The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – November 4, 2019

A. November camp

USAG confirmed that Laurie Hernandez is indeed attending the November national team camp, as she alluded to on the Twitter Box. The camp roster features…nearly all the seniors, though the members of the world championship team do not have to attend. Jordan Chiles and Trinity Thomas are also not scheduled to make a cameo in this episode.

A couple discussion-worthy notes appeared in Nick Zaccardi’s piece about Laurie’s return: Laurie was not required to send video to verify her readiness before being invited to camp. I think that’s initially jarring because it’s so different from what we’re used to, though I don’t have a problem with there being an open invitation to past world/Olympic medalists to return to camp if they feel prepared. It shows trust in the athletes as though they are…aware human people rather than weird pets? “You’ve been here before, and I trust you to know whether you’re ready or not.”

It’s not a bye right onto the national team. It’s just a November camp. I wish it weren’t based on some rando conversation with Tom at nationals (if Laurie is auto-invited back, then all former medalists should be given the same consideration), but no issue with the actual move.

The other note worth picking apart—which also came from Tom—is the idea that the one of the two US individual competitors at the Olympics would be viewed as the team alternate and would be selected at least partially on the basis of being able to fill in on vital events should an injury befall a team member.

Where this comes from: At the Olympics, unlike worlds, you cannot send a traveling alternate to train with the team and do PT, the way Skinner did at worlds this year. You just get your team members, which is particularly significant this year as there are just four on a team and all are expected to compete AA in qualification. Typically, the US has set up a separate semi-nearby base for the alternates to train (like when Iordache was able to come in for that day and train with the US alternates in Rio after Romania was like “BE HOMELESS PLEASE”).

Not sure exactly what the US plans to do for Tokyo, but in the event of a last-minute injury (Peszek 2008 style), the Olympics doesn’t allow for an immediate alternate to be there in the training gym ready to step in. For this Olympics, however, there will be individual competitors from the US also hanging around, so the US can use one of them as an alternate should something happen.

To me, selecting an athlete for that 6th Olympic spot primarily based on her alternate capabilities would be a lame use of the spot. You pick the people with the best individual event medal chances for those positions. And honestly, those two considerations don’t look like they’re going to be mutually exclusive.

If, say, your two individual competitors at the Olympics end up being Jade Carey and Kara Eaker because you like their individual medal chances, well, they’ve been placing pretty well in the AA lately too and can work as very viable alternates for the team spots. But individual medal capability needs to be the first priority in selecting the 5th and 6th Olympians.

Side note: The mentions of Jade Carey as being basically guaranteed an individual Olympic spot are making me increasingly [ellipsis]. She has a large lead, but this has been treated as all-but-guaranteed based on the expectation that Carey would go to more events. She still needs to go to those events and do her normal and keep other people from getting points. Otherwise, it would be very manageable for Maria Paseka to pass her.

The US program…knows that, right? Because you can never be sure. The internal US criteria written last year mention sending athletes to three events and don’t specifically mention sending them to more.

Speaking of the apparatus Olympic route and those criteria, if Laurie Hernandez were to be placed back on the national team this fall/winter, she would then meet the US criteria for being sent to apparatus world cups by virtue of her 2016 beam silver medal. #justsayin

In other US national team developments, Jordan Bowers retired from elite so that KJ can eventually lift her chin toward her while she’s on beam with the pride of a thousand suns.

B. Swiss Cup

In a sign that times may be a-changin’, a female US elite gymnast spent her Sunday competing at a late-year fun meet with no discernible practical applications. So that was cool.

Jade Carey—definitely undermining my assumption that she wasn’t going to Cottbus because of post-worlds resting and increasing the strategic anxiety noted above—joined Allan Bower to win the title at the mixed-pairs Swiss Cup. The duo hit vault and floor respectively in the final round as Team Wonder Bread outscored a Ukrainian team that had to deal with being too Ukrainian to function (meaning Varinska fell on bars, even though Oleg nailed PB for 15+).

The highest score of the final round actually belonged to the bronze medalist Swiss team of Steingruber and Hegi, but they had been relegated to the bronze-medal match after splatting in the semifinals and losing to Ukraine. The splats also caught up to the Russian team of Dalaloyan and Schekoldina, which finished 6th.

Much like the Brabant Trophy the previous weekend, athletes were required to select three different events to compete in the 1st round, 2nd round, and semifinals—and then could choose any event they wanted in the final round. Carey elected to save herself from having to do floor here by going with VT, UB, BB in the first three rounds, and then vaulting again in the final.

I spent GymCastic last week praising the competitors at the Brabant Trophy for not vaulting in the final round because it’s boring, even though they could obviously get a better score there. And then Jade Carey and Giulia Steingruber were like, “Cool story bro, eat these vault scores.”

A number of the competitors made a whole Swiss tour of it last week, also competing at the “three events of your choice because tired” Arthur Gander Memorial, where Lorette Charpy was the surprise winner in the women’s competition and Oleg Verniaiev was the non-surprise winner in the men’s competition because gots to get those bills.

C. Cottbus roster

Speaking of Cottbus, November’s Olympic qualifier did a much needed “oh, wait, yeah, also these people” update to the roster, adding US men who were previously not on the official registrations—Colin Van Wicklen, Donnell Whittenburg, and “Stephan” Nedoroscik. So…is this like a Steve Urkel/Stephan Urquelle situation, where Nedoroscik is suddenly going to show up without those pommel horse goggles and be all hot now?

D. Also…

I was looking through a 1990 edition of USA Gymnastics Magazine (remember magazines?) for GymCastic research purposes and stumbled upon some real winners.

There has never been a more early-90s concept than a men’s XXL white t-shirt with Bugs Bunny on it leaning against the word gymnastics. The idea of Shannon Miller doing an autograph signing while wearing that t-shirt is so vivid for me right now.

Also, what if you just mailed in this order form today and were like ONE BUGS BUNNY GYMNASTICS SHIRT PLEASE?


There was also this hotness. My favorite part is the looming specter of a single ghostly windbreaker sleeve (with excellent indeterminate shoulder location—is it here? Is it there?).

Jessie Spano WISHES she could put her mind to this.


Meanwhile, here we have what was supposed to be a high five but looks more like a slow interpretive maypole performance that Hunter and Jaycen choreographed for their wedding and made everyone else sit through.


You guys…

BURLY. BOOKENDS.

Is it an inappropriate wedding gift to give Hunter and Jaycen a DVD of Burly Bookends 4?


Oh ring ring, I’d like to order a pair of white sweatpants by phone.

You know what, make it two, so I can dress my children like twins.

And if both pairs could have little blood spatters down the leg, that would be ideal.

A MATCHING WHITE SWEATSHIRT?!?! SOLD!

Right after this was taken, the little one pulled the head off a hamster and started slowly singing, “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.”


Luan, don’t say “flip the monkey.”


NEED A HUG? This demon rabies monster that I made from my own leg hair is ready to help!


Are…both rabbits named Jenni?

I know that shouldn’t be my first question, but it is.

I mean, these rabbits are definitely haunted, that’s a given. You wake up in the middle of the night, and that thing is doing Mary Lou’s compulsory beam routine entirely of its own volition, is what I’m saying.


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