You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

Elena Eremina

It’s time for the 328th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!

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What happened to Elena Eremina? She seemed like she was going to be the next Aliya Mustafina back in 2017 and then she just seemed to disappear.

Elena had a back injury that required surgery, and between the surgery and the extensive rehab that followed, she has been unable to return to a competitive level that matches where she once was. When she came back to competition for the first time at the 2019 Russian Championships, a little over a year after her surgery, her difficulty was super low, but she was enjoying herself and she put out some really clean routines. With COVID limiting her time in the gym this year, she probably hasn’t had the training time she’s wanted, but I think her back is also continuing to keep her from doing most of her difficulty, and I think that’s frustrating for her. She looked really good at nationals this year, even despite a few mistakes, but people were really rude to her in the way they talked about her on social media, especially because missed out on all-around and bars medals. I was very happy to see her end up taking the silver on beam, and am glad that even if she is no longer at a high level internationally, she’s still doing gymnastics because she wants to and is enjoying herself while doing it.

For the Chinese to be considered state of the art on beam, why do we only see them doing full turns? They do pretty difficult turns on floor, so we know they’re capable of more. Are any known for doing more difficult turns on beam?

I think turns are a very small and (unfortunately if you like turns) insignificant part of what makes a beam routine, for the most part. Most will either do full turns just because they’re required and they want to get them out of the way without too much of a hassle, or they go for the big wolf turns because they’re a valuable way to build dance difficulty with skills that inherently don’t come with many deductions…and the gymnasts who do these turns will usually do them at the start of their routines to be over and done with them so they can then focus on everything else. It’s almost rare now that you see gymnasts try to work turns into their routines artistically, and often when you do see this, it’s a full turn as part of a larger dance series, so don’t hate on the full turn! I think China for the most part tends to be part of the first group where they tend to just want to get it out of the way so they can focus on building difficulty in other ways, though if I can recall correctly, I do think that some of their gymnasts work their full turns into bigger connected dance series. But even the routines with just the solo full pirouettes not connected to anything are still pretty “state of the art” because of everything else they have going on in terms of how they build connections, excel technically at pretty much every skill, and work fluidly between skills. No difficult turns aside, they are masters of beam, and probably stay away from more difficult turns because they aren’t able to work them seamlessly into the structure of what they’re currently doing. If they attempt a double turn or a wolf turn and it doesn’t look good or ends up being too inconsistent, that’s a pretty good reason to not compete it, and to stick to what they do best while just staying with the full pirouettes.

Did Romania change anything in their bars training? From what I’ve seen from the juniors at nationals, they look like they have a more natural swing from the last time I’ve seen them.

I think some of the juniors right now look a lot better on simpler elements, but many are still in the same boat, so I think it’s a case-by-case kind of thing and not necessarily something the federation has changed in some way? I think a couple of their juniors just happen to have qualities that make them look more natural on bars, and so when they’re coached, even if the coaching isn’t amazing, they’re still able to put together the beginnings of some really nice routines.

Romania has always had the occasional kids who have been able to succeed because they have some innate qualities that make them good on the event even without brilliant training. I the issue is that they don’t know how to help move the talented bars kids to the next level, and they also don’t know how to construct routines for the kids who don’t have these innate qualities. If kids like Aly Raisman or Simone Biles grew up in Romania, for example, they would have been screwed. Neither Aly nor Simone were “bars kids” when they were younger, but they still ended up being able to score very well on the event because they had coaches who worked with them and built routines around their particular strengths, especially Simone now that she’s with a legit bars coach. Yet both Aly and Simone would totally fail under Romanian bars coaching. Conversely, the Romanian kids who have failed under the Romanian bars coaching over the years quite possibly would have come out with serviceable routines if they grew up in Russia, China, or the United States, where even the weakest bars gymnasts are worked with in a way where their particular strengths are taken into consideration. I always think of all of the Russian routines with the nonstop connections and lovely Jaegers and full-ins, and then Seda Tutkhalyan pops in with her toe-on to toe full to Tkachev and double front, and she’s not a brilliant bars worker, but she’s still pulling in a solid 14+ on the event at worlds.

So yes, some of the Romanian kids look really good on this event right now, but they’re still essentially just doing the basics, and I’m very hesitant to get excited, because based on the history of Romanians doing good basics as juniors and then never progressing past that, I’m not optimistic about them becoming great senior bar workers. I don’t think anything in the coaching has changed, but just think that maybe there was a greater number of juniors who have better bars basics now than we saw maybe five years ago or something. 

Where do you find the complete DOBs for your profile section? Any suggestions for where I could find good profile information if I wanted to start looking up more info besides DOBs (such as hometowns, clubs, coaches, etc)? There used to be team fan sites years ago but I can’t find much anymore. Any suggestions for looking up past gymnasts aside from Wikipedia and the Olympic database on Sport Reference?

I have a private database that I keep of every gymnast that has competed elite since 2012, and I go in and add DOBs as I come across them so that when I make profiles, I usually already have the DOB information handy. I’ve been building out this database for about six years and have about 5,800 birthdates listed at this point, out of the 10,900 gymnasts who have competed since 2012. Most DOBs I find come from national federations…they often have them listed on the results from various competitions, or in their own national team profiles. Also, most international competitions include DOBs in the rosters, so any meet like Euros or worlds will have them listed for everyone who is registered on the teams, and then for the Olympics and other major Games (like the Commonwealth Games or Pan American Games), all athletes are typically featured with profiles on the website and the DOBs are usually included there.

I don’t include things like clubs, hometowns, and coaches because while it’s usually readily available for most of the top athletes (sometimes in FIG profiles, sometimes in national team profiles for federations), it’s not often available for most other gymnasts beyond national team members, and it can be impossible to find for many gymnasts, at least outside of the United States. Your best bet for clubs is to probably just look at national results to see which club is listed for each competitor, but coach information can be a lot harder to find, and same goes for hometown. If you’re looking for, like, Nina Derwael or Mélanie De Jesus Dos Santos, a simple look on Google is probably sufficient, but for a gymnast from Peru who competed at Pan Am Championships once in her career, good luck finding anything.

When did Simone Biles become *Simone Biles*? Was her mega-talent recognized as a junior? On a related note, would she have made the 2012 team had she been age-eligible? If so, who would she have replaced?

I would say the period after winning worlds in 2014 through the lead-up to worlds in 2015 is when Simone started to first become widely known as being the sort of unbeatable legend we know her as today. 

I’m sure everyone’s memories are different, but in my own recollection of her as a junior, in 2011, she wasn’t really on my radar at all. She had a ton of power and a strong DTY, but so did a lot of other juniors that year, and hers didn’t stand out to me as being any better than, say, Brenna Dowell’s, especially when we had several juniors training and competing Amanars at this time. Watching her on floor, too, it was like, she had very promising tumbling, but also needed a lot of work, and nothing she did was truly standout to me compared to everything else we were seeing from juniors at the time. She was your typical junior with decent junior-level difficulty in a sea of juniors going ham with senior-level difficulty, so she kind of flew under the radar…which as we later learned would be a good thing as she would come out thriving as a senior while no one else in her peer group could hold on.

In 2012, she was noticeable because she came out with an Amanar, and it was fantastic, and she had also improved her ability elsewhere, but with her difficulty still kind of low on her other events, it was clear that her Amanar was really carrying her as an all-arounder. I remember having the thought “is this going to be another McKayla Maroney situation?” because she won national all-around bronze thanks to her Amanar getting a 16 while her other events were in the 13.7-14.2 range, just like McKayla had won all-around silver the previous year with 16s for her Amanar and 13.4-14.5 range scores on her other events. But at the same time, I do think Simone in 2012 showed a ton of potential and room for upgrades on floor, and I remember a lot of people talking in my group Facebook chat at the time about how she was going to be huge on this event as a senior once she upgraded, so I think the expectation for her going into 2013 was that she’d be this big vault/floor talent, and would probably be a top contender for the vault/floor spot at worlds. I remember in 2012 putting together a worlds team for 2013 that had Katelyn Ohashi and Lexie Priessman as the all-arounders, Kyla Ross as the bars/beam specialist, and Simone Biles as the vault/floor specialist. SIGH.

But then 2013 came and when she was announced for one of the American Cup spots, everyone was like, jaw drop. That was a huge surprise, and when I saw her compete there, I was like, okay, so I guess the plan for her was to hold her back as a junior and then unleash her brilliance once she became a senior?! Because suddenly she had a million upgrades, and it was clear that she was nowhere near done with them. At this time, she wasn’t super consistent yet, and there was still a chance for other gymnasts to catch her in the all-around. If she’d had a fall at worlds, Kyla Ross was right there on her heels to take gold, so even with her impressive difficulty, she wasn’t quite far ahead enough to be unbeatable. That also continued into 2014…she had a clear advantage, but Larisa Iordache actually got really close to her at worlds that year, and I think if she faltered at all, she was still at risk of not winning a major all-around competition.

I think winning worlds in 2014 kind of asserted her dominance after she was able to get back-to-back titles, but 2015 was the first time she really came into worlds with that “unbeatable” label attached to her, and I think it really was the first time she was kind of unbeatable. I think if every top gymnast competing at worlds (or eligible to compete at worlds that year, regardless of whether they attended or not) all had perfect competitions, Simone would be more than a point ahead of everyone else, which kind of solidifies her as unbeatable in my eyes…compared to previous years where her “perfect day” was still within a half point or so of another gymnast’s perfect day. And from then on, she was able to continue building on that gap she created between herself and others, to the point where she proved this quad that she can fall twice in a worlds all-around final and still take the gold.

When do you think Aliya Mustafina peaked in her career overall?

I want to say that her true peak was at 2010 worlds because it’s where she was at her absolute best on all four events and kind of therefore also as an all-arounder…but I also think that she has peaked in different ways throughout various moments in her career? Like, I think she has peaked on bars multiple times, including at both of her Olympic Games, and love that she has trained herself to be able to peak on bars basically whenever she needs to. Her goal is to win Olympic bars gold medals, so she literally peaks herself to do that. It’s phenomenal. I would also consider 2014 a kind of peak for her…she wasn’t as strong an all-arounder as she had been four years earlier, but she got pretty freaking close, and watching her that year, I was like, this woman is truly going to be doing her full 2010 difficulty by Rio, guaranteed. I know she went through a period in 2015 where she was no longer motivated and found it hard to get back in the gym, so she missed a significant amount of training that held her back considerably in the Olympic year, but I really feel like had she been able to keep going at full speed, she probably could have legitimately challenged Simone Biles in Rio.

Looking back, whether it be gold or the podium, are there any medal misses that left you absolutely devastated?

Rebecca Bross missing gold in 2009 has always been one that has REALLY gotten to me. That’s a rough one. To be absolutely crushing it all meet long and have nearly a 1.5 point lead going into the final rotation only to lose by 0.05 is just…I’m literally mad at the judges for not just giving it to her hahaha. In any other situation I’d be like “this worked out perfectly” because I don’t like seeing wins with falls, but because it was Becca, it just made it the worst. There are probably a lot of others where I was like “this is so unfair” especially in the 80s and 90s…when I watched the 1988 all-around I was really mad that Daniela Silivas didn’t win, so that’s another one, but it doesn’t have the same emotional punch that the 2009 ending had for me.

Why don’t men do actual mounts on high bar? They either stand underneath and jump up to grab it or have their coach lift them up. Then they have to do a few swings to build momentum. Why not use a springboard and start with a kip?

I don’t know the reasoning but I always laugh because it looks so funny, like they’re a little kid being lifted up to a playground and not a literal world class athlete about to begin an Olympic routine or whatever. It looks so funny and awkward. I get it for rings, where they need to start the routine in a “still” position, but on high bar, it would look so much cleaner if they jumped up into a kip from the springboard like the women do on a high bar. Being lifted up and then doing the wild Cross Fit kicking into the swings just looks super messy.

What happened to the Nebraska team, and why have a lot of girls transferred to other schools? Why didn’t Addy De Jesus go to UCLA like everyone said initially?

They had a few allegations of the culture being shady, both from current and former team members, but it seemed like most of the allegations were coming from gymnasts about their own teammates perpetuating the culture, and not actually about the coaches. The head coach disappeared from the team in October 2018, which I thought was shady at the time, because when any coach or person in any sort of job disappears with no warning, especially in the middle of the season, it’s of course going to look shady…but then it turned out that he resigned because he was paying a volunteer coach by having the coach submit invoices for a fictitious company, so I feel like the situation has just always been murky and most of what we’re hearing from the gym has been a lot of rumors related to the team just not being super “together” or cohesive.

I’m not sure what happened with Addy not going to UCLA. I know she had to leave Nebraska due to violating team rules, but I assume that for whatever reason, UCLA just didn’t work out for her, so she ended up at Iowa State instead. Maybe UCLA initially thought they had a scholarship for her but wasn’t able to give her one for both years she had left? Maybe they couldn’t give her one at all? It’s impossible to know the reasoning without her telling us, so since she hasn’t offered it up, it’s her business.

How much do you think population, social development, and budget influence a country’s gymnastics status on the international scene?

A ton. Everything. For most countries in the world, national gymnastics programs literally do not exist at all because the resources go beyond what would be considered reasonable, whereas something like a national-level track program or soccer program is doable because the expenses involved are comparably limited. 

I was just talking to someone about Kosovo’s gymnastics program. When they do (rarely) send gymnasts to international meets (I’ve seen it happen twice in the past decade) their gymnasts only do floor because most of the gyms in Kosovo really only have floors. Some gyms have beams, but that’s really it. Many gyms in Lebanon don’t have uneven bars, so their gymnasts only compete vault, beam, and floor. In many African countries – Namibia, Nigeria, Tunisia – they have all of the apparatuses, but they don’t have the coaches who know how to teach more than just the basics on events like bars, so while they may have gymnasts doing more advanced elements on beam and floor, they’ll be very behind on bars, where elements take a bit more skill to teach and learn. And then other countries don’t have almost any structure in place for gymnastics (beyond the occasional kid-friendly rec gyms), but they’re still able to have some sort of international presence because gymnasts who live and train in other countries have dual citizenship and can represent them without ever stepping foot inside.

Of course, these are cases of an extreme lack of resources. There are programs that compete regularly at world championships and even that finish among the top 25 or so teams that still face major challenges in terms of lacking resources, and these programs are also typically in countries where population and development are behind compared to top programs. You hear a lot of stories about countries where the top athletes are tumbling in gyms without pits, where the space is so small that they have to run around corners to have enough room for a regulation-length vault runway, where mats have holes in them that their feet get stuck in when they land. Somehow, these gymnasts still make finals at world cups and even sometimes at worlds, and they qualify to the Olympic Games…but they’re at a massive disadvantage compared to programs where athletes are either fully funded like in Russia and China, or where gymnasts come from wealthier families who are able to cover tuition at state-of-the-art gyms like in the United States. They can succeed at some level as individuals, but they have almost no chance at building up a competitive team because while situations like these can work for a handful of athletes who make them work, most athletes will give up early on when they realize the situation isn’t ideal and that they have very little room to grow.

But sometimes, it’s just really all about population, or even just priority. I always think of Norway’s WAG program, which has a lot of money and resources…their gymnasts travel for competitions pretty much all the time, they’re one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but their population is tiny compared to most other countries, and they also just don’t seem to prioritize gymnastics the way the U.S. or Russia would? For many athletes at the elite level, gymnastics is seen as a high school sport, and the majority of their gymnasts on the national team retire once they get to university age. Occasionally you will see a gymnast continue until she’s a bit older, but for the most part, even the very best gymnasts will turn 18 or 19 and then disappear mid-quad, regardless of their potential for maybe qualifying for the Olympics in a year or two.

What happened scoring-wise with Grace McCallum’s 2019 worlds team final bars routine? I know she didn’t technically fall off the apparatus but her score was over 1.5 points lower than qualifications.

She lost execution for a mistake in this routine, but more importantly, she also lost a huge chunk of her difficulty due to the way she made that mistake. Her qualifications routine got a 6.1 D score with a Weiler half to Maloney to Tkachev, Downie to Pak, van Leeuwen, and toe full to full-in. In the team final, everything up to the van Leeuwen went well, but then she messed up the toe-full, only doing a toe half before falling out of it and readjusting herself on the bars. Instead of trying it again or hopping off to collect herself before trying again, she just did giants into the dismount, so not only did she not get credit for the toe full or the CV for the connection into the dismount, but she also lost the 0.5 CR for the full pirouette, because missing that skill meant that she no longer had a full pirouette in her routine, taking her 6.1 D score down to just a 5.3 D. It’s hard to think on your feet (or on your hands!) on bars, so I’m surprised they didn’t have a backup for her here in case she got nervous about the toe full + dismount combo. Even with the botched toe full, after she collected herself, if she was just able to do a toe-full on its own, and then the giants into the full-in dismount, her D score would have still been at a 6.0 with just the CV missing, so instead of a total score of a 12.966, she could have been at a 13.666 or so. Her E score would have still been affected for botching the toe full halfway through, but the D score largely would have remained unchanged.

In the 2000 team final, Elena Produnova was scored out of a 9.9 on floor. The BBC commentators seemed bewildered by this so I assume this was unusual. Is this because she did a 2½ to front tuck instead of a front pike at the end of her routine? If she did her double arabian punch front tuck as her first pass and then a second punch front tuck in her last pass, would this bump her down?

First of all, thank you for making me watch Elena’s floor routine again (multiple times). Magical. Her tumbling is one thing but I feel like she’s the only gymnast I’ve seen in a long time whose front leg is actually oversplit in her switch leaps. I don’t know for sure about why she only got a 9.9 SV instead of her usual 10, but watching her team finals routine in comparison to other routines at this competition where she WAS judged out of a 10, the only difference is that she kind of landed lock-legged out of the 2½ in the team final and kind of went into a tuck on instinct, but in her other routines she had the pike…without having access to this code, I’d guess having two separate passes that both punch into a front tuck would mean that she didn’t meet the standard that would normally get her to a 10.

Based on training videos, who is likely to pull off a Cheng in 2021? Who would likely challenge Simone Biles and Jade Carey in the vault final?

It looks like Grace McCallum is likely to be ready to compete hers, and McKayla Skinner obviously as well. Leanne Wong is also training one to a landing surface, and while it’s not competition-ready and I don’t think it should be a focus for her, it’s another one that could be something we see next year. Internationally, Ellie Downie already has one, but I’m not sure of anyone else in contention for Tokyo who has one that’s realistic? I think any gymnast who wants to beat Simone and Jade would need not just a Cheng, but that Amanar and Cheng combo, so I really hope Ellie can get the Amanar because I’d love to see her improve her chances to get silver or possibly even gold. I don’t think anyone else could realistically do it, but Ellie is fantastic and so underrated…I’ll never understand how the judges lowball her execution scores so egregiously compared to the Americans. Between her DTY compared to Laurie Hernandez’s in 2016 and her Cheng compared to Jade Carey’s last year, the judges have a clear bias against her.

Seeing Aleah Finnegan’s recent training video – the Pak to Shaposh she’s doing is really cool, but it’s also worth the same as a Pak to van Leeuwen, and it seems like it would be so much harder. With that and a few other things in mind, why do gymnasts do harder skills or combinations when they don’t gain anything from it? Is it just to show that they can?

I think skills and combos that are more difficult or riskier are just kind of fun to do for clout sometimes? And usually, while you see gymnasts training these sorts of things often, they only rarely make it into routines, and that’s usually because while they may be more difficult for most gymnasts, for whatever reason this one gymnast seems to find it easy (like Ana Padurariu finding the inbar piked Tkachev easier than a toe-on piked Tkachev, because her feet always slip on toe-on skills). Maybe Aleah will never compete the Pak to Shaposh and is just training it for fun, or maybe she hates toe-ons and wanted to try out other connections out of Paks that don’t involve them? Also, being in the gym a million hours a day can get really boring and routine, so to kind of break that up, coaches and gymnasts will experiment with lots of skills and combos, some of which they’ll never dream of competing, but occasionally they find something that ends up being perfect for a routine, and they never would have discovered it without playing around. I saw someone complaining recently about how gymnasts are always doing random new skills they should never compete instead of focusing on what they already have, but 99% of the “new skills” they’re playing with probably won’t go into their routines. I think it’s important to train a variety of skills, and while sometimes it doesn’t make sense to shift your focus too much, training skills for fun is a really awesome part of the process, and makes you a better gymnast.

Obviously when you’re in the throes of a dynasty it’s hard to imagine it faltering or fading, and I’m sure at some point everyone viewed the Soviets as too big to fail. I barely remember a time where it was a question if the U.S. would win a team gold and I was too young to recall an Olympics where the U.S. to win an all-around gold. Obviously there’s no crystal ball, but do you see the U.S. empire falling, or will it always be a game of catch-up for other countries?

I think you can spot little things that show the breakdown of one dynasty or the beginnings of another. Like with Romania, they were obviously still a fantastic program in 2012, but they needed to rely on veterans to be at that level, and without Catalina Ponor and Sandra Izbasa, they would have been good, but not incredible…and the breakdown was even more clear two years later as you could see the depth disappearing. I remember thinking in 2014 that they were in grave danger, and even wrote an article about how the program as we knew it was over, so I wasn’t surprised to see them not qualify a team in 2016 and I don’t see them building back up any time soon even despite some good individual talents on the roster. 

With the U.S. there are already little hints that their current dominance isn’t going to last forever. For example, if you replaced Simone Biles’ scores at worlds last year with MyKayla Skinner’s or Morgan Hurd’s or another alternate’s, the gap between the U.S. and Russia narrows considerably, and at junior worlds, if Romania was at full strength, the U.S. team could have been in a place to not make the podium…not because they were “bad” but because they just actually had some great competition for once unlike at the senior level. The U.S. had some truly incredible athletes for several years, but I think the rest of the world was struggling at this time, but the rest of the world has been working hard to catch up, and now it seems to be that most of the top U.S. all-arounders are more evenly matched. I think getting a glimpse into how things look without Simone at 2017 worlds is a better picture of what things are really going to be like in the post-Simone future for the U.S. program.

While the U.S. will still have a pretty solid advantage over most other teams because of how deep the team is and how consistent the athletes are, I think the days of U.S. mega dominance as they’ve existed since 2011 are likely going to be behind us, which I think is kind of exciting. It makes for more exciting competitions, for one thing, and it’s also just great to see programs grow and get better and improve their depth. We’ve seen so many positive changes, especially in smaller programs, over the past decade…many of these programs struggled to add difficulty under the open-ended code at first but now over a decade later, they’re thriving and I love that.

What happened to Maegan Chant at Florida? In general, do Canadian gymnasts struggle when they join NCAA programs?

I think she had a pretty decent career at Florida, but was just maybe a bit overshadowed by some of the more powerhouse gymnasts. It’s hard coming onto a team and getting lineup spots where there are a million top U.S. elites and level 10s on the team, but I think Maegan was a good and consistent gymnast on vault, and she was also dealing with an ankle injury for most of her NCAA career, which limited her quite a bit after her freshman season. I don’t think Canadian gymnasts struggle in NCAA in general, and they often thrive when they join programs that aren’t so heavily dominated by the top U.S. girls, but again, when there’s so much depth, it’s hard for anyone to stand out unless of course they’re the very best within that program. That’s just how it goes.

This is super random, but has Monaco ever had an elite gymnast?

Yes, they generally have a handful of elite gymnasts who compete regularly, usually at smaller meets, but they sent a gymnast to worlds for the first time in 2015, with Milla Fabre competing and placing 225th. For the men, Monaco has been to worlds a few times in the past decade. Kevin Crovetto is the most well-known Monagasque gymnast, having qualified to the 2016 Olympic Games last quad. He didn’t qualify outright for Tokyo, but he’s a likely contender for the tripartite nomination.

Is it possible to do a Jaeger with a half turn to regular grip?

I feel like any Jaeger caught with a half turn would have to be caught in mixed grip…unless you could somehow reach both hands under the bar during the turn and then grab over the bar? But that would make for a really awkward catch and I don’t know how realistic it would be, and directionally in terms of your swing, there wouldn’t really be any benefit to being in regular grip? Not worth it, really.

Any idea who the first gymnast to connect a Pak directly into some sort of shaposh element was? I recently saw a video of Chellsie Memmel doing a Pak to Chow in 2005 and was wondering if you know of anything happening earlier.

Nicole Harris did a Pak to Maloney in 2004, which I think was the first, and then Chellsie Memmel did her Pak to Chow a year later, though it didn’t become a popular combination until last quad…there were a few in the 2012 quad, mostly from the Russians, and I always credit the Russians for making the Pak combo trend happen, as well as the more general trend of connecting a bunch of transitional elements in a row. Everyone else just kind of followed in their example a little bit later.

Putting Maggie Haney’s abusive coaching aside, was the MG Elite business model (a team that was a separate business and legal entity from the gym it trains in) a smart one?

I’m not a business person so I’m not sure what the strategy was behind this aside from Maggie just wanting to own her own gym without having the responsibility of actually having to RUN a gym…so getting all of the reward of having an elite program, but none of the busy work that comes with owning the property, purchasing and maintaining the equipment, managing the business aspects and all of the scheduling and HR and everything else that goes into it, and having to put time and energy into the lower J.O. levels and the rec program. I think she kind of got the best case scenario the way she did things, because she got to do exactly what she wanted and didn’t have to do many of the things she didn’t want to do. But from the business/legal side of things, I’m not sure what the pros and cons would have been in terms of separating her business from the physical space where her business happened.

Do you know if Nicola Bartolini is still on the Italian men’s national team?

I think he’s still on the national team, but I can’t say for certain…they don’t have a regularly updated list on their website like some federations do so it can be hard to keep track, but there’s nothing to suggest that he’s not on the team. He got kicked out of his gym last year, and when that happened, he had a long Instagram post about how his future with the Italian program was no longer clear, especially because at the time he was not only without a gym, but he was also dealing with a serious shoulder injury and had just had surgery. But I think he’s training in Milan now, and he was on the participant list for nationals earlier this month, though didn’t end up competing. 

What would be the D scores for the following UB routines?

  • Endo full + Komova II + stalder 1.5 + Ezhova + van Leeuwen, inbar full + Gienger, Ray
  • Inbar full + Komova II + Pak + van Leeuwen, inbar half + Ono half + piked Tkachev, piked arabian double front

The first routine would be D + E + E + D + E, E + D, G, which has 2.0 CR, 3.9 DV, and 0.6 CV for a total of 6.5.

The second routine would be E + E + D + E, D + E + E, E, which has 2.0 CR, 3.8 DV, and 0.7 CV also for a total of 6.5.

If you could assemble a dream team of gymnastics commentators, who would be on it?

Can I just go with Kathy Johnson Clarke and Bart Conner?! Maybe add someone wild in there to spice things up because they’re almost too normal. I feel like Laurie Hernandez would be really fun. I don’t need her to talk about gymnastics at all. I just want her to do the color commentary and occasionally burst into song.

The stories of Maggie Haney’s coaching techniques and the overall culture there seems to be really terrible. But why do parents still trust them to train their kids? Why did Olivia Greaves and her mother stand behind her for so long? They must have seen all of the drama that happened.

This happens whenever there is abuse at a club or within a federation, and it’s usually either because this athlete didn’t experience abuse, or, more commonly, because this athlete didn’t realize that what they were going through was abusive. People normalize abuse so often that it can be difficult to understand that what they’re going through shouldn’t be okay, and if Olivia was used to a certain environment at her old gym, and things were similar at MG Elite, then to her, that was probably normal and didn’t feel weird. Her mom standing up for Maggie and outwardly saying stuff like she never saw anything out of whack was bizarre because the MG Elite rules clearly stated that parents were never allowed to watch, and Olivia’s mom was running her own gym anyway, so how was it possible for her to have an eye on the goings-on at MG Elite 24/7? I felt like her vehement denial was super weirdly aggressive but it also made sense because that’s the culture Maggie built. Olivia probably saw some drama, but either didn’t really understand that it was wrong, or was afraid to speak out, but I doubt her mom really saw anything, because part of the whole MG Elite culture was keeping parents in the dark so that they could get away with that kind of behavior. Yet she defended Maggie anyway, because also part of Maggie’s culture was building an extensive network of supporters by putting on a big show outside of the gym of like, look how sweet and amazing I am, so that when kids spoke up, everyone would be like “Maggie could never.” It worked! 

I don’t understand why scores on some events (like vault and bars) being higher on average than scores on other events (like beam and floor) is seen as somehow unbalancing team and all-around finals. If EVERYONE is getting comparatively higher E scores on vault, for example, wouldn’t that also hold true even for weaker vaulters?

In theory, yes, I agree with you…but on another level, it favors gymnasts or teams who are better on vault or bars, while gymnasts who are better on beam or floor can’t use those events to their advantage in the same way. A team like the U.S. could potentially go to Tokyo with three scores of 15+ on vault thanks to Amanars and Chengs, which have D scores of 5.8 and 6.0. But a team like China with absolutely fabulous beam routines can’t do better than like a 14.5 for its best routines despite D scores of 6.2+ because of how the E score works on that event. In essence, the code is saying that it’s better to be strong on vault and bars, and that these events will win meets for teams and individuals, but if beam and floor are your strong events, you won’t be successful. Just look at the 2016 all-around final…Shang Chunsong was great on three events, but weak on vault, while Aliya Mustafina was great on two events, and weak on beam and floor. Yet she won the bronze with two weak events because vault is more valuable than beam or floor. For a competition to truly be an all-around competition, I think a gymnast should be balanced enough so that at least three of her events are at a relatively similar level, but with the way it is now, a gymnast with an Amanar or with a 6.5 D on bars can be a top-five all-arounder in the world with the rest of her events basically scoring two full points lower than her top event, while a truly balanced gymnast with excellent beam and floor work but just an FTY on vault and like a 5.5 bars D can barely crack the top eight. It’s so bizarre and is something I find truly to be a problem with the code.

This is a personal question, but I never knew you were emancipated as a teen! What was your career? Were you an actor? Super interested to learn about you!

Yes, I was an actor, mostly for stage/musical theater, though I tried to break into film a couple of times (and was terrible at it because it turns out the shout-acting we do as kids in theater does not translate to film AT ALL, though I got somewhat close to booking the part of Adam Sandler’s daughter in the movie Spanglish hahaha…and later I made it to the screen test for the Hairspray movie but I was about 20 at that point and ready to quit acting). I started taking the bus to NY by myself for auditions when I was 13 and had to turn down a national tour when I was 14 because it was non-equity and they refused to pay for a guardian for the child actors (which was required by law), but both of my parents worked and I didn’t have any adult in my life who could just casually quit their job for six months and live off of the $250 a week I would’ve made (basically other kid I knew in theater had a mom who didn’t work and was like, a full-time stage mom). I read an article about Michelle Williams becoming emancipated so she could manage her own career, so when I got a similar touring offer just before turning 16, I gave a powerpoint presentation to my parents about why it made sense and shockingly they agreed. I was able to travel on my own for that job, and also got to do a few other short-term jobs, and because I graduated high school at 17, I was able to move out early and didn’t have to wait until I was 18 to get my own apartment or a job in NY. It wasn’t super necessary for me to become emancipated, and when I wasn’t working, I was living at home under my parents’ rules like a normal kid, but it did give me opportunities that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of as a teenager, and at the time, these were dream opportunities for me, so it definitely felt worth it.

I’ve since found out that Shannon Miller never wanted to be emancipated from her parents, so I have no idea where Jane Pauley got that information for her Dateline interview (and apparently, Shannon was quite upset that it came up)…but I do remember hearing it at the time and assuming that it wasn’t an abuse-related thing the way it was for Dominique Moceanu, but rather that it just made sense for her situation logistically the way it made sense for mine. It really just did make things easier for me. I had a great relationship with my parents, but was pretty independent and liked being in charge of my own life and money at a young age, and feel like if I were in Shannon’s shoes, I would have 100% been emancipated just to be able to take advantage of every opportunity without feeling like I had to bother my parents. I also realize now as an adult that this isn’t necessarily the greatest situation, though, because you’re in an adult’s world but you’re still a kid and that’s not always going to be safe. I’m glad it’s not really a thing that happens often today unless it’s necessary. I feel like I’m almost surprised it’s not something we saw more often in gymnastics, especially because it was so common for child actors, but again, I’m glad it’s not. There are enough ways to take advantage of kids in this sport without emancipating them from their parents at 15 or 16.

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

24 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. Romania made a huge mistake in 2011 when they pushed out Ana Pogras. I think their strongest team in 2012 would have been Iordache, Izbasa, Pogras, Ponor, and Racea. Honestly, Bulimar and Cheliru would have been good replacements for Izbasa and Ponor if they hadn’t come back. It was sad that Romania stopped caring about developing younger gymnasts.

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    • Yeah, they weren’t totally screwed without Ponor and Izbasa yet in 2012, but it was still pretty tight and it was clear that if they didn’t act fast, that this was kind of the beginning of the end. It’s crazy that it’s now been 8 years since then and they still haven’t made any major changes to the overall structure/development within the women’s program, especially post-2014. That was really the last year they had a ton of juniors before the mass exodus happened…I want to say I’m hopeful for the future still but without basically any movement yet, I really don’t expect much.

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      • I really want to feel hopeful because Stanciulescu and Sfiringu are both doing amazing work, Barbosu is currently one of the best juniors in the world, Puflea looks super promising of course Voinea has been hyped up for what feels like forever and I suppose its not impossible for Iordache to become an evergreen figure for them but Romania has completely destroyed their reputation in 5 years and they’ve had the same situation with different names and have botched it before.

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  2. Funny you mention Aly’s bars because I’m pretty sure I’ve heard rumors (quite possibly here, in fact) that Romania was trying to get Mihai as their new head coach. Add that comparison to the list of reasons why that match could be very, very interesting if it happens.

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    • Yeah, that would be awesome. I feel like Mihai obviously isn’t an amazing bars coach, but he knows how to get his gymnasts to do work on bars that works for them, which is exactly what Romania needs.

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  3. There are a few other gymnasts training Chengs! Qi Qi is trying to replace her Rudi with a Cheng and I believe Melnikova, Shchekoldina, Andrade, and Asia D’amato are all training Chengs as well. I think Shallon Olsen and Kim Su-Jong are still going for the Cheng too. Finally before lockdown Jordan Chiles was also training it but not sure if she still is.

    Also speaking about Produnova, Wei Xiaoyuan has the best front leg on switch leaps I’ve seen since Elena herself!

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    • Oh yes, I think Asia is pretty close, and Shallon too from what I remember…I think I just included those I know have landed them who could be legitimate threats but yeah, quite a few have started working this vault, especially those that have done the Lopez throughout the quad!

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      • Shallon had one at Worlds in 2017 and 2018 that wasn’t bad (heck, she won a silver with it in 18), I don’t recall if she was still doing it last year though. I don’t think she could challenge Simone, especially since her second vault is only a DTY (unless she upgrades, obviously), but she could be in the mix for a medal if she hits.

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    • If Melnikova is going to throw the Cheng i pray it’s more secure than when she last showed it (2018?). That was SCARY, and at the time I feared greatly for her health. Think Paseka form with almost no prayer of landing. Yikes.

      Andrade is one of my favorites but her knees must be held together my duct tape at this point. She easily has the power for the Cheng but we need her still in one piece.

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  4. Also, I had the same thought about high bar. I understand the lift for rings, just because the nature of the apparatus would make it really hard to consistently catch it in the air like that, but the high bar doesn’t move around like the rings do, so…

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  5. – Bross’ fall leaves me gutted as well. As does Ferrari on fx in 2012. But the original title/podium miss for me is any of the 3 world/oly AA comps where Dominique Dawes has some random fluke on something that’s not even difficult for her, and ends up losing the lead after 3 rotations. I still have ptsd lol.

    -Ellie Downie was def robbed last year! There is 0 reason that she shouldn’t have won silver.

    -Produnova and that ‘out for blood’ fx routine is a major sidney highlight. And yes, in the 97 quad, u were no longer credited for repeating a skill, so that’s most likely the reason for her 9.9 sv. In 96, you could repeat as long as it was in a different combo (or something like that, which led to all of those annoying front fulls are rudis back then…)

    -The American in me loves the dominance, but I def welcome the thought of actual competition coming back.

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    • I agree with you on the last. On the one hand, it’s awesome to see the US run the table, but I only really started getting into gymnastics towards the end of last quad, so it’s like…what’s it actually like to watch a major competition where you don’t know who’s going to win? Like, the most suspenseful thing I’ve gotten to watch in real time was the US Olympic trials. (2017 would have been an exception, but I had to wait for the delayed broadcast, and there was the whole thing with Ragan’s injury that was reported before said broadcast, so in the process of trying to figure out what was up with Ragan, I encountered the articles about Morgan winning.)

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      • Yeah in the last 4 years the only major competition I actually got excited watching was 2017 worlds, no clear winner on any event. With Simone in the mix you know she’s going to win AA, VT, FX and probably beam, US will win team and then Nina will probably win bars. And that’s almost exactly how it worked in both 2018 and 2019, with Tingting being the only exception. And yeah people will be like “sure Simone will win gold, but at least the fight for silver/bronze is interesting” but it’s just not the same. It’s dumb to basically hate on Simone for being too good, and even Simone herself said that the only thing she wishes she had was a rival, but the only reason I kind of hope she doesn’t come back after Tokyo is so that I can feel the suspense that used to be more or less common place. Or at least have the random emergence of 3-4 people who can challenge her haha.

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      • Yea, I started watching arnd 93/94, and by the 96 Olympic Games, not only was the team comp open season, but the AA podium could’ve literally gone to no less than 10 diff gymnasts. 2000 wasn’t AS wide open, but it was close. Mid-late 90s was my fav era. The competition was heavy!

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    • Karpenko in the 2000 AA. There was 0 surprise that she was within an inch of winning. To lose the big game because you basically stubbed your toe while stepping forward?! No words.

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  6. After reading the question about Simone, I went back and looked at the results from 2014 Worlds. The only thing more shocking than seeing Iordache coming within .5 of the AA title was that her D score on floor was only .1 behind Simone’s! It’s easy to assume Simone has always been untouchable.

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    • Yeah, I think because she won in 2013 and was pretty dominant throughout all of 2014, a lot of people might go back and think that Simone was also “untouchable” in 2014, but Larisa was SO close that year, and I think Simone had an advantage with her vault, but otherwise they matched up super well which was so awesome. I think Simone proving how consistent she was with getting that win again in 2014 despite having Larisa coming so close was what kind of solidified her as such a dominant force, and that year between 2014 and 2015 was important in creating Simone the Legend, so by the time 2015 worlds came around it was like yeah, no one can beat this woman, haha. But in 2014 there was definitely still that glimmer of hope!

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      • I actuallly think she was still technically “beatable” in 2015/16 in the sense that at that point she was still performing stuff we’ve seen before. I honestly think that a 2012 Komova/2010 Mustafina would’ve come within that .5 range had either held that shape in Rio. It wasn’t until 2018 where she really started pulling almost superhuman skills.

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  7. 2000 Olympics Korkina was robbed. I’m not even a Korkina fan but the vault being set at the wrong height was ridiculous.
    Also, Anna Pavlova and the 2008 beam final.

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    • I think a lot of people got screwed by that…Khorkina is the obvious one but there are probably others who could have sneaked in for a surprise medal (especially if Khorkina still fell on bars, which is impossible to know) — Elise Ray, for one, would’ve been right up there with a hit beam (which, like Khorkina’s bars, might or might not have happened without the vault error).

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      • Tagging on to my last comment, what makes the whole thing so crazy is all the question marks, the what-ifs and could-have-beens. Khorkina MIGHT have still fallen off bars, Elise Ray MIGHT have still fallen on beam…the rankings COULD have turned out exactly the same as they did, but there’s no way to know and that’s what makes the whole thing so crazy.

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  8. I completely agree with you about the judging between Ellie Downie and Jade Carey, to me Ellie’s is the cleanest Cheng by far after Simone. I was also surprised by the judging between Ellie and Shallon Olsen. I know Ellie still came third, but the scores were crazy close and I thought Ellie’s vaulting was significantly cleaner, especially the Cheng. No hate to any of the gymnasts I love them all, I just don’t understand the judging!

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  9. I have a copy of the 97-00 COP and yeah since Elena Produnova repeated the front tuck element for her last pass it was not eligible for bonus

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