You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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It’s time for the 176th 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.

This edition of our Q&A is all about U.S. Championships, held earlier this month in Anaheim! We got tons of questions about the competition, so we tried to get to all of them here in one fell swoop. Enjoy! 🙂

Why didn’t the U.S. compete at Pan American Championships?

The U.S. generally doesn’t send gymnasts to the individual Pan Ams because they prefer the team competitions, as do most countries, so the fields at the individual Pan Ams generally end up being a bit weaker than they would be normally. Some countries still send gymnasts who might need experience, but overall when the U.S. is trying to budget for elite competition travel each year, they have to pick the meets that work best for them/have the most benefit, and an individual Pan Ams generally just isn’t ‘worth it’ in terms of what the gymnasts would benefit from. Also, this year they were held the week before nationals, so there’s definitely no way they’d send girls when nationals is the biggest meet of the year for the U.S.

Ragan Smith said she learned her new floor routine in about eight hours. So was one whole day in the gym used for choreography?

She probably meant split up in a couple of sessions. Learning the actual choreography is easy and doesn’t take long at all, but generally the gymnast works pretty hands-on with the choreographer during that process. It’s rare that a choreographer comes in with every single movement completely planned out at the elite level, and they often end up watching the gymnast and how she moves, and then sort of choreograph based on that, with some of it improvised in the moment. Then on top of that, they create a story for the routine, and work out the emotional aspect of the routine and what needs to happen in terms of expression and artistry…and when everyone is ‘done’ in that sense, they have to start working on run-throughs while the choreographer is still there and can tweak it.

Do you think Valeri Liukin will favor the WOGA gymnasts? Is he still coaching at WOGA? Isn’t this unfair?

He’s not still coaching at WOGA, but still owns it. It’s a little weird in that sense. It’s like Donald Trump being allowed to have private business interests while being president of the United States…it’s a conflict of interest and when Valeri accepted the national coordinator job, he should’ve cut ties with his gym. People have asked him about it, and he’s said it won’t be an issue, and while maybe that’s true, it’s just better if the two things are separate.

But anyway, I think it’d be pretty obvious if he started favoring WOGA girls and it’d raise a lot of questions if, like, Audrey Davis placing sixth at nationals this summer ended up getting a Junior Japan spot over Emma Malabuyo who placed second. Like, it would be SO blatant and obvious, there’s no way he’d get away with it, so it’d be dumb of him to try.

That being said, it would suck if there was some kind of Madison Kocian vs Ashton Locklear kind of situation like there was last year, where it could’ve come down to either one, but then Madison ended up getting the spot…if that kind of situation exists under Valeri and he ends up going with the WOGA girl, even if she’s the better choice, she’s going to come under fire for being favored based on her gym, which will really suck for her.

These are the rules ‘officially’ in place related to his job and his relationship to WOGA:

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So again, there’s definitely stuff in place to prevent anything sketchy but I’m sure there will be some stuff that comes up as not kosher in the coming years whether it’s real or imagined.

Did Norah Flatley leave the sport?

Yes, Norah announced her retirement about a month ago. She had originally planned on coming back this season, and went to a couple of national team training camps at the ranch, but never really got back to her old level of elite ability, didn’t end up making the Jesolo team, and ultimately realized she was just ready to retire and focus on level 10 for her final season before college.

Why isn’t the U.S. artistic championships done with all of the other disciplines?

I believe at times the two have gone on in tandem (for some reason I remember like…maybe 2010 or something going to a rhythmic meet at another nearby arena during some time off from the artistic competition?), but it becomes such a big event needing numerous arenas and convention halls, it’s a logistic nightmare. I like how they worked it out this year with rhythmic, tumbling, trampoline, and acro all going on at once…but these programs combined don’t equal the size of the artistic program on its own. Adding the artistic program onto that would’ve required so much more, and it’s not always super ideal for the people planning the event.

When will the U.S. worlds team be selected?

The women’s selection camp will be held from September 18-22, with the team determined at the end of the camp.

I heard someone use the music “The Bird and the Worm” at U.S. nationals. Has someone used this music previously?

Jordan Chiles used music by The Used this year. I think otherwise it’s been done in rhythmic before but I can’t remember it from anyone in artistic. Of course, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been used…it just means I’m really bad at recognizing music!

Has Ragan Smith gone pro?

No she hasn’t. She has verbally committed to Oklahoma and will most likely be pushing back her freshman year until after Tokyo 2020.

Is Simone Biles actually coming back?

According to a local news report from her hometown, she’s back in the gym ‘training’ which at this stage for her means conditioning and getting back some of the strength she lost in her  year off. I actually don’t think she lost much of her strength at all, so it should likely be a fairly easy comeback for her, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her back training skills soon.

What has happened to Victoria Nguyen?

I don’t know. 😦 All I can think of is that she just wasn’t ready in time for this summer and yet made a push to come back anyway, deciding to give it a shot at nationals but then realizing after day one that she just wasn’t in a good enough place to be competing yet. Her end goal is still the Olympics, though, so hopefully we’ll see her back stronger next year!

Why do men wear their college tanks at nationals?

Because they’re at nationals competing with their college teams. If they’re young kids not yet in college, they represent their club gyms. If they’ve been on the scene for a while and have graduated college and/or gone pro, they represent the Olympic Training Center if they’re at a high level and end up training there (or they go back to a club and represent them if they’re not part of the OTC). But if they’re in college, they train elite with their college program and are therefore representing their school rather than a club or the OTC.

Having watched the first day of U.S. nationals, I’m thinking about beam falls being contagious. Off the top of your head, what meets can you think of that had the most falls on beam?

Hmm, lots, honestly. Like, almost every meet I’ve seen there always ends up being kind of a drama on beam at every stage of the competition…in qualifications, so some of the top medal contenders don’t end up in the final, in event finals, so top medal contenders end up off the podium, and in team finals, hurting the podium chances for teams. Beam is kind of the make or break event for most team and all-around situations, with falls far more common there than on other events, so I can barely think of a competition that DOESN’T have a lot of falls on beam.

There were a lot of big, fancy, decorated buns at U.S. nationals. Is this the new hairstyle trend of the quad?

I guess…last quad was all about taking the gross messy buns of the 2009-2012 era and taming them down, so everyone’s buns were pretty balletic and simple, but now girls are definitely trying to have a little more fun with that style by adding braids and bows and stuff, so they can keep it classy but still have fun with it.

The Final Five got inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame but Gabby Douglas wasn’t there. Why doesn’t she go to many of the team events?

She has a life outside of her gymnastics life, and probably just wants to move on from an experience that was kind of not the greatest for her, considering the ridiculous backlash she got from so many people during the Games about literally every single thing she did or didn’t do. She is absolutely more of an introverted person and tends to lay off of the bigger events for that reason, but she did end up showing up to the second day of nationals to receive her plaque with the other members of the men’s and women’s 2016 teams. She just kind of picks and chooses from among the events that end up in her lap, and honestly, I totally get it. I’d do the same thing.

Is the junior division for U.S. nationals 15 and under or is it only 13-15?

Anyone under 15 is considered a junior within the U.S. The FIG considers juniors to be turning 14-15 in the years in which they’re competing, which is why other countries separate their junior levels into junior for girls aged 14-15 and espoir or hopes for girls aged 11-13. In the U.S., girls are eligible to attempt to qualify elite once they’re old enough for level 9 or 10, so there have been instances in the past where junior competitors at nationals have been ten years old (Jordyn Wieber being a prime example). For the most part, the top U.S. juniors who make the national team and get international assignments tend to be around 13-15, but generally there tends to be a couple of 11-year-olds at nationals each year. The U.S. does have a hopes program separated into two age groups (10-11 and 12-13) for gymnasts not quite ready to compete at the junior level yet, but it’s more about ability or experience than age. If a super-talented ten-year-old gets her elite scores at a qualifier, she has the option of either competing elite that season or competing in hopes because she might want more experience before actually committing to elite.

Does Jordan Chiles have a second vault in the works?

Yes, she has been training a Lopez and will hopefully unveil it at the worlds selection camp next month! A combination of Amanar and Lopez would make her one of the most competitive vaulters in the world, so hopefully she hits!

Why are the national teams smaller this year? Is it USA Gym’s money concerns with potential lawsuits?

Every year since 2012, the decision on part of the national team staff has been to go with the top six all-arounders in both the junior and senior divisions, plus however many specialists at the senior level would be most likely to earn international team spots (usually just a handful…like, it was two this year because Ashton Locklear and Jade Carey were the only two specialists who were going to challenge for spots at worlds).

In 2012 and 2016, it was a little different for the seniors because everyone who makes the U.S. Olympic Trials gets a national team spot, even if they’re not really going to be a national team competitor that year (which is why right after the Olympics, the elite committee decide whose funding to drop, because even though those 15 or so seniors are on the national team, it’s generally in name only, and so they make it a rule to drop the funding of everyone who isn’t currently training elite, which ends up being the majority of that team since so many retire or go on hiatus following the Olympic Games).

A larger senior national team was also selected in 2015, because there were so many in contention for worlds spots. Generally gymnasts are named to the national team on an as-needed basis following nationals, and so if there’s no real need to have a large team, they won’t bother with just arbitrarily naming a ton of girls when most won’t end up contributing at an international level. In 2014, Ragan Smith didn’t make the national team based on her performance at nationals, but at camp that November, she showed vast improvement and was given a spot/funding. And at every Jesolo selection camp, a ton of girls end up getting added, especially at the junior level, as anyone who gets named to the Jesolo team (or to any international assignment) gets an automatic national team spot. Even in 2015, Brenna Dowell didn’t make the national team because she didn’t place top six or fill a specialist role at nationals, but she was still invited to the worlds selection camp, and when she made the worlds team, she got added to the national team. This year, the eight girls named to the national team all got invited to worlds selection camp, but so did two girls who didn’t make the national team. If Alyona Shchennikova ends up showing at the selection camp that she deserves to go to worlds for bars or something, she’ll be added to the national team when given a worlds spot.

It’s that simple. No team set at nationals is set in stone. The national team named immediately following national competition doesn’t really matter, because there can be changes at any time based on how the gymnasts look at camp. Nationals marks the official change from one year’s national team to the next, but in reality, gymnasts are added/removed all year long. A small team at nationals has nothing to do with financial concerns.

As most of the current junior national team will turn senior in 2018, how many juniors do you predict will be added in the next few months? Who do you think will make it?

It depends. I don’t think anyone will be added this fall because aside from Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo going to the Junior Japan meet, the juniors are basically done until Jesolo. Since five of the six junior national team members become senior next year, they’ll definitely need to add a bunch of juniors to the team for Jesolo. Jay Jay Marshall and Sunisa Lee are the most likely, and right now I can also see Annie Beard and Anya Pilgrim getting named…and then beyond that it’ll just be whoever is most ready in March of next year.

How does it work when a new national team is named? Sunisa Lee and Olivia Dunne were on the national team earlier this year, but then weren’t named to the new team. What happens to them? Do they still go to camps? Is it awkward and in disgrace?

As mentioned above, the immediate post-nationals national team selection is mostly in name only, especially at the junior level. All it means for those who didn’t make the junior team is that they didn’t land in the top six at one competition. That’s why they continuously reevaluate the team situation all year long based on the needs of the program. Sunisa and Olivia could very well be put back on the team in the coming months, based on how they do at camp. It really means nothing that they weren’t named at nationals, especially in Sunisa’s case, as next year when the majority of the top competitors in the junior field reach the senior level, Sunisa will end up being one of the top juniors and will absolutely end up back on the team.

I noticed that Anna Huber got her national qualifying score at the Brestyan’s meet for nationals, but then didn’t compete at nationals or classics. Do you know why?

First of all, the national qualifier meets (like Brestyan’s, KPAC, Parkettes, etc) only qualify gymnasts for the American Classic and the U.S. Classic, not for nationals. The only meets that qualify gymnasts to nationals are the two classic meets. My guess is that she was likely injured…she competed at the American Classic in July (the first of the two nationals qualifiers) but could only do bars and beam, and she got really low scores on both. Since juniors have to do the all-around to qualify to nationals, she probably didn’t bother going to the U.S. Classic because with only two events, she wouldn’t have been able to qualify to nationals anyway, so it was probably just better for her to skip this season.

When gymnasts compete at nationals, do they share a hotel room with their family as opposed to other gymnasts?

It depends on the gymnast/her gym. Generally gymnasts from large clubs end up rooming together…like I remember in 2013, my room was near the Parkettes block of rooms, and Elizabeth Price, Molly Frack, and Christina Desiderio were all sharing the room right next to mine. But gyms that only send one gymnast generally just have that gymnast stay with her family, unless she’s an adult (think Aly Raisman last quad) in which case she probably just gets her own room.

What is the balance beam mount that Emily Gaskins used this year rated?

The back handspring to chest stand — also known as the ‘candlestick’ mount — is rated a D. It’s been a favorite among British gymnasts for years and is all the rage in Canada right now!

If a gymnast does well at the selection camp for worlds but isn’t chosen and her coaches feel this is a mistake, can they fight this via a disagreement or protest or petition?

Not really…I mean, they can complain, and often do, haha. Al Fong has been pretty vocal in the past when he’s felt like his gymnasts were more deserving of spots they ended up not getting, and he is kind of known for making sure people hear his opinions. I guess if a coach was willing to put their career on the line, they could go some sort of legal route and claim that their gymnast was a victim of favoritism or something, if it was pretty clear that they weren’t selected over someone who had lower scores/falls and was selected. I could totally see this happening if a WOGA girl ends up 8th at nationals or something and then ends up getting a worlds team spot in the future…with Valeri Liukin having a business interest in WOGA while also being the national team coordinator, it would be so easy for coaches to take that to court. But most wouldn’t because they’d basically ostracize themselves and their gymnasts from the national team program, which is why aside from the occasional yelling and angry blogs, we don’t end up hearing too much.

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. 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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27 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I thought there was some special rule when Valeri came on re: conflicts of interest with WOGA where there was some committee system or something they would put in place if a WOGA gymnast was up for a spot? Might be misremembering that, but thought there was something in the early press releases about it.

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    • I just added that to the post! It was like “here’s how we know this will be legit!” but there are still ways that this whole thing could end up being shady. But I’m choosing to be optimistic and believe that he will be fair to everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

      • At this exact moment, there won’t be much of a problem because there’s not really any seniors from WOGA who can really contend. If Irina Alexeeva fixes her nationality problem soon and comes back at full strength I can’t imagine why she wouldn’t be fully deserving of a worlds spot even though she’s from WOGA. And honestly WOGA is like the US club version of Romania, people root for the WOGA girls because of their tradition in sending amazing gymnasts to win world and Olympic titles

        Liked by 1 person

      • Valeri shouldn’t immediately cut ties with his gym. He came to the U.S. and built it up from practically nothing. It has to mean a lot to him and one would think it would take a lot of money to buy him out anyway to fairly compensate losing his well-earned stake in the business. Additionally, this is still a very new job for him and while Martha held it until she retired, it’s not a guaranteed position, particularly with as unstable ground as the USAG is on at the moment with pending lawsuits and calls for changes in the culture. He doesn’t actually know if he will have this job 4 years from now.

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        • If you accept a job like that, generally it’s a requirement to cut ties with something that could be considered a conflict of interest. Like anyone else in a similar situation, as this has happened billions of times before in every industry under the sun, he would have to choose between the business he built and the prestigious job offered to him. But I guess if the president can keep all of his private holdings while running the country, Valeri can keep his private business while running the women’s program.

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  2. Favoritism, nepotism, politics in gymnastics sucks! It sucks more than any other sport because it is easily done as it is a jury sport, and because the gymnasts work harder and earlier than everybody else. They begin so young, they are still kids when they face more then 20 hours of training at least, with so many pressure , so many injuries ! They leave everything behind, studies, family vacations. People should at least be fair with them and nepotism shouldn’t be allowed. National coaches and jury shouldn’t be allowed to be connected with gyms. And if they have daughters/ sons that are hopes for the team or in elite they should step out.
    . It is like a mafia and it leaves a bitter taste in this sport. Is it worth all that sacrifice if always the daughters or protegees of certain gyms will have an unfair advantage?

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  3. I don’t like Gabby in terms of personality and I really don’t like her gymnastics, but I feel like no matter what she does people will criticize her. She’s been criticized for not attending events with her teammates and then even when she showed up day 2 people were still criticizing her.

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  4. I’m wondering what happened with Laurie Hernandez and her coach Maggie Haney. Do you have information as to whether Laurie will go to a different gym to train if she try’s for a run in 2020?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m also already seeing the conflict of interest I feared with the NBC commentary. During the broadcast, they covered Aly Raisman publicly scolding USAG for the Larry Nassar scandal. When one of the commenters (Al, I think) asked Nastia for her opinion, she gave such a milquetoast answer and talked about how she respects what Aly is doing but all her experiences in gymnastics were positive and blah, blah, blah. She seemed most concerned with protecting the image of USAG. It was gross. Coming out against covering up sexual abuse really shouldn’t be a tough call.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Two things:
      1. I completely agree with your whole comment/concern.
      2. Great use of the word “milquetoast”! I so rarely hear the word that it kinda shocked me to read it, ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I wouldn’t really say Norah Flatley left the sport, given she’s still training and planning to compete Level 10 this season and compete at UCLA the following year. That would imply the sport is only elite level, which seems wrong. One thing I love now that I follow NCAA is seeing people like Katelyn Ohashi and Sarah Finnegan find happy endings after elite even if their elite careers didn’t quite pan out to what could have been. I hope Norah joins that group.

    Liked by 1 person

      • But some gymnasts really do actually leave the sport completely, so to say leaving the sport is stopping elite level is confusing if you do state that she is continueing in level 10 and NCAA further in your answer

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  7. I remember years ago when there would be like 15 or 20 gymnasts named to the national teams…i also remember when juniors and seniors competed together and there was no separation between the two. It seems very unfair that it is only top 6 plus 2 specialists this year…the more the merrier is my motto. No wonder so many girls give up on elite in the US.

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    • Really unfair yes. Especially Ashton. She maybe a bar specialist but she is not even top score in that unlike Jade Carey. Why is Ashton chosen for national team spot instead of Alyonna for example. Is Ashton getting a spot because she is an Olympic alternate?

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