The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Making Sense of the Women’s All-Around

Simone, where art thou?

In the absence of obviousness, this year’s all-around class and assembled helpers may seem a bit of a mess. They’re all so…there. In that spirit, let this be an unsuccessful effort to sort things out and clarify favorites from underdogs using recent scores.

I have taken the top 10 all-around contenders at worlds this year—in my view (and Dawn agrees with me)—and broken their 2017 scores down by event, including the average of the last five scores they received and their range of D scores during that period.

This should provide us with some method of ranking the contenders as well as highlighting which events gymnasts need to take advantage of to get into the medal race.

Let’s begin with vault.



Vault isn’t the most exciting of events in the all-around this year because, among the most likely medal winners, it’s a flatline of acceptable and normal DTYs where all the best ones should score pretty similarly.

Vault is not going to be the decider. We’ve seen meets this year where basically every DTY got the exact same score, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we’re rehashing that complaint throughout the next week.

Smith’s vault is cleaner than Iordache’s, but Iordache’s tends to be bigger, so 14.4 it is! The Russians fall down the rankings because of inconsistency, but…you’re not going to fall on a DTY at worlds, right? Oh god, of course you are.

Most of all, vault is the place where the underdogs, most particularly Andrade and Murakami, need to make their mark. Andrade’s competitiveness in the AA field is based primarily on the multi-tenth advantage she can get because of Amanar. She needs every single one of those tenths. Murakami’s clean and comfortable DTY would likely score on the higher side of the AA DTYs, but the upgrade to that elusive Amanar would be a game-changer big enough to put her in serious medal contention.

For those who are going to lose a couple tenths of ground on vault, bars is the place to make it up.

Eremina is the one serious bars specialist in the AA field, most likely the only major all-around contender we’ll also see in the bars final. Like Andrade on vault, the reason Eremina can medal in the all-around is her potential advantage on bars. She will, however, be at the mercy of the “credit for that?” police for a routine that can get tenthed and tenthed down the 14 ladder very quickly.

Concerns about beam (and an overall tendency toward middle-of-the-pack-ishness) mean that Melnikova needs to take similar advantage of bars. She may be European floor champion, but bars is her real opportunity to gain tenths.

Liu finds herself surprisingly low the list, which is an important reminder that attempts to compare scores from Russian Cup and Chinese National Games are always going to be fraught. Also that the world is a swirling veil of darkness.

Typically it would be difficult to imagine those with D scores like the Japanese gymnasts have, so much lower than what their peers are performing on this event, being competitive in the all-around. This year, the field is open enough that it’s not too much of a problem. Pretty much everyone has one of those events.

On beam, the D score is a less helpful indicator because connection credit is so mercurial. Gymnasts who seem to be far apart in difficulty may end up overlapping.

That top group of three (Iordache, Smith, and Liu), however, should be able to separate itself from the rest of the field because of beam. In fact, that wouldn’t be a particularly surprising podium to see in the beam final.

Note that Smith is sitting second on three separate events. Her evenness across the four pieces and consistency this year is her best argument. She hasn’t fallen nearly as much as the others and doesn’t have the one-event lapses in competitiveness that her competitors do.

Floor is an essential piece in Eremina and Melnikova’s quests for medals. We’ve seen both score well on floor this year, but both are also too reliant on turns to make floor a safe or guaranteed score. It can all get 13.4 pretty quickly, which would be devastating in the AA hunt when trying to hold off someone like Murakami, who gets her difficulty from tumbling and isn’t going to be downgraded to death.

That’s why, for most, floor is a worry. If Black gets through bars and beam with hits, her serious obstacle will be not having shown much floor difficulty this year. Andrade and Liu, as well, can only do so much with routines in the low 5s compared to sets at 5.5 or above. This is what starts to create a fairly significant separation between the top and everyone else.

All the averages combined:

The reason you may hear this competition being constructed as a Ragan Smith vs. Larisa Iordache battle to the death is…this. It kind of is. With all necessary caveats about weird domestic scores or the possibility of someone “showing up on the day” and being fantastic, those two really should have an advantage on the rest of the field.

Behind them is an extraordinarily evenly matched clump that could end up in any order. The bars of Eremina vs. the vault of Andrade vs. the floor of Murakami? I’m there for it.

You’ll see Morgan Hurd farther behind the rest here. In fact, if I had included Luo Huan in this, she would be 10th and Hurd would be bumped down to 11th. If Hurd competes at the average level we’ve seen so far this year, she won’t be a medal contender, but the fact that she was chosen for the second US spot should allow us to expect her to compete at a higher level than that come next week. Otherwise she wouldn’t have been selected. At least, that’s the assumption.


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