The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Snubbing – June 7, 2021

A. Morgan Hurd’s Trials Omission

Last night, following day 2 of nationals, USAG announced the bevy of 18 athletes who had advanced to this year’s Olympic Trials, comprising the top 17 AA from nationals as well as Riley McCusker.

The most notable among the notable items here was the absence of Morgan Hurd, who competed only beam and floor at nationals, struggling on beam both days with a ton of falls.

USAG has been trying to pretend that the process for petitions is still incomplete, but this would…seem to indicate otherwise?

It’s a tough one because it’s clear that Hurd’s performances at nationals did not merit advancing to trials (even acknowledging that she got hosed in the floor score department), and athletes with equivalent showings—including Chellsie Memmel—were also not advanced to trials.

I don’t really support prior accomplishments being considered for selection because the Olympics are now—not in 2017—so Hurd being a world champion shouldn’t enter into the argument any more than Memmel being one. But you should take into account potential score, potential to recover from injury, and potential degree of improvement on the current performance, which is why I would have chosen Hurd for trials given a group this large—even acknowledging that it’s very unlikely she’ll be able to make the leap necessary to get to Olympic level in just the few weeks between nationals and trials.

If the group had been capped at 12 or 14 people advancing to trials, then I would not have selected Hurd because I count 14 others who look at least like somewhat, outside, maybe viable Olympians at this point and showed it at nationals. But I don’t count 18. There are 18 people advancing to trials, so by definition, you’re putting through some people who did not show a level of gymnastics at nationals that merits Olympic consideration. The idea that getting 12s and 13s and finishing in the bottom half of the AA standings counts as “earning a spot at trials” doesn’t really fly with me. So for those bonus spots, why not pick an athlete who has at least been at that level before, and pretty recently?

B. Becky Downie’s Team Omission

In news that is sadly unsurprising but still super annoying, British Gymnastics has not selected Becky Downie for the Olympics, instead going with a team of Jennifer Gadirova, Jessica Gadirova, Alice Kinsella, and Amelie Morgan. It’s a good team, it’s a safe team—and it actually has fewer holes on it that many of the recent British Olympic teams with more members—but it’s also not the best they could have done.

To keep it (kind of) brief, if you take everyone’s best score on each event from throughout the trials process, the team of Becky Downie, Gadirova, Gadirova, and Kinsella, produces the highest team score. That’s your best-case-scenario, best-scoring-potential group, so if you truly are pushing for a team medal—as BG claims to be in its team announcement—then you better bring that best-case-scenario squad to have any shot at that pipe dream.

Not to mention, Downie’s bars routine would provide the British women’s best shot at an individual medal. Especially when the selection procedures state the following: “British Gymnastics is targeting a minimum of 1 medal from the Women’s Artistic Gymnastics discipline with an overall Gymnastics medal target range of 4-6,” the decision to leave out Downie acts in contrast to that aim, as this selected team will be favored to win zero medals in Tokyo. (Sure, I’m not ruling out a Gadirova pulling a Tinkler on floor, but Downie’s your most likely medal bet, and you’re leaving her at home when you said THE GOAL was a minimum of 1 medal.)

The selected team is the safest, sturdiest team among the options, with the most built-in redundancies should something go awry (and was my #2 choice for teams), so…you can kind of justify this team. Kind of. But both the team score and medal hopes are muted compared to what could have been.

So perhaps the con argument for Downie’s inclusion more revolves around the fact that she does not do the all-around. That means you have to go 3-up, 3-count on vault and floor in qualification, leaving no room for someone having a disaster. But, you’d have to that in the team final anyway, so that shouldn’t remotely be a consideration. At a certain point, you have to count the score. That’s just the sport. You can’t protect against bad all the time.

What would be more concerning is Downie’s inability to act as a built-in alternate should one of the other three team members get injured at the last second (too late for the alternate to come in) or have a positive test—although then you might have bigger fish to fry because you’re all traveling together and training together and rooming together. Not being able to act as an alternate is the most reasonable argument not to select Downie, but reasonable enough to give up on her medal opportunity because of a series of “what ifs” and concocted potential disasters? Not to me. Selecting out of fear is bad strategy, especially for a non-favorite. If you’re the British team, playing it safe doesn’t get you anywhere. Throw everything out there. If something goes wrong, something goes wrong, but at least you tried to get the most medals and the best team score.

Still, “what do we do about alternates if we select a specialist?” is a viable strategic concern this year given the everything. Sadly for British Gymnastics, they don’t really have a leg to stand on with that argument since Max Whitlock, who essentially plays the same role as Downie in the men’s hierarchy, was selected for the men’s team.

Plus, and most gallingly, if the plan the whole time was to consider only AAers because of alternate and athlete-replacement concerns—and they never communicated that to Becky Downie, compelling her to go through the entire trials process, the equipment-change issue, that extra warehouse trial following the death of her brother even though BG knew they were never considering her skill set—that’s not being strategic, that’s just being a dick. So, was Downie punished for speaking out against British Gymnastics by being left off the team? Mmmm….how can I say? I don’t know. But if you wanted to make it clear that she wasn’t, you missed on that one.

Anyway, it’s obvious things are going well and there are no problems at all when the Olympic team announcement has to be accompanied by damagecontrol2.pdf where you try to justify yourself.

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