The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

US Classic Preview

Olympic-year Classic: the most important least important competition on the quadrennial US calendar.

It’s just Classic. We know it doesn’t decide anything, and yet…the US women’s Olympic team will be announced in a short 39 days.

So you need to be…kind of close?

The deal with Classic is that most of the top Olympic team contenders can survive not doing the all-around here—or having some iffy events—and we’ll forget about it in a second. If we look back to 2016, Raisman was the only eventual Olympian to do all four apparatuses at Classic, with Biles, Douglas, and Kocian all sticking to bars and beam, and Hernandez just doing bars. I’d expect to see more competing this year just because it’s been so long for so many people and only a handful of the top competitors have done the AA even once in the last year. But the standings aren’t going to make or break any Olympic hopes this Saturday. That comes later.

This competition should, however, give us a few more scores to plug in to try to make sense of who’s really in contention. The current best-case-scenario team for the US using 2021 scores is Jordan Chiles, Sunisa Lee, Kayla DiCello, and Leanne Wong, which is less than useless information because, like, Simone and whatnot. And I’m tired of information being less than useless.

Plus, there are some people who actually do need a tangible qualifying score here, or are simply looking a little outskirts-adjacent in their Olympic quest and could do with a couple competitive routines.

Here’s the schedule
Juniors – Friday, 6:40pm ET (FLO)
Seniors Session 1 – Saturday, 1:00pm ET (Peacock)
Seniors Session 2 – Saturday, 7:00pm ET (NBCSN)

SESSION ISESSION II
Skye BlakelyCiena Alipio
Sophia ButlerSydney Barros
Skylar DraserSimone Biles
Addison FattaJade Carey
eMjae FrazierJordan Chiles
Laurie HernandezKayla DiCello
Shilese JonesAmari Drayton
Hailey KleinKara Eaker
Temple LandryAleah Finnegan
Emma MalabuyoKaris German
Grace McCallumMorgan Hurd
Konnor McClainAlonna Kratzer
Chellsie MemmelEmily Lee
Elle MuellerSunisa Lee
Katelyn RosenLauren Little
Jamison SearsRiley McCusker
Ava SiegfeldtZoe Miller
Faith TorrezKaylen Morgan
Mya WitteAnya Pilgrim
Lexi ZeissLyden Saltness
MyKayla Skinner
Leanne Wong

And as we get toward team selection, remember

So, let’s talk about who we need to talk about.

Chellsie Memmel

Real talk: This year’s Classic is the Memmel show, and that’s all there is to it. After 9 years away, Chellsie Memmel is officially back at a competition.

Expectations will of course be pretty modest, but in her latest video of her “mock meet,” Memmel did show a Yfull on vault and a 5.8-6.0 beam routine. If she hits both of those in competition, she’ll be very capable of getting the 27.0 two-event score she would need to advance to nationals. It may not match the grand and unrealistic dreams we entertained earlier in the comeback process, but it would be pretty stellar if she comes back and hits to make nationals, forever erasing any need to reference The 2012 Incident.

Simone Biles

The only thing that can stop this meet from fully being the Memmel Show is if Simone does indeed decide to pull out the Yurchenko double pike. Because if she does, that would kind of…be the show.

Of course she doesn’t need to. Simone doesn’t need to do anything. But, you know, Classic is the traditional place to try out new vaults and see how they go. If she doesn’t, I think we at least need to see some platform heels with goats on them. I’m not asking for a lot.

Laurie Hernandez

Another athlete who has something real riding on this Classic performance is beloved cherub of the gymternet, Laurie Hernandez.

Hernandez competed at the March camp and went 51.800 in the all-around, missing by 0.2 the qualifying score she needed for nationals. Her vault, beam, and floor total would suffice as a three-event number—so she is qualified to nationals in some capacity already—but at least based on the information we’ve received (this is a very real sport that’s real), she’ll still need to get her 52.000 AA score here to be able to do all four events at nationals. We did not see bars when she competed at Winter Cup, so progress on that event will be telling.

And if she doesn’t get her score, I am willing to create a diversion at nationals during bars.

Morgan Hurd

Hurd is the Olympic team contender I’m most eager to see at Classic because, other than Biles, Hurd is the one we haven’t seen anything from thus far in 2021. Gymnastically, at least. Life-wise, she’s tearing it up.

As Hurd didn’t make the 2019 worlds team, she’s among those most in need of setting a competitive scoring standard in order to get herself back into the primary Olympic team conversation. Hurd’s best-ever AA score is a 57.000, and since we’ve already seen Chiles break 57 this year, 57 is increasingly looking like the mark if you’re going to be able to make an Olympic team. Hurd will need to be at her best ever this summer.

Complicating matters could be the elbow fixification that she underwent fairly recently, which could temper expectations for what she’s going to do here. Though there’s also not really a ton of time to slowly get back into things. We may need a plan.

Jordan Chiles

World Champions Centre will occupy its entire own rotation group at Classic…

…and it may not be entirely the Simone Show.

The Jordan Chiles 57.050 from Winter Cup is the highest score recorded by an American gymnast this year—by more than a point. Any team you come up with using 2021 scores at this point is going to have Chiles on it.

Now, we’ve all been down this road. There’s so so so much more to be said as the top gymnasts really only start to enter the fray, so Chiles will want to keep that scoring up every minute to remain in the primary conversation that she recently catapulted herself into.

And showing a signature “must take me for this” score wouldn’t hurt. So about that Amanar.

Jade Carey

Now, because Carey has already clinched herself an individual Olympic spot, there theoretically should be less than nothing riding on her Classic performance, but also…whaaaaat is the plan here? Recent intimations that she might try for a team spot at Olympic Trials have thrown things into disarray. (To be on the Olympic team of four, Carey would have to give up her individual spot, meaning the US women would get 5 Olympians instead of 6.) So…might we get some kind of an answer as to what she’s thinking?

The current FIG Olympic calendar is a full mess because no one knows what’s happening with Doha, but in the previous incarnation of the calendar, individual qualifiers were required to inform the FIG of their intentions with regard to their individual spots before the dates of US Trials, precluding any kind of wait-and-see strategy.

Kara Eaker and Emily Lee

Speaking of those who might be aiming for an individual spot on an Olympic team, Kara Eaker has reigned as the US beam queen this quad, but by far the highest beam score of the year belongs to Emily Lee with her 15.100 at March camp. With many of the top all-around contenders capable of going mid-14 on beam and making the team—or even getting an Olympic +1 spot just on the basis of “I’m pretty good everywhere and finished 5th at Trials” (sigh)—those whose AA scores aren’t always going to be 57s but can nail a beam set will really be looking for 15s throughout the process.

Riley McCusker

One weird thing to keep in mind is that McCusker potentially does not have a nationals qualifying score.

She wasn’t on the 2019 worlds team, didn’t do March camp, didn’t have a meet assignment in 2020, didn’t do American Classic, and competed three events at Winter Cup (only AA scores from Winter Cup counted for nationals qualification, for some reason). Though I say potentially because she very well could have a usable number from a camp at some point that wasn’t released, and did successfully petition onto the national team. So…once again, this is a very real sport that’s real.

Anyway, 52 is a super easy score for her to get, but regardless of that, I would put McCusker in the same category as Hurd as someone who needs to use any opportunity to reassert herself in the scoring hierarchy to avoid getting Yim-Schwikert-ed out of the way after success early in the quad.

MyKayla Skinner

We haven’t seen much from Skinner this year, though she did compete two vaults at March camp and went a very competitive 15.200/14.800 (6.0/5.4) for them. I’m of the opinion that the status of Biles and Carey as locked Olympians (we think…) precludes Skinner from making any sense as an event specialist, so she would have to become a top-scoring all-arounder starting now to make the Olympics.

Also she’s probably not interested in getting somewhere close to the team and leaving it up to a selection decision again.

Sunisa Lee

As…the closest we have to a frontrunner in the non-Simone batch (?), Lee is probably not among those who needs a serious result at Classic. This isn’t as critical a competition for her (I mean, I would like some evidence that vault and floor are going to be OK for the trials push, but…)

Mostly we’re just here to see what bars skills come out this time.

Leanne Wong

The pressure is on for team “even though she has made no major squads before, I’m quite confident Leanne is going to the Olympics” as we head into crunch time.

Wong career-best is 56.765, so she’s going to need to pull out something we haven’t seen before to look like one of those 57ies.

Grace McCallum and Kayla DiCello

Last we saw of McCallum, she was doing some hidden routines and training sets at the American Classic.

This has only stoked the flames of speculation that she might be among those pulling out something new at US Classic. Especially for gymnasts like McCallum and DiCello, their path to an Olympic team is through being complete enough in the all-around to place in the top 4 at trials (which is what DiCello has been doing at camps), but everyone in that position is also looking for a difficulty buffer that can help them overcome a sudden bad moment that might crop up.

Skye Blakely and Konnor McClain

The new ones are being wrenched out of “she’s full of potential” territory quickly because they’re now part of legitimate Olympic team conversations.

We’ve seen great bits and pieces from them so far this year (i.e., beam), but both will have to show the whole thing to look like they can go on a likely Olympic team. McClain hasn’t shown bars or a competitive floor yet as a senior, and I’m also interested to see where things stand with Blakely’s vault. She tried a DTY at March camp, but went back down to the FTY for American Classic. I have to think she’ll need that DTY come nationals/trials to get a top AA score, even with a presumed huge beam number.

Who Needs a Score?

A number of people don’t have their 52s for nationals yet.

As mentioned with McCusker, this is by no means an official list because not every camp score gets released, but this is my general outline of seniors competing at Classic who still need their 52s (or 39.750 three-event, or 27.000 two-event).

Sophia Butler (did 3 events at March camp for 38.550)
Skylar Draser (did 2 events at American Classic for 24.600)
eMjae Frazier (did 2 events at Winter Cup for 16.350)
Laurie Hernandez (has 3-event score for VT, BB, FX)
Hailey Klein (went 50.600 at Winter Cup)
Alonna Kratzer (went 49.750 at Winter Cup)
Temple Landry (went 50.400 at American Classic)
Lauren Little
Emma Malabuyo (went 48.850—three-event 39.050—at March camp)
Chellsie Memmel
Riley McCusker (?)
Anya Pilgrim (went 50.850 at American Classic)
Katelyn Rosen (has two-event score for VT, FX)
Lyden Saltness (went 51.650 at Winter Cup)
Jamison Sears (went 51.650 at American Classic)
Ava Siegfeldt (did 3 events at American Classic for 35.600)
Mya Witte (did 3 events at American Classic for 37.550)
Lexi Zeiss (went 51.600 at Winter Cup)

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