Category Archives: U.S. Championships

US Nationals – Men’s Day 1 in Review

Now that we’re done with the action, I’m updating this post with reflections on day 1 of senior men’s competition at US Nationals

  • Sam Mikulak hit (or “hit”) six events to go 86.750 and lead the competition by a dramatic margin of nearly three points. It was a good one, with serious highs like PB…and also whatever that vault was. He’s doing fine.
  • Yul Moldauer didn’t stick as many landings as we’ve come to expect, much to the chagrin of Tim Daggett, and his rings E score was obscenely low for reasons I’m not quite sure I understand yet. Still, he did just enough to place 2nd with 84.000. He did the job and remains essential on some key events, even while doing a KOHEI 2012 on his pommel horse dismount. In contrast to rings, that pommel horse score seemed obscenely high for reasons I’m not quite sure I understand yet.
  • After that, it’s tumbleweed time
  • It got exactly 0% easier to round out a world championships team with three final members because Colin van Wicklen withdrew from the day with a concussion (which would potentially bode well for his being able to return in time for selection camp), and we also had people like Alec Yoder falling on pommel horse and finishing 15th AA, which is not ideal, and Allan Bower falling on HB and finishing 10th AA.
  • I actually think Yoder’s potential worlds-team position didn’t take too much of a hit despite the fall because the upside of his pommel horse routine is still so appealing. If you try to put together the highest-scoring five-member team based on today’s results, it includes Steven Nedoroscik for his 14.950 on horse. Yoder can scores 15s while bringing other potential events, so as long as he hits…at least sometimes…his PH strength is still a major asset. He can afford a fall on the first day of nationals. Not sure he can afford a ton of falls throughout the process though.
  • Bower still did break 14 on PH and PB, which are useful events for him. Meanwhile, his all-around total took a hit mostly because of HB, which is not an event you’d expect from him.
  • There were some high profile falls today, but for the most part it was a day of “your hair looks…fine.” It was…OK. Which is to be expected. And I have to say there were as many under-the-radar impressive days as there were rough moments.
  • Those big, impressive days belonged to Shane Wiskus and Trevor Howard, who placed 3rd and 5th respectively. Wiskus recorded the highest vault score of the day (vault didn’t go great as a family, so a mid-14 counted as high), scored a massive 14.500 on PB, and went 14.250 on floor. He changed his narrative from being one of the rabble to a legitimate contender with that meet. But he’ll have to do it again on Saturday.
  • We know Trevor Howard has the rings routine—which he hit for 14.550 to place 2nd on the event—but he also delivered scores over 14 on both vault and PB to elevate his chances to make a true “team contribution” style argument. PBars looked really good today across the field. A lot of believable routines from a lot of people there. It was the highlight event.
  • Not to be overlooked in the “having a great day” conversation was Akash Modi, though it’s a little more expected that he’d be toward the top of the standings because he’s been there before. He’s level with Wiskus for 3rd place in the all-around, with a 14.500 on PB and right around a 14 on FX, PH, and SR. If he continues competing like this, he can fulfill the “gives you something on a bunch of events” role he played last year on the world’s team. (Though it looks like he has a rival for that role in Wiskus now.) None of the scores today were exceptionally high except for PB, but a lot of them are close enough, and that can make a difference.
  • Donnell Whittenburg took 7th all-around, which isn’t a shockingly high placement (HB had a lot to do with that) but did reflect a better day than I expected based on his comments coming into the competition. He’s not there yet, but he recorded a strong rings score of 14.500 and got to 14 on PB on the strength of his difficulty. If he continues doing this, he’ll at least be back in the national team mix, even if Trevor Howard is basically supplanting him in this year’s worlds team conversation. Or at least challenging him.
  • So where are we with respect to that worlds team? No different than we were to start the day. I’m not making any conclusions based on this. Why?
  • Well, your highest scoring team worlds team based only on today’s scores would be Mikulak, Moldauer, Whittenburg, Wiskus, and Nedoroscik…so that doesn’t help because it doesn’t seem too realistic to me.
  • Honestly, the Pan Am Games team has got to feel better about their chances than they were when they woke up this morning because even though they didn’t have an immensely solid meet themselves, they boast some routines that can be influential compared to the scores the guys put up today. I think Neff and Malone can look at what they’re capable of on HB (with a couple other supporting events) compared to the gymnasts today and think…I can add something to a team.

US Nationals Podium Training

Simone’s Upgrades

OK, so we have to talk about this little nobody and her boring gymnastics. At the very end of podium training today, Biles busted out a double double beam dismount (she did it twice, actually). Which is kind of a big deal.

But this is a website for nerds, so we can skip past all the “WOW. LEGEND. HOW. NOT HUMAN” (yes, yes, we know) and get right to the fun stuff: D-scores. It’s going to be interesting to see how this element is evaluated because we don’t truly have a gauge for its rating since no beam skill has ever received more than a G before. And the full-in is already a G.

Only on floor has the WTC previously broken out of the G-cap and rated elements higher than that, adding H and I skills. It would seem that Simone is forcing them to break out of this mold on beam as well since it would be crazy to artificially cap this element at G.

But how much breaking out of the mold will happen? My instinct is that they might only be willing to go to H at this point, but you can certainly justify higher. The full-in beam dismount is worth three tenths more than the double tuck dismount. On floor, the double double tucked is worth three tenths more than the full twist. So basically, the code’s own precedent says that this dismount should be a J element (which has never happened before on any event), but when has the code ever cared about its own precedent?

We’ll just have to wait and see what these D scores look like. Even before submitting a skill for naming at worlds, you submit it for a provisional rating so that the judges at a competition like nationals are on the same page and know what to do with it.

“And, frankly, if you had asked me 10 years ago if it was even POSSIBLE for a HUMAN BEING to do this on a balance beam, I would have said NO WAY.” – Tim Daggett, two days from now. Mark it down.

Meanwhile, Simone also included the triple double as her opening floor pass (actually in the routine itself this time, not separate), which totally got overshadowed because we had already seen her do that skill at Classic podium training, so yawn.

The pass arrangement in her Nationals PT routine went as follows, compared to her US Classic routine:

Simone Biles – Floor
US Nationals PT
US Classic
Triple double –
I (presumably)
Double layout full + Split jump
H + A – 0.1 CV
Double layout 1/2 + Stag jump – G + A – 0.1 CV Double layout 1/2 + Front layout – G + B – 0.2 CV
Switch leap full – D Switch leap full – D
Wolf turn double – D Wolf turn double – D
Front full through to full-twisting double tuck
C + E – 0.2 CV
Front full through to full-twisting double tuck
C + E – 0.2 CV
Switch leap – B Switch leap – B
Split leap 1.5 – D Split leap 1.5 – D
Double-twisting double tuck – H Double double tucked – H
CR – 2.0 CR – 2.0
Acro – IHGEC – 3.2 Acro – HHGEC – 3.1
Dance – DDD – 1.2 Dance – DDD – 1.2
CV – 0.3 CV – 0.5
Total D – 6.7
Total D – 6.8

She did a stag out of the Biles in podium training instead of the front layout, which would put her a tenth lower than her Classic routine, but that may also just be a placeholder. With the layout back in, she’d be at the same value as her Classic routine.

That Damn Barani was still gone from her beam routine. HOORAY!

You mean there were other people there?

  • We saw Jade Carey training both the Cheng and the Amanar, and hitting each at least once (she also over-rotated an Amanar at one point and fell forward on it). USAG uploaded video of her doing a Lopez as her second vault, but that was basically a timer that she followed with a Cheng. You kind of worry that they don’t have anyone left at USAG who can name a skill. They also uploaded Finnegan’s Omelianchik as her sole vault, but she did DTYs as well. You know, the main one.
  • Carey also added back the front tuck through to full-in as her final pass. She did it with a double tuck instead at Classic.
  • Skinner did not train Amanars. We saw her vaulting Chengs and DTYs. She actually struggled more with the DTY than the Cheng in terms of landing, though the form on the DTY is better than the Cheng. On floor, it looks like she’s planning to finish with a 2.5 now instead of the 1.5 through to something that we saw her start to attempt at Classic.
  • Morgan Hurd added the double double tucked back to her floor passes, so it looks like the intent is to go back to her 2018 worlds composition, which was a 5.5 routine. She got 5.1 at Classic and 5.2 at Pan Ams, so this is the kind of upgrade we’re looking for. She did not attempt to connect jumps out of her back full this time, so I guess Daggett wins.
  • Leanne Wong’s status on vault and floor was a question after she didn’t do them at Pan Ams, but her DTY looked as clean as usual and she was hitting her Dos Santos to stag on floor. I did not see the 3.5, but it may have been there.
  • Sunisa Lee did train the all-around. Early in the vault rotation she was really struggling with her DTY, but her last couple were hit a little bit more comfortably.
  • Grace McCallum is trying to connect a straddle jump 1/2 from side position into straight jump 1/1 from side position.


US Nationals – Senior Women’s Preview

Day 1 – Friday, August 9, 6:30pm CT (NBCSN)
Day 2 – Sunday, August 11, 6:30pm CT (NBC)

It’s the big one. At least until selection camp. Which, let’s be honest, is the bigger one. While Simone is Simone and blah blah blah, the supposed expansion of the senior national team to 10 members all named after nationals means that each of the 17 gymnasts in the senior field has something legitimate riding on this competition. Let’s go one by one.

Simone Biles

It may seem strange, but the least significant stakes in this meet accompany the performance of Simone Biles, the inevitable champion. She’s going for her casual sixth national championship, and it would take a catastrophic number of falls for her not to achieve that (I’m thinking at least four across the two days, probably more like five or six). Even if that were somehow to happen, it wouldn’t change anything with regard to her world-favorite status. Here, she just has to show up and give the people a thrill.

In that regard, let’s talk about that triple double. Because Simone showed us the triple double in podium training at Classic, that means she basically has to compete it at nationals, right? That’s the implicit agreement? Correct.

Sloane Blakely

Blakely’s goal here will be to try to make the national team, and as a member of that Pan Ams training squad of 8, she has to think she’s at least in the picture. But it’s going to be difficult. Blakely competed three events at Classic (VT, BB, FX) for a 39.900, and you have to think she needs to add back bars at nationals to have a shot at a national team spot. Bars isn’t always a great score for Blakely, but she did go 13.500 at Gymnix this year, which is her best score on the event as a senior elite. If we take that number and add it to her Classic total, that would put her at 53.400 in the all-around, which would have placed 13th.

We don’t know exactly how these national team spots are going to be assigned, if it will go directly by AA or if there will be some kind of thought and strategy used, but I have to think Blakely is the kind of athlete who needs to get there by AA placement. Blakely is capable of scoring much better than she did at Classic on both beam and floor—she didn’t fall but can realistically add at least a half point to her E score on both pieces—but she’s probably looking at needing to have an ideal meet both days of competition to get into that top 10.

Jade Carey

For the most part, Jade did Jade on vault and floor at Classic. Of course there are form things we can go into, but she tied for both the 2nd-highest floor score in the competition and the 2nd-highest vault score. Her argument to go to worlds to compete vault and floor for the team and for possible individual medals remains quite strong, and as long as she keeps it up on those events, she’s in solid shape.

To me, her bars and beam routines are essentially irrelevant to her prospects. Putting together worlds team permutations, I don’t see a possible realistic team where she does those events even in qualification. They have no bearing on her quest for an individual Olympic spot and should have no bearing on her position on the national team, which should be a lock. I say should.

Still, hitting bars and beam at nationals could put her surprisingly high in the all-around standings.

Jordan Chiles

Without much training time under her belt, Chiles set a solid progress point at Classic, particularly with a beam routine that looked more confident than we’ve ever seen her on that event.

That Classic performance was good enough for 11th place in the AA, but to get on the national team, and to make the selection camp group, we’re going to have to see Chiles level-up again at championships beyond what we saw at Classic. She’ll need to reproduce those strong bars and beam routines while also delivering the floor landings and difficulty—or, dare I say, bring back the Amanar again. If she does, she’ll have an excellent shot at getting on the national team, but Chiles is certainly not in a safe position. She has to hit, hit, hit at nationals to make it happen. Last year, she didn’t hit, hit, hit at nationals, placed 11th overall, and didn’t make the national team—though she did attend the selection camp as a non-national team invitee. Continue reading US Nationals – Senior Women’s Preview

US Junior Nationals Preview

I’m beginning this preview of junior nationals with a look at the overall point or value of winning a junior national championship, which has come under scrutiny in recent quads as the power of junior national championships as a predictor of senior elite success has drastically declined.

Many of the most decorated US athletes at worlds and Olympics in the last couple quads—Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Morgan Hurd—never won a junior national championship. Meanwhile, of the champions of the last 8 junior national competitions, only Laurie Hernandez has (as yet) gone on to make a world/Olympic team as a senior. Of course, Leanne Wong is still TBD. There’s a lot of “never healthy enough to compete to full potential as a senior elite” going on in that group.


2018 – Leanne Wong
2017 – Maile O’Keefe
2016 – Maile O’Keefe
2015 – Laurie Hernandez
2014 – Jazzy Foberg
2013 – Bailie Key
2012 – Lexie Priessman
2011 – Katelyn Ohashi
2010 – Kyla Ross
2009 – Kyla Ross
2008 – Jordyn Wieber
2007 – Rebecca Bross
2006 – Shawn Johnson
2005 – Natasha Kelley
2004 – Nastia Liukin
2003 – Nastia Liukin
2002 – Carly Patterson
2001 – Kristal Uzelac
2000 – Kristal Uzelac
1999 – Kristal Uzelac
1998 – Morgan White
1997 – Marline Stephens
1996 – Vanessa Atler
1995 – Mina Kim
1994 – Dominique Moceanu
1993 – Jennie Thompson
1992 – Lanna Apisukh
1991 – Anne Woynerowski
1990 – Hilary Grivich

This recent trend is a stark departure from the period of 2002-2010,  when every junior national champion went on to make at least one senior world/Olympic team, and we had a streak of Patterson, Liukin, Johnson, Bross, Wieber, and Ross as junior champions that would lead one to believe that a direct correlation existed between the junior national championship and world/Olympic success. The expectation we used to have, that those who win junior nationals immediately go to the front of the conversation for future Olympic teams, is fully gone.

It’s worth noting, however, that junior national championships not necessarily translating into ALL THE MEDALS as a senior elite is hardly a new phenomenon. If you go back to Kristal Uzelac, and Marline Stephens, and Mina Kim, we’ve seen this story before. And it’s not as though athletes like Biles, Raisman, Douglas, and Hurd weren’t on the radar as juniors. Far from it. The year before they turned senior, Biles placed 3rd in the juniors, Raisman was 3rd, Douglas was 4th, and Hurd was 5th. They were right there. Just not THE CHAMPION and not nearly at the level we would later come to see from them as seniors.

That’s why I don’t think you can make a categorical argument one way or another about the value of winning a junior national championship. Kyla Ross was perfect from an egg and continues to be perfect in NCAA ten years after her first junior national title, and Laurie Hernandez won junior nationals the year before the Olympics and had a perfect trajectory to peak exactly on time for Rio.

But at a certain point, you have to look at these recent junior national championship results and think that if the goal is senior elite success, pushing to be good enough to become junior national champion at such a young age has got to seem…optional at best? Certainly not necessary. From Ohashi to Priessman to Key to Foberg to O’Keefe, we’ve seen too many recent junior national champions who showed their best elite gymnastics as juniors rather than seniors.

So on that note, let’s talk about who might become junior national champion this year. I’m just a ray of sunshine today. Continue reading US Junior Nationals Preview

2018 US Nationals – Senior Podium Training & Preview

Item #1: Morgan vs. Ragan vs. Riley

Yes, I’m beginning this preview with a little twist and not starting with Simone. Now that Simone is back and already looking inevitable again, the big story shifts to figuring out who will be her all-around partner in the role that Kyla Ross and Aly Raisman inhabited so diligently last quad. It’s going to get real.

Morgan Hurd is the defending world champion, Ragan Smith is the defending national champion, and Riley McCusker is the only non-Simone American to have gone 57 this year.

Only 2 people will be able to go in the AA final at worlds.
Only 3 people will (most likely) go in the AA in qualification.
This town ain’t big enough.

Well, it’s big enough for them all to go to worlds, potentially. That would be…sort of a good team. But this town definitely isn’t big enough for everyone to fulfill her AA dreams at the same time.

On both difficulty and execution, all three are tightly packed and could end up finishing in any order. At US Classic, McCusker ended up a little more than a point ahead of Hurd, who had a fall, while Hurd had 0.3 more difficulty than McCusker. If Smith had done AA, she likely would have been ahead of both on difficulty but behind both in the final scores because of her miss on bars.

(Smith did have some more Stadler Tkatchev-ing problems in podium training today—I saw two mat slams and a tuck-to-save—but worked it out occasionally. That Ricna will be one of the key skills of nationals.)

While an actual decision about where all three stand in the all-around picture will be made based more on selection camp and closer-to-worlds training than on this competition, nationals should still give us an indication about which way the wind is blowing. Does McCusker have the floor composition and vault consistency to keep up with the other two? Is Smith back to full strength? Is she adding the upgrades she teased at Classic? I didn’t notice any upgrades in podium training for Smith for the moment, save for a triple wolf on beam instead of double wolf. Even without upgrades, she’s still looking at a modest D-score advantage. But is she ready to beat the others? Continue reading 2018 US Nationals – Senior Podium Training & Preview

2018 US Nationals – Junior Preview

Junior nationals! It’s like senior nationals, but doesn’t matter as much.

Reinforced by, well, everything has been the emergence of a junior Big Four—sort of like the Russia, USA, China, Romania version of the Big Four, except no one is Romania, may she rest in peace. Sunisa Lee, Jordan Bowers, Leanne Wong, and Kayla DiCello have created some real distance from the rest of the pack and every expectation is that they will fight it out among themselves to see who is the 2018 junior national champion.

Juniors compete on Friday and Sunday at 1:30 ET, streaming online.

For the win

What’s exciting is that each of the four looks just as realistic as any other to win the title. A convincing argument can be made for all.

Scoring Potential – This is where Sunisa Lee has the advantage. When she is hitting her intended D scores on all four pieces, she cannot be caught. Her potential bars difficulty is worlds ahead of the other juniors right now, but she also boasts the top floor score of the group with 13.800. I wouldn’t have guessed that without looking, but it proves that it’s not all about the bars and beam for Lee. The big test for her will be bringing all that difficulty back (she did not show full D at US Classic) and doing it in hit routines across two full days of competition, therefore not rendering herself vulnerable to the Sturdy Gurdys who don’t have such big routines.

Winning Pedigree – The best way to figure out who’s going to win is to look at who has won before. The top juniors have ventured to a couple major international competitions already this year—Pacific Rims and the Junior Pan American Championships—and on each occasion Jordan Bowers has come home with the all-around gold medal, outscoring the very people she’ll be expected to outscore to win a junior national championship this week, and doing it in front of the discerning judging panels of international competitions. Continue reading 2018 US Nationals – Junior Preview