The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

The 10 Most Important Routines at Olympic Trials

By way of a preview of the Olympic Trials—which start tomorrow, as in actually tomorrow—I’m dispensing with some of the headlines we’ve played into the ground and instead running through what I view as the actual most important routines in the competition for defining what the Olympic squads will look like.

So, no, Simone’s routines aren’t that important. She could vape right into a baby’s crib as her beam mount and still make the team.

1. Grace McCallum’s Bars

Much attention will be on Grace McCallum at trials because she has recently found herself only a few tenths shy of a place on the highest-scoring potential teams—all while competing below the level we’ve seen from her in the past. Progressing back up to her 2019 quality could very well get McCallum a top-4 all-around placement and a spot on the team.

I was tempted to say floor is the most important for McCallum because that’s somewhere she could add a tenth or so to the team score by stepping up some of the tumbling and give herself another compelling event, but the real appeal of McCallum is her “all-arounder you could use anywhere” status. Her best Olympic case is that she gives you anything and everything. A tenth over here, a tenth over there, a backup routine over there.

So the main problem for McCallum is the uncomfortable fact that she has missed on 5 of her last 6 competitive bars routines dating back to 2019 worlds trials (with one big score from worlds qualification mixed in there). Without figuring out bars, she’s not going to place very well in the all-around, and without placing well in the all-around, do we really see her being taken for an Olympic team in this era?

2. Leanne Wong’s Floor

That 14.200 from the first day of nationals. That 14.200 on floor put Wong on the highest-scoring team based on that day’s scores and (along with a usually-clean DTY) could serve as her ticket onto an Olympic team. But that’s quite a could.

That 14.200 floor would have to show up both days of competition at trials, a level of consistency we have not yet seen. Wong’s other 2021 floor scores have ranged from 12.950 to 13.900, and none of that is really going to cut it.

At times this year, Wong has gone 14.200 on floor, 14.450 on beam, and 14.800 on vault. Those are all Olympic team scores, showing that she has the capability within her to make this team, but those scores have not been showing up more than once in a blue moon, and definitely not together in the same meet. Wong must have the meet of her life at trials, turning personal peaks into her normal, to make that team.

3. Sunisa Lee’s Vault

TWIST, I know.

Now, vault may not be that important for Sunisa Lee’s specific individual chances since she and Jordan Chiles just need to go through with a majority of hits at this point to make the team. Lee would make the Olympic team for…literally any other event before vault, but her score there will be extremely important for all the borderline gymnasts in defining what the highest-scoring US team ends up needing.

The lower Lee scores on vault, the more advantageous it is for a vault-specific gymnast like MyKayla Skinner. If Lee is scoring around a 14.2 on vault, then Skinner’s potential 15 adds a huge amount to a team score and could legitimately put her on a highest-scoring team for that event alone. If Lee is going 14.5+, however, then Skinner’s vault isn’t adding nearly as much, and those who have a combination of small amounts on various events like McCallum are going to look more appealing.

4. MyKayla Skinner’s Floor

On that note, Skinner has looked consistent enough with her vault landings this year that we can basically assume a high score there.

But, Skinner is really going to want a second compelling event that can help her case if her vault score doesn’t end up adding that much—or that can cut into the all-around argument where others currently have the advantage over her (this is the Tom Forster era after all).

That second event for Skinner would be floor, but floor has been a bit of a ride this year. Skinner went just 13.000 on the first day of nationals, and even a big improvement on the second day got her to just 13.750. That 13.750 is where Sunisa Lee was scoring on floor anyway, and Lee is currently in default position as the #3 floor worker on the US team behind Biles and Chiles. Skinner would really need to be able to go 14 on floor at trials to give herself a compelling two-event argument.

5. Shane Wiskus’s High Bar

That’s right, I mentioned a man. Wiskus’s high bar at trials was going to be fascinating regardless considering that the last time we saw him he fell three times and everyone was like, “You know what my favorite skill is? Concussion testing.”

But in addition to just needing to come back from that debacle, Wiskus’s high bar is also extremely significant for his argument to make a US team. If Yul Moldauer is on the US team, he’s not going to deliver a strong high bar score in a team final, therefore if someone like Wiskus can produce a clearly usable high bar, that’s going to add a solid amount to a team total and make a very good case.

But if Wiskus can’t get the high bars scores, the US may just say, “Well, high bar is effed regardless. What’s up with pommel horse?”

6. Riley McCusker’s Bars

The news that Riley McCusker will be limited to bars and beam at trials has taken some of the nuance out of her selection argument here as I don’t see her being put on a four-member team without showing all four events at trials. Now, that doesn’t mean she won’t end up as part of the actual highest-scoring team based just on her bars and beam scores (she very well could—and I’ll be sure to talk about it if it happens), but they’re totally not doing that for the team.

This does, however, crystallize McCusker’s status as the frontrunner for the still undefined +1 position. Good beam work at trials would certainly reinforce that argument, but honestly as long as she continues hitting bars the way she did on the second day of nationals, she should have that +1 spot locked up. Falls from her, on the other hand, would be chaotic. McCusker is such a good option for the +1 that if they decide not to go that direction…what direction would they even go?

7. Stephen Nedoroscik’s Pommel Horse

The race for the US men’s +1 got lighter this week with the announcement that Eddie Penev was injured trying to upgrade his vault and will not compete at trials. His absence serves only to reinforce that we’re probably looking at Pommel Horse Fight between Stephen Nedoroscik and Alec Yoder for the +1 (unless the selectors decide to learn Alex Diab’s name for the first time).

Nedoroscik has the potential for higher difficulty and outscored Yoder by the smallest smidge at nationals and therefore probably holds the fate of that spot in his own hands if he hits to his potential at trials. But it’s pommel horse. So…

8. Kayla DiCello’s Beam

For the most part with Kayla DiCello, you can take any argument you have for Grace McCallum and translate it to DiCello because they are pretty much twins when it comes to their contribution to a team (and a fair amount of their routine composition). But the hitting has been a little different. While DiCello has been successfully making her argument for floor with 14s on both days of nationals, she has been struggling on beam in addition to bars.

Even if DiCello’s floor scores and a solid DTY make a really good scoring case for her inclusion on the team, it’s almost impossible to see her being taken in real life if she’s continuing to place low in the all-around thanks to misses on the other events. She’s got to figure out beam to have a chance to make this team.

9. Yul Moldauer’s Pommel Horse

Yul Moldauer should be considered a top-3 favorite for the Olympic team. Sam Mikulak is Sam Mikulak and could struggle as much as he did on the first day of nationals and still make the team, and Brody Malone’s national championship put him in very good position as the one other American who might score an 86. Beyond that, Moldauer typically makes the most sense for teams because of how many different options he can provide.

But Moldauer struggled on horse at nationals, so sort of like Sunisa Lee’s vault, his performance on PH at trials could have massive implications for the other people hoping to make the team. If he (or Mikulak, who also had horse problems at nationals but is a big ol’ lock) continues struggling on horse, that’s going to make someone like Allan Bower—who can contribute the most reliable pommel horse the US has for well over 14s—look very appealing as someone who can shore up that event. And you just ignore the first TF spot on high bar because whatever.

If, however, Mikulak and Moldauer look strong on horse at trials, you might feel pretty comfortable with how that event looks and turn instead to what Shane Wiskus might provide on high bar as a potential boost to the team score.

10. [Insert Gymnast Here]’s Beam

There are several gymnasts at trials—including Kara Eaker, Emma Malabuyo, Emily Lee, and Skye Blakely—who can pull out a truly massive beam score on their day. We have not seen it nearly consistently enough to put any faith in that from any of them, but if Riley McCusker does not end up performing like the favorite for the +1 that we all think she is, eyes may turn to what a beamer can provide if one of these athletes pulls out two days of 14.5+ work at trials.

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