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Live from Worlds Day 7 – Event Finals Part 2

This is it! The final day of worlds. It’s a little wistful. I mean, this has been #trashworlds, but it has still been worlds. Five more medals to award today, including many of the best ones. Updates at the bottom.


The Koreans got the best draw in this one, with Yang and Kim finishing in the last two spots, while other medal contenders Shirai and Asato have the first two spots.

Continue reading Live from Worlds Day 7 – Event Finals Part 2


American Classic and Elite Qualifier

You may now rest easy. I have returned from the wilderness. (Metaphorical wilderness, obviously. Like I would do a wilderness.) While I was sans gymnastics, everyone decided to gather at the ranch for the worst-timed competition of each season, the American Classic.

The American Classic is basically a poor woman’s U.S. Classic, which is a poor women’s national championship. It’s the smallest nesting doll. It’s the complementary appetizer. Still interesting, though. Especially this year. Certain people made some certain grand entrances.

Gymnasts competing at the American Classic have already achieved the qualifying score to the U.S. Classic (51 AA for seniors, 50 AA for juniors) but can use this meet to achieve the nationals qualification score (52 AA for seniors, 50.5 AA for juniors). All elite qualifying scores for this season have been lowered two points from last year to account for the reduction in D scores.

Detour: Can we please stop naming everything Classic? It’s so unnecessarily confusing. You hold 1.3 competitions per year, and yet all of them are “the Classic.” Other words exist.

Also note that Secret doesn’t have title sponsorship of the U.S. Classic anymore, so it’s not the Secret Classic. It’s the U.S. Classic because we’re partying like it’s 2007.

Anyway, here’s what we learned from the Flag Pants Classic last week. Continue reading American Classic and Elite Qualifier

Chinese Championships 2017

The 2017 Chinese Championships were the age-old story of the 2016 Olympians saying, “this me = tired” and also “why is the floor exercise just rebar concrete wrapped in a carpet from a 1960s dentist’s office?”

You know the drill. Super fun. So, let’s get into it—just in case you sleep at night and don’t speak fluent Chinese (ugh, try harder) and don’t have the slightest inkling of what happened in this meet.

Team Final/Individual Qualification
The format of the Chinese Championships is more like an international meet, beginning with a provincial team final that also acts as qualification for individual finals later on. Guangdong (Liu Tingting, Zhu Xiaofang, Chen Yile) won the team final, in case you had a horse in that race. Or just REALLY hate Hunan or something.

-I think most of us entered the competition thinking this would serve as the Birth of the Age of TINGTING. Liu Tingting has emerged as the most likely AA star of the future for China over the last year or so, and with last quad’s AA standouts not at full strength for this meet, this seemed to be her time.

That didn’t really happen. LTT did qualify third into the AA final, but she did so with a downgraded vault (Yfull) and a fall on beam that prevented her from qualifying in the presumed first position. She later elected to pull out of the AA final with a mild case of inflamed can’t-have-nice-things, spoiling her opportunity to grab the scepter and reign as China’s new queen. For now.

Wang Yan also declined the opportunity to win the AA here by competing just three events in qualification—and not FX, her best piece—presumably because she took one look at that floor being ripped up and repaired in the middle of the competition, went “You want me to do what?” and promptly returned to her trailer to be sprayed with cooling mists by her assistants. No medals for Wang Yan here, other than team silver.

-As for Shang Chunsong, she clearly would have preferred that this meet take place maybe three months from now after a solid spa vacation and one of those entire-skeleton transplants, but she tried to power through qualification. Beam and floor were fine enough, bars was not ready, and on vault, she performed an “Ugh, we’re still doing this? This is still an event? SIGH.”

-As for other previous-year stars, Yao Jinnan did not compete here and may or may not be done. Huang Huidan did compete here and also may or may not be done. Her face certainly said, “I’M DONE,” throughout bars and beam.

Mao Yi, Tan Jiaxin, and Bai Yawen…also participated. Continue reading Chinese Championships 2017

SEC Championship Preview

Saturday 3/19
Afternoon session 2:00 ET/11:00 PT
Evening session 6:00 ET/3:00 PT

It’s tomorrow! Everything starts very early, with Jesolo getting underway even before the first session of Big Tens. It’ll be a huge day of live blogging and gymnastics watching, so we’ll have to pace ourselves early. Don’t waste your energy before the big-girl sessions begin.

Finally. After years of watching poky live score spreadsheet templates that didn’t even update, followed by the recent generous bestowing of an internet stream, the SEC Championship will at last be broadcast live on actual televisions this year. Happy 1968, everyone!

In an attempt to make up for doing such a terrible job at this for so long, the SEC Network is whipping out all the bells and whistles this season, with a TV broadcast accompanied by each individual event streaming online, meaning we can make sure to watch all of Georgia’s beam routines from behind our fingers while still getting the competition done in a cool two hours. I’m on board. The SEC Network is also really talking up the hip new quad-meet scoring interface it will debut (to the point where it better physically shoot candy and cheeseburgers out of the TV to live up to this), so I’m eager to see what that looks like. The SEC Net has done a very good job of displaying the scores and running totals in an unobtrusive manner so far, so there’s reason for optimism.

NBC really needs to take notes on what the SEC Network does with live scoring heading into the Olympics. With an easy way to update live scores at the bottom of the screen, you don’t need to watch Gabby do her grips for 25 minutes while waiting for the score. You can move on to other routines, and then display the score and real-time rankings as they come in. You know, actual development and innovation, not just MEANINGLESS TRIANGLES.

Florida, LSU, Alabama, Auburn

While we all roll our eyes every time an SEC coach says that winning the SEC Championship is harder than winning the national championship (it objectively isn’t to anyone who thinks about it for literally one second), this is still a hell of a competition with a solid five teams realistically capable of a hearty 197. Given the scores we’ve seen this season, however, winning this title really should take a high 197, which probably precludes Auburn and Georgia unless it’s a splatfest and they slide on through. Once again, we’re looking at Florida, LSU, and Alabama.

Alabama won last season, taking advantage of a beam catastrophe from Florida and beam foreshadowing wobbles from LSU to dance to the top spot with a 197.5, and Alabama’s totals so far this year indicate the need for something similar. Alabama has peaked at 197.5s while LSU has gone into the 197.9s and Florida into the 198s. But, if we correct for some silly scoring and for Alabama’s epic depth exploration in every meet, there’s probably not actually a whole fall worth of difference between these teams. While it will be tough for Alabama to match an ideal meet from LSU or Florida based on what we’ve seen, I’m not willing to write off the Tide quite yet. But between Florida and LSU? Take your pick. It will be close. Let’s get into it.

Rotation 1: Florida vault, LSU bars, Alabama beam, Auburn floor  

Event RQS for rotation 1
Auburn 49.435
Florida 49.390
LSU 49.370
Alabama 49.300

You’ll notice something a bit unexpected in those RQSs in that they tell us Auburn should be leading after the first rotation. It could happen because of floor reasons, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Although for Auburn, it’s absolutely necessary if a title challenge is in play. While Atkinson’s is a definite 9.9+ routine (along with occasionally Rott, Demers, and Hlawek), the high floor RQSs across the conference and country reflect loose end-of-meet scoring rather than significant supremacy over the quality of other teams on other events. It will be tough to replicate in this context, and Auburn taking a first-rotation lead would also require a couple other teams under-performing early.

This first event is also critical for LSU to establish a high-scoring pace since bars is their weakest event (the RQS is lower on beam, but beam). Finnegan is obviously a star, and the return of Priessman ups the scoring potential, but a couple 9.800s with form breaks and lower amplitude at the beginning of the lineup put LSU’s bars behind those of Florida. If LSU can get Zamardi, Finnegan, Priessman, Wyrick, and Hambrick all in the lineup at the same time, however, that should minimize counting any low scores and bolster what could be a flat event, but those five have not actually been in the same lineup yet this season. Judging by a high 197 standard, LSU must go into the 49.4s on bars to avoid falling off the pace.

Vault is Florida’s lowest-scoring event, though it really shouldn’t be, not with those huge 1.5s from Baker and Boren and supreme fulls from McMurtry and Sloan. It all comes down to landing control. Caquatto and Fassbender can get 9.800ish, and if Baker and Boren are bounding forward out of those 1.5s, those scores can get down to 9.850 in a jiffy. With a good hit, however, Florida should verge on 49.5 and will look to be leading after the first. Scoring down into the 49.3s would constitute a door swinging open.

Alabama has exquisite beam workers in Aja Sims, Guerrero, McNeer, and Winston and with an ideal lineup in place, shouldn’t be ceding ground to any other team in the country based on beam. They’re too talented. That’s why it’s a little surprising that Alabama has hit the 49.3 mark on just three occasions this season, and not since mid-February. Inconsistency has been a burden, with Bailey and Beers struggling to find the security of past seasons, and then there’s the old lineup shuffling. Those four I mentioned at the top of the paragraph haven’t competed on beam together since February 12th, but they’ll absolutely need to be the core at the center of a high-scoring cake. Cakes have cores. What are you saying about? Settling for 49.3s won’t be good enough to get on winning pace, even on beam, and while this rotation order means that Alabama probably won’t be bursting out of the gates, the 9.9 sisters must show up on beam if this is to be an Alabama postseason.

Rotation 2: Auburn vault, Florida bars, LSU beam, Alabama floor

Event RQS through 2 rotations (Event RQS for rotation 2):
Florida 98.855 (49.465)
Alabama 98.715 (49.415)
Auburn 98.685 (49.250)
LSU 98.660 (49.290)

Rotation two is going to be a good one. This rotation is why I’ll be glad for the four-event stream because the scores might seriously fly on every piece. Interestingly, RQS tells us that LSU should be trailing the pack after two events, but that wouldn’t be the end of the world for the Tigers since they’ll end on floor and vault and can make up a ton of ground there. If LSU is within a couple tenths of the lead after two pieces, DD will be shooting animal-print rainbows out of her eyes. Still, LSU shouldn’t actually be trailing after beam and would consider something close to that RQS of 49.290 a disappointing performance. With this lineup and those potential 9.9s throughout the order, we should expect 49.4s. 

It will still be tough for LSU to lead after two because Florida and Alabama both also compete on high-scoring events in the second rotation, but the Tigers just can’t let it get out of hand. Florida is the conference’s best bars team and probably the country’s best bars team (though Oklahoma would disagree), and the Gators will expect to have a solid lead after two events. Sloan and Caquatto should be scoring in the 9.9s each time, BDG often hits that mark as well, and McMurtry…well, we know what happens there. It’s a believable recipe for 49.500 and has looked the closest to postseason-ready among Florida’s events over the last month. If Florida is looking for areas of advantage over LSU, bars is the biggest one.

Alabama has about 68 realistic floor options that could score 9.850, but whom to choose? It won’t be good enough just to hang in the 9.850s during this rotation, not with this level of competition, which is why success or failure in this championship could hinge on who is able to go on floor. The amount Carley Sims has been able to progress since we saw her two weeks ago will be critical. She’s back, but in her floor performances so far she hasn’t looked full Carley Sims. She needs more time to return to her normal level, but if she’s there and is joined by a Winston/Beers/Jetter-type lineup, we can expect at least 49.4, which is the minimum Alabama needs here to challenge. If, however, the Tide is forced to opt for a more Aja Sims/Giancroce-type lineup (both of whom are perfectly solid for 9.850), then challenging the LSU floor machine and staying competitive becomes a serious task.

As we’ve moved toward the end of the season, Auburn has been squeezing every possible tenth out of the vault lineup and staying much more competitive than I would have thought given the available options. At the same time, the limits of lineup depth and difficulty (just one 10.0 start most of the time) put a ceiling on what Auburn will be able to do here, making a big early floor statement all the more critical.

Rotation 3: Alabama vault, Auburn bars, Florida beam, LSU floor

Event RQS through 3 rotations (Event RQS for rotation 3):
Florida 148.260 (49.405)
LSU 148.170 (49.510)
Alabama 148.030 (49.315)
Auburn 147.965 (49.280)

And now we arrive at the portion of the meet during which LSU should be making a move. If we’re truly to believe in the Tigers’ ability to win, they’ll need to jump into the lead after three events. The RQS tells us that LSU should be in second after three, but with Florida ending on floor (even though LSU will be on a strength at the same time, vault), no team can allow Florida to have a lead going to the last rotation. They’ll just Baker everyone into submission. 

One through six, I’d say LSU has the strongest and most even floor lineup in the country, able to warrant 9.9s from Ewing in the first spot right through Gnat in the final spot. There are a couple issues (Wyrick has some leg form and chest position here and there, Kelley can be inconsistent with those landings), but fewer issues than the other teams have. We should expect the 49.5 that RQS tells us LSU will get, which is why the Tigers have the opportunity to gain a couple tenths on a Gator beam rotation.

Florida does score very well on beam, but uncertainty has crept into the lineup recently, assisted by the yet-another-injury to Peyton Ernst that kept her out of last weekend’s meet. The work is not quite as pristine as what LSU and Alabama can boast, with a couple more moments of leg form, short splits, and Ericha Fassbender’s sheep jump. Under normal circumstances, there are still a couple 9.9s in this lineup as long as Bridget Sloan remembers that she’s Bridget Sloan, that’s a side aerial, and COME ON. It’s not exactly a feeble event and has often won meets for Florida, but this is the closest Florida comes to a rotation where the other teams can pounce.

Alabama has the difficulty on vault with three 1.5s from Beers, Brannan, and Guerrero, all of whom have scored well at times this season, but it hasn’t quite come together in the same meet yet, keeping Alabama at respectable but often modest totals. The 49.2s won’t get it done in an SEC Championship. All three of the 1.5s should go at least 9.850 (Guerrero’s is a bit shorter and less laid out than the others, so she’s more likely to stay in the 9.8s, while Beers can go 9.950 for a stick), but the factor bringing the scores down has often been the quality of the fulls. The vaults from Bailey, Bresette, and Armbrecht aren’t consistently competitive in an SEC vaulting context, so Alabama will need to have McNeer and Winston back on vault to put up a number that can keep relative pace with what Florida and LSU do here. 

Meanwhile, in DLOs-that-are-to-die-for news, may I introduce Auburn. It’s somewhat surprising to me that Auburn is down at 8th in the country on bars because a lot of this work is exceptional, particularly the dismounts. There are a few form issues in the beginning of the lineup that can keep the scores in the lower 9.8s, but once we get to Milliet and Atkinson, expect the number to go quite high. Keeping pace throughout the meet will be extremely challenging for Auburn, but this event should merit a respectable score. In the rankings, Auburn is already pretty well set for that normally-coveted 6/7/18 regional (unless that 18 seed ends up being Stanford, in which case this would become the nightmare regional), but a 196.975 in this meet would guarantee dropping no lower than 7th in the rankings.

Rotation 4: LSU vault, Alabama bars, Auburn beam, Florida floor

Event RQS through 4 rotations (Event RQS for rotation 4):
Florida 197.745 (49.485)
LSU 197.615 (49.445)
Alabama 197.400 (49.370)
Auburn 197.140 (49.175)

Note that these are the totals of the four event RQSs, not the teams’ overall ranking RQS.

Florida has the luxury of coming home on an event that hat scored as high as 49.675 this season. I’m hoping that the introduction of four judges for championship season and the context of an actual title on the line will keep floor scores a little saner than they’ve been this season, but even so, finishing on floor will give Florida the opportunity to make up any small deficit that may have arisen (or just seal the deal). This floor rotation has had some issues this year, spending most of the first few months of the season looking like half a team, but McMurtry joining the fold and Caquatto getting it together lately has beefed up the lineup into something more competitive, relying less on 9.825s from McLaughlin and Fassbender or that backup routine from Hiller. It’s still not the strongest floor in the country, but when Baker and Sloan are hitting, it’s quite difficult to beat. If the Gators are in the vicinity of first place going to the final event, bet on them.

But it really must be the vicinity of first because LSU on vault is LSU on vault. The Tigers may drop a little bit to Florida in this rotation, but not much. If they have managed a lead after floor, they’ll be feeling pretty darn pretty going to vault. While I wouldn’t necessarily classify this as one of the all-time amazing LSU vault lineups, they’ve been able to take advantage of the new rules and superior difficulty to snatch some massive scores. Gnat’s giant DTY has settled into a pattern of going 10.000 when she sticks and 9.950 when she doesn’t, which is such a valuable scoring guarantee. The rest of the lineup would have to put up total stinkers for the score not to be competitive. They don’t usually do that, with useful 1.5s from Ewing and Savona (Savona may still need a little more time to find her landing) and one of the country’s better fulls from Hambrick. The Tigers occasionally lose a little bit in the early part of the lineup when they have to use Macadaeg and Cannamela, whose fulls are fine (and have improved) but not as dynamic as the best vaults. That’s more something to watch compared to Oklahoma when we get to nationals though, because the same remark can be made about Florida and Alabama.

Alabama’s bars terrify me. That’s not to say the score can’t be good. It has been as high as 49.6 this year, and Kiana Winston’s routine is among the best in the country. It also helps that the judges have suddenly decided that Brannan’s bars work is worth 9.925 even though it’s the identical routine she was performing at the beginning of the lineup for 9.800-9.825 early in the season. But then there’s also Jetter’s double front. Yikes. Watch that space. If Alabama is going to win this title, it will take a season-best performance during which things happen that we haven’t seen yet. Bars is the event where Alabama may just pull something out and be suddenly more competitive than we’ve expected as long as Winston, Bailey, and Jetter are all having a good day.

Being the runt of the session, Auburn has to start on floor and end on beam. (Would you rather go in the evening session starting on floor or in the afternoon session starting on vault?) Beam has been an OK event for Auburn this year, retaining some of the glory of last year with Atkinson, Milliet, and Demers uniting for a trio of lovely, but it hasn’t been quite as crisp, consistent, or high-scoring. Megan Walker has absolutely not been replaced. We’ll also have to watch Atkinson in the AA battle. Sloan enters as the favorite because of Sloan, but I’d probably put Atkinson at second-favorite to win, aided by the fact that she anchors every event. If intra-lineup score building is happening, Atkinson could ride that to a major total. There are a number of other contending options, including Baker and Boren for Florida (though they won’t have the bars and beam scores to win if Sloan is nailing the meet), Rogers and Jay for Georgia (beam asterisk), Hambrick for LSU (maybe not the bigness across four events?), and whoever does AA for Alabama this time (I like Winston’s chances if she’s actually able to do four events). But to me Sloan and Atkinson look like the most convincing favorites.

Georgia, Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky

Sort of like the Pac-12, we do have a vaguely realistic title challenger in the earlier session in Georgia, though I would say Stanford is more likely to win the Pac-12 than Georgia is to win the SEC. Yes? True? With me? Georgia is capable of very high scores, but do we see the 197.8-197.9 it may take to win this thing coming from Georgia? I’m thinking Georgia would be really happy with a 197.4ish score and challenging for 3rd place. That would reflect four strong events with real hits, not just we-avoided-a-fall hits. Those have been too hard to come by this season.

Georgia’s asset remains vault, a lineup that is solidly top-3 in the conference and should be the primary factor boosting Georgia ahead of the other schools in this session, toward a mark that would be challenging for the evening teams to match. The Gymdogs have the difficulty with three 1.5s, aided by mostly solid fulls from the rest of the group. That, and a floor rotation led by believable 9.9s from Marino, Jay, and Box, is what will lead Georgia into the 197s. Bars has been fine, not the disaster it might have been this season given the lineup exodus. Although, they do need to figure out what’s happening in that second spot, which is now occupied by Johnson who works bars like a vault specialist. They’ll want to drop that score every time, which puts pressure on the others not just to hit but to 9.850+ hit. All of this is a way of dancing around the beam issue. We’ve talked about it enough. The last few meets have been encouraging, but that’s not enough to declare the epidemic over, especially because even if there’s no fall, Georgia is still risking a couple 9.7s, which is pretty much as good as a fall when trying to contend for an SEC title.

In spite of all that’s happened this season, Georgia has a legitimate shot to move into the 6/7 spots if either Auburn or Michigan has a bad day on Saturday. Although since Utah (currently #5) and Michigan (currently #7) are also regionals hosts along with Georgia, we’re looking at some rearranging either way.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle of all these contenders has been Arkansas, a team that over-performed expectations early in the season by spending a couple months in the top 10 and has frequently proven capable of snatching 196.7s. Also helping Arkansas is the “neutral site that isn’t a neutral site” thing, making this pretty much a home meet that counts as a road meet. That will allow them to drop a road 196.1 (very doable) and move back up the rankings, potentially as high as #10. As things stand right now, Arkansas would be paired with Oklahoma and Nebraska at regionals, a fate they’d rather avoid.

The Razorbacks have somewhat exceeded what I expected this season, in large part because of vault. I expected the new vault values to destroy a team like Arkansas that doesn’t have 1.5s, but they have shown that a six-yfull strategy is still tenable (disproving the perennial fear that changing the vault values would make teams like Arkansas less able to contend) as long as those fulls are, you know, landed well. Beam has also been considerably un-terrible this season, much better than last year, with every score going over 49 since the first-week disaster. That’s much better consistency than I expected from this group. I normally rail against the strategy of burying the best beam workers at the front of the lineup, as Arkansas has done, because it compromises scoring potential (and I think you can argue that it has because Arkansas gets stuck at 49.1 for hit rotations). It’s often a knee-jerk reaction to falls and in many cases isn’t even necessary. Teams have a couple meets with falls, throw Janie Beamington into the first spot, and later the team starts hitting, believing that they’re hitting because Janie Beamington is in the first spot. When really, the two may not be related. But at that point, because they believe it, the lineup doesn’t get changed to one that would score better in the postseason, and the team has handcuffed itself.

Anyway, Arkansas has done well putting the best beamers at the beginning.

And Missouri has done well not being the weakest team in the conference this season. Hooray! Ever since Missouri joined the SEC, they’ve been the caboose of the conference, but picking it up to 7th out of 8 this year is a big deal. That sounds sarcastic, but it actually is a big deal. It has been too long since Missouri got 196s at all, let alone five of them in the same season. Porter, Ward, Miller, Harris, are Schugel make up a competitive core of high-scoring gymnasts that Missouri didn’t have even back during the glory season of 2010 when it was Sarah Shire and Company, starring Sarah Shire as Sarah Shire. Like Arizona, Missouri has an outside shot of getting into the top-18 and snatching a seed if everything goes just right, but it’s not likely. 

It’s rather unlikely that Missouri or Kentucky will challenge the top 6, though it’s certainly possible if Arkansas is just OK. More likely, they will be fighting each other not to finish in the basement, which is a meaningless distinction but helpful for pride. That’s pretty much what Kentucky is playing for here since little will change in terms of rankings or regionals placement at this point. Which team is more 196ish and more likely to hope for a weird upset bid at a regional, that’s what we’ll need to watch. They’re both in it with a shot. Dukes, Hyland, and Stuart have reinvigorated a Kentucky program that looked like it was headed for a dip this year after the million injuries and routine losses of last season. Keep an eye on next year. Top 18 wouldn’t be surprising. 

#4 Utah Preview

Delaney, Kailah – Senior – VT (possible BB, FX)
Hughes, Breanna – Senior – VT, UB (possible BB, FX)
Lange, Haley – Senior – N/A
Lee, Kari – Sophomore – VT, UB, BB, FX
Lewis, Tiffani – Sophomore – VT, UB, FX
Lopez, Kassandra – Senior – UB, BB
McNatt, Shannon – Freshman
Merrell, MaKenna – Freshman
Muhaw, Erika – Freshman
Partyka, Samantha – Sophomore – VT
Rowe, Baely – Junior – VT, UB, BB, FX
Schwab, Sabrina – Freshman
Stover, Maddy – Sophomore – BB

Recent History
2015 – 2nd
2014 – 8th
2013 – 9th
2012 – 5th
2011 – 5th
2010 – 6th

2016 Outlook
The Utes couldn’t have hoped to do any better than they did at last season’s Marsden farewell celebration tour when the 49.5s suddenly poured straight out of the sky, but in the cold light of an onrushing 2016, things look very different. The holes in this roster are suddenly large and everywhere. Basically, Megan and Tom have to reconstruct half a team, and by necessity, returning gymnasts will be expected to compete events they weren’t making last season. That’s usually a recipe for regression, so don’t expect the same result as in 2015 (though no one really expected it in 2015 either).

The 2016 team we saw at the Red Rocks Preview does possess enough depth to put together competitive lineups, but without too, too many stars/stars-in-the-making, this looks like another season in which Utah will have to workmanlike-9.850 the other contending teams into submission to make it back to Super Six. That strategy has worked plenty of times before. The mission for Utah is to show more depth, constancy, and durability through whole lineups than Pac-12 peers UCLA and Stanford, who will have more 9.9s but may struggle to fill out the entire lineup with competitive scores.

Key Competitor
One underclassman who did emerge as a new bright light amidst that Dabritz/Lothrop ticker-tape parade of a 2015 season was Kari Lee. Most significantly, she brought an elevated level of extension and refinement that had been missing from the beam lineup, but she also has an exceptionally clean and stickable full on vault, a 9.900 floor routine, and a sufficiently usable bars routine that may actually be needed this year. Suddenly this season, she has become the most impressive gymnast on the roster, and she’ll have to lead the charge in creating the big nest of new 9.9s Utah needs to succeed in 2016.


Vault was a tremendous strength for Utah last season, pushing the team right into the vicinity of a title with a whole host of 9.925s and controlled landings (that survived all the way to the championship instead of disappearing around February!). In 2016, however, there’s more reason to question Utah’s viability as a vault powerhouse because of the changes in roster and start value. Kailah Delaney is the one remaining member of the 9.950-a-trons, and while she will once again be an essential component of the lineup, her vault remains a full. That means she’ll be looking at something closer to 9.875-9.900s most weeks, useful scores but not dominant scores.

The member of Utah’s team who will benefit the most from the new vault values is Breanna Hughes. I remember when Hughes first arrived at Utah and I was all up in her 1.5 being a centerpiece of the vault lineup. That never happened even a little, but it has always been a solid vault and one that she stuck in the RRP. This is finally her year to become a vaulter. The coaches should put her difficulty 5th with Delaney 6th to push that Delaney score up as much as possible. Note that you’re going to get very sick of me complaining about vault lineup orders this season. MaKenna Merrell also had a 1.5 in JO, though she showed just a full in the preview, which makes sense because the full was only OK. I’m not sold on her difficulty or placement in the lineup as yet. She might get Hughesed for a while.

The rest of the lineup will be fulls, unless McNatt and her Omelianchik materialize. Kari Lee will certainly be back for 9.850-9.875s since her full is second-best to Delaney’s. Beyond that, a collective of 9.825-9.850 fulls will compete for the remaining three (or so) spots including Lewis, Partyka, Rowe, and Muhaw. It’s a solid contingent, but losing the Dabritz and Wilson vaults will most certainly be felt in the scores. I still like this lineup for an RQS around 49.350, but it doesn’t look like the 49.5s of recent days.


I should probably refrain from writing this section because reality has proven that I just don’t get it with Utah’s bars and the scoring. It eludes me. Right now, I look at the nine or ten options Utah has on bars this year, and they all look around 9.800-9.850 to me. Which means they’ll go 49.600 at nationals. But still, it seems inevitable that the Utes will experience a noticeable drop-off post-Dabritz because, you know, there’s not another auto-10 just hanging out on the roster. Given the lost routines, ending up a couple tenths lower than last year’s bars scores seems a realistic outlook.

A lot of these routine options look pretty similar right now, so expect some mixing and matching with the ultimate lineup spots determined by stickability. The stalwarts should be Lopez, who has been a bars constant for a thousand years and has always scored well, and Baely Rowe, who was a reliable 9.850 all last season. Across the whole team, though, Rowe’s bars work looked the most improved at this year’s preview, with a better finishing position on her full turn, tidy legs on the bail, and a stuck DLO, so I could see her scoring higher this season. As for the new ones, I’m most looking forward to seeing Sabrina Schwab develop as a bars worker. She has the best line and toe point on the roster, so if they can put together competitive difficulty for her with a dismount she can stick, she’ll be a future bars star. In the present, she at least needs to be an integral early-mid lineup piece.

The remaining merry band of 9.8s is large enough to allay any depth worries. Tiffani Lewis will be a thing. Her tkatchev is now a jaeger this year, which is a shame because I enjoyed her tkatchev the most on the team (Utah’s tkatchevs tend to look a little clunky and lack the counter-rotation the best ones have), but her routine should score about the same as last season. Breanna Hughes didn’t have a great year on bars in 2015 and often got stuck in the 9.7s, so she’ll have to fight for the leftover spots with the likes of Lee, Partyka, and Merrell. While bars does look like a perfectly fine 49.200-49.250 event, this is now a lineup without showcase routines, and that can be a recipe for getting stuck in the 9.825s. 


Beam has been an issue to varying degrees for Utah for several centuries now, almost costing the Utes the season at regionals last year and, even on better days, often getting stuck in the 9.800 purgatory of meh. Among the underclassmen, however, Utah is going through a medium-level beam renaissance that should provoke greater expectations both for scores and elegance this season. Beam will still be abjectly terrifying in terms of consistency without Lothrop, but multiple members of the lineup have real 9.9 potential, even away from home.

The sophomores Lee and Stover will have to be the da Vincis of this renaissance. Lee’s fluidity and precision make her the best beamer on the team, and while Stover struggled with a case of the wobblies and got too many 9.7s early in the 2015 season, she can be just as strong and should emerge as a lineup leader this year. It has taken Baely Rowe a little while to become the beamer she was supposed to be when she started, so while she still has the occasional hilarious fall/wobble, hers is a more reliable score these days. Those three will be the core of the lineup and three best scores, but I like the freshmen Merrell and Schwab to join them to augment beam away from 49.150-49.200 and toward 49.300s. Both have the line and potentially not-awful splits to develop into constants. They did look extremely tentative and terrified about all of life’s ills in their performances at the RRP, but that happens. If they can work through it, they could even help make beam almost a strength for Utah. I said it.

For any remaining spots, just roll the dice and see who ends up the most consistent because it all looks a little too scary right now. Though I do need to give 100 self-aware bonus points to Breanna Hughes for picking beam music with the lyrics “I’m a little unsteady.” We know. We’re all in this together, Breanna.


Oops, the floor lineup’s gone. Where did it go? Floor was a huge event for Utah last season and a reliable 49.4+ most weeks, but every single person has left now including the auto-9.9s from Dabritz and Tutka. Don’t expect last year’s performance to carry over into this year. Floor will still go 49.4 sometimes because the best schools always do here and there, but it won’t consistently be the same strength without that pack of dominant floor performers and big bang-bang landings. 

Continuing the theme, Lee becomes the de facto leader of this lineup as the best returning score on the roster. Her triple full is a consistent, if staggered, landing, and by not giving away much in the dance elements, she’s good for a 9.900 for any mostly controlled routine. I also expect Tiffani Lewis to emerge as a serious score on floor this season. She was a clean, early-lineup double pike last year, but she has since added a pretty solid full-in and seems to be on track toward becoming the new Tutka. I’d expect those two to lead, but Rowe will necessary again and Delaney has always been pecking around the vicinity of this lineup. She may finally get her chance with all these new spots opening up. Among the freshmen, Merrell will also see some time, and Schwab showed plenty of floor potential as a JO gymnast. If Lewis is to be new-Tutka, then it looks like Schwab is being made into new-Damianova, the one with the simpler “I’m being artistic” D-pass routine who can get scores through cleanliness.

As on the other events, there are a bunch of 9.8y looking options for any leftover spots, which is one of the reasons I still like the Utes to have a good season. They have retained a worthwhile and complete batch of usable options to fill out the lineups with room to spare. There’s Partyka, Hughes, yada yada yada. Stover has good twisting form. I actually thought Lopez looked the best of the rest in the RRP, which was surprising since she has made this lineup a grand total of never before. I’ll be rooting for that one. Love a senior making a lineup she never has before.

NLI Week 2016-2017

Before we get ourselves fully entrenched in bracing for the inevitable disappointments that the 2016 NCAA season will bring, it’s time to take a moment to gaze with dewy-eyed optimism and childlike wonder at the possibilities resting on the post-Olympic horizon. Beginning today (Wednesday) and for the next week-ish, schools will reveal which gymnasts will join their teams for the 2017 season by confirming the completely informed and totally sensible verbal commitments those gymnasts made right before preschool graduation. You know, when you’re thinking about college. 

I’ll be updating this list with the various schools’ press releases as they announce their incoming gymnasts’ NLI signings. Now to review, NLI stands for Nine Long-term Injuries and is the document gymnasts sign to acknowledge that they are under no circumstances going to be healthy enough to compete four whole years of college gymnastics. But in real life, it stands for National Letter of Intent, and it signals an end to the recruiting process by confirming a gymnast’s commitment to attend the school in question. Once a gymnast signs an NLI, the choice of school is official, unlike the previously announced verbal commitments that can and do change.

The verbal commitment is kind of like when you run into a tiring acquaintance a party and they say, “We should do something sometime,” and you’re like, “Yeah, that would be great, we should” but barely mean it and can always back out when you think of a good excuse. But signing the NLI is like when that tiring acquaintance texts you to say, “You’re coming to dinner on Friday, right?” and you actually have to do it now because specific plans have been made. Just as a random example. 

So, let’s find out who has to go to dinner on Friday.

Maggie Nichols, Jade Degouveia, Brehanna Showers

Alex Marks also signs to come aboard immediately to round out “Operation No Brenna.”

“This signing class is literally giving me goosebumps.” We’re gonna need a bigger swag-o-meter.

MyKayla Skinner (previously signed), Missy Reinstadtler, Kim Tessen

Madison Copiak, Michaela Nelson, Maya Washington

Alyssa Baumann, Amelia Hundley, Rachel Gowey, Maegan Chant

This is the “your job is to replace Bridget Sloan, so no pressure” group, and it will be the strongest of the 2017 classes, along with UCLA’s. Just get the duct tape and staple gun ready.

Tess McCracken, Kristen Politz, Mikayla Waddell

Kirsten Peterman, Alecia Farina

Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, Shea Mahoney

Karen Howell, Lindsay Dwyer, Rae Balthazor

Lucy Jones, Megan Tripp

Courtney McGregor, Isabella Amado, McKinley Pavicic

Hannah Swoish, Hunter Vincent

Polina Shchennikova, Lexi Funk, Maddy Osman, Maggie O’Hara

Cassidy Keelen, Rachael Mastrangelo

Heather Swanson, Courtney Cowles, Christina Berg

Kaylee Cole

Alexis Beucler, Melissa Brooker (for 2016-2017)
Paris Phillips, Alexa Phillips (for 2015-2016)

Ally Hoyer

Grace Glenn, Anna Glenn

Hmmm, that sure is two people instead of the class of 1700 million we were promised, but there are some previously signed gymnasts along with some spring signings that will round things out. Allegedly.

Sabrina Vega, Jordyn Pederson, Rachel Dickson

The big question was when the ghost of Sabrina Vega would officially be able to begin, and now it looks like she’ll finally start in the 2017 season. I’m just glad she got on the NCAA wagon at last.

I thought Jordyn Pederson signed last year and just deferred, but whatever. She’s coming. 

Samantha Ogden, Maddie Karr, Courtney Loper

Kassidy Cumber, Julia Merwin (walkon)

Alyssa Johnson, Rachel Ley, Aspen Tucker 

SOUTHERN UTAHRelease 1, Release 2, Release 3
Madison McBride, Megan McBride, Autumn Jorgensen, Becky Rozsa

Laura Burns, Emily White, Riley Walsh, Molly Russ

Rebecca Taylor, Kristen Quaglia (scholarship)
Ivy Lu, Casey Betts, Ryan Stach (walkon)

Amanda Arnold, Hollie Minichiello, Emili Dobronics

Megan Dennis, Courteney Taylor

Isis Lowery, Brianna McCant

Ruby Harrold, Kennedi Edney, Ashlyn Kirby

Alaina Kwan, Erynne Allen, Katrina Coca

Event Finals, Please Pack Your 9.9s and Go

RIP, NCAA event finals. We’ll always have complaining about how long you take amid a vague hangover.  

During the great yfull purge of 2015, the NCAA League of Chief In-Charge Women also revealed that they were planning to decapitate the event finals in the town square at some time to be determined, and it turns out that time is immediately.

It is now confirmed that instead of the usual three-day competition, the 2016 NCAA championship will consist of the normal semifinals on Friday, the normal Super Six on Saturday, and then nothing on Sunday, eliminating a specific day devoted to events. (This is a slight improvement on the previously proposed Friday-rest-Sunday schedule, as advocated by the boring police from Lametown.) In another development, both the Friday and Saturday competitions will be televised live on ESPNU, a coup that the sport has been fighting for dating back to the days when TVs were a thing that people watched.

Getting live television is still a big deal in exposure for the sport (we’ve seen the very encouraging recent ratings from the Pac-12 and SEC Nets that helped propel this move and have brought more people into following the sport), especially for family viewing and people who still watch programs—but pronounced progrums—on the TV box, though it’s increasingly less important for later-teenage, early-twenties whippersnappers who Liketweet on their iDroids and aren’t particularly likely to watch the competition live on TV, and who make up a valuable demo for gymnastics that isn’t catered to quite enough, but that’s an issue for another day.

Well actually, it’s an issue for today because there is a real chunk of people, mostly younger and therefore still valuable as human beings, who will be excluded from watching the championship since ESPNU broadcasts fall behind a subscription wall. People who don’t have ESPNU or a WatchESPN login from their cable/sat package likely won’t be able to watch (unless a special allowance is made), which is a long-term issue for a sport that needs every set of eyeballs it can get on its main event to stay afloat and specifically needs to cater to people in that borderline age of “I’m not doing gymnastics anymore and I might start drifting away from it toward other interests if my attention span isn’t constantly reminded of it” to turn them into lifelong fans. Getting a live TV deal is still good news, but it’s not exclusively good news in the present incarnation. 

Personally, I’d probably choose to watch on the app anyway, just like the last few years, because that’s convenient for blogging and because someone might make a weird face at some point that I’ll need to screencap and never forget ever. But that’s just me.

Let’s also talk about some other problems. (Autobiography title, called it.) The move is being constructed as “we had to get rid of event finals for the TV deal” which is a problem because…um, hi? That makes no sense. Having competition on Sunday has no bearing on whether ESPN shows the team final on TV on Saturday or not. So, you don’t want to show an extra day of competition on Sunday? Then don’t show it. Throw it on ESPN3 like always and use the TV broadcast to focus on the team and pretend event finals don’t exist. NBC has been doing that with Worlds for years. This explanation is illogical.

Now, the other thing I’m struggling with is that I’ve always mostly hated NCAA event finals. They’re long, a complete afterthought to Super Six that no one thinks about until the morning of, and extremely arbitrary in determining qualifiers and awarding titles. The one or two fun upgrades that get thrown out there each year don’t really make up for that. I should be celebrating since they’re basically my arch-nemesis, but it feels hollow. Primarily because it means there’s less gymnastics, which is a disheartening continuation of gymnastics’ tendency to try to solve problems by shrinking itself down to seem more palatable. Whether its going down to fewer routines/all scores counting like in the elite or men’s NCAA TF, or going down to fewer team competitors for the 2020 Olympics. It always feels like it’s surreptitiously trying to dwindle away.

Also, we need to talk about how event champions are going to be determined now. Because it seems like it’s going to be a problem. The issue with awarding event titles based on scores from the semifinal day, like in the AA, is that every event will have 5-6 people tied on 9.950 in first place. And if they’re all co-champions, I’m going to riot. The Worlds bars final is not a role model. Is there going to be some sort of permutation based on season performance + semifinal performance? Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a permutation as much as the next spreadsheet-happy dorkburger, and that would result in more deserving champions, but it wouldn’t exactly adhere to the mission statement of making things straightforward and easy for all fans to follow.

Well, with all that said, it’s a brave new world. Let’s get ready for it.

Worlds 2015 – It’s Almost Here

We’re swiftly approaching the beginning of the World Championship and our customary annual journey into forgetting what sleep is. First things first, I embedded my usual scoresheets for the first day’s subdivisions here for reference, just in case you’ve reached my level of nerdiness. It takes most people a lifetime. 

Day 1 lineup news and notes:
-The big news of the day is that Romania looked at Russia and said, “Anything you can garbage fire, we can garbage fire better.” Anamaria Ocolisan contracted 20 polios (or something) during training and will not be competing. Apparently, Andreea Munteanu is also down with a severe case of the Romanias and can’t be the replacement for some reason, so Romania will be putting up an old tire in the sixth position instead. The team is now Larisa Iordache and a random collection of limbs. She’s still enough to carry them into TF.

 -Maria Kharenkova lost the “Ick, these vaults, you guys” sweepstakes, meaning that the European silver medalist won’t be competing the AA in qualification. It will be up to Tutkhalyan and Spiridonova. Spiridonova as a top-two Russian AAer. Sit on that for a while. In better news, it seems Afanasyeva’s kidney looked at her and was like “CHECK IT, I’M THE BEST,” so she’s good to go now. Phew.

-Fragapane will not be doing the AA, competing on VT, BB, and FX. AAers for Great Britain are Downie 2.0, Harrold, and Tinkler. 

-Tea Ugrin will not be the alternate for Italy after all. In fact, she’s doing the AA in qualification along with the favorites to make the AA final, Ferrari and Ferlito. Fasana continues to be out on beam. Enus “Don’t Call Me Anus” Mariani is the alternate now. Are you worried about bars? I am. 

-Roxana Popa is indeed competing only bars for Spain. If you’re exceptionally concerned about beam, you should be.

-Brazil has four AAers: Saraiva, Barbosa, Hypolito, and Oliveira.

-Murakami is in for Japan, so let’s hope she once again proves why she was the next big thing for a hot second. This is a solid, relatively well-rounded team, and I’m excited to see how they do.

-Erja Metzler is out for Austria, so Austria will be putting up 5 on every event, except vault, where 4 will compete, all scores counting.

-Madison Copiak is the alternate for Canada. Black, Onyshko, and Woo will be doing the AA, and Black and Rogers will both be doing two vaults.

-Ida Gustavsson is out for Sweden, replaced by Marcela Torres on three events. Wagner will do vault and beam while going, “Remember that time you didn’t let me go to the Olympics? Suck on my continuing career.”

-Mackenzie Slee is out for New Zealand. Also out are Yana Fedorova of Ukraine (leaving Ukraine with just Kysla—remember when Ukraine was a country?), and Julia Rumbutis of Georgia, depriving us of the ability to never stop saying, “Rumbutis,” along with Eddachraoui of Morocco, Leinonen of Finland, and Kaylee Cole from Texas Dreams Of Bolivia. 

-15 people will (allegedly) be competing two vaults on day 1:
Maria Paseka (RUS)
Seda Tutkhalyan (RUS)
Oksana Chusovitina (UZB)
Ellie Black (CAN)
Brittany Rogers (CAN)
Ellie Downie (GBR)
Courtney McGregor (NZL)
Annika Urvikko (FIN)
Teja Belak (SLO)
Tjasa Kysselef (SLO)
Ana Derek (CRO)
Dina Madir (CRO)
Norma Robertsdottir (ISL)
Paula Mejias (PUR)
Najwa Dassalm (MAR)

Worlds 2015 – A Mess to Be Made

It’s time to get ready for the inevitable beautiful disaster that will be the women’s competition at 2015 Worlds. I mean, the glorious display of the best two and a half uninjured gymnasts the world has to offer. It should still be great, though, with multiple close qualification fights for Rio team spots and for the AA final. There’s reason to be excited in spite of the US/Simone inevitability and the general international bones-made-of-glass situation. But when Seda Tutkhalyan pulls out with restless leg syndrome, don’t come crying to me.

Because of brilliance, USAGym is providing live qualification streams of the top countries. Remember way back in 2011 when Gabby’s qualification bars routine was lost to the sands of time? This is better. For the rest of qualification, we’ll just be forced to follow the scores and then compulsively record them in a series of manila folders. Since the FIG’s live scoring is always terrible and has maybe a quarter of the information we would want, I assume we’ll once again be left to rely on that janky Swiss Timing java applet that barely exists or opens, and your computer is always like
What even is that thing?

But in preparation for definitely not knowing what that thing is, here are a few notes on the storylines I’ll be paying attention to in each qualification subdivision.

(Also remember that the clocks change in the UK on Sunday the 25th. It doesn’t affect women’s qualifying, but it will affect the other competitions if you’re making plans and doing time-zone conversion.)

Subdivision 1 (Romania, Spain, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Norway, Panama, Cyprus) – 4:15am ET/1:15am PT, October 23 
-Even without Ponor, it should be a pretty straightforward day for Romania in qualification. The team will advance to TF/Rio comfortably (as we learned in 2014, Romania is still top 8 even with a bars-tastrophe), Iordache will obviously make the AA final and should make BB and FX finals, with Bulimar potentially sneaking into some events as well.

-In a less interesting version of that we’ll see with the US team, the most competitive part of Romania’s qualification day (aside from the odyssey that is watching that bars rotation) will be who gets the second AA spot. In an ideally hit scenario, it will be Bulimar, but she hasn’t been competing big difficulty and has also never not been injured in the whole history of earth. If she hits, she’s fine, but she doesn’t have enough of a buffer over Jurca and Ocolisan to afford an off day or another one of those patented 12s on bars. 

-Spain will be fighting to finish in the top 16 and advance to the April test event. It’s certainly not a given, but it is attainable and some encouraging signs have emerged recently. The team finished 15th last year and, more importantly, scored 214 at a friendly meet a few weeks ago without Roxana Popa. But, you know, Florida-home-meet-level-side-eye on that. Spain followed that 214 with a 211 at Novara. 211 was the cutoff for the top 16 last year, though with a few teams in this ranking area stepping up their rosters, it may get a tad harder this time. For Spain, so much depends upon a red wheelbarrow (the one that’s carrying Roxana Popa’s legs). Popa competed bars at Novara and got what would be a very helpful score for the team, but the farther away she is from top form, the iffier things become. (If Spain had competed without Popa in 2014, the team would have finished 24th instead of 15th). She’s kind of the whole deal. But as long as Spain can get out of 211 land, I’d say that constitutes a useful and acceptable result.

-Chuso. Methuselah is back at it, and because she is a time-traveling gypsy who has come back to show us all the wonders that future robo-humans will be able to attain, she has just casually decided to upgrade to a Produnova. Like you do when you’re 40. She’s not like a regular mom, she’s a cool mom. She may need that Prod since making the vault final is not quite the same guarantee these days with Hong, Biles, Paseka, Skinner (maybe…), Steingruber, the death-wish sisters, Moreno, Phan, etc. I’d still always take Chusovitina in a fight (and to make the vault final, but definitely in a fight).

Subdivision 2 (Japan, Austria, Ukraine, Slovakia, Georgia, Israel, Ecuador, Mongolia) – 6:30am ET/3:30am PT, October 23
Japan should make TF, but it’s always a little touch-and-go for a while. Over the last couple quads, Japan has carved out an identity as a 6th-8th place team, never really in the safety zone, but always managing to slide through. We won’t really know anything even once Japan finishes because all the other borderline TF teams will still need to compete, and they’ll be the ones to determine whether Japan’s mark ends up being a good one or not. It’s going to be a scratch-and-claw this year for those last two TF spots, with Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Germany, and maybe even France or Belgium all gunning for it.

-Having Japan go early in the competition is excellent because I do expect Japan to qualify in 7th or 8th, meaning that their team score should be close to the cutoff. That gives us a clear event-by-event standard for measuring how all the subsequent teams are doing in their bids for TF/Rio. Outscore Japan, and start chilling the champagne. Don’t outscore Japan, and start checking the weather reports for Rio in April. I’m thinking it will take over 220 to make TF this year, so that’s something to watch, but we won’t know the standard until Japan goes.

-The Japanese are usually good for a Teramoto EF spot somewhere, but mostly we’ll need to keep an eye on Sae Miyakawa’s floor. She’s a good contender for the final as long as she doesn’t get hit with the compulsory five-tenth “you’re Japanese” floor deduction.

Subdivision 3 (Canada, Sweden, Argentina, New Zealand, Bolivia, Serbia, Lithuania) – 8:40am ET/5:40am PT, October 23
-We’ll need to pay serious attention to this one because Canada’s qualification performance is one of the more crucial and urgent. Brittany Rogers adds real quality and general wonderfulness to the mix, which is part of why we can expect a better result than last year, but Canada will not have access to Rogers for the test event since it coincides with NCAA nationals (thanks, scheduling). That means it’s all the more important for Canada to finish top 8 and clinch the Rio spot now. (Though I think Canada would still be favored to make it out of the test event even without Rogers, but no one wants to leave it that late and nail-bitey). 220 is an absolutely realistic qualifying score for this team, so a repeat of last year’s 214 is not acceptable. 54s-55s on these events, not 52s.

-Ellie Black will hope to play spoiler in the AA medal race, but for immediate qualification purposes, she’ll be fine. Advancing in the top 6 and making it into the lead group would reflect a strong day and is quite attainable. I’d also expect Black to challenge for the beam final, and if Rogers makes the bars final, I can’t be held responsible for my celebration. Black has two solid vaults, but may get nipped out of the final by people with more difficulty and worse execution again. 

Subdivision 4 (Great Britain, Brazil, Venezuela, Finland, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay, Phillipines) – 11:30am ET/8:30am PT, October 23
 -Along with Italy, Great Britain has established a new middle class of top teams. They’re not in the big 4, but they’re more likely to make TF than the contending Japan group mentioned above. The health of Frags is a major concern. As is beam, just as a concept. Still, I certainly like GB to make team final relatively comfortably, so qualification will be more about positioning for the other finals. As usual, pray to the old gods and the new for Becky Downie on bars. With Ellie Downie and Amy Tinkler turning senior to challenge the old-world AA order, we could also see a nice little competition brew itself up for those two AA spots.

-Brazil. The country with the most anxiety coming into qualification because of the tremendous pressure of qualifying for a home Olympics. The longer it takes, the scarier it will get. I like Brazil to get through eventually as a full team, but it may take until the test event. Still, they’re hauling out the big guns to get it done right now. With the reanimated corpse of Jade Barbosa on the team as well as a woodland spirit named Flavia Saraiva, we can expect an improvement on last year’s debacle. Bars is the worry, though. Are these bars routines really able to score well enough to keep them 220 competitive? Absolutely cannot afford a 51 there.

-JESSICA LOPEZ. My sun and stars. That’s all. The crown princess of Venezuela is always a good bet to make the AA final and always teases us with potential to make the bars final and then doesn’t. Expect more of the same.

Subdivision 5 (Russia, Italy, Portugal, Iceland, Puerto Rico, Morocco) – 1:45pm ET/10:45am PT, October 23
-Oh Christ. That is the only acceptable beginning to any paragraph discussing the Russian WAG team. The crate of fur hats that Valentina will be forcing onto the apparatuses no longer includes that little tease Aliya Mustafina (so what’s even the point? Just of life?). Also Afanasyeva is maybe dying or whatever, so everything is terrible. How much do you wish we could watch Russian podium training this year? It’s going to be so Russian.

-Still, the Russians will be absolutely fine for qualification, even if they’re at the expected level of mess-itude on floor and everywhere. AA qualification will be a close contest between Tutkhalyan, Kharenkova, and Spiridonova, which should be the fun part of Russia’s qualification terrors. Expect the usual solid smattering of EF qualifiers as well. Paseka will make vault. If Komova makes bars and beam, the internet will turn into a flock of butterflies never to be heard from again. Spiridonova should make bars, though if someone has an error, we could even see the where-did-this-come-from Paseka bars routine sneak into the final. Kharenkova could also make the beam final, if this were Narnia, but she’s going to fall 16 times instead.

-Don’t sleep on Italy. It’s very uncomfortable. In fact, with some possible question marks looming around GB, I like Italy as the best choice for a non-big 4 spoiler this year. And even though qualification should be straightforward, Italy has done us the kindness of being yet another team with an interesting AA race among Ferrari, Ferlito, and Fasana. In fact, the top AA score from this subdivision may quite possibly come from Italy. As usual, Ferrari and Fasana should challenge for spots in the floor final as well. The best part of this subdivision, though, will be following how close Italy is able to get to this depleted Russia team. Can Italy actually pounce?
-Ana Filipa Martins is also in this subdivision. She qualified for the AA final last time, which was exciting because PORTUGAL?!!! So watch out for a possible repeat. We’re thinking somewhere in the 54s will be the AA cutoff again, right? Probably?  

Subdivision 6 (Germany, Poland, Colombia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bahamas, Algeria) – 3:50pm ET/12:50pm PT, October 23
-Hm. Germany. What do we do with this team? Germany made the TF once recently, in 2011, but usually finishes 9th and everyone goes, “Huh. That’s a shame” and then forgets about it instantly. This team is fairly delightful to watch, with some non-boring bars work from Hill, Seitz, and Scheder, and that beam routine from Schaefer. It would be a disappointment if Germany doesn’t qualify someone into the bars final. As for the team, challenging the likes of Japan and Australia is another level that Germany has not reached with any consistency. If the Germans can’t pump up the difficulty on vault and floor, it’s hard to imagine that challenge happening this time. The floor score in particular needs to be within reason of what Japan and Canada will have previously put up. Germany will pick up points on bars, but not a whole bushel of points and can’t rely exclusively on that.

-Poland is in the same subdivision as Germany. Too soon? Obviously, it would be an international day of glory if Marta Pihan-Kulesza made the floor final, though that’s not particularly realistic with this field. Still, she can make the AA. Poland finished 17th last year, just out of the all-important top 16 cutoff, and while I think it would be considered an upset if they sneak into the top 16, what if Poland made the test event? 

END OF DAY 1. At this point, the majority of the TF slots will likely be taken, so teams in the top 5 after the first day should feel pretty good. The team in 6th will be quite nervous, and the teams in 7th and 8th will be out, with the US and China still to come. 

Subdivision 7 (China, North Korea, Singapore, Chile, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Monaco, Cayman Islands) – 4:15am ET/1:15am PT, October 24
-With the bars wasteland for Romania and the general Russianness of Russia, China seems to have emerged as a clear favorite for 2nd. This team is not the best possible Chinese team, without Yao or Huang, but it does have a desperately needed infusion of new blood, including a real vault and floor worker in Wang Yan. It will be fun to see how Wang, Mao Yi (another floor option, but who makes me a thousand kinds of nervous), and Fan Yilin (the new bars-a-tron 3000) will fare as they try to reinvigorate a team that has gradually stagnated post 2008.  

-Shang Chunsong probably remains the best AA hope for China but lacks the vault to make a real run at it. I would expect Wang Yan to be the second AAer, though pretty much everyone on China’s team has a weak event or two that could cost her. Not having Huang and Yao hurts on bars, but this is China, so they still have a million backup 6.7s that can be used. It’s not the end of the world. Expect two qualifiers to the bars final as always, but it’s not quite the cutthroat competition to make the final that it usually is. That’s always the best part of China in qualification, but this year it looks like just three likely contenders in Tan Jiaxin, Fan, and Shang instead of the usual 60. Shang will be a medal threat on beam, and shockingly, China actually has two realistic floor finalists in Wang and Shang if they can actually hit their CV-a-thon routines.

-Other than China, the vault final will be the major story of this subdivision. That’s basically what North Korea is here for. It has been a while since PRK brought routines capable of making the bars and beam final, so it’s pretty much just Hong’s vault and guests. Hong will be the gold favorite once again and will make the final easily. Less assured of making it into the final is Our Lady of Screaming Kneecaps, Yamilet Pena, who will chuck her customary Prod, land on her ass, and probably still make the final on difficulty. Yay gymnastics!

-Also in this subdivision is Ana Sofia Gomez, who has had a little bit of trouble bringing her A game to recent competitions like Worlds last year or the Pan Ams AA final this year. Hopefully, she’s just saving her good one for this competition because a hit AA in qualification could qualify her in a very high position to the AA final.

Subdivision 8 (Belgium, South Korea, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Malta, Vietnam, Indonesia) – 6:25am ET/3:25am PT, October 24
-And now we arrive at Subdivision 8, a.k.a. the one you’re planning on sleeping through. But still, get on the Belgium train, you guys, because it’s leaving the station. Belgium finished 11th last year, and I think this year’s team should be better than that one. Making the team final is too much to ask, but Belgium should comfortably make the test event and will have a real shot to qualify from there. AA qualifiers aren’t a given for this Belgium team, but pretty much everyone is capable of 54s, which should be close to the cutoff. That could get tense. It’s a loose definition of the word tense, but if we’re just sitting there watching the scores, we’ll take any horse race we can suddenly get excited about for two seconds.

-South Korea managed to finish 18th last year, and whether or not the South Koreans can sneak into the test event will have to suffice as the primary uncertainty factor in this subdivision. It’s hard to predict a big result from South Korea because the team has not shown competitive difficulty recently, in spite of perfecting execution. Every year, the people at the event watching podium training go, “WHAT OUT FOR SOUTH KOREA THIS YEAR!!!11111 THIS TEAM IS IT! SO BEAUTIFUL,” but they’ll usually struggle to get out of 12.8 land.

-Anna Pavlova is out, so instead, we’ll just have to spend that time turning into a pile of dust at the idea that she first competed in the Olympics 11 years ago.

-Phan of Vietnam is back. She’s likely to be the only EF contender in this subdivision, and since she’s going after most of the top vault contenders, we’ll have a pretty good idea of what she needs by that point.

Subdivision 9 (Australia, France, Bulgaria, Peru, Taiwan, Cuba, BeloAmerica) – 8:40am ET/5:40am PT, October 24
-Subdivision 9 will have serious implications for TF, as Australia is another of the perennial borderline qualifiers, a team that should get through but can’t have a disaster day and expect it to happen. France, meanwhile, suddenly scored a 6 trillion this month in a desperate effort to remind us that it’s still a country. This is the session the likes of Germany and Canada will be watching in the fetal position. And by Germany and Canada, I mean me. As for several of the other teams, it would be a disappointment if this year’s Australian group can’t hit 220. The Australians may put up some AA qualifiers, but that won’t be the main focus. Get your NCAA hats on, because it’s all about the team. Also keep an eye on Larrissa Miller’s bids for the bars and floor finals, and I’m sure I hardly need to say this, but just be ready to burn the FIG to the ground if Mez doesn’t make the beam final.

-This is an exciting time for the French, the first exciting time in quite a while, because there is finally a generation of new, lovely seniors capable of restoring competitive scores, with a DTY in there, some high-5s bars difficulties, and the capability to go 54 in the AA. This team shouldn’t have to squeak by in 12th all the time the way we’ve become accustomed. That 226 from the friendly meet is a score from a friendly meet, so ignore it, but it does at least add a little bit of intrigue about what kind of number France might actually be able to put together.

-The Cubans! Welcome back.

-Also, the BeloAmericans will be competing in this subdivision in their effort to teach little Belorussian girls what dreams are.

Subdivision 10 (United States, Netherlands, Latvia, Ireland, India) – 11:30am ET/8:30am PT, October 24
-Here we go. We can dispense with any discussions of qualification or Simone because obviously. Shooting gold medals everywhere. The main thing to watch for the US (aside from who is actually on the team), will be the fight to make the AA final. Is it bad that across all the whole competition at Worlds, this is the thing I’m most excited about? If Skinner is one of the competitors, it makes the decision easy as to who does which events in qualification and means Nichols, Raisman, and Douglas will all be given the chance to fight for that second spot. All three are quite capable of doing it, and all have been second at various times this season. It’s going to be crazy close, and I’m particularly interested to see how much the Raisman Worlds execution bump is still a thing.

-We can expect Biles and Skinner(if) to make the vault final fairly easily. Biles and Raisman will also be the frontrunners both to make the floor final and to finish 1-2 there. Bars and beam will be a trickier proposition. Kocian can make the bars final with a good one, but it’s not a given even with a hit. Biles should make beam, along with potentially Raisman, but it’s also beam. Mostly, this is about who that second AAer is going to be. 

-I sort of love that Netherlands has become the trendy, cool kids’ pick to upset things and be a non-traditional team final qualifier. It will be quite challenging given the level of the teams they’re contending against, but the Dutch have flashes of difficulty from the Weverseseses in places and a new individual hope in Thorsdottir who can qualify to the AA final and fill the Van Gerner/Van Klaveren void without losing too much. Regardless, making the test event at least seems straightforward. We have a few teams in that “Won’t contend for medals and TF will be tough, but the test event should be easy” category. For them, this competition is just about getting through, not falling into a rip in the space-time continuum mid-routine, and then setting up for a big push in April.

-Dipa Karmakar of India will also be Prodding her way through this subdivision, hoping to fall-advance.  

Subdivision 11 (Mexico, Greece, Egypt, Malaysia, Denmark, Namibia) – 1:40pm ET/10:40am PT, October 24
-Mexico’s 14th place finish last year was a huge deal. The goal here will be to replicate that performance, which seems realistic considering that the entire team is the same as last year. The problem for Mexico is that other adjacent teams have bolstered their rosters with new talent, so it’s hard to envision Mexico improving on 14th place. I’d still tab Mexico as one of the top 16 teams, but it’s going to be a tense score-watching experience. Mexico finished as the best team to miss out on the test event last time around, and it would be heartbreaking if that happens twice in a row. Vault is the major strength, so they’ll need to pick up serious ground there, probably looking to go a solid point and a half better than the likes of Spain and South Korea and close to a point better than Switzerland, though Steingruber will make that tough. Once again this year, the advancing-to-finals hopes will be Elsa Garcia in the AA and Alexa Moreno on vault.

-Vasiliki Millousi is back again. You’re welcome, society. Farah Ann Abdul Hadi (Malaysian Zamarripa) is also in this subdivision, so we’ll need to scrounge for videos so that we might revel in the glory of both of them.   

Subdivision 12 (Switzerland, Hungary, South Africa, Czech Republic, Jamaica, Armenia, Honduras) – 3:50pm ET/12:50pm PT, October 24
-We end with the Jamaica subdivision. I’m sorry, is there anyone else in this session? Because I’m only here for Jamaica. NCAA goddesses Danusia Francis and Toni Ann Williams will be actually teaching little girls how to dream with their performances in this session. And by little girls, I mean gay adults. The only role models you’ve ever needed. I’m living in hope that we’ll see Danusia’s transverse aerial and Toni Ann’s double front beam dismount, and while advancing to any kind of final is likely unrealistic, I don’t care.

-Also repping the NCAA flag is Houry Gebeshian, who is back once again competing for Armenia.

-Oh, there are teams here too. Why isn’t Switzerland better? Switzerland always ends up finishing about 18th, even with Steingruber and in the days of Kaeslin the Elder. They just haven’t had the full team, but we can still hope Switzerland makes a run for the test event this time. It’s not out of the question, and we need someone to break into what looks like a relatively solid group of 16 teams going because it would be too boring if we just see the same top 16 as last year. But mostly, this is about Euro champion Steingruber. She should make the vault final and should qualify relatively highly into the AA. There’s not a ton of AA depth after the two US qualifiers and Iordache, so qualifying top 6 is possible for her.   

2010 US Nationals, NCAA Style

We sort of know what’s going to happen to former elites when they enter the NCAA ranks. Sort of. If you’re crazy good, you probably shouldn’t stop being crazy good all of a sudden. But there are all kinds of subcategories below crazy good that most people occupy, and when the NCAA CoP comes into play and limits what can be gained simply from mashing in the difficulty or absorbing errors, it can disrupt the previous balance of power.

The example I always use, because it’s still recent (except I just realized it kind of isn’t anymore) and pretty stark, is one Shayla Worley on bars. As an elite, Shayla was all about them bars. She was Duchess Tkatchev of Orlando. She made the 2007 team specifically to do bars in the team final (and floor, but mostly bars), and when we all agreed to pretend like the 2008 team selection came down to finding a bars worker to be the 6th member of the team, she seemed right in the hunt. 

In spite of her pedigree and accomplishments, however, Shayla’s bars never became a major NCAA routine, mostly because of the dismount. That double front was never going to cut it in NCAA, both in the scoring department and the staying-alive department, so instead, she had to learn a DLO that never really became comfortable for her. (Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs had to do the same thing at around the same time, and also developed a mostly troubling DLO that was the primary culprit keeping her from weekly 9.9s). Because of that, and in spite of her clear talent on bars, Shayla was usually stuck at 9.850 instead of becoming the big fat star her elite success seemed to foretell. 

On the other side of the argument, we now have Alex McMurtry. (Not an elite, but) she was known for having a bars routine that fell clearly below the level of her other events and her top JO contemporaries. I believe in my preview of the 2015 season, I may have invoked the word “Brestyan’s” when describing her bars work, which was probably overstating it a bit, but she was not expected to make an impact on bars for Florida.

(This commentary is a complete LOL now, by the way. No, she would never water down. How dare you suggest such a thing. Also note how Tim compared her gienger to Nastia’s. Nastia laughed way too hard. Then immediately ran to a closet and snapped 50 pencils.)

But in the 2015 NCAA season, McMurtry managed to pull off the very rare Reverse Shayla, turning her routine from a nope into something that won Super Six. (And bested Shayla Worley’s career high on bars in the process. Welcome to 2015 Super Six scoring, as we’ve over-discussed already.)

Florida definitely refined this routine quite a bit, but that’s easier to do when you take out the hard parts. It’s all about having a dismount. That’s the difference between McMurtry and Shayla. Getting back that exceptional tuck full makes the whole routine. In spite of having no previous reputation for success on bars, this routine becomes a winner because of one vital, excellent skill. (And exposes some of the holes in the CoP, but holes exist to be exploited.) Get to NCAA, and the balance of power changes. An 8.9 in JO ends up with a better career high than a Worlds TF competitor.

Which is to say, we don’t always know what will happen. Part of the joy of watching gymnasts move from elite/L10 into NCAA is in seeing how expectations shift, quality and stature evolve, and previous hierarchies are abolished. It happens all the time, and it can be fun to go back and compare how things stacked up in elite gymnastics compared to how they eventually played out in NCAA. (I should note at this time that I don’t know what fun is.) This is the kind of rambling that the post-NCAA, pre-major-elite-events season is for.

I was just checking the standings from 2010 US Nationals, GREAT WEEKEND PLANS, and it’s amusing to look back on those results knowing what we know now. Since I’ve already been talking about bars, I’ll keep things there. These are the final rankings on bars from 2010 US Nationals, with the gymnasts who competed NCAA (excluding Whitcomb and Lee, who didn’t really have NCAA careers) noted in bold.

1. Rebecca Bross
2. Cassie Whitcomb
3. Mattie Larson
4. Mackenzie Caquatto
5. Chelsea Davis
6. Morgan Smith
7. Vanessa Zamarripa
8. Sophia Lee
9. Samantha Shapiro
9. Bridgey Caquatto
11. Aly Raisman
12. Jaclyn McCartin
13. Kaitlyn Clark
14. Kytra Hunter
15. Georgia Dabritz
16. Rheagan Courville
17. Annette Miele
18. Lauren Beers
19. Brandie Jay
19. Briley Casanova

Not exactly how things stayed. Even in E score, we see Kaitlyn Clark and Rheagan Courville losing to Aly Raisman. Let’s break down a few of the most interesting points in these standings.

Dabritz finished 15th out of 20. Now, that does include a fall on day one, but on day two with a hit routine, her execution score still came in clearly behind that of her future NCAA peers Chelsea Davis and Bridgey Caquatto. Bars may have been the strongest event for Dabritz as an elite, but she wasn’t necessarily seen as a Sami Shapiro “she’s going to destroy the world on bars once she gets to NCAA” type of elite gymnast.

2010 Nationals:

And yet, watching this routine back 5 years later, it’s not at all surprising that she eventually became Georgia Dabritz in NCAA. The college gold is there with those handstands and very usable D elements. Clean up that bail, rid yourself of that problematic stalder shoot, and this is what you get, a #1-ranked bars routine: 

2015 NCAA:

Remember Kytra’s bars in 2010, when everyone was like, “OMG SHE HAS TO STOP COMPETING BARS IMMEDIATELY BECAUSE MY EYES!!!!!” What was the deal with that? I know she had that mess at 2010 Classic, but this is just a perfectly fine, not-really-a-bars-gymnast kind of elite routine.

2010 Nationals:

Thankfully, sane people prevailed. You don’t just throw away a Hill’s hindorff, even if the whole routine isn’t too elite competitive. Hindorff, bail, dismount. You’re NCAA good to go.

One of the keys to Kytra’s success as an AAer in NCAA gymnastics was the opportunity NCAA provided to let her pick and choose the types of elements she competed without forcing her to, you know, do a split the way she had to in elite. Beam was not really Hunter’s famous event either, at least not in the way vault and floor were, but once you get rid of any skill starting with “switch” in this routine, you’ve got yourself a thing. 

Kytra, like, invented including a switch 1/2 that you can’t do in your beam routine. She should sue for format rights or something. But let’s be honest, that switch 1/2 is basically a bag of diamonds compared to some of the ones we’re seeing this quad.

Kytra and Bridgey is an interesting comparison, because if you saw these two elite beam routines, which one would you guess would never see the light of day in NCAA?

Making a successful transition to top-level NCAA gymnastics isn’t necessary about having a great elite routine. But you need comfortable consistent mastery of about three medium-value, D-ish elements. That’s so much more valuable than being Princess Prettywobbles.

Another worthwhile comparison is that of Kytra versus Courville. Neither were bars queens as elites, hanging around the mid-low 13s, but in Kytra’s case, you see the tools. Those skills, as is, have the makings of the 9.850-9.900 NCAA routine. (In spite of apparently needing to drop the event immediately, burn her grips, and never touch a bar again.) With Courville, bars was a true struggle all the way through, with those handstands, leg separations, and close catches.

2010 Nationals:

You don’t watch this routine and assume the pieces for a 9.900 NCAA routine are there. Courville’s eventual bars success was not a matter of paring down the elite skills and finding a composition that shows off her best qualities. It was a function of serious skill improvement, not just tweaking, once she got to NCAA, which saw her eventually zoom up the rankings into being one of the nation’s very top scorers. 

Watch Courville’s routine, compared to Chelsea Davis’s at the same competition, and who do you think would end up being ranked better on bars in NCAA in 2015?

Not to say that Chelsea Davis wasn’t awesome on bars in NCAA as well, but just as a comparison of starting point and ending point. 

As mentioned, Shapiro is a different case than these other gymnasts (all to varying degrees) because she was destined from the moment she turned a day old to make everyone weep with beauty on bars as an NCAA gymnast. From very early on, she had all the tools to be magical. But I’m highlighting her work in this competition because, um, what the hell happened to her handstands that year? 

Did she have an issue that my brain has thrown into the memory garbage? Like an auto-immune handstand disease or something?

Thankfully, we still got this.