August 23, 2015

On Kyla, Gabby, and How It Doesn't Really Matter

It occurs to me I never wrapped up my thoughts on the national championship, so here are just a few behind-schedule cognitive tangles about that competition before we move on to remembering that there are still two more national team camps before the WC squad is named and two more months until the actual competition.

On day 2 of nationals for the women, the world righted itself, with most of the competitors remembering that hitting routines is a thing you should probably do. It also reinforced why prospective team selection is such a fun game. There are a TON of realistic permutations for Worlds teams this year, all of which will end up scoring very similarly to one another, and some of which belie visual impressions from the competition. But which one do you choose?

Take Kyla, for example. Expectations are a funny thing. Kyla has been a top-2 AAer for the US this whole quad, majoring in not sucking at bars. So when she suddenly has a nasty Nationals and looks weak on bars, the sky is falling. That was certainly the attitude of our broadcast team. Al was even asking whether Kyla would make the selection camp. (Tim was like, "Derp. Obvi she's making the selection camp.") Yes correct, Tim.



But to me, and contrary to the overall tone of things, Kyla helped her chances to make the team with her performance on day 2 of nationals. At least, she made an argument for including her in the squad that she didn't make on day 1. No, bars is not happening. But at this moment, it's not really about bars for her. That's the big change in expectations we have to make. With her current routine composition, Kyla isn't making the team to do bars in TF even if she shaves several inches off her height and lands a dismount. (If she returns to her planned 6.3 and can hit by selection camp, it's a different story, but that's a lot to do.) Right now, it's about beam. That's where she can be top three. And she stepped up like hell there and did her job on day 2.



In fact, because she did her job (scoring several tenths ahead of a connection-free Aly Raisman and a strong Alyssa Baumann, and a point ahead of a wobbly Gabby Douglas), suddenly a team with Kyla on it makes a little sense now and outscores many of the other permutations. At least on the day. Playing the same game I did for day 1 scores, here's the way some possible teams stack up according exclusively to their day 2 scores. 

August 14, 2015

Splatfest 2015



I like to consider myself a connoisseur of splatfests. It is my calling. And the first day of women's competition at the national championships last night was a truly lovely vintage. It wasn't quite 2000 Trials level (that's an unrealistic standard to which to hold other competitions—we can't all be 2000 Trials), but Aly Raisman did fall on a split jump, so it was pretty competitive. During the meet, I may or may not have started singing "Car Wash" but with "splatfest" instead of "car wash."

Now, except for Maggie Nichols continuing to be a Solid Sandy and confirming her place in the new world order, and Simone Biles just casually throwing out the best E score of all time (have we confirmed that? I think it is, beating Nastia's beam 9.800 at 2008 Pacific Rims, but has anyone scoured the records to make sure?), this meet will probably end up counting as an incomplete. For the rest of you, we'll pretend it never happened and just start over tomorrow.

But, what I love about this splatfest most of all (other than how PISSSSSSED Aly and Simone looked the whole time—heartwarming) is that it throws some serious doubt onto that pre-summer presumptive team of Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Nichols, Key, Ross. Primarily because of bars. (And also maybe because of Alyssa Baumann...pleeeeeassse?)

There are still a million things that can change between now and the selection camp. Kupets will make a comeback. The Worlds team will be reduced to 2 and a half members (2 AAers and then whatever is left of Madison Kocian's legs after this weekend). But, as we stand right now, that presumptive team has some pretty large cracks in it. Let's talk about that to make this summer of selection a lot more interesting than it has been so far. At least until tomorrow, when everything will change again. I fully own the flippant and mercurial attitude I bring to team selection.



How do you solve a problem like Kyla? That's not really the Sound of Music reference I would have expected to need to use about Kyla. She's supposed to be the Edelweiss of USA Gymnastics. But her bars are turning into an issue. Partly because of the falling (this routine doesn't make me feel warm and safe like a sweater the way her 2012 routine did), but mostly because of the potential score even when she does hit. Give her back a point for the fall yesterday, and she's still in 7th on bars, well behind several of the bars specialists contending for a spot. Her difficulty is down to 6.0 from the more competitive 6.3 she was planning, and that's not a good sign. She needs a selection camp step-up in that regard.

July 29, 2015

Everything's Going To Change Now, Isn't It?

First things first, Simone Biles is going pro and will not compete in NCAA. It's a completely understandable decision. In her specific case, the lure of going pro is virtually undeniable. Unlike some other pro gymnasts who commit to an NCAA program as a clear Plan B if things don't work out, I get the feeling that Simone really did want to compete for UCLA but was in an untenable position. Let's direct our fury at the antiquated, unrealistic rules that require her to choose in the first place.

It is a positive for the profile of gymnastics as a whole in the United States to have someone as successful and marketable as Simone able to take advantage of everything being a professional athlete entails. If everything goes to plan, she's going to be a damn star, with her dominance, cheerful personality, and natural presence in front of a camera (she's not one of the I'm So Honored robots, and I hope they don't turn her into one). Usually I rail against people going pro at this point in the quad because you just don't know what's going to happen, but everyone and their dog knows Simone is going to the Olympics if she's healthy, so this isn't like a Bieger situation.

But mostly, I want to take this opportunity to talk about the new NCAA rules, which are finally published and official. (Thanks to super sleuth Cordelia Price for the twitter red alert.) Take a look. This is basically just confirmation of the information that circulated a few months ago, but now it's all real, and we have to deal with it. Let's break down the major developments.

1) Yurchenko full and Yurchenko 1/2, 9.95 start value. 


Al Trautwig would like me to take this opportunity to remind you that the start value is the value at which the vault starts.

This is the big one. Shockingly, I don't have a strong opinion one way or the other so far. Something had to be done about the omnipresence of Yfulls in NCAA gymnastics. It's everyone, all the time. But it remains to be seen whether downgrading the vault is that solution. There are a number of people on top teams (like Scaman) who will be able to upgrade realistically and safely back to a 10.0 SV vault, which should change the dynamic of the vault lineups at showcase meets, but for the most part, teams will still be performing their same lineups packed with Yfulls because they don't have more difficult vaults or different entries to do. The Yfull will remain by far, far, far the most-performed vault in NCAA, even with this change. It will just score lower. Although, if we see even a small upswing in the number of Omelianchiks performed, then I'll be a happy camper.

The argument against downgrading the full has long been that it makes it even harder for the second-tier teams to compete and inhibits (DUN DUN DUN) parity, since only the top teams will be able to put up the 1.5s. I used to subscribe to this argument more than I do now. It's not like the second-tier teams were an inch away from making Super Six and now they have no chance. They weren't getting there anyway. This won't change that dynamic and perhaps will allow some less traditional vaults to stand out.

I do, however, wonder what this will do for the equivalency of scoring across the four events. Currently, vault and floor enjoy a slight advantage over bars and beam in total scoring, but it's not major or definite, and they're all within reason. Hopefully this doesn't degrade the vault scores too much to the point where it becomes the clear lower-scoring event. How about we agree that execution judging gets .050 stricter on the other events to maintain the balance with all these yfulls? 

But overall, I appreciate that this adds a new wrinkle to proceedings (whether or not it solves the problem in any substantive way) and provides an extra element of strategy. Which teams are going to take the plunge and start throwing a bunch of 1.5s, and which teams will play it safe with their fulls and hope to get through on execution over teams throwing potentially sloppier 1.5s? (What a very elite question!) It could also change the lineups. Someone like Breanna Hughes for Utah has a 1.5, but hasn't been making the vault lineup. Does having a 1.5 put her over the edge? (Or will that happen anyway because every single Utah gymnast graduated after last year?) 

Also, the judging aspect should get interesting. And by interesting, I mean infuriating. So no change there. How are these vaults going to be scored? Currently, 1.5s get a little bit of scoring forgiveness compared to equivalently executed fulls. Does that unwritten boost go away now that the 1.5 advantage is codified, or does it stay? Is 9.950 going to be a realistic score for a great full, or will it be reserved solely for almost-great 1.5s? We're all going to be watching those vault scores like damn vultures. Get ready, judges. You thought we were critical before? Bring me all the fine-toothed combs in the land! 

Final note: Vulture-eyed Uncle Tim noted that while the Yfull has been downgraded, the Yurchenko piked full still starts from a 10.0. Yeah. Nothing has better encapsulated the nonsense of NCAA gymnastics rule procedures than that. Someone needs to clean that oversight up. Can you imagine? Coaches frantically telling everyone to be really sure to pike their straight vaults at the end. "It's totally piked! I swear! 10!" 

2) The McMurtry Rule


July 22, 2015

Pre-Classic: A Land of Ignorance

Pre-Classic is my favorite part of the elite season because it's the silliest. We're all so damn confident about how things are going to go this season despite having seen precisely zero gymnastics from the major and most of the minor contenders. Remember your feelings about Ashton Locklear precisely 365 days ago? Because they were a tumbleweed made of cricket sound effects.

That's what makes Classic exciting. At this moment, we know nothing, but by the end of podium training, we'll basically be set and have a good idea of what we'll see this year. To help fill in the possible picture of who might go to Glasgow to be the trusted attendants in Queen Simone's Royal Court, here are a few ramblings about what I'll be watching out for at Classic because I realize I haven't posted anything that isn't about Al Trautwig in a long time.  

Amanar Watch 2015: Beyond Biles, Fact or Fiction


Eeeeeeeverybody thinks she has an Amanar this year. We'll see. We've been down this road before. People often like to show up to Classic going, "Sup bitches, I gots me an Amanar," and then it isn't so much with the great. See Gowey 2014, Raisman 2010. Still, enough people have past Amanars, current Amanars, possible Amanars, Un-anars, or fantasies about having Amanars that the US should be expecting to cobble together at least three 6.3+ vaults for Worlds. There's obviously Biles, Dowell has had a 2.5 for years now and needs it, we have Skinner with her social experiment, we know about Raisman and Douglas's past vaults, Nichols had a Campanar that time, Key has been training one since she was a fetus (You guys! She's training a Wombanar in there! My aunt's cousin saw it!), Gowey had that one for a hot second last year but didn't vault at Pan Ams because of yet another in her Pride Parade of injuries. Right now, there are a lot of possibilities, but we need some facts.

Of this group, a hit 2.5 will probably be the most important for Maggie Nichols. She has elevated herself out of you're-here-too, Paul Ruggeri, alternating-my-ass-off territory almost solely on the basis of having a Campanar, but if she could legitimately score as a top-three vaulter this summer in competition, that would be a huge boost for her team hopes. She needs to prove that she's not only a strong AAer, but convincingly top 3 at least somewhere and probably two-wheres. It's a big competition for Nichols. Conversely, Skinner will be rooting for as few Amanars as possible. The more people with competitive vaults, the less necessary her vault becomes, and she doesn't have as many competitive events to work with in the first place.

Bring Out Your Bars Specialists 


Last year, Locklear and Kocian made the team to ensure that the US was a little less horrifying on bars, and once again on a team of six, the opportunity can present itself for bars specialist to work her way onto the team and save the day. Though the standard is tougher this year. With Ross continuing to be Ross and Biles, Key, Nichols, and a whole host of other people showing bars D-scores in the low 6s with high-14 totals (6.1 is the new 5.8), anyone hoping to make the team specifically because of bars will need to show significantly higher scoring potential than that. Possible bars specialists need to be scoring clearly into the 15s, otherwise there will be people already on the team for other events who can do the job just as well. So I'm keeping an eye on those scores. That's why it will be tough for someone like Gowey. She mashed together an upgraded routine for this year (with more upgrade potential still) but maxed out at the 14.7s at Pan Ams. Biles can get that. Desch is in a similar boat. She upgraded like crazy this year to put together some really solid routines, but she's not in top-three contention on these events.

Douglas will be interesting to watch with regard to the quest for bars 15s. Because she's Gabby Douglas, she automatically seems like the default bars worker based on her past accomplishments. But, her Jesolo bars routine was very work-in progress. She'll need to show some development since then to solidify any kind of status on this event. Comparing her score to the incumbent bars workers, the injury-returning Locklear and Kocian, will be telling, though certainly Douglas's abilities on other events can help her cause.

The crop is deeper this year than it was last year, so there probably isn't going to be room for a whole gang of bars specialists again. We're going to see the likes of Locklear, Kocian, and Dowell all trying to out-bars each other for what might not even be one spot. (Biles, Ross, Raisman, Key, Douglas, Nichols, Skinner is a fairly realistic, serious-scoring group of seven to choose from, and it includes none of them. Although, that team may be slightly questionable on bars and could use a boost if someone earns it.) We know Dowell's top routine has the difficulty edge over everyone, but she'll have to bring that routine, along with a whole bushel of consistency and a clear scoring edge over the recent world team members in order to overcome the general Martha-thumbs-down feeling that has pervaded her elite career.

Who Is Good At Floor?


Simone is. Aly Raisman is. Aly has spent the last 5 years making teams because of beam and floor, so to solidify her spot on the prospective team, she's going to need to reinforce her position on floor and emerge as the clear #2 behind Biles and her 19.500. She has the difficulty to do it already back in her routine and looked on track at Jesolo. She's kind of the Olympic champion, you know. The US has a formidable 1-2 punch with Biles and Raisman on floor, but the third floor worker will be an interesting topic. Key's scores render her a very strong possiblity, and of course there's Skinner as well. As on vault, Skinner will need to use Classic to prove that she's still top three, with Raisman coming in this year to challenge her status a little bit more. Skinner vs. Key on floor should be a fun one. Skinner needs to win that to make her argument. Does someone else pop into possible 15 territory?

These are the questions I want answered. Amanars? How relevant and necessary are the bars specialists? Gabby's still Gabby, right? And who's third on floor? I expect all the competitors to do their best to answer them in a timely and clear fashion. As for beam, my impression right now is that it won't be decisive in team selection. With Biles, Ross, Raisman, Douglas, and Key all seeming like realistic beam options (to varying degrees) who can make the team for other events as well, selection may come down to choosing the team for the other three events and then just using the best beamers from that group, who will probably be the best beamers in the country anyway. It makes it very tough for Baumann, though, since beam is kind of her thing, but she doesn't have the other asset events. 

Also, Sabrina Vega is a person again. So that will be interesting.

July 3, 2015

2000 Olympic Trials Part 2: She's Still Not OK

Anything worth doing is worth doing twice. Especially if it's horrible. On to day 2 of Little Bela Shop of Horrors. (Don't you think Bela would actually make a really good Audrey II? Any time he speaks, I already hear "Feed me, Seymour!") Let's see who shatters into dust today. Spoiler alert: It's Shannon. And everybody.



Chapter 1, Minute 0: Paging Dr. Bela
-Remember the first day of competition and how it was a traumatic disaster where everybody had a nervous breakdown into a chalk bucket and then Beckerman just stopped in the middle of her bars routine out of emotional catastrophe? (HOW MANY TIMES ALYSSA?) Child's play. Brace yourself.

-We haven't even started yet, and Shannon is already in several pieces on the floor. At least she could have had the common decency to wait until after the intro fluff. Al didn't even have a chance to butcher any American history this time! ("As Abigail Adams once said, 'Give me liberty, or give me Bela.'")

-Oh yes, the WAG blue plate special, an extended closeup of a woman in tears while her coach goes, "You alright?"
-Let me think. Oh right, no. I'm not. That's why I'm on the ground, weeping.

-Bela's helping.

-Larry: Let's maybe be safe and get that thing looked at right now.
-Gymnastics: NO! MUST CONTINUE WITH 50 INJURIES! LEGS ARE FOR WIMPS.

-Let's pretend these closeups of her ex-husband never happened. Move it, creepy.

-"Hey, Shannon, either you can do a vault right now on your glass knee, or you can look after your body and shatter all of your dreams and mine in front of everyone. Your choice. No pressure. Do whatever feels right." 

-Shannon's knee, you need to cool it. We have an important fluff piece to get to! You've seriously cut into our lights-turning-on-in-a-quiet-gym and softly-lit-allusions-to-past-fuck-ups time. You know, gymnastics.
-The title of this piece is Gonna Dress You Up In Beige Drapes (You're a Disappointment). Note that neither Ray nor Maloney is even mentioned. Their lack of potential drama and disappointment is too disrespectful to the cause. Yet, there was time for a thousand shots of lurking Bela. THE STAR.

-The mascot of 2000 Trials:

-Al mentioning Survivor for no reason other than "the summer of 2000," because no one during those months spoke sentences that didn't end with "the tribe has spoken." Remember when there were TV phenomena that 70 quadrillion people would watch? Me neither. Also, I'm surprised NBC would be like, "Yes, please give a shout out to our biggest rival during the broadcast. Thank you."

-On night 1, Elfi and Tim were cruelly denied the chance to unleash their withering disdain on Vanessa's bars routine since she hit, sort of. So rude. Thankfully, her routine doesn't go great this time, which means they finally get to have their "How many times, Vanessa?" moment and tell us 50 times about how historically awful she is at life. On the spectrum of Atler's bars errors, though, this is like a child's medium.
-"You could tell from the leg separation on her mount that the seas would run red with the blood of orphans."

-"Shannon White." Sigh. 

-Oh look! A little skit about whether or not Shannon should stay in the competition. You know the production went, "Nunno, we're going to hold you on this event until Atler finishes bars, then you can go. Just jump back three lines, and we'll cut in. Take it from, 'If you're going to be considered.' And this time with feeling."

-Also, have you ever looked directly into the face of a shark?
-Now you have. Those are some serious dead eyes. I love how Nunno is trying to pretend like she might still be named to the team, and Shannon is like, "..........." and "............." and "I just destroyed Tokyo with my eyeball lasers."
-Now, yes, that's a nice sentiment from Steve about being respectful to the rest of the meet, but really, what was Shannon going to do? Jump up onto the vaulting horse and perform "Don't Cry for Me Argentina"? (But also, yes please)

June 23, 2015

2000 Olympic Trials: Special Victims Unit

I decided to rewatch the 2000 Olympic Trials. I guess because I just haven't been feeling jaded and flabbergasted enough lately and really needed to work harder to grab that golden ring. It's a process. You've got to get your nose to the grindstone if you want to see results. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single Trautwig.

This meet is insane, and this broadcast is traumatic. I have some horrible thoughts. Come. Join me. Let's see who can last the longest before jumping straight into a volcano.

Chapter 1: Everything Is Completely Healthy Here


-Look how everyone is smiling in this opening montage! We're all happy! Great time! Fun! I don't need any therapy!

-Parkettes hair. Never forget what happened here. Kristen Maloney, look at yourself. Think about your actions.

-"We don't need Paul Revere to climb to the Old North Church and yell out, 'The Olympics are coming.'" Stop. Everything about that sentence is historically inaccurate. Please return to the third grade.

-Tim Daggett is a DUCKLING here. Apparently, sitting next to Al for 20 years is the equivalent of being president. WATCH OUT NASTIA. SAVE YOURSELF.

-Bela and Martha hanging over a super cool laptop.
-100% they're reading Dawson's Creek fanfic. There's literally nothing else I can imagine them needing that computer for.

-Tim says the word "mutiny" with such ravenousness. He was totally rooting for pitchforks. So was I.

-"Elfi, a year ago, Jamie Dantzscher was a withered piece of useless garbage. How did she stop being garbage?"
-"Well Al, Bela Karolyi talked to her for 30 seconds, and then she was fixed." YAY GYMNASTICS NARRATIVE.

-Jamie Dantzscher on bars. "Plays gymnastics on this event." What does that mean? That's not a sentiment.
-I would describe the Dantzscher family's level of fervor for that routine as vaguely Spanish Inquisitiony. 

-Next up is Shang Chunsong. I mean Morgan White.
-But first, let's enjoy a video retrospective of her having a Level 50 nervous breakdown. YAY. It's like in romantic comedies when they have a musical montage of an unbearable trash couple trying on oversize sunglasses by a pier, except instead of that, it's a lifetime of emotional trauma. I know we all watch that replay and think, "This is normal. She's doing fine. I don't have any questions."
-And then after Morgan White vaults, and you're also going, "Oh God, Oh God, Oh God..."

-Not putting a mic on BLT is always the wrong decision. Yes, I meant to write MLT. No, I'm not changing it.

-And then, in a world of chaos, emotional collapses, and unfortunate misunderstandings of American Revolutionary history, the sun breaks through the clouds and bestows upon us Elise Ray Of Hope. Thank you. There is good in the world after all.

-Remember when Beth Rybacki was really into saying, "Stoi!"? Like really into it? Elise is like, "Oh. Yes. Stoi. Fine."

June 9, 2015

Brenna, Brenna, Brenna

In this week's edition of Things I Don't Really Understand, Brenna Dowell has elected to defer the 2015-2016 season at Oklahoma to train elite again in the run-up to Rio. Because she hasn't endured enough national team trauma already in her career and needed to give Martha yet another chance to name her to a team and then decide she shouldn't compete? No Brenna, this year we're going to put McKayla Maroney's Youtube channel up on bars in prelims instead of you. Enjoy the training gym.

Sigh. The unending power of that Olympic dream. "Unfinished business." This happens from time to time. Her Holiness (and by Her Holiness, I mean Kristina Vaculik, but you should know that by now), took a year off from Stanford to make Canada's 2012 team, though that was a more likely prospect than this is. But, you know, go for it? Or whatever? Dreams? Reach for the stars? The more the merrier. I wish she didn't have to take a year off from NCAA to do it, but it's extremely difficult to do both at the same time. We saw Zam try to go straight through NCAA season-elite season-NCAA season, and it ended with an Achilles tear. And she was more in the "I want to have the elite experience and see how it goes, whatever I'm Zam, let's smile and dance" camp. Brenna has had the elite experience. She's not going back just to have the experience. She wants THE PRECIOUS. 

In the short term, this does kind of suck for Oklahoma. Oh, you were relying on Brenna's scores on at least three events? Sorry bye now. It does give us something else to talk about this elite season, though. Team selection just got that little bit more interesting. 

Brenna is always going to be at least in the mix for a World Championship team given her Amanar and high D score on bars.



Those are valuable tools, but if that wasn't enough to make the team last year (though she was returning from injury in the first half of the summer), it's hard to see how that will be enough to make the team this year, with the addition of Douglas (most significantly because Douglas can fill a big spot on bars) along with Raisman, Key, and Dennis making selection even more challenging this time around. The possible opening for Brenna comes from the injury to Ashton Locklear and the "when exactly are you not injured?" career history of Madison Kocian, two bars specialists and some of her most direct competition. Presumably Dowell will try to D score everyone else into submission again this time, but boy, she cannot afford a single fall. She can't give anyone a chance to doubt her consistency.

As for Oklahoma, this one will sting a little bit, even though it doesn't stop the Sooners from being a title contender in 2016. They still have solid depth, but that's going to be tested now. Finally getting a healthy season from Charity Jones becomes that much more important because she can be that strong score on vault and floor that they would have expected to get from Brenna. Bars also just got a little bit interesting for the Sooners. Now just three members of last year's final lineup are returning: Wofford, Scaman, and Kmieciak. They'll have Nicole Lehrmann coming in, and several other possible 9.850s who have been hanging around the backup ranks, but they'll have to reinvent that lineup a bit and find some new big scores. They've done it before.

Elsewhere, in Opposite Of Brenna news, Lexie Priessman instannounced that she is, in fact, going to LSU in the fall. I didn't know there was still a question about that, so...good?

The other big chatter going around the gymternet has been about some pretty dramatic changes to NCAA for next season, including but not limited to devaluing the Yfull to 9.950, stepping up bars release requirements, and getting rid of event finals. I've decided to wait until we hear official things and details before thinking about this and formulating extended and dramatic opinions (we have plenty of time still), but you can read about it here. These are all areas that have been crying out for fixing. 

Also, Elise Ray is now Associate Head Coach at Washington as David McCreary is leaving to go Yim it up in Arizona. Elise will make a top program very happy one day.