What Did Nationals Tell Us About the U.S. Olympic Team?

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Riley McCusker

Ever since the Winter Cup earlier this season, I’ve been keeping a shortlist of those I think have the most realistic chances at making the Tokyo Olympic team, adding and removing athletes based on performances, injuries, and other factors that have either increased or decreased their value to the team.

Before the U.S. Classic, I had a list of 13 I thought were the most valuable. After the U.S. Classic, I had dropped two from my list to narrow it to 11, but then after this weekend’s U.S. Championships, I was right back to 13, adding two I hadn’t seriously considered all season but who showed up in Fort Worth as legitimate threats, albeit dark horses right now.

I’m going to get the tough part out of the way. Morgan Hurd, one of my favorite gymnasts in the U.S. program this quad who I’ve enjoyed watching since I first saw her at the Nastia Liukin Cup in 2014, was one of those I heartbreakingly took off of my list after classics. It was clear that she was one of the athletes most affected by the extra year due to COVID-19, which is such a shame, because when she came back at the American Cup last year with an incredible performance after missing out on the 2019 worlds team, I was like, this is it. This is her revenge year. She absolutely, one hundred percent will be on the Olympic team.

But obviously, with the extra year and trying to train through injuries, it was clear to me at classics – Hurd’s first competition in more than 14 months – that it probably wasn’t going to work out for her. Competing only two events at a difficulty level that is not competitive in this country, she would have needed to show up at nationals with the kind of improvements that generally take far longer than just the couple of weeks she had, so while I hoped for the best, I set my expectations low and quietly removed her from my list, though obviously hoped she’d come back at nationals and blow me away.

Of course, at nationals Hurd had five falls across her two beam routines, and her while her floor was absolutely beautiful and engaging, with scores of just 12.6 for both routines – placing her 23rd in a field of 25 on this event – I mentally prepared myself for the fact that Hurd was not only not making the Olympic team, but that she also likely wouldn’t earn a spot at trials, and I wasn’t surprised to see her not named to the group of 18 selected.

Many people were surprised, though, because despite her performances at classics and nationals, her history and leadership over this entire quad should get her some benefit of the doubt, right? Even though she might not be seriously in consideration for the team, she’s the 2017 world champion and it would have been a nice gesture to give her the chance to finish out this Olympic journey with all of her teammates, especially given all she’s been through over the past year. The U.S. Olympic Trials have historically been an honor in themselves, and some athletes who know they won’t be in contention to make the team still list the trials as one of their top goals in the sport, because just being involved in that process is such a momentous achievement.

Qualifying or petitioning to trials has a standard, however, and while the selection committee is sometimes lenient with their standards for athletes who have potential but don’t quite have the scores to compete at classics or nationals, for trials, it’s generally a bit more strict and at this stage, “potential” is no longer an option. Chellsie Memmel, for example, earned a bid to compete at nationals despite getting just a 25.550 two-event score at classics, which is 1.45 points lower than the two-event score typically required. This was a special consideration for Memmel based on her petition being accepted due to the potential she showed, which is why she was allowed through despite several others matching or exceeding her two-event score did not get to move on (like Mya Witte, who had a 26.200 across her two best events).

But going from nationals to trials, both Hurd and Memmel (the latter of whom was never on my shortlist, and I think she knew she wasn’t being seriously considered for Tokyo) had their petitions denied because at this step in the qualifying process, athletes need to be hitting routines, and I do think as badly as I would have loved to see both at trials as sentimental favorites who “deserve” to be out there, this is also a sport, and I agree with the fact that neither showed readiness to compete at the level required at trials based on how they performed and ranked at nationals.

It came to my attention that many people were unaware that there are a limited number of spots open at trials, so I’ll clear that up before moving on. Generally, the number of athletes at trials is three times the number of athletes who will compete at the Olympic Games, so there were 18 invited in 2008, 15 in both 2012 and 2016, and then 18 again this year. I imagine this is a Marta Karolyi-era decision, and while I don’t know the exact reasoning behind it, I can imagine it’s related to having enough athletes to keep the field competitive while having an abundance of potential alternates, as well as accounting for potential injuries that could narrow the field.

On paper, “three times the number of Olympians” is arbitrary, but having 18 as the number this year does stem from that tradition, and it was decided on long before the 18 were named at the end of the competition on Sunday night. So how did we get to the breakdown the selection committee arrived at this year? Since only one specialist qualified, with Riley McCusker‘s petition being the only one accepted, it meant the rest of the 18 would be the top 17 all-arounders. It’s that simple.

In specialist-heavy years, like 2012, only the top 10 all-arounders made it, with four specialists plus the injured McKayla Maroney all successfully petitioning through, while in 2016, only one specialist was accepted, so the top 14 all-arounders were brought in. Had the selection committee approved the petitions for Hurd and Memmel, they would have been included within that 18, not added onto it, meaning only the top 15 all-arounders would have been selected instead of the 17 who made it. And had McCusker not been accepted, the top 18 all-arounders would have gone (though with her second-place bars finish, accepting McCusker’s petition was a no-brainer).

Why is it like this? Because it’s always been done this way! At least over the past few quads. I realize this is a “because I said so” non-answer, and that “this is just how things are” is exactly the kind of vaguely transparent mumbo jumbo the USA Gymnastics women’s program has been pretending to move away from over the past few years, but at its core, the women’s program and its leadership has not changed and still retains many Karolyi-era policies, with this being one of them.

Now, this is a sport. If the rule to get to trials is that a gymnast must have such a strong case as a specialist that she can petition through based on her scores on one or two events, or must otherwise finish above a certain ranking in the all-around field, then I don’t see the problem with not naming athletes who did not manage either. Yes, there are a few all-arounders who qualified who likely won’t factor into the team or as alternates, but these athletes all did exactly what they were supposed to and met the standards required for qualifying while others who have more “potential” to make the team did not. At some point, it has to stop being about “potential” and start being about hitting when it counts, because there are no Olympic medals for potential. The best bars gymnast in the world could fall in qualifications and miss out on the final by a tenth while a gymnast who typically scores a full point lower than her makes it in, and that’s life – there’s no, “well, she could have been the bars champion if she hit, so why can’t we put her in the final anyway over this random gymnast who has no shot at a medal?”

I hate seeing these “every random gymnast and their neighbor qualified to trials, but they can’t bring Hurd or Memmel?” comments because these so-called “random gymnasts” all had exemplary performances and earned their spots based on a qualification process that has always, for whatever reason, existed. The lowest-ranked all-arounder who qualified to trials, Zoe Miller, averaged a 13.300 across her eight events over the weekend, which is low compared to those who can average around a 14.000, but it’s still ahead of Hurd’s 11.775 average, and Memmel’s 13.070 across her five completed routines (not counting her unfinished day two bars, which would drop her six-routine average to an 11.550). Miller may not be going to the Olympics, but she earned her spot at trials fair and square based on the sheer fact that Hurd and Memmel did not earn spots.

I’m looking at this from a purely analytical standpoint, because if I took sentiment and past accomplishments into account as making athletes “deserving” of being at trials, both Hurd and Memmel would be there in a heartbeat. I do think that there is value in inviting athletes who may not be quite where they need to be, but who have done so much for the team and who have tons of fans who want them there, which is why I wasn’t opposed to Nastia Liukin benefitting from that “reigning Olympic champ” bid she got to trials despite finishing sixth on beam and 19th on bars at nationals, which should not have mathematically been enough to warrant an approved petition.

But people were mad about this special treatment for her then, and she had a much better nationals than either Hurd or Memmel had this year, so what is it? Do we want special treatment, but only for our faves? As badly as the women’s program is mucking up transparency, they are at least attempting to have measures in place for qualifying to trials even if they aren’t crystal clear to outsiders, and inviting sentimental favorites over those who outscored them would go against everything we want and need this program to be held accountable for. We can’t have it both ways, and while I personally wish we could have Hurd and Memmel in St. Louis later this month, I understand why they won’t be there, and think the reasoning for this decision is valid.

All of that said, I am vehemently opposed to how the program handled the announcement. Historically, petitions have always been accepted prior to the trials field being named at nationals, so when the 18 – including McCusker, who petitioned – were named on Sunday night, I knew these would be the 18 going to trials, with no one else added in. That’s why, when one of the reporters asked Forster on our media call about the rumor of Hurd not having her petition accepted and why that was the case, I was so confused to hear his response, which was:

“The petition process isn’t completed yet. At this point, there’s 18 people going to trials. That’s all we know so far.”

According to both Hurd and Memmel, though, they were told prior to the team announcement that their petitions hadn’t been approved. Forster, who participated in this media call at least a half hour after the field was named, straight-up lied to the press, gaslighting the gymnasts who were already telling friends and family that they would not be going to trials. He made a decision, which I’m sure wasn’t an easy one, and he had valid reasons behind it. As the face of the women’s program, he needs to be able to take ownership of decisions like these, or at the very least, give us a “no comment.” It’s simply inexcusable and disrespectful to the athletes that he misrepresented the process.

While I do think the reasoning for not bringing either athlete to trials makes sense, I’m especially devastated for Hurd after all she’s done this quad, but on a happier note, this weekend at nationals really boosted the stock of two athletes I didn’t expect to be serious contenders. Emma Malabuyo, who finished fourth all-around after two solid days of competition, and Shilese Jones, who was 12th and consistently had the top Yurchenko double in addition to a fifth-place finish on bars, were still question marks for me coming into this meet.

Malabuyo has spent most of the quad dealing with injuries, but she finally seems to be hitting her stride. If the selection committee ends up going with the top four all-arounders at trials – like they’ve done for every major team this quad – a repeat of her performance here would be all she needs to reach Tokyo, though I do think if the committee puts a little more thought into the team puzzle, she’d be at a risk as an athlete who lacks the top-level experience and who won’t be ranking quite as high once everyone else is hitting. Her beam is outstanding, and is the biggest edge she has in terms of making this team, but she’s only hit a strong routine twice out of five routines so far this year, so that could come into play regardless of how she finishes in the all-around.

I’ve long said Jones is like this quad’s Elizabeth Price or Brenna Dowell with her excellence on vault and bars. She’s so clean and consistent, and could bring immense value on both, but with her beam and floor a bit behind both in terms of difficulty and consistency, and with the top three team contenders all outscoring her on those events and on bars as well, she’d really only be usable on vault in a team final. I added both Malabuyo and Jones to my shortlist after nationals based on the fact that they can legitimately contribute at a high level, but I also think both still have a lot to prove at trials.

That leaves the 11 I’d consider the strongest contenders, a group that includes Jade Carey, because despite her mathematically locking down a world cup spot as an individual, Forster confirmed on the media call at nationals that if she finishes in the top two as an all-arounder at trials, whether she accepts her world cup spot or joins the team will be her decision.

The obvious are of course Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, and Jordan Chiles, who were not only the all-around podium finishers at nationals, but who were miles ahead of the rest of the field. Of course Biles was going to get there, so no surprises there, but with Lee and Chiles, it was partly thanks to a higher level of difficulty and overall skill on every apparatus, but also because the two were such solid, confident competitors, and the rest of the field needs to look at them as an example of how they need to compete at trials.

What impressed me most with these two is that even when they struggled, they were able to overcome without any major mistakes. Lee, for example, was having issues when warming up her full-difficulty bars set on Sunday, so for the competition, she switched to her ‘easy’ 6.4 set to hit nearly flawlessly and become the champion on this event. I had low expectations for her return on vault and floor due to her ankle injury, but she was about a million times better than I could have possibly imagined, and there’s still room for improvement.

Chiles, meanwhile, had major wobbles on beam that she saved, and I was also impressed that while she doesn’t have top standout scores on any event, she finished fourth on bars, beam, and floor, and she’s also planning vault upgrades for trials, so she’s really proving just how balanced she is, without a single weak event, which is so important in general, but especially with the four person team this year.

Biles is obviously Biles, though despite her strong eight-for-eight performances in Fort Worth as well as an all-around score that surpassed a 60, she still wasn’t fully satisfied with everything and has lots of areas she wants to work on going into Tokyo. I love that she’s never quite happy with herself, but it’s true that she could fix her landings on floor, where she’s scoring pretty low – for her – due to big rebounds and tons of penalties. My favorite moment of hers was after watching her struggle with her toe full on bars in multiple training sessions and at the U.S. Classic, she actually looked really tight on this skill on the second day of nationals, so it was nice to see her hard work there pay off. I said at classics that it’s wild Biles can nail a Yurchenko double pike, the hardest vault ever competed by a woman in history, but then have a toe full be her downfall one routine later! I love that she’s the best, but still making an effort to be even better.

Outside of these three, all of whom I think will make the team barring any disasters in St. Louis, I have one core group of gymnasts who I feel are most competitive for the fourth and final team spot, and that group includes Grace McCallum, Kayla DiCello, Leanne Wong, and MyKayla Skinner. All four have something to offer, and all four medaled in apparatus finals at nationals, with Skinner taking the silver on vault, McCallum getting the bronze on beam, and DiCello and Wong winning silver and bronze on floor, respectively. But I also have my reservations about all four, so I’ll get into all of these now.

I’ll start with McCallum, who I think is most likely to get the fourth spot as a top potential all-arounder with beam now a standout event for her. While I think some of her E scores here have been a little high, I have absolutely loved McCallum on beam this season, as I think she’s starting to show a lot more style in addition to her strong technique and consistent performances. Though McCallum has been inconsistent overall at the past couple of meets, with several falls across classics and nationals, her work on beam has been pretty remarkable. She also has a strong and reliable Yurchenko double, and when she hits, she has good enough scores on bars and floor to serve in a team final even if she’s not the first choice, making her an incredibly attractive option for the team.

Do I trust McCallum to hit at the Olympics, though? She had a fall and a major bars flub at worlds in 2019, which account for a third of her routines in Stuttgart, and she has struggled in both meets so far this summer, which could be related to her rush back to compete following an injury, but it’s still something to consider. I also don’t trust that some of the execution scores she’s been getting at home will match up with what she’d get internationally.

But despite her struggles so far, McCallum finished fourth at classics and seventh at nationals, showing that she’s capable of being the top all-arounder outside of Biles, Lee, and Chiles with hit days – and she could maybe even upset Lee or Chiles. I also think McCallum is exactly the kind of athlete who will have gotten the mistakes out of her system early on so that her trials meet will go off without a hitch, which is why I have her as my top-rated pick for the fourth spot.

Then there’s Wong. Finishing fifth at nationals with a couple of weak routines – an extra swing on bars on day one, and a shaky beam and rough floor landings on day two – she’s another one who has the potential to increase her all-around scoring potential with a fully hit day. It’s just the fact that we haven’t seen it yet that scares me.

I think Wong and McCallum are fairly similar athletes in the fact that like Chiles, they’re both pretty balanced as all-arounders, but unlike Chiles, they haven’t been as solid as they need to be and therefore still have a lot to prove. I’d be nervous about taking either at this point, but at the same time I think both McCallum and Wong at one hundred percent would be invaluable assets to the team. I have McCallum ranked a little higher, thanks to her worlds experience and I also think she just looks a bit more confident out there than Wong does, but Wong has put up some gorgeous routines this year and has tremendous potential for excellence on all four events. We just need to see it all come together at trials.

After the second day of nationals, someone put score combinations together and found that based on the day two scores, Skinner actually added more to the team than anyone else in that fourth spot, and I’m not surprised. Her Cheng and Amanar have never looked better, with both surpassing 15s on day two of nationals, and the more she competes floor, the better she looks, with her day two routine bringing in the fourth-best floor score of the night behind Biles, Chiles, and DiCello.

I used to think of the team as having a bars and beam hole, as Biles is the token all-arounder, Lee is a bars and beam standout, and Chiles is strongest on vault and floor…but now that Chiles is so balanced and scoring just as well on bars and beam as she does on the events she’s more known for, there actually is room for more of a vault and floor gymnast on the team, and the best gymnast on hand to fill that gap is Skinner, especially if she keeps up the improvements going into trials…which, if it’s anything like we saw between nationals and trials in 2016, could seal the deal for her. There’s also the fact that she beat Carey (who is not at full strength right now) on vault at nationals, and could also very well beat her in Tokyo qualifications to make the vault final and win a medal, which is important, because among these core four, I think she’s the only one capable of medaling individually on top of helping the team.

I also love Skinner as an option because she is a born leader and an incredible teammate, with her hype-man attitude one of the reasons why the gymnasts named her Sportsperson of the Year. She fully brought NCAA vibes to elite with her comeback in 2019 – and she brought an NCAA salute to her bars routine on day two at nationals this year! – and that energy is something I’d love to see out on an Olympic floor.

Finally, DiCello. At classics, where she finished third with a 56.100 with a fall on beam, I thought she looked like the best option in a sea of great options – especially since her bars score of 14.600 was the highest in the meet, and because she’s been incredibly clean and consistent with her quiet difficulty in that routine for years (at a 6.0 when everything’s hit, she has one of the top bars D scores among those in contention for a team spot).

Unfortunately, that consistency seemed to disappear at nationals, where she struggled on bars in both performances, and she also struggled with falls on beam, including on her back dive mount on day two. She still has one of the strongest floor routines, as well as a solid Yurchenko double on vault, so she fits into that vault-floor gap in the same way Skinner does…but while she’s capable of a few more tenths on floor, Skinner wins the overall battle with her vaults now a solid half point ahead. DiCello, who was 11th at nationals, has the all-around potential that both McCallum and Wong do, but seeing her miss skills that have never troubled her before this late in the game has me concerned about how the pressure will affect her in Tokyo.

The other two who have been among the stronger all-arounders, and who remain in solid contention even though I’m not as seriously considering them for the team, are Skye Blakely and Kara Eaker, who finished seventh and 10th at nationals, respectively. Blakely is great on beam, but inconsistent, and her difficulty on bars and floor is too low for her to add big scores to the team even with hit routines. She has one of my favorite beam sets in the country when she hits, but at this stage she has more cons than pros, and unless she can really blow us away in St. Louis, I don’t see it happening. I’m not counting her out, but I think she might have a little too much to prove right now, so I’m thinking alternate at best.

I think I can say the exact same thing for Eaker…her day two beam set was awesome, and she really has the potential to pull out some great work when she’s on, but we all know what happened with her ring shapes in 2019. It’s too much of a risk to put her up in a final or to expect that she could potentially medal there when it’s never worked out before, and her floor also poses a danger. At top difficulty, she has one of the hardest sets in the country, but with a 3½, triple full, and 2½, all she needs is one of the higher-valued passes downgraded, and then the skill she does next won’t get credit at all for being repeated. I wish her routine construction wasn’t so reliant on skills and connections that have been so difficult to get credit for this quad. Maybe she’s someone who can still be considered for the individual spot if she puts up great routines at trials, but at this point it’s hard to see her as a top contender for the team with the inherently problematic construction of two of her four sets.

Speaking of specialists, I’ve talked a little about Carey securing an individual nominative berth but also still technically being in contention for the team if she finishes in the top two as an all-arounder at trials. I don’t think that’s something she’ll pull off, even on her best day, because of how strong the field is, but I’m keeping her on the shortlist just in case that does happen. And her now club teammate McCusker, who only competed bars at nationals due to a minor foot injury sustained at classics, is in a similar position where she could be a team contender if she decides to compete all four events at trials, but even if she doesn’t, I still think she proved that her bars – which were fabulous on both days of competition, but especially when she finally hit her full-difficulty set on day two – are more than worth taking her for the second individual spot alongside Carey.

They’re both in this “maybe team, certainly individual” limbo for me right now, but I’m leaning much more towards the individual side for both.

The others who qualified to trials are Emily Lee, Amari Drayton, Ava Siegfeldt, Addison Fatta, and Zoe Miller, all incredible athletes with standout skills and routines, but with their “good day” max potential all somewhere in the 53-54 range, it’s hard to see any of them contending with those who have 56+ AA or top-three apparatus potential, which is nearly everyone else going. Still, they all earned their spots to compete here, and with most of them on the younger side – Drayton, Siegfeldt, and Fatta are all 2004-born while Miller is only 15, born in November 2005 – there is a lot of future potential, and this experience could be hugely motivating as they are pretty much all likely to continue their elite careers even after Tokyo, with the exception of Lee, who will head to UCLA this year.

After classics, I was in a bit of a whirlwind trying to figure out where everyone stood, but the U.S. Championships really cleared up a lot of my thoughts and positions on most of the athletes in contention for Tokyo, and I know who I’d pick for a team right this second if I was forced to.

But at the same time, I think we can still expect a couple of surprises at trials, and as sure as I feel in this moment, I’m keeping myself open to the possibility that I will be completely thrown off my game. Whether a leading contender falls apart, or a dark horse rises to the occasion, the depth this year leaves us open to the potential for a number of ‘unlikely scenarios’ and I’m ready and excited for all of them.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

81 thoughts on “What Did Nationals Tell Us About the U.S. Olympic Team?

  1. USAG still has a long way to go with regard to not deceiving people. I still don’t see why tom has to fib and lie. It’s much better to break the bad news upright than to dance around. I don’t see what exactly is he fearing by breaking the bad news with truth….

    Knowing how things has been going, I am almost 100% sure that whoever gets the 4th best AA score will be selected on the team. Doesn’t matter who with regard to whatever their best specialty is or if it will be the team with the highest total score… because that has been the mantra this whole time and that won’t change.

    The 2nd non team specialist spot will likely be whichever AA (still likely to be with the top 8th AA score) with the next highest chance for a medal in ub or bb. USAG has a bit of a leadway for this position.

    I still can’t believe that tom is still giving carey the option to join the team. i suppose he has to be “politically correct”? So he just basically give her an almost impossible goal line…. hell, maybe that will give carey a huge motivation to do the best that she can and not slack off? it’s basically the same BS that they made rules a while back so that carey and only carey can do world cups. If i were him, i would have just flat out not even consider it right now…. because that has already been decided like years ago….lol..

    They will probably reward the other top 3 AA (5th-8th or 6th-9th or whatever depending on who is the 2nd specialist spot) with alternate spots (i.e. a free round trip ticket to tokyo)


    • The one thing I liked that Tom said was that he didn’t want to be the one to break the news for the athletes (not how he said it but it was like, that vibe of him wanting the athletes to share their own petition news)…but even with that he seemed to be hiding behind this so he wouldn’t have to answer the tough questions. It’s like…this is every problem that has ever existed with USAG. We don’t need lies and cover-ups, we need someone who can straight-up tell us what’s going on and why, especially as it relates to Olympic qualification. I’m sure people still would have given him crap if he said “Morgan didn’t get the scores she needed and that’s why we didn’t accept her petition” or whatever, but at least that’s a straight answer. People would be annoyed about the reasoning, but not downright mad about the BS and lies.

      I also feel like they’re just gonna go with the four straight AAers because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter – the U.S. is going to win and taking the top four is the clearest way to go about it. Emma Malabuyo proved that someone totally random could be selected, which could be risky if they just happened to have one or two good days after a whole mess of a season and haven’t really proven to be consistent…but like I said, that’s gymnastics – if you hit when it counts, you get rewarded. I love figuring out team puzzles, but I do respect the “hit when it counts” aspect of just taking top AAers, especially on a team like the U.S. where the fourth spot could realistically go to 10 people right now and the team would still win regardless of who it is. I mean, they could take the lowest-ranked athlete at trials as the fourth and still win at this point, so I’m like, going through all these scenarios but at the end of the day it truly does not matter and I suppose 4th-best AA is the most straightforward way to go about it.


      • I feel like this kind of makes sense with the whole transparency thing, where they want to make the choice as obvious and straightforward as possible to make it clear they’re not doing anything shady, especially because of some of the stuff that’s happened in past quads. Hopefully as time goes on, they can establish their commitment to fairness enough that they can get to a point where they feel like they’re trusted enough to where they can make those judgment calls.


  2. Loved this article and analysis, such a good read!

    I think my team rn would be
    Biles, Chiles, Lee, Skinner but I’m excited to see how trials will change that!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! That’s my team right now, but I go back and forth between McCallum, Wong, and Skinner on a daily basis post-nationals. With Jade not being at 100%, I think Skinner would legitimately beat her in VT QFs to make the final and win a medal, so Skinner also has that added bonus…the thing with McCallum and Wong is that I don’t think they’d bring any individual medals to the table. But I don’t think Skinner will place in the top 4 AA at trials so if Tom selects the team that way, she won’t make it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, it’s a bit disappointing that Skinner will likely get the alternate spot again.. ;( i am sad but then again, I am also happy for her journey so far no matter what will happen, she will have no regret


        • Agreed! She is killing it right now, and I love that she can just keep getting stronger and stronger with each meet she does. Her day two competition was phenomenal! Regardless of what happens, I’ve loved seeing her come back to such a high level after college, COVID, injuries…and the fact that she’s been competing her Amanar, double double, and other difficult skills for more than 10 years now is incredible. So much respect for her as an athlete!


      • I think Jordan will beat skinner on vault no question. So I don’t think she’s needed. Jordan almost beat skinner with a lower degree of difficulty. I don’t think skinner would medal at all at Olympics due to her execution. I hate being a negative Nancy but her vault scores, I do not believe she would get at the Olympics. If Kayla wasn’t a hot mess it would be her no question. I would pick someone who will medal on beam and floor. I think Kayla could medal on floor. Grace her beam is good not enough for a medal. Leanne is solid everywhere I still do not see a individual medal for her either. The forth spot on the team I have no idea who it belongs to. But I would almost do any of them but skinner. It’s just not a good look when you do a amanar and girls doing a double are about to beat you. And It’s not just one girl either it’s multiple !


  3. Regarding the 4th spot. Just some thoughts.

    WONG – She has everything you want in a gymnast. Gorgeous gymnast! But as you stated you just dont know with her. The Gage girls have been all over the place at their home meets, at other meets after the break as the slow steady incline of competing started again and they still havent settled. You can see Wong wants it bad, she looked like she was on the verge of tears after each routine didnt come together at nationals as she knew it could. It’s like so close but then… Even if she were to hit at trials I would still be iffy. But if she hit she would def be up there.

    SKINNER – When you watch her training videos on her youtube leading up to nationals, you see her hard work, and her cleaning up skills. If you watched her bars she did her shaphalf and her feet were together! Her pak was cleaner. BUT then in competition she rushes and it goes out the window in certain places. She said the same in her day 1 day 2 videos of nationals. She gets ahead of herself, gets nervous and defaults. I say this just merely because every tenth will help her cause.

    MCCUSKER – I hope she is healthy and can actually do the AA, if so she could totally be in their if she hits. But personally, if she only has bars to offer I dont know if I would take her. You never know if she will actually hit her planned routine as she did night 2. Her night 1 routine with the missed connected she scores around the same as Simone and others. And with Suni… I just dont see her only event as bars being that needed. If she has AA potential for sure. Just me.

    In my own idealistic world I just hope that all the girls just bring it, slay, hit and we see how it all ends up and these girls can walk out of the arena knowing they gave it their all after this horrible year. I know I will be super duper happy I won’t have to ever hear about Carey and her Olympic qualification process again, top 2 in the AA conspiracy theories haha, etc. Nothing against Carey at all. The process was just so… ugh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t wait to not have to explain the Carey / world cup process ever again, hahaha. Good for her and her dad recognizing the loophole and basically ensuring in 2018 that she absolutely would be going to the Olympics…but it’s been such a mess thanks to Tom and the women’s program never really being clear about their wants and needs here, and then limiting the process so that it basically ONLY made Jade eligible. It’s been so ridiculous, why is the U.s. the only country having this problem?!


  4. Anyone consider the possibility that Tom didn’t actually think the petition process was complete yet?..I mean this is the USAG we’re talking about…they’re not exactly known for organization or communication…even among themselves…


    • Hahaha…I wouldn’t be surprised, tbh. But the comment he made about wanting to give the athletes the ability to share the news made me realize they probably already all knew and that he was just trying to protect that information. Which like…it was probably coming from a good place in that sense? Unless he was just using that line to get out of answering himself.


      • I don’t understand why the press conference wasn’t televised. Coach press conferences in basketball and football are.
        But do you know how many athletes submitted petitions? Was it just Chellsie and Morgan, or did Aleah, Katelyn, Lyden, Sydney? Also, Chellsie said “they told us” right after the competition. She didn’t say “Tom told us”. So has anyone asked her to expand? Was it an official thing where they took petitioners into a room and the selection committee informed them? Did Tom tell them himself or was he heading off to the press conf, not knowing who had been told what or when, while another selection official from USAG was sent to wander the floor and find the petitioners to tell them important news (a la revealing the vault height in Sidney)? Very curious of the timing and the process.
        And who is on the selection committee this year? There is a committee, right? Or is it all up to Tom?


        • The only ones who petitioned were Morgan, Chellsie, and Riley. If athletes chose to compete in the all-around at nationals, they couldn’t petition. Based on what I saw on the floor, the athletes who petitioned were taken aside and told by the selection committee that their petitions were denied just as those who did make it were informed and given their cowboy hats (lol). BUT they didn’t have a full sit-down and go through the reasoning…that and the written response to the petitions came later. The press conference happened at least a half hour after the competition finished, and Tom was the last one interviewed (after like 5 gymnasts). USAG is now saying that because he had informed the gymnasts, but hadn’t yet explained the reasoning, he didn’t want to share the news for them. His “this is all we know right now” comment is more just…something that came out of his mouth and happened to be very misleading because it insinuated that petitions hadn’t been decided on, but they had at that point. And yes, a group of I believe four makes up the selection committee, so it wasn’t just Tom.


        • Makes sense and kind of what I thought might have happened. I agree a perfect response would have been, “The trials field has been decided and the athletes informed, but the written responses detailing the denials of petitions have not been completed yet, and I have not had a chance to go over the decisions with each athlete, so I will not be discussing the petitions until that time.”
          But it’s really easy to think of a perfect response after the fact. Gymcastic is reporting that he actually said, “Well, I can’t speak to the petitions because I would speak to the athletes first, so I don’t want to answer that to the media *before* we talk to athletes.” Lauren has said something similar.
          Which response is pretty clear and honestly is not too far off from the perfect response. If he really said that and people kept hounding him to talk about the petitions, of course they’re going to get a generic response like, “the process isn’t complete yet,” which was true because the official responses weren’t written and he hadn’t had a chance to talk to the athletes (informing and talking with are 2 totally different things). It’s also, in the moment, less combative than snapping to the press, “I just said I’m not going to talk about it!” which can also be misinterpreted.
          Completely agree his phrasing could be misinterpreted as it being possible for more athletes to make trials, but to me it sounds like he already nicely said he couldn’t speak to it yet and that wasn’t accepted. What he said was basically “no comment” with a reason why. And if he had then said, ‘the trials field is complete’ then that would have been incompatible with his statement of wanting the athletes to be able to share their own news. By saying the field was complete, he would have been sharing their news of their denials.
          The whole things sounds unintentional and kind of much ado about nothing, and regardless of what he’d said, the trials field wouldn’t have changed. The ideal situation would just to have held the press conference a week later, once everything was finalized.


        • He said the “the 18 is just what we know right now” insinuating that it wasn’t complete first. That’s why someone else asked about the petitions again and he said the “I haven’t spoken to the athletes yet about sharing their news so I’ll leave it to them” line…after his first response I thought okay so it’s NOT final, but after his second I was like oh, okay, it is and he just doesn’t want to tell us hahaha. I’m glad he left it to the athletes but his first response was REALLY misleading.


        • Agree it sounds misleading, just doesn’t scream deliberately misleading. And the second comment clarified the first so at that point it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It seems more like some people are mad about petitions but can’t logically think of a way to argue the decisions were incorrect, so they really want to find some way to be mad at Tom, and would have found something else if this hadn’t come up, when its really more about fan-heartbreak not having an outlet. Not everyone. But a lot of this.


        • Yeah, I agree. I don’t think it was intentionally misleading at all and think he just misspoke. I think he also just didn’t want to answer the tough questions, and was trying to buy a little time, but I don’t think it was meant to be harmful or anything. He just needs to think before he speaks.


  5. This was such a good read, by far the most reasonable and steady take I’ve seen since nationals, thank you so much for your reporting!! I’d be so happy to see a team of Simone/jordan/Suni/Leanne (or Kayla!!) and Jade/Riley! That’s my dream team at this point anyway


    • Thank you! Thank you so much! That would be a great team…Leanne is definitely my favorite in this group stylistically…and I’d love Kayla to make it and have the Olympics be her first big competition after almost no senior experience. I hope both can get a little more consistent at trials and show what they’re truly capable of!


  6. Skinner’s vaults I see adding to the team, but her floor has been really shaky, and given how poor the form is on her DDLO, I could even see her getting into an Eaker’s-rings situation with it getting downgraded and counted as a repeated element. Really the benefit I see in taking her is just vault. So to me that depends on where Carey is by Trials. If she was just taking it easy at nationals – and why shouldn’t she, she’s already qualified and just needs to not get injured to become an Olympian! – and can bring back her A game vaults at Trials, then I think Skinner’s potential medallist argument is weakened, though the extra value in the team final remains.

    Of course it’s all a moot point anyway since it totally is just gonna be the top 4 AA on the day, since Tom seems incapable of making actual decisions.

    …speaking of which, he needs to grow a spine ASAP. If you made a decision, you announce it, and you stand by it. Don’t mess everyone about.


    • I think with Skinner’s Moors, her second flip especially will get HEAVY deductions (as it should) but isn’t tucked enough to be considered a tuck based on the code’s description…so I think it’s safe, but I get your point there! I also do think she needs to prove at trials that her day two performance on floor (where she had the fourth-best score of the night) wasn’t a fluke. Would love to see her get it up to a 14 to be safe, but think if she does well there at trials, I’d trust her enough in a TF situation so that Lee wouldn’t have to go up. But yes, since having the potential for a vault medal is her biggest benefit aside from helping the team, we’d really need to see Carey at full strength to determine if it’s even worth taking another two-vault gymnast. One of the many things we’ll just have to see at trials to determine what the best scenario would be!

      But yeah. We’re doing all of this deep diving into different puzzles and Tom is 100% just going to take the top four so it truly does not matter, hahaha.


  7. Wow, this is a really well written article that is worthy of being published in any national periodical sports section. I for one am heart broken over Morgan, but your reasoning is very sound and well researched. I wish that instead of handing a mike to the idiot babblers on NBC we could hear someone as informed as you.


    • Thank you so much! I am also incredibly heartbroken over Morgan, but I realize that the reasoning behind not taking her is valid, and so I’m not mad about it. Sad, yes, but I understand.


  8. Great write up Lauren! But as of right now, I’d go w Grace. Considering the US could win w 3 ppl, I’m not giving the ‘experience’ too much juice, but she has it, and is a true solid all arounder. Very Jaycie Phelps on steroids vibes.

    That said, I personally still haven’t given up on Dicello. I think a lot of her mistakes were flubs (the beam candle will def be making some YouTube gym vid blogger’s blooper real yesterday) and if she hits at trials I would not be mad at her at all in a very Jaycie Phelps clean, solid leadoff role.

    Can we give Jaycie her flowers please…

    I know ppl love Skinner. While I commend her journey, and respect her abilities to throw exciting difficulty in a world of often mundane, looped gymnastics, I can’t get past the endless form errors. I wouldn’t be mad if she got the spot, because, on top of some great skills, (like the potential for that vault finals medal) she also has a lot of other non-gymn assets to bring to the team, like you said, but I’d be lying if I said I was exactly pulling for her.

    I’d love to see Leanne on the team ‘in my head’. I just think that she’s had sooo many opportunities to prove that she is as good as we think she is, and she just continually seems to be her own biggest hurdle.

    Either way, thanks for the great breakdown. See you all at trials!


    • I agree with you about Leanne. I think she’s a perfectionist who has confidence issues. When she performs, you truly see a glimpse of greatness at least once per meet. I feel like she and DiCello doubt themselves, maybe question their ability, and just overthink. McCallum is coming back from injuries and it seems like she has been struggling to get back to her pre-covid level of difficulty. She seems a little more inconsistent than even pre-covid, though, which is concerning. I agree with Lauren about Malabuyo potentially being a complete wild card for the team. Beam and floor both used to be her best routines, which just happen to be what the US team needs the most. A 13.5 floor won’t cut it though. She used to be capable of 14.0ish on floor. If she can bring her floor back up to that level, stay consistent on beam, she could have a real chance.

      The top 2 AA + whoever makes up the highest scoring team as Tom said right now would be the top 3 as mentioned by everyone, plus Skinner. She contributes on just one event. We have 3-4 gymnasts who are capable of much more, but are holding themselves back due to inconsistency. I think the 4th gymnast will be someone who can throw an ok vault and contribute well (14.0+) on 2 other events. DiCello, McCallum, Wong, and Malabuyo have the ability to do that, they just have to prove it.


      • “Perfectionist with confidence issues” is the perfect description of Leanne in competition. She has it in her to be GREAT. It bums me out that she hasn’t made a single worlds team with all she is capable of. A difference between Leanne and Grace that I noticed when going back and watching the broadcast is that after a fall, Grace can just kind of brush herself off and laugh, but Leanne goes into full-blown rage and probably kicks herself repeatedly for not living up to her standards. Which really sucks. That’s very much my personality, so I get it, hahaha…I’d hope they’re working with a sports psychologist to try and drill it out of her because brushing off a fall and moving on is really what athletes need to do in a sport like this, but yeah, it’s a bummer to see her looking so serious and even sometimes angry with herself when it’s only going to continue to hurt her. Like, balking a leap on beam is a silly mistake to be making at this stage in the game, but it’s also not the end of the world, and she just looked SO upset at the end of her routine, which can be a difficult attitude to shake when you still have to compete more events. It’s just a bummer, no other way around it.


    • I think Skinner’s more my personal choice based on her vault medal potential (and it would just be nice vindication after 2016 so that’s also playing into it for me if I’m being fully honest), but McCallum is my prediction for what the selection committee will go with. I’d be happy with either, and it’s a strong team regardless of WHO in this group fits into that fourth spot!


      • I hear you. So, looking back, do you think Skinner should’ve gone in 2016 over Gabby? I think they made the right decision, personally. Gabby was the reigning Oly AA champ, and literally rocked the quals…Aly just rocked it more lol. And Gabby had the bars bronze in her sleep, but apparently took an ambien in the finals lol. In all fairness, that Oly vault medal was also Skinner’s in her sleep.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. ‘inviting sentimental favorites over those who outscored them would go against everything we want and need this program to be held accountable for”

    Thank you for your analytical response. While it’s not surprising that USAG/Tom Forster botched the petition situation, I find it difficult to believe that they did not even attempt to control the narrative. Instead they opened all the doors and windows for the online gymnastics community (as well as some members of the press) to scream that by denying Morgan Hurd’s petition, the powers that be did so because of concerns about her activism. They missed the opportunity to focus the discussion on the actual gymnastics performed.

    More on Tom Forster and mismanaging Olympic Trials: Think back to the 1996 Olympics Trials when two of his gymnasts had falls and Tom flung himself down on the podium in teas. He and NBC made it all about his missed opportunity to coach an Olympic gymnast. I truly hope that NBC goes to their achieves and pulls up all the footage of his behavior from 1996.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! Totally agree with Forster completely mismanaging what should have been a super straightforward decision that he could have easily backed up with very valid reasoning. Instead, he created the messiest possible situation. It didn’t need to be this way. I doubt NBC would ever show him in a bad light considering NBC is basically the propaganda machine for USAG at this point…but would love to see his tantrum air during Tokyo hahaha.


    • You gotta give the guy a lil grace for 96. He REALLY hoped Kristi Powell could get on that team, and as her personal coach had an obvious personal investment. TBH, she was probably the most likely 1st alternate to get the call (0 clue who the alternates were then). But agreed on the lack of straight shooting regarding the whole trials petition sitch. It’s no elite gymnast’s 1st rodeo w bad news/not making the team.


  10. Finally someone talking sense!! I feel like the gymternet and all the blogs/podcasts I follow have been super emotionlly charged and volatile over this and I can’t really understand the controversy of Hurd not being selected??

    While I feel devasted for Hurd personally and sad for Memmel when I saw her video, at some point the field have to be narrowed. You, me, the gymternet, TF and USAG know that they have great potential, but, like you said, at some point you can’t actually go on potential and have to look at what they’ve actually scored ffs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree! It feels like 2019 world’s selection all over again when people were outraged that Forster chose the roster based on AA results, but I remain convinced that if Hurd had been in that sixth spot, no one would have minded. It feels like people are criticizing the process just because it excludes their sentimental favorite. I’m glad that Lauren pointed out how the selection process using objective criteria helped to maintain fairness for ALL of the athletes by eliminating any favoritism. Her example of Nastia in 2012 demonstrates that advancing athletes based on feelings, reputation, past results, etc, is a page straight out of Martha’s book. If Hurd (or Memmel or Hernandez) had been advanced instead of Miller or Fatta, that would have been unfair.

      Gym fans as a whole can be very fickle. We complain about not being considered a “real sport” when broadcasts are subpar, but then we turn around and raise hell because an athlete who had more falls than routines did not make the national team. I think also that we are so on edge from the events of the last five years that we are maybe looking for reasons to be outraged. I know Forster’s response was misleading, but I really feel like he can’t win. People are going to be unhappy no matter what he says or does. I feel like he was more protective of Hurd in that moment than her BFF Heath Thorpe was, who announced that her petition had been denied on Twitter moments after the meet concluded. I know he meant well, but that did not sit right with me at all. At any rate, I wish Hurd a speedy recovery. I hope to see her at World’s in the fall if that is still her goal, and definitely as a Gator for the next four seasons!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely thought Hurd was a better fit for the team in 2019 compared to two or three who ended up making it, and wasn’t it like a fluke fall on bars that kept her out of the running in the end? After never missing bars basically once all season?! But I do appreciate that this was a “hit when it counts” scenario and she didn’t while others who made it did, end of story. If that’s the rule, and if athletes know this going into the competition, then if they don’t do what is required of them, there shouldn’t be any special favors granted. Also agree that if Hurd HAD finished in the top 6 and wasn’t right for the team for whatever reason while someone else who was left off was a better fit, people wouldn’t have cared because she’s the favorite. If it had been someone like Skinner in this situation that Hurd is in now, people would be LOVING it and saying she didn’t doesn’t to go to trials…for many people it comes down more to favoritism and who they like as people more than it comes down to results, and that’s exactly why the national team leaders CAN’T show favoritism in terms of who they invite. It HAS to be based meeting standards and requirements, otherwise it’s like, who cares how anyone actually performs? But at the end of the day, this is a sport, and while it’s nice that Tom let Chellsie go to nationals despite not being anywhere near the required score, at some point you need to buckle down and follow the rules.


        • The top 6 AA at 2019 selection camp were selected, but keep in mind Skinner was fourth AA in that competition and Tom still put Skinner as the alternate (for those banking he’s definitely going to take the top 4).
          Also, Morgan at that meet. She did have a fall on bars to place last on that event, but she was also 7th on vault, 7th on beam and 10th on floor. There was no score justification to take her to 2019 Worlds. (And I think she’s fabulous and have had her on my 2021 Olympic team for 3 years).


        • I thought Grace did better than Skinner at podium in 2019 which is why he did what he did…. then again… who knows if maybe they already made up their mind beforehand about not letting skinner on the team?


        • Grace did better at Nationals where she was 3rd. Skinner did better at 2019 Selection Camp trials. Skinner was 4th a World camp trials, Grace was 6th. Jade was 5th.


        • I know what the scores are – I’m talking about the team puzzle and who fit it better. Based on the individual event scores, bars was the hole, with Suni the only real bar worker in the top six. Morgan fell on bars at the worlds camp, but out of six bar routines in 2019, that was her one missed routine, with the rest of her scores in the 14.25-14.7 range. She made more sense if they wanted to close the bars gap, and I think if it came down to a real team selection instead of just a straight top six, Morgan would have made it for bars. Not that it matters, because the team was going to win by a significant margin anyway, but Marta always preferred more of a balanced team, and similar to Gabby getting on the team in 2016 despite placing 7th AA because she filled an open bars gap, I think a selection committee that focused on this overall balance wouldn’t have taken Simone, Grace, MyKayla, Kara, AND Jade for the same team.

          But obviously the team selection all quad has been based on top AA, so there have been lots of bizarre decisions based on fluke trials falls, which is why Konnor McClain – one of the best juniors in the world in 2019 – missed out on the junior worlds team while Sydney Barros made it. Konnor had multiple falls and only placed tenths lower than Sydney with a fully hit program at trials, but because Sydney ranked higher, she got on the team because that’s the rule. I understand why they had this rule, for transparency and ‘fairness,’ but in many instances it’s led to teams that just don’t make sense.

          I enjoy putting teams together based on filling in gaps, but for the U.S. it really doesn’t matter because they’ll win regardless. They could’ve taken the last-place all-arounder at worlds trials in 2019 and won easily, so going with the straight top six worked even if bars was underwhelming and they had to use Simone in the TF instead of giving her a break, which they could’ve done with Morgan on the team over Jade.


    • Thank you! I also felt very emotionally invested in Hurd’s journey of the past…what, seven years now of her competing elite?! It’s heartbreaking that her Olympic journey has to end this way…but the reasoning is valid and if anyone else scored the way she did, it wouldn’t even be a question. Part of me really does want her to be “grandfathered in” to trials based on her accomplishments over the quad, but the other part of me is like, well, she tried, it didn’t work out, and those are the rules. I think leaving her out is a valid decision regardless of my feelings, but I do wish Tom had been more straightforward on the call. That’s literally my only issue with any of this. Like, you’re the boss, bosses have to fire people and then tell everyone the bad news, it’s part of the job! The team went from having Marta to the opposite of Marta. Would love to see someone take over who has the friendliness and low-key nature Tom has in terms of his relationship with the athletes, but who has more of the assertiveness Marta had when making the touch decisions. Passively accepting that the top all-arounders are simply the team with no thought going into it is like…not anything. You need to be able to pick who you think is the best, and then back up your decision with facts. It’s the WHOLE JOB.


  11. I personally think Hurd and Memmel and Hernandez should stick around for 2021 worlds. Probably all of the US Tokyo team will not attend 2021 Worlds. Also they will have more time to get their routines together and recover from any injury affecting them right now.

    Worlds 2021 will be quite interesting even if there is less high level gymnasts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would love to see all three stick around…and Skinner too, she’d easily be the top contender for vault gold, but I think she’s already said she’s done after the Olympic process. I know Hurd is doing the tour…and Hernandez too? I forgot if she was or not. But Memmel could have a legit shot, especially since so many of the top elites are ready to retire and move on to NCAA.


  12. Very well thought out article, Lauren. A couple things – Tom said there is a risk of taking two athletes on the 4 person team that have leg issues (i.e. Suni and Riley) because of all the pounding of the training and hard surface landings. So it sounds like he is thinking he needs a solid leg event person (like Skinner perhaps). Also, I hear so many people saying Grace is like Aly in that she is so consistent, etc. No offense to Grace, and I do think she has a good shot, but she has had falls at almost every competition, including Worlds. I think she gets that reputation because she is an even all-arounder without a standout event, and she has a very stable personality. But she does fall, and I have always thought she gets extremely overscored domestically. I think the only event she gets used in TF is vault so Suni doesn’t have to. Otherwise she is just a backup.

    I think Leanne is absolutely the most lovely of the 4 you mention, but she is just too inconsistent. You can see the nerves and pressure all over her face. I suspect she will be an alternate.

    Malabuyo was the most pleasant surprise of nationals. SO GREAT seeing her do so well and looking happy and healthy!


    • Yeah, I don’t understand the “Grace is the consistent one” storyline they’re pushing when she has been very inconsistent at worlds and at home…consistent on beam this season, sure, but her overall consistency historically is an issue and I think she tends to be a very nervous competitor when the pressure is on. I also wouldn’t use her anywhere but VT in a TF. Agree about Wong, too…she’s gorgeous but she hasn’t been able to upgrade to almost anything she’s been hoping to add for years now (the Amanar, the Ray dismount on bars, her floor passes) and the nerves definitely show with her a lot. None of the options are ideal based on what we’ve seen so far, but I think Skinner raises the team score slightly more than anyone else with her vault, and she’d also be a medal contender if she continues looking stronger than Carey has. She also knows what to do in a pressure situation. I wasn’t seriously considering Skinner before nationals, though still had her on my list, but now I’m like…damn, she actually does make the most sense in some ways?! It’s wild.


  13. I totally agree about the Nastia comparison. My only annoyance with 2012 was they pushed through nastia and used the narrative of her potential on bars and US needed her on bars when really the only place she seemed mildly in contention for was beam. I would have respected her attending and Chellsie being left out if they used beam as a big maybe for nastia Becusse she didn’t hit a single bar routine during her comeback. As much as I love Morgan Hurd and was definitely one hoping she’d push through to Tokyo, she said herself that the extra year off didn’t do her any favors and it’s too bad. And Laurie I don’t believe had a chance making it to trials either, I actually thought MAYBE chellsie would have an off chance over the other two actually. I’m excited to see how the team and individuals shakes out and who sticks around for worlds selection.


    • So, I saw Nastia warm up her bars at training a few times at nationals in 2012 and it looked AMAZING. Double front half and everything. The only thing I DIDN’T realize was that she was doing the routines in two pieces, and never once trained it all together. I feel like she legitimately could have had a 6.5 D bars routine with more time, and would have challenged Kyla for that UB/BB spot, but it was clear by trials that she still wasn’t putting full routines together. I guess there was some hope that in the couple of weeks between the two competitions, she’d build up into doing a whole routine? She came really far between classics and nationals…she didn’t compete bars at classics but she warmed up her pirouette series in training and when I asked if she had a full routine she said “not yet” so to see her get the full routine a couple of weeks later at nationals, I was like, oh wow, that was quick. After seeing her unable to add the dismount at nationals I really thought, well, if she came that far between classics and nationals, maybe she’ll be able to link the two halves of her routines by trials??

      Obviously it didn’t work out but I guess there was just that hope that she would be able to get there and serve as a specialist on two events in London and that’s why I wasn’t opposed to Marta giving her a trials spot. But I do think it raised the question of fairness because like…Chellsie ALSO trained multiple events at classics despite competing only beam, and she looked great, so where’s the benefit of the doubt for HER being able to get it together over the next couple of weeks despite her falls? “Potential” is really hard to judge, especially with these short gaps between competitions. Based on nationals in 2017 I didn’t think Morgan would make the worlds team, but with the month they had between nationals and camp, she managed to win camp outright and then become the world champion. But is two weeks enough to pull off something like that? In most cases I’d argue that it’s not.

      I thought Chellsie might make trials if she repeated on day two what she did on day one on vault and beam, but I never really had her as a serious contender. It’s been fun watching her come back to the sport at her age and after so much time away, and she said herself that she was doing this “just for fun” without caring about results, but obviously based on her video, she clearly really wanted to be in the mix. I hope she keeps going and adding on to what she’s doing.


  14. Thanks for this excellent analysis, Lauren. You touched on this a little bit but I’d love to know your thoughts about scoring at Nationals. I agree with you that the E scores were a little high across the board, but what I found particularly lacking was E-score consistency. The top contenders were getting fairly generous E-scores, while others (Hurd on floor and Emily Lee on beam come to mind) were seemingly being judged by a different panel! I hate the whole “the judges are propping up X gymnast!” discourse but the scoring did seem a bit off to me…


    • Thank you! I also think the judges were tougher/more realistic with some competitors than with others. I always feel like McCallum’s scores are a bit high, and while she’s technically very good, her scores still don’t seem to account for the mistakes she makes. She can have all of her landings on floor finish with hops and her chest at her knees, and still get like, a mid-8 E score, which is just mind-blowing. I think an 8.5 on beam, which I think she got both days, MIGHT be a little high, but I also know that the Olympic judges tend to be a lot more lenient than they were at worlds in previous years so maybe this will end up being achievable with hit routines…tbt to when they gave Aly Raisman something like an 8.7 E score on bars in Rio qualifications! So I don’t want to say “this score would NEVER happen at the Olympics” but yes, with stricter international judging, I do think McCallum’s scores would probably come off a little high…and probably a few others as well, but McCallum’s just stand out the most to me because she’s been consistently getting really high E scores her whole senior career, I think. Again, part of that is because she does have some really good technique and fewer built-in deductions, but I’d also be a teeny tiny bit worried that her scores at home wouldn’t carry over to an international competition.


      • Once again, I am 100% in agreement! I had the exact same thought about McCallum. It’s not that she *can’t* get those scores at the Olympics – like you said, flashback to the scoring in Rio being way less stringent than anyone predicted – but if you’re judging her through a more lenient lens, then the you have to do that for everyone. To use Hurd again as an example, it makes sense that her E-score on floor on Day 2 was .1 LOWER than McCallum’s even though McCallum almost fell on two passes. (Credit where credit is due though – Sarah Jantzi is great at designing routines with smart composition that minimize deductions.)


      • I think the thing that possibly justifies McCallum’s high E-scores on beam is the fact that she does very few skills – like acro-wise she only has three counting skills (aerial cartwheel+loso, and a forward aerial?) plus the candle mount and the dismount. So, fewer skills to take deductions from. And her dance elements are usually pretty well done (she even makes the wolf turns look decent).

        Liked by 1 person

        • I think this is exactly it. It’s the same reason Ragan scored so great on beam. Her routine was designed with less opportunities for deductions.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. “The best bars gymnast in the world could fall in qualifications and miss out on the final by a tenth while a gymnast who typically scores a full point lower than her makes it in, and that’s life – there’s no, “well, she could have been the bars champion if she hit, so why can’t we put her in the final anyway over this random gymnast who has no shot at a medal?”

    Roza Galieva has entered the chat…


    • I feel like this kind of happened in a way in 2008 where both Nastia and He fell in qualifications but still made finals. I know, by the rules, they weren’t just “given” a spot, but it always bugged me. You’re not supposed to be able to fall in Olympic prelims and still make finals.


  16. I am torn between skinner and McCallum. However, I would choose skinner. She has an AMAZING vault, and her floor and bars are improving. Also, I dont think it is likely that shed get 4th AA, but if she had one more point (so technically if she hadn’t fell on beam), she would have been 4th overall at nationals, showing that she is a top gymnast.


    • The total score for 4th-9th at Nationals are all separated by less than 1 point!! I just realized that this has not been mentioned enough! Incredibly close. Less than 1 fall separating 4th from 9th at Nationals and that is not for one competition day but that’s actually for 2two competition day!

      If you take out Emma 56 score on day 2, then you can see how much closer it is even!


    • I can’t wait till trials! I think that is when the pressure is on and those that can perform with confidence, leadership, and minimal mistakes deserve to make the team. We shall see but I am putting my $ on Skinner.
      She is so poised and such a leader and able to contribute in many ways just like Simone who is a given. Jordan has also impressed me and I feel like she will also score big at trials. Confidence is key! We all know as fans and ex gymnasts how mental this sport is. Sunni Lee is my other pick because of her dedication to this difficult sport with all going on in her life. She is truly a shining star. Also I do like Riley for her bars and hopefully she can get better for AA. Jade picked her fate already and should go the individual route. Good luck to the 2021 Olympic team. It is a fantastic journey for all!


  17. A slightly unrelated question: Do you know if the U.S. plans on entering any other competitions with television and an audience before Worlds or if the U.S. is going to Worlds for sure? I don’t know what USOPC rules are about Trials, but if the U.S. will be at Worlds (and if USOPC allows for it), I wonder about the wisdom of not letting gymnasts who have a chance at competing later in the season get a little more competitive experience. Obviously, this isn’t anything I’d consider in a normal Olympic cycle, but this year, I think if I was in Tom’s place, I would have been as lenient as humanly possible for Trials.


    • Trials will have both a live and a TV audience.



      And for my two cents’ worth: My instinct aligns with Lauren’s (and others’) that it’s between
      Skinner and McCallum for the 4th team spot (with Biles, Lee, and Chiles), and it probably
      totally depends on how each improves and hits at Trials. I think it would be nuts for
      Forster to put Carey in one of the team spots unless she actually comes in 2nd at Trials
      and doesn’t waive it, and if McCusker can show two strong bar routines at Trials, and
      particularly if she can add any other event, she strikes me as a lock.

      OTOH, it’s easy to make a case for Wong, Malabuyo. So hard to make a decision, but
      also hard to make a really bad decision.

      My personal wish would be that Skinner manages to clean up her floor form enough to
      make her a clearer choice (as legit medal contender on vault and solid contributor on
      floor), and that McCusker can show a half-decent beam routine, and make the choice
      easier. I share others’ concern that McCallum’s E scores won’t be quite so high with
      international judges.


      • Are we saying that Mccusker is now only going to do bars and beam and only going for the 2nd specialist spot or is she actually going to bring back AA to try to be top 4 AA?

        That would be a tall order this late for her i think to try to go AA


        • She was always planning to do AA this year, she didn’t do it at nationals because she got injured but she has a full AA set ready to go. I’m guessing that unless her injury is totally preventative, she’s going to try to do AA for trials in hopes of making the team. It would be a tall order if she was just deciding now to do AA after having only planned/prepared to do bars and beam, but that’s not the situation she’s in.

          Liked by 1 person

  18. It occurs to me that if the team ends up being Simone/Suni/Jordan/Riley, we could have another situation like the “dropping Aly’s 15.8 on vault” from 2012, except on bars. (On the other hand, though, that leaves them relatively weak on vault, so I’m not sure they’d go for it.)


    • Vt is still one of the higher scoring event, more so than bars which can have many deductions. If you gonna choose between a mccusker bars and a skinner vt for the 15+ score, i’ll pick skinner any day for being a more reliable 15+….


  19. Top 5 AA at OT and done. Sorry if that has shocking results.

    Put the least valuable of those 5 in a 3 up team combination in the off team spot, like Jade.

    One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.


  20. Amazing article Lauren! After reading your article I’m starting to wonder if the women’s program will ever have a decent team coordinator or high performance coach or whatever they are calling the leadership these days!


  21. Great article but I can’t see Skinner on the team , except maybe as an alternate, because I can’t get past all the sloppy form deductions she’s resurrected for Elite!

    Tom Farden must be crying in his soup watching her after cleaning her up at Utah … granted less difficulty there but she was still cleaner … and I don’t think she’s consistent in elite … never fell at Utah and has multiple in her elite routines… so take out what you fall on !

    I get that she’s a great tumbler but her form is so herky jerky and zero grace in the dance department (Carey too in that regard) that I can’t see her on the 4 person team .


  22. I have been thinking these past few days in regards to Hurd. I agree with the decision, I understand the opposite side as well. But man I cant help to wonder, if she did get a chance to make it to trials, what she would have looked like? Would it have lit a fire under her? Would she have worked her butt ? Would she have brought the fire to trials? Sigh, we will never know…


  23. I have fixed the US olympic trial selection procedure:
    – top 8 AA using an average of each gymnasts top 2 AA scores received at a USAG sanctioned event in 6 months before the olympics
    – top 3 on each event using an average of the gymnasts best 2 scores received at a USAG sanctioned event in the 6 months before the olympics
    – any olympic or world champion wishing to attend (excluding team gold)
    – the next ranked AA gymnasts to bring the total to 3x number of olympic spots available (if required)

    USAG please take note xx


  24. Pingback: Simone Biles lived, flourished and suffered under the Olympic microscope | Newsclay

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