The Final U.S. Decisions Happen Tonight

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If Gabby Douglas wasn’t Gabby Douglas, would she even be part of the conversation right now?

That’s what I’ve been wondering since Friday night. I’ve given Douglas the benefit of the doubt this season because as we saw in 2012 and in 2015, Douglas isn’t “herself” until she needs to be. She can muddle through the preliminary competitions and then get her job done, which is how she’s the reigning Olympic champ and world silver medalist. If all goes according to plan, she will show up in Rio, make all-around finals, and easily win a medal.

But with this much depth right now, if Douglas wasn’t coming in with her name and the precedent she’s set, I don’t see how it would be possible to justify her for a team spot. I went into the reasons why in my preview for this event, but as a quick rehash, she’s not a top all-arounder right now and she wouldn’t contribute anywhere but bars in the team final (where her scores barely surpass those of Simone Biles).

My favorite team situation before night one featured the likely Olympians Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and then someone to balance out Kocian in a vault/floor spot, which as of last week was Maggie Nichols for me if she proved able to get back to her 2015 self.

I don’t think Nichols quite did what she needed to do if she wanted to make that happen, placing fourth on floor and showcasing only a DTY, with noticeable form issues on both. Given her knee surgery only a couple of months ago, she definitely met my expectations, but with a fall on beam, she was only eighth all-around and even if she hadn’t fallen on beam, the field is just so deep, she wouldn’t have made up that much ground.

Nichols and Douglas actually had pretty similar days, with Douglas earning a 58.55 and Nichols earning a 58.25. Both had falls on beam, they shared a matching 15.1 on vault, Nichols finished a few tenths ahead of Douglas on floor, and Douglas had the better score on bars. If you’re choosing between them for the last spot, Nichols still makes the most sense because her floor would add more to the team than Douglas’ bars would.

But the one who showed most that she fits into that fifth spot is MyKayla Skinner. Skinner, after falling three times on beam during the second day at nationals, had what was probably the best performance of her life and with her newfound confidence on beam, she’s actually the perfect fit if you consider Biles, Raisman, and Hernandez in the all-around and Kocian on bars. Skinner is the only one who could come in and counter Kocian on vault, beam, and floor, and she adds the potential to win a vault medal with her Cheng and Amanar combination.

When I talked to Skinner after the competition, she couldn’t stop smiling. She was clearly so happy about everything coming together, especially on beam, where her 14.85 was the fourth-highest of the day, and on floor, where she had absolutely the strongest performance of her life (and yet still only received a 14.8 which was majorly low-balled given some other floor scores).

Skinner’s only issue was not being able to land her Amanars in training, both in the pre-meet warm-up as well as in the touch. She played it safe with the DTY, which looked great, and said she was definitely going to bring the Amanar back today. With her Cheng and Amanar combination, she can somewhat easily be in the conversation for a vault medal, given that her form is cleaner than the reigning world gold and silver medalists, both of whom have the exact same vaults.

That Skinner is doing so well is my favorite thing ever. In early 2013, I wrote that Skinner was like Alicia Sacramone between 2004 and 2008, going from a non-contender to being on the team. While she didn’t quite have Sacramone’s meteoric rise, it was thanks mostly to the incredible depth this quad compared to a weaker pool back then. With or without the medal haul to show for it, Skinner has come so far, working on her strengths as well as weaknesses, and definitely wins the “most improved” award. Seriously, go back and watch her routines from 2012 nationals. She’s a totally different gymnast at 19 than she was at 15. Even if it doesn’t happen for her, she should be a huge inspiration to any of the young seniors who didn’t quite reach their goals this year.

While I am so Team Skinner for the fifth spot right now (because with another night like Friday, she fits the team format perfectly and adds another individual medal), I know it’s not going to happen. I know Douglas will make the team, even if she places seventh again tonight. I know Martha Karolyi has said that her team still hasn’t changed based on Douglas’ performance. I know that Douglas’ M.O. is to not show up until she needs to. And I know that when she does finally show up, she’s golden.

Most fans, I think, will not be happy with Douglas being selected to the team with the results she’s been getting all summer, and that’s fair. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, if she was some random Susie Q. Nobody getting the same exact scores and looking like Douglas does, she wouldn’t even be in the picture, let alone a front runner for the team. But because of her name, and because of what she’s done in the past, she obviously has to enter the conversation.

If anything, I think at this point the pressure is getting to her. She hasn’t performed up to anyone’s standard this summer, her general demeanor on the floor has been somewhere between pissed and over it, and her training was so rough on Thursday, she made the snap decision to ‘fire’ Kittia Carpenter and promote Christian Gallardo to head coach. There’s clearly something going on mentally, because she is a much better competitor than she looks.

And really, had she hit beam on Friday, she would’ve had a great night. Her vault and bars were solid, and her floor was great, for her. With beam her last event, you’re kind of walking away with that as the final image in your head, but overall it was a good enough night and beam aside, Karolyi can justify bringing her, even if she’s not necessarily who I’d bring if I was in charge.

If you’re still worried, at the Olympic Trials in 2004, Carly Patterson fell twice on beam and went on to win the silver medal. One bad meet doesn’t equal the end of the line, and what Douglas has shown this summer is that all of the pieces are there. She just has to put it all together.

The four locks – Biles, Hernandez, Raisman, and Kocian – remain at the top of the list thanks to their continued strong performances. Biles actually didn’t have the greatest meet, with a few minor bloopers like a near-fall on her wolf turn and some tenths thrown away on floor, but come on. Biles on a ‘bad’ day is better than literally everyone else.

Hernandez had a great day aside from a rather large mistake on bars. I do think she was over-scored on literally everything, which doesn’t make sense to me because she’s so obviously going to Rio and if anything – as what happened with Jordyn Wieber in 2012 – inflated domestic scoring only gives the girls false expectations once they compete internationally.

Her DTY was the third-weakest DTY in the bunch and yet earned the highest DTY score of 15.15. She had a major mistake on bars and still got an 8.4 e-score for a 14.9. Her beam also had a pretty big blunder on her flight series and she got a 9.0 e-score there. And on floor, she gave away so much in her landings, and still came up with a 9.1. It’s very perplexing, and she’s had much better days with much lower scores, so I don’t know what they’re doing or why, but again, it doesn’t matter. She’ll be there.

Raisman, meanwhile, was scored pretty accurately, I thought. Her D scores reflected the missed connections on beam and an uncredited turn on floor, and she was fairly scored on vault, which was interesting to me because her Amanars have generally been scored quite high at home this summer. She did great work – for her – on bars, and what she did hit on beam and floor was fabulous, so her execution scores there were absolutely deserved.

Then there’s Kocian, who was sixth all-around, though her all-around scores don’t really matter because her bars continue to be the reason she’ll be in Rio. With a 15.75 there, the reigning world champion showed once again that she is unstoppable and then also went on to perform what was probably the best beam routine of her career, earning a 14.7 to show that like in worlds qualifications last year, she can absolutely go up here and own it even if it’s not necessarily a strength.

Her “nemesis” – if you can call a friend and teammate that – Ashton Locklear matched her score on bars with the difference continuing to be that Locklear is the slightly cleaner of the two but Kocian can make up for that with her slightly higher difficulty. Locklear is literally almost flawless on the event, though without vault and floor in her program and with a relatively weak beam, she’s been kind of a question mark, given that Karolyi tends to prefer all-around gymnasts as built-in alternates, since alternates can’t be swapped in after the deadline.

With it already being a tough case to make, Locklear’s unfortunate beam fall on Friday didn’t help anything, and I think she knew it. She left the beam in tears and continued to look upset after the meet and in the media session. It’s hard to see her come to that realization, and I hope she continues going forward because with many of this year’s top elites off to college or retirement in the future, Locklear has the potential to go on and turn the 2017-2020 quad into a super successful one.

Though Ragan Smith showed at nationals that she might be faltering under the pressure, she was phenomenal here on Friday, placing fifth all-around with a 58.7. Beam is the only event she’d really contribute in a team final situation, and with taking out her new Patterson dismount in favor of her simpler double pike, she was able to focus on making it through the rest of her routine cleanly and calmly, getting a 14.9 for the third-best score there. I don’t think she’s high up on Karolyi’s list for the team, but she will absolutely be an alternate and could realistically go up on any event if needed.

As for the rest, Amelia Hundley and Brenna Dowell both had great days and don’t get the respect (or scores, sometimes) they deserve. It’s perplexing to watch a bar routine like Dowell’s get an 8.4 e-score with only minor form breaks while Hernandez gets the same e-score with a huge mistake, and her DTY is easily among the best in this bunch, though you’d never know that based on her scores. Hundley, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent of the summer and when I talked to her, she said she’s basically just enjoying the ride and having fun. She put very little pressure on herself and is doing some of the most solid work out there.

Christina Desiderio, who was kind of a surprise addition to trials, also said she came in with no pressure and the desire to just have fun. And it totally worked for her. I think this was the best I’ve ever seen her compete, from start to finish. Bars are typically a nightmare experience for her, but when she hit them on Friday, I’ve never seen a group of people so happy, with big smiles all around for her and her coaches, the Strausses.

Rachel Gowey and Emily Schild both had falls, with Gowey missing one of her passes on floor and Schild falling on beam. Neither was high up on the list either for the team or for an alternate spot, so this didn’t really affect much, though it was a shame because they otherwise did great work, especially Gowey on bars and Schild on vault and floor. Gowey is off to Florida next year and Schild is set to join Georgia’s program, where she will undoubtedly be a huge addition to the program. I hope for today, they’ll both be able to finish up strong and have fun with the experience.

I know I have my own ideas for the team, but if Karolyi goes with anyone but Biles, Raisman, Hernandez, Douglas, and Kocian, I’d be super shocked. These five and the rest of the gang will face the final night of competition today in San Jose, airing live on NBC at 8:30 pm ET with the Olympic team announced immediately following the competition.

Will Douglas show that she can make everything come together at once? Will Biles make my dreams come true and stick her Amanar so she can get a perfect ten? Will Karolyi be like “ha, I was playing you this whole time” and completely surprise with her team choices? Only a few hours from now, all of this will be cleared up forever.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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33 thoughts on “The Final U.S. Decisions Happen Tonight

  1. I think Carly Patterson got the gold medal in Athens 🙂 Unless you’re talking about the team, in which case, carry on!

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  2. Thanks for this great summary Lauren! One question I do have is on Laurie’s mistake in her flight series– how big of a deduction should that be? Based on what the commentators were saying, I thought it was a good save and wouldn’t be a huge deduction… how many tenths do you think she should have lost? Thanks!

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  3. I can’t help but be disappointed in Gabby Douglas’s quote in a SI article where she said she has lost her passion for the sport. To me, the Olympics are all about passion. I believe that every other girl on that floor is full of passion and pride to be out there competing. I am rooting for Skinner. She has put her life on hold (deferring her freshman year at Utah) to train for the Olympics. I would hate to see her spot taken by someone who doesn’t even have a passion for the sport! I believe that if the selection committee looked at the current numbers and scoring potential without reference to “names” and “fame” that Mykayla would be on the team.

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    • I read that quote too… and I thought the same thing that you do – that it would be sad to not really “want it” but still take a spot from another deserving athlete. But then I also think about obligation – to herself, to her training, to her fans, to her family… maybe obligation doesn’t seem like the right motivation for an athlete to compete but I also think who am I to judge the motivation? Does that make sense? Her family (like all of these young ladies’ families!) gave up a lot for her to train, and I’m sure she feels that she owes them something. I could argue that she doesn’t owe them anything though in some ways I could argue that she does. Whatever the reason, I hope that she finds happiness – if that’s when she gets to the olympics or when it’s all done. She looks like she has the weight of the world on her shoulders.

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    • I recall her being asked something along the lines of, if she wasn’t doing gymnastics what would she be doing or what will she do after she retires or something, her response was along the lines of she didn’t know what she would do or would be doing that’s not gymnastics. But it wasn’t like, I love gymnastics and can’t imagine not doing it, it was like, I can do this, and I don’t really know how to do anything else, so that’s what I’m doing. It was like she’s completely lost and has no idea what she wants, not just in gymnastics, but in life. I feel like now, she’s chasing how she felt four years ago. And those feelings of joy and pride were tied to gymnastics, and I think, she thinks, she can rediscover those feelings. It makes me a little sad for her. I think it’s pretty clear that mentally, she’s all over the place. I’m not sure she was ready for the sudden “fame,” and just as sudden drop in popularity. I hope she finds happiness and passion, but I think, for her, it won’t come from gymnastics.

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  4. Thanks for the analysis. I agree with your points, so the question is…. who will be the 3 alternates (or reserves or whatever)? I think 4 are in the running – Skinner, Smith, Locklear and Nichols. My choices would be the first three and leave off Nichols b/c I think she and Skinner provide the same back-up events and Skinner proved herself more solid. I heard on gymcastic that the girls are more realistic this year about there chances than in the past, which is really good to hear. But do you get a sense that Nichols is realistic? It seems from interviews/social media that she very much thinks she’s in the running for the team, not fighting for an alternate spot. However, that could be only my perception.

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  5. I can’t wait until the announcement. Then we can get on with cheering for the team instead of nitpicking everyone to death. I’m sitting in front of beam tonight. I’ll be on the edge of my seat.

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  6. thanks Lauren! I agree with your Gabby thoughts and everything else! haha. I do find it a bit unfair that Gabby will make the team with “the stuff” she has going on – but the reality is most Olympic fans don’t see what we do. They just see Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas making a comeback and love her. And that’s fine. I would love to see another girl get that spot but I can live with that not happening. What I do hope happens though is that Aly, Laurie and Simone do AA – but knowing Martha she will bench Laurie. *sigh* For Gabby’s sake, I hope she has a stellar night and removes the doubt – then we will all feel better 🙂

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  7. I kind of had the opposite reaction to others about Gabby’s quotes (the ones in Will Graves’s article). I was impressed that she seems to be assessing herself more accurately than Martha. (I swear, Martha is showing some sentimentality on her way out!). And she’s being super honest about her mindset (if not about the stuff with Kittia, haha). I kind of feel like Gabby will be either “I am Here. I am in this!” tonight and compete full out, angry-beam and all… Or she’ll really show that mentally she’s still not here yet. I get the feeling that if it’s the latter, she’d understand not getting selected. But will it happen?

    I’ve been team-Maggie for a long time and I’ve been impressed with Skinner’s improvements very much but still frustrated with some of the form/execution issues (like the one-armed Cheng). I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can really see the case for her now.

    Finally, I KNOW you know scoring better than I do, and I’m probably a little biased towards Laurie, but I would still argue that the one place she wasn’t overscored was on beam: aside from the layout (and what a save, she didn’t really even wobble as she pulled it off), all of her landings were rock-solid; she was confident and beautiful. Sure, she had a slow-ish connection and her tour-jete half was a bit low, and there’s probably something else I didn’t catch (little bit on dismount?), but is all that more than 1.0? I wouldn’t think so….

    Thanks, as always, for a solid and insightful recap! I’m so emotional about this team for some reason! More than ever. 🙂

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  8. Now come on Laurie was overscored on everything you must be really blind or you got something thing against her. The only one she was really overscored on was ub and even that she really saved it. But to say she was grossly overscored on bb and floor is a joke. Let’s get real Simone just because she’s her doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be hit her bb was off and her vault east up to par her second vault was really overscored. So let’s get it real if you are going to eat on Laurie others especially name recognition were given gifts too that save on bb was so clean it didn’t even look like a save she deserved the scores she got on bb and floor her vault even if not high was pretty clean and let’s not try to smear jordyn she had a fractured in her leg and still came in fourth in London I think what is is people are mad that Laurie beat gabby and aly she was better than both. Come on she got a 69.8 she did well enough to still score around 60. And Simone was overscored people think because her name the judges shouldn’t hit her yes she’s the best with the dif and open ended scoring but the rankings were correct and Laurie was overscored much at all except ub which she did pretty good job saving I sound like a broken record others have saved or done worse and haven’t been hit overall Laurie and aly are looking 2 and 3 either way

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  9. Most of the hate Skinner gets from the “gymternet” (not this website) is purely because she’s a Mormon. Bitter queens be bitter.

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    • I personally thought that the “hate” Skinner would get stemmed from her atrocious execution (Trials night 1 excluded). I will be the first to say that, in the past, I have been objectively critical of Skinner – a lot of her gymnastics just aren’t ‘pretty’ (she is lovely, but the awful splits, 1-armed vaults, robotic dance, zero fluidity, etc). However! Friday night was amazing, and should she continue that tonight, she definitely has a case for the fifth spot – to contribute on vault in the team final and likely an EF medal as well.

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    • I’m sure that most people don’t even know that Skinner is Mormon. Most of the girls are Christian, but I had no idea that Skinner was Mormon. Personally, I don’t dislike her. I think she’d be the best option for the 5th spot. But my issue with her is her consistency and her form is usually pretty terrible. She’s gotten a lot better and she had an amazing night on night one. No one can take that away from her but I can pretty much guarantee that most people who don’t care for her know nothing about her religious beliefs and don’t disliker her as a person. They just don’t like her gymnastics. That’s all about preference. There are people in the world who don’t like Simone because they feel she lacks artistry. Just depends on the person.

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  10. I think it’s interesting that many are bringing up that Carly fell at Trials on both nights– after her success at the Olympics, it seems like such an afterthought! I do think it’s noteworthy to mention that Carly was still third after two nights of competition (and legitimately close to second and securing a guaranteed spot), was the national co-champion, and had a training camp at the ranch to ‘prove’ herself one more time. Gabby’s overall performance and fall are not quite in that same scenario. But, I do think Carly and Gabby each have this in common– they pretty much had set positions on the team.

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    • Not true. For context, Aly hadn’t put 4 hit routines together all season before nationals whereas Gabby had been undefeated up until nationals and was 3rd on bars at Classics behind Locklear and Kocian. Gabby has definitely been leaving much to be desired but she’s only recently been struggling this badly. Besides just her name, that’s gonna count for something.

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      • Thank you for response. I still maintain the comparison between Carly and Gabby is not a perfect parallel (in which case you could add Carly’s problem on bars leading up to Athens, as opposed to Gabby’s success in 2016, as you pointed out.) And in the end, my final assessment was accurate– she is on the team.

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  11. I get that Douglas isn’t really proving herself and the lack of passion is disappointing. I wish Maggie was back in 2015 form though (or that Key or Flatley had gotten to 2016 with the form and skills predicted!), because I just can’t get myself on board with Skinner as a replacement for Douglas. If she goes, I feel that we are taking two gymnasts who (while extremely talented and hard-working) sort of prove to the world that American gymnastics completely lacks artistry. I don’t think this is true overall, but it’s hard for me to watch the very jerky poses that a few have as dance elements. Obviously just my opinion and I do respect all of the hard work these ladies have put in to the sport!

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  12. I think they’re over inflating Laurie for confidence and to establish as big a name as they can for her in Rio, not so much for team chances; she seems confident in herself, but it doesn’t hurt to build on it, especially when you’re dealing with a first year senior in an Olympic year. And with first year senior comes with not having the reputation of the veterans, and unfortunately your name usually plays a role in how well you score. So I can understand the inflation.

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    • It’s exactly what I thought. It was the same with Douglas in 2012 and this strategy perfectly worked. Douglas i declining and Raisman’s style is not so much appreciated internationally, so an inflated reputation for Hernandez makes mind.

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      • Raisman who tied for 3rd AA in London, won floor, and was 3rd on beam?!!! Just because she had an off day in quals in 2015 doesn’t mean she isn’t appreciated. Her scores are actually the most consistent as far as carry over.

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  13. Douglas was as overscored as Hernandez friday night (specifically beam and floor) … And in Glasgow, Raisman didn’t really have an off day at beam and floor, her scores were just much lower than in domestic competitions. I agree with Zyxcba ‘s analysis for Hernandez scores. And I think Douglas will be on the team. It’s funny because the Rodionenkos said in october 2015 what the Russian team will be and changed thousand times their mind, and reciprocally, Karoly says today that she has not changers her mind for 6 months.

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  14. Back in the early 90s Nike built an entire ad campaign around Dan versus Dave, two Anericans that they thought would contend,mead to head, for the gold in the decathlon. Along come the Olympic trials and one of them doesn’t even make the team due to his performance during the selection process. I bring this up because every other sport has a selection process that actually means something, and if it isn’t going to matter what they do here than why the hell are they putting them through it? (Also in 2000 they had Vanessa Atler and Alyssa Beckerman in ads before the trials). It is absurd and disappointing to me that they would take Gabby because in the past she finally decides to show up at major meets, when other athletes have been showing improvement as the year has progressed. If they need that bar score so badly they should take Ashton and promote Maddie to the fourth FX and VT position. NBC has plenty of storylines and fluff with the other girls, including, frankly, the person who should be getting the media attention, Biles. I like Gabby, and I was pleased and happy with how she preformed at works last year. However, she has been flat and lackluster during the entire selection process, and seems profoundly unhappy. Why is she doing this to herself? Why take a spot from someone who wants it when you don’t? Why give a spot to someone who is not mentally or physically ready? This isn’t 1992 when you need the six best all around athletes and allowances needed to be made to get some of the girls who were recovering from injuries to trials. It is galling to me that Marta would do this and confirm everyone’s long held beliefs that she is someone who plays favorites and that the selection process is compromised and unfair. She will undermine everything she has worked for if she puts Gabby on this team over athletes who have performed better and are better fits.

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    • Agreed. Trials are less for the purpose of selecting the team, and more for the purpose of giving the team a high pressure experience to mentally prepare for the olympics.

      And, I wish that were not the case. I think if Gabby misses while Mykayla hits, that should count for something.

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  15. Lauren–thank you so much for one of the only honest and transparent takes on the situation with Gabby Douglas and the rest of the team that I’ve heard or read so far. I was starting to feel bad that I didn’t want Gabby to go because everyone else kept saying she deserved it and that she’d bring it when the time came. I’m just not sure and I don’t think reputation alone is enough. I also don’t feel like her performance here or at nationals was nearly the caliber of what we saw in Glasgow which is why I feel like she’s been in somewhat of a downward spiral these last few months. I want the spot to go to someone whose heart is really in it. I love Gabby for what she’s done for USA Gymnastics, but I agree with your assessment, and I too would bring someone else in her place. I’m glad I can say so on your site and not get so much bitterness from the gymternet as I would get other places. Thanks for allowing all to express their opinions!

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    • My thought is that she deserves it because they ALL deserve it. But it’s not so much about who deserves it as it is like…who is ready right now and who fits the team best. Gabby isn’t ready and doesn’t fit the team! It doesn’t mean she’s a lesser gymnast or anything and it’s not rude to pick apart these little things when it’s exactly what Martha is doing. It’s okay to say she isn’t currently at her best and to talk about why she wouldn’t be in the conversation if she wasn’t who she is performing this same way.

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    • I agree entirely. It’ll be interesting to see what Martha does. I am actually reminded of 2012 – it IS different in that Gabby had great success in 2015, and the American Cup this year. When thinking about 2012 Trials, Martha could’ve played this card and taken Nastia if we needed the bars score so bad – if the line of thinking is ‘she needs just a couple more weeks’, Nastia should’ve been on the 2012 team. The funny thing is, if the other four members are indeed Biles, Raisman, Hernandez and Kocian, spot #5 could be filled by ANY of the girls currently at Trials and US (barring crazy catastrophe) would still win the team, likely 1, 2 in the AA, at least one medal each on all 4 event finals (and I’d say 2 medals each on beam and floor). Hell, if Kocian keeps performing this well, she will be in the running in the bars final, and they could bring Skinner who’d likely 1-arm vault her way right onto the podium!

      TL;DR (if a bit abrupt): the team doesn’t “need” Gabby to win the team gold, and quite frankly, USA WAG would win more total medals without her.

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  16. Meh… I feel like Gabby was already “herself” by this point in 2012. I mean, she came in 2nd at Nationals and clinched the automatic berth at Trials (and let’s not forget the “win” at Scam) So I don’t really agree with those who are saying to look at her in 2012 and that she “always” peaks late.

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