The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Things Are Happening – June 19, 2021

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.

C. Clemson

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.

E. GymCastic

Carly Patterson's Album Interpreted and Dr. Dave Tilley PT Gymnastics Myth Busters GymCastic: The Gymnastics Podcast

CARLY PATTERSON'S ALBUM: BACK TO THE BEGINNING This episode has been commissioned by "Just an Ordinary Girl Putting Up a Fight to Get Out of This Temporary Life," who requested an episode analyzing the music of 2004 Olympic Champion, Carly Rae Patterson and her 2009 album, Back to the Beginning. We answer important questions like, which song is a metaphor for WOGA? And which one is really about Khorkina? Gymnastics Science Myth Busters with Dr. Dave Tilley PT, NCSA The internal work; therapy and/or self reflection, necessary to be healthy in our jobs and relationships Learning to have a healthy relationship with exercise after gymnastics The actual force impact of landings and falls and a yurchenko double back on the body The science behind back pain in gymnasts during puberty. Red S Syndrome (formerly Female Athlete Triad) and the damaging garbage nutrition fads hurting gymnasts. Gymnastics Myth Busted with an Dr. Dave Tilley PhD: You have to be short, young, and under-developed to be good at gymnastics and all skills have to be learned before puberty. False! We discuss the physical and psychological advantages of hormones and puberty for female gymnasts. Gymnasts and children should never weight train. False! The original study was based on children laborers and not safe, supervised weightlifting. Back pain, during puberty especially, is just a normal part of gymnastics and can't be prevented. False! We discuss the effect hormones have on ligaments and bones during healthy puberty and how coaches can help their gymnasts safely navigate this growth period. If you are overweight you will tear your achilles. False! BMI is not a factor in gymnasts achilles tears. Read the study here. Resources & References: SHIFT Movement Science and Gymnastics Education SHIFT Free Resource Lab  SHIFT Hero Lab: international online gymnastics education community Developing Powerful Athletes Pt 1  Developing Powerful Athletes Pt 2   Long Term Athletic Development Natalie Yurchenko Olympic Channel interview on yurchenko double back. Factors Associated With Achilles Tendon Rupture in Women's Collegiate Gymnastics Weight Training Safety & Performance in children and adolescents: The effectiveness of exercise interventions to prevent sports injuries (BJSM)  Youth Resistance Training International Consensus Position Statement (BJSM)  Resistance training for children and adolescents (Translational Pediatrics)  Youth Resistance Training Position Statement Paper (JSCR) Plyometric training performance in elite-oriented prepubertal female gymnasts  Effects if Resistance Training in Youth Athletes  The effects of eccentric training on lower limb flexibility: a systematic review (BJSM)  Increasing muscle extensibility: a matter of increasing length or modifying sensation? (Phys Ther)  Regular stretch does not increase muscle extensibility (Scan J Med Sci Sports) Red S Syndrome and Disordered Eating in Gymnastics: Understanding Eating Disorders in Elite Gymnastics (Clin Sports Med) Disordered Eating in Women’s Gymnastics (JASP) The IOC consensus statement on RED-S (BJSM) Interaction among skeletal muscle metabolic energy systems during intense exercise (J Nutr Metab) JOIN CLUB GYM NERD  Join Club Gym Nerd for access to Behind the Scenes episodes. Buy our awesome clothing and gifts here. We have masks too! RELATED EPISODES Project K Project K: Decoding Romanian Secret Police Files on The Karolyis with Dr. Simona Petracovsch 368: No-No-Nunnoisms (Commissioned) 367: Shawn and Nastia: From Feud to Friendship (Commissioned) 365: 1988 Olympics Team Competition (Commissioned) 364: 80s Fight! (Commissioned) 327: 1993 NCAA Nationals (Commissioned) 325: Olympics of Difference Makers (Commissioned) 313: Best Floor Routines EVAH! (Commissioned) 312: 4th Is the New 1st (Commissioned) 309: Perfect Form – The O’Beirne Code (Commissioned) 308: 2004 Olympic All-Around Final (Commissioned) 306: Gymnastics Fails (Commissioned) 304: The GymCastic Olympics (Commissioned) 281: Myths, Legends, and Unexpected Moments PART 2 (Commissioned) 279: A Diva Is Magical: The Svetlana Khorkina Episode (Commissioned) 278: 2000 Sydney All-Around Final (Commissioned) 262: 1996 Olympic Event Finals (Commissioned) 258: The Fluff Cast (Commissioned) 256: 1996 Olympic All-Around Final (Commissioned) 255: 1996 Olympic Team Final (Commissioned) 252: Myths, Legends and Unexpected Moments in Gymnastics History (Commissioned) 228: Leotards (Commissioned) 225: 1992 Olympics Recap with Wendy Bruce (Commissioned) 185: 2008 Olympic All-Around Finals (Commissioned)
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