It’s time for the 335th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!
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Does Becky Downie have an individual spot for Tokyo, or is she trying to make the team? If the team, what do you think her chances are, given that she only competes one apparatus?
Becky doesn’t have an individual spot, and Great Britain doesn’t have any “extra” spots right now (though they could potentially get a non-nominative spot at Euros). Right now, Becky is hoping to make the team, and I think she’s bringing back her all-around program to make that more likely. But if they get a non-nominative spot at Euros, I can see them considering her more for that if she can’t get vault and floor back in a decent enough place to put up prelims scores? That said, I think they’d rather have her 15 on bars and consistent beam in the team final, so even if her vault and floor don’t end up scoring well, it would still be worth putting her up in qualifications with the expectation of dropping those scores just so they could count on her for the final.
In the past few years, you wrote extensively about KZB and MH, showing them in a positive light and giving them significant positive press before their abuse was uncovered. Do you feel you shouldn’t have spoken/written with such authority, knowing what you now know? Are you going to be more cautious about writing about the culture of a gym in the future, when you do not know the truth of the situation?
I actually wrote an article about this last summer, in response to everything that happened with Texas Dreams, because that was a gym I really loved (and even worked for at one point). I assumed that despite all of the injuries, I knew the coaches to be nice, friendly, progressive people who took their kids to BLM marches and joked around with them in podium training and did fun pool conditioning to get out of the gym in the hot summer, and I had heard things from many athletes that backed this up (including two who told me that the gym “saved their lives” after terrible experiences at previous gyms, one in 2018 and one last year). I had not even the slightest reason to question what was happening behind closed doors. This is elite gymnastics, everyone is always injured, how is that an indication of anything truly terrible when everything else about them seems so GOOD?
And as I talk about in my article, that’s the problem – judging how “good” coaches are based on what I personally know about them, when really the only people who have authority to tell us what they are like as coaches are the gymnasts who have trained with them. I think if anything, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that looks can be deceiving, and how coaches present themselves in public settings can be wildly different from how they approach things in the gym. Not only that, but that while some athletes can have incredible experiences, the same isn’t true for everyone, so just because we hear one athlete talk about how certain coaches “saved her” doesn’t mean we can assume that everyone is treated the same, so we can’t make overarching claims about a gym being “good” just because a couple of athletes – in most cases, the top athletes who wouldn’t be targets due to what they’ve achieved – say it is.
I hope it’s evident in how I’ve talked about gyms and coaches in my articles or tweets since then, but in case you haven’t noticed (because it’s pretty subtle and you probably wouldn’t have caught on unless you were specifically picking apart my writing!), one change I’ve made is qualifying anything I say about gyms or coaches by reiterating that this is MY experience or one athlete’s experience instead of claiming something like “she is a good coach.” If someone asks about a gym or a coach, I will say “I’ve heard ___ or I’ve experienced ___but I can’t speak beyond that” just to try to constantly remind people that while many good experiences with these people probably do exist, we can’t definitively say “this is a great gym with zero problematic behavior” until we know literally everyone’s experiences. I don’t want to automatically assume every coach is problematic until proven otherwise, but I also don’t want to make claims about what a coach is like when it’s impossible for me to experience their behavior in a way that one of their gymnasts experiences it, so whenever someone asks something like “what gym would you want to train at if you were elite” or something, or when I just talk about gyms in general while watching a competition, I just try to make it as clear as possible now that my opinions here are literally just that – my opinions based on my own limited experiences.
I’m going to share my experience with Maggie, because in hindsight, that gave me a small glimpse into what it’s like for athletes who are in abusive situations at “good gyms” with “amazing coaches.” I’m not an athlete, but I was bullied and threatened by her, for an entire year…and though this happened back in 2014-2015, it took me years to understand that what transpired was a reflection of the person she is in private as a coach. This is partly because anyone who knew about my situation at the time said I was “overreacting” when I got upset about the things she was doing to me, and one person even gushed to me, “I know you don’t like her, but I just went to her gym to do a feature, and she’s amazing.” I felt like my experiences were fully invalidated to the point where I questioned my behavior and thought, yeah, everyone else is probably right, she had a reason to behave the way she did with me, no one else has had a problem with her, so this is clearly on me. Even AFTER all of this went down, despite my own personal feelings and the sheer terror I felt when I had to stand a few feet away from her in the mixed zone on several occasions between 2016-2018, I took my experience out of my reporting and continued to give her positive press based on what I knew from the outside. I didn’t want to be advertising my negative experiences, not when everyone else was still talking about her like, “she’s the best!”
I completely pushed my feelings aside to the point where when she tweeted an article I wrote about Riley, I got excited because I was like, “maybe she doesn’t hate me anymore!” People can treat you terribly, but because everyone else says they’re great and you’re wrong, you blame yourself and even try to put yourself back in good standing with them. It’s so messed up. It wasn’t until I started hearing abuse stories from her former gymnasts until I finally realized hey, I think I was right about her. My feelings were valid. I felt a tiny percentage of what athletes in these situations have to deal with every single day, which is that YOU are the problem, not your coach. That’s why most athletes do not come forward at all, and why when they do, coaches are so easily able to pull in dozens of their supporters who all attest to how amazing they are, and why many emotional abuse cases will never see the light of day in SafeSport hearings.
Coming to terms with Maggie and then seeing how everything unfolded with multiple Texas Dreams athletes coming forward taught me a lesson about perspective, and how even though things seem good from the outside, we never know what is happening within the four walls of a gym. For me, having seen a lot of coaches behave inappropriately in public and having heard so many stories of abuse over the years, seeing the public versions of Texas Dreams and MG Elite back when I first started this website in 2014 was like a breath of fresh air, and it was so easy to talk about them as being “good” based on what I saw and experienced at first.
Even now, I have to remind myself to take a step back and think about the bigger picture when I see something at a competition that makes me want to praise a coach or gym. For example, I saw a coach and athlete interacting at the Winter Cup and was thinking like, wow, the kid looks so happy, maybe this coach has changed…and then I was reminded of the time a mom told me about how she has a photo of her daughter and that very same coach in which the coach is smiling, but under her breath, she was whispering threats to the athlete. I know many coaches today who I truly believe are wonderful, amazing people who genuinely have their athletes’ physical and mental wellbeing at the forefront of their coaching philosophy, but I would never declare this the way I would in the past when I had similar feelings for coaches. I do sometimes point out coach/athlete relationships as I see them in the arena, but that one observation in time coming from an outsider’s perspective should not reflect everything about who that person is as a coach. While I think it’s okay to say something like “Riley and Laurie look so happy and confident with their new coaches” based on what I saw at the Winter Cup, I do not want to romanticize these coaches like “…and that means these coaches are heroes and have never done a bad thing ever” because we just don’t know. I’d like to think their new coaches are improving their experience in the sport, and hope that what I saw in the arena is exactly who these people are in the gym, but it’s important to me that I never definitively say things like that again…and that’s also why I make sure to say “they LOOK so happy” instead of “they ARE so happy,” because that little change in phrasing makes it clear that this is just my observation at one moment in time, not me trying to speak for them or invalidate how they may have actually felt.
I would never want an athlete who had a negative experience to feel invalidated if they came across me making sweeping claims about how “amazing” their coach is. A few months ago, I actually had a chat with an athlete who came forward about abuse in her gym. We had been following each other for a while, and she sent me her statement and asked me to retweet it. I was shocked, and apologized to her for anything I may have said about her coaches that could have potentially caused her to question herself, and she said, “how would you have known?” That’s what I try to think of every time I talk about coaches. We DON’T know, so we shouldn’t assume.
Do you think Gabby Douglas’ comeback would have played out differently in any way if she had been able to see it through with Liang Chow instead of being forced to change gyms?
I think the consistency probably would have helped her. Coming back is hard enough, but switching gyms in a dramatic fashion and then not really “feeling” your new gym makes it even harder. I think her mom was also behind the decision to move her (something with needing to sign a contract at Chow’s that her mother wasn’t a fan of) so if this also wasn’t Gabby’s decision, then it must have been extra difficult to deal with the change, which I think reflected in how she experienced Buckeye. At that time, there was a lot of talk from people related to the gym who said she just looked like she wasn’t really motivated in the gym, and things were often contentious between her and her new coach, which I think culminated in Gabby (or again, possibly her mother) kicking her to the curb at trials. Whatever went down, she clearly started struggling in some ways, and as excellent as her comeback ended up being, I always think about what she could have done had she been given consistency and control over her training situation from the start of her comeback.
Is there a reason why gymnasts do a triple wolf turn and then a double when they have two wolf turns on beam?
You mean as opposed to a 2½ and a triple? A double and a 2½ are both rated a D, while the triple is an E, so a double and triple are the easiest ways to get the two highest-rated wolf turns in the ‘easiest’ way possible. Since the 2½ is worth the same as the double, there’s no real incentive to add that last half turn when a double turn is easier to get around and control.
I’ve heard people refer to Aly Raisman’s floor routines as being not very good artistically and I’m wondering what about her routines make them considered to be that way? Especially in 2012 with her Hava Nagila routine where she incorporated elements of traditional Jewish klezmer dance, which I loved and felt different from typical floor styles. Do you think Eurocentrism/other forms of bias play a role in what people consider ‘artistic’?
I think it’s less about her choreography, which I agree was overall an excellent mix of music and dance, especially because there were a lot of subtle connections between the two, and I don’t think she gets enough credit for how great that was. I loved both of her routines because of this. However, at the same time, I don’t think Aly is a very strong performer NOR do I think she has great musicality, which factors into someone’s overall artistry. You can give a gymnast the greatest music and choreo in the world, but if she can’t express anything with that performance or even just move to the music well, it takes away so much.
Also, you’re correct in that there are still very many people who consider “artistry” as being only “ballet” or “elegance” which just…isn’t a thing. I recently saw a comment about how Aliya’s arm waving is artistic because it’s “elegant” and “goes to the rhythm of the music” and I’m just like HELP lol. Aside from maybe two pieces of choreo that she truly threw herself into, her routines have been mostly so dull, but when she really goes for it, she saves them from being total duds. I think Aliya with brilliant choreography probably could have worked it well, because she had it in her to “turn on” her ability to perform, so it’s too bad that she never really got anything that great, especially post-2012. But instead, she just got the arm-wavy routines, yet people still considered it more “artistic” than some of the best-choreographed and best-performed routines out there. You can hate Simone Biles’ style all you want, because style is a matter of opinion, but most of her routines have been excellent examples of encompassing almost everything a floor routine should be. Her routines are very divisive, but it even says specifically in the code – there’s no one style that is acceptable, and any personal opinion you have about a gymnast’s style goes out the window as long as she’s performing that style in a way that works.
What’s most evident is that with so much tied into what artistry is, it’s very rare to find a gymnast who embodies everything the code demands. I always look at three cateogries – if the choreography is good and matches the music/has a theme, if the gymnast can perform it (meaning puts emotion and feeling into it like an actor would with a script), and if the gymnast has musicality, or can generally move well and be on the rhythm. Sometimes gymnasts don’t have any of these things going on, while most only have one or two things going for them, but it’s the rare gymnast who can do all three well. When I watch Aly’s routines, I appreciate them for what went into them and think they have the “bones” of artistry, but the “meat” of the routine – what the gymnast puts into it – is lacking.
I’m confused about the rules for the 2021 Olympics. If the four person team/specialist rule had been in place in 2016, could Ashton Locklear had gone to the Olympics by doing only bars competitions?
Yes, it’s possible that had that rule existed, Martha Karolyi would have sent her to the apparatus world cups to try to qualify a spot…or maybe MyKayla Skinner could have gone and qualified for vault? Either would have been strong options. But with only four on the team itself, Madison Kocian probably wouldn’t have made the team and so she and Ashton would have likely been fighting for an individual spot the same way they fought for the team spot in 2016. All three also could have been in contention for the individual non-nominative spot, which the U.S. also earned this year…I personally would have taken Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, and Laurie Hernandez for the team (god all four of them doing the all-around in qualifications would have been epic), and then MyKayla and Madison for the individual spots…whichever one earned the apparatus spot would obviously get the nominative spot, and then I would have given the other one the non-nominative spot. Those two made the most sense for individual medals, and MyKayla could have also been a built-in alternate for the team had any of the four been injured.
What happens if an NCAA team had all 12 scholarships planned for 2022, but then a much better gymnast comes along? If a gymnast decides to change her commitment and they don’t have any scholarships left, can the coach take away the scholarship from the least good gymnast and give it to the person who wants it?
No, once athletes have signed their letters of intent, it’s virtually impossible to take a scholarship away unless an athlete has done something breaking her team’s rules. Sometimes, in rare cases, you see gymnasts who are underperforming and not making lineups asked to medically retire to open up a spot, but they’d still have their college paid for. I think I’ve only heard of couple of instances where a gymnast on scholarship was forced out of a program completely, and I can’t say for sure if the reasoning behind any of these was to get someone else into a scholarship spot. Usually there’s some other discord between the coach and athlete in those cases as well. But if a coach was like “you’re out” and the gymnast hadn’t broken any rules or wasn’t performing below standard, she’d pretty easily be able to fight that.
I read that Sabrina Vega’s bars routine in 2020 didn’t have a start value out of a 10. Why was that, and what could have raised her start value?
In the routine I just watched (which was from January…it’s possible she changed it eventually but that’s the latest one I can find) she did a toe-on to toe shoot, Gienger, Pak, and full-in, so she was missing a turning element. Had she done a bail instead of a Pak, that should have taken care of things. This is off the top of my head, but I think she had all of the other requirements and met the up-to-the-level standard…maybe she was short on bonuses? She had a couple of D skills to get her to a 9.8 and the toe-on to toe shoot should have been a 0.1 connection, plus her dismount was an E, so I *think* the lack of a turning element is what got her. I remember reading that they weren’t planning on using her in the lineup on this event and she only became necessary when everyone else got injured, so it’s possible she just wasn’t really training seriously and just had to throw together skills she knew she could crank out? I feel like I hadn’t seen her compete bars since probably 2013, so it’s crazy that she brought this event back for the first time seven years later. She had a bail in her routine in 2012, but maybe she struggled with it and that’s why they went with a Pak instead? I don’t know.
If you were a gymnast looking for the perfect college, which one would you choose and why? If they didn’t have a scholarship for you would you join as a walk-on?
This changes every time I answer it…I say Washington and Oregon State a lot, because I was actually planning on applying there as my #2 choices if I didn’t get into Columbia (and before I went to Columbia, I actually took a bunch of classes through Oregon State’s distance learning program because they were one of the only universities doing a great job with online learning back in 2008-2010). Both schools have really strong academics, great gymnastics programs, and I LOVE the Pacific Northwest. I think even if I was a top elite and had Florida, Oklahoma, and LSU fighting for me, I’d absolutely still choose Washington or Oregon State over any of those. I’d also include Cal, Utah, Denver, and Stanford on my list. Oh, and Boise State now too, I just went to Boise last year and loved the city and the surrounding area. I feel like 90% of my decision is location just like it was when I was actually applying to schools back in 2010, haha. Since my residence is in NY, if I didn’t get athletic scholarships at any of these programs, I probably wouldn’t walk on unless I got offered an academic scholarship or had some other means to pay, so I’d probably choose to take a scholarship at a lower-ranked program instead…in which case I’d want something like Utah State or Alaska.
I feel like I never see double pikes with pointed toes on beam or floor. Why is it difficult or uncommon?
Since a gymnast isn’t in the air very long on any skill, I think they often end up anticipating the landing, and so they flex their feet to prepare for that, especially in a double salto. It seems like it’s difficult for many of them to switch their foot shape from pointed to landing-ready, and I can only picture a few who point their toes throughout the majority of the skill, only prepping for the landing a split second before it happens. Because so many don’t point their toes in the midst of a skill, it sticks out to me when someone DOES…I remember being at classics in 2018 and seeing Deanne Soza point her toes in her double pike from across the arena, and I was just like WOW YES that’s what it’s supposed to look like. I just went back to watch, and on her full-in, double tuck, and double pike, her feet are fully pointed until she’s halfway through the second flip, which is when she opens up for the landing on all three. Just textbook.
I have seen a lot of hype about Amelie Morgan’s beam mount. Do you think she will compete it and if she does, what value do you think it could be?
I’d give it an F since it’s a step up from a regular LOSO, and that kind of control makes it a lot harder, but I’m wondering if they would consider it a connection to scale and not its own thing? It’s not technically to a needle scale, but I think they’d still do the acro + A scale CV of 0.1, and that E + 0.1 would essentially make it worth the same as an F. But I can also see the FIG being stingy and just sticking with an E for it since it’s “just” an arabesque.
In your opinion, why aren’t there more questions about Mary Lou Retton winning the all-around in 1984 over Ecaterina Szabo? I know it was so long ago but as a gymnastics junkie since 1968 the look on Szabo’s face still haunts me. I would love to hear your opinion on this.
I’ve answered this a few times, and because of that, I generally don’t re-answer the question every time I get it. I personally think Ecaterina should have won, and think had the Olympics been held in literally any other country on Earth, she probably would have won…they both had great competitions, but Ecaterina was much more polished and more of a total package gymnast, and there’s no way Mary Lou made up for what she lacked on bars and beam with what she did on vault and floor. Just a half tenth of difference between Mary Lou and Ecaterina’s bars is just…it still blows my mind. I think it came down to Mary Lou being in front of a home crowd…and I assume there was probably an anti-communism sentiment among most of the countries that attended? Since the Soviets and many of their allies had boycotted in 1984, most of the judges were probably anti-communist and I’m sure that factored into how they treated Ecaterina compared to America’s Sweetheart, even if it was subconscious. I think it would have been questionable for the Americans to have won team gold, so they couldn’t justify something like that, but with the all-around where Mary Lou was so dynamic on her own, it was like, this is our chance!
Who do you think is the best Canadian gymnast ever (or within the last 20 years) on each event? Has there ever been a Canadian bars finalist at worlds or the Olympics?
I think when looking at the last 20 years, most of the “best” on each event have actually been within the current generation! I would go with Shallon Olsen on vault, Ana Padurariu and Ellie Black on beam with Peng Peng Lee also one of my favorite beam workers even though she never really had a major international breakthrough there (aside from Pac Rims in 2012), and probably both Victoria and Brooklyn Moors on floor, though Kate Richardson I think can also be considered for that as well.
On bars…Brittany Rogers and and a 2015-2016 era Isabela Onyshko I think (and I’d probably also add Isabela to the best beam worker list), but honestly Ellie would also fit as a top bar worker, especially with the routines she’s been doing over the past few years, which is funny. No, she’s not the most aesthetically amazing bar worker, but she’s pretty clean and consistent on most skills, and she’s doing some of the more difficult bar work we’ve seen from Canada, which is why bars is consistently a 14+ apparatus for her at major international events. I think even though I wouldn’t consider her the absolute top on any event aside from beam, she is undoubtedly the best Canadian gymnast overall, probably of all time, and that’s thanks to being such a balanced all-arounder. And no, no Canadian gymnast has made a bars final at the Olympics or worlds. I think Ellie has gotten closest! She was 12th in 2017…I think Brittany is right behind her with 16th in 2015. I probably need to rewatch Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs’ bars and beam from the 2006 era because I’m sure she’d fit in on both…I’m just picturing her college-level routines right now.
Sunisa Lee posted on Instagram that she misses gymnastics. Someone asked if she was training and she said no. Why isn’t she training?
I’d guess she was taking a break at that specific moment in time due to pain or something? Her foot has been consistently bothering her since the summer and it’s why she hasn’t yet brought back vault and floor either at the Winter Cup or at the most recent camp.
Why do you think Aly Raisman did a punch layout out of her arabian double front when a punch front tuck would’ve had the same CV? Isn’t the layout harder?
She explained the reasoning behind this at one point, but I can’t find it now…it was back in 2012, I believe. You’re correct in that a tuck or layout out of the arabian double front are both worth the same in CV, and even though the layout is worth more as a skill itself, she wasn’t going to be counting a B skill in her routine anyway, so it was all about the CV. I believe Aly’s reasoning was that the layout was actually cleaner for her, because with the power she had punching out of the arabian, she was over-rotating the tuck? I’m like 85% sure that was her reasoning but I can’t remember it specifically and I can’t find the interview where she discussed it!
Do you know anything about Liang Chow’s career as a gymnast before becoming a coach? I’ve seen so much conflicting information. Some places say he was a bronze medalist at worlds, some say he was an Olympian, but he wasn’t on the roster in 1992 and he was too young in 1988 according to Wikipedia.
He never made it to the Olympics as a gymnast…he was shooting for 1992, but a back injury ended his career and he moved to the U.S. to coach at the University of Iowa after retiring. Before his injury, he made a couple of international teams, and won gold with the Chinese team at the Asian Games in 1990, but while his bio says he won bronze at 1989 worlds, he wasn’t on the team as far as I can tell…probably an alternate? He also won a bunch of medals at smaller international meets, and when I was watching the 1991 American Cup last year, there was a gymnast listed as “Ziao Liang” and I was like…wait, no, that’s CHOW! I think his last name in Chinese is actually Qiao, so I assume this was a typo on the broadcast, but it was unrecognizably him. Basically, he was a strong gymnast, but not one of the top guys in China, I assume because his entire career had been plagued by injuries.
Why do people talk about Shawn Johnson’s comeback like it was so fake while considering Nastia Liukin’s comeback more legit? Shawn started in 2011, added upgrades, and competed internationally at Pan Ams. Nastia didn’t start doing routines until a few weeks before nationals, right?
I don’t think they consider one more “legit” than the other…I think it was pretty clear in the months leading up to London that neither would be going based on what we knew about both of them. I think in 2011 people were more excited about Shawn, and I remember people actually getting pissed about Nastia announcing her comeback at 2011 worlds just after the women had won the team gold. There were many people who wanted Shawn on the worlds team in 2011, especially after Alicia got injured…she was the non-traveling alternate, and there was a lot of talk about wanting Martha Karolyi to fly her in for vault and beam since Anna Li – who was named the alternate in Tokyo – couldn’t have replaced Alicia on her events. I think based on how she looked in 2011, she was an incredibly exciting prospect if she could keep improving at that level, but the issue people had was that in 2012, she kept stringing people along as if she was seriously training for London, only to eventually admit that she had a knee injury and was ending her comeback. I think she kept up appearances for sponsors who were still interested in seeing if she could be in the mix for the team, but despite not actually training for months, she waited until June of 2012 to retire, so people talked about that months-long period where she wasn’t actually training as being “fake.” With Nastia, who started her comeback much later but went to camps in the spring of 2012 and made her first appearance back at classics, it was clear she was on the right track and would be in the mix for London. I think in 2011, the talk was that Shawn was looking on track while Nastia was “faking” it for the media, but then in 2012, it flip-flopped, with Shawn now the “faker” and Nastia seemingly in a solid place for contention.
I saw Laney Madsen is training without a coach. Do you think she can make it to the next Olympics or worlds without one?
I think she has a coach…last I could tell, she was at Team OC Gymnastics in Costa Mesa. Maybe a lot of her time is spent working out alone or not on a team in the way she would have been at Gym Max or WCC, but there’s probably still someone there supervising her…I feel like I’ve seen her mom at a meet with her before too? That said, it IS possible to train solo with just guidance from a coach…that’s how Houry Gebeshian trained for Rio! IIRC, she had someone she was in communication with in terms of her routines and training plan, but she was mostly in the gym on her own, essentially coaching herself through it. Of course at that point she had done NCAA and knew the ropes, and since Laney’s a little newer to the sport in comparison, a coach would make things easier…but I’m sure even if she’s not always one-on-one with someone in the gym, she likely has SOME guidance, especially in terms of training plans and goals leading up to her next competitions.
Which do you think will be the toughest team to get on for the Olympics, and where do you think we’ll see surprises?
The U.S., Russian, and Chinese programs all look like they have a tremendous amount of depth right now, which was expected for the U.S., but Russia and China have really stepped it up this quad, and opening up this quad’s Games to 2005-born gymnasts makes it even more difficult for both. The same can be said for any country sending a team in terms of the Games getting extended a year to add to the depth, but I think all three of these particular countries could each send two teams of four and still have a few super talented gymnasts left over. I think Italy is especially deep right now in terms of the smaller programs, and they’re going to end up leaving several talented people behind.
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Article by Lauren Hopkins