You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

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Jordyn Wieber

It’s time for the 303rd edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!

We apologize if we haven’t gotten to your question yet, but we try to answer in the order in which they were received (unless they are super relevant and need to be answered in a timely manner).

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At the 2011 American Cup, what is the backstory for Jordyn Wieber’s controversy? If she wasn’t eligible to compete, how was she at the competition? Whose spot did she take?

Prior to 2011, the American Cup was kind of a free-for-all with no official FIG rules guiding it, so they didn’t really follow age requirements (which is how Jordyn competed and won as a junior in 2009), the format changed a few times, and so on. 2011 was the first year the American Cup officially became an FIG world cup, and at the time, gymnasts were invited based on all-around performances at world championships in 2010. 

Aly Raisman was the only American woman initially competing, but the U.S. made Jordyn Wieber the alternate for the U.S. spot because that was allowed. But then a week before the American Cup, the British gymnast Nicole Hibbert was injured at another competition, and the organizers didn’t have time to bring in a replacement at this point with only three days to go before the athletes started flying in, so instead of having just seven women compete, the organizers allowed the U.S. to use Jordyn as the alternate to step into Nicole’s spot. 

I feel like that’s what Steve Penny was hoping and praying would happen, lol, but of course, everyone freaked out and after initially taking back the “Scam” name that had often referred to this competition, assuming things would be different now that it was an official FIG meet, it went right back to being “Scam” for many people because OF COURSE the U.S. found a way to sneak in its best all-arounder who wasn’t originally eligible. People were even more outraged when she won with a mistake over Aliya Mustafina, so the overall feeling was that no matter who governed the American Cup, it would always be a showcase for Americans to do whatever they want and be handed the cup.

I’m kind of torn on the issue and who gets the blame for this happening. I feel like Steve Penny was gonna get Jordyn into that competition no matter what (maybe something like her competing as the “alternate” and having her scores “not count” like what he did with Gabby Douglas in 2012, because Gabby also wasn’t eligible to compete in 2012 with Jordyn and Aly Raisman already in the competition). He was always shady, and as an extension of himself, USA Gymnastics was thus also always shady. But also the FIG has to take some of the blame here…like, why was Jordyn allowed to be the alternate? If she wasn’t eligible for the competition, then she shouldn’t have been eligible to be the alternate, because the whole point of having an alternate is that they would end up in the competition if someone else withdrew? I feel like the FIG needed to step up and be like “sorry, you can’t do whatever you want, and if you want this to be an official world cup, you have to follow our rules” but instead they were just like SHRUG. 

I can see if the FIG had allowed Jordyn to be the alternate for Aly ONLY, because Aly was the only one who accepted her invitation among the U.S. gymnasts (Rebecca Bross took a pretty significant amount of time off following worlds, Mackenzie Caquatto was in her freshman year at Florida already, and Mattie Larson was pretty much done with elite at this point). If Aly had gotten injured, the American Cup would’ve had no Americans, which would’ve been weird, so I can see the FIG saying it was okay to have a backup who hadn’t officially “qualified” through worlds. But the whole “Jordyn was the alternate for anyone who withdraws” thing was a setup from day one because gymnasts ALWAYS withdraw from this competition and they absolutely knew she was going to end up competing somehow.

If Amelie Morgan competed at the 2020 American Cup, what would her scoring ranges have been on each apparatus, and what would have her chances been for medaling?

It’s impossible to say what she would have scored or knowing how she would have competed in general. A gymnast can score a 14 on floor one day with a super clean routine, a 13.5 the next with a lot of steps, a 13 the day after that with even more mistakes, and a 12.5 with a fall. Anyone’s ‘range’ would be a solid 1.5-2 points on basically any event. Maybe she would’ve had a 54. Maybe she would’ve had a 50. 

Again…we can’t say where she “would have” finished without actually watching her compete on that day. Given that she hadn’t competed all-around in nearly a year, and knowing she had been injured and in recovery for an injury for quite some time, I feel like we wouldn’t have been able to expect her at full strength, and maybe would’ve been around a 52-53 or so on a good day? So maybe a top six-ish finish? But again…literally not possible to predict when anything can happen in a competition.

I so enjoyed your commentary on competitions from the past. It was just lovely and a fresh perspective on my favorite era in the sport. Based on what you saw, do you have some new favorites that you weren’t formerly familiar with? Did you like the cotton sporty non-shiny leotards that really showed muscle?

Thank you! I have SO many new favorites, either those who were brand new to me, or those who I rediscovered a love for. I think seeing Dominique Dawes at 13 made me DIE, she was so good, and seeing Daniela Silivas in the context of full competitions instead of just watching single routines made me stan her so much. I also fell in love with so many Soviets, some I knew of and had seen, but others I maybe saw only once and didn’t really know super well, so this group includes Natalia Laschenova, Tatiana Groshkova, Natalia Yurchenko, Svetlana Baitova, and Olga Mostepanova. 

With the Soviets, there’s just SO many of them and I see their names all the times on records lists and everything, so I often find myself in a place where I’m not putting faces to names or thinking of the athletes often on an individual level, but again, watching in the context of full competitions and following their journeys made it easier to fall in love with them as individual performers instead of just being like “yes she’s great” based on what I know about their medals or stats. Like, I’d seen many of Yurchenko’s routines before, and she’s obviously one of the biggest names in the sport, but it wasn’t until watching her entire performance at 1983 worlds that I truly fell in love (and became super heartbroken).

I also screamed over Eva Rueda of Spain, Kim Gwang Suk of North Korea, Maxi Gnauck of East Germany, Julianne McNamara of the United States, Ecaterina Szabo of Romania, and Mo Huilan of China, most of whom I’d seen multiple routines from before, but yet again, seeing them in the context of a full competition made me absolutely love them instead of just mildly appreciate them like I already had. Also, even though she literally only competed elite for one second as a junior, seeing Monica Shoji at the U.S. Classic in 2005 was amazing because I had literally never heard of her before and she completely blew me away.

I’ve been following Chellsie Memmel’s training on social media and she’s amazing! Do you think she will compete again?

I hope she does! She just posted a video of her standing arabian on the high beam as the newest update to her training. She said it was her first time doing it on the high beam in eight years, and I’m just mind blown because it looks better than basically any beam arabian I’ve seen since she was last doing it. I feel like she NEEDS to come back, and even if Tokyo doesn’t work out for her just because the team size is so restrictive, she would be a perfect option for 2021 worlds. I think she could go incredibly far, and I’m rooting for her all the way.

Why doesn’t Sweden ever bring a full team to any competitions?

I love that this question ended up being on today’s list, because I just did a Junior Introductions piece yesterday on Jennifer Williams, an incredible 14-year-old beam worker who was a standout at junior worlds last year and is one to watch going forward as Sweden works on rebuilding its senior program, and I talked a little bit about the drought in Sweden over the past quad. 

It’s such a bummer, because they were looking so strong in 2014, qualifying a full team to 2015 worlds, but then literally almost every senior retired after that quad, and so did many of their biggest up-and-coming juniors who were turning senior this quad. Additionally, most of the juniors who didn’t retire just didn’t reach high levels as seniors, like Kristina Undheim and Agnes Åkerman, and the Swedish federation didn’t want to send gymnasts who they didn’t consider up-to-level, so they opted to send only individuals to some bigger meets rather than send a full team that wouldn’t have accomplished much.

The only strong all-arounders this quad were Jessica Castles and Marcela Torres, and though Jonna Adlerteg was around, she was only doing bars. Where they once had several highly-productive seniors at the elite level, this quad they only really had three for the most part. Tonya Paulsson becoming a senior last year is definitely helpful going forward, so with her as a senior next quad along with some talented juniors like Jennifer and a few others (Emelie and Nathalie Westlund, Malva Wingren, Kristina Åhlin), hopefully they’ll be able to build some senior depth.

But at the same time, it looks like Marcela is no longer competing, Jessica is going off to college, and I’m not sure Jonna has it in her to stick around any longer, so they’re again facing a lot of senior departures, so I’m not sure they’ll be able to send full teams once again next quad if they again don’t have enough seniors at a really high level. Hopefully all of the current juniors have successful transitions and stick around for a few years, but it’s really disheartening for them to reach the senior level and be told they’re basically “not good enough” for international assignments, so they end up regressing even further and eventually retiring.

Do you have to submit a new skill to have it named?

Yes, it has to be submitted to the women’s technical committee, so they can evaluate it beforehand. Before the gymnast competes it, the committee already has a potential D-score value, so they’re not doing it on the fly when it’s first competed in front of the panel. This is why Brooklyn Moors, who “accidentally” did a triple attitude turn, didn’t get the skill evaluated and named. Going into worlds, the FIG releases a list of elements that were submitted for inclusion as new elements in the code, as well as who’s submitting them and what the expected difficulty rating would be, and then those who successfully compete those elements will end up getting them named.

Do you think Great Britain has a chance of keeping up with the U.S. in the team final at the Olympics considering the upgrades they have with Jennifer Gadirova and Amelie Morgan upgrading to Amanars, Ellie Downie with a Cheng, Jennifer, Amelie, and Ellie having big beam routines, and Jennifer’s big floor with Georgia Mae Fenton’s DTY on vault with an upgraded beam and floor and amazing bars? Do you think the team can win an Olympic medal?

I don’t think they’ll be in a place to challenge the U.S. team, but they have the potential to bring an incredibly strong team to Tokyo, and could definitely be in medal contention if all of their big upgrades and top gymnasts end up working out. In theory, a lot of programs have huge things happening behind the scenes, but in reality, not everything ends up working out the way they hope, so it’s impossible to say that they will certainly win a medal because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next year with the British team and with other teams they’d be in direct competition with. But they have the potential to do really well and possibly get a medal, and I’m excited to see what they’re going to be able to pull off.

Are there/have there been any all-female NCAA coaching staffs? Or do spotting considerations make having a male coach a de facto requirement?

I can’t think of any all-female staffs off the top of my head, but maybe there has been one? Usually even if the head coach and top-level assistant coaches are women, there’s often a guy in there in some capacity who is basically on-hand to help with the spotting aspect. Not that women can’t spot, but when often you have collegiate athletes who are bigger and stronger than many of their female coaches, you need someone who could actually be helpful in catching or lifting them, so having a guy around who can handle that is usually a good idea…though some women can definitely handle it on their own. That said, I kind of want to see someone like D.D. Breaux spotting bars in heels because it would be entertaining as hell.

Edit: Rhode Island College currently has an all-female staff! Monica Mesalles Nassi is the head coach and Haley Crossley is the assistant, with no other coaches listed. Bowling Green also had an all-female staff last year, and according to a gymnast on the team, they had no problems with spotting!

Do you have any insight on the 1983 U.S. worlds team selection? Like the timeline of all of the injuries and illnesses. I’m wondering how Tanya Service was like 14 or something at trials and ended up making the world all-around finals and how Michele Dussere was only an alternate.

I don’t have any real insight into the selection itself, but during worlds, Julianne McNamara talked about how Mary Lou Retton, Diane Durham, and Tracee Talavera were all expected to be on the team and then were all not well enough to end up competing (I believe Mary Lou and Diane were injured, and maybe Tracee was sick?), Marie Roethlisberger was also injured and couldn’t compete, Julianne herself had the flu at worlds, almost everyone else also got sick right before worlds…it was a mess of a situation, and so they ended up relying on gymnasts they didn’t initially expect to compete. I think Kathy Johnson was the only one who wasn’t sick!

From what I’ve read, Tanya had an incredibly good trials, though, and that’s why she was named to the team…it was a kind of Chellsie Memmel in 2003 situation where she went from a low-key backup option, but then she surprised everyone by straight crushing it in qualifications at a time when everyone was freaking out. Tanya credited this to just performing well under pressure, but I don’t know why she was initially selected over Michelle. I would assume her training just went better and was pointing towards a strong meet, whereas Michelle’s training may have not gone well, or that Michelle was just too sick to compete?

What contributed to the initial decline of Romanian bars? Not modern day, but by the mid to late 90s there was a notable decline in the quality of Romanian bar routines, even among athletes that had previously been among the best in the world.

After 1996, even though the code wasn’t yet open-ended, there began to be more of a differentiation between difficult and not-so-difficult routines, making it harder to get a start value out of a 10. Gymnasts who wanted to be competitive had to start building more difficult routines to make sure they started out of a 10 on every event, and I think the biggest decline for most gymnasts came when they started adding more to meet the requirements of the apparatus even if they couldn’t always handle those changes to their routines. 

You can have someone get 10s in J.O. on bars right now with absolutely gorgeous routines, but then you move them to elite and give them a routine that meets basic elite standards and suddenly their bars ability goes out the window. It’s the same thing that happened for many countries when the newer codes emphasizing difficulty started coming into play. I think there were and are Romanians who had or have potential on bars, and it’s evident in easier routines. But the problem is that they’re just not as strong at higher difficulty connections or elements, but they NEED the higher start values to be competitive internationally, so their option is to either do an easy routine and get a low score for no difficulty, or do a harder routine and get a low score for not doing it well. 

I think Romanian bars training was good enough to get them to a solid level before difficulty mattered as much, but that they just didn’t have coaches who could take them to the next level, so most ended up struggling post-1996, even those who had previously done well on this event.

Have a question? Ask below! Remember that the form directly below this line is for questions; to comment, keep scrolling to the bottom of the page. We do not answer questions about team predictions nor questions that ask “what do you think of [insert gymnast here]?”

Article by Lauren Hopkins

11 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. Hi Lauren! Bowling Green State University had an all female coaching staff this past year and my daughter loved it! She said spotting wasn’t a problem. Just thought I’d let you know in case you wanted to update your answer to that question. Thanks, Jennifer Harsch

    Sent from my iPhone

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

  3. Regarding Romanian bars after 1996, here are a couple more factors that might have played a role – in a recent interview with The Skating Lesson, Daniela Silivas said the bars coach from the ’80s was very good with basics, but moved to Great Britain after the 1989 revolution. Also, compulsory routines were dropped after 1996, so the gymnasts probably lost quite a bit in terms of basics through that, too.

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  4. Basically Bellu & Bitang doesn’t know how to teach bars, and Bellu’s there for 10 years when things completely change. Even under Forminte Romanian bars are better (if comparing with their other apparatuses in the same period, maybe because Forminte doesn’t teach vault and floor well lol)

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    • I think Romania was actually legitimately good on bars from 2009-2012. They had Ana Porgras, Amelia Racea, Gabriela Dragoi, Cerasela Patrascu, Raluca Haidu, Diana Bulimar, Larisa Iordache. Gymnasts who were completely capable of earning decent-good scores.

      Forminte is much better at coaching bars than Bellu, and I think most of the gymnasts in this time period had come up under him, so it makes sense that they were better. The problem is that the Bellu/Bitang duo was miles better at coaching VT/BB/FX than Forminte, so having them was worth the loss in UB quality.

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      • Exactly. Even you compare the downfall period of Romania, the bellu 2014 bars were just disastrous while forminte 2018-2019 at least has no falls counted, and the juniors are pretty good. But Forminte can’t even bring DTYs or back tuck fulls consistently, those Romanian traditional skills

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