July 25, 2014

Pre-Classic Difficulties

Last week I mentioned that we needed some elite drama to distract from speculating about the not-coming-soon-enough NCAA season, and while GabbyWatch 2014: The De-Chowening has been fun and all, it turns out that we actually have Secret Classic coming up in a few weeks and that there are actual gymnasts competing in it. Weird.

The Pre-Classic period is among the most hilarious in the gymnastics calendar because the extended lack of summer competition gradually turns people's minds into a powder, so we all get disproportionally excited about a mostly meaningless competition, just because it's something. Remember last year how Simone Biles was sick and got a -3 on every event and it was a disaster? Yeah, me neither.

Nonetheless, I'm part of this community of powder brains, so I'm excited, mostly to observe all those people in that Kocian/Gowey/Ernst/Dowell peloton of Worlds consideration to see who can make the leap into Biles/Ross territory, along with following other stories like what the Priessman status is post-Cincinnati. Not putting Lexie Priessman in the same rotation as MLT at Classic is a grave error. What do they think we're watching this for? The gymnastics? We need sideshows, people!

As a way of acclimating myself to the current elite story, I'm checking out the current D-Scores going into Classic ("current" meaning "awarded in competition in the last 12 months"). And if you're not the type who keeps a running tally of current D-Scores on your desktop at all times, shame on you, but that means we can explore it together.

Of course, Classic is when new routines and new difficulty are debuted, so this is just a starting point. Some will go up, others will decrease as a result of some sensible downgrading, but this is where we are now.

VAULT

Vault has suddenly become slightly interesting because the dynamic has changed. We're accustomed to having a glut of Amanars these days, but with Price stopping elite and Maroney being injured for the moment, there are fewer choices and less room to be discerning about which vaults are worthy of being taken to Worlds. This is especially true since the Amanars from Ross and Priessman appear to have gone the way of the dodo.

But as I said, this is just a starting point. If it were an ending point, Skinner, Biles, and Dowell would be skating through to China in October based solely on difficulty, but Rachel Gowey showed a solid Amanar at the ranch, which could throw a wrench into the otherwise clean picture. And since everyone knows how important the 2.5 is, I can't imagine all the peons are content sticking with their DTYs. Classic is the land of upgrades, sometimes advised and sometimes ill-advised. That's why Classic podium training is the best. There's always at least one "Oh, honey, no." 

July 15, 2014

The End of a Sarah



So, Sarah Patterson retired. That happened today. Everyone wear a houndstooth blouse and talk about how winning the SEC title is harder than winning the national title as a tribute.

I was completely caught off guard by this one, and it comes with more of a sour note and less of a celebratory one than we'd usually have for the retirement of a member of the coaching Mount Olympus because it's clear she's not retiring of her own choice. As outlined in the announcement, a series of knee replacement surgeries will take her out of action for the next year, so she has decided to give herself a medical retirement rather than redshirt the season.

We know her health issues must be serious and urgent for her to make this kind of immediate and dramatic decision. When I first saw the headline about Sarah's retirement, I assumed she was announcing a retirement plan, like she would leave at the end of the 2015 season so she could do a whole farewell tour where all the other coaches give her flowers and say nice things about her and create tribute videos. Obviously, that would have happened if she were leaving on chosen terms.

The head coaching legends are abandoning us. We do have Marsden now and forever, and D-D Breaux signed a new contract, so they're still flying the flag for the 3-decade team. You know D-D will be coaching until she's 295 years old, just to prove a point. She'll be nothing but a brain in a jar off to the side of the gym, yet no one will doubt who's in charge. But with neither Suzanne nor Sarah around anymore, there's a major void on the acidic rivalry, dramatic personality, and controversial gossip fronts. Let this be a memo to all our Rhondas, KJs, and Dannas to pick it up. Yes, you're all very pleasant and professional and good at your jobs. Snore.

It's helpful that ESPN made the Sarah and Suzanne documentary recently because that effectively covers the legacy portion of Sarah's career. Even if I've never been rah-rah Sarah or rah-rah Alabama, the sport would be so much weaker without her and David's work at Alabama. College gymnastics wouldn't be remotely as healthy or interesting. 

And now we have so much more to talk about when it comes to Alabama and 2015. All eyes on the Tide.

July 2, 2014

Things I Don't Entirely Hate: 2014 Uneven Bars Edition

The early-summer lull. It can be a difficult slog to endure with so little interesting gymnastics going on, but we have had the pleasure of the World Cup and watching Miroslav Klose eat it on a punch front goal celebration (best part by far). There was also a web-streamed Pro Gymnastics Cup debacle that I skipped through most of. Katherine Grable did a comaneci, Luiza Galiulina is from Pakistan now, Jake Dalton's eyes and Chris Brooks' nipples did some high bar, and it was extremely pointless.

We're at the bottom of the barrel. But that's about to change soonish. The US women are heading south to the Theater of Broken Dreams for their final camp verification before things become real, a camp which has taken on a little more interest because of the Gabby Douglas comeback. We don't really know anything yet, but Martha's positive reaction from last camp has people mildly optimistic because she didn't give the old, expected "It's very difficult to come back. Just because you won in the past, that doesn't guarantee you anything" routine, what we'll call the Shawn Johnson treatment.

A somewhat in-form Gabby Douglas would throw a very pleasant little wrench into the whole post-Elizabeth Price elite landscape. The most interesting part of the Douglas comeback for me is bars because it's the event I really enjoy her on, and it would be the biggest asset event (both for herself and the team) if she could perform at even 3/4 of her 2012 self. To be honest, she could sit on the low bar and knit a tea cozy and I would want her on the Worlds team to do bars.

USAG did produce a video about her return with some blips of her training bars and, at the very beginning, getting some brief shaposh action on to the tune of a music clip obviously called "general uplifting while overcoming obstacles #2." The shaposh is new, but of course she would be training it. This is the quad of the shaposh.

Did you like that segue into a discussion of bars composition? Because I did.  



As much as it pains me to say it, the FIG's adjustments to the uneven bars code for the 2013-2016 quad are smart and have produced better and more entertaining routines. I know. I'm sorry. I won't make a habit of it.

The emphasis on rewarding flight combinations more than pirouetting combinations has forced gymnasts to compose more dynamic routines, which is what uneven bars is supposed to be. The bars final was the best part of Euros this year, and not just because Beckie Downie won and then everyone cried. Only mostly. 

Bars is my event for 2014. I have a different event every year. Last year it was beam. In 2012 it was vault. This year it's bars. It hasn't been floor in a long while. Let's work on that. And by "work on that," I don't mean introducing more rules requiring people to look backward before starting a tumbling pass (ARTISTRY!)

June 8, 2014

How Very Mid-Quad Of Us

It's that time of year again, the time of elite thinking. The 2014 NCAA season is well behind us, and it's not really healthy to start thinking about the 2015 season in any depth for at least another three or four months (lying). So, it's once again time for my annual attempt to return my attention to the elite scene, with all its D scores and team selections and switch ring full turns, and dive in feet first. (I've never been much of a diver, so headfirst seems inadvisable. Even though that's the expression, I'm not comfortable with it, and it should change.) 

As we enter the second year post-Olympics, we're starting to move into that meaty area at the center of the quad where things start to get a little more real. In the first year of a quad, we can only learn so much. It's a year of posturing, where we just sort of quaintly applaud people who have decided to stick around but can't make any real conclusions about the future. It's so hard to keep up for a full quad, and what seems like a given in year one is often obsolete by year four. Just ask Ana Porgras and Rebecca Bross about that one.


True story: I forgot Ana Porgras's name a few months ago. I was like, "Who was that good Romanian? The one with the face?"

But as we move into the second year, we start to wonder about who's actually in this thing, not just to hang around the edge of a Worlds team here or there but to be a major player. Now the ramshackle, debt-ridden Rio venues become a glinting tease shining on the periphery of every conversation. It's not close enough to be a thing, not nearly, but if you're a gymnastics fan, you find yourself absentmindedly forming possible World and Olympic teams while chopping vegetables, or taking a shower, or drinking the blood of your enemies, knowing it's too early and that none of these people will even have working bones anymore by the time 2016 rolls around, but still resculpting and reimagining the picture with the emergence of every new Gowey of the month.

But should we entertain that taunting Rio glint, or shut it out? How much is year 2 really relevant to year 4 of a quad? I don't have any grand conclusions because every team is different and every quad is different, but it's worth looking at how the years compare as we progress through a quad, keeping in mind how much things tend to change, or in specific cases, stay the same. In that spirit, I took a look back at 2010 Worlds and compared those teams to the 2012 Olympic teams to get some idea of how things progressed from year 2 to year 4. 

May 21, 2014

2014 NCAA Team Scoring: It's Comfy at the Top

For the last few seasons, I've been particularly interested in the trend of rising scores in NCAA, which is a relevant issue considering that the average team score for the top 36 teams in the country increased four tenths from 2012 to 2013 (from 195.406 in 2012 to 195.802 in 2013). That's almost a fall worth of increase per team per meet, which is fairly insane. Were teams really a fall better in 2013 than in 2012? No. The evaluation of routines is clearly getting more lenient across the board. Now that the 2014 season is over, it's time to revisit the topic following a year in which scores appeared to increase another notch with all the 10s and 198s we saw. Here are the average scores for the NCAA top 36 from 1999-2014:


And here's the same information, but limited to just the span from 2006-2014 to zero in on recent trends.


The results are somewhat interesting for 2014 because while the scores did increase over last season, just as anyone who watched this year would have guessed, the overall increase is not particularly large. Now, those of us who have been following the scores closely would certainly argue that the mega-scoring we saw this season is only part of a trend that began in earnest last season, which is reinforced by the numbers, with 2014 seeing another jump over 2013 and coming in as the second-highest scoring season in NCAA history behind 2004.

But, the increase is perhaps surprising in its smallness. In fact, the increase from 195.802 in 2013 to 195.861 in 2014 comes out to only .059, or just a little bit more than one step per meet per team, which is notable but not exceptionally significant in the grand scheme of meet scoring. It's certainly not the full four tenths leap we saw the previous year. So, why is that? We saw more 198s in 2014 than in 2013, and way more 197s, and the general perception is that scores skyrocketed this season and showed a clear departure even over the high scores of the previous season. What's the deal? Well, the deal becomes somewhat more clear if we break down the top 36 into manageable chunks. Here are the average scores for only the top 12 teams from 1999-2014:

May 12, 2014

2014 Level 10 Nationals Results

Our Level 10s and future NCAA 9.875ers have concluded competition at their national championships, so it's time to examine at who they are, what they've done, and where they're going. If you're not a JO follower (translation: if you're not a parent of a JO gymnast, basically), the competition is broken down into 8 divisions (Junior A-D, Senior A-D) divided by age. For our NCAA purposes, the junior divisions aren't immediately relevant because, even though some of them have already done fetus-verbals to college programs, they're still a long way off and a lot can change.

Full results can be found here, (and associated college verbals and signings can, as always, be found at collegegymfans) but I'm paying attention to only the senior divisions right now with particular emphasis on Senior C and Senior D, the gymnasts we will see entering NCAA programs in just a couple months. Here's what happened: 

SENIOR D



Top 10 AA
1. Taylor Harrison - Ohio State 2014-2015
38.475 (VT - 2nd, UB - 2nd, BB - 2nd, FX - 10th)
Ohio State has been stuck in the 195s for a few seasons now, and with Shaffer, Miller, Aepli, and DeLuca all leaving, they are desperate for this kind of winning-senior-D-level gymnastics to remain somewhere in the vicinity of the top teams. They are in dire need of AAers, so seeing an incoming gymnast win with 9.6s and 9.7s in Level 10 in encouraging.

2. Danielle Breen - Nebraska 2014-2015
38.400 (VT - 3rd, UB - 4th, BB - 5th, FX - 5th)
Nebraska is one of the big winners at JO Nationals this year, with several new recruits emerging or confirming their statuses as potential impact gymnasts. Breen is less well-known, but finishing in the top 5 on every event helps. Don't expect a post-Wong, post-Super Six slump for Nebraska in 2015. This is a goo-ood class that should continue bolstering the team's depth.  

3. Kaitlynn Hedelund - North Carolina 2014-2015
38.200 (VT - 12th, UB - 10th, BB - 7th, FX - 10th)
This is Hedelund's second straight year placing in the top 3 in her division, cracking the top 10 on beam both times. UNC also has Lindsey Lemke, a Geddert's girl who placed well in the past, coming in next season, so at least there is some prior success coming in this year for a team that has been off the radar lately. Let's see if it translates.

4. Maddy Stover - Utah 2014-2015
38.175 (VT - 18th, UB - 16th, BB - 1st, FX - 15th)
AND
5. Tiffani Lewis  - Utah 2014-2015
38.125 (VT - 7th, UB - 10th, BB - 7th, FX - 20th)

Nebraska wasn't the only team that had a good weekend. Utah should be toasting these results, with their incoming class recording solid AA placements. Look at those beam rankings. Utah still needs serious restocking on beam after consecutive years of the cracks emerging at the worst time, and they have the opportunity to wholly refresh that lineup for 2015. The interesting thing about Utah next year is that they're losing four major contributors, but they're not losing AAers (Damianova - 3 events, Lofgren - 2 events, Del Priore - 1 event, Hansen - 1 event), so the effect may not be felt as deeply as one would think.  

6. Zoey Schaefer - Washington 2014-2015
38.100 (VT - 29th, UB - 2nd, BB - 15th, FX - 1st)

7. Jordyn Penny - Ball State 2014-2015
38.000 (VT - 18th, UB - 4th, BB - 18th, FX - 12th)

8. Sydney Waltz - Kentucky 2014-2015
37.950 (VT - 18th, UB - 10th, BB - 14th, FX - 20th)

9. Kamerin Moore - Nebraska 2014-2015
37.875 (VT - 7th, UB - 1st, BB - 32nd, FX - 3rd)
Another of the much-anticipated Nebraska gymnasts, but she's more well known because of her tenure as a junior elite and status as a Geddert's gymnast. Moore would have placed right at the top with a hit beam routine, and it's reasonable to expect big things from her. 

10. Alexis Mattern - Ohio State 2014-2015
37.850 (VT - 4th, UB - 37th, BB - 7th, FX - 20th)

Notables
Myia Hambrick - LSU 2014-2015
VT - 7th, UB - 10th, BB - 2nd
I expected a higher placement from Hambrick, but a floor error took her out of the top AA rankings. However, she is very strong on floor (she's an LSU gymnast after all) and always seems to do well on beam - 2 years in a row placing 2nd there at nationals, which is the far more important quality for the Tigers right now.

Taylor Allex - errrr, Utah 2012-2013? (Is she planning to go to another program?)
VT - 1st, FX - 5th

Lauren Li - Penn State 2014-2015
VT - 7th, FX - 2nd

Lia Breeden - New Hampshire 2014-2015
BB - 5th, FX - 3rd

Amber Heltemes - Southern Utah 2014-2015
UB - 4th, FX - 5th

Lauren Rice - Sacramento State 2014-2015
BB - 4th

Nichole Guerrero - Alabama 2014-2015
VT - 4th

Corinne Rechenmacher - Kentucky 2014-2015
UB - 4th

Becca Schugel - Missouri 2014-2015
UB - 4th

Kiersten Sokolowski - Lindenwood 2014-2015
VT - 4th

Mary Jacobsen - Oregon State 2015-2016
UB - 4th

Gigi Marino - Georgia 2014-2015
FX - 5th

Alexis Brown - UC Davis 2014-2015
FX - 5th

Jill Van Mierlo - BYU 2014-2015
VT - 7th

Lianne Josbacher - Boise State 2014-2015
BB - 10th

Anya Olson - Brown 2014-2015
UB - 10th

Also, JaNay Honest competed in this session. I mention that just because at last word, she was set to walk on at UCLA, and she scored a solid 9.625 on vault for her yfull. Given the scoring gap UCLA has seen on vault lately (and losing Courtney doesn't help), they're in the market for vaulters.


SENIOR C

Top 10 AA
1. Grace Williams - Nebraska 2014-2015
38.725 (VT - 7th, UB - 1st, BB - 3rd, FX - 2nd)
More from Nebraska? Given her years of strong placements in JO, Williams has a chance to be the best of the bunch for Nebraska's incoming team. Note that Williams and Moore both won their division on bars, and that may be where the Huskers need the most infusion of scoring next year. They don't have the Wongs and Giblins anymore.

2. Erin Macadaeg - LSU 2014-2015
38.700 (VT - 4th, UB - 17th, BB - 1st, FX - 1st)
We met Macadaeg and her clean gymnastics at P&G Championships last year, and it's serving her well in JO. As mentioned with Hambrick, that beam placement is her most important virtue, especially considering how hard it will be for even excellent gymnasts to make those vault and floor lineups next year.

3. Kari Lee - Utah 2014-2015
38.475 (VT - 1st, UB - 2nd, BB - 5th, FX - 15th)
For a while we though Lee was going to Arizona, but she switched to Utah, which is a big get for the Utes. She has shown an important mixture of security and power on most of the events boasts an impressive yfull on vault. That vault lineup is going to be a thing.

May 5, 2014

Various

Another week, another batch of developments. I'll keep these weekly updates going in the off-season as long as there are things to say. Otherwise, I'll start delving into numbers. Comparing 2014 NCAA scoring to previous years seems like it will need to happen at some point.
  • First and foremost, it was confirmed today that Rene Lyst will be packing up her meet wardrobe and marching those heels over to Arizona State to take over as head coach following John Spini's retirement. Rene at Arizona State–it makes sense. It seemed like only a matter of time before she extracted herself from that "awkward alert!" co-coaching situation with Mark at Arkansas, but it will be fascinating to see how things play out for her as an independent head coach for the first time. Arkansas has been a very successful team since its inception, but Mark Cook often receives the majority of the credit for that. This is a chance for Rene to establish her own coaching identity in a program that has been screaming for a major shakeup for years. They need to start working beam with the same attitude that Rene uses to shop for clothes, if that makes any sense. 
  • Last week, ESPNU profiled the Alabama/Georgia gymnastics rivalry in "Sarah & Suzanne: Into Darkness." 
  • For those unfamiliar with the history of that time Sarah was pissed that Georgia used the wrong bars, it was a helpful, basic overview of the evolutions of the Alabama and Georgia programs into actual things with actual fans, unearthing the eyeroll-inducing "sweet" Sarah vs. "nasty" Suzanne narrative from back in the day. Maybe that's why I've always liked Suzanne so much. Even during the interviews in this . . . (are we calling it a documentary? That seems like a stretch . . . featurette?) she still looks like she's holding a shiv just out of shot. I respect that. 
  • It didn't tell us anything new or juicy (it was never going to), but it was a perfectly reasonable commercial for the programs and the borderline-terrifying grand dames that built them. Plus, we got to see Kupets again and also how amazing Ashley Miles looks. You know Ashley Miles just wanted to be part of this so that she could be like, "Check this out. Am I a model? Probably." Also, could all those the goobers from the Athens Bee and the Tuscaloosa Aw, Shucks Times or whatever have been any bigger stereotypes of themselves? It was awesome.
  • But really, the clothes. The primary motif and thematic journey of "Sarah and Suzanne" concerns the leotard and fashion choices. Who told any of you that any of this was a good idea? You might try to explain it away by saying that it was a different era, but no. This wasn't just some Kerri Strugg's mom (a.k.a. the state bird of the year 1996) action. No one EVER wore clothes like this. 
    • Tone it down, Betty Crocker. 
    • There were all kinds of strange moments in "Sarah & Suzanne," like when we were treated to a discussion of the perils of Georgia's difficulty while seeing them fall on a layout stepout on beam and a giant on bars. THE DIFFICULTY! Or how much Georgia footage there was of Shayla Worley, Sarah Persinger, and Noel Couch, none of whom ever competed under Suzanne. But for a full guided tour through the trauma, check out Spanny Tampson's breakdown. I mean that in the sense that she broke down the action from the featurette, not like she had a mental breakdown while watching this thing. But you never know. Al Trautwig did make an appearance, and it's always hard to keep going emotionally after that. The biggest problem with Al is that in the last 20 years, he has never gotten past the fact that gymnastics is hard. Yeah, it's hard. Now let's progress from there.