A Secret Classic Post Without a Pun in the Title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2012 Skill Frequency – Floor and Vault

I might as well finish off the bunch with floor and vault frequency.

As always, the tables below show the frequency with which gymnasts performed skills as 2012 Visa Championships, this time on floor and vault as measured by the % of total routines featuring the given skill.

We’ll start with the various categories of floor skills, and the pathetically small vault table will follow at the end.

Clearly, the back 1.5 C skill connected into an E tumble dominates the composition. I’m of several minds about this. On the one hand, I don’t think any skills besides handsprings and round offs should be appearing in 90% of routines. That’s evidence of a code that is too limiting, ensuring there is but one realistic solution to receive the sought-after .2 CV. On the other hand, I love a combination pass. When done well, they are so much more interesting than straightforward tumbles, even difficult ones. So, if that’s the kind of combo pass we get, I’m in favor.

That said, I have absolutely no problem with the elimination of the combo pass requirement. The combo pass is so valuable for CV that this has little effect on composition. People will still perform as many misguided combinations to try to get a bigger D score as they did before, but my hope is that perhaps the lack of requirement will cause some to get rid of combinations they were barely getting through in the first place and doing only to fulfill the requirement. The most common combination performed, especially in the seniors, was the 1.5 through to double back, and very few of them were good ideas. Let’s get rid of them, McKayla.

While there are some other problems with repetitive composition (every junior dismounted with a 2.5, people perform the double back and the double pike in the same routine) few of the skills appear in more than half of routines, and the problems with repetition seem overall less severe than on bars and beam.

P.S. Why does nobody perform the DLO in elite anymore?

These assessments are made with the most charitable eye possible, counting the intended skill. Otherwise, we would have far fewer split 1.5s and switch 1/1s. Basically, the attitude is to attempt as many D dance elements as possible and then hope to swindle the judges into crediting at least one of them.

Lots of seniors performing double Ls, once again trying to pull around a D skill somehow, while the juniors opted for double turns and single Ys and Ls. The juniors had no problem throwing in some B elements, usually as backups in case other dance elements got downgraded.

Interestingly, fewer people attempted dance elements out of their acro skills than I expected. The gymnasts on the Olympic track were all over it, but a number of the others did not bother with everyone’s favorite combo of double arabian+pause+negative amplitude spasm in stag position. For that, we can be thankful.  

Pitiful, but we can expect nothing different in the future. It starts with JO for most. If they don’t have any incentive to learn a different entry early on, they won’t do so in elite. It’s the same argument we have in NCAA. People always want to impose some requirement about variety in vault lineups, but the gymnasts don’t have the skill sets to adapt to those potential requirements because they never learned anything different in JO. Imposing more variety on vault has to start at a younger age. It can’t begin at 18.

In elite, the code is just as complicit in the lack of variety. The powers did well to lower the value of the Y2.5 to 6.3, but that was done in order to keep vault scoring more consistent with the other events and keep the bad Y2.5s from outscoring the good DTYs (as easily). They therefore also lowered the values of the rudi, Cheng, etc, which was a mistake. They should have kept those values the same while lowering Yurchenko vault values in order to encourage more variety. As it stands now, there is no incentive to learn a non-Yurchenko vault.

2012 Skill Frequency – Balance Beam

A sequel!

Actually, that exclamation mark is a little too enthusiastic for these purposes.

A sequel. There, that feels more appropriate. It better encapsulates the split jump + sissone mood that I’m going for here.

Following the same procedure as for bars frequency, the following tables show the frequency with which skills were performed on balance beam at 2012 Visa Championships (% of total routines featuring the skill). This time, I did not limit to C skills because then how would we discuss turns and dance combinations? Instead, I included all skills except back handsprings, front handsprings, and round-offs.

When counting the elements, I credited the skill attempted rather than the skill that would actually have been awarded by a judge with eyes since this is about intended composition choices. Determining the skill attempted was a burden sometimes because . . . these switch rings, you guys. (Why would a coach include a never-getting-credit-in-this-universe switch ring and a switch split in the same routine? The switch ring is always going to be downgraded, so the switch split becomes a repeated skill. It happened a lot.)  

Skills are divided by type and sorted by the frequency of their appearances in senior routines. The junior routines and total frequency throughout all 45 routines (22 senior, 23 junior) are also included for the sake of comparison.

Much like the bail handstand+stalder shoot on bars, the free walkover and layout stepout dominate the acrobatic proceedings because of the gold mine that was the D+B+C combination for .2 CV, which was probably the silliest part of the 2006-2012 codes. When a code regulation is imposed, routines will always descend to the least challenging or least creative denominator in order to fulfill the requirement with minimum risk (which is why broad and vague is preferable to specific when it comes to the code – when a regulation is too specific, the solutions will always be identical). D+B+C and free walkover+bhs+loso was by such a large margin the easiest way to receive .2 CV that no other combination stood a chance.

That is why, as of now, I am happy with the series bonus rule on beam because it creates more parity across combinations. No combination is valued so high with respect to its difficulty that it shuts out all other combinations the way D+B+C used to. The series bonus is a broader way of awarding CV and allows for more composition solutions. Let’s just hope this one doesn’t descend to some heretofore unimagined least creative denominator as well.

In spite of the new (and welcome) focus on rebounding connections, I still expect the free walkover to reign supreme over the next four years because it is a solid D acro that nearly everyone at this level can do and because the D acro + A dance combination will help it retain combination worth.

Because of that D+B+C combo, we nearly reached 100% of juniors performing the layout stepout, but plans were foiled by Ohashi and Desch and their infernal layout 1/1s, allowing them to eschew the layout stepout. What, just because you can do an amazingly difficult skill you think you’re too good for a layout stepout? People these days.

In other news, that side somi percentage is too high for anyone’s liking, and the onodi percentage is far too low. Interestingly, a significant gap emerged between the seniors and juniors in performing back pikes. Many seniors threw them after switch splits for the C+C connection, while juniors favored back tucks or did not attempt that kind of combination. It’s probably another instance of juniors not being as focused on squeezing as many CV tenths out of the code.

Oh, the dance combination requirement. Where would the sissone be without you? Few incorporated counting dance elements into their combinations, with most favoring A+A instead, but the ones who did received a demure smile from me, which is worth more than a gold medal.

I’m slightly surprised by the relatively low number of wolf jumps. In my mind, they were in every routine. Maybe I was just being prescient because the D acro + A dance combination for this year is asking for a ton of wolf jumps again.

Instead of the split jump + wolf jump, the most popular way to fulfill the dance element combo requirement by far was the split jump + sissone. By the way, negative one million percent of gymnasts hit 180 in their sissones.

BORED!

(To clarify, sitting on the beam like a lump of nothing encompasses everything in the squat through to rear support and flank to rear support families, all the “Are you actually doing anything besides personifying mental anguish?” mounts.)

(Also, rear support. I’m four.)

See the note about the least creative denominator above and apply it to the full turn. Why do something risky when you can fulfill the requirement by not doing that? Once US gymnasts woke up to the existence of the C+A turning connection around mid 2011, that helped save the L turn a bit. In the 2008 code, when the turn had to count, we saw L turns in nearly every routine. Now they’re almost exclusively performed as part of L turn+full turn combinations for .1 CV.

The double pike was the favorite of the seniors, many using the B+B+E combination for .2, while the 2.5 was the clear favorite of the juniors. I’d love to argue for more variety in dismounts, but . . . what dismounts? Double fronts have gone to pasture because they don’t allow for CV, and most everything else has difficulty that is too low to be impressive or too high to be performed in an aesthetically pleasing way.

2012 Skill Frequency – Uneven Bars

The homogenization of routines. It happens throughout gymnastics at all levels, but one of the most compelling criticisms of the current elite code is that it has accelerated and broadened this process, leading to routine after routine featuring the same few skills.

The changes to the current code should, in theory at least, be made with an eye toward keeping routines new and exciting and discouraging that which has become flat cliché. So, what has become the flattest and clichédediest? Let’s take a look. 

The following chart shows the frequency with which each uneven bars skill appeared in American routines during the 2012 Visa Championships. It includes only skills of C difficulty or more (to dispense with the likes of Giant – 100%) with the exception of the toe shoot to high bar because I am specifically interested in the frequency of the low-to-high transitions that we have (all negative three of them).

Skills are listed according to the percent of routines in which they appeared in the competition and are sorted by the frequency of their appearances in senior routines. The junior routines and total frequency throughout all 44 routines (21 senior, 23 junior) are also included for the sake of comparison.

The chart includes all skills performed more than once in either the junior or senior division. The following skills appeared in one routine in either or both sessions:

Stalder circle forward
Toe-on circle forward 1/2
Giant 1.5
Clear hip full
Ono
Ono 1/2
Rybalko
Weiler kip
Markelov
Tkatchev 1/2
Toe-on Tkatchev
Clear hip Shaposhnikova
Piked stalder shoot to high bar

  • Note that the nemesis of all that is joyful in the world, the bail handstand + stalder shoot combination for .1 CV, certainly makes its mark on the table. Score one check mark for the new code for eliminating the value of that D+C combination in 2013, at least for high-to-low flight. [Pipe dream] This will result in the immediate and severe reduction of stalder shoots with respect to other possible low-to-high transitions [/Pipe dream]. [Reality] The US will continue performing worthless bail + stalder shoot combinations until 2014 Worlds, after which they will copy the smarter composition of a lesser country [/Reality]. 
  • Even though the bail and the stalder shoot were the two most common skills in both the junior and senior divisions, I actually thought the numbers would be higher. They would have been higher earlier in the quad, but enough people had become wise to the Shaposh 1/2 treasure trove of CV that not every single person was using the stalder shoot anymore. Just two-thirds. 
  • CV is also the prime culprit for the frequency of the toe full, which appears just as often as the bail in the senior ranks. The skill would often appear on the low bar right before a Shaposh 1/2 for .2 CV. Now that both elements would need flight to achieve the .2, we may see a slight decline in the prevalence of the skill, but since it’s still a solid D element that can get .1 for any number of combinations, it should still remain fairly common. Instead of the toe full + Shaposh 1/2 combinations, though, we will see many more attempts at Pak + Shaposh 1/2 to try for the .2 connection. 
  • I’m pleased that the code is trying somewhat to suppress the routines with hyper pirouetting by forcing more flight in connections, but I never had a problem with the D+E (one element with flight) combination receiving .2 CV. The ideal routine shows proficiency in both turning and flight elements, so it seems that something like a toe full + piked Tkatchev combination is exactly the kind of thing that we should be encouraging because it shows true mastery of several facets of bars in the same connection. That the combination is now .1 instead of .2 seems unnecessary to me. 

    For easy reference, here is the same information broken down by skill type:

    • Let’s talk about this last area and how there are only two skills in it. Believe it or not, there are more transitions from high bar to low bar in the world (but not that many). The tyranny of connection value has made them all but disappear. The bail wins, but several gymnasts do show both in the same routine.  
    • One person in the whole competition did a clear hip Shaposh. Everyone else did toe-ons. Interesting.
    • I sorted the table by seniors because that gives the truest picture of how the code was being used by people who were truly trying to use it. Unsurprisingly, the junior routines feature simpler skills, more C circle elements without turning and fewer D pirouettes, Shaposhes (Shaposhi?), and E same-bar releases. Many of the juniors, especially on bars, are given routines that are much more concerned with simply getting 8 skills and the requirements into a hit performance. Using the code and exploiting CV to its best effect are the least of their concerns. This is a major reason for the senior difference between the stalder shoot and toe shoot (67% to 19%) being so much larger than the junior difference (69% to 60%). The seniors don’t have interest in throwing in some B element. Many more juniors also start on the low bar and do both in the routine, while that is very rare for seniors.  

    Once the 2013 season has ended, it will be interesting to do this for the routines from this year and view the effectiveness of the code changes for this quad through the prism of skill frequency.

    The Importance of the First Worlds

    Here’s something: We’ve now limped through pleasantly experienced three full Olympic quads under the Martha camp system, and over those years, 17 gymnasts have made Olympic teams.

    Of those 17 gymnasts, just four competed in the first World Championships of the quad during which they eventually made the Olympics – Mohini Bhardwaj in 2001 and Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone, and Chellsie Memmel in 2005. That’s less than a quarter of the total team members.

    No other eventual Olympians even competed at the senior level in the first year of the quad.

    2012: None of the Olympic team members were age eligible in 2009.
    2008: Sacramone, Liukin, and Memmel made the 2005 World team, while Johnson, Peszek, and Sloan were not old enough.
    2004: Kupets, Patterson, Humphrey, and McCool were not old enough for the 2001 team, Bhardwaj made it, and Hatch was not US eligible at that point.

    Conclusion: If you’re competing at senior nationals this year and want to go to the Olympics in 2016, you kind of need to make the World team. No eligible US gymnast has missed out on the first World team of the quad and gone on to make the Olympic team.

    In fact, over this period, only one competing gymnast has missed the first World team of the quad and gone on to make another World team – Mackenzie Caquatto. She competed at US Championships (now that we have rid ourselves of the Visa Championships label, I’m retroactively applying that to previous competitions and making them all US Championships) in 2009, finished fifth, and was not selected for the team that year. She then made the 2010 World team on the strength of increasing her bars difficultly. 

    Staying healthy as a senior for four straight years is difficult enough, but withstanding the onslaught of comebacks and new seniors is challenging even for those at the top of the heap during that first season, let alone those who are trying to gain ground.

    This year seems to have the potential to be fairly deep, especially in the vault and floor department (shock!), and several top gymnasts with Olympic aspirations are going to miss out on the World team this year because they will be, perhaps, third best on those events. These gymnasts are currently being referred to as “better in a team scenario” types who will have a stronger chance in years with team finals. That’s only very rarely the case. If a gymnast can’t make the individual Worlds, it’s just as challenging to make the next team Worlds from a larger crop of gymnasts. “Better in a team scenario” in 2013 probably means “really good alternate” in 2014.

    The best option? Caquatto yourself and become undeniable on bars. 

    On Home Scoring, the Elite Kind

    The official motto of the American gymternet is Illos numeros inter gentes numquam accipiet. (She’ll never receive those scores internationally.)

    Over the years, we’ve all seen any number of hilarious scores showered upon US gymnasts at domestic competitions, and this storied history of ridiculing hyper-American judging has cultivated the widespread assumption that less biased international judges would never succumb to such silliness.

    At times in the past, this has been the case, but in the last few years, the international judges have seemed willing to evaluate the execution of routines with that we would normally consider an American lens. Has the “she will never receive those scores internationally” argument become a knee-jerk response to perceived overscoring without a strong correlation to fact? Will she probably receive those scores internationally as well?

    Those are my questions, at least. So, as a way of reintroducing myself to the elite world, which at this point has been [scene missing] ever since the Olympics, I compared the execution scores given to the US team members in 2011 and 2012 at Classic/Championships/Trials with the scores they would later receive at Worlds/Olympics. (I went back no further than 2011 because I don’t have the D/E breakdown for 2010 TF and AA and 2009 AA.) I threw out routines with falls and major mistakes, since they would skew the execution score in a misleading direction. This is about the evaluation of essentially equivalent routines, not comparing falls to hits. Certainly, there are differences in the actual quality of all routines (a wobble or two here, no wobbles there), but those issues should even out between the two sets of competitions, providing an overall reliable sense of how the judges are evaluating American performances.

    At Worlds in 2011, things were fairly regular and predictable over the four events with the average US execution scores falling somewhere between a tenth to a tenth and a half lower than the scores received domestically for hit routines. It’s a significant but not overwhelming or decisive difference. At the Olympics, things got a little funkier. The execution scores on bars were significantly lower than what was received at Championships and Trials (three or four tenths), and the floor scores were somewhat lower as well (more in line with what we saw in 2011). However, the beam execution scores were quite constant throughout all competitions, and the vault scores were much higher at the Olympics than in the US. The outlying increase in numbers on vault in 2012 can, at least in part, be attributed to legitimate improvement in execution leading up to the Olympics from the likes of Douglas and Raisman, whose Y2.5s were far stronger by that point.


    I would contend, though, that on a number of occasions the vault scoring at the Olympics went a little Florida @ Utah. 9.400? 

    That’s my shallow overall impression of the numbers. There is enough of a difference between domestic and international scoring to remain significant, but it is not dramatic and can easily be overstated. In almost all cases recently (and we’ll get to that almost in a moment), the overall execution scores received in the US have not been outside a believable range with the international scores. If we go back to 2009, the Worlds infamous for harsher execution scoring, the difference would have been greater, but in the years since, the scores have adjusted to a more forgiving place.

    While those are the larger trends, they are far from consistent from gymnast to gymnast, and that’s where things get interesting. The average difference in 2011 may have rested in that 1-2 tenth range, but some were consistently on the low end (or below the range) while others were always over the range. This in and of itself is not necessarily surprising, but I would have assumed that the difference would be greater for gymnasts with more questionable form issues, ones that might be ignored domestically and caught internationally. Translation: I thought it would be Aly Raisman.

    Raisman received more “she’ll never get those scores internationally” comments than any other gymnast of the quad, and yet of everyone, she was the gymnast least susceptible to knock-down execution scores at Worlds/Olympics. She did get those scores internationally, and she got them every single time. The justification of those scores is another question, but they happened. Raisman’s execution scores were almost always within a tenth either way. Her worst differential was on vault in 2011, where her US execution average was +.125 over her World average (if we throw out the Amanar attempt from Classic, which is not comparable to the execution scores for her DTYs at Worlds – if we put it back in, her Worlds average is better). On floor in 2011 and vault in 2012, her international averages were far stronger than her domestic ones. Even on her much-maligned bars routine, there was no appreciable difference between US and international evaluation. The international judges felt pretty good about her bars work.


    8.200

    While Aly Raisman was a steady little tugboat, Jordyn Wieber was quite the opposite. On both the 2011 and 2012 teams, she had by far the most disparate execution scores. If Raisman’s difference rarely reached above a tenth, Wieber’s difference rarely reached below two tenths and was usually greater than that. It was upwards of five tenths on both bars and floor in 2012 (where Raisman was closer to one and Douglas was closer to two). Even on vault in 2012, the scoring jackpot, her increase was the smallest on the team (along with Maroney’s, which I would account more to hitting a ceiling and having nowhere higher to go). Over two years of senior (major) international competition on bars, Wieber received consistent E scores between 8.700-9.000 at home and never broke 8.500 internationally. On floor, she was almost always 9.000 or greater at home yet only once reached that plateau on the big stage (for that rather strong 2012 TF floor routine, which still scored significantly lower in execution than all her domestic routines in the lead up to the Olympics, which didn’t go below 9.150).


    9.400

    The only event where Wieber’s execution evaluation was fairly constant was beam, but I would certainly make the argument that home scoring did her the greatest disservice on beam in 2012 by pretending that her 6.3 composition existed in a real world. Home scoring with regard to D score is certainly an issue, but it comes into play less frequently. D score issues have not usually had the kind of significant impact they had with Wieber.

    So, what do we make of this? As with all quantitative assessments, it should exist alongside qualitative assessments. An argument can certainly be made that Wieber peaked early and simply showed better gymnastics domestically, accounting for the major difference in scores. That is absolutely part of it, but does that account for the whole difference? In 2011, the bars difference was three tenths even when throwing out the routines with mistakes like the AA performance, and the evidence of 2012 FX seems to show that even strong international performances were never going to match the domestic scores. That just didn’t happen to the same degree with the rest of the team, particularly Raisman. It wasn’t a whole-country thing. It wasn’t even a just-the-famous-ones thing. 

    These last few years, it appears that home scoring is alive and, while maybe a little bit more feeble than it used to be, still kicking. However, “she’ll never receive those scores internationally” needs to be tempered as a credo because it lately amounts to only a tenth or two of difference for most gymnasts rather than a dramatic break that blows up potential scoring and because it is far from consistent, even among the various chosen ones. It has been quite person-specific.

    Two years is an admittedly small sample, but let’s keep an eye on it in 2013.

    How to Speak Gymnastics Part 2: I before E

    Names of Germanic origin seem to cause people a lot of problems with the order of the i and the e.
     
    I before E, except after C, or when sounding like “why” as in “why are you trying to do that forward hip circle?”

    Gienger

    Wieber

    Weiler

    You can remember that Weiler is the one with the e first because if you’re Wieber, the Weiler hurts your E-score. Or, you can just remember it like a normal person. 

    Finally, in my continuing effort to have a series of borderline-psychotic arguments with the women’s Code of Points (the first step is admitting you have a problem), let’s talk about this.

    Really, women’s code? TBC? To be confirmed? You’ve had about 50 years since Willie Weiler Weilered. This really calls your level of efficiency into question. It’s almost like you don’t have a team of experts working around the clock to confirm this information.