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Things Are Happening – May 28, 2022

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A. The Three-Headed National Team

This week, USAG announced which three people who’ve never said anything too mean about the organization it was able to trick into taking jobs at the top of the women’s national team as it attempts to perform the very challenging Reverse Beyonce and transition from solo artist to pop trio.

Well, in 21 years, the position of a sole national team coordinator has never not been a disaster—either in a results way, a person way, or (most fun) both!—so…good job trying something different.

In this new system designed to ensure that all “the internet was mean to me” hurt fee-fees are given a 33% split (or, I mean, to help the athletes best?), leadership will now be held by an esteemed council of three—a developmental lead, a technical lead, and a strategic lead—presumably all holding scepters and sitting around a triangular obsidian table wearing vestments of gold.

The developmental lead will be Dan Baker, which is the least noteworthy of the three hires because it’s not a hire and he already had that exact job before. It just wasn’t part of a V IMPORTANT TRIO until now. So that’s what that is. 

The technical lead will be Chellsie Memmel, and it is potentially encouraging that USAG went with a judge for this position because a defining feature of the last several years of top-level US women’s routines has been the recurring need for composition interventions that never happened. Hopefully, Memmel will be empowered to judge it up all over the place and have important “get rid of that double tuck, it’s not worth the one tenth” and “I have literally never credited that switch ring” conversations early in the process.

The strategic lead will be Alicia Sacramone Quinn, which I think is the most interesting and mysterious of the three selections. The job description has a lot of very job-descriptiony nonsense phrases like “guide the overall direction of the program,” which on the one hand could mean full HBIC, or it could be like that time in my college internship when I gave myself the title Critical Projects Coordinator and still have no idea what that means. The word “strategic” has led to the assumption that this position will take the lead on things like team selection and selection procedures, which is the brunt of the “public has thoughts about this” aspect of the job(s), something she should have the temperament to handle better than the predecessor. 

I’m just hoping her presence serves as a subtle FU to the entire concept of using all-around standings to select teams. That would help a lot. Fully scrapping and rewriting the selection procedures to make them both more objective and more logically sound, while being completely clear and transparent, is another critical assignment for the new regime.

In the present age, USAG would be best suited by employing a clear “plug in the numbers across X competitions and there’s your highest-scoring 3-up, 3-count team” approach that marries objectivity and strategy and avoids a single individual (or three) making unclear judgment calls as much as humanly possible. You don’t want a situation where Sacramone and Memmel are marching off to the back room and Martha-ing up a team. You want a bot to make the team and then everyone does a group dance or whatever. Because if we’ve learning anything from gymnastics, it’s that you paste a group dance on the end of things when you want people to tweet that the athletes seem happy.

It’s worth noting what a hiring departure this is for USAG, which until very recently had been deeply committed to seniority and history for positions like this, requiring program leadership to have a proven track record of coaching athletes at worlds and Olympics. Memmel and Sacramone definitely do not have that, and lack of experience is in some ways an asset because they’re not part of the old guard, but is also the root of most questions about their hires, fairly or unfairly. These youngish people without decades of leadership experience are going to have to work closely with several well-entrenched garbage humans. Will they have the authority to lay down the law? Would they be listened to? Or will they be reduced to figureheads—well-liked former athletes who won’t make waves and are there to blunt criticism because IT’S CHELLSIE AND ALICIA—while everyone just goes on doing whatever they want? 

It’s going to be a journey of a quad tri.

B. Alabama what?

Gasp! As Alabama finally turned the calendar to July 2020, news came that Dana Duckworth had definitely voluntarily left the head coach position in order to spend more time doing shoulder presses. The very odd timing of this—not coming directly after the season ended, instead coming after a noteworthy L10 nationals that Alabama recruits fully dominated—has left us all waiting to see if there’s yet another stiletto that’s going to drop. Or if it’s going to be a secret stiletto forever.

Travel back in time one month and tell yourself that by May 20, Kupets would still have a job and Duckworth would not.

A mere 11 seconds later, Alabama announced that Ashley Priess Johnston would be taking over as head coach—not at all a surprising decision once we knew Goosecheap was out because Priess is an Alabama alum who has established herself as a prominent assistant coach in recent years. You would have considered her the frontrunner if there had been time to consider anything. Along with Sacramone and Memmel, Priess was a member of the 2006 worlds team that is apparently just inheriting the earth now. You guys, is Jana Bieger going to be the president? 

The speed of this hire, though, is…fascinating…because there was not time in there to do an actual hiring process. One would think that there would have been some outside interest in one of the plusher jobs in gymnastics. Either you phoned that in, or you had been planning this for a while.  

C. Worlds Qualification

The first team and AA quotas of the world championship qualification process were booked at the Oceania Championship last week, with Australia taking the team spots for both women and men. On the women’s side, New Zealand didn’t send a full squad, though NZ’s Keira Rolston-Larking and Reece Cobb did compete, which should mean they can take the two all-around quota spots available from Oceania for those without a team. It’s somewhat disappointing that we’re not seeing full teams for New Zealand, which is also not sending any WAG at all to the Commonwealth Games despite sending a full MAG team.

For the men, the New Zealand team gave Australia a bit of a test, as they did when we saw both compete against each other at 2018 worlds qualification, but the Australian team pulled through by about a five point margin to qualify a team to worlds. For NZ, Misha Koudinov and William Fu-Allen were the top 2 all-arounders and qualified to worlds as individuals.

The Oceania Championship was held in conjunction with Australian Nationals, where Georgia Godwin came out on top of the women’s AA by a bit more than a point over fellow Olympian Emily Whitehead over two days of competition.

For comparison to the state of the women’s national teams from several weeks ago, Australia’s highest-scoring team from 2022 so far would nestle in just behind the likes of Japan and France. So take that for what you will. 

VaultBarsBeamFloor
Georgia Godwin14.00013.63313.60013.166
Kate McDonald13.20013.60013.46612.900
Breanna Scott13.46612.53313.63312.866
Emily Whitehead13.90013.23313.06613.533
Romi Brown13.40013.70012.46613.033
41.36640.93340.69939.732162.730

This weekend’s Canadian Championship should give us a good framework for comparing where those two countries stand right now. So hold on for that. 

The next major test for Australia will be the Commonwealth Games at the end of July. Speaking of which…

D. FIG, learn a book

Breaking from its own precedent and the precedent of everything, the FIG informed Rhys McClenaghan that he will not be able to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games because he represents Ireland internationally.

Among other things, this is a departure from the FIG’s own history as Rhys competed internationally representing Ireland as a junior prior to the 2018 Commonwealth Games, then represented Northern Ireland at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, then has represented Ireland at subsequent events for years. This is normal, athletes do it in all sorts of sports, and competing for Ireland and Northern Ireland in events where Northern Ireland can compete independently is a special case that does not constitute a change of nationality the way the FIG has suddenly decided to view it. The idea that the FIG would try to wade into this is truly the stupidest. Hopefully the public pressure will take hold and get this fixed since we know public pressure is the only reason the FIG would ever do or change anything.

E. And finally…

Tatiana Nabieva and Maria Paseka are coaching the Chinese national team. The end.

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