It’s time for the 265th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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What are Vanessa Ferrari’s chances for Tokyo looking like? I would love if she could somehow nab a non-team spot.
She was hoping to attempt to qualify through the apparatus world cups, and she’s currently ranked third on floor, so it’s not a total pipe dream, but she has also been pretty consistently injured and ended up withdrawing from Cottbus…and then her own teammate, Lara Mori, is currently ranked second on floor and looks great so she could be pretty hard to beat. The team could also potentially earn a non-nominative spot through either the world cups or continental championships, so the federation could decide to award that spot to Vanessa if she doesn’t get an apparatus spot.
Is there any possible impact on the sport of gymnastics from the abortion laws signed in Alabama and other states? Have politics historically had any impact on NCAA schools being able to recruit gymnasts, and could this law possibly have an impact? Have you heard of any calls to ban competitions in these states? Or has the sport generally ignored these things (which after #MeToo and the leadership from the survivors of Nassar may change, I wonder)?
Honestly, I would say that a majority of gymnasts are so wrapped up in their sport that they aren’t always the most politically aware and most don’t choose NCAA programs based on the political values of the state (though some who do have some political opinions will then arrive in their newly adopted states and be like uhhhhhh where am I, hahaha…I’ve heard some stories of some international gymnasts ending up in the south and having to do team prayers and being super confused about the situation). I doubt the law would have an impact for a majority of gymnasts considering Alabama, and don’t think it would even come into their thoughts unless they’re one of the few who are more inclined to follow politics.
Additionally, though Alabama is a red state enacting heinous laws, Tuscaloosa itself is pretty diverse and as a college town, it tends to be a bit more liberal than the surrounding areas. I’ve had friends who have lived there and felt like while it was obviously more conservative than a northern city, state politics barely affected them, especially since students aren’t actually residents of the state where they attend college.
Conversely, I have heard of parents refusing to let their children look into UCLA, Cal, and Stanford because of their liberal reputations. That’s usually coming from the parents wanting to “protect” their children from liberal ideals…there are stories about Shayla Worley’s UCLA visit that are quite funny, and I’ve heard of a few gymnasts since then whose parents refused to let them even go on a visit. I feel like more liberal parents aren’t as restrictive with what their children are allowed to experience in terms of other “cultures” within the U.S. so I don’t see liberal parents being like “you are NOT allowed to go to Alabama!!!” lol…but there may be some gymnasts out there who are like “hell no” based on nothing but the political situation. I just don’t think it’ll be enough to really make it affect the team’s recruitment much, if at all.
Who is your current favorite gymnast (or top five if you can’t pick a favorite)?
In no particular order, Brooklyn Moors, Nina Derwael, Aneta Holasova, Aline Friess, Morgan Hurd, Viktoria Listunova, Flavia Saraiva, Sunisa Lee, Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, Sarah Voss, Yeo Seo-jeong, Elisa Hämmerle, Liu Tingting, Danusia Francis, Roxana Popa, and Giulia Steingruber are my favorites at the moment and I absolutely refuse to cut anyone from this group out! If I had to pick JUST one as my favorite, I’d go with…god…I literally can’t.
Can the U.S. qualify three individuals to the Olympics and then choose which ones they want? If Jade Carey qualifies, does she 100% go, or could they decide to use the other two individual spots instead?
No, basically they qualify in the order of when the qualifying meets happen, and once they qualify two ways, they become ineligible to qualify the third. The apparatus and all-around world cups end first, so the U.S. is likely to qualify a nominative spot from Jade Carey at the apparatus world cups, and then a non-nominative spot through the all-around world cups, making them ineligible to earn a spot at the continental championships.
Could 2004-born gymnasts compete at Cottbus last month?
No, the competition was only open to current seniors.
Which gymnasts are committed to UCLA for 2020? Do they have any freshmen this year?
The freshmen they have coming in this year are Emma Andres, Paige Hogan, Chloe Lashbrooke, and Kalyany Steele. I think the first three are walk-ons, and Kalyany is a former elite who had a really good DTY at one point and should be a great addition to the squad. In addition to the freshmen, they also have Nicki Shapiro returning after initially retiring and working as a team manager. Not the biggest year for them but they had a few deferrals this year for girls working toward Tokyo, so next year will be insane.
Do you have any idea why UCLA doesn’t use many all-arounders? Given that they have a lot of depth, could this be a decision to give more people a chance to compete?
I think they usually have a good number of all-arounders considering their depth, but yeah, the programs that have more gymnasts to choose from will choose to spread the wealth out a bit so that they’re not tiring out a few gymnasts on all four events every week. It makes more sense to split things up to keep everyone healthy. Usually, gymnasts also have to earn lineup spots, and so someone who might have all four events ready to go but is struggling on one or two won’t get to do the all-around at meets where she’s not at a hundred percent.
This is more an idea but I’d love to get your thoughts since you’ve worked with NBC on gymnastics coverage and know some of the behind the scenes. As an avid gym fan without experience in the sport, I often can’t call all the skills and struggle with knowing which skills were more difficult than others (which is why I love blogs like yours to break it down). I know the sport struggles with making scoring understandable to wide audiences during meets like the Olympics. Since the skills are ranked on the alphabet which is easy to understand, what if on the bottom on the screen, there was a scale from A to J, and after a gymnast performs a skill, it’s displayed on that scale (left to right – easier to harder). I’m sure it might be hard to call deductions and whatnot (which happens in all sports), but it’d be great to know what the athlete is intending to do and how difficult it is over other skills and routines and might help demonstrate how scores are built. What do you think would make it easier for audiences to understand the difficulty and scoring in the sport?
I think it would be cool to have some sort of live judging happening during some routines. I’m not sure if it would be feasible to do it for every routine, and frankly, most people watching aren’t going to pay attention to the really intricate details of a sport they watch once every four years, but I think for the big routines — like Simone Biles’ floor — it would be cool to have a graphic go up where there’s a judge awarding D values to each skill as she goes through the routine, and then showing the letter values, what they correspond to number-wise, and building a full D score with CR and CV as well.
I also like your idea of having an A to J scale that shows how difficult something is. That’s definitely something that would appeal to a wider and more general public, because they don’t have to put in any effort in learning bits and pieces of the code, but they’ll be able to see whether something is super easy or super difficult without Tim Daggett having to make a metaphor or a comparison to something difficult in a sport people actually understand, haha. That definitely makes sense and would be pretty easy if they had a judge on hand working with the graphics team to have the scale light up on the correct letter value when the skill happens. It’s something they could do for every routine pretty seamlessly in the corner of the screen, and I would be super into it becoming a thing.
Has a U.S. Olympic team alternate ever had the chance to compete? Where do the alternates sit or go when the events are happening?
The last time an alternate competed was in 2000, when Morgan White was injured and they had to swap her out and put Tasha Schwikert in. That was a really horrible moment for both Morgan and the whole team because when they swap in an alternate at the Olympics, it means taking away the credentials and kicking her out of the Olympic Village. I think since then, girls who are minorly injured just choose to keep their injuries a secret because they don’t want to go through that whole devastating process. There have been a few who probably should have been swapped out (ahem 2008) but weren’t, and Martha Karolyi always said it was because they didn’t want to go through the trauma of removing their credentials.
The alternates at the Olympics aren’t allowed to be in the Village or training centers and they can’t go backstage at the arena, so they generally have tickets with either the federation or their families, and they end up watching from the stands. Some stay for the whole thing, but others go home early…since alternates are only able to be swapped in up until I believe 24 hours prior to qualifications, once they reach that point, their duties are complete, and they can pretty much decide to stay or leave.
Why haven’t we seen much of Xiao Ruoteng this year?
He had a shoulder injury earlier this year and so he stuck to just floor, pommels, and vault earlier in the year. He did really well at nationals, winning gold on floor and silver on pommels in addition to helping his team win gold, and then thankfully he was able to get back to full health in time for worlds, where he had a great all-around performance and was looking likely to win silver until he had a fall on high bar (he tried to upgrade a bit to get closer to matching Nagornyy and I think that’s what ended up throwing him off).
Say that Simone Biles hadn’t gone pro, and she wins a competition with prize money. The money would go to her gym. Since her parents own it, could they collect the check and give Simone the money without making her lose her eligibility?
I mean, probably? It would be pretty easy to cover up. Like, oh we didn’t give her the prize money, this is totally her birthday present! Six months early. Shhh. I think if NCAA compliance really wanted to look into Simone in this instance, they could see that the prize money went into the gym’s bank account and then an equal amount was withdrawn and it just happens to match the exact amount Simone deposited into her own account, but I doubt compliance gets that deep, and there’d be no way to completely prove that it’s the same money even if the trail looks pretty clear.
I just realized an indirect B+D connection is worth 0.1 CV, and I wonder why Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos seems to be the only one doing a front layout to double tuck. Why is no one else upgrading their front tuck to double back for the CV?
I think because the front layout to double tuck is a really awkward series to physically compete! It’s easier to do a roundoff out of the tuck than it is to do one out of the layout, and for those who struggle getting momentum into that roundoff from a layout, not having enough power into the double back and potentially falling isn’t worth getting that extra 0.1 from the B+D connection.
What did Aliya Mustafina mean in her 2012 interview about her bars gold medal when she said that all the medals “mean different things?”
I think she means that it’s just a different feeling to win a team medal compared to an all-around medal compared to an apparatus medal, and also that there are different feelings attached to different events depending on the athlete. I know in the U.S., they tend to value the team gold over anything else, and so a team gold might carry greater meaning for the gymnasts than a bars gold would.
For Aliya, getting a bars gold might have had greater meaning for her than getting a gold on beam or floor because she put a special attention on that event, or there was a lot of competition for that title, or she just happens to like bars the best and felt like it was the most important medal for her to win for that reason alone. I think each athlete or program has a subconscious “ranking” of the medals. Like, aside from team gold, I know Martha Karolyi really wanted the U.S. to get a bars gold in 2016 because it would prove that the U.S. is a power country on bars after years of them being way behind Russia and China. I think for the U.S., even a bars silver was super valuable, and may have been “worth” even more than something like vault or floor gold, where they had already proven to be dominant.
Do you think Great Britain is too bars heavy? All of their top gymnasts could make a bars final at worlds. They have improved on beam but floor and vault look weaker. Is this a disadvantage?
I think it really just depends on who’s competing. On a lot of teams over the past year or so, they’ve been a bit bars-heavy because all of the stronger vaulters and floor workers — Ellie Downie, Claudia Fragapane, Amy Tinkler — have been injured, and since bars is where they could pick up the highest number of points from gymnasts who could earn in the mid-14s, I think they preferred to go with another bars girl than to take someone like Taeja James, the best on floor at the time but her low 13s on floor wouldn’t have added what a 14.5 on bars from Georgia-Mae Fenton could. Rather than going for balance, they chose to add as many tenths as possible, and that meant lots of bar workers. But next year, if Ellie, Claudia, and Amy are all at full strength, we could see an Olympic team with those three plus someone like Becky Downie, and what was a bars-heavy team last year becomes a weak bars team but excellent vault and floor team next year. I think overall the British program has a ton of variety, but I think the balance just never works out perfectly due to injuries.
Don’t you think Denisa Golgota is underrated given the Romanian situation? Had she competed in the 2005-2012 era, wouldn’t she have been perceived in a totally different way at the world stage?
I definitely think she’s underrated, and I also think her level of talent has been so held back by the problems in Romania, she hasn’t even come close to reaching her potential. Denisa was doing a really good DTY at just 12 years old, and she had really promising tumbling at that age as well, and though she added a few upgrades on floor over five years, her consistency and technique went downhill with the upgrades, which was so sad because she is SO talented. She should be in that group of seniors regularly in the 54-55 range internationally, and I think she’d easily be there with a better coaching/federation situation. If she had come up with Larisa Iordache and Diana Bulimar, she had the potential to be at their level. It’s honestly really sad that she isn’t one of the top international talents right now because she really should be.
What do you think about the future of the top Romanian juniors? Were the scores at nationals super crazy this year, or is it possible for them to score that high internationally?
The scores were, as always, super crazy, but that said, both Silvia Sfiringu and Ioana Stanciulescu are brilliant, and even though they won’t get the 55+ scores they get at home internationally, they were still consistently among the top juniors in the world this year. They’re lovely, elegant, powerful, and fun to watch, and I really hope they can make strong transitions to the senior level and continue to upgrade their skills and grow as gymnasts…
I’m hopeful for them, but I’ve also felt this way about a dozen Romanian juniors transitioning to the senior level since about 2014 and exactly zero of them have done what I thought they were capable of, so it’s clear Romania is still really struggling to get through those junior-to-senior transitions. While Silvia and Ioana are currently fantastic, they also need a lot of work to be competitive at the senior level. A few beam and floor upgrades could get Ioana to a 54+ and Silvia to a 53+ internationally, which could at the very least get them into an Olympic or worlds all-around final in the future.
Those two are definitely the strongest going into their senior careers in the near future, but I also absolutely love Ana Maria Barbosu, who is only 13 and still has another two years at the junior level to grow into a top talent. What’s best about Ana Maria is that she’s good pretty much everywhere, including bars, where she actually has a very nice swing and lots of potential to do big things there (well, I mean, big things for Romania aka hitting consistently and cleanly). Ana Maria is good at pretty much everything right now, but again,
There are a lot of kids with potential in Romania right now, with Sabrina Voinea, Luiza Popa, Maria Ceplinschi, Amalia Puflea, Daniela Trica, and Antonia Duta my favorites to keep an eye on…but again, as inspired as I am by the current junior generation, I’m also growing more and more pessimistic about their chances to make it past 16 or 17 based on the transitional mess that has been the last five years. And now, with the federation shutting down the more centralized system and sending kids to train at club gyms with fewer resources and crappier equipment, I’m worried that the situation is only going to get worse, and it’s all the federation’s fault. They have SO much talent, and they’re completely throwing it out the window.
What are the most decisive elements on each of the events in MAG and WAG today? What are the elements that only the best can do and that decide medals and finalists?
Aside from vault, I don’t think there are necessarily decisive elements for each, but rather kinds of elements that the best are all capable of.
For WAG, to be a top contender on vault, you pretty much need an Amanar, Cheng, or Rudi, though the Yurchenko families tend to score a bit better than those of the handspring variety, and so it’s that Amanar + Cheng combo that’s almost necessary to medal now (and then a DTY + Cheng or Amanar + Lopez can usually be good enough for bronze).
On bars, it’s either all about connecting absolutely everything while keeping the bulk of your skills relatively simple (some of the more difficult bar routines are just tons of back-to-back D and E skills), or it’s about doing tons of high-flying releases and big dismounts.
I’d say beam is similar to bars in that there is also a split between the girls who go connection-crazy with lower-valued elements (like the Chinese) or those who have lots of highly-valued individual elements (like Simone Biles), though the key to being a medal contender with tons of connections is actually hitting those connections super fluidly, or else you lose all of your CV and end up at the bottom of the pack instead of near the top.
And on floor, it’s really all about the bigger tumbling you can pack in…here it’s more about having a good number of strong double back salto skills, like tucked double doubles, full- or double-twisting double layouts, triple doubles (hi Simone!), and so on. Most of the top-scoring routines tend to have a good number of these difficult double backs as opposed to routines with difficult front tumbling, because front tumbling is ridiculously undervalued and more harshly judged in general, and most of the single-salto twisting (whether back or forward) isn’t difficult enough to create incredibly high-scoring routines with the majority of your passes being in this category.
For MAG floor, I’d say the difficult double backs are also pretty prominent in top-scoring routines, but they also have a second category of well-scoring routines, and that’s usually the difficult twisting passes in combination. It depends on how good your twists are in terms of their rotation, because like beam for the women, if you get all of your skills downgraded due to you not completing the rotation, it means you can lose a ton of value if you go for a quad, get it downgraded to a 3.5, and then later to a 3.5 only to lose the entire value of the skill because you’ve technically already done it. It’s not SO common that this happens, but if you have a ton of the more difficult twists in your routine, then it’s definitely a risk.
As someone who is only recently becoming more well-versed in terms of pommels, I think the biggest trend for many of the medal-winning routines over the past few years has been flairs, flairs, flairs. I remember in 2017, someone asked me if Lee Chih-Kai’s almost fully flaired routine would be taken seriously internationally, and now he’s a two-time world medalist who consistently gets some of the strongest E scores for his work. Flairs aside, I think the more difficult traveling elements in general show a high skill ability, and showing that you can transition well between different levels (e.g., going from scissors up to handstand and back down into another element without breaking your rhythm, or moving with ease back and forth between the horse and the handles) is recognized as necessary to make you a top contender.
On rings, it’s definitely all about the most difficult connections, though “connections” here refers to single elements that involve connections within them (like a Zahran, which is like an inverted planche pulled through a cross into an inverted swallow…those individual holds on their own aren’t difficult but transitioning from one to the next in that way is what makes this one of the most difficult rings skills). I think if you can move from one hold to another hold in a super difficult way that requires a ton of strength and control, and show that you actually have the strength and control to make it happen seamlessly, you’re among the better rings guys in the world.
Men’s vault has a little more variety than women’s at the top of the field, so it’s not just one real “winning combination” that makes you a big contender. The tsuk and Yurchenko double backs are pretty big right now, and the Dragulescu is usually an indication of a strong vaulter, but with more and more guys doing them, just having a Dragulescu won’t get you anywhere if you can’t hit it super well, and moving up from the Dragulescu are the piked double fronts, including Ri Se Gwang’s piked double front half. For the twisty boys, you basically need a Yurchenko triple, kaz double, or handspring randi (or triple if you’re brave, but a randi is usually enough).
Parallel bars is all about having a ton of the more “exciting” salto skills now. There are ways to build great difficulty through skills that are more of the pirouette genre, and there are some pirouettes that are super difficult in their own right, but I think having multiple saltos, or really any skill where there’s a release (like a Tippelt or Bhavsar), becomes the best way to more easily score well (more “easily” because while it’s still really difficult, I feel like the pirouette elements tend to have more inherent deductions than a salto element, so there’s that to consider as well).
And now high bar. Big releases. Lots of them. Preferably connected. Kovacs variations on Kovacs variations. OR literally every variation of Tkachev, again, preferably connected. Both can do well, but I think the higher-flying Kovacs elements end up scoring higher, maybe because they’re subconsciously more exciting (kind of like the big salto skills on p-bars are subconsciously more exciting than the pirouettes). Guys tend to prefer/excel at one version of difficulty more than another (so a Kovacs guy will just do every variation of Kovacs and a Tkachev guy will do every variation of Tkachev), but I love the routines that are more mixed, so I really like routines like Sam Mikulak’s, which has two difficult Kovacs elements and three Tkachevs, one super difficult (the Liukin) and then two connected.
Do you remember Dorka Szujo? Is she still training?
Yup, I remember her! I don’t believe she’s training anymore, at least not in the past year or so. She hasn’t competed since she was a junior, in 2017. She turned senior the following year, and I believe she was injured at one point, and then she just eventually kind of quietly ended her career, which was a bummer as she was one of the top juniors in Hungary at one point. Her younger sister, Hanna, is currently one of Hungary’s top juniors, turning senior next year, so hopefully she has a little more luck as a senior. She won the Olympic Hopes Cup last year, and made the all-around final at EYOF this year, so I’d love for her to stick around and add some more depth to Hungary’s senior program going forward.
Is Trinity Thomas taking a year off for NCAA in 2020 or is she continuing to do both? Is she trying for the Olympic team?
Trinity isn’t taking a year off. I think she’s gonna try to double-team NCAA and elite, which like, I’m exhausted for her but she also did elite gymnastics and competitive high school diving simultaneously, so if anyone can juggle, it’s Trinity. I think she is going to attempt to make the Olympic team, and while I don’t think she’s a top contender, just making it to trials is a huge deal in the United States and I’d love to see her get that experience after she’s had such an excellent quad.
Do you think UCLA peaked too early this past season?
Not really…I think they were fine throughout the season and didn’t find them so explosive early on that a decline was noticeable. I think they looked great at nationals, but in that one meet, they just lacked a little of the finesse that they needed to be the top team, whereas in that final, Oklahoma was ALL finesse.
I think their regular season scores also kind of set up false expectations for fans going into the postseason, which goes for most top teams. When you get a thousand 10s at every regular season meet and then no 10s at nationals, it’s easy to think that nationals was a weaker meet, but some of their nationals routines that got 9.8-range scores were just as good (if not better) than some of their regular season perfect 10 routines…but they were just judged more strictly for things they should have been judged for all season. Again, it’s not just UCLA; most teams see a dive from regular season scores to nationals scores even if the quality of the performance is more or less the same.
Have you ever thought of recording your commentary in audio? I love your live blogging but I’d love to watch and hear your thoughts at the same time.
I’d love to and have thought about it in the past, but I think there’s a fear about using recorded materials that don’t belong to me (in terms of copyright) and then uploading them with my own audio which I feel like is all sorts of illegal? If there was a way I could do it so that I’m not uploading it as if the footage is my own, I’d probably do it. Maybe some sort of live stream type of deal where I’m like okay, click this YouTube link to watch the meet, turn your volume off on the video, and just listen to my voice? I have something planned for a Patreon video series coming up in January (wink wink) and maybe I could make something like this part of that series.
What would the start value be for the following — Ling to layout Jaeger, Derwael-Fenton, Ezhova, Komova I, inbar full, Mustafina?
CR = 2.0
Skills = E + F, F + D, E, E, E = 3.6
CV = 0.3
Total = 5.9
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Article by Lauren Hopkins