It’s time for the 142nd 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.
Why are female gymnasts’ landings stuck so rarely in competition compared to the men? Is it because men have lower centers of gravity?
Men seem to kind of FORCE a lower center of gravity by landing lower, if that makes sense? Could just be coincidental but generally when you see the women, they have a slight knee bend to absorb the landing but otherwise try not to be too squatted, whereas many of the men tend to land in a deeper knee bend with their chests slightly forward which helps them hold that position. I’m thinking about being on the subway without holding onto a pole…usually when this is my commute, I stand with my feet slightly apart and my knees slightly bent so I don’t get thrown all over the train, which is also like how a surfer would stand on a board. I think women actually have a lower center of gravity than men, so maybe that’s why the men try to create a lower center of gravity by landing in a lower position.
Are gymnasts who have to compete in the first subdivision of qualifications at worlds or the Olympics at a disadvantage?
The urban legend is that the first subdivision is usually the toughest because those gymnasts are setting the standard for the rest of the competitors, so judges will come out especially tight in that first round, but then build throughout the day (kind of like how in a certain rotation they’ll start out lower and scores will build). This definitely happened in Rio last summer, with the Chinese women and Nina Derwael in particular getting heavily low-balled in a few areas while later on the judges were judging routines on a wildly different standard. Bars was one of the biggest jokes, with poorly-executed routines in later rotations outscoring excellent routines in the first rotation, so yes, I totally believe that gymnasts in the first subdivision are at a disadvantage. However, if a top team like the US came in and the judges built the scores off of their scores, I think the US would get scored pretty accurately, since they tend to be clean and consistent with no major mistakes, and then subsequent teams would be at a higher standard without outscoring the US as the stronger team, if that makes sense. I think it’s always best to put the top team in the earlier subdivision, but if anything, if these meets went with seeding rather than by random draws, the best teams would most likely be in the final subdivision, which would probably make it even worse.
Is gymnastics judging a full time job? How do people become judges?
It’s usually a side job, even for the international brevet judges. Many probably could earn a decent enough living only judging, but it’s not super steady and the big jobs for the brevet judges — US nationals, worlds, etc — are few and far between. Often many coaches will supplement their full-time coaching jobs with judging gigs but I don’t know of anyone who judges and only judges (or at least not anyone who earns much of a living).
In the US, you can become a judge by becoming a professional member of USA Gymnastics, getting safety certified and background checked, buying the JO COP, finding a L4-5 judging exam in your area, and taking/passing the test (it’s a written only test for the compulsory levels, and then once you get to optional, which is L6 and up, you have to take a practical exam where you are scored on how accurate you are at judging routines). I’m actually in the process of becoming an L4-5 judge now and take my exam later this month, which is why I know all of this!
In the US, judges get paid hourly, with your rate increasing depending on the level, but it’s very hard to become a brevet judge because the federation has to choose to send you through that training. Generally if you just do things on your own and don’t have a history as a high-level elite competitor or coach, you’re not going to get picked for a brevet course.
If a gymnast uses music that isn’t in the public domain, do they need to get the rights to use it? If so, who pays for it and secures the rights?
No they don’t. I’ve only heard of one person getting mad about it…I forgot the composer, but the guy who wrote Wang Yan’s music that she used last summer got mad because his music wasn’t meant to be for flashy showy ‘sultry’ performances. I was like WANG YAN? SULTRY? I don’t think so, bro. I think he wanted to sue but doubt anything came out of it. Most dancers who use music for competitions don’t have to pay for the rights either, so this is similar to that…but I think if the competition is aired on television, that’s where things could get dicey. I know for NCAA, where they use more popular songs, many networks who air NCAA floor routines kind of dull the music a bit and have the commentators try to talk over it as much as possible. I think music can be on as ‘background noise’ and it’s no big deal, but if it’s like the focal point of the broadcast, that’s where it gets dicey…so networks try to make it more like background noise.
Who do you see as the leading gymnasts on the U.S. elite scene in 2017?
I think we’ll get a good mix of the new kids and the girls last year who weren’t in the spotlight. Obviously based on the camp results, it looks like Riley McCusker, Ragan Smith, and Morgan Hurd are the top three at the moment, but I wouldn’t count out new seniors like Jordan Chiles, Shania Adams, and Trinity Thomas, and I’m also hoping we get big things from returning gymnasts Norah Flatley, Margzetta Frazier, and Christina Desiderio. It’s hard to say right now who will have a breakout year in the post-Olympic haze, but personally I want slash NEED good things for Norah.
Do you know what Jazmyn Foberg’s status is? Is she injured or not training? She hasn’t been at camp.
I know she was injured over the summer, so it could be possible that she just hasn’t gotten back to top form. She did go to the January national team camp, which was more of a skills camp, but then wasn’t at the February camp, which was the verification camp for American Cup and Stuttgart. So if she’s still going to skills camps, she’s probably working on getting back, but probably didn’t feel routine-ready for a bigger camp. Hopefully we’ll see her back eventually.
Do you have any favorite elite gyms or coaching programs?
Hmm, I like lots of different gyms for lots of different reasons. I think if I had to pick a favorite or somewhere I’d want to go, it’d be Texas Dreams for their whole vibe. Not necessarily because they’re the best elite gym or anything, but because they seem to be this whole cool operation and Kim and Chris seem awesome, and know how to push each gymnast the way they need to be pushed. Plus, they generally get the most funky leos, and I love almost every floor routine…even if it’s not something that’s a style I particularly like, I still think most of their routines play perfectly to each gymnast’s personality and style.
Did Alexander Alexandrov come to the United States after coaching Aliya Mustafina?
He went to Brazil and coached the Brazilian team to an eighth-place finish at the Olympic Games in Rio, and then he moved to the United States after four years in Brazil. I believe he’s now living in Houston but not sure what he’s doing, coaching-wise, if he’s still coaching at all.
Do L9 or L10 gymnasts ever feel disappointed for being pushed down the ranks or even off the team by former elite gymnasts in NCAA? It seems ‘unfair’ when the ‘world of the perfect 10’ is ‘kidnapped’ by former elites.
Nope, they don’t. Everyone in NCAA is on the same page. Almost no DI teams recruit L9 gymnasts, but you’ll often see L10 gymnasts defeating former elite gymnasts. At one of the first meets this year, Arkansas — made up by all former L10s — nearly beat UCLA, which has two Olympians and about a thousand former elites. The elites who come in with double doubles on floor and double pikes off beam are still gonna get the same 10.0 start value as the girls with front lay front fulls on floor and gainer fulls off beam…and honestly, the girls doing the front lay front fulls and gainer fulls are probably going to outscore most of the girls chucking bigger skills because it’s all about execution. Like, Katelyn Ohashi does a layout full on beam and is ranked lower nationally than Chayse Capps, who wasn’t even well-known as a L10 let alone an elite star known for her 7.0+ SV beam like Katelyn was. So I think the L10s are okay with it, and it’s especially cool to see girls who come up from L10 and really shine at the NCAA level, especially when they can regularly match and even beat the girls who were once standout elites.
Is Ashton Locklear doing NCAA or is she going pro?
She opted to not do NCAA because of her back injury issues…she didn’t think she’d make it through four years of weekly competitions and decided she’d just focus on putting together a high-level bars set in elite. She didn’t go pro in the way most do by signing with an agent, but once she became Olympic alternate she got some opportunities that she otherwise wouldn’t have, like getting to go on the post-Olympic tour. She got paid for that, and also has signed with Nike’s N7 Fund, which creates collections to celebrate athletes with a Native American heritage. So, you know, she’s not running around making millions or much at all, but she’s still able to take advantage of a few cool opportunities so she’s not totally missing out.
I have watched gymnastics since the 1972 Olympic Games. I have since witnessed so many changes, some good but most terrible in my opinion. Do you think the new FIG president will reverse any of these?
I don’t think anything will be reversed…most changes haven’t been made by one person but rather by a board of people. Also, some of the changes that we may perceive as bad might be good changes for others, like the whole four per team thing. Yes, it sucks that only four gymnasts per country can make each team, but it doesn’t suck that nations that might never get included now have more of a shot to make it to the Games. I think generally when the FIG acts, even on decisions that seem really terrible, they’re still acting out of the best interest for the majority of athletes, and that doesn’t always mean the best countries will come out with whatever they want.
Why can’t floor music have human words in it?
I think it has to do with gymnasts not using words as cues for their routines and choreography. They’re supposed to show musicality, and it’s much easier to perform to a song with words and lyrics than it is to perform to just music. Anyone can hear the word happy in a song and portray happy, but it’s really difficult for most gymnasts to emote through music alone, so in order to ensure that they can show a true artistry through musicality and emotion, it’s better to take away something that would make it super easy for them to do so.
What goes through gymnasts’ heads when they pause on the beam with arms overhead in preparation to flip?
Mostly mental cues. They usually take a deep breath, probably mentally picture what they have to do next using mental cues to get them through it, and by then they’ve hopefully calmed down and focused, and can then go for the skill. Mental cues are little words that gymnasts practice in their heads for various skills in each routine so they can help remember something they might struggle with…if they have a punch front on beam, for example, and tend to land a bit low or forward, they might say “chest up” to remember to land straight up. When gymnasts practice routines, they also practice all of the mental cues that go along with each skill, which helps them break down the routine into pieces. It makes the little things easier to remember so they’re not getting to beam like “Omg what were my corrections?!” because it can be really hard to remember what could amount to dozens of corrections throughout the routine. Breaking it down and taking it one skill at a time with pauses and mental cues really helps that process.
How does it work when an NCAA gymnast redshirt a season? Do they still travel and train with the team?
It depends…most do, I think, if a team can afford it in their travel budget, which most end up working out because a lot of girls who redshirt can help in some other way like filming routines or moving mats or something if they’re not too injured. Smaller programs without huge budgets might leave redshirts and other injured girls at home but it really depends on a lot of variables. Like if Bridget Sloan redshirted at Florida her senior year, they would’ve taken her everywhere, for sure, but if a random freshman redshirts, they might bring her to a few meets close to home, but prob wouldn’t take her across the country. Another team MIGHT take that girl everywhere, though. Again, it’s a case-by-case and school-by-school kinda decision.
Do you know anything about what Kim Gwang Suk is up to now?
She was a torchbearer for the 2008 Olympics in Pyongyang, but aside from that, hasn’t really been seen at all in public. Maybe she’s coaching or something? I would imagine most athletes may as well go on to coaching there, since they tend to have the greatest amount of knowledge as former gymnasts? It’s not like they have developmental programs and tons of club gyms with coaches coming together and sharing knowledge, so it would seem in their best interest to move gymnasts up to coaching once they retire.
Actually, just did a little digging, and I think this might be her…coaching!
What is the story with the Stanford women’s team? They have so much talent and potential and yet struggle.
Their form just isn’t there when you compare them to other top schools. They lost a lot of top gymnasts in the past few years, the girls that were consistently bringing in big scores, and it’s been difficult for them to catch more big name recruits because their academic standards are much higher (which is why someone like Kyla Ross ended up at UCLA despite having Stanford as a top choice…I bet the gym program would’ve killed to get Kyla). They do have a lot of bright spots, and Elizabeth Price as a great standout. She is someone who would fit in at any top ten program, but many other girls on the team wouldn’t be getting regular lineup spots at Florida or LSU or Oklahoma. When they do hit strong routines, they’re definitely capable of getting to the 9.8 range or higher, as we actually saw tonight, but I think they tend to be nervous competitors in general and make more mistakes than other teams might make in addition to having more issues with form and too many weak spots in lineups. However, they do tend to get stronger as a season goes on, and generally in seasons where they start out with a low ranking, they’ll still somehow end up making nationals and even the Super Six. I don’t think that’ll happen this year, because there’s actually a crap ton of competition in the top 18 so seeding will make it really difficult for them to place top two at a regional meet, but already I’m seeing great improvements compared to what we saw at the start of the season! Right now, they’re still counting a few low road scores in their RQS, but after tonight they’ll get to jump about 10 spots in the rankings, and one more good meet could get them to the top 18, so you never know! They are a great program when it comes to hitting when it counts, so perhaps they’re just waiting for that moment?
Do you think Gabby Douglas is actually planning on returning? When did she say she was?
She said she was in an interview a few weeks after Rio. I don’t think it’ll happen. Her heart wasn’t really in it for a good deal her second time around, and she even made a few comments about how she considered quitting but her family convinced her to keep going, so I felt like she maybe felt some kind of pressure to keep doing the sport and wasn’t really completely in it for herself or her own passion. Maybe the same thing will happen this quad, where she ends up doing it because her family wants to see her back out there, but maybe since she’s a little bit older she’ll also feel comfortable following her own heart and making her own decisions? I don’t know. That’s all me speculating and taking things I heard and running with it, but I mean, it wasn’t hard to see she wasn’t living the dream in the way she experienced the Games in 2012. But I could see her still wanting to return and trying to make it happen.
What is Miss Val’s role as head coach? Does she mainly choreograph and have separate coaches for each event?
There are a couple of coaches who work within the UCLA program, and she’s like, the head honcho who choreographs and does some routine construction and is the main strategist for the team, but I don’t think she coaches through, like, the physics of vault and teaching skills or whatever. I think she works as a great motivator as well, which is like 90% of what a coach’s job is at the highest levels in this sport, since they already have the skills down for the most part.
Do you know what happened with Amanda Huang?
She left Alabama after one season there, where I believe she dealt with injuries, and is now a redshirt freshman at Ohio State, where she has competed regularly all season on beam and she’s also been in the floor lineup for about a month now as well.
Why won’t Simone Biles train with Aimee Boorman if she comes back?
I believe it’s because she wants to stay in Texas to train and doesn’t want to move to Florida.
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