NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect the withdrawals of Riley McCusker and Shilese Jones from selection camp.
Selection camp is coming. The first day of competition (AA) will be streamed on USAG’s YouTube at 4:45pm ET on Sunday. The second day of competition (2 events) on Monday will not be streamed for some reason. After the Monday competition, the worlds team will be announced.
It’s going to be an intense experience for all, one that we will have to try to survive as a family through the medium of live blogs and spreadsheets and snide tweets. But even before that happens, we have a lot of questions and contradictory thoughts to work through.
15 er, um, 13 people will be competing at the selection camp. In my mind, 7 of them have a serious, realistic, “there are actual teams in my mind that you would be on” shot of making the worlds squad, which you can expand up to 10 depending on your level of stan-hood and how much you need to wrap yourself in the warming blanket of false hope.
Even those 7 athletes produce so many different, sensible combinations of teams that numbers can help organize thoughts about where we stand heading into camp and what the gymnasts need to do at selection to make or confirm their arguments. So, here are a few best-scoring team scenarios based on recent competitions.
US Nationals – Top score
Alternate: Leanne Wong, who would produce a team scoring .050 lower by replacing either Eaker or Hurd.
US Nationals – Average score
Alternate: Jordan Chiles, who would produce a team scoring .175 lower by replacing Wong.
Those are your basic approaches just with nationals. Based on the report from the men’s selection committee, I’m adding another method of creating prospective teams by using the MCCLURE (Making Careful Choices Logically Using Real Evidence) System, wherein I take the three scores across Classic and the two days of nationals, drop the lowest score, and average the remaining two.
Alternate: Morgan Hurd, who would produce a team scoring .175 lower by replacing McCallum.
(I didn’t use Pan Ams in these teams because not everyone was there, so we don’t get a solid comparison in front of the same judges like we do with domestic events.)
But…that’s all in the past. What we have in front of us is selection camp, the performances that will matter the very most in determining the team. There’s a lot still to be earned. So let’s get into that.
Simone. Simone is obviously making the team and is going to earn the one automatic spot available by winning the AA on Sunday. We can dispense with that right now.
Simone is the only true lock for the team. Everyone else is a fall-heavy selection camp away from missing out entirely.
Still, to me, the second most necessary person in any of these teams is Jade Carey because of the tenths she delivers on both vault and floor, tenths that none of the other options bring, and tenths that tend to be more of a sure thing than those who rely on, say, beam—which is beam and who knows what’s going to happen there.
You’ll notice that in all of the above teams, the third counting vault score is kind of…eh. That issue arises in a number of realistic team combinations, where stronger DTYs exist from the likes of Wong and McCallum, but those DTYs are only scoring about 2-3 tenths more than the DTY from Hurd, so they’re not enough to override the importance of the other apparatuses. What allows for those lower-level-DTY teams to exist is the presence of Jade Carey delivering a big second vault score to keep that total high.
Team selection is all about combinations, and which pairs and trios of gymnasts complement each other best. A good selection camp for Jade Carey is also a good selection camp for Sunisa Lee and Morgan Hurd because they fit together. If you’re not taking Jade Carey to worlds, however, then you have to put a Grace McCallum or Leanne Wong (or Jordan Chiles) or two on the team— otherwise the vault total would be anemic—which would leave one less spot for a Lee/Hurd gymnast.
For me, if Carey comes to selection camp and remains the clear #2 on vault and floor, she has to be on the team.
The other gymnast who appears on all three of the above teams is Sunisa Lee. Her 2nd-place nationals performance delivered excellent three-event scores that you’d have no hesitation about putting onto a worlds team—and what helps Lee the most is the breadth of those scores. She’s not boxed into that UB/BB specialist role because she also has FX, and the more bases you can cover on a five-person team, the more compelling you’re going to look because you allow for more leeway in filling the remaining spots.
Other gymnasts with one-event TF contribution arguments want Lee to do well at camp because it makes it more likely they can fit onto a team as well because the remaining spots have to cover fewer events.
There is a sense in which Lee could still be left off. If she has some issues in the AA and falls behind Hurd and McCallum and Wong, you could see it. But…
What Lee has in her corner most of all is that bars routine, all the more important post-McCusker. Without McCusker as an option, how do you leave that bars routine off the team? It alone is a “take me to worlds for this event” kind of routine, even if Lee’s big three-event argument at camp doesn’t come through. It’s her backup plan in case Plan A (being awesome at all-around) doesn’t work out, which helps me put her in tier 2.
Grace McCallum‘s biggest challenge to getting onto a worlds team is the strength of Biles/Carey/Lee as a floor triumvirate. McCallum was on last year’s team to provide vault and floor, but if you have Biles/Carey/Lee—who all bring additional important events—you don’t really need Grace McCallum’s floor. Then, the most important gymnasts to supplement Biles/Carey/Lee become the athletes with additional bars and beam scores, where McCallum isn’t going to be at the very top of the list.
If we’re treating this like the cage-match that it is, then what McCallum wants most of all at camp is for one of those three to royally screw up on floor so her routine looks super necessary. But if we’re rising above or whatever…
McCallum is truly an all-arounder, which brings us to the issue of what is valued in team selection. If I were the national team coordinator, I would be as yet unconvinced by McCallum’s argument and would probably want to see the elusive McCallamanar at camp in order for McCallum to have that NECESSARY EVENT that can get her on the team.
Now, as you might know, I am not the national team coordinator. And Tom Forster, unlike me, is very AA-standings focused in his selections. Just taking the top 4 AA finishers from camp and then Jade Carey is…very realistic for what might happen. In that regard, McCallum should be sitting in a solid position. She finished 3rd at nationals even with a bad first day, which according to the rules of ForsterBall, basically puts you on the team. So then if you’re Grace McCallum, do you really want to risk doing anything that could jeopardize your AA placement? If it’s all about AA placement, then going through cleanly is going to be the name of the game.
Now let’s address Morgan Hurd. Hurd appears on both of the nationals-based teams pretty much exclusively because of her bars score. Maaaaany of the other prospective worlds team members were scoring high 13s on bars at nationals, which meant that Hurd’s reliable mid-14 made her undeniable in all possible permutations. If the circumstances of nationals were to repeat exactly at camp, I would want Hurd on the worlds team to do bars in the TF and AA in qualification.
Even though the removal of Riley McCusker in the third table below gets Grace McCallum onto the team instead of Morgan Hurd, I’d still say that no gymnast benefits more from the McCusker withdrawal than Hurd, whose bars routines looks especially necessary to complement Lee and Biles now that McCusker is out of the picture. Real talk: she’s giving you 5-7 tenths on bars that now no one else can match.
Right now, I think the only thing keeping Hurd off a team would be the scenario that happens in the third table above, where the combination of McCallum’s events ends up being more valuable than Hurd’s bars in filling out a team. That’s why Hurd is still going to need to keep things close enough with McCallum on events like vault and floor as well to prevent that from happening.
Kara Eaker did not have a strong performance at nationals, which hurt the “she is an all-arounder now” argument she was starting make after Classic and Pan Ams. What that clarified, however, is that while Eaker has improved quite a bit on the other events, she’s still in a position where if she makes a team, she’s making it for beam.
And that beam routine, by scoring a full point better than even the other good beam routines on the national team, will always be compelling. The only team of the three above that Eaker doesn’t make is the one using average score from nationals, because she missed on day 1. When Eaker misses beam, she’s totally out of the conversation, but when she hits, you pretty much have to include her to create the highest-scoring team because her score is that much higher. So no pressure or anything.
The trouble for her is that if she misses beam on even one of the days, it’s really easy to lean more toward the AA standings and bring in someone like, say…
Similarly to Grace McCallum, what Leanne Wong needs to do at camp is get herself out of the “she’d make a fantastic alternate” friend zone that she currently inhabits, probably through her all-around placement. Wong has excellent pieces like vault and beam, but the vault advantage is a mere couple tenths, and despite being excellent on beam, she can be outpaced there by Eaker and McCusker, and if you’re bringing someone for beam, you’re bringing Eaker. But if Wong has figured out floor again, she’ll be in the conversation for 2nd place in the all-around. Just like everyone. Gahhh.
Jordan Chiles. Chiles’ 6th-place finish at nationals got her onto the nominative team, though her chances to make the worlds team should be treated as slim, which I’d upgrade from slim to slight in the wake of the McCusker withdrawal. (She would be the alternate on that nationals-average team because her vault is the only thing any other gymnast provides that would add anything to that score.) I still think the Amanar would have to be back for her to make it.
Similarly, you have to keep MyKayla Skinner in mind because she also has a compelling score on vault. If Skinner and Chiles continue to improve on floor, you could come up with a team with one of them complementing Biles, Carey, McCusker, and Lee…and it kind of works. It’s not the most likely scenario by any means, and not the kind of team we’re used to because it would be so light on backups, but it wouldn’t score poorly.
Honestly, I don’t really rate the chances for anyone else to make the worlds team. The scores just aren’t there right now to make a convincing argument. Feel free to fight me.
It’s challenging to take a “this person needs to do such-and-such to make the team” approach to selection camp because it honestly could just be as simple as the all-around standings. Which would be crazy-exciting, but also infuriating. In that case…you know…be good and hit routines? End of preview?