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.

26 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – June 7, 2019”

  1. As a Maryland student and long time Terp fan, I do not see our program sticking around for much longer. We are suffering serious admin issues (thanks president Loh) and once our 2021 class graduates we will have a pretty weak team. When you have this many girls transfer this quickly, obviously there are some serious coaching issues. If the transfer/coaching problem isn’t fixed, lack of attendance at meets will surely do us in. So many people didn’t even know we have a gymnastics team and students can even go for free. The only thing keeping this program alive right now is the fact that we need this team to keep our men/women sport balanced. I just hope that this program turns around and fast.

    1. You’re probably right, but I think it’s worth noting that Maryland is losing gymnasts to top programs. Were Thomas and LeBlanc really strong recruits as freshmen? If so, how did Maryland entice them away from the likes of Utah/Oklahoma in the first place? If they were so-so recruits, what did Maryland do to get them to a point that the top schools would take them?
      Seems like Maryland must be doing something right, just not nearly enough of it.

  2. Based on what we’ve seen so far, my guess is that Greaves will be the alternate because while her bars are great she is not terribly consistent there, and the US will want to go all in on VT for the big numbers. That said, perhaps there are upgrades we have yet to see that will change the calculus.

    Really glad junior Worlds is now a thing. Some gymnasts peak early, and it is nice to see them have the opportunity to perform on the big stage when they’re at their best and/or uninjured. Imagine if junior Worlds had been around when Ohashi was competing elite, for example, or when O’Keefe, Perea and Malabuyo would have been eligible together… sigh.

    1. Counterpoint: Those gymnasts peaked early due to mismanagement by their coaches. No gymnast whose first eligible Olympics is still a full quad away should be performing routines competitive with the seniors in contention for the current Olympic team. Ohashi has been pretty open about how she was being pushed way too hard, as have other junior stars who fizzled as seniors like Lexie Priessman, Kamerin Moore, and Kristal Uzelac (and I am sure stories will come out from the current crop of kids as they get far enough away from their time as elites to reflect and process, not to mention the stories from other countries’ gymnasts we may never hear).

      I worry that having a “Junior Worlds” is just going to give the coaches who already push too hard, too soon even more validation and enablement because now there’s serious hardware to be won. It defeats the point of there being a junior division at all, since it reintroduces the high-stakes competition juniors are meant to be protected from, and it’s the exact opposite of what the sport needs right now in the wake of the Nassar and other abuse cases coming to light – that kind of behavior needs to be deincentivized and if anything the senior age upped to 18 and in the US the WAG NCAA system adapted to also serve as development for young senior elites like the MAG system does.

      1. I’m sorry, but this is quite shortsighted of you to imply that burnout/injury is caused by pushing the juniors too fast. I highly disagree. There have been MANY outstanding juniors who have become incredible seniors, eg Shushunova, Boguinskaya, and Khorkhina, to name a few. They had incredible skills as juniors and transitioned to seniors just fine. Somehow, I don’t think the Soviets were gentler to their gymnasts. 16 is a good compromise for seniors IMHO

      2. OP here. This is an interesting and valuable debate. Of course young gymnasts shouldn’t be pushed so hard they burn out. But I don’t think that a coach who would put their gymnasts through hell for junior Worlds should be coaching in the first place. A decent coach will help their athlete perform while also giving them perspective, and it’s USAG’s job to reinforce that point. Also, as a fan, I am glad to see younger gymnasts given the opportunity to compete, because all too often their careers are derailed by injury (NOT always the result of abusive coaching), or they are simply not competitive enough at the senior level to get many international assignments (ex. Ksenia Klimenko). Junior Worlds will not incentivize abusive coaching any more than junior Euros or the YOG.

        I also think that 14 and 15 is old enough to compete at a big international event, provided there are extra guardrails set up to protect their health, mentally and otherwise (parents accompanying them at USAG’s expense, other chaperones, etc.). If the occasion is too much for the gymnast, it is the responsibility of the coaches, the parents, and USAG to recognize that and act accordingly. However, I actually believe that Nationals are much more “high-stakes” for elite juniors because their performances there earn national team spots.

        Ohashi was a bad example given that her elite success was largely the result of abusive coaching. But I personally am glad that we will get to see Kayla DiCello and Konnor McClain compete internationally again this year. I hope the atmosphere is like YOG, where the athletes seem to have a lot of fun and get the opportunity to make friends with other gymnats from around the world. Above all, USAG must set the tone for the competition, and if they continue the way Forster has been steering them, I think the juniors will be just fine.

      3. I agree with parts of this and parts of OP. The main thing that neither has addressed is that the FIG has built almost zero protections in the code of points for juniors. Some of those junior burnouts present senior composition because FIG allows juniors to have senior composition in competition, and they shouldn’t.

        What should be happening is that the age limit for seniors should be 18, and juniors should have their major competitions such as continentals and worlds, but it should be built in the code that juniors should do easier routines. MAG does this: juniors only compete 8 elements per routine when seniors do 10, many elements are off limits to juniors, etc. WAG should have something similar, and junior elites should be competing easier routines – maybe harder than NCAA routines, but not much harder. In particular, I wish the DTY (and even harder vaults) was entirely off limits for juniors in competition.

      4. I’m strongly in favor of difficulty caps for juniors, e.g. you can’t go over 5.0 start for any event or over a 19.0 total difficulty or something like that. But I recall a gymcastic interview with Vanessa Atler, where she pointed out that the junior athletes are training the difficulty anyway and working just as hard as senior athletes, so if they’re mature enough and able to do it safely, why shouldn’t they have an opportunity to compete internationally and get the accolades that the older girls are? I know I would be really frustrated as an athlete if I was training hard enough to be in the mix for a worlds medal but I was too young to be allowed to compete for it.

  3. 3-3-2 format for jr worlds? 3 member teams? why so small? is this due to a lack of jr depth in most countries?

  4. Will also be interesting to see the B team that Canada sent to Ghent. Reading between the lines, I’m assuming the members of this team are competing for one open spot on the Pan Ams/World team (along with the presumed team of Black, Padurariu, Olsen, and Moors) and this competition could show who has the edge for the last spot. And the alternate, which could be pertinent too, as Sophie Marois learned last year.

    Re Junior Worlds, I understand the points made above, but I still love the idea. As a fan of figure skating, I love watching junior athletes develop on the junior Grand Prix and at junior worlds. Hopefully this will be another tool for countries other than the US to develop talented juniors. And I doubt it will change how coaches push their athletes. Asshole coaches are going to be asshole coaches regardless and a junior world title to go for isn’t going to turn a good coach into a bad one.

    1. I think it’s great to give top juniors the chance to get international experience, especially those that turn senior in an Olympic year. There is also an age minimum so you’re not going to see 12 year olds pushed to be internationally competitive too early.

  5. Rebeca Andrade tore her ACL (yet again) on her 2 1/2 + 1/1 combination on Day 1 of Brazilian Championships and gymnastics has been canceled until further notice. Thank you.

  6. Did Mckenna actually switch her floor routine back? What was the story with that …?

    1. she hated the creep choreo. Only Randall, Roberts, and Solosky and great routines. Skinner’s was only kept alive because of the difficulty. Often stage choreography will not translate to FX. I really felt all the girls at Utah looked a bit uncomfortable with the routines. I think back to the routines of Dabritz, Lothrop, Tutka and my all time favorite Lia’s Rudy routine and there is not comparison to last season. It will be interesting to see what UCLA does with Daas routines.

      1. Utah doesn’t have a ton of natural dancing ability on their team… but it’s a choreographer’s job to work with that. I thought Skinner’s choreography this past season was particularly awful – she may not be the best dancer among gymnasts but she can definitely do better than what that routine gave her.

      2. I think the dancers are there, i.e. Randall, Dula, Isa, solosky, kari lee, but the routines were choppy and wierd

  7. I don’t think Utah has the best natural dancers, but I think Utah gets unfairly targeted each season re: choreography. Routines like Myk’s weren’t standouts, but look at Kari’s and Sydney’s. If you put those on UCLA or LSU people would eat them up. The truth is every team has a handful of meh routines and only a few true standouts. For example, with UCLA, Gracie Kramer’s routine is so unique and exciting. I always love watching her perform. But look at Kyla’s, Madison’s, Pauline’s – they’re just meh.

    1. Skinner’s routine was a standout – it stood out for being horrible and kind of a waste of her abilities. I agree that UCLA’s dance as a whole is overrated, but IMO Kyla’s routine (2019) is what Utah should be aiming for. Kyla is obviously not a great dancer and they finally found choreo for her that isn’t awkward or embarrassing and doesn’t drain her energy. Or a better example – Auburn. Auburn has great choreo for several gymnasts whose strengths probably do not lie in NCAA-style dancing.

      Since apparently Utah is under attack (!!!!), I’ll share the love and add that I think Oklahoma’s choreography is much worse.

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