The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

A Brief Dispatch on the McCusker Withdrawal

I’m coming to you today from the Balance Beam Situation London offices (where I have successfully mastered using the terms courgette and aubergine, saying toilet instead of restroom, and spending an hour and a half on a train glaring at too-loud teenagers and choosing to be miserable the entire time rather than say anything about it—where’s my citizenship?).

As requested, here are a few thoughts and reconstructions of team possibilities based on the withdrawal of Riley McCusker from the upcoming US selection camp. What does it do to the US worlds team conversation?

What it does is throw everything in the bin (BIN!).

Here’s what I said the last time I discussed the US team:

Basically, if McCusker isn’t your clear #2 AAer…selection will become an all-around free-for-all.

Pretty much!

The US is now left looking for its #2 all-around gymnast, which is good news for the selection hopes of Chiles, Thomas, Hurd, and Frazier, the contenders for that spot. If I were Valeri, I would be tempted to say, “OK, whoever finishes second to Smith at the selection camp is my second all-arounder” because no one else has really claimed the spot so far this year. But of course, that’s basing the decision on one competition, which we don’t do. Martha raised us to believe that every competition is a selection competition.

Jordan Chiles’ second-place finish at nationals makes a very good argument for her, creating one of the more competitive teams the US can select.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Chiles Chiles Chiles Chiles
Carey Locklear Locklear Carey

If Chiles has her second vault, then this team is pretty much maximizing its EF opportunities on VT, UB, and FX while bringing a second all-arounder who should expect to score in the 56s.

I’m not, however, ready to put Chiles in that spot over Trinity Thomas quite yet. In the Chiles corner, you have the argument that she went 56.000 on the second day of nationals while falling on an Amanar, but in the Thomas corner, you have the argument that she went 56.050 on the second day of nationals while showing just an FTY, which got a 4.4 D score instead of 5.4. One point lower vs. one point lower.

Thomas would absolutely need to bring the DTY to selection camp to move in and take the second AA spot, but if she does, she’s quite believable. At full strength, who places higher between Chiles and Thomas should really be an “any given day” situation.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas
Carey Locklear Locklear Carey

This team maximizes EF possibilities on UB, BB, and FX, losing the two vaults from Chiles but adding in what could be an excellent (an excellently reliable, based on this summer) score on beam.

Can Morgan Hurd show up to beat both of them at selection camp? Absolutely.

The hesitation there is that Hurd may be peaking out at the mid-56s for a really good AA hit. She doesn’t have the full-point secret weapon like Thomas does with the DTY to increase her scoring potential from nationals and separate her from the rest. On a great day, we could see Chiles or Thomas hit 57, while Hurd would be a few tenths lower for just as great of a day. But, it’s just a few tenths, and I would not be particularly surprised to see Hurd show up at selection camp and jump into second. It wouldn’t take a fall from the others for that to happen.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Hurd Hurd Hurd Hurd
Carey Locklear Locklear Carey

Frazier is a little farther back from the rest of the group and is the longest shot, definitely needing to show her Amanar to try to get into the necessary 56 zone.

We could see others pop up with a strong AA placement at selection camp, like Shchennikova pulling a Classic, but that would be the result of other people falling and wouldn’t necessarily make an “I can place competitively at worlds!” argument. If you’re not going into the 56s (ideally well into the 56s), you’re not getting an AA spot on the US team. If everyone falls apart at selection camp and a 55 ends up placing 2nd, then you just take Chiles or Thomas and hope it’s a good day come worlds.

The above team permutations have assumed Carey/Locklear as the specialists, and that remains the hoped-for outcome for Valeri and company, as made clear by the nominative roster.

The McCusker withdrawal doesn’t directly influence Carey’s chances because they weren’t going for the same roles on the team, but it nonetheless helps Carey in that it seemed like the only way Carey was getting knocked off this team was if Chiles showed up at camp and was amazing. Now, if Chiles shows up at camp and is amazing, she’s getting the second AA spot, not Carey’s spot.

So, Locklear. The McCusker withdrawal more directly benefits Locklear because McCusker was the top-scoring bars worker for the US at camp, and now it’s Locklear. BUT. Locklear still needs to show and hit her full difficulty. If she does, she’s going to worlds. If she doesn’t, she might still win bars at camp, but it’s not going to be with a particularly competitive score for EF purposes.

If that’s the case, the US may be well-suited doing the opposite of the China/Russia approach and focusing on every event except bars. Instead of taking Locklear for a 14.500 on bars, you could take Thomas for something 14y on beam.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Chiles Chiles Chiles Chiles
Carey Thomas Thomas Carey

You can make a real argument that it would be a more prudent use of the spot.

So what happens if you already want Thomas for the AA and Locklear doesn’t bring her full bars difficulty? Then things get weird.

Smith Smith Smith Smith
Thomas Thomas Thomas Thomas
Carey ? ? Carey

Because of sheer messiness, this isn’t going to happen, but what if it did? That’s maybe how someone like Shchennikova or Sophia Loren gets on the team, though I’d actually still probably consider throwing in Hurd or Chiles for that spot.

It’s getting exciting!

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