You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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Frida Esparza

It’s time for the 274th 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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How do you think Frida Esparza would’ve done at worlds if she was at full strength? Do you think she has a chance for Tokyo?

I think she would’ve been highly in contention for the all-around nominative spot at worlds. I was expecting her to get the all-around spot, and then Alexa Moreno to get the vault spot, and thought Mexico had one of the best chances to score two nominative spots in Stuttgart, but then when she got injured and no one else in Mexico could beat Alexa’s all-around score, it was kind of a bummer knowing that they essentially lost a spot because Alexa was so good that day. But I do think Frida has a great shot of being one of the top contenders for a nominative spot at Pan Ams, and hope she is healthy enough by that point to earn it. I do hope Mexico is able to get a second spot whether it’s Frida or another all-arounder like Elsa Garcia, Ana Lago, or Anapaula Gutierrez. They were a long shot for qualifying a full team this quad, but they also had one of their most talented teams in forever, and legitimately had the potential to qualify several individuals to Tokyo. It’s a shame that they ended up having so many injuries last year, and also a shame that so many coaching situations within the country and on the national team seem to be so toxic.

After Maggie Nichols was able to create a routine out of a 10.0 with only two passes, do you think this will become a bigger trend in NCAA this year?

Funny you should ask…a two-pass floor routine is going to be huge in NCAA this year because changes in the code for the 2020-2021 season allow for more opportunities to build bonus this way, so a gymnast with two difficult passes can meet the requirements in the same way that a gymnast with three simpler passes can. I think Shallon Olsen’s routine was a good example…she does a double double as well as a front tuck through to double tuck, so even though it’s only two passes, she’s still at a really high difficulty level and is able to easily meet all requirements while adding bonus with just the two passes. Many others are attempting to compete floor routines like this because while the passes are more difficult to land successfully, doing just two instead of three goes a long way for endurance, which I think showed in Shallon’s first routine of the year.

Now that Sunisa Lee is a more well-known name, do you think she will switch her university commitment from Auburn to a higher-ranked team? She doesn’t seem like the type of gymnast to go to a 16th-ranked school, especially if she makes the Olympics.

I think for many gymnasts, it’s about more than rankings. I remember when Alexis Vasquez surprised everyone by going to Denver at a time when she was considered a huge candidate for a top-five school and people assumed it was maybe because she wanted to be “a star” at Denver, but nope…she just valued that program for reasons that went beyond ranking (and now Denver is a top program anyway, so I guess that worked out well for her). Sunisa is going to Auburn for reasons that go beyond how the team is currently ranked, and I don’t think her status as a top elite will change that. If anything, it’s cool to see higher-profile gymnasts go to schools that aren’t top-five programs. They bring more recognition to the program and can help it grow.

I’ve seen people mention that federations can’t tell gymnasts they can’t go to apparatus world cups. Don’t gymnasts have to be sent by their federation? Can someone like Jade Carey just go rogue and qualify a nominative spot without USA Gymnastics’ support?

Yes, gymnasts have to be sent by their federation. Basically the whole “federation can’t tell them they can’t go” thing just means that within reason, a federation can’t limit an athlete’s participation in an Olympic qualifying meet. Most federations set standards that athletes have to meet, and the U.S. standards are pretty high, so most U.S. gymnasts would not be allowed to attend the world cups, but Jade met the U.S. requirements thanks to her 2017 performance at worlds, and so USA Gymnastics couldn’t limit her from attending the world cups. If a gymnast in the U.S. didn’t meet the U.S. standards to compete at world cups, she couldn’t just go off to the world cups on her own and compete…it’s an FIG meet, so she’d still need to be registered with the FIG (which usually happens because your national federation registers you) and she would need the federation to approve her as a competitor, even if the deal was that she had to pay for it on her own or something.

Will you be at this year’s American Cup? I’d love to meet you!

I might end up going! Flights are cheap and fit into my gymnastics travel budget. I always have terrible luck with actually getting to American Cups, however…there always seems to be some sort of crazy snowstorm either where I’m based or in the American Cup location, and with it being held in Wisconsin this year, I’m fully anticipating a problem, hahaha. But I’m planning on it and crossing my fingers that it works out!

Why don’t we see cat leaps anymore?

I think because it’s just not in-trend within the current code…with the A+A dance requirement on beam where one element must reach 180, it’s become kind of de rigeur to do a double jump combo with two of the easier A or B jumps. It’s easier to connect two jumps than it is to connect a jump to a leap, so even though a cat leap to split jump still wouldn’t be super difficult, it does require a bit more effort and balance than the back-to-back jumps. And since the cat leap is just an A skill, there really isn’t anywhere else in the routine where this would add value, so it’s just kind of ignored, as are the other lower-valued leaps/hops in the code.

Why are so many gymnasts homeschooled from an early age? Is it really impossible to do school and age-appropriate activities in addition to gymnastics? Was it really necessary for Laurie Hernandez to leave school at an early age? If gymnastics goes back to being a sport for women and not just teenagers, would young gymnasts see themselves having longer careers and try to have a “normal” high school experience?

More and more gyms, especially at the higher level, are beginning to offer homeschooling programs to very young gymnasts who show lots of promise, so like…TOPs gymnasts who are eight or nine and look like they could be on the elite track will opt to homeschool in their gym’s classroom because it’s easier to manage workout times when they do early mornings plus afternoons without their parents needing to shuttle them back and forth.

I think many elite-level gymnasts have shown that it is absolutely possible to do gymnastics while managing a high-level training schedule, so I think gymnasts like Laurie could probably manage if if that’s what they wanted, but I think the homeschooling aspect does become appealing for those who primarily want to focus on the sport. If school is coming second to them anyway, and they’re missing a lot of classes and falling behind due to their training schedules, having the option to tailor an academic schedule and curriculum to their own needs is definitely helpful, especially if the gym can provide on-site tutors, or if they’re in really high-tech online programs that have active teachers as opposed to just your mom teaching you out of a math book, haha.

Even though elite gymnasts are staying in the sport longer, I think for most gymnasts coming into the elite level at 12 or 13, the idea is still “I’m going to do as much as I can now because what if my body gives out before I become an adult?” Most plan on trying to be at their most competitive peak by 16, and then if that lasts a lot longer, great! But the majority are still going to be physically done with elite-level skills before they hit 20, so most will not want to wait until they’re 18+ to get started. If they do end up having super impressive longevity, excellent, but when you can’t anticipate when you’ll burn out, you’re going to want to try to do as much as you can early on in your senior career, meaning girls 16-18 will always be where we see the majority of gymnasts at an international level. I think the only thing that could change this is if the FIG upped the senior level to 18+, in which case gymnasts will be forced to wait, and that could have an affect on choosing to stay in school versus homeschooling.

Since Jade Carey is going for a nominative spot at the world cups, does she have to choose between vault and floor?

No, if she qualifies on one, she’ll automatically get to compete all four events at the Olympic Games.

Is Lieke Wevers still training?

Yup! She competed at world championships last year after an almost two-year absence, and she’ll be in contention for the Olympic team this year.

I heard that beam was judged harshly at worlds in 2017 because they took the code literally and by now everyone has fixed their routines to not receive those deductions. What does this mean? Something about arm waves and choreo in and out of skills?

So, the code this quad wanted to see gymnasts doing routines that had a lovely, natural flow to them. Many gymnasts try to give the illusion of being fluid by swinging their arms between skills to keep their momentum going even though their bodies aren’t actually moving in a way that is natural or human. All of these unnecessary movements were something the current code attacks, and it seems like in 2017, judges were told to go balls to the wall when they saw these movements, as well as other wonky movements or pauses that ruined the flow of a beam routine. Turns out there were a ton of gymnasts trying to “cheat” their fluidity or just otherwise did not have a good natural rhythm to their routine, and so the judges truly popped off on them and gave everyone a 6 for execution lol. Things weren’t as extreme in 2018, but then last year, I felt beam was a little tighter than it had been in Doha, with some notable exceptions for high-quality routines. I feel like how strict the judges are varies from meet to meet, but I have a feeling they’re not going to be as strict at the Olympics, where scores always get a bit loose, especially for top programs.

Do you know anything about Yuri van Gelder? He doesn’t want to compete for the Netherlands but has been going to a few competitions and said he’s going for the Olympics. Can he qualify to Tokyo without the support of the Dutch federation?

I had assumed that he was going to try to compete for an apparatus cup spot for the Netherlands, though assumed he wouldn’t make the actual four-person team as a specialist. He would need the Dutch federation to send him to the world cups, however, so he’d still need some connection to the program even if he didn’t want to be on the actual team. He did a few of the challenge cups in 2018, but hasn’t been to a world cup yet, so he’s pretty much out of contention for a solo Olympic spot.

If the bar shakes after a toe-on but the gymnast doesn’t hit the bar during the flight phase, will a hit-the-bar deduction still be incurred?

No…the bars shake a lot! Unless a judge misinterprets it as hitting the bar or something, but the judges know what they’re watching and would know the reverb from the bar is related to the momentum of the release and not from the gymnast hitting the bar.

Let’s say Jade Carey qualifies a spot for Tokyo and the U.S. qualifies the all-around world cup spot and would also place high enough for the Pan Ams spot but they don’t get it because they already have two spots. But then Jade gets injured and can’t go, and her spot goes to the girl who placed second at the world cups. Would the U.S. not get the Pan Ams spot back? 

No, they wouldn’t be eligible to get the Pan Ams spot. If Jade gets a nominative spot but then gets injured and has to withdraw from the Olympics, her spot would go to the gymnast next-in-line on whatever event she qualified to the Olympics at the apparatus world cup.

When did Riley McCusker’s bars improve? Do you think they’re competitive on the world stage?

I think her bars have always been pretty excellent? She has her little moments here and there, but overall it’s an incredibly technically proficient routine with big, clean, and lovely elements. She’s definitely competitive on the world stage with her routine…maybe not medal-worthy, but she’d make a final with a hit routine in qualifications. I think if anything, her nerves just get to her a bit too much there, which has limited her in the past. But if she can become a better mental competitor on bars, she’d be unstoppable.

Why are double fronts off bars so popular this quad? They’re still a D, and you basically can’t avoid a step/jump on the blind landing.

I don’t know, to be honest. I’m guessing it’s gymnasts who feel more comfortable with front saltos than they do with putting a full twist into a back salto, especially when coming off a high bar, where you don’t get as much height/airtime to complete the flips as you would in a pass on floor. Those who can’t manage even a full-in on bars are stuck with a lower-valued dismount, so they try double fronts instead because they don’t have to put any twists in and it can be “easier” to get them around while still getting a D, but then they almost always have iffy landings, so it’s like…just do a piked double back and get a lower skill value but don’t lose anything in execution?! 

But I don’t know why this quad would change things in particular…if anything, because the CR for having a D+ dismount disappeared, you’d think gymnasts who struggled with bars dismounts would just do the double pike. I don’t see any real incentive to the double front in this code, so maybe it’s just something that gymnasts are trying out with the hope of upgrading into a double front half-out?

Do you know why McKayla Maroney switched from GymMax to AOGC? Any idea what she’s up to now?

The story has long been that she felt limited or held back at GymMax, especially in terms of what she was vaulting. I think they wanted to pace her a bit more, but she (and her parents, I assume) felt like she should be competing higher-level skills, so they moved her to a gym that would push her faster into more difficulty (apparently she had the Amanar while at GymMax, but the coaches wouldn’t let her compete it because she was too young, which like…get it). There was also some stuff with the GymMax coaches having to split their attention between her and Kyla Ross, as they were both vying for Olympic spots in 2012, and so McKayla’s family felt she’d be better off at a gym where she’d be the sole focus? But I don’t know for sure. I can’t remember McKayla ever saying definitively why she made the change.

I feel like a group of Diana Varinska, Angelina Radivilova, Anastasiia Bachynska, and Valeriia Osipova could do exciting things in Tokyo. Do you think Ukraine has a chance at qualifying to the Olympics as a team? How many individuals could they realistically qualify?

So an old question, but I did talk about Ukraine’s potential to get a full team to Tokyo in several previews and I still think had they put together an error-free qualifications performance, they would’ve had a strong chance at getting close, especially after Brazil made mistakes. They ended up getting within about two points of qualifying, and that was with being in the first subdivision, which was brutal on their scores. One of the German girls with a weak bars sets outscored Diana Varinska’s pretty solid routine by several tenths, and I was just flabbergasted at how insanely tight the scoring was for Ukraine compared to later sessions. If they had a fair shot in a later subdivision, I think they would’ve been right on the bubble, even more than they were.

Do you think it’s more of an advantage to be born towards the beginning or end of a quad? 

I think the middle of the quad is the sweet spot, because then you get some competitive experience at world championships and are more on the national team radar, especially in the U.S. where there’s a lot of depth, but it really depends on the gymnast. 

Some girls who turn 16 in the first year of a quad end up being unbeatable all quad long, and it doesn’t matter that they’re 19 in the Olympic year…they’re still the best and still have longevity in them even beyond the Olympics. Then there are others who turn 16 in the first year of the quad who can barely last a year because their bodies just physically can’t hold on much longer. 

On the other end, there are some girls who turn 16 in the Olympic year who are just so super confident and badass, they don’t need that worlds experience to make teams and crush it, and there are other girls who turn 16 in the Olympic year who just don’t have the mental strength or maturity to compete at that level and need a bit more time to get there mentally, even if they’re physically ready. 

I think in general, having a year or two as a senior elite prior to going into an Olympic year is ideal, but it really depends on your maturity as a competitor as well as your body’s ability to hold up. I think a gymnast who comes up slowly and steadily as a junior, turns 16 in the middle of the quad, ups her difficulty game as a senior to make worlds teams, and then slowly continues to add more and more difficulty at a steady pace into the Olympic year is always going to be best-suited to making an Olympic team.

If gymnasts who are pursuing the world cup qualification for an individual spot are successful, are they guaranteed to be sent to the Olympics? Or is it still up to the federation?

If gymnasts earn a nominative spot whether through world championships or continental championships as an individual athlete from a non-qualified team, or through apparatus world cups, she is guaranteed to compete at the Olympics and the federation can’t take that spot away from her.

Why did Trinity Thomas decline her worlds camp invitation? Does she not want to double-team it with college, or is she trying to go the world cup route?

I believe this question was for 2018, but it seemed like she knew she wouldn’t be involved in the selection for 2018 and opted to just go to college and get her NCAA career started with the goal of returning to elite the following year and hopefully having a stronger shot. She accepted her worlds team trials spot last year, but obviously didn’t make the team, and going into the 2020 season, it seems she has turned down her national team status, as she’s no longer listed as being part of the team, though she is reportedly planning on competing elite this summer, which is badass.

I’ve noticed that everyone with a double pike as their last pass on floor is super buckled. Is there a reason for this?

They’re probably just tired. I think buckling is also more noticeable out of a double pike because your legs are straight in the air and you then have to bend them to absorb the landing, so it looks like they’re buckling a bit more than someone who is landing from a double tuck, where their legs are already bent and the transition to the landing isn’t as severe.

Why are the shaposh and Tkachev variations all named differently depending on the entry when usually connections aren’t named for anyone?

The variations in this sense are because the entry literally changes the skill. On beam, if you do a front aerial into a scale, you’re still doing a connection where neither of those two skills on their own is changed by the connection. But on bars, a Tkachev in the most basic sense is a giant swing into the release. When you do a stalder to a Tkachev, you’re no longer doing a giant swing into the release…you’re doing a stalder swing into it, and so it’s no longer a Tkachev in the traditional sense. The stalder actually makes it a brand new skill, so even though it seems like it’s two different connected skills, it isn’t really. The same goes for shaposh skills, where a Shaposhnikova is a clear hip into the flight back to grasp the high bar. When you do a stalder shaposh, you’re not doing a stalder into a Shaposhnikova…you’re getting rid of the clear hip entirely and it thus becomes a brand new skill.

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

16 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. On the question if a federation can take a gymnast’s nominative spot away, I agree that they cannot take the spot away from her/him, however I think she/he is still not guaranteed to go. I believe the federation can still decide to forfeit the spot and not to send anyone. I feel it happened before, maybe Veronica Wagner?

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    • Yeah, the federation can definitely refuse in this sense, if they feel the gymnast does not meet criteria to go. That of course means they lose the spot entirely and can’t switch it over to another athlete…it happened to Wagner, and it’s also happened to South African athletes a few times when they didn’t earn their Olympic spots through competition but rather through the continental representation allotment, which they considered a “pity spot” and refused to accept in both 2012 and 2016. This is pretty rare, but any country has the ability to decide to not send an athlete or team to the Olympics…they just can’t decide that they’re going to send one athlete over another if their fave didn’t qualify.

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  2. Sunisa Lee committing to Auburn is pretty obvious. Head coach Jeff Graba is head coach of the Auburn Tigers. Jeff’s twin brother Jess owns and is head coach of Midwest Gymnastics where Sunisa trains and is coached by Jess.

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    • Yup…obviously those are her reasons for going, and why Auburn also has several other Midwest commits. I think most people understand the connection, but still with Sunisa’s rise, I think people still expect her to pick a “bigger” program despite her connections to Auburn.

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      • Which is weird because it isn’t like she is the first nor will she be the last to choose a non-powerhouse school to compete for.

        Kelly Garrison Steves chose to compete at Oklahoma, Jenny Hansen went to Kentucky, and Alicia Sacramone went to Brown- all for personal connections or for personal reasons. Sacramone went to Brown so she could continue to train elite at Brestyan’s for example.

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  3. RE; Homeschool

    Having taught a level 10 making the transition to elite, I can attest that at least in some cases, the choice is not a simple a decision. I had more than one meeting with the gymnast’s parents about curriculum differences, social development, and alternative options that could keep her with her peers. However, it was when the US national team strongly encouraged camp attendance each month- and that was on top of travel for meets and doctor appointments, etc.- it totaled more missed days than many states required for matriculation to the next grade. While there was some flexibility for athletes of this caliber, it was understandable why homeschool became more and more viable option.

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    • Yeah, it totally makes sense that homeschool would be the better option for most kids in that situation. Even if you have a school that’s really flexible, you still end up missing so much in the classroom that it can be really hard to catch up, and at that point it’s like, why not just do it in a way that works better? I think people worry that homeschool isn’t as good an option for kids to get solid educations, and in some cases that’s definitely true, but the Connections Academy programs seem to work really well in bringing a legit high school curriculum, and they have real teachers on board so it’s not like the older programs where you just get a pile of books and your mom teaches you at the kitchen table. I remember Kyla Ross was telling me one year that she had to miss a month of school for worlds and she was able to keep up with most of it, but she completely bombed physics because she had no idea what was going on and it wasn’t something she could just read from the book and learn on her own. I feel like in that case it might have made more sense to take some classes via an online program or something, and understand why many choose to just do everything online from a young age. If you can manage “real” school and elite, amazing, but homeschool definitely makes life easier!

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  4. I think its been long enough to call a spade a spade, McKayla and her parents got jealous of the attention and results Kyla was getting (same as Kerri Strug). It literally could not have been a time thing because AOGC has a larger program and had more elites at the time than Gym-Max.

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    • What attention was Kyla getting? Kerri Strugs story I get , she was training with WORLD famous gymnasts. What was Kyla getting attention for? Her winning Junior Nationals? Were the coaches favoring her? Explain?

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  5. There are many homeschooled gymnasts who are not elite bound, just to be competitive in JO or for college recruitment, even at compulsory levels.

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