May 28, 2012

Thoughts on Classic

While apparently there was some gymnastics performed on Saturday, focus is solely on this month's USAG Lifetime Original Movie called The Denial of Chellsie Memmel. You'll probably cry. While I feel bad for Chellsie because she should have Qualifier Emeritus status at this point and there's no legitimate reason to prevent her from going, I also live for all of the commotion this has caused. That part of me now wants to see Shawn Johnson skip Nationals and be granted a petition to Trials just to see what would happen.

Most of the controversy of the petition denial has centered around the arbitrary 14.000 one-event qualifying score that Martha apparently established without telling anyone. She has said that Chellsie could not be granted a petition because she did not meet that score. This is a red herring. The entire point of the petition is that it can be granted to a gymnast who doesn't meet the qualifying criterion and yet deserves to go anyway. So the argument that a petition cannot be granted to a gymnast who failed to reach a qualifying standard is ridiculous. That's why petitions exist, and it certainly could have been granted if they wanted to do it. They didn't want to.

Chellsie Memmel was never going to make this Olympic team, but neither is Brianna Brown, so let's not pretend that advancing to Nationals is all about who is in contention to make the Olympic team.

May 25, 2012

Classic Podium Training

Very little can be gleaned from podium training, and it's silly to analyze the routines or read too much into them . . . is what a sane person would say. With that out of the way, let's begin.

As per Blythe, Bridget Sloan pulled out due to Marvin Sharp issues. She'll be competing at Nationals. Hopefully the problem is not serious. Bridget, Alicia, and Shawn? holding off until Nationals makes it like we're not opening all our presents at one competition. We'll still have new things to look forward to in two weeks.

Watch more video of 2012 Secret US Classic on
Nastia is looking very fit, and this routine is mostly fine. The composition is exactly what was expected. However, she's throwing and wishing on the switch half and the switch ring right now, and those will need to improve in the coming weeks, as will her speed of connection. All those connections were a bit shaky today, so we could see this routine going anywhere from 5.8-6.3. She needs to be getting in that 6.2-6.3 range every time.

May 23, 2012

Georgia Notes

Now that Georgia has made it official and told us all what we already know, it's time for a few thoughts.

In some respects, Danna Durante is walking into unprecedented territory. Georgia, Utah, and Alabama are unmatched in terms of fan support and expectations, both for results and for the attitude of the program, and Utah and Alabama have not experienced coaching changes. Even Jay's ascension at Georgia was originally part of a smooth transition where he was already part of the family. This is the first outside hire quite of this magnitude (you could compare it to Rhonda coming in at Florida, but they've never won championships, so it's different), so it will be fascinating to watch how the fans react to Danna. Also, she should know that it's very difficult for me to pronounce her name like Dana since it has a double n. For now, she's Danna, rhymes with Hannah.

Durante's every action in the first season will be scrutinized, and she will have even less benefit of the doubt than Jay did because she is a newcomer. From the beginning, it will be important for her to go out of her way to develop relationships with the boosters and make it clear that she has championship expectations for this team immediately. They will not accept any less.

May 20, 2012

Nastia Liukin and the Classic of Secrets

I have been a bit remiss in providing updates since the end of the NCAA season because not much has been happening besides rumors and a trickle of partial routine videos from USA Gymnastics. I've also been spending a fiar bit of time working on my word and language blog, The Dictionary Eyes. So feel free to check that out and tell your friends if you're the type of person who has friends.

On to gymnastics, I was waiting to talk about UGA hiring Danna Durante until we got some kind of official confirmation, but they are taking forever with that. I would say I have a lot of thoughts, but I don't. This is a very middle-of-the-road, shrug-of-the-shoulders choice. I have strong opinions about everything, and yet I have almost no opinion at all about this, which is telling. Georgia would have loved to get someone with a strong pedigree or big name, but why would a big name take this job? That was one of my main criticisms of the Jay Clark firing. Who else is going to be better?

We'll have plenty of time to dissect Durante's every word during the NCAA preseason, but for now let's turn our attention to the elites and the upcoming Secret Classic.

Once Visa Championships and Olympic Trials start, we will be spending most of our time talking about potential teams and the likes of Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, and Aly Raisman. The Classic this year isn't really about them. All the major Olympic contenders will be competing at least one event, but their Classic results will be mostly irrelevant. We've seen enough from them already this year to know that they are on track. A fall from one of them would probably send the internet into a tizzy, but it would do little to derail anyone's momentum. No, this year's Classic is all about veterans and comebacks.

To be more specific, it's all about Nastia Liukin. She'll be competing balance beam at this event with a doubtful question mark next to bars. A bars routine needs to come along very soon for this comeback to be relevant at all, but she could save that for Visa Championships and be fine. Technically, I believe she would need a two-event qualifying score at Classic to make Championships, but come on. All qualification rules magically disappear when names are involved. It should be of concern to the younger gymnasts that even the very concept of Nastia competing is the most interesting thing to happen in US gymnastics this year. Reputation, personality, and presence go a long way.

While a bar routine with something around a 7.0 D-Score would be her golden ticket to London, let's not discount beam. She won't be able to muster the huge difficulty in the 6.5-6.7 range that we'll see from some others in London because she doesn't have any E+ acro skills, but she will be capable of a  very clean routine with low-6s difficulty, which would be useful in Team Finals. Kyla Ross needs to watch out for Nastia because if Nastia proves more useful on bars and beam, we could be looking at a situation where Ross is not top three on any event come Trials (especially because I'm not sold on the landing of that Amanar), and that's a very dangerous position for a five-member team. Nastia could shake up a lot of people's chances if she proves usable on beam at Classic.

May 4, 2012

Jay Clark Resigns


I must admit that I did not see this coming, and I think it's a real shame. While there have been rumblings ever since the 2010 Regionals disaster about Jay not living up to Suzanne, no coach coming into this program would have been able to replicate that success.

While there were areas he needed to work on as a coach, the team was improving each year under his leadership. Even though this year's group had a disappointing finish at Nationals, they were the most cohesive team with the most potential for success of the three during his tenure, even if the raw talent level was higher in 2010. It was clear that he was starting to find his footing in this position. The expectation that championships would immediately follow after Suzanne left was unrealistic. This is a rash move by Georgia and one that will backfire when a new coach comes in who is similarly unable to deliver championships right away.

Success in NCAA gymnastics is so dependent on trust and emotion and everyone buying in to the process. It is probably unique among sports in that way. In other sports we hear a lot about how the concept of team chemistry is overrated, but it is essential in NCAA women's gymnastics. Not understanding that is an error. It takes time to build that kind of trust and chemistry and attitude for a program. Georgia was starting to get on its way toward rebuilding the program, and short of coaxing Suzanne out of retirement, they will be right back at 2010 again with a new coach.

There will be all kinds of speculation about who will replace Jay, but the pool of qualified candidates with the experience necessary who also want the job is extremely small.