The China Five

China

And the award for least controversial selection process of 2016 goes to China.

…Right? Or…wrong?

As the Chinese Championships draw to a close, it would seem to be way too clear who the five members of the Olympic team should be (hard as Wang Yan may try to bequeath her spot to someone…anyone else), a devastating blow to those of us whose second-favorite sport is playing around with team permutations.

But then China comes through in the clutch! Yesss!

[I’m amending this post to reflect the chatter coming through after nationals that China’s nominative Rio group is Shang, Fan, Mao, Wang, and LIU TINGTING, with Tan Jiaxin as an alternate.]

In my best impression of Tim and Elfi standing in front of a piece of black construction paper and flinging people’s magnet-names anywhere, here’s how I saw the team setting up after nationals.

Because China’s top gymnasts are all (essentially) specialists, the team is somewhat handcuffed as to which gymnasts can be chosen. Shang Chunsong is just SO much better than everyone else and an absolute lock, and Fan Yilin continues to be the best bars worker and a top-3 beam worker, two scores that are far too valuable to leave behind. It’s a testament to Fan’s lock status that she can fall on bars in TF and fall on beam in EF and still remain largely a sure thing because…who is taking that spot from her? Her bars routine can score a legitimate half-point better than the second-best Chinese bars worker, and one fall on beam is basically peak consistency in this group.

VAULT BARS BEAM FLOOR
Shang Shang Shang
Fan Fan

Already, even with just two people set, the selection gets extremely tight because neither Shang nor Fan can vault in TF, meaning that all three other team members must have a usable DTY or more. Anyone else without a reliable 14.8 vault is already eliminated from the process. This removes early-quad gem Huang Huidan (“She looks like JULLLLIA, who is ELEEEEVVVVVVEN”) from consideration in spite of her returning with a pretty TF-worthy bars routine. Because of Huang’s lack of vault, she can’t be on the same team as both Shang and Fan, and since she’s the least necessary of the three, she’s out. Continue reading The China Five

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Things Are Happening – May 13, 2016

vurkrBO1

1. Liu Tingting is a thing

Charitably, in our time of devastating gymnastics need with only piddling little world cup events to keep us warm, the Chinese Nationals have arrived to save the day. Get ready to have sudden and arbitrary opinions about the Chinese gymnasts again.

For reference, all the cool kids are super into Liu Tingting right now, in case you want to seem popular. She’s like the snap-bracelets-in-1989 of Chinese gymnastics. Everyone’s wearing at least three of her. The even cooler kids were really into Luo Huan for a second, but her existence hasn’t gone great in the last few competitions, so she’s like SO a month again. Off the face of the earth! Now they’ve moved on to Lu Yufei and Zhu Xiaofang.

But, in real results that don’t have anything to do with coolness rankings, Shang Chunsong won both the TF and the AA final, obvi. She remains China’s best and sole medal-competitive AAer. I mostly hesitate to have any expectations for Shang in the AA because her vault continues to be something that wouldn’t make the lineup of a top-30 NCAA team, but with Iordache undergoing an Edward Scissorhands amount of hand surgeries (see below), the Olympic AA field is starting to look quite shallow and weak. I still expect a Russian to pull it together somehow for bronze, but if it comes down to a fight with Steingruber, Black, Downie, etc, then Shang can win AA bronze in Rio.

In more noteworthy developments, Mao Yi is a real thing now. She made the Worlds team last year, but she was sort of in the “you’re also here” part of the team with Chen Siyi, at least in my mind. The DTY she’s showing right now, however, has far superior distance and chest position to the other options, who are still a little two-inches-from-the-table/show-me-on-the-doll-where-the-mat-touched-you, just like at 2015 worlds. Even more significantly, Mao proved here that her floor is not just usable but necessary in a TF scenario.

It’s appropriate to lose yourself in that quad spin, and while routines that rely on spins for difficulty make me more than nervous, it’s not just about the spin because of the tumbling combos, and China desperately needs this “arm wave and an uncomfortable smile” of a routine.

I’m all for the 3.5+front pike trend. It’s much less objectionable than the 3/1+front tucks, which are also still here in force and are among the reasons China gets stuck down in the 8.0-8.3 execution range instead of 8.5-8.7, with the under-rotating and the coming in horizontally. I’m still not sold on the idea that the CV makes those passes worth it since they’re such deduction traps, but the connections do guard against downgraded twists.

Another future Olympian, power specialist Wang Yan, continues to be not Cheng Fei at all, disappointing everyone. WHY AREN’T YOU CHENG FEI??? Continue reading Things Are Happening – May 13, 2016

2008 Olympic Trials Part 2: The Landmark Case of Bieger v. Sloan

Onward to night two!

The final chance for these poor vagrants and wandering hobos to impress the WATCHFUL EYES OF MARTHA KAROLYI (not Martha, just her disembodied, sentient pair of eyes floating around the arena) before the team is…oh, wait. There’s still a selection camp after this. And then a prep camp. What fun. My legs aren’t bedazzled kindling wrapped in Shayla’s Little Orphan Annie ribbon. What are you talking about?

The fact that those reclaimed bird limbs that Nastia charitably calls her joints stayed intact through this whole process and into the Olympics remains a miracle to me. Praise be to Prod’s shaved eyebrow stripe.

BUT IT’S STILL THE LAST CHANCE.

toprove

Incomplete sentence. To prove what? To prove a theorem? To prove bread? Never explained. No other words are used. Just “TO PROVE.”

“Earning a spot on the Olympic team is one of the most important things these girls have to accomplish.”

One of? Martha, I’m disappointed in you. We all know it’s the only important thing. That’s how you can tell Martha did not have script approval here. I suppose it is an improvement over the original draft, “If Alicia falls on beam, I will burn her family.”

“If you’re not able to perform under these situations, then you obviously would not be the right player.” PLAYER? Martha. Come on. You’re falling apart around here. You’re not some mouth-breathing NCAA bro-mmentator named Chert who usually does lacrosse games. You know they’re called gymnasts.

We’re treated to the highlights of night one, which include Nastia and Shawn hugging each other and that’s all. You know, the important part.

Much like a TGIF program of the 90s, an opening credit sequence is used reintroduce us to the cast of characters in case our small child brains have forgotten who they are since yesterday.

Rachel

Shayla wishes she were just flinging that menu down anywhere like Aunt Rachel. This is why no one ever ate at Rachel’s Place.

The “players” are even broken up into helpful categories: On The Cusp, As Expected, and The Comeback. You know, the three categories. Like when political pollsters call and ask you to rate a candidate’s favorability on a scale of On The Cusp to The Comeback.

Shayla, Sam, Bridget, and Ivana are all shown doing various levels of terribly to reinforce that they’re on the cusp because of sucking and being not special like Nastia. After the tenor of night one, I’m kind of surprised Ivana got On The Cusp, instead of being placed in her own YOU SUCK AND WE HATE YOU, IVANA category.

asexpected

Nastia’s wedgie…AS EXPECTED. “Yep, that’s the one. Use that shot.”

Russian DNA and Cereal Box continue being part of a balanced breakfast, but they’ll also be joined on the team by THE COMEBACK, meaning Alicia and Chellsie.

What exactly is Alicia supposed to be coming back from? Competing at the last three consecutive world championships? WOW, I can’t wait for Simone’s comeback this year, you guys! Alicia is coming back from…falling on beam once four years ago? SUCH A COMEBACK. Continue reading 2008 Olympic Trials Part 2: The Landmark Case of Bieger v. Sloan

JO Nationals Results

The seventillion bajillion JO Nationals competitors are trampling Fort Worth like a herd of bison this weekend. Juniors and seniors in groups A, B, and C compete Saturday, while groups D, E, and F compete Sunday. Those senior D, E, and Fers are the most relevant for upcoming NCAA purposes, but there are developments worth storing in the memory bank nearly all around.

Full results can be found at the new-ish MyUSAGym scoring app, but I’ll put the significant results, along with my notes about them here.

Senior F – Top 10 AA & Notables

Rk Name NCAA VT UB BB FX Total
1 Maddie Karr Denver 2017 9.875 (1) 9.700 (1) 9.775 (1) 9.675 (2) 39.025
This is the main reason I’ve remained high on Denver’s future postseason chances even post-McGee, because Karr is perhaps the top JO gymnast in this recruiting class. She won the Nastia last year, and now she’s a JO nastional champion who recorded the highest score of any gymnast in any session, junior or senior. She’s expected to be a top AAer next season who should deliver the replacement scores Denver desperately needs.
2 Cassidy Keelen Cal 2017 9.675 (3) 9.500 (14) 9.750 (3) 9.650 (4) 38.575
Denver and Cal were the two significant “the status quo is dead, long live the status quo” teams last season, so it’s particularly encouraging that their incoming gymnasts are placing so well at JO Nationals, giving credence to the hope that they will at least remain competitive, if not improve in coming seasons. Cal returns all 24 postseason routines from 2016 and now will be able to add a gymnast like Keelen to bolster those lineups.
3 Rachel Dickson Georgia 2017 9.625 (4) 9.700 (1) 9.700 (4) 9.450 (18) 38.475
Georgia has a monumental routine-replacement task in front of it next season, and part of the concern about relying on Sabrina Vega to do the heavy lifting next year is…how much is she…gymnastics…anymore? It will take several villages to replace their two (or three) best routines on each event, and this result helps prove that Dickson can be at least one of those villages. More than anything else, it will be L10s like Dickson, Schick, Marino, and Cherrey who will dictate who kind of team Georgia becomes in 2017.
4 Christina Berg Arizona 2017 9.525 (14) 9.625 (5) 9.525 (15) 9.575 (6) 38.250
I’m pleased to see how many future Arizona gymnasts have placed well in this competition, and how many top-10 floor placements they’ve brought with them. Arizona’s performance last season was largely par for the course and not different enough from what was happening before, though that is natural in the first year of a new dynasty. Tabitha’s era will be defined by the next couple seasons and what she is able to get out of these new gymnasts.
5 Madison Osman Michigan 2017 9.500 (16) 9.550 (10) 9.500 (18) 9.675 (2) 38.225
Michigan’s incoming class is laregely a bars and beam group, which is fine because they’ll still have Artz, Chiarelli, and Karas to do the major lifting in the power department, but Osman could be an essential piece as the gymnast in the 2017 class who brings a high-level, likely floor routine.
6 Katie Becker Auburn 2017 9.575 (9) 9.550 (10) 9.550 (10) 9.500 (13) 38.175
We know that Auburn’s incoming class brings a number of solid gymnasts, and these 9.5s for a sixth-place finish are reflective of that and of a gymnast who can certainly contribute to lineups. The question we won’t really have an answer to until next January is where the team stands without Atkinson. Will they feel the lack of the big star, or will these solid JO gymnasts do a Captain Planet “by your powers combined” to render the sailing as smooth as it can be?
7 Evanni Roberson Washington 2017 9.400 (27) 9.700 (1) 9.550 (10) 9.450 (18) 38.100
Vaulters, I said! We need VAULTERS! Still, Washington had a very nice 2016 season and a somewhat unexpected resurgance for a program that had been getting a little too 7th-in-the-Pac-12 lately. The judges at regionals thought Washington’s bars rotation was garbage, which is why the Huskies were not able to challenge a fall from UCLA, so someone who wins bars at JOs is more than welcome. Washington is losing the signifciance of Northey, but just Northey, so if Copiak and gymnasts like Roberson deliver, there’s still reason to hope for continued improvement next year.
7 Isabella Amado Boise State 2017 9.600 (6) 9.575 (7) 9.375 (26) 9.550 (7) 38.100
Boise State is really becoming the international house of gymnastics these days, with Collantes contributing an essential AA already and now Amado, who competes internationally for Panama, and Courtney McGregor joining for next season. We know BSU has great bars, but at regionals, Boise State ultimately proved not as competitive on vault and floor as it would have seemed based on the season’s results, who makes Amado’s solid finishes enticing.
7 Olivia Aepli Ohio State 2017 9.425 (22) 9.600 (6) 9.575 (9) 9.500 (13) 38.100
Ohio State hasn’t really been the same since the previous Aepli’s class left, so while it may just be nominative nostalgia since Victoria Aepli was on the OSU team that made nationals, we’ll take what we can get at this point. That 6th-place finish does seem to indiciate that bars routines run in the family.
10 Melissa Brooker NC State 2017 9.475 (21) 9.575 (7) 9.425 (21) 9.550 (7) 38.025
While NC State hasn’t had a ton of high AA placements in this event, a number of the incoming gymnasts have managed top-10 finishes here and there on events, including Alexis Beucler of “hi, your nickname is also a homophobic slur” fame, who finished 13th here. NC State is brining in a class of usabel AAers with a notably competitive event or two.
11 Michaela Burton Arkansas 2017 9.425 (22) 9.350 (20) 9.700 (4) 9.525 (11) 38.000
You broke the Arkansas bars streak! But I had a narrative going! A narrative!
12 Chloe Cluchey WVU 2017 9.600 (6) 9.300 (22) 9.625 (6) 9.225 (32) 37.750
17 Aspen Tucker Missouri 2017 9.625 (4) 8.750 (43) 9.625 (6) 9.550 (7) 37.550
It was almost a good meet, and then it went very, very wrong. Still, she would have been top-5 with a hit bars, and Missouri is another program dropping very little after last season that looks to continue improving with an infusion of yet more competitive L10s.
27 Elle Golison Utah State 2017 9.750 (2) 8.700 (44) 8.875 (42) 9.625 (5) 36.950
N/A Wynter Childers Alabama 2017 9.600 (6) 0.000 (-) 9.775 (1) 9.700 (1) N/A
Did something happen, or did she just pass bars? Because I thought she was going to win this session. She’ll be yet another significant gain for an Alabama team that keeps being almost good enough.

Senior E – Top 10 AA & Notables

Continue reading JO Nationals Results

Things Are Happening – May 6, 2016

Upwards of several things occur each week that aren’t significant enough to warrant a full post, because meh (they’re not critical news like GIFs of beam boob-stabbing or making fun of Trautwig’s every word), but they still happen. And I might suddenly have strong opinions about them starting now, so here we go…

1. SHOCK! DOCTOR Rene Lyst will not be returning to Arizona State next season.

The first stiletto of the offseason has dropped. I know you have to pick your jaw up off the floor about this astonishing and unexpected development. After ASU put DOCTOR Rene on the side of the road in a ditch “administrative leave” with only a couple meets left in the season, there was a really huge chance she would be welcomed back with open arms for 2017. Risa Perez 7, Rene Lyst 0.

Now that the saga is finally over and Rene is hanging up her Ghost of the Moulin Rouge meet dresses, it’s time to start compulsively whispering JEN KESLER and ELISE RAY into an old stovepipe to see if that does anything. You never know.

Based on team quality and reputation (these days), the ASU job would be a step down for most of the current D1 head coaches, but also MONEY PLEASE, so not necessarily.

Most teams in this position, however, will try to go with the fresh-faced, up-and-coming assistant coach/lower-tier head coach who might be planning to stick around for a while to build a program into something we remember to pay attention to. That’s what Arizona just did with Tabitha and is 99% why I want ASU to look at Elise Ray. We need Tabitha and Elise going head-to-head as NCAA head coaches.

2. Meanwhile at Penn State… Continue reading Things Are Happening – May 6, 2016

2008 Olympic Trials Part 1: THERE IS NO NEXT YEAR, Except Next Year

Remember that time I decided to relive recent US Olympic Trials history and then abruptly stopped after two cycles? Well, I do. Sort of. Now. With the 2016 Trials suddenly just two months away (wait, what???), it’s time to get back to business.

2008!

Youtube’s offerings for NBC’s 2008 Trials broadcast are sporadic and wildly unhelpful, so we already feel right at home. The scene has been set.

You can watch some of the meet following part one here, but for the rest you may simply have to rely on me to walk you through the action with my brilliantly poetic and definitely true-to-life account of the broadcast. That is, unless you remember it minute-for-minute, which is also possible.

Gather ‘round, children, for it’s time to begin. Once upon a time, many iOS updates ago, there was a quadrennium called 2008.

Frigid and starving, we were forced to abandon the homeland we knew and strike off into the new world, leaving behind our various Bhardwajs and McCools and Pattersons and ultimately just agreeing to disagree with Kupets’s floor routine by accepting it as part of life’s varied and colorful experiences.

kupets

Who can sayyyyyyy if I’ve been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been chaaaaaanged…for gooooood.

What luck, then, to learn that this new world was full of lush beauty, and soon we were introduced to all two of the gymnasts who competed during the year 2008, Iowa’s very own sentient pair of American flag pants, Shawndolyn Johnson, and some frrrreigner who seems like she’s probably a bitch. We truly are home.

Welcoming us to 2008 is the jaded, eternally half-sarcastic whirr of Costasbot 3000, who has been exhumed from his regeneration capsule and de-gooped for the occasion.

Discussion question: What do we think Costas did to get plopped in the dunce corner and saddled with Bela-herding duty for the 2008 Olympics? I can only assume he waterboarded an intern or whipped a pork tenderloin at Ann Curry again because little else would merit such public indignity and corporal punishment.

The first routine of the evening is Shawn Johnson taping her foot. 16.800.

Aww, isn’t she just the wholesomest all-American sweetheart Iowa smile corn-fed Wheaties butter sculpture?

Shawn2008tape

Aaaabove the fruuuuuited plainnnnn. Amerrrrrrrica. Amerrrrrrrica.

Meanwhile, Nastia just resting-bitch-faced the town of Des Moines to dust like some Russian-born Russian from Russiagrad who’s totally Russian and not America’s sweetheart at all. Did we mention she was born in Russia? Ugh. Nastia. Why can’t you be more from Iowa? 14.350. Continue reading 2008 Olympic Trials Part 1: THERE IS NO NEXT YEAR, Except Next Year

Before They Were NCAA – The 2012 Elites

Now comes the point in the year when we must attempt to wrench ourselves out of an NCAA mindset and pay attention to the elite world again. We’re little more than a month away from Classic now, so the Mad Max remake that masquerades as the US Olympic selection process is soon to reach its familiarly feverish levels. “Do we actually need a bars specialist?” he asks, sharpening an abandoned femur into a spear.

As a bridge between the two worlds, I periodically like to take the results of past US elite competitions and examine how the gymnasts ranked at that point compared to how they would eventually fare in NCAA a few years later. Who rises? Who falls? Who is like the mousy girl in the high school movie who takes off her glasses and suddenly turns beautiful in the NCAA code? Who was using elite difficulty to mask deficiencies that are exposed in college? As we know, success in elite and success in NCAA do not have a 1:1 relationship.

Today, I have taken the various AA and event results from the 2012 Visa Championships (Visa Championships…feels so long ago. Like the John Hancock US Championships, which were basically contemporaneous with John Hancock) and bolded the gymnasts who competed in NCAA at some point after this competition (so I didn’t include Anna Li since she’s a category all her own). A number of items jump out.

All-around
1. Wieber – 69.650/61.250
2. Douglas – 60.650/61.050
3. Raisman – 69.200/69.750
4. Ross – 59.750/60.200
5. Price – 59.600/58.500
6. Finnegan – 59.150/58.450
7. Vega – 56.500/57.950
8. Baker – 58.050/56.400
9. Dowell – 55.7800/56.900
10. Sloan – 56.250/56.150
11. Milliet – 55.250/55.150
12. Brown – 54.200/55.500
13. McLaughlin – 55.400/53.150
14. Jetter – 53.550/54.850
15. Skinner – 55.550/51.600
16. Jay – 52.550/53.150
17. Wofford – 51.900/53.350

Fewer than half of the future NCAA gymnasts who competed AA at the 2012 championships continued to do AA in college (and only two or three of the eleven have been full-time AAers for multiple seasons), which helps illustrate the danger of assuming NCAA dominance for all elites. Those who continue at the same strength as all-arounders, your Sloans and Prices and Bakers, are the exception more than the rule. Instead, we have the usual random smattering of competition and success levels, ranging from barely-one-event status to best-in-the-country status. But what’s of most interest here is the reason they’re not competing AA in college.

We tend to assume that the biggest obstacle for elites transitioning to NCAA is health, that they all would be top-ranked gems if their bodies weren’t halfway to the glue factory by now after so many trips to Martha’s Texas Adventure. While that’s true in several cases, many are relatively healthy but simply not making all the lineups. Even someone who counts in the all-around category like Brianna Brown probably wouldn’t have done AA this year if Casanova had been available, and Brandie Jay spent three years not even getting close to Georgia’s beam lineup, not because of health but because of “Aaahh, beam!” In her 2015 season at Oklahoma, Dowell was in a similar position to Jay. Sometimes, in spite of an elite pedigree and strong rankings through the age of 18, gymnasts are just not top six on their NCAA teams, even on events that were elite strengths.

In breaking down some of the specific rankings, I’m not taking Sloan into account much because she wasn’t up to her full level during 2012, so this isn’t really reflective of her standing in the elite world the way 2008 and 2009 were. It’s not like Sloan was some middle-of-the-pack elite who suddenly bloomed in college.

Brandie Jay is one who leapfrogged many of her higher-ranked elite peers to become a bigger and more influential contributor in NCAA than she was in elite, finishing largely on par with the likes of Kennedy Baker, who was a higher scorer and more compelling contender during the end of the last quad. Jay is probably the best example here of someone whose dominant years were still ahead of her in 2012.

Finnegan is also an interesting case because if we were to judge her freshman year by the second-behind-Price standard that 2012 gave us, the 2016 season would be considered somewhat average and not the dominance and team-leading influence normally expected of an Olympic alternate. Yet, having gone through years of “does she do gymnastics?” in between, her three events of 9.850-9.900 and ability to leg-event at all this season are a somewhat unexpected and welcome revelation. A lot happens between elite and NCAA, and we don’t often maintain expectations for NCAA based on elite results, especially for certain types of gymnasts. I don’t think many would say Abby Milliet’s NCAA career has been disappointing so far, but she’s certainly not top-6 AA level. Even before Grace McLaughlin started at Florida, she was at “maybe a beam routine?” status, not AA-queen status.

A lot of this does come down to injury history/gymnastics style. We tend to maintain elite expectations for gymnasts with Raisman legs who look like they can hold up to four more years of gymnastics, but with the fragile-looking spinny twisties, we’re just happy to see a routine at some point, even if it’s an exhibition bars. We’re like, “Good for her! I can see knees! She still has them!”

It’s worth noting that there are no “whoops, I broke and then disappeared into witness protection without another word” gymnasts in this AA collection, which is encouraging. Everyone either made the Olympics and turned pro, did NCAA, or will do NCAA. The only one in the whole 2012 competition who doesn’t fit into those categories is Bross. There are usually more.

Vault (one vault, two days)
1. Wieber 15.650/15.900
2. Price 15.800/15.600 
3. Douglas 15.350/15.800
4. Sacramone 15.450/15.500
5. Raisman 15.450/15.300
6. Ross 15.100/15.250
7. Finnegan 15.000/14.900
8. Baker 14.650/14.800
9. Skinner 14.550/14.600
10. Jay 14.600/14.500
11. Dowell 14.250/14.700
12. Vega 14.100/14.500
13. Jetter 14.100/14.150
14. Milliet 14.050/14.150
15. Brown 13.950/14.100
16. McLaughlin 13.800/14.200
17. Sloan 13.850/14.150
18. Brannan 13.800/14.150
19. Wofford 12.000/12.200

Continue reading Before They Were NCAA – The 2012 Elites

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama