Russians Win First Team Gold Since Soviet Era, U.S. Fights For Silver Without Biles

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Vladislava Urazova, Angelina Melnikova, Viktoria Listunova, Lilia Akhaimova

Before the women’s team competition last night, I said “I don’t care what happens, I just want an exciting final.”

Coming into the meet, despite Russia leading by over a point ahead of the United States in qualifications, I thought the meet was still the U.S. women’s to lose, but I also wondered if being dealt their first major loss since world championships in 2010 would fuel them or rattle them. In a way, it was kind of both.

No one could have anticipated Simone Biles coming down with a case of the twisties on the morning of the final, though. She was able to do a double layout on floor, but couldn’t work through a full-in, and she balked her Amanar in both warmups and in the competition, getting lost in the air and completing only one-and-a-half twists with a rough landing instead of nailing the more difficult one she’s capable of.

Part of why I thought the U.S. would come back from qualifications and win was because it was clear that with cleaned up landings on basically every event, Biles alone could add more than two points back to the team total, but something no one has really addressed about Biles until now is that putting the weight of the team on her back all of these years is absolutely too much pressure, no matter how good and far ahead of the game she is.

Yes, it’s factual that Biles on a fully hit day likely would have carried the team to gold, but constantly hearing things like “it doesn’t matter who else is on the team if Simone’s there” or “it’s okay that qualifications was rough, all we need is Simone to hit in the finals” is a lot. Even though even she has now fully bought into the GOAT promotion the press has put on her since dominating in Rio and mounting a successful comeback, all of the hype in the world won’t make someone infallible, especially on top of everything she’s been through to get to this moment.

With all of the pressure on Biles in general, and then the additional pressure to come into this final to be perfect on all four events (and as the anchor on three of them), it shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was to watch her lose control. With the Russians, for comparison, I feared that no matter how good they looked in qualifications, they were going to crumble on beam, and I also worried about the younger members of the U.S. team, but with Biles, I didn’t even have a question – she was going to hit, because that’s what she does.

Instead, we got the shock of our lives to see her struggle with her vault, and then to withdraw entirely, knowing that it would be too dangerous to bring her mindset over to her other events. We’ve seen her do this once before, at the U.S. Classic in 2013 when she pulled out of vault after struggling on the three vaults before, but she’s also pushed through rough meets before, so it’s clear that she knows and trusts herself and her mind well enough to realize when she can keep going and when she knows she’s done.

This is a rare quality in an elite athlete. It’s in their blood to go for broke, and too often when they need someone to tell them to step away, it doesn’t happen because medals are valued over an athlete’s physical and mental health. It was refreshing both to see Biles make that decision and to have a choice in the matter – if the same thing had happened in 2016, I’m not so sure she would have been allowed to withdraw, and if she had, I can only imagine the hell that would have awaited her.

USA Gymnastics has just announced that Biles has also opted to withdraw from the all-around competition, taking place on Thursday night in Tokyo. The decision comes “after further medical evaluation” with the release also stating that she is prioritizing her mental health and will continued to be evaluated daily to determine whether she will participate in next week’s individual event finals. Jade Carey, the individual athlete for the U.S. who qualified in ninth all-around, will take Biles’ place in the final.

Without Biles in the team competition, the three young members of the U.S. squad – Grace McCallum, Jordan Chiles, and Sunisa Lee – had to step up and fight on their own for a medal, with Biles their biggest cheerleader on the sidelines. McCallum was expected to lead off on all four events, and as the first to go up after Biles withdrew, she did look a little rattled on bars, but she brought in a great set to start the team off on beam, and though she had a few iffy landings on floor, she was able to fight through, and that’s what matters.

Chiles was only expected to compete vault and floor here, while Lee was only slated for bars and beam, and both did incredibly well on the apparatuses they subbed in on. Chiles was heroic on bars and solid as the anchor on beam, while Lee ended up posting the top floor score for the team. Chiles did sit her second-to-last floor pass – the front double full to full-in, which has caused her some trouble earlier in the season as well – and with the fall and without Biles’ score to raise them up, the U.S. team finished last on this apparatus, unable to take advantage of the Russians dropping two routines on beam.

But despite all of the drama, and despite missing out on what everyone has called “guaranteed gold” for the past five years, the U.S. team looked resilient and heroic in their fight, aptly naming themselves the Fighting Four when all was said and done. The women instead proudly celebrated winning silver, taking what was an unexpected and terrifying situation and doing everything they could to turn it around.

With Biles’ mistake on vault, the Russians picked up an unexpected early lead on this apparatus, and it’s something they were able to hold onto for the remainder of the competition, despite counting two falls on beam. As a whole, the Russians just look tighter, cleaner, and better than the U.S. women, most of whom do not possess the same quality in the majority of their skills right now.

Even on beam, the Russians looked very clean and strong aside from the falls, so while it was not the rotation they wanted, they were still able to come away with relatively good scores because of how well they were able to come back from those issues. They had mistakes, but it was not a meltdown, so in a meet where it looked like every tenth was going to count, Russia did a fantastic job to fight for everything they could.

The Russians had the lead by just eight tenths going into the final rotation, and it looked like floor would be a pretty comfortable outing for them given that they had a half-point lead over the Americans in qualifications on this event, and that was with Biles’ score counting. But they continued to compete like every step mattered, opting for a simple but tidy routine from Vladislava Urazova over a potentially higher-scoring – but nerve-wracking – routine from Lilia Akhaimova, who contributed the team’s top score on vault in the final.

Both Viktoria Listunova and Angelina Melnikova handled their routines with ease, knowing that if they simply hit, the gold would be theirs, especially after Chiles’ fall. Reminiscent of Aly Raisman in 2012, Melnikova burst into tears at the end of her set, knowing she had done everything she could, and when her score came in as a 13.966, the team was finally able to celebrate, winning the competition with a 169.528, nearly 3.5 points ahead of the United States at a 166.096.

This is the first gold medal for the Russian women since the Soviet countries last competed as the Unified Team in 1992. Since first competing as Russia in 1996, the women have won silver four times, including in 2012 and 2016, but even though they are technically representing the Russian Olympic Committee in Tokyo due to the Russian federation being banned due to doping, the Russian women are the ones who earned this medal, not their country or their NOC, and they are the ones who have made history by doing it.

As exciting as the race was between gold and silver, things were even wilder with the nations fighting for bronze, as China counting multiple falls throughout the night left the four next-best teams all within eight tenths of one another at the end of the meet.

The British gymnasts, who had a few falls in qualifications to finish sixth, saw an incredible performance from Alice Kinsella, who hit all four of her events to lead the team to bronze despite counting a fall from Amelie Morgan on beam. Going into the final event, bars, I didn’t think the Brits would pull it off, especially with France going to vault, and I had my bet on either Italy or France coming in for the victory, but with a lead-off hit from Jessica Gadirova followed by stellar sets from both Morgan and Kinsella, it was clear that the Italians weren’t going to be able to do quite enough on beam.

In the end, Great Britain – which also featured Jennifer Gadirova, back from injury and contributing great scores on three events – won bronze just under half a point ahead of Italy, securing the team’s first team medal since 1928, the first time women’s artistic gymnastics was contested at the Olympic Games, where the Brits also won bronze.

It was a remarkable and unexpected podium finish for the team that came into the Olympics under so much controversy as the selection committee opted to leave specialist Becky Downie at home in favor of a team that could best pull off a team medal. When most criticized the decision, it was using the reasoning that this team had “no chance” at a medal, but these young women – all first-year seniors this quad – proved everyone wrong, showing that nothing is impossible in this sport, even for the biggest underdogs.

I’m incredibly proud of these young women not only for pulling off a finish this strong, but also for doing it after facing outrageous hate from those who were disappointed about Downie not making it. Kinsella faced the worst of the public criticism, and when she stumbled in prelims due to an ankle injury that was causing her pain, the people against her being here laughed and called it “karma.” But Kinsella and her teammates all faced this truly horrible situation with incredible strength and grace, and no one looked happier than Kinsella when she finally got to stand atop the podium and call herself an Olympic medalist.

The Italians had great rotations on vault, bars, and floor, and were actually pretty comparable to the British women on every event, but the Brits were able to gain a slight edge on both vault and bars, which ultimately decided the meet. While Italy hit beam, there were a few too many wobbles, mistakes, and technical faults that kept them from scoring well there, so while they had a better overall score than the British women there, it was only by a few tenths, leaving them unable to completely take advantage of Morgan’s fall.

Fourth place is still a massive accomplishment for Italy. It’s the team’s best finish since Italy won silver at the Olympic Games in 1928, with the team’s seventh-place finish in London the strongest in the modern history of the sport. Even without standout Giorgia Villa, who was injured just prior to the team’s departure for Tokyo, the group of veteran four-time Olympian Vanessa Ferrari and her three young teammates – Alice D’Amato, Asia D’Amato, and Martina Maggio – proved that they are still one of the best teams in the world.

Also getting close to the podium were Japan in fifth with a 163.280 and France in sixth with a 163.264. Both counted mistakes, including a miss on bars from Murakami Mai for Japan and a weak beam rotation for France, but they still both had moments of brilliance, and showed that they too were medal contenders in this incredibly close race for bronze.

Perhaps not as shocking as what happened with the United States, but pretty close to it, was China not hitting anywhere near what the team is capable of. It all started with a fall on bars from Lu Yufei and continued with a weak floor rotation and two crashes on vaults, from Ou Yushan and Tang Xijing on their Yurchenko doubles. The team put up the top overall performance on beam, but even there, multiple missed connections, wobbles, and form issues caused scores to be lower than expected, though Zhang Jin deserves recognition for hitting her three events as best as she could, leading the team’s scores on vault and beam.

The Belgians, who surprised by qualifying fifth to make the team final, ended up eighth here, working with lower difficulty and counting two falls on top of a number of additional mistakes. Still, Nina Derwael was fabulous on her three events, matching Lee for the best bars score of the night with a 15.4, while Lisa Vaelen hit a piked rudi and a huge bars set to stand out as someone with massive potential for the future.

Still, it was a historic night for Belgium. The program’s highest team finish up until now was 11th place in 1948, the first time Belgium appeared at the Olympic Games for women’s artistic gymnastics. This is only the third time Belgium has qualified a full team to the Games, and it was fantastic to see them make such a big improvement over the past five years after finishing last in Rio qualifications, especially with such a young team.

The men compete in the all-around final tonight, July 28, while the women come back to competition on Thursday, July 29.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

51 thoughts on “Russians Win First Team Gold Since Soviet Era, U.S. Fights For Silver Without Biles

  1. No one in a million year would’ve predicted the TF finish even just the day before…. It is a strange new world!!!
    Congrat to ROC and UK!! and of course to US for putting up a fight all the way toward the end. The remaining 3 put up a heroic fight. I think US will definitely have a thought about the need to have a core back up built into the team for all 3 performing all 3 in a 5 person team for the future even with a 5 person team?
    It is def shocking to see what happened to biles…. She did say there were time when she completely forgot how to twist in the gym before It sucks it happened at this time, but if you cant do it safely, then you need to make the hard decision to pull out and try to salvage the situation as much as you can. I am sure she is completely devastated on the inside even if it looks like she coping with it somewhat ok right now?

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    • They have consistently made sure there is a built in alternate when the team format means not everyone will compete AA. For instance, in 2016 Laurie was known to be a strong all-arounder and while Madison was thought of as a bars specialist, she had placed 5th AA at US Nationals and 8th AA at Trials. She only vaulted a Yfull so she would never have been a first choice for vault, but she could still be used in a pinch. This is most likely why she made the team over Ashton Locklear, who did not train vault or floor at all.

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    • Yes, people who are thinking “baseball and football players don’t walk off the field and leave their team in a lurch if they don’t feel good” aren’t getting it. It’s not just the safety comparison. It’s an equipment thing. Because a baseball player WOULD walk off the field if he found himself out there without a glove. And he’d do it because he would be out on the field missing a necessary piece of equipment to perform the sport, and because him being out there without a glove would HURT, not help, his team. A football player would walk off the field if he found himself out there with no pads on. (Actually, in college football, you’re REQUIRED to leave the field for one play, whether you want to or not, if your helmet falls off.)
      Air-sense is a necessary piece of equipment in gymnastics. If you are missing it, you do yourself and your team no favors, by staying on the floor.
      Does anyone remember when Tatiana Lisenko’s grip ripped in the middle of her bar routine at 1991 Worlds? She walked off the podium and did not complete her routine. No one said, well why didn’t she just TRY to finish it without a grip on? No one said that, no one thought that. No one called her a quitter. It was just easily recognized she’d had a malfunction with something that made it unsafe and impractical, and nearly impossible to do the skills in her routine without it. Lisenko could not find another grip and put it on in the time required, so she didn’t finish.
      Simone basically had a mental grip-rip. She did not have her air sense. It is a necessary component of doing skills. She could have TRIED to complete a routine, and it would have been about as successful as Lisenko trying to finish bars with one grip hanging off her wrist. Simone’s grip just ripped, mentally, and she couldn’t “replace” it in time for the rest of finals.

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      • I get what you´re trying to mean, I understand, but Lissenko went off the podium of bars finals in 1991 because she broke a pair of fingers of one hand.

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        • She didn’t know her two fingers were broken in that moment, though. She just knew she had a ripped grip and a jammed hand. Gymnasts compete (whether wisely or not) on stress fractures and broken toes all the time. Basically because the adrenaline is there and they don’t realize how injured they are. Gymnasts don’t continue with broken equipment. But yes, you are definitely correct, it did turn out she had fractured her fingers. But in the moment, video wise, she was just shrugging about a grip issue. You can see she wasn’t even feeling pain (adrenaline probably) in the moment. She was just, yeah, this is ripped, I’m done. (P.S. Awesome memory, you! You knew she not only jammed fingers but “a pair” because, yes, it was exactly two of them. Thanks, I love I’m not the only one who recalls the details of these things)

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  2. French MAG Loris Frasca suffered from this “twisties” this year. He was once a hopefull for at least VT EF (two 5.6 D vaults) but things didn’t turn out well at Euros first and then at Nationals in june. Scored a 0 on VT and said he had lost his sensations on this event. Finished 23rd out of 24 on VT here …..

    I don’t know if Biles suffered from “twisties” . I would say she is suffering from some form of burn out. Just too much everything.

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  3. I especially love the Brit team. The grace they demonstrated during post game interview was so moving that I wetted my eyes. Good for Simone to withdraw from AA. This is a wise decision.

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  4. While she was clearly not together, I do wonder if she chose to withdraw from the AA or if it was PR pressuring her since she’d never hear the end for ‘bailing’ on the team, but then doing the ‘selfish’ AA. I might be low balling them, because I can’t believe they’d be ridiculous enough to not realize that everything blows over in the court of public opinion, and this is THE AA (see: Dalaloyan). But we’ll see if she does EF’s. I just hope she doesn’t do anything if she doesn’t feel she can do it safely.

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    • I see the PR angle. But let’s be honest, how important is the PR angle to the Powers That Be compared to the medal count angle, and a capable Biles competing vs. Carey competing is a much stronger medal count likelihood.

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    • I doubt its PR. No one in their right mind if they have the capability, would give up the chance to defend and win the AA if they could. I think she really feel that she can’t do it safely or anywhere close to where she supposed to be.

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  5. This “twisties” thing sounds terrifying and if that is what happened I can understand why she withdrew. It literally is a physical problem, brought on by a mental situation. I think the problem for Biles is that she’s just not being honest about what is going on, instead giving vague comments about “pressure”, which makes it sound more like she didn’t want to compete vs she can’t compete. And it makes it look like she left her teammates in the lurch because she’s selfish. Does she owe the world an explanation? She would say no but being the face of gymnastics I would say she (or her coaches, or Tom) owes more of an explanation than she’s giving if she wants to avoid the negativity she’s now getting. Yes she’s under insane media pressure, but she’s also been a willing participant in that pressure. The rhinestone goats on her Leo’s, the millions of media appearances and endorsements, the crazy new skills she developed to get her name on them, the docuseries she did…she rode that media train. Maybe someone….parents, friends, coaches, USAG…lol, okay probably not USAG but the others….should have helped her put the brakes on it all and brought her back down to earth. But they didn’t. And now she pulls out citing “pressure” which sounds and looks ridiculous given the media and “goat” madness she’s willingly participated in. That is why she’s getting negative pushback. That’s just my opinion, I’m sure others have their own.

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    • I mean, re: riding the media train, I have a lot of sympathy for her on that front from a financial point of view. It’s really hard to make money out of gymnastics in the long term. Lots of gymnasts give up their education in order to compete, and given the high risk of long term injury, I imagine finding work post-gymnastics is tough (and, in the US with their medical system, absolutely necessary in order to afford healthcare). Simone after 2016 was the face of gymnastics, she was so popular and so beloved – it’s so rare for an athlete to hit that level of renown. If I knew that my ability to work in future was going to be hindered by my youth spent in gymnastics, I’d definitely be taking all the PAID media and promo work I could in my late teens/early 20s in order to build savings. I think there’s a discussion to be had about the difference between big, high-paying professional sports like soccer or basketball, as compared to sports that really only get popular during the Olympics in terms of ability for the athletes to profit off their sports career long term. Gymnastics is Simone’s full time job, and if riding the “GOAT” media train is the way to build a savings account and make sure she can afford life post-gymnastics, then good for her. I wish other Olympic athletes could have the same opportunity.

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      • That’s a fair point. In many European countries gymnasts get paid an actual salary for being gymnasts. We don’t have that in the United States, so I understand the desire and need to capitalize on ones name to build a bank account. Unfortunately, there comes a situation like what Simone finds herself in now…where taking a step back because of pressure leads to backlash because she willingly put herself in that position with the media. hopefully it sparks a conversation about the real worth of these amateur athletes.

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        • I agree so much re: how the US system pushes athletes into the spotlight, how they have to stay there in order to actually make any money from gymnastics, and how this leads to a disproportionate amount of pressure and backlash. I’d hoped the media would’ve learned after the absolutely cruel treatment of Jordyn Wieber after she was 2 pc’d out of the AA In London – the world did not need to see that many photos of a crying teenage girl, and Jordyn only had one year of reigning champion expectations compared to Simone’s 5+. It must be hard for courting the media to be one of your main ways of earning money, which in turn generates tremendous pressure to perform. The European salaried system sounds like a really good compromise, and I really hope all of this generates a conversation about how best to remunerate elite athletes to prevent the pressure to court the media, and how to prepare them for life post-gymnastics to prevent the pressure to build savings while you’re still a teenager, especially in the US!

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      • Yes, there is something weird about so many gymnastics fans, as has been for years, when a gymnast starts to actually make money after spending years and hours and paying huge amounts of money to get good at their sport. It’s like gymnastics fans have an aversion to gymnasts once they actually become successful and are able to cash in.
        So many people are commenting as if Simone is just some random person who a good fairy walked up to and said, here, how about we give you a ton of cash and 3 million automatic social media followers, oh, and we’ll throw in the automatic ability to do high level skills.
        Simone was not handed endorsements or fans or high level skills. She labored and trained and beat pressure for years in order to master amazing skills and win medals. Only after she did that, did she earn media, fame, ads, and money.
        She earned media, ads and money because of what she HAD done successfully. No one just handed her ad opportunities and privileges for no reason. They are a reward for what she already did, not an IOU for future performances.
        If you’re a nice, fun, enjoyable person, you might get asked out to dinner by someone you like. That’s you getting dinner and a date because of who you are. Great. The person taking you out to dinner is not then owed a “performance” from you at the end of the night.
        Simone already earned her ads and fame and money and fans. She owes no one anything for them.

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    • Would you not have eaten up the media train when it’s your bread n butter? Trust, Simone has to take accountability, but only for her hand in it. You don’t think USAG was constantly telling her ‘it’s great for the sport’? Tim n Nastia can’t let Nagorny do a tumbling pass on fx w/o mentioning how great Simone is! The results literally spent the last 2 quads on her back (2016 team would’ve still won w/o her) but that media train is a toxic ride.

      Besides, a lot of the backlash she’s receiving is from ppl who have been WAITING for a chance, TO FIND A CHANCE to attack her. She’s the gymnastics Lebron.

      I’d love for her to come grab some medals in EF’s, but I, being a sensible person, and not in her shoes, am perfectly ok if she’s on the next flight to Texas.

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    • Yeah, the messaging has done Simone no favors. The issue at hand seems to be aerial disorientation, and you really cannot do gymnastics in the midst of that. I don’t see why that isn’t the entire line they’re taking (especially as it’s the truth!)

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  6. The Tremendous Three would be more accurate, but, meh. Never can completely know what is actually going on in someone else’s head. Was it a temper tantrum for a poor vault result? Was it, ‘I’m not doing this for myself, so I’m taking a step back (and leaving the team high and dry)’? Was it truly, ‘I don’t feel physically safe, because of a bad headspace’? We’ll never know. Whatever the case may have been, it takes a boss to step away and say I’m sitting the rest of this out.

    Either way, according to BBS, she’s not doing the AA either, so Jade Carey will be our 2nd AA’r. Which, if you look at the US routines in Tokyo versus in the US nationals and OTs, you’ll see how messed up US scoring has been in favoring ‘the favorites’ as pointed out in the blogs here and elsewhere. We would not have had this team if those had been scored correctly and teams chosen based on scores, regardless of what happened in Tokyo. I don’t care about medals, I care about integrity for our athletes and the sport.

    That all said, the top 3 were the real top 3 teams and I’m happy for all of them. I hope Simone is okay, but I also hope people don’t vilify or applaud her – we don’t know and never will know what motivated her decision. As the Golden series on Peacock showcases, the sport is still toxic beyond words and these athletes are incredibly damaged by the leadership, coaches, parents and by the media. It’s all terribly tragic and we need to do better.

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  7. Sooo. We can assume that Tom is out. The only person I think who has a rep and could step in, imho, is Kelli Hill. Granted, she’s Kayla’s coach, but she has wanted to retire from coaching for the last decade, and I think Dawes was stretching her ‘tough times’ for a sound bite. Ppl have discussed their disappointment in her minimizing how trash camp was at the ranch, but literally no one else has had a bad thing to say about her as coach/leader.

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    • Kelli Hill will cause an uproar over the things she said when all the stuff starting coming out etc. Dawes would have a lot to say as well.

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      • All she did was say ‘it wasn’t that bad’. I think ppl were quick to persecute because of what the gymnasts had been through. Ppl weren’t yet separating issues. And again, I think Dawes was reaching. She literally gave Kelli Hill her 2000 team bronze medal, and thanked her every chance she got. Kelli Hill probably has the highest AFTER ABUSE, transfer ratio. Elise Ray and Courtney Kupets have nothing bad to say about her, and neither did Dawes before it became a thing to speak out about abusive coaching practices. I am Dawes’ biggest fan, and I will debate you down about her as a talent, but she is def a ‘media milker’.

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        • From memory, Kelli Hill’s “it wasn’t that bad” was not about LN, but in response to complaints about the housing accomodations and food at the Rickety Ol’ Ranch. As in, you got creaky cabins with spiders and bland chicken and carrots for dinner, but i”t wasn’t that bad”. And in, you got beds, foods and facilities, compared to Belarussin gymnasts training full floor routines on vault runways because Piskun’s gym didn’t have an actual floor mat, so the ranch set up, in comparison, wasn’t THAT bad.
          It just wasn’t a wise time to respond in any situation related to USAG at that time.
          Dawes is one of my favorite gymnasts of all time. I hope she’s doing well. But Kelli’s comments to her, when Dawes could have won 1993 worlds and crashed it, were always so inspiring to me. They were so positive and loving and uncalculated. It seemed like pure focus on building up her athlete.
          (This is not to discount something from Dawes that I’m not aware of, just to say that moment at the 1993 Worlds, Kelli was really inspirational to me, about how to find joy in failure, and it’s a moment I’ve always loved. I’ve recalled it often in life and it’s one of the most inspirational “failures” I ever witnessed, and it helped me in the future, the way Kelli responded to Dawes’ fall at that time. The “you should be proud of yourself right now” and “look at how well you did to even be in the position to win gold” expression was really nice in 1993. It’s a positive moment that’s inspired me since.

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        • I agree 100% @square444. It was a terrible time to chime in while gymnasts were finally having opinions and saying more than ‘I just wana go 4 for 4’. I think to paint her w the problematic brush for ill timed commentary is really dismissive of her overall career and reputation.

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    • Gonna have to start from square one. I’d agree Tom didn’t work, so… back to the drawing board.

      I’d say not the worst position to be in if I had even a shred of confidence in USAG, which has barely even begun to address the evils they propagated, much less renounce them.

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  8. Does anyone know the rules about when an alternate can be subbed in, or know where we can get more information on this? I thought I once heard after quals, an alternate can’t be subbed into the competition. If so, after quals can one of the individual specialists be subbed in. That seems unfair for the teams that don’t have individual specialists. I’ve been trying to find more details on the rules related to that, but can’t find anything.

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    • i think they changed the rule due to covid to allow last min sub as long as you have someone available even after qualification this year. Although I am not sure if the rule change was enough to allow for a skinner or carey sub into the team on the morning of TF if that was the theoretical question (that hypothetically simone was so out of it during morning practice)?
      I would be very interested in knowing what the morning practice was like. She said her mind just got worse in between the morning and the start time….
      Maybe Lauren can also jump in on this?

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      • Also, if they had withdrawn and replaced her for the TF, would that have meant she was out for the individual finals? Because, while at this point it looks like that might happen anyway, yesterday morning I can see how they wouldn’t want to rule out individual finals when a capable Simone is such a medal get. Maybe wishful thinking, but I can see it.

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        • Carey earned her spot for herself whereas USA earned the other spot for any athlete they picked which happened to be Skinner. So if Carey were to be placed on the main team, they would’ve lost a spot altogether. Now for the spot the USA earned, the decision regarding which athlete gets this spot is finalized 24 hours prior to qualifying, at which point the individual athlete would be unable to be on the main team. So even if Simone made her decision before team finals they would be unable to enter Carey or Skinner in. Simone is of course eligible to be in event finals if she is able to do so.

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        • There is this additional policy change but i don’t really think it applies in this case either. So I am thinking that when whatever happened to simone happened, there is really nothing they can do with regard to the team composition even if it was positively identified before the start that she was likely unable to contribute to the team, aside from just not having her competed and having everyone else taken up all doing all 4 events.

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  9. I wonder if this is going to start becoming a thing. Gymnasts from the USA program, scratching in the middle of competition because they start to fall apart mentally? Would this all be applauded right? Or should this be a component worked on so this type of thing wouldn’t happen?

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  10. What is the official story on Biles though? I see everyone want’s to applaud her and make this a mental health afterschool special awareness week. Which I get. Fine, but if its a mental block or the twisties, that can happen to anyone, it has no rhyme or reason at times. So she legit cant do it. If that is in fact the reason, and she has a mental block and cant seem to twist, that means she legit cannot do it. She has no choice but to remove herself. How is that brave? SHE HAS NO CHOICE. Its not brave! IF THATS THE REASON. If it is not that, and its other mental things I get that. Good for her. The different narratives are confusing.

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    • That’s why she’s getting so much negativity. All she and the team are saying is it’s “emotional”. Ok, that can mean a lot of things. And it’s making her look bad because people are questioning why the media attention and “goat” narrative was okay when she was making money off of
      It. But now she wants to blame that same media for her downfall without acknowledging she had a part in it. If it was a mental block just say it was a mental block…these things can happen to anyone. But don’t blame the media for pressure that she willingly took on. It’s just making her look worse.

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    • I think the bravery angle is that she withdrew for her safety instead of giving into the pressure to compete despite the danger. (And a credit to Tom’s WAG, the pressure from the org/coaching staff to continue competing anyway didn’t actually seem that strong- just my perception, could be wrong.)

      But I agree the whole “she’s so brave!!!!” thing is annoying. She shouldn’t be pilloried as a villain or lauded as a hero. She’s an athlete who couldn’t compete safely and so didn’t. I wish “wise” or even “sensible” was the adjective people had come down on.

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      • I do love the word “wise” to describe her actions. It’s very apt. But some of the “bravery” adjectives are probably because it’s very common for athletes, particularly gymnasts, not to take the wise or sensible route.
        And, again, no one knows for sure why things like the twisties or the yips happen. It’s not a simple answer and that’s why we’re getting different explanations and different reasons because no one really knows, including the athletes. It’s probably a combination of things.
        Also, saying you feel pressure from the media and hype doesn’t mean the media is wrong for hyping you up, or that you were wrong for taking endorsements and building a brand. It just means that it creates pressure, of course, and you’re saying that pressure ended up affecting you. You can have a cause without a villain.

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  11. I mentioned this on yesterday’s post as well, but I think it’s worth noting that Simone has said that she felt that withdrawing was in the best interest of herself AND the team, because if she went up and hit three more routines like she did on vault, it would’ve pulled the team down compared to what Chiles or Lee could do. This wasn’t a case of choosing herself at the expense of the team (although given the risk of injury, it would be understandable for her to decide it wasn’t worth it regardless); she felt that she couldn’t do right by them either.

    Regarding the injury aspect, I feel like this attitude has been around for a while; I remember that a few years ago, an American football player was harshly criticized for choosing not to do something during a big game that would put the player at major risk of injury, and this was a player with a bad track record of major injuries. I do understand that it’s a little different because American football is a contact sport where getting hit by opposing players is part of the game, but still, there were more than a few people literally saying he should have been willing to get injured to save the play. To me, there’s something inherently messed up about that.

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    • If she feels that her next 3 routines in TF would’ve scored just like that vt, then she made the absolute right decision to withdraw for the team’s benefit (aside for her own safety)!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Thanks for an excellent article yet again Lauren. I was not aware that the British team had faced such criticism and especially Alice. I was aware that leaving out Becky Downie was controversial but to take it out on Alice is ridiculous and repugnant and those that did such a thing should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. The decision of who to take on the team has nothing to do with Alice! I have followed Alice’s work for a few years and always found her an excellent gymnast and comes across as a delighful person in interviews. I feel so disappointed this has happened to her. The gymter-verse can reflect the worst of humanity at times.

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    • This has been an issue for multiple players in past years; I remember Lauren mentioning similar situations about Gabby Douglas and Marisa Dick last time around. I think there really needs to be more of a clear line drawn that it’s okay to take issue with decisions made by teams, but blaming the athletes who benefit from questionable decisions is just taking that frustration out on an easy target; we all know full well that the athletes have no part in making these decisions, and it’s not at all fair to blame someone for being the beneficiary of someone else’s iffy choice.

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  13. Simone came into the 2020 Olympics with a lot of expectations/pressure on her. But she had the same at the 2016 Olympics as well. As did Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. I wonder if all three being on the same team helped diffuse those expectations for all of them individually while in Rio? Made them more manageable for each other. Without even realizing it. Whereas Simone is bearing them alone in Tokyo.

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    • I think when Forester was first hired, they specifically wanted someone who wasn’t associated with the Karolyis, which I can understand after what happened with Valeri Liukin, and Mihai was probably seen as being a little too closely linked to them. However, if he’s available now, they ought to at least invite him in for an interview, since based on what we know about him, it seems like he’s figured out that middle ground of coaching where he can be firm and push the athletes when necessary without being abusive or pushing them TOO much. (I know we never really know what goes on behind closed doors, but what makes me think Mihai is more likely to be for real is that Aly, who’s been so outspoken about all the problems she encountered in her gymnastics career, has never had a single bad word to say about him.) I feel like at this point, particularly with his stint in Australia, he’s established his coaching identity separate from the Karolyis to the point where I think he can make the case that he’d be starting his own chapter rather than being a continuation of the Karolyi system.

      It’s too bad, though, that Aimee Boorman probably doesn’t have enough experience (i.e. she hasn’t coached at the elite level for that many years) to be seriously considered for the role, because she’s someone who really seems to have that balanced middle ground figured out.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Tom’s only experience is just being around long enough that wasn’t around controversy. It was like, “we’ll take him.” Someone made an excellent point earlier regarding a question about one of Grace’s beam scores. If there was a question on a D score, the national team coordinator better be all over it. Tom isn’t aggressive in these situations, and this is a perfect example of why he is a terrible choice to continue. A national team coordinator (high performance coordinator sounds dumb) needs to fight for their athletes. I can see him just shrugging his shoulders and buying everyone ice cream and cotton candy instead. I understand the abusive criticism surrounding the Karolyis, but EVERY top coach who has the experience was “connected” to them somehow. I am also not going to condemn the Karolyi way of training. People need to extract the training methods that did work and produced top notch CONFIDENT gymnasts minus the verbal abuse and starvation tactics. In fact, I think someone who had some Karolyi contact is going to be best suited without having to be defined by their experience.

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        • I agree, but I think that’s where the Valeri Liukin situation factored in; the original thought was that he’d be a coach who was similar to the Karolyis but without their negative practices, and then it came out that he actually did use a lot of those same negative practices. And while all the coaches obviously had a Karolyi connection in the sense of their gymnasts working with Marta at training camps, I believe Mihai had more of a relationship with them than just that and was therefore a little bit more closely associated with the Karolyis than most coaches, so that could have been a part of it. (Also, I think Mihai might have already accepted the job in Australia by the time Valeri was ousted? If so, that explains why he wasn’t an option then.)

          And yeah, Forester’s level of experience leaves something to be desired (understatement), but I feel like that’s just more reason they’re not going to hire a less experienced coordinator the next time around. Now, I think Boorman has shown signs that she can be much better than Forester, but her having a lack of experience when they’re still dealing with the fallout of the previous guy not having enough experience isn’t likely to work in her favor. And that’s assuming she’d even want the job, which she might not.

          Liked by 1 person

  14. At this point all of my questions and concerns about Simone have been addressed. I am fully at peace with her decision to preserve her health and wish her the best.

    Not so much with various elements of the media trying to politicize it (in either direction) but I suppose that’s irrelevant.

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  15. Somebody (here’s looking at you, Tom) should have been thinking that the US women’s
    biggest ammunition in 2012 and 2016 was having multiple really strong vaulters and
    floor workers, good strength in beam, and okay bars. But this time around, two teams
    (Russia and France) had the same total start value in vault as the US, even if Biles
    had in fact done the Amanar. Clearly Akhaimova was there to counter Biles on vault,
    with here teammates there to just do their thing and hope that their combined
    strength on bars and beam (where they did outscore the US in qualifying)
    would counter a possible US advantage on floor. Great strategy in qualifying, and
    worked out in finals even with the disastrous beam rotation. Even if Biles had been
    able to compete, it would have been a toss-up. Maybe Tom should have
    been thinking about encouraging encouraging Skinner to do the World Cups, and
    put Carey on a World team with an eye to her working on her all-around skills
    as well?

    The Wednesday (7/28) New York Times sports section had a great graphic that
    lays out all 24 scores in the final (can’t find it online, unfortunately). If you get a chance to
    look at it (perhaps at a local library), it makes some things clear, like the effect of the
    Chinese dreadful vault rotation (it looked to me like the two gymnasts who did DTYs
    were just chucking them and hoping for the best), and the fact that Derwael’s beautiful
    bars routine was “averaged out” by Verkest having the lowest bars score of the night,
    and the great boost to the Russians in having the 3rd, 4th, and 5th best bars scores,
    all between 14.85 and 14.95.

    An exciting but strange final. Who would have predicted the US being last in the field
    on floor, or the Chinese being 7th out of 8 on bars?

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