The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – August 23, 2019

A. Russian Cup

Friday was qualification day at the Russian Cup, and with Mustafina not quite ready to compete yet (a.k.a. SO RETIRED) and Nabieva deciding to sit in that armchair and be a shining comet at the Aurora Games instead, it was hard to see the point heading in. But still, qualification went pretty much exactly as “throwing a bag of laundry down a flight of stairs” as you would need it to. Valentina’s One True Daughter Vladislava Urazova had a fantastic competition to place 1st by a margin of nearly three points, while everyone else can try Sears.

Angelina Melnikova sits in second after falling on beam and doing the jitterbug a couple times on floor (although I’m very much here for that fake triple L turn where she just kept turning). Melnikova is a hair ahead of Elena Gerasimova, who hit a big beam routine for 14.200 but fell on bars. Famed all-around gymnast Lilia Akhaimova was the next closest, excelling on her good events but also receiving a solid beam score and not fully dying during bars, which was enough for 4th overall.

As Urazova and Gerasimova are still juniors and Melnikova is a given for the worlds team anyway, Akhaimova is the one who probably did her case the most good with her performance today. Especially compared to Simakova who sits in 7th with a 51.467 (and a vault fall, sigh) and Schekoldina who is 10th with 50.133, though both did go 13+ on floor and Russia will still be looking for a third floor routine if Mustafina can’t get back there. Keep an eye on that. Schekoldina’s AA score was mostly deflated by a disastrous bars number, but she did viably well on vault and floor and is in the mix.

In terms of bars gymnasts, Daria Spiridonova performed a 6.1 D score and hit (!), but Anastasia Iliankova crashed her dismount—though still made the bars final with 13.3—and Perebinosova went 12.300. Everything’s going awesome. Speaking of that: Klimenko and Eremina sit in 11th and 12th.

Paseka qualified second into the vault final behind Akhaimova with 14.2s on both her vaults. She also attempted to do bars at this one and went 12.1.

So we don’t know anything, basically. But what I’ve learned is that there’s definitely a spot for Mustafina on this Russian worlds team if she’s remotely close to back to her usual self, despite what Valentina might claim. The all-around final for the women is tomorrow (10:00am ET US time).

For the dude-boys, Nagornyy qualified in first place, with Belyavskiy in 2nd, Stretovich in 3rd, and Dalaloyan in 4th after a couple not-so-muches on a few pieces. Poliashov didn’t get the kind of number he would have preferred on pommel horse and is currently 6th.

B. 2021-2023 world championships

As if grappling with the Olympic qualification procedure were not enough, the FIG is out with the new qualification procedures that it will introduce for world championships in the next quadrennium.

Most significant is the limit on the number of teams able to compete at worlds (even in the second year of the quad), which will be capped at 24 and assigned through a FIFA-style continental quota system. For the women, that will be 13 teams from Europe, 5 Pan-American, 4 Asian, 1 African, and 1 Oceanic. For the men it’s almost the same, but one more for Asia and one fewer for Pan-America.

These spots will be assigned based on the results of the continental championships, an effort to give those events a little more oomph and have something real riding on them. It’s a solid idea, but I don’t enjoy the continental quota system as a concept because you’re going to end up artificially eliminating some solid teams from even qualifying a squad to worlds…and really for no reason at all…which will end up sullying the overall quality of the event. If it’s possible to have all the best teams there, you should want all the best teams there.

The number of qualifying individuals will also be capped, with qualification coming through the continental championships and the apparatus world cup rankings. There is such a wide disparity in quality among the gymnasts at any given worlds—with some of the gymnasts simply not at a world championship level—that I’m in favor of imposing a minimum standard and qualification cutoff as a way to shorten the competition, and this seems a reasonable way to do it. (Based on the numbers, they’re not actually going to end up cutting out that many gymnasts compared to current worlds, and I would honestly be in favor of limiting the field a little farther.)

For smaller programs with lower-level gymnasts, a limited, more exclusive world championship would essentially mean that the continental championship turns into their worlds. The big meet of the year. The continental championship is typically a more financially feasible prospect anyway, a smaller competition with less travel distance and time, so it works for those tiny programs as a more attainable mid-range goal to focus on, with the hope of growing the program large enough to become one of the bigger fish in the continental pool, so that worlds can then become the goal at that point.

Along with this qualification plan is a proposed schedule for worlds which limits qualification to one day for each men and women instead of two. This presents some issues because I don’t really think they have limited the field far enough to make it reasonable to hold qualification all on one day in what is supposed to be 5 subdivisions for the women—which is what they do at the Olympics, but there are half the athletes at the Olympics. Those are going to be some long-ass subdivisions.

C. Coach investigation news

Because that’s a category we have. Anna Li maintained that the complaints leading to a SafeSport investigation into her and Wu Jiani are untrue, while also discussing for the first time that she’s a survivor of That Guy.

Scott Reid reports that Maggie Haney is also under investigation for verbal and emotional abuse of gymnasts and has been for several months—longer than the Li/Wu investigation—with USAG aware of the claims since at least March.

Another stitch in the rich tapestry that is this effed up sport.

Maybe the real reason they can’t suspend coaches while an investigation is ongoing is that there wouldn’t be any coaches left.

D. Upcoming competition rosters

The world challenge cups—no Olympic qualification implications—get started next weekend in Mersin and will run for the next month, right up into worlds, and we’ll also have the US selection camps to look forward to.

Mersin Challenge Cup – August 30-September 1
The Mersin event is going to be a sparsely attended challenge cup, one that should be dominated by the Turkish team on the men’s side since Onder, Colak, and Arican are all scheduled to compete. The women’s competition will be one of those world cups where…you have two vaults? Enjoy automatically making the event final and losing to Teja Belak! Some fun opportunities for bars medals as well for some people who might otherwise be not so much with the bars.

US men’s world selection camp – September 4-8
The field is Mikulak, Moldauer, Modi, Howard, Wiskus, Bower, Van Wicklen, and Whittenburg, and it’s going to be pretty intense because…I don’t know either.

Szombathely Challenge Cup – September 6-8
Szombathely should be a bit deeper than Mersin, particularly with the Ukrainian and Israeli men sending their very best to this competition, though it’s the comeback of Krisztian Berki that highlights the preliminary roster. He lives! We’re also supposed to get a look at the return of Roxana Popa, who is slated to compete here.

Paris Challenge Cup – September 14-15
The Paris event should be the deepest event of this four-meet challenge cup series, largely because of the presence of all the top French gymnasts, as well as Great Britain sending Ellie Downie and Claudia Fragapane. Russian is also sending a large contingent to this one, mostly dudes, so mark down that weekend. It should be a fun meet. Unlike the other events, which take at least three days, the Paris world cup is just a Saturday and Sunday. Qualification for all events Saturday, finals for all events Sunday.

Also, the French women’s squad was back at WCC last week as part of the Cecile World Peace Tour.

Guimaraes Challenge Cup – September 19-22
Rosters aren’t out for this one yet.

US women’s world selection/Prep camp – September 21-26
The US has still made no actual, official announcement regarding which gymnasts will be participating at the selection camp, but we know that Faith Torrez and Shilese Jones got invites (and we can then probably assume that Emily Lee did as well because she finished ahead of both of them at nationals and RANK ORDER). So, it’s going to be a big group. There is a regular camp coming up on September 5th, and we’ll have to see if anything changes or becomes official at that point.

It looks like a big-tent approach to selection camp this year, which is not necessarily a bad thing in a group that’s this deep, even if some gymnasts are going who aren’t realistically going to make the worlds team. No need to artificially limit the gymnasts you have to choose from.

E. GymCastic

This week, I’m alone for a full explainer on the insanity that is the 2020 Olympic qualification process, in which I explain the methods of qualification and answer all your questions. And it takes 40 minutes. Because that’s how preposterous this qualification system is.


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