomas. I imagine those 4 will go regardless. I don’t think we’ll get a 2015 shocker from camp with Bailey being left off and Brenna being on the team – the last time USA G surprised us.

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  3. While I agree McCusker has the edge in the AA, I can’t help but notice Riley’s highest vault and bars scores are from Jesolo- which Chiles didn’t get to go to. And that those look like extremely generous scores compared to well done routines at nationals. So yeah, take out the salt and the crack you referred to and Riley’s still ahead of Chiles, but not by nearly as much.

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  4. I don’t know how it will go, but I have a feeling that Chiles will be left off. And the gymternet will go CRAZY, so just be ready for that.

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    1. I wouldn’t. We other AAs who can score similarly to Chiles but Chiles doesn’t have any stand out individual events (unless she actually can successfully show her second vault at camp)

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  5. I would love for the worlds team to be Ragan and Chiles for AA, McCusker for UB and BB, and Carey for VT FX. And, Chiles could also theoretically qualify to the vault final. Perfect.

    I just really don’t want Ashton on the team.

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    1. I feel like this gives the team the best chance for maximizing medals (2-vault, 1-bars, 2-beam, 2-floor, and 2 all-around). McCusker is likely more consistent, but both are coming off injury/illness. If you put McCusker in the all-around your max potential medals (1-vault, 1-bars, 2-beam, 2-floor, 2 all-around) so you lose one potential medal on vault – could get this back if locklear is back to where she was before, but it’s riskier. Unfortunately, we don’t know how thing work anymore with a VL in charge, so it’s difficult to predict in any case. I do like Locklear and would be happy to see her on the team, but unless she gets her start value up, the math just doesn’t add up.

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      1. YES! i agree but i really want trinity on the team. if there were still 5 members, this would be my team:
        AA: Ragan, Jordan, Trinity
        VT/FX: Jade
        UB/BB: Riley

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      2. I agree, I think this is the correct team because it gives us 2 options for vault final, which is rare for us. And Ashton isn’t competing on her full bars difficulty and has said she’s going to upgrade to it all year… I don’t know if she thinks her worlds spot is guaranteed, regardless? She’s definitely a risk for BB, so I wouldn’t put her up on that. If she is competing at full difficulty at worlds selection camp, somehow, I think that may change the story.

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  6. It sucks because Ashton deserves this chance to go to Worlds and medal on bars, but she’s still just a one-event gymnast, and now we have all these shiny new toys, many of whom are AAers. So I’m not surprised to see people jumping off the Locklear bandwagon left and right.

    But I think it would be sad to see her miss another opportunity if she proved ready for it. Sucks that she got injured or she would likely be a lock.

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    1. Ashton definitely does not deserve to go to worlds at this point. It would be a complete waste of a gymnast and the US would be better off sending 3 AAers. People are not jumping off the Locklear bandwagon, they just recognize that she doesn’t currently have what it takes to go to worlds. And yes, IF she can prove herself (I would argue its too late at this point, doing full difficulty only at selection camp with no track record may not suffice), then she’ll deserve to go. But she hasn’t earned anything at this point. And honestly, given that this code favors AA gymnasts, it may be time for her to call it quits (she’s welcome to prove me wrong). One trick pony only works if you’re slaying it Maroney style which Ashton could never do.

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      1. Obviously my whole comment was based on her getting her difficulty back. I also think it’s troubling that she hasn’t shown full difficulty this year, but she’s the only gymnast on the national team that’s been to a world championship, made an EF, and also came damn close to making the Olympics. So there’s still a good chance they take her if she’s able to upgrade at camp. And at full strength, she’s more capable of a medal than any of Thomas, Chiles, or Hurd. Maybe even more than McCusker or Carey.

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      2. Understood. But she has been claiming she’s getting back her full difficulty (which is still several tenths behind the Russians and Chinese) for the entire year. And in the US, experience doesn’t earn anything. Even with a 6.0 difficulty, she’d have to rely on errors to medal. But you’re right, she has a better shot than Thomas and Chiles (Hurd is not a contender in my book, she has never performed well and I have no idea why people like her other than she has good technique which should be expected rather than praised). Ashton definitely has a steep path to climb though.

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      3. Actually, the new rules help specialists. She still has a shot at worlds this year, there’s really no competitive options for the Bars/Beam specialist spot unless McCusker doesn’t do AA, which, lets face it, she will if she hits her full difficulty sets. Locklear also has a small chance of being the Kocian member of the worlds team in 2018/2019 if she’s healthy. Even if she doesn’t really make worlds teams, Ashton might as well stick around until 2020 because as long as she upgrades at some point, her execution will get her competitive numbers and she’ll have a good chance at get an individual Olympic slot. Three years is a long time, especially when you consider that Locklear has endured lots of setbacks in a four year period of time, but she’s not a hopeless case either.

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  7. I like Smith, Chiles, Thomas and Hurd. I worry about McCuskers consistency and ability to hit at a big competition. Jade Carey is too new to the scene, hasn’t has enough experience for an international competition like Worlds.

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    1. I am a massive Hurd fan. I love her and think she’s a queen, but Hurd had bigger consistency issues than McCusker rn. I think Hurd will get there but she’s not there yet. And she’s a favorite of Valeri so maybe she will go, but I see her shining next year or later in the quad, hopefully!

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      1. Bravo. Morgan is an amazingly balanced gymnast, but she’s got major consistency issues right now. I think this year

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    2. Agreed. It feels like Hurd is just not quite there yet, but could be THE all-arounder for the U.S. in the next few years. She has the most potential, in my opinion.

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    3. Really? Take Hurd who can’t medal anywhere and is yet to hit 4 for 4 this year? Calling Riley more inconsistent than Hurd when Riley hit 8/8 at nationals? Taking Chiles makes some sense when/if she has a lopez, but if not, who cares if she was second AA? She more inconsistent than Hurd or Riley and can’t medal on any events. Plus, she hit her absolute peak night 2 and Riley still would have won if it weren’t for the .2 deficit for a Yfull. Plus Riley does a DTY normally, and several tenths more difficulty on beam. I have nothing against Thomas, but she isn’t top 3 anywhere. Done. Carey is our best floorsy and can fight for a vault medal. Your worlds team is out of wack, dude.

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  8. Ragan and Riley are locks based on Nationals performance. Ragan is 100% going for AA barring injury, and I’d put Riley at 80%. If Trinity busts out a DTY or double twisting Tsukahara soon, then she could be in the mix. Unfortunately, she’s just like Shang Chunsong who got knocked out of not one, but two, very attainable AA medals due to her weak vault.

    I feel bad for Morgan Hurd who is very good on everything but excellent on nothing. She could make the bars, beam, and floor finals but wouldn’t medal in any of those events. She’s the ideal gymnast for a 6-person team who could be a strong backup on any event, but she simply doesn’t factor in in any way on a 4 person team.

    I’m usual very unforgiving on gymnasts who don’t show consistency, but I have to give Jade Carey a pass due to being thrust into the elite scene so suddenly. All of her routines are rough at this point, but with the 2 or so months to go before Worlds, I think she has the mental and physical capacity to clean everything up nicely and even upgrade further on floor.

    Jordan blew everyone away with her amazing Amanar, and if she said she was training a Cheng, I’d have her on the team. However, only having a Lopez as her second vault doesn’t set up for being a must-have vault specialist. Her floor is pretty good, but her other 2 routines really aren’t great.

    Ashton is concerning me at this point. I would never use her on beam and right now she’s not worth taking for bars. If she gets the magic in-bars, then I think she’s a lock, but if bars is looking anything other than flawless, then I might worry…

    So right now, I’d have Ragan, Riley, Jade, and Ashton. If Ashton isn’t ready, then I’d give Trinity the bars (and beam) spot.

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  9. I wish they’d just send Smith, McCusker and Chiles. I wouldn’t trust Chiles as the sole 2nd AAer because she has never really hit, let alone hit consistently. Carey is a mess and I can’t stand her Skinner-esque sloppy gymnastics horrendousness. She wouldn’t medal on vault in her current condition and while she is a contender on floor, Smith is a much stronger, consistent contender. And Chiles has a much better chance of medaling on vault (assuming her 2nd vault is solid) and in the AA if she qualified.

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    1. Carey’s form is MILES away from what Skinner showed in elite. They have a similar run (with their shoulders raised) but Carey’s laid out form is AMAZING and she isn’t performing skills she isn’t capable of doing properly.

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  10. What about a Worlds Team with Ragan as the only AA-er? That would open up a few different options such as:

    Smith, McCusker, Carey, Chiles

    Smith, McCusker, Carey/Chiles, Locklear

    Smith, McCusker, Carey/Chiles, Thomas

    Smith, McCusker, Carey/Chiles, Hurd

    In this situation Thomas or Hurd could compete on beam, bars and floor, which makes sense to me because floor is the one place both girls have an advantage over McCusker.

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      1. Plus no way is the US only using one AA considering that out of every country, they are prob only ones who can put up two legit AA medal contenders.

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  11. Taking into account the world’s vault field I could see Jade AND Jordan medaling. If Paseka hits, she’s probably a lock for gold (although her Lopez is as piked as one can be) but then the other medal hopeful is probably Wang Yang? She always gets a ton of deductions on her rudi so Jade and Jordan would have an edge on E if they hit.

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  12. You noted at the top that USA is pretty locked into two AA medals with Larisa as the remainder. After seeing Russian Cup Qualifying, you are wrong. I know that this competition is notoriously inflated, but Melnikova and Eremina scored the top two best AA scores of the year even with a couple of mistakes. And after watching the routines, the scores were accurate with the exception of Bars. I absolutely love Elena, but she’s not going to get anywhere close to a 15.1 at worlds haha. Maybe like a 14.7.

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    1. LMAO. Both of the top russian AAers have lower D scores than the top americans will show at worlds. Elena’s beam is nice, but a lower D than she competed earlier in the season, plus she had a HUGE wobble on her Y turn that was clearly not taken in her E score. Her floor is decent D score but even from the videos you can see the DLO is a little rough, like a 14.25 on floor? yeah also not happening at worlds sorry and same with what Melinkova showed today. I could see both of them hit into the mid 56s at worlds with what they showed d score wise aka possibly challenge for the podium but in no way a sure bet.

      PLUS you have the AAers from China and Japan….

      Sorry to burst your insane Russia stan bubble.

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      1. Agree. After watching the videos, I’d say Elena more of a mid 56s performer. Her UB , with the form deduction and downgraded Jaeger, would likely score in mid 14s, ie 14.6 or 14.7 max. Her FX more likely mid 13s at world’s. Still leave her a fighting chance for podium AA if mistakes by Americans or Iordache

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      2. The scores aren’t that far off, that’s my point. Eremina scored a 13.6 at Euros for a 5.2
        Difficulty routine, now she has (I think) 3 extra tenths, which will leave her pushing into the 14s. Her Bars are up 4 tenths with a few better handstands from Euros and her Beam is about the same, but with less built in deductions because she changed up elements that were harming her d score. Her DTY while rough, can still get her over a 14, scoring a 14 flat after day 1. Is she going to score a 57.95 at worlds? Of course not. But her difficulty is actually right up there with the top contenders, and she’s in the fight for the title if she hits.

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  13. My sentimental favorite is Ashton and if she has her difficulty back, she will definitely be on the team. Her beam is useless but if she can hit a 15.0 or higher in Bars, she is going. I likes Chiles but don’t know if she has what it takes to bring home a medal. Medals is what we are looking for… As far as I can see Ragan will get medals in the AA, BB and FX, Jade Carey possibly FX and V, Ashton UPB if she hits and has upgraded and then McCusker possibly AA and UPB and maybe BB. That is the best possible team. Smith, Carey, McCusker and Locklear. If Locklear has not upgraded, then I would put in Trinity Thomas for her BB and FX. Her FX is world class. I just wish should be upgrade her vault so she would be competitive in the AA.

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  14. Jordan Chiles displayed poor sportsmanship at Nationals. When Riley had some mistakes and Jordan passed her in the standings, Jordan bragged excitedly to Regan and it was shown on NBC. Valeri doesn’t strike me as one to take that lightly when picking a team to represent at World’s. She will be an alternate at best, even if Jade and Ashton aren’t on the team, especially when Morgan and Trinity are capable of performing comparably to Jordan and display more emotional maturity.

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    1. So she’s not supposed to be excited that she’s in second place at nationals? I’d be excited too if I found myself in silver medal position at the national champs. It’s not like she said something poor about Riley. She was excited for herself. This is sports and competition, people want to win. This isn’t “everyone get’s a trophy” or “I’ll be happy wherever I place”. It’s a competition. I don’t think Riley would be offended that Jordan was happy to get a silver medal. I’m sure Riley would’ve preferred the silver medal herself.

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  15. You can be very excited about placing and still be a good sport. People act like if you even smiled at placing higher than someone else who made a mistake (which everyone does in gymnastics) you obviously are a awful person. She is 100% allowed to be excited and share that excitement with a person who she sees as a leader. They both know that Riley would’ve topped her with FIG rules, but she can be excited and still be nice. Seeing one clip of a person on TV doesn’t mean you know everything they said, did, feel, etc. I’m over ppl acting like celebrating an accomplishment makes them awful because someone else didn’t get the same thing. Also, Valeri might care about sportsmanship now, idk, I don’t know him. But saying he seems like the type to not be ok with that or however it was said is ridiculous. A spot at worlds will not be determined by being or not being excited about where you place or how sportsmanlike NBC make you look. Also, his daughter did some srsly unclassy, unsportsmanlike things while competing, so I don’t think he’s going to go crazy even if someone were to say, post fb pictures claiming the FIG was biased and could kiss their ass while pointing to their ass with some teammates or taunt a competitor for wearing a gold ribbon who happens to be a teammate.

    Moving on: I know Carey’s FX is a big contender but if Chile’s pulls off 2 vaults that are at least as good as Carey, I wonder if they’ll follow the Martha plan and send three AA: Ragan, Riley, and Chile’s. If not, I’m torn and glad I don’t have to make the decision. I thought Jade was a lock until a messy showing at Nationals. I don’t think Ashton has shown she’s ready at all. Riley won bars, come on. And even if she upgrades like she’s been saying she is for forever, it wouldn’t be enough for me. I see Ragan, Riley, Chile’s, and Carey having the best shots at medals and Thomas only slightly behind. But it’s a puzzle that the pieces don’t fit quite right yet. I’m excited to see who’s picked but a bit nervous.

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