Category Archives: Elite Things

Pan American Championships – What Happened There?

The US team is what happened there, to the surprise of no one.

On the women’s side, the United States won the team title by five and a half points over a valiant Brazilian team, and was never truly challenged in the process, winning each event.

Brazil won’t really mind the 5+ point deficit to the US—that’s about what we would expect to see right now between Brazil and a B+ US squad—and that team final performance showed marked improvement over qualification, where the margin between the two teams ended up a surprisingly hefty nine points.

In qualification, it was vault of all things that did Brazil in after DTY disasters from both Saraiva and Barbosa, but the team resolved those problems for the final to buoy the final score. That improvement, coupled with a few more mistakes from the US side in the final, shrunk the margin to five points.

Digging deeper, the world championship candidates on the US team all pretty much did their jobs, helping us resolve nothing at all. Thanks a lot. We needed to see Kara Eaker win beam and hit two routines that scored well into the 14s, which she did. We needed to see Grace McCallum win the all-around and continue proving she has a usable, international-level score on any event as needed, which she did. We needed to see Jade Carey be a force on vault and floor and win those pieces, which she did, and while Carey did not as yet upgrade the DTY, the big and necessary floor score sort of made up for that and didn’t compromise her current position.

What’s difficult here is the scoring standard. Scoring looked pretty loose to me, a little looser than US nationals, with the judges far more willing to go into the mid-8s in E score than I expect we’ll see at worlds. So, it doesn’t give us a great point of comparison. Are Grace McCallum’s beam and floor routines actually higher-scoring than Morgan Hurd’s, as this meet would lead us to believe? I’m not sold on that.

McCallum nonetheless did help her world championships case with this performance, solidifying herself as the US’s #4 all-arounder with believable, TF-ready routines on three events. Continue reading Pan American Championships – What Happened There?

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Pan American Championships

This weekend, it’s all about Peru. The nations of the Americas are heading to Lima to compete for the Pan American gymnastics championship.

At stake is qualification to the 2019 Pan American Games (the top 8 nations advance). But more pressingly, this competition serves as a final opportunity to make a world championships case for gymnasts from nations that haven’t yet decided their final teams and are using this competition to test out borderline candidates.

Schedule

Friday, September 14Men’s Qualification/AA/Event Finals

10:40am ET/7:40am PT – Subdivision 1
(Brazil, Argentina, Cuba, Costa Rico, Uruguay, Trinidad & Tobago, El Salvador, Bolivia)

3:00pm ET/12:00pm PT – Subdivision 2
(Colombia, Venezuela, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Peru, Ecuador)

7:30pm ET/4:30pm PT – Subdivision 3
(USA, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Chile, Guatemala)

Saturday, September 15Women’s Qualification/AA/Event Finals

11:10am ET/8:10am PT – Subdivision 1
(Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Jamaica, Panama, Dominican Republic, Bolivia)

1:30pm ET/10:30am PT – Subdivision 2
(Mexico, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Trinidiad & Tobago)

3:30pm ET/12:30pm PT – Subdivision 3
(USA, Brazil, Canada, Peru, Guatemala, El Salvador, Cayman Islands, Aruba)

Sunday, September 16Team Finals

11:50am ET/8:50am PT – Men’s Team Final

5:00pm ET/2:00pm PT – Women’s Team Final


The trampoline competition has been streaming on the Peruvian federation’s Facebook, so we’re optimistic that artistic will be as well. Continue reading Pan American Championships

Asian Games – What Happened There?

The Asian Games is a big ole deal, you guys. It’s an absolutely massive, quadrennial sports competition that either rivals or exceeds the actual Olympics for sheer size and brings together all the Olympic sports, plus some other things that might not be sports like soft tennis (real?), and some other things that definitely aren’t sports like bridge (get out of my sight).

So, here’s what happened.

Women’s Team

The deepest and strongest delegation at the Asian Games, China casually pranced to a gold medal in the team final by a distinctly Simone margin of victory. The obvious highlight of China’s TF performance came on beam, where Chen Yile and Liu Tingting both hit their huge 6.3 routines. The risky wonder that is Luo Huan didn’t even need to be used in the team final as China was able to opt for the lower difficulty, crisp work of Zhang Jin instead, revealing what an embarrassment of options China has on beam right now. The composition is smart, the execution is fluid, and hopefully that will be rewarded at worlds.

Bars did not go well in the team final. It didn’t matter. Bars didn’t need to go well for China to win, and for the most part, Chinese bars remains Chinese bars. Right now, China doesn’t have a clear D advantage over countries like the US and Russia the way it has in past years (for example, Biles has a 6.1 now and the Chinese team peaked at 6.0 here), but China should at least be able to keep pace with its scores. Bars is not the real concern. The concerns are vault and floor.

On vault, China had to use two Yurchenko fulls in the team final here. The hope will be that Zhang’s DTT and Chen’s DTY can return for worlds so that they could join Liu Jinru to make an acceptably competitive vault lineup. At least one needs to happen because China can’t be throwing out fulls in a worlds team final. Japan would absolutely eat that up. Continue reading Asian Games – What Happened There?

Euros Team Selections

The European Championship is less than a month away, and if you’re me, you’re already way too excited about it. Nominative rosters have been released and several countries have announced their final team selections, so let’s check in on who’s definitely going, who should be going, and every nation’s overall prospects.

Once we get closer to the event and the teams are finalized, I’ll do a full scoring analysis.

RUSSIA

Nominative roster:
Viktoria Komova, Angelina Melnikova, Angelina Simakova, Uliana Perebinosova, Maria Kharenkova

We know this nominative roster is nonsense because Perebinosova is injured and not going to Euros, so it probably just reflects some elaborate Valentina mind game (“I’d rather take an injured ghost than you, Varvara”).

At this point, I would consider Melnikova, Komova, and Simakova locked. At the even-year European Championship, there is no all-around final and the team competition format is 5-3-3, so if you’re a nation like Russia that’s expecting team gold here, selection is all about finding three people for each event. This locked group would give us

Vault: Melnikova, Komova, Simakova?
Bars: Komova, Melnikova, (?)
Beam: Komova, Melnikova, (?)
Floor: Melnikova, Simakova, (?)

So from there, you more or less need one more person for each event. Now, you could use Simakova for bars and beam and Komova for floor, but you want to protect Komova as much as possible, and there are higher-scoring options than Simakova on bars and beam. The most value you could add to this team immediately would be with Ilyankova.

Vault: Melnikova, Komova, Simakova?
Bars: Komova, Melnikova, Ilyankova
Beam: Komova, Melnikova, Ilyankova?
Floor: Melnikova, Simakova, (?)

That’s the best available bars trio, and while Ilyankova is not an ideal beamer, I don’t know that there’s a more reliable option out there right now. She could end up doing beam at Euros. For the remaining spot, a lot comes down to whether you trust Simakova to vault (she should have a vital rudi but missed for 12s a couple times at Russian Cup). If you do trust Simakova, then you’re left looking for only a floor routine and another possible beam option. That’s why Kharenkova—now a beam and floor specialist—has seemed an appealing choice. Yet, her inconsistency and general Kharenkova-ness could be her undoing.

Still, Russia may elect to roll the dice with Kharenkova and put up this team.

Vault: Melnikova, Komova, Simakova
Bars: Komova, Melnikova, Ilyankova
Beam: Komova, Melnikova, Kharenkova
Floor: Melnikova, Simakova, Kharenkova

If that’s too scary, then you replace Kharenkova’s name with Alexeeva (if healthy) or Zubova in the above scenario, though Zubova is in the exact same consistency boat as Kharenkova. I’m not sure there’s much of a difference. It’s all terrifying.

Another sensible option could be to hitch the wagon fully to Ilyankova for beam and go with Akhaimova as the fifth team member. Akhaimova could provide a third floor routine as well as a backup vault option instead of Simakova—though Akhaimova’s vault scores haven’t been that big lately either.

Needing a third DTY (Russia just can’t show up to the team final with some full) is how Nabieva or Trykina would get on the team, but floor would be a real problem in that case.

This may be the hardest team to pick, but Great Britain is in the running for that as well. Continue reading Euros Team Selections

Tom Forster – Team Coordinator

USAG announced today that everything is totally fine and fixed, so you should stop asking questions and also bye.

And by that, I mean that Tom Forster has been selected as the new National Team Coordinator. Or, sorry, the new High-Performance Team Coordinator. Because that makes it all different and better. Nothing to see here. The performance is going to be so high. You won’t believe how high the performance will be.

Fans of the 90s will remember Forster of Colorado Aerials as the coach of Theresa Kulikowski, Kristy Powell and Doni Thompson—and Kerri Strug for a hot minute during her whistle-stop tour of America. Since then, he has held a lower-profile and more behind-the-scenes role in the elite coaching scene, and he was not the primary elite coach for the recent athletes from Colorado Aerials who may have been on your radar (Emily Muhlenhaupt, Kiersten Wang, Sharaya Musser).

That, quite honestly, could have been an influencing factor in the decision. He hasn’t had an opportunity to be publicly horrible in quite some time, which already put him on the high end of the list of candidates. And that seems to be the general reaction from within the gymnastics community—”it could have been worse”—what with names like Peggy Liddick floating around, and all. The consensus: he’s the best of the available options. The national team coaches seem to be optimistic about Forster, which means he will be given a chance rather than being thrown to the wolves immediately after the announcement. But of course, the proof will be in the…not being an aggressively ego-driven abusive maniac? Just that. We’re asking so much, I know. Stay cautious, my friends.

It may be unfair, but USAG has taught us to mistrust its process and automatically mistrust anyone it might think is suitable. Kerry Perry likes you? Well then what’s wrong with you? Continue reading Tom Forster – Team Coordinator

2020 Olympic Qualification Explained…But Like Actually

The 2020 Olympic qualification process is so weird and dumb, you guys. You are completely forgiven for putting off trying to understand it for as long as possible.

But it’s starting to be that time of quad…

Recently, the FIG released an entirely unhelpful gibberish video (the part about continental championships is actually indecipherable) that was supposed to explain this cuckoo-pants fever dream of a system to the uneducated masses. Thank you, it didn’t. Try again, but this time pretend like you’ve had a conversation with a human person before.

Anyway, here’s the actual deal.

What’s the team format for the 2020 Olympics?

Qualification is 4-4-3 (4 on the team, 4 compete each event, 3 scores count).

The Team Final is 4-3-3 (3 up, 3 count—the format we know well).

Translation: All four selected teams members will be all-arounders. It’s terrible.

How do teams qualify?

The top 3 teams from the 2018 Worlds Team Final advance to the Olympics.

Then, 9 more teams from 2019 Worlds Qualification will join them.

12 teams. Done. That’s all. No bothering with Test Event qualification this time. Team qualification is finished by the fall of 2019.

How do gymnasts without teams qualify?

In the all-around competition at 2019 World Championships, the best 20 women and 12 men who aren’t  part of those qualified teams will go to the Olympics. (One per country.)

The top 3 finishers on each event who aren’t part of qualified teams will also go to the Olympics. (Three per country.)

These spots are for the individual, not for the country. So it’s not Switzerland getting an Olympic spot to use as it wishes; it would be Giulia Steingruber specifically as a human person getting an Olympic spot.

What’s the deal with these specialist spots?

Oops. Don’t call them specialists. You might get murdered. They’re simply individuals.

This quad, there are several new methods of Olympic qualification open to any individuals, whether they’re part of a qualified team or not.

Qualified teams can earn two more spots this way, bringing their potential Olympics teams up to six members (4 on the team + 2 individuals).

Event World Cups
The overall winner of the event world cup series on each apparatus gets a spot at the Olympics (limit 1 per country). These spots are also for the individual, not for the country.

The event world cup qualification series begins in Cottbus in November 2018 and ends in Doha in March 2020. Each gymnast’s best 3 results during that period count for the final rankings.

All-Around World Cups
The top 3 countries at the end of the four 2020 All-Around World Cups (American Cup, Stuttgart, London, Tokyo) earn spots at the Olympics. These spots are for the country, not for the individual.

Continental Championships
The top 2 finishers in the all-around final at the 2020 continental championships earn a spot at the Olympics. That spot is for the individual, unless that gymnast’s country is already qualified as a team, then it is for the country. So for a nation like the US, it would be for the country.

What if I’m just pretending to be interested in all this but really only care about how it affects the US women?

Thank you for your honesty.

The US women will qualify a team of four gymnasts to the 2020 Olympics after placing among the top 3 teams at the 2018 World Championship (let’s be real here).

The most sensible way forward would be for the US women to gain a fifth Olympic spot by sending athletes to the all-around world cup events in March and April of 2020 (American Cup, Stuttgart, London, Tokyo) and placing in the top three in the overall standings at the end of those four meets. Which they would.

Then, the US women could gain a sixth Olympic spot by sending athletes to the 2020 Pan American Championships and placing someone in the top 2 in the AA final.

The US would then select its team of six (four gymnasts competing for the team, two gymnasts competing solely for themselves) following the Olympics Trials as usual.

Hopefully, the US does not get lost in the weeds of the nominative spots earned at the apparatus world cups, which complicate matters entirely and can be completely ignored by the US women. They don’t need to try for those spots.

The US should want to pick its own team of six at the Olympic Trials. The US would not want any of the spots determined by which athletes were healthy enough to go to World Challenge Cups at the beginning of 2019. Those gymnasts wouldn’t necessarily be your best choice once summer 2020 rolls around.

I heard that people who are on the 2018 US worlds team can’t go to the Olympics as specialists? What white nonsense is that?

Not quite. The qualification rules state that a single gymnast can’t qualify more than one spot at the Olympics herself—because you’re only one person. That’s to prevent a Simone Biles-quality athlete from just going to every single qualifying opportunity and greedily racking up multiple qualification spots for her country despite being only one gymnast.

But, anyone on the 2018 US worlds team CAN STILL GO TO THE OLYMPICS in either a team role or an individual role. There’s no law preventing that.

There is a law preventing a gymnast on the qualifying 2018 worlds team from also earning a nominative spot SPECIFICALLY FOR HERSELF through the apparatus world cup route (because that would be one single person gaining two Olympic spots).

Meaning: If Jade Carey were on the 2018 worlds team, she couldn’t then earn an apparatus world cup spot for HERSELF. But, she could still be assigned a spot at the Olympics in a team role, OR in an individual role that the US earned via non-nominative routes like the all-around world cup or the continental championship.

This is why a country like the US shouldn’t bother with the apparatus world cup route. It makes things SUPER unnecessarily complicated. It also eliminates opportunities for athletes who might emerge as new seniors in 2020, who wouldn’t even have had a chance to qualify an apparatus nominative spot. What if an awesome vault specialist turns senior in 2020? She’s kind of SOL if Jade Carey has already qualified a nominative spot and is guaranteed to go to the Olympics. There would be such overlap of their medal hopes you wouldn’t want to bring both of them. (You COULD, but it would be a lopsided group.)

The US should simply go for the All-Around world cup spot and the continental world cup spot, both of which would be non-nominative, so that ANYONE could be selected to go to the Olympics in ANY of the six spots, regardless of which meets they competed at in the lead-up years.

It’s actually much tougher for the top European countries than it is for the US, because the European countries can’t necessarily bank on getting a spot from Euros. They’ll have to get a little more creative.


And that’s that.

-12 teams of 4.
-Various individuals.
-Qualified teams can send up to six gymnasts to the Olympics given the right circumstances.

American Cup Preview

American Cup.

Obviously, what we’re all most looking forward to is the NBC team’s inevitable bungling of the delicate task of communicating what has been happening with Nassar, the Valeri resignation, and the overall melting of USA Gymnastics into a primordial pile of slime. Did I say looking forward to? I meant EYE STAB.

But I guess there will be gymnastics too. Snore. Here’s what to expect.

MEN

Stay with me. We’ll get to the women in a second. But first you have to read about the men. All things being as they’re supposed to, this should end up a contest between The Kenzo and The Yul. They finished third and seventh respectively at worlds last year and have shown the highest scoring potential of the bunch in the past year or so. Most of the other competitors are all-arounders at a slightly lower level or have a couple really strong events but not the six complete routines needed to stand out.

At worlds, The Kenzo outscored The Yul in the all-around final by about a point and a half, which is where his favorite status originates. Still, weird things happen at American Cup so it’s far from wrapped up. We need only look back to last year when The Yul defeated The Oleg to take the title. By contrast, The Kenzo is still pretty new to the AA game and is a less-established favorite than The Oleg was then. He certainly has the difficulty edge over The Yul by about a bajillion tenths—but so do most people since The Yul’s aim is always to make it up on execution.

That’s what he’ll hope to do compared to someone James Hall, whom you’ll remember from having Resting Stoner Face and being a solid all-arounder. Hall is just coming off winning the English Championship with an 84, which is not necessarily a DUN DUN DUH world-beating score, but repeated at American Cup should put him right up there. That’s around what Modi scored to finish 3rd last year.

This will also be a significant competition for Allan Bower, who (kind of) controversially did not make the worlds team in 2017 despite finishing second at nationals with an 86.1 on the second day. He followed that recently with a somewhat disappointing Winter Cup to finish 4th, behind Mikulak, Kimble, and Modi. If Bower wants to get a team spot this year, he’ll need to show not just the ability to score well as an AAer, but more importantly that he has standout events the team might need. That’s what we haven’t seen yet from him. Otherwise, it’s hard to see him getting much of a look in a Mikulak-Moldauer world.

Sun Wei of China always attends American Cup and is sort of there, not really at the level to make a Chinese worlds team but also way better than most other people/countries. Look for him to be the type who can sneak up there and then everyone goes, “Oh, yeah, him” and then forgets about it two seconds later.

Francisco Barretto Junior has a few events—high bar is usually the best but he also scores well on PBars and sometimes horse. Nestor Abad of Spain is replacing Joel Plata and will inevitably break your heart. I fear Phillipp Herder will follow the great German tradition of showing up at American Cup and falling 150 times because he’s German and it’s pommel horse, but do keep an eye on floor and PBars. Petro Pakhniuk is mostly known as a PBars specialist, so I’ll be interested to see how he stacks up in the all-around.

WOMEN

The favorites

American Cup is never much of a competition on the women’s side, partially because the US gymnasts are just better than everyone else, partially because it’s the first week of March and no one else is even trying to be remotely good yet, and partially (especially pre-WC era) because of SCAM SCORING. Oh SCAM SCORING, I love you so much.

That’s why the presence of Mai Murakami adds an exciting twist to this year’s proceedings. Murakami qualified first at worlds in 2017 and was on track to defeat Morgan Hurd in the all-around final if not for a fall on beam on her double spin. A full-strength Murakami is the strongest gymnast in the competition on vault and floor and has the ability to win the whole thing, the main issue being whether we’re actually going to see a full-strength Murakami. She’d need to bring full floor-tumbling difficulty to have a solid shot at this, which may be a lot to ask at this point in the year.  Continue reading American Cup Preview