September 27, 2015

2004 Olympic Trials Part 2: Courtney McCool's Comedy Oil Change

On to day 2 of the 2004 Olympic Trials competition. And by competition, I mean blathering for two hours while people warm up, with four routines thrown in as a treat. Also a treat, the live team announcement and ceremonial awarding of the emotional trauma and resentment. 

-The TJ MAXX TOUR OF CHAMPIONS is coming to your home town!!!!!!!!! What if you called that number right now and tried to get tickets? "I just want to see Carly Patterson!"
-The "TJ Maxx tour of champions" is also what I call the grocery store on a Sunday morning.

-"You will marvel as these gymnasts deliver gymnastics." TWIST.
-Oh, your senses will be kick-started all right. Particularly your senses of shame and regret.

-Interpretive ode to the red-light district?

-And now, let's begin.
-Ooooh, a flashback episode! "Previously, on the manipulative nightmare that is the Olympic Trials broadcast history, everyone's life was garbage..."

-It's really important to start with an "it'll end in tears" montage. Just to set the tone of the proceedings. Ladies, learn from this. Blubbering is the only goal. 
-Elise Ray is crying. Shannon Miller is crying. Alyssa Beckerman is crying. Beth Rybacki is crying. Obviously. Beth Rybacki is a Native American origin story of how the Great Lakes came to be. Which one's happy? Which one's sad? It doesn't matter. TEARS!

-Al is doing a pretty good job reminiscing about how traumatic that 2000 team announcement debacle was (raw, disorganized, abrupt, and unnecessary public and painful), but it's hard to tell whether that's supposed to be a good thing or a bad thing. Given the forthcoming 2004 announcement, I'm thinking it's supposed to be a good thing. "Imagine your worst nightmare. I can't wait to watch all of it."

-Yes, Bela decided to step down after 2000. Everyone else was going, "Please continue, Bela! It went so well! We love and need you!" That's what happened. 

-Turn back the clock to when Martha was also appearing as Sister Margaretta/Understudy Maria in Bucharest's longest-running production of The Sound of Music.
-When I was in elementary school, my haircut of choice was The Martha. #styleicon

-"Are they able to hold up, or not?" Well, that pretty much sums up the Martha era, doesn't it? Spoiler alert: mostly not.

-Did Al just refer to Martha as a "girl"? Yes, little Martha the schoolgirl. She's really excited to start second grade.

-"This is the real O.C." Oh. This era. I forgot. Al, please stop making me want to go back and watch The O.C. to make fun of Mischa Barton's horrible enunciation and "putting your hair behind your left ear counts as acting" performance strategy. Kristen Stewart owes her so much.
-(Marisa should have died in Tijuana in season one. I said it.)

-Wait, we missed the first rotation??? Of trials??? Scandal! Outrage! You're lucky Twitter wasn't a thing then. I feel like we need to put together an army of retroactive poop emojis just to make up for it now.
-They really listened to all those gym fans who said, "I'd like the broadcast to stay the same length, just with 25% less gymnastics. Fill that time with talking, please." 

September 10, 2015

2004 Olympic Trials Part 1: Schwikert Family Gold

Back to the grindstone. My soul-destroying retrospective of US Olympic Trials broadcasts continues with 2004. This was actually a fantastic year for the US Team, and Trials featured few falls and even fewer coaches being made to wear mics, which is a real shame. But still, we always have mercilessly making fun of Trautwig, right? Oh boy do we. He was in rare form this year. Let's begin.

(Note on that intro: Misty Hyman is still the worst name ever given to a human person. Hi, this is my daughter, Sweaty Vulva.)

Prologue: Kim Jong Martha
-"This is Texas."
-Yep, that's it. We've got a church, abandoned railroad tracks, some horrible dirt road from the 30s, and Martha eagle-eyeing the hell out of physical abilities testing. Or as Texans call them, the big four.

-This training montage music is called "Essence of North Korean Military." 
-The US gymnastics renaissance is being crafted at a cost. OK? The cost of...stretching in unison? SUCH TERRIBLE LIVES. THE COST IS TOO GREAT. THEY MIGHT MISS PROM.
-I forgot that we were still in the "how dare you put them through this hell" era of Martha camp narrative. Before the US started winning every year and camps became the glorious revelation of a soothsaying genius.

-If you're going for the "Remember how happy everyone used to be in 1996?" angle, maybe clips of Dominique Moceanu aren't the strongest choice. Old Dominique "Smiles" Moceanu, that's what we call her. She had a grand time. Totally loving life. (Have you forgotten the sadness forest so quickly?)

-Misty water-colored meeeemmmmmmories, of the way we were...

-Bela won the team gold medal in 1996. Live and learn.

-"And then that trash heap 2000 team fucked it up for everyone and finished 4th, like losers. You brought shame on a nation, and we hate you. I mean GO TEAM USA. As long as you hit. Otherwise, get out. What was your name again? Lizzie or something?"

-But it's OK because in 2003 Bela high-fived everyone, spontaneously creating Carly Patterson and saving gymnastics from the worthless failures of 2000. BYE LIZZIE.

-I love that this intro is basically a superhero origin story for the Martha camps. Martha pops out at the end to go, "And that's how I became...THE FLASH!"

-"16 survivors who have been put through the ringer." #inspiringquotes 

-Oh, we're still talking about how McCool's name has the word "cool" in it? What a treat for everyone.
-And the Fakest Laugh Award goes to Timothy Daggett.

-This year, Martha has tapped Elaine Stritch and Moaning Myrtle for the selection committee.

-My, how things change. Four years ago, having a selection committee was an unfair, manipulative nightmare. Now, it provides wonderful flexibility. "There's absolutely no confusion out on the floor exercise." Clearly Elfi hasn't seen the Kupets choreography. I have some confusion.

-Ah, Al's veiled pissiness about the Trials format. A national tradition. Count how many times he grits his teeth and tells us that nothing is guaranteed. Because it's exactly a thousand.

September 4, 2015

American Skills – 2015 Edition

It's that time of year again. A brand new batch of fresh summer routines has once again been bestowed upon us by Mrs. Karolyi's Traveling Circus, which means it's now my turn to break these routines down into their constituent skills to see what trends in routine composition emerge. Which skills have become the coolest kids in school and are totally dating Brett Bretterson? Which loser skills are eating lunch by themselves in a bathroom stall like Stephanie Tanner before Gia teaches her about smoking and Ace of Base (and meth, probably)? And does any of it make sense? Or are all these routines stupid?

Let's get into it. On each event, the skills are broken down by category, with the corresponding numbers indicating the percentage of US senior elites who performed that skill at the national championship in the given year. I have included all skills of C value or greater (so none of this bhs or giant nonsense), as well as the A dance elements on beam as a way of keeping tabs on how people are choosing to fulfill the dance combination requirement. As always, I counted the skill attempted rather than the skill that would actually receive credit because this is about evaluating intended composition choices. Though let me tell you, that was a rough game this year on floor. We'll get there in a second.

Some of the notable rises, falls, and year-to-year comparisons are highlighted. Because people like things with colors on them. Apparently. 


  • The tkatchev made a nice little comeback this year in most of its flavors (stalder, piked, and plain). Only the toe-on variation saw a fall in 2015 as more people have started performing a greater variety of entries, which is always a good thing. It also makes sense to Shayla up these bars routine since tkatchev variations are so valuable for CV right now. Last year, I was a little surprised by how few we saw, but they're coming into line now. Overall, the gymnasts are stepping up the difficulty with their bars releases. Although some of that is just Brenna making the whole group look like daredevils.   
  • The straddled jaeger remains the gold standard of non-tkatchev releases. As in, the only one. No piked versions this year, and no giengers again. Poor gienger. The gienger is a leg-separation deduction trap (hi Sophina!) while the straddled jaeger isn't, so if you're choosing one, it makes sense to choose the jaeger. But seriously, you're telling me no one out there can throw us a nice little Peszek-level gienger?

  • Everyone remains all about the toe-on. And by everyone, I mean 52.63% of people. I'm still not really clear on why this trend has come on so forcefully in the last couple years. Sure, many people do need an 8th skill to count and the toe-on is the easiest C element on bars, but that was also true in the last quad, when relatively few people were doing toe-ons with no pirouetting (14% in 2012).  
  • We also saw a bit of an upswing in the toe-on 1/2s this year, though not a terribly significant one. This is understandable as a result of the popularity of jaegers. Got to do something to get facing the right direction.  
  • The stalder full continues to be the big loser among bars turns after having enjoyed greater popularity in the last quad when D pirouettes were more valuable for CV. Now, not so much. The relatively strict deductions for late pirouettes (compared to releases) have also contributed to this decline since the value of the skill just isn't worth the potential for a large late-finish deduction. Now, the gymnasts shove their one D pirouette into the routine (toe-on full) for a necessary D skill, but they're loath to put in another one if they don't have to.  
  • Sadly, the weiler 1/2 (aka, the wolf turn of bars) has returned to its previous levels after a refreshing dip last year.

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.