Natalia Yurchenko and Olga Mostepanova
It’s time for the 282nd edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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Can you suggest some really good meets to watch during this Nothing Time? I just watched the 2004 Olympics and the gymnastics was SO COOL! So like, a meet from an era of very cool gymnastics, or something really suspenseful or controversial?
My goal is to watch literally everything from the early 80s. I’ve kind of worked my way back a bit as an older gym fan, watching meets that I initially saw as a kid/young adult but didn’t pay super close attention to (so everything in the mid 90s until 2004) and then also have gone back a bit further into the late 80s/early 90s, in addition to also watching a lot of the major competitions prior to that (like various Nadia Comaneci-era meets, and the 1980 and 1984 Olympics).
But that period between 1980 and 1984 is what I really want to buckle down and devour, especially because the Soviets that quad are all brilliant and it’s honestly a crime that they couldn’t compete in Los Angeles. I’m thinking 1981 and 1983 worlds, what I can find from the USSR Championships (and other national-level meets from that year), European Championships that quad…there’s a LOT of early 80s content out there and I need to just do nothing but watch all of it one weekend.
Otherwise, I honestly don’t really have very many favorite meets, but I do tend to go to world championships or Europeans more than the Olympics, because I wasn’t paying attention to these at all really in the 90s, and not super closely in the early/mid 2000s either. The first worlds I really cared about were 2003 worlds, because they were in the U.S. and were relatively easy for me to follow closely, and watching qualifications from that meet is actually a good suggestion because it’s like, oh hey, here’s alternate Chellsie Memmel stepping in to DESTROY EVERYONE.
Anyway, these would be my picks, but everyone feel free to share your own in the comments!
There are a number of NCAA seniors who want another year, and another set of athletes due to join NCAA this year who will wish to defer due to Olympic postponement. Do these not match up with one another? Surely if three athletes defer, that frees up three spots for returning athletes?
I think the number of this year’s seniors compared to those who are postponing the Olympics is a ratio of like 50:1, at least, so it’s not really going to work out for the most part. At some programs like UCLA, yeah, they’ll definitely have more wiggle room as they have a number of gymnasts who may defer college another year, which could open up a few spots for this year’s seniors who might want to come back, but the vast majority of programs don’t have anyone in the mix for the Olympics, so they’re kinda stuck.
If the world isn’t recovered enough to host the Olympics next year, which doesn’t seem completely out of the realm of possibility, what will happen? Do you think they will postpone another year, or cancel? Has there ever been any kind of precedent?
The only precedent is really world wars, in which case they canceled. Up until the early 90s, the summer and winter Olympics were held in the same year, and they ended up canceling completely in 1916 for WWI, and then again in 1940 and 1944 for WWII. The difference is that during these times, it was just logistically impossible to handle mass-scale changes in a short period of time, so in 1916 they definitely weren’t like “we’ll see how things go and hopefully can make it happen next year!” They just straight up canceled everything.
Now that we do have the means to postpone more easily (even though moving the Olympics back a year is clearly sheer logistical hell for the people in charge), I can see it being postponed again, especially given all of the time and effort that has gone into getting these Games together over years and years of planning. I think the Tokyo organizing committee would much rather postpone than cancel, and think that if we are still in this situation in 2021, hopefully they will be able to reassess about six months out from when the Games are now planned and try to figure out where to go from there, whether it’s hosting an athletes-only Games in 2021, or continuing to push back. I feel like if we got into 2023 territory they’d probably just cancel at that point, but I could see them realistically pushing back to 2022 if need be.
How are Kohei Uchiyama’s chances of making the Olympic team for Tokyo?
He hasn’t been doing super well this quad due to injuries, so it doesn’t look likely that he’ll be able to come back at an incredibly high level after being a bit lacking since 2017. He’s solid on some events, but for the format in Tokyo, he’ll need to be a top all-arounder, and he just hasn’t been able to do full difficulty on floor and vault, and while his other events are typically fine (and even excellent sometimes, as was the case with his high bar in 2018), he’s also not one of the best on any of them in his own country. Honestly, with Japan’s depth, it would be harder for him to make the Olympic team than it would be for him to win a medal at the Olympics!
Last year, Kohei missed out on making the all-around final at nationals after finishing 40th out of 80 all-arounders in qualifications, and with Japan’s selection process for worlds teams, that meant he missed out on selection completely, which kind of gave him doubts and led him to suggest retirement was coming. Granted, his 40th-place finish was partly due to a shoulder injury contributing to his lacking difficulty, but was also due to mistakes, and I feel like he could’ve made it into the top 8 without falls that day.
He also came back at Senior Championships in the fall and got an 83.9 with a fall on vault, and while this meet is generally a bit overscored and while that score still wouldn’t be competitive among most of the top guys in the country, I think it still showed that he’s not yet completely out of it and if he can fight back his injuries, he can’t completely be counted out.
What is happening with Romania’s training? Are they also all on lockdown?
I’m not sure, actually…I’ve seen a few of the Romanians posting training videos randomly, but I don’t know if they’re training locally, or if the seniors all quarantining together and training (which is what some national programs are doing). Honestly, coronavirus aside, I have no idea what’s going on with their national training program anymore in general…I feel like they’re still trying to figure out who the president of the federation is, and at some point, they sent everyone back to their home gyms to train? I believe there might be a small core group of seniors training together in Bucharest, so it’s possible they’re still all together.
Who do you think is at risk of having a major growth spurt while training has been on hold? How do you think this will affect some of the chances of the younger U.S. gymnasts?
I can’t really say for sure, but I guess obviously anyone who hasn’t yet gone through puberty…which isn’t really anyone in the U.S., I don’t think. At least not anyone who was a major threat for the team? I guess now that the 2005s are in the mix, we’re looking at girls like Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely who will probably have growth spurts, but I feel like everyone else should be pretty much okay. Kayla DiCello was lucky that she kind of physically became a senior back when she was like 14, because that gave her extra time to train skills in her “senior body” rather than either (a) having to train big skills pre-puberty and then reconfigure everything after her growth spurt, or (b) hold off on training big skills entirely until going through puberty, which is usually the biggest probably for most of the younger seniors going into an Olympic year (ahem, Bailie Key, crying forever). But right now, I feel like all of the top contenders don’t really have anything to worry about in terms of growing, so the U.S. should be in the clear.
What would a Chellsie Memmel comeback look like? How high do you think she could get her D scores?
Considering she has really only been training beam and nothing else, I don’t know how realistic it would be to get back vault, bars, or floor with just a year of training after eight years off. Beam skills are “easy” in general…I have gymnast friends who haven’t done gymnastics in a decade and can still go into a gym and do an aerial without even warming up. The battle here is getting these skills onto a four-inch-wide beam, but Chellsie has been doing that already, so she’s roughly 900 miles ahead on beam compared to any other events, in which case I feel like she should literally only focus on beam and try to fight for the non-nominative individual berth that the U.S. is likely to earn via the all-around world cups or continental championships.
If she divides her attention trying to bring back events that she probably will not be able to get even close to a high level, it’s going to hold her back on beam and lead to major injury risk, but if she can just focus on beam, get her D up to a 6.5 or higher, and just crush her execution/consistency to show that she can be a major threat for an individual medal on this event, then I think this is the path she should take. She’s not going to make the team as an all-arounder. It didn’t happen for her when she had a decently competitive all-around program going into 2011 worlds, and it’s definitely not going to happen within the next year. But I really want that non-nominative spot to go to someone who isn’t a lock for the team, but who has a really excellent shot at an individual medal, and if Chellsie can be that person, GET IT.
Now that 2005-born gymnasts are able to compete, which WAG national team seniors would be in danger of losing spots on each team?
I don’t like this language of “losing spots” to 2005-born gymnasts, or 2005-born gymnasts “taking” spots. No one has earned spots on Olympic teams yet! Yes, there are lots of gymnasts in contention for spots, but they don’t belong to anyone and you can’t lose what you don’t have.
That said, the only countries that really have 2005-born gymnasts who will make earning a spot on Olympic teams more competitive are the United States and Russia. With Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely stepping up to the senior level, they’ll add to the depth the U.S. currently has, but I also think both are at a disadvantage compared to the gymnasts who have already been proving themselves over the past quad, and I think it would take a lot for either to be serious contenders over any of the current hopefuls.
But for Russia, Viktoria Listunova has been competing at a level that rivals most of the Russian seniors as an all-arounder. I was kind of thinking that the Olympics this year would have a team with Angelina Melnikova, Vladislava Urazova, Lilia Akhaimova for vault and floor, and then someone like Elena Gerasimova, Yana Vorona, or a bars girl like Anastasia Agafonova or Daria Spiridonova to round them out (knowing full well they’d have to go three-up three-count in qualifications on some events, but then being able to really bolster their bars roster in the team final to be more competitive for a medal than they would be with a lower-tier all-arounder like Gerasimova on the team…honestly, Melnikova, Urazova, Akhaimova, and Agafonova would’ve been a killer team this year if Agafonova was at the top of her game on bars and beam).
But Listunova coming in with a DTY and one of the best floor routines in the world in addition to generally excellent work on bars and beam would mean that final spot would then go to Listunova. I guess she could also replace Akhaimova, considering their strengths are the same, but I think Akhaimova bringing a strong vault and a solid all-around performance could be more valuable than risking a two-event gymnast like Agafonova, or a lower-tier all-arounder like Gerasimova (who is lovely, but really only would add value on beam, and her scores there wouldn’t be close to what Akhaimova could bring on vault).
There are a few others around the world who could throw a wrench in a more low-key kind of way, like Clara Raposo for Canada, though I think with her injury, pushing for 2005 is unrealistic. Other countries like Great Britain, France, Italy, and Belgium will also have a lot of added value in terms of boosting their depth, so while I don’t see any of their 2005-born gymnasts really challenging for their teams, they all have a high number of talented girls coming up who could be helpful if there are any injuries or retirements.
It seems like certain gymnasts incur unnecessary deductions on floor for skills they don’t really need/aren’t worth it. For example, Sunisa Lee has nine C+ skills, so if you take out the split full (potential adjustment deduction) or better yet the double tuck (flexed feet and hop deduction). Is there anything I’m missing strategy wise? Are there any routines where this comes in mind for you?
The only strategy I can think of in terms of having an extra skill that won’t add more value to your routine but is still deducted is just having a backup skill already built into your routine in case you botch something else and need to have that value there just in case, in which case it’s smart and potentially worth a tenth or three if you have a more difficult skill that might not get credit. If you miss your leap series, for example, it can be smart to have a random C leap in there somewhere already so you’re not getting in your head about making up what you lost? This can kind of work on beam, where you can pause and make changes, but on floor it usually doesn’t work out well to try to reconstruct your routine while you’re dancing and flipping without any breaks.
Do you think some top countries will make it a rule for their program that gymnasts will either make the Olympic Games team or the 2021 worlds team, but not both, in order to protect them from the physical stress, and to give more opportunities to gymnasts?
I feel like even if there aren’t official “rules” in national programs restricting gymnasts from doing both, most who do the Olympics will absolutely not want to return to do worlds two months later. Especially in the U.S. where most will either want to go on tour (assuming a tour happens) or get ready for college. I also don’t think rules should exist to “give more opportunities to gymnasts”…if a gymnast wants to compete at two major meets in the same year, and puts up the scores to qualify to both, she should have the option to do so.
Again, I don’t think anyone in the U.S. would really be ready for Copenhagen a couple of months later, but after Rio in 2016, a number of non-U.S. gymnasts got back to international competition pretty quickly, going to a few of the “money meets” that fall (like Swiss Cup and the like), and I feel like there’s the possibility that we could see a lot of non-U.S. gymnasts really pushing for both, especially if going to worlds means that they can have the potential to earn more money than they’d make otherwise. I also think that non-U.S. gymnasts are used to a wildly different competition schedule each year than the U.S. gymnasts are used to…in 2018, European gymnasts went from Euros to worlds within about two months, and we often see gymnasts in Asia basically fly from Asian Games to worlds almost directly some years, so it’s just different, and while we’re like “omg two meets in two months is too much!!!” in the U.S., gymnasts from other countries are like “hi, I did ten world/challenge cups and Euros and competed as a guest for four different clubs in the German/Italian/Spanish/French leagues, and now I’m ready for the Olympics, and then I’m gonna go to worlds, and then I’m gonna go to all of the money meets, okay?!” hahaha. Gymnasts tend to know their bodies, and I don’t think they need their federation limiting them from making both teams, especially when they’re used to competing at a super high volume in any other year.
Do you think next year’s world championships will be less competitive because top countries might send a B-team instead?
Yes, I feel like while some countries might want to capitalize on some countries not sending top squads, many gymnasts will want to rest, or even retire, after Tokyo. I can see countries with mostly young teams – like Russia, which could potentially send three gymnasts born in 2004-2005 to Tokyo! – really wanting to get the most out of those younger gymnasts by sending them to worlds after the Olympics, because their medal potential at worlds could be huge without the U.S. A-team in Copenhagen.
I think girls like Vladislava Urazova and Viktoria Listunova could be medal contenders even in a really tough field, but they’d be in even stronger positions at worlds than they’d be at the Olympics in 2021, and I can’t see Russia passing that opportunity up. They’re the key example here, but I can also see lots of smaller programs with top individual competitors – like Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos of France, or Nina Derwael of Belgium – also really pushing for any additional hardware they can get. We’ll definitely see a bunch of B-team gymnasts, but I think this will definitely add some extra motivation for those who have the potential to basically get the “easiest” world medals of their lives in these circumstances.
Had NCAA Championships not been canceled, do you think Florida would have had a chance to beat Oklahoma?
I hate hypotheticals because we literally do not know what would have happened at NCAAs where only one day matters for the title. Based on scores this season, I do think Oklahoma and Florida would’ve been hard for any other team to beat, but Florida was in the top three almost all of regular season in 2019 with an NQS just three tenths back from the top-ranked Oklahoma, and then Florida didn’t make nationals at all, and a team ranked 15th in regular season did, so…literally anything can happen. Granted, Florida’s whole vibe this season was just so beyond what it was last year, and I do think they could’ve carried that momentum into an explosive ending, but they also could’ve had one fluke fall count in prelims and not make the final. That’s gymnastics. They had a tremendous regular season regardless of what would have or could have happened at nationals, so that’s awesome in its own right, and hopefully they’ll be able to build on that going into 2021.
Who will get the final qualification spots between Eleftherios Petrounias, Liu Yang, Weng Hao, and Kohei Kameyama? What is the rule here with the two Chinese men both getting 90 points?
There is a tie-breaker between events that averages the rankings of the tied gymnasts to determine the winner, and since Weng Hao is counting a zero in his average rankings after not getting points when he finished 28th in Doha last year, Liu Yang is pretty much mathematically unbeatable on rings, meaning he’d get the rings spot, and the pommels spot will go to the guy who ends up ranked second on pommels. Right now, that’s Kohei Kameyama.
Can you explain how the tie-break system for Olympic qualification through the apparatus world cups works? Most importantly, will Epke Zonderland win the tie-breaker?
Including this question here since I just explained the situation for how the tie-breaker works between different events, with averaging rankings. But for a tie-breaker on the same event, it comes down to the actual FIG scores, so if two gymnasts both get to 90 points but one gymnast does it with a 15.0 average and the other gymnast does it with a 14.9 average, the gymnast with the 15.0 average gets the berth. Right now, Epke wins the tie-breaker against Hidetaka Miyachi, and since the Japanese federation has removed Hidetaka from contention, it means he won’t have a chance to improve on his average to beat Epke, meaning the spot is basically Epke’s.
If the NCAA sent a women’s team to the University Games, how would they fare with the code of points used?
I put together difficulty scores based on a few NCAA routines a while back and most NCAA routines are in the 3.5-4.5 range (the majority on the lower end of that, though there are a few that are in the mid 4s). Realistically, they’d probably average somewhere in the 12.5-13 range for hit routines (I’m slanting that average up a bit given that their FTYs would all score relatively well, in the mid-13s, and then those doing 1.5s or DTYs would definitely get into the high 13s/low 14s). All-around scores of around 51 would be attainable with really good performances and higher-difficulty vaults, but most collegiate-level gymnasts who go straight to Universiade with no major changes to their routines end up closer to a 49-50. Last year, the all-around podium had scores of 52.7+, and most event scores were higher than NCAA routines would be likely to earn, but I do think there’d be the possibility of reaching the team podium.
How do international students fit into NCAA? Do they walk on? Are they counted in the allotted scholarships?
It depends! Most get regular NCAA scholarships the same way U.S. gymnasts do. Some get special international student athlete grants that fund their education, so they technically count as walk-ons, but they still have their college paid for. Others can just walk on, though this is a bit more rare, like if they’re coming super last-minute, or joining a D2 or D3 team where the same scholarship opportunities aren’t available as they are in D1, though UCLA has had several international walk-ons. Pretty much any top international athlete you see going into a big NCAA program will likely have their education paid for in some way.
Any word on the Abby Johnston transfer to Arkansas from Nebraska situation? Especially given the recent accusations against Nebraska.
I don’t know about Abby’s situation specifically, but the coaches Kamerin Moore accused of mistreating her are no longer there and are being investigated, so I’d hope they’ve had a culture change since then. Stanford also had similar accusations a few years ago, but the program has changed wildly during that time, so there’s definitely hope for Nebraska to go the same route. Also, if I were at any college in the United States right now, I’d be like PLEASE CAN I TRANSFER TO ARKANSAS just so Jordyn Wieber could be my coach, haha. Hopefully it’s something more along those lines and less about her being treated poorly or abusively.
Is the postponement of the Olympic Games going to have any effect on the situation with Russia in terms of the federation ban?
Nope. The same ban will apply with the Olympics being held in 2021.
What happened for Jordyn Wieber to win day one of 2011 U.S. nationals by two points, and then in Olympic qualifications she was beaten by both Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas even though she was doing pretty much the same routines?
Well, you kind of answered it there…she was doing pretty much the same routines. Aly and Gabby weren’t at all. Jordyn was an incredible junior who peaked at about 14 and managed to hold onto that peak basically through to the Olympic Games, whereas Aly and Gabby truly did not peak until London.
At nationals in 2011, Gabby fell about a billion times and wasn’t seriously considered for worlds until she slayed at camp, and Aly was still struggling on bars and hadn’t yet “found herself” on her best events, with people still thinking that one Olympic spot was going to come down to her and Alicia Sacramone, with Alicia ultimately winning out (I personally never thought this but many people did). But over the course of that year, both improved dramatically, adding multiple skills to become locks for the Olympic team. Jordyn was excellent in 2011, and she remained excellent in 2012 even with her injury, but Gabby and Aly went from good in 2011 to incredible a year later.
All three could have made the all-around final on different days, and all three should have been in the final as three of the best gymnasts in the world, but it just so happened that Aly and Gabby were scored slightly better than Jordyn on that one particular day. It wasn’t so much that “something happened” to make Jordyn “not good enough” for the final, but rather just her not outscoring her teammates on the one day that it really mattered for her to do so.
I think there was probably also the issue of Jordyn being vastly overscored at home for most of her career, including in 2012, especially as it relates to her beam. A lot of Aly’s scores were higher at the Olympics than they ever were at home, but Jordyn’s infamous beam connections got hit pretty hard in London, among other things. She and everyone else assumed she’d get scored a certain way, so I think it was a shock for a lot of people that she didn’t get the scores she did at home.
With Shallon Olsen’s gym now closing for good, after the pandemic, where do you think she’ll go to train for the Olympics?
Well, most of her training will happen at Alabama, assuming they still have their season as usual. She’ll be there until May for school, which didn’t affect her for worlds in 2018 or 2019, so they can definitely keep that up for 2020…and then for that last home stretch over June and July, I’d wonder if there would be a way for her to train with her Omega coach at another location, like another gym in British Columbia, or even at the national center? I’m not sure what her coach’s plans are, but I’m sure it would be preferable for them to stay together going into Tokyo than it would be for Shallon to work with a random coach for two months…unless she’s able to just head to a gym where she already knows the coaches well from being with them at worlds or the Olympics previously, I guess.
Is Audrey Rousseau a contender for Canada’s Olympic team next year?
She’s not a main contender…Ellie Black, Shallon Olsen, Brooklyn Moors, Ana Padurariu, and Zoé Allaire-Bourgie are easily the top five going into team selection and no one else really has what it takes to break into that little group. That said, Audrey has looked fantastic this year, and I can see her (along with Viktoria-Kayen Woo and Isabela Onyshko) being right on the bubble.
Excluding dismounts, have you ever seen a fall on rings?
I’m always DYING to see one, but not really…like, I’ve never seen anyone just completely fall out of an element and have to hop off. Sometimes a grip will tear and they’ll have to come down for that reason, but even the most wonky handstand positions still end up working out (albeit with a major deduction, but no fall). I’m sure it’s happened at some point.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins