You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

Grace McCallum

It’s time for the 313th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!

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Grace McCallum recently stated in an interview that she will be competing an Amanar and a Cheng on vault in the next competition season. If she does compete them and land them well, do you think that will be enough to give her the edge over some of the other athletes in the A Team bubble to make the Tokyo team?

Yes, absolutely! I actually already consider Grace a member of that A team, because while she doesn’t really have a standout event and kind of gets overshadowed by the flashier gymnasts, she’s one of the most balanced and complete all-arounders in the country, and that’s exactly the reason she was on the world championships teams in 2018 and 2019. I can totally see her being a top-four all-arounder for the U.S. without an Amanar or Cheng, but obviously she becomes more of a threat with two high-level vaults, because not only does she have more to add to the team final, but if it comes down to a handful of gymnasts filling out that last spot on the team and they’re all scoring basically the same in the all-around, to me, Grace becomes a more attractive option if she can compete two vaults with the potential of reaching the vault final.

However, at the same time, with Simone Biles all but a lock for the team, and Jade Carey securing the individual spot, it’s going to be really difficult for Grace to prove herself as capable of making the vault final when two of her teammates are consistently the best in the world on that apparatus. If you have Grace in fourth place at trials with a 57 all-around and two vaults, and then you have someone like Riley McCusker in fifth place with a 56.5, Riley wins in my book because she’d be able to make finals that other gymnasts on the team wouldn’t be likely to make.

But a pro for Grace is that the U.S. selection committee doesn’t seem to think about things this deeply, which is why for the entire quad, they’ve selected teams based on rank order and literally nothing else. I feel like if Grace places in the top four all-around, she’ll go to Tokyo regardless of her medal potential as an individual. These super balanced all-arounders can be risky when national team coaches want to prioritize a total number of medals, so someone like Grace might not be at the top of the list in the same situation in Russia, but in the U.S. right now where the team selection strategy is just “make the top four” it ends up really benefitting her.

My ideal team puzzle for Tokyo would be the top two all-arounders, and then two additional all-arounders who are also legitimate medal contenders on at least one event apiece, so like, a vault and floor gymnast, and then a bars and beam gymnast, or some other similar breakdown. This would mean a gymnast who places seventh all-around because she’s getting 15s on bars and beam but bombing the other two would make my team over someone like Grace circa 2018-2019 who is placing fourth with straight 14s all the way through…but Grace upping her game with world-class vaults while staying a consistent and relatively balanced all-arounder otherwise is like the best of both worlds, and I think it will make her even more of a contender for the Tokyo team than she already was.

Has Jade Carey qualified to the Olympics? Is she going to Oregon State this season?

Jade has unofficially qualified to the Olympics, meaning that no one can beat her for a spot at this stage. It won’t be official until the FIG holds the final apparatus world cup (likely Doha next year unless something drastic happens again), so we can’t announce that she qualified, but also, yes, she qualified, hahaha.

As for college, Jade’s listed as a freshman at Oregon State this season, but with everything that’s happening with COVID, I’m not sure what her plans are and doubt we’ll see her actually on the roster this year. I know she initially planned on competing at OSU after competing in Tokyo, but with things getting pushed back a year, I think her plans are going to change so that she can continue training at home going into the Olympics. It looks like most OSU classes are being held remotely now anyway, and she’s still in Arizona, so my guess is that she’ll get started with her degree this year but not actually compete with the team until after the Games.

Why was the name of the JO system changed to ACE?

So I’m actually not sure if this is still happening? Or what’s going on, really. There were rumors this summer that they would be retiring the Junior Olympic name and were brainstorming potential new names. A couple of weeks ago, USA Gymnastics announced that ACE (which stands for Athlete Curriculum for Excellence) would be the new name, but the article no longer exists. It comes up on Google (see below), but when you click, it redirects you to the USA Gymnastics home page.

Screen Shot 2020-09-10 at 5.51.36 PMMaybe they spoke too soon? Had a change of heart? Realized it’s also an acronym for like, nine million other organizations and programs, and didn’t want to be linked to one of the more problematic ones? Anyway, I don’t know the original reasoning for changing it from Junior Olympic, but remember reading tweets about how it could be the International Olympic Committee shutting them down since basically no one is allowed to use the Olympic name unless you’re the Olympic Committee of your country. Honestly, I don’t know how they got away with it for this long!

As someone who is getting back into following gymnastics after a few years, I feel like I missed a lot about the new format for the Olympics. How will the 2 individual athletes fit into the rest of the team? Will they train and travel together, or are the individual athletes really on their own? Also, is there still 2 per country limit on the all around, and can an individual compete all around?

Really, the only difference you need to know is that four athletes will compete in the team events in Tokyo, and if a team has any additional athletes at the Olympics, those athletes will not compete in the team events. Otherwise, everyone is treated exactly the same, and they are all part of the same “team” in theory, meaning that gymnasts from the United States are all representing the United States and are selected to compete by USA Gymnastics.

Think of it like swimming…all of the swimmers are on the same team even though some are doing the freestyle relay and others are doing the solo 100m backstroke. So yes, they’ll train and travel together, and yes, because the athletes are still all part of the United States regardless of whether they’re on the team or competing individually, then the two-per-country rule applies. Also, all gymnasts can compete in the all-around regardless of how they qualified (as a member of the team, via an individual all-around berth, or via an apparatus world cup berth), so that means if a country has six athletes at the Olympics, all six can do the all-around, and only two can make the final.

Has FIG and/or USA Gymnastics decided which age cut off will be used for the 2020ne Olympic Games? Will it be those who were age eligible by 2020 or will the extend it to 2021 since the Olympics are actually occurring in that year?

The FIG announced earlier this year that any gymnast who turns 16 in 2021 is eligible, meaning gymnasts born in 2005 who were NOT initially eligible for 2020 are now able to compete. I think in the majority of cases it won’t matter, as there are very few 2005-born gymnasts who looked even remotely ready for senior international competition last year and early this year, but there are a couple of U.S. gymnasts who could potentially be in the mix, and then the one who will really throw a wrench into a team selection is Russia’s Viktoria Listunova. I’m worried that some of the 2005-born gymnasts in the U.S. will push too hard to be ready three years earlier than they initially expected, which will suck especially if their coaches or parents pressure them into working past their breaking point, but that aside, I don’t think too much will change.

Hey Lauren! I’m on a Facebook group about gymnastics and there was some news about Daniele Hypolito wanting to compete at the 2021 Olympics. Her only shot would be an all-around spot at continental championships. People in the comments were saying they wanted Rebeca Andrade to win that spot, because they thought Brazil could only get one spot, but Daniele said that if Brazil ends up with the first two spots, they can send those two gymnasts (and this is possible because the U.S. won’t be eligible for one of those spots if they get the world cup all-around spot). Daniele said there is no per-country limit at that competition, so I’m confused because we thought that these spots are supposed to go to two different countries.

According to the most recent FIG rules, “the highest ranked all-around athletes with a maximum of one per NOC based on the results of the all-around final (or if previously agreed, based on the results of the all-around qualifications) of the continental championships will obtain a quota place.” This means that only one athlete per country is eligible to qualify this way, so Brazil will only be able to get one spot at Pan Ams, not two, as Daniele suggests. I’m not sure where she’s getting her information, but she’s incorrect based on the FIG rules for the continental berths.

Do you ever go back and read through your old posts, specifically the Q&A? If so, have you ever had “God, if only I’d known…” moments, and what are your favorites of those?

I never go back and read them, but I’d guess that a lot of my hopes about various up-and-coming athletes have been dashed over the years! A lot of people ask “what do you think about so-and-so” and it’ll be a 14-year-old junior and I’ll be like “omg she’s amazing and has the potential to one day lead her country’s team!” but then she’ll retire like two weeks later and I’m like, well, cool. The same goes for team selection opinions…I usually don’t answer “who do you think will be on the U.S. Olympic team?!” questions because it’ll be years before the Games and I’m like, half of those who will make up this team aren’t even legitimately on our radar yet while half of those who ARE on the radar will be retired by then, so there’s no point in sharing my opinion based on current knowledge that will soon be irrelevant. It’s fun to answer, and I feel like I may have answered a few questions like these early on in my blog’s history, but now I literally have a disclaimer that’s like “please don’t ask me this, I won’t answer it” because I just don’t see the point in speculating that early.

I think the other big one is probably also when someone asks about my thoughts on a coach and I share my opinion based on what I personally know about them. I often get the “if you had an elite gymnast daughter, where would you want her to train?” question, and I feel like I’ve given a few different answers for this one, all of whom have basically since come under fire due to abuse allegations. But I see this as a good thing, because it allowed me to kind of reevaluate how I answer a question like this. Before I’d be like “these coaches seem so cool” based on knowing them outside of the gym, and then find out that in the gym, they’re anything but cool, so now I know that my personal opinion of them is literally meaningless when it comes to how they coach.

Has anyone ever done (or at least trained) the 1½ Mustafina dismount as a tumbling pass on the floor?

Shilese Jones began competing it as a level 10 and it’s actually named for her in the J.O. code of points! She also competed it early in her elite career, and has told me a few times in recent years (including last summer) that she wants to bring it back, but we haven’t seen her attempt it for a number of years now, so I’m guessing it’s just not a realistic pass for her at the elite level, mostly due to the whole risk vs. reward aspect, meaning it’s a difficult pass with a blind landing, and it’s not worth as much as it should be, so she’s probably just better off doing a double double.

MyKayla Skinner’s coach, in a video on her YouTube channel, said they’re working on what he thinks will be the hardest bar routine in the world for her, and he describes it. Is it?

Basically yes, if she competed it and got credit for every skill and connection, then it would be the most difficult routine competed this quad. Her planned routine has a 6.8 start value, and while gymnasts this quad have trained routines around that difficulty (and maybe even a couple tenths greater), the highest start value awarded at a competition this quad was Nina Derwael’s 6.7 at the FIT Challenge in 2019. Nina added a Downie to this routine, in between her usual Nabieva and Derwael-Fenton releases, but I think this made her struggle with endurance a bit, especially going into her marathon of connected elements following her releases, so she scrapped it after that and her “normal” start value for last year was a 6.5. Fan Yilin and Becky Downie have also competed 6.5 routines, but these have been the highest this quad, so if MyKayla does compete the 6.8, then yes, it would be the hardest bars routine competed under the current code.

Why do you think the contrast between Laurie Hernandez’s and Chellsie Memmel’s comebacks is so vast? Laurie was pretty much written off as only doing it for money and sponsors when in reality she waited so long because she was recovering from abuse. Meanwhile, Chellsie posts every single skill she does for a monetized YouTube, peddles tank tops with logos, and no one is saying anything? If Laurie did that it would be a different story. Is it because Chellsie has a longer elite career, more fans?

I think how people treated Laurie (essentially as a washed-up has-been only in it for the money) was appalling on its own, especially when it’s been pretty clear to me how serious she is about getting back to a high level. Even if it doesn’t work out for her, it’s still worth trying, especially because she is clearly having a lot of fun doing it now that she’s at gyms with coaches that treat her well. She was already doing legitimate series on the high beam and was still getting crap from people, and then Chellsie popped in with random skills on a laser beam, and everyone was like, “she NEEDS to go to the Olympics!!!” Like…huh? It’s awesome that people were supportive of Chellsie from day one, before she was even serious about making a comeback, but it was definitely confusing that Laurie didn’t get that same love, especially when she was much further along in the process than Chellsie was and therefore had a much more realistic chance at making a future U.S. team.

Chellsie’s a grown woman with children who’s training seriously for the first time in eight years, and that aspect is incredible, so I’d say that’s why people are super pumped for this to happen…it’s just so rare to see in the sport, period, let alone in the U.S. where older gymnasts are all but forced out (which is exactly what happened to Chellsie back in 2012). It’s incredible and people are rightfully celebrating her. Last-quad Olympians making last-minute comebacks, meanwhile, are a dime a dozen, and it has this whole “I’ll believe it when I see it” reputation, so literally anyone in Laurie’s position is going to get kind of eye-rolled at first, especially when they take so long to start training and competing. And I get that. When it takes such a long time to reach a high skill level and athletic ability required to compete in this sport, it’s not unfair to have a ton of skepticism when an athlete comes back with only a few months to go before the Olympics. For the most part, that isn’t going to work out, and I’d say most people are just being realistic about her chances, not mean.

But it IS unfair for people to say that Laurie’s comeback is fake, or that she’s only coming back for the money and fame, when it’s pretty clear to me that she really wants to compete again, is having fun in the gym, and is doing a great job getting skills back. She’s working hard, and she might not come back as the gymnast she was at her peak in 2016, but to me, she already looks fabulous, and this extra year due to COVID is a real gift for her, just like it was for Chellsie as she weighed making her comeback legit. Both of these women are badass athletes who are coming back from adversity to attempt to achieve the impossible, and both deserve all of the credit in the world for trying. For both Laurie and Chellsie, it’s not so much about the outcome as it is about what they’re doing for the sport by bringing attention to it in their own ways. I’m very excited about both of them, and I can’t wait for them to come back to competition.

Is it possible to pressure the Olympic Committee for one more slot for each team at the 2021 Olympics? Since the Olympics are being postponed, there are more people eligible to try to make the team, they should make an adjustment for the 2021 Olympic Games.

I doubt that this is a priority for anyone at the IOC. They have enough logistic issues to deal with in terms of getting the several thousand athletes who already qualified safely housed in Tokyo during the aftermath of a pandemic, and if they make allowances to add 24 more gymnasts between MAG and WAG, then every other sport is going to want more spots, and then they have to make room for another thousand or so athletes on top of who they already need to accommodate? Just not happening.

Why hasn’t Gabby Douglas retired yet? She’s definitely not coming back, is she? And what happened to Seda Tutkhalyan of Russia? Has she stopped training for good.

Not every gymnast officially announces a retirement. Some just let their last meet be their last meet and then move on, which I expect is how Gabby chose to do things. I thought it was pretty clear that she was done post-Rio, and with the fact that she just hasn’t trained in four years. I think USA Gymnastics likes to do retirement announcements when it becomes official for some gymnasts who do choose to announce, but most who retire just let it be.

Seda was still training as of last year, but at a much lower level than she was at previously. She competed at nationals the past couple of years but didn’t place super high, and I haven’t seen many (any?) training videos in months, so she might be done. It seems like she’s coaching now based on a recent Instagram post.

If there’s a max deduction for a gymnast who doesn’t fall, is there also a max deduction for a gymnast who doesn’t put her hand down?

This would also fall under the max deduction for a gymnast who doesn’t fall. Since putting a hand down is usually done in an effort to not fall, that hands down deduction is part of the “stopping a fall” deduction essentially. Also, if a gymnast wobbles a bit to correct a balance error, how are the judges supposed to know if she was going to put her hands down or fall? I feel like it would get really murky if they were separate.

How does it work for elites who train at a gym far from home? Do they stay with host families?

Some do. Others will have one parent or guardian move with them into an apartment nearby where they live part time, and once in a while, a family will uproot completely and move to the area entirely. But I think for the most part, if a gymnast is moving especially far away or the situation arises pretty last-minute, they’ll look for opportunities to stay with a host family so that the transition will be easier on their own families, especially if they have siblings in school, or if their parents can’t leave their jobs. Host families usually have kids who go to the gym and many will volunteer to house the gymnasts who need it, which is awesome, especially when the families are supportive in ways beyond just providing room and board. But it’s also obviously really difficult for the gymnasts to be staying with strangers away from their families, especially as they’re dealing with the pressure of being elite athletes. Even the best host family can’t be a replacement for your actual family when you need them the most.

If a gymnast was tiny enough would she be able to do giants or releases on the low bar?

Yeah, for sure! Well, maybe not giants once they’re elite-aged…but definitely releases, especially out of circle skills (stalders, clear hips, toe-ons, inbars). I remember watching Nica Hults train bars when she was super young and teeny tiny, and she couldn’t toe shoot to the high bar because she wasn’t tall enough. Someone like that could probably easily get releases and maybe piked giants around the low bar!

It seems dangerous/risky that the Georgia bars coach always wears suspenders while spotting (couldn’t someone get tangled)? Is it actually dangerous?

I don’t think it’s dangerous…when you’re spotting at that level, you’re not really catching the gymnasts in a way that they’d get tangled in your clothes, you’re more like, guiding them so that they fall the right way, if that makes sense. If it was a more hands-on situation like with younger/smaller gymnasts, then he should probably be in more form-fitting athletic clothes and sneakers to be able to move quickly between the bars and catch them easily, but most collegiate athletes don’t really require that kind of support on bars. I feel like if it was a problem, it would be something that comes up regularly enough in practice and they’d be like, bro, you need a new outfit.

What’s the difference between form and technique? Can a gymnast have good technique and bad form, or vice versa?

I always explain it by saying technique is the foundational side of the sport (and skills within the sport) that gymnasts begin learning from day one, while form is how the skills actually look when performed. A gymnast can definitely have good technique and bad form, or vice versa.

For example, a gymnast learning Tkachev technique from a brilliant bars coach might have all of the steps of doing a Tkachev down absolutely perfectly, such as the angle and body position when letting go of the bar, the counter movement and rotation of the hips in the air, the exact balance of height and distance to get over the bar and catch with stretched arms…all of that can be on point, but the gymnast can still bend her knees or flex her feet in the air, or show otherwise bad form in the skill. On the other side, a gymnast can throw a Tkachev into the air with zero technique, but have perfectly extended legs straight through her toes and show otherwise lovely form in the air even though she doesn’t have the foundational training to do the skill absolutely correctly.

I think most people watching skills in gymnastics don’t actually know how the technical aspect of the skills work, so form tends to stand out a lot more than technique. You might see the bent knees and flexed feet in a release on bars and think that overall the release is atrocious, but you might not realize that everything else going into the skill is perfect, which is why they caught it without an issue despite some messy legs. I also think that many elements of technique aren’t directly reflected in the code, so while technique can determine the form of how some parts of the skill will look, there is no direct deduction for having “incorrect” technique for a skill, and there are actually many different and correct ways to do the same element. Obviously a gymnast throwing a Tkachev with zero technical basis will struggle to do it well, so even if she has the pointiest feet in the whole world and she makes it look beautiful in the air, she may have something technical go wrong, like releasing too soon and not getting enough height, which leads to a deduction and possibly even a fall or the inability to get over the bar at all, but releasing early on its own isn’t a deduction. In fact, some gymnasts may actually learn a Tkachev with a slightly earlier release than others, but still make it high and far enough over the bar because of a technique they’ve learned while doing the counter rotation that balances it out, or something along those lines.

Essentially, the technique for doing skills in gymnastics can vary widely between different coaches, clubs, and countries, and drills for learning the technical aspect of skills are ever-evolving, but as long as the gymnast’s technique gets them to do the skill successfully, then that’s all that matters. But even gymnasts with perfect technique struggle with how they compete the skill in the context of the routine as a whole, and that usually is what leads to them having bad form on some elements. I’ve seen gymnasts work skills in the gym with both perfect technique and perfect form, but then they put it into a routine, and it’s like…the technique is still there, and they’re doing the skill correctly, but the form went out the window because they’re nervous and rushing and forgetting the little things while thinking about the bigger picture (aka actually hitting the routine).

Do any gymnasts who actually had a positive experience (gasp!) training and competing ever speak of survivor’s guilt?

Norah Flatley actually talked about this recently, I believe shortly after Athlete A came out and gymnasts started speaking about the abusive behavior they faced at the ranch and within their own clubs. Norah said something along the lines of feeling so safe and protected by her coach, Liang Chow, who not only was wonderful with her and her teammates, but who also was able to stand up for them at the ranch, so a lot of what many U.S. national team gymnasts experienced under Martha Karolyi wasn’t the same experience for Norah. I think she also talked a little bit about how she feels lucky to have had this be her experience, but also feeling bad that she didn’t know it was as bad for everyone else…I can’t remember if she talked about feeling bad to talk about her good experience while everyone else is recalling abuse, but I hope if she or any other gymnast who had a good experience feels this way that they’re able to realize that there’s nothing they could have done. The entire system was also against them, and they were in the same position as their U.S. teammates…the only difference is that they got lucky to have coaches who cared enough about them to treat them as human beings.

What is the point of the little shoulder twist Jordyn Weiber did before vault?

Before doing a routine, a lot of gymnasts will visualize or go through the motions of doing their skills, so you’ll often see gymnasts do a weird shoulder twist before vault! They’re basically visualizing the vault as a whole, and the shoulder part is usually mimicking the twist, which is why you’ll often see them also bring their arms up and in. I’ve noticed that some gymnasts when visualizing look like they’re just coming off the table with how they pull their arms in post-block, whereas others look like they’re landing the vault with the way they drop their arms at the end, but the shoulder twist mimicking the twist in the air seems to be part of the ritual for all of them!

Is there a reason some leos seem to expose a lot of butt while others stay in place easily? Is this a design choice? Are the leos that expose a lot too small?

It’s usually a design choice…just like underwear, leos also have different design cuts, so you’ll see leos with a lot of fabric with only the legs really visible, but then there are also more bikini style hip/leg designs, and even some borderline thong styles, haha. Sometimes a leo might be too small, but for the most part, it’s more the cut of the leo that’s responsible for how much skin shows.

Is Bela Karolyi truly ill? The Karolyis are such dirtbags, I wouldn’t put it past them to fake an illness now that the heat is on them.

I first heard that Bela was sick before Rio, so before the Larry Nassar and subsequent abuse allegations came out, but I don’t know how sick he was or how sick he is now. I don’t think he’d fake being seriously ill to escape the allegations, especially because anything happening legally against him is going to happen whether he’s sick or not…and at the same time, whether he’s faking it or not, I doubt people who were abused by him, his wife, or anyone else in their circle are going to have sympathy for him or take it easy on him just because of his illness. People are mad as hell, and I don’t think they’re going to just back off and let it slide. 

What was the story with Danna Durante kicking three gymnasts off the team? And why were they allowed back?

I think the problem was that Danna had strict rules about what it meant to be a good teammate, and so she apparently saw anyone who went “against the grain” as a “problem” and so even they weren’t kicked off the team for legitimate disciplinary issues, according to Danna they had bad attitudes and she wanted nothing to do with them anymore. They were allowed back because when Courtney Kupets became head coach, she evaluated why they were dropped and listened to their side of the story, and determined that they never should have been kicked off. One of them, Jasmine Arnold, was a junior when Danna got rid of her, but when she came back as a senior under Courtney, she ended up making her competitive debut for the Gym Dogs and became a top contributor on floor.

When gymnasts first learn release skills, do coaches choose for them which skill to try first? 

It depends…usually it’s up to the coach, because they don’t just start busting out releases, but rather they work on drills for various release elements, and as they work their way through the easier drills into the more advanced ones, coaches can kind of sense which releases will work best for their gymnasts and go from there. But if the gymnast has been doing the more “basic” releases for a while (like Tkachevs and Jaegers), they also know what feels good for them, so they might be like “I want to try a Ray!” or something. Generally when they’re younger it’s more about the coach selecting the skills they think will work best, but as they get older and more advanced, it can be more of a collaborative process.

How prevalent is hitting gymnasts, and what do coaches think they’re gaining by doing so? Control? Fear?

I don’t think hitting or punching gymnasts is all that common, but I do think there is a lot of physical abuse in the sport that happens beyond straight up hitting, and that’s likely because it’s obvious that when a child is hit, or when she sees her teammates being hit, even very young children know adults shouldn’t hit kids and that’s something they’d probably tell their parents. So instead, what we see more of is coaches shoving kids, throwing things at them, and making them train or compete with injuries (or take a cast/boot off when injured) which is more subtle, harder to detect, and easier to explain away. A video like we saw of Sae Miyakawa’s coach straight up smacking her is like, okay, there’s no other explanation other than he just physically assaulted her, but it’s SO easy for adults to be like “oh, you thought I shoved her?! No way, oh my god, I literally just bumped into her!”

That’s not to say that no coaches hit kids, and I’m sure it does happen behind closed doors more often than we can imagine, but I also think adults can be “crafty” with how they take advantage of children, and disguising physical abuse by being more subtle with it is how they get away with it. As for WHY they do it, I don’t think very many coaches think “I’m going to physically assault a child today so I can show them who’s boss” or whatever, but rather they get frustrated and hitting is how they express that frustration. I think more often than not, it’s just a blind rage kind of thing where they may not mean to do it and might even feel bad, but often people who sometimes lose it and become physically abusive as a way to express emotions like anger or frustration can evolve into straight-up abusers who do it because it makes them feel powerful or like they have control. So a “one-time thing” with a coach who hits or shoves a child out of frustration still needs to be taken seriously because if not, it could result in the behavior getting worse.

Every time the Kovacs comes up, you talk about it being more dangerous in terms of landing on the low bar if they miss, but wouldn’t that all come down to which way they’re facing? It seems like the majority of big releases are done facing the low bar, and if a gymnast did a Kovacs in that direction, wouldn’t she just fly off over the landing mat if she missed?

Yeah, if they start the Kovacs facing the low bar and flip backwards over the high bar in the other direction, then they wouldn’t risk landing on the low bar and potentially getting injured…but I still think the key problem with the Kovacs isn’t so much missing it and falling, but just not being able to generate enough power with the low bar in the way. No matter which direction they try a Kovacs, the low bar doesn’t give them the ability to fully “wind up” for a strong enough tap swing into the release. With the low bar where it is, gymnasts have to bend their hips or straddle their legs while doing giants, but to do a skill like the Kovacs, they need to do giants like the men do them, which is with a fully-extended body and an aggressive swing through each one. The low bar makes that kind of giant all but impossible, so it really doesn’t matter which way they’re facing…that low bar is going to be in their way.

Do you think the US women will still send three more athletes to the all-around world cups to gain their final spot for Tokyo, or do you think they’ll attend the Pan American Championships to get the one of two spots eligible there, which would minimize traveling before the Olympics? Do you think other countries will adjust their approach as well?

I think they’ll continue going to the world cups, especially because it will give everyone more experience and allow gymnasts who are on the bubble of making the Olympic team to be tested a bit more as the Games get closer. I think they’ll also send a team to Pan Ams, but I think the world cups are going to continue to be an important test for the top U.S. gymnasts. I think other countries that don’t have a super strong shot of qualifying at the world cups may not take them as seriously so they can focus more on continental championships, but even then, I think most will still send gymnasts to the world cups because that experience can be invaluable, especially for the younger and less experienced athletes.

Will Emma Malabuyo be attending UCLA in the fall? I saw that she has graduated but has not made a statement about leaving elite.

I haven’t seen anything either way just yet, but my guess is that she’ll want to at least try for the Olympic Games and may defer UCLA until after Tokyo. That might also just be me hoping this is what will happen because I personally really want to see her keep going at the elite level, but who knows…with her injury last year, with COVID making everything bonkers and the Olympics not a guarantee, with all of the allegations coming out about her coaches, I can see her potentially wanting to just head off to college and move on with her life. But she came so far before her most recent injury and was looking incredible, so I kind of selfishly NEED her to stay in elite and give Tokyo a shot.

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

42 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. The thing about Laurie is her comeback didn’t appear to be serious at all initially. When she first talked about it she was almost comically noncommittal and vague about any details, and it’s not like it’s unprecenteded for a popular gymnast to tease a comeback for the publicity. There’s nothing wrong with that; it just is what it is with Olympic sports.

    My perception is that Laurie is a very popular gymnast and people are almost universally rooting for her to come back and have a second year of elite gymnastics. There was just a healthy dose of skepticism that she was seriously training early on, and for good reason.

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    • Um, people still came for her after she started posting training videos. This wasn’t just her pre comeback talk this was once videos of her training skills started coming out. There has been no ‘healthy’ skepticism with Memmel that I have seen especially on the Reddit forum where they are obsessed with her and her tank tops. I’m waiting to see how it all plays out. I’m more skeptical of Memmel than I ever was of Laurie. We shall see when competition rolls by.

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    • The thing is, I’ve seen this play out a million times before. Gymnast makes it to the Olympics, gets endorsements, swears they’re going to come back eventually, but either never does or makes a really vague, noncommittal effort at the last minute. At some point, you realize they’re playing up the charade of a comeback in order to keep the financial ball rolling in terms of endorsements, appearances, etc. I don’t blame them at all for wanting to continue capitalizing on their success for as long as possible. I’m just always skeptical when an Olympian takes a REALLY long layoff and then like, a year or six months before they’re like “I’m training, really!” It’s a “I’ll believe it when I see it sort of thing.” Clearly, based on her videos Laurie IS serious. The skepticism has nothing to do with her as a person or an athlete. As far as Chellsie goes, she never reached the level of fame that Laurie did with the non-gymnastics world since she “only” won a team silver and wasn’t able to do much individually due to injury. That on top of being a mom and out of the sport for eight years makes her comeback pretty unusual. Also, she’s really, really good. LOL.

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    • I don’t think it was unfair for people to be skeptical of Laurie at first either, for the same reason you mentioned and Lauren did in her response to the question. But now that she is further in, I think she deserves the credibility. What are her chances? I don’t know. It is super hard to say when she hasn’t competed yet and we haven’t seen full routines.

      Chellsie’s comeback is more “pure” in a sense that she doesn’t really have any sort of manipulative ulterior motive to make a comeback. She is a mom of 2, which is a job in and of itself to do. She did not have existing media fame to try to dip back into for money. She literally wanted to get back in shape, realized how strong she really could be, so started playing around with gymnastics, and discovered a whole new way of being able to do gymnastics now that she is stronger. Chellsie isn’t going to waste her time trying to scam a comeback by getting a few bucks from YouTube videos and shirts when she has had a pretty nice life since she retired.

      Chellsie probably had her a-ha moment, and with the delayed Olympics, thought maybe she could get her Olympics she wanted. 2004 and 2008 were awful luck for her, and she kind of got screwed in her 2012 comeback. The real determination factor for her comeback seemed to be bars, and how her shoulder will handle it. And that girl is not about to make a few dollars to end up with shoulder pain again. Just saying.

      As far as Chellsie’s chances go, it is hard to say for the same reasons for Laurie. We don’t have any side by side comparison and nothing full to go off of now.

      But both, based on how they are looking and the potential, could get a decent shot since they have plenty of time.

      The only thing that makes me “sort of” question Laurie is that I don’t think she was going to be remotely ready for 2020 if it was not postponed. But even just based on current videos, I surely think she could be ready to vie for a spot given they are next year, and I am going to assume she was serious and is still going to stick with it for the extra year.

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  2. “But a pro for Grace is that the U.S. selection committee doesn’t seem to think about things this deeply”
    More accurate, I don’t think they think about it AT ALL. Didn’t Tom say olympic selection is solely based on AA results?

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    • Yeah, his decisions border on stupidity. I mean what rank order selection does do is eliminate the possibility of Forster playing mind games or blackmailing gymnasts during the selection process like Martha did, but leaving individual medal contenders at home in favor of gymnasts who will ultimately add nothing to the team total is absolutely ridiculous. Like I think Biles is the only one immune to getting shafted if she randomly had a meltdown on every single event at trials, but imagine if Suni hit the crap out of bars, beam and floor and then had a fluke disaster on vault, placed 5th or 6th and then had to sit out Tokyo while someone who is going to score no higher than a low-mid 14 on any given event gets to go. Under Forster that’s a real possibility, which isn’t right.

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      • Since we have been in an open ended code, top 3 at trials have always been named to the team, so for the 4-person team, using rank only effects that 4th gymnast, so it’s not necessarily a 180 strategy. But, for the 5th spot, the individual next to Jade Carey, in this scenario, since this gymnast is specifically going for an individual medal, and the top 4 girls are already on the team – so it’s super unlikely this person qualifies all around – this 5th person really should be chosen solely on individual medal potential, and hopefully not a medal that Jade/Simone are going for, I hope they use strategy for that 5th spot.

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    • I like to think that they think about it and get frustrated that they have to do the “fair” way to pick teams, because I do think Tom is smart and don’t think it’s his idea to select teams this way. From what I heard, the coaches were in a rage about fairness post-2016 and they all proposed the “top AA results only” strategy which they decided to do so that team selection would be transparent and so the selection committee (and Steve Penny ahem) couldn’t play favorites or make decisions based on something other than who was actually best for the team. Tom said selection is based only on AA, but I think if he had it his way, he’d have more fun with putting the puzzle together. Part of me likes that they’re trying to be more fair by doing the AA results thing, but I also think they can still manipulate scores to make sure certain gymnasts outscore others (I still question a lot of Grace’s scores last year), AND while sometimes it might make sense to just go with the top AAers, including at the Olympics next year where the AA is four-up four-count, the past two worlds selections were straight up insane…and as we saw with junior worlds, a random one-time meet deciding a team can leave the best athlete at home if she happens to have a fall on that one day (Konnor McClain in this case). The junior worlds selection was ridiculous and made me go from thinking this selection process was lame to thinking it was absolutely stupid lol.

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      • Imagine if Suni and Simone missed their blocks on vault and got a 0, missing the Olympics because of it. I would hope some intellect goes into selecting the Olympic team.

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        • Exactly. Like, it’s probably not going to happen, but it COULD happen, and then they’re stuck just like they were stuck with Konnor not going to Györ last year. IT’S DUMB.

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      • If they’re going to insist on top four AA scores, they should at least make it the top four average over several competitions, not just trials. So trials, nationals, plus a couple of camps?

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        • Yeah, I wish they’d do something like Canada does where early season meets are like 20%, nationals are 30%, and trials are 50% or something, like a weighted average to factor in later season meets as more important? This one meet only situation is not good.

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  3. People think it’ll be AA that determines all, but I disagree. Officially, it was clearly stated top 2 AA at OT make the team. The end.

    Unless Grace gets top 2 AA at OT or suddenly is top 2 on any particular event, I doubt she’ll make the team. Sorry, the goal is medals and the pressure at Olympics is much higher than Worlds.

    Literally, USAG profits from the medals so be a top 2 AA’r, have a top 2 medal routine or go to NCAA. All this buzz about gymnasts that aren’t top 2 on anything
    AND can medal internationally is silliness.

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    • Top two AA at trials is the official guarantee, but Tom has said that the rule is that for any international team event, the top all-arounders from the trial event (either a verification camp or the actual Olympic trials) make the team. It’s a “transparency and fairness” rule that the coaches fought for post-2016 because of everything Steve Penny did that quad to pick favorites for various teams.

      Also, while getting as many medals as possible when putting together a team puzzle is my personal priority and strategy, it’s never been USAG’s. USAG has always been team first, everything else second, and even when they’re a shoo-in to win team gold by 10 points, they still make the team the priority. Even in 2016, Martha said she knew MyKayla Skinner could win a vault medal, but she felt the team was weak on bars, so even though the team was still gonna win with a weak bars lineup, she chose to balance out the bars side of things with another bar worker instead of getting a basically guaranteed vault silver or bronze. Compare that to Russia, which is like “balanced? NEVER HEARD OF HER” and would have put two Maria Pasekas, two Aliya Mustafinas, and Daria Spiridonova on the 2016 team if they could have lol. Based on how Grace has been scored domestically in the past two years, I think USAG is really priming her for the Olympic team. Not saying she’ll definitely make it, or that she’d be my top choice, but I think she’s already a favorite, and an Amanar can probably seal the deal for her.

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      • I, like most people, have not liked Grace in the past, but she has some serious upgrades. She has the typical, high-valued Russian bar routine, which we’ve seen in videos for the past 2 years. She’s also shown an Amanar and Cheng. I think Twin City Twisters is pacing her so they don’t have a Maggie Nichols situation again (burning out/getting injured the year of the Olympics).

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        • Yeah, I’ve liked a lot of what I’ve seen from her recently, especially her recent IG stories on I think Inside Gymnastics? She had some great bars and beam work, and I think while she’s a really solid balanced all-arounder now, with upgrades on all four events she could stay balanced and get even higher scores, so like I said, it’s a win-win best-of-both-worlds situation. She definitely hasn’t been my favorite, and I don’t think she should have gone to worlds last year, but I do think she’ll have some tricks up her sleeve, and I also think the selection team really wants her in Tokyo, so they probably know a lot more than we do, and even if she’s not my top choice for the Olympics, I won’t be surprised if she makes it.

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      • I don’t think that Skinner was a shoo in for VT silver or bronze.
        The clear front runners were Biles, Paseka, and Hong Un Jong.
        Skinner and Douglas were both in the same boat, capable of VT/UB finals and capable of perhaps pulling out a bronze medal.
        Skinner could win a VT medal but Douglas was equally capable of winning an UB medal and actually would have won UB bronze had she not made that error in finals.

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  4. So, I was sure that I had seen Rose Woo do giants on the low bar years ago. Took me a while to find it but here it is. Her bar routine starts at around 4:33

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    • Thank you for posting this. She does giants on both the low and high bars. The hardest thing about her bar routine was the huge jump transition up to high bar.

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  5. The other piece about Grace is that Jade, Simone, AND McKayla are already shooting for vault finals. Grace is great but I highly doubt that she can challenge those three. On a team that’s weak on bars, bringing 4 vaulters really shouldn’t be the priority. It would be nice to see another Suni-like gymnast on the team who can be super standout on bars (i.e. Morgan or Riley). That being said, team selection is gonna be team selection and if they take Simone, Suni, McKayla, and Grace (with Jade individual) then, well, that’s what happens

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    • Mckayla doesn’t have a reason to be on the team…she’s not top AA and she duplicates Jade/Simone/Sunisa in terms of medals. I doubt she’d keep anyone off the team.

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      • Who do you think has the best shot at making top 4? I think Skinner can make it up there depending on the day. Kara Eaker is a huge question mark now, Jade is an individual, Morgan or Riley could make it depending on the day…So much depth

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    • Vault scores tend to be much higher, and so I don’t think it’s entirely unreasonable for teams to want to load up there. If the US does end up with four shooting for vault finals, it won’t be because of any strategic choice to that effect, though.

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  6. I think that Grace can unseat MyKayla if she, too, has the Amanar/Cheng combo. If not, Grace is out for ME (not saying that she’s out for the selection committee), because MyKayla can replicate/beat her scores on VT/FX and Riley can beat her on UB/BB. I get that Grace is upgrading on both of her weaker events, but I think that she’s sort of an “Olivia Dunne” in that she teases us with amazing upgrades in training, but when she competes it in competition, her routine is riddled with form errors.
    While I’m at it, Hurd is out for me, too, because her best event is UB, and she still loses to Sunisa, Simone, and Riley by a couple of tenths, even there.
    I think that Simone, Sunisa, MyKayla, and Riley are the perfect combo, and that they’ll be hard to unseat.

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    • If you have Simone, Suni and Riley, then there’s a huge list of girls that can fill the 1 good VT, usable score on BB, maybe FX.

      I’d put Leanne above Grace or Mykayla, because she’s been hiting her amanar on mat since January camp and her BB is far better, consistent.

      I’d also say that Simone + 2 DTYs is fine, so even Kara just doing BB, maybe FX is better than a Grace or Mykayla for that team score.

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  7. Don’t forget about Leanne Wong. She’s working on an amanar as well and is comparable on basically every other event. Not sure how’s she’s doing upgrade wise currently, but keep in mind she was considered a new senior in 2019, so it will be interesting to see how she has progressed.

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  8. I think I saw someone competed a giant circle (knees bent) on the low bar at the 1982 Asian Games.. The North Korean gymnast Li Jong Ae had a very cool uneven bars routine which includes a giant + a giant shoot from LB to HB.

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  9. i don’t get the need for MyKayla to attempt a bars routine based solely on difficulty that even if she can perform, she most likely will not be performing the skills with good form and/or it could be inconsistent. I’m just not seeing her focusing on what could get her on the team. People give Nina a hard time for little things like flexing her feet with a 6.7 routine and she still doesn’t hit a 9.0 in execution and she has been the most consistent bar worker this quad matching difficulty and execution. I hope Mykayla’s plan works for her this coming year, because i really believe that in 2016 if she hadnt had that really rough Day 2 of P&Gs she wouldn’t have finished 10th in the AA at that meet and made herself a vulnerability for the team, and she might have seriously been considered for the team. The same thing could repeat itself this coming year focusing too much on difficulty and not enough on refinement and consistency and seeing herself an alternate once again. I guess we’ll see how things play out, but the comments above about Grace are really true and I’m almost thinking she could become the 2nd best AAer next year. She is steady, consistent performs difficulty she knows she can execute and keep her in the running and in the end, shows that her scores are a necessity for the team and can be counted on. She hasn’t always been my favorite gymnast, but she shows that consistency in the end will deliver results. Grace this quad to me is the Kyla Ross of the team. Dependable, steady, nothing flashy but gets the scores when needed (minus that weird bars mistake at worlds).

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    • Tbh though, laat year she wasn’t consistent and with her growth spurt, she wasn’t competing difficulty that should handle. Hence, why she had that major mistake on bars at Worlds. Then she also had that fall on beam. I kind of want to see her put all of her difficulty together before I believe that she’s consistent again

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  10. I saw one prediction of a team that included Grace. But for TF lineups she was only used for VT and FX. In that case, I would take Skinner if those were the events you wanted her for. Mykayla has been doing the Amanar and Cheng for many years, I’d trust that rather than someone new to it.

    I like Grace, but I think she gets SO overscored at Nationals. Like she got a 14.8 for a non-stuck DTY. Internationally that probably gets a 14.2-14.4. I think they should send her to one of the AA World cups and see how she scores. Her worlds scores have not been close to those she gets domestically.

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    • I agree that she was super overscored at nationals and trials last year, especially on beam. I wonder if they do it intentionally to boost her confidence, but it’s unfair to other girls on the team when they literally base world team selection on those results and others aren’t getting the same love from the judges.

      I personally would also choose MyKayla over Grace. My ideal team is Simone, Sunisa, Morgan, and MyKayla, but I just have a feeling Grace is going to get in there.

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  11. I would love a book update too.
    Also, I am worried about Mykayla being alternate again as well. She is doing everything she can think of so her being alternate again would break her heart. I Find myself really rooting for her.

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  12. I really don’t get the Grace McCallum love. She’s an alright gymnast but she brings absolutely nothing to the table for me. I feel she gets way over scored and she just doesn’t have that wow factor, in a 1996 style team competition she would be great but in a 2021 team competition I think she can be left at home

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    • She’s not my favorite in terms of style or anything, but I respect that she’s a very strong and solid gymnast. She’s basically this quad’s Maggie Nichols in that she can do everything very well, even though she’s not a real standout at anything and doesn’t have a flashy style. It doesn’t make for the most exciting gymnast, but teams need Maggies and Graces to kind of hold down the fort. Not every team situation, but the 2021 team being a “team all-around” competition in qualifications makes her a strong option. I feel like a lot of people are very against her being on the team, but I think she’s going to end up going to Tokyo…and if she doesn’t, she’ll be #1 alternate.

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      • I just wish she wasn’t in the conversation, I’m not the biggest Morgan Hurd fan but I think she would make more sense than Grace. My dream would be Suni, Simone, Riley and then Morgan or MyKayla for the last spot or other all around spot

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        • And it almost seems unfair, that no matter what Grace does shes already sort of slotted in. That’s not fair if the other girls are fighting for 1 spot. Do you think this could be a makeup for how the previous regime treated Maggie?

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  13. Grace to me is similar to Skinner, in that..they both try to do difficult skills, but don’t always execute them well. Balance checks for Grace on beam, feet not together on bars. One handed Cheng for Skinner, questionable/messy landings on floor. It will be very interesting to see how they try to pull off the new upgrades. Maybe they’ve cleaned things up, we’ll see. i feel like, to be on a 4 person team, each gymnast should be medal worthy on at least 1 individual event. If a filler gymnast is added to the team, then we’re kind of getting into the “why not just add Jade Carey to the team” territory honestly.

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  14. I’m definitely a die-hard Grace fan (hence the name). Putting aside my bias, I think that she’s more justifiable on the team than Morgan. My reasoning being, the team final. If the team were to be Simone, Sunisa, Morgan, and Riley, Morgan wouldn’t do anything in team final, I think that Riley’s vaults have gotten to a point where they’re better than Morgan’s (even before she switched to AZ Sunrays they were looking good), Riley has a slight form advantage on bars imo, which I think is enough to displace Morgan from the top 3 there, on beam, I think that if Suni could hit, then she would definitely be in over Morgan, and then I think that Riley overall has the better beam, and then when we get to floor, I don’t think that with hits from everyone that Morgan would crack the lineup. Now if we were to put Kara, Leanne, MyKayla, or Grace in Morgan’s spot, we could have Kara doing beam, possibly floor, Leanne doing vault and beam, Mykayla/Grace doing vault and floor possibly. I think that in terms of the best backup routines for UB and FX I would probably choose Grace based on how she’s scored internationally, but Leanne would also fit that criteria very well. I think that the team has a very good chance of being Simone, Suni, Riley, and Grace, with Morgan being the specialist due to their being less to lose in the team aspect with her.

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