Category Archives: Stuff and Nonsense

Things Are Happening – March 8, 2019

A. Russian Championships

The end.

So, um, it was Russian Championships. To best sum things up, this was the most composed performance of the meet.

After two days of competition, the women’s AA gold went to Angelina Simakova by a margin of 4 tenths, an important comeback competition for her after being limited last fall and competing only beam in the worlds team final. It does look like she missed on vault on the second day, but overall that counts as hitting here. The mostly solid performance allowed her to outpace pre-meet favorite Angelina Melnikova, who finished 2nd instead of 1st largely because of an absolute nightmare on floor, particularly on the second day when she fell twice on the first two passes, had a major struggle on a third, and SWEETIE WE’RE WORRIED ABOUT YOU. Over the other three events, Melnikova was the strongest at the competition.

But because of errors from the top two, it was Aliya Mustafina who recorded a higher score than either of them on the second day en route to a bronze medal overall. Mustafina brought back vault here (FTY) in preparation for her participation in all-around world cups this month, looked strong on bars obviously, had an acro series on beam which counts as a victory, and turning-turning-turning-through-the-years-ed her way to something competitive on floor. The four-event D isn’t there to get the huge AA scores, but no one is taking her spot any time soon.

That’s especially true as we also learned this week that Irina Alexeeva has elected not to continue on the Russian national team and will instead start NCAA this fall.

Continue reading Things Are Happening – March 8, 2019

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Things Are Happening – March 1, 2019

A. American Cup preview

This weekend is A LOT. Much NCAA, much elite, and I’m not even getting into the English Championships because it’s too much, but that’s also happening.

Let’s start with the American Cup (Saturday, 11:30 ET/8:30 PT). The story of the women’s competition is the US win streak—currently at 16 consecutive American Cup all-around titles. This year, a (relatively) green US duo of Grace McCallum and Leanne Wong will have to fend off two of the world’s top all-arounders in Mai Murakami and Ellie Black to keep the streak alive, so it’s by no means a done deal that the number will reach 17. Either Wong or McCallum would have to—you know—hit the meet.

It’s worth noting that this US streak hasn’t come about only because the US has such a strong program, or only because of all of the obvious cheating in the days before it was an official FIG event. #SCAM4EVAH. The US also tends to take the American Cup a lot more seriously than any other country and is therefore far more prepared for the event than gymnasts from other nations—many of whom are only just rounding into competitive season form. That has come into play on many occasions in the past, but Murakami showed up at a solid level last year and forced Morgan Hurd to hit to win, and Ellie Black has already competed at Elite Canada this month, so expect both to be in form to make a real fight of things.

As for the rest of the field, they all profile really similarly—like creepily similarly—with obvious strength on bars for what will probably be their best score, absolute terror on beam at every second, some lovely floor possibilities, but overall a lack of difficulty on the leg events that will keep the AA totals down below the top four. Continue reading Things Are Happening – March 1, 2019

Things Are Happening – February 22, 2019

A. Li Li Leung

The big news of the week was the appointment (finally) of Li Li Leung as the new president and CEO of USA Gymnastics, a shocking upset of the supposed front-runner for the position, a cheesecloth full of spiders. Leung was herself an elite gymnast, competed at Michigan, and most recently worked for the NBA in a vice president position.

My baseline approach here is that we don’t really know anything yet. She seems…fine? She doesn’t have any immediate social media red flags, so that beats Bono, and she doesn’t seem like if someone tried to make a robot inspired by your mom’s book group and then spilled grape soda all over it right before the unveiling, so that beats Perry. Our standards are not that high, so she’s already the leader.

That means, at least, that we’ve reached the “let’s wait and see how she does” phase, which we never got to with Bono because she was too horrible to begin with. That said, “clean slate, fresh start, let’s support her” is farther than I’m willing to go. Surprise, surprise. The initial concerns raised by Manly and co. about her marketing background, while taken to the rhetorical extreme, are valid. We’ve been burned too many times, and anyone who takes control of this garbage barge must be subject to more criticism and vigilance than simply “new person with a clean slate” might otherwise allow.

That’s because, if we’re being honest, “continued bad” is the most likely outcome here. The entire USOC and NGB system is probably too fundamentally toxic for any simple USAG CEO hire to do anything to change, even if that person seems perfectly fine and professional as Leung does. That’s cynical, yes, but a year from now, I’m probably writing this post with the A. heading “Everything’s still terrible.”

So to me, trying to put on a slightly more charitable hat, I’ll go with measured skepticism. Wariness until proven otherwise. Leung might forge a positive direction, but as the representative of USAG, she has so much work to do to reverse our base assumption that everything USAG touches turns to garbage. She gets a chance to do that, but she has to do it. Then actual support can come. Continue reading Things Are Happening – February 22, 2019

Things Are Happening – February 15, 2019

A. Locklear Classic

Last weekend brought us the WOGA Classic, the headline performance being the return of Ashton Locklear to elite competition for the first time since 2017. Locklear competed beam and bars, scoring 12.550 on beam and 12.350 on bars for a two-fall performance that was sort of…Nastia 2012 Trials-esque?

I say that because the first half monster-connection was just like 2017 and clearly the on-the-bars skills are back (except for #ButHerInbars), but getting to full-routine-hit level with a dismount will take some more time. Unlike Nastia 2012 Trials, Locklear has that time.

For the most part, Locklear’s bars routine looks similar to her 2017 composition, except it seems she’s looking to add a toe 1/1 + full-twisting double tuck dismount combination to get her D-score up to 5.7—compared to the 5.5 from 2017. The FTDT isn’t there yet, but presumably that’s the plan.

Of course, the most entertaining part of Locklear’s comeback performance was Sophina the Diva over here impatiently chilling on the cable waiting for her to rechalk.

In the actual standings, Yurika Yumoto of Japan took the senior AA with 51.350. Yumoto was on that B-squad Asian Games team for Japan last year, and her 13.500 beam score, along with the fact that she outscored Nagi Kajita here (Kajita made the worlds team last year), should keep her in the conversation in 2019.

Placing 2nd in the seniors was Sloane Blakely, who went 50.050 despite an utter barstastrophe because of her massive 14.850 beam score. In the juniors, Kayla DiCello dominated as expected, though Skye Blakley’s three-event score (didn’t do bars) was competitive with what DiCello put up on those pieces. Love Birt took second in the juniors, followed by Sydney Morris in third.  Continue reading Things Are Happening – February 15, 2019

Things Are Happening – February 8, 2019

A. Skinner 2020?

MyKayla Skinner says there is a 70-80% chance she’s going to defer the 2020 season at Utah to try for Tokyo. Well now. On the one hand, that would suck for Utah’s 2020 chances even with Abby Paulson and Jaedyn Rucker coming in as they’d mostly just have to do replacement work in making up for the Skinner, MMG, and Lee scores. On the other hand, Utah’s 2021 roster would be kind of stacked with Skinner, O’Keefe, Soza, and Paulson.

[Edit: Maile O’Keefe says she is joining Utah’s team a year early for the 2020 season. So, looks like someone is planning for Skinner’s absence…]

The nominative individual event qualification route is made for an athlete like Skinner (and if it had been in place in 2016, she would have gone to the Olympics), but it’s also more-than-onerous to try to jump into that process at this point. While there will still be four apparatus qualification events held from November 2019-March 2020, in order to meet USAG’s outlined nonsense options and be eligible to go to those competitions, Skinner would have to qualify to 2019 nationals, compete there, and either win an event on day 1 (so, beat Simone on vault or floor, good luck) or make the 2019 worlds team and go on to win a medal in an event final at worlds. And even then, she’d have to go to the remaining apparatus qualification events and do well enough at 3 of the 4 to win the series on either vault or floor, beating everyone else that has had an extra year of opportunities to get good results, including Jade Carey. So…like…hard. Not theoretically impossible, but really tough and starting soon.

Skinner does not have to go that route, though. She has other options that involve a little bit more time and peaking for the 2020 nationals and trials process. Skinner could aim to be selected for a non-nominative individual spot at the Olympics, one earned by the US from the 2020 all-around world cups or continental championships. That spot (or spots) can be given to anyone and will be assigned at 2020 Olympic Trials like the rest of the team. Skinner at 2016-elite level would be a compelling option for one of those spots.

But to do that, she would really have to root for Jade Carey to be unsuccessful in her quest for a nominative spot. If Carey does get her spot through the apparatus world cups, not only would that mean there’s only one individual, non-team spot remaining for everyone else instead of two, but it would mean that the US would already be compelled to send Carey as a VT/FX gymnast to the Olympics in an individual role—so why send another VT/FX gymnast in the other individual spot? It would be overkill.

The remaining option would be for Skinner to up her bars and beam in addition to bringing vault and floor back to elite difficulty, aiming for one of the four AA spots on the main Olympic team. It’s not out of the question. Skinner did finish 4th AA at Trials in 2016, and she wouldn’t suddenly need crazy scores on bars and beam, just enough to be usable as a first-up in qualification. But of course, the spots on the main team of 4 are so limited that they’ll be extremely tough for any non-Simones to get, and the same considerations of event strengths/weakness that kept Skinner off the team in 2016 in favor of a gymnast with a big bars score could be in play again. Continue reading Things Are Happening – February 8, 2019

Things Are Happening – February 1, 2019

A. Elite Canada

Elite Canada for the women begins today and continues through the weekend—signalling the unofficial start of the elite season after a long, cold January. The senior elite AA competition is today at 5:20 ET, junior elite begins tomorrow at 12:00 ET, and both competitions conclude Sunday at 12:00 ET, the juniors with a second day of AA and the seniors with event finals. Flo has live streaming if you want to play that game.

Ellie Black is competing, so guess who’s the favorite to win. Ana Padurariu is also expected to rank well, though most interesting among the main players should be the performance of Isabela Onyshko, who was really struggling toward the end of 2018 and missed out on a spot at worlds as a result. At full strength, Onyshko remains one of the best Canadians, but you also wonder if Ana Padurariu is edging her out of the first tier since Padurariu’s contribution profile is similar. Watch that space.

Also keep an eye on people like Sophie Marois, Laurie Denommee, the Woos, Haley de Jong, new senior Emma Spence, and still-junior Zoe Allaire-Bourgie as they jockey for positions in the hierarchy of worlds and future Olympics contenders. At this point, you certainly feel like Black, Padurariu, Olsen, and Moors are a step above, but the process is so long and so far from being complete.

B. Buckeye Classic and elite qualifier

The first elite qualifier of the US season is currently underway. On Thursday, 20 new people got their elite compulsory scores (which you only have to do once and then never ever again because it’s literally pointless for modern elites, sigh). In the first session of the optionals, Stephanie Berger from Brestyan’s qualified to the US Classic with a 51.750 AA score.

Flo just has the L10 competition, but you can follow along with the elite qualifiers through USAG’s scores. Continue reading Things Are Happening – February 1, 2019

Things Are Happening – January 11, 2019

A. American Cup roster

USAG has released the roster for the American Cup (March 2) because it’s already nearly almost kind of that time of year again.

On the men’s side, the US will be sending its big two—Sam Mikulak and Yul Moldauer—to compete against a fan-favorite international field that includes Kenzo, Marcel, and Bart. So we’re more than set. This will be one of those “be sure to watch the stream of the first two men’s rotations before the TV part starts” years because you should have absolutely no intention of missing this gang on floor and…horse.

For China, apparently Sun Wei is too cool for school now that he’s all worlds, so he will not be attending this year. Ma Yue gets his traditional place instead. James Hall is attending for GB and should challenge for a medal, Petro Pakhniuk is representing Ukraine, and Christian Baumann got the nod for Switzerland. Apropos of exactly nothing, a Google image search for Christian Baumann yields this picture of Paul Ruggeri. And I felt like I needed to share that.

In the women’s field, the US will be sending Grace McCallum and new senior Leanne Wong as its two representatives. Since there was no selection competition, we can assume that Biles, Hurd, and McCusker were given the opportunity here and declined, which is backed up by Will Graves’ reporting:

Now, I would much prefer there be an actual selection procedure for which gymnasts get access to these spots rather than just, “Um, so I talked to the people, and these are the ones.” You avoid controversy much more by having some delineated…order of succession I guess?…written out, but this seems to be reasonable and above board and is at least a little better than “these are the people because shut up, silence peasants.”

It’s also fairly unusual for the US to have its four people set by the time of the initial roster announcement. Usually it’s one person per gender and another TBD, determined at some sort of Winter Cup or national team camp. Or with Martha, like the minute before the meet based on how little you ate after podium training.

Joining the Americans in the women’s field will be legitimate title contenders Mai Murakami and Ellie Black. The heavy expectation will be that the US women continue their million-year victory streak, but they’ll actually have to hit with Murakami and Black in the mix. Kim Bui will represent Germany and win bars, China is bringing Lu Yufei, and the Netherlands will give Sanna Veerman another opportunity to compete at American Cup after she had to pull out last year with a broken toe. South Korea is yet to name its competitor, but for the most competitive field, let’s hope it’s Yeo Seojeong.

In exciting debut news, France will send new senior Celia Serber, the 2017 and 2018 junior national champion. She has been injured recently but has the potential to break into France’s main team.

B. USAG mess festival

Scott Reid brings us USAG’s latest “are you even trying?” development with the news that the men’s artistic national team has not received its monthly stipends, nor have the coaches received their bonuses for the world championships.

The kicker, USAG just applied to the bankruptcy court for $88,000 in holiday bonuses for its employees, employees that include Amy “fill that suitcase with medical records from the barn and don’t ask any questions” White.

Good priorities. Meanwhile, the coaches were told to take their bonus issue up with the bankruptcy court independently.

It’s just so USAG. Holiday bonuses for the org employees before making sure the athletes are taken care of? It puts the organizational priorities into such stark relief: We’re going to make a point of taking care of OUR people, but the athletes are not the same as OUR people. They’re expendable, independent randoms who come and go, and it’s not our responsibility to take care of them. At least not first. Maybe if there’s time or something. That was USAG’s attitude toward safety, and we’re seeing that attitude here.

USAG’s argument, which you can read in the article, is that the lack of athlete stipends is a logistical, USOC-related matter and not related to bankruptcy, which it may well be, but my god you guys. Think it through. You’re trying to pretend you’re now an athlete-first organization, and you’re going to apply for holiday bonuses for the org employees before making sure that your athletes are taken of and can pay rent? I mean, are you a cartoon villain? Are you Jafar? From Aladdin?

BE THEIR ADVOCATE. They need one.

Also kudos to Allan Bower and Mark Williams for bucking the “go along to get along” pressure and actually talking about this. We’ve certainly learned over the years that the only thing USAG ever responds to is public shaming, and the only way the treatment of athletes might ever get better is if people outside the conversation know what’s going on.

Knowing things like how the monthly national team stipend Bower was receiving was only $1,875 in the first place. Dear sir/madam, that’s not enough money. End of letter.

One good thing that happened in USAG land this week, albeit way too late, was the suspension for SafeSport violations of gross internet troll Don McPherson, who also happened to be the safety chair of the Illinois state committee. I’m sure SO MUCH SAFETY was happening.

C. Alyssa Baumann

Alyssa Baumann suffered what seems to have been a scary fall on bars in training yesterday and was taken to the hospital. She’s going to be fine but will be held back from the meet today.

D. GymCastic

We’re back from vacation and talking to Peng Peng Lee about…mostly her injury history and how horrible and pointless bridges are. Plus, a recap of the first weekend of NCAA competition and a rundown of all the gymternet news we missed.