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 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!)