The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – October 13, 2018

A. Take Out the Trash Day

If you thought your paying-attention duties had ceased after the naming of the women’s worlds team, you neglected the importance of the patented USAG Friday night news dump.

In it, USAG revealed several things it hoped you were already too drunk to pay attention to closely. First, the humble peasants were allowed to see the selection procedures that govern which gymnasts will be allowed to take the Jade Carey Route through apparatus world cups to gain personal qualification to the 2020 Olympics. Basically, it’s Jade Carey and no one.

First, to be eligible, you must meet at least one of these criteria:

You’ll note the words “current national team member” cropping up in all of them. You’ve always had to be a national team member to get international assignments, so there’s nothing new or particularly onerous or unreasonable here, but these requirements do signal a desire to narrowly limit the number of people who can try for this. It tells me they don’t really want people with past elite success like Ashton Locklear or MyKayla Skinner just popping up and yelling, “Send me to Azerbaijan!”

Only three seniors currently meet these standards: Biles, Hurd, and Carey. Because we expect Biles and Hurd to compete at worlds this year with the team, that would leave only Carey able to go this route. But, these rules do not specify junior/senior, so by my reading, Sunisa Lee and Leanne Wong would both also be eligible for those early 2019 apparatus world cups (once they turn senior) through criterion 2, should they want that.

I don’t think that will happen because both will probably still see themselves as AA, team-spot contenders at this point, but it should be possible.

Now, what I really want to know is whether these rules were written before it was decided that Jade Carey would go the apparatus route (and she happened to be the one who met them), or were they written after it was decided that Jade Carey would go the apparatus route (to ensure she was the only one who met them). It’s USAG, so these are the kinds of questions we’ve been trained to ask.

Actually, what I REALLY want to know is…why only day 1 of championships? What even is that? Oh, USAG.

Item the second:

Basically, if you are lucky enough for USAG to deign to send you to a world cup, you better not suck. Place worse than 2nd, and the selection committee can stop sending you to any more events. If it so chooses. If it so chooses = if you’re not one of the golden children, and it looks like you might screw this up for everyone.

Item the third:

USAG will pay to send you to a maximum of 3 events.

This is significant. Each athlete counts her or his 3 best finishes in the final apparatus WC rankings, so athletes must go to at least 3 to have any hope of getting the Olympic spot. USAG won’t send you to any more than that, meaning you have to perform perfectly at all 3 to have a shot at earning this spot. This goes hand-in-hand with the previous item because if you do place worse than 2nd at an event, and you only go to 3, you’re probably not getting that Olympic spot anyway.

It also signals to me that USAG is looking for as many “outs” as possible. If at any moment it looks like this isn’t going to work, USAG can cut its losses, stop sending you to these events, and focus on the other routes for individual qualification.

As someone who doesn’t think USAG should be going this route at all for the women’s team, I don’t actually mind that. It’s totally cutthroat for the athletes who might go to these events, though. One fall in an event final, and you’re out. Other nations sending will be sending athletes to all 8 of the apparatus events to try to build up the best possible results and drop the bad ones.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say Chusovitina goes to all 8 apparatus world cup events, wins vault at 3 of them, and has a smattering of 2nd-5th place finishes at the rest of them. Very possible. Meanwhile, Carey goes to exactly 3 events, and gets 2 golds and 1 silver on vault. With only the best three results counting, Chuso gets that Olympic spot for vault. Those who get the most tries will have an advantage.

It won’t be easy to get these spots, and these rules from USAG intentionally make it harder.

Now, these rules are still written loosely enough to give USAG the freedom to do whatever it wants. It *may* prevent someone from continuing if they finish worse than 2nd (but may not…). It won’t *fund* participation in more than three events (but what if your rich parents or your fancy gym fundraiser foot the bill…)

Even with that, I still read these requirements as USAG saying it doesn’t really like this method of qualification and wishes people wouldn’t do it. It is therefore adding stricter requirements than the FIG’s qualification rules in order to make it so difficult that most people won’t be eligible or won’t be successful. Unless they’re constantly perfect. And if you’re constantly perfect, by all means go to the Olympics.

But if USAG is thinking like me and does hate this method of qualification, why even let people do it in the first place? Well…

B. Ask Tom Forster

Following the announcement of the US women’s worlds team, Tom Forster did a Twitter Q&A that I had very low expectations for—but that also kind of exceeded those low expectations.

I thought this would be a big load of nothing. The early “isn’t Simone great?!?!?! SHE SURE IS” exchange is exactly what I thought the whole thing would be, but as it went on, Forster did give us some insight into the questions we’ve had about Olympic qualification, at least with as much depth as a Twitter Q&A would allow.

Of note, we got some clarification on the ambiguous issue of “the US can’t prevent an athlete from trying the apparatus world cup route should she or he want to” that we had heard about but didn’t really…get? Apparently, this isn’t coming from the FIG but instead coming from what I would say is a very strict reading of the Ted Stevens Act, an act which broadly says that national governing bodies can’t prevent athletes from participating in competitions.

There’s a hearty legal history as to what this actually means with regard to denying Olympic opportunities, one I don’t pretend to be an expert on. But I will say it’s interesting that this is something USAG suddenly cares about. I can’t imagine Steve Penny and Martha Karolyi being like, “BUT THE TED STEVENS ACT” in their days. Steve Penny was going to make sure Martha could do what she wanted and no questions would be asked.

And yet…if you’re actually saying the Ted Stevens Act requires NGBs to allow athletes to participate in any Olympic qualification pathway they want, some other NGBs would be screwed. That’s not how this has ever worked. All NGBs prioritize certain competitions for strategic and financial reasons, and do it every day…

C. Mary Bono

Also in the Friday news dump was the casual slide-in that USAG has appointed an interim CEO (you know, just that), and she’s a doozy.

Important: When you’re proud of a hiring decision, you always announce it late on a Friday without a media conference call and without any real statement from the person you’re hiring. Another reminder that USAG isn’t real and has the communications strategy of a bonobo.

Mary Bono is, first of all, a former Republican congresswoman from Southern California—because some rando politician with occasionally horrific views is want everyone wanted in this position.

Us: “We’re worried that the next CEO will also be concerned only about image and soundbites and won’t have a strong grasp of the actual issues or job.”

Them: “Then how about a member of the US House of Representatives?”

Us: “Oh…sweetie…no…”

Other important things to know: Mary Bono is the one who married Sonny Bono, post-Cher. So, you know, the qualifications are through the roof.

Is this a satire?

If they wanted to appease the public, they would have just hired Cher, who would have called Kerry Perry a “crazy bitch” and had all of us on board right from the start.

We’ve also learned that USAG is living in the year 1520 BCE and still hasn’t gotten that whole “vetting social media” thing down because it quickly became apparent that Mary Bono is one of those “boycott Nike” psychopaths.

Remember that time Kerry Perry was really proud of that deal she was working on with Nike? And remember that time Simone Biles is a Nike-sponsored athlete?

Great work again, everyone. Nailed it.

Simone is, quite correctly, unhappy.

Bets on Mary Bono being canceled faster than the ranch or MLT?

D. Romanian nationals

So, it didn’t go super awesome. Nica Ivanus was the top-placing senior with a 52.050 (and we have to assume Romanian domestic crack even in that), and only one of the worlds team members broke the 13 mark…on vault.

But, the big news was the withdrawal of best gymnast Denisa Golgota before the competition began with some kind of muscle issue.

For Romania’s sake, you hope that the issue is mild and that the decision to sit Golgota is just (understandably) precautionary. Golgota is so important to Romania’s chances of placing in the top 24 at worlds that if she even had a bad haircut, I would be like, “You’re not competing at nationals. Too risky.”

If Golgota really weren’t able to compete at worlds this year, Romania would immediately move to Threat Level Midnight in terms of qualifying a team to 2019. They need her to be the team’s best score on every event.

E. Other competitions

France, Germany, Italy, and Switzerland competed at a friendly meet today in preparation for worlds, one that provided encouraging results for a number of those teams.

We’re desperately worried about Germany’s beam at worlds, so solid scores there from Grießer, Voss, and Scheder will allay those fears for about 30 seconds. Grießer’s 3rd-place AA finish is significant for her and should serve to remove any questions about whether she was the right choice as the replacement for Schäfer.

Italy’s health and depth has been a serious question, so the reemergence of Martina Basile here as an option is critical. She has not been on any of the nominative rosters for Italy, leading to the assumption that she was unavailable, but get her on the team right now.

Irene Lanza, a potential team member or alternate who just recently appeared on the nominative list, also made a very good argument for herself by placing top 3 among Italians on all four events.

Based on this competition, we could see Cereghetti relegated to alternate status because she did not record top-3 scores for Italy on any event.

This was also an opportunity to see where Rizzelli placed since it has been so long since she competed, her 13.650 on vault and 11.900 on bars not really making a huge splash. Bars is a major worry for this Italian team, however, so it’s probably worth the risk of putting up Rizzelli in case she can get something big. Few others can.

Of note, Elisa Meneghini, who has appeared in the alternate position on nominative rosters so far, did not participate here.

Dear Switzerland, I’m still concerned about you without Steingruber, but the performances shown in this meet should be enough to get by if repeated at worlds.

At the Youth Olympic Games, the real competition has finally arrived—now that we have dispensed with that mixed team competition—and the favored Italian Giorgia Villa met expectations with her gold medal in the all-around final, recording a score over 54. Taking second was Amelie Morgan of GB with another super solid performance (her ability to hit beam is very appealing), and Anastasia Bachynska continued giving everyone hope for a brighter future for Ukraine once she and Varinska can compete together with her bronze medal performance.

Tang Xijing of China was in contention for a medal but missed beam to finish 4th, and Ksenia Klimenko had a bit of a nightmare with a couple misses on bars and beam, yet still somehow managed to take 5th. She’s lucky a piked Yurchenko 1/1 isn’t in the code, because that’s what she would get credit for if it were. Even so, there wasn’t enough separation in E score between her full and the others.

F. GymCastic

Your assignment is to use this weekend to catch up on another two-episode week, as we delved back into the Jade Carey situation for an ultimate individual vs. team debate, then did a commissioned episode about the 1993 NCAA national championship.

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