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.