Category Archives: Secret Classic

Pre-Classic: A Land of Ignorance

Pre-Classic is my favorite part of the elite season because it’s the silliest. We’re all so damn confident about how things are going to go this season despite having seen precisely zero gymnastics from the major and most of the minor contenders. Remember your feelings about Ashton Locklear precisely 365 days ago? Because they were a tumbleweed made of cricket sound effects.

That’s what makes Classic exciting. At this moment, we know nothing, but by the end of podium training, we’ll basically be set and have a good idea of what we’ll see this year. To help fill in the possible picture of who might go to Glasgow to be the trusted attendants in Queen Simone’s Royal Court, here are a few ramblings about what I’ll be watching out for at Classic because I realize I haven’t posted anything that isn’t about Al Trautwig in a long time.  

Amanar Watch 2015: Beyond Biles, Fact or Fiction

Eeeeeeeverybody thinks she has an Amanar this year. We’ll see. We’ve been down this road before. People often like to show up to Classic going, “Sup bitches, I gots me an Amanar,” and then it isn’t so much with the great. See Gowey 2014, Raisman 2010. Still, enough people have past Amanars, current Amanars, possible Amanars, Un-anars, or fantasies about having Amanars that the US should be expecting to cobble together at least three 6.3+ vaults for Worlds. There’s obviously Biles, Dowell has had a 2.5 for years now and needs it, we have Skinner with her social experiment, we know about Raisman and Douglas’s past vaults, Nichols had a Campanar that time, Key has been training one since she was a fetus (You guys! She’s training a Wombanar in there! My aunt’s cousin saw it!), Gowey had that one for a hot second last year but didn’t vault at Pan Ams because of yet another in her Pride Parade of injuries. Right now, there are a lot of possibilities, but we need some facts.

Of this group, a hit 2.5 will probably be the most important for Maggie Nichols. She has elevated herself out of you’re-here-too, Paul Ruggeri, alternating-my-ass-off territory almost solely on the basis of having a Campanar, but if she could legitimately score as a top-three vaulter this summer in competition, that would be a huge boost for her team hopes. She needs to prove that she’s not only a strong AAer, but convincingly top 3 at least somewhere and probably two-wheres. It’s a big competition for Nichols. Conversely, Skinner will be rooting for as few Amanars as possible. The more people with competitive vaults, the less necessary her vault becomes, and she doesn’t have as many competitive events to work with in the first place.

Bring Out Your Bars Specialists 

Last year, Locklear and Kocian made the team to ensure that the US was a little less horrifying on bars, and once again on a team of six, the opportunity can present itself for bars specialist to work her way onto the team and save the day. Though the standard is tougher this year. With Ross continuing to be Ross and Biles, Key, Nichols, and a whole host of other people showing bars D-scores in the low 6s with high-14 totals (6.1 is the new 5.8), anyone hoping to make the team specifically because of bars will need to show significantly higher scoring potential than that. Possible bars specialists need to be scoring clearly into the 15s, otherwise there will be people already on the team for other events who can do the job just as well. So I’m keeping an eye on those scores. That’s why it will be tough for someone like Gowey. She mashed together an upgraded routine for this year (with more upgrade potential still) but maxed out at the 14.7s at Pan Ams. Biles can get that. Desch is in a similar boat. She upgraded like crazy this year to put together some really solid routines, but she’s not in top-three contention on these events.

Douglas will be interesting to watch with regard to the quest for bars 15s. Because she’s Gabby Douglas, she automatically seems like the default bars worker based on her past accomplishments. But, her Jesolo bars routine was very work-in progress. She’ll need to show some development since then to solidify any kind of status on this event. Comparing her score to the incumbent bars workers, the injury-returning Locklear and Kocian, will be telling, though certainly Douglas’s abilities on other events can help her cause.

The crop is deeper this year than it was last year, so there probably isn’t going to be room for a whole gang of bars specialists again. We’re going to see the likes of Locklear, Kocian, and Dowell all trying to out-bars each other for what might not even be one spot. (Biles, Ross, Raisman, Key, Douglas, Nichols, Skinner is a fairly realistic, serious-scoring group of seven to choose from, and it includes none of them. Although, that team may be slightly questionable on bars and could use a boost if someone earns it.) We know Dowell’s top routine has the difficulty edge over everyone, but she’ll have to bring that routine, along with a whole bushel of consistency and a clear scoring edge over the recent world team members in order to overcome the general Martha-thumbs-down feeling that has pervaded her elite career.

Who Is Good At Floor?

Simone is. Aly Raisman is. Aly has spent the last 5 years making teams because of beam and floor, so to solidify her spot on the prospective team, she’s going to need to reinforce her position on floor and emerge as the clear #2 behind Biles and her 19.500. She has the difficulty to do it already back in her routine and looked on track at Jesolo. She’s kind of the Olympic champion, you know. The US has a formidable 1-2 punch with Biles and Raisman on floor, but the third floor worker will be an interesting topic. Key’s scores render her a very strong possiblity, and of course there’s Skinner as well. As on vault, Skinner will need to use Classic to prove that she’s still top three, with Raisman coming in this year to challenge her status a little bit more. Skinner vs. Key on floor should be a fun one. Skinner needs to win that to make her argument. Does someone else pop into possible 15 territory?

These are the questions I want answered. Amanars? How relevant and necessary are the bars specialists? Gabby’s still Gabby, right? And who’s third on floor? I expect all the competitors to do their best to answer them in a timely and clear fashion. As for beam, my impression right now is that it won’t be decisive in team selection. With Biles, Ross, Raisman, Douglas, and Key all seeming like realistic beam options (to varying degrees) who can make the team for other events as well, selection may come down to choosing the team for the other three events and then just using the best beamers from that group, who will probably be the best beamers in the country anyway. It makes it very tough for Baumann, though, since beam is kind of her thing, but she doesn’t have the other asset events. 

Also, Sabrina Vega is a person again. So that will be interesting.

Classic Gymcastic

This week, I appeared (and by “appeared,” I mean “giggled in the background while being surprisingly bad at pop quizzes”) on Gymcastic with gems Jessica, Uncle Tim, and Lauren to talk about the Secret Classic and my feelings about Wu Jiani’s amazing celebration, that woman in the background of Kyla’s floor routine, the Texas Dreams leotard, Martha’s taste in music, and maybe a little bit of gymnastics. Maybe.

Have a listen. I command thee. Which you should be doing every week anyway, because they’re the best. If you’re sitting around thinking, “Hey, I’m looking for a way to get nothing done on Wednesdays, but what do I do?!?” This is your answer.


Pre-Classic Difficulties

Last week I mentioned that we needed some elite drama to distract from speculating about the not-coming-soon-enough NCAA season, and while GabbyWatch 2014: The De-Chowening has been fun and all, it turns out that we actually have Secret Classic coming up in a few weeks and that there are actual gymnasts competing in it. Weird.

The Pre-Classic period is among the most hilarious in the gymnastics calendar because the extended lack of summer competition gradually turns people’s minds into a powder, so we all get disproportionally excited about a mostly meaningless competition, just because it’s something. Remember last year how Simone Biles was sick and got a -3 on every event and it was a disaster? Yeah, me neither.

Nonetheless, I’m part of this community of powder brains, so I’m excited, mostly to observe all those people in that Kocian/Gowey/Ernst/Dowell peloton of Worlds consideration to see who can make the leap into Biles/Ross territory, along with following other stories like what the Priessman status is post-Cincinnati. Not putting Lexie Priessman in the same rotation as MLT at Classic is a grave error. What do they think we’re watching this for? The gymnastics? We need sideshows, people!

As a way of acclimating myself to the current elite story, I’m checking out the current D-Scores going into Classic (“current” meaning “awarded in competition in the last 12 months”). And if you’re not the type who keeps a running tally of current D-Scores on your desktop at all times, shame on you, but that means we can explore it together.

Of course, Classic is when new routines and new difficulty are debuted, so this is just a starting point. Some will go up, others will decrease as a result of some sensible downgrading, but this is where we are now.


Vault has suddenly become slightly interesting because the dynamic has changed. We’re accustomed to having a glut of Amanars these days, but with Price stopping elite and Maroney being injured for the moment, there are fewer choices and less room to be discerning about which vaults are worthy of being taken to Worlds. This is especially true since the Amanars from Ross and Priessman appear to have gone the way of the dodo.

But as I said, this is just a starting point. If it were an ending point, Skinner, Biles, and Dowell would be skating through to China in October based solely on difficulty, but Rachel Gowey showed a solid Amanar at the ranch, which could throw a wrench into the otherwise clean picture. And since everyone knows how important the 2.5 is, I can’t imagine all the peons are content sticking with their DTYs. Classic is the land of upgrades, sometimes advised and sometimes ill-advised. That’s why Classic podium training is the best. There’s always at least one “Oh, honey, no.” 


Ross will have to add back difficulty to return to that 6.4, but that’s what we expect of her. She makes teams for her bars and beam work, so she needs to push that D-Score well into the 6s to retain that status. You’re Kyla Ross. Don’t bring some ratty old 5.9 in here.

As it currently stands, Ross is the only one who can waltz onto a team specifically for bars. Dowell has competitive difficulty, but she won’t contend for the same execution scores. At American Cup, she hit a bars routine about as well as we can expect from her and received an 8.4 for execution. She can contribute a score that’s useful, but not world-beating. 

As always, bars is the area most open for someone to emerge and become an auto-lock solely on the basis of being able to score 15. There are possibilities here, and we should keep an eye on Kocian. Before she got injured last year, there were rumblings about her being a useful option on bars, but we’ll need to see some upgrades for that to happen. Even with strong execution, you can’t really be a bars maven with a 6.1. You can be usable with a 6.1, like Biles, but to make a team for bars, you need something more mid-6s.


We have a bunch of people with difficulties in the low 6s right now, although some of these are questionable. I don’t need to see Mykyly Skynnyr try a 6.2 beam routine again. Wasn’t that when she tried to to the triple tuck turn and spun herself right off the beam like a top? Maybe I do need to see that again.

To me, the beam difficulty is the least relevant of all the D-Scores. Beam is not about who can put up the biggest difficulty but about who can compose a remotely competitive routine while being not-atrocious. That’s why Ross is a lock as a beamer even though she’s only in the middle of the lead pack in terms of difficulty. She may look like she’s trying to remember how to do long division every time she lands an acro skill, but she doesn’t give much away.

Ernst, Hults, and Baumann are right up there with their beam difficulties, and another storyline to watch is whether they are competitive enough on multiple events to emerge out of that secondary pack. Ernst is an interesting case because right now she’s hanging around in that usable on any event, appealing alternate/6th team member category, a la Sabrina Vega. But does she stand out enough? Is she necessary on any event? Baumann seems to be in the same position. She’s been under the radar a bit more but is bringing a few of her D-Scores into the 6s and may be in the hunt to challenge as a beamer.


Floor is another bread and butter event for the US, as always, with all of these options over 6.0 in difficulty. There are already 7, and we can assume a few more will jump up into that territory in the vague hope of getting Martha to pay attention to them. At the top, there’s Biles, the reigning floor queen, and Skinner, who is planning to do an 20.4 this year, though we’ll have to wait and see how much of that gets credit.

Watch the Priessman status. With her injuries and gym switching, she has fallen down the totem pole, but floor has been her good event ever since she was a junior, and if she’s going to return anywhere close to the top tier of elites, she has to be a top-3 scorer on floor and prove that she’s objectively more valuable than Dowell, who is always hanging around being conceivably usable. It’s a difficult task to prove that you’re top 3 on floor in the US, but that’s the game.


I don’t think many would argue with a healthy Simone Biles as the top senior AAer in the country right now. The difficulty only backs that up. But after Biles, it’s a fairly open race. I wouldn’t be surprised by Skinner showing up this summer with the second-highest difficulty total, but I can’t imagine that her execution will keep her ahead of the rest without help. There’s still an AA opening for someone who is capable of nailing four events with a difficulty in the lowish 24s.

Probably the most interesting figure in the AA race this summer/fall will be Ross. People have been predicting the demise of her life as a top AAer for a while now, but this will be the real test of whether she can hang on to that spot. She had been passed by Elizabeth Price, but got a reprieve when Price decided to get her Cardinal on instead. Is she able to squeak by with a DTY and a mid-5s on floor? Or will her role, in 2014 at least, mirror that of the 2012 campaign?  

A Secret Classic Post Without a Pun in the Title

And it was really hard to resist, but I think we can all agree that this particular well of rolling eyes has been more than exhausted. Yes, secret is an actual word and a sponsor of an event. We get it.

But first, time to keep up with a little NCAA talk. I’m soooo changeable.

Earlier this week, Jenni Pinches announced she will be attending UCLA for the 2013-2014 season, giving a big, unexpected boost to the Bruins for next year. The UCLA scholarship situation is always a little bit of witch’s brew (eye of newt, toe of frog, Kaelie Baer – we don’t know what’s in there), so it’s not yet clear whether there was an opening or whether the team had to play “Eeny, meeny, miny, medical retirement.” We’ll see in time.

Pinches brings early or mid lineup potential on all four events, a tremendous piece of security for a team losing half of its Super Six routines from last season. While the injury comebacks and the already-committed freshmen would likely have prevented a repeat of the depth problems from last season, some holes still presented themselves. On certain events, the Bruins would have had enough routines to get by but perhaps only about 7 that they would really want to compete, while the others made up the depth charts. That’s assuming seamless comebacks from the injured, which is hardly assured, and would not be enough for any degree of confidence. One person gets injured, someone else needs time to get back into form, and it’s Alyssa Pritchett’s 9.750 on vault all over again. Pinches provides breathing room and solid .050s here and there over what otherwise could have competed.

Back in the elite realm, the Secret Classic is just a week away. The roster was released early this week, and it features 17 seniors and 46 juniors.

The senior roster contains the usual batch of “OMG you guys! I qualified elite!” mixed with the “Look at me Martha! Please! Look at me! She knows my name, right?” mixed with the “See you in Belgium, beyotches!”

That’s part of the fun of the first year of the quad, the mixture.
It’s when everything seems possible, even to the people for whom it’s not. That’s why we see so many juniors competing elite this year, with all their hopes and dreams that we are far too jaded to understand. The bevy of juniors is large but falls slightly short of the 49 we saw compete in the junior sessions of Classic in 2009. That year, there we so many juniors and so few seniors that the most prominent juniors who were seen as having the most potential were invited to compete with the seniors. That group consisted of Sabrina Vega, Amanda Jetter, Bridgey Caquatto, and Briley Casanova. Meanwhile, Kyla Ross, Aly Raisman, and McKayla Maroney competed in the normal junior session (finishing 1st, 12th, and 24th respectively). So yes, don’t get too excited or unexcited by the junior results. Everything’s going to change. No one knew too much about Kyla Ross going into 2009, but her 15.200 on vault was the first routine of the competition and made everyone say, “Is this someone?” We learned a lot from that very first piece of gymnastics of the elite season in the new quad.

From those 49 in 2009, only Amelia Hundley is still competing junior elite four years later. From the 47 juniors who competed in 2010, Hundley, Bridget Dean, Polina Shchennikova, Alyssa Baumann and Ashton Kim are still junior elites. We’ll be playing the long game with some of these juniors.

In truth, the biggest lesson we learn from Classics each year is that if you make people wait long enough, even something kind of lame and insignificant seems like an extravaganza. The event is more anticipated than Nationals simply because of the wait, yet it is a minor blip on the overall landscape, the results of which are only minorly relevant come team selection. Classic will probably teach us less about who will make the Worlds team and more about who will be going up 4th on bars for UCLA soon. (Seriously, Olivia Courtney won in 2009 and Mattie Larson won in 2010.)

But because it is not actually in the vicinity of being as significant as Nationals, this competition is an opportunity for someone unexpected to place well and start becoming more than second tier if she can take the opportunity. If there is a narrative to be changed, this is the year to do it because enough is still up in the air with so many years to go. The majority of the top competitors, especially the veterans, will be aiming to peak later and will not bother with the AA at Classic. “I’m only competing two events at Classic” means you’re either in the “OMG you guys! I qualified elite!” group or the “See you in Belgium, beyotches!” group.

People in the middle group will have a chance to be featured and start sculpting identities for themselves. If we look back to Classic from 2012 and 2011, when most of her contemporaries were showing up at about 70% or competing one or two events, Aly Raisman was hitting four events every time out and won the title both years. She may have had her first staring moment at American Cup in 2010, but she didn’t truly become Sturdy Aly, the girl who can’t be left off a team, until later. Watch out for those who use the opportunity of a limited, slightly underprepared field to be the momentary queen.