The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

US Nationals Rosters

One week from today, the US national championships will already be underway, and you will already be losing your mind about some such situation. Gymternet. So by way of an initial toe-dip into the world of previewing this competition, let’s get into the rosters and start lists, which have already been released.

Senior women

In all, 17 women will compete in the senior field at nationals. This marks the smallest senior field of the quad so far, but it’s up from those 2013 and 2014 national championships when just 13 women competed in the seniors, which was an unnecessarily small field.

Simone Biles
Sloane Blakely
Jade Carey
Jordan Chiles
Kara Eaker
Aleah Finnegan
Morgan Hurd
Shilese Jones
Emily Lee
Sunisa Lee
Grace McCallum
Riley McCusker
Gabby Perea
MyKayla Skinner
Trinity Thomas
Faith Torrez
Leanne Wong

Day 1 start list

Of the group that competed at Classic, Gilstrap, Hollingsworth, Jeffrey, and Vides did not make the cut for nationals, while Malabuyo and Adams withdrew due to injury.

The entirety of the Pan Am Games team is, indeed, slated to compete at nationals. We were informed at Classic that this would be the case, though a significant consideration will be the allowance we should have for those athletes downgrading or taking it easy coming off a long, major competition. We don’t necessarily need to see two days of full difficulty, especially from those who competed in the AA final and multiple event finals (or from those who have concussions). Though at the same time, I imagine it will be somewhat hard not to go all out with such an evenly matched and competitive field heading ever closer to worlds selection.

The IEC minutes from May tell us that the national teams for both seniors and juniors will be expanding from a minimum of 6 to a definite 10, which is a change from what was initially published on the 2019 qualification chart. USAG things. It’s quite interesting (where’s that money coming from, Bankruptcy Magoo?) and indicates that more athletes will be invited to the selection camp this year than we saw last year. In 2018, the top 8 seniors in the AA were immediately named to the national team following championships, and 9 in total were invited to the worlds selection camp—Ragan Smith, Alyona Shchennikova, and Jordan Chiles were added to the group for camp, while Jade Carey and Trinity Thomas did not attend because they weren’t going for worlds.

Surely, everyone who makes the national team will get an invite to the selection camp this year, so we’re looking at an expanded field…but not expanded enough to encompass everyone who could/should be there. When you take the top tier of all-around gymnasts—which I’d define as Biles, McCusker, McCallum, Eaker, Wong, Hurd, and Lee as long as she’s back to four events at nationals—that’s already 7 of your 10 and far from a complete list of the competitive seniors in the US.

So if you find yourself getting bored watching Simone win everything, watch that top-10 AA race. With people like Carey, Finnegan, Jones, Chiles, Torrez, and Skinner, there’s going to be a serious fight for those last few national team spots. Not all of the people on that list are going to make the national team, and if precedent is an indication, not all of those people will even get invites to the worlds selection camp. So even though we always say results don’t really matter until selection camp, tough cuts will happen starting…soon.

Tom Forster’s penchant for using the AA standings for all team decisions may soon drive me into a frustration coma, but it does make the AA race at nationals for those lower spots all the more exciting if that’s going to be the only thing used to determine national team and selection camp invites. I mean, he wouldn’t ignore someone like Jade Carey even if she bombs bars and beam at nationals and places really low in the AA—because those events are wholly irrelevant for her, and she’s Jade Carey, and vault and floor. You would have to be insane. But also….?????? Precedent dictates otherwise.

And how is that aggressive emphasis on AA placement going to be reconciled with the allowance for the Pan Ams athletes not be at 100% or do everything at nationals? Watch that space.

Junior women

The cut after Classic has shrunk the junior field from 37 down to 29, which is still a pretty big group as far as junior nationals go.

Ciena Alipio
Sydney Barros
Love Birt
Skye Blakely
Sophia Butler
Kailin Chio
Kayla Di Cello
Addison Fatta
eMjae Frazier
Karis German
Olivia Greaves
Levi Jung-Ruivivar
Lauren Little
Lilly Lippeatt
Nola Matthews
Konnor McClain
Zoe Miller
Kaylen Morgan
Sydney Morris
Sophie Parenti
Anya Pilgrim
Ariel Posen
Sienna Robinson
Katelyn Rosen
Lyden Saltness
Jamison Sears
Ava Siegfeldt
Mya Witte
Ella Zirbes

Day 1 start list

The field for nationals contains a couple people who did not compete at US Classic (Mya Witte and Love Birt) but had previously qualified to nationals, as well as Sienna Robinson, who had to withdraw from US Classic at the last minute.

The most likely contenders for the national title are the group of 6 that have recently separated themselves from the pack—McClain, Di Cello, Blakely, Barros, Greaves, and Alipio. All six are close enough to each other that it’s going to take a seriously hit two-day competition to win the title, and consistency rather than difficulty will be what separates them from each other.

Senior Men

Unlike on the senior women’s side, the US men who competed at the Pan Am Games will not be participating at nationals. (Genki Suzuki was originally on the roster to do both but no longer appears on the start list for nationals.)

In some respects, that means the men’s national championship will tell a less complete story because there are areas in which members of the Pan Am Games team can aid a potential US worlds team, and we won’t get to evaluate those possibilities again until the selection camp in early September should they be included in that roster.

Justin Ah Chow
Levi Anderson
Max Andryuschenko
Donothan Bailey
Allan Bower
Stewart Brown
Evan Davis
Adrian De Los Angeles
Alex Diab
Gage Dyer
Michael Fletcher
Trevor Howard
Bennet Huang
Paul Juda
Riley Loos
Michael Mandozzi
Sean Melton
Sam Mikulak
Akash Modi
Yul Moldauer
Jacob Moore
Stephen Nedoroscik
Kanji Oyama
Brennan Pantazis
Michael Paradise
Eddie Penev
Colin Van Wicklen
Timothy Wang
Kiwan Watts
Matt Wenske
Donnell Whittenburg
Michael Wilner
Shane Wiskus
Alec Yoder

Day 1 start list

If you haven’t kept up with the US senior men in a while, not too much has changed since last year, so don’t feel like you’re out of the loop. You’re still looking at Sam Mikulak as the top all-arounder in the country—when he has it together, and also most likely when he doesn’t—and Yul Moldauer as the #2 all-arounder in the country. They remain a step above, and the general expectation is that the US will need to send those two to the all-around world cups next year to have a reasonable shot at getting an additional Olympic spot through that method.

With those two continuing on as the big boys, the US will be looking for three remaining people to fill out a world championships team, and the heavy focus at nationals will be on which group of three people can best combine to provide at least one high-scoring routine on all six events, and in some cases two.

In that regard, focus remains on HB, where Mikulak provides really the only high-level score the US has on the event. High bar is Moldauer’s weakness among the six pieces, so the US is likely looking at two of those remaining three gymnasts on the worlds team needing to provide a high bar option.

Anyone who gets a high 13 on HB at nationals is therefore worth setting aside in the consideration pile, but we may not get a definite picture of HB at nationals because you have people like Neff and Malone not competing. Neff scored 14.000 on HB during that Pan Ams all-around final, which is higher than any non-Mikulak gymnast got at nationals or selection camp last year, and  despite the routine that shall not be named from the Pan Ams team competition, Malone has some chops on HB and showed a 5.8 D in that AA final. In last year’s worlds team final, Modi and Van Wicklen showed 5.6 and 5.2 respectively (Modi did 5.8 in qualification), so if you can beat those difficulty numbers and do it with a vague level of cleanliness, you’re in the mix.

But it’s also important that the US not get too bogged down on the topic of high bar. For all the talk about it, the US ended up placing 3rd among the 8 teams in the 2018 TF on that event (with a little help from the splats of others), while placing 6th on rings and 5th on vault. Caveat: Moldauer had to be used on rings and was not at his best at that point, which created a somewhat misleading scenario since, under normal circumstances, you’d expect him to score much higher than he did. But the US still would really like a third rings score that can go 14s.

What made Colin Van Wicklen compelling last year was that he possessed a 5.6 vault (having a 5.6 D-score vault is the “having an Amanar/rudi/Cheng” of men’s gymnastics—the medal-contending teams each should have at least couple 5.6 vaults, and if the US doesn’t have any and has to put up a slate of 5.2s instead, that’s a major start value disadvantage right from the beginning).

The ability to bring a vault with another event or two, or rings with another event or two, will be particularly advantageous to any gymnast competing at nationals. And reconciling your vault gymnasts, your rings gymnasts, and your pommel horse gymnasts with the pressing need on high bar will be the great struggle of our time.

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