It’s time for the 194th 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 isn’t Laura Jurca getting any attention from the Romanian team?
She was injured last year, causing her to miss several big meets, and just hasn’t been able to come back from injury at a high enough level to make international teams. She’s done a few low-key meets this year, mostly focusing on bars, and she did her first all-around performance in two years as a Bundesliga guest in October, though she only got a 47.150 and doesn’t look great in terms of both her difficulty and execution. I’m glad she’s still going, and I hope she’s able to get back some of her skills eventually, but right now with the way her gymnastics looks, everyone else is beating her out for spots. I could definitely see her contributing to the team next year on bars, though…that’s definitely something Romania needs and even though she’s looking rough at the moment, her bars are still one of the best sets in the country.
Are free hip and inbar bail to handstand (instead of doing it from a giant) skills? What would they be worth?
They’re not skills…a bail isn’t really done from a giant, it’s just a swing down into the release with the half turn. It would definitely be physically possible to swing down from a clear hip or inbar position into the half turn to handstand, but I doubt it would make it all that much more difficult and can’t see it being worth more than what the bail currently is, which is a D. An inbar could be tricky to do physically, because these skills are meant to swing fully around the bar, and the swing into the bail is only a half swing, so it just makes it more awkward to get into the inbar position and then release halfway through…a clear hip or stalder would work better than a toe on or inbar in this case. But all of these would still look super awkward I think, since the whole point is that they do a full 360 rotation around the bar.
Any update on Sydney Johnson-Scharpf? What was her injury this summer?
Sydney had a variety of illnesses this summer, including pneumonia, all of which made her pretty weak which is why she was unable to train at her full potential. So not really an injury, but just as detrimental as one because she wasn’t able to reach full strength which is why she was so limited at classics and nationals.
Why do some gymnasts block off the curved front of the vault while others block off the end? It seems like those who block higher on the table get more height/distance. Why wouldn’t everyone do it?
It’s just a personal preference for the technique. Generally when you see a vault going backwards onto the table it’s higher up whereas many front-on vaults are further down but yeah, I never understand the really low blocks. Oksana Chusovitina’s freaks me out especially…I seriously never think she’s going to make it over the table! I’m just like imagine if she was a few inches higher how much more height she’d get and how much stronger her vaults would be. With her, though, because she’s SO low, it must have something to do with how she learned to vault on the old horses.
How do you feel about the age limit for senior elite?
I think it’s arbitrary and think that if a gymnast shows she is physically and emotionally mature enough to compete at a high level, she should be allowed to compete. Most gymnasts aren’t ready at a super young age, and I can only think of one 13-year-old in the past decade who could have legitimately been used on a major international team, so it’s not like suddenly we’d see teams with a bunch of really young girls.
A few girls aged 14-15 would make the cut across several countries each year, and that would be great for them especially if they’re girls who naturally peak younger and would be ‘past their prime’ by the time they reached the required age. In the last year alone I saw so many girls who had so much potential for their countries end up retiring before they really got to have senior careers at all, including Marie Skammelsen for Denmark and the Merkova twins from the Czech Republic. Many gymnasts end up fading out by 15, and it’s a shame because some of them really could’ve been helpful at younger ages, and proved that they had the maturity to handle it.
Anyway, the rule is definitely super limiting and unfair, and I definitely think every gymnast who proves she can handle it should be allowed to compete at the highest level.
Did the NCAA pass a recruiting rule that would prohibit younger kids from committing to schools? Will coaches find other ways to unofficially recruit?
There was a new rule implemented in August that states there will be no more unofficial visits allowed until after September 1 of an athlete’s junior year. Because visits often determine where a gymnast will go, this means gymnasts probably won’t verbally commit at 13 or 14 anymore. I guess schools could offer virtual tours, and recruits could always go and visit current team members not in an ‘unofficial visit’ sense but just in a ‘casually visiting my friend in college!’ kind of way, which is sketchy but I’m positive it’ll happen.
Nastia Liukin once mentioned that Maggie Nichols “uses a different technique than what you normally see” on her double layout. What does she mean by that? What’s the normal technique?
It’s not something I’ve ever noticed before…every gymnast is going to have different techniques for basically every skill, with some more noticeably different than others. I just went back and watched and it could be that she meant she arches them back a bit more than you might normally see, with her head thrown pretty far back? To me it looks like it’s easier to spot the way Maggie does it…she’s spotting the ground for the landing basically in the first flip, whereas many don’t spot until halfway through the second flip when they really need to.
Couldn’t Becky Downie have competed at an FIG event underage if it was in her home country, like Jordyn Wieber at the American Cup in 2009?
There’s no rule that says a gymnast can compete in an FIG meet underage if it’s in her home country. The American Cup didn’t become an FIG meet until 2011…prior to that, it was just a random invitational the U.S. hosted, so there were no age rules, though generally they meant it to be for seniors. But because Jordyn Wieber was the best at that point in time and won the verification camp leading up to the 2009 American Cup, she got one of the U.S. spots.
In terms of D score, what was the difference between Aliya Mustafina and Madison Kocian’s scores in the Rio bars final?
Aliya’s eponymous dismount — a double tuck with 1.5 twists — was harder, worth an E, whereas Kocian just had a D dismount with her tucked full-in.
I’m scratching my head at Sae Miyakawa’s upgrade on floor…doing a front full into a double front instead of the former being a layout adds no connection bonus and, depending on her dance elements, adds no D value either. Why would she do this?
It’s possible she wanted to submit a C+E direct connection for a potential higher CV rating. I know Ellie Black did that with one of her passes once so it’s possible that was the reasoning. Otherwise, sometimes gymnasts will go above and beyond just to have something cool and unusual, which sometimes can win favor with judges who appreciate stuff like that. But my guess is they wanted a little extra out of that CV and submitted with the hopes of getting it.
Do you know what happened to Adrian Stan, who was the British Gymnastics technical director until 2012?
He moved on to a new role, the High Performance Coach Development Manager, after London, which I think was more of an administrative kind of role than an on-the-field coaching kind of role. The job was created for him, with the purpose of using his expertise to train coaches within the BG system so that gymnasts coming up will all have advantages that will help create more depth in the country.
Why was Shawn Johnson able to compete at the senior level in 2007 when she was 15 and wouldn’t turn 16 until 2008?
In the 2008 quad, the FIG had a rule that gymnasts who turned 16 in the Olympic year could compete at worlds in 2007 so they could get high-level international experience before attempting to earn Olympic spots.
If USA Gymnastics ends up moving the training center, will the American Classic move with it?
Yeah, since the American Classic is held at the ranch because it’s scheduled to occur alongside one of the national team camps to make travel easier for people going to both, if the national training center moves, this meet will go along with it most likely.
If a gymnast at the elite level is capable of difficult skills but execution on leaps is poor, is it possible for her to have a high-scoring routine? Do elite routines have requirements regarding the number of leaps or can she replace those with acro skills?
Yes, plenty of gymnasts still score well enough to succeed in the sport with weak execution on leaps. The only requirement for leaps is that there must be at least one leap at 180 connected into another dance element. The requirement for non-acro skills in a routine specifies dance elements, so a gymnast could conceivably count three turns as her dance elements and then just do a basic A jump connected to another dance element to cover that requirement, so while you can’t replace dance skills with acro skills, if turns are easier for you, you can focus on turns instead of leaps.
Why are Euros in August next year? Aren’t they usually in the spring?
Yes, they’re usually in the spring, but next year there’s going to be a big multi-sport European Championships, and gymnastics is going to be part of that rather than its own thing. Since all sports generally have their own Euros, this will bring them all together in a way that will get more people interested and even though gymnastics generally does pretty well, other sports with lower attendance will definitely benefit from being part of a larger event.
How does it work for an elite to switch gyms in the U.S.? Why would Bailie Key check out Texas Dreams ‘incognito?’ Do gyms reject interested elites?
Many gymnasts who need to switch gyms for whatever reason will go on ‘tours’ of various gyms they’re interested in, and others will get recommendations or check them out privately without letting the coaches know; that way they can see the gym from an unbiased perspective rather than getting the coaches actively trying to recruit them. Many gyms would be excited to have another elite coming in, especially someone who’s well-known and could bring prestige to the gym, but some coaches prefer to keep things small, especially if they have one kid who is their main focus at the time being. I know when Gabby Douglas was looking after leaving Chow’s, there were some coaches that were apprehensive about taking someone of her status, whereas other gyms were practically begging to take her in.
I noticed there is a gymnast, Carina Jordan, who competed elite this summer and trains at a YMCA. Is that unusual for an elite?
Some YMCA programs have really strong upper-level programs, but generally the highest you see is level 10…there are a couple of YMCAs in New York that have fantastic high-level J.O. programs. It’s definitely rare to see an elite from a YMCA program, but Carina is from Alabama, which doesn’t really have a ton of strong club gyms. Just looking at the Prattville YMCA’s history, they’ve had a few really great level 10s over the years, so it’s not surprising that they eventually got one who wanted to go the elite route.
Where has the new generation of Italian juniors appeared from?
Giorgia Villa has been around since she was 11 or 12 as one to watch, and Asia D’Amato has been known for a couple of years for having a strong vault…but Asia’s twin sister Alice has been injured for a while and kind of re-emerged this year as someone with big potential, whereas Elisa Iorio kind of came out of nowhere this year…she first started competing at a higher level in 2016 and didn’t really stand out, but this year she proved to be one of the country’s best bars prospects in years with potential on her other events as well. All four are 2003 babies, so they still have one more year of junior elite left to go before turning senior just in time to get some experience at that level before 2020.
Do gymnasts perform back layouts or back layout fulls as a beam dismount? What value are they?
Yes, they can, but they’re really easy so you don’t often see these at the elite level. Actually, even in NCAA both are considered too easy to count as dismounts on their own, so when you see a back full in NCAA it’s usually connected to an acro skill going into it (like a side aerial). In elite, a back layout is an A and a layout full is a B.
Why do gymnasts attempt the Moors in competition if they get a deduction for it not being fully laid-out? Is the increased difficulty worth it?
Only two have done it so far, Victoria Moors and MyKayla Skinner, and the majority of gymnasts are opting for lower-valued cleaner skills. I’m pretty sure Simone Biles could easily do a Moors, but her whole focus was always on competing skills that were super duper perfected, so there were several skills she didn’t end up adding into her routines because the lower execution wouldn’t have been worth it for her. Considering her E scores were always around a 9 or better for hit routines, the strategy clearly worked.
For both Moors and Skinner, they knew the skill wasn’t fully laid-out and perfect, but both were hoping to get the skill named. Skinner didn’t make the worlds team in 2013, so Moors ended up being the one to get it, and Skinner kept competing it in most of her elite competitions just because even though the extra difficulty didn’t end up mattering considering the execution hit basically negated it, she wanted to keep working on it in her routines and making it a better skill. It was never perfect because it’s such a hard skill, but she definitely got better over time and that was her goal with that skill.
If you were the head coach of Romania what would you do to fix the uneven bars problem?
I would hire developmental coaches to begin working with gymnasts who show promise on the event when they’re still in the developmental stage, around age 7-10, before they’re doing big skills so they can build a strong foundation of basics which will help them both add difficulty in the future and look good while doing it.
I heard that Ragan Smith gets beads for not pouting, being a good sport, sticking her dismounts, etc. Do other gyms do that?
I’m sure many coaches have incentives for gymnasts to perform and behave well in the gym. Sometimes the incentives are more like less repetition of routines rather than getting prizes or whatever but I remember the cool thing when I was a kid was filling a sticker book with daily stickers if we fulfilled that day’s goal. It’s the little things.
Do you think Simone Biles didn’t make an effort to stick her passes so it wouldn’t be as hard on her ankles?
No, because she was always saying she wanted to work on sticking her passes. I think she just had so much power, it was hard to control that power on landings, especially at big competitions where she had tons of adrenaline. I saw her stick many floor passes and vaults in training, but then she’d get to the competition and that extra power would just come out and she’d be bouncing everywhere.
I saw that Ireland now has a national training center. Could they be an up-and-coming nation?
They could! They had a great team at Northern Euros this year, though a couple of their top girls had injuries so they weren’t able to really do what I hoped they would. They have a couple of their strongest upcoming juniors in a long time, and they also have a couple of really solid seniors, so while it could still take some time before they reach a level that will allow them to qualify in the top 24 at worlds, they’re definitely on the rise.
Can you explain how the American and U.S. Classic meets work? Hopes gymnasts qualify to American Classics at the ranch and from there to the U.S. Classic, right? What about junior and senior elites? How do they qualify to the U.S. Classic and to P&G Championships?
The American Classic and the U.S. Classic both serve the same purpose — they are the only meet that qualifies new elites to nationals. Gymnasts wanting to be new elites have to first get their compulsory qualification score and then their optional qualification score at a national qualifying meet. Once they get their optional score, they qualify to the elite level and earn a spot at both the American Classic and the U.S. Classic. The gymnast can then go to one or both of the classic meets to qualify to nationals.
If a gymnast goes to the American Classic and gets her nationals score, she will usually go to the U.S. Classic to get more practice in before nationals, but if a gymnast misses getting her nationals score at the American Classic, she can go to the U.S. Classic for a second chance to qualify. The scores at the American Classic tend to be a bit higher so if I was a new junior elite trying to get to nationals, I’d definitely go to the American Classic first, but some girls just aren’t fully prepared in time for that meet and need the extra three or four weeks, so they skip it (and skip the expense of going to the ranch, also a consideration for many) and just hope that they’ll qualify to nationals via the U.S. Classic with no problems.
Hopes gymnasts are a totally different level than junior elite. They have their own qualifying scores and don’t compete at the American Classic or the U.S. Classic. A gymnast who gets her Hopes compulsory and optional qualifying scores at a national qualifier will qualify to the Hopes Classic at the ranch (held on the same weekend as the American Classic), and from there, the top 18 gymnasts in each of the two age divisions will qualify to Hopes Championships (held the same weekend as the U.S. Classic).
What is the mount that Kim Kelly did on bars (see: https://youtu.be/zEvZafgL5Xg)? Are mounts like this dangerous or not worth much?
This is a roundoff back tuck over the low bar, named for East German gymnast Martina Jentsch. It’s actually one of the more difficult mounts in the code, rated a D, but most gymnasts prefer to do simple A mounts and have them not count into their difficulty because they’d rather stick to higher-level flight elements and pirouetting skills that go with the flow of their routine and lead to many connection bonuses. A mount like this can also be tricky logistically, taking up a lot of training time and leading to big risks for competition. No gymnast wants to fall on her bars mount, and then have to get back up and complete an entire routine, and mounts like this have to be so perfectly timed and finessed, most gymnasts just don’t see them being worth the risk.
Do you think Kyla Ross in 2012 and Gabby Douglas in 2016 were upset that they were the only team members that didn’t win individual medals?
I mean, I’m sure they were probably a little frustrated, but I doubt they were really upset. I know Kyla was bummed that she missed out on the beam final due to the two-per-country rule, and Gabby was most likely frustrated with herself when she basically could’ve easily gotten the bars bronze without her mistake, so that’s always hard to deal with, but they both had more than enough success in their careers to not dwell on stuff like this so I’m sure after the initial disappointment they were absolutely fine.
What happened with the two American elites who obtained citizenship in Belarus? Did they end up at the test event and if so, did they qualify? Why did the IOC allow this and how did they do at the Games?
Kylie Dickson was selected to compete at the test event for Belarus, and she ended up qualifying to the Olympic Games by the skin of her teeth, getting the third-to-last spot for individual competitors. In Rio, she placed 58th out of 59 all-arounders with a score of 47.798.
The IOC had nothing to do with it, and neither did the FIG. The Belarusian federation allowed it because they wanted to qualify an Olympic spot but knew none of their gymnasts would score well enough to get to the test event, so they worked out citizenship for Kylie and her AOGC teammate Alaina Kwan in the lead-up to worlds in 2015. Because neither Kylie nor Alaina ever had FIG licenses through the U.S., the FIG didn’t have to process a change-of-nation request for them, so even they didn’t get involved with this — it was all the Belarusian federation.
This wasn’t the first time athletes not from a specific country ended up representing an adopted country at the Games and it won’t be the last. I just read a book about a man who competed luge for the Philippines in 1988, because the Philippines wanted more winter Olympians and this guy ended up being the sole member of their federation in Calgary, so it was a big win for them. This is nothing new, and aside from Kylie, there were several other country hoppers in 2016 both in gymnastics and in a variety of other sports. Usually athletes who compete for an adopted country have some connection to that country, like a parent being born there or having lived there as a child, so their citizenship is legit…but with Kylie and Alaina, the reason people were so mad was because they essentially bought their way onto the worlds team.
The Belarusian federation won big because not only did they get an individual to the Olympics, they didn’t have to pay a dime — part of the deal was that Kylie’s dad would pay her way. The rule right now is that an athlete must be a citizen of a country to get an FIG license through them, and if a country really wants a representative at the Games, they’ll go through hoops to make sure citizenship happens for an athlete, even if they’ve never stepped foot in that country before. The IOC could step in and enforce some sort of requirement that says athletes need more than just a bought-and-paid-for citizenship and have to prove residency for at least a year or something, and many countries actually do have rules that require athletes to be citizens for an extended period of time before they can represent them in international competition. But because there are so many athletes born in certain countries who go on to live and train elsewhere because they have better facilities than in their home countries, it would make things super complicated for athletes who are legitimately citizens without being residents. I’m sure there’s a way to enforce it, but nothing has happened so far in the decades it’s been going on, so I doubt it’s a priority.
Has anyone been able to beat Nastia Liukin’s 16.9 on uneven bars at the 2008 Olympic Games?
Both Nastia and He Kexin had higher scores, with Nastia getting a 17.1 at one point and Kexin getting a 17.3. After 2008, the code of points changed, taking the number of skills that count in a bars routine from ten in 2008 to eight ever since, bringing bars scores down by as much as a point in most cases, and then last year the code changed yet again by getting rid of the D dismount requirement. Bars scores on average today are about 1.5 points lower than they were when Nastia was competing, so no one will ever be able to beat Nastia’s Olympic record or Kexin’s competitive record, unless the code changes again and allows for higher scoring. I think gymnasts like Beth Tweddle, Aliya Mustafina, and maybe a few others in the 2012 and 2016 quads probably could’ve broken the record if the code allowed for it, though.
Why do you think the Russians have a tendency to ‘give up’ after a mistake, especially with a wobble on beam? So many skills look like they could’ve been saved had they tried a bit harder. Do you think it’s a conscious thing, nerves, or because they don’t ‘train to compete’?
I think it has a lot to do with not ‘training to compete’ because when you do podium training and training in the gym in a way where you pretend you’re competing, you’re training how to fight after mistakes. When a gymnast who trains like it’s a competition has big wobbles all over the place in the gym, she will fight to keep those skills on the beam, and so when she gets to the competition and wobbles, she’ll instinctively know what to do to correct herself. But a gymnast who doesn’t train to compete will wobble and hop off the beam in training, and so when she wobbles in competition, she might try to fight, but instinctively she’ll be far more likely to just hop off because that’s how she trains wobbles in the gym.
I don’t think it’s a Russian thing necessarily, as there have been a few U.S. gymnasts in recent years who didn’t fight super hard and there have been some great Russian fighters…but I don’t think it’s so much about ‘giving up’ as it is simply being in a sticky situation at a nerve-wracking time and not knowing how to deal with it. I’ve always been taught to over-prepare for everything so that every situation I face, I’ll know how to solve it without even thinking. I used this method mostly for tests in school, and it’s literally the backbone philosophy for NASA spacewalking missions. Training for every possible outcome is proven to work, so it’s always surprising when athletes don’t train the exact way they’d compete, especially when they get to podium training. That’s where the U.S. differs from everyone else — they’re so efficient and just go through like it’s competition day, whereas other countries are spending the few minutes of podium time on each event like, working various skills and doing other clean-up things that they should be saving for the training gyms.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins
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