The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – June 7, 2019

A. The weekend ahead

No world cup events to watch this weekend, but I am looking forward to see what transpires at the FIT Challenge in Ghent. All the main Belgians will be there, alongside what (at least per the nominative rosters) should be a strong crop of Australians, several of the top-tier Dutch, and pretty much all the healthy gymnasts in the entire country of Romania. With those teams together, this should be a seriously informative preview of the race for the last couple Olympic team spots.

This weekend also brings the national championships for both France and Brazil (hopefully there’s no electricity sabotage-protest at Brazilians again this year, and by that I mean hopefully there is an electricity sabotage-protest at Brazilians again this year). France is even live streaming event finals on Sunday at 2:00pm local time, so at least someone has it together. Sadly, Marine Boyer is out.

The weekend also brings another US elite qualifier, this one at Auburn (in Washington, not Alabama). There’s one session for optionals on Friday evening, and then three more on Saturday, so keep an eye on those results if you’re fascinated. At least weekend’s Parkettes qualifier, eight more juniors got their qualifying scores to advance to Classic (led by Frazier The Younger). No seniors got their AA scores, with Victoria Nguyen just missing out on the requisite number, but Abigael Vides of WCC did get a three-event score for vault, beam, and floor.

B. NCAA developments

We’ve had some fairly significant team commitment news come over the last couple days, most exciting to me is word that Italy’s Clara Colombo is heading to Nebraska. Colombo is a viable all-arounder who is particularly adept on bars and has come closest to making Italian teams in the past because of her ability to go over 13 on UB.

Getting the second-tier Italian elites who do well in Serie A but never make the big teams into NCAA gymnastics is an all-time dream, though the language requirements typically seem an insurmountable issue. If this is the start of a trend, I’ll be over the moon. It’s a match made in face glitter.

Other elites heading to college: Laney Madsen has announced her commitment to UCLA. We don’t yet know what season (it’s still a verbal commitment not an NLI signing, which the 2019-2020ers did last November), but UCLA is hard at work trying to establish what’s going to happen when the Ross/Kocian/Hano class goes, with Chiles and Moors already set to start in that critical 2021 season.

In other UCLA developments, the coaching staff next season will be rounded out by Dom Palange’s pants, which will return to the program as an official assistant coach this time rather than a volunteer assistant. UCLA has also tapped BJ Das to do the choreography as a volunteer assistant coach. Interesting development, that one. Das did the choreography for Utah last season, and I felt like Merrell-Giles asking to switch back to her old routine mid-season was pretty representative of how that went.

Perhaps there will be more buy-in or freedom to get weird with UCLA? I do feel for Das because it’s an impossible job she’s stepping into, where no matter what she does or how good it is, it’s going to be an “it’s not the same without Miss Val!” situation. Maybe that’s freeing?

Speaking of Utah, junior Emilie LeBlanc announced she is transferring from Maryland to Utah, following in the footsteps of Macey Roberts who did the exact same thing. LeBlanc is excellent on bars (there’s a reason I accidentally call her Emilie Le Pennec most of the time), and I expect her to make Utah’s lineup, even though all four freshman should also be realistic there to provide some competition.  Basically, LeBlanc can be to Utah what Karrie Thomas was to Oklahoma in 2019. LeBlanc also regularly competed beam for Maryland, an event where I’d expect her to be more of a depth option on Utah’s team.

Meanwhile, does any program have more gymnasts transfer away than Maryland these days? LeBlanc, Roberts, Thomas, Morgan Bixler…

Kristina Baskett is officially joining ASU now as a real-life assistant coach. For the past couple years she was a volunteer assistant who also…something Game of Thrones something something…killing the raven ice wall walkers? I don’t know.

Cal has also plumped up its class for the 2020 season, adding Maya Green and Ashton Woodbury to make it a class of four. Maya Green is the daughter of Kristen Smyth, so presumably she’ll be Cal’s answer to Sami Durante.

C. The assignments

As mentioned earlier this week, Tatiana Nabieva is going to compete at Universiade in July. It is truly a glorious time to be alive.

Meanwhile, Aliya Mustafina is going to miss European Games, so it is truly a terrible time to be alive.

We’re still three weeks away from the inaugural junior worlds in Gyor, but the nominative rosters are out. Most teams are a little “who is she?” because of course they would be. Except for those from a select few countries, juniors don’t have a massive competition footprint. It’s even more “who is she?” for the men because the juniors are typically farther away from being ready to compete with the big boys, though not always.

Still, it’s going to be goooooood. On the women’s side, expect the big three to remain the big three in that the US, Russia, and China will bring the most impressive teams.

Now, we don’t actually know who the US team is yet—it will be selected next weekend at camp—but it’s the US. The nominative group of four is Kayla DiCello, Skye Blakely, Konnor McClain, and Olivia Greaves, and three of those four (team size is three) seems a pretty realistic team to me. That group went 2-4-5-6 at nationals last year, and those who placed 1 and 3 are now senior, so these look like your top available gymnasts. DiCello has been the high scorer of the remaining juniors for a while now, and McClain cleaned up at Jesolo, so they’re the two frontrunners for me. The third spot should go to whoever best complements them. In that respect, Blakely’s DTY could give her an edge, but Greaves has the bars.

Russia’s nominative team of Urazova, Gerasimova, Listunova, and Astafaeva is the same group that upset the US juniors at Jesolo this year. Of that four, I’d say Astafaeva is probably going to end up being the alternate, but she’s still quite good herself. This squad is wildly legit and can absolutely win the team title.

If you were hanging around for all the obsessing over Chinese Nationals, you’ll recognize the names Ou Yushan and Guan Chenchen, who are both on China’s nominative team along with Wei Xiaoyan. This team may not have the four full events to stay with Russia and the US, but they’re going to be amazing on beam, and that’s really all that matters.

In other news, Zoe Allaire-Bourgie will not be attending for Canada because of the injury she picked up at Canadian Nationals, but we will have Chiaki Hatakeda of Japan, who is the younger sister of Hitomi and has placed well nationally in the all-around for a couple years now.

The format of the competition is as follows: Day 1 (June 27 for the men, June 28 for the women) will be a team and all-around final—with 3-3-2 format for the team competition—that will also serve as qualification for the event finals on June 29 and 30. So this is mostly an event-final focused meet, with team and all-around titles awarded for performances during qualification.

D. GymCastic

We took a break from commissions this week to catch up on all the news—like Simone’s upgrades and people being terrible online—plus meet updates from Canadian Nationals and world cup events, the MAN DRAMA over proposed changes in NCAA men’s gymnastics, and a report from developmental camp.

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