A. European Championships – Belgium Drama
Following yesterday‘s intense (and apparently secret…) team qualification day, the big news has become Belgium.
Belgium performed splendidly on Thursday, securing qualification in third place ahead of Great Britain and the Netherlands (as well as the favored-but-suddenly-disastrous Germans in 10th). But today, Belgium announced that it is pulling out of the team final in order to focus on event finals and remaining healthy for worlds.
This turn of events is a useful reminder that Belgium is still a tiny gymnastics nation, one that has been punching above its level recently because of a small, extremely talented generation but is not as established as any of the other countries its competing against. Belgium is in Glasgow with only four gymnasts, not as some sort of cool political statement, but because there aren’t really any other available options.
On this team of four, Senna Deriks is currently not able to compete floor and Nina Derwael’s ankles are hurting, and…well…the ability to comfortably put up three athletes on each event in a team final dissipates pretty quickly. Belgium is clearly already worried about getting more injured and not having enough people to go to worlds in a few months.
The other factor here is less tangible. Because of not having a huge pool to choose from historically, Belgium hasn’t secured a ton of team accomplishments over the years and has therefore not developed that rabid THE TEAM IS ALL culture that’s so strong around gymnastics programs like the US. (For reference if you’re not an insane American: At the 2008 Olympics, US gymnasts won AA and BB gold, and those Olympics were viewed as “just OK” because of the team silver.)
So if this were the US, everything left in these gymnasts would be squeezed into the team final. (And then if you have to pull out of event finals after that because of injuries, then whatever.) But if you’re Belgium, the most likely medal here is Derwael on bars, so of course you’re going to prioritize that over anything else, like the team, if you’re trying to save people’s bodies. A gold is a gold is a gold, and carries the same weight, whether it comes in the team or on bars.
Meanwhile, Italy’s like THANK YOU. As the 9th-place finisher, Italy will be gifted a second chance and an opportunity to compete in the team final. That still doesn’t un-injure Sofia Busato though…
The senior team final is tomorrow at 8:00am ET/5:00am PT. I’ll be live blogging.
B. European Championships – Juniors
Speaking of Italy, the countdown clock until the Golden Children become seniors and make everything better continues ticking down. If the junior competition here is any indication, things are going to get a lot better.
The squad of Villa, Iorio, D’Amato 1, D’Amato 2, and Federici took the junior team title, forcing the Russians to settle for silver. Even though they’re still juniors, these two teams are already developing a fantastic back-and-forth rivalry.
Both groups had some trouble spots—Russia did a couple Russias on bars and beam, Italy wasn’t awesome on floor—but in the end Italy used its superior difficulty on vault to develop what turned out of be an insurmountable advantage. After yesterday, we forbade the Italian seniors from doing DTYs, but some of these juniors are allowed.
Georgia Villa had a phenomenal day to take the all-around title with a 55.065, a score which would have put her second in the seniors—ahead of even the likes of Melnikova and Derwael. The silver medal went to Amelie Morgan of GB (verbally committed to Cal) after a strong performance that saw her edge out Russia’s Ksenia Klimenko in third. Klimenko was dominant on bars for the top score of the day but didn’t have the numbers on the other events.
Amelie Morgan scored a 13.500 on beam—matching the high score from the senior women—while simultaneously having to manage the added obstacle of being British, a truly tremendous accomplishment. The whole British team should be very pleased with the performance to take team bronze, a definite victory. (My predicted podium probably would have been Italy, Russia, France going in.) The British don’t quite have the difficulty and composition of the Italians or Russians, but they hit the necessary three routines on each piece to keep things closer than expected with the Russians in the end.
Also significant was Romania’s taking 4th as a team, especially following the catastrophe that was the senior performance. We’ve seen potential from Romanian juniors that does not manifest as seniors many times before—so be cautious—but this team was very competitive outside of the bars scores. They even hit a couple bars routines for 12s, which is basically a miracle at this point. Some reason for hope.
France does have an excellent crop of juniors in addition to those dominant seniors and would have been expected to place higher here (even without one of the leaders, Celia Serber), but a series of beam disasters took them down the standings and into 5th.
In other news, I was encouraged by Belarus sending a full junior team here. They finished 12th, which is a solid result, and since the recent history for Belarus has been…not even having athletes?…a full team of five juniors that can put up real scores is a big deal.
C. US Nationals Entry List
USAG revealed the women’s field for nationals this week, which turned out to be…more eventful than it should have been.
Here are the entrants:
Kayla Di Cello
The senior field is almost as big as the junior field, which never happens.
The junior field is pretty uneventful, featuring everyone who had officially qualified to nationals, including the two who pulled out of Classic (Lippeatt and Soma).
The senior field includes all the expected characters from Classic, in addition to those who missed the meet: Frazier, Kenlin, O’Keefe, and Thomas. They’re all planning to return for nationals, as promised. You’ll also notice on the list of entrants that Frazier is representing UCLA and not Parkettes. Of the major players, only Gabby Perea, who is indeed injured, will be missing out.
Of significant note, the senior field also suddenly includes Deanne Soza, who did not qualify. So, yeah.
Now, we’re all thrilled that Soza is competing at nationals. She’s a dream, and the competition is better for having her in it. But also… why is she? I don’t believe that she received a valid qualifying score, and she’s not eligible to injury petition to nationals because she competed the all-around at US Classic. So how did this happen?
We’re not mad, but you have to explain it. Did she get a score at some kind of verification option we don’t know about? Was she granted some sort of special consideration? And was that same consideration extended to the other athletes that didn’t qualify like Mabanta, Berger, and Hollingsworth?
In general, I’m in favor of a very loose petition system to nationals without super strict standards (because the more the merrier, why the hell not, we want gymnasts like Soza at nationals), but it has to be an actual system that’s written down and applied to everyone. Otherwise, you’re opening yourselves up to whiffs of shadiness and accusations of favoritism.
That’s especially the case after multiple competitions this summer where gymnasts appeared not to have achieved the necessary score and then suddenly their totals were raised to be exactly the score required to qualify to nationals. It’s not a good look.
Now, there are many valid reasons gymnasts’ scores can be raised later, from tabulation errors to D-score inquiries to the score listed on the live updates being plain wrong, so there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. It’s important to go back and make sure things are correct because the ultimate goal is a fair score. But, when you have Gravier at junior American Classic, Dean at junior US Classic, and Gilstrap at senior US Classic all appearing to have missed the qualifying score before their scores were later raised to become exactly the score required to advance, it looks weird.
D. NCAA developments
I don’t know why shady scoring suddenly made me think of NCAA. Hm. Weird. Must just be a coincidence.
Anyway, San Jose State has announced that Joanne Bowers, formerly the head coach at Washington, is the team’s new head coach, which is very exciting. I know her family is full of football-throwy boys or something and the struggle to try to be in the same state as the other members of her family was a big reason for leaving Washington, which is why her hiring announcement is basically just, “OMG. We’re on the same coast you guys…”
This week, we recap ALLLLLL the action from the US Classic—including Simone things, social media drama things, Carol-scoring things, the juniors we’re excited about, and infuriating trends.
Plus, we talk about KP’s “Germany on beam”-level performance in front of Congress and provide a preview of the European Championships that you will find at times prescient and at times horribly outdated (oh Becky…).