It’s time for the 301st edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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Are there any specific qualities you can point to that make Simone Biles so much better than everyone else at the moment? Is it purely physical or are there other factors involved as well?
I think she has that magic “perfect storm” combination of being genetically gifted for the sport of gymnastics at the most basic levels (in terms of things like her height and body type), having the right “personality traits” I guess you could say (fearlessness, a great work ethic, confidence, nerves of steel, a sense of discipline, and so on), putting in the conditioning to work her body to build strength and muscle for power while also being able to train her body to be technically proficient, having been able to hone her talent in a supportive and positive environment with a coach who pushed her but didn’t do too much too fast so that she peaked perfectly…literally everything that goes into the making of a great gymnast, Simone has it, and if it’s not something that comes “naturally” to her, then it’s something she makes a focus and eventually can perfect.
Pretty much all elite-level gymnasts have many of the personality traits in common, because you can’t get to the elite level without hard work and but that aside, it’s so rare for someone to have literally everything they need to be a total package gymnast. The hardest-working kids might have zero natural ability, the kids who are endlessly gifted aren’t well-conditioned and are prone to injury, the kids who will throw quadruple-twisting double layouts into the pit can’t do back handsprings with their legs straight…you can even have a kid who is absolutely incredible in every way, but she just can’t compete well mentally, so she has the potential to be a Simone, but just can’t ever get herself together enough to make it work out. I feel like you always get a few pieces of the puzzle, but it’s rare that you get everything with one kid. And then Simone’s like “hiiiiii!”
So when you have someone like Simone who is one of the most complete total package gymnasts to ever exist up against people who are working with half of the pieces in the puzzle box, to keep that analogy going, Simone is going to have the upperhand pretty much all the time.
That’s not to say the sport is EASY for Simone, no matter how easy she makes it look. Part of her skill is literally making one of the hardest sports in the world look like she’s at a picnic. Even if we’re used to seeing her at her best, she still works tremendously hard and has plenty of struggles. I think that was clear with a lot of her consistency issues in 2013, when she came back under so much pressure in 2018, and her current problem with motivation now that the Games are pushed back a year. But I feel like generally, a bad day in the gym or a rough competition for Simone would be a dream day for most athletes, which is almost unfair to say about Simone because it almost sounds like I’m invalidating or belittling her bad days, but it’s true! I know how upset Simone was to win an all-around title at worlds with two falls, but on the other side of the fence, I think most gymnasts would kill for the talent and skill to pull something like this off. It’s not how Simone wanted to win it, but at the same time, it’s impressive that she can make it happen, which is just a testament to how brilliant she is.
There are tons of super talented gymnasts competing right now, and there have been monstrously talented gymnasts competing since the time the sport started, but Simone is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime gymnast and we’re so lucky to be seeing it before our eyes.
What would it be like if Simone Biles did NCAA gymnastics?
I mean, what do you think it would be like?! Amazing? Phenomenal? Mind-blowing? Life-altering? The best thing to ever happen to NCAA gymnastics? I’m sure all of these fit. Even doing the most difficult skills in the world, her technique is almost impeccable, so scaling back to easier skills and routines, she’d be in a very good place to get consistent 10s. And “easier skills and routines” would mean like, opening her floor with a double double instead of a triple double. I also think Simone would’ve been most likely to do her Amanar and maybe even her Cheng in NCAA competition, just for fun, just because she can.
My one concern for her hypothetical NCAA career is that she has so much power, she tends to be a bit bouncy on her landings, especially if it’s an easier pass, because she just has so much energy left over. Simone can do the most difficult routine in NCAA with flawless technique, but if she’s hopping back 20 feet on all three of her floor passes, then she’s at like, a 9.85 max, plus whatever out-of-bounds penalties she incurs. That would obviously need to be a big focus for her in NCAA, but for the most part, she’d be the queen of the league.
How likely do you think it is that we will actually see some of the huge skills some gymnasts are training right now in competition? For example, Simone Biles’ triple double beam dismount, Jade Carey’s triple double bars dismount, Morgan Hurd’s double double off beam, and Skye Blakely’s triple tuck on floor? Is it more playing around, or is it serious?
I think most are essentially dream skills being played out in the gym because they have room to play right now with no competitions looming, though I can see a couple seriously being refined and brought to the competition floor. With at least seven or eight months before camps start again, no one’s training for anything in the immediate future, so they have time to play around with big skills they have no intention of competing, and I think most of what we’re seeing on social media is just everyone getting out the energy that has been pent up for the past three months, but you never know…they could be “just for fun” right now but if they look reasonably manageable, then who knows? I think of all of these, Jade doing a triple double off bars is the most realistic, but it would be really cool to see Skye or someone seriously training a triple back with the intention of competing it!
What happened to Lizzy Leduc? Did she end up going to an NCAA team?
Lizzy initially committed to LSU, but then she ended up going to Illinois instead. She competed for her freshman and sophomore seasons at Illinois, and even qualified individually to nationals as a freshman because she won floor at regionals, but then she was no longer on the roster in the 2018 season due to a “violation of team rules” according to the university, and then she officially retired in the summer of 2018.
If a gymnast fell on a skill on beam/bars, would it still be counted towards the D score? Or do they lose the value as well as take the deduction for the fall?
It depends on whether the skill was completed or not. On bars, for example, if a gymnast does a Jaeger and falls, she can still get the skill to count towards her D score if she grasps the bar before falling, but if her fingers don’t touch the bar, the skill is considered incomplete, and she doesn’t get the skill value in her D score. On beam, most falls happen on the landing after a skill is completed, so it’s rare that you don’t see a skill value awarded, but I’ve seen gymnasts fall in the middle of flight series before, so obviously if they only make it through two back handsprings but then fall before the layout, they’re not going to get credit for the layout because they didn’t even start it, let alone complete it.
In both cases, they can repeat the skill or series, so a gymnast who misses a Jaeger as the first skill in her bars set might just get back up and start the routine over so she can get credit, even though she’ll still have to take the point deduction for the fall…but a gymnast can also just choose to keep going without repeating the skill, with the thought being that she already fell and her score’s already going to be really low, so it’s not worth doing a skill again for an extra four tenths (or however much the skill is worth). This is often the attitude when there are falls on incomplete skills close to the ends of routines, because at this point they’re just like, “I’m over it” and want to get off the apparatus as quickly as possible.
Was Aly Raisman one of Marta Karolyi’s favorites? Who else were favorites over the years?
Ohhhh yes. Aly was definitely a favorite of Martha’s! It was funny, because Aly wasn’t really the type of gymnast to be a Martha favorite at first. She definitely had a type (bar workers, long and lean gymnasts, anyone who can win an all-around gold medal at the Olympics…), and Aly was basically everything not Martha’s type. But I think Aly really endeared herself to Martha with her work ethic. I still have memories of 2010 worlds when Aly kind of surprised everyone to make the floor final, so Martha took her aside and worked one-on-one with her to make her more expressive so that she’d be in a better position to get on the podium.
I always got the impression that whatever Martha wanted Aly to do, Aly could and would do it. Have you watched the “Cheer” documentary on Netflix? Aly is to Martha what Morgan Simianer is to Monica Aldama. Morgan goes from a girl with the weakest technique and not really looking like one of the top choices to be “on mat” to literally learning skills she’d never done before so she can fill in for girls who got injured. At one point, Monica’s like “can you learn this?” and Morgan’s like “I can do anything you want me to” and that’s how I felt about Martha and Aly.
Aly was all about doing anything she could for the team, she consistently stepped up as a leader from an early age, and she was so overlooked by so many people for the first three or so years of her early career, but Martha always had faith in her, and it was nice to see when it didn’t seem like anyone else gave her the time of day because she wasn’t one of the “stars” of the program. I hate to be complementary about Martha, but for everything terrible that she did and stood for over the years, I like that she had a few moments over the years where she showed she was human, and her relationship with Aly was one of those.
Like I kind of said earlier, Martha had a lot of favorites that were just like, girls who looked a certain way, bar workers, the gymnasts who were the best in the sport and brought home a lot of medals…I feel like she really loved Nastia Liukin based on what I’ve seen in their interactions and how she talked about really wanting Nastia on the team in 2012, and she definitely loved Simone Biles. I feel like she also had a lot of affection for everyone on the 2012 team just because this was the first generation to fully come up through the camp system from the time they were in TOPs, so that generation – and the team gold – was big for her based on how she’s talked about them in the media, but I don’t think that necessarily means all of those gymnasts were her personal favorites, if that makes sense. But I’m just going off of what I’ve personally seen at meets and stuff, I’m sure she had favorites she wasn’t as vocal about.
You’ve talked about how equipment changes have changed gymnastics, but unless I’m mistaken, beam has pretty much stayed the same while others were changing. Do you think this has affected the evolution of beam compared to the other WAG events?
The thing with beam is that since the apparatus itself hasn’t changed, the only evolution we really see is what gymnasts are physically able to advance to with nothing but their own strength and ability. This also comes into play on vault, bars, and floor, because even with springs in the floor, you still have to be super talented to throw a double double or something, and just because they set the bars further apart doesn’t mean you’re going to suddenly be able to start throwing a Nabieva. But without springs and without the bars being pulled apart, these skills wouldn’t have been super likely, while with beam, we’ve seen so many advancements despite no real change to the equipment. That’s not TOTALLY true, because the beams basically used to just be blocks of wood, and now they’re padded and even have a teeny tiny bit of spring to them. But this isn’t enough to launch you into the stratosphere for a double double dismount…the padding and spring is mostly there to help you absorb landings more safely. The big skills we’re seeing more and more consistently are all about gymnasts reaching new levels of ability here as we progress. There hasn’t been a TON of innovation on beam in the past 30 or so years…and with the artistry on beam disappearing as the code required gymnasts to fit as much difficulty as possible into 90 seconds, some may even say innovation has worked in reverse on this event. But every so often, we do get something new or special here, like Simone Biles’ double double, or Sanne Wevers’ doing impossible back-to-back-to-back pirouettes…in some respects, beam hasn’t changed at all throughout its existence, but the evolution is definitely there in what athletes have been able to do with their bodies over time, as well as how the code has changed the composition and flow of routines.
Is it a deduction for a gymnast to shuffle her hands on bars? The Italians are notorious for moving from one side of the bar to the other in handstands.
Nope! By putting something like a double pirouette, or allowing for a series of pirouettes on bars, ending up a bit off to the side is going to happen with some routine compositions, so they allow for a controlled and fluid shuffle back to the center in order to continue the routine. There are ways around this, like catching a low-to-high transition all the way to the side, then pirouetting back to center, so some coaches are being smart about composition here, especially if they want the aesthetic of a really nice and fluid routine…but they’re not required to do things this way, and there are definitely those who prefer the shuffle.
I know there is a limit of 12 college scholarships per D1 NCAA team at one time, but if a scholarship athlete decides to take a 5th year, would the rules be bent?
No. If someone redshirts, they basically have to hope that there’s room for them to have a fifth year. If the program is packed and they have a bunch of freshmen coming in, that redshirt gymnast might not get a scholarship for her fifth year, it ends up working out for most gymnasts, I think. If they get injured as a freshman in 2016 and redshirted that year, then they compete sophomore year in 2017, junior in 2018, senior in 2019, and their fifth year would be in 2020. Since they’re redshirting in 2016 with the fifth year in 2020, they have four years to figure out the situation, and at that point, they likely have almost no one even verballed for the 2020 freshman class, let alone signed. But if someone competes beginning in 2016 and then gets injured in their senior year in 2019, that’s when it could get tight, because by this point their program has already signed everyone for the incoming class, which means she might not get a fifth year on scholarship. I think it ends up working out more often than not, but I’ve heard of injured gymnasts being unable to return even though they wanted to due to a crowded incoming class.
How does qualification work at European Championships? Does a gymnast just have to finish in the top of those who haven’t qualified a team? Could Claudia Fragapane come 6th behind gymnasts who have already qualified but still earn a place for Great Britain?
To qualify to the Olympic Games from Euros, a gymnast has to be in the top two all-arounders among gymnasts who have not yet previously qualified.
If a gymnast is from a country that has already qualified a full team at worlds, then she can’t have been part of the team that qualified, meaning Angelina Melnikova wouldn’t be able to qualify a spot for Russia at Euros, but someone like Vladislava Urazova could. For this gymnast, the spot would be non-nominative and belong to her country, not to her as an individual, meaning Vladislava could qualify the spot, but then she can still earn a spot on the Russian team, and the individual spot can go to another all-arounder, or to a specialist.
If a gymnast is from a country that hasn’t qualified a full team, and she hasn’t already qualified an individual spot at worlds or at a world cup, then she can earn a nominative spot here, meaning she “owns” the spot and will absolutely go to the Olympics. Romania already has an individual spot for Tokyo thanks to Maria Holbura earning a nominative spot at worlds, so Maria can’t go and earn another spot for Romania, but Larisa Iordache could go and earn a spot for herself, guaranteeing herself a spot in Tokyo.
Using 2019 Euros as an example, the top four gymnasts in qualifications were part of qualifying their teams at worlds, so none of them could have qualified individual spots either for themselves or for their countries. Amelie Morgan, who placed fifth in qualifications at Euros and did not go on to compete at worlds, would be the first gymnast to qualify this route, earning a non-nominative individual spot for Great Britain. The second gymnast to qualify would then be Anastasiia Bachynska. She competed at world championships, but because Ukraine didn’t qualify a full team and because Diana Varinska earned the nominative all-around spot at worlds, Bachynska would be eligible to earn a nominative spot for herself here.
Since Claudia Fragapane wasn’t on the British team that qualified in 2019, she can earn an individual non-nominative spot for Great Britain. If she finished sixth all-around, she would just have to be sure that no one ahead of her had previously qualified. If the first- and second-place all-arounders were eligible to qualify, then Claudia couldn’t qualify in sixth place, but if the top four or five weren’t eligible, then Claudia would be next in line.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins