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:

47 thoughts on “Things Are Happening – February 28, 2020”

  1. Hahahaha good for Ragan, who knew she had such sass? (or a personality at all?)
    The argument the Russians gave us of course stupid because they didn’t even bother lying correctly. But forgoing flying somewhere right now in fear of being quarantined is definitely a valid concern. Saying this about the US is stupid though.

    1. It’s still dumb for the team, good for her. There’s no doubt they would win a spot in AA cups and Pan Ams, both non-nominative, which means they could decide last minute who gets all of them.

      1. Not if the events get canceled or there are more travel bans. Bird in the hand, and all that.

    2. The upshot of this for Team USA is that Carey would have been a front runner for one of those non-nominative spots anyway. Hard not to see her on the Olympic team with her combo of vault and floor, which no one but Simone (maybe Skinner) can really match, even with the anticipated upgrades from people like McCallum. While in theory Jade’s route to the nomination diminishes the team’s ability to choose the strongest possible squad for the Olympics, in practice Jade IS part of that squad and would have been in it anyway. The only difference is that she may have been competitive for a team spot.

      1. So as I understand it if (when 🙂 ) the US win Team gold, Jade would not get a medal because she’s not part of that team, right?

        But Jade would win silver for Team USA on vault (because gold = Simone).

        Also if Jade goes for vault does this mean I never have to see her compete on floor again? Please be true because personally I dislike watching her on floor.


        Also I think Laurie H has a shot at beginning her comeback this summer, but not for the Olympics. I think she could be the international star in 2021 when Simone and others take their post-Olympic break. That’s what she should aim for anyway.

      2. I am sure Laurie can come back, but I don’t know why she would unless she’s going to stay in the sport through Paris 2024.

        Even if she shows up with a 15+ beam score at Olympic Trials, she will not get a team spot, 4 routines go up in qualifying, only 3 count. So they’re fine with her just sitting out or performing routines that might score a 13 at best? Her other events are extremely weak.

        TF already said the other non-nominate spot off the team would be going to an all arounder “in case of injury on the team”. Sorry, it’s silly. I don’t understand why she keeps talking about it.

      3. @Anon: If Jade gets the vault nominative spot (she says she was told she must take it if she wins the series, and she cannot withdraw to compete for a team spot) she can compete AA in the qualification at Tokyo and can qualify for all finals except team final.

      4. Just ridiculous nonsense about Hernandez. She is no longer a viable elite (a double tuck on floor doesn’t cut it, to say nothing of her bar routine which was never particularly good even for the five minutes it was semi-okay in 2016, and she’s no Carey on vault, that’s for sure) much less a threat to any sort of international competition such as the junior Russian women, Lee, and all the other up-and-coming US women. Time for her to stop her money grab and the absurd pretense that she’ll ever qualify for another major competition!

      5. anon: The US plan is actually for all 6 gymnasts to compete AA in qualification (basically a free for all kinda thing…lol)

        The best scenario for Jade in tokyo is basically silver and vt and fx. Much more so for vt than fx because we have seen things like sunisa beating her on fx. She is not eligible for that heavily favored team gold (probably the MOST DESIRABLE gold, at least for US gymnasts i think).

        The worst Jade scenario is obviously winning nothing…

  2. So Russia and China are basically letting other mens teams get the AA World Cup spot and … USAG isn’t going to capitalize on it – there goes one American gymnast’s dream. I guess Japan, Ukraine and Taiwan then? Cute.

    1. I think China is still in it. So China, Japan and Ukraine seems likely to get the spots.

      Toss up for Taipei/Taiwan, Great Britain, Switzerland or USA if China walks away. Quite a few AA can get in the 83-85 zone, only Russia and China nearly always get above that.

  3. How USAG cannot get the Winter Cup results correct in an Olympic year is unfathomable. If you know you have all eyes on you, why don’t ensure you know what you’re doing prior to an event? And then the backroom confusion and midnight phone calls about who’s going to the American Cup is inexcusable.

    Russia does whatever they want with or without any good or consistent reason. Not sure why their response is shocking anyone.

    Regarding Spencer’s comment about USAG accidentally getting 6 women qualified to the Olympics, I’d bet he’s correct. Tom Forster does not seem to understand even the basics of team selection strategy. He has been instrumental in creating a healthier atmosphere at training camps (which should be noted and commended) and he needs to stick to that alone.

    We need someone who understands depth, balance, and backup potential to be selecting teams. As awful as she was with everything else, Marta was really good at assembling teams that maximized scores and minimized risks. We need that kind of mindful team selection moving forward.

    1. The one point I’d argue there is that….the US women don’t really need to minimize risks that much. They win the team competitions by an astronomic margin, so I feel like they can afford to fudge a little and focus on potential for individual medals. Rather than the Marta “you have to do the AA or die” mentality. That may not work for the 2020 games with only 4 athletes, but when the teams go back to 5, I’d like to see that as a priority.

      Although not in the way that they’ve put Eaker on every team for her “guaranteed beam medal” with wildly inflated and unrealistic domestic scores.

      So maybe I just talked myself out of my entire argument there…

    2. I’d like to think when it will actually make a difference Tom will swap strategies. In 2018 the US won team, two AA medals, and five EF medals. In 2019 they won team, 1 AA, and 6 EF. Those are extraordinary results. That’s 8 out of the 11 possible both years. How often does a team accomplish that? Of course there are potential combos that could have gone 11/11 but so could the 2018 and 2019 teams if fate had just fallen slightly differently.

      1. If winning medals is the primary criteria, that’s very different than what they have employed.

        Current medal worthy routines (2019 top 3 scores per gymternet):
        VT: Simone > Jade > MyKayla
        UB: Suni > Simone > Riley
        BB: Kara > Riley > Simone
        FX: Simone > Jade > Suni
        AA: Simone > Suni > Riley

        If medals is the big question here, since any team combination will win gold. Team: Simone, Suni, Riley, MyKayla; Off team: Jade, Kara

        Obviously that isn’t the highest scoring team configuration, many would be 2 per’d out. We haven’t seen most upgraded routines. Tom already said top 2 AA at Olympic Trials gets a team spot and we have no idea who might hit big or miss hard that day.

        I have no faith in Tom making the decision and there’s going to be a huge meltdown regardless since he’s not communicating the criteria in advance.

      2. “I have no faith in Tom making the decision and there’s going to be a huge meltdown regardless since he’s not communicating the criteria in advance.”

        Uhhh he absolutely has been communicating the criteria in advance. Coaches have even commented on how they prefer the top AA strategy. Like other commenters say, he’s basically overcorrecting for Martha’s everyone’s-in-the-dark strategy by making selection extremely straightforward and sticking to it even when it’s not strategically the best choice ever (e.g. Junior Worlds).

      3. If selection was based purely on AA, world selection camp had Mykayla as #4, Grace as #6, so Grace would have been the alternate. Obviously that didn’t happen.

        Top 2 AA at OT get on the team, #5 spot is “an all arounder”, #6 spot is Jade. That’s what we know. Half the spots are a big question mark. Far from forthcoming and correcting Martha.

    3. My take on Forster’s approach to team selection is that it’s an overcorrection. In the past there was so much murkiness around team selection, which opened the door to accusations of favoritism and bias and general injustice. By choosing teams based solely on the standings at selection camp, Forster makes the process 100% transparent. Unfortunately, he also severely restricts his ability to pick the strongest possible team, as we saw with junior Worlds. Leaving McClain off that team was crazy and everyone knew it, but Forster’s own rules left him no choice. Given everything that’s come out about USAG over the past few years I can understand why he takes this approach, but it’s the wrong one IMO.

      1. I think you are totally right about this. Also it’s been said that the athletes prefer it this way. Hopefully in the future they can move to a more nuanced selection procedure, but where everything is spelled out. Kind of like what USAG MAG does (when they do it correctly…).

      2. Yeah I don’t get the “Tom is a dope” narrative.

        When you take a job where your predecessor left in disgrace, you HAVE to overcorrect. As long as Simone is around, Tom can play the “TOP AA ALL MAKE THE TEAM LOOK HOW FAIR I AM” card with zero risk or consequences. By the time USAG enters the post-Simone era, Tom will have three team golds under his belt and much more political capital to play with (Martha didn’t get her third team gold until 2011). He’s playing his cards exactly right so far.

    4. So here’s my unpopular opinion… the more I think about it, I’m of the mind that the 2019 Worlds team was a completely reasonable decision.

      I absolutely agree with the opinion on here that the “trials” meet shouldn’t be your only deciding factor, but I also think it should be the most important meet.

      Look at Morgan’s case to be on the team: solid AAer for backup anywhere and third-best bars score, after a pretty rough season. That’s… honestly a pretty weak case. Her performance at selection camp totally blew both of those arguments. And again, it wasn’t like she was money all season and had a fluke mess at selection camp. 2019 just wasn’t a great year for Morgan’s gymnastics. I favored Leanne, but she was messing up really badly on what were supposed to be her two best events and her argument was good-not-great bars and beam scores.

      We all knew going in that it was Simone, Sunisa, and Jade looking like locks, Grace, Leanne, and Morgan on the bubble, and Mykayla and Jordan with an outside chance with an excellent performance. The three locks were in, Mykayla had the excellent performance she needed (after a season on an upward trajectory), and the final spot went to the bubble gymnast who put up the best performance. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

      1. Oh, and Kara, who also had an excellent performance at selection camp with her chances between the locks and the Grace/Leanne/Morgan group going into selection camp

      2. I agree, I just don’t personally feel like those were the *best* gymnasts. Scoring at US domestic meets all year seemed like it was going out of its way to prop up Grace and Kara, and Mykayla does not and has never had the deductions she should get for her form errors and lack of height in her tumbling and vaulting.

        This doesn’t matter for team selection, since international judges also judge more or less in this vein (except those rings LOL). It just annoyed me as a fan.

      3. But even if you think the scoring wasn’t accurate, I don’t think you can argue Morgan or Leanne were better based on their performances. Perhaps the theoretical routines they could have put up were better, but those aren’t the routines they were putting up.

    5. With the format of four for three, they can’t afford to keep someone like, say, Maroney on the team who can only do one event. That was the scenario in 2012. Kyla was a backup for floor in prelims. She was not their first choice for that lineup.

      so with the elimination of the v spot for the team, he really doesn’t have much of a choice except to take the top for all around hers. He’s going to do this even if there’s a bars girl who could get them to a higher team score. it’s not that stupid, considering there’s only going to be four of them and if one person gets injured the other three have to do all around in team finals.

      I don’t think Jade was a lock at all. She would need to be one of the top four all-rounders to make the team. That was far from a given when they made this choice.

      As for the 5th spot, the non nominative spot, why would USAG select someone who would directly compete with Simone four individual event finals gold medals?

  4. USAG just needs to go – they’re incompetent and awful with a disastrous reputation. I pray they get decertified after Tokyo. I would be perfectly happy if it happened today.

    Selection procedures are immensely important. What they did at Winter Cup was destroy team and individual athlete morale, faith in the program and reinforce their controversial trends.

    Five months until Tokyo and no one knows how they’ll determine the teams. How is an athlete supposed to know if they should be focusing on AA or certain events? Top 2 AA at Olympic trials gets team spots, that’s all we know.

    Based on what we’ve heard, it sounds like the athletes are in the dark on just how to make the national team, much less attain the lifelong dream of being an Olympian.

    1. I can see the team being Simone, Sunisa, Riley, and MyKayla. The team final would be: all around for Simone and Sunisa, floor and vault for MyKayla, and beam and bars for Riley. This would be an extraordinary team with virtually no weaknesses and backups for all 4 events.

      If I had to pick today, this is who I’d bring.

      1. The ability of that team to stay on a balance beam is a pretty glaring weakness.

        (I think that would be a perfectly fine team, though Mykayla’s floor would need to improve a lot before then, but it’s silly to say that it’s ‘extraordinary’ with ‘virtually no weaknesses.’)

      2. I would pick Simone, Suni, Leanne, Mykayla for team and top AA’r left at OT as the off team spot. Leanne’s amanar is a game changer for her team stocks and AA since only one vault counts.

        Alot can happen in 5 months though.
        If Kara fixes her BB, if Suni is more reliable on BB, if Mykayla’s floor is upgraded, if Morgan’s upgrades are enough to matter, if Riley stays healthy, etc.

      3. I’ll say this over and over… no one “has” an Amanar until they have hit it in competition.

      4. @Anon11:24 At January camp the athletes were asked to do one vault, Leanne only did her amanar and it was beautiful.

        She hasn’t been in a competition since September and won’t again until the end of May. That’s a long time to pretend the upgrade isn’t real, especially when it’s the only vault she’s showing USAG.

        But to your point, no other athlete performed a different vault than what they showed at World Championships Selection, including Grace who once shared videos of her amanar training in the past.

  5. Sorry – could you refresh our memories on Aliya 2011?

    And to add fuel to the American Cup fire, that same press release announcing Shane is competing included a list of past AC winners….one in which the reigning 3 time champ’s name was omitted. #justiceforyul

  6. Can I just say how ridiculous this sport is when a “nominative spot” for the Olympics means you don’t have to prove you should get to go anymore but a “nominative spot” for basically any other competition – such as a World Cup – means you definitely do have to prove you should get to go!

  7. I wish the US would send the team that best understands this is an artistic sport. But I guess that would leave off Simone and Jade.

    1. I wish the code of points knew it was an artistic sport, then the US would care more. As it is, their C team would win gold.

      1. A Team: Simone, Suni, Riley, Jade
        B Team: Grace, Morgan, Leanne, MyKayla
        C Team: Kara, Kayla, Olivia, Jordan

        If I could choose the best US team, then rule those girls out for the next, then the next, this is what I’d send. 3 up on each event, yes, they’d win assuming typical 2019 performances and world championship team finals. The only thing absurd is the talent.

      2. These are people, so it’s a little harsh to group them, but if we’re being honest, I’d switch Kara and Morgan in your team lineups. Despite her rings, Kara’s beam and floor would be more needed for B Team than what Morgan could offer that team if we’re basing this on 2019. I’d also choose Trinity instead of Olivia for C.

        Morgan, Kayla, Trinity and Jordan would be the favorite for gold, but unlike the other team lineups, it would be close. Many girls will not be making the Tokyo team that could medal in events, AA and make up a gold winning team. But what’s worse is the prospect of Jade being injured and a girl needlessly losing her Olympic dream, because USAG wouldn’t make smart choices.

    2. What do you mean artistic? Arm waves and a smile?? Simone does objectively the cleanest gymnasts as evidenced by her E-scores. That to me is the definition of doing gymnastics artistically.

      1. Clean =/= artistry. For example, Kyla Ross as an elite was extremely clean but I think, not very artistic. That being said, I do think Simone has great artistry. She has good rhythm, excellent presentation, musicality on floor, and is very good at performing and selling routines which are well-cheorographed and (in the case of floor) set to appropriate, attractive music.

  8. “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.”

    This quote wins it for me. Top marks.

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