Things Are Happening – August 2, 2019

A. Pan Am Games – final thoughts

Ellie Black.

End of final thoughts.

But not really. In terms of reading into the US women’s results from Pan Ams, which I know is our favorite pastime, I’d say…don’t so much.

By the time we get to actual worlds team selection, this competition will have paled in the memory nearly as much as US Classic and will be overtaken by things that will have happened more recently, like nationals and selection camp. That goes for both hits and misses. No one will be putting a ton of weight on Pan Ams performances, whether glorious or disastrous or somewhere in between (which was the reality for most of the competitors). The short-term memory is very small when it comes to selecting teams, and that’s largely how it should be. You want to select a team based on who is performing the best in the moment, not what happened two months ago. Worlds isn’t being held two months ago.

When it comes to Hurd, Wong, and Finnegan, we didn’t see a ton from them at Pan Ams, but they did the job successfully when we did see them, so it’s sort of a “checkpoint passed, move on to the next level, let’s see how you fare there” situation for them right now. We saw a lot more from Eaker and McCusker. Eaker had two excellent days and one rough day, performing stellar gymnastics in the team competition and day 2 of event finals, reasserting that she’ll be treated as an AA contender this year rather than solely a beam specialist, but she did fall twice in the all-around final to finish out of the medals. On balance, that’s still a successful competition, and those beam scores are just so very high that she will have a major advantage in all “best-case scenario, highest-scoring team” permutations.

More is being read into the performance of McCusker, which should also be marked as a successful showing overall. I mean, she won four medals. Still, because of past questions about her consistency, that fall in the AA final, the fall in the beam final, and the OOBs in the floor final carry a bit more weight because they are part of a trend. The question then arises: should that be taken into account when it comes to worlds team selection?

My answer: Not really. This is an argument specific to the US women’s team, but let’s not pretend like the US women aren’t going to win gold in the team final at worlds and that Simone isn’t going to win gold in the all-around. They are. That scenario gives the US more luxury to select its highest-scoring potential team regardless of consistency concerns. You can pick the group of five that you believe provides the highest possible scores, and if McCusker turns out to be part of that highest potential team (still several competitions to go), then she should go to worlds. Because here’s the deal: If she hits, McCusker has among the best non-Simone chances to win event medals at worlds and the US also wins the team final. And if she doesn’t hit, the US still wins the team final. There’s not really a downside to the US selecting a potentially inconsistent gymnast with huge scoring potential. You can go for your peak possible score on every event.

The only sense in which that inconsistency would come into play is if it ends up being really close for peak team score between McCusker and another gymnast like, say, Sunisa Lee who could also potentially win a bars medal. But who’s even winning that consistency race? I couldn’t say. Or perhaps it’s significant for the second AA spot. Still, if McCusker misses in qualification, then the other AAer would go to the final instead, and if she hits…well then she earned the opportunity for a spot in the final.

Meanwhile, if Forster just goes with the AA standings from selection camp again, it really doesn’t matter what you’ve done before that, but that’s rage for another day.

B. Nationals week!

Your life is scheduled below. Note that TV coverage for these meets is slated to begin 30 minutes after the listed meet starting time, which I’ve included below. For the women, I’m assuming the actual competition won’t begin until the TV start time because they’ve been given a two hour window and that’s plenty of time to run the whole women’s meet (unless you’re the Pan Am Games). For the men…who can say. We’ve missed rotations before.

USAG hasn’t posted streaming info for the juniors yet (or potential international streams for the seniors) or podium training, but we can assume USAG’s YouTube will be on that. Podium training for the women is always the day before the men’s competition begins.

Thursday, August 8
2:00 ET/11:00PT – Junior Men
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Senior Men – NBCSN

Friday, August 9
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Junior Women
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Senior Women – NBCSN

Saturday, August 10
2:00 ET/11:00PT – Junior Men
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Senior Men – NBCSN

Sunday, August 11
2:00 ET/11:00 PT – Junior Women
7:30 ET/4:30 PT – Senior Women – NBC

C. Nastia, come get your dad

Valeri Liukin did a word vomit with R-Sport, and I can only assume he thought that meant the interview was a secret because he said a couple baaaaads in there. From his claim that he had to leave the NTC position because of a “made-up reason” to his and the interviewer’s stupid and reductive opinions on TEH BLACKS in gymnastics, it’s…….well, don’t read it if you want to enjoy your Friday afternoon, that’s what I’ll say.

People really tell on themselves when they try to characterize Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas as the same style of gymnast. Have you watched them? Or did you just see black and stop thinking?

D. Nabieva News

The Aurora Games (August 21) released the list of Team World gymnasts that will be competing against the Team Americas gymnasts—Katelyn Ohashi, Alicia Boren, McKenna Kelley—and the list of Team World gymnasts includes both Our Nush and Our Nabs. So it will be a show. Almost like the person picking these athletes knew what we wanted or something…

E. The bill

The Senate is still a thing, apparently. Sigh. Anyway, the committee conducting hearings last year into how many times Steve Penny could plead the fifth has released its report. (tl;dr – Everything and everyone is terrible.) The report is largely review if you’ve been following every detail of this, and the damning information it contains about the USOC, USAG, MSU, and the FBI has been damning for years. But, it does compile all the worst emails together in the appendix section called Steve Penny Is a Gargoyle in case you aren’t already upset enough, and the discussion of the usability issues of the SafeSport database made me die a little because…I don’t have to explain, you know me by now.

The release of the report has been accompanied by the Empowering Olympic and Amateur Athletes Act, which includes some positive things like more funding for Safesport, though to be honest most of the provisions seem kind of toothless. Of significant note, however, the act would give Congress the ability to decertify the governing body of an individual sport. That’s particularly interesting because even though it’s not like Congress is a swift machine of effective justice that would be decertifying NGBs all over the place, it is more responsive to political pressure than the USOC would be. USAG would have been much more likely to face decertification over the past couple years if Congress had enjoyed that power rather than just the USOC.

More fun: Anna Li and Wu Jiani are being investigated for verbal and emotional abuse. The increased frequency of reports like this may be disheartening, but it’s also necessary. It’s how you start airing out the culture, for them and for coaches in general. There are more categories than just “evil, sexually abusive monster” and “great positive coach,” and potential verbal and emotional abuse earning you an investigation instead of a trophy is a step in the right direction.

Of note, that piece has been updated with many more examples and accounts and it looks baaaaaaaad. Really bang-up group of characters we’ve got in this sport, huh? Great day for all. So, when is the announcement that someone under investigation obviously can’t be holding an athlete rep position?

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47 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – August 2, 2019”

  1. You … skipped the situation where she hits in quals, misses in finals, doesn’t win a medal, *and two-pers someone else from that final who could have/would have medaled with a repeat of their lowest-scoring quals performance*.

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    1. *lower, not lowest

      My point is there are places where the U.S. has more than 2 people who can absolutely medal. They don’t need to hope for a hit from McCusker for any shot at a medal.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. But what USA gymnasts are there that would score lower with a hit routine in prelims but at the same time are guaranteed to both hit in finals and win a medal with their lower-scoring-than-Riley-in-prelims routine? Even with hit routines, no one on the USA team is guaranteed a bars or floor medal (except Simone on floor). Riley can’t 2 per anyone out of vault finals. Simone and Kara were our beam finalists last year (and likely to be this year too) and both fell.
      Simone fell and Morgan grabbed the beam in last year’s All-Around. Who are the USA’s ultra-consistent athletes who just need to make finals in order to medal?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bars I’ll give you – this strategy makes sense there. It’s an absolutely stacked international field.

        I think what I’m saying is most relevant for AA and FX. McCallum, Hurd, and Eaker are all more consistent than McCusker internationally and could easily medal in AA at worlds with an average routine. On FX, my gut is you could say the same for McCallum, Carey, or an upgraded Hurd.

        It can also happen more indirectly. Carey (or, potentially, Skinner) is an all but guaranteed world’s vault medal and McCusker is not a guaranteed bars or AA medal.

        If you want to truly optimize for the highest probability of the U.S. getting 7 medals (the most possible), I’m not sure who your team is. I might say Biles, Carey, Lee, Eaker, McCallum, at this point.

        I’m not advocating this necessarily. I’m advocating looking at all scenarios and this should be one of them.

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      2. I‘m not sure if I‘d agree that eaker is more consistent than riley in international competitions. I didn‘t get to see Gymnix or Jesolo, so I‘m just talking about worlds and the world cups: In 2017 Riley had 2 falls at American cup, in 2018 she fell in qualifications at worlds (also twice – not sure about that?), and now in 2019 she fell twice at the Birmingham worldcup (the lights were off in the arena, so that‘s not really her fault, everyone in that meet fell at least once i think) and fell twice at Pan Ams.
        Kara had no appearance at a world cup, but she fell in beam finals at worlds in 2018 and now twice at Pan Ams.
        So they both struggled at all international competitions they went to (again, I didn’t get to see Jesolo or Gymnix).
        Riley could add a bars medal, but the bars field is soooooo incredibly deep. Eaker most certainly would add a beam medal. But I guess in the end it wouldn’t matter. Whoever gets to do the AA most likely will get a medal if they hit (so wong or mccullum or hurd would be great), on vault the medalists would be simone and carey/skinner, not sure about a medal on bars, but the US could at least quality 2 people to the final (biles/mccusker/lee/wong), same for beam (biles/eaker/mccusker/lee/wong) and on floor there very likely will be 2 medals as well (biles and hurd/skinner/carey).

        In the end I think the team wouldn’t need mccusker, because there are so many options that would work, but it would also work if she‘s there, there would just be the risk that she wouldn’t hit.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. whoops Valeri ur racism

    Good riddance, asshole.
    But wtf is Nastia’s technology business. All I see her doing is posting vanity shots on instagram with trite quotes she found on Google. At least Shawn keeps it interesting with her exploitative clickbait about her pregnancy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She has an app, so she does run (or at least have) a small tech business. I’d assume she is focused on content, not the tech side, but still… It may not be cutting edge but it does exist.

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    2. Am I missing something? Does it hurt anyone how if Nastia has an app to her name? Is there something else she’s supposed to be doing, something she owes in life to her gymnastics fans after winning AA Olympic gold? Is she required to be wildly successful and creative in some other endeavor as well? Honestly asking, why the vitriol towards her for something that hurts no one and affects you in no way whatsoever. And isn’t that what everyone does on instagram? Post flattering shots of themselves and inspirational quotes?

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      1. She does a bit more than that. Check out the bit she did during the Nassar witness statements where she spent half a sentence talking about victims and then a whole ass paragraph of hashtags about her hair, makeup, and clothing. She reminds me of Ivanka Trump in being so blandly complicit.

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      2. Nastia and Shawn both come across as super fake and as though everything they do is motivated by money. Even their newfound BFF-ness I would assume is because they decided it would help them make money.

        I don’t really get upset about it but I do roll my eyes about it and view all of their actions with a certain degree of cynicism.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Every time I see a reference to Nastia and Shawn as newfound BFFs I think of the last scene of Chicago.

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    3. As a black person, I don’t see anything racist about what he stated. It’s pretty frank, but not racist.

      The average white gymnast has a typical line to their gymnastics that the average black gymnast doesn’t… but black gymnasts tend to be more explosive.

      The code now favors difficulty, and form is not as heavily penalized as it used to be. This does create a sort of bias in the system for them.

      Otherwise, Dos Santos would never have a World FX medal, because the judges would have murdered her landings as well as her form in comparison to other gymnasts who did less difficult routines – and that was still in the 10.0 era.

      But the judges do sort of give gymnasts a pass when they do insane difficulty. This has always been the case, and why gymnasts would stack difficulty even going back to the 70s.

      Frankly, Simone Biles benefits more from her explosiveness and difficulty than Komova did from her form and execution.

      The system still has not found a proper balance between the two (either the judges are too light, or the deductions are ridiculous – to the point that the results are de facto decided by D score, for the most part).

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      1. I’ll also state that more people of color are probably putting their children in Gymnastics, and the children and probably taking it a bit more seriously than they used to in the past… because Gymnastics was not the type of sport that the typical black child aspired to participate in when I was growing up (similar to Figure Skating).

        Typically, people were looking at sports like Track and Field, Tennis, etc.

        Times have changed, and the code of points does benefit them by allowing them to utilize their athleticism to great gains.

        That doesn’t mean black gymnasts can’t have good form. Betty Okino’s form was pretty good (outside of her leaps), and so was Gabby Douglas’. Tasha Schweikert wasn’t bad, either.

        But, seriously… compared to Chinese, Russian, Ukranian gymnasts… and even some of the US’ best white gymnasts (Miller, McCool, etc.). There is a definite difference.

        American gymnasts tend to be overall bulkier, anyways. Even American ballerinas tend to be more muscular (what I mean mostly when I say “bulky”) than Russian gymnasts.

        What’s normal to us may be different to people from a different culture – even if they have lived here for quite a while.

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  3. This isn’t really related but a few Gymcastic podcasts ago, you guys were wondering what happens if a gymnast LITERALLY SCREAMS before they perform.

    Well, Cheng Fei screamed before she vaulted in 2008 VT EF and she got bronze.

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    1. Because professional competitions like the Aurora Games are an entirely different level of competitions than elite or NCAA competitions. Typically the rules for professional competitions are much looser, scoring systems are nonsensical and not the point of the competition (…I know…), and they are focused on showing brief flashes of interesting/impressive-looking gymnastics than maximizing scores through the Code of Points. The professional competitions also don’t require as much preparation as your typical elite/NCAA meets, since retired athletes can typically compete at these for the next few years after retirement with some short training regimens.

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    2. Also since this is a pro competition, it doesn’t need the support of USAG or the NCAA for them to compete, both of which needed to be coordinated for a Universiade team.

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  4. Perhaps I’m alone in thinking every event paints a picture leading up to the selections for the worlds team, especially since it’ll be decided in about six weeks, but I’m definitely looking forward to the upgrades netting two extra points of difficulty people keep talking about that certain gymnasts who won’t be named will pull out on the last minute to showcase.

    Perhaps I’m wrong and the very last performance before worlds is literally everything in sum to be considered, though. *shrugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. It’s wrong to ignore anyone’s season trajectory, how they performed under different amounts of pressure throughout the year, how they paced themselves, etc, but the most important aspect is indeed how they look right before Worlds. Morgan’s usual trajectory of peaking at Worlds doesn’t mean much if she doesn’t show she is moving upwards meaningfully at selection camp, for example. It worked out last year that they picked her with a bad-ish day at camp, but might not have.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah I agree that it’s somewhere in the middle. Peaking at the right time is important, but having some backlog of consistency is also important.

        Re Hurd struggling at camp, she still ended up fourth AA there. And in retrospect, Tom probably just took the top 6 AAers from world camp to worlds. Luckily he at least didn’t make the alternates or lineups that way.

        I also think the “Hurd paces herself” storyline has become a bit of a gymternet myth. I would agree that she is a gamer who has put together her best meet at Worlds. But in 2017, it was clearly a steady build where she struggled at Nationals (probably in part due to lost training time after her elbow surgery). 2018 was a bit different where she started strong at American Cup, showed a bit of inconsistency at Pac Rims, came back with a good Classic finishing third, did very well at Nationals finishing second, and then had a rough time at camp before picking it back up for Worlds. Yet for some reason people characterize those two seasons as though they are exactly the same.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I got distracted and missed a sentenced in the post above. I meant to say that in 2017, Hurd had a rough Nationals but then came back to win camp and then also win worlds.

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      3. Morgan pacing herself, Riley never hitting internationally, Riley having great execution, Grace being so consistent that she’s „the new Aly Raisman“ … all at least a little overblown. Such is fandom.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Sometimes it seems like people get praised for pacing themselves when it really just means “performed sub-par up for a while, then hit in the end.” I’m not always sure how much of the pacing is deliberate. Morgan scored less to win 2017 Worlds than she scored Day 2 of 2017 Nationals, where she placed 6th. She didn’t pace herself to win Worlds, everyone else just blew it on the apparatus or blew a body part beforehand. And last year she lost the AA silver with her beam error. If you count beam grabs, Morgan and Riley have practically the same amount of falls in competition from 2017 to Pan Ams. Both fell in the prelims of their first Worlds. Both lost international competitions they would have won by falling. They’re both great gymnasts, but have to agree that a lot of the labels on the gymnasts are overblown.

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  6. Anyone else read the Laurie Hernandez Olympics article a couple of weeks ago about coming back, now, after Worlds and still eyeing Tokyo?

    Like, seriously, there are so many girls that could medal from USA, it’s sad and the list just keeps growing.

    Timing is everything, but no matter how USAG comes to their decisions, there’s going to be a lot of sad, angry gymnasts and fans. I hope they detail their selection criteria sooner, rather than later.

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    1. Just have 2 days of Nationals and 2 days of Olympic trials. Drop the highest and lowest score on each event for each athlete. Average your remaining 2 scores on each event to get your event score. Feed those event scores into a HIghest Scoring Team calculator and spit out the team.
      If you have 1 bad day out of 4 on your best event, you can make it up. If you have 2 bad days on your best event, there’s a reason you missed the team.
      If you’re injured at Nationals, you can still get your 2 counting scores at Trials, so injury comebacks are accounted for.
      It’s cold, calculating, and fair and equal for everyone. (Not to mention harder to intentionally prop up favorites because there’s so many calculations involved).

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      1. If you do this method for 2016, the team you end up with is Biles, Hernandez, Raisman, Kocian, and Locklear. A team with Douglas instead of Locklear scores 0.7 lower, Skinner instead of Douglas scores 0.5 lower. But we all knew that at the time.

        For 2012, the team that was picked was the highest scoring team by this method or even without dropping scores. (It’s also the same in 2016 without dropping scores.) Price placed fourth at Trials but wasn’t top 3 on any event. Maroney added so much on vault that it was worth taking her just for that. The next highest scoring team is actually replacing Ross with Anna Li (you lose some on beam but gain a bit on bars using Trials scores) but that would have been a very precarious beam situation. A team with Sacramone scores just a little bit lower than the Maroney team too. It’s really too bad Sacramone couldn’t have added back floor after her injury, as I think she would have had a more compelling case then.

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      2. I generally really, really like this.

        What I don’t like is that you could end up with, for example, two athletes who literally don’t have floor routines (or whatever event), Locklear/Sacramone-style. Then if someone gets injured in/after quals there is nothing to do but compete injured in TF, or put up 2.

        I think making sure there is at least a 4th routine available, even if it’s the equivalent of a clean Yfull from Kocian or a struggle bars from Carey, needs to be in the formula somewhere.

        Also I would say 2 days of trials and 2 days of camp rather than nationals and trials – you should not have to be at 100% peak 7 weeks early to make the team.

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      3. By the way in the scenario where the team is Raisman/Locklear/Biles/Hernandez/Kocian, you end up with the weird scenario where Kocian becomes the one who is “definitely” doing AA and Raisman and Hernandez are still left fighting for the last bars spot in the prelims lineup. Kocian is doing AA because she is clearly doing bars, it’s what you brought her there for, she is also definitely doing vault and floor because Locklear doesn’t do them, and she was a lot more consistent than Locklear on beam so it makes more sense to put her up there too. Obviously Locklear was doing bars if she was on the team. So this team kind of moves Kocian into the Douglas role and Locklear into the Kocian role.

        The only way that Raisman and Hernandez both got to do AA in prelims in Rio was if Skinner was on the team with either Locklear or Kocian. Then you would have Skinner doing vault and floor and Kocian/Locklear doing bars and beam, so Raisman and Hernandez then had room to both do AA in prelims. But by bringing two people who were potential bars finalists, it was inevitable that this clash was going to happen.

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      4. I’m okay with this on the whole.. I think the teams might be slightly worse than under the team coordinator system, because there are probably situations in which the numbers aren’t perfectly accurate… but it’s definitely true that the TC/Marta system gives too much power to one person AND I think it probably increases the opportunity for abusive or unhealthy conditions for athletes (e.g. needing to impress a single coordinator -> hiding injury, being unwilling to speak up about problems etc.)

        If possible, I think they should put the Trials like, 1 week before the Olympics. Have camp before Trials, then they can announce at Trials, and gymnasts can experience the pressure atmosphere plus the screaming crowds.

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    2. Lol what you should have read was her reddit session. 🙂 Goes into detail about training, what skills, her struggle to lose weight… She skipped answering a lot of questions though. lol – Plus she is posting videos of her singing with her guitar on her gram. So yeah.

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  7. Why should the gymnasts be angry? I absolutely understand feeling sad but with the exception of Skinner post-Trials, everyone seems able to understand how this process works and accept the outcomes. It’s not like any reasonable person was surprised by the 2016 team selection.

    It is likely that Laurie’s primary goal is to stay relevant for her career, and her secondary goal is to make the Olympic team. I don’t think she is fully faking her comeback – I believe she is training, but I have to believe she is realistic about her chances. (I also wouldn’t count Hernandez among the most talented gymnasts that the US has; IMO she was extremely lucky to make the Rio team and I think she was competing at the very top of her ability at the time).

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    1. “Everyone seems able to understand how this process works and accept the outcomes.” I don’t know one person that understands how the process works. USAG justifies their choices with a vague story after the fact and it changes every selection, if you get one at all.

      It’s clear it’s a combination of team scoring potential, individual medal contention and favorites. So, yeah, people get angry. The athletes are usually smart enough about their careers to not complain about it, as it’s no use. Laurie is a good example, she significantly outperformed Aly in the trials, declared pro and then was told she couldn’t compete AA in Rio. Go back and look at the numbers and the twitter feeds, it’s all right there.

      So hitting the last minute is not the end all be all, in fact, it may not mean much at all depending on how drastic the difference in scores are and the favorites of the deciders. I’m pretty skeptical that Laurie has any chance and agree she was very likely at her best in Rio, which wouldn’t even assure her a place on the team right now if you could time travel and bring her to this moment. But, anyway.

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      1. I’m not sure what Laurie going pro has to do with anything. She has done pretty well for herself financially even without competing in the AA in Rio.

        It was obvious to everyone after 2015 Worlds that some combination of Martha and Steve Penny were determined that Aly get a chance at AA (Aly didn’t really deserve it in 2015 over Maggie either). Laurie and Aly were told up front at camp that the AA spot would be between the two of them and wasn’t determined based on Trials. Is it fair? Not exactly. But it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. This is quite late but…
        ???? What do you mean no one knows how the process works? In 2012 and 2016, it worked as follows: elite gymnasts regularly went to training camps, some of which included internal competitions, and the team coordinator (Martha) evaluated their performance at those camps and at international meets (where she decided their attendance). She then built a team of gymnasts that balanced highest possible score in a team final with an amount of risk control for injuries, based on the assumption that alternates would not be used unless more than one team gymnast was injured. If you were surprised or confused by the selection of the 2012 or 2016 teams, then you weren’t paying attention. For example, BBS (and many others) predicted both of those teams correctly after Jesolo of the Olympic year. It was obvious.

        I’m not saying it is a GOOD system or a FAIR system, but it’s not some kind of mystery, and the unfair situations can’t be chalked up to “favorites.” Sure, it was “unfair” not to let Brenna compete at 2013 worlds after naming her to the team, but also… why would you ever put her up in quals when she had almost no chance of getting into an EF and definitely no chance of a medal? What would be the point?

        Also, I don’t need to go back and look at the numbers or twitter feeds to remember that Laurie was absurdly overscored at nationals and Trials, but I did anyway just to confirm: this blog as well as others were all noting that Laurie was performing worse than Aly but getting confusingly high scores. Not to mention she was injured in Rio. I would’ve been surprised if she had been given the second AA spot.

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  8. I didn’t read the Valeri interview, but I can say this about Simone and Gabby:
    The one thing they have in common is that they are both clearly gifted with heaps of natural talent. Big surprise, given they are both Olympic champions.

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  9. I don’t know if anyone is still following comments on an old This is Happening, but I didn’t want to make an off-topic post on one of the Nationals posts.

    Gymcastic has a big problem. First it was Maria Caire, and now this week Jessica feels weird covering the Anna Li story because of their personal relationship. I get that socializing with the people you cover makes journalism hard, but at the same time Jessica clearly enjoys making those social connections and the inevitable outcome of this is that she won’t want to talk about anything remotely controversial or negative. Spencer has conducted himself as a total professional. But especially now that they’ve gotten press passes for Tokyo, Jessica needs to decide if she’s going to be a journalist or not. This isn’t an amateur enterprise anymore.

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