It’s time for the 280th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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If Konnor McClain was age-eligible, how would she factor into the Olympic conversation?
Fun how this question, received prior to the coronavirus pandemic, is now SUPER relevant considering she might just be age-eligible for Tokyo! The FIG hasn’t yet decided if 2005-born gymnasts will be eligible for the 2020 Olympic Games, now to be held in 2021. If they do determine that the 2005-born gymnasts can compete, I think Konnor will basically just add to the current depth as another gymnast with the potential to make the team, though I don’t think she’ll be a clear-cut lock like a lot of others seem to think.
Konnor is fantastic, and the fact that she matches the all-around scoring potential as all of the many seniors in that 55-56 scoring range at the junior level is incredible, but beam aside, she’s not a real standout on any event and would need some work to add more difficulty on bars and beam to truly fit in as a top all-arounder. Her beam is so incredible, with the way everyone looks at this stage right now, I’d probably have her as a top option for that non-nominative spot, because she’s kind of perfect for it…she’s not quite strong enough to be on the team itself, but she’d be a really strong built-in replacement and could potentially challenge for a beam medal.
Part of the reason why she currently isn’t as strong on most of her events as the current seniors is because she’s fully holding back for when she needs to have higher scores, and I think with a year to prepare for senior-level competition, she could definitely boost her potential quite a bit…but at the same time, it’s also really risky to change your plans from peaking in 2024 to peaking a whole three years earlier, and it might not be good for her physically or mentally to add all of this pressure going into 2021, which I think could hurt her. She’d also be up against a group of contenders who will mostly be 18+ with years of international senior experience, so at 16 with no real major international competition, that’s a huge disadvantage…
…but with her level of talent, I wouldn’t put it past her and still see her as a contender even if she isn’t one of the top contenders.
I want to try and watch/enjoy NCAA gymnastics but I find scoring so irritating and lacking in any sense, and it’s basically unwatchable as a competition to me. Can you explain how the scoring system and particularly the deductions are supposed to work? I don’t understand how knee bends, flexed toes, steps on landings, short handstands, and so on are not deducted for NCAA. Is there a code of points?
The scoring in NCAA is what’s most frustrating to me, and as much as I love the gymnasts and the routines and the excitement of seeing which teams will make it to nationals, the scoring also makes it really difficult for me to want to pay attention knowing how so many meets and moments in the sport are completely determined by really bad judging, and knowing that this really bad judging is literally a policy at this point.
I don’t blame the judges, because the reason they overscore and don’t follow any sort of code is because coaches yell at them and demand higher scores, especially among the top programs, and it’s actually a thing that judges will give coaches the scores they want so that they’ll be invited back to continue judging for these programs. A code of points exists, and all of these deductions that we see in elite or level 10 – like knee bends and flexed toes – do exist in the NCAA code of points, but they’re just disregarded because coaches are basically like “how dare you take off half a tenth for flexed toes when the rest of the routine was literally perfect?!” even though it WASN’T literally perfect…it just didn’t have any super noticeable deductions.
So much frustrates me about how this all works, especially because it only benefits some programs and not others. D3 judges are pretty much judging routines the way they’d judge J.O. gymnastics, but D1 judges take roughly two deductions in routines that probably had ten, and it just creates for a system that is completely limiting if you’re not in a program that benefits from it. I’ve seen “no major/noticeable mistakes” routines from D3 programs getting like a 9.5 which they’d consider a really good score when their routines with more noticeable errors are barely cracking a 9.0. These 9.5 D3 routines are comparable to 9.9+ D1 routines in some instances, which is insane to me. All NCAA programs need to be operating under the same judging standards, otherwise it’s like a “What’s the ratio of Stanley nickels to Schrute bucks” situation where literally nothing matters.
Anyway, I could rant about this for a million years, but I understand your frustrations with the scoring system and the issues with not deducting for deductions that exist will forever drive me crazy. My only advice to you is to watch the sport without following the scores as closely. When I watch meets and don’t check the scores or try not to pay attention to them when they’re put on the broadcast, I enjoy it so much more because the athletes truly are incredible and deserve the attention. I think of NCAA as more of a “show” or performance than a sport I take seriously, and I do think the team finals at nationals tend to rank the teams well even if the scores are straight nonsense. I think if you’re just less rigid in how you follow it, your experience is generally going to be better than if you obsess over scores and judges.
Curious about the relationship between coaches and judges in NCAA. How does it differ from the relationship in elite, which I imagine really is none?
I kind of alluded to this above, but in NCAA, coaches can speak to judges, which creates an environment that puts coaches in a position to sometimes demand the scores they want, so I’m a bit shocked this communication is allowed. In elite gymnastics, coaches can’t talk to the judges, and the athletes are penalized if this happens, so if coaches at worlds or the Olympics are mad about scores, they can put in an inquiry for the D score, but they can’t yell at the judges and demand higher E scores.
But in NCAA, it happens all the time where coaches will confront judges and ask for reasoning regarding certain scores. I have a friend who judges in NCAA, and a coach of a middle-level D1 team yelled at her for “low-balling” all of his gymnasts on vault, and he basically ranted to her about how all of the scores should’ve been a tenth higher…but the judge held firm and said all of her deductions could be backed up by the code of points so she wasn’t budging.
The issue here is not that coaches and judges can fight, but that the selection of judges for NCAA meets isn’t random, and that different programs pay different amounts in terms of the judges’ fees. There are many coveted programs judges want to be selected for, and if they go along with what the coaches want, they’ll continue to get selected for these meets. That’s why despite the high number of national- and brevet-level judges in certain areas, you see the same names on the scoresheets meet after meet, year after year. They’re not “randomly” getting those assignments…they’re getting them because they’ll hand out a 10 to seal a win or help the team reach a 198 even if a routine has multiple noticeable errors.
The whole business is very shady, and it really puts judges in a crappy position because their choice is to either toe the line and do what coaches want, or judge accurately and risk having some potential income affected. The only way to combat this is to create a system where the communication between coaches and judges is in an official capacity only, through inquiries, and to penalize teams who break these rules…and then also making the judging selection system completely random with no picking and choosing.
How is Ragan Smith doing? Is she training elite? Is she hoping to try for Tokyo?
Ragan just finished her freshman year at Oklahoma, and she’s now focused solely on NCAA competition so she’s no longer training elite or giving Tokyo a try. I’m bummed about it, and think the shape she got into when she made alternate in 2018 was incredible…and I think if she could’ve kept up at that pace, she would’ve been in a good position to at least challenge for Tokyo, but with all of her injuries (and weird mismanagement of them?) it clearly wasn’t going to be possible for her to consistently stay in top shape. I think it would’ve gotten even tougher for her as the years went on, and she would’ve had to risk her health and sanity just to maintain a level that would keep her competitive, so going a step beyond that to be one of the most competitive would’ve been even harder and I think she made the right decision to step away. She seems happy and healthy at OU now, and toward the end of the season, she started competing all four events and putting up really big scores for the team. I have no doubt that she’ll be a huge force for the program in her later years, assuming sports still exist in our dystopian future.
What should athletes do if the wrong music plays, whether it’s level 4 or the Olympics? If you’ve already started moving, are you allowed to stop and start over or are you required to continue?
So what most coaches have told me based on what they’ve been told, if the wrong music begins playing, you simply step off of the performance mat and stand to the side while they fix the issue. Typically a gymnast knows instantly that the music is wrong when it begins, so if they do start moving, they usually stop within a nanosecond knowing something’s off. However, if the music stops playing in the middle of the routine, you’re expected to continue the routine with no music.
Sometimes athletes who begin a routine with a music issue will be told to just go anyway, which I think is what happened with Brenna Dowell at worlds in 2015, because she had Martha Karolyi yelling at her from the side to keep going, but I think in that situation had she just stepped off to the side and waited for the issue to be resolved the second she knew something was wrong, she wouldn’t have been penalized.
Do gymnasts get a bonus on floor when they start the pass facing the corner and then do a half turn to run directly into the pass?
No, there’s no bonus for doing this. However, the code says that you can’t stand in the corner on two feet for a million years to prepare for a pass, and instead, you’re expected to dance into the corner and then run right out of it. This resulted in a lot of “flamingo” poses in the corner when this rule was first announced, which is when a gymnast would stand in the corner on one leg before beginning her run, but now you see more actual choreography into the corner, and sometimes that entails facing the corner and then quickly turning into the run. No difficulty bonus, but your execution won’t get docked for the whole “corner preparation” rule.
I rewatched the LSU vs Florida meet where Saarah Edwards got injured and my heart broke watching it happen over and over again. Is there some kind of rule to prevent teammates from coming to the side of an injured teammate? The hardest part was seeing her sitting by herself as they pulled and poked at her ankle.
There’s no rule, really, but everyone kinda knows that a gymnast in pain and distress doesn’t need 20 other gymnasts running around her getting in the way of her getting medical care. When injuries happen, it’s usually common for a coach to be with her along with the medics, but sometimes even coaches will hold back because the most important thing at this stage of an injury is getting treatment.
The other side of this is that the coaches and other athletes are still doing a competition, because the competition doesn’t end when someone is injured. They have to keep their heads in the game, and so that’s why often when you see someone get injured, the team will completely turn their backs and try to focus on something else so that they’re not distracted, which could lead to an injury for them. It seems cold that someone is in pain and none of her friends are even asking her what’s wrong, but at that level of competition, everyone knows what to expect and the injured athlete is never offended that her teammates aren’t there to support her. They know how this kind of thing goes, and they’d do the same thing if they were on the other side of things.
Do you think that with all of UCLA’s success, they might get their men’s team back?
I don’t think so. UCLA has seen even greater success in the past, and while it’s great for the women’s program, success for the women doesn’t necessarily equate to success for the men’s team. Gymnastics is an incredibly expensive sport to bring into a university sports program, and even if a program is relatively popular or successful, if the university can’t justify funnelling hundreds of thousands of dollars into it, then it’s not going to happen. Unfortunately, men’s gymnastics is just not super popular at the college level, and any income that comes in isn’t going to be near enough to keep a team afloat. University athletic budgets can work in a way where excess money that comes in from, say, football can then be funneled into other sports, but those sports that benefit from the more popular sports still have to be able to be justified within that budget, and it’s difficult for athletic departments to justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a sport that isn’t bringing in money of its own. You also have to remember that men’s gymnastics and women’s gymnastics are two different sports, so just because a women’s program is doing really well in terms of getting both crowds and results, it doesn’t mean that a men’s program will be able to seamlessly hatch from that.
Which vaults did Alicia Sacramone compete in college?
For her first few meets, she actually competed a non-salto vault, if you can believe it! She’d just do a front handspring with no salto, which isn’t worth anything in NCAA so she scored pretty low, but she eventually started doing Yurchenko fulls, which is what she stuck with for the rest of the season.
What is Elena Eremina’s status? Is she ever coming back to her previous shape?
Elena has been training and competing at a lower level than we remember seeing from her in 2017, but I think she’s done a lot of great work coming back from her back surgery, and now that she has an additional year to prepare for the Olympics, hopefully it’ll give her that extra time she needs to at least be in a place that’s more competitive. It’s really difficult for her to physically get back many of the skills she could do prior to her injury and surgery, but I think if she takes it slow and steady, and shows that she can be consistent on tricky events like bars and beam, then she can definitely be in the running.
Has Victoria Nguyen moved to Everest Gymnastics?
Yes, she moved to Everest I believe at some point in 2018.
Why did the Chinese women’s team win at the 2008 Olympic Games but come fourth just four years later?
A lot of times throughout the history of gymnastics competition, you’ll see that a team from a host country will really ramp up all resources to be able to have either a team or an individual in contention so they can put on a good showing in front of a home crowd. For Tokyo in 1964, the Japanese women came into prominence to get the bronze, the U.S. worked toward making it possible to win gold in 1996…China had never before been a top contender as a team prior to 2008, so they put truly everything they had into ensuring an incredible 2008 quad, and while part of that preparation gave them a solid foundation to continue at a high level into the next quads, they just weren’t unbeatable in the way that they were in 2008. They were still a top team in 2012, but injuries going into the games on top of a rough team finals performance kept them from the podium.
Is there a limit to how many gymnasts can perform two vaults from a single country to try to qualify for the vault finals?
Nope! If a country has a full team of vault hopefuls, all of them are allowed to compete two vaults in qualifications.
What time of year does USA Gymnastics release the venue/date for national championships?
It depends. Sometimes they release the information more than a year in advance, and other times they release it a few months in advance. It depends on the logistics of which arena they’re able to lock down, and how long it takes to finalize everything with the venue.
Do you think Konnor McClain should change gyms?
I don’t think so? At this point, with how everything works with the national team system where more experienced coaches act as guides/teachers for the newer elite-level coaches, I think a gymnast’s talent and potential matters more than the coach she’s with. As long as she’s in a position where she’s happy and healthy and her coach knows how to manage her potential, I really don’t think she needs to move. Some of the best elites this quad have been from gyms trying elite for the first time, which is a testament to the strength of the national team coach training/education in the U.S.
Are Jade Carey and Oksana Chusovitina fighting for the same nominative spots with vault? Can only one of them make it to the Olympics?
No, Oksana got her individual spot through qualifying at world championships in Stuttgart last year, so she hasn’t needed to fight for the vault spot. I think she realized pretty early on that she wasn’t going to be likely to qualify via the vault spot because the competition was pretty tough and her scores weren’t high enough, so she went back to training all four events so she’d have a better shot.
With the depth of the U.S. team and the fact that they’re not going to stray from the all-around rankings, wouldn’t it make sense to qualify two gymnasts after nationals (let them rest and just ‘verify’ at trials), and then select the rest of the team later?
I personally think that if they’re going to choose a team based on an all-around ranking, then it should be a combined four-day ranking between the two days at nationals and then the two days at trials, that way there’s less of a chance of a fluke happening with a gymnast who’s generally in the top four having one fall at trials to take her out of the mix. The whole “one-and-done” selections they did last year didn’t make any sense to me because it allows for so many flukes, but I think combining multiple all-around competitions is a way they can make this make sense.
If the Eastern Bloc had not boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games, would the final results have changed? Would Maxi Gnauck have defended her bars title?
Yes! There would have been lots of things shaking up the results of the 1984 Olympics. Maxi absolutely would’ve had a great shot at defending her bars title, and I also think pretty much every other podium would have changed drastically with the East Germans and Soviets in contention.
Can you recall any instances where the first gymnast up on an event for a team during qualifications reaches the event final?
It’s happened a few times! Last year at Euros, for example, Lorette Charpy was the first to go up on bars and Jade Vansteenkiste was the first to go up on floor in the very first subdivision, and they both qualified to those respective finals. It’s a little more rare to see at a major competition with a team component because even if a team with a top event finals contender is up in the first subdivision, the lineup order will usually have that top contender go up near the end of the lineup, so if Belgium starts on bars in the first subdivision, even though they have a top contender in Nina Derwael, she likely would not go up first in the order.
Is Amy Tinkler still training and if so, is there any indication when she will be back competing?
No, Amy retired earlier this year. Unfortunately she was just never able to come back from the injury she suffered just prior to the Birmingham World Cup, though she did try.
Has there ever been an effort to form a professional athlete’s union for gymnasts? Player’s unions have been very important in other sports for athletes to get fair pay and good treatment. Why not try that for gymnastics?
I don’t know if there has ever been an actual effort to form one, though I know there has been talk in the past of putting together some sort of union for gymnasts, not so much about getting fair pay but in terms of making sure their safety is taken care of and that there couldn’t be any retaliation against them if they came forward about poor treatment and things like that. People have definitely talked about it, but it’s usually former athletes who want to put something together and I don’t think they’ve had much success implementing something like it, though it would be awesome to have.
What if a country that qualified in 2018 doesn’t get a top 12 placement in 2019 worlds? Does that mean that country can’t go through the 2020 all-around world cup process to get a qualification spot? Wouldn’t that open up that qualification means to countries that didn’t qualify a full team?
I’ll retroactively answer this, but yeah, if one of the top 24 countries from 2018 didn’t finish in the top 12 at 2019 worlds, it meant they’d also be excluded from the all-around world cups, unless a country turned down a world cup spot, in which case it would open up a spot for one of the non-qualified nations to send a gymnast (for example, Russia decided not to send anyone to the American Cup, so Australia got to send an athlete). The point of the world cups is mostly to give the qualified teams an opportunity to send an additional gymnast beyond the four who make the team. The top individual athletes from non-qualified teams already had a chance to qualify as all-arounders at worlds, so it wouldn’t be likely that any would qualify via the all-around world cups anyway.
Is there any way to find updates on how retired gymnasts are doing? Like Yao Jinnan, Andreea Iridon, and so on.
The easiest way would be to follow them on social media. It’s more difficult to do that with Chinese gymnasts, since most don’t have Twitter or Instagram, but if you figure out the Chinese gymternet on Weibo, the gymnasts and fans are always posting updates.
What is training like for an event specialist who has completely stopped training certain events? What do they do with all of that extra training time?
They don’t necessarily have extra time…they just spend more time on certain events because that’s what makes them more competitive on their specialty events. If someone only trains and competes one event then they probably just cut their hours down a bit, but there’s basically always something to do with cross-training and things like that.
What are the chances of the Netherlands putting Sanne Wevers on the four-person team for Tokyo?
Since she competes two events, I’d say it could be possible if they can counterbalance her with an all-arounder who is also a strong vaulter and floor worker. A team with two all-arounders like Eythora Thorsdottir and Naomi Visser, and then Tisha Volleman as a third all-arounder with that vault/floor angle, then I think it might be worth it to have Sanne in the fourth spot even though she only does two events. Yeah, it’s risky that they’d have to go three-up three-count in qualifications on vault and floor, but what Sanne can add on bars and beam would be worth it over bringing a fourth all-arounder who wouldn’t be able to boost the team’s overall score as much.
Why have Romania dropped off the radar when they were so dominant originally?
Lots of reasons. I’ve written a lot about it, including multiple articles that you can find under the Romania tag, but long story short, they prioritized medals during a crucial period where they should have prioritized development. Instead of making sure the girls who were 14-16 got adequate training and international assignments, they put stock in veterans returning to continue to try to keep the team afloat, but that strategy failed miserably, and when the veterans all ended their careers, they pretty much just had no one left who could compete at a high enough level. The developmental program has never recovered, and while they do get some talented juniors, they never seem able to transition to the senior level. It’s been unfortunate, but you could see it breaking down before it even happened. It was easy to predict, and yet they let it happen anyway, and right now they’re trying to fix things but the entire federation is a mess and they seem to be at a point of no return (though it was great to see their juniors do so well at junior worlds last year…I just try not to get my hopes up anymore).
Is there something wrong with the way the Italian gymnasts train? Do you think the high rate of injury is a result of bad training or bad luck?
I don’t think they have a particularly high rate of injuries, at least not due to over-training or anything. I think with Vanessa Ferrari, she’s always had tendon issues and has had a million surgeries but she keeps training and competing through the pain because it’s her choice to do so. The younger seniors have all been injured here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary for gymnastics, I don’t think?
What do gymnasts do at a competition where they have days off in between? Do they train or just rest?
They usually train. They’ll typically train for the situation, so if it’s a day between qualifications and an all-around or event final, they’ll likely train for those specific finals, or if it’s a day between qualifications and a team event, they’ll train for the team situation, similar to what they might do in podium training where they do the routines in the order they’re planning on competing.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins