You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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Tatiana Lysenko

It’s time for the 277th 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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Lauren, I believe I read somewhere that you started following gymnastics in 2004? Is this correct? Did you venture back to see older competitions and the stars pre-2004? Which are your standout moments from prior to this era? How far back did you venture?

I think pretty recently I said wasn’t paying attention to NCAA gymnastics in 2004? But I don’t think I said anything about not following gymnastics then. I didn’t follow it as closely in 2004 or in most of the following quad (2007 worlds is really when I started to get super interested again), but I started watching the sport in 1996 and generally watched most of the “big” meets in real time from that point on, paying particular attention to Vanessa Atler and 2003 worlds, but I was in high school at that point and I had many other interests outside of the sport so I was never involved in any online communities or anything where I discussed it or wrote about it. I basically just watched the big meets and followed the big stories.

I would say I’ve watched a ton of gymnastics pre-1996, though. Actually, having watched 1996 live, I’ve never gone back and watched that competition again, and I probably should! But I have gone back and watched a lot that I missed in real time because I was too young or not born. I’ve seen every Olympics, or what I could find from every Olympics, going back to 1976, and I’ve seen videos of various routines and skills going back to the 50s…and then some little clips here and there that predate that, but it’s mostly little clips of a woman on rings for five seconds or a group of women doing calisthenics for two seconds, haha.

I think I’ve mostly paid attention to the late 80s and early 90s, and I’d say this is where the majority of my knowledge comes from outside of what I witnessed live. This is probably my favorite era of the sport as a whole, with the 1992 Olympic all-around final something that kills my soul and brain every single time I watch it. I also really loved the Soviets during this period…Svetlana Boginskaya, Tatiana Lysenko, Olesia Dudnik…absolutely obsessed. And then Olga Strazheva’s floor routine, I was taking a music class in college and focused my thesis for the semester on Igor Stravinsky, paying particular attention to The Firebird and The Rite of Spring. It was also around this time that I was doing a lot of pre-1996 gymnastics research while writing an article for The Couch Gymnast, and I found Olga’s floor routine like one day after watching the Pina Bausch Rite of Spring and I basically died. Strazheva’s choreography and performance were absolutely perfect and everything Stravinsky and co would’ve wanted if this was like, originally created for gymnastics. That’s probably one of my favorite routines of all time thanks to my ballet connection, and anytime someone says a current Russian is “balletic” because she waves her arms around in a pretty way, I’m like NOPE, SORRY, BYE.

Anyway, many of the Soviet routines from this era kill me, not just on floor, but beam too. I’m not too attached to anything prior to this era, some routines aside…I just didn’t like the belly beat bar routines at all…I can appreciate the really clean and fluid sets where you can barely tell when they’re transitioning between the bars, but at the same time, I grew up on big releases and innovation, so I’m just not as into the more old-school routines no matter how hard I try. I’ve also obviously watched everything Nadia Comaneci has done, all of Olga Korbut’s stuff, all of the “big” meets from the 70s and early 80s…I do like some early 80s routines as well, but I get so annoyed by the political mayhem then, especially in 1984, that I’m just like “none of these results are real” and it makes me mad. I feel like I do need to go back and give 1983 more of a look, though…as a late 80s Soviet fan, I feel like I’m really missing out on Natalia Yurchenko and Olga Mostepanova and so many others, and I also wish I was more familiar with the East German team of this era.

Basically I’d say I have a pretty good understanding and knowledge of gymnastics that predates me, but at the same time, there have definitely been years and entire eras that I haven’t paid as much attention to.

Why do you think Morgan Hurd chose traditional CHINESE music for this year when the Olympics are in JAPAN? There’s so much lovely Japanese music out there.

Sometimes gymnasts try to “match” their music to the country where the Olympics are taking place, but it’s not mandatory or anything, hahaha. Morgan probably chose traditional Chinese music to honor her heritage. I feel like only one gymnast per team can really get away with having music that speaks to the host city anyway, otherwise it just feels like you’re pandering. Like, it made sense for Simone Biles to have Rio-themed music in 2016, because she was the literal star of the Games, and then Beth Tweddle’s floor music in 2012 was also a great tribute, as she was the British star competing on home soil.

It’s fine to have music that reflects the host city, but it’s absolutely not a requirement, and generally you only see a handful of people doing this anyway. It’s more important to choose music that fits you and your style than it is to pick something that could possibly be a crowd-pleaser but has zero meaning to you and isn’t something you perform well to.

Will the two individual athletes be in a mixed subdivision at the Olympics, or will they compete in the lineups with their qualified team?

So I initially read that all athletes from the same country will be in the same subdivision, but this was a few years ago, and as many things have changed since then, this could possibly be one of those things…though I can’t seem to find anything on the FIG’s website related to subdivisions and whether individual athletes will compete alongside the team.

From what I remember reading originally, the team athletes will compete together in whatever order the national team coordinator or head coach decides for the purposes of the team, and then the individual athlete(s) will compete either at the very start or very end of the rotation so that they’re not “mixed in” with the team’s strategic lineup.

I’m sure we’ll get confirmation about this once the draw is complete for the subdivisions this year, but I haven’t seen any changes here (at least that I can remember!) and assume this is still accurate.

If some gymnasts like Aliya Mustafina refuse to compete under the “neutral” team in Tokyo, does this mean they may not be sending their best team and that it could hurt Russia’s chances at a medal finish in the team final? 

I mean, yeah, but in reality it’s not going to happen this way. Aliya is far from Olympic shape and from making the team to begin with, and she’s the only one who has spoken out about not wanting to compete for a neutral team, so I think we can assume everyone else in Russia is working with Tokyo as the goal regardless of what’s going on politically. If Aliya was in top-top shape as a contender, then yeah, Russia would be missing out on a top contender, but Aliya hasn’t even been in the gym really all year (training seriously, anyway) so even though a top-shape Aliya would help the team get to the next level, with her current status, it doesn’t really matter if she wants to go or not because she’s probably not going to make the team anyway. Everyone else who is in a prime position to make the team (like Angelina Melnikova, Vladislava Urazova, Lilia Akhaimova, and others who have been doing well going into this year) is planning on competing, so I think Russia will have its best possible team in Tokyo, barring injuries.

If you were a top level 10 or former elite gymnast in the years you actually attended college in real life, which NCAA program would you have wanted to attend and what would you have looked for in a program?

I attended college between 2010 and 2013, and I was absolutely obsessed with Florida through much of that period…though my loyalty started switching over to Oklahoma in 2013. I probably wouldn’t have chosen either of those schools, however, because part of me choosing where I go to school and live my life is the location and academics on top of it being a top-20-ish gymnastics program. I probably would’ve had Stanford as my top choice, especially as it was a much stronger program at that time, and I also would’ve been super into Washington…fun fact, but I only applied to two universities, and Washington was one of them! I’ve had a love for the gymnastics program there ever since visiting the school in 2009 and getting in the following spring, even though I opted to stay in NYC for college because it was easier than moving and I already had a job here. I probably also would’ve considered Cal an option, though I didn’t know as much about it back then as I do now, and I think Utah would’ve been on my list for the location. I’d say these would’ve been my top four, but I probably also would’ve applied to some of the Ivies, most likely Yale and Brown.

Will Viktoria Listunova win the all-around in 2021?

I love these questions that are like “will someone do this” instead of “what are this person’s chances of doing this” as if I can predict that this will actually happen or not happen, hahaha. Yes, Viktoria has a chance at winning the all-around in 2021 given how talented she is now, and given the fact that the post-Olympic year generally has a somewhat depleted field overall at the world level, giving her a bit of an advantage in there not being as much competition at that time, always nice for your major senior debut. But at the same time, I think as good as she is, she still has a ways to go before becoming the best all-arounder in the world, and it’ll really depend on who decides to stick around next year. But yes, she has a shot.

Any news on what the John Geddert “removed boxes” were about/for?

So apparently they were removing boxes from his home to look for files, records, and documents related to Larry Nassar’s time spent at Twistars…I would imagine they’re looking for things like medical records, if he actually took notes on those he treated, and so on, and my guess is also that they were looking to see if any of these records could in anyway implicate John in being complicit as a co-conspirator or something along those lines? I mean, kinda too little too late, and I’d guess if he had anything super incriminating, those documents are long gone now that it’s been almost four years since Larry was first outed. Anyway, nothing I read was super detailed in terms of why they wanted these files or what they’d be doing with them, but outside of implicating John and Twistars, I’m not sure what the purpose would be this late in the game since Larry is already locked away.

How much would Diana Bulimar have added to Romania’s team total in 2014? Could they have medaled, and who would she have replaced had she been healthy?

Honestly, she probably would’ve added about a point on bars, a point on beam, and a point on floor…and I would’ve had her on the team over Paula Tudorache in a heartbeat. Romania was so close to medaling that year, even with a super young and inexperienced team, and I think had that team been given the opportunity to keep going rather than have coaches tell them how much they sucked and how badly they needed Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa to return, they probably could’ve come back for a really strong 2015 rather than almost all retiring following that season. But a healthy Diana on the team would’ve made an even bigger difference, giving them more of a cushion over Russia that would’ve allowed them to challenge even with a much weaker bars rotation.

I was watching the Oklahoma/Alabama meet from a few weeks ago and was really impressed with the turnout and enthusiasm in the stands. How did the sport get here at the college level and who would you say is responsible for starting to get bigger and bigger audiences in the arenas?

So basically, it all started with Greg Marsden, who literally invented collegiate gymnastics marketing at Utah. There are so many articles, videos, and even chapters and books about what he did to make the sport so successful at his program, and when coaches like Sarah Patterson at Alabama and Suzanne Yoculan at Georgia began following his lead in the SEC, especially in building a rivalry between themselves and their programs, they were able to do something similar to build legendary programs that really got the students and communities closely involved in wanting to follow the drama as much as rooting for the athletes on those teams.

I’d say that initial SEC rivalry between Alabama and Georgia kind of expanded throughout the SEC, especially as teams like Florida and LSU grew and began to eclipse that original big-time SEC rivalry, and now you have programs like Auburn and Kentucky growing at a super-fast rate, probably also due to the relatively new ESPN exposure in the past few years…it was kind of a chain reaction in that conference. Most other teams don’t have local followings as massive or passionate…though they’re growing.

UCLA in its heyday circa 2000-2004 was only getting a couple thousand people at meets, max, but they averaged 10,000 per meet last season, likely helped by some of their routines going viral in recent years making them much more well-known nationally as well as locally. That’s almost triple their numbers a decade ago, and Oklahoma is kind of in the same boat, getting just a couple thousand before they started winning championships, and now they’re up to about a 6,000 average, about triple what they had just a few years ago.

So on top of marketing, winning also helps, because the more you can say you’re a national champion, the more people will want to drop what they’re doing and stop by to see this incredible, unbeatable team.

I think local marketing to people in the area who generally like attending sports is the best way to get fans of various collegiate programs, because fans of the sport itself are so few and far between that you’re not going to get gymnastics fans flying around the country for various collegiate meets every weekend. The people in the stands are mostly students and people from the community who know basically nothing about gymnastics but already support that university’s sports teams, and so coaches and programs really need to build on that local fanbase to get people in the seats consistently. In the SEC, where people are rabid about college football, it was probably a bit easier than in a conference in New England, where people tend to not be as passionate about college sports in general…but there are other ways to get people in the community excited about your team, especially with so many club teams in the vicinity of most collegiate programs, and that’s why most D1 programs are able to build large and loyal crowds supporting them at home each season.

Do you know why Dong Fangxiao was retroactively disqualified for age falsification in 2000 when it’s never been done before or since? Specifically, I note that North Korea was dinged for the same thing both before and after this incident, and in both cases they were punished going forward (lifetime ban for the athlete, limited ban for the team) but they didn’t lose their places in past competitions. What made Fangxiao’s case different?

So I’ve long had this question myself, and my reasoning has always been that since China was such a powerhouse in the sport, retroactively nullifying all of Fangxiao’s results to strip of her of all individual results as well as to strip the team of its team bronze would’ve shown that the FIG was a badass in punishing countries that commit age falsification with the hope that this would deter countries from doing this in the future.

I think the previous punishment with North Korea, where the country was banned from the 1993 world championships due to Kim Gwang-Suk’s age falsification, maybe showed that the FIG wasn’t harsh enough then, and so they decided to use China’s team result as a way to prove that they really mean business in cases like these. This also came just 18 months after all of the insane 2008 drama with every American calling the tiny Chinese girls “underage” and so I think because there were so many accusations around Beijing, even though those gymnasts were cleared and the FIG couldn’t do anything in that sense, going back to 2000 and punishing that team was their way of saying “I dare you to try something like this in the future.”

Later in 2010, when finishing their Hong Su-Jong investigation, the FIG then opted to just ban North Korea for two years, insuring that they’d miss the 2012 Olympics, including the men’s program, which meant no Ri Se Gwang in London. It’s a different punishment than stripping Hong of her medals, but I think at the same time, it hurt the North Korea federation just as much as stripping China of a team medal hurt the Chinese federation. In that sense, I think their decision as to how they’re punishing a federation is made to hit that particular federation where it hurts the most. I feel like taking away a team medal was brutal for China, but taking away Hong’s individual medals wouldn’t have been a huge hit on the North Korea federation…though saying “you had a chance for both women’s and men’s medals in 2012, and we’re taking that away from you” really kicked them in the ass.

Related to this, I think retroactively taking away something from China also made sense in that context, because it had happened ten years ago and so banning the current team – one of the best teams in the world – due to something that happened when they were all basically toddlers would’ve been unnecessarily harsh. Compare that to North Korea, which was still falsifying documents in 2010, and so their punishment affected the same generation of officials and athletes because it was still going on at that moment in time.

I don’t think there’s any rule book that states specifically what a punishment is going to be for each various offense, so in that sense, the FIG just tries to make it best fit the crime, and I’m sure there’s a whole process where everything is taken into context and the FIG votes on what to do. It’s similar to what’s happening with the WADA bans now, and how they’re struggling to find the best way to deal with people who break the rules, whether it’s punishing individual offenders or punishing federations, including athletes who did nothing wrong…I think it’s hard to find some sort of middle ground, which is why these kinds of punishments change over time. They want to prove a point and put a federation in a position so terrible that it makes them not break the rules in the future, but each federation is different, and one way of punishing one federation might not work for another one, which is how I see the FIG acting in its dealings with doling out its own punishments.

Do you know if Sara Taubman is close to breaking into any of the event lineups at UCLA? It looked like she didn’t even attend nationals last year. Do gymnasts only get to attend if they’re competing?

As far as I know, she’s not one of the likely lineup options if everyone is healthy. As a walk-on who wasn’t a real standout level 10 as someone who never made J.O. nationals, she’s definitely not at the same level as many of the others on the team, and while I’m sure they’re able to put together strong routines for her that fit the NCAA requirements, with so many gymnasts in this program who are at a higher level, she’d have to really be killing it in practices to break into one of those lineup spots, or she’d just have to wait until someone gets injured and they go far enough down the line to bring her in as a replacement.

As for nationals, it’s likely that she wasn’t on the trip, as programs can only have a certain number of athletes on the floor at any given time. Well, she could’ve been on the trip and in the stands, but just not out on the floor with her teammates. Technically this is also true for regular season meets, but I think some teams skirt those rules by bringing everyone along as mat-movers and “team managers” if they’re not actually competing. UCLA always has way more than they’re allowed to have on the floor, hahaha, so it’s possible you see her all season in the background at regular season meets and then not in postseason if she’s not in a lineup or an alternate for a lineup.

What’s the difference between eagle grip and reverse grip?

It all depends on the direction you turn your wrists. Reverse grip is the easier of the two. If you have your hands above you with your palms forward, rotate your palms inward 180 degrees so that your palms are now facing backwards. This shouldn’t feel uncomfortable at all, and it’s how most gymnasts hold the bar for front giants.

Okay, now go back to putting your hands above you with your palms forward. This time, you’re going to rotate your palms outward. I bet you’re going to start feeling stuck at about 90 degrees, but keep going past that tightness in your shoulders to get them 180 degrees around and facing backwards. It helps if you put your arms really far apart, but many people still can’t do it because it’s hella unnatural. This is eagle grip! And it’s hell. A lot of people also refer to this grip as L grip, but if you wanna get super technical, L grip is when you have one hand in the reverse grip position and the other in eagle grip.

It can be really hard to tell which grip a gymnast is using when doing front giants, often because you don’t see her hand positions all that well if you’re far away in the arena or if the camera isn’t zooming in, but if you look at the shoulders, you can usually tell. A gymnast doing a front giant with her shoulders pretty close together/almost touching her ears is probably doing reverse grip, but a gymnast who has really wide arms in her front giant is likely doing some sort of eagle or L grip. Knowing that, you really don’t have to look at her hand placement at all to know what’s going on in her grip, which makes things a lot easier to watch.

Do you think a Pak + Komova I or II is realistic? A lot of gymnasts do a Pak to a Chow or van Leeuwen, but I’ve never seen it into a Komova element.

I believe Viktoria Komova actually competed (or at least trained) a Komova II to Pak salto to Komova I at some point, so she’s been able to connect the two, and I think it’s definitely possible to do it…but with the way the Pak is caught, it’s definitely challenging to then bring your legs directly into an inbar position and then have the subsequent release go super well, so I’d imagine it’s why most just stick to a stalder or toe-on out of a Pak. It’d also be worth the same, since a van Leeuwen and Chow half are both also E elements, and therefore not really worth the extra work without the additional reward, and that’s why I’d imagine most don’t bother.

Did Olivia Dunne retire from elite?

Yes, she’s competing level 10 this season after an injury last year kept her from training at the elite level. She had a really strong competition at the Brestyan’s Invitational earlier this month, getting a 38.125 to finish second in the all-around, including a 9.725 on vault, and 9.675s on bars and floor, super excellent scores for J.O. I can’t believe we’ve been following her journey for something like seven years now, and I’m bummed she didn’t go further in elite, but I’m glad she’s stepping down and having fun for her final season with her club and am so excited for her to be at LSU next year. She’s gonna be a STAAAAAAR.

Do “volunteer assistant coaches” in college get any perks, like free housing or food at the university? It seems like it’s the main route into coaching NCAA and it’s basically an unpaid internship.

They get basic perks related to the team, but nothing like housing or anything like that. Most volunteers are in some way connected to the program or school, and most have other jobs and just spend a few hours a week volunteering time with the team, so they’re not like, destitute and unable to live because they’ve chosen to volunteer on the side. Some are recent college grads still taking a few classes or figuring out to do in the area, in Courtney McCool Griffeth’s case, she’s married to the assistant coach and chooses to volunteer alongside him rather than take on an official coaching job, in Jordyn Wieber’s case, she made money in other ways and gained valuable experience by volunteering for UCLA so it was worth it for her to stay, in Suzanne Yoculan’s case, she was retired and rich with the time on her hands to do what she wanted…

You also don’t have to be a volunteer coach to get on the college coaching path. It helps if you’re still figuring out what to do and are just hanging around at your old program for a bit before deciding, but many gymnasts who want to coach at this level can get assistant jobs right after graduating if they have a talent for coaching. Most people who have the opportunity to choose to volunteer their time for something basically do it because they have the means to be able to do it, so you don’t need to worry about them or if they have a place to live or food on their table, haha.

Why didn’t Jade Carey qualify for the specialty finals if she won a vault medal?

So I think this is asking why Jade didn’t qualify directly to the Olympic Games as a specialist after winning a vault medal at worlds last year, and the answer to that is because only those in event finals who weren’t part of already-qualified teams or who hadn’t already qualified as all-arounders could qualify nominative spots to the Olympics. For the women last year, Yeo Seo-jeong of South Korea was the only apparatus finalist to qualify a nominative spot to the Olympics via the apparatus finals because everyone else was either on a pre-qualified team or had qualified through the all-around days earlier.

Since the U.S. qualified a team to the Olympics in 2018, Jade wasn’t eligible to earn a nominative spot based on her apparatus finals performance in 2019. Since Alexa Moreno qualified to the Olympics as an all-arounder in Stuttgart, she wasn’t eligible to earn a spot through the apparatus finals because she had already qualified individually. But Seo-jeong didn’t qualify through the all-around, and South Korea didn’t qualify a full team, so she was eligible to qualify to the Olympics through the apparatus finals.

Why do some elite gymnasts choose different coaches and move gyms after they have had time off after the Olympics? Like Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez post-2016.

It can vary based on literally anything, and generally the reasoning is wildly different from person to person. For Simone, her coach moved away when her husband’s job required them to move to Florida, and though Simone had the option to move to Florida and train with her old coach, she also literally owned her own gym, so it was easier for her to stay put and hire a coach to come to her gym. For Laurie, she had issues with her coach and also had opportunities for experiences outside of gymnastics, so a move to the Los Angeles area made sense for her so that she could train while also taking advantage of these other opportunities. It’s not going to be the same story for any two people, really. Some feel that they have reached their peak with a certain coach and decide it’s time to move on, others want to move away to a different city, and sometimes it’s more dramatic than that.

Are the world championships rings that the U.S. women’s team got typical, or just for Americans? I can’t imagine the FIG handing them out.

I think getting rings for sports performances is a pretty American thing, so I’d imagine it’s something USA Gymnastics does to reward the team rather than something the FIG sends over as a prize. Rings are big in the U.S. for whatever reason, not even just in sports…I remember being in high school and like two years before I graduated I was told to pick out my “class ring” and I was like wtf is this, why would I spend several hundred dollars on a ring that says my school’s initials??? I don’t get it personally, but I do think they’re pretty cool as sports memorabilia if they’re given to you by an organization and they’re not something you have to buy yourself.

Who was the first person to perform a standing arabian on beam at a major competition? The earliest video footage I have seen is Viktoria Karpenko at Euros in 1998. Was she the first to perform it at a world championships or continental level?

I think she was the first to do it at the continental level, but Lindsay Wing of the United States did it at a smaller competition a year before Viktoria competed it, and then Ekaterina Lobaznyuk was the first to do it at world championships. I’m guessing because an arabian is a fairly common skill for gymnastics and tumbling, even though it was new as a beam skill, it was kind of like a front tuck or back handspring in the sense that a skill like that which has existed forever isn’t something eligible to be named just because it’s new to that particular event.

Where are some of the top women’s elite gymnastics coaches or gyms in Florida? 

Orlando Metro is one of the big ones, Brandy Johnson’s is getting up there, LaFleur’s in Tampa has been around for a while though I haven’t see any elites in a long time, at least not that I can remember…and same goes for American Twisters, though they have a really great J.O. program. EVO is also a new gym…it’s where Aimee Boorman ended up, and though she’s now retired, they built a pretty strong program over the past couple of years so it could be a bigger factor in the future. Oh, and ACE is pretty good, I feel like they’ve had some elites…and Genie’s is where Jana Bieger coaches, not a huge gym for elite, but they do have the awesome Mya Witte.

How does it work if you want to train at someone else’s gym? Who do you contact, and what are the costs?

It depends on the gym…I’ve worked with a few international gymnasts in trying to help them find gyms where they can train in the United States, and some gyms go all out, trying to help them find host families and reducing training costs if they need that help. Usually if the gym sees it as a mutually beneficial relationship, they’re willing to absorb some of the costs, especially if they’re taking in a national team member from another country and helping her make major teams. Other gyms will still require them to pay tuition, but they also do work really hard getting the gymnast set up with a host family so that she and her parents don’t have to worry about her living situation in the U.S.

For gymnasts who live in the U.S. and train at one club but want to switch clubs, I think most just get in touch with the coach, usually with their parents making the call to set something up if they’re young. The training costs would be the same as they’d be for any gymnast, for the most part…if it’s another local gym, it’s obviously easier to make the switch, but if they’re moving across the country or something, other related costs come down to living expenses…if your family’s moving and you’re just changing gyms because your family is changing locations, that’s one thing, but if you’re moving to go to a bigger gym without your family, they might need to get an apartment, or there could be an arrangement worked out with a host family like in the situation with international gymnasts coming to the U.S. It really just depends on your individual circumstances and the gym’s circumstances, and it would differ for all of them.

Are you allowed to compete while listening to music (wearing EarPods)? Are there any rules in the code of points about this? Which gymnasts would be the first to try?

There’s no rule in the code that says you can’t listen to music while competing, because it would’ve been quite difficult to shove an iPod down your leo and have your headphones connected while flipping around (though I definitely saw Bridget Sloan do it in training in 2010!) but now that EarPods can facilitate this, I can guarantee you the second someone tried it, the FIG would make a rule against it so fast.

What is the ‘resi’ landing surface?

A resi mat is a mat that you throw into the pit and it’s kind of like the midway point between throwing a skill into the pit and landing it on a hard surface. If you’ve been training an Amanar into the pit, for example, and you’re getting to a place where your positioning is correct and you’re ready to start working on landings, you usually then try it onto the softer resi mat in the pit before going straight to the hard mats or competition surface. It helps you learn how to land it without destroying your legs, because it’s made out of layers of softer foam and mesh, and it’s suuuuper thick.

Since Simone Biles will probably retire after the Olympics, what gymnasts do you think have a chance at getting gold in the all-around and event finals in the next quad?

I mean, it really depends on who’s competing, and that’s hard to say right now, because I’m anticipating a lot of gymnasts retiring between 2020 and 2021, as opposed to very few retiring after 2016. Someone brought up Viktoria Listunova in an earlier question, and I think both she and Vladislava Urazova could be huge threats next quad, but I think some of this year’s top American gymnasts are planning on sticking around for another year or so before going to college, and that’s going to add some competition. Plus, China has a lot of young gymnasts who will likely to stay until the National Games, which take place shortly before worlds in 2021, so they’re probably going to keep up some good depth…and then you never know who from other smaller programs will be huge on the international scene. It’s basically just really hard to break it down by all-around and event medals when we don’t know even remotely who will be around. After the post-Tokyo retirements, it’ll be easier to determine.

Do you think it’s possible for Brazil to qualify two extra gymnasts to the Olympic Games? Do you think that Rebeca Andrade will win the silver all-around medal in Tokyo if she’s recovered?

They’re only going to be able to get one more, max, at this stage, and that’ll likely happen if Rebeca Andrade can get the nominative all-around spot at Pan Am Championships this year. I’ve said every year since basically 2016 that Rebeca could win an all-around medal at worlds or the Olympics, and she’s been injured literally every single year I’ve said that, so while in a perfect world she would be a contender for an all-around medal in Tokyo, life has not been kind to this poor sweet angel. I think just getting to the Olympics unscathed would be a miracle at this point.

How do you think Australian gymnastics will do in the next quad?

I think it’ll depend on who they end up hiring for their head coach after Mihai Brestyan departs, and then how the gymnasts react to that new coach and if they’re able to take what they learned from Mihai and use it alongside what they’re getting from their new coach. I don’t think Mihai was there long enough to make a huge impact, though I’m hoping that some of his conditioning methods are being used at more of the club level even if the national team level doesn’t stay as consistent. I think we did see some improvements later in this quad, and thought the team looked excellent overall at worlds last year and in 2018 despite so many ill-timed injuries and retirements to some of its biggest stars (like Emily Little and Rianna Mizzen), and there is definitely some great depth in the pipeline from juniors, but we also saw a few unfortunate junior retirements…I think obviously keeping junior depth is key, and then transitioning those juniors to the senior level is also going to be what takes Australia back to a level they were at previously, but retaining highly-talented juniors seems to be a struggle for them at the moment so any new coach that comes in will need to make that a focus.

Has MyKayla Skinner had any major injuries? How was she able to compete such a high level of difficulty every week in NCAA? I’m amazed at what her body is able to tolerate!

Nope, not really anything major at all! I think she’s dealt with some Achilles soreness at times…I know that was an issue for her I believe in her junior year of college, and then coming into the elite season last year, so she was a little bit limited at one of her first camps back if I’m remembering that correctly. But I think she trains smart and keeps her body so strong, she knows when something could potentially become an injury and knows when to hold back so it doesn’t get worse. I think she’s kind of like Aly Raisman in that she is just SO solid and muscled and well-conditioned that she can take the hard landings and tough practices and have it not really affect her as much as someone who isn’t as well-conditioned, and that makes literally all the difference.

At 2020 Olympic Trials, the top two all-arounders are automatically named to the team. Will the remaining two go through the same process we’ve seen in the past two trials, going backstage and then coming out again when the team is named?

I believe it’s going to be identical to the previous two trials where the team is named backstage and then brought out to celebrate in front of the crowd, which is much nicer than naming just two at trials and then forcing everyone to attend more training camps to keep earning their spots.

What happened to Chloe Harvey?

I never followed her super closely because she was never actually at the elite level and never went to any qualifiers. Last I can see, she went to about 700 different gyms in Florida…I just clicked through all of them to find her most recent results and it seems she’s a level 8 at Coral Reef Gymnastics, most recently competing at the Sand Dollar Invitational last week where she got a 34.950 in the all-around. I know she was training a lot of cool skills at one point, but lots of kids throw tricks into the pit and don’t end up ever coming close to competing them. I think those skills probably hyped a lot of people up about her, but at the end of the day, she still has to compete.

When a gymnast falls onto the beam and climbs up again, does she already know she has lost a full point for falling? Do you think she fights to climb up because it feels better than falling even if it wastes energy? Do you think coaches should inform gymnasts more about the deductions?

I feel like you’re just taught not to fall no matter what, and sometimes a fall on the beam can be half a point, so I think even if you know you’ve completely crashed your skill onto the beam is going to get a full point, you still do everything in your power to not come off if it’s possible to fight. Even at the lowest levels, you’re taught to always fight, and it’s just ingrained in you to try hard to not fall off. Sometimes it’s not possible because your center of balance is just so displaced, you don’t have a prayer, and in that case, you just have to hop off, but so many falls are save-able. You could know the code and the deductions front to back, but still want to fight because sometimes, fighting pays off, and you never want to just give up.

The code of points classifies a Yurchenko loop as a “flic-flac from side position to front support OR clear hip circle backwards” but they define the Teza only as a “flic-flac from side position with 1/1 twist to hip circle backwards” so does that mean a Yurchenko loop with a full twist to front support would be considered an entirely new skill, or do you think they’d just amend the Teza to include it?

I feel like they could definitely just amend the Teza to include the finish in front support…there are so many things in the code that aren’t really thought through fully until something comes up to change that, in which case they just amend whatever was in the code earlier, and I think that’s definitely something that could happen here.

However…I personally think it should be a new skill, perhaps rated lower than the Teza? I feel like doing a Yurchenko loop with a full twist to the clear hip is harder than just landing the Yurchenko loop with a full to front support. I think the Yurchenko loop is characterized as both to front support or a clear hip because without the full twist, it’s not as hard and it would make sense for them to be rated the same and considered the same, but adding the full twist changes things for me. I’d keep the Yurchenko loop at a C regardless of it going to front support or a clear hip, I’d keep the Teza at an E, and I’d make the Yurchenko loop with a full twist to front support a brand-new skill worth a D.

When is the most common time of the year for gymnasts to announce their commitment to a school?

It depends. The official announcements come out when the signings happen in November and May, but for gymnasts who verbal earlier on, it can happen pretty much whenever they come to an agreement with the coaching staff of that program. I think many tend to happen in the off-season, but I’ve seen a lot of summer verbals as well. There’s absolutely no one set time for gymnasts to verbal.

Would a Chinese one-arm pirouette that starts in reverse grip, hops to L grip, then hops back to reverse grip to finish in L grip be a different element than a Ling, Healy, or Ono? It would pretty much be a Ling, but start in reverse rather than L.

I think yes, it would technically be different, but I also don’t think the difference would be enough to really matter? Like it might get named for someone but…I also could consider it not being different enough to get named since it’s basically just a Ling with the L grip to reverse grip to L grip. I could see it getting called a “reverse grip to Ling” or something. I just don’t see it differing quite enough to be brand new, I guess.

Has there ever been a national team member who was not committed yet?

Yes, many! Especially juniors, obviously, as many don’t commit until they’re 14 or 15. By the time most are seniors, they’ve committed, but even then there are some still waiting to figure things out so they won’t announce verbal commits, especially if they’re trying to figure out the timing with a program like Stanford, where you have to be accepted academically before you can commit to an athletic program.

What’s the difference between J.O. and junior elite?

I think your confusion is probably coming from the word “junior” existing in “Junior Olympic,” but “Junior Olympic” is just the name of the program and doesn’t mean that someone is at a junior level as opposed to the senior level. There are all ages in J.O., from kids aged around four or five all the way up to 18 and beyond. Some J.O. competitions, like level 10 nationals, will separate into multiple divisions with the younger divisions referred to as “juniors” and the older divisions referred to as “seniors,” but the name Junior Olympic in itself doesn’t have anything to do with someone’s age or level within the system.

J.O. has nothing to do with elite. Junior elite is, well, junior-aged gymnasts (aka gymnasts aged 15 and under) in the elite program. J.O. exists in the U.S. (and a small handful of other countries that have adopted this program, like Canada or Colombia) as a levels system for gymnasts from the early compulsory levels up through the more difficult optional levels. Each level has requirements and scores that have to be met before moving up to the next level, with level 10 being the highest in the sport.

A gymnast can stay in the J.O. system for her entire club career before going to college or retiring, or a gymnast who is successful in J.O. and wants to move on to elite can then switch over to the elite system. It’s just two entirely different systems, basically. Elite isn’t necessarily the “next step” from J.O., because level 10 is considered the final J.O. level, but elite is just another path for those who do reach the higher J.O. levels and want to compete at a more difficult level and have the ability to someday contend for the national team and international competition.

Another important distinction is that the J.O. system uses the “perfect 10” scoring that you also see in NCAA, so J.O. – especially at the higher levels – is usually considered the pathway to NCAA scholarships. Elite, on the other hand, uses the open-ended scoring system, so gymnasts making the switch from J.O. to elite (whether junior elite or senior elite) have to get used to the international code of points, which often involves basically doubling their difficulty that they’re used to in J.O.

If the individual U.S. athlete was moved onto the team due to an injury to one of the athletes, would an alternate take that spot? How differently would this work for a spot qualified through the apparatus world cups, or one of the spots that can be assigned to any gymnast?

If a federation decides to use a nominative gymnast on the actual team, they forfeit that nominative spot and can’t bring in an alternate (instead, the reserve gymnast for that nominative spot would come in if there was enough time for her to get there; otherwise, no one would get swapped in). If the federation brings in a non-nominative individual onto the main team, however, they could then bring in an alternate from their own program for that non-nominative individual spot and not have to forfeit any of their spots.

To put this into a scenario that might be easier to understand, say the U.S. team has four members, plus Jade Carey in the nominative individual spot after winning an apparatus world cup, and then they decided to bring Riley McCusker in the non-nominative individual spot (I literally threw out the first name that came into my head as someone who was most opposite Jade, there is no need to read deeply into this and dissect it as some of you have done in previous random scenarios, lmao).

Let’s say Simone Biles is injured on the team, which really hurts their vault and floor, and none of the alternates in Tokyo nor Riley in the non-nominative individual role is right to step in for her spot. The U.S. decides to bring in Jade as the person who makes the most sense to replace Simone, but because Jade had a nominative role, they couldn’t then bring in an alternate to replace Jade in that individual spot, so the U.S. would only have five compete in Tokyo (the four on the team, plus Riley in the non-nominative individual spot), and whoever placed second to Jade at the world cups would then have the option to compete at the Olympics.

Okay, now let’s say someone who is strong on bars and beam ends up needing to be replaced on the U.S. team. Riley, as the non-nominative individual, is the best option they have, so they move her to the team, and because her spot was non-nominative – meaning that it belonged to the federation, not to her personally – the U.S. can then replace Riley with one of their alternates, and they’d still have six gymnasts competing in Tokyo.

Basically, I don’t see any scenario where the U.S. or any team would give up an entire Olympic berth to move a nominative gymnast into a team spot, and think most will have appropriate alternates to fill those gaps should someone get injured.

Who is the strongest U.S. Olympic team of all time?

I would honestly say 2012. Even without Simone Biles, I would consider this a more “complete” team than the U.S. had in 2016, in that it had three of the best all-arounders in the world alongside a fantastic, powerful vaulter, and an absolutely gorgeous bars and beam worker. I feel like the only way 2012 could have improved was if they had more of a specialist for bars and beam (like Nastia Liukin if she got to a hundred percent, or Kyla Ross if she came in looking like she did in 2013 and 2014 where she was more of an individual standout), but even in saying that, Kyla in 2012 was one of the strongest at both bars and beam that the U.S. had for like, a full decade, and while 2016 had some stronger bar workers and stronger beam workers, there wasn’t anyone who could do both the way Kyla could. I think 2012 was about as close to perfect as I could’ve imagined, and I haven’t seen a team puzzle work that well ever since.

I know that Great Britain has qualified a four-member team for Tokyo, but do they have any individual spots? If not, how can they get them?

No, they don’t currently have any individual spots. They don’t really have anyone in the mix for an apparatus world cup spot, so their two options for earning individual berths would be through the all-around world cups and European Championships. I think they have a fairly good shot at both, though the all-around world cups will be tough, as they seem to be spreading the wealth a bit in terms of who they’re sending, so while I think they could come away with some strong rankings at a couple of the world cups, I think at others they could fall a bit behind and not quite get the rankings needed. But they have several strong all-arounders who weren’t part of the Olympic qualifying process at worlds last year that could qualify a non-nominative berth through Euros, and I think this is probably they’re best bet in getting at least one additional spot.

Recently Stanford was able to pull in Isabela Onyshko! Will she come in as a freshman, or will she enter as an upperclassman, like Anne Kuhm at Arizona State?

I’m not actually clear about this! I know Isabela took some university classes in Canada, so I actually assumed she had given up her NCAA eligibility to accept money to cover her expenses and training and things like that. I had heard in about 2015 or 2016 that she was considering Stanford, but when she started studying elsewhere, I just assumed she wasn’t going the NCAA route at all, so seeing her finally get to Stanford is awesome!

Because she does have some college credits under her belt, I’d guess that if those credits transfer, she could start out as a sophomore or junior at Stanford…but knowing that Stanford is a top academic program, it’s possible that those credits won’t transfer, and that she’ll be starting from scratch as a freshman academically, meaning she’d get to compete all four years. That’s actually my guess…I feel like she wasn’t fully involved in an academic program at the college level in Canada, so it’s entirely possible she won’t be transferring any classes, or even attempting to. There’s a chance she could come in at a later stage in her collegiate career, but again, freshman is my guess.

Why are the Chinese American female gymnasts so much more powerful than the Chinese born-and-raised female gymnasts? Wouldn’t Liang Chow come into China and whip them into shape with the same U.S.-style conditioning? And yet the Chinese men are very powerful on vault and floor. 

Because the Chinese American female gymnasts grew up doing gymnastics under the American system, not the Chinese system, which are vastly different. Everyone always makes (low key racist) assumptions that “all Chinese gymnasts are good/bad at [insert specific talent or skill]” but really it’s more like “most gymnasts from China who trained under the Chinese system are good/bad at [insert specific talent or skill].”

Part of the reason why Chinese American gymnasts excel at different abilities and events is because they’re not scouted for body types, so Chinese American gymnasts growing up in the American training system can start out in recreational and compulsory gymnastics at any body type and learn how to train skills that fit who they are as gymnasts. The Chinese system historically has tended to scout very young girls with very specific body types when they’re five or six years old, and then they bring these girls into provincial gyms and train them all the same way, so they develop similarly as gymnasts and most end up with similar talents and abilities. This is changing a bit, especially now that China is beginning to explore recreational gymnastics so they have more of a talent pool that goes beyond body typing, but if they’re choosing girls who are mostly long, lean, and flexible instead of those who are a bit more compact, then they’re basically choosing kids who are more suited to events like bars and beam, who don’t generally have a ton of power, especially when they’re conditioning to stay long, lean, and flexible instead of conditioning for power events like vault and floor. It has nothing to do with them merely being Chinese or even just training in China, but rather because they were selected specifically for how they looked. Not all Chinese people have the same body type, but the majority of Chinese gymnasts are built similarly because they’re chosen specifically for having that “look.”

With Chow entering the program, he did bring more conditioning to help the team with the power events, and it has definitely helped, though since most of the current generation were hand-picked at young ages for specific body types, they’re not exactly going to completely change their body types and abilities related to those body types just because they start conditioning. Many of China’s gymnasts are very tiny and slight. Building leg muscle is absolutely helping them out on floor, but it’s not going to turn them into a bunch of Shawn Johnsons. They need to bring more kids who have body types better suited to power events into the program, and then with some work and attention, they could become power kids like Shawn was.

The men in China are powerful on vault and floor because the program looks for powerful boys who can become powerful men, but the women’s program has always sort of equated female gymnasts with being tiny and slight instead of muscular and powerful. It’s an antiquated way of thinking about the sport, but most countries still consider the “pixie” gymnast ideal even though the open-ended code of points favors female gymnasts of a variety of body types, including that compact and powerful type that many countries – like China and Russia – tend to turn their noses up at. I think it is definitely changing in China, so hopefully ten years down the line we’ll see more powerful kids alongside the long and lean or slight and tiny kids, but for now, even with Chow on board, he’s working with what he has and can’t create entirely new bodies out of the team he was handed.

Why didn’t Team USA bring even one alternate in the 2008 Olympics? At some point, you’d think they’d have to weigh kicking someone off the team against what’s best for the team as a whole.

There was some issue with all three alternates getting stuck in Japan during the 2008 Olympics…I believe it had to do with their visas not going through, but none of them could travel into Beijing, and that’s why even with three injuries to the team, no one got swapped out. Honestly, I don’t think any of the alternates in 2008 would have added anything to the team, and even if all six gymnasts were healthy that year, Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, and Alicia Sacramone were going to fill 10 of the 12 lineup spots in the team final. It would’ve been nice to have an alternate at the ready if something else went wrong prior to qualifications, but ultimately I think they would’ve kept things the same and can see why it wasn’t a huge priority to fight for an alternate to come into the country.

Has anyone ever competed a double front piked off bars? I just noticed that it’s not in the code, which seems strange given that the double piked arabian and double front piked half are both listed skills.

I believe Ella Sarkadi of Hungary competed a piked double front circa 2001 or 2002, but I can’t find any video and I don’t believe she did it at an FIG competition if she did compete it, which is why it was never named or rated. I feel like that’s such a difficult skill, and that the half-out is actually easier thanks to the blind landing, which is why it probably became more common than a piked double front on its own. Same with the arabian version, which was easier thanks to the momentum built from the backward swing into it even though it had the blind landing. The double front pike gets less momentum from the front giants and then also has a blind landing, so it’s like, front double pikes, double YIKES, let’s not do this one, haha.

Katelyn Ohashi’s split landing, and others like it…how is that judged to be a stick or not?

She landed her pass pretty clearly before the split, and wasn’t like, doing the barani straight down into the split first. The judges can look at how the barani was landed before then rebounding into the split, and even though she rebounds pretty instantly, you can still tell if there was control or a lack of control into that rebound. It’s the same for any gymnast who jumps out of a pass to cover up a weak landing…even though it’s clear they’re rebounding into a jump so they don’t have to stick a landing as well, you can still tell if it’s a good landing before that rebound happens, and that’s what they judge.

Do you think a small program like Portugal’s will ever be able to produce two or three gymnasts who get 50-52+ scores regularly?

I mean, it would be nice? Occasionally you do see the really small programs get one or two at a really high level at some given time, like when the Czech Republic back in 2016 had several juniors who could all score around a 52-53, which was so amazing for them considering they had basically one senior in recent years just prior to that point who was kind of at that level…but then someone get injures or retires, and it disappears just as quickly as it came.

I think Austria gets pretty close to having three gymnasts around that level at the same time, but one is almost always injured, and Turkey was in a similar boat this quad where they had three or four all-arounders who could reach around a 51 on a good day, but they never actually all made it happen at once. Finland, too. It’s like, if teams like this could just get it together all at the same meet, even with just three gymnasts at that level, and then one or two others rounding them out, they go from a team ranked in the 30s to a team ranked around the top 24, but it really is rare to see them all able to pull it off at once.

For Olympic team selection, at what point do teams need to identify which four are going to compete as part of the team competition and who will be going as an individual? Does the U.S. have to announce “our team is these four, and these two are the individuals” at trials, or could they conceivably take five gymnasts to Tokyo and announce the day before qualifications who will be competing in the team competition?

So technically, if a team has the four team spots plus the one non-nominative spot, they could go all the way up until lineups are due 24 hours before qualifications start to determine the four on the team and the one who will compete in the non-nominative spot. I could see a decision under Martha Karolyi going this way, and I can also see the Russians doing something like this, but my hope is that team leaders have enough knowledge about who they have competing and the kinds of roles they have open to make these decisions before they get to Tokyo, because it’s really unfair to the athletes to keep them on their toes and fighting for team spots until that last possible second.

I know gymnasts who turn professional can’t compete in college, but would there be anything keeping them competing in another college sport? I watched Cheer on Netflix and the thought of Simone Biles trying out to be a tumbler is pretty awesome.

Since Navarro is a junior college and doesn’t fall under NCAA, anyone on that team can earn endorsement money and still compete (that’s why Gabi Butler was able to do the Rebel shoots and earn a living outside of her collegiate team and still compete, and now that all of those kids are becoming well-known from the show, they’re absolutely all bringing in money from appearances and endorsements while they’re still relevant). Simone could absolutely cheer for Navarro and still make her money if that’s what she wants to do when she retires from gymnastics…and tbh, I’d be super into it.

Steps on landings…when I was coming up through compulsories, if you stepped on a landing, you were always taught to step back to your original landing place or it would be considered “two steps” and thus more of a deduction. I feel lately that we see stepping up to meet that step, or a hop to get the feet together. Is it not a big deal since obviously the single step was where the control was regained and the second step is just for presenting? Maybe it was taught that way to prevent two “quick steps” that would be considered “out of control.”

I honestly don’t even know where to start with this or how to answer it? I feel like in elite, any step right now shows a lack of control, so stepping back and then stepping back into the original landing place would likely count as two steps, which is why most who step back don’t bother stepping back together…or if they do step back together, it’s just to get their control back before saluting, but they’re not actually trying to make up for deductions by doing so (unless they’re hoping the judges missed the initial step or something, and that when they look up, they’ll just remember the feet are together either from a step or a hop back into place and assume that they never budged, haha). I think this kind of answers your question? But there’s basically no such thing in elite right now that would be considered a “controlled” step so I just see any hopping the feet back together as just the gymnast’s own personal way to get control back, since they’re all kinda trained to bring their feet together regardless of what it means for the score/deductions.

My understanding is that gymnasts competing as a team at the Olympics or worlds are required to wear the same leo. Same with NCAA. If a gymnast chose to wear a unitard for religious or other reasons, would the entire team have to match even if they wanted a regular leo?

I would imagine that as long as the style for the unitard follows the same idea as the style for the leotard, it would be considered “matching” even if one girl’s “uniform” involved pants or shorts or some sort of headpiece while the others were just the more traditional gymnastics leotards. I’d guess the team would get this sort of thing cleared with the FIG prior to making the decision, but I don’t think the FIG could force an entire team to wear a unitard to match one girl’s, nor could they force the one girl who requires a unitard to dress uniformly along with the rest of the team despite it going against her religious beliefs.

How does the allocation of the additional Olympic places up for grabs for the continental championships and all-around world cups work? Are they specific to the individual, like the apparatus places, or can they be assigned to another gymnast from that country? For example, if Amelie Morgan won an individual all-around spot at Euros, could Great Britain take her as part of their four-person team and take Becky Downie as an individual instead?

The all-around world cup berths belong to the federation. For continental championships, if a country has already qualified a full team to the Olympic Games, they can send a gymnast who wasn’t part of the initial team qualification to earn a non-nominative berth (e.g. belonging to the federation) at continental championships, whereas a country that has not qualified a full team to the games can send any gymnast not yet individually qualified to earn a nominative spot (meaning it belongs to the gymnast).

For Great Britain, since Amelie Morgan was not part of the team’s qualifying efforts in Stuttgart, she could compete at European Championships and earn a non-nominative spot, so Great Britain would then have the four team spots plus the one non-nominative spot to decide how to fill when they determine the Olympic team later in the year. Even though Amelie would have qualified that spot, since it belongs to the federation and not to Amelie, it means Amelie could still factor into the team decision, and any gymnast who doesn’t make that four-person team could factor into the decision to go to Tokyo in that non-nominative individual spot.

Is Olivia Trautman injured?

The last I heard was that Olivia had a broken heel and was being worked slowly into lineups this season so that she’d be healthy for postseason. She’s mostly done bars this season, but tonight she actually returned on beam. I think the hope is that she’ll be back on vault and floor by the end of the season, but they’re playing it by ear.

Is there any way for Larisa Iordache to qualify to Tokyo?

Her only real chance to qualify is through European Championships. She’d need to reach the top two in the all-around among gymnasts not yet qualified, and since Euros are three months away and she hasn’t competed in over two years and hasn’t really been in a gym in forever, I unfortunately don’t see it happening.

Can you please explain what is meant when a double layout is called “whippy”?

For me it’s when there’s a clear break in the body line when the gymnast is flipping through the skill in the air. A fluid double layout will show the gymnast rotating through the skill with her body in a mostly straight position throughout, but in a whippy double layout, the gymnast probably struggles getting momentum into a powerful tumble like that, so she compensates by using her body to gain momentum, breaking up her body line to “whip” her body through the skill to generate that momentum, which you can see in how she bends her body and then throws it back to move through the skill faster. It’s hard to explain using text, but basically just picture a double layout with a really straight body line throughout as an example of a “correct” double layout, and then one with lots of broken body positions (either arched or piked down or even both at various times throughout the skill) as one that’s likely “whippy” when going through the air.

In your opinion who has some of the best examples of proper ring position in a leap?

FLAVIA SARAIVAAAAAAAA! I honestly couldn’t believe my eyes the first time I saw her ring positions up close. They’re perfect. In literally almost every beam routine she does, Flavia has the most perfect ring positions. Honestly, I can’t think of anyone else who even comes close…there are some who do the ring positions in a way I’d call “technically proficient,” like most of the great Chinese beam workers we’re seeing right now or someone like Riley McCusker, but Flavia’s are technically proficient and absolutely gorgeous at the same time.

I’m sure there’s a more correct name for this skill, but has anyone ever tried a front double layout off bars?

You’re correct! It would just be a front double layout. But no, no one has ever tried one. I feel like we’d need to see someone master a front double pike first, and we haven’t really yet. A front double layout is pretty close to impossible, I’d say, though maybe some tiny but mighty wee one could eventually make it happen. Especially if the FIG ever decides to raise the bar height, which I’d be into.

What do you think are some of the best-choreographed floor routines that have been competed in the last quad?

Latalia Bevan’s routine from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, everything Brooklyn Moors does, everything Eythora Thorsdottir does, Céline van Gerner’s cat routine, and probably Flavia Saraiva’s big band/can-can routine, though I think with Flavia it’s more about how she performs it than the choreo itself. Actually, I do find that choreo a bit “cutesy” and even a bit simplistic, but the thing with Flavia is that she can take “cutesy” or simplistic choreo and turn it into art, which makes a difference. Honorable mentions go to Nina Derwael, mostly because of what a great performer she is, but I think much of her choreo is also pretty well-done (though Belgian acro fans would yell at me that it’s all stolen), and to Ana Derek.

What do you think is the best way to find your balance again if you are almost falling off the beam? I see a lot of gymnasts grasping their knees or legs, or making arm circles, but that doesn’t always work out. Is there a standard way to rebalance, or do they sometimes have zero control over it?

It really depends on how you’re falling and where you’re losing your balance. If you find yourself falling forward over the side of the beam, reaching down and grabbing your legs while pulling back can help revert that forward momentum, and if you’re falling backward, arm circles can help you right yourself again. There are standard ways to help you find your balance again for each kind of loss of control, but you have to use the right ones for those particular mishaps, because if you’re falling backwards, grabbing your legs to pull yourself backwards is going to hurt more than help, haha.

Sometimes there are instances, though, where your center of balance is so lost that nothing will help you, and it’s usually in these cases where you tend not to see any fight to stay on. Viktoria Komova got a lot of flack for just hopping off the beam instead of trying to fight, but in many of these instances, she just wasn’t even close to being on the beam anymore, and no fight would’ve kept her on it, so it was good of her to conserve her energy and just focus on everything going forward rather than going through an epic but pointless fight to stay on.

What is the team captain’s role on Olympic teams?

They’re mostly the more experienced of the team, or the one who is best seen as being really level-headed and a good competitor who can help her teammates in situations where they might need that little extra boost of confidence right before going out and competing in a team situation. The coach also serves that purpose in a way, but having a team captain who is someone who is going through what you’re going through, and has been through it before and can help you get into the right mindset is super important because you just connect with your teammates more than you do with your coaches in those huge moments like at an Olympic team final, and that team captain’s job is to really motivate you or help you relieve your nerves or get you pumped up for your job in that competition. Not every team has a captain, but I like that the U.S. generally does, because it really makes a difference and unifies the team a bit more than a team that only has coaches doing a team captain’s job.

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

21 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. Re the double front pike off bars – IIRC Daria Zgoba of Ukraine did this at the 2005 Worlds during podium training. I can’t remember if she actually did it in the comp though.

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  2. On an episode of the Olympic Channel’s ‘All Around’, Morgan said she’d gone for a Chinese-inspired piece because her first floor routine was Chinese sounding and that’s why she’d made that choice this time, kinda going back to the beginning. (I’m unsure if she meant first optional JO routine or elite, she may have specified in the episode but I can’t remember off hand!)

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  3. Re the steps on landings question – I am sure I have heard Tim harp about this a few times. According to him, after a single step with one foot, bringing that foot back to the original position does not count as a second step whereas bringing the planted foot back to meet the stepped foot does count as a second step (as in the question above). Gymnasts do take that second step sometimes and he points it out as a bad decision when they do.

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  4. I read somewhere that individual athletes have to wear different leotards during qualification to differentiate between the team athletes, but I cannot recall where I read it. I can’t find the article on the FIG website either because I haven’t found a search engine.

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  5. Lauren, the fact that you get a million questions about the Tokyo qualifications process every single time is a testament to the fact the qualifications process is a complete clusterf*ck. It HAS to change.

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    • AGREED. I’m not really annoyed by them because I know it’s impossible to understand…and sometimes I get questions about qualifying where I’m like wait I know I have an answer for this but I have absolutely no idea where to find it because the FIG’s website is a mess. They have various pieces of material scattered around everywhere and it’s impossible to remember where everything is. I HATE IT.

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  6. Do you think there’s any requirement of scholarship athletes regarding posting or promotion on social media? Are they required to promote meets?

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