The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

US Classic In Review – A Life in a Day

Welp, another uneventful US Classic has come and gone, nothing to see here. Snore.

Actually, there was one thing. And by one I mean 750,000.

Miss Biles

We’ll start with young upstart Simone Biles. She won. Attempt to contain your astonishment. Her 58.700, achieved with a fall on bars, is the highest all-around score of the quadrennium so far—eclipsing Larisa Iordache’s wind-aided 58.466 from 2017 Romanian Nationals.

Biles was awarded D scores of at least 6.0 on every event, and while she’s not quite in crisp, world-beating form yet, it’s clear that she will be in about 30 seconds. Across the four events, we saw pretty much the expected US Classic “I’m at 75% right now” level—similar to what we saw from the other top contenders—with one miss, an OOB on floor, and some really bouncy landings that aren’t quite honed yet. It’s early in the process.

But we also saw that both the difficulty and execution are still there, and that Biles has every intention of picking up exactly where she left off last quad. There was certainly some degree of SIMONE IS BACK scoring on a few events, but we know now based on these performances that a hit meet from Biles at nationals will break 60. There’s no one else in the world capable of doing that right now, even if they were competing at Romanian Nationals and Ukrainian Nationals simultaneously.

Biles debuted and hit her intended upgrades and looked very comfortable with all the difficulty, because of course she did. The only mistake on one of her upgrades came on the Moors, when she bounced several yards out of bounds. (Biles was—charitably—given two separate 0.1 NDs on that for going OOB with one foot on the landing and then a second foot as she attempted to resume her routine, rather than 0.3 ND for going OOB with both feet).

She also had an early-season bounce of a landing on her Cheng— which has for the moment replaced the Amanar as her primary vault—but that looked otherwise just as well-executed as it did in 2016.

The miss on bars came on a toe full, when she couldn’t control it up to vertical and came back the other side, but the Shap 1/2 upgrade looked excellent (with better leg form than expected) and the Fabrichnova is gigantic. Biles followed the miss on bars with a very solid hit on beam, more secure and comfortable than we saw from her in podium training, when the barani was being a little bit of a jerk.

Team “Damn This Is About to Get Gooooood”

Moving on, let’s discuss Simone’s Best Friend in the Whole Wide World** Morgan Hurd.

Hurd had a similar day to Simone—hitting a new Moors on floor, recording one fall (hers coming on beam), and overall showing lovely pieces with some uncontrolled landings. It was a shame that Hurd fell on her punch front on beam because the routine until that point had been actually perfect and we were all getting ready to scream “THIS IS THE BEST ROUTINE SHE HAS EVER DONE.” And then she fell. Because of course.

Hurd’s floor routine is delectable, though I’m unsure at this point whether the DLO 2/1 is worth the one tenth you get over the DLO 1/1. We’ll see how it progresses over the next few meets.

Hurd also recorded a 14.700 on bars, which is mission accomplished for her in making the case as a TF-ready bars worker. Overall, she went 56.350 with that fall, which was good enough for third place. Hurd is yet to reach the 57s as a senior elite, but this score indicates that she should be able to manage that mark with a four-event hit at nationals. Watch that 57. Consistent 57 ability is going to be a critical benchmark in the race to be the second US all-arounder this year, a race which is getting reallllllllllllly interesting.

It’s getting especially interesting because of the exceptional showing made by Riley McCusker to take second place with a 57.500. She’s now one of only three US gymnasts to have broken 57 in the all-around this quad as seniors, along with Biles and Ragan Smith.

The impressiveness of McCusker’s meet came not so much because of her lovely execution (we’ve known about that for ages now), but because she displayed a solidity of both mind and her actual physical limbs that we haven’t consistently seen from her. She also showed key improvements on some previous weaknesses

That DTY was a struggle for McCusker when it debuted last year, and while it’s still not the biggest vault you’ll see, it doesn’t look like she’s killing herself to get it around now, to the point that it might develop into a somewhat reliable score.

She also worked out the bars dismount (a major issue in training), which allows the rest of the routine to shine.

The addition of a DLO on floor is also significant—even if it was landed short here—to help keep her somewhat close on the power events. Floor and vault are not going to be where McCusker makes teams, but the focus will be getting her routines competitive enough on those events that she can use bars and beam to distance herself from others in the all-around.

It’s still just one meet, though. Especially important for McCusker will be showing that she has the ability to repeat this exact performance time and again, starting with both days of nationals, which is what it takes to make US teams. For a lot of people, I think McCusker moved onto a presumptive five-person worlds team with her performance at Classic, but it’s still in pencil pending a display of further consistency and health.

Ragan Smith made an appearance here, performing the Texas Dreams special—not all the events. She scratched on floor but otherwise had a similarly not-ideal-but-fine-for-Classic performance, in her case missing her Ricna on bars and being just OK on vault, but hitting quite a respectable beam set for 14.500.

It’s a different year for Smith because in 2017, she was the queen all-arounder and best the US had to offer. This year, her top-2 AA status is far from a given. We still need to see how her scores (particularly on floor, which was an advantage for her last year) measure up at nationals compared to the Hurds and McCuskers. Smith hinted that she has some upgrades to unveil in Boston, and the competitiveness of the rest of the field means she might really need them to remain above the water line.

We also still don’t know how Emma Malabuyo and Maile O’Keefe fit into this all-around conversation. O’Keefe did not participate at Classic and Malabuyo gets an incomplete for doing two events and not seeming at full strength, so…we’re waiting. But those two are going to have to show something close to 57 to get into the main all-around conversation, and we haven’t seen that from them yet as seniors.

Jade Carey placed down in 10th in the all-around because of a miss on bars, though that’s not particularly significant for her prospects. She recorded 13.900 on floor with a 6.1 D, also adding a Moors because that’s what all the cool kids are doing, in addition to adding back the double L turn that she ditched partway through last elite season. Attempting to bump up the dance elements was critical this season, and it looks like she’s doing that.

Carey is not yet showing full difficulty on vault, electing to go for the DTY as well as a round-off 1/2 on, layout 1/2 here.

For the moment at least, she has ditched the Tsuk entirely. Ditching your signature vault is very 2018, apparently. Vault is, most of all, the event for which Carey makes teams, more so than floor. Here, Carey was just .050 ahead of Hurd on floor, and we haven’t seen Smith’s floor yet, so it’s not currently looking like an absolute “you must take me for this event” event. Evaluating Carey’s worlds prospects for this year will be contingent upon seeing the difficulty and quality of both vaults she elects to perform at nationals. She’s going to need to be clearly “the best who isn’t Simone” on vault to make her case again this year.


Team Pleasant Surprise

The team is led by Shilese Jones, who followed her victorious performance at American Classic with a 54.900, a point better than that AC showing and good enough for 4th place here. Jones was not super high on the list of those who looked like they could make the national team heading into the summer, but if she repeats this quality at nationals, she could get one of those coveted spots. While floor is still the most interesting event for Jones, she’s becoming a real four-eventer with a usefully competitive bars score.

Now, just get rid of that split leap attempt on beam, and we’ll be fine.

Alyona Shchennikova also did herself some good by hitting the most complete bars routine we’ve seen from her in a while, including a hit dismount.

Her 14.900 for this set is just a tenth off the pace set by McCusker. If not for McCusker’s presence, Shchennikova would put herself in serious bars-specialist discussion by keeping up that kind of score. She followed that bars performance by hitting beam, both in the same meet (!), then went to floor and missed because we can’t have nice things. But, hitting her main event for a giant score (the third-highest US bars score of the quad, behind two McCusker routines) is the victory here.

Sloane Blakely nailed a beam set for 14.400. That is a thing that happened, and it’s going to be important to remember that. This is an extremely solid performance, really just a little bit of feet and back-leg away from truly raking in the E scores.


You Got A Score

In addition to Blakely, who ended up achieving the necessary qualifying score to nationals primarily on the strength of that huge beam number, Audrey Davis comfortably recorded her required all-around score, Louisa Blanco hit a clean four events to get there as well, and Jaylene Gilstrap got exactly the three-event score she needed (39.750) after her originally reported floor score of 12.800 was changed to 12.950.

Also, Biles and McCusker are fully qualified to nationals. Derrrrr.

Olivia Dunne competed only bars here but has had her petition to nationals accepted. Missing out on qualification to nationals from this meet were Soza, Hollingsworth, Berger, and Mabanta.


Juniors

It was a GAGE kind of day, you guys.

Going in, there were four favorites for the title: Lee, Di Cello, Bowers, and Wong. Leanne Wong is the one among the four who hit full difficulty on all events, allowing her to claim the crown with a 55.350 that ultimately afforded a very comfortable buffer between her and the other top contenders. Her stuck DTY and generally lovely “I’m not giving away the farm to you” execution stood out as she smoothly rolled through the four pieces. Get excited.

For much of the meet, it appeared that Jordan Bowers would claim the win, especially after a stellar bars showing in the second rotation, but she really ran out of gas on floor to end the meet, throwing in a couple mistakes that dropped her down to third. Not being quite at full competition level yet at Classic—how very senior elite of you.

Kayla Di Cello seemed like she had taken herself out of the running in the second rotation with a miss on beam, but an excellent hit to open the meet on bars and a well-executed DTY to end the competition allowed her to jump back up to 2nd with a 54.000, emphasizing the height of her scoring potential for a hit day.

Sunisa Lee managed to get 5th despite not showing full difficulty (a layout placeholder on floor, a full on vault, no real beam dismount), which ultimately bodes well for her chances if she adds everything back in at nationals. I mean, she won beam without a dismount.

It’s going to be a real race for the title at nationals without a clear favorite in this group.

Adding herself into the conversation here was Tori Tatum with her 4th-place result and hit meet. The DTY is excellent as we know, and if she can continue hitting her routines this consistently, despite some lower difficulty, she’ll be in the mix and ready to pounce on mistakes from others.

Also, you shouldn’t be allowed to do front tumbling on floor unless you do it the way GAGE gymnasts do it. Despite having much lower difficulty than the other gymnasts who placed toward the top, and despite throwing in an accidental toe 1.5 on bars, Aleah Finnegan managed to finish 7th because of her high execution scores on beam and floor, in addition to her DTY.

Your new star Levi Junr-Ruivivar had a rough day with multiple falls, but she’s still on track to get an Oscar for her Pain of a Nation floor routine.

She’s even still trying to artistry her way off the floor with a limp. Someone asked whether limping off was just part of the character she was playing and OH GOD I WISH SO BADLY THAT WERE TRUE. Someone please do that.

Last but not least, Zoe Gravier‘s floor music. Discuss at length.

It’s insane, so I’m already 1000% on board with how weird and hideously unlistenable this music is (my chosen floor music would just be 90 seconds of screaming while plates smash in the background), but if they’re going to use that, I really want them to commit to the insane with matching choreography instead of doing all the same MG Elite stuff. It’s very Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, and I think that should be the inspiration. She should just be pouring tea onto her head and bouncing around and slobbering the whole time.

As you may know, I despise sound effects in floor music, so if you’re going to use a lot of them, at least make the whole thing super crazy. I’m ready to watch this space.


**For those sane and mature human beings among you who steer clear of the trash garbage websites of the modern age, there is currently a MASSIVE EPIC OMG SOCIAL MEDIA DRAMA going on between Simone Biles and Morgan Hurd about…it’s hard to say. I mean, it’s hard to care. Interpersonal things. Whatever.

Hey, you said you wanted the athletes to speak their minds. This is that. I’m sorry. I’m trying to take this as seriously as the tweetlings are, I am, but I just…don’t…care. Even a little. Nor do I think anything that has happened is that big of a deal to those of us who aren’t the actual people involved.

%d bloggers like this: