You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

Maisa Kuusikko

It’s time for the 333rd 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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Is there any bars routine from gymnasts that are underrated, overshadowed, or from smaller programs that I should watch?

My favorite small program bars gymnast is Maisa Kuusikko of Finland. She is a first-year senior in 2021 and is absolutely brilliant on this event. Her difficulty usually hovers around a 5.8 thanks to big skills and combos, like a shaposh to Tkachev to Pak, toe full to Maloney, van Leeuwen, and a double layout dismount, and she also brings some originality to the table with a Maloney caught in regular grip, hopped to mixed grip, and then swung into a Yezhova. Just super cool. She’s also trained a Bhardwaj and a double layout full-out. Definitely one to watch in the future.

For more small program representation, I highly recommend Barbora Mokosova’s routine…she’s long been a super consistent standout on this event and has medaled quite a few times at challenge cups and other smaller international competitions, but she just didn’t have the difficulty to challenge for major finals like at Euros or worlds. However, thanks to the weaker field at Euros in 2020, she not only made the final, but also upset for the bronze, which was incredible to see after all that she’s done in her career! One of the highlights of Euros for me.

A few others who aren’t as well known compared to their teammates or who are more overshadowed…probably Cheng Shiyi of China, just because she hasn’t made any major teams or competed internationally yet, but she’s fabulous on this event. Yin Sisi is another Chinese bar worker who is always teasing super difficult sets, so I’d give her a look as well. I think Martina Maggio of Italy is pretty overshadowed here, since people tend to consider the Brixia Four better bar workers and think of Martina as stronger on other events but Martina also has a pretty great bars set, Fukasawa Kokoro of Japan is fantastic (she has a Ricna, Pak, Maloney to Bhardwaj, van Leeuwen, stalder half to piked Jaeger, and toe full to full-in, though she can be a bit of a nervous competitor so many of her scores are low), and I also really love Fien Enghels of Belgium, who is a young senior with big skills and a lot of talent here.

Also check out Lee Yun-seo of South Korea, Anastasiya Alistratava of Belarus, Zoja Szekely and Bianka Schermann of Hungary, Jon Jang Mi of North Korea, Naomi Visser of the Netherlands, Claire Pontlevoy and Aline Friess of France, Tonya Paulsson of Sweden…I think that’s a pretty good starting point. If you’re more of a casual fan or just focus on one country, this is a pretty good list of those who have been great this quad but who aren’t as well-known by name as some of the very top gymnasts. Like, I feel like most people who follow the sport even casually at the international level know who Jonna Adlerteg is because she’s been to the Olympics and has made worlds finals on bars, or who Ana Padurariu is as she’s been one of Canada’s top bar workers since she was 12, so I’m not including gymnasts of their status just because they’re more obvious choices…the names in this particular list will probably be known to you if you pay a little closer attention and watch more of the world cups or continental championships, but might not be known to you if you only tune in for all-around and apparatus finals at worlds once a year.

As for juniors, I feel like bars is overall pretty weak for those born in 2006 and later, but I think that’s largely because so many gymnasts didn’t compete last year, so there are probably many who have upgraded and could come out and surprise this year. Diana Kustova of Russia is a must-watch gymnast, then there’s Kaylia Nemour of France (she’s a bit weak in her technique and form at times but has such an exciting and high-difficulty routine with lots of room to grow in her execution), Ana Barbosu of Romania (she’s not what I’d call extraordinary here but she’s very clean and I love being able to include a Romanian on a bars list), Zhao Jiayi of China, and Levi Jung-Ruivivar of the United States.

With Michigan pausing their athletic department for two weeks, how will that affect their NQS?

Since they only had eight regular season meets, losing two meets means they now only have six. The NQS this year is taking four meets into consideration (instead of the usual six), so they’re not totally in hot water, and still have room to drop two meets…especially since the meets they’re missing during this pause are postponed, not canceled, meaning they could make them up before the regular season is over. Basically, it might not affect their NQS at all, and if they don’t end up being able to make up one or both of the meets, then it may only slightly affect them, but they’ll still get to compete at six meets, meaning they’ll still get to drop at least two.

Did MyKayla Skinner go pro? From her vlogs, it seems like she’s still planning on going back to Utah, but she has all of these posts for brands. None of them are listed as ads, but she has a discount code for some.

She hasn’t gone pro…I think with so many collegiate athletes being popular on social media now, the NCAA has become less strict about what they consider actual “endorsements” which are defined as brands using an athlete’s name and image to sell their product. None of MyKayla’s brand posts are endorsements…what she’s doing in posting discount codes is “influencer marketing” which is based on her social following only, not who she is as an athlete. You could argue that her following is because of who she is as an athlete, but none of the brands she’s working with are directly endorsing her and using her name/image for advertising purposes, so it’s quite different in how it works, and in the amount of money she’s getting for posting. There’s still a fine line, but there are many collegiate athletes or incoming collegiate athletes who are doing the same thing MyKayla is doing, and while the NCAA did threaten a YouTuber years ago to shut down her makeup tutorial videos that had a large following and product placement, I think they’ve since loosened their grip, which is good.

Watching meets from before 2000, I noticed the landings mats have gotten much thicker for dismounts. Do you think this has contributed to sticking landings less, and to more frequent leg injuries? It looks like the padding is thicker, but also like it’s less stable and harder to balance.

I think that while the mats are thicker, they’re still pretty sturdy, so gymnasts aren’t really sinking into them in a way that the mats themselves would cause injuries. I think this is a case of correlation not implying causation, because while the mats have gotten thicker over time, the skills have also gotten more difficult during this same period, and it’s the more difficult skills that are leading to more injuries, not the mats themselves. 

Mats do sometimes result in injuries, but it’s generally when they’re newer and harder, like at worlds in Montreal where they basically hadn’t been broken in at all and a couple dozen gymnasts ended up getting leg injuries. Lots of gymnasts there complained about how stiff and tough the mats were, and said there were lots of aches and pains that they normally don’t have when training hard landings on softer, more broken-in mats, but the softer mats still aren’t so soft that they’re dangerous. Even the thickest ones definitely don’t feel like pillows or mattresses. You want them to have a little give, so that the gymnasts can absorb their landings, but you also don’t want them to be so soft that they become unstable, and when they get to that point, that’s when they get tossed (or passed down to rec classes for kids doing the most basic somersaults or cartwheels). 

Based on the rest of her routine, do you think Sandra Izbasa would have made the floor podium in London if she hadn’t fallen?

Yes, if she had landed her last pass successfully, she probably would have pretty easily gotten the silver. I think it was a better executed routine than her qualifications routine, and while I don’t think she would have surpassed Aly Raisman, I do think she would have come in probably just ahead of Catalina Ponor if her last pass had been as successful as the three before it. 

Why are some skill names ‘official’ and others are ‘unofficial?’ I heard people using ‘Tsukahara’ for a full-twisting double back, ‘Gogean’ for a switch leap, and ‘Mustafina’ for a Yurchenko half-on layout full vault, but none of these names are official in the code, compared to the Biles or the Amanar.

Skills are only officially named when a gymnast submits them to the technical committee. In some cases in the past, if two or more gymnasts submitted a skill at the same time, it wasn’t named for any of them, but under today’s rules, the skill would get named in the code for both (or all) who submit. That’s why the inbar piked Tkachev is in the code but doesn’t have a name, because both Kelly Simm and Sophie Scheder submitted it and competed it successfully in 2015. In other instances, a skill is competed regularly enough before a gymnast successfully competes it at a competition where it can be named, so it’s added to the code of points and by the time someone ends up doing it successfully, it can’t get named (which is why Aliya Mustafina couldn’t get the Yurchenko half-on front layout full vault named for her when she became the first to successfully compete it at worlds in 2010). Other skills may initially have names in the code, but sometimes skill names disappear as the code goes through revisions over the years, which is what happened to the Gogean (though I think she had the tour jeté full named for her, not a switch leap).

As for the ‘Tsukahara’…this has a longer story that is completely unrelated to the FIG’s naming rules. Mitsuo Tsukahara was the first gymnast to perform a full-in on both floor and high bar, and the skills were not only named for him in MAG, but basically any full-in on any event in MAG or WAG also became known as Tsukaharas. You don’t hear it often in English, where most people just say full-in, but if you listen to a German broadcast, for example, they will call any full-in a Tsukahara regardless of the body shape, the apparatus, or the discipline, kind of like the way a front one-and-a-half is universally known as a Rudi. Maria Filatova and Elena Mukhina of the Soviet Union were the first women to compete the full-in at a major meet on floor in 1977, while Maiko Morio was the first to do it off bars in 1983, and both Mukhina and Morio are still listed as the named ‘owners’ of these skills in the code, though you literally never hear anyone calling the bars dismount a Morio or the floor pass a Mukhina. I think since it’s such a common element on all four events, the term full-in or Tsukahara just became the more common vernacular.

Is Konnor McClain committed to any university? If not, which is the most likely?

Konnor hasn’t yet committed yet. She graduates from high school in 2023, and only a handful of gymnasts have verbally committed for the 2023-2024 season so far, but since she’ll be a junior in high school next year, I’m sure she’s definitely looking into where she wants to go and probably already seriously considering her top choices. She gives me major UCLA vibes, but she’s one I’d love to see end up somewhere totally random. I’m gonna say UCLA, Florida, or LSU, though.

Whose layout Jaeger is the most laid-out you’ve ever seen?

Hmmm…He Kexin probably had the most consistently gorgeous layout Jaegers in my opinion, but I’m also obsessed with this one from Wang Cenyu in 2017.

What do you think of Hungarian gymnastics? Do you think they are improving? Will they be able to qualify a team to the Olympics in the following quads?

I think this quad was really their time to shine in terms of qualifying a full team to the Olympics, and it’s too bad they had so many beam struggles at worlds in 2019. It’s hard to say what will happen in the coming quads, because they’ve just lost Noemi Makra, and some of the athletes who were holding the team together this quad have either already retired or may start to consider it, so they’d essentially have to start over rebuilding the team with the younger gymnasts, who aren’t quite at the same level as many of last quad’s were. They do have some promise – like Greta Meyer, who has a ton of potential – and they will hopefully have some leftovers among the younger seniors from last quad, so maybe they’ll be able to seamlessly replace their missing routines and be able to come back even stronger going into 2024, but it will really depend on who among the current group ends up staying.

Did Hong Un Jong retire?

Yes, she retired after the 2016 Olympic Games, and is now working as a coach.

Is Whitney Bjerken eligible for NCAA gymnastics, or did she blow her chances by having a YouTube channel?

I think having a YouTube channel with paid advertising on its own is fine, and she has said that she has managed to maintain her NCAA eligibility and hopes to commit to an SEC team, so I think if she and her parents know the rules and aren’t crossing that line between ‘influencer’ and having legit endorsements, then she probably won’t have a problem. She’s probably toeing the line, especially since she has branded merchandise, but she also markets herself as a singer-songwriter and could probably explain her income as being related to that career, which is separate from gymnastics, similar to Sophina de Jesus dancing on a children’s TV show back in the day and getting paid for it because being paid to be an entertainer who also happens to do gymnastics is different from being paid for who she is as a gymnast. Lots of technicalities in there, but she and her parents seem to know what they’re doing, and I’m sure they’ve been in touch with people in charge of eligibility or compliance before moving forward with various deals.

Is the candle mount on beam overvalued? I only ask because it seems like everyone and their mother learned it overnight. Is it possible that it just looks deceptively easy? Do you think it will get devalued in the next quad?

Its value was upped to a D this quad, and who doesn’t want a D element in their routine?! It’s the kind of skill that can be tricky to learn or master just because it has to be so precise with how you catch the beam and hold yourself in the ‘candle’ position, but once you learn it, it becomes pretty easy, especially compared to pretty much every other D mount, and there’s very little risk of falling. Like, if your options are this or a roundoff back tuck, this is like, the DUH option. 

I’ve been in the gym as gymnasts have trained this mount for the first time and it’s actually very funny to see how badly those first attempts can go before they’ve figured out precisely where they need to be standing and how they need to time the flip…it’s a lot of ending up a little short and not being able to hold the candle, or going a little too far over and then either rolling over the beam, or flipping under it. It’s probably deceptively easy in the sense that you don’t see the work going into it at first, but like I said, once they ‘get it’ it becomes muscle memory and there’s very little room for error, unlike something like a back tuck, where no matter how many times you train it, you could be perfectly on one day, or miss it a hundred times the next.

Do you know anything about Oleg Verniaiev’s PhD, like, what it’s in, or perhaps the university?

I think he has studied at both the Donetsk State Institute of Health, Physical Education, and Sport and then at the National University of Physical Education and Sport in Kiev, so while I don’t know what his PhD is in exactly, I’d imagine it has something to do with…you guessed it…physical education and/or sports. When he last competed at Universiade, the commentators talked about how he was focusing his studies on becoming a coach, so I’m guessing his PhD work probably follows along those lines.

Was Anastasia Grishina pretty much out of Russian gymnastics after London? Would it have been possible for her to get any international assignments after that?

Despite her mistakes in London, while they weren’t thrilled about what happened, I think the Rodionenkos were still hoping that since she was so young, she would still be a productive athlete for the senior program beyond the Olympics, and she actually had some excellent outings in 2013. She was second all-around and first on bars at nationals that year, and went on to win all-around and beam bronze at Euros in addition to also getting three apparatus world cup titles. Unfortunately, she injured her back while training during the Russian Cup that summer, so her season was cut short and she wasn’t able to go to worlds, but when she came back at nationals in 2014, she won all-around bronze and it looked like she might be back on track to be in contention for teams again…and then she injured her knee during her floor routine in the team final so her comeback lasted only a few days before her season – and career – ended.

She did attempt to come back again, and was expected to compete at the Voronin Cup at the end of 2014 as well as at both the Russian Championships and the Russian Cup in 2015, but she withdrew from all three and then retired the following January. Her injuries in the 2016 quad were a real shame, as I think she truly would have been able to do big things, especially at worlds in 2014 and 2015, where the team struggled a bit.

Who performed the first arabian double pike in WAG?

Daiane Dos Santos of Brazil was the first to successfully compete the skill at world championships to get it named for her in 2003, but the first to actually compete it was a U.S. gymnast named Lisa Marzan, who debuted it at the U.S. Classic in 2001. Lisa wasn’t a top U.S. elite, but she was still pretty great, making the junior national team in 1999-2000 and she was recruited to compete at Florida beginning in the 2003-2004 season, though she ended up needing multiple knee surgeries during her freshman year and ultimately medically retired.

What is harder on your body? Elite or NCAA gymnastics? Because in elite you train seven hours a day, while in college you train less but compete every weekend.

I think it depends on the gymnast and the type of club situation she’s used to in elite, but I think most would say elite is much harder on your body. You’re not only training more hours, but you’re doing harder skills and longer routines, so you’re putting your body through so much stress at that level, and college is usually a huge step back for most of them. Even though they’re competing every weekend in college, and while competitions do take a lot of mental energy on top of being physically healthy and fit enough to safely compete routines each week, I’d say for most gymnasts, there’s much more of a balance between gymnastics and ‘normal life’ that allows them to take breaks from the sport (both during the week and in the off-season), whereas in elite they’re essentially doing 30 hours a week for 50 weeks out of the year, with very little time away.

Elite is obviously physically stressful, but it’s also super mentally draining, and that can affect how a gymnast performs physically on a day-to-day basis in training. I think being a club gymnast also prepares you for the weekly NCAA competitions, because it’s something you’re doing every week from the time you’re about six years old right up through to level 10, so when you get to college, it’s nothing new to keep competing every week…but when you make the transition from J.O. to elite, there’s really nothing that can prepare you for that kind of intensity, and it’s definitely more of a shock to gymnasts both mentally and physically, which is why I think ‘stepping down’ either back to level 10 or straight from elite into a collegiate environment is generally seen as ‘easier’ for most gymnasts.

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

6 thoughts on “You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

  1. I looked at Maisa Kuusikko’s routine from last year and was really impressed! How does the WTC view her grip change from the Maloney to the Ezhova? Is it considered its own skill? Does she receive CV?

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    • I don’t think it’s considered its own skill since she catches in regular grip and then hops her grip change afterwards…but the Maloney to Ezhova is a D+D connection so she should get 0.1 in CV. It would be cool to see if she could actually catch the Maloney in mixed grip or something, and whether that would change the value of the skill?

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      • I feel like the tricky bit for that would be that she’d have to catch it in mixed grip facing the opposite way of a normal Maloney catch, so it would probably end up being more of a shaposh 1/2-type skill, and I’m not sure how well the momentum works out of that. Would be interesting to see her try though!

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    • Nope! She’d still get 0.1…and me too! I was literally so excited when I saw this because it was just so much fun to see something that no one else was doing for once.

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