You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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Kyla Ross

It’s time for the 278th 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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In NCAA I often see acro series on beam consisting of a forward element to a backwards element. Why always forward then backwards, not the other way around? 

I’ve literally never thought about this before, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of anyone who does back to front, but my explanation for this is probably just that it’s easier and more natural to do front to back due to the landing positions.

If you’re doing some sort of front acro skill, like an aerial or a toss, if you end up “short” it usually just means your shoulders are slightly back and it doesn’t take much to fix, so then you’re easily able to continue the momentum into the backwards acro skill. But pretty much all backwards skills on beam don’t really lend themselves to an easy front transition.

It’s a lot harder to pull up your chest on a short back tuck and then adjust to go forward than it is to do the same from front to back, essentially. If you land with your chest down, pulling up and fixing that landing error will create a significant break in the connection, but if you just try to flip forward from your short backward landing, you’re not going to get the set you need. I think this would end up being far too risky, especially for an NCAA routine that requires perfection each week, and so while a back tuck to front handspring would be cool and unusual, it just doesn’t really work super well in terms of physics.

Any change of direction in gymnastics is difficult, so the momentum shift in a front-to-back combo is obviously not a picnic, but the back-to-front is just that much more awkward because of how most backward acro skills tend to land.

I’ve seen a few gymnasts this season doing cradle jumps on beam. I’m surprised this is allowed in the current code. Is it the lack of momentum compared to a Thomas salto that makes it still allowable? It seems like it could go wrong by landing forcefully on the neck. Where is the line between allowing/banning skills based on risk to the head, neck, and spine?

I think you’re on the right track with the “lack of momentum” answer. I think a cradle jump is just one of those things that looks far more dangerous than it is because of the head position when the skill is caught, similar to the candle mount on beam.

I’ve had people ask me before about the head/neck injuries related to the candle mount, but without that much force coming in from just a simple back dive toward the beam, there’s not much damage you can do if you are slightly off because you’re not coming into it with a ton of power (I’ve been in gyms watching girls train the candle mounts and so many of them go head- or face-first into the beam and then just roll their eyes or laugh about their mistake, and then meanwhile I’m just silently screaming).

Missing a cradle jump is also probably similar to missing a back handspring or layout stepout on beam in terms of the force of the fall, since it’s a similar kind of drop? And falls like that happen ALL the time where hands or feet slip and then the gymnast drops onto her head/back. It usually hurts, but again, because there’s not that much force when hitting the beam or floor on a fall like that, it’s not going to do any major lasting damage.

That’s the thing with most skills in gymnastics…they all come with some risk for serious injury, but something like the Thomas salto where you’re going full speed into a roll-out skill into the floor adds an extra level of danger that these beam skills don’t have. I’ve never seen anyone get seriously injured (beyond like, a concussion) hitting their head on beam, but I’ve seen multiple gymnasts get paralyzed doing simple bars dismounts or vaults because the force/power involved means that being slightly off and landing on the head/neck creates the opportunity for a devastating injury, and that force/power just doesn’t exist on beam.

There is the real off-chance that a skill like a cradle jump or candle mount or a layout stepout can go super wrong in a freak accident and potentially result in a terrible injury, but there’s that chance with any skill in gymnastics, which is why teaching safety measures and “how to fall” is the first thing gymnasts learn. The sport comes with that risk and while it makes sense to ban the skills that are the most obviously dangerous, like the Thomas salto, if we banned every skill that could potentially end in a devastating freak accident injury, the sport wouldn’t exist!

I love Arden Hudson’s vault. It’s so creative! However, when Yeo Seo-jeong got her vault named, the double handspring front, I heard commentators say no woman had ever done this vault before. I’m bad at looking at entries and counting flips but I feel like I’m going crazy. Aren’t these two vaults the same?

Nope, they’re different vaults! you’re correct in that both are front handsprings with two twists off, but the MAJOR difference is that Arden’s vault is a non-salto vault, meaning she doesn’t flip off of the table, whereas Seo-jeong is doing a layout off the table, making the same two twists a million times harder.

So you know how the difficulty value of a vault goes up when the number of twists go up? If you get half a twist added to your vault, you’re boosting your start value by about four tenths. However, if you add an entire extra SALTO to your vault, you’re not adding tenths…you’re adding POINTS. In elite, Arden’s front handspring straight into the two twists is worth a 4.0 SV, but Seo-jeong’s front handspring into a front layout with two twists is worth a 6.2 SV, which I think just highlights how incredibly difficult Seo-jeong’s is compared to Arden’s (though Arden’s is cool either way because it’s super rare to see a non-salto vault, and hers is pretty much the most difficult non-salto vault that can be done…plus she’s gorgeous at what she does).

For another example of how the addition of another salto makes a vault more difficult, a front handspring no-salto vault on its own (with no twists) is a 2.0, a front handspring front tuck is a 4.0, and a front handspring double front tuck is a 6.4. With each salto you add, you get another two full points, and if a woman was ever crazy enough to try a front handspring triple front tuck, following this pattern, it’d be worth around 8 points!

You’ve mentioned that you expect a significant number of retirements after Tokyo. Do you have any predictions?

I feel like the field right now is full of tons of gymnasts who have been around for two or more quads, and I can see many of these gymnasts now in their mid-to-late 20s or even early 30s decide to call it quits. There are some gymnasts, like Ellie Black, who were planning on retiring last quad, but then decided to hold on for one more year, which became one more quad, and so you’d expect gymnasts like these to retire this quad, but you never know if they actually will or not!

I think my biggest expectation for retirements comes from the German program…all of their top gymnasts have been around for at least two quads, with Elisabeth Seitz around for three, and Kim Bui around for four. The Japanese team will probably also see a number of veterans retire after Tokyo…these two are the biggest in terms of having lots of veterans so it’s where I see the biggest hit.

I don’t think I’ve actually seen many gymnasts announce that their retirements are coming post-Tokyo, but I do just get the feeling that we’ve had so many of the same girls on the international scene for a decade or more in some cases, and I think the end of this quad will definitely mark the beginning of a retirement wave for them, especially since internationally, we didn’t see many retire post-Rio.

Do you have any idea when tickets will go on sale for the 2020 Pan American Championships?

Unfortunately, the Pan American Championships have been postponed due to the coronavirus, so I’m not sure when they’re going to be held, or if they’re going to be held…but USA Gymnastics actually just recently announced them going on sale back when they were still expected to happen, so I’d imagine they’ll also make the announcement once they know when and where they’ll be once back on.

You’ve mentioned how it’s not realistic for a gymnast to go directly from Xcel to NCAA. Do you know if there are any gymnasts who have started in Xcel, switched to J.O., and then went on to NCAA?

I don’t know of anyone who has gone that path, but I also don’t think it’s impossible. The highest level Xcel is Diamond, where the skills are roughly comparable to level 6-7 in J.O., and the minimum age for competition is nine.

A nine- or ten-year-old who is incredibly talented and excels in Xcel could absolutely move into the J.O. program, and then start on the college track. The one catch is that they wouldn’t be able to just switch right over to level 6-7…they’d have to start at the lowest competitive J.O. level, which is level 4. But they wouldn’t have to spend a full year at each level to get up to level 6-7…since nine and ten are already past the age requirements for level 6-7, they could go compete a meet at level 4, and if they meet the requirements for level 5, they could then go and do their next meet as a level 5, and then at the level 5 meet, they could qualify right to level 6 or even skip level 6 and go straight to 7.

So in a pretty short span of time, a gymnast could conceivably go from Xcel Diamond into J.O. level 7, and if this is happening at the age of nine or ten, then there is absolutely the chance that they can make it to level 10 by the time they’d need to start looking into college recruitment.

The issue in tracking down a gymnast who has gone this path is that most collegiate bios only mention the most relative competitive experience, which tends to be level 10 and maybe some level 9, so you won’t usually follow a college gymnast’s entire career from Xcel Bronze at age five up to the J.O. switch and then through to the higher J.O. levels. I feel like unless making the switch is something a gymnast talks about regularly in interviews or something, you’d have to go through everyone’s My Meet Scores profiles to track them from a young age. I’m sure you’d find a handful of gymnasts, especially at smaller programs, who were initially in the Xcel program…not a lot, but it wouldn’t be absolutely unheard of.

I’m glad Riley McCusker has found a new gym and training mate so quickly in her elite journey. Were you surprised she went to Arizona with Jade Carey? What else might you have considered as a good option for her?

I was absolutely surprised when I saw that Riley ended up at Jade’s gym! I was picturing WOGA for her, if only because I know she has a connection to Nastia Liukin, I heard that she had visited or was going to visit, and I just assumed it felt like a natural fit, even though I’m not super familiar with any of the WOGA coaches anymore.

But I actually ended up loving that Riley went somewhere totally unexpected. I feel like too often, we put so much time into picking the “perfect” gym for gymnasts based on their skills and stylistic qualities, but I feel like the real value is being with teammates and a coach who are going to be best for you as a competitor.

Riley isn’t going to magically lose her bars abilities or learn an Amanar at this gym…she’s not going to really need to learn that much at all skill-wise, because she’s not at that stage in her gymnastics career. What she needs is something like what Aimee Boorman was for Simone Biles in their later years together, where the coach isn’t so much teaching the gymnast gymnastics, but is managing the gymnast as an athlete and making sure they have everything they need to be successful and happy in the sport.

I think Jade’s dad is an incredible “manager” in that respect. He got Jade to an incredible level as a gymnast, but he’s also “managed” her as a gymnast so spectacularly, and I feel like that’s exactly what Riley needs right now in these final stages of her elite career on the road to the Olympic Games. I went from being like “huh” to “wow, perfect” when I first heard the news, and I’m excited to see Riley able to go through the rest of her Olympic journey in this situation.

Who is coaching Olivia Greaves? Is Maggie Haney banned from entering the gym or going to her own daughter’s meets?

Victoria Levine, who also coaches at MG Elite, is now coaching Olivia and all elites who stayed now that Maggie can no longer coach. Since Maggie is not currently allowed contact with any minors (excluding her own children), she wouldn’t be able to enter the gym or attend meets, even if it’s her daughters meets.

Why are some of the junior gymnasts on the U.S. team not on the senior team even though they are age-eligible for Tokyo?

They don’t automatically transfer gymnasts from the junior team to the senior team when the year switches over and the juniors become seniors. Generally a gymnast is bumped up to the senior team based on results at a camp, or at an international meet…so like, Kayla DiCello is now on the senior team, as is Lilly Lippeatt, after both competed internationally earlier this month. The gymnasts who have yet to get bumped up to the senior team – Ciena Alipio, eMjae Frazier, Olivia Greaves, and Anya Pilgrim right now – they’re still listed on the junior team because they were named to the junior team for the 2019-2020 year, but they won’t be upgraded to the senior team until they “earn” it, so to speak.

What happens now that NCAA is canceled? Do the seniors get an extra year, or do they retire and move on? Is there no champion named this year? If seniors were allowed to redshirt, what about the freshmen coming in? How would this impact scholarships?

The NCAA is working on a way to fund any senior athletes who had their seasons cut short to return next season, but I think the priority right now is for spring sport athletes who didn’t get to compete at all, and then they’ll see if they can work out something similar for the winter/early spring athletes.

If this does happen, it wouldn’t be like redshirting. Gymnasts can only redshirt if an injury keeps them out of a certain percentage of the regular season, and typically, that means if someone competes past the first two or three meets and then gets injured, they’re no longer eligible to redshirt. Because the regular season is basically over, redshirting just doesn’t work in this case. I think they’re still going to hold teams to 12 scholarships next year, as usual, but then provide that additional funding – if they can get it – to gymnasts who were seniors this year and decide to come back for one final season. In this case, it won’t affect the freshmen next year at all, because the funding won’t becoming from the same place. Think of it as like a scholarship athlete who has a legit NCAA scholarship compared to an athlete like Jen Pinches, who had an international student athlete grant that worked differently, but still funded a spot for her on the team. If gymnasts choose to return to their teams for one final season next year, they’ll have funding that’s more like what Pinches had…a source of funding that would allow them to compete in addition to the scholarship athletes on the team.

That said, a lot of gymnasts have their lives in place already, and likely can’t change their plans at this stage in the game, for the most part. Some were probably staying in college for another year to finish up credits they couldn’t handle as student athletes, or they might be going to grad school at the same program, in which case it works out perfectly…but other gymnasts already have their post-collegiate lives planned and wouldn’t be able to back out of jobs or other situations they’ve already decided on. I can see some gymnasts coming back next season, but I think many are physically and mentally ready to be done this year.

But no, there’s no champion named this year, though we will see some accolades, like regular season champions for various conferences, as well as regular season All American recognitions, and then probably also the various awards like the AAI and Honda awards.

I’ve noticed Alyona Shchennikova really seems to pike her double layout off bars and then straighten/arch halfway through. Is that a deduction? She didn’t do it in elite, but she’s done it in her NCAA routines.

Yes, it’s multiple deductions…or should be, anyway. In elite she’d likely get deductions for the initial pike down, and then she’d also get the arch deductions when she adjusts to that position later in the skill. In NCAA they’d probably more likely take a tenth or half a tenth for a “dismount form deduction” but in elite, it would honestly probably come closer to like six tenths or something. Maybe more, plus the landing. Oh, the NCAA code!

I am confused with the meaning of the word “nominative.” When talking about individuals qualifying to the Olympics, someone with a nominative spot is definitely going. When the federations first name teams for worlds, everyone says “these teams are not final, they’re just nominative.” Is the word used differently in each case?

Kind of, but mostly because of the way we view the nominative rosters for worlds. The nominative lists prior to world championships are essentially assigning spots to gymnasts by name, similar to how the nominative berths at world cups are assigning spots to gymnasts by name, but the difference is that nominative rosters for meets are still subject to change. The FIG just needs an initial list of expected competitors a month prior to the competition so they can start planning. based on who they think is going to compete, and for the most part for most teams, nominative rosters do not change and are “true” to their name. But for the U.S., it gets confusing because they never choose the team a month out, so they submit who they expect to be on the team, nominatively, even though this team won’t be finalized until camp. So for the U.S. everyone always says “it’s just the nominative roster” which makes it sound like a roster that doesn’t matter or isn’t finalized, but that’s just because we know that the team hasn’t actually been selected yet in the U.S. For almost every other country, a nominative roster is exactly that, unless someone is injured or something.

The nominative vs non-nominative berths for the Olympic Games are slightly different, because we know a nominative spot literally belongs to the gymnast, and a non-nominative berth belongs to the federation, but the meaning of the word is still the same, in that someone is “nominated” to one of those spots. For world championships, the nominative rosters are lists of gymnasts “nominated” into those spots, however temporarily it may be for the U.S., and for the world cup Olympic qualifications, a nominative berth is a gymnast “nominated” into the spot by way of her series ranking. In both cases, a gymnast is nominated for some type of competitive experience in some way, but the Olympic qualification example just adds that additional distinction of the spot “belonging” to that gymnast.

How does the NCAA determine what is considered gymnastics? Say a gymnast gets hired to be a backup dancer where the majority of what they do is choreography but they also incorporate acrobatic skills. Would this ruin their eligibility?

The idea is that someone who competes for a sport in college as an amateur can’t get paid to do that sport outside of her amateur athletics career. At its foundation, that means a gymnast can’t get paid to do the sport of gymnastics and then also compete in college. Even if a gymnast does skills from the sport of gymnastics in any sort of paying job – like as a backup dancer, or in a commercial as a performer and not someone specifically endorsing the product with her name – then it’s different, and she can take jobs as a dancer or actor and do gymnastics skills and not have to worry about her eligibility. But she wouldn’t be able to do something like the post-Olympic tour or a professional gymnastics league series and get paid for them, and she wouldn’t be able to do commercials as herself where she’s using her name and status to endorse a product. It’s a lot of fine lines, but they make sense to me.

The one tricky part is the whole influencer stuff that happens now where you have kids essentially getting free stuff to endorse on their Instagram accounts because of who they are as gymnasts, or kids who are making bank from ads on YouTube channels using their name and “fame” to get more views and more money…some NCAA athletes have been burned for this, and others have completely gotten away with it with no problems, but because the line is so fine, I’d just stay away if I were a teenage or child gymnast hoping to get a scholarship someday.

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

35 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I’m pretty sure xcel gymnasts can enter the j.o.-system at level 5 – the gymnast I’ve seen do this did one level 5 meet to score out, and then went on to level 6.

    Regarding the endorsements on instagram, youtube etc., I think most U.S companys know how important NCAA eligibility is, and do ‘NCAA compliant’ endorsements. I don’t know how this works, but generally it seems gymnasts don’t get paid to advertize leotards, but do it for fun and some free leos. Personally, I think this illustrates how problematic the whole concept of amateurism is. I know we’re probably only talking small sums, and the photo sessions and free merch are fun for the girls, but essentially companys are profiting from these gymnasts’ work and ‘likeness’ while the girls are not allowed to be paid.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My friend who coaches Xcel said she’s had to start her gymnasts in level 4 before doing 5 and then the optional levels, but maybe that’s just her gym?

      I think now that influencers are becoming more common, NCAA is probably being a bit more lenient with everything…I used to work in influencer marketing and was always knee-deep in FTC compliance, and sometimes we had to get into NCAA rules, and we always cautioned to not risk eligibility. But this was several years ago, and a college rower was kicked out of her program for having a popular beauty channel on YouTube, so caution was the name of the game for those with NCAA eligibility (this girl never once mentioned on her YouTube account that she was a collegiate athlete, but the NCAA found out and said because she was using her name to endorse products and make money through ads, that was enough to cut her). I absolutely agree that what most girls are doing today is so ridiculously minor compared to the amount of money these programs are raking in from these athletes’ images…but I’d still suggest caution if only because there are so many fine lines and rules and there’s always a slight chance that compliance can see a gymnast is “instafamous” and decide to look into their financials. I feel like free leos and YouTube ads are probably more or less fine at this point, but I still get worried about those who tend to go above and beyond that, especially when its their parents pushing them into it when they’re like, six, lol.

      Liked by 1 person

    • No, the world cup all-around series is essentially over now that two are canceled. It can’t serve as a qualifier for the Olympics any longer because the federations would need to attend at least three meets, but only two exist now (and Tokyo is likely to be canceled too). Even if it did exist, these spots are non-nominative and belong to the federations.


  2. I know this isn’t what the question was really asking about but bhs to Arabian and bhs to Onodi are technically backward to forward acro series?


    • Not according to the code of points! Because the flow of motion continues in the same direction due to the entry into the arabian and onodi both being backwards for both, a back handspring to arabian or onodi would be considered a series with rebound between the two and wouldn’t count as a non-rebounding back-to-front series in the way a back pike to front aerial or something similar would.


      • Ah that makes sense. Thanks!

        Now I really, really want to see someone attempt a back to front series. Like a standing LOSO (landed on one foot) connected to a side aerial. I feel like Norah Flatley at full strength would make that the most beautiful thing ever.


  3. For me back to front is harder because I will have to do something with the wrong leg.
    Example, backhand spring I land on right, which means I will have to do my areal from left, which is my not preferred leg. I could also step out with the not preferred leg, but that give a big chance of a balance check.


    • A backwards jump to your hands where you kind of land on your neck on the beam and your legs tuck in a kind of wolf-jump position. Happens at .08 of this video.


  4. re: Schennikova’s dismount… in the JO code at least, there is a double pike -> layout bars dismount which is a D while the double layout is an E. I’ve never read the NCAA code but I’ve always assumed that it was the same as several NCAA athletes do it and don’t appear to be getting deductions. Not sure if the new up to the level / composition requirements this year affect this choice at all.

    There is also a USAG chart for xcel to JO transitions depending on xcel level and I believe also age of gymnast.


  5. Sorry if this is NCAA Rules 101, but maybe someone here knows this ….. since UCLA walk-on Mercedez Sanchez never competed in any of her four years at UCLA, did she technically retain four years of eligibility? Could she theoretically stay on indefinitely? or did she have to officially declare something at some point earlier?


    • Even though she didn’t compete, she was still “on the team” and so it counts toward her eligibility. I feel like in other sports where the teams are much larger with a TON of walk-on athletes, a good number of these athletes never actually see the light of day on the field, they’re still going to practice and going through the motions of being on the team and having certain things covered for them (like, they don’t get a scholarship but they get to use special resources through the athletic department that non-student athletes don’t get to use).

      Since she was on the roster all four years, they know she was at school and part of the team for all of her years of eligibility. I guess if she wanted to squeeze out one more year, she could be shady and be like oh uh yeah the reason I didn’t compete my senior year was because of a pre-season injury!!! and then redshirt for a fifth year.


  6. I think Simone Biles has been saying for a while that she’s going to retire after Tokyo. And I also think there are a few other Americans who seem to be preparing to shift over to NCAA in the fall (Jade Carey is the first name that comes to mind) although, as we’ve seen several times over, that doesn’t necessarily preclude them taking another shot at elite later next quad.


    • Yeah, the Americans are generally a given for me…and with Simone, she initially said she would retire, but then also kind of backtracked on that and given how fit she is, I can see her taking a couple of years off and then deciding to come back for 2024, which she could totally pull off!


  7. Hi Lauren! With no new events going on right now, you could do ‘live’ blog of an old competition! This might keep a bunch of us entertained while self-isolating! Love your website, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Saw that Olympics are probably postponed for a year. Does Morgan Hurd have a crystal ball? Is that secretly why she deferred until 2021 #conspiracy


  9. Pingback: You Asked, The Gymternet Answered – SportUpdates

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