The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

US Worlds Team “Selected”

Sigh.

Of course it’s not a bad team. All of the options would win the team final at worlds, and so will this one. It’s fine. But…

The all-around standings, you guys.

Like Gigapets and baggy windbreakers, some things were better left in 1996.

The US women’s worlds team exactly mimics the all-around standings from yesterday’s selection camp (so why did they even have an extra day of events—or a national team coordinator?), with the team named as Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Kara Eaker, MyKayla Skinner, Jade Carey, and Grace McCallum.

An alternate has not yet been announced, but if we’re really going by all-around standings, one would presume McCallum is the alternate for the time being. She would also be my alternate on this particular team of 6.

This is basically a case study in why I have such a problem with using the all-around standings from a single competition—or using a single competition at all—because while this team was indeed the highest-scoring possible team based on yesterday’s selection camp scores (so good for you for that, we’ll take it), that was a super weird meet—an outlier—unlikely to be repeated at worlds. That group of 5 ended up being the highest-scoring team solely because some key people sucked on bars. If your goal is to select the team you expect to score the highest at worlds, this ain’t it.

We had the same problem with junior worlds, where Konnor McClain was not on the team because she fell on beam at trials, even though she pretty clearly would have been on the best possible squad. Tom Forster has said her prefers to use the all-around, and this appears to be no different. It’s similar to the Japanese team not selecting Mai because she was unavailable for a critical meet. Putting too much weight on that competition (it’s wayyyyyy worse with Japan because that meet was so early) inhibited your ability to select the actual best possible team.

That’s why basing the team on one competition instead of using an overall impression of the many meets this summer on which to base a decision is a lazy abdication of responsibility.

Adding here that we don’t know what happened on day 2, and because we don’t know what happened on day 2, we can’t make arguments based on it. Maybe let us know what happened on day 2, because say, if Hurd had another rough one on bars, you can start to justify this insanity a little bit more…

For example, if you were to take the average scores from the national championship, the team as selected (assuming McCallum as alternate because of AA standings) would score 1.425 lower than the highest-scoring team from that meet.

Using the system that was used to select the men’s team—which I quite like in general—the women’s team that was selected would have been the 4th-highest scoring team option—so not wholly terrible, but definitely not your highest-scoring team by a clear margin.

So what if worlds qualification ends up more like the two days of nationals than like selection camp? You’ve just cost yourself a fall and a half. Sure, the US is still ahead of every other country by a lot— and I do believe that in an ideal system recent results should be given more weight than older results like Classic—but taking all of the meets into account gives you a much better representation of what might happen at worlds than choosing a single competition on which to base the decision.

WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE SPREADSHEETS?!?!

It also sucks to be a member of the highest-scoring teams using more…logical?…methods, knowing that you earned a spot on the worlds team based on your scores this year, and then not be selected because of a shallow and inaccurate impression of fairness entertained by a selection committee that is…too scared to select the team members that earned those spots based on their scores this year?

So, with that rant out of the way, let’s talk about the actual team, what routines people will compete, and why there are some holes in this group.

Here’s where I see the lineups for this team (once again, assuming McCallum is your alternate for now):

VAULT – (Lee) Skinner, Carey, Biles

This is a high-scoring vault team. No arguments there, except for that you’ve overloaded vault unnecessarily, which brings us to…

BARS – (Skinner) Eaker, Biles, Lee

So yeah, you have Kara Eaker doing bars in a team final for some reason, and Skinner going in qualification (could be Carey in qualification too). You’ve picked up some tenths on vault by adding Skinner in there, but on balance, you’ve lost more than that by not having Hurd’s bars routine. You’re underwater by about 3-4 tenths with that trade given the scores from this summer’s meets.

And if someone gets hurt, you have no safety net at all here.

BEAM – (Skinner) Lee, Biles, Eaker

Killer beam team…as long as those exact three gymnasts go. Otherwise, it’s a disaster.

The one thing I will say that I like about the named team is that it’s not over-concerned about having good qualification scores and safe backups—being so worried about the 4th-best routine across all four events is something I’ve criticized about past teams—but we may be going too far the other direction here.

FLOOR – (Skinner) Lee, Carey, Biles

Here’s where I think you best see the problems with this team, even though this floor team is excellent. It’s…too loaded? Floor is one of Skinner’s things, it’s her event, but she’s pretty clearly the 4th-best floor score on this team going by what we’ve seen this year. So, you’re bringing a floor worker who isn’t even going to do floor in team final? That seems…dumb?


Basically, the US can get away with selecting a team through such methods because it is so much better than every other country, but if that dynamic changes, this would be a real problem. Because this is not the best possible team.

Another key issue here: If you’re just using the results of the all-around at selection camp, it’s not an approach I agree with, but it’s a thing. You can do that. People do. But, if you decide that’s what you’re going to do, then that needs to be written into the selection procedures. And that is absolutely not what the selection procedures currently say. They instruct the committee to use a whole bunch of competitions like Classic and nationals to decide the team, and if you were doing that, you would never have come up with this particular team.

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