Things Are Happening – March 1, 2019

A. American Cup preview

This weekend is A LOT. Much NCAA, much elite, and I’m not even getting into the English Championships because it’s too much, but that’s also happening.

Let’s start with the American Cup (Saturday, 11:30 ET/8:30 PT). The story of the women’s competition is the US win streak—currently at 16 consecutive American Cup all-around titles. This year, a (relatively) green US duo of Grace McCallum and Leanne Wong will have to fend off two of the world’s top all-arounders in Mai Murakami and Ellie Black to keep the streak alive, so it’s by no means a done deal that the number will reach 17. Either Wong or McCallum would have to—you know—hit the meet.

It’s worth noting that this US streak hasn’t come about only because the US has such a strong program, or only because of all of the obvious cheating in the days before it was an official FIG event. #SCAM4EVAH. The US also tends to take the American Cup a lot more seriously than any other country and is therefore far more prepared for the event than gymnasts from other nations—many of whom are only just rounding into competitive season form. That has come into play on many occasions in the past, but Murakami showed up at a solid level last year and forced Morgan Hurd to hit to win, and Ellie Black has already competed at Elite Canada this month, so expect both to be in form to make a real fight of things.

As for the rest of the field, they all profile really similarly—like creepily similarly—with obvious strength on bars for what will probably be their best score, absolute terror on beam at every second, some lovely floor possibilities, but overall a lack of difficulty on the leg events that will keep the AA totals down below the top four.

You know Kim Bui, a solid pick for the highest bars score of the competition and someone who can get a competitive AA total as long as she gets through beam, her nemesis. Bui typically isn’t called upon to compete AA at major events for the German team because of beam, but the other three pieces should be solid.

In terms of those you don’t know so well, you’re going to want to meet France’s representative Celia Serber, the junior national champion from 2018, who is going to get all the BABY MELANIE comparisons after this competition. Check out floor.

But mostly what I’m trying to tell you is make sure to get the online stream/international feed going in the 2nd rotation for the women so you don’t miss people like Sanna Veerman, Lu Yufei, and Lee Yunseo on bars when NBC goes to commercial. It’s the good one for them. New senior Lee Yunseo is probably the least known of the competitors here, but she competed at the Youth Olympic Games last year and is part of the burgeoning Korean WAG program with absolutely lovely work on bars. You’ll be obsessed. She didn’t have a ton of difficulty yet at YOG, but the toes and the handstands were pristine and amazing.

But in terms of that secondary group’s performances, temper expectations and certainly expect some of the usual American Cup rust. Speaking of rust, the men’s competition.

Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer will represent the US, Moldauer coming in as the two-time defending champion and probably the most likely person in the field to manage six entire hits (!) on the day. Of the competitors at the recent Winter Cup, Mikulak and Moldauer looked among the least Winter Cuppy, with Moldauer winning the all-around on first day, and Mikulak placing in the top 3 on five events and only having one fall over two days of AA competition, which bodes fairly well for their performances here.

I mean, it’s still Sam Mikulak at American Cup—in his last two appearances he missed on both floor and pommel horse in the first two rotations—but he has been looking fairly ready and should win the title with a hit. In terms of sheer scoring potential, the most compelling challenge to the US men comes from Kenzo Shirai. But also pommel horse. Kenzo was supposed to be the one to challenge Moldauer last year and potentially win, but then he barely broke 11 on horse, and that was the end of it. Kenzo will win floor and vault, but he has to get through horse, rings, and high bar with not-an-11 scores to make a realistic push.

If everyone gets floppsy, the one I’d look at to take advantage is James Hall because he’s the most six-whole-events gymnast among the remaining competitors. That’s what he rode to a silver medal at AC last year. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Main Event Bart Deurloo, basically the whole reason to watch, and if he doesn’t do something totally Bart, it will be a huge disappointment.

The men’s field will have only 8 competitors instead of 9 because, despite being on the original roster, Marcel Nguyen will no longer be competing, presumably related to that picture he posted a few days ago of blood shooting out of the back of his head like a soup. YAY GYMNASTICS!

B. Jesolo preview

Not to be overshadowed, the annual parade of screaming gymnastics known as Jesolo is live for another year, this time with team and AA competition running alongside American Cup. The senior competition begins at 10:00am ET/7:00am PT and will overlap with American Cup, so be prepared with your streaming.

On the US side, Jesolo brings the much-anticipated returns of Emma Malabuyo and Gabby Perea to competition. Perea missed the lion’s share of the 2018 season with injury, while Malabuyo had a good start to the year and made a slight go of it in the summer of 2018 before being like, “Oh god no, v broken.”

Flash back to their final year as juniors, and both Malabuyo and Perea were part of the world-beating trio that was supposed to sweep in and entirely reinvent the senior worlds team. Flash forward to the present, and O’Keefe is done with elite and Malabuyo and Perea have been shunted to the side due to injury. A disturbingly familiar story for NEXT BIG THING juniors.

And yet, Jesolo presents an opportunity for Malabuyo and Perea to swoop back in and use their performances to crash a worlds-team party that moved on without them, regaining the presumed places in the hierarchy that we had for them in 2016-17. They’ll be joined on the US senior team by Shilese Jones and Sunisa Lee, Lee trying to make her own party-crashing argument in her senior debut and take ownership of the mantle of “AAer who excels on bars and beam.”

It’s the United States at a team competition and we’re all expecting them to win, but even though the senior team field at Jesolo is small, it is also intense. China has sent something pretty close to its A squad, with familiar figures like Liu Tingting and Zhang Jin leading the way, along with new seniors Qi Qi and Tang Xijing, both of whom have garnered the kind of “excited but also will we ever actually see you?” enthusiasm we’ve learned to apply to amazing Chinese juniors. Tang came a beam hit away from a medal in the all-around at YOG, and Qi Qi performed competitively enough on vault and floor at Chinese nationals in 2018 to turn heads and get her on the shortlist of those who may be able to complement the UB/BB stars. Keep an eye on them.

We also get to see the much-anticipated Italians competing as seniors, with Giorgia Villa, Asia D’Amato, Alice D’Amato, and Elisa Iorio all in attendance—among many others. (Italy competes 150,000 gymnasts at Jesolo because why not, so only a few of them will be on the official team and the rest will compete as randoms. They’re not officially called randoms.) Do not discount the serious competitiveness of this year’s Italian seniors.

Jesolo also holds a junior competition—with the US and Russia both sending strong squads—but since it’s in the middle of the darkness for us in the US (Saturday 3:30am ET/12:30am PT), I’ve decided to pay not so much attention to that one. Short version: we’re expecting this to be Konnor McClain’s “I’M HERE TURKEYS” moment, and all of the Russians will be tremendous woodland spirits who will get your hopes up and develop totally irrational expectations for their senior careers.

Event finals for both seniors and juniors will be at 8:00am ET/5:00am PT US time on Sunday.

C. Nastia Cup too

Friday evening also brings that hallowed time of year in which we gather with close family to think about all the Nastia we’re thankful for, commemorate how Nastia died for our sins, celebrate the 2012 resurrection, repent all of our Subway commercials, and share stories of how the pink leotard that was only supposed to last for one Olympics actually lasted for 8 whole Olympics. Be sure to leave an empty place for Nastia at the table.

If you’re watching with NCAA prognostication in mind, here are the “coming soon” characters you need to watch out for.

Makarri Doggette – Alabama 2020
Jillian Hoffman – Utah 2020
Kiya Johnson – LSU 2020
Cassie Stevens – Auburn 2020
Hallie Thompson – North Carolina 2020
Gabryel Wilson – Michigan 2020
Raena Worley – Kentucky 2020

Sierra Brooks – Michigan 2021
Mya Hooten – Minnesota 2021
Madeleine Johnston – Penn State 2021
Carina Jordan – Florida 2021
Andrea Li – Cal 2021
Abbie Thompson – West Virginia 2021

D. GymCastic

This week, Jessica has an interview with our favorite Olympic Channel commentator, Olly Hogben, we recap the events of the Melbourne World Cup, and we discuss an intense week of NCAA gymnastics full of upset drama and email drama and newspaper drama for some reason.

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