The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – August 25, 2017

A. Tabitha Time

Stanford was ready. Less than two weeks after announcing that Kristen Smyth has been sent to a farm upstate with lots of open areas to run around, Stanford revealed that the prodigal daughter is set to return. Tabitha Yim has left Arizona after two seasons to take the head coaching job at Stanford. Yippee hooray!

It’s not a surprising move in that Tabitha is basically the most important thing to come out of Stanford since [insert important science reference I’m too lazy to Wikipedia here]. She was a star athlete at Stanford, became assistant coach, struck off to get her feet wet as a head coach elsewhere, championed smart changes to the sport, and now has returned to lead Stanford to glory (?) (TBD).

Her life experience as “broken elite who didn’t make the Olympics and then put herself back together mentally and physically and redefined herself as an NCAA star” should also resonate in coaching and recruiting. That’s like Stanford’s main demo. Plus, Tabitha’s track record in improving Arizona’s attendance (below) in the two years she was there provides a faint glow of optimism that she might make it a priority to step up Stanford’s marketing and attendance, at least from 0 to 1.

The issue I see arising is that it’s not exactly the fresh start many had called for. This isn’t Stanford wiping the slate clean after Kristen. Tabitha was Kristen’s assistant coach for five seasons, saw it all, and is very much part of that old guard. Will a team that was unhappy with Kristen accept Tabitha as bringing a real change of culture and environment?

For Arizona, there’s REALLY not enough time now before the year starts to search for a brand new head coach, so they have already announced that John Court’s blazers will be the interim head coach.

B. Russian Cup

Good old Russian Cup, getting Russian fans’ hopes up so that they can be cruelly dashed at worlds since 1842.

This year’s Russian Cup is being held directly on the heels of US Nationals, mostly so that Valentina can be like, “MINE TOO. Also this, my gymnasts over here.” As is typical with Russian Cup, an unclear and indecipherable level of Valentina Bonus has been in effect depending on the day and (probably) how much she hates the gymnast who’s going, so this competition isn’t really about the accuracy of the scores.

Also, I’m starting a vodka company called Valentina Bonus. It’s going to be undrinkable.

For example, Melnikova had a huge break on her layout on beam in qualification and scored 14.300, then did the least terrifying beam routine she has done in a long time in the AA final for 14.075. But it wasn’t like the scoring was tighter in the AA. Quite the opposite, as Melnikova double-lunged OOB on a double Arabian in the AA final, had a disastrous Memmel turn, and still scored 14.425. Don’t try to make sense of it. You will fail.

Still, for me the most important development of Russian Cup was Melnikova making it through two consecutive days of all-around competition with minimal catastrophe, ultimately winning the AA title. After a spate of very “the duchess has been poisoned” routines in the first half of the year, this was reassuring. She’s going to be one of Russia’s AAers at worlds, so a good Russian Cup helps maintain the fiction that it might not be Meltdown City once we get to Montreal. I mean, she’s definitely going to fall on that layout on beam, but the rest of it might be OK.

The most likely AA medalist for Russia, however, remains Eremina. She stole the show with four whole hit routines during qualification, looking like the heir to Russian glory and sending Valentina into such fits of euphoria that she put everyone else on timeout in the Seda Corner.

In the all-around final, Eremina reminded us of her Russianity by falling on a DTY because Russia, which dropped her behind Melnikova. Still, Eremina’s overall scoring potential remains higher, and I’d say she’s the more likely of the two to hit at worlds whe…I realize now that’s a ridiculous thing to say. I’ll stop. I literally just finished saying she fell on a vault.

Right now, Eremina’s 6.2 bars routine looks very event finally, and potentially medally, as long as she stops scaring everyone to pieces with that Shap 1/2 catch.

Eremina also made it through all of her beam and floor routines with no traumatic breakdowns, which is a win, though I am concerned about the unrealistic expectations being created for what skills will get credit at worlds, for both Eremina and Melnikova.

In the case of Eremina’s AA floor routine, she’s risking not getting credit for any of those turns since she drops before the second turn is completed. Not getting those skills would suddenly put her down in the 5.1 D score range. We’ve seen this happen to Russia before.

The turns were closer to credit in qualification, but in that routine she was short on her 3/1. It worries me.

Let’s talk about Maria Kharenkova! She was here and it went kind of well! Kharenkova hasn’t really been on the radar at all for well over a year following her now-familiar tour of the “I am the next star!” “I fell on beam 17 times at worlds!” “I am no longer the next star!” circle of Russian hell. Now she’s back and scored 15.125 on beam in the AA final to help her to a bronze medal.

Russia’s prospective worlds team is somewhat lopsided and sparse in that they’re basically planning to take two AAers, a VT specialist, and a UB specialist (Eremina, Melnikova, Paseka, and Iliankova) while conceding those third BB and FX spots in the expectation that Eremina and Melnikova are the best bets for EFs there.

Kharenkova’s beam would give the team something it doesn’t currently have (as would perhaps a floor from Akhaimova or Elizarova but also LOLOLOLOL). Still, I don’t see a place for Kharenkova at worlds this year. Her worlds track record isn’t exactly awesome, and if Russia has to choose between taking a bars specialist (we’ll get to that decision below) or a beam specialist, they’re going to pick the bars specialist. That’s the more likely medal.

C. Universiade

The Universiade, or World University Games, are an international Olympic-style competition held every two years for athletes who’ve, like, touched a book before or something.

This year’s competition featured the triumphant return of Larisa Iordache in the all-around, winning the title with a 56.750 that included a fall on beam. The beam routine she’s putting together has hugely competitive difficulty and is certainly a medal contender at worlds, but it’s also a very risky prospect. Let’s talk through it as a family.

The D is massive. Potentially. But in addition to doing skills she might fall on, I’d be worried about what’s going to get credit. Beam is basically her Russian floor.

I’m pleased that Iordache has ditched the layout to two feet since it was just a pike that wasn’t even trying to be a layout, but having the layout full and the tuck full in the same routine is an exercise in pyromania. If I were judging (shudder), I would consider that first layout full as a tucked skill, which then means the tucked full attempt is a repeated skill. I’d also worry about the 3/1 dismount getting credit, which she’s relying on heavily for CV. (Memo to Eremina about that one as well.)

Overall, however, the routines Iordache showed displayed quite competitive composition, including a 5.9 D on bars that should be able to muster a score around 14.0. With bars as her weakest event, anytime she goes 14 is a win. For her and for the nation of Romania, which will still need that routine in every single competition for the rest of the quad. NO PRESSURE.

Silver and bronze in the all-around went to Asuka Teramoto and Ellie Black.

Black had qualified in first when Iordache’s beam was punished more harshly in qualification than it was in the AA, but Black fell on a Hindorff in the AA final to drop her down to third. She was unlikely to win anyway given the way Iordache performed, but she would have been second with a hit. Black did return to take the beam title, placing just ahead of a resurgent Natsumi Sasada. Sasada won’t be on Japan’s worlds team, but she has a top-3 beam score for Japan this year, which can keep her in team conversations for future years.

With the deepest and most internationally competitive team (particularly on floor), Russia took the Universiade team title over Canada in second and Japan in third. Canada repped NCAA by including Briannah Tsang and Denelle Pedrick on its team, renewing all of our desires for the US to send an NCAA team to see where they would place. Select your 5-4-3 US NCAA team for University Games…now.

A couple performances within these teams were critical for worlds selection, featuring a few athletes who are currently on the outside looking in. Daria Spiridonova was not named to the initial prospective Russian team for worlds—her bars spot going instead to Anastasia Iliankova—so she needed a good meet to try to make her argument.

A downgraded routine (5.8 D) for 13.9 in the team competition didn’t do much for Spiridonova’s chances, though she did improve on that later in the competition (6.0 D) for 14.450 in the AA and a title-winning 14.233 in the event finals. Those are fine scores, but if we’re going by the bars standard I’ve imposed on US selection where 14.500 isn’t quite good enough to go to worlds for bars, then Spiridonova is not screaming her necessity to the team with these performances.

By contrast, Iliankova on the first day of Russian Cup scored a 14.700 for a 6.2 D routine. As discussed, the total score isn’t worth using for an argument because she literally caught a Yezhova on her stomach and paused for a while on the low bar and still got 14.700, but she is working a higher D than Spiridonova right now and makes a very viable argument for herself with that routine.

A v. B

Also trying to get herself into the bars mix at Russian Cup was Perebinosova, who put up a solid qualification performance for a 55.  She subsequently fell on bars in the AA final and doesn’t have the sought-after 6.2 D that Iliankova and Eremina should have, kind of smoking her chances, but also Tweddle to Yezhova.

Paseka featured for the Russian squad at the Universiade as well, though her spot on the worlds team is less tenuous because there’s not really anyone nipping at her heels for vault. Even if she’s looking really Bee Farm 2012, they’ll take the risk. The first day of competition went well as Paseka hit her Amanar and Lopez, but then she crashed her Amanar in the final. Just Paseka things.

For Canada, Brittany Rogers also finds herself in a desperate battle to get onto the worlds team after not being named to the original group of four. On bars, she didn’t do her case a ton of good with a couple breaks in rhythm then clipping the low bar twice on giants before her dismount, resulting in a 12.900.

Rogers did, however, come back to win the vault championship with her DTY and Lopez after Paseka missed. If Olsen has her peak-difficulty vaults, it’s going to be tough for Rogers to supplant her on the team strictly because of vault, but if she doesn’t…could the fight for a spot be Rogers v. Olsen instead of Rogers v. Moors?

D. Southeast Asian Games

Lost in the shuffle of US Nationals, Russian Cup, the Universiade, and (soon) the Chinese National Games are the Southeast Asian Games, also taking place this week but not featuring anyone who is going to make a final at worlds this year and therefore pssssssh.

Or something.

The big winner of the meet was Rifda Irfanaluthfi of Indonesia who won five medals: a gold on beam, a silver on vault, and bronzes on bars, floor, and with the team. Metroplex gymnast Kaitlin De Guzman, who was a US elite last quad and now competes for the Philippines (and Oklahoma starting in 2019-2020), took three individual medals: gold on bars, silver on floor, and bronze on beam. Tracie Ang and Tan Ing Yueh of Malaysia both also took three medals: Ang taking gold with the team, silver on bars, and bronze on vault; Tan Ing Yueh taking gold with the team and on vault and silver on beam.

Rounding out the medalists was Farah Ann Abdul Hadi of Malaysia (or Malaysian Zamarripa as no one calls her but me, but she reminds me of Zamarripa), who took gold with the team and on floor, where her 13.450 was the most internationally competitive score of the meet.

But of course, the true highlight of the meet was this Yurchenko full directly connected to someone’s getting a new iPad.

E. McCool and Brooks

Tabitha wasn’t the only headline-grabber in the mercurial world of NCAA coaching, as we learned that Courtney McCool and her husband…Boy McCool?…have joined Arkansas’s coaching staff for the upcoming season. Technically, McCool will be the volunteer assistant coach (because everyone wants to be like Suzanne now #Suzanning), while Boy McCool and Jaime Pisani will be the actual assistant coaches to Mark Cook.

They all have actual married names now too, but meh. You’re McCool, Boy McCool, and Pisani, and that’s all there is to it. I’m not learning more names. I barely even know the ones we have already.

It’s also a new dawn for Nebraska. Following news that a revamped, non-terrible training facility has been approved, Nebraska announced that a giant closeup of Chris Brooks has been hired as the new assistant coach to yell “you got this, bro, rip it” at the vault and floor lineups until they’re top-5 in the country. Done and done.

F. GymCastic

We’re back from nationals with all kinds of opinions about what happened and didn’t happen in our nearly two-hour mega recap of the competition. We give out a series of very official awards, then break down all the critical moments, routines, in-arena nonsense, and training scoops from the four-day “gossiping in the hotel bar” convention that is nationals. There’s only a little yelling.

Also, the Pokemon Go world championships were taking place at the same time as nationals, so if your idea of fun is watching Uber drivers almost sideswipe people playing Pokemon Go, then you really missed out.

G. Beam routine of the week

Weirdly, side jumps did not die a gruesome death in between Classic and nationals despite all those letters we wrote to Santa about it. That means our only option is to try to exorcise the evil spirits out of side jumps through prolonged and committed use of Borden.

%d bloggers like this: