The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – September 9, 2020

A. Gymnast Alliance

Yesterday, a big gymnast alliance furor developed over the news that Ellie Downie’s complaint of weight-shaming in British gymnastics—including that she was told to lose 6kg over two weeks and that she was told to send daily photos of herself in her underwear to prove her diet—has not been upheld. Which is British for denied.

The English Institute of Sport went on to say, “Bruf bruf procedures bruf bruf bruf,” but I have more questions than that. Like, for instance, [Pauline Tratz yelling EXPLANATION PLEASE dot gif].

The behavior that Ellie Downie describes here is patently unacceptable, so if the complaint was not upheld, what’s the implication there? That you’re claiming that Ellie is lying? Or, that you’re claiming what she was asked to do was OK? Or, that you don’t have enough evidence to proceed? What?

These sport organizations have done far too little to earn trust for anyone to simply accept “we looked into our behavior, and it turns out that shhhh” as a satisfactory or complete answer, and the coldly bureaucratic dismissal of this complaint will only impede efforts to improve the sport. Why would anyone bother putting themselves through the strain of making a complaint about the painful way things are done if the only predictable outcome is a closed door?

But even beyond the findings in this case, the big issue at play is the very simple desire for governing bodies like British Gymnastics, like the EIS, like USA Gymnastics, like the USOPC, to spend a little less time bending over backwards trying to cover themselves or hiding behind some internal self-review that proves their great innocence and a little more time…just not wanting the athletes to feel like this?

Regardless of what you found in this case, don’t you…not want the athletes to feel like this, British Gymnastics?


Meanwhile, in response to all the posts about Cincinnati Gymnastics last week, Mary Lee Tracy posted some tragic nonsense about how it was god’s will for her to call Alexis Beucler a fat lard or something, and it doesn’t need to be read ever.

B. The Slow Trudge Toward Death (aka NCAA Gymnastics News)

Last week, William and Mary followed the lead of several other college gymnastics programs and announced that it will be shuttering both the women’s and men’s gymnastics teams following the 2021 season.

That means that if the 2021 season happens as a concept, there will still be 81 teams (with the introduction of LIU and the departure of Seattle Pacific), but then for the 2022 season, we would be down to 79 teams, with the departures of Alaska and William and Mary.

As we’re learning, in these challenging times, it’s truly impossible for athletic departments to maintain both their caviar budgets and gymnastics teams. Such a tough position.

Next day update: As Mike Burns had hinted about around the time of the Iowa news, the Minnesota men’s team is going the same way as Iowa and will be dissolved after the 2021 season.


Speaking of the possible 2021 season, I really enjoyed Jay Clark’s response about how we can’t have virtual meets because then the judges would be judging from a “sterile environment” as if that’s a bad thing. (No, Jay, we want the judges evaluating routines from a sterile environment, it would be a nice change).

The coaches won’t say the actual, real reason we can’t conduct virtual meets for the college gymnastics season: uh, half these teams can’t get their acts together to provide live scores, so what makes you think they could produce an entire virtual meet? It would be a disaster. “I’m sorry, tonight’s meet has been postponed because no one knows the password to the arena wifi and judge Gloria-Ellen can’t figure out what a Zoom is.”


Also, I had been hesitating in putting together the freshman playlists for this season because…is she real? But there’s nothing else to do, so I started things off with the SEC freshman playlist.

C. Actual Gymnasticals

We’re still on Impatient Upcoming Competition Watch, but the Chinese women did participate in an internal test—which is much better terminology than verification, and the US women should adopt it.

Anyway, your only hope for a brighter future Ou Yushan is a new senior this year and did this.

At the internal test, Ou won the all-around, with world silver medalist Tang Xijing in second, and another new senior and beam star Guan Chenchen in third. Guan Chenchen has become a gymternet favorite because she’s such a delightful nebula, but it’s going to be important for her to recreate this kind of all-around result at nationals in two weeks to show she could legitimately be on a Chinese Olympic team.

Basically, my very tentative frontrunners for the main Olympic team right now would be Ou YS and Tang XJ. Ou is the latest in a long line of “she’s going to be the next big thing!!” new Chinese seniors, and we all know they don’t always pan out, but she’s just so damn good. As in, if I had to pick my Olympic AA silver medalist right now, it would be her. Tang has experienced a sudden rise after making the most of her last-minute entry into the would AA final (recall she finished just 21st in qualification because of a rough beam), so it’s still important that she continue backing that result up, but it looks like she’s doing that so far.

Li Shijia was supposed to be the breakout star at worlds last year (at least according to me) until Tang was like, “actually sweetie…” but Li does have the chops to be one of the nation’s top AA finishers. If at full all-around strength, you’d also certainly want Liu Tingting on that team of four, but if not, she’d be a possibility to do beam in a +1 individual role alongside the bars of Fan Yilin, who will get a +1 spot from the apparatus world cups. “Where does that leave Chen Yile?” is a valid question to which the answer is currently shrug emoji. She’d need to knock out Li SJ as an AAer, or be the top beam option as a +1. If she’s in good form, that’s possible for her. She was the Ou Yushan of a couple years ago, after all. Chen complemented Qi Qi on the world’s team last year, but that’s harder to do with only four spots.

Speaking of Qi Qi, she finished fifth in the vault final at worlds last year and could be an option for an individual spot with those vaults—or a team spot if China feels light on vault. We typically expect China to be light on vault, but if they already have DTYs from Ou YS, Tang XJ, and Li SJ, they may not feel like they’re getting quite enough of a boost from Qi Qi’s vault to render her necessary for the team. What makes the generation of gymnasts who have turned senior in 2019 and 2020 different is that most of them also have viable vault and floor scores (see Ou’s Silivas above), which gives China more flexibility in naming teams and less need to be like, “oh crap we have to save a spot for a vaulter.”

This current outlook is why other new seniors like Guan Chenchen or Wei Xiaoyuan (who did quite well on bars and beam at junior worlds last year and placed ahead of Guan in the AA there) will be eager for a strong all-around finish at nationals to stake a claim in this difficult group, one that is talented enough to win Olympic team silver and should have that goal.

Here is the broadcast schedule for Chinese nationals:


Elsewhere, Ukraine is doing a nationals, and on the men’s side Oleg had the top score in qualification, followed closely by Pakhniuk.


Meanwhile, Chellsie Memmel is NOT doing a Patterson, OKKKKKK? But she is working a layout double Arabian.

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