The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – February 28, 2020

A. RUSSIA…could you just not?

In today’s ridiculata, Russia announced that it will not send Nikita Nagornyy and Lilia Akhaimova to the American Cup because of the coronavirus. And we all went, “Wait huh?” Does…does that make sense? Oh, it doesn’t? Cool.

All the other countries are like, “K fun, I’m gonna head to Milwaukee and lick a bus stop and get my Olympic points. Peace.”

And then—because Russia—the federation produced a press release that said NIKITA IS A DIRTY LIAR (also Andrei Rodionenko gave quotes about the coronavirus, but fine…), and that it’s actually not about the coronavirus but about “AMERICA FAR AWAY.”

Which…OK? You just sent a shit-ton of athletes to Australia for a world cup last week, but have fun with that explanation I guess?

Russia says it will not attend the Tokyo world cup either (and is currently still planning on Birmingham and Stuttgart), but at that point, it really doesn’t matter anymore for Olympic spots because Russia will have taken itself out of contention for the +1 from AA world cups. For the men, it’s not as influential because Vladislav Poliashov is currently fairly well positioned in the apparatus world cups and Russia could get a second spot from Euros…as long as they attend.

For the women, Russia is not well positioned to get a spot from apparatus world cups and therefore would be maxing out at five spots as long as they get one from Euros. You knew Russia would find a way to screw this up…

The more this goes on, the more I think it’s still retribution for Aliya 2011, and you will not convince me otherwise.

Also Ellie Black has replaced Brooklyn Moors as Canada’s American Cup representative, but it appears to be for normal, non NIKITA IS A LIAR reasons. Canada has a legit shot at one of the three Olympic spots through this method, so you understand Canada’s wanting Black in there as often as possible if she’s at full strength. But, we did not see her do the AA as recently as Elite Canada…

B. Guy Problems

Where do I start?

In a twist, this year’s Winter Cup didn’t really fall apart until after it was over, with USAG announcing the wrong all-around results at the event and going on to ignite a firestorm by switching up the world cup assignments.

For the all-around, the actual standings at Winter Cup are supposed to be based on the day 1 results (with the athletes encouraged to just throw themselves around like crash-test dummies on the second day to test their upgrades because men’s gymnastics). But at the event…uh…no one knew that…so they awarded the all-around based on the two-day results. Which was wrong. And they had to correct the standings and apologize. Great work, all around.

That was the less controversial of the two major developments, however, because following Winter Cup, the men’s committee decided that Yul Moldauer would not be attending American Cup and Birmingham as previously announced.

Changing the nominative world cup assignments is hardly new, nor is (what appears to be) the ultimate decision of sending Shane Wiskus and Brody Malone to world cups an unfounded one, but the issue is miscommunication and ill-defined selection procedures. It’s clear that Yul Moldauer was under the impression that his placement at American Cup, Birmingham, and Stuttgart had been officially awarded, while USAG was treating his name as a nominative placeholder with the spots to be decided based on performance at Winter Cup.

Obviously, it’s unacceptable to have athletes unsure of what the expectations are or how spots are going to be chosen in advance of what ended up being a selection event. Moldauer’s approach to Winter Cup would have been quite different had he known a certain result or score was expected in order for him to keep his place at world cup events. And if everyone knew those spots were being treated as purely placeholder names, if that was announced or written down anywhere, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

This kind of stuff shouldn’t even need to be said, but of course it does, because USAG.

Sending Malone to Birmingham and retaining Moldauer to Stuttgart is still to be confirmed, but USAG has officially announced that Shane Wiskus will be the wildcard athlete at American Cup next weekend rather than Moldauer.

USAG also went back and edited the original American Cup roster release to include a sassy aside that Moldauer’s spot was purely nominative, language which did not appear in the original release.

The Wiskus decision is, in itself, strategically odd because Wiskus was the best non-Mikulak gymnast at Winter Cup, so why is he getting a wildcard spot that doesn’t count for Olympic qualification points while Malone is getting a real spot that does? The apparent absence of Russia in the all-around world cup race makes the US men’s chances to get an Olympic spot this way A LOT better, so these strategic conversations become even more significant.

C. Post-Melbourne Olympic Outlook

Now that Melbourne—the 6th of 8 Olympic apparatus qualifiers—has concluded, we have an even better sense of where the qualification project stands.

After her wins on vault and floor, Jade Carey is basically-yes-almost-essentially-yes assured of an Olympic spot. The only way she would not win the vault spot at this point is if Yu Linmin won both Baku and Doha with an average score better than 14.933. Possible but highly unlikely. Even if that happens, Carey would receive the floor spot instead, unless either Vanessa Ferrari wins both Baku and Doha with an average score of 14.916 OR Anastasia Bachynska wins both Baku and Doha with an average score of 14.950.

And barring one of them turning into Simone in the next couple weeks, that ain’t happening.

Carey has withdrawn from the nominative roster for Baku, indicating that she’s content with her 90 points and done with all of this. That’s a sound strategy given the ridiculous confluence of events that would need to happen for her NOT to get a spot. Though if I were her, I would also kind of be like, “Do I trust the FIG to apply its published tiebreak rules (and which revision of the tiebreak rules) correctly?” I wouldn’t want to leave open the possibility of going to a tiebreak—which she is doing by not attending the remaining events—even though she is exceptionally well-positioned in the tiebreak department as well.

Also, I have no confidence that anyone in the US program actually understands how this system works. The US women’s program is going to fall ass-backwards into six Olympic spots not because they understand the system or approached it well strategically, but because they’re so damn better than everyone else that they didn’t have to.

Carey not attending the remaining events is big news for other athletes in the floor department because—if Carey gets the vault spot as expected—that floor spot is live, and there are now first-place points available to be won at the remaining events. Ferrari and Mori have pretty much been going back-and-forth trying to get second-place points for finishing behind Carey, so those newly available first-place points at the last two events will be the defining prizes of the series.

On bars, no one did anything in Melbourne to change the situation really, so Fan Yilin remains the frontrunner. Fan is currently on the list for Baku, and able to clinch the Olympic spot with a win over Andrade and the Russians there. Urara Ashikawa’s win in Melbourne means she is in line to clinch the beam spot with a win in Baku, but because everything is so closely packed on beam, a win for Nedov or Andrade in Baku instead would keep things very much unsettled heading into the final event.

For the men, Ryu Sunghyun’s win in Melbourne means he and Kazuki Minami (both on one victory and both entered in Baku) are fighting to see who is best positioned to unseat Zapata on floor.

On horse, Stephen Nedoroscik’s victory kept him in the race, though he’s going to have to keep winning in order to get enough points to challenge, which will be an even greater challenge in Baku with Weng Hao back in the mix. Petrounias likewise kept himself alive on rings with a win in Melbourne, but he would have to win out the remainder of the events, and Liu Yang is entered in Melbourne. Moment of truth.

Men’s vault remains the most open, with a crap-ton of people within a few points of each other and Shin Jaehwan and Jorge Vega Lopez both doing themselves a solid with their first- and second-place results respectively. Stay tuned. On Pbars, Vladislav Poliashov’s victory sets him up very well to win a spot since You Hao is not currently in a great position for the intra-China tiebreak and those two have a solid advantage.

On high bar, the news that Japan will not be sending Miyachi to the remaining events after his fall in Melbourne means that, for all intents and purposes, the Olympic spot belongs to Zonderland. (Even if they redistribute points and Zonderland and Miyachi both end up with 90, Zonderland would take the spot on the score tiebreak, a la Jade Carey.) So what was supposed to be the most exciting event has become the most boring.

Qualification in Baku begins on March 12.

D. US Women’s Camp

Starting on Saturday, the US women will gather at New Non-Ranch for the first selection camp of the year, where teams will be decided for Jesolo (April 4-5) and Gymnix (March 6-8).

The headline from the camp roster release is the absence of Laurie Hernandez, who is not trying for places at those meets but is still keeping open the goal of making her competition return later in the year. Presumably that means she’d have eyes on a Classic (American Classic is at the end of April, US Classic is at the end of May), though if she plans to start there, she’d have to get a qualifying score at the national camp in April—which she’s aiming to attend—before she can compete at a Classic meet. Or she’d need some sort of Laurie Exception.

Those who have been given spots at upcoming all-around world cups will also compete at camp, and it’s worth noting that this release specifically states that Hurd and DiCello are there not to verify for American Cup but to prepare for it. The remaining world cup places, while announced as part of the nominative roster releases at those events, are still subject to verification. That whole paragraph is much more explicit than we usually get and seems an obvious reaction to what happened with the men. Which is a good thing.

Meanwhile, I sort of love that there’s all this drama about the men’s spots, while the women are going to Gymnix 14 minutes from now and they’re like, “The team is we’ll see.”

E. And the winner of the week is Ragan Smith

F. GymCastic

The GymCastic website is down (we know, and it’s terrible), but you can listen to this week’s mega episode on the men’s program insanity, Melbourne World Cup, and scoring of Utah/UCLA here:

%d bloggers like this: