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.

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.