October 24, 2014

Freshman Notes: LSU, Stanford, Nebraska

It's that time of year again. Time to meet some of the brand new characters who will be joining the cast of The Calm and the Confident for the 2015 competition season. Fingers crossed that someone has an amnesiac twin we don't know about yet.

Once December rolls around, I'll preview the top teams in full, but for now, let's at least familiarize ourselves with all these newbies, starting with LSU, Stanford, and Nebraska for reasons that don't exist.

LSU


I still think that current co-champions Florida and Oklahoma head into 2015 as the clear frontrunners, but if you wanted to put up an argument for LSU, I wouldn't fight you. This is a big season for LSU, with Courville, Hall, Jordan, and Ranzy all in their final year of eligibility.

The Tigers have lost 6 routines from last year: the early-lineup AA contribution from Kaleigh Dickson and the frequently 9.900 vault and bars routines from Sarie Morrison. That bars routine from Morrison is the critical loss because while LSU has improved dramatically on bars, they still have relied heavily on Morrison to remain competitive with the stronger bars teams. That's gone now. (Maliah Mathis is also gone, but recovery from her Achilles injury prevented her from making any postseason lineups last year.)

But, LSU has two standout freshmen that should be able to make up the majority of the lost scoring potential. Erin Macadaeg competed as a senior elite in 2013, and while she didn't have the difficulty to make an impact in the standings, she caught some eyes for her gracefully executed gymnastics and performance awareness. Note: At Championships, she was one of 3 senior gymnasts to break a 9.000 in execution on beam, the others being Ross and Biles. She just missed it with her elite sojourn by one year. If she had competed this season, she would have been all over that selection camp.

Beam


Floor


As noted, LSU should be excited about Macadaeg's potential on beam as she tends to be secure on her acro elements and shows precision and mostly clean form, along with the power in that double pike dismount (which is staying in her routine for now). I approve of the amplitude on those leaps as well. Beam has been a struggle in the past for LSU, but last season a stellar three emerged in Courville, Jordan, and Gnat, with Ewing developing into a possible fourth solid beamer. Now, Macadaeg can make the lineup deeper. LSU should be right up toward the top of the standings on beam this year with the group they have now.

October 16, 2014

Hall of 10s

TABS! I'm getting all up in this tabs business. I've added a Hall of 10s link above, which currently includes the 10s earned in the 2012, 2013, and 2014 seasons, organized by date, with available youtube videos of the 10s from 2014. I'll continue adding to the list as the 2015 season goes along. I'm sure we'll see plenty.

I've also updated the 2015 schedule to include the latest flurry of announced slates. We have just a few holdouts left. Minnesota in particular is being tardy, but for some reason I think getting the schedule up on their website in a timely fashion is the least of that team's concerns right now. 

October 13, 2014

Worlds Final Thoughts

The World Championships are over for another year. Sigh. Now we have to return to normal sleep schedules of more than 2.5 hours per night. Like losers. On the plus side, this means it's officially time to start thinking about the NCAA season again. I'll be starting up the freshman profiles again in the coming weeks. We've got some good ones. But first, a few final thoughts about Worlds, including multiple mentions of Cheng Fei. Because I need to.

1) My theory that the best things about gymnastics competitions never have anything to do with actual gymnastics continues to hold up.



2) You should never stop watching this video. Ever. The bee was my third-favorite gymnast at these championships. Such poise. Such grace. It knows how to hit a cue.

3) This year is the most I've ever watched of a World Championships. So many sessions. And I was bleary-eyed for all of them. Scott Bregman and USA Gymnastics are nailing this whole coverage thing. Live coverage of Russia's qualification session? Sure. Because heaven.

4) Simone Biles has 9 Worlds medals. 9. She basically just has to make the team next year to set the US record. Technically, I would say she's tied for the record already. As much as I adore Alicia Sacramone, she wasn't even in the same country as the team competing when she got her 10th, so it doesn't count.

5) Only one member of the 2010 US team ended up making the Olympic team (Aly Raisman), and to be honest, I wouldn't be all that shocked if it happened again for the 2014 team.

6) Competitive women's AA final! Until things started to take shape a few weeks before Worlds, I don't think many people thought it would be this competitive, but combine a slightly shaky Biles with a hitting Iordache and we had a real competition. An interesting one. For four whole rotations. We haven't had a legitimate, international, multi-year rivalry in a long time, and I would love if Biles and Iordache got that going for the next few. With a Mustafina thrown in for luck.

7) Hopefully this competitiveness will put to rest the silly idea that Simone running the table in the AA this quad and winning all the competitions through the Olympics is inevitable. It's not inevitable. There are challenges both in the US and outside the US.

8) Kyla Ross. Keeping it simple. Don't fall, win medal. Repeat.

9) The Chinese women are hard to watch on floor right now. Dance of the Splintering Stick Figures. We need some Cheng Fei action out there. Stat.

10) Speaking of Cheng Fei, is the ragged Cheng the new hip thing on vault? At least it's a different entry. I expect to see a number of Sosnitskaya Chengs at Worlds next year. It'll be a thing.

11) Huang Huidan should have won bars.

12) But that's really the only individual gold medal result I'm feeling worked-up about, which is pretty good. I think you can argue that Hong Un Jong was just another member of the broke-ass Cheng club and that she wasn't adequately penalized for her landing on that vault, but the difficulty deficit was always going to be hard for Biles to make up, even with superior execution.

13) Also Beckie Downie didn't medal on bars, so the final is invalid.

14) If you don't fulfill all five composition requirements in your routine, as you try to land your dismount, the mat should automatically retract revealing a shark tank below.

15) These acro series on beam. I love originality and creativity and people not doing the easy, expected thing as much as the next person, but you have to be smart about it. I was very disappointed that Mustafina wasn't able to muster some kind of acro series in EFs, especially because she has so many routine options to choose from and is usually good at routine improvisation.

16) That said, Mustafina still got the bronze on beam. HA! Only Aliya could miss a CR and still win a medal. Many are up in arms about this. I'm not.

17) Mustafina's reaction to her floor bronze was priceless. Such shock and joy. Oh sorry, I meant COLD COMMIE DIVA. I forgot my narrative for a second. How silly of me. Many are up in arms about this one as well, and I'm still not, even if this is the weakest floor routine she has ever had. She still carries the hell out of it. Do I have a Zamarripa-esque blind spot where Mustafina is concerned? Maybe. I also don't care. 

18) For those of us who focus on women's gymnastics, the joke is that we can't stand watching pommel horse, but I enjoy it (at least from people not in the "happy to get a 12.000 category," but that's true of every event). I find it visually soothing, like watching a screen saver, especially from people who make it look easy like Berki.

19) Speaking of Berki, let's hear it for the talls! While our Dear Wonderful Shatilov didn't make floor finals (mostly because he is currently sporting unauthorized facial hair), Berki and Moznik both got medals. I think those two might legitimately come up to my chin, which is an accomplishment. We'd actually look like part of the same species. 

20) So yes for pommel horse, but less yes for rings. That's my 6th place men's event. Although the "sup y'all" chin lift still makes me laugh every single time, so that's something. In breaking news, parallel bars has moved to the top spot on my men's event rankings. There is little more satisfying in the world than a perfect handstand on pbars.

21) Ryohei Kato looks exactly like a porcelain doll. I imagine that immediately after a competition ends, he goes all Toy Story and flops to the ground before being put back up on an old lady's shelf.


22) Who is in charge of selecting the between-rotations music at Worlds? I really hope there's a committee about it and they take it super seriously. With graphs and flow charts.

23) The World Championships of Hilarious Pronunciations finished on a high. During the men's hbar medal ceremony, the PA guy introduced the gold medalist "Epic Zonderland." Fitting.

October 8, 2014

Women's Team Final

After a thrilling and controversial x 1000 men's final yesterday, we had a not-that on the women's side today. I don't have a specific-enough understanding of the men's code to make any kind of argument about scoring, at least with any confidence in myself (I'd start giving Kohei hair bonuses, and it would be all over the place). But, Uncle Tim has an excellent write-up of some of the issues involved in Zhang's final gargantuan score. I defer.

I will say though, at first viewing, the Chinese high bar score that stood out to me as the stranger one was Lin's preceding Zhang's, with that completely horizontal turn at one point. Is this a situation like we often see in NCAA where a questionable 10 is awarded, and gets all the attention, but the real culprit is the super-random 9.950 beforehand that pushes the following score up?

But now some thoughts on the women's team final.

1) The USA. Obviously. As much as I enjoy watching the US step all over everyone else's faces while wearing Rene Lyst heels, it does make things super boring. A few more years of this, and I could see a serious change coming to start increasing the p-word. (Which is parity, if you don't read here a lot.)



2) Alyssa Baumann's lovely, non-broadcast leadoff beam routine. If I had to pick one place where I thought the US would fall in TF, it would have been here, but she got it down with just a couple wobbles. Martha's little project scored big points (both real and figurative) for this.

3) Baumann had the smallest issues of the three US gymnasts on beam considering Ross did a third-base coach on her side somi and Simone had a larger-than-usual break on the layouts series. Of course, it didn't matter, which was the problem with this final. That was such an uncharacteristic break for Kyla, but it was like, "Eh, whatever, go ahead and fall if you want. Have a blast. Do some jazz hands. Take a nap. It will change nothing."

4) While we still have a chance to be excited before everyone gets injured over the next 12 months, the fight for the 2015 US team looks fuu-uun.  

5) Overall, this competition was terrible. We're allowed to say that. Splatty bombatty. I'm looking at you, Russia and China.

6) Credit to Romania for pulling it together a little bit more in TF, or at least for letting Iordache be the star and not getting in her way too much. With that bars situation, fourth was as much as they could have hoped for, yet they almost got a Happy October gift of much more.

7) The Craig Heap and Christine Still pronunciation debacle is hysterical. Seriously, it's not that hard. It takes two seconds of research to figure it out (the magic of youtube videos of domestic competitions—put your listening ears on!), and yet that definitely would have decreased my enjoyment of the meet tenfold. Craig stopped trying after a while. By the time we got to floor, he just introduced "Tan Jrrrrrr."

8) Gah, Russia. You should be doing so much better. It's not exactly an "I never expected the Russians to put up an athlete with so little talent" situation, but they're seriously lacking in the non-Mustafina category.

9) It's sort of offensive to me when people don't even have the common decency to be Aliya Mustafina. There were so many people walking around today not being Aliya Mustafina. Unacceptable behavior.

10) I can finally (FINALLY) remember the difference between Alla Sosnitskaya and Daria Spiridonova after this competition. And I don't like it.

11) I love how Grishina is seen as the fragile, headcase one in the eyes of the Rodionenkos and cronies because of the Olympics, but . . . as opposed to . . .? You have no less-headcasesque options. You better get on hands and knees to get that girl back when she's healthy. You would be lucky to have her.

12A) China's lineups. A side-eye experience. Why on earth was Shang Chunsong going on bars over Tan Jrrrrrr? Shang had been doing consistently worse than Tan at Asian Games and in prelims. Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. No sense. A fall is appropriate punishment for that decision. Though a 7.666 is not appropriate punishment for that routine quality.

12B) Also, Bai Yawen, who qualified second on the team into beam finals, was not selected to do beam. It didn't end up being a problem for the team, but it does reflect that she's probably not in the highest standing with the team coaches if they didn't even want to use her on her good event.

13) There's no excuse for Hannah Whelan's 4.5 D score on beam. She missed her acro series and lost 0.5 in CR, but when you do such a risky combination as your only acro series, there has to be a plan B in mind (and trained) just in case. This is like in 2010 when Mattie lost that decisive CR after not doing her combo pass or a simple forward element. That cannot happen. It's too avoidable.

14)


Let's play "Who can actually find 1.2 in deductions in Kyla's bars routine?" Remember after the first night of US championships when SHE CAN'T DO BARS ANYMORE?

15) It was nice to see Australia show up with three events worth of routines that are very well-executed, though somewhat low in difficulty. An important change from the "you must have a 7.9 D score on beam, otherwise get back in the cage" attitude from last year.

16) Italy managed to finish 5th at both Worlds and Euros this year. One of those is a good result, and one is a bad result. Today, Italy scored 7.5 points better than Euro team finals, Russia scored 2 points better, and Romania and GB did around 2 points worse.

17) Japan is also a team, and I'll just say this about the leotards: at least they're going for something different. In true Project Runway fashion, I give more credit to that than to the fourth-rate versions of SPARKLY GIRL TIME SPARKLES that we usually see. 

October 6, 2014

World Championships Qualification

The qualification round happened! And we got to watch most of it! And I have thoughts! At least three. Probably more.

1) Simone Biles. The end.


2) Screwing up a kip is the new going out of bounds.

3) Eight real vaulters made the women's vault final. Is the era of "just throw a random second vault, you'll probably make finals"/"Tsuk full—I'm the best!" ending? Steingruber's yfull was the only easier vault to make it to finals, and that's sufficiently balanced by her rudi.

4) There are three executions scores on vault. 9.233 (great vault!), 8.933 (medium step or form break!), and 8.633 (ugly poo-poo!) Those are the choices. 

5) Do the US men select teams with more attention to qualification than to team finals?

6) Madison Kocian and MyKayla Skinner got basically the same E score on beam. What?

7) Kohei Uchimura might be a cursed pharaoh. Anytime anyone is mentioned as being a potential challenger to his reign, that person immediately falls 50 times. Men's gymnastics is basically the plot of The Mummy.

8) Biggest improvements in 2014 compared to four years ago (women's category): Austria (31st to 22nd), Colombia (34th to 25th - *they didn't have enough scores in 2010), Mexico (21st to 14th), Germany (14th to 9th), Belgium (15th to 11th)

9) Biggest drops in 2014 compared to four years ago (also, women's category): Ukraine (12th to 27th), Uzbekistan (24th to 31st), Brazil (10th to 16th), Greece (19th to 24th), Venezuela (22nd to 26th), Romania (4th to 7th), Switzerland (16th to 19th)

10) Not so much with the Canada. And I admit NCAA is at least partially culpable. We've taken all your bars workers and doused them in glitter and enthusiasm. 

11) What happened to Brazil? They looked almost Team Final-y at Pan Am Championships. And then . . . nope!

12) Romania's bars routines are even weaker than I thought. They're so bad at bars, they're bad at beam. They finished 25th on bars. 25th. If bars were the whole sport, they wouldn't be advancing to 2015. 

13) The beam judges were much stricter about connections than we've seen at any other event. This is a good thing. Don't try to jam three rushed skills together and call it a connection. It just makes all of them look worse. If you can't CONNECT connect them, just perform them individually.

14) If there were a Claudia Fragapane stuffed animal, I would probably buy it.

15) If there were a Rebecca Tunney healthy, Great Britain would definitely buy it. And pay the crown jewels for it.

16) If the Welsh women had competed as an independent team and repeated the team scores from Commonwealth Games, they would have finished 17th, within a point of Spain and Brazil.

17) Bai Yawen is a beautiful swan whom we'll probably never see again because she has only one event of contribution, an area where China is already strong. Enjoy her while you can.

18) Tatiana Nabieva is my constant.


September 28, 2014

2015 NCAA Schedule

NCAA gymnastics. Like a pearl in a mud factory. That's not an expression, but it should be.

It's coming. Kind of not that soon, but it's still coming. The excitement is starting to build. Bridget Sloan is so excited she's doing double layouts about it. I agree, Bridget. I agree.  



And yet, there's still so much waiting to do. We have over three whole months until the first meets begin (and a whole World Championship of Extreme Ankle Wrapping to get through first—beginning this week!), but we can start to smell it. The dust clouds are gathering. The schedules are being released.

We're still waiting on a number of schools to get with the program. I'm not naming names (Big Ten), but you need to get those schedules out yesterday. Even so, enough schools have released their competition slates for 2015 for it to make sense to put together my annual season schedule. I'll continue adding teams over the next month as the final schedules are released to us lowly plebs. 

The full composite schedule for D1 and D2 teams can be found at the tab above (for easy reference throughout the preseason and season). Or just use THIS LINK. I have capitalized that for no reason. It felt like the thing to do, but I didn't mean to holler. I'm sorry.

All the usual disclaimers apply. Many teams have not released their schedules yet, and many of the days and times could change, especially as TV schedules are made and adjusted, particularly for the Pac-12 Network. (Do we know what the SEC Network plan is yet and how much coverage they are taking on?)

The current schedules released by the schools also feature all the usual contradictions in time zones (since apparently we don't teach that at colleges) and meet participation (where six different teams think they're all competing in the same quad meet), but we'll get all that figured out as we go.

Once we get closer to the season, I'll do a quick-reference, greatest hits version of the schedule to isolate the top meets, but for now, enjoy the behemoth.

September 18, 2014

2014 USA Worlds Team

I feel obligated to have something to say about the US team for World Championships announced last night by USA Gymnastics, but I'm struggling to muster the energy because ultimately there wasn't much decision in it at all. Utterly predictably, enough people were hit by the injury bus along the way to make the team a default.

Named to the team were Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Alyssa Baumann, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner, and Maddie Desch, with the alternate to be named once . . . it's Maddie Desch.

The only question was Brenna Dowell, who is the non-traveling alternate, which is code for "even if we need you, we won't use you because we'll be in China and that's far away. SEE YA." Someone would have to get injured before they leave for the non-traveling alternate to come into play. Without competing the AA this summer, she would have needed quite the camp performance to prove her worth. And because Desch was selected over her as a "we can throw you in anywhere because meh" alternate selection, we can assume that didn't happen. I'm fine with it. Get thee to a K.J.

The team final (which, by the way, is at 4:00am for west coasters—fun!) lineups seem pretty straightforward with this group, with Ross, Skinner, and Biles on vault, Ross, Kocian, and Locklear on bars, and Ross, Baumann, and Biles on beam. There's more parity on floor, so I assume the default will be Ross, Skinner, Biles, and then we'll see if anyone falls in prelims to create an argument over who should go in TF, a la Mattie in 2010.

This was the US team submitted for the nominative roster and the one nearly everyone predicted once the injuries shook out. So yeah. At this point, I'm more interested to see if the announced Russian team is actually the one that happens.