The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – August 22, 2018

A. Pan American Championships team

Following nationals, the US named its Pan-American Championships team as Grace McCallum, Shilese Jones, Kara Eaker, Trinity Thomas, and Jade Carey—going exactly by the all-around standings from nationals with the exception of the three worlds-lock gymnasts: Biles, Hurd, and McCusker.

It’s a quality, perfectly acceptable, well-balanced team (if a little light on bars with Shchennikova as only the alternate). I don’t, however, care for the approach of using the direct all-around standings to make a team. That’s not typically going to bring out the highest-scoring group in a team competition or be the most efficient use of spots. Why even have a selection committee if they’re not going to do any selecting?

In this case, I think particularly of someone like Jordan Chiles. She’s actually in the conversation for worlds because of vault—but is also so erratic in her hitting that she remains a very questionable selection. Pan Ams could have provided more data points for a borderline candidate like her.

In true shallow USAG fashion (trying to solve problems only cosmetically without addressing the underlying frustrations), they’re attempting to eliminate perceptions of bias by making more selections via all-around results. Team formats being what they are, however, that approach doesn’t work.

The only way you can try to eliminate perceptions of political unfairness or bias against athletes in gymnastics selection is by publicly, transparently, and logically explaining your decisions so that we can judge for ourselves whether those reasons make sense, or whether you’re just a biased garbage factory. What you can’t do is announce a list of names and then disappear in a cloud of smoke.

This issue is coming up intensely on the men’s side right now with John Orozco’s anger about Donnell Whittenburg being left of the team. Someone is always going to be upset and think team selections are unfair—that’s part of the job of naming teams, someone’s going to be pissed and the coaches and athletes will always semi-hate you—but you have to be open about the reasoning in choosing the people you did. Otherwise, you’re going to invite assumptions of bias.

Why wouldn’t the athletes assume something fishy is going on if they’re never given good reasons as to why decisions are made?

I personally would not have placed Whittenburg in the worlds selection group of 8 because he’s not far enough along yet and isn’t even showing basic routines on some of his most important events. I would, however, have put him on the national team because he could be worthy of a place on a future worlds team at full strength.

Also, if Whittenburg wasn’t going to be named to anything at all after showing up at nationals with semi-meh performances on rings and PBars, regardless of the reasoning, he should have been told in advance of the competition that there was no point in doing what he was doing.

Expectations need to be made clear to every athlete. National team coordinators should be sitting down with every athlete and saying, “This is where I see you fitting (or not fitting). This is what you need to do to keep that up. This is what you need to do to change your position. I need to see this many competitive routines. I need to see you getting healthy.” Or whatever it may be. Your place in national team setups or in the eyes of the selection committee should never be a mystery.

B. The Jade Carey situation

I get into this in the update to the 2020 Olympic qualification explanation, but…

Rumblings from nationals were that Jade Carey is not putting herself in the mix for worlds this year in an effort to gain a nominative Olympic spot through event world cups instead. This needs to be false. That would be an extremely stupid decision for the US program to make. Do not do that. You do not want that. Send Jade Carey to worlds. Do not send any athletes to event world cups. Those spots do not make sense for the US women. You do not need to go for them. Repel that instinct.

One more thing to add: Some people are confused about the individual spots. Whether a spot is qualified through the apparatus route or the all-around routes has no bearing on how many events you can end up competing at the actual Olympics. Everyone has the option to compete four pieces, to compete one piece, whatever. It doesn’t matter how that spot was earned once you’re there.

C. Asian Games

Team action at the Asian Games concluded today and our dreams of an epic China/Japan showdown on both the women’s and men’s sides will have to wait for the world championship since Japan elected not to send its worlds delegations to this event. And China said, “Thank you for all the gold medals. Sincerely, China.”

China, having sent what are pretty much its A teams, romped to team gold in both the men’s and women’s competitions, winning the men’s competition by over 12 points and the women’s by nearly 7. On the women’s side, we’re still very worried about China having to put up a 5.0, 5.0, 4.7 lineup on floor and several fulls on vault. It didn’t matter in this competition, but it will at worlds.

Japan wasn’t expecting a ton from its own women’s team, but it’s still quite significant that North Korea beat the Japanese for the silver medal. This new generation of North Koreans is legit and should easily make the top 24 at worlds if this competition is any remote indication of ability.

Chen Yile took the women’s AA gold fairly easily with 55.950, ahead of Luo Huan and Kim Su Jong. For the men, Lin Chaopan reversed the results from worlds, winning gold ahead of Xiao Ruoteng, who took bronze. Shogo Nonomura won silver.

The meet continues with event finals on Thursday and Friday, after which I’ll do a whole recap of the competition. Women’s vault has already gotten weird, with Liu Jinru doing a Pavlova on vault for a 0.000 in qualification, Dipa Karmakar getting two-pered out of the final and then withdrawing from the meet, and Yeo Seojong showing an excellent rudi to emerge as South Korea’s greatest hope.

D. Worlds draw

Somewhat lost in the nationals shuffle was the reveal of the draw for the world championship, but don’t worry, it’s terrible.

WOMEN’S DRAW

MEN’S DRAW

I say it’s terrible because the FIG has introduced a bye rotation on the women’s side this year to allow for the unnecessarily large number of mixed groups it has also introduced. In 2014, there were 6 mixed groups of 7 athletes each; this year there are 13 mixed groups of 4-5 athletes each. They also got rid of a subdivision for some reason. There were supposed to be 12, and now there are 11.

If they had used 12 subdivisions and made the mixed groups up of 5-6 athletes (which is bigger than the team sizes, but that’s no different than it was in 2014), they could easily have avoided using bye rotations. But FIG gonna FIG.

The second we get rid of byes in NCAA, the FIG decides that byes sound like a great idea? #murdermurdermurder

As for the actual subdivision placement, the US and Japanese women compete on the first day, with China, Russia, and Great Britain going on the second day. Most of the biggest men’s teams will go on the second day, except for Russia, which got the very first subdivision.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Concerns about the scores rising through the competition and benefiting the later subdivisions tend to be leftovers from the 10.0 years. That’s very 80s-90s. It’s not much of a thing in the D-E era.

E. The same rigamarole

Someone accuses a coach of abuse. More people accuse the coach of abuse. Other people say those first people are liars. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Maybe just wait, listen, acknowledge, and think.

And remember that old adage from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Everyone sucks. Everywhere. All the time.”

F. What else?

Valeri is still working with the Brazilian women’s team. Keep your eyes and ears peeled.

Kyla Ross and Madison Kocian were on CBS This Morning, accompanied by Miss Val, to tell of their own experiences as survivors.

And the myriad people connected to USAG who are questioning their timing and motives can go eat a porcupine. They’re not the problem. You are the problem.

We know coaching abuse is far from just a US problem. But in other countries, they sometimes decide to do this thing where you get fired instead of, like, a trophy.

In better news, Paul Ruggeri got engaged!

https://www.instagram.com/p/BmMhVRylno3/?hl=en&taken-by=sweatycoach

G. GymCastic

This week, it’s one of our longest episodes yet (you’re welcome?) because we had kind of a lot to talk about regarding nationals. Equal parts excitement and rage: the GymCastic special. We even spend a good, solid amount of time on the men. Men!

Also, buckle in for next week’s episode because Jessica interviewed Aly Raisman while she was in Boston, and it’s going to be GOOOOOOOOD stuff. [tea emoji] [tea emoji] [tea emoji]

H. Beam routine of the week

1988 all-around champion Yelena Shushunova died last week from complications due to pneumonia at age 49.

 

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