It’s time for the 309th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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What do you think of Canada’s prospects for Tokyo, both team-wise and individually?
This current generation is easily the best combination of athletes Canada has been able to have on a team at any given time, and if they do everything right, they have the potential to earn a medal, just like they had that potential at worlds the past two years. I love looking at Canada on my Best World Finishes of All Time page, because all of Canada’s best-ever finishes are from this quad, and all four gymnasts who are expected to be on the Tokyo team are included individually in those best-ever finishes, which is beyond words.
In just two years, these four managed Canada’s best-ever team finish (fourth place in 2018), all-around finish (Ellie Black in second place in 2017), vault finish (Shallon Olson in second place in 2018), beam finish (Ana Padurariu in second place in 2018), and floor finish (Brooklyn Moors in fifth place in 2017). It’s rare that a country breaks any of its best-ever finishes in a two-year span, let alone five of them, with four individual records beaten by four different women. That alone should illustrate just how wildly talented this team is, and not just because of one person. All four are necessary for this team’s success. Together, they’re the perfect team with individual contenders in the all-around and on almost every event (what’s bars?!) which is typically something you can only expect from the biggest programs. I have no doubt they’ll break even more records for Canada both as a team and individually.
With the British Gymnastics scandal happening right now, the Cartoon Network has just pulled out of a massive sponsorship deal with them. Now, I completely agree that a message needs to be sent to BG that abuse is not okay and that they can’t keep sweeping it under the rug, and I understand that companies do not want to be associated with that behavior. But I can’t help thinking that pulling funding is going to end up hurting individual gymnasts the most in the future, when none of this is their fault to begin with. What do you think the solution to this is?
We saw the same thing in the U.S. with literally every major sponsor pulling out of their deals with USA Gymnastics in the aftermath of the Larry Nassar abuse case and how the federation handled it. At first I felt like this was truly terrible for the gymnasts, but honestly, I now question how much of that money actually WENT to the gymnasts, and whether sponsorship decisions like these affect them at all.
In the U.S., the gymnasts on the national team only receive a stipend that doesn’t change depending on the amount of sponsorship money coming in, the facility being used was run-down and crappy (and anything “new” that came in was usually a gift from a sponsor, not something USA Gymnastics actually paid for, like bedding from Hilton at one point, and new apparatus equipment from AAI and other suppliers), and there were no real resources available to the athletes, like dietitians or psychologists on the staff. With the amount of sponsorship money coming in especially post-2012, nothing seemed to change (aside from Steve Penny’s pockets getting fatter), so did the loss of those sponsors REALLY change anything for the gymnasts?
I think the bulk of a large gymnastics federation’s income is typically from member and club fees, and while gymnasts would be at a loss without some of the gifts from sponsors (like the bedding and equipment I talked about before), I really don’t think the bulk of the money coming in actually benefits them directly at all, and I feel like it’s likely a similar story with BG. I would also hope since many of the British girls are in a place where they can accept endorsements directly, some of the sponsors who leave the federation will hopefully act as sponsors for any gymnast who is eligible.
Is there any word on the format for the next couple of world championships? Typically the worlds following the Olympics uses the new code, and is individual competition only. I assume 2021 worlds would have to use the current code still, but what about team competition? And would 2021 format affect the 2022 format?
According to the FIG, they’re going to hold onto the current code of points for ALL of 2021, which would include any competition leading up to the Olympics as well as after, like world championships. They said the 2024 code will go into use as of January 1, 2022, so worlds that year and in 2023 will use the new code even though 2021 worlds uses the old code (which would be similar to how things worked going from 2005 to 2006 as well). As for the format, where it stands right now they’re still looking to do the individual worlds in 2021, and then team competitions in both 2022 and 2023 and I don’t think that will change. Even if worlds are canceled next year, they probably just won’t bother with an individual worlds, and will just get right into the team events down the line.
Why isn’t the Air Force a higher-ranked NCAA program? You have to be at a certain level of fitness as part of their cadet program so I’m confused why they’re so low. Is it their basics? Or do they not prioritize gymnastics?
Being really fit doesn’t automatically make someone the best gymnast. The Air Force has fitness requirements that are incredibly difficult for many humans to meet, and while gymnasts coming into the program are probably among those who struggle the least with meeting the requirements because of their years of training, none of the cadet program’s requirements are directly related to gymnastics. Things like being strong and having a high level of endurance are great attributes for gymnasts to have, but they don’t translate to having the best gymnastics technique. Air Force gymnasts are very strong and they have some really excellent competitors, but they just don’t happen to be one of the more attractive programs for gymnastics recruits.
The top gymnastics recruits just aren’t going to the Air Force, and while you occasionally see a really strong level 10 decide to attend, I think the decision to go there often requires more thought than the decision to go to a “regular” school, just because the commitment of being in the cadet program is so immense. You don’t go to the Air Force Academy unless you really want to commit to serving your country, and I’d think most recruits here will prioritize that over their sport, whereas many athletes at top gymnastics programs often prioritize their sport and will even major in something completely random so they can focus less on school and more on competing.
I understood that Maggie Nichols was offered a non traveling, Olympic alternate position which Maggie declined saying she just wanted to move on. Totally understandable after everything. This would differ potentially from what I learned after watching the Athlete A film. Can you confirm if Maggie was offered a non traveling, Olympic alternate position and any other details?
It wasn’t really a “non-traveling alternate” position, or any sort of “official” role at all, but rather like an “honorable mention” kind of deal, from my understanding. She was basically told that she could come to the ranch and be allowed to train with the Olympic team/alternates while they prepared for Rio, though it seems like it was made clear that she wasn’t going to replace any of them, and it was just kind of like a “special privilege” for her because she did so well even if she didn’t get selected. It honestly made no sense…be forced to train like an Olympian all day for weeks at a time with zero payoff? It’s sheer nonsense and I fully understand why she turned it down.
If you could create a five person Olympic team of U.S. gymnasts who peaked or got injured but looked promising earlier on, who would you choose?
Gonna go with all gymnasts from the past decade to keep things easier for me because I always get overwhelmed when I have to think about multiple decades, but I’d go with Rebecca Bross, Bailie Key, Lexie Priessman, Maile O’Keefe, Norah Flatley, and Rachel Gowey. Okay, that’s six, but I refuse to take out any of these!
Nina Derwael has worn the same leo in multiple bars finals and says it’s her lucky leo. Are there any other gymnasts who wear the same leos over and over again in finals?
Hmmm…I don’t know of any gymnasts who repeat a leo because it’s lucky for them, but I do know gymnasts will say they have certain colors that are either lucky or unlucky, so if they have the option to choose their own leo for an individual final, they will always go with a color they prefer. The most well-known instances I can think of are Nastia Liukin with her bubblegum pink leo (which infamously inspired an entire quad of bubblegum pink for the U.S. team), and then the general “white leos are bad luck” superstition, which some athletes believe in, but didn’t Simone Biles break that curse? For bigger programs it’s hard because the athletes don’t always have control over what they wear, but gymnasts in smaller programs can sometimes design their own leos, which the Slovenians and Croatians are a huge fan of, and I’ll always love Houry Gebeshian’s design in 2016 that featured Mount Ararat. I’d imagine these self-designed leos are incredibly special to the gymnasts who wear them and are “lucky” in that sense!
Is Erika Fasana still training?
I never saw her officially announce her retirement, but while she’s been in the gym a few times in recent months, it doesn’t look like she’s training seriously, and she hasn’t competed since nationals in 2017, so I think at this point she’s likely done.
Ragan Smith’s third tumbling pass always looks a bit crazy in her legs as she rotates. Is that a deduction or is it meant to look that way?
I assume you mean on the arabian double front in her elite routine? Yeah…it’s definitely a deduction. When you set into the half twist going into the double front, your legs should ideally be straight and glued together, and you shouldn’t tuck them until you get some air out of the set. Ideally, you’d also keep your knees together while doing the double front. Most gymnasts don’t have perfectly glued legs and will slightly cowboy the flips, but Ragan’s legs just aren’t in the correct position for ANY aspect of this skill, so it ends up looking even messier than if she was just cowboying a little.
Ragan splits her legs as she goes into her set AND she starts to bend one of her knees basically the second she leaves the ground while keeping the other one mostly straight, so her legs already look messy from the second she punches off of the floor. She also stays in this position throughout the half twist, so when she first goes into the double front, she only has the one tucked leg and is still pulling the other one into the tucked position. She gets it together just before she finishes her first flip, and so she’s in a true tuck position and only has slight leg separation in the second, but with her legs doing entirely different things for the bulk of the skill, it makes things look way more messy than they should overall. In theory, it should be a simple fix to just wait another half second before tucking your one leg that just REALLY wants to bend early, but in practice, it’s probably just a bad habit she’s had her whole life, so making that “simple fix” is a lot harder than it seems!
What are your thoughts on the two-per-country rule? The rationale behind it, comparing the restriction to other sports, and so on.
I’ll start by saying that I absolutely hate the two-per-country rule. But I also have conflicting opinions. Part of me thinks any major international competition should be the best of the best and that anyone who meets a certain qualifying score regardless of where they’re from should be allowed to compete, so if that means 100 U.S. gymnasts get a 50 in the all-around to qualify to worlds, so be it. But I also REALLY love every single small program in gymnastics and don’t think they should be limited at the highest levels of international competition just because they don’t have the same resources that the larger programs do, so I’m like, a kid from Syria getting a 38 in the all-around with level six routines? LET HER COMPETE.
I do realize that there needs to be SOME restriction, though, so I get why federations can only send a certain number of athletes to worlds or the Olympics. But I DO NOT get why a competition that already has a limited number of athletes per country has to be FURTHER limited by only allowing two into each final. I miss the days when every gymnast did the all-around in qualifications, and think any number of gymnasts from one specific country who can reach a final should be allowed the opportunity to compete in that final.
But since we’re probably not going to see that happen again, my compromise is that it should be three-per-country in every final to be more representative of “the best of the best,” and to accommodate for both this and for greater diversity in finals, the best solution in my opinion is to expand the all-around final back to 36, and bring the apparatus finals to 12. This wouldn’t add too much time to each individual final, it would allow for more top gymnasts to get the chance to be in the medal fight, and it would still create more opportunities for gymnasts from small programs.
The FIG once said that the 24-person all-around final with two-per-country literally exists to benefit small programs, but who benefited from third-place all-arounder in Rio qualifications Gabby Douglas missing the final? Louise Vanhille from France. Not exactly a “small program.” In fact, the four who got into the Rio all-around final thanks to other athletes getting two-per-country’ed out were ALL from programs that sent full teams to Rio. The U.S., Japan, Russia, and Brazil couldn’t have three all-arounders in the final so a program that would go on to win bronze at worlds three years later could get two athletes into the final who failed to qualify in their own right, one of whom was the literal world champion a decade earlier? THAT’S NOT “SMALL PROGRAM DIVERSITY!”
But if Rio had a 36-person three-per-country final, Gabby still would’ve had the opportunity to fight for a medal, and individual competitors from Mexico, Guatemala, Hungary, Sweden, and Spain all would have gotten the chance to compete in the final. Almost every single major international all-around competition proves that a 24-person two-per-country final limits world-class gymnasts from medal opportunities to benefit countries that don’t need extra help, while a 36-person three-per-country final is the best of both worlds in that it keeps the best of the best in the mix while also opening up spots for small program gymnasts. End of story.
Do you think gymnasts talked to each other about what Larry Nassar was doing? Or did everyone keep quiet?
Based on various statements, it looked like groups of gymnasts would often quietly discuss what was happening. At MSU, the women on one team (softball or volleyball, if I remember correctly?) would joke about their appointments with Nassar, breaking the tension by laughing about how weird it was to get that kind of “treatment.” Others would talk more seriously about how they knew it wasn’t right or appropriate, and some would even act on bringing it to the attention of their coaches, but they were generally shot down. At the elite level, there’s the story of McKayla Maroney bringing up her visits with Nassar in the car on the way to the arena at worlds in 2011, but everyone else in the car (including John Geddert) brushed it off, and then of course, the incident that finally booted him from the national team was when Maggie, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles were discussing what a creep he was at camp, which of course Sarah Jantzi overheard and reported. I think there were probably also many other instances that we didn’t hear about, especially at Twistars, where gymnasts even talked about it with their parents, though everyone was manipulated into thinking it was a necessary and legitimate treatment. That was the issue…a lot of people talked, it was explained away or justified, so no one listened.
Is a straddle handstand harder than a cast handstand, or is it a stylistic choice for gymnasts? Cast handstands seem harder to me, but I see more gymnasts doing them.
It probably depends on the gymnast and what she’s used to training. If you were brought up training it a certain way because your coach taught you one thing, you generally stick with that. I also think the straight body cast handstand is harder than a straddle cast, because the leg movement in a straddle cast can create more momentum when you cast up, but a gymnast who learned a straight body cast first might find it simple and have no reason to want to learn a straddle cast even if it’s objectively easier. I’d consider it a personal choice in that case, just based on how you’ve trained from a young age.
Since Gabby Douglas only competed bars for team finals, would it have made more sense to replace her with Ashton Locklear, who likely would have challenged for a medal?
I think the benefit of having Gabby on the team was that she was also an all-arounder, and not just an all-arounder, but one of the best all-arounders in the world. With the five-person teams, I think Martha Karolyi preferred bringing all-arounders over true specialists, which is why Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney had a leg-up over the other specialists in 2012. Kyla was always going to do only bars and beam in that team final, and McKayla was always going to do only vault, but if the team had last-minute injuries, they’d need backups, and girls like Anna Li or Alicia Sacramone wouldn’t have been able to do that. I think both Kyla and McKayla ended up being the top options for 2012 regardless, but if Anna or Alicia had proved better on their respective events, I still think Kyla and McKayla would have gotten those spots. The same goes for Gabby and Ashton…even if Ashton was consistently scoring five tenths higher than Gabby on this event, I still think Gabby made more sense because they may have needed her on other events in a pinch.
Why did Morgan Hurd downgrade her floor and beam since 2018?
Morgan had some minor/nagging injuries and I think downgrading everything was an effort to stay healthy while still staying in the mix for teams. Her other alternatives would be pushing through her top difficulty and getting further injured or making mistakes, or just taking time off completely. Her way of going about it was a smart compromise that kept her in contention, but also kept her safe. She didn’t need full difficulty in either 2018 or 2019, and though she missed the team in 2019, that wasn’t due to a lack of difficulty. She and her coaches are great at playing it smart with safe, solid gymnastics, and I have no doubt she’ll bring back exactly what she needs when it counts.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins