The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – May 17, 2019

A. Ashton Locklear retired

From the world of US elites, Ashton Locklear announced her retirement yesterday after a long bout with the concept of having knees. Locklear last competed at the WOGA Classic in February on bars and beam—and at that point was also discussing the possibility of adding back floor—but she has now decided that enough is enough.

Locklear had a successful run, making two world championship teams in 2014 and 2017, advancing to two world bars finals, and winning team gold in 2014. In terms of future prospects, she has been constantly injured, and there wasn’t truly a realistic path to team selection for her at this point.

In announcing the retirement, her talent agency released a statement saying, “WE DEFINITELY KNOW WHERE COMMAS SHOULD GO.”

It also includes a doctor’s note (so that she can get out of PE, I think) and an explanation that her 2018 knee surgery has prevented her from continuing, even though she came back to…you know what, never mind. You can just retire. You don’t need a reason. You don’t need a doctor’s note. It doesn’t have to follow logically. You can just be done. It’s fine.

B. Zhaoqing World Cup

The World Challenge Cup circuit gets underway again in a couple days with the Zhaoqing event, which runs Sunday to Tuesday for some reason. Because the FIG is always so clear with its organization and naming of events, a little clarification. The World Challenge Cup events are completely different from the Apparatus World Cup series and have no bearing on Olympic qualification whatsoever. They’re just the normal apparatus events that we’ve had before.

The field at Zhaoqing is…not deep? China, of course, is sending a “golds, all of them please” team on the men’s side that includes Deng Shudi and stellar event specialists like Zou Jingyuan on most of the other pieces. China’s women’s field is not as strong, but it will feature Yu Linmin, who (mostly) hit a Cheng at Chinese nationals, so I’m interested to see whether that vault makes another appearance.

As for the international field, we haven’t seen Rhys McClenaghan in a while, but he’s slated to compete here to try to give Weng Hao a test on pommel horse. On the women’s side, Farah Ann Abdul Hadi of Malaysia and Nadine Joy Nathan of Singapore will be fan-favorites, and of course Chuso is there. Chuso is always everywhere.  Still, the field is such on the women’s side that we may not even have enough people to make up all the finals (on vault, exactly 8 people are registered, and that registration was a while ago). So, there are opportunities. I would say opportunities for money, but the prize money at world challenge cups is very…

Finals will be streamed on the Olympic Channel, with finals day 1 beginning at 3:00am Eastern on Monday morning. So, you’re probably watching?

The Osijek World Cup will come up right on Zhaoqing’s heels, beginning qualification next Thursday, but we’ll have time to chat about that again before finals.

C. JO Nationals

The Level 10 national championships have arrived! This weekend, all your soon-to-be-favorite-college-gymnasts will compete in 12 age divisions (6 senior and 6 junior) for national titles. As always, I’ll keep you up to date with the top results, where those top-resulty people are going to college, and what that means for the future prospects of those schools—particularly next season. I don’t care about the juniors so much. Go to a sleepover or something. Go to that welcome party at the zoo.

The full list of 80 billion competitors is here, but for now, I’ll note a small smattering of people I’m keeping an eye on. (This isn’t a comprehensive list of good gymnasts. Gym moms—don’t @ me.)

The senior F division—the oldest division, the ancient grandmas of 18—is stacked. Among the favorites, I’ll be interested to see how Alabama’s Makarri Doggette and Stanford’s Chloe Widner do because they’re two of the top recruits in this year’s class, both going to schools that could use the infusion of a superstar L10 freshening up all four events after some [ellipsis] recent results.

Also in that session, look for LSU’s Kai Rivers because she’s going to need to arrive running next season and be a major figure in the quest to make up for the Finnegan scores. The most prominent name in Senior F is probably former elite Abby Paulson, who’s heading to Utah in the fall and should be right up there with the leaders. And then there’s AK Subject for Denver (and obviously I’m going to have too much fun with that name), and Florida’s lone freshman Payton Richards. It’s a very tough session in which to make a dent.

The top qualifying score across all the regionals in the senior E division belonged to Michigan’s Gabryel Wilson. With Wilson and Sierra Brooks (Senior D) both coming in, Michigan expects another influx of significant freshman routines for the 2020 season. In Senior D, that top qualifying score belonged to Utah’s Jillian Hoffman. I’m eager to see how the Utah ones do this weekend since the absence of Skinner next season puts a lot more pressure on them to deliver major scores on all the pieces. Maile O’Keefe did qualify to JO Nationals with her score at regionals but is not on the competitor list, though Hoffman and Paulson are slated to compete.

Typically, the focus is on the Senior F, E, and D sessions since those are the ones (mostly) heading to college next season, but we also have Kiya Johnson in Senior C this year. She’s coming to LSU a year early, got a 10 on vault at regionals, and like Rivers, is going to need to bring some scores right away.

D. WCGA convention

It’s convention time. The Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association met this week to discuss who said what about Kaytlyn in the cafeteria. And like also the rules maybe? This has reignited discussion over all the many, many (many) changes we need to make to the college gymnastics rules.

Why changes at all? Because the current system provides wholly inadequate tools for the judges to differentiate great routines from average routines, so there’s no other choice but to force the judges into differentiation through compositional rule adjustments that can’t be ignored as easily as execution deductions. The argument “well why don’t the judges actually start taking the deductions that already exist rather than making all these changes” sounds great, but I’ll be over here watching the sun die waiting for that to happen.

When changes are proposed, I tend to default to the side of yes because…let’s try things, let’s experiment, let’s see if it works. And if it turns out to be a dud, let’s be open to changing it again. Sometimes ideas that sound great end up being duds. That’s fine too. The code of points should be a living document and should change regularly to reflect trends, new problems that arise, and evolving expectations of college gymnasts. There’s always a lot of hyperbole about any proposed idea: “THIS CHANGE WILL DESTROY THE SPORT FOREVER AND REWRITE THE RECORD BOOKS AND WE WILL ALL DIE AND HOW WILL THE D2 TEAMS CONTEND.” But also…chill. It’s a connection value rule. You’ll figure it out. Or, enough people won’t figure it out, and you change it back.

And also remember when the sky was going to fall if the Yurchenko full was devalued, and all the lower-ranked teams would be unable to contend (SUDDENLY STARTING NOW), and then it was actually fine?

So yeah. I’m in favor of any change that’s going to promote taking risks in routines with releases and acrobatic elements (what no one wants to say is that falls keep things interesting, so risk keeps things interesting) without forcing an injury-inducing level of difficulty. I’m in favor of any change that’s going to eliminate lame or simply overdone and boring methods of getting bonus. (I’m looking at you, switch side + popa on floor. I’m looking at you, side aerial to layout full dismount on beam.)

But minor changes are going to have only minor influence. I don’t see how you truly start to address the larger routine-evaluation problems without an independent college gymnastics code of points, without an overhaul of judge evaluation, and without taking decisions out of the hands of those making bad-faith arguments based on personal self-interest dressed up as “preserving the sport.”

Oh. Also. You guys. In other college news, Jordyn Wieber has indeed hired Chris Brooks as her assistant coach (along with Chris Bogantes from Illinois). I think college gymnastics must have hired some new scriptwriters from the CW.

E. GymCastic

We’re back from break with a recap episode on the news of the last three weeks—NCAA coaching developments like Wieber and Waller, the bombshells from the FIG Congress, and all those USAG-related disasters. Plus, the major headlines and phenomenal juniors from Chinese Nationals.

In coming weeks, we’ll going to dig into the commissions mailbag, so get ready for us to wax poetic about gymnastics in the 80s for a while!

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