Things Are Happening – June 14, 2019

A. US junior worlds team

Following competition today at the national team camp, the junior worlds team for the US has been named—Skye Blakely, Kayla Di Cello, and Sydney Barros, with Konnor McClain as the traveling alternate.

We even got scores. SCORES YOU GUYS!

So, they went purely by all-around results to decide the team and alternate, which will appease the fairness police but is not my preferred strategy for team selection—it’s safe, but isn’t necessarily the peak scoring team or the best option for event medals at what is very much an event-final focused meet. For instance, based on these results the top-scoring team for a 3-3-2 format would be Blakely, DiCello, and Alipio because Alipio scored that huge 14.400 on beam.

The big surprise here, however, is Konnor McClain missing out on a team spot by four tenths and instead going as an alternate. From the scores, it looks like a miss on beam and potentially some struggles on floor. McClain was on the nominative roster and favored along with Di Cello going in because of her results at Jesolo and would have been on the team with a hit here. We’re also missing Olivia Greaves, who was on the nominative roster as well and would have been in the mix but didn’t get the bars score here that she would have needed to make her argument.

If they all repeat what they did here at trials in the actual team competition, Blakely and Di Cello’s scores would count on every event for a total of 112.25. That’s a strong number, very competitive with what Russia’s team can score, though with presumably some domestic bounce in this case. If you look at those huge E scores that Blakely received en route to her magnificent 56.500, we’re probably not going to see gymnasts get those kinds of numbers in Gyor.

Russia looks like it will have the difficulty advantage over the US, so it may just come down to whether Russia does a Russia all over the place on the first day or not. And with Listunova on floor, Gerasimova on beam, and Urazova on bars (if they all end up competing), Russia’s probably coming in with the pre-meet title favorite on those three events.

B. National team camp

The seniors are also present at camp this weekend, and those interested in a spot on the Pan Am Games team competed on Friday along with the juniors as part of their selection process. We’ll know who made the training squad of eight for that Pan Ams team following American Classic on the 22nd.

The entire senior national team is in attendance (though not necessarily all trying to verify for Pan Ams) with the exception of Ragan Smith, whose internet stalkers have confirmed that she’s changed plans and is looking to start at Oklahoma for the upcoming season rather than pushing for 2020. Because we were all thinking, “Oklahoma isn’t good enough right now and really needs Ragan Smith.”

Previously, by my unofficial count, I had Oklahoma short one scholarship gymnast for the 2020 season, so it seems like they were preparing for this. Or at least leaving open the possibility. Who’s excited to waste a lot of energy over the next six months speculating about whether Smith is going to be an NCAA star or elite-burnout victim? I know I am!

As we previously knew, MyKayla Skinner is attending this camp as a non-national-team invitee. There was some question about her not being on the roster for American Classic, but since Skinner hasn’t competed elite in quite a while, she doesn’t have a qualifying score and therefore didn’t meet the roster criteria. She did get a special invitation to this camp, however, which will give her an opportunity to get an elite score again.

C. FIT Challenge

Last weekend’s Flanders Challenge brought some good news for a few national teams in need of exactly that. I mean, the Romanian juniors won the junior team title. It is a new dawn. (Also, the Romanian seniors finished 11th on bars. It is the same dawn.)

Before this meet, I had been a little worried about the Netherlands. Lately we’ve seen Sanne Wevers and Celine van Gerner sort of in and out and out again (van Gerner has had to withdraw from European Games because she’s not fully back yet), but here, Naomi Visser won the all-around title with 54.533 and hit a tremendous bars routine for 14.100, and Lieke Wevers made a triumphant return to all-around competition with 52.198. Her best scores came on vault and bars in the 13s, but obviously I’m just here for the floor.

If the Netherlands can keep Visser and Lieke Wevers on this track, and have Thorsdottir and van Gerner ready along with the usual gang, then I’m 1000% on board.

Australia had Georgia Godwin and Emma Nedov place 3rd and 4th in the all-around competition, which was a positive result especially because Godwin didn’t have the floor she wanted at this competition, splashing out of bounds on her double front both days. With floor usually Godwin’s big point-getter, it’s important when she can place well in the all-around without leaning on that number.

I don’t think a lot has changed for Australia overall, but Emily Whitehead put up a solid performance here to place 7th AA. She wasn’t in the top-scoring group of five in terms of peak scores at nationals, so this result definitely helps her argument to be that “I’ll lead off, and you can count my score on every event if needed” gymnast come world championships.

The headline news for Belgium was the upgrade to Nina’s bars, where she has added a Downie to her routine and reorganized some other composition, currently ditching the Bhardwaj in favor of a Pak to Van Leeuwen combination. That second change is a wash because she loses 2 tenths from changing the Bhardwaj to the Pak (1 tenth in skill value, 1 tenth in CV out of the Stalder Shap) but gains those 2 tenths back in CV for the Pak to Van Leeuwen combination. But, adding the Downie does give her an additional 2 tenths in D over last year’s routine, bringing her up to 6.7.

Also significant for Belgium was the performance of new senior Fien Enghels, who piked Stalder-ed the crap out of this routine for 14.200 (the feet, I know, but still), establishing herself as a compelling challenger to disrupt the traditional Belgian five. Enghels will be part of the European Games team for a chance to continue proving that.

Isabela Onyshko also placed 6th here with bars and beam scores that, while not up to the level of her scores from Canadian Nationals—they were never going to be—should keep her in the mix as a “you can go up on bars in TF” possible team selection.

D. NCAA news

In NCAA news, Bailie Key officially announced her retirement, which had seemed only inevitable based on the last two years of injuries and being unable to compete for Alabama. We’ll always have that one beam routine where she scored 8.475. Which is the saddest sentence I’ve ever heard.

There has been a lot of criticism of Alabama for giving scholarships to injured former elites—this was also the line against UCLA about 5 years ago, and then they started winning so it was fine—but honestly, it was Bailie Key. Nearly every program would take that shot if presented, and if it doesn’t work out, then it doesn’t work out.

Also, official word has finally come that Suzey Suze is stepping down as Georgia’s volunteer assistant and retiring for the second time—although she told the team this information at nationals and obviously it got out within 13 seconds because there’s no such thing as a secret in NCAA.

It’s the right move. It’s time for this to be Courtney’s program and not Suzanne and Courtney’s program. (That whole drama this season involving Georgia Elite that I couldn’t possibly be less interested in really exacerbated that “whose program even is this?” dynamic.) For all of Suzanne’s protestations that she’s just an assistant and Courtney is the head coach and people are misrepresenting the dynamic…I mean, come on. You’re Suzanne. You’re automatically in charge of every room you walk into, even a closet. It was never going to be any other way. We see who the gymnasts turn to for validation immediately following their routines, and it isn’t Courtney.

But I’m sure going to miss having Suzanne on the floor…again. I mean, who’s going to deliver our bedazzled stilettos and honest background facial expressions now?

E. Championship meets

The headline news from Brazilian Nationals was the ACL injury to Rebeca Andrade—that she still managed to score a 13.767 for that floor routine where she injured her ACL has to be some kind of a record—but some other gymnastics also happened. Thais Fidelis won the all-around title by less than a tenth over Flavia Saraiva and only two tenths over Jade Barbosa, with Lorraine Oliveira in 4th (but also won the bars title), so the healthy four is very much still the four.

In other developments, 2005-baby Ana Luiza Lima won the floor title with a 14.100 and a Dos Santos, so…hello you.

In France, MDJDS won the all-around title by a billion millions with Lorette Charpy in 2nd and Claire Pontlevoy in 3rd. Juliette Bossu competed only bars, winning that event, and Coline Devillard won vault. Marine Boyer didn’t compete but is not expected to be out long. So in all, the French five (MDJDS, Charpy, Boyer, Bossu, Devillard) doesn’t appear to have changed.

This weekend is going to be a little slow, but with American Classic, Asian Championships, European Games, and junior worlds all still coming up this month, we have some busy times in our future.

F. GymCastic

This week’s commission: the epic SHAWN AND NASTIA episode you’ve always wanted (probably).

34 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – June 14, 2019”

  1. The French team is gonna have a hard time picking their 4 come Tokyo. MDJDS & Lorette Charpy are locks, as is Marine Boyer. You’d also want Coline Devillard’s Rudi because it’s so valuable and reliable, but you’d also not want to have to count Boyer’s bars when you’ve got Juliette Bossu who can outscore by 2 points. If Coline and Juliette can merge into some sort of Brittany Rogers-esque vault/bars specialist that would be ideal.

    1. I think a lot of teams are going to have similar dilemmas. Even Russia will have that dilemma. Teams with strong 3 and 4 event athletes are going to be at a big advantage. So assuming Japan gets through this year’s worlds without Mai Murakami and the selection process doesn’t kick her (or someone just as essential) out, they could be at a big advantage in Tokyo because their gymnasts tend to be good AAers. As evidenced by only using three gymnasts in TF last year.

  2. yep, jr worlds will be very interesting.. could this be a forshadow of a more competitive competition of the post simone world?

    1. I definitely think so. I already think Simone has hard carried the US to their ridiculous victory margins in TFs, and this quad even more so. Last year’s margin was more a product of every team having mistakes (and wafer thin depth, cough Russia and China and Japan cough) than any of the non-Simone American scores. I do still think the US will be the favourite to win TFs next quad, but because of depth and consistency. Which is a merit in itself, of course.

      1. But in Russia’s case, for example, if those current juniors were to stay intact as seniors, they could eventually take on the Americans next quad and challenge their golds. But half of them won’t and the other half will fall the entire time, probably.

        The other nations absolutely have as much talent as the US and sometimes even more, is what I am saying. They just don’t use it as nearly as well as the US have learned to use in the last ten years. The presence of Simone has given the US team a glow of “they just perform at an entirely different level”, but other than Simone they don’t really. They are very good, but without Simone, not unreachable.

      2. I just ran the numbers for Doha and replaced Simone scores with Ragan’s from world trials and the US still beats Russia by 6+ points. Simone is amazing but she’s not the reason the US is winning by such large margins. She contributes but o completely disagree about her hard carrying the team. The US is dominant with out without her. The rest of the world is still really weak.

    2. MMM, I, for one, am not really convinced. I think this is definitely an abnormally strong set of Russian juniors, and, likewise, I think that this set of American juniors is one of the weakest of recent memory (at least in terms of depth). Just look at last year’s juniors and the year before that one, too. I do think that Russia’s juniors have a good shot at winning, but, … can they hit?
      I agree that Simone inflates their margins by a wild amount, but I think their consistency and their depth are too much for anyone else to touch. The USA hasn’t fallen in a TF since 2010, and they’re pretty much a factory churning out stars right now. Russia seems to have improved their consistency, but all it takes is one Melnikova 2017 type gymnast who is on a team because of potential to send the Russian house of cards to the ground.

      1. Yeah, if the margin of difference in TFs has been due to mistakes by Russia and China and ‚wafer thin‘ depth on these other teams, Simone‘s absence won’t make much of a difference. Unfortunately. 2012 was way more fun when there were actual threats for the gold medal.

      2. Yes, but that was with a plethora of falls and Mistakes from Russia. They had a mess-anar from Paseka, a mediocre bars set from Grishi, wobblers from Musty and Komo, and two falls on floor from Grishi and Afan.

      3. While the USA hasn’t had an actual fall in TF since 2010, as far as I can recall, Biles had a problematic BB in TF in Doha. She had two major balance breaks and put her hands down on her front pike to keep her from falling off the beam. If she hadn’t put her hands down she would have fallen. The errors equated a fall. She scored in the 7s for that set and I count that as a missed set.

      1. Thank you! No social media so I’m always out of the loop.

        My god that’s petty. I question a club gym having such a tight relationship with a NCAA program because it invites so many recruiting violations and conflicts of interest and pressure on the athletes. But this is a clear and direct power move and it’s also beyond inappropriate. Good on Georgia Elite for calling UGA out.

    1. Iirc, it was something about coaches/parents associated with Georgia Elite cheering for Sami Durante- who spent her club career at Georgia Elite and was supposed to attend UGeorgia before her mom was fired as coach-competing for LSU and then ensuing social media drama on the end of UGeorgia’s coaching staff basically calling them out and saying they shouldn’t root for another teams gymnast, and GE firing back and saying that they will always support their own, no matter where they are.

  3. Can Ragan or anyone around her make a smart decision for once? She is constantly in a boot. If she’s done with elite, why would they have her go to Oklahoma right away? If I were her I would have gotten surgery as soon as possible, and then still defer for a year to let the ankle recover. I feel like going nonstop from elite to NCAA is just asking for her to burnout.

    1. I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t want to put off college any longer. KJ doesn’t seem to be one to push an athlete beyond where her body will take her, so I imagine that if she needs rest, she’ll get it.

      1. I agree about KJ. She has more than shown aptitude for pacing & resting gymnasts on her team, even if they’re stars! Evidenced by resting Maggie from AA almost the entire season, for a minor injury, & many other examples that I’m too tired to come up with right now, haha…


        Ragan may be limited to bars and beam as a freshman (like Maggie as a junior until Regionals/Nationals) and despite bars being her weak even throughout elite, KJ will craft a simplified routine and have Ragan compete in the anchor spot after Maggie so OU will go back-to-back with 10s at multiple meets. The gymternet will then debate whether Ragan’s routine is too easy for her and complain that such a simple routine shouldn’t be beating out ones where the gymnasts put up lots of difficulty.

    2. Her and her family opted out of surgery. They CHOSE not to do it. Why I have no idea. But it was their personal decision.

    3. I think going to Oklahoma and getting off the elite train IS the smart decision. We don’t know what else she is doing – who knows, maybe she is having surgery (many NCAA athletes do in the off season) but in any event, she won’t be training elite hours or nearly the level of difficulty she was in elite. That alone is a good decision.

  4. also, for someone whose dream it was to make an olympic team (proper), i imagine it would be heartbreaking to sit around and recover for a full year while your peers prepare for olympic trials. going to college and getting a change of pace seems like a good way to allow her to start over and build her life after elite.

  5. Alabama does take broken elites hoping it works out for them… but the medical retirements of Ernst and Key seem to validate UF cutting ties with them….for the record, I think it was handled terribly and when you sign former National team members who’ve endured years of elite training , injuries are to be expected and you roll the dice. I guess Rowland exercised her prerogative to not follow through on the verbal and time proved her right , in that injuries would take their toll and Ernst at least would not be able to contribute to UF.

    I’m hoping Foberg doesn’t meet this same fate down the road… she was an over trained successful elite but the injury bug has bitten at UF…

    1. ???? Ernst did contribute to UF – just bean routines, but Rowland didn’t break the verbal commitment with her or anything. She told her to medically retire when Ernst wasn’t ready to – that was her reason for leaving Florida (and IMO I think that’s kind of shitty, though understandable given that a coach’s job is to win). I guess you mean Key then? We don’t have any evidence that Rowland let Key go, do we? Just rumors that Bama used Ernst‘s signing to convince Key to come to Bama.

      1. Didn’t UF want Ernst to medically retire so they had the extra scholarship so Foberg could enter college and compete a year early… Pretty sure the two are connected.

        Ernst wasn’t happy with the way UF let her go/treated her and she and Key are BFFs so I imagine that’s the reason Key decided not to follow through on her verbal to UF and instead follow her friend to Alabama. Key never signed anything with UF so she had the freedom to change her mind. I don’t think UF had anything to do with it – and I doubt they’d bother saying if they still wanted her or not. Emily Gaskins is another former UF verbal who switched to Alabama, though I imagine she realized she would likely compete more AA chances with the Tide then she would with the Elite-deep UF.

      2. Yes, Ernst did beam at UF but as you say, when told to medically retire, she felt she wasn’t ready… but UF wasn’t going to continue to fund her as 1 of 12, so she’d have to stay on her own nickel and hope to compete as UF wanted Foberg a year early….I think Ernst was just a victim of the Texas Dreams mega training/multiple injuries that never get a chance to heal that you see with a lot of their athletes. Key too…it seemed she was a great elite, peaked , got injured, and never recovered enough to be viable for NCAA…quite sad actually given her talent.

        ….enter Alabama who thought Ernst had a chance to return to compete and offered her a spot on that team. She and Key are BFFs and apparently the scenario at UF didn’t sit well with the Keys so she switched to Alabama as well…and, if they’d both stayed healthy, was going to be a tremendous coup for Bama..but instead, both are done with the sport due to injuries.

      3. I can’t remember…did Bama have to rescind any verbals or scholarships to make room for Ernst/Key, or did the math all sort of work out? Because I agree it was a gamble absolutely worth taking assuming Bama didn’t have to cut anyone else loose.

  6. From the outside I’m surprised that Key’s injuries were so bad – during her career I had the impression that she was being paced reasonably and rested when she was in pain. I was definitely not alone in this – at the time, she was held up as an example of responsible coaching, including by some people who are now claiming that Texas Dreams is an example of what not to do (hindsight is 20/20 I guess?).

    Key skipped her last year of junior nationals, ostensibly because her coaches were being cautious about injury and overuse, and didn’t need to re-win a meet that she had already won. The skills she threw as a junior never seemed beyond her capabilities – if anything, Key had usually good form and landing control and she almost never missed in competition. She showed a few training videos of harder skills that she wasn’t competing yet. There weren’t signs that she was peaking too soon.

    I do agree that Texas Dreams needs to take a hard look at its program because they’ve had two very strong elites fail to recover from their injuries, to the extent that they couldn’t compete in college (Ernst and Key). And as people have pointed out some of the technique on their tumbling is poor and makes it hard for gymnasts to adjust to added height and weight as they grow up. But I’m also tired of all the armchair analysts claiming that TD is such an injury factory when all gyms have gymnasts who get too injured to compete elite. I saw someone try to blame Baker’s senior-season Achilles tear on her elite coaches.

    1. I think you’re right. Its easy to blame coaches for injuries, but this is gymnastics. This sport is very demanding and unfortunately not everyone has a body that will carry through the years of intense training this sport requires. It’s unfortunate really that so many talented and hardworking junior gymnasts will deal with injuries that prevent them from obtaining success past a certain age. It can be the coaches, but it isnt always that. Thanks for providing your inside to that side of the story!

      1. Bailey Key had a pretty significant back injury that kept her from Jr. Nationals and defending her title. (I believe Foberg won that year.) I think it was 2014 as Key was a senior in 2015.

  7. I think a lot of TD’s problems are the result of having good-but-not-Simone elites in the right place at the right time. It would be natural for someone like Bailie Key or Ragan Smith to feel pressure to push through and make a team, especially since it might be their one shot. Also TD has a huge elite team, so statistically it makes sense that they seem to have more than their fair share of injuries and burnouts.

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