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.

September 14, 2014

Let's Discuss Your Skill Set - 2014 Edition

(Before we begin, Bailie Key has verbally committed to Florida. For the moment, let's put this in the "we'll see" category along with Biles and UCLA. We have some big years to get through first.)  

Now to the business at hand. I've gone and done it again. The elite season is all a-flurry. Classic and US Championships are behind us and Mrs. Karolyi's Wild Ride begins tomorrow, which means we have a brand new batch of American routines to dissect to find out which skills are becoming more popular, which skills are becoming less popular, and how that relates to our expectations for the current code of points. Numbers! Thoughts! Squinting!

Below are tables listing the skills performed by US senior gymnasts this summer (with the exception of skills like giants and back handsprings because obviously), broken down by event and skill type. The percentages indicate the proportion of gymnasts who chose to perform each skill, and the info from 2013 and 2012 is included as well for comparison.

Notes: The colors indicate an increase/decrease of at least 10 percentage points in a single year. As with the past two years, I counted the skill attempted—even if it shouldn't receive credit—because this is about evaluating intended composition. This year, I also included the seniors who competed at Classic but not Championships just to give us a few more people to work with. There weren't exactly a lot of seniors this year. And as such, keep in mind that it doesn't take that many gymnasts performing a skill to create a large change in the %s.


-Can we talk about these toe-ons? And why? Everyone and her coach's elderly aunt who always needs to be picked up from the dry cleaners for some reason is doing a toe circle with no pirouetting this year. That skill is booming, up from just 14% in 2012. Now it's in almost half of routines. The stalders are getting in on the action as well with 20% doing stalders compared to none last year. 

A couple people need these C elements to count as part of their 8, but many who perform the toe-on aren't using it as a counting skill. Is it a rhythm thing? Is everyone systematically being forced to put toe-ons that don't count into their routines because of a yet-to-be-determined evil plan involving bees and world domination? It could be a backup skill in case something else gets downgraded, but that's what B giants before the dismount are for. And why suddenly now? What has changed to make this skill more useful than before? Anything?

-We're also seeing slight decreases in the numbers of toe-on fulls and stalder fulls being performed. These decreases are not too large or significant, but they make sense since D pirouettes are less valuable now that skills must have flight to earn significant CV.

-Overall, the routines this season contain more pirouetting skills than last season, which runs slightly counter to the expectation that flight would progressively take over for pirouetting in the 2013-2016 quad because of the changes in CV. It's something to keep an eye on in 2015 and 2016.  

-The Weiler kip moment appears to be passing. Good.

-JAEGERS! Everyone needs a Jaeger! THERE ARE NO OTHER RELEASES! We can call this the tyranny of the grip-change requirement, but it's getting worse.

-The tkatchev is not as popular this year for some reason. It's not really a code issue, since E tkatchev variations connected into paks are extremely valuable for CV. This may just be a year with fewer gymnasts capable/comfortable with that type of skill. This is the year of Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian on bars, and they're more of the Russian style than the Tweddle style.

-Bye, gienger. We'll always have NCAA.

August 26, 2014


Another national championship done and done. And then it's over. And then what's the point of anything anymore? Guh.

Simone Biles is the star of the world. Obviously. She's just better than you. And by you, I mean everyone. She's a thoroughly enjoyable national champion. I even had a moment where I was eager to hear Simone's post-meet interviews, which is strange and new territory. Can you believe it? I want to know what she's going to say! Who was the last US gymnast who was engaging enough in interviews to make them worth watching? Alicia Sacramone? That's a victory in itself. Who even cares about the meet?

Especially because Simone's excellence made the whole thing not super exciting. We were left to try to enjoy the scraps of the fight for second, which is inherently non-dramatic. It's like when you're playing a board game with a group of people, someone wins, and then someone else inevitably says, "Do you want to keep playing for second?" and you're like ". . . no." That was this national championship. At least Sam Mikulak had the decency to kind of screw up on the first day so that he could mount a glorious and dramatic comeback on day 2 to make it competitive and down-to-the-wire and all the other things we like.

My favorite part of the men's second day was listening to Tim Daggett try to balance his commentary between "Jake Dalton is obviously not going to win—he finishes on pommel horse" and trying to force himself to pretend like Dalton was still in it for the title to feed into the Trautwiggy/NBCy need to turn up the drama and make everything into "THE BIGGEST MOMENT OF HIS LIFE," which I think Al said at least six times. Well, at one point he said, "the last rotation of his life," which was weird and morbid and I didn't know what was happening. Someone who has a lot of time and energy should go through all the old NBC broadcasts and cut together every time Al says that a routine is the biggest moment of someone's life. It would be an epic miniseries. Nastia alone probably had between 12 and 15 biggest moments of her life. 

August 17, 2014

Post-Classic, Pre-Championships Difficulties

Now that we have lurched ourselves in that strange, antsy interim period between Classic and Championships, it's time to revisit the difficulty scores for the US women based on what we learned at Classic, which was mostly nothing. Classic essentially served to confirm what we already knew, that Simone Biles and Kyla Ross are dominating the all-around picture, without providing many answers about the rest of the senior elite group.

But the picture has adjusted slightly, so I have updated the super cool, popular kid spreadsheets of  current D-scores on each event after the performances at Classic. I retained a couple D-scores that we haven't yet seen this season, like the 6.4 and 6.1 on bars for Ross and Biles respectively, because even though they didn't try those routines at Classic, both are intending to build back up to those scores as the year progresses. 

As necessary, I tried to remove the stick bonus from Classic (which was irritatingly added to the D-Score) wherever it reared its ugly head, so I have Biles at her real score of 6.5 on floor and Locklear at her real 6.5 on bars, but I grant I may have missed a few.


Biles, obviously. With Maroney injured and Price off to Stanford, Biles is clearly the best vaulter in the country. After that, it gets a bit interesting. 

Mykayla Skinner, you guys. What are we going to do about this situation? Without that many difficult vaults being done right now, 2014 would seem like the year for her to muscle her way onto the team as a vault specialist with that Dadaist Cheng of hers. Yet, at Classic she scored lower on vault than Ross, even if we take out Kyla's stick bonus. You don't get to be a vault specialist if you're scoring lower than Kyla Ross's DTY. That's the rule. We tend to look only at the highest difficulty vaults in formulating prospective team final scenarios, but the US could be perfectly fine at Worlds using Ross's DTY as a leadoff. They'd still have a big vault advantage. If Skinner is going to make it to Worlds as a vaulter, she'll have to prove that she is markedly and reliably better than Ross, which she hasn't done yet.

However, Skinner's vault fate may rest mostly in the hands of Gowey and Dowell, the final two current members of the Amanar club. Gowey went for the 2.5 at Classic and fell, so she'll have to prove some consistency with that vault at Championships/selection to be considered as a vaulter. She is a Martha favorite, though, so she'll have time to find that consistency. With Dowell, who even knows where she is with that ankle injury, but her 2.5 has been usable in the past. She'll still be in the conversation if she ends up showing four events soon. We have the potential for an entertaining vault showdown brewing among this group of non-Biles vaulters. A couple of them need to finish top 3 on vault at Nationals.

August 6, 2014

Classic Gymcastic

This week, I appeared (and by "appeared," I mean "giggled in the background while being surprisingly bad at pop quizzes") on Gymcastic with gems Jessica, Uncle Tim, and Lauren to talk about the Secret Classic and my feelings about Wu Jiani's amazing celebration, that woman in the background of Kyla's floor routine, the Texas Dreams leotard, Martha's taste in music, and maybe a little bit of gymnastics. Maybe.

Have a listen. I command thee. Which you should be doing every week anyway, because they're the best. If you're sitting around thinking, "Hey, I'm looking for a way to get nothing done on Wednesdays, but what do I do?!?" This is your answer.

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.