A. China’s Olympic Test
This week, China conducted its first internal test for selecting the Olympic team, and like most competitions at this point, it pretty much only made the decision cloudier. Thanks a lot.
Zhang Jin took the all-around by the smallest smidge over Tang Xijing in 2nd and national champion Lu Yufei in 3rd. All three were separated by less than a tenth, and since they were already in the first tier of options heading into the competition, they’ll remain so following those performances.
Perhaps the most significant development, however, was the injury to Li Shijia (who led nationals after the first day) when working on her DTY, which forced her to scratch the competition. We don’t yet know the severity of the injury or whether it will preclude her from competing in the second test in a few weeks, but it may be a significant wrench in proceedings because, even if she is able to come back quickly, will she be able to perform a DTY? That’s an important potential piece separating her from some of the other contenders.
Ou Yushan did not compete the all-around at this test, taking a pass on floor (perhaps her most significant contribution). Despite that, I would consider this competition an absolute success for Ou that improved her place in the hierarchy—for me, she’s a first-choice necessity for the team—because she came through with an actual hit on beam for an astronomical score and brought back her DTY. Both hugely important pieces.
But really, these five gymnasts are almost impossible to separate from each other in the race for four team spots. Especially when going by average scores in 2021, slotting them into various combinations yields teams separated by less than a tenth in several cases. It’s extremely close, and everyone has a case.
Zhang Jin provides, most of all, an important vault score. With Lu Yufei and Tang Xijing (currently) vaulting at lower difficulty—and Li Shijia a question mark in that regard—that vault is quite significant and puts Zhang into most of the best-scoring team options. Lu Yufei, meanwhile, has very competitive bars and beam scores this year, and she’s also regularly going over 14 on floor, which is a huge deal for China and gives her a clear boost over a lot of people scoring in the mid-ish, high-ish 13s, like Zhang Jin, Li Shijia, and Tang Xijing.
Li Shijia has that huge 15.400 on beam from the first day of Chinese nationals to help make her case, along with regularly one of the best bars scores and at least the theoretical potential for a usable vault. The ability to mix traditional “bars and beam specialist” kinds of scores with having a DTY is such a good potential argument for Li that would fill a lot of gaps in team permutations.
World silver medalist Tang Xijing is a really interesting case right now because you’d absolutely be happy putting her on bars, beam, and floor for a team score as needed, and if she had her DTY from 2019 worlds back, she would be an absolute lock for the team. As it is, with Tang Xijing and Lu Yufei both vaulting in the low-mid 13s, it’s difficult to see a team-score-maximizing group that includes both of them. But Lu Yufei’s floor is also so critical. What’s a person supposed to do? Wait for the second trial? Good plan.
I’m mostly focusing on these five, but that’s not to say they’re the only ones who make sense or who slot into a four-person team well. In fact, almost all of the gymnasts still in the mix could make sense.
Liu Tingting, for instance, would actually be on the highest-scoring team using average scores throughout 2021 because of her bars and beam. Liu has looked really good on bars and got a high beam score at the test, but ultimately I think not having the all-around will hurt her too much. This isn’t really a Becky Downie situation where Downie provides something on bars no one else can, so it would have made sense to put her on the British team even without the all-around. For Liu Tingting, her bars and beam scores aren’t really different enough from, say, Lu Yufei or Tang Xijing for her to have a great argument.
Similarly, Qi Qi did much better on vault and floor at the test and definitely improved her Olympic chances, but a 14.366 on vault and 13.866 on floor still aren’t really differentiating scores. Those are about on par with what Zhang Jin has been doing consistently this year—but Zhang Jin has also been excelling in the all-around and getting usable beam scores as well, while Qi Qi has been much farther down.
There are also various combinations where Guan Chenchen’s potential beam score yields the highest-scoring team, but that’s a lot of eggs to put in the basket of a maybe-hit on beam. She would seem to be a much better fit for a possible +1.
So basically the whole thing is a mess and we’re nowhere, and the ultimate decision will be controversial regardless.
B. The Canadian team
Canada announced its Olympic team sans too much drama this week. The team of Ellie Black, Ava Stewart, Brooklyn Moors, and Shallon Olsen makes a lot of sense.
In 2020, the inevitable Canadian team seemed like Black, Moors, Olsen, and Ana Padurariu. But with the injury saga for Padurariu taking her out of contention, along with the sudden emergence of new senior Ava Stewart as the #2 all-arounder in the country (who will be making her international debut at the Olympics), there was an obvious swap to be made.
It sucks for first alternate Rose Woo because she actually would have been part of the highest-scoring Canadian team based on results this year, but with Black and Stewart as the best all-arounders in the country right now, and Olsen’s vault and Moors’ floor providing the best additional event final possibilities, the named team looks like the clear choice. Most countries in Canada’s position are going to choose the chance for an event final over a couple additional tenths in team score that doesn’t end up changing the team ranking.
Clemson University announced this week the addition of a women’s gymnastics team for the 2024 competition season (so you’ve got some time). It’s a big deal because not only is this the actual addition of a gymnastics program when we’ve become accustomed to the…uh…elimination of programs, but this is also an athletics-money school that could be competitive immediately should it choose to be with the right coaching staff, facilities, and recruiting approach.
The ACC, which is a big deal in the sports-balls, will also start having an actual gymnastics conference championship in 2024 now that Clemson will join North Carolina, NC State, and Pitt to make it four teams. The other three are currently competing in the EAGL, which will still have New Hampshire, Temple, Towson, George Washington, and Long Island once they’re gone.
D. Kenzo Retired
So you can stop asking, “Where’s Kenzo?” Just kidding, I know you won’t.
The best floor worker of a generation will leave the sport with three skills named after himself on each floor and vault—perhaps the most iconic of which is the quadruple twist on floor, which originally announced his dominance on the world stage as the king of twisting. But really just the king of all floor. Both MAG and WAG.
Kenzo went on to win three world championships on floor and one on vault (in 2017, when he achieved the double) as a member of every Japanese team from 2013-2018. He began really struggling with injuries in 2019 and has not been able to return to his normal quality since then. And by that I mean he finished 2nd on floor at the Japanese Event Championships a few weeks ago with a 15.133.