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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21 thoughts on “A Brief Dispatch on the McCusker Withdrawal”

  1. Does the US look at international scores and rankings? Or does the selection committee simply look at our top ranked girls domestically? What I’m asking is: Do they KNOW that Locklear without full difficulty cannot challenge for a medal, or would they send her just because she’s our top ranked bars gymnast?

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  2. I feel like the Chiles v thomas is really in the hands of chiles. If Jordan shows and hits her second vault, she is a very likely EF contender, where as thomas w/ her very lovely beam is a little less likely just based on what we have seen d score wise from top contenders around the world. I do think that trinity could out execution a d score a few tenths higher than her, but she isnt going to out execution the girls with mid 6+ d scores that we have seen (and there are several plus a big group hanging out in the 6.1/6.2 range). I guess what I am saying is that she would have to luck her way into the beam EF vs chiles would basically just need to hit. And both would be potential FX EF contenders but that doesnt truly add any additional EF spots b/c smith and carey would easily get in there as well.

    Side note I cant get over that Ragan has a legit chance to get into a bars final, not for sure and again would need a mistake or two from top contenders but man 4 years ago I dont think anyone would have said that she would ever have a chance at that.

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    1. I think that Chiles will score much lower internationally because her dance elements are not clean. Even when trinity makes a mistake she looks elegant. I feel like Chiles got second because of the crazy E score she was awarded on beam, and because of others mistakes. She is a great tumbler but seems inconsistent on other apparatus.

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      1. I’ve been watching the World Challenge Cups and the judging has been brutal. I could see Chiles getting slaughtered under the tough judging whereas Thomas would fare quite a bit better. But you can’t take Thomas with a FTY.

        I can’t remember this much uncertainty for the USA women going into a World Championships in a long time!

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  3. Jordan will go over Trinity I would expect. I don’t know that Jordan is a real AA medal threat, but maybe if she goes 4/4? The real difficulty is what to do if Ashton doesn’t have the Inbars back.

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  4. Gotta thank you Spencer for your analysis. Every week I listen to GymCastic and read your blog. I often think of my dad listening to basketball analysis on the radio in the car, where they sit there and break everything down for an hour and it’s all super detailed and boring. And then I chuckle because that’s pretty much what we’re doing here and I LOVE IT SO MUCH. The fact that you and Jessica have made two forums for us where we can get all nitty gritty, ALL YEAR LONG, is just the best!! I love being a gymnastics nerd so much. I just wanted to pass that along.

    BTW when is the Worlds team for the US going to be announced??

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  5. If the team is Smith, Chiles (or Thomas or Hurd), Carey and Locklear, I would seriously consider putting Carey on beam over Locklear. While Locklear has a better look on beam than she did last year and has upgraded, she hasn’t shown any better ability to hit her routine. Carey OTOH looked great on beam at both American and US Classic. Their results at P&Gs were a wash where they both fell on day 1 and had a good day 2 and Locklear came out slightly ahead. But to me it’s not enough to say Locklear automatically competes beam over Carey. I’d want to see how camp comes out (and maybe even podium training because I am evil) before giving that spot up.

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  6. PLEASE DON’T BRING LOCKLEAR. That’s all I ask. Any other team… please… Also, I’m surprised this post didn’t mention on the Maggie drama because she seems to burn out all her athletes. This was Riley’s year to go to worlds and maybe medal on bars.

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    1. Riley was a hot mess in a competitive setting before she even got to Haney …and Haney torched her by burning her to a crisp training the heck out of her.

      We competed in Riley’s region for many years along side her and she (and her mom) were always nervous wrecks…she’d hit 3 events big and then be disastrous on the 4th, but her scores were always decent in the AA. The family was definitely looking for the brass ring as they moved gyms in that search…..seeing Haney’s “success” with Laurie and Jazzy but not researching it enough to see that the elites at MG Elite don’t last. Riley has always struck me as a fragile gymnast and that’s the last kind that should be with Haney..

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  7. Although I really want her to be, I don’t see Morgan making the team just due to her performance at Jesolo and not making a solid comeback at Classics or Nationals. Though the same could be said for Ashton and the fact that Valeri seems impressed by Morgan could be enough for him to justify sending them both. The group we have to select from feels like they belong in a team competition year; for a post-Olympic year there are several strong EF medalists internationally while not necessarily team strength and the US has the opposite problem. Trinity’s style of gymnastics is reminiscent of Kyla’s in 2013 and I would say she’s extremely likely to score well with international judges. Depending on Ashton’s bar routine upgrades and what happens with vaults at camp I think will determine who’s making the team because there’s just not been enough to see in competition to really cement anyone on the team other than Ragan.

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    1. I agree with this, largely. However, I still think Trinity is unlikely to go to worlds. The field is stacked in bars and beam this year. I would say it’s going to take a 14.8 or so to medal on either. The only seniors in the US capable of hitting that score are Smith and McCusker. Trinity Thomas is lovely on beam but doesn’t have the difficulty.

      Conversely, the fields on floor and vault are weak. Jordan’s Amanar is safely the highest scoring vault in the world right now. If her Lopez is competitive at all, it is worth sending her for a vault medal.

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      1. That makes sense. I took a look at both Trinity’s and Jordan’s routines on Spencer’s database for their D-scores to see how much Jordan’s vault upgrade would affect her program. As of now (upgrading Trinity to her possible DTY and Jordan’s Amanar) Trinity would be at a 22.4 and Jordan would be at 22.3. It’s hard to say since Jordan hasn’t competed internationally this year but even domestically her average E-scores are below Trinity’s (at Nationals for example) except on bars which was uncharacteristic IMO. Plus the fact that Trinity wasn’t far behind Jordan with a vault worth 1.4 less seems to make the argument for her especially if she were to upgrade to a DTY regardless of Jordan’s upgrade. After the last couple of international cups/Universiade I’m not as convinced vault is as easy to medal in as we thought at first. Steingruber and Chuso are maybes since neither had their Rio difficulty at the most recent meets, but there’s still Paseka, Carey, Andrade, Wang, Miyakawa, Olsen, Devillard, Melnikova, Davai, and Volleman that have competed/medaled with their two vaults for the past year which honestly feels like just a competitive field as beam at least if not bars too. I think team USA wants that solid 2nd AAer to challenge for the podium which is why I referenced Kyla in my last post. Despite lower difficulty than some of her teammates she still qualified and medaled in the AA at Worlds in 2013/2014 with a DTY over Maroney/Skinner as did Gabby in 2015 over Raisman. Obviously Valeri is not Marta, but if he’s basing any of his decision off of the last quad, an AAer who can vault (that isn’t Simone) isn’t guaranteed to beat out an AAer who can’t.

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