You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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It’s time for the 111th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered! We apologize if we haven’t gotten to your question yet, but we try to answer in the order in which they were received (unless they are super relevant and need to be answered in a timely manner). Something you want to know? Ask us anonymously by going through the contact form at the bottom of the page.

What would Sanne Wevers’ 7.0 routine have looked like?

She was planning on doing two back handsprings out of her full-twisting back handspring mount, and then adding a front aerial to the side aerial + side aerial series. Both of these would earn an additional two tenths, taking her from her usual 6.6 to a 7.0.

Did the Rio Olympic judges discriminate against the Americans?

Considering that the Americans had what was basically the best WAG medal haul since the Soviet days, no! Not at all. The Americans went in and did their jobs, and got rewarded nicely for it.

In 2013, Simone Biles beat Kyla Ross at worlds by about five tenths. Her margin of victory started to increase and she beat Aly Raisman by 2.1 points this year. How did she keep getting better, especially at an age when most gymnasts have already peaked? Was she always capable of this level but held off until the Olympics?

I think holding off until the Olympics was always her goal, and what coach Aimee Boorman generally said was their strategy, to not go all-out at the start but rather to do enough to win each year leading up to the Olympics and then she could come out with her top skills at the big show, once they were clean and consistent enough to fit seamlessly into her routines. She slowly built up most of her events, but vault is the best example of how she did this…Biles could’ve unveiled her Cheng in 2014 and 2015. She missed out on two world vault titles for holding back in terms of difficulty. But Biles and Boorman didn’t want to unleash a really difficult vault that wasn’t as strong in terms of execution. Instead, they waited until it was about as perfect as it could get, and it ended up being even better than her Amanar in some instances. This is a super smart strategy, especially in an age when chucking skills just for their difficulty is so common.

Why is Carly Patterson a “forgotten” Olympic all-around champion? She was the first one to do it since Mary Lou Retton but we rarely hear about her.

It always seemed that while she did capitalize on some of her fame in the years following the 2004 Olympics, after that she kind of started moving on in life and doing things outside of the sport. In the most recent quads, top gymnasts have stayed directly involved in gymnastics in many ways, with Nastia Liukin a big example in that she attempted a comeback, started working for NBC, went on DWTS…Patterson never really pushed for many of these things. She seems happy when USA Gymnastics invites her to meets to do some appearances and stuff like that, but for the most part she also seems happy with the life she made after moving on from the sport.

What’s the news on post-Rio retirements for the major players?

Well, pretty much all of the Americans say they want to return for comebacks in 2020, but I could see Aly Raisman, Simone Biles, and Laurie Hernandez being most likely to return. For Russia, Aliya Mustafina doesn’t want to come back immediately, but she does want to make it to another Games, so I could see her returning in 2018 or 2019 to start her prep. As far as I know, none of the other Russians are planning on retiring, and they’re all still pretty young, but we’ll see what happens in terms of injuries and things like that. Shang Chunsong doesn’t have any plans to retire yet, nor do any of the other Chinese gymnasts that I’m aware of…

Actually, it seems like so many who competed this year have the goal of sticking around. The only retirements I know of for sure so far this year have been Lauren Mitchell, Houry Gebeshian, Julie Croket, Marine Brevet, Youna Dufournet, Ruby Harrold (though she’s doing NCAA), Marta Pihan-Kulesza, Yu Minboe, Kirsten Beckett, Marcela Torres, Nicole Hitz, and then for the Americans, Amelia Hundley, Brenna Dowell, Maggie Nichols, Rachel Gowey, Alyssa Baumann, and Madison Desch, all of whom will be competing in college.

I’ve also heard Jessica Lopez MIGHT retire but she hasn’t officially announced anything yet and is doing the Swiss Cup in a couple of weeks. The same can be said for a few others, like Vanessa Ferrari for example (she said the Olympics would be her last but now she’s not so sure)…but the women listed above are the only ones I know of who for sure announced retirements.

Let’s say in 2020 the U.S. qualifies a full team plus four specialists. Who decides which specialists get the two spots?

The national team coordinator is the one who makes the final decision. Even though certain athletes will earn the Olympic specialist spots at various world cups and other competitions, these spots are all non-nominative, meaning they belong to the country, not to the gymnast. The girls who get the specialist spots will also in a way act as alternates for the main four-person team, so I could see the team coordinator picking girls who have medal potential on an event but who also have solid all-around sets just in case they’re needed in an emergency (or maybe giving one spot to a strong all-arounder and the other to a true specialist). Either way, it’s not going to be as simple as just picking the best vault specialist or best bars specialist…and I think most gymnasts will continue in becoming good all-arounders as a priority, because that’s the most clear shot into the 2020 Games.

What is the possible deduction for lack of rhythm in a beam routine? Do judges actually take this deduction or is it optional? How often do you think there are actually deductions for lack of artistry on beam and floor?

It depends…I think if a routine has a couple of awkward moments, they might take a tenth or something, and wouldn’t get more extreme than that unless the entire routine was really choppy. There aren’t many girls I have actively thought deserved rhythm deductions so my guess is that judges aren’t that intense about it, and really only apply it if the routine is severely lacking in rhythm. I think the artistry deductions are similar, and the judges typically know who they’re going to give these deductions to before the gymnasts even compete…once they see a routine for the first time, it becomes pretty clear who has a lack of artistry and who doesn’t. It’s kind of like Simone Biles with her crossed feet on her Amanar…the judges almost intuitively take that deduction because they know it’s going to be there. I don’t know how often judges take artistry deductions, but I would say at most it’s like, maybe 20% of routines. A wild guess, but I think generally most show at least some semblance of artistry/connection to the music.

What was the music played during Wang Yan’s beam routine in the event finals at the Olympics?

Wang Yan wasn’t in the beam final…do you mean another gymnast? Happy to answer this if I have the right person!

Why is China comparatively weaker at producing top all-arounders despite their success as a team?

I think it’s just a matter of none of the Chinese gymnasts being truly good all-arounders ever, that simple. You always get girls who are good on three events but struggle on a fourth…Wang Yan is great on vault, beam, and floor but struggles on bars. Shang Chunsong is great on bars, beam, and floor but struggles on vault. Most all-arounders are like this, but the fourth event is generally passable, typically. Like, they can get away with it and it would actually be a semi-decent score (like Aly Raisman on bars…obviously not her best but she still hits them well enough to score within an acceptable range). The Chinese tend to focus the girls on what they’re best at naturally, and most tend to be excellent on bars, so I think that event becomes key above all else for those who excel there. And then you get girls like Wang Yan and Cheng Fei who are strong vaulters, so they focus on these events above all else. And so on. No one’s going to be perfect at everything, but in China, it seems there’s less attention to balance between the events than you’d get in other countries.

Is there an advantage for women who live in the Dallas/Houston area close to the ranch? Or is it coincidental that so many gold medal gymnasts have come from that region?

Nope! None at all, aside from not having to pay as much for travel if they’re developmental kids and don’t have their trips funded. It’s coincidental in a way, but also I think because many of the strongest coaches have ended up in Texas in one way or another, it makes sense that many top gymnasts have also come from there. The Karolyis started off their careers in the U.S. in Texas, and then other ex-pats move down to where they know people and where they can get jobs. This has happened in several waves, and Texas almost always seems to be where they end up…maybe because houses and property is cheaper down there than on the east coast? Maybe because the population is big and because you can make a killing with rec classes since tons of girls are into cheerleading? Texas just happens to be a gymnastics hot spot, and so most of the top gymnasts in the country coming from the most populous gym state is just a result of that.

Do you think the Chinese were underscored and/or Laurie Hernandez overscored on vault in Rio during the team final?

Hmmm…I don’t know if I think the Chinese were underscored on vault, maybe a tiny bit? But none are super clean to begin with…I was definitely intrigued by Laurie’s vault scores during this meet, though. She always scores very well in her execution there at home and I didn’t think she’d come close to that in Rio, but alas, there we were. But at the same time, Aly Raisman’s Amanars got scored higher than I expected, so for the U.S. it seemed everyone was a step up from where I thought they’d finish.

The scores are SO much lower than the Americans in other countries. Is this a result of difficulty, execution, or a combo of both? Is this because these nations are behind the Americans in terms of talent/development?

Only a handful of countries in the world have truly top-notch competitive gymnastics programs that come close to rivaling the American program. A MAJORITY of countries have nowhere near the resources and structure that USA Gymnastics has, and also, the population is so small in many countries, so the talent pool is therefore much smaller. Like, I’ll use Norway as an example because their senior nationals happened recently. The overall population of Norway is 5 million. My city in the U.S. has 8 million people, while the overall population here is 320 million. A larger population means you have many more people doing the sport, and so you have a greater chance of producing top-level athletes than countries with 1% of your own population. Most other countries will be lucky to get a gymnast close to the level of top U.S., Russian, and Chinese gymnasts…someone like Giulia Steingruber is rare compared to all of the other talented but lower-scoring gymnasts who come out of Switzerland.

Generally, the biggest difference between top and lower-level countries is difficulty. At Norway’s nationals, for example, they had quite a few gymnasts with truly beautiful routines…but the highest bars difficulty we generally see from them is around a 3.0. Compare that to the 6.5 D scores you get from the top Americans, and it’s no contest. A Norwegian gymnast with a near-perfect bars routine won’t score more than about a 12 on that event, whereas an American with a near-perfect routine can score close to 16. With stronger coaching, other countries might be able to improve levels of difficulty, especially on bars which is such a specialized event in general, but other things definitely play into why some countries are hugely dominant and others don’t come close, and population is definitely a major reason.

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

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10 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I agree that compare to the US, China is comparatively weaker at producing top all-arounders. But saying “it’s just a matter of none of the Chinese gymnasts being truly good all-arounders ever, that simple” seems a bit too harsh?

    At their peak, Yao Jinnan (2011), Jiang Yuyuan (2010) or Yang Yilin (2008) were all pretty balanced all-arounders. In the 2008 AA final, Yang scored in the top 6 on every event–something neither Liukin (vault) or Johnson (bars) can claim. And in 2011, Yao Jinnan was right up there with Wieber and Komova.

    I do agree though that the Chinese national team coaches tend to focus less on developing all arounders. Among the younger gymnasts, Liu Tingting seems to the most balanced. Hopefully we’ll see some good results from her.

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    • I was looking more at this past quad…obviously there have been good all-arounders in their history, but this quad specifically all of their top all-arounders had major weaknesses that didn’t allow them to contend with those at the top. This quad, there weren’t any strong all-arounders…Shang was the closest, but obviously with only an FTY was super far behind and would’ve needed more balanced all-arounders to make mistakes. But in China’s history, they’ve never had a world or Olympic AA champion, and while they may have one or two great AAers every quad, the majority of their gymnasts end up coming through the system more as specialists. You can say that about most countries, though. Only the U.S. really churns out all-arounders and it’s because those gymnasts know that making a team as a specialist is almost unheard of in the U.S. which is why some gymnasts who would’ve trained as specialists in other countries keep doing the all-around in the U.S.

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      • I disagree, Shang was not closest to balanced, Liu Tingting was, she had an even distribution of difficulty just about everywhere. It’s sad to see that in retrospect Liu had really good chances to medal in the all around and on beam as well as a long shot, but still potential bars final had it not been for her broken hand.

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        • Liu was more balanced but at a lower level. With the way the Chinese were judged in Rio, and with Liu’s DTY had been looking in the months leading up to the Games, Shang would’ve easily outscored her. Liu’s DTY would’ve gone around 14.6-14.7 at best (assuming she stood it up, which was a crap shoot), and her floor would’ve been around a 14 on a good day. Her bars/beam were good, but not good enough to make up ground. Yes, you could say she had a more balanced amount of difficulty between routines (and even then, it’s not that accurate because her floor wasn’t anywhere near as strong as her UB/BB were), but that doesn’t necessarily make her a top all-arounder or medal threat. She would’ve been lucky to get around a 58 AA in Rio on a good day with the way judging went toward the Chinese.

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        • Yeah the judging toward Chinese was pretty harsh in Rio. On a good day with fair judging I think Liu could’ve scored in Olympic order: 14.800, 15.000, 14.800, 14.100 AA:58.70.

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  2. Comment on the beam rhythm deductions: judges have many ways to deduct for that! Not only penalizing for poor rhythm in connections and deducting for every pause over 1 sec. (in apparatus deductions), there are two overall artistry deductions (both 0.1) for rhythm and tempo.
    Some time ago, I got access to some practice videos made by FIG, complete with the score sheets. I was surprised to see how large art. deductions they used! Largest were up to one point and in FX to 1.2 – although this might be from the early code version where there was possibility to give 0.3 for insufficent artistry. Also my experience when judging with Brevet judges is that artistry deductions are used quite liberally.

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