The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – May 8, 2018

I’m back with a special Tuesday edition of TAH to catch up on all the action I’ve missed.

A. Alabama

Shortly following nationals this year, Alabama head coach Dana Duckworth fired assistant coach and pants enthusiast Bryan Raschilla. It was initially a fairly surprising development because they seemed to have a good thing going, but the results absolutely have not been there, culminating in missing Super Six this year for the first time since 2007.

In the gymnastics community, the reaction to Dana’s head coach tenure has been quite enthusiastic, but those who are not intimately connected with the sport don’t see the vital importance of Super Six capelets, coaching beam with the chin-elevation of a theatrical grand dame, and saying, “You are beautiful, you are lovely, go out there and enjoy this.”

I mean…

I rest my case.

Anyway, over the past few months, the Alabama pressure on Dana has been mounting for not being able to match the championship pedigree of the Sarah years thus far. Some of that is selective rose-colored memory—Alabama had occasional streaks of 6th-8th finishes under Sarah too, in a less deep national environment—but Sarah also had championships to lean back on, which Dana does not have. Alabama has fallen a step behind Florida and LSU, instead of being on par with them, and is now facing pressure from Georgia again if nationals was any indication.

When the expected results aren’t there at a big program, it’s eat or be eaten. In the face of that pressure, something had to change, and it looks like Bryan got eaten.

B. Other NCAA developments

Sixth years are the new fifth years. It sure worked for Peng Peng Lee, who received this year’s Honda Award in gymnastics for being the best…overall person? Just in the world I think? She’s the 6th all-time winner from UCLA, the first since Kristen Maloney, and as far as I can tell is the only ever event specialist to win the award, which dates back to 1977. That’s what getting a 20 in Super Six will do for you. The winner of the Honda Award for gymnastics then goes on to compete against the winners from the other women’s sports for the overall Honda Cup.

Keeping the sixth-year thing going, Mary Jane Horth for Illinois has been granted a sixth year so that she can return to the team for the 2019 season after missing the entirety of her redshirt season with injury.

In late signing news, Grace Quinn from Texas Dreams is joining Cal next season as her previous verbal commitment indicated. Everyone forgets about Grace Quinn because she hasn’t competed in three years, but the talent was crazy-there during her elite days. It will be fascinating to see where her gymnastics is at this point because something resembling her elite level would be a huge under-the-radar boost to Cal’s lineups, but it has been so long since that level poked out of the hole and saw its shadow.

New senior elite Zoe Simmons from GBR is a verbal to Pitt, which is another solid get for a program on the rise, especially with her floor potential.

Taylor Spears, former queen of Oklahoma, will be an assistant coach at Arizona next year after spending last season at UNC.

Arkansas announced that it has promoted Jaime Pisani Armbrust and Garrett Griffeth-McCool (these are your names; this is how we know who you are) from assistant coaches to associate head coaches. Mostly that change of title just means better monies, but it can also mean taking over more responsibilities if Mark Cook is edging toward retirement in the near future.

Meanwhile, McCool still has to Wieber it and be the volunteer assistant—like she’s some medically retired L10 in her fifth year or loyal inner-circle gay who comes in to do the choreography and knows all the secrets.

“Hiring the husband/boyfriend” is totally the new “recruiting the older sister.”

C. Chinese Championships

The week-long Chinese Championship is already underway with women’s qualification seeing golden child and last great hope Chen Yile zoom to the top of the all-around standings by multiple points with 55.950.

Of course, Chen’s scores were bolstered by large numbers on bars and beam, particularly a 15.000 on beam, the highest beam score recorded in the world so far this year. China isn’t exactly known for cracky domestic scoring, but these beam E scores in the high 8s certainly depart from the FIG beam harshness we’ve come to expect this quad.

Only China is allowed to do dance elements on beam, he said reasonably.

The point of concern for China is the same one we’ve had for the last 10 years. There are so many brilliant bars and beam routines that you would gladly take to worlds (and Fan Yilin didn’t even compete here because of injury), but you’re also going to need to shove three good vault and floor scores onto a team of five, and those strengths don’t typically correspond in China’s national team. Chen needs to be a four-event TF option for China. She has shown a DTY in the past—but did just an FTY in qualification here—and while she recorded the highest senior floor score, it was with just a 4.8 D. So…worries about  vault and floor competitiveness have not been allayed.

Most of the top vault scores went to vault specialists who probably don’t have enough other events to make a team, and the top three floor scores went to juniors. In that respect, Liu Jinru did herself a solid in qualification by using her rudi/DTT combination to outpace the field on vault by a large margin and by getting the #2 floor score among seniors with 13.250, setting herself up right now as the first-choice VT/FX option. Although that DLO + front pike combination is immediately terrifying and I’m afraid her head is going to come off.

Zhang Jin is another who has shown the essential ability to go over 14 on vault and over 13 on floor this year, and she also helps her case by bringing a beam option that turned heads here with a 14.500.

Among the UB/BBers, Du Siyu placed the best in qualification with a 53.600 in the AA and a first-place result on bars, also making the floor final with 12.750.

The between-bars Gienger is the new 3/1 + front pike. It’s in actually every single routine.

Du’s bars is right there with Luo Huan’s—Luo has the better beam, while Du has the much better floor, which could be significant—but don’t forget about the mostly triumphant return of Liu Tingting here. Liu did not compete floor and went for an FTY on vault, but she looked largely back to her old self on bars and beam, which was refreshing.

The question for LTT right now is whether she’s going to try to get floor and a full-strength vault back, or whether she is going to have to fight it out with the other UB/BB specialists for spots. I’d still want LTT, even if it’s just for bars and beam.

Shang Chunsong, you guys! Shang is currently in the semi-retired-but-clearly-not purgatory that Tatiana Nabieva has made her home lo these many years, where she’s still training and performing at a high level here and there, but was also sort of leaning toward retirement last year. It’s still unclear whether she’s actually going to go for major teams right now or is just here to compete for her province without being a contender for the national team, but the beam is still very much there and the ro + tuck full is goooooood.

In addition to Fan Yilin, other high profile absences were new senior Li Qi (another who’s supposed to provide four-event-competitive help to China) with injury, and Wang Yan with “Sigh, I might also be retired.”

Competition continues with the provincial team final on the 10th, followed by the AA final on the 11th, and then event finals on the 12th and 13th. It’s a super long, draining competition.

Here are the results from qualification, with birth years noted for the juniors.

1. Chen Yile – 55.950
2. Du Siyu – 53.600
3. Zhang Jin – 53.350
4. Luo Huan 53.200
5. Tang Xijing (2003) – 52.800
6. Guan Chenchen (2004) – 52.450
7. Qi Qi (2003) – 52.350
8. Lu Yufei – 52.100
9. Zhao Shiting (2003) – 51.400
10. Yin Sisi (2003) – 51.200

1. Liu Jinru – 14.775
2. Qi Qi (2003) – 14.125
3. Yu Linmin (2003) – 13.975
4. Deng Yalan – 13.325
5. Ye Dandan – 13.3
6. Zhan Yi (?) – 13.025
7. Shao Yuhang (Junior) – 12.95
8. Xu Nan (Junior) – 12.6

1. Du Siyu – 14.500
2. Lyu Jiaqi – 14.400
3. Luo Huan – 14.200
4. Liu Tingting – 14.100
5. Chen Yile – 14.100
6. Lu Yufei – 13.800
7. Tang Xijing (2003) – 13.650
8. Yin Sisi (2003) – 13.25

1. Chen Yile – 15.000
2. Liu Tingting – 14.600
3. Zhao Shiting (2003) – 14.500
4. Li Shijia (2003) – 14.500
4. Zhang Jin – 14.500
6. Guan Chenchen (2004) – 14.300
7. Qian Xuejia – 14.200
8. Shang Chunsong – 14.000
9. Luo Huan – 13.900

1. Yin Sisi (2003) – 13.600
2. Qi Qi (2003) – 13.450
3. Ou Yushan (2004) – 13.350
4. Chen Yile – 13.300
5. Liu Jinru – 13.250
6. Qian Xuejia – 12.800
7. Du Siyu – 12.750
7. Guan Chenchen (2004) – 12.750
7. Lu Yufei – 12.750
7. Liu Jieyu – 12.750

D. Germany broke

Things were sailing along quite nicely for Germany for a while there, but we learned this week that everything in life is a vicious lie. Seitz now looks like she will miss Euros because of abdominal issues that will keep her out of training until August, and Tabea Alt is still out with injury on an indefinite-sounding timetable.

The prospects for Euros, where a full-strength Germany would have been a very strong contender for a team medal especially considering GB’s own injury issues, now look quite a bit rougher. Seitz is out, Alt is a big question mark, and we haven’t yet seen anything from Pauline Schaefer in 2018, someone who will be absolutely essential to any German success at Euros. Sophie Scheder is training again, but we yet don’t know where she is on the path to a return. There may be more pressure to see if Scheder can get a competitive bars routine together in time for Euros, even if she doesn’t yet have the other pieces, because someone has to fill Seitz’s shoes. Right now, Bui and Voss are basically the two healthy ones who have also competed recently.

It’s still three months until Euros, so the hope is that as many members of the old gang as possible can get back. Regardless, it looks like there will be some opportunities for unexpected gymnasts to make a major team this year. At last word, beam option Leah Griesser was on break (perhaps she would try to Charlie Fellows it suddenly, looking at the state of this squad), but if I’m one of those other second-tier stalwarts like Carina Kroll, Emma Hofele, Michelle Timm, Amelie Follinger, Isabelle Stingl, or even the returned Janine Berger, I’m thinking I’ve got at least a shot this year that I did not expect just a couple weeks ago.

E. Romania v. Finland

Romania hosted a friendly meet against Finland (as opposed to an angry meet) in which the top, currently competing Romanian juniors and seniors got a chance to record some scores and show us that there are three whole seniors who scored over 12 on bars. (In the results below, the second group of Romanians are the juniors.)

The immediate, attainable goal for Romania at this point will be to make the team final at Euros. Recall that Romania was team champion just four years ago—it has been a precipitous fall—but just making TF in 2018 would still count as a victory, or at least as a steadying of the ship. It’s not a given. There are seven solid countries at the top in Europe right now with Russia, GB, France, Italy, Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium, and the likes of Switzerland, Hungary, and Spain are potentially too close to Romania for comfort depending on who is healthy for them.

Romania should be top-8 in Europe—and a full-strength Golgota, Crisan, and Ghiciuc would be worthy of it—but it will not be smooth sailing and would take the ability to recreate these domestic scores at a major international competition. They’re not high scores, but they would get the job done. If real.

F. GymCastic

If you’re a Club Gym Nerd member, you can watch the video of our NCAA Nationals live show with Kennedy Baker. The normal podcast version is available for all.


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