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.

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23 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – August 25, 2017”

  1. I was a fan of Brittany Rogers at Georgia (and I could get down with her as recently as last year in Rio), but that bars routine is a mess of “maybe” skills and she’ll never hit it. And I CANNOT with that Bee Farm mess of a second vault. Boy, has that regressed over the years. No thank you. I don’t see how anyone could want her to go to Worlds performing like this. I don’t mean to go all Elfi Schlegel on her, but I’m tremendously unimpressed.

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  2. Another thing happening is gymnast Katelyn Ohashi has been writing about body shaming back in her jr elite days–including some of her old diary entries. 2011 entry: “This is the fifth Monday in a row that I have gotten kicked out because I was too heavy…I cry myself to sleep most of the time now.”

    [In that same year of 2011 she dominated Jr. Visa Championships–AA Gold, Bars Gold, Beam Gold, Floor Gold. Here is a video of what she looked like that year…She looks thin to me in this 2011 video, but apparently not thin enough for the coaches…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkFUvrCSbqc ]

    Gee, I wonder who her coach was and if that coach still has influence over young gymnasts? Ya, I know.

    Her most recent blog entry on body shaming:
    https://behindthemadnesssite.wordpress.com/2017/08/24/dear-standards/

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    1. Opf that was hard to read. I really really wanted to believe Vanessa Atler when she said VL was a changed man. But this… this was this decade. And to a 13 year old.
      I wonder what other secrets USAG is keeping?

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    2. Read that also, that’s heartbreaking…and to know where her main coach is right now.
      Anyway, we all know that before VL, it wasn’t better. With a lot of coach that came from China and old Soviet countries, you have to be worried about the well-being of the gymnasts.

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    3. It was also her parents fault. Seriously, hiding food from a mentally and physically tortured 13 year old who is super thin. 13 is an age where kids are typically a bottomless pit in terms of appetite because they begin puberty at that age, yet her mom hides food from her and only lets her brother have it even though Katelyn is training for 8 hours a day, is about to go through puberty and is super skinny as it is. I can understand trying to give your child a clean a diet as possible, especially when they’re at the top of their sport, but she basically allowed her child to starve herself, and that’s not ok. I’m not saying that Valeri doesn’t take any blame (not allowing her to train until she looked “thin”
      enough, and kicking her out if she looked too heavy…. what?), but it’s not primarily the coaches fault. It’s up to the parent to stop that kind of behavior, kind of like what Ivana Hongs parents did at GAGE when Al Fong would humiliate her in front of the entire team.

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  3. Can you explain the repeated skills rules again? Lots of gymnasts do BHS/LSO/LSO and that seems to be ok? Is it that repeated skills are only awarded CV?

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      1. (The RO/BHS thing is for different connections- you can do a BHS+LOSO+LOSO and BHS+BHS 2 feet+double like in the same routine for credit. Back handsprings to one and two feet also count separately.)

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  4. hey spencer are you planning on doing that post about the frequency of skills in american routines this year? i always loved those!

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  5. Minor detail, but Pokémon Go was not part of the Pokémon World Championships in Anaheim this year. Which means people were getting into potential accidents for no good reason.

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  6. Could someone explain the uncertainty around the Canada Worlds team/Brittany Rogers? I must have have missed something… I thought they’d announced their Worlds team and that was it. Is it still in question?

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    1. I believe that the team is set, but they can change the roster depending on who will have the highest chance to medal. I think many people are hoping for Rogers since this may be her last competition. But you are correct, the team has been named.

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    2. The press release announcing Canada’s World team had a quote that basically said that the world team wasn’t really set in stone and they would continue monitoring the team and the alternates and possibly re-jig it later. However, Brittany didn’t do herself any favours here while Brooklyn came away with a win at the Pan-Am championships on floor, so I, guessing we won’t see any changes. I would be really surprised if Shallon was pulled off the team.

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    3. Even if Olsen doesn’t do peak difficulty on vault, putting Rogers in instead of Olsen still doesn’t make sense. Olsen has three more tenths of difficulty and is cleaner than Rogers, and she has a better chance of making Event Finals than Rogers does. If Brittany proved anything at the Universiade, it’s that she can longer be considered an event Final threat on Bars even if she does hit. If Rogers upgrades to a Mustafina AND Olsen doesn’t upgrade, I would still be apprehensive. Last year at Rio she didn’t even get credit for the Mustafina, and she was more powerful last year. Rogers shouldn’t get a worlds spot on name alone, and it’s the same reason why I don’t want Paseka to go for Russia. Rogers has no business being on Canada’s worlds team unless Olsen gets injured. You could argue that Rogers could go over Moors, but Rogers doesn’t have a floor routine, and what’s the point on giving up on a floor that has a fighting chance of getting an event Final for a Beam that will get a maximum of 13.5?

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  7. I was mentally putting together my US NCAA Universiade team and I had Peng Peng Lee in for bars and beam when I remembered, oh yeah, she’s Canadian. She actually could have been a decent pick for Canada also, given the difficulty she shows on those two events.

    The US is almost impossible to pick given just how many good gymnasts there are and trying to figure out who could do FIG level routines is a challenge. I think a trials would be necessary for our entertainment. As a starter, I’d have Maggie Nichols and Mykayla Skinner on the team given their recent elite level performances, but the permutations after that are endless, which I guess is the point. It’s a shame the US doesn’t send a team.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with Neil, though I would think Skinner could do well on more than just floor.
      There are two components I consider with this question: who is capable of producing elite level routines, and whose body can handle the training required to do so? Of all the athletes mentioned thus far, Skinner is the only one who qualifies in both regards in my mind. I can’t think of hearing of her sustaining a single injury.
      Gnat is also a possibility on vault and floor; I believe she could up her floor difficulty if she was motivated to continue training.
      Kocian, Ross, Nichols (and Lee as well) are so fragile that I want to see them stay healthy enough to have full NCAA careers.

      Honestly, my thinking process goes the other way. Watching US nationals, I was just wanting some gymnasts to go to NCAA now. Or drop down to L10 until, you know, they graduate high school (minor things) to focus on execution and preserving their health in the meantime.

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  8. USA Universiade Team:
    Madison Kocian UB BB FX
    Alex McMurtry VT UB BB FX
    Maggie Nichols VT UB BB FX
    Kyla Ross VT UB BB
    MyKayla Skinner VT FX

    VT: Ross, Nichols, Skinner, McMurtry
    UB: Kocian, McMurty, Ross, Nichols
    BB: Kocian, McMurtry, Nichols, Ross
    FX: Kocian, McMurtry, Nichols, Skinner

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    1. Eh, I wouldn’t bring Ross. She vaults a full, so there are many American NCAA gymnasts who would contribute better on vault than she would. While her bars are beautiful and extremely clean, her routine last year was just a shap, a bail, and a DLO dismount. I don’t think we can confidently say that we know she’d be able to do a routine with 8 elite-level elements based on that. Her beam last year was probably her most promising of the 3 events for showing the ability to compete a routine with a competitive D score, but it’s nothing out of this world that would justify taking the hit on vault and bars. While she is an exceptional college gymnast, I think there are others in the country that show more promise in being able to put up competitive D scores.

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      1. Honestly, I don’t think we can confidently assume anyone (maybe besides Skinner on FX) to put up competitive D scores on anything besides vault. Training and perfecting elite routines are just so different from NCAA. E.g Zamarripa in 2010 who had a Cheng but wasn’t competing anywhere else

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  9. I’m really shocked by Eremina’s floor. The tumbling was very good but the choreograohy? There is almost none. It’s hard to say if she performed well as it was from the distance but even from this distance it looked like she was soooo bored with it. Why dont they give her a better routine? Alyia has had great routines, same with Komova, Afanasyeva… But this is really boring.

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  10. Choosing a US NCAA team for University Games is a fun game… especially when you remember that you’re looking at elite scoring of the NCAA routines. That’s the thing about a lot of our high scorers in NCAA – they shine with excellent execution or have a few WOW elements that are high difficulty, but if they don’t meet all compositional requirements, their D scores plummet.

    Looking at the gymnasts who made nationals, with just a few small modifications to even just their college routines, a team of Maddie Karr, Elizabeth Price, Ashleigh Gnat, Mykayla Skinner, and Chayse Capps could actually have 4.0 D or higher for every routine on every event (save one), and 5.0 or higher on vault. Price would need to add either a giant full or a blind change to her bars, and Karr and Capps would need to connect two traveling dance elements on floor – all skills we know they’re capable of.

    VT: Karr (5.0), Price, Gnat, Skinner (each at 5.4)
    UB: Gnat (4.1), Capps (4.0), Karr (4.1), Price (4.0 or 4.5, depending on how much she adds)
    BB: Karr (4.1), Skinner (4.5), Capps (4.1), Gnat (4.2)
    FX: Karr (3.9), Capps (4.2 with her DLO), Gnat (4.2), Skinner (4.1, even without full CR)

    This is, of course, assuming all gymnasts would stick with their college routines and just slightly upgrade. If all the former NT girls, especially Kocian or Ross, were to upgrade back to their peak difficulty, this would of course be a completely different conversation.

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  11. Yeah, that Iordache “layout” full scares me for loss of D score. It really is a tuck, and I so want to see her shine at worlds, I hope she and her coaches think quick to rework her routines to more reliable composition.

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