You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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Nicole Harris

It’s time for the 264th 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).

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What happened to Nicole Harris and her career?

I think she was a very strong elite gymnast, but coming into the Olympic year as a first-year senior, it was going to be incredibly difficult for her to make the team, and then injuries on top of that first-year senior pressure kept her from being as much of a threat as everyone hoped she’d be. 

Nicole qualified to Olympic Trials after finishing 10th all-around at nationals in 2004, but she didn’t attend trials due to an ankle injury sustained a few days prior to the meet. She successfully petitioned through to the final selection camp at the ranch, and was cleared to practice just a week or so before camp, but she couldn’t do  most of her skills without feeling pain, and decided she wouldn’t be able to go forward with contending for an Olympic spot.

Though Nicole didn’t return to elite-level competition, she was a top contributor in her first two years at Arizona State before leaving the team a few weeks into the 2008 season. She said she was constantly injured and needed to stop torturing her body, and the ASU coach at the time, John Spini, said the decision was pretty shocking and said that Nicole had “personal issues” that ended her career. She then started training with the team again in November 2008, and she once again became a consistent all-arounder for the team, ending her career with a hit meet as a senior at regionals in 2009.

Now, Nicole owns a gym in San Diego with her husband (a short walk down the street from my sister’s old apartment in Pacific Beach, #smallworld). It seems to be more of a fun/rec kind of gym and not a competitive one, one that caters more toward child wellness and development like a Little Gym kinda thing, which sounds like a ton of fun.

Which member of the 2012 Olympic team in Canada was initially an alternate and replaced Peng Peng Lee?

The team hadn’t yet been named before Peng Peng Lee was injured. She was expected to lead that team, but she hadn’t actually been named to the team, so there was no alternate named who then had to step up into Peng Peng’s place. Peng Peng tore her ACL just a couple of weeks prior to nationals that year, which were in May, and the team wasn’t named until after trials ended at the end of June. 

Coming into those Olympic Games, I remember being surprised that Dominique Pegg was able to get back to a really high level after struggling a bit in the year or two prior due to injuries. Though Dominique came into 2010 as the top new senior, she got injured later that year, didn’t go to worlds, and then placed seventh all-around at 2011 nationals, much lower than expected. She made it to worlds that year, but then broke her hand right after, and she was a bit slow-going in 2012, until nationals where she really proved that she was once again a huge contender.

Prior to 2012 nationals, I would’ve had Peng Peng on the team and Dominique wouldn’t have been on it, but after nationals, I think I would’ve wanted them both there…though after trials, I think I would’ve gone with Peng Peng on the team (assuming she slayed trials) and Dominique as alternate based on her trials performance relative to others who made the team.

What’s the difference between a piked stalder Shaposhnikova (Komova) and a toe-on Shaposhnikova (Maloney)? They look exactly the same to me…

A toe-on is a piked circle skill with the toes on the bar, whereas a “piked stalder” is an inbar with the feet passing through a toe-on and the body in a deeper pike to accommodate this. A Maloney means the gymnast does a toe-on piked circle before releasing into flight to the high bar, and a Komova II means the gymnast does an inbar piked circle before releasing into flight to the high bar. The inbar circle is a bit harder than the toe-on circle, so a Komova II is basically a step up from the Maloney.

Which would have more difficulty as a floor pass – a front double full to a punch front, or a Randi connected to a layout stepout?

A front double full to a layout punch front would be a D (0.4) + B (0.2), plus a 0.1 CV, which equals a 0.7 for this pass. A randi to a layout stepout would be an E (0.5) + A (0.1), plus a 0.2 CV, which equals 0.8. So the randi to layout stepout would be the more valuable of the two.

Are E scores re-evaluated after a successful appeal? Let’s say a gymnast doing a split ring was only credited as a split leap by the D judges, so she launches an appeal and her split ring is acknowledged, but the execution deductions for the two leaps would be different.

No, they’re not, which seems a bit weird considering the skill credited determines what the E panel can deduct. The E score remains the same regardless of what skills are changed, though I personally think that if there’s an inquiry and the technical panel has to re-judge the entire routine, the review panel should include both D and E even if an athlete can’t actually submit an inquiry regarding the E score. I’d love an actual judge to weigh in on this, though.

When NCAA coaches coach someone who is also elite, do they get paid by the gymnast in addition to receiving a salary from the school?

It comes down to the relationship between that coach and gymnast. I’d imagine the athletic department would get behind a gymnast’s elite journey and figure things out so that the gymnast and her family wouldn’t be responsible for additional payments. I believe in a sport like swimming, where NCAA-level competitors are also often elite-level competitors as well, part of the NCAA program is the elite aspect of competition, so I could see an athletic department figuring out a situation like this with a gymnast who wants to train elite, especially as the athlete is representing the university and its branding on a major national stage. Maybe in some programs that don’t have as much funding as the top D1 teams, there would be some sort of payment involved with the gymnast responsible for the extra training hours, as well as the time and expenses involved with competitions, but I think most of the major programs would be financially behind a gymnast’s elite path.

Long-time fan here, thanks for your work! You’ve mentioned in the past that the key to the U.S. team’s success is depth thanks to NCAA as an alternate route, meaning more gymnasts stick with the sport and can transition to elite later in their careers, like Jade Carey. Given that model isn’t possible for countries like Russia or China, what could they feasibly do to change their programs and contend with the U.S.?

Thank you! I think athletes need some sort of incentive to stay in high-level gymnastics, and in Russia and China, the incentive for those at the highest level is a salary. However, salaries are only available to a very small percentage of just the very top athletes, which isn’t all that helpful in terms of fostering depth. A few hundred $200K+ scholarships available to gymnasts every year compared to a handful of double-digit salaries for just the very best in Russia and China…it’s an insanely wide chasm between the U.S. and the other top programs, and Russia and China would need to find a way to reward gymnasts once they reach 16 or 17 and begin heading into adulthood that could match what they’d otherwise move onto. 

Larisa Iordache re-posted something earlier in the year that was like why on earth would gymnasts stay in elite gymnastics in Romania for measly salaries when they can earn thousands of dollars from posting on Instagram, which requires about one percent of the effort? I’m not sure what the answer is, especially because education in most of these countries is free or low-cost anyway, so a scholarship’s value in the U.S. is far greater than a scholarship’s value  in a country where education is basically already paid for. So that leads us to salaries, and unfortunately, since programs like Russia and China are government-funded, they don’t have the money to give salaries to hundreds of older teenagers and young adults each year.

I feel like the U.S. is unique in what it can offer as an incentive, and I don’t know if Russia or China have incentives that could lead to hundreds of older teenagers or young adults staying in the sport. It comes down to money, or something like an expensive U.S. education worth a ton of money. I don’t know what Russia or China could possibly offer that would essentially be the equivalent of hundreds of $200K+ college educations in the U.S. each year, and so I don’t think either country could ever achieve the massive depth the U.S. has. 

But perhaps they could figure something out on a smaller scale? Even keeping another 25 or so B- or C-team gymnasts as reserves would be huge for these programs, so there’s got to be something to offer. Maybe a sort of work program where the gymnasts are paid salaries to work as coaches or in other sports-related jobs, and then also have basic needs like room and board covered? This would allow them to balance work with training at a lower level than the top elites, and then if it does happen that they’re needed to fill out the national team, they get bumped up to national team salaries?

How did individuals qualify for world championships this year?

There is no qualification meet for individuals to attend world championships. Any federation that didn’t qualify a full team at 2018 worlds was allowed to send up to three individual gymnasts to worlds this year, regardless of how they performed in 2018 (or even regardless of whether they sent gymnasts to 2018 worlds at all…some smaller federations choose to not send individuals to the mid-quad worlds because of the expense, and so they budget just for the pre-Olympic worlds because that’s the one with Olympic qualifications attached (this is why a country like India didn’t attend in 2018, but sent gymnasts in 2019). 

In the coming quad, individuals will have to qualify to world championships through continental championships, but this quad and over the past…several decades, as far back as I can remember, individuals didn’t have to qualify.

Has Kara Eaker committed to college? If not, is that surprising given how talented she is?

Yes, Kara Eaker committed to Utah about a year ago. She’s expected to join for the 2021-2022 season. There’s no way Kara would not have found a home in an NCAA program.

I’m curious if MG Elite’s leos are more ‘inspired’ by dance leos. 

Maybe? I think it’s a combination of how they want to look and what their leo designers do, and I don’t think they’d be getting similar looks from GK, even if they said, “this is exactly what we want.” Sylvia P seems to have far more flexibility in design options and a totally different aesthetic in general that tends to be more dance-oriented than traditionally gymnastics-oriented, and they even have a dance line that looks similar to many of MG Elite’s style choices, so I’d guess their style is a combination of MG Elite’s and Sylvia P’s.

Can you explain how J.O. nationals and the age breakdowns work?

Basically there is no set age limit until they know the dates of birth for everyone registered to compete at nationals. If they have 600 gymnasts registered to compete, they look at the birthdates and try to evenly divide the 600 into 12 groups of 50 each. There might be a single age group that spans a full year if there were only 50 gymnasts born in 2007, and then if 200 gymnasts were born in 2006, they’d have four age groups from that year alone. It changes every year and all just depends on who’s competing and when they were born.

Why were roll-out skills banned from gymnastics?

They’re dangerous because they lead to severe neck/spinal cord injuries. The skills themselves aren’t that difficult to do physically, but they have to be so precisely timed, if you’re off even by a quarter of a second, you could die. Most skills in gymnastics are tough and can lead to spinal cord injuries on rare instances that you lose your air awareness in a major way, but when you have a skill that’s literally meant to be landed on the upper back/neck, it ups that danger by about one billion percent. Just not worth the risk.

What are the rules regarding alternates at the Olympics? Can more than three be used? What if the whole team got in an accident, is the idea of having three alternates so the team can use those three on all four events in qualifications?

Technically the only rules related to alternates have to do with when they can be subbed in, and the fact that they’re not allowed to be credentialed, meaning they can’t stay or train in the village with the rest of the team. There’s no rule about three alternates; the number is up to the individual federation to determine whether they want to bring three or one or zero or a hundred alternates with them, and the federations are the ones responsible for finding housing/training facilities in or near where the Olympic Games will be held. 

The U.S. usually names three alternates, and in recent quads, has allowed all three to travel, but most countries only bring one, and some don’t bring any. If an entire team got into an accident, I’d imagine they’d be allowed to fly in any additional gymnasts they’d need to fill out the ranks if it happened prior to qualifications. After qualifications, if something so dramatic happened, they’d probably have to put in some sort of request with the FIG to swap in an entirely new team to compete in the final.

In the past, a lot of “power” gymnasts were quite strong on beam, but Jade Carey has yet to shine on that event. Are you surprised she’s not stronger there?

I think Jade is actually pretty great on beam, but she just doesn’t seem to have the consistency there to make her a real standout. She has some really unique connections and her technique on the majority of her skills is very strong, but she also doesn’t have anywhere near as much elite experience competing her difficult skills there, and so when she has to compete beam, it usually ends up looking a bit rough because I think the mental struggles start to kick in. But I think if she can learn to harness her talent there, she could be a pretty solid beam worker.

Is the Japanese Olympic selection as stupid as their worlds selection? Are they more open to making exceptions?

So their whole system comes down to respect and fairness and not choosing favorites, which I admire, but also like…this year was really dumb, especially because even if Mai Murakami didn’t finish her all-around competition at the NHK Trophy making her ineligible for an automatic all-around spot, she still had a really great performance at the Event Championships, so why couldn’t they select her there? I honestly don’t get it, but hey, at least now they can send Mai to next year’s Asian Championships and she could so easily earn an individual spot for Japan there, so it works out in that sense…but leaving her at home with the team trying to qualify was just wild.

The Olympic selection is essentially the same, though I believe their qualifying events next year end up being a bit closer to the Olympic Games than this year’s events were to world championships, so I’m going to hope that everyone who should be on the Olympic team is healthy during the qualifiers…and that if legitimate medal contenders are injured and need a bit more time to prepare, that they take this into consideration and leave more flexibility with naming gymnasts from the Event Championships. But given that next year’s team is going to pretty much be a team of four all-arounders, I can see them actually making this even worse and just selecting the top four all-arounders based on the All-Japan Championships and NHK Trophy with no ifs, ands, or buts. So yeah…it could get worse.

I watched Normani’s music video “Motivation” and she did a flic + layout so I wondered if it was really her. I found out she did gymnastics as her priority for eight years and she dreamed of the Olympics. Do you know of any other celebrities with a gymnastics background?

I’ve heard of a few other celebs who had done gymnastics at one time or another but not necessarily at a super high level. Britney Spears was a pretty good gymnast as a child and she can still do splits, handstands, and other various skills, and she’s always posting on Instagram, which I find hilarious. My favorite gymnast celeb isn’t really a celeb, but the woman who plays the waitress on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mary Elizabeth Ellis, used to go to The Klub in Los Angeles, and she recently posted a video from that gym when she took an adult gymnastics class. I was basically screaming, I love her.

Is it harder to win more medals in MAG or WAG? MAG has more events but also more room for specialists, so what’s your opinion?

I feel like it’s harder for top gymnasts to win a greater number of medals in MAG because of the reason you suggested. Well…today, anyway. In the past, under the old code, I think it was probably easier for the top gymnasts to win a greater number of medals in MAG, but now that MAG is so specialized, it’s hard to find a gymnast who is truly “the best” on four or more. In WAG, the majority of the sport’s top gymnasts on each apparatus also happen to be the sport’s best all-arounders, and many of the top all-arounders are also capable of making event finals on multiple apparatuses, whereas in MAG, where many of the top specialists only compete one single event, you see more variety in the finals, and those who are the standout all-arounders still do come in to pick up a good number of medals, but it’s also much harder for them to contend against guys who are so focused on just a single event.

Would it make more sense for Canada to have Shallon Olsen on the team or in an individual spot for Tokyo?

I think they’ll want/need her vault scores for the team competitions, and would prefer to have her on the team for that score alone. As an all-arounder, it’s not like they’ll have Shallon only do vault in prelims and then have no one go up for the other three events…even though her scores probably won’t be the ones to count on bars, beam, and floor, she’s pretty solid on all three and if someone else falls, her scores will be good enough backup to keep Canada in the mix for the team final. If she only vaulted, then maybe they’d send her as an individual, but I think she’ll definitely be on the team itself.

When Svetlana Khorkina gave up her spot to Elena Zamolodchikova in the vault final in Sydney, was the decision entirely hers, or do you think she was pressured by the federation?

I assumed it was partly pressure by the federation, though I know Svetlana likes to claim that it was all her idea and that she knew Elena would win gold which was why she “gave her that opportunity.” Bless Svetlana! Maybe she really did do it out of the kindness of her heart and because she wanted her friend to get the gold, but it’s also Svetlana, who I highly doubt would willingly withdraw from a final, so I do feel like the federation was kinda like, hey, she has a better chance at gold than you do, and initiated the swap.

Edit: Luba from Gymnovosti just let me know that according to Khorkina’s book, the federation apparently told Khorkina that she would get half of Zamolodchikova’s prize money if she gave up the spot, and Khorkina was basically like “I’m better than her and deserved it more but agreed because I’d get the prize money anyway” which is literally exactly what I expected from her. But it was fun to picture Saint Khorkina while it lasted.

Just wondering your thoughts around ‘safe sport’ recommendations on body contact with gymnasts? I teach protective behaviors to kids and one thing that is important is kids having agency over their own bodies. I notice some coaches go in for a hug at competitions and I get when it’s their athlete — they have a relationship with the athlete and often the gymnast initiates contact — but I’m talking about adults going after the hug. It seems they should limit physical contact in general because making bodily contact with someone a child doesn’t know should be the child’s choice. There’s a lot of child protection research to support teaching kids that their body is their choice in terms of hugs and kisses. A lot of Larry Nassar survivors stated they felt they had no choice but to go along with his treatment, and that’s at least partly a body agency issue.

Are there specific recommendations that SafeSport has put out regarding body contact? I haven’t seen anything specifically and I’m not sure when your question is from so it’s hard for me to address any specific recommendations they may have made, but in general, I feel like children should have bodily autonomy and any adult who wants to touch a child in any way should have to ask for permission, and in situations where it’s a doctor and a child, the doctor should fully explain to the child’s guardian exactly what will be done in a treatment scenario.

In gymnastics and in many situations where athletes and coaches grow close over the years, things like hugs, cheek kisses, and pats on the bum are often normalized and there usually isn’t any thought process happening when relationships are close. Usually the adult and child have been physically engaging in this way for years, and it’s “natural” for a coach to go in for a hug or grab a child’s shoulders or give them a pat on the back at multiple times throughout a practice or competition. It’s one thing for an adult stranger to go in and hug a child without asking, but when you become that close over the years, consent related to this type of behavior is almost implied.

That said, I do think gyms need to be teaching children that if an adult — whether it’s a coach they’re super close with or someone they come across at a competition that they don’t know well — does touch them, they are allowed to stand up and say “do not hug me.” It can be super difficult to express this kind of autonomy, especially as a child who is told that they have to respect and trust adults, and I feel like most children just accept this kind of touching as normal to the point where zero bells ring about not wanting it. It’s basically ingrained, and it’s hard to basically unlearn something that has been a constant in your life basically since you were born.

But teaching young children (whether it’s in gymnastics or otherwise) that yes, you can say “please do not hug me” or “please do not touch me” to an adult is a step, and hopefully that kind of training at a young age can create a generation of children and young adults who feel the agency to not “go along” with anything an adult says they’re “supposed to do” in the future. I also think adults need to straight up use clinical words with their children and name specific body parts that should not be touched, period, even by a doctor. I think body agency is important, but even if children do have agency, they are still told that “only a doctor can do this.” A coach never could’ve gotten away with what Nassar got away with for 30 years because most kids know that adults aren’t supposed to touch them like that, but then they’re literally told “only a doctor can touch you there,” and so they had no reason to suspect that his treatment wasn’t legit, which makes this more of a doctor trust issue than a body agency one. Children need to be taught body agency, but I think the Nassar case opened our eyes to the fact that the whole “only a doctor can touch you there” spiel needs to stop, stat.

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 ask “what do you think of [insert gymnast here]?”

 

Article by Lauren Hopkins

20 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I’m pretty sure athletes are only allowed to train 20 hours a week in NCAA, I don’t know how they track time, in their gym and in a regular gym or just the time in the gymnastics gym, but I kind of doubt they’d make exceptions for elite athletes, and since that’s half the time an elite gymnast usually trains that’s probably part of why they usually choose to defer.

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    • Yeah, they can only train 20 hours for NCAA, and I think most of the girls I talked to who were simultaneously doing elite and NCAA said they were still only doing 20 hours. I remember asking Shallon how she packed in all of her elite training in just the 20 hour time frame, and she said that it wasn’t that difficult of an adjustment, but once she got back into an elite setting, she went back to her older training program with longer hours.

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      • Sort of…. You can have 20 contact hours with the coach or that are mandatory for the team; however, other hours are OK such as “Voluntary weight training not conducted by a coach or staff member,” and “Voluntary sport-related activities (e.g., initiated by student-athlete, no attendance taken, no coach present).” In other words, there are legal ways to increase active training time if- say- certain types of conditioning can be done on the athlete’s own without a coach present.

        See https://www.ncaa.org/sites/default/files/20-Hour-Rule-Document.pdf for more info.

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  2. I’m European and knew nothing about the American college system when I started watching gymnastics so when people would mention college scholarships and how highly valued they were like, I didn’t really get it until I found out how expensive college was. Then I totally got it.

    But, yeah, I think that while there can’t be an equivalent to the American system, the spirit behind it (in that investing in gymnastics means you’re investing in something that gave you benefits for your future career) could be replicated somehow, like you said. Offering them free rent or some sort of (legal) shortcut into a specific career pathway, IDK.

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    • I think my student loans are like $150K right now which is more than some people pay for a house (and I was on a half scholarship). I’ll probably be paying them back until I’m 50 so yeah, having your tuition/housing fully paid for in the U.S. is HELLA valuable!! Hahahaha. When you can offer something worth $200K+ to gymnasts who reach a high enough level, it’s a huge reason to stick around and it’s hard to find something similarly valuable outside of a straight-up salary. But yeah, I think even if they can’t pay salaries JUST for doing gymnastics, then providing housing and jobs that will give them the flexibility to stay in the sport would be really helpful and motivating.

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    • The fact that it could cost 200k for a good college education in US as compared to a lot of other nations where a good education is very low or free is certainly a big problem in US. While its nice that scholarships are provided and motivate gymnasts and keep US depth, this still cannot justify the bigger overall problem of huge cost of good education in US.

      Even state schools in US are also getting expensive..

      So yeah… The big emblematic problem of US high cost education is a large factor in maintaining the system of ncaa scholarship to keep up the US gymnastic depth… Crazy eh?

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      • Hahaha. But at the same time, to make it even crazier, gymnastics can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, especially at the highest levels…and the majority of those who reach L10 are from families that have spent over $200K on their kids’ gymnastics careers so they could’ve afforded tuition outright anyway and the scholarship is basically not even a necessity that they’re working toward, but just an achievement in its own right to add to a collection of achievements that also come from having money in the first place. IT GOES ALL THE WAY TO THE TOPPPPPP!

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  3. Another former gymnast celebrity, though not elite is comedian, actress Amanda Seales. Was a level 9 maybe went higher, her old gym was Orlando Metro. She posted on her instagram when Simone made history at Worlds this year. Shows old clips of her gymnastic bars beam and floor routine. Gives a shout out to Dominique Dawes, and Betty Okino. Loves it! https://www.instagram.com/p/B3dSd0kpqDr/

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  4. The Canadian team selection for 2012 was based on a points system and Ellie Black was the last to qualify so may not have made the team if Peng was healthy – brutal for Peng but Ellie was a BAMF at those Olympics and became a star for Canada, so at least there was that silver lining!

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  5. Pingback: Around the Gymternet: More than you could ever know | The Gymternet

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