2004 Olympic Trials Part 2: Courtney McCool’s Comedy Oil Change

On to day 2 of the 2004 Olympic Trials competition. And by competition, I mean blathering for two hours while people warm up, with four routines thrown in as a treat. Also a treat, the live team announcement and ceremonial awarding of the emotional trauma and resentment.

-The TJ MAXX TOUR OF CHAMPIONS is coming to your home town!!!!!!!!! What if you called that number right now and tried to get tickets? “I just want to see Carly Patterson!”
-The “TJ Maxx tour of champions” is also what I call the grocery store on a Sunday morning.

-“You will marvel as these gymnasts deliver gymnastics.” TWIST.
-Oh, your senses will be kick-started all right. Particularly your senses of shame and regret.

-Interpretive ode to the red-light district?

-And now, let’s begin.
-Ooooh, a flashback episode! “Previously, on the manipulative nightmare that is the Olympic Trials broadcast history, everyone’s life was garbage…”

-It’s really important to start with an “it’ll end in tears” montage. Just to set the tone of the proceedings. Ladies, learn from this. Blubbering is the only goal.

-Elise Ray is crying. Shannon Miller is crying. Alyssa Beckerman is crying. Beth Rybacki is crying. Obviously. Beth Rybacki is a Native American origin story of how the Great Lakes came to be. Which one’s happy? Which one’s sad? It doesn’t matter. TEARS!

-Al is doing a pretty good job reminiscing about how traumatic that 2000 team announcement debacle was (raw, disorganized, abrupt, and unnecessary public and painful), but it’s hard to tell whether that’s supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing. Given the forthcoming 2004 announcement, I’m thinking it’s supposed to be a good thing. “Imagine your worst nightmare. I can’t wait to watch all of it.”

-Yes, Bela decided to step down after 2000. Everyone else was going, “Please continue, Bela! It went so well! We love and need you!” That’s what happened.

-Turn back the clock to when Martha was also appearing as Sister Margaretta/Understudy Maria in Bucharest’s longest-running production of The Sound of Music.

-When I was in elementary school, my haircut of choice was The Martha. #styleicon
Continue reading 2004 Olympic Trials Part 2: Courtney McCool’s Comedy Oil Change

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2004 Olympic Trials Part 1: Schwikert Family Gold

Back to the grindstone. My soul-destroying retrospective of US Olympic Trials broadcasts continues with 2004. This was actually a fantastic year for the US Team, and Trials featured few falls and even fewer coaches being made to wear mics, which is a real shame. But still, we always have mercilessly making fun of Trautwig, right? Oh boy do we. He was in rare form this year. Let’s begin.


(Note on that intro: Misty Hyman is still the worst name ever given to a human person. Hi, this is my daughter, Sweaty Vulva.)

Prologue: Kim Jong Martha
-“This is Texas.”

-Yep, that’s it. We’ve got a church, abandoned railroad tracks, some horrible dirt road from the 30s, and Martha eagle-eyeing the hell out of physical abilities testing. Or as Texans call them, the big four.

-This training montage music is called “Essence of North Korean Military.”
-The US gymnastics renaissance is being crafted at a cost. OK? The cost of…stretching in unison? SUCH TERRIBLE LIVES. THE COST IS TOO GREAT. THEY MIGHT MISS PROM.
-I forgot that we were still in the “how dare you put them through this hell” era of Martha camp narrative. Before the US started winning every year and camps became the glorious revelation of a soothsaying genius.

-If you’re going for the “Remember how happy everyone used to be in 1996?” angle, maybe clips of Dominique Moceanu aren’t the strongest choice. Old Dominique “Smiles” Moceanu, that’s what we call her. She had a grand time. Totally loving life. (Have you forgotten the sadness forest so quickly?)

-Misty water-colored meeeemmmmmmories, of the way we were…

-Bela won the team gold medal in 1996. Live and learn.

-“And then that trash heap 2000 team fucked it up for everyone and finished 4th, like losers. You brought shame on a nation, and we hate you. I mean GO TEAM USA. As long as you hit. Otherwise, get out. What was your name again? Lizzie or something?”

-But it’s OK because in 2003 Bela high-fived everyone, spontaneously creating Carly Patterson and saving gymnastics from the worthless failures of 2000. BYE LIZZIE.

-I love that this intro is basically a superhero origin story for the Martha camps. Martha pops out at the end to go, “And that’s how I became…THE FLASH!”
Continue reading 2004 Olympic Trials Part 1: Schwikert Family Gold

American Skills – 2015 Edition

It’s that time of year again. A brand new batch of fresh summer routines has once again been bestowed upon us by Mrs. Karolyi’s Traveling Circus, which means it’s now my turn to break these routines down into their constituent skills to see what trends in routine composition emerge. Which skills have become the coolest kids in school and are totally dating Brett Bretterson? Which loser skills are eating lunch by themselves in a bathroom stall like Stephanie Tanner before Gia teaches her about smoking and Ace of Base (and meth, probably)? And does any of it make sense? Or are all these routines stupid?

Let’s get into it. On each event, the skills are broken down by category, with the corresponding numbers indicating the percentage of US senior elites who performed that skill at the national championship in the given year. I have included all skills of C value or greater (so none of this bhs or giant nonsense), as well as the A dance elements on beam as a way of keeping tabs on how people are choosing to fulfill the dance combination requirement. As always, I counted the skill attempted rather than the skill that would actually receive credit because this is about evaluating intended composition choices. Though let me tell you, that was a rough game this year on floor. We’ll get there in a second.

Some of the notable rises, falls, and year-to-year comparisons are highlighted. Because people like things with colors on them. Apparently. 

UNEVEN BARS:

  • The tkatchev made a nice little comeback this year in most of its flavors (stalder, piked, and plain). Only the toe-on variation saw a fall in 2015 as more people have started performing a greater variety of entries, which is always a good thing. It also makes sense to Shayla up these bars routine since tkatchev variations are so valuable for CV right now. Last year, I was a little surprised by how few we saw, but they’re coming into line now. Overall, the gymnasts are stepping up the difficulty with their bars releases. Although some of that is just Brenna making the whole group look like daredevils.   
  • The straddled jaeger remains the gold standard of non-tkatchev releases. As in, the only one. No piked versions this year, and no giengers again. Poor gienger. The gienger is a leg-separation deduction trap (hi Sophina!) while the straddled jaeger isn’t, so if you’re choosing one, it makes sense to choose the jaeger. But seriously, you’re telling me no one out there can throw us a nice little Peszek-level gienger?

  • Everyone remains all about the toe-on. And by everyone, I mean 52.63% of people. I’m still not really clear on why this trend has come on so forcefully in the last couple years. Sure, many people do need an 8th skill to count and the toe-on is the easiest C element on bars, but that was also true in the last quad, when relatively few people were doing toe-ons with no pirouetting (14% in 2012).  
  • We also saw a bit of an upswing in the toe-on 1/2s this year, though not a terribly significant one. This is understandable as a result of the popularity of jaegers. Got to do something to get facing the right direction.  
  • The stalder full continues to be the big loser among bars turns after having enjoyed greater popularity in the last quad when D pirouettes were more valuable for CV. Now, not so much. The relatively strict deductions for late pirouettes (compared to releases) have also contributed to this decline since the value of the skill just isn’t worth the potential for a large late-finish deduction. Now, the gymnasts shove their one D pirouette into the routine (toe-on full) for a necessary D skill, but they’re loath to put in another one if they don’t have to.  
  • Sadly, the weiler 1/2 (aka, the wolf turn of bars) has returned to its previous levels after a refreshing dip last year.

  • More than anything else, this is the quad of the pak salto, which was clear to even more extreme degree this year than in the previous two years. The main (only) reason for the emergence of the Pak Posse is the pak’s ability to get gymnasts facing the right direction for shaposh variations. Couple that with the elimination of the bail+stalder shoot CV, and there’s no longer much reason at all to do a bail. In fact, pretty much everyone still doing a bail is also doing a pak and just needs another countable high-to-low element.
  • The lone ranger not doing a pak is Aly Raisman. Every other senior has a pak (or Bhardwaj, which is a variation on the same theme) in her routine. Raisman also has one of the lowest D scores. So that’s not a coincidence.
  • But! We have four different high-to-low transitions this year instead of two. So that’s something. Everyone light a candle for Brenna and Kyla.

  • One of the stranger blips in 2015 is the decrease in shap 1/2s compared to last year. It’s not large enough to be a thing, but I would have expected an increase this year since it’s so valuable for D score. You’d think more people would be learning it. I especially expected to see an increase show up in the numbers because these bars routines are getting much harder. Last year, 42% of US senior competitors had a D score in the 6.0+ range. This year, it was 74%.
  • But note that the stalder shap is getting increasingly popular, mostly with people who already have the toe-on version in their routines and are now including two shaps. That’s one of the places this increased difficulty is coming from.
  • Unsurprisingly, shoots to the high bar continue to be an endangered species as a result of the bail issue discussed above, but the toe shoot in particular in an interesting case of composition change in a very short period. 
    In the 2012 quad, few people performed the toe shoot because it’s a B and couldn’t get CV out of a bail, while the C-rated stalder shoot would. In 2013, we saw a jump in the frequency of toe shoots compared to stalders as many people retained their 2012 composition but realized they could do the toe shoot instead of the stalder since neither would receive CV anyway. But lately, we’ve seen the toe shoot start to decline once again as people adapt to the code of this quad, emphasizing more pak-shap action without needing a shoot at all. 
     
  • Yay! This year, the disappointing trend of repetitive bars dismounts reversed a tiny bit as we saw four whole dismounts (four!) compared to last year’s two. A few of those half in-half outs and DLOs have been replaced by DLO fulls and double fronts (however misguided) for some more variety to get us back closer to previous levels. It’s a start. 

    BALANCE BEAM:

    • The queen is dead, long live the queen. After a rough year of being exiled to the wilderness by that pretender to the throne, the layout stepout, the aerial walkover mustered an army and forced a revolution to regain her rightful place atop the beam acro standings.
    • The acro landscape this season is actually fairly different than it was last year and reflects a reversion to the mean, more similar to previous years. The overarching trend here is increased difficulty as we see a drop in D acro elements like the side aerial, punch front, and side somi and a corresponding increase in harder elements like the layout (2 feet), front pike, and barani. D acro elements had been on the rise because of this quad’s emphasis on acro + dance combinations, but why do D acro + A dance when you can do E acro + A dance? (Because you’re Aly Raisman and it makes you fall on a split jump?) 
    • Back pikes and tucks are also up this year with several more people electing to do switch split + back pike/tuck/puck to squeeze out that 0.1 CV.  

      • 100% switch split. Oh boy. Since I started doing this in 2012, this is the first skill that has appeared in 100% of US senior routines (not counting round offs and back handsprings). If it was ever going to happen, this was the skill. The switch just makes too much sense because of how many birds can be killed with this one stone. (I just now realized what a horrible expression that is.) 
        Not only is the switch split the easiest C dance element (and since pretty much everyone will end up counting at least one C dance element, everyone wants to do a switch split), it’s also valuable for that connection into a C acro skill for 0.1 CV or into a split jump/sissone to fulfill the dance combo. But at the same time, do we approve of any code that will encourage a skill to appear in 100% of a nation’s routines?
      • Another interesting development is the slight decline of the split jump. A few more people this year exercised different options in completing the dance combo, either through other A elements (note the uptick in wolf jumps and pike jumps) or the Baumann strategy of doing switch to switch half and daring the judges not to award the connection. 
        There may also be a concern that not hitting 180 is getting deducted more strictly on split jumps, since it’s the most obvious of the dance element errors, and perhaps people feel they can get away with a little bit more suckiness on a wolf, pike, or sissone than on a split. We also need to talk about the dire state of these sissones. They’re basically just split jumps with a low front leg. That’s not really the deal.
         
      • I included a total wolf turns category this year because wolf turns have dominated the conversation lately. While much more prevalent for the seniors in 2015 than in 2014, wolf turns weren’t performed by everyone the way it sort of seemed. We did see quite a few in the juniors, though, which indicates that it will be a growing trend in coming years. 2013 also saw a high percentage of wolf turns, though there were far fewer total competitors in 2013 so it may not have seemed like as many.  

        • A little bit of a comeback for the double pike this year. The proportion of people doing dismounts more difficult than Ds has remained relatively steady over the last four years. It’s usually just the brave few. Twisting dismounts were not in fashion this year, part of an overall trend toward double saltos and away from twisting skills. 

          FLOOR EXERCISE: 

          • Here, we see more of the trend away from twisting skills. Look at the numbers for the triple full, 2.5, front double full, and even 1.5 (which should still be pretty useful for that indirect connection bonus). They’re all way down from 2012. Much of the reason is that the highest tariff elements (what, am I British now?) are double saltos, not twists, so if you need to push the difficulty to try to stay somewhere in sight of Simone, you’re going to learn a DLO, not a 3/1.
          • In keeping with that, the overall adjustment this year was toward difficulty as everyone competes with each other to show off the biggest D. More piked full ins, double arabians, double fronts, etc. 
          • On a positive note, the proportion of people fulfilling the forward tumbling requirement with some random aerial in the middle of nowhere was down to 37.5% this year from 50% last year. So yay?

            • Now here, Wolf Turn Nation is really in full bloom. The inexplicably D-rated double wolf is skyrocketing over all the other floor turns because it’s so much easier to complete and get credit for than the double L or double Y. The double wolf turn on floor really needs to become a C in the next code. 
            • Fewer single full turns reared their heads this year since the value of those D turning skills is too irresistible to pass up. Nearly no one is willing to thrown in a full turn just to fulfill the requirement before calling it a day anymore. We did, however, have a lot more people utilizing the turn combination for CV this year, which accounts for the increase in single L turns.  

              • We’ve seen a really huge leap in the number of switch fulls being attempted since the beginning of the quad, which was particularly evident this year and is directly linked to the new rule that allows gymnasts to leap out of another leap and receive credit for the first leap, even if it’s (somewhat) under-rotated. That means that nearly everyone who used to play it safe and do a switch 1/2 now feels the freedom to try the switch full, even if she can’t actually do it. So really, the most popular dance element this year wasn’t the switch full, it was the switch 9/16ths directly into a BS sissone. What was actually being attempted was really hard to say most of the time. There were a lot of “Was that a try?” moments.
              • This year, 87.50% of gymnasts elected to perform an A dance element directly out of another dance element, while just 56.25% elected to perform an A dance element directly out of a tumbling pass in an attempt to get that CV. 
              • Also, L hops. No.

              On Kyla, Gabby, and How It Doesn’t Really Matter

              It occurs to me I never wrapped up my thoughts on the national championship, so here are just a few behind-schedule cognitive tangles about that competition before we move on to remembering that there are still two more national team camps before the WC squad is named and two more months until the actual competition.

              On day 2 of nationals for the women, the world righted itself, with most of the competitors remembering that hitting routines is a thing you should probably do. It also reinforced why prospective team selection is such a fun game. There are a TON of realistic permutations for Worlds teams this year, all of which will end up scoring very similarly to one another, and some of which belie visual impressions from the competition. But which one do you choose?

              Take Kyla, for example. Expectations are a funny thing. Kyla has been a top-2 AAer for the US this whole quad, majoring in not sucking at bars. So when she suddenly has a nasty Nationals and looks weak on bars, the sky is falling. That was certainly the attitude of our broadcast team. Al was even asking whether Kyla would make the selection camp. (Tim was like, “Derp. Obvi she’s making the selection camp.”) Yes correct, Tim.

              But to me, and contrary to the overall tone of things, Kyla helped her chances to make the team with her performance on day 2 of nationals. At least, she made an argument for including her in the squad that she didn’t make on day 1. No, bars is not happening. But at this moment, it’s not really about bars for her. That’s the big change in expectations we have to make. With her current routine composition, Kyla isn’t making the team to do bars in TF even if she shaves several inches off her height and lands a dismount. (If she returns to her planned 6.3 and can hit by selection camp, it’s a different story, but that’s a lot to do.) Right now, it’s about beam. That’s where she can be top three. And she stepped up like hell there and did her job on day 2.

              In fact, because she did her job (scoring several tenths ahead of a connection-free Aly Raisman and a strong Alyssa Baumann, and a point ahead of a wobbly Gabby Douglas), suddenly a team with Kyla on it makes a little sense now and outscores many of the other permutations. At least on the day. Playing the same game I did for day 1 scores, here’s the way some possible teams stack up according exclusively to their day 2 scores. 

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Key, Kocian, Ross – 185.500 (Day 1: 181.750)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 45.850: Kocian 15.600, Key 15.300, Biles 14.950
              BB – 46.100: Biles 15.900, Ross 15.250, Raisman 14.950
              FX – 46.050: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Key 14.700

              This team didn’t score very well based on day 1 scores, but on day 2 it was stellar. Note that there’s a serious name missing from this group. This is why the numbers and team combinations sometimes don’t reinforce original visual impressions. Gabby had a pretty nice performance on day 2 (not Classics nice, but solid), and Kyla did not. Nonetheless, here we are, with this team and a 185.500. Now, I still think Gabby is necessary to the team and is among the safest selections, but she needs to show some “you have to take me” scores at camp to confirm her spot, particularly by outscoring Bailie Key on bars. Showing Classic-level beam would be nice too, though that wouldn’t be so nice for Kyla.

              And to be fair, it’s not like a team with Douglas on it is scoring at all differently from this one. It’s just an interesting development. If you’re asking me my team, Gabby is on it without much hesitation.

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Douglas, Kocian, Ross – 185.400 (Day 1: 181.850)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 45.650: Kocian 15.600, Douglas 15.100, Biles 14.950
              BB – 46.100: Biles 15.900, Ross 15.250, Raisman 14.950
              FX – 46.150: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Douglas 14.800

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Key, Kocian, Locklear – 185.400 (Day 1: 181.350)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 46.350: Kocian 15.600, Locklear 15.450, Key 15.300
              BB – 45.500: Biles 15.900, Raisman 14.950, Nichols 14.650
              FX – 46.050: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Key 14.700

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Douglas, Kocian, Locklear – 185.300 (Day 1: 182.100)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 46.150: Kocian 15.600, Locklear 15.450, Douglas 15.100
              BB – 45.500: Biles 15.900, Raisman 14.950, Nichols 14.650
              FX – 46.150: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Douglas 14.800

              (I REALLY like this team, but it relies on someone—Douglas—pulling a third beam routine together to be as competitive as the others.)

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Douglas, Kocian, Baumann – 185.200 (Day 1: 182.600)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 45.650: Kocian 15.600, Douglas 15.100, Biles 14.950
              BB – 45.900: Biles 15.900, Baumann 15.050, Raisman 14.950
              FX – 46.150: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Douglas 14.800

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Douglas, Key, Kocian – 185.150 (Day 1: 181.950)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 46.000: Kocian 15.600, Key 15.300, Douglas 15.100
              BB – 45.500: Biles 15.900, Raisman 14.950, Nichols 14.650
              FX – 46.150: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Douglas 14.800

              Some of these options emphasize why Bailie Key is part of a safer team selection (she can go up on any event whenever and give you a usable score, which is a very convincing argument with Martha), but if you’re only using her for bars in TF, there are other choices.

              Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Douglas, Key, Ross – 185.100 (Day 1: 181.600)
              VT – 47.500: Biles 16.300, Nichols 15.850, Raisman 15.350
              UB – 45.350: Key 15.300, Douglas 15.100, Biles 14.950
              BB – 46.100: Biles 15.900, Ross 15.250, Raisman 14.950
              FX – 46.150: Biles 15.850, Raisman 15.500, Douglas 14.800

              More than anything else, these scores reinforce that it’s all essentially the same. Based on day 2 (a day of hit routines), all these different teams—leaving off Kyla, leaving off Bailie, leaving off Gabby—are scoring within a few tenths of each other. Choose any of the above, and it will be fine. The final scores will turn out about the same, and no one will have much of an argument that the selected team is unfair. Do whatever. Have a ball.

              Splatfest 2015

              I like to consider myself a connoisseur of splatfests. It is my calling. And the first day of women’s competition at the national championships last night was a truly lovely vintage. It wasn’t quite 2000 Trials level (that’s an unrealistic standard to which to hold other competitions—we can’t all be 2000 Trials), but Aly Raisman did fall on a split jump, so it was pretty competitive. During the meet, I may or may not have started singing “Car Wash” but with “splatfest” instead of “car wash.”

              Now, except for Maggie Nichols continuing to be a Solid Sandy and confirming her place in the new world order, and Simone Biles just casually throwing out the best E score of all time (have we confirmed that? I think it is, beating Nastia’s beam 9.800 at 2008 Pacific Rims, but has anyone scoured the records to make sure?), this meet will probably end up counting as an incomplete. For the rest of you, we’ll pretend it never happened and just start over tomorrow.

              But, what I love about this splatfest most of all (other than how PISSSSSSED Aly and Simone looked the whole time—heartwarming) is that it throws some serious doubt onto that pre-summer presumptive team of Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, Key, Ross. Primarily because of bars. (And also maybe because of Alyssa Baumann…pleeeeeassse?)

              There are still a million things that can change between now and the selection camp. Kupets will make a comeback. The Worlds team will be reduced to 2 and a half members (2 AAers and then whatever is left of Madison Kocian’s legs after this weekend). But, as we stand right now, that presumptive team has some pretty large cracks in it. Let’s talk about that to make this summer of selection a lot more interesting than it has been so far. At least until tomorrow, when everything will change again. I fully own the flippant and mercurial attitude I bring to team selection.

              How do you solve a problem like Kyla? That’s not really the Sound of Music reference I would have expected to need to use about Kyla. She’s supposed to be the Edelweiss of USA Gymnastics. But her bars are turning into an issue. Partly because of the falling (this routine doesn’t make me feel warm and safe like a sweater the way her 2012 routine did), but mostly because of the potential score even when she does hit. Give her back a point for the fall yesterday, and she’s still in 7th on bars, well behind several of the bars specialists contending for a spot. Her difficulty is down to 6.0 from the more competitive 6.3 she was planning, and that’s not a good sign. She needs a selection camp step-up in that regard.

              For now, it appears that if Kyla does makes the Worlds team, it will be because she’s a known and trusted entity who can hit in major situations (regardless of these recent performances). Which is not an unimportant consideration. Even though her beam scores have been lower, I would still trust her on beam in TF more than some other options who have been scoring higher. (Though I would also be perfectly happy with three of Biles/Raisman/Douglas/Baumann on beam, which is part of the problem for her.)

              But a team with Kyla wouldn’t be the team with the highest scoring potential at this point. If you’re bringing Kyla for bars, why not bring Kocian or Locklear instead? If you’re bringing her for bars and beam, why not bring Gowey, who had an under-the-radar pretty awesome day yesterday, getting top five on both her events and stepping up that bars difficulty?

              I’m still not sure how she managed to get a 6.6 D score for that routine since I have it as a 6.5 and she didn’t stick (maybe just because Gowey?), but she’s back on my radar for now because I’m obsessed with her. But also because that bars routine can score quite well, and she’s more usable on beam than Kocian or Locklear. Though bars is the real factor, so she would need to be able to score right with those other two, not a couple tenths below, to be considered. Watch that space. Also decisive will be whether Locklear can get all her skills back by Worlds. This is a downgraded routine that still got a 15.400. If she’s able to get her D score back, it’s hard to say no to the insane cleanliness of this bars work.

              Or, you could combine two people to do the job and bring Kocian for bars and Baumann for beam. (If you feel you need another beamer, which I don’t really think the team does.) Or both Kocian and Locklear for bars again. That would put Bailie Key under pressure. Several weeks ago, she was in the same boat as Nichols, and I do think that if everything goes to plan, they have pretty similar scoring potential in the AA. The difference is Nichols’ Amanar, which is essential right now, leaving Key much lower in the pecking order.

              In that pre-summer presumptive team, you would have Key doing bars in TF, but maybe only bars now that Nichols is scoring equivalently on floor. Key on floor is not the MUST routine it seemed like it would be. So that puts her almost in the same boat as Kyla. If she’s only there in TF to do bars, why not use Kocian/Locklear? Kocian/Locklear/Douglas is the best option for the US on bars, and with Biles, Raisman, and Nichols nailing the power events right now, that’s a legitimate team that didn’t seem as realistic pre-Classic.

              If yesterday’s competition were the women’s team final at Worlds, here’s how a few different combinations of teams would have scored (using the team’s three highest scores on each event). Yes, I know it’s silly to use one day of competition to make sweeping conclusions about teams and scoring potential, especially because so many people fell and got unusable scores. That’s not the point. It’s just a fun exercise to clarify how much people are actually adding.

              Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, Key, Ross – 181.600
              VT – 47.300: Biles 16.250, Nichols 15.800, Key 15.250 
              UB – 45.650: Douglas 15.300, Key 15.200, Biles 15.150
              BB – 43.650: Biles 14.800, Douglas 14.450, Nichols 14.400
              FX – 45.000: Raisman 15.550, Biles 14.900, Nichols 14.550

              (Why Kyla really could have helped her argument with a normal Kyla beam set last night. It would have brought this team total way up instead of being a point behind other options.)

              Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, Key, Kocian – 181.950
              VT – 47.300: Biles 16.250, Nichols 15.800, Key 15.250 
              UB – 46.000: Kocian 15.500, Douglas 15.300, Key 15.200,
              BB – 43.650: Biles 14.800, Douglas 14.450, Nichols 14.400
              FX – 45.000: Raisman 15.550, Biles 14.900, Nichols 14.550

              Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, Kocian, Locklear – 182.100
              VT – 47.250: Biles 16.250, Nichols 15.800, Raisman 15.200
              UB – 46.200: Kocian 15.500, Locklear 15.400, Douglas 15.300
              BB – 43.650: Biles 14.800, Douglas 14.450, Nichols 14.400
              FX – 45.000: Raisman 15.550, Biles 14.900, Nichols 14.550

              Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, Kocian, Baumann – 182.600
              VT – 47.250: Biles 16.250, Nichols 15.800, Raisman 15.200
              UB – 45.950: Kocian 15.500, Douglas 15.300, Biles 15.150
              BB – 44.400: Baumann, 15.150, Biles 14.800, Douglas 14.450
              FX – 45.000: Raisman 15.550, Biles 14.900, Nichols 14.550

              That Baumann beam score would add a lot in this scenario, but it’s mostly because Raisman had a fall and Douglas had a wobbler. Her routine wouldn’t normally add that much to the team compared to other options. And actually, if you take that last scenario and put Locklear in for Douglas, you get to a 182.650 total, though Biles, Raisman, Nichols, Kocian, Locklear, Baumann is not going to be the team. That more highlights the problem of using one day of competition to make judgments more than anything else and that some of the big names who aren’t in that group have some work to do tomorrow to get back into it. 

              Everything’s Going To Change Now, Isn’t It?

              First things first, Simone Biles is going pro and will not compete in NCAA. It’s a completely understandable decision. In her specific case, the lure of going pro is virtually undeniable. Unlike some other pro gymnasts who commit to an NCAA program as a clear Plan B if things don’t work out, I get the feeling that Simone really did want to compete for UCLA but was in an untenable position. Let’s direct our fury at the antiquated, unrealistic rules that require her to choose in the first place.

              It is a positive for the profile of gymnastics as a whole in the United States to have someone as successful and marketable as Simone able to take advantage of everything being a professional athlete entails. If everything goes to plan, she’s going to be a damn star, with her dominance, cheerful personality, and natural presence in front of a camera (she’s not one of the I’m So Honored robots, and I hope they don’t turn her into one). Usually I rail against people going pro at this point in the quad because you just don’t know what’s going to happen, but everyone and their dog knows Simone is going to the Olympics if she’s healthy, so this isn’t like a Bieger situation.

              But mostly, I want to take this opportunity to talk about the new NCAA rules, which are finally published and official. (Thanks to super sleuth Cordelia Price for the twitter red alert.) Take a look. This is basically just confirmation of the information that circulated a few months ago, but now it’s all real, and we have to deal with it. Let’s break down the major developments.

              1) Yurchenko full and Yurchenko 1/2, 9.95 start value. 

              Al Trautwig would like me to take this opportunity to remind you that the start value is the value at which the vault starts.

              This is the big one. Shockingly, I don’t have a strong opinion one way or the other so far. Something had to be done about the omnipresence of Yfulls in NCAA gymnastics. It’s everyone, all the time. But it remains to be seen whether downgrading the vault is that solution. There are a number of people on top teams (like Scaman) who will be able to upgrade realistically and safely back to a 10.0 SV vault, which should change the dynamic of the vault lineups at showcase meets, but for the most part, teams will still be performing their same lineups packed with Yfulls because they don’t have more difficult vaults or different entries to do. The Yfull will remain by far, far, far the most-performed vault in NCAA, even with this change. It will just score lower. Although, if we see even a small upswing in the number of Omelianchiks performed, then I’ll be a happy camper.

              The argument against downgrading the full has long been that it makes it even harder for the second-tier teams to compete and inhibits (DUN DUN DUN) parity, since only the top teams will be able to put up the 1.5s. I used to subscribe to this argument more than I do now. It’s not like the second-tier teams were an inch away from making Super Six and now they have no chance. They weren’t getting there anyway. This won’t change that dynamic and perhaps will allow some less traditional vaults to stand out.

              I do, however, wonder what this will do for the equivalency of scoring across the four events. Currently, vault and floor enjoy a slight advantage over bars and beam in total scoring, but it’s not major or definite, and they’re all within reason. Hopefully this doesn’t degrade the vault scores too much to the point where it becomes the clear lower-scoring event. How about we agree that execution judging gets .050 stricter on the other events to maintain the balance with all these yfulls? 

              But overall, I appreciate that this adds a new wrinkle to proceedings (whether or not it solves the problem in any substantive way) and provides an extra element of strategy. Which teams are going to take the plunge and start throwing a bunch of 1.5s, and which teams will play it safe with their fulls and hope to get through on execution over teams throwing potentially sloppier 1.5s? (What a very elite question!) It could also change the lineups. Someone like Breanna Hughes for Utah has a 1.5, but hasn’t been making the vault lineup. Does having a 1.5 put her over the edge? (Or will that happen anyway because every single Utah gymnast graduated after last year?) 

              Also, the judging aspect should get interesting. And by interesting, I mean infuriating. So no change there. How are these vaults going to be scored? Currently, 1.5s get a little bit of scoring forgiveness compared to equivalently executed fulls. Does that unwritten boost go away now that the 1.5 advantage is codified, or does it stay? Is 9.950 going to be a realistic score for a great full, or will it be reserved solely for almost-great 1.5s? We’re all going to be watching those vault scores like damn vultures. Get ready, judges. You thought we were critical before? Bring me all the fine-toothed combs in the land! 

              Final note: Vulture-eyed Uncle Tim noted that while the Yfull has been downgraded, the Yurchenko piked full still starts from a 10.0. Yeah. Nothing has better encapsulated the nonsense of NCAA gymnastics rule procedures than that. Someone needs to clean that oversight up. Can you imagine? Coaches frantically telling everyone to be really sure to pike their straight vaults at the end. “It’s totally piked! I swear! 10!” 

              2) The McMurtry Rule

              In other important news, the “up to the competitive level” deduction (0.10) on uneven bars has become stricter in an attempt to prevent easier, risk-free routines from getting such huge scores. But that never happens!

              At its heart, the new rule requires a same-bar release of at least D value on bars, which many have spent years clamoring for, but in reality, there are enough exceptions included that the requirement is sort of neutered and basically refers only to routines with McMurtry-style composition.

              Gymnasts can now must fulfill the bars “up to level” requirement with one of the following:
              1) a D same-bar release
              2) any release of E value
              Shap 1/2, bhardwaj, etc. will still suffice to complete the requirement. If the rule is the McMurtry Rule, this is the Peng Exception.
              3) minimum of two D releases
              That means that routines with a bail and a shap are also still fine. I didn’t need this exception. You should still have to perform a same-bar release if you’re not Peng.
              4) minimum of two E skills
              This is another interesting one, meaning that someone could do, say, a stalder full and a DLO dismount and avoid having to perform a same-bar release, which makes no sense.  

              3) No more event finals
              This is not part of the rule amendments, and may not necessarily be in place immediately for the upcoming season, but word is also that event finals are to be done away with. I have never been the biggest fan of event finals and would not be as sad as some others to see them die (it’s just so anti-climactic and 95% boring unless someone throws out a cool skill), but to do away with a day of gymnastics completely instead of trying to overhaul the system is a little depressing. It seems like we could come up with some other, entertaining way to continue to showcase the sport.

              The other part of this development is, according to Greg Marsden for a hot second on facebook, that the semifinals would remain on Friday, but the final wouldn’t be until Sunday, leaving a whole day off in between with no competition. That’s a bore, shatters the momentum of the event, and is a pain for the fans who actually might want to travel to the event, forcing an extra day of no gymnastics upon them. Hopefully if this does happen, the semifinals will be moved to Saturday, which makes much more sense.

              Sadly, the proposal to limit the team final to four teams instead of six was rejected again because of………the reasons? That are terrible and don’t exist? Super Six is too long, and byes make competitions awkward. It’s just not an efficient or organized system and could be so much more entertaining. “Oh, boo hoo, limiting it to four teams means fewer teams get a chance to participate in the final!” Cry me a river. I’m sorry, were you not aware that you are competing in a sport? Suck it up. You want to be in the final? Then get better.

              Honestly, if event finals are to be eliminated and the final moved to Sunday, my ideal system would see 16 teams advance to nationals, divided into 4 semifinals each of 4 teams, with only the winners advancing to the team final. Two semifinals would take place on Friday, and the other two would be on Saturday. This will never happen because the teams going on Saturday would raise a hell of a stink about not getting a rest day (because once again, the NCAA coaches’ main justification for any decision they make is “waaaaaaaah!”), but it would be great.

              Elsewhere in the rules, there were a few other small changes in beam and floor requirements, but they shouldn’t make all that much difference in most cases. Of note, on floor an E dance element can now satisfy up to level (or two D elements, instead of one), and the requirement to show two different shapes in dance elements on beam and floor has disappeared, which is fine because no one was paying attention to it in the first place.

              Pre-Classic: A Land of Ignorance

              Pre-Classic is my favorite part of the elite season because it’s the silliest. We’re all so damn confident about how things are going to go this season despite having seen precisely zero gymnastics from the major and most of the minor contenders. Remember your feelings about Ashton Locklear precisely 365 days ago? Because they were a tumbleweed made of cricket sound effects.

              That’s what makes Classic exciting. At this moment, we know nothing, but by the end of podium training, we’ll basically be set and have a good idea of what we’ll see this year. To help fill in the possible picture of who might go to Glasgow to be the trusted attendants in Queen Simone’s Royal Court, here are a few ramblings about what I’ll be watching out for at Classic because I realize I haven’t posted anything that isn’t about Al Trautwig in a long time.  

              Amanar Watch 2015: Beyond Biles, Fact or Fiction

              Eeeeeeeverybody thinks she has an Amanar this year. We’ll see. We’ve been down this road before. People often like to show up to Classic going, “Sup bitches, I gots me an Amanar,” and then it isn’t so much with the great. See Gowey 2014, Raisman 2010. Still, enough people have past Amanars, current Amanars, possible Amanars, Un-anars, or fantasies about having Amanars that the US should be expecting to cobble together at least three 6.3+ vaults for Worlds. There’s obviously Biles, Dowell has had a 2.5 for years now and needs it, we have Skinner with her social experiment, we know about Raisman and Douglas’s past vaults, Nichols had a Campanar that time, Key has been training one since she was a fetus (You guys! She’s training a Wombanar in there! My aunt’s cousin saw it!), Gowey had that one for a hot second last year but didn’t vault at Pan Ams because of yet another in her Pride Parade of injuries. Right now, there are a lot of possibilities, but we need some facts.

              Of this group, a hit 2.5 will probably be the most important for Maggie Nichols. She has elevated herself out of you’re-here-too, Paul Ruggeri, alternating-my-ass-off territory almost solely on the basis of having a Campanar, but if she could legitimately score as a top-three vaulter this summer in competition, that would be a huge boost for her team hopes. She needs to prove that she’s not only a strong AAer, but convincingly top 3 at least somewhere and probably two-wheres. It’s a big competition for Nichols. Conversely, Skinner will be rooting for as few Amanars as possible. The more people with competitive vaults, the less necessary her vault becomes, and she doesn’t have as many competitive events to work with in the first place.

              Bring Out Your Bars Specialists 

              Last year, Locklear and Kocian made the team to ensure that the US was a little less horrifying on bars, and once again on a team of six, the opportunity can present itself for bars specialist to work her way onto the team and save the day. Though the standard is tougher this year. With Ross continuing to be Ross and Biles, Key, Nichols, and a whole host of other people showing bars D-scores in the low 6s with high-14 totals (6.1 is the new 5.8), anyone hoping to make the team specifically because of bars will need to show significantly higher scoring potential than that. Possible bars specialists need to be scoring clearly into the 15s, otherwise there will be people already on the team for other events who can do the job just as well. So I’m keeping an eye on those scores. That’s why it will be tough for someone like Gowey. She mashed together an upgraded routine for this year (with more upgrade potential still) but maxed out at the 14.7s at Pan Ams. Biles can get that. Desch is in a similar boat. She upgraded like crazy this year to put together some really solid routines, but she’s not in top-three contention on these events.

              Douglas will be interesting to watch with regard to the quest for bars 15s. Because she’s Gabby Douglas, she automatically seems like the default bars worker based on her past accomplishments. But, her Jesolo bars routine was very work-in progress. She’ll need to show some development since then to solidify any kind of status on this event. Comparing her score to the incumbent bars workers, the injury-returning Locklear and Kocian, will be telling, though certainly Douglas’s abilities on other events can help her cause.

              The crop is deeper this year than it was last year, so there probably isn’t going to be room for a whole gang of bars specialists again. We’re going to see the likes of Locklear, Kocian, and Dowell all trying to out-bars each other for what might not even be one spot. (Biles, Ross, Raisman, Key, Douglas, Nichols, Skinner is a fairly realistic, serious-scoring group of seven to choose from, and it includes none of them. Although, that team may be slightly questionable on bars and could use a boost if someone earns it.) We know Dowell’s top routine has the difficulty edge over everyone, but she’ll have to bring that routine, along with a whole bushel of consistency and a clear scoring edge over the recent world team members in order to overcome the general Martha-thumbs-down feeling that has pervaded her elite career.

              Who Is Good At Floor?

              Simone is. Aly Raisman is. Aly has spent the last 5 years making teams because of beam and floor, so to solidify her spot on the prospective team, she’s going to need to reinforce her position on floor and emerge as the clear #2 behind Biles and her 19.500. She has the difficulty to do it already back in her routine and looked on track at Jesolo. She’s kind of the Olympic champion, you know. The US has a formidable 1-2 punch with Biles and Raisman on floor, but the third floor worker will be an interesting topic. Key’s scores render her a very strong possiblity, and of course there’s Skinner as well. As on vault, Skinner will need to use Classic to prove that she’s still top three, with Raisman coming in this year to challenge her status a little bit more. Skinner vs. Key on floor should be a fun one. Skinner needs to win that to make her argument. Does someone else pop into possible 15 territory?

              These are the questions I want answered. Amanars? How relevant and necessary are the bars specialists? Gabby’s still Gabby, right? And who’s third on floor? I expect all the competitors to do their best to answer them in a timely and clear fashion. As for beam, my impression right now is that it won’t be decisive in team selection. With Biles, Ross, Raisman, Douglas, and Key all seeming like realistic beam options (to varying degrees) who can make the team for other events as well, selection may come down to choosing the team for the other three events and then just using the best beamers from that group, who will probably be the best beamers in the country anyway. It makes it very tough for Baumann, though, since beam is kind of her thing, but she doesn’t have the other asset events. 

              Also, Sabrina Vega is a person again. So that will be interesting.

              Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama