The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Pan American Championships – What Happened There?

The US team is what happened there, to the surprise of no one.

On the women’s side, the United States won the team title by five and a half points over a valiant Brazilian team, and was never truly challenged in the process, winning each event.

Brazil won’t really mind the 5+ point deficit to the US—that’s about what we would expect to see right now between Brazil and a B+ US squad—and that team final performance showed marked improvement over qualification, where the margin between the two teams ended up a surprisingly hefty nine points.

In qualification, it was vault of all things that did Brazil in after DTY disasters from both Saraiva and Barbosa, but the team resolved those problems for the final to buoy the final score. That improvement, coupled with a few more mistakes from the US side in the final, shrunk the margin to five points.

Digging deeper, the world championship candidates on the US team all pretty much did their jobs, helping us resolve nothing at all. Thanks a lot. We needed to see Kara Eaker win beam and hit two routines that scored well into the 14s, which she did. We needed to see Grace McCallum win the all-around and continue proving she has a usable, international-level score on any event as needed, which she did. We needed to see Jade Carey be a force on vault and floor and win those pieces, which she did, and while Carey did not as yet upgrade the DTY, the big and necessary floor score sort of made up for that and didn’t compromise her current position.

What’s difficult here is the scoring standard. Scoring looked pretty loose to me, a little looser than US nationals, with the judges far more willing to go into the mid-8s in E score than I expect we’ll see at worlds. So, it doesn’t give us a great point of comparison. Are Grace McCallum’s beam and floor routines actually higher-scoring than Morgan Hurd’s, as this meet would lead us to believe? I’m not sold on that.

McCallum nonetheless did help her world championships case with this performance, solidifying herself as the US’s #4 all-arounder with believable, TF-ready routines on three events.

What McCallum will still have to do to get a spot on the worlds team is show up at the selection camp with routines that would provide a clear scoring edge over what a Biles, Hurd, McCusker, Carey group would be expected to deliver in a team final.

Right now, you have this:

Hurd Biles Hurd Hurd
Carey Hurd McCusker Carey
Biles McCusker Biles Biles

That squad has already won the team final at worlds, let’s be honest. Any fifth person is just sort of running up the total, but the goal of US selection is always to choose the team that can bring the best possible score for a team final. McCallum would have to find her “in” at the selection camp, and specifically, I think that means beating Hurd on vault and floor to say, “I’m your leadoff on these events.” That’s the realistic path for her to make the team, assuming all people are healthy and also trying for worlds. I refuse to acknowledge any other situation.

Because if McCallum is not beating the above group on any event, even if she has a great all-around score, then it makes more sense to take a shot with Eaker on beam, who can outscore this group with her best hit and add some tenths there, or take a risk with Chiles’ Amanar.

I do also want to acknowledge that Trinity Thomas was being all Trinity Thomas on her way to silvers in the all-around and on bars. I don’t really think she’s in the worlds conversation this year, but she was up to the task in this competition and we’re already expecting a comical number of 10s this NCAA season.

Shilese Jones was mostly on the team for her gigantic DTY, but she also delivered very competitive bars scores—and as that giant crop of new seniors continues being sifted out, Jones is keeping herself toward the top, which I wouldn’t necessarily have called coming into the summer. She’s squarely in the group that will continue being considered for assignments in 2019 and 2020.

Let’s discuss Brazil. Brazil still has some tough decisions to make about worlds. Andrade is back on vault and bars, and while she performed only a full on vault, it was one of those fulls that’s preposterously easy looking and lovely because she’s capable of so, so much more. Honestly, even if she doesn’t upgrade vault (and I expect she will, at least to a DTY), and doesn’t add back beam or floor, her bars is too useful to be ignored. Brazil needs her at worlds.

Lorrane Oliveira’s position may not be that solid since her bars scores (13.367, 12.833) didn’t scream necessity. We could still see Hypolito go to worlds instead to shore up those beam and floor rotations, while Saraiva is forced to put up a third counting score on bars—and everyone just hopes for the best.

Flavia was the star of the meet for Brazil, winning bronze in the all-around and silver on beam and floor (peaking on beam with a gigantic 14.667), among the very few individual event medals that did not go to the US.

Another significant story here was the stellar performance of the Mexican team, which was able to snatch a bronze medal over the favored Canadians. The margin was just over a tenth of a point in the end, but that featured several counting falls from Mexico, which could have really run up the total with a full hit. Alexa Moreno’s vault proved to be a highlight of course, but former US elite Frida Esparza is also providing necessarily competitive scores across four events, all of which I expect to be used and count in team qualification at worlds. Mexico really shouldn’t have much trouble making the top 24 if this current level is an indication.

We were, of course, also treated to the highs and the lows of Nicolle Castro’s lovely bars routine, where she snatched a 14.000 on the first day but missed her hand on a perfect Pak in the team final for a low 12. Sigh. If Ahtziri Sandoval truly isn’t on the worlds team, Mexico will desperately need a hit bars routine from Castro.

Canada suffered a blow before the competition even began with an injury to Haley De Jong that left the team with only four members. That set the tone for a meet not exactly devoid of struggles, with gymnasts compelled to do events they wouldn’t normally do in a major team event.

But, after a true bars catastrophe in qualification, Canada mostly pulled it together in the team final for a 4th-place finish that featured only a couple mistakes. I was eager to see how Ana Padurariu (or Paduraviu, according to the official scores) would fare here, and 13.800s on both bars and beam in TF to lead the team keeps her in good stead as Canada tries to put together a worlds team. Laurie Denommee was also rewarded for her big floor tumbling with a 13.500, her best non-domestic score of the year by several tenths.

I went 7 or 8 on my picks for the team final, so I can live with that. My only miss was that I had Colombia getting in instead of Cuba, which it did not. Surprisingly, it was the floor scores that drooped Colombia’s total. That’s usually a good event. Instead, Cuba’s four-person team proved itself to be more than just Vidiaux, taking 5th place in the team final ahead of the likes of Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Chile. I expected some of those third-best scores to be too low for Cuba to be competitive, but the supporting players showed some significant improvements from their routines at the Central American/Caribbean Games.

I imagine Puerto Rico will also be pleased with 7th place, despite not hitting bars in the team final, mostly because of a huge floor showing. With multiple routines scoring into the 13s, Puerto Rico put up a floor rotation that compared quite favorably to what Mexico and Canada brought to this meet.

To the men! The men’s team competition was far less cut-and-dry than the women’s, with the United State qualifying to the final in second, a tenth behind Cuba and less than a point ahead of Brazil. Any of those three looked like a legitimate winner heading to the final day of competition, but it was a lack of disasters for the US team that allowed it to take the gold—counting no scores below 12.900 for a second consecutive day.

In fact, mistakes from both Brazil and Cuba also let Colombia sneak into the silver medal position after qualifying in 5th. Jossimar Calvo enjoyed a far superior day in the team final than he did in qualification, hitting his critical routines on horse and high bar for 14s. Misses on those two events on the first day dropped him to a disappointing sixth in the final all-around standings, where he would have been expected to medal.

It was a pommel horse explosion in the team final that ruined things for the Brazilians, but the rest of the events allowed them to hang on for a bronze medal ahead of the Cubans, who threw in just enough misses on horse and rings to drop down the standings. It still looked like Cuba was going to grab a medal through most of the day, but a miss from Randy Leru on a layout tkatchev on HB in the final rotation sealed Cuba’s drop to 4th.

Manrique was of course the star for Cuba, winning the all-around title and the PBars title, and adding a silver on horse. The AA competition did not prove to be close, at all, but Canada did get its taste of the medals there with a silver from Rene Cournoyer. Cameron Bock took a bronze for the US.

The US topped the men’s final medal standings with six, mostly thanks to Bock, who took four of those medals on his own with three bronzes and a silver. The remaining medal went to Genki Suzuki, who won pommel horse—the first of two golds for the US here, later followed by the team win. Bock’s performance was not, however, enough to earn him an invite to the worlds selection camp to replace the injured Donothan Bailey—that spot instead going to Trevor Howard, who placed 13th AA at nationals but won rings.

Elsewhere in the winning department, Caio Souza took two golds of his own for Brazil (vault and HB), while Fabian de Luna brought home a gold for Mexico on rings and Tomas Gonzalez showed off his floor ability once again to win gold there for Chile.

%d bloggers like this: