It’s time for the 243rd 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.
Patreon here! I was disappointed that the Japanese women didn’t factor more into the team medals at worlds. I know it’s early, but do you think they have a shot in 2019? Do they have any new seniors to be excited about?
Thank you for your support! They were looking great to potentially challenge for a medal this year, and with a fully healthy team, I think with the way Russia and China looked, they would have been right up there with Canada and France, both of whom came within about a point from bronze.
However, Japan ended up having to deal with the fallout surrounding Sae Miyakawa and her abusive coach, with Sae opting to skip worlds this year meaning they lost potentially huge vault and floor scores, and then one of their top all-arounders, Aiko Sugihara, began suffering from back pain while in Doha, causing her to withdraw from the competition. Because they didn’t bring an alternate with them, they had only four gymnasts for qualifications, and then because Nagi Kajita wasn’t a top three gymnast on any event, they only had THREE gymnasts instead of five for the team final, all doing all four events, which is SUPER hard for any team, let alone an up-and-coming program with the pressure of trying to medal.
It was a bummer of a situation, and I think a team with Sae, Aiko, Mai Murakami, Asuka Teramoto, and Hitomi Hatakeda absolutely would have been in the medal picture this year so it’s even more unfortunate that these issues came up. The fact that they still came within two points of the bronze with just three gymnasts is NUTS, though, and shows the potential for just how strong this program is right now. I hope next year or in 2020 they’ll be able to show up fully healthy (and bring a freaking alternate).
As for new seniors, there’s no one right now who is turning senior this year that I think will be at the same level as the current seniors, though there are some with decent potential. Ayumi Niiyama has a solid DTY and a lot of talent for beam and floor…and she’s actually been fairly consistent as a junior. Urara Ashikawa is a decent all-arounder but not super consistent, and I’d say the same about Haruka Ikeda and Chiharu Yamada. In 2004, their big hope joining the senior ranks is Chiaki Hatakeda, who is fantastic on floor and also performs well on beam, so I hope she continues growing and improving over the next year because she’s someone who could truly add to their depth going forward.
What do people mean when they say there are a lot of “Carol Scores” in NCAA gymnastics? Who is Carol?
While watching Oklahoma at Florida last January, I noticed there was one judge who kept giving ridiculous scores to Florida on floor, but for the better-quality routines from Oklahoma, she completely low-balled them in comparison. The other judge gave Maggie Nichols a 10, but Carol didn’t, and then Carol was at least 0.05 higher than the first judge on every single Florida routine on floor, including giving one gymnast a 9.95 while it had several noticeable errors and the other judge gave her a 9.85.
The Gators ended up getting exactly the score they needed to beat Oklahoma, even though Oklahoma was the CLEAR stronger team that night. I fully blamed Carol, and began screaming about her on Twitter for HOURS, 90% just to have fun but about 10% legitimately out of rage, mostly because Carol is such a fun name to scream (my favorite show is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia so I scream her name like Charlie in the mailroom) and there are roughly one million gifs related to people named Carol, all of which involve screaming.
From then on, every routine that was overscored at every meet around the country regardless of the actual Carol’s presence was blamed on poor Carol. Now there’s basically this mythical Carol figure that exists out there in the universe (mostly my head)…she’s a midwestern mom with a Kate Gosselin haircut who has a Coach purse and writes Facebook statuses about it being “wine o’clock.” She’s always a lil bit tipsy when she shows up to meets, and she judges with her heart, not her head.
We are all Carol.
Who would one contact to figure out information about qualifying to upcoming competitions, parent options for being a chaperone or more involved guardian in the elite process, and so on? Tom Forster? The USOC? In this obliterated state of USAG, who provides info to already qualified elites?
There are several people who work in managing the women’s program aside from Tom…Annie Heffernon manages the J.O. program but has been stepping in to handle things for the elite program as well ever since Rhonda Faehn was let go, and Kim Riley, Amy White, and Krissy Klein would also be options for parents of elites (or gymnasts in the elite qualification stage) to get in touch with.
Were there any guys who competed at YOGs this year that you would consider strong contenders for making it to Tokyo based on the current programs of the countries they represented?
It’s hard to say right now because none of them are at a difficulty level that matches the current seniors. MAG is so weird in that way because juniors turn senior at 18 (or right around there) but for the major programs especially, they’re usually not up to par with the seniors for a few more years at least, which is why I barely get excited about junior men until they’re several years into their senior careers.
Takero Kitazono was fantastic in Buenos Aires, for example, but he’d need major upgrades to get close to even B-team status given where the current Japanese seniors are, and same goes with guys like Sergei Naidin of Russia, Yin Dehang of China, Brandon Briones of the United States, Adam Tobin of Great Britain, Diogo Soares of Brazil…I don’t see any of the guys who represented top international programs at YOGs making it to Tokyo without major upgrades, but 2024 is definitely more realistic for all of them.
There are a few guys who aren’t from top programs that I think could begin standing out at a younger age, though. My favorite is probably Krisztian Balazs of Hungary, who easily could’ve been an option for the senior team at worlds this year if age-eligible. He’s fantastic, but the issue is that Hungary won’t be likely to send a full MAG team to Tokyo, so he’d have to qualify as an individual which will be much harder for him since there are a couple of other Hungarian seniors who are stronger all-arounders/event specialists. I also think Lay Giannini of Italy and Felix Dolci of Canada could be good options for their senior teams in the coming years, but again, with neither likely to send a full team to Tokyo, they’ll likely have to wait for their Olympic shots as well.
You never know, though. Based on how he looked in 2014, I didn’t think Nikita Nagornyy would make the Russian team in 2016, but he added major difficulty on every single event and ended up looking fantastic. Vladyslav Hryko also stepped it up in those two years and ended up being a major help for Ukraine. While the majority of the MAG competitors at 2014 YOGs weren’t quite ready for 2016, now four years later in their early 20s, many of them are frontrunners on their teams and were at worlds this year, so while there may be a couple of guys from YOGs this summer who end up sneaking onto teams in Tokyo, expect the majority of them to start being more productive as seniors by about 2022.
I know for NCAA redshirting you have to compete for less than 30% of the season before your injury, but what would happen if you competed at the first meet, didn’t compete for a few weeks, and then came back in week five and got injured and ended your season?
As long as it’s the regular season it doesn’t matter if the 30% of the meets you compete are back-to-back or scattered. A gymnast could technically compete week one, week five, and week ten, and if that’s 30% of a ten-meet regular season, she’d be eligible to redshirt.
Is Bailie Key going to medically retire? And what’s going on with Bama in general?
I think there’s a strong chance that she may medically retire but we’ll see how her most recent surgery went. It could be that she’s just totally physically done, as she hasn’t looked physically capable of doing gymnastics since about 2015, so now that we’ve gone almost four years without her doing much of anything, we could be at a point where it’ll be almost impossible to see her return at a high level. But maybe this surgery will be exactly what she needs to get past the injuries holding her back? If she still has the motivation to return to the sport, which I think she does, there’s a pretty good chance that despite everything that has been going on physically, we can still see her at least try to return…but based on her history over the past few years, there’s also a good chance that we could see her retire, sadly.
In general, Bama just looks a little rough around the edges. They lost Mack Brannan, Peyton Ernst, Nickie Guerrero, and Kiana Winston last season, all of whom were key in various lineups, and it seems they’re still trying to figure out how to shift things around this year. They have a lot of really capable underclassmen, but it can sometimes take a little time to get them used to NCAA competition, which is probably why Shallon Olsen is only vaulting at the moment.
Bama has a lot of solid upperclassmen, but no one who is really *money* at the moment in the way last year’s seniors were, though several have the potential to get stronger as the season goes on to get those consistent 9.9s. I think girls like Ari Guerra, Maddie Desch, Wynter Childers, and Shea Mahoney will be huge for the team this year, but just need time to grow into the season…not every team can come out like Oklahoma and look NCAA-ready from day one, but Bama definitely has the potential to work their way into better shape from week to week. They’ll be okay with time. I don’t think there’s any real reason to legitimately worry about them yet.
Is there a penalty for gymnasts who sign an NLI but go pro? What if Madison Kocian had decided to go pro after the Olympics?
Nope, no penalty. Using a legit example rather than a hypothetical, Simone Biles signed her NLI to attend UCLA following the 2016 Olympic Games, but then after winning her third straight world all-around title in 2015, she made the decision to go pro and no longer do NCAA, and there were no penalties. An NLI isn’t a legal contract in that it binds you to a school and gives you consequences if you decide not to attend college…it’s basically just a document that indicates a mutual commitment between the program and the athlete.
However, once you sign, you can’t later commit to a different program because you’re only eligible to receive your scholarship at the school you signed with. Now to use a hypothetical, had someone like Madison Kocian signed her NLI for UCLA and then decided she wanted to go to Oklahoma after signing, she wouldn’t be able to, and her best bet would be to go through the transfer process after completing a season at UCLA.
With Dan Kendig’s sudden retirement and Heather Brink taking over as the sole head coach, what do you see as the future of Nebraska gymnastics? Who could you potentially see filling his role as their primary bars coach?
I hope Heather has a killer season and ends up getting the head coaching job permanently rather than just in the interim. She’s a great coach and I hope she ends up being Nebraska’s future. I’m not sure who I could see filling the bars coaching role…there are a million people I can always think of for jobs like this but then someone totally random I didn’t expect ends up coming in. Like with Cal’s assistant coaching job opening up, I had about 20 coaches in mind who could be great options, and then it ended up being Janelle McDonald, who wasn’t even on my radar because she was coaching elites and J.O. kids at WOGA at the time she was hired (she is awesome, by the way, and I’m so excited for her new gig). I’m sure for the time being, Heather is fine at coaching bars even if it’s not her specialty, and I don’t think a lack of a specific bars coach will really hurt them at the moment especially considering they looked fantastic on the event in their debut this season, but we’ll see what they decide for the future! I believe they have the room to bring on another coach if necessary.
Realistically, is the problem of inconsistent judging in NCAA something that can ever be fixed or is it just something we’ll have to deal with? Do you have any ideas on how to make it more fair?
I mean, I’ve been complaining about NCAA judging since I started watching NCAA in about 2008, so…no, I don’t think it’ll ever change. I hate it so much, it irrationally makes me mad about the whole sport, and no matter what I try to tell myself about just enjoying routines without watching scores, I still see a score come up that is COMPLETELY INSANE and want to burn everything to the ground. It really bothers me the most when a vault (or whatever routine) gets a 9.85 at a smaller program when it looks overall perfect but has a few tiny, minor form things that rightfully get those 0.15 in deductions, but should in the grand scheme of things be a 10…and then someone from a top program with a similar “overall amazing, despite minor form things” DOES get a 10. It’s just so frustrating that these teams are on completely different playing fields despite doing the same damn thing.
Clearly, the Carols of the top program world aren’t going to stop living their lives, so I think at this point it’s up to lower program judges who need to be like “SCREW IT” and ignore the minor form things they’d usually take off. Like, judges at UCLA or Florida or Oklahoma meets don’t take off for slightly soft knees in the air if the vault is stuck, so why should Central Michigan’s or Iowa’s or Washington’s? If they’re not going to penalize the Carols for giving 10s to top program routines that should be 9.85s at best, then the judges who are regularly at smaller programs need to also ignore form issues and start overscoring the athletes they judge. It’s the only way to even things out.
How is Maggie Nichols so insanely good in NCAA? Could we have seen this coming? What are the qualities that make her successful in college? Are they things she’s changed since elite?
It’s really at the core just about how clean and technically perfect she is at everything she does, but it also has a lot to do with her confidence, which is outstanding. Based on how she looked in elite, it was clear she was going to be strong in college, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted that she’d be at a hundred percent week in and week out. There are plenty of former elites in NCAA who have really perfected their skills and routines, but they’ll still have a bobble here or show some nerves there, which keep them from being as dominant as Maggie has been. She just does not make mistakes. Like, every gymnast knows how to stick a landing, but actually doing all of those things to make it happen doesn’t always work out at every meet and no one expects it to…but for Maggie, it does, and that’s a combination of her technical proficiency as well as having the confidence to make sure it happens almost every single time. Sure, she’s had an ‘off’ routine or skill here and there, but for the most part she is just so excellent and never second-guesses anything she does. It’s phenomenal and rare in a sport where the tiniest mental mistakes can lead to dozens of deductions.
I noticed that Victoria Nguyen is no longer training at Chow’s. Where is she training now?
Victoria is now at Everest! I really hope we’ll see her back in elite this year. She looks great in her training videos!
I’m excited to watch UCLA again this year with their super impressive (and huge) roster. How can you tell who is a walk-on and who is on scholarship? Also, former Dynamo gymnast Grace Maxwell lists UCLA Gymnastics on her social media but I don’t see her on the website. Do you know what she’s doing?
They don’t generally list scholarship vs walk-on athletes, but teams are allotted 12 scholarships per year, so going through it’s usually pretty easy to pick out scholarship vs walk-on. For UCLA, I believe the scholarship gymnasts are Nia Dennis, Norah Flatley, Margzetta Frazier, Anna Glenn, Grace Glenn, Felicia Hano, Madison Kocian, Katelyn Ohashi, Kyla Ross, Macy Toronjo, Pauline Tratz, and Sekai Wright, and the walk-ons are Savannah Kooyman, Gracie Kramer, Giulianna Pino, Kendal Poston, Mercedez Sanchez, Stella Savvidou, and Sara Taubman.
Brielle Nguyen is the only one I’m not sure of…I believe when she transferred, it was as a walk-on, or at least that’s what I heard at the time? And since there are 12 athletes on that list who ARE on scholarship, it would make sense if Brielle isn’t…unless Pauline has some sort of international grant or something which would allow them to have Brielle as one of the 12 and then Pauline as a walk-on funded by an international kind of scholarship (but I’m like 99% sure Pauline is on a regular NCAA scholarship).
Gracey Maxwell is a freshman at UCLA and serves as a team manager for the women’s gymnastics program alongside another new freshman team manager and former J.O. gymnast Sophia Lahmidi as well as former walk-ons Matteah Brow, Maria Caire, Rebecca Karlous, and Lilia Waller, all of whom are still students at UCLA but no longer competing.
Will you be in Naples for Universiade?
No, unfortunately I won’t! So far this year I have plans to be at Euros and worlds, and I’d also love to go to the Pan Am Games and the European Youth Olympic Festival but we’ll see what my timing and budget look like! In a perfect world I’d go to every major international meet so I’d of course love to be at Universiade but hopefully they have some great online streaming coverage of the event so I can report well from home.
When NCAA gymnasts return home for the holidays or the summer are they responsible for their training costs or would their scholarships cover it? Would their home gyms let them train for free?
It depends on the gym…I think since they’re basically just there for maintenance over the holidays and aren’t being legitimately coached for the most part, they can probably just go for a kind of “open gym” workout and I’d think many club coaches would be open to them coming back and doing it for free. If a club does require them to pay a fee, even for open gym, I’m not sure if their college program would pick up the tab, though? Maybe for some schools if they requested it or faced a financial hardship and needed assistance, but I know it’s not in the budget for many of the smaller programs.
Where did Becky Downie get deducted during worlds qualifications? Do you think she could get an Olympic medal if she constructed a less difficult routine and improved her execution?
I think her biggest deductions come from being a bit rushed and not being able to focus on each skill individually which keeps her unable to give each skill the attention to detail it needs to get minimal deductions. Things like handstands get neglected, as do general shapes/body positions in skills. I don’t think she’s a messy bar worker at ALL, and in fact she’s technically quite great, but it’s that rushed quality that doesn’t allow her the time to focus on every detail that gets her a bit more slammed than she’d like to be in terms of her E scores. I think simplifying her routine a little would enable her to calm down and focus a bit more, but so would continuing to perfect the routine she has. I know she’s always working on upgrading and trying to add in new skills and combos, whereas the most successful bars gymnasts over the past few years have upgraded occasionally but generally stick to skills and combos they know work for them. She could definitely get her current routine to a really solid place and be a medal contender with it, but I think she’d have to get the routine set and not make changes in order to focus on perfecting it.
Are gymnasts who go the NCAA route restricted in what subjects they can study at college?
It depends on the university. I know of some programs that require gymnasts to take all of the same classes as one another so they can be on the same schedule, which means they usually end up being in the same major, and some programs require the gymnasts to have a major in a specific department (usually “sports science” or something) because the coaches know the departments will be more lenient with training/competition schedules. But I think a majority of schools let the gymnasts choose what they want to pursue, and I don’t think they could restrict someone from studying what they want.
Could Simone Biles ever connect her piked Jaeger out of her Weiler full?
She doesn’t do a Weiler full, just sometimes by mistake, and she doesn’t do a piked Jaeger either. Also, she does her Weiler half on the low bar, so she wouldn’t be able to connect a release out of it, but if she did a Weiler full on the high bar and decided to add a piked Jaeger into her repertoire, she could technically perform a piked Jaeger out of it.
Have you heard any updates about Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo’s health or training?
Nothing since I last updated, which was just that both are eager to come back and are healthier now than they were during nationals/world selection in 2018, so hopefully they’ll be back and ready to challenge this year.
Can you please provide an update on Bailie Key? Will we see her compete for Alabama this season?
Unfortunately due to a surgery, Bailie will miss the 2019 season for Alabama.
Do you know why Nicole Webb was removed from Florida’s roster?
I’m not sure why she left the Gators, but she transferred to NC State. Could be any number of reasons, but she’s originally from Raleigh so it’s possible she just wanted to be closer to home (plus I believe she’ll have more competitive opportunities at NCSU than she would have at Florida, so that could be another reason).
I saw you were credentialed for Tokyo 2020. Congrats! What comes along with being awarded a credential, and what special access/privileges do you get?
Thank you! I get to be there in the arena to watch the Olympic Games from the media tribunal, and I’ll have access to the mixed zone and all press conferences, which will allow me to interview the athletes after the competitions.
The Ropes & Gray report is pretty comprehensive, but I noticed they left out Aly Raisman’s charge that the person who was designated an athlete advocate was in the room for the selection process, making it hard for gymnasts to be open with her. Did anything else catch your eye, either new info or omissions? Was it hard enough on the USOC, which commissioned the report?
There was nothing I saw like that which was like, new information or anything that was blatantly left out…or nothing that jumped out at me and surprised me or whatever. That’s an important one, though, and it’s an issue that many people brought up not only in the post-Nassar investigations but DURING these various Olympic selection procedures because it seemed like the biggest conflict of interest ever. It’s absolutely relevant to the Ropes & Gray report, so I’m not sure why it was left out unless they were making the focus on things that were directly related to Nassar. This is kind of directly related, but could be considered secondarily related as it’s a problem beyond the Nassar investigation. It’s still concerning, though, and I believe it has been addressed going forward for future generations so that’s at least good.
As for the USOC, I think it picked apart what was wrong with the USOC without being harsh…it pointed to some clear issues with policy and action that enabled Nassar, such as having a marketing relationship with the Karolyi Ranch without actually enforcing any governance of the ranch, but I think these kind of policy issues are the biggest issues related to Nassar, because no one from the USOC had any sort of day-to-day dealings with the athletes, coaches, or USAG staff so it’s harder to come after specific things they did wrong when they weren’t there. But I think what they did address in terms of policy made sense, especially in terms of calling out the fact that the USOC took no responsibility for what happened to children in the care of NGBs like USAG or USA Swimming, claiming their focus was on elite athletes, not developmental athletes or youths, which came under the umbrella of the NGBs. That enabled them to say “sexual abuse of children isn’t our problem” in many instances, so calling this out is very important and hopefully will affect policy change going forward, forcing them to care about ALL athletes under the umbrella of any NGB, and not just the elites.
Is it likely that Nina Derwael would upgrade her vault/floor by Tokyo? It’s crazy she was so close to the all-around podium at worlds.
At worlds, she had a foot injury, so she actually downgraded her floor, which is why she only did two passes. She has plans for upgrades on both, and I believe has been working on a Yurchenko 1½ in addition to getting back to a higher level on floor, but her safety is her priority and she doesn’t want to risk bigger skills when it could take her out of competition entirely. She was more than satisfied with her fourth-place all-around ranking at worlds, mostly because it was so unexpected in general let alone given that she had to downgrade. She gave the two best all-around performances of her career in Doha and made history for her country over and over again. It’s incredible, and she’s extremely proud of her results.
Do individuals at the Olympic Games get to count event scores to the team scores? If Fan Yilin goes as an individual for China, will her bars score count for the team? If not, wouldn’t it be better for some borderline team medalist to go as the event specialist?
No they don’t. The gymnasts going as individuals do not compete in the team competition, only in individual qualifications (and finals if they advance to any finals). Only gymnasts named as one of the four athletes on the team are eligible to contribute scores to the team score in qualifications and the team final.
Are the Olympic qualification rules the same for MAG and WAG? Do MAG get an extra four gymnasts to the Olympics because we have six apparatuses to qualify while women have four?
The number of total gymnasts is the same for both MAG and WAG (98 each) but MAG qualifies an additional two nominative spots from the apparatus world cups because there are an additional two events. It just takes away from the total number of allotted all-around spots that will be awarded at 2019 worlds.
Is there a restriction on who the country is allowed to give the all-around world cup spot to? If someone participated at worlds and helped the team qualify but doesn’t make the team of four, can she get that spot?
Anyone can compete at the all-around world cups to help their country qualify a non-nominative spot, including gymnasts who were part of the team that qualified to the Olympic Games. If the United States earns a non-nominative spot through the all-around world cups, when it comes time to award that spot to someone at U.S. trials, the spot can go to literally anyone the country decides is best for it, whether it’s an all-arounder or a specialist.
The only restriction that comes from being on the team that qualified the full team to the Games (for the U.S., this includes Simone Biles, Morgan Hurd, Grace McCallum, Riley McCusker, and Kara Eaker) is that gymnasts on this team can’t contend for the continental all-around spots nor can they contend for nominative apparatus world cup spots.
Didn’t UCLA raise $150,000 a few years ago to renovate their gym onto a podium? Is it renovated yet?
I’m not sure…I know they wanted to put all of their training equipment on a podium, and they had a crowdfunding campaign, but I haven’t seen in any training videos that suggests their gym has a podium. From the looks of it, definitely not, so I’m not sure if they ended up raising the money or just decided not to go through with it. I know that decision got a lot of backlash because only nationals are on a podium (and a few other meets throughout the season) so it’s like, why would you train on a podium all the time when 95% of the meets aren’t on podium? I remember thinking it was a weird way to renovate a gym.
Shang Chunsong always had bent arms during her Pak on bars. Was that a deduction?
Yes, bent arms on a Pak and on catching any release are a deduction.
Is Irina Alexeeva fluent in both English and Russian? How do you think she’ll fit in culturally with the Russian team?
Yes she is! At the press conference following the team competition at worlds, they would have someone translate the press questions from English to Russian, the athletes/coaches would answer in Russian, and their answers would get translated back to English, so when she was asked a question she started responding in Russian but one of the coaches was like “you can speak English!” so she responded in English instead. She told me that she fits in amazingly well with the team and that they couldn’t have been more welcoming to her. She said there were a few things to get used to in terms of being at Round Lake, since the experience of being in a centralized program and basically living at the gym is super different from being at a club in the U.S., but she adjusted pretty quickly and has really enjoyed herself so far.
Do you think Jana Bieger regrets not reaching out to Germany to compete for them?
I can’t say for her whether she regrets it or not. I think she enjoyed her experiences being on the U.S. team and even though she probably would’ve had a better shot at making Germany’s Olympic team than she did at making the U.S. team, I’m sure she had plenty of opportunities prior to 2008 to decide what she wanted to do. They knew trying to compete in Germany was an option, but with her mom coaching in the U.S., and with her coming up through the U.S. system, there’s probably a reason she wanted to stick with the U.S.
Do you think Alice Kinsella, Georgia-Mae Fenton, and Lucy Stanhope could become good GB competitors in the future?
I think they’re good GB competitors now, though I do think they have potential to do more, and to get more consistent. I think Alice and Georgia especially have proven themselves several times on the international scene, and even if they haven’t had the rock star rise that some of the new seniors like Ellie Downie and Amy Tinkler did last quad, they’ve still stepped up to the plate several times. I’d love to see Alice get a bit more consistent on beam and add to her floor, and Georgia showed a few times this year that she’s more than *just* a bars specialist so I hope she can get her beam and floor more consistent as well. As for Lucy, I think she needs a second vault to be a bit more relevant to teams in the future, so I hope that becomes more of a priority for her. Her other events need a bit more work so she’d essentially have to be a vault specialist…but if she could also step it up on floor to be a backup there, that could be great as well.
What has Erika Briscoe been up to? Is she competing in college now? Do you think she’ll try to return to elite?
Erika is a senior at Whitewater, a D3 program in Wisconsin, one of the top D3 teams in the country where she competed regularly on vault, beam, and floor last season and gets generally strong scores. It would be awesome to see her come back to elite! I don’t know if it’s in her plans, or what her post-college plans are, but I always love seeing college athletes return to the elite side of the sport (or in some cases, try it out for the first time).
With the three root skill maximum, could a gymnast do three backward skills of the same root and one forward skill? Is the cap collective over both traveling directions?
Yes, a gymnast can do three forward and three back, so for example, so a routine could have a Ricna, a stalder full, and a Chow as well as an Endo, Endo half, and Endo full. Giada Grisetti’s bars set has a lot of stalder variations both forward and backward, which is good example of how to kind of “cheat” that root skill rule.
How can someone become a judge at the J.O., NCAA, elite, and FIG levels? Are judges paid much?
Every state in the U.S. has what is essentially its own NGB for the sport (but just at the state level so like, a state governing body instead) and you can contact your state’s judging board for information on how to become a judge in your area. You generally start out learning the compulsory levels and being tested on them to get your rating (tests are held regularly throughout the year). Over the years you can keep testing and move up the levels to become an optional J.O. judge and then once you’ve gotten your level 10 rating, you can begin judging NCAA.
As for the FIG levels, you’d have to be selected by USA Gymnastics to go to FIG judging courses, and they typically only select people they know well, like former elite gymnasts who have expressed interest as well as judges who have held high national J.O. ratings in the U.S. for years. I know of some brilliant national/brevet judges who have been judging since the 80s who keep asking USAG to go to FIG courses but they’re turned down, so I think their criteria is more about who you know rather than what you know.
In the U.S., judges get paid hourly depending on their rating. I believe it increases a bit from year to year, but right now lower optional judges (levels 5/6) get about $15 or so an hour while level 10 is closer to $30 an hour, and national and brevet judges get a little bit more. You also get a per diem and mileage reimbursement. Basically, if you spend two full weekend days judging, you can walk away with a few hundred dollars even at the lower optional levels.
Why doesn’t the U.S. send a team to the University Games?
It’s mostly a logistics thing, because the majority of the gymnasts who compete at the university level in the United States aren’t on the U.S. national team at the same time. Of course there are a ton of former national team members in college, but since the NGB has to send a team for Universiade, gymnasts have to be added to the national team, which comes with a lot of administrative nonsense and expenses that they probably don’t want to deal with for just one meet.
It’s too bad the NCAA can’t send athletes as like, the university sports governing body, but for gymnastics that would still be hard because how would they determine who to send? Top five all-arounders from NCAA Championships or regular season rankings? It’s not like they have a centralized NCAA gymnastics location for international team selection, or a head coach for all of them, and so on. Again, logistics nightmare.
Pretty much any other country sending gymnasts to Universiade is sending athletes that are currently on national teams, so they don’t have these issues, and I believe two years ago, Canada held a trial for current and former national-level gymnasts who were university aged which is why their team had two current national team members, one Canadian university student, and two current NCAA gymnasts, which was awesome to see. Gymnastics Canada must work differently than USAG in terms of who it allows to be sent out on international assignments, which is why they didn’t have to add Denelle Pedrick, Briannah Tsang, and Jessica Dowling to the national team just for that one meet.
I feel like on top of all of this, it really just isn’t a priority for the U.S. to spend thousands of dollars of the women’s program competition budget for one meet attended by gymnasts who won’t be productive as elite team members in the future. It’s one thing to send gymnasts to a bunch of international meets that serve as team prep for worlds and the Olympics, which is why they prioritize budget for meets like Pac Rims and Jesolo, but with a limited budget, Universiade just doesn’t make sense for them and would always be at the bottom of a priority list. Other countries that can send current elites who are continuing to be productive at the international elite level, however, get a lot out of going to Universiade, and so it makes sense for them to keep sending teams and individuals.
Would a C + F mixed connection (like a switch leap to back tuck full) be 0.1 or 0.2 in CV?
A C+F mixed connection would be worth 0.1 and falls under the “C+C or more” CV. However, since there is a D+D CV that’s worth 0.2, I think a coach could argue for a special case and submit a connection like this to the technical committee for evaluation to see if they could get 0.2 instead. I think someone who goes at least two element values beyond the stated CV rule should at LEAST get the consideration of having the combo evaluated, and since an F is three skill values beyond a C, they’d probably see this as being worthy of more than just the 0.1.
With Frida Esparza, Alexa Moreno, Nicolle Castro, Jimena Moreno, Paulina Campos, and some great junior talent, do you think Mexico has a shot at getting to Tokyo as a team?
It’s going be tight but I think with the Gutierrez sisters coming up in the ranks this year to potentially fill some holes that were left open in 2018, if they hit at worlds they could get pretty close, especially if other teams struggle. I definitely see them capable of the top 16 for sure, and could also see them surpassing teams like Australia and South Korea to get close to 15th place…but I think it’d be hard for them to beat any teams currently in the top 12 as well as teams like Romania and North Korea, neither of which was at full strength in 2018 but have the potential to do better this year. Hopefully their strong current talents stick around next quad and continue building on their already amazing foundations. It’s such a young team and if they keep pushing, I could definitely see them fighting for a team spot in 2024.
Will the U.S. start sending individuals to apparatus cups in the future to qualify their two individual spots?
Well, we saw them start with Jade Carey last year! I think she’ll be it for the time being, unless someone else meets their standards and requirements for attending. I believe Laurie Hernandez also fits the criteria as someone who medaled on an event in 2016, so if she ends up getting to a good place in her comeback, they could send her for beam but that’s obviously a big “if” right now since she hasn’t competed yet and we don’t know how she’ll look.
Do you know if there is any prize money awarded at the challenge cups?
Yes, challenge cups offer prize money just like the world cups do. The gold medalists receive CHF 800, silver medalists get CHF 600, bronze medalists get CHF 400, fourth place gets CHF 300, and then from there down to eighth place it goes down by CHF 50 from spot to spot, with the eighth-place gymnast receiving CHF 100. This is slightly less than what the regular apparatus cups hand out as prizes, where the gold medalists get CHF 1000, silver get CHF 750, and bronze get CHF 500, but the rest of those ranked fourth through eighth get the same as what they’d get at a challenge cup.
What are the differences between a world cup and a challenge cup?
There really isn’t that much of a difference aside from the world cups currently acting as qualifiers to the 2020 Olympic Games whereas challenge cups do not. The world cups in the past have technically been “more prestigious” because the FIG considers them “best events” where they rate the challenge cups slightly lower as “major events,” and so the world cups have a little bit more to offer in prize money, but because of the locations and timing of some of these events, some challenge cups have been far more popular than the world cups…in 2018, for example, only a handful of athletes showed up for the Melbourne World Cup, which is hard to get to for Europeans (who tend to dominate the world cups) and it was held at a point in the season where most aren’t ready to start competing, but the Paris Challenge Cup, held a month before worlds in a city that draws so many of the sport’s top athletes, was stacked. Now that the world cups are Olympic qualifiers, we’ll definitely see a greater number of gymnasts traveling to Melbourne this year!
Why are people criticizing the athlete rep being a member of the selection committee at USAG? I thought Terin Humphrey was on the committee and Alicia Sacramone didn’t have anything to do with it.
Terin Humphrey was both the athlete rep and on the selection committee at one point. As far as I know, Alicia was never on the selection committee, but Terin definitely served in both roles simultaneously which is a major conflict of interest.
What happened to Macey Roberts of Utah?
She’s a senior there currently and is still competing, including on vault and floor in the team’s debut meet this past weekend. Last year, she competed floor for only about half of the season because she had several surgeries but it wasn’t anything serious, and she’s expected to be in the vault and floor lineups all year this season.
Did Laurie Hernandez change gyms?
Yes, Laurie left MG Elite after the 2016 Olympic Games and when she decided to begin training again for Tokyo, she looked at a couple of gyms before ending up at Gym-Max. I think it makes sense for her to stay in Southern California to train, since she’ll be able to take advantage of a number of opportunities available to her outside of gymnastics while also focusing on being in the gym, and I love that she’s now with Jenny Zhang and can’t wait to see how it works out for her!
Does Ashton Locklear have any real shot at Tokyo at this point between her knee, back, and shoulder injuries in addition to competing only two apparatuses?
Honestly, I don’t think so, unless she comes back as a legit bars queen. She isn’t eligible to compete for an apparatus world cup spot based on the current rules put into place this year, so she’d need them to make an exception for her by proving she could win the overall bars title, or she’d need to prove herself worthy of a non-nominative spot once it comes time to select the team and non-nominative individual gymnast (or gymnasts, if Jade Carey doesn’t qualify a nominative spot and the U.S. instead gets a second non-nominative spot at the continental meet) at U.S. trials. It’s going to be hard for her since the one event she really excels on is bars, and given the current level of international talent, she’s nowhere near a lock for a medal (and hasn’t won a medal either time she’s made a world bars final), so I don’t think she’d be a top priority for a non-nominative spot…but it’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out, the level she’s able to reach on the event, and whether Tom Forster will seriously consider her.
What vaults are we waiting for in WAG? Simone Biles is working on the TTY and I think Giulia Steingruber and Oksana Chusovitina are working on the handspring double full. What about tsuk and Yurchenko half-on vaults? Can we expect these to be upgraded?
Well, we got an attempt at the handspring double full from Yeo Seo-jeong at a world cup in 2018, and she said she hopes to keep working on that but doesn’t want to do it at big meets like worlds where there’s a potential medal on the line because it’s not consistent enough yet. I know Oksana has said in the past that she wants to do the tsuk 2½ and hope that could be possible someday! And we got the next step up in the Yurchenko half-on family with Simone’s Biles (aka the half-on double full) so now we’ll have to wait for a 2½ there as well! There are also double salto vaults, like the tsuk double back, the handspring double front half-out, the Yurchenko double back…but I think these are all too difficult for a majority of women to seriously consider, mostly since the vault table is far lower for women than it is for men, something they’d need to make up for with a ton of power that most just don’t have. The double back salto vaults out of the tsuk and Yurchenko are also super dangerous so I don’t think we’ll see either anytime soon but I’d love to someday see a woman attempt the double front half.
What is Valeri Liukin doing now? Is he planning on focusing on WOGA or have you heard of any other roles he’d be looking into?
I think he’s really doing well in his role with the Brazilian team, which was initially contracted to end at the end of 2018 but I believe he’ll be continuing with the team at least through Tokyo. They really love him there and he’s doing great work with the girls, and even brought them up to train at WOGA for a bit which is awesome.
What is the equivalent of USAG level 10 for the women in Japan? Is it possible for a Japanese gymnast to do NCAA if they have a good TOEFL score?
Most of the gymnasts who would be considered level 10 in Japan actually just do elite…they have like 100 gymnasts at most of their domestic elite meets, and they also have a GREAT university gymnastics program for women, which also uses FIG scoring. It’s more like how level 10, elite, and NCAA work for MAG in the U.S. where all of the programs work together to create a deeper talent pool, whereas for WAG in the U.S. you are on one path or another between level 10 and elite.
Japan has a ton of college-aged gymnasts competing, and though they’re not at the national team level, they’re not far off, and many would probably be considered at the same level as most level 10s in the U.S., so I’d say if they could get a good TOEFL score and get into a U.S. college, it would absolutely be possible…but because they have their own university gymnastics program, most just likely prefer to stay at universities in Japan. In addition to being one of the top elites in the world, for example, Mai Murakami also competes for her university, Nippon Sports Science University, and Asuka Teramoto is no longer in college and is now back with a club gym, but when she was, she represented her school (Chukyo University) domestically. It would be like if Simone Biles was competing for UCLA while also competing at worlds.
Additionally, Japan also has an incredibly popular high school gymnastics program, which also uses elite scoring and feeds kids into the national program, so many of the gymnasts who are juniors or younger seniors will compete at high school events in addition to elite (when they’re in college they usually just train at their university, but when they’re younger they might represent both a club and a high school team).
I really hope Ukraine can qualify to the Olympics as a team in 2020! Do you think a team consisting of Diana Varinska, Valeriia Osipova, Angelina Radivilova, and Anastasia Bachynska would be realistic?
It would be great to see them make it! I think they can definitely challenge for the top 12 if all of these five are healthy and in top shape, adding someone like Valeriia Iarmolenko to help them qualify at 2019 worlds. They have a lot of big upgrades coming up that I hope will help them out, and I love the team a ton, so I’d love to see them do it. I think they have the best shot at a huge jump from this year to next, but consistency has been their biggest issue, so they’d have to tackle that to make it happen.
We see so many Tkachev variations, but the only example of a Jaeger done out of a root skill that I can find is Li Linjing doing an Endo directly into a Jaeger. What do you think this skill would be worth? Why don’t we see more like it?
I think it would be worth at least an E, if not an F. I’m not sure why more don’t do front skills directly into Jaegers, though…maybe because gymnasts struggle with front circle skills (like Endos, toe-ons, and Weilers) which is why we don’t see a ton of these in general, so if they can’t do them well on their own, they probably don’t want to do one as a root skill into a release. I wish we did see more front variety, though!
If Madison Kocian didn’t push to come back quickly from her surgery do you think UCLA still would have won NCAAs?
Yeah, I think so. She contributes a lot to the team but I don’t think she was the make-or-break factor of them winning the title, and believe if they had to sub other gymnasts into the roles she filled, they still likely would’ve made it happen, assuming those gymnasts hit.
Is flexed feet when doing an inbar a deduction?
Yup! Flexed feet at any point in a bars set are a deduction.
Do gymnasts on beam subconsciously match their movements to the floor music that’s playing?
Yes, all the time!! Finding a rhythm on beam is important, and while you can get into a rhythm on beam using your own mental cues and things like that, having music playing in the background almost helps even more because you can keep pace to the rhythm and even if you’re not specifically choreographed to music, you can pretty much just go to any rhythm you hear in the arena, which can be very helpful with timing.
I once saw Tan Ing Yueh on beam while a gymnast on floor performed to Ariana Grande, and Yueh looked almost fully choreographed to the point where it looked like it was HER beam music…I LOVED IT SO MUCH and have watched it four billion times. The sissone to wolf jump killed me with how perfectly timed it was but nearly ALL of her movements match the music. I highly doubt she was actively listening to the song and planning her movements to the music, but it happens all the time where you see a beam gymnast just naturally finding the rhythm to whatever music is playing in the arena and dancing along to it. I think the only time it’s problematic is if the music in the arena is super fast and the gymnast on beam ends up rushing (which is why most in college choose to have more chill music playing during their routines).
When a gymnast falls off bars, she usually takes a few seconds to rechalk or speak to her coach. On beam, they fall and immediately remount because there’s a time penalty. Why are the rules different?
Well, there is a time limit to remount on bars…they have 30 seconds to rechalk and get themselves together before having to get on again, and it’s usually because for bars, there can often be technical errors that led to their mistakes, usually related to chalk and grips, and so adjustments are necessary to continue whereas for beam, they don’t need to really adjust anything. They have a 10-second period to remount, which is usually enough to get a sense of if they’re hurt or not and then take a deep breath to refocus quickly before getting back on. They also have moments during their beam routines that are choreographed for them to take a breath and get their focus and think about their mental cues, whereas bars is nonstop from start to finish, so if you fall off of bars you kind of need that time to get your life together whereas on beam, it’s totally different with moments that exist just for you to take a breath and think about the next skill.
Do professional gymnasts in the U.S. get drug tested? Do you think lots of gymnasts in the U.S. dope and avoid getting caught?
Yes they do get tested, regularly and randomly. I know of many gymnasts who will have WADA knocking on their doors at 6 am in the middle of the off-season week after week for a random drug test. There really is no way around it, so it’s highly unlikely that they’re using banned substances because it would be far too easy to get caught with how the randomness of tests works. Just look at rhythmic gymnast Laura Zeng, who recently took a medication to deal with altitude sickness while on vacation and then got banned from the sport for six months. It’s not really worth the risk to even try doping because the likelihood of getting caught is super high.
After they are done with NCAA, do seniors get to keep their leotards?
I believe they get to keep one or two, and they usually get one framed as a gift from the program. I think it depends on the school, though. Some schools have one leo per gymnast and go years without being able to order new ones so I doubt they’re giving multiple leos away to graduating seniors.
Who is more powerful, Aly Raisman or Alicia Sacramone?
Hmmm, it’s hard to say without seeing them doing the same skills side by side. They both have a ton of power, which is obviously clear…Aly had the kind of skills that required a bit more power that Alicia did not have (like the Amanar on vault—though Alicia did have a Rudi—the Patterson on beam, and her first pass on floor), but I wouldn’t judge their power based on just skills. I think they were probably at a similar level but Aly was just a bit more ambitious with trying to use that power to her advantage?
Is a side aerial to two feet a skill or would it just be the same as a normal side aerial? Has anyone competed it?
This is considered an aerial roundoff in the code of points, as opposed to an aerial cartwheel, and I’m pretty sure it’s worth an E. I can remember a few Russians doing this skill…Ksenia Afanasyeva was one, and Alyona Zmeu also did it when she was a junior or young senior, I can’t remember…it was a while ago! I think Kim Jacob also did one when she was at Bama, and Sui Lu of China did it as well.
What kind of deductions does Giulia Steingruber get for the leg separation in her front giant?
Probably between 0.1 and 0.3 depending on the severity in that particular routine and what the judges can see from their side angle. I feel like a lot of leg separations on front giants are hard to see from the judge’s perspective (which is why there should be a front-on panel as well as a side panel) so she could get away with it completely if it’s minor enough…but some leg separations are definitely wide enough to see from side angles.
If a gymnast arches over on a handstand and falls over to the other side but doesn’t come off, does this count as a fall or is she just deducted for form and rhythm breaks?
She’s just deducted for form and rhythm breaks!
Would Mari Kosuge’s beam routine from the 1989 Chunichi Cup have all the elements required for today’s code? What would the D score be? (Loso mount + loso + loso, switch + sissone + split jump, front handspring, full turn, bhs layout, bhs + sissone, piked full-in dismount)
The CR right now include two connected dance elements (one at a 180 degree split), a minimum of one full turn, an acro series, and acro elements forward and backward. She has all of these requirements in this routine, so yes, she’d meet the requirements for a routine today, and I believe her D score would be a 5.6 (she has a lot of really high-value connections and elements, but she’d also count three C’s and two B’s in there so she’s limited a bit).
I watched a video that calculated the E score for a bar routine and there’s a deduction if you don’t catch a Pak in a perfect handstand. How is that possible?
That’s not accurate…I think they must mean if you don’t catch it in the perfect position that a Pak is meant to be caught in. Paks aren’t meant to be caught in a handstand over the bar the way a bail is…they’re meant to be caught at an angle. In fact, I think they get deducted if they go too far OVER the angle in addition to being caught too far under it, so a Pak caught in a handstand would actually be a deduction because that’s not how it’s meant to be caught. A “Pak to handstand” would be an entirely different skill.
Why did some gymnasts from countries who qualified for the Olympics at the previous world championships still attend the test event?
Some nations will send gymnasts they know will be on the Olympic team so those gymnasts can get some experience in the arena, which is especially nice if the gymnasts are younger or haven’t been to worlds as much or at all. Other nations will use the test event to give their athletes another test before determining who will compete at the Games. In 2016, for example, Lara Mori was someone they really wanted to test with more international experience because even though she wasn’t a top choice for the Games, she was the most consistent among the younger gymnasts and if it looked like Elisa Meneghini or Martina Rizzelli were going to have issues, she was next in line to take their place (and she ended up getting the alternate spot). On the other side of things, Isabela Onyshko had been to a couple of big meets, including two world championships, but since she was a frontrunner for the Canadian team that year, they wanted to make sure she got enough international experience going into the games, and in the absence of Pan Ams or Commonwealth Games (which are often used for Canadians getting ready for bigger events like worlds), this was the next best thing.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins