Women’s Team Final

After a thrilling and controversial x 1000 men’s final yesterday, we had a not-that on the women’s side today. I don’t have a specific-enough understanding of the men’s code to make any kind of argument about scoring, at least with any confidence in myself (I’d start giving Kohei hair bonuses, and it would be all over the place). But, Uncle Tim has an excellent write-up of some of the issues involved in Zhang’s final gargantuan score. I defer.

I will say though, at first viewing, the Chinese high bar score that stood out to me as the stranger one was Lin’s preceding Zhang’s, with that completely horizontal turn at one point. Is this a situation like we often see in NCAA where a questionable 10 is awarded, and gets all the attention, but the real culprit is the super-random 9.950 beforehand that pushes the following score up?

But now some thoughts on the women’s team final.

1) The USA. Obviously. As much as I enjoy watching the US step all over everyone else’s faces while wearing Rene Lyst heels, it does make things super boring. A few more years of this, and I could see a serious change coming to start increasing the p-word. (Which is parity, if you don’t read here a lot.)

2) Alyssa Baumann’s lovely, non-broadcast leadoff beam routine. If I had to pick one place where I thought the US would fall in TF, it would have been here, but she got it down with just a couple wobbles. Martha’s little project scored big points (both real and figurative) for this.

3) Baumann had the smallest issues of the three US gymnasts on beam considering Ross did a third-base coach on her side somi and Simone had a larger-than-usual break on the layouts series. Of course, it didn’t matter, which was the problem with this final. That was such an uncharacteristic break for Kyla, but it was like, “Eh, whatever, go ahead and fall if you want. Have a blast. Do some jazz hands. Take a nap. It will change nothing.”

4) While we still have a chance to be excited before everyone gets injured over the next 12 months, the fight for the 2015 US team looks fuu-uun.  

5) Overall, this competition was terrible. We’re allowed to say that. Splatty bombatty. I’m looking at you, Russia and China.

6) Credit to Romania for pulling it together a little bit more in TF, or at least for letting Iordache be the star and not getting in her way too much. With that bars situation, fourth was as much as they could have hoped for, yet they almost got a Happy October gift of much more.

7) The Craig Heap and Christine Still pronunciation debacle is hysterical. Seriously, it’s not that hard. It takes two seconds of research to figure it out (the magic of youtube videos of domestic competitions—put your listening ears on!), and yet that definitely would have decreased my enjoyment of the meet tenfold. Craig stopped trying after a while. By the time we got to floor, he just introduced “Tan Jrrrrrr.”

8) Gah, Russia. You should be doing so much better. It’s not exactly an “I never expected the Russians to put up an athlete with so little talent” situation, but they’re seriously lacking in the non-Mustafina category.

9) It’s sort of offensive to me when people don’t even have the common decency to be Aliya Mustafina. There were so many people walking around today not being Aliya Mustafina. Unacceptable behavior.

10) I can finally (FINALLY) remember the difference between Alla Sosnitskaya and Daria Spiridonova after this competition. And I don’t like it.

11) I love how Grishina is seen as the fragile, headcase one in the eyes of the Rodionenkos and cronies because of the Olympics, but . . . as opposed to . . .? You have no less-headcasesque options. You better get on hands and knees to get that girl back when she’s healthy. You would be lucky to have her.

12A) China’s lineups. A side-eye experience. Why on earth was Shang Chunsong going on bars over Tan Jrrrrrr? Shang had been doing consistently worse than Tan at Asian Games and in prelims. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. No sense. A fall is appropriate punishment for that decision. Though a 7.666 is not appropriate punishment for that routine quality.

12B) Also, Bai Yawen, who qualified second on the team into beam finals, was not selected to do beam. It didn’t end up being a problem for the team, but it does reflect that she’s probably not in the highest standing with the team coaches if they didn’t even want to use her on her good event.

13) There’s no excuse for Hannah Whelan’s 4.5 D score on beam. She missed her acro series and lost 0.5 in CR, but when you do such a risky combination as your only acro series, there has to be a plan B in mind (and trained) just in case. This is like in 2010 when Mattie lost that decisive CR after not doing her combo pass or a simple forward element. That cannot happen. It’s too avoidable.

14)

Let’s play “Who can actually find 1.2 in deductions in Kyla’s bars routine?” Remember after the first night of US championships when SHE CAN’T DO BARS ANYMORE?

15) It was nice to see Australia show up with three events worth of routines that are very well-executed, though somewhat low in difficulty. An important change from the “you must have a 7.9 D score on beam, otherwise get back in the cage” attitude from last year.

16) Italy managed to finish 5th at both Worlds and Euros this year. One of those is a good result, and one is a bad result. Today, Italy scored 7.5 points better than Euro team finals, Russia scored 2 points better, and Romania and GB did around 2 points worse.

17) Japan is also a team, and I’ll just say this about the leotards: at least they’re going for something different. In true Project Runway fashion, I give more credit to that than to the fourth-rate versions of SPARKLY GIRL TIME SPARKLES that we usually see. 

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World Championships Qualification

The qualification round happened! And we got to watch most of it! And I have thoughts! At least three. Probably more.

1) Simone Biles. The end.

2) Screwing up a kip is the new going out of bounds.

3) Eight real vaulters made the women’s vault final. Is the era of “just throw a random second vault, you’ll probably make finals”/”Tsuk full—I’m the best!” ending? Steingruber’s yfull was the only easier vault to make it to finals, and that’s sufficiently balanced by her rudi.

4) There are three executions scores on vault. 9.233 (great vault!), 8.933 (medium step or form break!), and 8.633 (ugly poo-poo!) Those are the choices. 

5) Do the US men select teams with more attention to qualification than to team finals?

6) Madison Kocian and MyKayla Skinner got basically the same E score on beam. What?

7) Kohei Uchimura might be a cursed pharaoh. Anytime anyone is mentioned as being a potential challenger to his reign, that person immediately falls 50 times. Men’s gymnastics is basically the plot of The Mummy.

8) Biggest improvements in 2014 compared to four years ago (women’s category): Austria (31st to 22nd), Colombia (34th to 25th – *they didn’t have enough scores in 2010), Mexico (21st to 14th), Germany (14th to 9th), Belgium (15th to 11th)

9) Biggest drops in 2014 compared to four years ago (also, women’s category): Ukraine (12th to 27th), Uzbekistan (24th to 31st), Brazil (10th to 16th), Greece (19th to 24th), Venezuela (22nd to 26th), Romania (4th to 7th), Switzerland (16th to 19th)

10) Not so much with the Canada. And I admit NCAA is at least partially culpable. We’ve taken all your bars workers and doused them in glitter and enthusiasm. 

11) What happened to Brazil? They looked almost Team Final-y at Pan Am Championships. And then . . . nope!

12) Romania’s bars routines are even weaker than I thought. They’re so bad at bars, they’re bad at beam. They finished 25th on bars. 25th. If bars were the whole sport, they wouldn’t be advancing to 2015. 

13) The beam judges were much stricter about connections than we’ve seen at any other event. This is a good thing. Don’t try to jam three rushed skills together and call it a connection. It just makes all of them look worse. If you can’t CONNECT connect them, just perform them individually.

14) If there were a Claudia Fragapane stuffed animal, I would probably buy it.

15) If there were a Rebecca Tunney healthy, Great Britain would definitely buy it. And pay the crown jewels for it.

16) If the Welsh women had competed as an independent team and repeated the team scores from Commonwealth Games, they would have finished 17th, within a point of Spain and Brazil.

17) Bai Yawen is a beautiful swan whom we’ll probably never see again because she has only one event of contribution, an area where China is already strong. Enjoy her while you can.

18) Tatiana Nabieva is my constant.

2015 NCAA Schedule

NCAA gymnastics. Like a pearl in a mud factory. That’s not an expression, but it should be.

It’s coming. Kind of not that soon, but it’s still coming. The excitement is starting to build. Bridget Sloan is so excited she’s doing double layouts about it. I agree, Bridget. I agree.  

And yet, there’s still so much waiting to do. We have over three whole months until the first meets begin (and a whole World Championship of Extreme Ankle Wrapping to get through first—beginning this week!), but we can start to smell it. The dust clouds are gathering. The schedules are being released.

We’re still waiting on a number of schools to get with the program. I’m not naming names (Big Ten), but you need to get those schedules out yesterday. Even so, enough schools have released their competition slates for 2015 for it to make sense to put together my annual season schedule. I’ll continue adding teams over the next month as the final schedules are released to us lowly plebs. 

The full composite schedule for D1 and D2 teams can be found at the tab above (for easy reference throughout the preseason and season). Or just use THIS LINK. I have capitalized that for no reason. It felt like the thing to do, but I didn’t mean to holler. I’m sorry.

All the usual disclaimers apply. Many teams have not released their schedules yet, and many of the days and times could change, especially as TV schedules are made and adjusted, particularly for the Pac-12 Network. (Do we know what the SEC Network plan is yet and how much coverage they are taking on?)

The current schedules released by the schools also feature all the usual contradictions in time zones (since apparently we don’t teach that at colleges) and meet participation (where six different teams think they’re all competing in the same quad meet), but we’ll get all that figured out as we go.

Once we get closer to the season, I’ll do a quick-reference, greatest hits version of the schedule to isolate the top meets, but for now, enjoy the behemoth.

2014 USA Worlds Team

I feel obligated to have something to say about the US team for World Championships announced last night by USA Gymnastics, but I’m struggling to muster the energy because ultimately there wasn’t much decision in it at all. Utterly predictably, enough people were hit by the injury bus along the way to make the team a default.

Named to the team were Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Alyssa Baumann, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner, and Maddie Desch, with the alternate to be named once . . . it’s Maddie Desch.

The only question was Brenna Dowell, who is the non-traveling alternate, which is code for “even if we need you, we won’t use you because we’ll be in China and that’s far away. SEE YA.” Someone would have to get injured before they leave for the non-traveling alternate to come into play. Without competing the AA this summer, she would have needed quite the camp performance to prove her worth. And because Desch was selected over her as a “we can throw you in anywhere because meh” alternate selection, we can assume that didn’t happen. I’m fine with it. Get thee to a K.J.

The team final (which, by the way, is at 4:00am for west coasters—fun!) lineups seem pretty straightforward with this group, with Ross, Skinner, and Biles on vault, Ross, Kocian, and Locklear on bars, and Ross, Baumann, and Biles on beam. There’s more parity on floor, so I assume the default will be Ross, Skinner, Biles, and then we’ll see if anyone falls in prelims to create an argument over who should go in TF, a la Mattie in 2010.

This was the US team submitted for the nominative roster and the one nearly everyone predicted once the injuries shook out. So yeah. At this point, I’m more interested to see if the announced Russian team is actually the one that happens.

Let’s Discuss Your Skill Set – 2014 Edition

(Before we begin, Bailie Key has verbally committed to Florida. For the moment, let’s put this in the “we’ll see” category along with Biles and UCLA. We have some big years to get through first.)  

Now to the business at hand. I’ve gone and done it again. The elite season is all a-flurry. Classic and US Championships are behind us and Mrs. Karolyi’s Wild Ride begins tomorrow, which means we have a brand new batch of American routines to dissect to find out which skills are becoming more popular, which skills are becoming less popular, and how that relates to our expectations for the current code of points. Numbers! Thoughts! Squinting!

Below are tables listing the skills performed by US senior gymnasts this summer (with the exception of skills like giants and back handsprings because obviously), broken down by event and skill type. The percentages indicate the proportion of gymnasts who chose to perform each skill, and the info from 2013 and 2012 is included as well for comparison.

Notes: The colors indicate an increase/decrease of at least 10 percentage points in a single year. As with the past two years, I counted the skill attempted—even if it shouldn’t receive credit—because this is about evaluating intended composition. This year, I also included the seniors who competed at Classic but not Championships just to give us a few more people to work with. There weren’t exactly a lot of seniors this year. And as such, keep in mind that it doesn’t take that many gymnasts performing a skill to create a large change in the %s.

UNEVEN BARS:

 
-Can we talk about these toe-ons? And why? Everyone and her coach’s elderly aunt who always needs to be picked up from the dry cleaners for some reason is doing a toe circle with no pirouetting this year. That skill is booming, up from just 14% in 2012. Now it’s in almost half of routines. The stalders are getting in on the action as well with 20% doing stalders compared to none last year. 
A couple people need these C elements to count as part of their 8, but many who perform the toe-on aren’t using it as a counting skill. Is it a rhythm thing? Is everyone systematically being forced to put toe-ons that don’t count into their routines because of a yet-to-be-determined evil plan involving bees and world domination? It could be a backup skill in case something else gets downgraded, but that’s what B giants before the dismount are for. And why suddenly now? What has changed to make this skill more useful than before? Anything?
-We’re also seeing slight decreases in the numbers of toe-on fulls and stalder fulls being performed. These decreases are not too large or significant, but they make sense since D pirouettes are less valuable now that skills must have flight to earn significant CV.
-Overall, the routines this season contain more pirouetting skills than last season, which runs slightly counter to the expectation that flight would progressively take over for pirouetting in the 2013-2016 quad because of the changes in CV. It’s something to keep an eye on in 2015 and 2016.  
-The Weiler kip moment appears to be passing. Good.

-JAEGERS! Everyone needs a Jaeger! THERE ARE NO OTHER RELEASES! We can call this the tyranny of the grip-change requirement, but it’s getting worse.

-The tkatchev is not as popular this year for some reason. It’s not really a code issue, since E tkatchev variations connected into paks are extremely valuable for CV. This may just be a year with fewer gymnasts capable/comfortable with that type of skill. This is the year of Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian on bars, and they’re more of the Russian style than the Tweddle style.

-Bye, gienger. We’ll always have NCAA.

-All the shaposh 1/2s. Obviously. It’s one of the very best ways to get 0.2 CV on bars, and it’s the best way if you don’t have an E tkatchev to rely on. The US gymnasts are getting more savvy about it these days, finally. Everyone who is capable of a shaposh 1/2 should be doing one, and they mostly are.

-The stalder shoot is also continuing its slow march to the grave, from 2/3 of routines in 2012 to just over 1/4 of routines now. The obvious reason is that the bail+stalder shoot D+C combo no longer gets CV, which is very refreshing. This year, the toe shoot is equal to the stalder shoot in frequency, which makes me happy for some irrational reason. I feel like the toe shoot has always been the black sheep of the transition family (rated a B even though the stalder shoot is a C), and now it’s getting its moment to shine. Good for you, toe shoot. 

-The bail is dying too. The bail and the stalder shoot. Like an elderly couple who can’t stand to live without each other. This just got weirdly morbid. 

-Look at this sad little table. We used to complain that we had only two high-to-low transitions. We’re on the way to having only one. There’s just so much less potential for CV out of the bail, while the pak allows for direct connection into those juicy shaposh variations. You can’t do very much of value out of the bail, and I expect the number of bails to continue to dwindle in the coming years. But we need something other than the pak. Brenna, you need to start talking up the Yezhova and get everyone learning it. Because that’s what gymnasts do in their spare time. Talk about bars combinations.

-Two. We have two dismounts this year. Just in case you were wondering, there are 29 dismounts of D value or greater in the code. Two. Sigh. Could we at least get some variation in the full twisting double backs? It’s all half-in, half-outs. And what happened to the double front? Come on. Pick it up, double front! I would even take a BS Nastia double front half at this point.

BALANCE BEAM:

-The number of layout stepouts on beam in 2014 is significantly higher than it was in 2013, which is slightly weird. The layout stepout is even more popular this year than it was in 2012 during the Age of Darkness when all the land was ruled over by an oppressive tyrant called walkover+bhs+loso. I suspect this is because the bhs+loso is still a sure way to get an acro combination into the routine and not risk losing the 0.5 CR that a riskier combo might. It’s sort of odd, but across all the events, we have a number of skills returning to their 2012 levels after a change in 2013. You would think composition would continue to adjust to the new code and get farther away from 2012 levels for skills that have become less valuable, but no. 

-I’m not surprised that punch fronts are continuing to become more popular because of the D acro + A dance combination, which was always screaming out for the return of the punch+wolf.

-It’s also interesting how many people are suddenly doing side aerials. It’s almost everyone. Sure, it’s a solid D acro, which is always useful, but the side aerial overtaking the aerial walkover is quite a coup.

-The back tuck isn’t a popular choice right now, and it continues to fall out of favor along with the back pike. C acro skills aren’t being done nearly as much now (far fewer of those C+C acro combinations) as people are electing to do more acro+dance combinations (like walkover+sheep) and take advantage of that instead of acro+acro.

-Two people this year are doing two layout stepouts in combination. It’s a start.

-The split jump almost ran the table. I was really rooting for it. Nica Hults broke the streak by doing a wolf and straddle to fulfill her dance combo requirement. I should applaud the variety, but come on Nica! We were so close!

-There are just so many options for the split jump, with all the D+A combos going around, plus the fact that even when people perform more difficult dance combos, they also always include an A+A just to be safe and fulfill the requirement. 

-These switch 1/2s.

-Overall, people are performing more dance elements on beam than they used to because of increased options for combinations involving simple dance skills. Gymnasts needs more A dance elements in their repertoires, in addition to the counting dance, to exploit the code as much as possible.

-The L turn is making a little bit of an unexpected comeback this year. Is it 2008 already? A few people who aren’t so much with the leaps are doing L turns instead to get a counting C in there.

-Interesting stuff happening with beam dismounts this year. The double tuck is steady at 1/3 of routines, but the double pike is suddenly much less common than it has been. Getting rid of the B+B+E dismount CV has made the double pike dismount less valuable than it used to be, so if you can land the double tuck more securely, it makes sense to perform it, which may be why it’s the most popular beam dismount in the US this year for the first time in a while. That, or everyone is just getting worse at dismounts. No Pattersons this year.

FLOOR EXERCISE:

-In addition to the listed skills, 40% of competitors are also performing a fake forward acro skill (walkover or side aerial) outside of their tumbling runs in order to fulfill the forward requirement as cheaply and feebly as possible. Boo. It’s a cop out. I didn’t count that up in previous years so I don’t know how it compares, but a ton of people are doing it now because there is no combo pass requirement anymore. That means fewer people are tacking front layouts onto the end of tumbling passes. It’s also why we see fewer back 1.5s now, which I don’t really get because the possibility for indirect connections for 0.2 CV out of the 1.5 is still there.

-This is a weaker crop of floor routines in general for the US this year. That’s a big reason for the significant increase in double pikes and double tucks, with fewer double arabians and the like. A bunch of people did double fulls this year, which, come on. It indicates a lower level overall. We can potentially draw the same conclusion about the lower-difficulty beam dismounts and the lack of two-footed layouts on beam as well. A lot of injuries, not a deep field, and a weaker skill level overall.

-To counter that, I am pleased that the DLO is coming back. A stuck DLO is my favorite pass.

-The biggest increase in dance elements on floor this year comes in the switch full department, with several more people electing to try to wrench around the switch and hope to get credit for it rather than opting for the split version.

-Whereas the trend on beam is more dance elements because of valuable connection options, gymnasts are doing fewer dance elements on floor this year, with most electing to do a bare minimum of leaps.

-It’s interesting that the Ferrari had a brief spell of popularity last year as everyone jumped on the bandwagon, but it’s immediately less common this year. It’s like the macarena of skills. I just referenced the macarena.

-There’s not a lot of risk going into the turns this year, with fewer competitors trying to get a double L in there as a counting skill. The US gymnasts aren’t adopting the Russian strategy of getting significant value from the turns, and more and more of them are just pausing for a million seconds, doing a rigor mortis full turn, and then calling it a day.

Post-Championships

Another national championship done and done. And then it’s over. And then what’s the point of anything anymore? Guh.

Simone Biles is the star of the world. Obviously. She’s just better than you. And by you, I mean everyone. She’s a thoroughly enjoyable national champion. I even had a moment where I was eager to hear Simone’s post-meet interviews, which is strange and new territory. Can you believe it? I want to know what she’s going to say! Who was the last US gymnast who was engaging enough in interviews to make them worth watching? Alicia Sacramone? That’s a victory in itself. Who even cares about the meet?

Especially because Simone’s excellence made the whole thing not super exciting. We were left to try to enjoy the scraps of the fight for second, which is inherently non-dramatic. It’s like when you’re playing a board game with a group of people, someone wins, and then someone else inevitably says, “Do you want to keep playing for second?” and you’re like “. . . no.” That was this national championship. At least Sam Mikulak had the decency to kind of screw up on the first day so that he could mount a glorious and dramatic comeback on day 2 to make it competitive and down-to-the-wire and all the other things we like.

My favorite part of the men’s second day was listening to Tim Daggett try to balance his commentary between “Jake Dalton is obviously not going to win—he finishes on pommel horse” and trying to force himself to pretend like Dalton was still in it for the title to feed into the Trautwiggy/NBCy need to turn up the drama and make everything into “THE BIGGEST MOMENT OF HIS LIFE,” which I think Al said at least six times. Well, at one point he said, “the last rotation of his life,” which was weird and morbid and I didn’t know what was happening. Someone who has a lot of time and energy should go through all the old NBC broadcasts and cut together every time Al says that a routine is the biggest moment of someone’s life. It would be an epic miniseries. Nastia alone probably had between 12 and 15 biggest moments of her life. 

But the thing is, they had a much closer and more exciting finish between Mikulak and Orozco that they barely mentioned because they were busy staring into Jake Dalton’s Twilight-fan-art eyes. I understand. Tim even declared the meet for Mikulak (and Dalton in second, which didn’t happen) before Orozco finished, and I would have loved it had Orozco actually gotten the super-high floor score he needed, just to force them to backtrack. I should really work on my obsession with everything going terribly.

Still, it was close and worth caring about to the end. Hooray! Men’s gymnastics definitely has better writers than women’s gymnastics. Simone, on the other hand, was winning before podium training and didn’t manage to fall until her last routine, which carried with it no drama whatsoever. Granted, she would have had to fall about 11 more times for the event to start inching into the word “competitive.” She’s just too much better, which we know because of how much time NBC spent showing her smiling. The same person who has time to make the Al’s Biggest Moments of Your Life miniseries should go through and count how much time was spent showing Simone standing around versus how much time was spent showing routines. I assume Simone standing wins in a landslide.

Now let’s talk about Rachel Gowey for a second. Because I need to. Rachel Gowey fractured her ankle at podium training because the world is stupid and everything is the worst and there’s no joy in the world. I had started to rely on her beam and maybe her vault in my head as vital in the Worlds selection process, so without her, the conversation expands to include a few more people, namely anyone with a pulse and a split (or even not, apparently).

Which brings me to a point. The switch half on beam. STOP DOING IT EVERYONE. You can’t. So don’t. It’s not even a skill what you’re doing. It’s just a thing. Skinner’s gets the most attention because it almost achieves 7 degrees sometimes, but she’s hardly the only one. Maggie Nichols has a really solid and enjoyable beam routine except for the switch half, and I noticed Hano this summer also suffering from not-even-close-switch-half fever. On what planet do these coaches think that the inevitable execution deductions and likely downgrade of the skill are worth the one tenth in difficulty you get for that over a regular switch split? IT MAKES YOUR ROUTINE WORSE. Have you learned nothing from Kyla Ross? DO EXECUTION. BUH. Done.  

Moving on, bars. After night one, I think everyone had the collective and horrifying thought that bars might be an OK event for the US right now. Even one of the better ones. There were more bars specialists than Amanars in this meet. Think about that. But don’t worry, because our world view and comfortable narrative fell back into place on night 2 as the mistakes reappeared the way we always knew they would. Still, the bars discussion is probably the most interesting part of the Worlds selection chatter for the next month or so.

We’re still waiting on Kyla and Simone to upgrade back to their 2013 bars routines, but who knows what the possible timeline would be on that. It’s not like Simone even needs to. But on night 1, the three main contenders for the title of bars queen were Ashton Locklear, Brenna Dowell, and Madison Kocian, all of whom scored comfortably into the 15s. Locklear did herself a world of good by being the highest scorer of the group, and therefore the most likely to assume the title of bars specialist, but it was also an important night for Dowell because she needed to prove she could hit a high-difficulty routine for a solid score, which she did. The one who didn’t come out in a great position on night 1 was Kocian because even though she hit a clean routine, she was third on bars, which makes it hard to state a case as a bars girl, especially because we can assume Kyla will be one of the three at Worlds. But then night 2 happened.

By Saturday, things turned upside down a little bit. Locklear missed a connection and was just a little bit sloppier than in her other routines. That alone shouldn’t hurt her very much, but since she has one main contribution event and still has to prove consistency as a newbie, every little error is magnified. Kocian, meanwhile, stepped up her routine by a couple tenths and was suddenly the top scorer, which helps her case as the most consistent option of the 15ers, even if she may not have quite as high difficulty. The one who was really hurt by night 2 was Dowell. She needed to prove she can hit that routine over and over again, but on the second day she regressed almost all the way back to Classic level. Yes, she can potentially hit a high score with her huge difficulty, but she’s less consistent and sloppier than both Locklear and Kocian, which is doomsday. Dowell is not going to Worlds for that bars routine. The way she gets to Worlds is by showing up at selection camp doing the AA and proving that her vault is valuable enough to be necessary as a top 3 vaulter and that she’s usable on floor. Bars would just be a possible but risky bonus. Tough road.

Right now, most people seem to be putting together a team looking something like Biles, Ross, Locklear, Kocian, Skinner, and beam? Baumann? With Nichols as the alternate. Which makes sense. Skinner is Skinner, but I don’t see how you don’t take her if she hits vault and floor at Pan Ams—if she wins VT and FX, that’s the ballgame. People are making the “She’ll never get those scores internationally” argument about Skinner, but the problem with that argument is that it’s not really a thing. She probably shouldn’t be getting the execution scores that she’s getting in the US, but what makes you think it would be any different at Worlds? In recent years, the international judges have proven no more willing to destroy a routine for execution that the domestic judges. Aly Raisman’s bars is the best example. Yeah, her form was insane and you could find a billion deductions if you wanted to, but the Worlds judges didn’t evaluate it any differently from the US judges, and I assume Skinner will be much the same. Maybe a couple tenths lower, but nothing extreme. 

In other news, I became a Maggie Nichols fan on night 2 of the women’s competition. I’m not sure when it happened, but it happened. I simply enjoy watching her gymnastics (when she’s not doing a switch half on beam or going on a little flappy-wrist excursion). Can you imagine when she gets to Oklahoma? She’s going to destroy everyone in the face. She was made for it. And marrying KJ’s style with hers? Yes please. I’d like to see her on the Worlds team this year, but I admit she does make an excellent alternate and is probably fourth-best on a lot of events. Hopefully she wins the AA at Pan Ams to help bolster her case. We shall see.    

As for the junior women, the competition had a slightly different feel this year. We’re used to the top couple juniors scoring right with the seniors and renewing the discussion of age limits because they could easily go to Worlds and dominate if they were age eligible. That didn’t really happen this year. To be fair, it probably would have if Bailie Key were healthy, but as it was, the junior competition showed us a lot of people who aren’t ready to be seniors yet. We saw works in progress. Jazmyn Foberg won the title, and first let’s talk about what a big upset that was. No one at all had her winning this thing going into the competition, and in a sport that has become basically devoid of upsets, that gets a minor round of applause from me. But the reason she won was that she hit 8 routines of competitive difficulty and was the only person to do that. There was no huge scoring or blowing out of the water situation.

Foberg could very well be a factor once she’s a senior, but because she won with a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of meet instead of a “Bam! 60 in the AA” kind of meet, she’s not getting the SHE IS THE FUTURE QUEEN OF EARTH reaction that US junior champions usually get. Four years ago Kyla Ross won and eight years ago Shawn Johnson won, and in both cases it was “You’re going to the Olympics, obviously.” That’s not the case this year.

Of the other juniors, Nia Dennis is the farthest along. And by that, I mean her gymnastics has the look and composition of a senior gymnast. She would have fit right in, but but she was still falling, falling, falling and Martha will give that seven side-eyes I’m sure, and others like Norah Flatley are on a track (a smart track) that doesn’t have them peaking anywhere close to now. Flatley has the pieces layed out on every apparatus but not the full routines put together for huge scores, yet. It’s a game of pacing. 

I was thinking, if there were no age limits, would any of the (healthy) juniors be on your Worlds team? Possibly Norah Flatley for beam even though she struggled at Championships because the US needs that third beamer, or Nia Dennis for vault/floor depending on consistency, but there aren’t any of those juniors who would 100% be going and starring if they were 16, which is unusual for this point in the quad. 

More stray thoughts:

  • Media training for US gymnasts should contain a “What tattoos to get, and what not to get” day. It’s really important information to get out there. Panels will include “Classy is spelled with a C,” “Don’t let Geddert happen to you,” and “The neck: a minefield.”
  • Evan, Sam, and Raj on the USAGym streams were delights. I learned more about men’s gymnastics deductions in ten minutes from Evan and Raj than I have from years of other broadcasts. And Evan and Sam’s dynamic would be perfectly suited to NCAA gymnastics broadcasts. Please do all of them (once you’re done competing, Sam—UCLA needs another year of your beam).
  • The women’s senior competition was basically a Florida/UCLA dual meet in 2017. Those are the lineups. Those two teams essentially have the elite market sewn up, with a couple Sooners thrown in. Florida’s 2017 class is Gowey, Locklear, Baumann, and Hundley. Yep. 

Is there anything else I think? Probably. Oh well. I thought this was going to be short. Apparently I don’t do that.

Post-Classic, Pre-Championships Difficulties

Now that we have lurched ourselves in that strange, antsy interim period between Classic and Championships, it’s time to revisit the difficulty scores for the US women based on what we learned at Classic, which was mostly nothing. Classic essentially served to confirm what we already knew, that Simone Biles and Kyla Ross are dominating the all-around picture, without providing many answers about the rest of the senior elite group.

But the picture has adjusted slightly, so I have updated the super cool, popular kid spreadsheets of  current D-scores on each event after the performances at Classic. I retained a couple D-scores that we haven’t yet seen this season, like the 6.4 and 6.1 on bars for Ross and Biles respectively, because even though they didn’t try those routines at Classic, both are intending to build back up to those scores as the year progresses. 

As necessary, I tried to remove the stick bonus from Classic (which was irritatingly added to the D-Score) wherever it reared its ugly head, so I have Biles at her real score of 6.5 on floor and Locklear at her real 6.5 on bars, but I grant I may have missed a few.

VAULT

Biles, obviously. With Maroney injured and Price off to Stanford, Biles is clearly the best vaulter in the country. After that, it gets a bit interesting. 

Mykayla Skinner, you guys. What are we going to do about this situation? Without that many difficult vaults being done right now, 2014 would seem like the year for her to muscle her way onto the team as a vault specialist with that Dadaist Cheng of hers. Yet, at Classic she scored lower on vault than Ross, even if we take out Kyla’s stick bonus. You don’t get to be a vault specialist if you’re scoring lower than Kyla Ross’s DTY. That’s the rule. We tend to look only at the highest difficulty vaults in formulating prospective team final scenarios, but the US could be perfectly fine at Worlds using Ross’s DTY as a leadoff. They’d still have a big vault advantage. If Skinner is going to make it to Worlds as a vaulter, she’ll have to prove that she is markedly and reliably better than Ross, which she hasn’t done yet.

However, Skinner’s vault fate may rest mostly in the hands of Gowey and Dowell, the final two current members of the Amanar club. Gowey went for the 2.5 at Classic and fell, so she’ll have to prove some consistency with that vault at Championships/selection to be considered as a vaulter. She is a Martha favorite, though, so she’ll have time to find that consistency. With Dowell, who even knows where she is with that ankle injury, but her 2.5 has been usable in the past. She’ll still be in the conversation if she ends up showing four events soon. We have the potential for an entertaining vault showdown brewing among this group of non-Biles vaulters. A couple of them need to finish top 3 on vault at Nationals.

BARS

Of all the event landscapes, bars changed the most as a result of Classic. It’s getting iiiiiinteresting, which we can’t usually say about US bars. Usually, it’s more diiiiiisheartening.

Ashton Locklear was the big story with her 6.5 routine and fairly strong execution overall (the bail handstand is an adventure in crazy legs, but otherwise the errors were small). In a matter of seconds she graduated from the also-ran category to the “Could she go to Worlds?” category. The US is always looking for adequate bars workers, but it’s still difficult to make teams with just one asset event. If she’s going to make Worlds for this bars routine, she’ll have to show major consistency—hitting every time at Championships and selection camp with scores at this same level. On a six-member Worlds team, there’s more room to include a one-event gymnast than on a five-member Olympic team, but still, you don’t get to perform at major competitions as a one-eventer unless it’s a guaranteed huge score every single time (case study: Li, Anna). Work to be done for her still. 

Another of our interesting showdowns at Championships should be between Locklear and Kocian on bars. Kocian’s excellent routine and score at Classic got overshadowed by Locklear’s even better showing, but she certainly showed potential as a bars option as well. The biggest problem for Kocian was her subsequent injury, which of course happened because she’s injured every two seconds. You’ll fit in nicely at UCLA. You and Peng can start a club. It’s conceivable that both Kocian and Locklear could be on a Worlds team together (it would be a very lovely, but probably impractical, team), but since they basically bring the same things to the table—though Kocian’s AA possibility helps her more—they may be fighting it out for the same spot, going back-and-forth with bars routines during the competition. Fun fun fun.

The big wildcard here is Brenna Dowell. She had a bars-tastrophe at Classic, and I think we can all agree she probably shouldn’t have competed in the first place. She wasn’t mentally/physically ready to do that routine. But lost in that disaster was her attempt at a D-score somewhere in the vicinity of 6.8, which is rather huge. If Dowell is going to make major teams over the next couple years, she’ll have to force her way onto them by making it impossible not to take her. You do that with huge difficulty. Even with inevitable execution issues, a 6.8 D-score is high enough to withstand some of that and still end up with a big score. 

Ross will be expected to do bars at Worlds, but we should also factor in Biles as a potential option in a team final. Bars is her lowest-scoring event, but she can definitely be a Shawn Johnson there and go up first with a clean, usable routine. The US will have to bring someone else with a 15 to stay close to the better bars teams, but they won’t necessarily have to take two if Martha and her Happy Little Elves feel comfortable using Biles in addition to Ross. Much like how the vault contenders have to prove they are multiple tenths more useful than Ross, these bars contenders have to prove they’re multiple tenths better than Biles. Otherwise, you’d just use Simone and make things easy. 

BEAM

Of the four events, beam was the most straightforward at Classic. Biles and Ross both hit solid routines, and Gowey was just a tad behind them with lovely work. Gowey is basically a fully rotated and controlled 3/1 dismount away from scoring with the other two. She’s getting there. Beyond those three, a few others were fine yet unremarkable for low 14s, but Biles, Ross, and Gowey were the standouts and seem the clear top three beamers for the moment. Though moments change quickly.  

Kocian is another with the potential to score well on beam, even though she had a fall and a couple other wobbles at Classic. She isn’t showing the same difficulty as Gowey, but she doesn’t give much away on her execution of individual skills. The same is true of Baumann, but at the risk of being too NBC, Baumann’s stock definitely dropped at Classic. She didn’t score well enough on beam to stand out (lower than Locklear and the same as Skinner), and she had a slightly hilarious fall on FX while trying to get back onto the floor after going OOB. We also have Peyton Ernst hanging around who can do very well here, but she has been lost in the shuffle now that’s she’s injured. When healthy, she’d be a candidate for high 14s.

If no one’s rivaling Gowey for that third beam position, it should be smooth sailing for her, even if the Amanar doesn’t come together. 

FLOOR

Did anyone else have the feeling during Classic that floor just got weird? I had been taking floor for granted since it’s the US and floor, but suddenly the landscape on this event became Simone Biles and tumbleweeds. Was it just because Biles is so much better than everyone else that they all looked bleak by comparison, or is there really a gap that needs to be filled?

Ross was second at Classic with a 14.600 with her upgraded routine, which is a really good score for her, but the scenario here is almost identical to vault. Ross should be the baseline floor worker, the one who can record a strong score but whom the floor specialists need to beat comfortably if they are to call themselves floor specialists. Do those people exist? Skinner is supposed to be the main one, but she was clearly performing a routine at Classic that she did not have the endurance to complete. She scored 1.200 lower than Ross, so even if you give her back 1.000 for the fall, she’s still coming in below Ross. Once again, she has a lot to prove.

I’m somewhat at a loss on this event. If it were Worlds right now, who would you put up on floor in team finals? One of these 6.0+ difficulty people needs to show up scoring something in the high 14s at Championships to make that decision clearer.

Gowey has tremendous potential on floor, and I’d love to see her emerge as a standout, but her composition concerns me with that 3.5 and the 3/1 in the same routine. Terrifying, especially since her 3.5 is more like a 3.2. She’s going for big difficulty (as high as 6.1?) but got a 5.6 at Classic. The US needs more advantage on floor than a 5.6. That’s a China D-score. Until your team has bars like Huang and beam like Bai, you don’t get to get away with a 5.6 on floor. 

Maggie Nichols was third at Classic with a 14.300, right around Hundley and Gowey with similar low 14s, but right now she’s in the “You’ll be a great alternate” position of death because she can put up a solid score on every event but doesn’t scream her necessity anywhere. No one is saying, “You have to use Nichols” on any event, which is her downfall.

ALL-AROUND

As we knew before Classic and really knew after Classic, the all-around in the US right now is a one-Biles race. She’s the star and would likely have to fall a minimum of three times, if not four, over the two-day competition at Championships to be passed by Ross. That’s why the race for the Worlds team is the much more compelling topic for the US women right now. For anything other than “2014 US Champion Simone Biles” to happen, it would have to be an ugly meet.

The interesting thing about Kyla Ross is that she’s currently sixth in the total difficulty race, but even if Dowell and Ernst suddenly show up with their all-around boots on at some point, Ross proved with her cleanliness and consistency at Classic that she’s still the reigning #2. No one else came close to her. Like Biles, it would appear that Ross would have to have an inner-ear-infection number of falls to relinquish that spot to the Gowey types, which seems unlikely. 

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama