It’s time for the 284th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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Which 2004 seniors do you think are most likely to make the 2021 Olympic team in China? Are there any 2005 seniors who could factor in?
Ou Yushan is definitely the biggest standout among the 2004-born gymnasts, with Guan Chenchen and Wei Xiaoyuan also both notable for their skill levels, and then Chen Yanfei and He Licheng are also pretty solid, but none of these gymnasts are quite at the level of the gymnasts who competed as seniors last year. With the extra year they’re getting to prepare, however, I can see some of them gaining exactly what they’d need to become more competitive (ahem VAULT ahem ahem), and wouldn’t be surprised to see Yushan especially in the mix as someone who could end up earning a spot.
As for the 2005 group, it’s harder to say because no one in this group is currently working at a super high level of difficulty, so there are several who have a lot of talent and could very well shoot up into relevance, but again, no one who is ready to be competitive against seniors based on what we’ve already seen them do. Wu Ran is promising on beam and floor, Yue Yue is a decent all-arounder with a clean bars set, and then Li Yanan and Zhou Yaqin are the other two who have been among the stronger standouts in this age group, but none will be competitive for Tokyo without a lot of work.
In light of the Maggie Haney decision, do you think the system works? I had a feeling USAG was going to come down hard on her to make the point that they care about victims.
I think prior to Larry Nassar, and prior to the discussion of how the culture within the sport created an atmosphere that inherently led to abuse, the USA Gymnastics system of suspending and banning coaches and others in the sport was mostly about physical and sexual abuse (and even then, it was usually only when these coaches had legal action already being taken against them, or the case was gaining momentum in the press, as with Don Peters and Marvin Sharp).
But there was literally NOTHING happening with emotional abuse. At this time it was still considered “a coaching style” more than it was considered “abuse” which is why so many parents and kids put up with people like John Geddert and Artur Akopyan and others who routinely and openly emotionally abused children in their care. I think some people knew it was a problem, and there have long been voices in the sport discussing how the culture is terrible (Jennifer Sey legit wrote an entire book about it in 2008 that USA Gymnastics mostly tried to discredit or brush off as “it was the 80s”), but in general it just wasn’t taken seriously at all and the sense was like, well, if you think your coach is too mean, go to a different gym?
Now that the culture has been exposed, and now that people actually care about how the culture can affect kids (and adults) involved in the sport, I think USA Gymnastics kind of HAS to take cases like this seriously. All of the people defending Maggie are like “come on, this is gymnastics, coaches have to be strict!” and like, yeah, some kids need coaches who are more stern and no-nonsense to be at their best, but “strict” and “emotionally abusive” are two vastly different things, and many people who came up in the sport in the 80s and 90s don’t see that difference at all, which included a lot of people in charge at USAG.
But now they kind of have to see the difference, and they need to recognize how dangerous it is for the culture to be such trash, so they need to be just as vigilant with getting emotionally abusive coaches out of the sport as they are with physical/sexual abuse. I don’t think the decision here was so much to “make a point that they care about victims” as much as it was to make a point that they’re actually starting to take emotional abuse seriously. Even a couple of years ago, immediately post-Nassar, when a group of gymnasts reported someone for bullying the case was straight-up ignored until they eventually got annoyed and dropped it, so while emotional abuse and bullying still might not be the top priority here as they’re triaging so many incoming abuse cases, it’s nice to see that they’re starting to take it more seriously and I hope they’ll continue to take it seriously even if the case isn’t as high-profile as this one was.
What are the reputations of the different NCAA teams in terms of culture? What makes a gymnast a “good fit” for different schools?
I think most programs have overwhelmingly good cultures publicly, but I think there’s also a lot of crap behind the scenes that tends to not get discussed…everyone calls NCAA “the place where elites go to be happy” and while I’m sure there are some programs that are all rainbows and kittens, I think there are also many others where the culture isn’t as healthy as we’d like to believe.
I don’t think any program is really known for having a terrible culture, at least not publicly…I’ve seen quite a few gymnasts in various SEC programs talk very low-key about issues they’ve had with coaches , but other gymnasts have loved those same programs so I think it’s important to recognize that personal issues with coaches for whatever reason don’t necessarily mean the overall culture is a bad one (I’m thinking specifically of Peyton Ernst leaving Florida as one example, and later discussing that she had a super negative experience there…but her own bad experience doesn’t seem to be indicative of a wider cultural problem based on what others have said about the program, compared to Stanford under Kristen Smyth where gymnasts were basically pitted against one another or singled out to be shamed in front of their teammates if they were perceived as not working hard enough).
In terms of gymnasts being “good fits”…I think this mostly just comes down to what she wants out of a program. A gymnast who wants a great education and more liberal environment would likely end up at a west coast school like UCLA, Cal, Stanford, or Washington, whereas one who is more conservative might go to LSU or another big SEC known for having more conservative values and incorporates prayer into team huddles or whatever. But at the same time, I don’t think most schools are so single-minded in these sorts of areas that it’s the deciding factor…maybe UCLA is known as the extreme for liberal and LSU as the extreme for conservative, but most programs have a pretty good mix of people from all backgrounds and belief systems, and that includes UCLA and LSU.
More importantly, the things that determine who is a good fit for a particular school are things like how well you click with people (coaches and your future teammates) on your recruitment visit, the location of a school, whether that school has an academic program that makes sense for what you want to do in life…it’s basically the same things you’d look for as a non-athlete choosing a university in the United States.
Nastia Liukin got a 9.525 E score on vault during the all-around final in 2008. Where did they take the deductions?
This is kinda the same question as “what did they deduct for McKayla Maroney’s team final vault in 2012,” because to the naked eye, it’s basically perfect. However, for Nastia, I think all judges likely took 0.3 for the lack of distance/amplitude, which is one of those more “hidden” or subjective deductions that we tend not to think about when looking at the overall perfection of a vault. Then I think they probably also could’ve taken for hip angle when she pops off the table (0.1 there) or possibly even for the tiniest knee bend just before landing (also 0.1, though I wouldn’t have taken that one…I don’t think they really went soft until she was landing and needed to bend for the impact), and she was also sliiiightly right of center on the landing, which could be another 0.1. Since she had 0.475 that ended up being deducted, it seems like most judges either took 0.4 or 0.5, and I think these four things make the most sense to fit into that puzzle, with the distance being the most glaring issue that every judge would’ve had to have taken. I would’ve taken distance, hip angle, and off-center for a total of 0.5.
What is your dream team of six gymnasts from any country who competed between 2009 and now (but no Simone Biles and no more than two athletes per country)?
This is based 90% on my faves and 10% on scores/strategy, but Brenna Dowell, MyKayla Skinner, Yao Jinnan, Shang Chunsong, Larisa Iordache, Ksenia Afanasyeva, and Nina Derwael. Also in editing this I realized this is seven but hey, we need an alternate, right?! I think I’d make Larisa the alternate in this scenario but it’s hard to choose.
Why do you think UCLA has struggled/not lived up to their potential these past two years with possibly the most talented team in the NCAA?
I think they lived up to their potential…for the most part they were one of the highest-scoring teams, but NCAA gymnastics is a sport determined by hundredths of tenths, and without an open-ended code, a national title is anyone’s game. It’s not like the U.S. dominating internationally in elite…part of their success is that they’re so far ahead in overall difficulty, and being able to compete that level of difficulty well. In NCAA, everyone’s on the same playing field, so it’s all about just having the best day when it counts. UCLA had a fabulous couple of seasons, and not winning an overall title in 2019 doesn’t really mean anything, while this year they also had a major coaching change and still had some really great meets even though they had a few bloopers. It doesn’t matter how talented a gymnast is…falling is part of the sport. One NCAA team can be Olympians Only and the team they compete against can be all J.O. kids, and the J.O. kids could very easily win if they have a good day and the team of Olympians doesn’t. That’s NCAA!
What happens if a gymnast sticks her landing, salutes the judges, and then has a fall? Imagine a “fall” when the gymnast steps or turns to the judges. Would it count as a fall?
It’s not part of her routine and isn’t a “skill” that can be deducted from, so it wouldn’t count as a fall. I’ve seen gymnasts trip out of their salutes (though not fall), and it’s fine. Just funny that they can stick an Amanar or something and then basically fall down walking. 🙂
If Dominique Moceanu had been healthy for trials in 2000, do you think she could have made the team?
I don’t know…I don’t think so? Her results at nationals in 2000 weren’t promising, not compared to those who ended up going…but at the same time Dominique Dawes would’ve been a no for me at nationals, but she made important improvements at trials, and maybe Domi M. could’ve had the same improvement…but I wouldn’t have taken off any of the girls who ended up making it and put Domi M. in their place, so I think I’d give her alternate at best (and then maybe bring her in when Morgan White had to withdraw).
Have there been any developments in the allegations of abuse made against Anna Li and Jiani Wu? Are we waiting for the pandemic to be over?
They’re still conducting business as usual, albeit virtually, which is how they were able to handle the Maggie Haney decision, but honestly I don’t think the Legacy Elite case is going anywhere. I heard from several sources at the gym (mostly athletes, and a couple of parents) that the claims are pretty much unsubstantiated and that Legacy Elite is known as being a haven for gymnasts in the area who have been in emotionally abusive situations at other nearby gyms (I’ve never heard athletes stand up for their coaches the way these young women did for Anna and Jiani). The person who filed the complaint may be perfectly valid in her feelings about how she was treated, but given what I last heard, I can see this investigation turning up empty if everyone else in that community is saying that there are no concerns, and this is what happens in these sorts of investigations…before they set a hearing date, they look into the concerns to determine whether it’s something they should move forward with, so if they’re getting nothing in their investigation, they usually don’t even get to the hearing stage.
It’s been months since I’ve last heard anything related to this, but I feel like it’s always going to be hard with cases like these…there’s such a fine line between a strict coach or a coach who has a bad day and yells, and a coach who is emotionally abusive, and I feel like where that line is drawn is so subjective most of the time. In the Maggie Haney case where she is swearing and calling kids names and making decisions that lead to physical harm, it’s much more clear that it was straight-up abuse, but when you have a coach who yells or says something mean out of frustration or on a bad day, it’s not GREAT, but it’s also not always indicative of abuse. As a teen in a high pressure environment I was around many adults who would situationally yell and also around many other adults who were actually verbally abusive, and while it often looked exactly the same from the outside, looking back I can easily distinguish between the two based on what my own “line” is…but I could also see how some people would put some of the situational yellers as crossing that line into abusive, and from what I’ve heard about the Legacy Elite investigation, this is most likely a gray area kind of situation.
Even if it doesn’t result in a punishment or even get to a hearing stage, I do hope this gives Anna and Jiani cause to reflect on why someone may have made accusations, and I hope they can use that as feedback on how they can change for the better going forward. I had elementary school teachers who have HAD IT UP TO HERE!!!! and would scream and make everyone put their heads on their desks, lol, so I’m sure every coach has reached that boiling point at one time or another and fully flipped out at a kid or group of kids, but if it’s happening consistently or starts crossing the line into being targeted abuse, they can very easily make changes to better manage their stress and how they react to a frustrating situation. Hopefully if nothing else, this can at least be a wakeup call, and I hope the athlete who filed the SafeSport report is now in a coaching situation where she feels happier and safer.
For the Pan American Games and Championships, was there not an age limit in the past? I see Nastia Liukin competed in 2003 as a junior amongst the seniors (same for Rebecca Bross in 2007). And the U.S. team at 2010 Pan Ams were all juniors, but other countries sent senior teams.
For the Games, at least in recent years, the regular senior elite age eligibility rules are used, so teams can only have senior-level athletes compete, but the championships – which happen every year the Games aren’t happening – have been basically every format possible, haha.
In 2018, there were separate junior and senior Pan Am competitions, and the junior competition had an all-around meet that also served as a team competition, as well as event finals, while the senior competition had a combined all-around/apparatus final as the initial stage of competition that also served as a team qualification, and then a team final. In 2017, Pan Ams were an apparatus competition only, with only seniors allowed to compete, and in 2016, it was a combined senior and junior meet where seniors only did an apparatus competition, while juniors had all-around and apparatus competitions. It seems that in 2010, the rules allowed for seniors or juniors on the same team, because for championships, PAGU is basically like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I literally never know what to expect for Pan Am Championships, but since 2011, Pan Am Games has only allowed senior competitors, and the format generally includes qualifications (which also determines the team ranking), an all-around final, and apparatus finals. It looks like prior to 2011, the competition allowed teams to include both seniors and juniors, which means it wouldn’t have been recognized as a top-tier FIG international competition by today’s rules (but I can’t find the FIG’s breakdowns of competition classifications in the 2008 quad).
Considering all that has happened at MG Elite and the change of gyms, do you think Riley McCusker will defer Florida for another year?
I think she’ll defer more due to the situation with the Olympic Games getting pushed back a year, but not due to the gym change. I think had the Olympics stayed scheduled for this summer, Riley would’ve worked toward making the team, and then likely still would have gone to Florida right after, as she planned to do, but the COVID situation absolutely will change things for her. If she made the move to Arizona to keep her Olympic dream alive, there’s no way she’s going to give up on Tokyo now, and I think she will keep training elite until Tokyo is behind her.
Assuming Jade Carey and Simone Biles retire after the Olympics, what will happen with vaulting in the U.S.? It seems it takes time for vaulters to become competitive, why is this? Do you think any other U.S. vaulters could step up to the plate in the absence of these gymnasts?
We basically saw the same situation in 2016, with Simone, MyKayla Skinner, and Aly Raisman all leaving the program after the Olympics and taking their Amanars (and Chengs, in Simone and MyKayla’s case) with them. Obviously Simone was expected to return eventually, but they still had a huge hole to fill with no real vaulters going into 2017, which is why Valeri Liukin started scouting the J.O. ranks and how he discovered Jade Carey and subsequently put her on a track that allowed her to go from “who?” to world medalist in a matter of months. I think Tom Forster will also be on the lookout for that raw vault talent going into 2021 both with talented vaulters in the current junior and developmental ranks as well as keeping his eyes peeled for potential J.O. standouts who might transition well, and I don’t think it will be a real issue when the time comes even though it might seem like it is one now.
I read somewhere that Jordyn Wieber never said a bad word about John Geddert but that she sees him as a friend? How do you see that relationship?
I heard that Jordyn said she had an incredibly good experience at Twistars, and that John basically treated her as a queen in comparison to everyone else. I’d imagine this is because she was his ticket to the Olympic Games and he wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize that, so it seems she escaped the majority of the abuse everyone else suffered in that gym and she probably didn’t realize the full extent of what her friends suffered (I’ve also heard a couple of her former club teammates speak about Jordyn pretty bitterly…not necessarily in a nasty way but more in an “I’m jealous that she had a relatively good experience in the gym while I was physically and emotionally destroyed” kind of way).
It seems Jordyn and her mom continued to have a pretty good relationship with John long after she left the gym, though I do think both of them eventually were clued into his true nature, and I believe her mom has since spoken out against him (after initially defending him) so I’d imagine Jordyn has also seen the truth at this point. I do think in many abusive situations, there tends to be the kids who get the brunt of the abuse, and then on the other side, the kids who are fully protected from it. I remember reading “A Child Called It” in middle school, which told the story of a kid whose mother brutally abused him on a regular basis, but his two brothers weren’t abused and were shielded from their brother’s treatment, so they had no idea and even defended their mom. I think it’s possible for abusers to have really strong relationships with some kids while they’re victimizing others, and since so many abusers are master manipulators, I don’t think it’s at all crazy that Jordyn’s experience would have been fantastic while others were truly suffering, and that’s likely why she was able to continue a strong relationship with him after her career ended, and why her mom was also mostly blind to what was going on behind closed doors. It’s also why so many coaches and parents are so defensive about Maggie Haney. It’s easy to call them all idiots who are pro-abuse, but they likely just saw an incredibly different side of a person who behaved one way around some people and another way around others, and when they say “she would NEVER do something like this!” it’s because they truly believe it based on the person they knew (though I wish these people would reevaluate their relationships with manipulators once they find out something sinister like this instead of just calling the victims liars, which is gross as hell…but thankfully some do eventually come around).
Obviously, Jordyn did suffer as a victim of Larry Nassar’s abuse, so even she wasn’t fully protected and she had her own terrible experience in that sense, so I’m just talking about the abuse directly under John Geddert here. And also, I’m basing everything I’m talking about here on what I’ve heard both from things Jordyn and her mom have said, as well as what her teammates have said…it’s of course possible that Jordyn also had abusive experiences with John that she either didn’t realize were abusive, or that she just has never talked about.
How does beam choreography come to life? Do gymnasts receive signature moves as kids and then maintain them as they get older? Does a choreographer teach them? Do they make their own hand moves and dance?
For beam choreography, the gym will either have a choreographer come in and create the routine (minus the skills, of course) or they’ll use a beam coach they have on staff who is generally creative with choreo and who knows what the judges’ expectations are regarding the kind of movement needed for this apparatus. When the choreographers work with the gymnasts, they try to bring in elements that fit the gymnast’s style, so someone who is elegant and dramatic would have movements that reflect this, while a gymnast who is very bubbly and sassy might have fun hand movements or facial expressions choreographed in that work in that way (I’m thinking of Brooklyn Moors in the first example and then someone like Clara Raposo in the second).
I think it’s difficult for an actual movement itself to become signature, because there’s really only so much that will fly with the FIG, though in NCAA they can obviously pop off on whatever they want, and UCLA is known for giving its gymnasts signature beam hand choreo, which is really fun. But even if the hand movements in elite aren’t so distinguishable as signature to a certain gymnast (aside from Laura Jurca’s Toddlers & Tiaras swimsuit competition choreo), often gymnasts will keep their beam choreo for most of their careers without doing too much to update it, so it kind of becomes their own personal signature even if it isn’t super recognizable.
Can we do a gymternet watch on a day other than a Saturday? Some of the Orthodox Jew gym fans want to watch as well!
I didn’t know there were gymternet watches outside of the NBC replays of the various Olympic Games, but I’m (still) trying to put a schedule together for a few meets over the coming weeks, and will try to keep other weeknights in mind!
I’ve seen a lot of comments criticizing Jordyn Wieber’s bar and beam composition in 2012. Do you agree? What were the problems? What would better composition look like?
I don’t see her bars composition often getting critiqued, but I know she tended to rush a bit and I don’t think that was so much about the composition but just getting rushed at times? I thought most of her skills fit her and her swing style pretty well, but I guess watching her set again right now, she seemed to have a lot of issues with pirouette transitions, especially when connected to flight skills, so having two big connections like this – a Maloney to clear hip full and then a toe full to Tkachev in the routine I’m watching – seems kind of foolish given how much she struggled with the timing in these connections. That’s what my criticism would be for bars.
For beam, the criticism has been more vocal, because people questioned the composition all year in 2012 and then she actually ended up taking a hit in London, so there was even more talk about how it’s crazy that fans knew how iffy her routine was while her coaches and the national team staff didn’t have a clue. Again, it’s also about connections and timing here, in that she was generally too slow. In this case, the timing didn’t lead to mistakes in the way that it did on bars, but it did lead to judges in London not rewarding connections she received at home. Her front aerial often had a considerable pause going into the one-armed back handspring to layout stepout series, and then her front handspring to standing full to back handspring series was so cool, but she would take nine billion years out of the front handspring to prep for the standing full, so it was a truly baller series, but not really worth it at all when it cost her those tenths she expected to have credited.
For bars, I think better composition would have included fewer connections into and out of pirouettes…and probably would’ve taken out some pirouettes in general? She had like, four I think, with the two Weilers opening the routine. For a gymnast who doesn’t have a great rhythm with pirouettes, that seems especially wacky. For beam I would’ve kept the front aerial into her flight series because it wasn’t a huge issue, and I probably also would’ve kept the standing full series…but I would’ve had an alternate setup there so that if it was an off-day in training and she wasn’t hitting it consistently, there would’ve been the opportunity to do the standing full on its own and then have another singularly difficult skill so that she could keep her difficulty up without relying on connections. I’m not against trying things on beam, especially if it’s a badass connection, but like, save it for an apparatus final. We’ve seen too many medal-contender beam routines not even make finals because of qualifications nonsense. Everyone getting creative needs to follow Sanne Wevers’ example of keeping it low-key in qualifications and then popping off in finals.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins