It’s time for the 100th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered! Yes, 100th, and it was also our two year anniversary a couple of days ago. As a celebration and as a thank you for your support, I decided to answer 100 questions. Yes, it took me a million hours. ENJOY and thank you so much for reading and coming back!
Do you think Brenna Dowell should’ve stayed at Oklahoma this season rather than coming back to elite?
No. I think she knew her chances would be slim for making the Olympic team, but her reasoning for coming back was basically “why not?” She still had the skills, she still had the passion, and she loves competing at the elite level. She got the opportunity to finally represent her country on a worlds team after getting the shaft in 2013 and 2014, and even though it wasn’t the best meet for her, she still walked away a world gold medalist and with a skill named after her. That’s pretty badass. The Olympics were probably a hope for her but the Games aren’t the be-all end-all reason for doing elite gymnastics. Brenna had her reasons for coming back, and she proved to be one of the best in the country. She’s awesome and everyone should go after what they want like Brenna did. I hope she comes back again for 2020.
What do you think will happen for Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman after the Olympics? Will they continue in the sport? Will they quit? Will they take time off and come back later next quad?
It’s impossible for me to say for sure, though Aimee Boorman tweeted the other day that Simone really wants time to be a normal human for a little while, though she could see her coming back after an extended absence. I think Gabby and Aly will be done based on what they’ve said – one Olympic cycle is hard enough, let alone two! – but I have a secret wish that Aly will stick around for 2020. I want her to be the next Oksana Chusovitina. Also, at American Cup, Gabby said something about not knowing what she’d do beyond the world of gymnastics so maybe she’d hang out also? If you’re physically able to handle the demands and enjoy doing it, why not?
Based on her past results, do you think Axelle Klinckaert has a shot at making floor finals? Same with Nina Derwael on bars.
Literally crying to answer this because if you haven’t heard, Axelle has to miss out on the Olympic Games due to a knee injury. That said, I don’t think she would’ve made the floor final unless qualifications were somewhat rough for others…she has a FABULOUS routine but the difficulty is still a little low in comparison to other routines. She could’ve made it but wouldn’t have been a front-runner basically. Nina, on the other hand, has the difficulty and the execution. Her issue since returning from injury has been her consistency, but I think if she hits every skill in qualifications the way she can do it in training, she could definitely be a bars final contender. I hope she at least makes all-around finals!
Why do NCAA gymnasts have bigger builds than elites? Even elites who are the same age as NCAA gymnasts tend to be leaner. Are NCAA gymnasts training as much? I would imagine that even if you transition from elite to college, you’re still training a great deal and your body wouldn’t change significantly.
Most elites who go to college gym definitely end up filling out quite a bit because the difference in training really is THAT noticeable. You’re going from almost 40 hours as an elite to about 20 in NCAA. Cutting intensive training like that in half has a huge effect on your body, which is why the girls who were more lean and light as elites end up getting to college and then changing a bit. Some collegiate gymnasts don’t really change much at all, especially if they were already basically in their mature bodies as elites (like Amelia Hundley probably won’t go through as much of a change because she has gone through the whole growth spurt thing already), but I think the majority end up really growing up between elite and college as a combination of natural growth and the cutting in half of training time.
Are there different national team coaches for each event? Is that a thing where different club coaches work with all of the girls on the national team on a particular event?
Yup! There are national team coaches for each event. I’m not sure who coaches what aside from Mihai Brestyan coaching floor…I don’t know if the info is listed anywhere but I know Mihai has said in the past that he is the floor coach. He doesn’t like, teach skills or anything on the event to everyone at camp, but rather when they’re rotating through the apparatuses, he’s there to lead the event and make suggestions/changes.
Why does the U.S. team have three alternates while most other countries only have two or one alternate?
Each country can choose how many alternates they want on hand, and it will usually depend on funding and things like that. The U.S., for example, is funding taking all three alternates to the training camp and then to Rio, where they’ll replicate a training situation similar to that of the Olympic team for their alternates. Italy, on the other hand, only has one alternate and they’re not even flying her to Rio, because it’s too expensive to get her a gym of her own since she can’t train with the team. If something goes wrong for Italy, they’ll instead rely on built-in alternates already on the team. There’s also the fact that most countries might only have one or two gymnasts competing at a similar level as the team itself, and so there’s no point in naming a third alternate if the only candidate for that position is miles behind the team and they would never bring her in. So necessity/availability also come into play in addition to the expense of having alternates. For most countries, two alternates are enough. The U.S. opts for three so they can have their bases covered on pretty much every event.
If Amy Chow were to perform her 1996 Olympic bar routine today, what would her D score be?
Her event final routine includes: handstand mount (C) + Endo full (D) + Endo half (C) + Chow (D), stalder half (C) + piked Jaeger (D) + straddle roll (C), pike sole circle (B?) + jump to high (A?), tucked double double dismount (F).
She meets all of the CR so she gets her 2.5 from that, her eight skills counted are FDDDCCCC which equals 3 points, but none of her connections are worth anything in the current code, so she doesn’t get any CV. Her total D score would be 5.5. She has a lot of connections but the current code only really rewards D+D and most of hers are C+D, which are worth nothing. For comparison, I also did Svetlana Khorkina’s routine from the same meet, and she DID have some valuable connections in the current code! Her routine would be worth about 5.8.
Once Martha Karolyi is gone, how many of her rules, methods, and procedures will stay in place? Do you think the national and developmental teams will continue to train at the ranch?
I’ve said this before in other articles so sorry to repeat myself, but I think the system currently in place goes beyond Martha Karolyi and will continue to run largely in the same way. Because that’s what it is – a system. Martha built that system, but it’s now set up to run like a machine basically no matter who’s in charge. It’s not like she was running everything and now will hand the keys over to someone who will run it differently. Everything set up within the current system is overseen by boards, committees, and multiple people who keep every cog in the machine running. Like a CEO handing a company over to his successor, the person in charge is changing but everything else will keep running like the business is supposed to. While whoever takes over will bring his own flair to the women’s program, I think most of Martha’s practices and rules and methods will stay in place because they’re more the U.S. women’s program’s practices, not just hers. And yes, the ranch is now an official Olympic Training Center and will continue to run in the same capacity for the national team and developmental program.
I keep seeing people congratulate you on your new job so I feel out of the loop. What is it?! Congrats, by the way!
Well thank you! I will be doing gymnastics research for the digital broadcast team for NBC during the Olympic Games. Basically, the competition will air live online prior to airing on primetime, and there will be commentary coming from hosts Courtney Kupets and Jon Horton, who will then do a live recap show afterwards called “The Daily Dismount” (more information about all of this here). I’ll be doing all of the research for the hosts, giving them the background info they’ll need when they’re speaking on the broadcast and helping come up with talking points and other big stories and features for the recap show. It should be fun, and I can’t wait to get started!
What does it mean when equipment is on a podium? How does it affect the equipment and how is it different from equipment in a gym?
Most major international meets and some domestic meets use podiums to elevate the equipment like on a stage almost. These little stages give the equipment a slightly different feel as opposed to if they’re just standing on solid ground, making everything a wee bit bouncier, not so much that it can mess things up for you, but if you don’t get a little practice in before the competition, everything will definitely feel a little off. That’s why podium training always happens for these meets, so you can get a feel for competing on a podium as a sort of dress rehearsal before competing.
What effects would Brexit have on gymnastics?
The only thing I could think of was Scotland potentially leaving the UK, which would allow them to have an international team of their own. Right now, the British team is comprised of gymnasts from England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as well as a couple of the islands I believe (Isle of Man, Jersey, and Guernsey). If Scotland becomes its own thing, they could compete internationally as Scotland, which could open doors for their gymnasts who generally don’t tend to make the British teams. This would mean Scottish gymnasts could go to world championships, which would be a big deal for the women who mostly don’t factor into that decision on Team GB. With the junior Louise McColgan coming up through the ranks, it could really benefit her to stand out as a Scottish gymnast as opposed to trying to make the British teams, but that would really be the only major change. Because GB is geographically a part of Europe, they would still be included in the European Championships as their continental meet, so I’m not sure anything else would really be affected.
In floor routines with both a double tuck and a double pike, why do gymnasts do the tuck in the interior and the pike last? Both are D skills so the tuck would meet the CR as the final pass.
This is actually a question I’ve asked a bunch of times, and when I’ve asked, the answer I’ve gotten from a couple of gymnasts is that the double pike position is actually easier for them than the double tuck?! I’m not sure why this is, because you’d think the double pike would be much harder to rotate, but it basically seems like it’s just a kind of personal preference.
Do you know who was on the U.S. women’s Olympic team selection committee?
Martha Karolyi, Tatyana Perskaya, and Terin Humphrey.
I read that South Africa will not send Claudia Cummins to the Olympics, leaving an open spot. Will that go to another gymnast from Africa or to the reserve athlete from the test event?
Correct, South Africa will not send Claudia because she earned the spot as a continental representation spot rather than on her own merit, and the South African Olympic Committee doesn’t think they should fund continental spots (which I heard someone call a “pity spot” once). Because there needs to be two gymnasts representing every continent, with Claudia unable to accept, the FIG went down the qualification results list from last year’s worlds. The next in line were also South African, and then behind them was Sherine el Zeiny of Egypt, who has accepted and will compete at her third Olympic Games in August.
Do you think Alison Lepin could have made the bars final at the Olympic Games?
I mean, it’s possible, but most likely not. She has a very high difficulty routine but struggled to hit it consistently and when she did hit it, there were lots of deductions…I think generally a hit routine got her to around a 14.6, whereas the eight best bars gymnasts in the world are all capable of reaching well over 15, making the bars final one of the most stacked this summer. She would’ve really needed to rely on mistakes from these bars leaders if she wanted to get in…but she’s so young, hopefully she’ll be able to perfect and work on this routine in the next few years so she can get some worlds experience and then maybe come back and kill it in 2020?
Is Rebeca Andrade still planning on doing two vaults for event finals at the Olympics or is she just going to drop her second vault to spend more time on strengthening her all-around program?
No, Rebeca has opted to stick with one vault so she can focus more on her all-around program and likely also protect her knees. She is training the Amanar again, which she’s hoping to compete at the Olympics, but I think because her comeback has cut it so close, it just became impossible for her to worry about adding a second vault back and trying to make that final in addition to everything else she’ll have going on.
Who do you think will be the team captain for Team USA – Aly Raisman or Simone Biles? It seems everyone loves both of them, though Aly has taken on more of a leadership role with a lot of the girls.
I think it’ll go to Aly. Simone is definitely friendly with everyone and is a big personality on the national team, but she’ll have so much else to worry about this summer, I think she’ll be okay not getting the team leader title. For the past two years, Simone has been voted Athlete of the Year by her teammates but Aly has been voted Sportsperson of the Year, which is basically an award that recognizes her leadership skills and attitude. I think the second she returned to camp, she immediately took over where she left off in 2012, and as the oldest member of the team (and the team grandma!) I think she feels that sort of responsibility to help her younger teammates along.
What are the composition requirements on bars, beam, and floor?
Bars– flight from low to high bar (i.e. shaposh or toe shoot) as well as high to low bar (i.e. pak salto or bail), single bar release (i.e. Tkachev or Jaeger), non-flight element with a 360 degree minimum turn (i.e. stalder full or Ono), different grips/elements forward and backward (i.e. a front giant or an Endo), D+ dismount (i.e. double layout or tucked full-in)
Beam– connection of two dance elements with one a 180 degree split (i.e. full turn + split leap or split jump + sissone), full turn on one foot, acro series (i.e. bhs + loso or side aerial + side aerial), acro elements forward (i.e. front aerial or punch front tuck) and backward (i.e. back tuck full or back layout), D+ dismount (i.e. double tuck or 2.5)
Floor– connection of two dance elements with one a 180 degree split (i.e. tour jete half + Popa or switch leap + switch half), saltos forward/sideways (i.e. double front or side aerial) and backward (i.e. double layout or triple full), double saltos (i.e. double tuck or double front), saltos with a minimum of one full twist (i.e. 2.5 or punch front full), D+ dismount (i.e. double tuck or 2.5)
Do you think the pressure got to Simone Biles during the all-around final at worlds last year?
Not really. I do think the exhaustion got to her, though! With a long selection camp at the ranch, international overseas travel, training in Glasgow, and then the competition itself, she was clearly a bit worn out, which showed in her performance. She doesn’t really crack under pressure and I don’t think her mistakes were signs of mental breakdown. I think she just showed that she was human and gets tired, which caused her to make mistakes she normally wouldn’t make.
What happened to Anna Huber and Adriana Popp?
I believe Anna is still elite, but missed this competition season possibly due to injury. On her Instagram earlier this year she was showing upgrades (like a van Leeuwen on bars) so hopefully we’ll see her back next year. Adriana may also be injured…I can’t find anything definitive but it looks like she went to an elite qualifier in March but didn’t get her scores there and then scratched her next meet after that.
If Ellie Black did her old 2.5 through to double full pass as her dismount, would she meet the D dismount CR?
I believe so because she’d get the D value if she did the 2.5 on its own, so I can’t imagine they’d be like “nah” if she kept going and tacked on the double full for the combination. I’m not a hundred percent sure but I don’t think there is a rule that says the very last element in the pass must be a D. If there is, please correct me!
Why do people not do harder mounts on bars or beam?
I think it’s because most of the more difficult mounts aren’t really valuable enough to outweigh the risk. The most difficult bars mounts are E skills, and there’s a lot going into them that can cause you to trip up. You don’t want to start out your routine with a fall, because it puts you on edge for the rest of the routine, so mentally it’s just easier to go with something you know you’ll hit. On beam some gymnasts do tend to do some of the more difficult mounts on occasion but these tend to come with some mistakes and falls, so that kind of proves the whole point in that they’d rather just get it over with. It would be cool to see a couple of old-school mounts get revamped in the future but even the moderately difficult mounts are all rated a C, so if you’re counting all D+ skills in your routine, it’s not really worth it to do a C mount when you can get away with an A, basically, because neither would count.
Do you think Bailie Key, Norah Flatley, and Ragan Smith will come back next year to compete?
I hope so! It’ll be Bailie’s last year in elite before going to college in the fall, so I’m kind of hoping she will defer until the spring semester so she can maybe get to worlds in Montreal before starting her NCAA career. Norah and Ragan both have a couple of elite years left in them, so I can see them also coming back and wanting to go after worlds, given that neither were age-eligible for worlds prior to this year. Between 2012 and 2013, many young seniors came back, like Kennedy Baker, Elizabeth Price, Abby Milliet, MyKayla Skinner, Brenna Dowell…and several of these went on to have great success this quad. I think in addition to the three you mentioned, we could end up seeing a few girls who didn’t really stand out this quad maybe become big on the scene as the field dwindles and they get better. Lexy Ramler, Christina Desiderio, Margzetta Frazier, Olivia Trautman…there were lots of promising young girls this year who could see an awesome turnaround over the next year or two and really become leaders next quad.
Why do gymnasts hide when they’re injured but later say they were injured?
Sometimes, like with McKayla Maroney in 2012, it becomes about wanting to give the impression that you’re healthy so you don’t lose your spot. McKayla didn’t want the national team staff knowing the full extent of her injury because she wanted to keep her Olympic spot, and it was only later that she shared what she was dealing with. If you’re trying to make a team or keep your spot on a team, going forward with injury could cause you to lose your spot, and most gymnasts are willing to work through that pain if worlds or the Olympics are on the line.
What happened to Shantessa Pama? She was billed as the next big thing alongside Nastia Liukin and Vanessa Ferrari but then I never heard of her again.
Shantessa, most known for her triple back dismount off bars, was fifth all-around at nationals as a junior in 2005 and she went on to compete well at Gymnix and Pac Rims in 2006, but from there she kind of slid back in her ability, so it’s likely she just hit her peak at 14-15 and wasn’t able to really contend as a senior. She also battled injuries as the 2008 Olympics got closer and eventually dropped down to level 10, where she failed to qualify to J.O. regionals (and thus nationals). She wanted to return to elite and looked into NCAA programs as well, but it never worked out for her. When she finished her gymnastics career, she went to community college and coached at Gym-Max for a little while. Now she is 25 and continues to live and work in California.
I know more than four tumbling passes aren’t allowed any longer, but could a gymnast still choose to start a pass from a non-corner? I wasn’t sure if starting in a corner was an aesthetic thing or an actual rule.
This is called a side pass and I’ve never seen it done at the women’s elite level aside from the occasional aerial or back handspring or something (and was just reminded that Alicia Sacramone did one in 2008, but I can’t think of anyone else). At UCLA this year, Sadiqua Bynum competed a double tuck side pass, but I think for the most part the reason passes go from corner to corner is because gymnasts need the diagonal length of the floor to get enough of a run into the pass so they have the power to make it happen (and happen without going out-of-bounds). I think most passes would be too risky to do off the diagonal because you just wouldn’t have room.
Simone Biles said her legs were so dead after her beam on the second night of nationals, and there were lots more mistakes on that day of competition. Nastia Liukin said they trained twice Saturday and then on Sunday morning…why was there so much training?
That’s a normal amount of training for competitions like nationals and worlds. Gymnasts are used to that and generally train between competition days rather than take days off because it keeps them prepared mentally and physically. Yes, it’s a lot, but it’s nothing they’re not used to at that level, and gymnasts do generally tend to get tired at long drawn-out meets that last more than just one day. This was the first time this season that Simone had to compete two days since she didn’t do Jesolo and withdrew from event finals at Pac Rims, so it was probably more about her getting used to that kind of schedule again for the first time since worlds.
Is it possible for someone who is pro (like Simone Biles) to compete for an NCAA team as a walk-on?
No, it’s not. I think UCLA tried to work something out with Jordyn Wieber, who went pro and never committed to any NCAA program but then ended up attending UCLA and working as the team manager (and now volunteer coach) for UCLA Gymnastics. I believe someone at some point looked into whether they could get an exception for Jordyn, who went pro when she was really young (15 if I remember correctly?) and reached her maximum earning potential as a professional athlete before her 18th birthday. They were trying to look into this as an exception that would let her compete as a walk-on, but I don’t believe it ever went anywhere because there tends to be a very black and white look at things when any athlete goes pro – it doesn’t matter when or how young you were, you can’t do NCAA.
I think it’s definitely unfair for gymnasts who are forced to make the decision at 15 or 16 without knowing what the future holds in store for them. Given that Jordyn didn’t have an Olympics that propelled her into superstardom (i.e. no individual glory in the way Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and even McKayla Maroney got), that decision she made way too early ended up not being in her best interest, especially when she reached 18 and realized she DID want to go to college. In hindsight, she would’ve been better off not going pro and getting a scholarship, but they had no way of knowing that when she was 15 and expected to rule the 2012 Games. I think it’s super unfair to have to make these crucial life decisions at such a young age, and so I think there should be an exception in place for gymnasts who go pro at a young age but then stop accepting endorsements once they reach 18 — this way they’re allowed to earn money from their athletic achievements in the way pro athletes in literally every other sport are able to do after college. Gymnasts shouldn’t be penalized just because their maximum earning potential happens to come before they are age-eligible for NCAA.
On floor, when a gymnast goes out-of-bounds, are the judges allowed to deduct if they see it but the line judge doesn’t?
No, I don’t think so. I think when it happens that a heel or toe goes out-of-bounds and the line judge misses it, commentators on TV who see it are always like “wow she got really lucky there!” because if the flag doesn’t go up, no penalty is taken. I think for the most part, the reason for a line judge is because the judges aren’t at an angle that lets them see every corner…and so if one judge saw a toe go out but another didn’t, they’d have to confer as to whether to take the penalty and it becomes a whole thing. The line judge is there so the judges don’t have to have these “she went out!” “no she didn’t!” battles, and basically what the line judge says goes, even if she is wrong.
I heard that the fluff pieces on NBC can be telling in terms of what Martha Karolyi is thinking for the team, and in The Ranch there was a lot of focus on Laurie Hernandez and Ragan Smith. Do you think Ragan was on Martha’s mind for the team?
Yes I do, and as it turns out, she was named alternate. Generally the fluff pieces are going to focus on the girls with the biggest shots at making it, and this year, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, Laurie Hernandez, Ragan Smith, and Maggie Nichols all got the biggest focus because they were the front-runners for spots on the team. I didn’t think Ragan was a huge contender for the team, though after Jesolo I thought it could maybe happen for beam, though Laurie ended up being the one who nabbed that spot. Anyway, it wasn’t a surprise that all of those featured ended up getting team or alternate spots, with the exception of Maggie, though she was a team contender prior to getting injured (and likely would have challenged for a spot with an Amanar and floor similar to last year’s). MyKayla Skinner got a little recognition, but Ashton Locklear got almost none, which is why I knew going in that Madison was absolutely getting that bars spot over her.
If 2020 rules were in place now, who do you think would be on the teams for the United States, Russia, and China?
These teams are basically focused on all-around competitors, so I’d go with…
United States- Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, and Gabby Douglas on the team, and specialist spots to Madison Kocian and MyKayla Skinner
Russia- Aliya Mustafina, Angelina Melnikova, Seda Tutkhalyan, and either Evgeniya Shelgunova or Natalia Kapitonova on the team, and specialist spots to Maria Paseka and Daria Spiridonova
China- Shang Chunsong, Tan Jiaxin, Wang Yan, and Fan Yilin on the team, and specialist spots to Liu Jinru and Mao Yi
The team qualification in 2020 is a 4-4-3 format, meaning four gymnasts on the team, four compete each event in qualifications, and three scores count. But I think there will be an issue with some teams not being able to field four top all-arounders who can fit all holes on the team, like China this year. In these cases, even though quals are four-up three-count, some teams are going to have to make do with a three-up three-count situation and hope for the best. Like, in the Chinese picture, only three of those gymnasts vault, so they’d have to put up Shang, Tan, and Wang and just hope that none of them fall…but then all four do bars so they’d be able to put up and drop Wang’s score and then count the other three. Russia is also pretty heavily dependent upon specialists, though they do have enough high-level all-arounders to make it work. The situation benefits the U.S. the most, since all-around is a big focus and even the top event specialists like Skinner and Kocian also tend to be strong all-arounders, so they’d be able to field a strong team AND use either specialist as kind of a built-in alternate for a team spot should something go wrong.
Are gymnasts required to do the same routines in qualifications, team finals, and event finals? Like, could someone whip out a completely new floor routine during event finals?
Conceivably, yes. I’d like to introduce you to Aliya Mustafina, who has competed about 37 different beam routines so far this year. 🙂 Aliya is never satisfied with her flight series or her beam construction in general so you basically never know what you’re going to get from her when she mounts this event, which is kind of awesome knowing that she casually has all of these random skills and combinations in her back pocket. It’s rare to see gymnasts whip out brand new routines between qualifications and finals, though Aliya has done it, and there’s no rule saying you couldn’t. It actually might be fun to have a prelims floor and a finals floor, though these ladies are under enough stress as it is and remembering choreo for one routine is more than enough work. I can’t imagine having to go in with two ready to go!
What is Ashton Locklear’s status with Florida? Is she going or not?
Ashton is not going to Florida. She decided not to commit not because she wants to go pro, but because she simply just doesn’t want to do NCAA. She has said that she really enjoys competing at the elite level, and hopes to continue doing elite after the 2016 season, which could be great for her in the next quad if elite is her sole focus. She could definitely have a shot at a worlds team (and medal) or two, and then could also make a go for the 2020 team.
Do you think Maria Holbura will be able to upgrade her routines and be more competitive next year?
I hope so! I think she was fabulous this year, competing very well under the radar with the focus on the drama everywhere else. She never seemed to mind any of the madness that was happening around her, and while her routines are definitely pretty easy, I think she has a lot of promise and hope they can get her to that next level. I’d love to see her back at worlds as one of their top girls.
Are there dress requirements for competition at meets like worlds or the Olympics? Like, I’m sure Daniele Hypolito was wearing stockings at a meet…would that be allowed? What about hair accessories?
There are some basic rules about dress code, namely that they must compete in a “leotard or unitard” with a unitard basically a full-body leo that covers the legs from hip to ankle. The gymnast can also wear leg coverings, either the color of the leo or that match the legs, so I think Daniele’s tights would’ve been fine. Other rules include a “proper” neckline, a 2 cm minimum shoulder strap for sleeveless leos, the side cut can’t be higher than the hip bone, they can wear slippers/socks, they have to wear the bib number, there must be a national identification emblem, any sponsor logo has to be cleared beforehand, everyone from the same team must wear the same leo in quals and team finals, and no jewelry is allowed. I’ve never seen someone compete in a unitard before though imagine this could come into play for gymnasts with certain religious beliefs. I think the FIG okayed shorts for modesty reasons for the Iraqi gymnast Fatimah Saadi Al-Tameemi at the Youth Olympic Games, and I have seen a gymnast compete in a hijab before as well, so I think religious-based exceptions to the rules are possible.
If a girl in XCEL gold wanted to try level 5 or 6 but their gym didn’t have strong coaching or good equipment or a pit, should they switch gyms even after being successful in competitions? And if she did switch and went to extra practices, would she have a shot at level 10 or college gym even if she’s already 12?
Anything’s possible! A 12-year-old in XCEL gold might be a tight squeeze to work toward an NCAA program, but if you work hard and go quickly through the levels, you could possibly make it to level 9 or 10 by the time you graduate, so if your skill level is up to par, NCAA competition could happen. If you feel your gym doesn’t have strong coaching and the safety measures that could get you to the next level (like a pit would be pretty necessary to build your skill level toward 9/10), then a gym change might be necessary, especially if you transfer to a gym with coaches who have taken gymnasts down the NCAA path before. It’s hard for more inexperienced coaches to know all of the ins and outs of moving up through the levels and getting on NCAA radar, so a bigger gym with more experience could be helpful.
What is the skill Nastia Liukin did in 2008 where she did a front aerial into a scale? Do you know if others have done it? What was it in the code of points then and what would it be now?
Nastia’s skill was a front pike to scale (really an arabesque, a scale should be held at 180 degrees). In the old code of points, this skill was considered one element – a front pike done to a scale rather than a front pike connected to a scale. But in the code that came in 2009, they considered this two separate skills, a front pike and a scale, and combinations of skills aren’t named for individuals. Not only was Nastia’s skill not named for her in the new code, but similar combos named in old codes were removed with the requirement for a named combo skill changed to D (salto) + A (scale). Nastia’s one-foot front pike takeoff skill is only a C, so it doesn’t meet the requirement as a C (salto) + A (scale).
If someone were to do this salto to scale, they’d get 0.3 for the C skill and 0.1 for the A skill making it 0.4 as a combo which would be equivalent to a D element, but most don’t bother doing it because chances are, they’re not going to be counting an A element into their eight skills required for the D score (especially when most gymnasts try to go for all eight skills at D or higher, though a few C skills do slip in on occasion). The only time you really see A elements on beam is when they’re connected in a way that gets bonus (like a front aerial to wolf jump) or satisfies the composition requirement (like a split jump to sissone). I have seen some add a scale into choreography for artistry, but generally not as a skill or part of a combination. I can’t think of anyone who has done Nastia’s combo since she did, though in 2008 there were about ten different combos like this at the Olympic Games, and Shayla Worley had a similar Onodi to scale combo, though that was removed in the 2009-2012 code because while it meets the D + A requirement, an Onodi is in the acro group but is not a salto.
Why isn’t Aly Raisman’s layout credited? It looks laid out to me. What will it mean if she doesn’t get it credited?
It’s laid out, but her legs are never really together, with one leg typically in front of the other more like a layout stepout would look. She lands it on two feet, but a layout position in the air should be with the body straight and legs together. There are FIG videos that show what layouts should and shouldn’t look like, and the women’s technical committee basically only likes one layout look – aka how the Chinese do it. They get the correct lift and have legs straight and together. I think they’d also be pleased maybe with Ragan Smith’s layout? But Aly’s layout is literally in an FIG video of how NOT to do one.
Because a layout is an E and a layout stepout is a C, if you get your layout downgraded, they basically compromise and give it a D to be between the two. But the only way to get bonus credit on this series is the B+E connection, so if your layout gets downgraded to a D, you lose a tenth from the skill and then also lose a tenth you’re expecting to get from the series bonus, meaning she will lose 0.2 total for the skill, which takes Aly’s routine from a 6.5 to a 6.3 assuming she hits all other connections. I think at worlds last year the technical report said the judges only gave one layout full credit, so it’s not looking likely that Aly or most gymnasts who do them will get it this year.
All of that said, some of Aly’s layouts in training have looked so much better both in terms of lift and leg positioning, but in competition she never is exactly on point with how the judges want the layout to look in the air.
What is going on at Arizona State? They had only eight gymnasts competing one week, and only a total of 11 on their roster which seems low compared to other teams.
I have no idea what was happening there this year. They had a major issue with the head coach, who was let go halfway through the season, after which some of the girls began to learn how to relax a bit which helped them compete better (their coach was apparently similar to the Penn State coaches in terms of how she treated the girls). They also had injuries and I believe were low on recruits to begin with, and they had transfers out in previous years. Hopefully now that the coaching situation has changed, they’ll be able to build the program back up.
Why do NCAA teams take so many elites, most of whom are injured and worn out by the time they get to college? Wouldn’t it make more sense to take more J.O. gymnasts?
I think it’s a generalization to say most are injured and worn out when some of the most successful NCAA gymnasts in recent years have been former elites! Bridget Sloan, Kytra Hunter, Sam Peszek…the last time a national AA champ was a non-elite was 2011 and while there’s a pretty healthy mix of J.O. and elite girls running the show on every top team, you have to think that the elite pool is about 10% of the size of the J.O. pool, so clearly the elites are doing a good job in terms of assimilating into college programs. I think more elites than not tend to do well in college with the hours getting cut in half, though there are always medical retirements, mostly for those who had lots of medical issues at the elite level (like Mattie Larson and Cassie Whitcomb). But I think that’s more rare, and most elites who end up reaching the NCAA level stick around and do very well for these programs.
I noticed some gymnasts are spotted on nearly every element of their bars routines while others have virtually no spotting. Is that just a confidence issue and does it affect their score at all? Or is that only if the coach makes contact during the routine?
Yeah, I think it’s a confidence thing. In competition, the coach can only be on the podium as a spotter for a release at the elite level, and some gymnasts don’t even have their coaches go up for that (I think Simone Biles does her bars with Aimee Boorman off the podium). In training, coaches can spot a little more and if you see that they’re spotting literally everything, it’s probably to reassure the athlete. Like, in NCAA gym pretty much every gymnast is spotted on bails which is a relatively simple skill once you’ve been doing them for a long time, but because they’re a little scary to catch, having the spot there just kind of eases your fears.
What’s the difference between the Ono and a Ling pirouette?
A Ling, named for Ling Jee, is a front giant full to inverted grip while an Ono (that’s the MAG name and what it’s generally called…but it’s technically a Bi for WAG, named after Bi Wenjing) is a front giant on one hand done in L grip. Grips can be confusing so when I’m watching a routine to do quick hits I almost never focus on grip, so generally I just think of these as a front giant full and a one-handed front giant full.
Do you think the U.S. weakness on bars is less of a big deal than it’s made out to be? Do you think the Olympic team has to have a bars specialist on it?
I don’t think the U.S. is weak on bars at all. In the last quad, yes, the U.S. was weak on bars. But if anything, in the 2013-2016 quad, bars vastly improved while vault and beam saw a little decline. I don’t think they have a weakness at all right now, though I guess people perceive the U.S. as weak because Russia and China are so good there. But as good as these countries are, the U.S. isn’t really that far behind, and even if they do finish third on bars behind the Russians and the Chinese, they’re still a pretty good bars team.
I guess when people look and see like…okay, the U.S. is number one on vault, beam, and floor but third on bars, it maybe looks like bars is a weakness, but if you look at worlds in the past two years, the U.S. was second as a team on bars in 2015 and first on the event in 2014. It was also the team’s second-best event after vault in both years. If anything beam has been the biggest weakness for the U.S. this quad. With three hit routines in 2014, the team placed third on beam behind China and Romania, and Simone Biles aside, they’ve struggled to put up gymnasts who can break (or even get close to) 15 at international events.
That said, I think the team needed a bars specialist only because none of the top all-arounders in the U.S. right now have bars as a standout. Simone and Laurie Hernandez are good on the event, but not event final contenders, and Gabby Douglas is a step above them but still not among the top in the world though she has more of a chance at making the final than the other two. Aly, forget it. The top three of these all-arounders COULD, however, make event finals elsewhere (Simone on all but bars, Laurie on beam, Aly on floor), so really, it’s not a matter of the country being weak on bars but rather the top all-arounders being comparatively weak on bars. Those four as all-arounders could slap together a fairly decent bars rotation, but Martha Karolyi wanted to make them stand out a little bit more, which is where a bars specialist comes in.
I think if the U.S. was in the opposite boat, where our all-arounders all had 15.3-15.5 bar routines but only in the mid 14s on floor, then people would be saying we were a weak floor country and they’d want to bring along a floor specialist. Really, if you look at the number of superb bar workers in the U.S. right now (about ten U.S. gymnasts can go 14.8+ on the event), there is a great amount of depth. And if you look at the numbers over the past two years, the U.S. has pulled in awesome results as a team. But with the top all-arounders counting other events as standouts, people assume the team overall is weak on bars. News flash – they’re not.
What is a walk-on in college gymnastics?
A walk-on is a gymnast who doesn’t get a scholarship on a team but is invited to be on the team if she self-funds her education. Often you see walk-ons at state schools, because the girls grew up in and trained in those states and are thus able to afford the tuition somewhat easily. Many walk-ons grew up as local kids who were huge fans of the programs and would rather walk-on to one of these teams than get a scholarship elsewhere. You see that especially with UCLA, where their walk-ons probably would’ve been scholarship athletes at top 25 schools, but because they want to be in LA and in that UCLA team atmosphere, they opt to walk-on there instead, which is why UCLA generally has a ton of walk-ons.
Do colleges disclose on their rosters who are scholarship athletes and who are walk-ons? I read somewhere that Sadiqua Bynum of UCLA is a walk-on and now she anchors the floor lineup with great scores. Do walk-ons receive scholarships if they contribute a lot to the team? Are they treated the same as scholarship gymnasts?
I don’t think there’s any list or anything that tracks who’s on scholarship and who’s a walk-on, though the info is generally public enough and I always notice when listening to broadcasts, commentators will say “so and so is a walk-on.” Yes, if walk-ons end up being major team contributors, if there’s money in the budget, they could possibly end up with partial scholarships as they reach their junior or senior year. This happens somewhat often, especially if someone (like Sadiqua) becomes a fixture in the lineup. And yes, they are treated just like scholarship gymnasts. Everyone out there is moving mats and recording routines on iPads and cheering the other girls on. At some schools there have definitely been instances where walk-ons have been treated poorly (i.e. all of the Penn State stuff that’s out there now, most of the girls who dealt with abuse from the coaches were walk-ons) but at most teams, they’re considered the same, even if they don’t get to compete as much (or ever).
What gymnasts from other countries do you think are most likely to play into event finals at the Olympics?
I think the team final is likely to be the U.S., China, and Russia, though there are a few teams able to take advantage of Russia’s mistakes and slip in for bronze, similar to what happened at worlds last year. The all-around podium will probably be Simone Biles and whoever else is the second American, and then the bronze I think could go to either Shang Chunsong of China or Angelina Melnikova of Russia…and MAYBE Aliya Mustafina could challenge as well, but she hasn’t shown yet that she is at that level as an all-arounder, so I’m not sure she’ll make it happen.
I think the vault gold will go to Simone, with Hong Un Jong (North Korea) and Maria Paseka (Russia) contenders for the next two medals, though I wouldn’t count out Oksana Chusovitina (Uzbekistan) or Giulia Steingruber (Switzerland), especially if Chuso has her Produnova under control and if Giulia is successfully doing her handspring double full. Bars could be literally anyone and will come down to who has the best execution on the day it counts, though I think the podium will come down to some mix of Madison Kocian (United States), Daria Spiridonova (Russia), Becky Downie (Great Britain), Elisabeth Seitz (Germany), Sophie Scheder (Germany), Aliya Mustafina (Russia), Fan Yilin (China), and Shang Chunsong (China).
Beam is another one that will be kind of hard to predict because you never know who is going to fall, but I have a secret feeling that Laurie Hernandez could end up medaling, and Simone could as well. And then of course there’s Shang Chunsong again. I’m pulling for Sanne Wevers (Netherlands) and Flavia Saraiva (Brazil) as my favorites, but again, anything could happen here. No one could’ve predicted last year’s podium (Simone aside), which happened because so many medal contenders fell either in prelims or finals. That’s the name of the game with beam, and will probably be the case this year. On floor, I don’t think anyone could beat Simone for gold or Aly Raisman (United States) for silver, unless something goes drastically wrong. For bronze, it could be a fight between Giulia and Claudia Fragapane (Great Britain) if she hits, though I hope Mai Murakami and Sae Miyakawa of Japan factor in and fight as well.
Why are the Olympics a bigger deal than worlds?
My answer here is literally BECAUSE IT’S THE OLYMPIC $#@! GAMES but I’m guessing that’s not what you’re looking for. Basically, worlds is a gymnastics-only event started as an annual competition for the sport to see gymnasts in international competition between the Olympic Games. The Olympics have a history dating back to the 8th century BCE, with the modern Games beginning in 1896. It’s a multi-sport event featuring thousands of athletes competing in dozens of sports, and it’s meant as an event where the whole world comes together to cheer on the greatest athletes who are all fighting to bring honor to their countries. That’s one of the biggest Olympic themes – patriotism and competing for your country rather than for the individual glory. Basically it’s a meaningful competition due to its historic beginnings and represents the peak level of competition for amateur athletes. Worlds are great but no sport’s world competition compares to the atmosphere and overall meaning of the Olympic Games.
Has worlds always been once a year? Why is the worlds after the Olympics only an individual competition?
Worlds for artistic gymnastics first began in 1903, seven years after the first Olympic Games, as a way for athletes to compete annually between each Games (though women didn’t get their own worlds until 1934, because they didn’t start WAG at the Olympics until 1928). They have been held once a year except for the Olympic year since the 2001-2004 quad. Prior to that, they were held pretty regularly though not in the same format as they are right now, though with only minor changes (for example, no worlds were held in 1998, in the 1996 Olympic year worlds were held a few months earlier than the Games with an event finals-only competition, and in 1994 they were held twice, with one for a team competition and one for individual).
In the current format, the post-Olympic year worlds are individual only because most teams are dealing with a lack of depth due to many retirements from the previous quad. The individual format allows nations to send 1-4 gymnasts to focus on individual achievements rather than fielding full teams and worrying about how they’re going to pull together six gymnasts. I think if they did let nations send teams if they wanted, there wouldn’t be enough full teams for a worthwhile competition, so it’s better to just use that year as a bit of a practice round so those who are ready can pick up individual medals while federations can work on replenishing their ranks for the next few years.
Why do countries like Russia and Romania have a hard time getting new talent and big gymnasts when even countries like China seem to find new talent every quad? Does China have a better development program than the others?
I think it’s because their programs are centralized and they tend to really only focus on those coming up through the ranks from a very young age, many of whom burn out by the time they reach the senior levels of competition. Because there’s not as much of a recreational aspect to gym in these countries, they don’t have pools and pools of talent they may not have recognized at five or six but who suddenly get good at ten or eleven.
Compare that to the U.S. where there are generally about 100,000 girls training in gymnastics at every level. None of them are pre-selected at young ages for the elite path. There are developmental programs that begin to recognize natural talent at about seven or eight, but girls who develop later on aren’t ignored, which is why gymnasts like Alicia Sacramone (who didn’t start gymnastics until age eight) are able to exist. You’d never see someone on Alicia’s path in Russia or Romania. They basically don’t have girls who don’t come up through their systems.
China has recognized this in recent years, and started de-centralizing their programs, putting girls into recreational classes around the country to build the sport as something fun rather than something where you’re plucked from your home at five and grow up on a provincial team. Now they’re hoping the talent they don’t choose on their nation-wide searches (which are basically based on body type and almost nothing else) will still do the sport for fun and maybe in the future could end up being potential elite candidates even if they didn’t have what the program was looking for when they were five.
The other aspect is that the U.S. has multiple options beyond the Olympic Games for gymnasts, with the promise of an NCAA scholarship a big one. There are about 1000 NCAA gymnasts on scholarship at any given time, so even if a talented gymnast realizes early on that the Olympics probably won’t happen, if she’s good enough she knows there’s something else for her besides one of five spots on an impossible-to-make team. Without a similar option in Russia and Romania, if you don’t end up being an Olympic contender, there’s really nothing else for you, which can be dispiriting if you’re 14 or 15 and haven’t yet “made it.” Many girls leave the sport at about that age if they realize they’re not going to the Games, whereas their U.S. counterparts can “settle” for an all-expenses paid college education.
Why can coaches only be on the podium to spot bars?
Coaches aren’t allowed to coach their gymnasts through routines, which is why they’re supposed to be off the podium and they’re not allowed to yell out anything – like cues – while their gymnasts are competing. They’re allowed to go up to spot releases, but that’s all.
Why did Ivana Hong have to change her bar routine after worlds in 2007? I remember at nationals in 2008 Tim Daggett commented that her routine was “not well-received by the international judges,” but what didn’t they like?
The judges basically didn’t like her Li Li skill, which was the clear rear pike support with a full circle backwards to a counter straddle. I don’t know why, though it generally got a ton of deductions, probably because it never really hit handstand and the release over the bar was always a butt-grazer. Just too many form issues, from what I remember. It was awesomely unique but instead of getting her brownie points with the judges, it got her huge deductions.
How would you become an elite gymnast for another country you’re not a citizen of? Is that even possible? You could conceivably be a level 8 gymnast and compete for another country and be allowed at a world championships?
Generally gymnasts who aren’t citizens of countries for which they compete have some sort of familial connection and the programs pretty much don’t exist so they’re welcomed in to kick things off and hopefully raise awareness of the sport to increase interest. Like, Houry Gebeshian competes for Armenia because her family is from there and her dad had a friend on their Olympic Committee who thought Houry should try competing for them internationally. They had no female gymnasts at all, so sending Houry to worlds in 2011 (her first time going) was a big deal for them. Now that she’s going to Rio, she is getting a lot of recognition as Armenia’s first female Olympic gymnast which will hopefully spark interest to get a national program funded (right now Houry trains on her own basically, and is self-funding the majority of her gym career).
Most U.S. gymnasts who have ties to other countries tend to be around level 10. Some of them compete for countries with relatively thriving programs and have to compete for spots on those teams (i.e. Alma Kuc for Poland, Austin Sheppard back when she competed for Hungary) whereas others are going out for spots in countries where gym programs don’t exist at all (i.e. Houry Gebeshian for Armenia, Toni Ann Williams for Jamaica).
Then there are those like the Belo-Americans who have no familial ties to the country and basically stepped in as their two worlds competitors last year because their parents were essentially able to buy the spots by offering to fully fund their worlds trip, which made Belarus happy because it basically guaranteed them an Olympic Trials spot without having to pay for it at all. This is a little more shady, especially because the two gymnasts had never stepped foot in the country before, but for the Belarussian federation it was worth it because they wouldn’t have secured an Olympic spot with the girls training in their own country. Basically, the ends justified the means.
Can you please explain Olympic qualifications? I understand four-up three-count but can an athlete sit out an apparatus in qualifications and then compete it in team finals?
Yes, an athlete who doesn’t compete on a certain event in qualifications can compete in team finals. The example everyone’s wanting to know about is the U.S. situation because everyone wants Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, and Aly Raisman in the all-around over Gabby Douglas. But because there are only four allowed up on each event, it means the four spots for bars would thus go to the three all-arounders and Madison Kocian, even though Martha Karolyi has basically said Gabby is going for bars. I think Gabby will end up being one of the all-arounders, but if Martha did decide that the bars line-up will be the three all-arounders and Madison, Gabby could then step in for the team final only. Think back to worlds last year where it was five-up four-count and they had to make a similar decision between Aly and Maggie Nichols. Maggie ended up not going up in quals because they wanted Aly in the all-around, but then Maggie did go up in the team final. It’s the same deal here.
Say an athlete at the training camp at the ranch is having a horrible time with falls and not hitting. Can they remove the person from the team if she looks mentally or physically unable to perform? Or can the member only be removed if injured?
Martha Karolyi basically said after trials that the team is the team, and members will only be removed due to injury. However, I think if someone really is under-performing, she will probably go back on that word before they leave for Rio. That, or come up with some kind of “injury” so there’s no bad press that comes out of basically kicking someone off the team for not doing her job. I doubt it’s going to happen but you never know…if someone is having a truly horrible time and can no longer hit events, the best decision is clearly to replace her.
There are always surprises at the Olympics…who is your dark horse for medalists?
I really want a vault medal for Giulia Steingruber, a bars medal for Sophie Scheder, beam medals for Flavia Saraiva and Sanne Wevers, and a floor medal for Eythora Thorsdottir. None of these are really that off the mark, so they’re all really dark horses who could definitely pull in and surprise, except for Thorsdottir…but I just love her routine so much, that one’s more of a personal wish. 🙂 I’d also be thrilled with Mai Murakami getting a medal on floor.
Do you think the code of points should impose more rules that force countries to diversify skills? Some of the Chinese bar routines look so duplicative at worlds. I wish there was a rule that in team finals, no more than two gymnasts can perform a vault from the same family, and so on for the other events. But I don’t know how these rules could potentially affect a team alternate. What are your thoughts?
I’d definitely be all for a rule like this. So in NCAA literally everyone and their mother did an FTY until they made the rule change so that an FTY was no longer out of a 10.0 start value. Most teams still did FTYs or upgraded to Yurchenko 1.5s, but Cal casually rolled in with basically six different vaults in every competition, which was amazing to see because no one was doing the same thing. I loved it. Watching a million DTYs at the elite level, all of the Russians (and Madison Kocian and Ashton Locklear) having the same exact bars routine, all of the Chinese having their own same bars routine…it definitely gets so repetitive.
You’re right in that it would make things tricky to bring an alternate in, though, which could get messy because you’d need too many rule exceptions (like “no more than two vaults from the same family UNLESS you bring in your alternate”). It would also make team selection way too hard because what if you have the perfect gymnast for bars and beam, but her vault and floor are too similar to others and you can’t take her because of that? So I don’t think a rule like this would actually work in real life, but I wish instead there was some kind of incentive for originality…like maybe your team gains a point if you show originality?
Do you think the triple twisting Yurchenko is ever going to happen? And who will perform it?
Yes. Never say never. Someday, somewhere, a female gymnast will perform a triple-twisting Yurchenko. It will happen! I promise. Remember at the beginning of this quad when the biggest thing was that we’d finally get the McKayla Maroney TTY? And whenever we heard anything about Maroney, it had to do with the TTY? I need her to do a comeback real quick in like 2018 just for this vault.
Why is the Produnova vault so dangerous to train and compete?
Basically because no one actually has the power needed to execute it or land it well enough. It’s really that simple. The double front would be a bit simpler if they were coming off a table like three feet higher or something, so it’s not the skill itself that’s hard, but it’s the lack of power that makes it unsafe. I’m sure pretty much any gymnast can throw one into the pit and make it look great, but when it comes to actually landing it, will they be able to get the height that will allow for two (and a half, technically!) rotations before slamming into the mat? If you’re going for broke and have no other way to stand out in the gym world, why not? It brought a ton of funding and recognition to Yami Peña of the Dominican Republic and Dipa Karmakar of India. But if you’re Simone Biles or Aliya Mustafina, it’s really not worth it to kill yourself on a vault like that.
When a gymnast’s score isn’t counted as the six-up five-count rule in NCAA, does that (usually low) score get factored into their average score? Example…would Caitlin Atkinson’s overall bars average drop after her fall, even though it wasn’t counted in the meet?
Yes, even though it doesn’t end up counting into the team total, the individual gymnast still posted that score and so it is added into her average for the season.
I realized that Nastia Liukin and other gymnasts of the 2005-2008 quad frequently obtained high 16 and even 17 scores on every apparatus. I wondered why we never see these scores anymore…I think there was only one 16 in Glasgow (Simone Biles on vault) and nothing higher. Is it because of changes in the code or because the level of gymnastics has dropped? Or both?
The code changed! The old code allowed for ten skills on bars, beam, and floor whereas beginning in 2009, the code changed to allow for only eight skills. So if a gymnast in 2008 was counting scores of FFEEEEDDDD in her routine (so 2.5 in CR and then 5.2 for the skills), that’s a start value of 7.7 without any connections. Say she gets rid of two of her D skills in 2009, she’ll get the 2.5 CR and then 4.4 for the skills, which is a 6.9 start value. Basically she loses 0.8 in start value because of the code change even though all of her most difficult skills are still there. Even if she continued to do ten skills, the code counts the eight highest, so she wouldn’t get credit for two of them. With D scores dropping around a point or so per routine, it means the total routine scores are going to drop as well, which is why we hope for scores of around 15.5+ for superior routines on bars instead of scores of around 16.3+ as we hoped to see in 2008.
The U.S. is known for emphasizing conditioning in training, which is why American athletes have more stamina. Why don’t other countries put more emphasis on this? They always seem surprised when their gymnasts run out of steam.
I have no idea. You’d think by now they’d recognize that it’s pretty clear that their gymnasts can’t get through a floor routine without needing an oxygen tank. I think in Russia it’s especially bad, and I know some Romanian parents had said they were concerned about the lack of fitness in their elite gymnasts (who are by all means super fit but not for the elite gymnastics level of fitness). If anything, conditioning adds so many benefits to an athlete’s gymnastics, making you go higher, faster, and stronger. The skills come much more naturally if an athlete is properly conditioned, but for some reason in Russia and elsewhere, they think training the skills themselves is more important. Gymnasts actually didn’t used to condition much at all until Bela Karolyi came along. He brought conditioning regimens from wrestling and track into gymnastics in Romania, so I guess that followed him into the U.S. But it’s been 30+ years and you’d think everyone else would’ve caught on by now!
What is your opinion regarding Mary Lou Retton’s legacy as a gymnast? Obviously, without the boycott she likely wouldn’t have medaled. However, she made the best of a bad situation and came out on top. Isn’t it a bit unfair that people say she isn’t worthy of her medals?
I think boycott or not, she’s the 1984 gold all-around medalist and even if the Soviets likely could’ve run away with it had they been there, that’s a hypothetical and didn’t actually happen so you can’t say it “would have” happened even if it clearly obviously would have. I could also say “Mary Lou might not have won the gold medal had a UFO landed and she was kidnapped by aliens” or “Mary Lou might not have won the gold medal had Gary Sue Metton’s mother noticed an ad for gym classes in 1972.” Anything could have happened but only one thing actually happened, so even if you know in your heart of hearts that a Soviet gymnast would have medaled over her, that’s not what happened. Even if the boycott “cheapened” her win in the eyes of her haters, it was still her win and she still went for it and got the gold. Gold is gold no matter how many people you contend against. She did her job and couldn’t control the political world around her.
How do you feel about the trend of having fewer or less difficult tumbling runs and more difficult dance, as the Dutch girls are doing? Is that a good or a bad trend?
I actually kind of like it. There were lots of complaints about the U.S. girls having too much focus on power and tumbling back in the last quad, and now the complaints are that the Dutch girls have too many dance elements. It’s true that the best routines are always those with balance – like I think Simone Biles does a great job of showing both the hardest tumbling in the world while also looking mostly great in her dance elements and having a well-performed routine in terms of artistry. But most gymnasts who are good at tumbling aren’t great at the dance aspect (i.e. MyKayla Skinner) while most gymnasts who are natural dancers/performers don’t always have the ability to tumble (i.e. Lieke Wevers).
I think it’s smart that in both situations, these gymnasts capitalize on their strengths and still manage to build high D scores even if what they’re doing isn’t exactly your cup of tea. They’re basically working the code to their strengths and finding loopholes that will allow them to exploit their best qualities as a gymnast. As much as I love MyKayla for going for it with her crazy difficult tumbling, I also love Lieke just as much for her GORGEOUS turns and leaps and choreo. It’s two different worlds and maybe one day we’ll get someone who is literally perfect at every aspect of gymnastics, but for now I’m happy that we’re at least seeing both sides of it. And I’m also happy that we’re not seeing gymnasts like Lieke chuck big tumbling passes, risking injury and neglecting execution just to up her D scores. Do what you do best, and if it works in the code, why not?
When will we find out who Romania and Russia are sending to Rio? I’m really hoping that Andreea Iridon, Larisa Iordache, Aliya Mustafina, and Seda Tutkhalyan will all make it!
I believe Russia’s team of Aliya Mustafina, Angelina Melnikova, Seda Tutkhalyan, Daria Spiridonova, and Maria Paseka is pretty official as of right now…they leave in a few days for Rio so I don’t expect we’ll see any changes even though I know they were hoping to get Ksenia Afanasyeva on the team. Personally, I think Seda is a better fit and can offer more overall even if Ksenia had the better floor. Like, with Ksenia on the team they’d have three specialists, two of whom haven’t done beam in years, so their beam qualification would have to be three-up three-count with Aliya, Angelina, and Daria, with Daria’s beam nowhere near where it should be for that kind of situation. Their teams full of specialists work for six-member situations but not for five-member.
I don’t know when this question was asked but I’m assuming it’s old based on the Romanian names. Andreea Iridon has retired, with Romania’s spot between Larisa Iordache and Catalina Ponor. Catalina was kind of named their Olympian, and is going to be the flag-bearer in opening ceremonies, but I think Larisa’s beam at a friendly in France last week kind of opened their minds to keeping her in contention. She’s basically the alternate right now, but there’s a friendly in Germany this weekend and I think if she exceeds expectations there, she could be swapped in. But I’m pretty sure Catalina will end up going.
I saw Katelyn Ohashi’s horrific beam fall and I’m surprised they allowed her to do the routine again. I have two questions. Given that the beam was faulty, what would have happened if she couldn’t do it again? Could one of the other gymnasts do it in her place? What if there was a ‘reserve’ teammate to do it if she was injured and unable to redo it through no fault of her own?
I think if she was injured and was unable to physically compete again, they would’ve had to keep her score even if it was the beam’s “fault” for breaking on her. I don’t think someone else could do essentially a seventh routine in the lineup, but who knows. They do have a reserve for each event, but I don’t know if they’d even bother at that point. Maybe in a team final at NCAA Championships, but at a random regular season meet, it really didn’t matter that much and I was surprised they had her do it again.
Cathy Rigby has always been recognized as winning the first worlds medal of any color for the U.S. Yet it seems that Marcia Frederick, who won the first GOLD (beating out Nadia Comaneci) was quickly forgotten. Same with Phoebe Mills, who was the first medal for the U.S. women at a non-boycotted Games. But you never see them in TV montages or hear their names mentioned by commentators. Why?
I think it’s more about the moment and the marketability than the actual medal. Like, Nellie Kim also got a perfect 10 in 1976 right after Nadia did, and literally no one cares or knows who she is. Cathy was already well-known from her 1968 Olympic performance and so her getting a medal at worlds two years later was a big deal, even if it wasn’t gold. Marcia’s gold medal was a huge deal, but because no one really already knew who she was, no one outside of gymnastics cared. To think of it using current athletes, Gabby Douglas coming out as a big name from 2012 going on to win a bars gold in 2014 would’ve been a huge deal because people outside of the sport know who she is, but like…Ashton Locklear in 2014 coming in as a relative unknown and winning a bars gold would’ve barely been reported. The significance of all of the “firsts” is great but the significance on a wider level depends on much more than what the gymnast actually did, unfortunately.
Do you think Shang Chunsong was underscored at worlds in 2015? Especially in terms of her floor final performance.
Not overall but I do remember wishing her floor final routine ended up better than it did. I think her all-around scores (and ranking) were pretty much on the mark. I think on floor, while overall her routine was one of the better ones, she gets slammed on a lot of her execution and I don’t know why that is. Like, I love Maggie Nichols on floor, but the judges seem to be so blinded by their love for her leaps that they overlook her form errors all over her tumbling (especially because she seals all of her passes with great landings, so it’s like they give her the benefit of the doubt on her form during those passes). But they definitely went to town on Shang’s execution, which has similar form deductions to Maggie’s but maybe is more pronounced or something? For the performance she gave, I did feel she was definitely a little lower than she should have been.
If the 2016 U.S. Olympic team was comprised of first year seniors, who would be on your team? How do you think they would do?
My team would be Laurie Hernandez, Ragan Smith, Christina Desiderio, and let’s pretend Norah Flatley and Jazmyn Foberg are healthy so I can add them as well. I think they’d do pretty well. They’d definitely be in medal contention if they all hit.
Are Teal Grindle, Gabby Jupp, and Rebecca Tunney still training?
Gabby and Rebecca are both still training and are currently serving as alternates for Great Britain’s 2016 Olympic team. Teal made her comeback at the Olympic Hopes Cup last fall (where she competed all but bars and did mostly well) and was added to GB’s senior squad in December, but had shoulder surgery for a torn labrum and cartilage which was aggravated again this year after she missed almost all of the 2015 season. Even though she’s missing out right now, she is still hoping to return to competition.
What is Fantasy Gymnastics?
Have you heard of fantasy football, where grown men (and women!) draft fake football teams based on actual players and then put their teams in lineups and have them compete against other fake teams? The same thing exists for NCAA gymnastics! You can draft college gymnasts for your team and put them in lineups to compete against other fantasy NCAA teams. It’s all for fun during the long NCAA season.
Why doesn’t USA Gymnastics send its ‘B’ team to compete at more international meets, especially those with potential to get more experience at the senior level? It seems like the top 12-18 athletes could medal internationally, not just the top 1-6.
I think many B team gymnasts do tend to get some international experience, but you have to remember that most gymnasts are in school and can’t run around the world all year to compete. Last year a whole team of B and C gymnasts went to Pan Ams, and this year a few B and C team girls went to Jesolo as well. Martha Karolyi also sent MyKayla Skinner and Amelia Hundley to world cups. Tons of gymnasts got international experience in 2016. But most don’t go to every world challenge cup or friendlies or anything because they have other obligations.
Who are the new senior elites of 2016?
Well would you look at that, back in November we did a post about it with every gymnast around the world who reached the senior level in 2016!
With the NCAA gaining more and more popularity, do you think USA Gymnastics would have to compete to retain high level athletes? Katelyn Ohashi comes to mind. The NCAA looks so fun, especially compared to worlds, where Simone Biles essentially blamed the falls on a lack of days off/fun.
Not really. NCAA has always been pretty popular, and the Olympics will always be the Olympics. As long as big international team spots exist, gymnasts who are talented enough to reach the national levels will for the most part put in the time and effort to go all the way. Occasionally you do have gymnasts with zero interest in elite or who have done elite but then make the decision to go to NCAA because their bodies/minds can’t physically handle elite anymore, but I think for gymnasts who have international potential, even though NCAA “looks more fun,” most – like Simone – wouldn’t trade world and Olympic gold medals for NCAA fun. Most of the elites you see who don’t make it big as seniors don’t leave elite because NCAA is getting more popular, but rather because they reach their physical peak or are over it mentally. Many of the gymnasts who leave elite earlier than expected – like Katelyn and Lexie Priessman – still had the desire to do elite, but their bodies and mental states didn’t exactly follow what their hearts may have wanted.
Why do some U.S. elites compete for another country?
Generally if a U.S. elite has a connection to another country in some way and has tried the elite route in the U.S. but hasn’t been successful, if another country has a spot open, it becomes another way for them to compete at the international level. Like, Talia Chiarelli attempted the U.S. elite route but had citizenship in Canada and so after a couple of years of trying out the elite level in the U.S. but performing as one of the middling juniors, she went to Canada where she was a top elite gymnast and they benefitted from her powerful vault and other strengths to earn a team Olympic spot at the test event. People sometimes say “if you can’t make it in the U.S. you shouldn’t get to do it elsewhere” but like…no other country has the depth that the U.S. has, and if another country’s program is willing to open up a spot to a U.S.-trained gymnast with a connection to that country, why not go for it? Some countries refuse to do this (i.e. the Cayman Islands – they have a very tiny elite program but when they send gymnasts to Pan Ams or worlds, they boast that their girls are home-grown and even if they’re behind others from around the world, they wouldn’t trade them for top world gymnasts). Others abuse this (ahem Belarus). But I think it’s especially good for programs that are up-and-coming or nonexistent. If they can get someone of a relatively high level to earn an Olympic spot, even if she lives and trains in the U.S., she still brings a great deal of recognition to the sport in her adopted country.
As you know, Shang Chunsong’s vault holds her back in the all-around. Why do you think that is? She shows good power on beam and floor, and other gymnasts her height do DTYs no problem. Is it her technique? Has she been too busy focusing elsewhere?
It’s hard to say but I do think it has something to do with her size. Often, even if a smaller gymnast is able to do big tumbling on the floor surface, it can be difficult for them to generate enough power and force to compress the springboard on vault. You have to also remember that on floor, they’re using their legs to propel them in the air whereas on vault, on a Yurchenko they’re compressing the springboard with their legs but then pushing off the table with their arms, so a powerful tumbler on floor might not translate to a powerful vaulter. You can see that Shang has problems with her block even on her FTY…the height she gets is barely enough for a full at times, let alone for a double. She’s a super quick twister, but I don’t think her twisting speed makes up for her low block and it would probably be pretty dangerous for her to attempt a DTY, because if she was even just a tad shy, she could land twisting into the ground. A DTY seems like an easy fix, but honestly, the potential deductions/risk aren’t worth it.
Does Isabela Onyshko have a chance for a medal in Rio? Which event do you think? Same question for Ellie Black.
I think either could be quiet threats on beam. Elsewhere would be difficult, unless they look great in all-around finals and someone above them has a fall or something, but with beam the best event for both and given that finals this quad have been brutal with falls, if they hit either one could sneak in for a medal.
I noticed that Erin Macadaeg from LSU was leading the NCAA rankings on floor, but she only competed once in the season. Does it matter how many times you compete as far as the rankings go? Is there a reason she hasn’t competed more?
Until the rankings go from averages to RQS (which factor in the amount of times you’ve competed in a season, and includes scores from away meets in addition to home meets), it doesn’t matter how many times you compete. So for the first few weeks of the season until they switch to RQS, you can compete once on an event and lead the rankings. These early season averages don’t really matter, so it’s not a big deal. But generally when I post NCAA rankings, I asterisk those who have only competed once so people aren’t like “wow so and so has a 10 average?!” just because she happened to get a 10 the one and only time she competed that event.
Which top elite from a different country do you think would have the best shot at making a U.S. world or Olympic team if they were American battling it out with current U.S. girls?
Honestly, it would be tough for anyone…in terms of all-around spots, I don’t think anyone would beat out any of the U.S. all-arounders for an Olympic spot. But when it comes to specialists…I think someone like Becky Downie could’ve been in contention for the bars spot, and then Giulia Steingruber could go up on vault and floor (and either could’ve done beam in quals). Okay, now I really want this team to happen. I think Aliya Mustafina at her best would be perfect for the U.S. bars and beam specialist spot as well.
Did MyKayla Skinner peak at Trials or just have a really good meet? I know a lot of fans felt that she peaked at the perfect time, but is it safe to say she peaked after one meet?
MyKayla actually has done a fantastic job at peaking pretty much every year this quad. It’s funny because when you see her come out at Jesolo you’re kind of like yeah, this isn’t gonna happen. Then she’s still a little rough at classics, but by nationals she’s great and then at worlds she’s ready to go. This year, she was similar, but using trials as her real breakout performance. She’s also done a great job this quad to slowly get better each year and then really put it all on the table in San Jose. I don’t think she peaked after one meet, but I do think she reached the greatest level she’ll ever meet after four steady years of improvement. It definitely wasn’t overnight with her. You could see what her coaches were doing all along, while it was happening and then especially in hindsight.
Did McKayla Maroney ever go pro?
Yes, McKayla went pro after the 2011 World Championships.
Why don’t more U.S. gymnasts do two vaults? Surely a few of them could contend for world and Olympic medals.
I think it’s because the combination of difficulty on vaults you need to be a medal contender is too difficult to make it worth it, and so they put the focus on all-around or other events. Right now, the combo you basically need to win at worlds or the Olympics is an Amanar with a Cheng, and only four gymnasts in the world can do this. Even most gymnasts who get an Amanar have a tough time getting to the Cheng, and even Simone Biles took a long time to get it consistent enough to make it worth it to compete. I think if you’re not a top all-arounder in the U.S. and you happen to have vault as a particular talent, it’s probably worth it to try getting an Amanar and Cheng (or something even harder like a Produnova and a double tsuk or something, Chuso style!) which is why I think it made sense for MyKayla Skinner to exploit her vault talents, and even back in 2011, you had Brandie Jay casually coming out of nowhere to win the Pan Ams vault title, which was awesome. But yeah, for the most part if you’re a kid with a DTY and a tsuk full or something, you’re not going to win any big international medals. So basically it’s worth it in the U.S. to either do a big vault combination or stick to just one vault.
Do you think that the four-member teams for the next quad will still allow room for a specialist to be on the main team?
Not really. Because the qualification is four-up three-count, if you have a specialist for bars who doesn’t train vault, beam, and floor, you basically have to qualify in a three-up three-count format on those three events, which is a major risk because a fall could take you out of the team final. I think most teams will try to send four all-arounders and then save the specialists for the specialist spots, if they earn them. The U.S. is generally strongest in terms of all-around competitors, so I don’t think there’s any room at all for a specialist on the U.S. team, though I could see a team like Russia – which tends to rely on specialists in team situations – maybe taking two all-arounders and two specialists for the team, and just hoping they hit in qualifications. But the safest way would be four all-arounders.
I was reading some live blogs of P&G Championships earlier and I saw that you talked about “straddle paks” in a You Asked. You talked about straddle vs regular paks. Is there such a thing as a tucked pak or a piked pak? Also, do you think any of the “pak straddlers” could have their paks devalued to straddled paks? Also, why is the Ezhova a D rather than an E?
It’s funny because now when I say straddle paks I’m usually referring to paks that have horrible leg form, but there actually are straddled paks that exist as skills. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pak with leg separation downgraded to a straddle because the “straddles” I usually see are usually V-shaped legs rather than true straddle splits…so instead they just get heavy deductions rather than a downgrade. I don’t think tucked or piked paks exist…or at least I haven’t seen them, that I can remember. An Ezhova is a D because a straddleback is a C…usually transitions have progressions in their element value, so a C skill with a half twist naturally becomes a D skill.
Can you expand upon the different circumstances regarding the announcements by Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney that both are retiring from elite? There was an outpouring of support for Kyla but not for McKayla. Is this related to how she criticized her coaches in her interview or because she has a “bad girl” image or anything like that?
I think it’s because McKayla opted to retire through GymCastic rather than through USA Gymnastics. Generally when elite gymnasts decide to retire, they let USA Gymnastics know, and they plan the retirement with like, a feature article and everything. But McKayla went through GymCastic and didn’t tell USA Gym…instead, GymCastic gave USA Gym the heads up so they knew the podcast would be coming out with that announcement in case they wanted to get anything ready. USA Gym did a little announcement about it, but because GymCastic was the way she opted to make the official statement, USA Gym didn’t do the same feature they did for gymnasts who retired through them, basically. From the fans, I saw equal support for both.
How do leotards at the U.S. Olympic Trials work?
Basically, the gymnasts have to choose from among national team leos. Usually they could pick any national team leo from any quad, but because this year the sponsor changed from Adidas to Under Armour, they could only use Under Armour leos, which meant leos from the 2013-2016 quad. Each gymnast gets to pick which leo she wants to wear, and if she doesn’t already have it (like if she wasn’t on the national team or if she picks a leo that existed before she was on the national team), they give them to the girls.
My impression from the change in the minimum age since 1992-1996 is that most gymnasts still peak at 14-16 and those that have to wait until 18 or 19 for the Olympics end up trying to preserve their skills too long and burn out or get injured. On the other hand, it’s been great for NCAA. Have your observations matched mine at all? Are there more injuries in the average (artificially long) careers than there were when there were lower age limits?
Yeah, I think for the majority, it’s difficult to turn 16 at the start of the quad and keep up your skill level for another four years. Like, had Katelyn Ohashi been age eligible for 2012 and had she been preparing for that as her goal, I think she would’ve been good and ready for the Olympics at 15. She probably could’ve even won the beam gold. But physically and mentally, she was done at 16. So for girls like Katelyn and others in her position, it can be super hard to hang on, especially if you emerged in elite at age 12. Keeping up at the elite level from 12 to 19 is almost impossible. But then look at Simone Biles, who didn’t really do much as a junior and then waited until she turned 16 to start going for the big stuff. Here she is at 19 and in a physical/mental condition as good as when she emerged onto the elite scene.
Some gymnasts naturally do peak at 14-15 so you can’t hold them back and then hope for the best at 16-19, but look at this year’s U.S. team and alternates. In addition to Simone, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Madison Kocian, MyKayla Skinner, and Ashton Locklear all basically didn’t show Olympic potential until they were 15 or older. Even Ragan Smith and Laurie Hernandez were about 15 when she started showing her best work, and they had to start showing their stuff a little earlier since they turned 16 in the Olympic year. It’s almost always the girls who go out of the way to throw huge skills at 12-13 who fade out by 16, so you kind of have to wonder what would’ve happened with Katelyn had they kept her in level 10 for a few more years, training the skills behind the scene but putting no pressure on her to compete them until 2013? She spent about three years as a top elite, so what if they started her out in 2013 and her three years lasted through to 2016? Again, it’s impossible to know going in and hindsight is 20/20, but given that almost every U.S. Olympian this year was a “late bloomer” you have to wonder if that is the best strategy in a world where 16 is the minimum age.
For NCAA are there girls who never make it into the lineup? As gymnasts get to the end of their collegiate careers, will teams try to work them into the lineup?
Yes, some gymnasts will never or almost never compete. Usually these are walk-ons, though I think if they show that they’re working hard enough, coaches do try to work them in the lineup in some way, even if it’s just in an exhibition routine (i.e. they’re basically the alternate on the event and do their routine after everyone else in the lineup is done to get experience in front of the crowd). Hunter Price of Oklahoma is someone who never really got much exposure as a competitor on the team, though started doing more vault exhibitions in her senior year and then looked so good on these exhibition vaults that they worked her into the lineup where she ended up being a fabulous contributor. If you don’t give walk-ons the chance to show their routines in front of a crowd, you’ll never know their potential, so I think most coaches do at least give them the opportunity to showcase their skills as an exhibition gymnast even if they never actually do compete.
Though the Olympics are one of the events where you can get a skill named after you, it seems like this is done less than at worlds. Why do you think this happens? Do you think any new skills will materialize in Rio? Any chance you can run us through past cases of new skills at the Olympics?
I’ve never noticed that before, but if I had to guess it’s for a few reasons. One is because many of the new skill originators tend to be gymnasts who never make it to the Olympic Games. Like, in 2015, there were 18 new skills submitted by 14 gymnasts, only 6 of whom will represent in Rio this summer. I think often it’s gymnasts without medal chances or even final chances who tend to try to be innovative with skills, because it’s kind of how they lend their name to the sport and go down in history in that way. Another reason is that for the Olympics, most gymnasts are working on perfecting routines rather than showing something new. If the focus at the Games is on making finals or earning medals, most routines are going to be mostly set aside from a few minor changes, so while you do see a couple of new skills coming in, the majority of gymnasts are more focused on hitting strong routines.
Do you know what Bailie Key’s plans are for the next year? Is she due to start at Florida in the fall?
As far as I know, she is hoping to come back to elite for the 2017 season, so my guess is that if she wants to go to worlds in Montreal, she will put Florida on hold. She could do what some gymnasts opt to do, which is to just start school in the spring rather than the fall…I don’t think she’ll defer college until after 2020, though. I can see her giving worlds a try next year but it’s going to be hard for her to hold off until she’s 21.
The U.S. has a vast amount of great gymnasts who will never get to compete at the Olympic Games. Do you support gymnasts like MyKayla Skinner, Maggie Nichols, Ashton Locklear, Brenna Dowell, and Amelia Hundley competing for another country like Alaina Kwan and Kylie Dickson do?
I support it if they have ties to the country and if the country’s program is either (a) non-existent, or (b) struggling and could benefit from the help of outsiders, assuming the outsiders face the same trials as the girls coming up through that national system. I don’t support gymnasts’ parents buying spots from countries who are so hungry for the Olympics, they’ll say yes even if it means pushing their own gymnasts aside. I get the reasoning for this and why it actually does benefit the nation, but I’m morally opposed to it. Especially when national pride is such a big part of sports and the Olympics.
What do you think should have happened when they discovered the vault problem in Sydney?
I think they should’ve said “Okay, everyone stop. Give us a few hours, go have a snack and stretch or nap or whatever. Then come back in a few hours and we’re starting from scratch.” I get that there would be some logistical nonsense with this option, BUT it was the only fair way to go through things. The whole “just let them repeat vault!” was kind of a solution, but what happened with several gymnasts is that the uncharacteristic vault falls screwed them up for bars, so then do you let them repeat bars also? But then that gives them an unfair advantage because what if the bars fall was because they just happen to suck at bars but hit on their second chance? The only way to make it completely fair to everyone would have been to start everything over.
Do you believe the U.S. is overscored in comparison to other countries, especially on vault?
At worlds or the Olympics? No. I think the U.S. is that good in comparison to other countries, especially on vault! Seriously, watch the height, distance, and form. Some do rightfully get slammed a bit for technique on various events but overall they really are that good. In terms of domestic meets, literally every country overscores their gymnasts. It’s basically pointless to bring it up because everyone going crazy kind of cancels everyone else out.
How likely is it that Aly Raisman will be given a chance to do the all-around in qualifications at the Olympics?
I think it’s likely…I honestly think that Laurie Hernandez will end up stuck on vault, beam, and floor in qualifications even though she’s been at the top of the charts in the all-around this summer with Aly and Gabby Douglas given the two remaining all-around spots over her. First of all, Laurie was INSANELY over-scored domestically this summer. Martha Karolyi has her own judge, Cheryl Hamilton, doing her thing and I can guarantee you her scores were nowhere near what the actual judges gave Laurie. Secondly, Maggie Nichols defeated Aly and Gabby at nationals last summer, but like this year, everyone was so close and when the time came, despite her nationals results, Aly and Gabby got the all-around spots at worlds over Maggie. I think we’ll be in for the same kind of thing again this year even if Laurie did get silver at trials. We also don’t know what’s going on at camp and how the girls are competing there, so I’m sure there will be a lot of backlash when the decision is made, but you can’t argue when you only have 20% of the information.
The U.S. team doesn’t look as young as some in the past. Is this just a fluke or is the trend towards younger gymnasts being reversed? Why might this be?
It’s not really a fluke…in general gymnasts have been skewing a little older for the past decade or so, and when the FIG releases its annual world championships report, you can see the age average rising slightly. I think right now it’s around 18 overall, though some teams tend to send very young teams (I think Romania’s average was around 16 in 2014) whereas others send teams that are much older. I think in many countries, gymnasts are deciding to return to the sport rather than retire, and they’re generally earning spots over the girls who are 16 or 17 and are still relatively new and inexperienced. When you have an experienced 22-year-old competing against a 15-year-old who has never been to worlds, if the two are at a similar standing in terms of scores, it sometimes makes sense to go with what you know.
Do you know why Larisa Iordache didn’t compete in floor finals at Romanian Championships despite finishing second?
She got a slight injury on her bars dismount, and so opted to skip floor in order to not make it worse.
Do you think Dorina Boczogo could make an event final in Rio?
Dorina actually didn’t earn a spot at this year’s Olympic Games. Hungary decided to send Zsofia Kovacs and Noemi Makra to the test event in April, meaning only one of those two would be allowed to get the Olympic spot. Both Zsofi and Noemi had been out-performing Dorina for the majority of the season, so it made sense. Zsofi was eventually selected as Hungary’s Olympian, and she has the potential to somewhat easily not only make the all-around final, but to finish very well there (she was the third-place all-around finisher at European Championships this year, though the honor was unofficial because this year’s competition only recognized team and event finals for the seniors).
How are start lists created? Are they random? Is there a difference between how a national meet and an international meet start list is created?
It depends. In terms of international meets, the draw for who goes up in which subdivision is random and is done by an actual draw, with the FIG basically pulling names out of a hat. But then the start lists at these meets like worlds and the Olympics are created by each federation deciding lineups in terms of who goes up first, second, third, etc. At national meets, the start lists are generally random, though some countries group gymnasts together for whatever reason…like in the U.S. every gymnast from the same gym stays in the same rotation, and in Germany this summer you could tell they put all of the Olympic hopefuls in one rotation and everyone else in other rotations.
I can’t wait for your next book! Will all three be written in Amalia’s perspective or will each have a different narrator? Are any of the characters based on real people?
Thank you! All three books are narrated by Amalia, though if I decide to go beyond the three books (which I might with sequels and prequels and everything just for fun), then I’ll branch out and bring in other voices. Amalia is loosely based on an actual elite gymnast…she was inspired by a gymnast’s journey and though she’s not really exactly like this gymnast, there’s something about her that was absolutely taken from real life. Everyone else kind of takes on a million different traits from many different gymnasts. I will say that Vera is 100,000% based on Martha Karolyi. 🙂
What’s up with Tatiana Nabieva? I understand she missed 2012, then retired but still competed at 2014 worlds, and yet I still see videos of her. Is she retired or not?
She’s not retired. I don’t know what she’s doing, because technically she did retire but always comes back at nationals every year, sometimes with some great work – like she still puts up decent numbers on vault and bars – and then other times it’s like “what are you doing?!” because on beam and floor she clearly doesn’t give a $#@! and basically jumps off the beam mid-routine, walks around the floor instead of doing choreo…honestly it’s hilarious and I love watching her compete because she clearly doesn’t give a crap about what anyone thinks and just does her thing. And sometimes, when the depth is so bad, she is still good enough to somehow make worlds teams, like in 2014. Good for Nabs.
Dou you think we will see a close battle in Rio between Russia and the United States, either in team finals or the all-around?
This will be my shortest answer ever. No.
Have a question? Ask below! Remember that the form directly below this line is for questions; to comment, keep scrolling to the bottom of the page. Keep in mind, we sometimes get about 50 questions a day and can only answer usually around 30 or so a week, so don’t be discouraged if we don’t get to you right away. We do not answer questions about team predictions nor questions that say “what do you think of [insert gymnast here].”
Article by Lauren Hopkins