You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

Aliya Mustafina

It’s time for the 330th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!

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

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Do helicopter legs actually make a gymnast twist faster? Wouldn’t a straight and narrow body have the least air resistance?

Straight legs and clean lines are more aerodynamic, so this is true, but the crossed ankles (or legs in some cases) actually do give a biomechanical advantage in increasing rotation at the start of the skill. It’s just unfortunate that often a skill starting off this way often can’t be corrected, so the entirety of the skill ends up looking messy and wrong.

Like in figure skating, where crossed feet/legs are acceptable, the crossing is a result of the torque in the set for twisting elements. When twisting in gymnastics, in addition to using power to rotate, gymnasts also have to apply a force that will cause torque, or the twisting motion. The more force or moment of intertia, the larger the torque, and the larger the torque, the greater the angular momentum, and therefore, the gymnast will be able to achieve more twists.

The thing is that when a gymnast needs to use a lot of torque for more difficult twisting, that torque takeoff kind of results in the legs being more crossed, and it can be difficult to correct into a clean, acceptable twisting position in the air. It’s not so much that she lacks twisting technique or is trying a technique to make her faster in the air…it’s really just that a correct technique for an earlier aspect of the element carries over and becomes incorrect later on. For a simpler twisting element – looking at back layouts on floor as an example, I would say anything up to about a double full for most – a gymnast can apply less torque at the start of the skill, and that’s why these elements usually end up looking a lot cleaner, but once you get into seeing a 2½ or a triple, the leg form starts getting a bit weak and that’s really just because the gymnast is using more torque on the entry.

With all this said, we can basically suggest that the messy twisting form in gymnasts who are otherwise clean really isn’t their fault in the sense that they’re lacking in some way…they’re just compensating for a lack of power by applying greater torque so they can twist faster, which causes their form to break down. In choosing to do a more difficult element, the poor form becomes a necessary evil, but it’s definitely more a choice than an issue with their technique…and since there’s only so much that can be deducted for crossed legs, it’s definitely worth it to throw a triple and get a tenth docked for leg form than to do a perfectly clean double.

Why are there tie-breaking rules? If two gymnasts placed first, shouldn’t they both receive gold?

I go back and forth on whether I think ties should be broken. Sometimes when two routines are both so perfectly good and are so closely matched, I don’t see why they should be broken, but then I see situations like 2015 world championships with the four-way tie, and I’m like, god please, this is why we need to tie-break, lol. Right now, for events, they break the tie based on who has the highest execution score, but if the athletes are still tied at that point, they don’t go into a further tie break like they used to do (like when Nastia Liukin got silver on bars in 2008 because they looked into the individual execution scores from judges to break the tie, which is overkill).

I like how it works now because it’s kind of the best of both worlds. If two gymnasts have 14s to tie for first on floor, for example, it makes sense that the gymnast with the 6.0 D and 8.0 E beats the gymnast with the 6.5 D and the 7.5 E. It gives the gymnast with the better actual performance the win, which is rare in a sport where so often a routine with a 6.5 D will easily outscore a stronger routine with lower difficulty. But if two gymnasts who both have a 6.0 D and 8.0 E get a 14.0 total, it’s ridiculous to try to break that down even further. Even if there are differences between the quality of the two routines, it’s on the judges at that point for arriving at the same exact score. If they want to separate routines based on execution, they have literally 10 entire points and all of the decimals in between to do so. The judges have absolutely no reason for giving two gymnasts the same exact E score and only then trying to break it down further. YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE. You failed. The athletes should tie.

You hinted that U.S. dominance could fade soon. Considering the long streak the women have had, what do you attribute this to? Do you think the crackdown on strict coaching has any influence? What’s considered abuse in the U.S. is the norm in other countries. Do you think there is a correlation? Or just a natural migration of talent?

I don’t think it’s really about the crackdown on strict coaching at all, especially since the most successful gymnasts from the United States’ most successful era – Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas when she was with Liang Chow, Aly Raisman – were with coaches who were known to be relatively low-key compared to all of the horrendous coaching practices we know of. 

Also, I’ll change your crackdown on ‘strict coaching’ to ‘abusive coaching’ because Chow and Mihai Brestyan are definitely on the strict side, and Brestyan can be especially tough to deal with at times, but they were not abusive (that we know of). Strict coaching is okay and even necessary for some athletes when done the right way, but abusive coaching is not, and the distinction is important. I think it’s easy for the line to blur, because it’s easy to think that if a coach is strict and harsh, they’re more likely to be abusive…but I think in many cases, we find that coaches who try to come off as chill and relaxed are emotionally and even physically abusive behind the scenes. 

In either case, I don’t think strict or relaxed coaching is inherently a key to success in gymnastics (and to that end, abusive coaching absolutely isn’t conducive to success). Both strict and relaxed coaching environments work in their own ways because it really comes down to the gymnast…one gymnast might thrive with a coach who is strict because she personally needs someone to push her to succeed, but another gymnast might quit after a week in those circumstances and does better with a coach who knows when it’s time to pull back. Coaching is about technical skill and developmental ability, but ‘managing’ athletes is crucial and the ones who know what their athletes need and how to approach these needs are going to be the ones who get them to succeed.

These situations still exist in vast numbers across the U.S. so I don’t think there is a ‘problem’ with coaching at all. I really think the reason for the coming decline is honestly just that it’s rare that we see once-in-a-lifetime athletes all existing on the same team at the same time, and the U.S. had this for a few great years, but it was never going to go on forever. Most countries are lucky to have one gymnast like that at one time, so the fact that the U.S. had a Simone-level legend, then a bunch of absolute top-tier best-in-the-world all-arounders like Gabby and Aly in 2016, and then a wealth of additional athletes not far behind all at the same time was just kind of magical.

That wealth of talent still exists, and likely isn’t going to go away any time soon. The only thing really missing is just that “absolute top-tier” level of talent, especially once Simone leaves, but I think that’s really more a timing thing than a reflection of the U.S. program. In countries with a lot of elite-level depth, you get top-tier talent every so often. Sometimes it’s scattered, and sometimes it’s all at once. Obviously with a lot of top-tier talent at one time, the U.S. team was in a position to be super dominant, but without it, they’re still going to be relatively comfortable…they just won’t have as much of an advantage as they’re used to.

When I talk about the U.S. dominance fading I just mean that they won’t come into a worlds situation with an eight-point lead anymore, especially as other countries are getting stronger gymnasts as the U.S. is losing top-tier talent. I think junior worlds was a great example, because the U.S. team wasn’t a bad one…they could have won gold, or they could have missed the podium completely, especially with how that team format worked (a ‘team’ final where only two scores count is hardly indicative of a program’s strength). Make it a five-person team with a three-up three-count final, though, and the U.S. team would have been in a better place to win because even though they didn’t have the most talented top individual gymnasts in the way Russia and China did, they would’ve had a greater deal of high-level depth. I think even if they don’t get another Simone or Gabby or Aly, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re done as a gold medal team. In the near, Simone-less future, I see them functioning more as they did as a team in 2011 than as they did in that 2012-2021 golden era, where 2011 still had that risk of them not being the top team, but they were still obviously very strong contenders. It will really just depend on what other teams bring to the table and how the U.S. gymnasts are able to compete in the moment.

Has Canada qualified a team to the Olympics? What are their chances of making the team final?

Yes, Canada qualified a full team to the Olympics at worlds in 2019. I think they have a chance at finishing in the top five in the team final at the Olympic Games, and think that if they come and compete at 100% with everyone hitting all routines perfectly, they are also medal contenders, as they’ve been the past two years at worlds (though unfortunately mistakes kept them off the podium both years). I don’t see them missing the team final even on a bad day, so the goal for them really is that top five finish, with a medal the ‘reach’ goal.

There are always at least a couple of gymnasts in event finals from smaller or less-established countries, who did not compete in the team final or the all-around final. How does not competing in these finals affect a gymnast in competition, since it ends up being a day off for them? Are they more well-rested, or does it make it more difficult because they have less experience in the arena and on the equipment?

I think it would be different depending on the person…some gymnasts need longer breaks between competition days, but others need to carry their adrenaline and momentum over from day to day, so having a super extended break between qualifications and event finals can be super rough. For the women in Stuttgart, qualifications were October 4-5 and event finals were October 12-13, so gymnasts had over a week if they weren’t competing in team or all-around finals, which is basically like competing in two different meets! Maybe if they think about it like that, it’s easier and they can come into the final with a fresh perspective, but I know it’s also probably difficult watching their competitors really get to be part of everything going on at worlds while they’re just training part-time and then figuring out how to spend the rest of their time as they spend a literal week anxiously awaiting their final. That said, for gymnasts like Simone Biles or Angelina Melnikova who compete basically every event in the team final, then also do the all-around final and multiple apparatus finals, I’m sure they’re exhausted by the end after competing basically every other day for a week straight, so they have the opposite problem and I’m sure the individual athletes are also greatful they’re not competing 12 full routines before doing event finals. I think if you asked everyone what they’d prefer, they’d probably come up with some sort of middle ground and not either of these extremes, but I feel like if I personally had to choose, I’d be like, give me the week off just part-time training and let me come in fresh, thanks.

Considering MG Elite is still going, even without Maggie Haney, they have had some really great J.O. athletes. Do you think they will ever have a high level athlete or elite again?

I don’t know. I think so. Given how much parents are defending them, and considering how they have other J.O. coaches at the gym, it seems like everything that happened doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things for the gym, and even though Maggie isn’t technically allowed to coach USAG levels, she’s clearly still in the gym on a daily basis and I’m sure she’s still low-key running the show for the J.O. athletes from the sidelines. In that sense, even though their high-profile elites are now gone, I can see them keeping up business-as-almost-usual in terms of their J.O. program. Elite, probably not, at least not until Maggie comes back, and since her suspension is only five years, I can absolutely see that happening. The thing is that while she is pretty much shamed and ridiculed in the online gymternet, in the real life gymnastics world, she has a ton of support and would be welcomed back with opened arms by many who continue to support her to this day, so it’s not out of the question that she’ll one day make a comeback at the elite level.

If MyKayla Skinner doesn’t make the Tokyo Olympic team, would she be able to try out for worlds as a vault specialist? Would it be allowed for her to miss the first two months of her senior year in college to try for worlds because she could contend for a vault medal. Maybe even the title.

Yeah, I can totally see her going to worlds if she doesn’t go to the Olympics…she’d probably be a top contender for the vault title assuming Simone Biles and Jade Carey don’t want to be in the mix, and probably for all-around and floor medals as well, though that would depend on who other countries send. I don’t know what’s going on with her college career anymore, but she’s already taken so much time away from Utah, I don’t see how one extra semester would hurt…and there’s always online classes. I’d say it would be incredibly worth it for her to stick around for worlds, and hope we see it happen if Tokyo doesn’t work out!

After seeing gymnasts emerge from the pandemic stronger, do you think coaches will allow more breaks for their athletes?

This is basically the one thing I’m hopeful for in this garbage year. Some gymnasts took literal months off where they were only able to train at home, went back into the gym for a month or two, and then went back into competition nearly at full strength, which completely shuts down the whole “if you’re not training at full strength in the gym eight hours a day for 11.5 months out of the year, you can’t keep up with elite-level difficulty” BS. I think if anything, it proves that an extended break puts gymnasts in a better position to compete because it limits injuries and if they’re not training gymnastics skills, they can spend more time on other things, like conditioning for strength and endurance. When Alicia Sacramone was an older gymnast going for her 2012 comeback, she took basically half the year off from doing ‘serious’ gymnastics, and even though it meant she missed the early spring season meets like Jesolo, who cares? She came out in the summer ready to go. It’s too bad that she got injured in 2011, and I guarantee Martha Karolyi used that as a case study for why you need to train year-round, but I think her injury was a fluke and think overall, the way Alicia went about things is probably much better for gymnasts in a physical sense. Meets like Jesolo are important for getting competitive experience, so maybe younger elites need more time training to be prepared for these, but I think even then there is a way to go about training so that you are in the gym doing actual gymnastics for a couple of months leading up to competitions, and then still taking a month or two away to work on other things. I hope coaches realize how important breaks can be, and start giving gymnasts more time away from hardcore training because if nothing else, COVID is proving that they don’t need it.

I’d love to get more into T&T but have no idea how. Most of my knowledge of artistic came from Gymcastic, the Balance Beam Situation, and you. Do you know of any similar blogs or resources for T&T?

Unfortunately there’s just very little out there aside from the FIG and national governing bodies or clubs who cover their own programs when they compete…there have been a few blogs that have popped up here and there for T&T, but nothing with continuous coverage or detailed explanations of how it works. I tried getting into it enough to cover it on my own site, because T&T is what I understand best outside of artistic, and I used to train trampoline for fun so I’m familiar with attempting the lower-level routines and understand the mechanics, the scoring, and so on. I also watch the bigger competitions, and am very familiar with the trampoline gymnasts, and then some of the tumblers as well, though trampoline is more my thing. Unfortunately, doing WAG and MAG coverage takes up so much of my time, I just don’t have the ability to also add in T&T in a way that would do it justice. And as much as I do know about it, I definitely am not an ‘expert’ in the way I am about artistic so I don’t feel comfortable positioning myself in that way, I guess? Maybe someone out there will be inspired to start a blog because it would be great to get more insight into the sport.

Why is the full-twisting double layout dismount off of uneven bars valued so low compared to the others? Typically dismounts on bars are one or two tenths lower than their counterparts on floor (e.g. the full-twisting double tuck is a D on bars from an E on floor), but the full-twisting double layout is three tenths lower than its floor counterpart.

The technical committee doesn’t really evaluate skills for one event based on how they’re rated on another, so while it’s coincidental that most dismounts on bars are a tenth or two lower than their floor counterparts, it’s just that – coincidence. That said, I do find it strange that a double layout and one with a full twist only have one degree of difficulty between them on bars, and then there are two degrees between the full and the double. I think the full should be an F and then the Ray (and the triple back) should be an H…the bars dismounts are all weirdly low and crammed together, and I think it holds gymnasts back from doing bigger skills. I remember when Jordyn Wieber upgraded to a full-twisting double layout on bars, and it was far weaker than her double layout…she definitely lost more than she gained, and it’s like, why would anyone bother to upgrade if there’s really no benefit to that risk? I think that’s why the majority of even the top bars gymnasts stick to D dismounts. There are definitely a few dismounts that need an upgrade, and I think that could finally create a bit more variety.

Who are Mary Wright and Hardy Fink? I just watched Defying Gravity and they were interviewed but I don’t know anything about either of them.

Mary Wright was a gymnast in New Zealand who moved to the U.S. to coach in the 1970s. She coached a number of gymnast to world championships and the Olympic Games for several countries, and her club, Olympus, is one of the top J.O. programs in Utah. She was named to the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame this year, but when this was announced, she had several complaints filed against her via SafeSport, including one from former Stanford gymnast Hailee Hoffman, who alleged extreme emotional as well as physical abuse, as she was forced to train while injured, including on two broken ankles.

Hardy Fink has done basically everything in the sport of gymnastics. He was international gymnast for Canada in the 60s and 70s, and then became a coach (both owning a club and serving as the Canadian men’s national team coach from 1988-1998) and judge. I believe he started tooling around with creating an open-ended code of points in the 90s, and he often tried to make a case for a new code, but was routinely shot down until the 2004 MAG judging controversies, when the FIG was like “okay, yeah, we need an open-ended code.” He pretty much designed how the new code worked, and helped fast-track it so it would be ready to use by 2006. Once THAT was done, he began his next goal of creating a worldwide coaching curriculum, and was named the Director of Education and Programs for all seven competitive disciplines within the FIG. His seminars and courses serve as a foundational basis for countries that don’t have the resources or expertise to develop their own programs, so even after retiring earlier this year, he will live on as a legend within the sport long after leaving it.

Do you think Claudia Fragapane will make Great Britain’s 2021 team? 

It’s possible but not super likely. They’re going to be looking for the strongest all-arounders who can fill multiple roles within the team, but she hasn’t competed in the all-around in almost three years. There are so many gymnasts who have been holding up the program for Great Britain this quad, and I can name at least six gymnasts off the top of my head that I’d take before taking Claudia, at least based on how she looked when we last saw her. They’re lucky that they have a lot of depth right now, which will make the decision a difficult one, but I think Ellie Downie and Alice Kinsella will be key for the team, and then there’s also Amelie Morgan, Georgia-Mae Fenton, and Jennifer Gadirova who will be coming in strong, and then if they decide to take a specialist and just risk not putting up a fourth gymnast on vault and floor in qualifications, I can see them adding Becky Downie just because she’d add so much on bars in the team final (and she proved herself more than worthy on beam as well in Stuttgart). I’d also consider a healthy Kelly Simm at this point before I’d consider Claudia, I think, but again, it’s been so long since we’ve seen Claudia as a full-strength all-arounder, who knows what she’ll come up with in 2021. If she can get back to a high level on vault and floor, she might be worth considering again, but I think Jennifer has a leg-up over her for that role right now based on what she’s shown over the past year.

In discussions about overtraining, longevity, and systemic child abuse in gymnastics, I often see people calling for raising the minimum age requirement. Others respond that this won’t change coaches’ behavior. Has there actually been any good quantitative research on how training plans and injury rates changed in response to past changes in age eligibility? And if coaching didn’t change when the age requirement was raised before, what other rules or incentives could we put in place to protect kids from overtraining?

When the minimum age went up to 16 in the 90s, basically nothing changed. I don’t know if there’s quantitative research, but qualitatively, based on 25 years of gymnasts sharing their experiences, it seems like competitive age doesn’t matter at all. As long as a gymnast is in a situation with an individual who is abusive, whether she can compete at the Olympics at 14, 16, 18, or 30, that abusive individual is always going to find a way to exploit their position of power over their athlete.

I think there is a massive benefit in gymnasts waiting until their bodies have matured before competing at peak difficulty, which is something I’ve mentioned a dozen times before and won’t get into super intense details again, but this is based on a gymnast’s body, not on a meaningless date on a calendar. Since most women are physically mature by the time they turn 18, then I guess a blanket rule of “no senior-level competition until 18” is a good way to ensure that gymnasts aren’t pushing skills until they’re physically ready…but even now that rule limiting senior competition to 16 doesn’t keep coaches from pushing gymnasts to train and even compete Amanars and double doubles at 12 or 13. Even if they don’t have a reason to push difficulty until they can compete as a senior, they’re doing it anyway, and coaches are still pushing juniors past their breaking point. 

This practice has eased up a bit in the U.S. when it became clear that the gymnasts actually surviving to age 16 and making Olympic teams were the ones who weren’t competing Amanars at 12, but I think we’re also not seeing a lot of what’s going on in the gym, and I guarantee most coaches are pushing harder skills in training much earlier than they have their kids debut them on the competition floor. Obviously throwing skills into the pit for fun is one thing, so I’m not talking about that, but chances are, if a coach is having a kid throwing a quadruple-twisting double back into the pit ‘for fun’ at 11, the kid is probably already attempting to land double doubles at that age, which isn’t great.

No competitive age limit is going to stop what goes on inside gyms. Increasing the age limit is like putting a bandaid on a bullet wound. It’s a gesture saying “we care about abuse but we can’t figure out how to actually solve the problem so this is the best we can do.” I don’t think there’s any rule or incentive that could help when stopping predators just isn’t that easy. Solving the problem of abusive and otherwise physically harsh practices in gymnastics would require looking individually at all of the coaches in the sport at every level, and trying to weed out all of those who take advantage of their positions of power…but as we’ve learned over the past few years, this feels impossible just knowing how easy it is for these people to hide, and how hard it is for people who go through these situations to report their abusers…or even recognize what they went through as abuse.

I don’t have the answers, and frankly am so burnt out on just thinking about the fact that predators are everywhere taking advantage of people under their control, and there’s basically nothing we can do about it. There are safeguards to limit their access to vulnerable individuals, and to protect those who may currently be in the care of abusive people, but I don’t think raising the competitive age limit would even qualify as a safeguard in this sense because again, whether or not a gymnast can compete won’t keep a coach from pushing them beyond their limits in the gym. Would it be worth implementing if even a few athletes can be spared? Absolutely. Is it a flawless solution that will change the sport for the better? No.

What are your personal favorite skills on each apparatus?

Hmmm, let’s see. I don’t think I have a favorite vault…not for WAG, anyway. In MAG I’m a sucker for double saltos, like a tsuk full-in double back (literally how is this real) and a Yurchenko double pike…I think these are probably my two absolute faves, though I also die for a sweet stuck Dragulescu.

On bars, I love a Mo salto, inbar piked Tkachev, a perfect Pak (not too much arch but not laid out either), and any inbar pirouette where the inbar is super piked down. Beam is the most boring event for me to watch but I love a routine with fluid, lovely, and creative connections…I basically need to return to the 80s to enjoy beam but present-day China makes me happy enough. As for a single skill, if I had to pick, there’s nothing better than the thwack of a perfectly landed two-foot layout (especially if the layout is actually laid-out). On floor, I’m a front tumbling kinda gal…a Podkopayeva, a Dowell, a Cojocar or Maldonado, a Dos Santos…these are my jam.

Daniela Silivas had an interview with The Skating Lesson and stated how she was always scared of vault. She also said that she “didn’t know how to run.” To the novice eyes, she ran fine, but what does she mean that she didn’t know how to run in vault terms?

There are definitely techniques that exist for vault runs…it’s not the same as how you might run naturally! Someone could be a great, natural runner, and still not have the right “vault run.” Daniela probably just never learned a good technique for a vault-specific run, especially given that she started training in the sport at a time when vault was still relatively easy and didn’t require a ton of power. But vault really started to advance in the 80s at the same time Daniela was growing up within the sport, and I don’t think coaches had really perfected techniques for vault runs at that time, especially for Yurchenkos given how new they still were. 

Basically, a gymnast’s run for vault has to be efficient. A gymnast wants to use as little energy as possible in her run so that the majority of her energy can go into the skill itself. The most efficient run for vault has several components that all work together and gymnasts actually train drills for running, but I think the key components are arms bent at 90 degrees, elbows move directly back and forth (instead of them swinging wildly out to the side), torso leans slightly forward, and with each step, knees come up until the thighs are parallel to the ground. Most runs will also accelerate from the start to the end of the runway, so they’ll gradually build speed, which is why you’ll see some gymnasts look like they’re going on a casual jog at the beginning…they’re supposed to start out a little slower, then progressively gain speed before sprinting into the hurdle or onto the springboard.

I feel like all of these tips are pretty common knowledge now and if you go into any gym around the world, every four-year-old is doing the same drills, but when Daniela started training in the late 70s, it was probably very different. Now, by the time a gymnast has her higher-level J.O. vaults, their run is down to a science, and they’ll know things like exactly how many steps it is from where they start to when they jump onto the springboard or hurdle into the roundoff. Often in training and sometimes even in competitions, a gymnast will balk her vault mid-run because her steps are off, which can totally throw her off going onto the table and result in serious injury. If vault is this scary even for gymnasts who have the correct technique down today, I can see how Daniela would be terrified, especially doing a Yurchenko, especially on the old horse off a springboard with no safety collar, if she never learned how to make her run as efficient and scientific as possible.

Many talented young gymnasts have recently switched to Georgia Elite Gymnastics. Do you think this is because of Whitney Bjerken? What about Elena Arenas, Savannah Schoenherr, Kyla Bryant…how do parents choose a gym for their kids?

Most parents aren’t really following the sport in the same way fans are and who’s training where is usually the last thing on their mind when choosing a gym for their kids. Some do choose gyms based on prestige, but when that happens, it’s usually because of the reputation of the coach. Some parents might see that a gym has a lot of kids qualifying to J.O. nationals or to the elite level, or making it to state championships at the lower levels, so that could influence the decision…like when everyone was moving to Texas Dreams, I doubt parents were like “I need my kid to train with/be like Bailie Key.” It was probably more like, damn, these coaches are getting one million kids to the highest stage at every level, this is how my kid will also get to the top. There probably is some element of name recognition with the absolute top gymnasts, like Simone Biles or Gabby Douglas…when Simone opened her own gym I’m sure her name was a huge selling point, and a few higher-level J.O. and elite kids transferred to WCC probably because they wanted to be just like Simone. But usually a parent looking into gyms will not prioritze something like that, and even when Simone’s gym opened, the number who transferred over wasn’t even that great…I think at first it was really just two lower-level elites who switched (Hannah Joyner and Madison Rau, if I remember correctly).

Top priorities for parents of young higher-level J.O. and pre-elite gymnasts are usually cost, location (can they commute from home, is the commute doable six days a week, will they have to move, is it worth uprooting all or part of the family, can their athlete live with a host family, etc), whether it’s personally a good fit with the coaches, the reputation of the coaches (do they prioritize safety and regularly train staff on latest safety measures, do they have a good track record with how they handle injuries, do they value a child as a person over their results as a gymnast), results (do they regularly have kids placing well at states, regionals, and nationals, earning NCAA scholarships, and/or qualifying elite), equipment in the gym (do they have a pit, tumble track, strap bar, and harness, do they make it a priority to get the newest, cutting-edge technology), resources at the gym (do they have homeschool programs or tutors for those who need it, do they offer support with nutrition, mental health, physical therapy, cross-training, dance, etc), and then probably also things like how are parents treated, can parents watch their kids train, what’s the coach-athlete ratio, and so on. All of these things are probably prioritized differently depending on the parent (I can absolutely guarantee that there are many parents who prioritize results over safety, for example), but all of these things would likely come into play over “omg [insert somewhat well-known in the gymnastics community gymnast] trains here!” 

I’m sure lots of kids would probably prioritize wanting to train with Whitney Bjerken. I would have sold my siblings to get to move to train at Dominique Moceanu’s new gym in the 90s, but my parents were like, you’re going to Rita Beaulieu Gymnastics Center because it is 10 minutes from our house, end of discussion.

Do you have an all-time favorite leotard?

The red Adidas leo from the 2007 world championships team final. So simple, so sporty, so perfect. Same with Shawn Johnson’s purple leo from the all-around competition at that worlds. I’m not big on flashy leos and prefer solid but vibrant colors and clean lines, and both of these leos had that for me. I like that they keep gymnastics looking like a sport and not a show choir performance or something…nothing against gymnasts who want to bring their style into what they wear, and I’m all for something like Celine van Gerner doing a whole Cats performance with her leotard and makeup, especially for individual finals, but for my own personal tastes, the sportier the better.

Does anybody “own” a gymnast’s floor choreography? Would a gymnast be able to take their choreography with them if they moved gyms, countries, or college teams? Any examples of gymnasts doing this, or not being allowed to?

It depends on the choreographer. I know Maggie Haney had it in her ‘rules’ with her gymnasts that she owned their routines and that if they left the gym, they couldn’t take their routines with them. Most choreographers aren’t tied to specific gyms, so I feel like this is rare, and if a gymnast works with an independent choreographer that she pays directly, she’s probably free to use that routine elsewhere…as long as she didn’t sign a contract saying that this choreographer only works exclusively with her gym or something. Sometimes older or recently retired gymnasts will work as choreographers for their old gyms to make some extra money, but only for their old gyms, so I can see them maybe being ‘exclusive’ in these cases. But most choreographers work with tons of different gyms, especially the bigger-name choreographers who literally travel the country going from gym to gym, like Dom Zito. I feel like if you were at Brestyan’s and paid for a Dom Zito routine but then moved to Gym-Max, you could probably keep your routine. 

In college, I’d imagine routines are ‘owned’ by your team, since each team has its own choreographer and routines are designed specifically for that team…if a gymnast changes teams, they likely aren’t going to be allowed to take their routines with them. And for national programs, it would depend. If a gymnast who was on the U.S. team decides to compete for Bulgaria, for example, she can probably take her routine with her if she had privately hired a choreographer, but if the national team paid to get her a routine, there might be obstacles in her way and she’d probably need to get something new.

We’ve seen gymnasts compete toe-on layout Tkachevs, a stalder layout Tkachev, and a clear-hip layout Tkachev, but we’ve never seen one from a regular giant. Is it possible to generate enough momentum to do one with the low bar in the way?

I’ve never thought about that before, but I don’t think the low bar is really an obstacle that would prevent the momentum for a regular giant into a layout Tkachev…I think if anything, by the time the gymnast’s feet get to a place where they are about to clear the low bar, that’s the point where they’d be hollowing out of the tap swing, so they wouldn’t have an issue with hitting the low bar. If you watch men do layout Tkachevs on high bar, they basically all do them out of a giant, and if you watch through the tap swing, they could have a low bar in place and still do them with no problem…some of the men hollow so much to get momentum from the tap swing into a layout Tkachev they’re basically piked! 

I don’t know why the women have eschewed the giant into the layout Tkachev…maybe just a fear that it probably wouldn’t be worth as much as a layout Tkachev out of a more difficult root skill? If they’re gonna go for broke and do a layout Tkachev, they might as well go for a G with a toe-on, stalder, or clear-hip entry instead of the likely F they’d get with just a giant. They can do piked Tkachevs out of various root skills and get F elements in their routine, so why put in all that extra effort for the layout just to get the same value? That’s my guess! I think that’s also why whenever we see piked Tkachevs now, they also tend to come from a fancier root skill than just a giant. I feel like after the Shang and Downie came into the mix, the piked Tkachev (and the Church as well, since it’s rated the same) have started to trickle out.

Regarding the four-way tie at 2015 worlds…why are we talking about judges not deciding on a ranking? Isn’t it possible that every judge did decide and gave each gymnast a different execution score, but then the average scores happened to be the same? 

I think when people talk about judges ranking routines in this way, they don’t mean the judges individually, but rather the judges collectively coming together, seeing the final score that they’ve come up with after everything has been averaged, looking at it in comparison to other scores, and then deciding if it works, or if they should go higher or lower. Which isn’t a thing…but I kind of wish it was? It would be super problematic, haha, so I guess I’m glad it’s not a thing, but so often I think scores end up tied or ranked incorrectly even though it’s so objectively clear that one routine was superior to another, and I wish there was a way for judges to be like, oh, whoops, this may have been how things worked out with the numbers, but rankings-wise, something’s off.

It’s just especially noticeable with ties, because we’re seeing the routines back to back, the quality is often vastly different between them, and yet with SO much room to deduct with each routine (10 entire points!), I don’t see how it’s even possible that every score can end up identical. Maybe the problem is that we’re only averaging three scores instead of all five? Maybe we need, like, 15 judges in the apparatus finals looking at routines from all angles? I was just watching the junior vault finals from Euros last week and literally every hit vault fell between an 8.8 and an 8.95 or something ridiculous even though there were glaringly obvious differences between all of these hit vaults. Just…how?! It’s impossible to correctly determine the outcome of a final when the scores are just so…wrong. 

It’s inexcusable, honestly, especially at the highest international levels. Maybe the going back and looking at scores to rank routines like a puzzle is problematic in the way I’ve suggested, and would create SO much controversy, so I think we just have to find some peace with the fact that judging is always going to be ridiculously close and wrong sometimes, but I also think that in extreme cases – like the 2015 worlds final – there needs to be some sort of review panel that can basically re-judge and re-rank routines in the moment. We know there’s a reference panel also judging routines along with the main execution panel, so maybe their scores should just be the final say in these cases? Just…something. Because 2015 was embarrassing.

I’ve been *trying* to make my way through the FIG’s YouTube channel in light of the Olympics being postponed and not much new gymnastics content. Are there any broadcasts you ever go back and rewatch? Anything you never get tired of?

I actually don’t really rewatch anything, and haven’t rewatched anything in years! I did go back earlier this year and watch a bunch of older meets for the first time (meets mostly from the 80s and 90s that I missed either because I wasn’t born or just wouldn’t have known how to watch without the internet) and that was so much fun…I don’t even have any faves from the 80s or 90s, and really recommend just ANYTHING from this period. 1983 is probably a favorite year, though. Maybe start with 1983 worlds? I also enjoy 1987 worlds and the 1988 Olympic Games, anything with Natalia Yurchenko, anything with Tatiana Groshkova… 

I don’t know what the FIG has on their YouTube specifically, but about 10 years ago when I did used to rewatch meets, I’d do 2003 worlds a lot, specifically qualifications when Chellsie Memmel was a queen. I also watched the 2010 team final a few times because it was so messy and exciting, and I think just anything in that 2006-2010 period honestly because it was the first time I was really active in the ‘gymternet’ thanks to YouTube existing and various meets and routines being uploaded shortly after they happened. I definitely watched the 2007 team final a bunch. That one is high on my list.

It seems like Denelle Pedrick is training again. I know her vault would have been great at worlds when there was still a five-person team. Is there any way she could factor into Olympic selection either for the team or if Canada got an individual spot?

I don’t think she’ll factor into the team for Canada next year, at least not if Shallon Olsen is still around and doing what we know she’s capable of. Denelle is awesome, but judging on how she looked at Universiade in 2019, she just doesn’t have the scores to make her a top choice for Canada…her Universiade scores would have put her 16th at Canadian nationals a few weeks earlier, and that was with a DTY on vault, so obviously she’d have a long way to go to reach the top four. I don’t think anyone is really capable of breaking that Shallon-Ellie Black-Ana Padurariu-Brooklyn Moors bubble, with the exception of maybe Zoe Allaire-Bourgie, and I think if they get to take an individual to the Olympics, it’ll just be the next-best all-arounder, unless Denelle can get a second vault and show that she maybe has potential for the final.

Wait, in addition to all the time you spend covering gymnastics, you also have a job where you work 10+ hours per day?! How do you have the time? May I ask what you do? Your life sounds crazy.

Of course! I work in communications, mostly in the national security, privacy/data security, and cybersecurity sectors. I feel really ‘lucky’ I guess (bittersweetly so) because a lot of people have lost work during COVID-19, but my regular 9-5 job basically exploded in the aftermath of the pandemic due to the nature of what we do, so I try not to complain even on the super long days where I’m basically glued to my computer from 8 am until midnight. Many of my colleagues worked for the Obama administration so they’re in high demand both in working with companies in consulting on a variety of topics and doing damage control when something arises (like a massive data breach), so I do a lot of internal and client comms about all sorts of things and topics that we work on regularly and want to keep people up-to-date on, and then our people are also who MSNBC or Bloomberg will call to be an expert source about things like how the CCPA will change after the most recent vote in California, or to give a comment about Biden administration cabinet picks, or to explain to viewers whether an employer can force you to get a COVID vaccine, so I work on a lot of these opportunities as well. I’m also on our company’s COVID-19 task force, which was formed to keep clients aware of everything happening that could affect them at every angle, so that also added to my workload this year. We do lots of webinars for companies, and survey them to figure out what they’re concerned about and what they’re looking at in terms of next steps.

A lot of the time I just do a lot of my gymnastics work during my day job, because I’m not really on a schedule at work? We no longer have set hours now that we’re working remotely, so I could technically go into work from like, midnight until 5 am as long as I got my work done and dialed into zoom meetings during the day. I still keep my normal hours usually, but I tend to cram most of my work until a few busy hours later in the day, and then the rest of the time I just spend handling little things that come in, and that’s when I get the majority of my website work done (as well as personal chores like laundry and dishes, and I also nap for about an hour during the day because I usually stay up until 4 am and then wake up at 8 or 9). I work probably 4 hours per day on my website, lately mostly doing backend stuff (I’m working on a lot of profiles right now, loading results from years before I started the site, and fixing broken links on older pages), but yeah…I manage to squeeze it all in! It’s harder when I have to be physically in the office because I have more meetings that I need to be present for, and I obviously can’t sit with my laptop at a meeting working on my website, hahaha…but I’m also the only one from my team who works in NYC and I basically have an entire corner of the floor in my building to myself and never see anyone so I could probably do whatever I wanted and no one would know. But I behave. 🙂

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

25 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I feel like even in 2012, the USA wasn’t AS strong as they were in the next quad. They were the favorites, no question, but going in it seemed like it was going to be a pretty serious battle (until Russia kind of melted down). It wasn’t until 2014 that they started winning with those massive “we could have a fall and still have a blowout” margins.

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    • Yeah, there was still so much discourse going into 2012 about how Romania was totally going to win, or Russia was totally going to win…and some of it was “in your dreams” but also if they had better competitions and the U.S. made mistakes, it wouldn’t have been far off. But 2014 is when the U.S. continued to grow as other countries continued to decline so it allowed for that gap to keep growing over the subsequent years…I just always think of 2012 as the start of that “golden era” because it was the first year that I personally felt confident about them going into a team competition as the clear team to beat, no matter what others were saying about Russia or Romania. I think the U.S. still had a clear edge and gold was theirs as long as they got through bars, of all things, hahaha.

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  2. There are lots of other brilliant gymnasts are Georgia Elite besides Whitney Bjerken. Btw does anyone know what happened to Whitney? She hasnt posted on Youtube for 2 months!

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      • I love her and she’s an absolutely exquisite gymnast to watch, but then she’s basically the embodiment of everything I love in gymnastics anyway (beautiful floor artistry, gorgeous beam, lines to die for, etc). I think she’ll be a college standout, particularly on bars and beam (and possibly floor), but her training has been hampered by her elbow issues for the last few years and she’s now like 5’8″ so sadly elite is out of reach for her now. I think she’s not posting much possibly because of COVID restrictions – her dad does the filming and they may have gotten super strict about people coming in for anything but training. Last I heard she’s still serious about going for a college scholarship but there hasn’t been much news lately, sadly.

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        • I don’t really have time to follow level 10…I used to try so I could keep up on some top recruits going into college but now aside from the Nastia Liukin Cup I just can’t squeeze it in unfortunately so I’ve never seen her and many other L10s that I’m sure are also fab. Nice to hear she’s a lovely athlete, though!

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  3. What do you think of teaching one year of Communications in place of 1 year of “English” in high school?
    (Of course, that hasn’t to do with gymnastics, tho it does with your job.)

    from Lank, former high school teacher in California

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    • I think it would be interesting…I didn’t have any experience in communications when I got my job. I was always an English and history nerd in high school, and majored in history and human rights in college, but communications seemed like a logical step for me. It was just a matter of figuring out what industry I wanted to work in…I’m glad I didn’t do a major in communications because I don’t find the field of communications in itself super interesting and learned everything I needed to know about how to do my job in the first couple of weeks at work, but I do think a class in high school would have been helpful in understanding what exactly it is, how it works, etc.

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  4. “The more force or moment of intertia, the larger the torque, and the larger the torque, the greater the angular momentum, and therefore, the gymnast will be able to achieve more twists”

    This is nearly correct, and the rest of your answer makes sense, but just to clarify — moment of inertia doesn’t itself determine torque (although the lower your moment of inertia is for a given torque, the faster you accelerate rotationally — this is the sense in which a tight twisting position makes you twist efficiently; the effects of air resistance are fairly negligible). Really torque depends mainly on the force (as you rightly said!) and the distance between where you apply the force and the axis of rotation. By staggering your legs upon takeoff relative to some imaginary vertical center line through your body (the axis of rotation for twisting), you increase this distance, so even for the same amount of force you exert by pushing off the floor, you generate more torque and thus initiate more angular momentum for your twisting — but, of course, with helicopter legs!

    Thanks for the new year’s gift of a new post! Finding and reading your site has brought me some rare moments of joy in 2020 as it’s allowed me to dive back into following WAG after many years of not keeping track of my favorite sport. 🙂

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    • Thank you for explaining better than I could! I hate when I have to try to explain the physics of gymnastics because I’m not a physics person AT ALL, and the only physics I remotely know is gymnastics physics. Trying to take the knowledge I have and explain it in these responses is like a 5 year old trying to talk about it, hahaha. But this makes sense to me and I really appreciate the clarification!!

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  5. I don’t get the whole “US ladies only win because of Biles, when she retires look out!” as the data does not support that. The US team would have won every World title, and Rio even without Biles. Do they have an advantage having her on the team? Absolutely. However, even if you remove Biles’ scores from 2019 TF and sub in the dropped scores from prelims (including McCallum’s BB fall) they still win by about 1.5 points. That is still plenty impressive considering the McCallum UB error and Lee’s BB score with the fall. Additionally, in Biles era there have been plenty of talented all arounders and event specialists. Since 2013 the US ladies have medalled in the AA 6 times (2013 Ross, 2014 Ross, 2015 Douglas, 2016 Raisman, 2017 Hurd, 2018 Hurd) And the US ladies (other than Biles) have medalled in event finals 16 times since 2013. Biles does not account for the 8 points lead herself. The other US ladies are extremely consistent and rarely miss in team finals, whereas the other countries have to count multiple falls. A team finals win of 8 points is a combination of the US not counting falls and hitting routines cold with the other teams having to count multiple major errors/falls.

    The junior Worlds comparison isn’t the best one. China and Russia (and the European countries) regularly have their juniors max out on skill and difficulty early on. The European teams have a Junior Europeans and China uses their juniors in their domestic competitions. Previously, there was not really anything high profile in terms of competition for the USA juniors. USA juniors could have won team gold. They did have some errors in the meet and McClain was left off the team, both of which impacted the potential team score. But, that was a decision made by Forster to only count the results of one meet to determine the World Team. I agree the US ladies would have benefitted from a 5-4-3 team format as CHN and RUS don’t tend to have the same depth, so 3-3-2 benefits them more so than the US.

    We can’t foresee the future, but I don’t think saying that the US dominance will seek to exist post Biles retirement is quite accurate when you take a close look at the data.

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    • If you replace Biles’ scores from the team final at worlds last year with Skinner’s VT/FX from worlds trials, and Kara’s UB and Grace’s BB from qualifications, the team would’ve had a 168.397, which would have only won gold by 1.868 points instead of 5.8 points. Yes, you can cause correct for Grace’s low scores, but then you’d also have to cause correct for every other team in the final. China had a 169.161 in qualifications – if you leave the U.S. scores as they actually happened and cause correct for China instead, China wins gold over the U.S.

      My point in saying “the U.S. will no longer be *AS* dominant as it was between 2012 and 2021” isn’t to say that the U.S. is going to fail and never win gold again. The key word is AS. The U.S. will still be a dominant force on the world level and will probably continue to win team gold thanks to its depth and consistency, which is pretty much unmatched. But they’re no longer going to have a 5+ point advantage in team finals without Simone, especially as other countries are also bringing up talent that more closely matches the U.S. (thus junior worlds as an example…a few years ago, similar junior competitions would have resulted in blow-out U.S. wins…while we haven’t had a junior worlds, there have been plenty of junior level international competitions that pitted U.S. juniors against rival countries, with Junior Japan the most notable because Russia and China would send top juniors and the U.S. would walk away with massive hauls in comparison).

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  6. Becky Downie started training the AA once it was announced that Tokyo would be 4 person teams. So if she makes the GBR Olympic team she would do all 4 pieces in qualification. She didn’t have to at Worlds because it was 5-4-3 in TQ and so she just concentrated on UB and BB.

    She has a FTY and is working towards regaining the DTY she had competed previously, last seen in 2014 IIRC. Even if she doesn’t get the DTY back a FTY will be fine for TQ and in a pinch, usable for TF if forced to be used.

    She also has a basic FX routine, where she is minimizing tumbling (Arabian Double Front opening pass) and maximizing the dance in order to concentrate on the E score. She posted a video of her doing a Gomez (quad turn) as well as a double L into immediate double turn to her Instagram. It is a smart strategy as her turns are exceptionally well done and executed cleanly. We have seen the Germans, Dutch, and the Belgians have success with similarly constructed routines, so I am sure it will work out well for Becky.

    It is definitely not an Ashton Locklear situation by any means.

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    • Much like Sanne Wevers I think Becky is a lock for Team GB just because she brings so much to the team score on UB and BB. I think a team of Ellie, Alice, Jennifer Gadirova, and Becky are well-balanced and quite formidable! I also think Amelie Morgan could be in the mix for Alice’s spot, depending on how things go.

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      • A little different situation for B Downie though as GBR is a medal contender and the Netherlands are not.
        So NED can afford to send Sanne because she can contend for a BB medal, when no one else on the team is a medal prospect.
        GBR could medal as a team, but Becky could also win an UB medal, so it is up to them to determine if putting becky on the team is worth it for the team or detrimental to their team score. Realistically her UB score is nothing that anyone else can give on any particular event.
        Agreed it’s Kinsella or Morgan for spot 4 most likely as they are both interchangeable.
        Fenton would be perfect for the team if only she weren’t falling all of the time as they really do need a 3rd UB score. She is likely a liability however.

        VT (Becky) Kinsella, Gadirova, Ellie
        UB (Gadirova) Kinsella, Ellie, Becky
        BB (Ellie) Becky, Gadirova, Kinsella
        FX (Becky) Kinsella, Gadirova, Ellie

        this is as good of a VT and BB team as GBR can do.
        UB would be better with Fenton FX would be better with Frags but not an option for just one event.

        Although if Fenton suddenly finds herself consistently nailing UB/BB/FX and Becky’s DTY returns and is a strong option the team could be Gadirova, Ellie, Becky, Fenton.

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        • I wonder if it would change if GB get a +1 spot.
          Becky is in either way as a legitimate finals/medal contender, IMO, but the question would be if they want to use her in the team or not. VT, possibly the best potential for high scores for GB if all the upgrades work out. BB is strangely enough one of the more competitive events for GB if hit. UB and FX are the place were there are some holes in a four person team IMO.

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        • Not sure GB are real medal contenders, it’s possible but would require other teams not to perform the at their best & GB to take a step up from where they were before COVID. Obviously, having not seen anyone in competition for almost a year and not many training videos, it is quite difficult to get a realistic picture. GB has quite a good selection of all rounders. With Becky, Ellie & Jennifer possible individual medal prospects.

          Hopefully GB can earn an extra place, neither Jennifer Gadriova or Amelia Morgan competed at 2019 worlds so definitely a chance.

          I know many think Alice is a lock but I think the only lock, providing she is healthy, is Ellie. I think the other places will be between Jennifer Gadriova, Amelia Morgan, Ondine Achampong, Alice Kinsella & Becky Downie. Others that may be considered are Georgia-Mae Fenton, Jessica Gadriova, Kelly Simm, Phoebe Jakubczyk, Halle Hinton, Claudia Fragapane.

          My team would be Ellie, Jennifer, Amelia then a choice between Alice, Becky or Ondine. Chosen Amelia over Alice due to a stronger floor, I think the other events are pretty even. I don’t think there is much difference between Alice or Ondine, I feel Ondine may have improved more in the last year than Alice, however, I think Alice has a stronger vault. I think the vault line up with my initial choice is a pretty strong team so this may not be deciding factor and I prefer Ondine on the other events. Becky gives a significant advantage on bars (more than Ondine or Alice could provide on other events) & providing her other events are usable not a bad option although with a slight risk.

          VT – Ellie, Jennifer, Amelia, (Alice)
          UB – Ellie, Amelia, Ondine (Becky)
          BB – Jennifer, Amelia, Ondine (Alice)
          FX – Ellie, Jennifer, Amelia, Ondine (Alice, Becky)

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  7. The 4th is either Becky or Alice, the name in the bracket is who would fit in that position. Alice gives you more options but Becky’s margin on bars in hard to ignore.

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  8. Ignore the above comment. It is a team of 4 with 2 reserves. The 4 being, Ellie, Jennifer, Amelia & Ondine. That being said it is a difficult call between Amelia, Ondine & Alice but I went with Amelia & Ondine as I think they may have made greater improvements.

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      • Oh yeah, I guess that makes more sense. Reading fail🤦‍♀️ We live in that area and did not choose it based on it being Arenas home base. Courtney Kupets family gym is in the same area so we have several good options. It feels strange to pick a gym based on its stars but I guess that would be a good metric for success if you are watching the talent they are turning out.

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