November 22, 2015

Freshman Notes: LSU, Georgia, Nebraska

On to the next set of hopeful young freshmen! We've got several volumes of Lexie Priessman injury history to get through, so let's get going.


It won't be an easy little stroll through the meadow for LSU this year. Every possible gymnast in the universe graduated after last season, so now it's just Jay Clark and one grip sitting there writing poems about loneliness. The problem is actually not so much the number of lost routines (there's still a solid core) as the value of those routines. Seven of the eight 5th-6th routines from last year are gone, which means a hefty little number of 9.9s will need to be sculpted from somewhere TBD that may or may not exist. The good news is that this year's freshman class is wildly talented.

Let's start by addressing Lexie Priessman. It's hard to believe she's just now starting college because even when she was a junior elite she already looked like she had just moved to New York to get a job in PR, while all the other girls were like, "I'm four."

We all know what a healthy Lexie Priessman would be capable of, at least if we can remember back that far or if "healthy Lexie Priessman" is still a possible theoretical state of matter. She could be an absolute ridiculous star on vault and floor, and also everywhere because Lexie Priessman. I'm pretty interested to see what she ends up putting together on bars and beam (fingers crossed) because as an elite, her form could get pretty ragged on those events, becoming more pronounced as time went on. That seemed to be primarily a function of pushing the D-score via skills that weren't actually great ideas for her, but we'll have to see if an NCAA routine is indeed a much cleaner prospect. 

Of course, the only real question heading into Priessman's NCAA career is what shape she's in. And I don't mean shape like fitness. I mean what actual geometric shape she is. Triangle? Rhombus? Pentagram? Having endured years of the emotional and physical turmoil of OCD Sunday School, we can never really be sure. The mystery deepens. Priessman has been in various states of extreme leg-disappearedness for the last, oh, 600 months, ever since MLT put that hex on her where every time she does a skill, her body breaks into a thousand pieces. Her level of MLT-breaks will be the deciding factor as to where she ends up on the huge-star/injury-retirement scale. Can she get back to full strength? At some point?

Keeping on the topic of relatively unknown quantities post-2012, remember how obsessed you were with Sarah Finnegan for 11 minutes? Well, she's back. It's really exciting. We hope. The trouble is that we haven't seen any real gymnastics from her since the late 1950s. Is she healthy? Is she doing all the events? Is she a tatted-up truck driver now? We have no way of knowing. Finnegan was excellent all-around during her shooting-star elite career, though I have to think bars and beam will be her key events (especially post-Courville and Jordan, and post-that thing where she competed gymnastics). Both those lineups need 500ccs of undiluted Finnegan, stat. (That's her doing a lovely DLO off bars in the training video above, right? I have a lot of ID problems...) In case you also need a refresher about Finnegan's heavenly beam routine, this is important viewing, mostly because there's some priceless Elfi and Tim at the beginning about her really unique wolf turn. It's an excellent lesson in what it sounds like when Tim is 100% done with your life.

Finnegan and Priessman are intended as the replacement stars for our dearly departed favorites, but because of their injuries/lack of competition in the past eon, LSU will have to lean pretty heavily on the rest of this class to be sturdy workhorses and fill in many of these lineup gaps.

The very best thing about McKenna Lou Kelley entering NCAA is that we finally get to stop going, "Wait, are you even an elite? Then why are you at Marthaville every day?" Humanity must collectively and immediately stop trying to make MARY LOU'S DAUGHTER AHHHH happen, so it's already better. 

November 15, 2015

Freshman Notes: Florida, Utah, Stanford

We've got a whole slew of new, optimistic faces ready to start their NCAA careers in a month and a half (lots of classes with 5 and 6 freshmen this year), so before they do that, let's get to know the new meat and break down what they'll bring to their teams—besides "such great enthusiasm and a beautiful competitive spirit," thank you for your no help, coaches—and where they might contribute this year.


The defending champs have certainly lost significant routines from Kytra Hunter and the Wang/Spicer 9.850 Preservation Committee after last season, but this is Florida and that happens every year. This new class is probably the second-strongest freshman group in the nation (because cut to LSU going, "wanna fight?") and will be expected to maintain a similar team-scoring pace while missing very few beats, aside from the hole in the ceiling left by Kytra's floor 10s.

It's rare that one of the most anticipated freshmen in a season is a non-elite, but such was the level of Alicia Boren's annual dominance at JO nationals, winning her age group about a hundred years in a row. With most of the name-brand elites entering this season carrying Pulitzer-level injury histories, Boren looks to be among the more reliable bets for "impact freshman," or whatever sportsball people say.

Vault and floor are a definite yes for Boren. She has a very comfortable 1.5 on vault, which is all the more valuable this season, and her floor tumbling is big, big, big. She anchored her JO floor routine with a full-in, which is a total "check me out, losers" move, and I love it. At this point, we should probably start a running tally of "SHE'S THE NEW KYTRA!!11" for the season, because it's going to be all the time. We need a gymnastics-commentary swear jar for it. I hereby ban all further mentions.

Boren's beam work will also have a definite place on the team, with her strong, secure acro elements and workable leaps. The main question mark as to her possible AA contribution will be bars since it's the weaker event of her four. It's not really a problem routine (she would compete bars for the majority of teams), but the releases are a little clunky and there's some foot form. So, while she's capable of putting up a usable bars routine, it will be more challenging to make the top 6 there. At the same time, her JO bars work is much stronger than McMurtry's was, so there's that. 9.950

Let's move on to Peyton Ernst, the one you always think is a character from Make It Or Break It and then remember that she's a real person. Ernst was an elite for a number of years, coming out of Texas (Bailie Key's Broken) Dreams, and was legitimately in the conversation for an early-quad Worlds team before her case of Generalized Elite Injury Disorder set in. She has been a little witness protectiony ever since, so in some respects it will be a wait-and-see as to how much she's able to recover those elite routines. But, with her previous elite skill set and well-rounded difficulty and quality across four events (DTY, shaposhi, DLO & double arabian on floor, strong dance elements), she would certainly contribute a big routine on any event in ideal health circumstances.

Ernst's most important event will be beam (and that's the one event we saw from her in the most recent training videos above). Remember when she showed up with that 6.3 elite beam routine and everyone went, "Is that a number?!?!?" We were so young then. Beam was the weakest event for the Gators last year (relative), and they haven't really had that second sure beam 9.900 since Macko left (SHE'S THE NEW MACKO!!11...anyone? Anyone?). Ernst can be that with the right skill composition, of which she has many, many options.

November 11, 2015

NLI Week 2016-2017

Before we get ourselves fully entrenched in bracing for the inevitable disappointments that the 2016 NCAA season will bring, it's time to take a moment to gaze with dewy-eyed optimism and childlike wonder at the possibilities resting on the post-Olympic horizon. Beginning today (Wednesday) and for the next week-ish, schools will reveal which gymnasts will join their teams for the 2017 season by confirming the completely informed and totally sensible verbal commitments those gymnasts made right before preschool graduation. You know, when you're thinking about college. 

I'll be updating this list with the various schools' press releases as they announce their incoming gymnasts' NLI signings. Now to review, NLI stands for Nine Long-term Injuries and is the document gymnasts sign to acknowledge that they are under no circumstances going to be healthy enough to compete four whole years of college gymnastics. But in real life, it stands for National Letter of Intent, and it signals an end to the recruiting process by confirming a gymnast's commitment to attend the school in question. Once a gymnast signs an NLI, the choice of school is official, unlike the previously announced verbal commitments that can and do change.

The verbal commitment is kind of like when you run into a tiring acquaintance a party and they say, "We should do something sometime," and you're like, "Yeah, that would be great, we should" but barely mean it and can always back out when you think of a good excuse. But signing the NLI is like when that tiring acquaintance texts you to say, "You're coming to dinner on Friday, right?" and you actually have to do it now because specific plans have been made. Just as a random example. 

So, let's find out who has to go to dinner on Friday.

OKLAHOMA - Release
Maggie Nichols, Jade Degouveia, Brehanna Showers

Alex Marks also signs to come aboard immediately to round out "Operation No Brenna."

“This signing class is literally giving me goosebumps." We're gonna need a bigger swag-o-meter.

UTAH - Release
MyKayla Skinner (previously signed), Missy Reinstadtler, Kim Tessen

Madison Copiak, Michaela Nelson, Maya Washington

FLORIDA - Release
Alyssa Baumann, Amelia Hundley, Rachel Gowey, Maegan Chant

This is the "your job is to replace Bridget Sloan, so no pressure" group, and it will be the strongest of the 2017 classes, along with UCLA's. Just get the duct tape and staple gun ready.

November 6, 2015

Event Finals, Please Pack Your 9.9s and Go

RIP, NCAA event finals. We'll always have complaining about how long you take amid a vague hangover.  

During the great yfull purge of 2015, the NCAA League of Chief In-Charge Women also revealed that they were planning to decapitate the event finals in the town square at some time to be determined, and it turns out that time is immediately.

It is now confirmed that instead of the usual three-day competition, the 2016 NCAA championship will consist of the normal semifinals on Friday, the normal Super Six on Saturday, and then nothing on Sunday, eliminating a specific day devoted to events. (This is a slight improvement on the previously proposed Friday-rest-Sunday schedule, as advocated by the boring police from Lametown.) In another development, both the Friday and Saturday competitions will be televised live on ESPNU, a coup that the sport has been fighting for dating back to the days when TVs were a thing that people watched.

Getting live television is still a big deal in exposure for the sport (we've seen the very encouraging recent ratings from the Pac-12 and SEC Nets that helped propel this move and have brought more people into following the sport), especially for family viewing and people who still watch programs—but pronounced progrums—on the TV box, though it's increasingly less important for later-teenage, early-twenties whippersnappers who Liketweet on their iDroids and aren't particularly likely to watch the competition live on TV, and who make up a valuable demo for gymnastics that isn't catered to quite enough, but that's an issue for another day.

Well actually, it's an issue for today because there is a real chunk of people, mostly younger and therefore still valuable as human beings, who will be excluded from watching the championship since ESPNU broadcasts fall behind a subscription wall. People who don't have ESPNU or a WatchESPN login from their cable/sat package likely won't be able to watch (unless a special allowance is made), which is a long-term issue for a sport that needs every set of eyeballs it can get on its main event to stay afloat and specifically needs to cater to people in that borderline age of "I'm not doing gymnastics anymore and I might start drifting away from it toward other interests if my attention span isn't constantly reminded of it" to turn them into lifelong fans. Getting a live TV deal is still good news, but it's not exclusively good news in the present incarnation. 

November 1, 2015

Worlds 2015 – You Guys, I Think We Fixed It

Sadly, the world championship has come and gone for another year, like a fleeting spurt from a stage-mounted flamethrower that you're convinced is going to singe Max Whitlock in the everywhere. But it was a good one! From the delectably OTT pomp and circumstance of the event production, to the avalanche of live coverage being injected into our eye sockets all throughout each day (thanks USAG!), to Maurice Lardo, to that thing where that small fishing village won the bars final for some reason, this ranks as the most entertaining world championship in memory. Everyone's memory. I tapped into all of them, so I know. And, frankly, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

A little wistful? A little wistful. So, now that we'll never again get to ro-TAINT, ro-TAINT—which is what it sounded like, a bunch of children just yelling TAINT—or wait with bated breath to find out whether Glasgow is ready or not (I didn't say I'd miss all of it), that means we have just two short months left to prepare with catlike compulsive licking for the upcoming NCAA season and for remembering that a 10 is, like, good and wobbles are, like, a problem. Freshman previews are around the corner, probably.

But there's still one more day of competition to break down until it weeps for mercy, so let's get into it.

-The big bad news is that Oleg Stepko did not acquiesce to wearing his I-just-had-sex-with-a-volcano lava-smear singlet from the European Games, but thankfully, he did remind us that just because you cut your hair with half a stolen blender, doesn't mean you can't be a star. Check your judgment at the door, you worthless moron. 

-Oleg S's hair and dystopian tattooscape carried him through to a bronze on pbars and a spot in the Olympics among an exceptionally high-quality pbars field that did this weird thing where all the routines were good and impressive, and the result came down to small things like hesitations in handstands and steps on landing. Almost like an event final, or something. Leyva had just a couple breaks in form, which was enough to shove him all the way down to sixth, and Nile Wilson had the gall to be just fine and got basically a 2.

-Speaking of exactly the opposite of that, beam. Let's face it, that beam final was a steaming landfill covered in mayonnaise on a hot summer day. The people who fell were everybody. I fell during that beam final, and I was in bed. (I'm very talented.) Medals were awarded to the people who successfully completed routines, because of ACCOMPLISHMENT, minus Victoria Komova, who stayed on the beam but went Full Weeble on every acro skill, which was doubly disappointing because it both took her out of the medals and struck a devastating blow to the "Vika has no fight!" narrative because she kind of stayed on. BUT NOW WHAT WILL WE SAY WHEN SHE FALLS???? Oh right. Still that, because we'll forget about this in 11 seconds and go right back to what we thought before. Yay, ignoring evidence. 

-Pauline Schaefer and Sanne Wevers both had a number of wobbles and breaks, which means congratulations, you're the best. Schaefer hung on for bronze, while Wevers spinderella-ed her way to silver. Meanwhile, the one competitor who hit a real routine without looking as though a ghost was passing through her center of gravity at every moment, one Dr. Biles, hopped to gold by a casual full point. The beam final was basically just The Simone and Nope Show.

October 31, 2015

Worlds 2015 – You Guys, I Think We Broke the Medal Stand

Obviously, we're starting with uneven bars. Let's just get that sarcastic leprechaun's fever dream out of the way right now. Here's how it went down.

This morning, Nellie Kim met with all the women's judges to tell them of her plans for a passage of one-legged, no-look acro elements from side position in releve requirement for beam, because TEH ARTISTRY, at which point the judges robbed a Xanax truck at gunpoint, downed all of it, then hosed themselves into the uneven bars final going, "8.7 EXECUTION PROBABLY. EVERYONE TASTES LIKE WINNERS [coma]." 

Everyone tastes like winners, indeed. Except for Gabby Douglas, apparently, since the judges looked at her cleanest-routine-of-the-final and went "Not quite. BOOP."

But notwithstanding Gabby and Sophie Scheder, who sadly got the rickets in the middle of her dismount and temporarily forgot what walking is, the judges thought it would be funny (not ha-ha funny, more like sylvia-plath funny), if they just gave everyone and everything, all the flora and fauna, the exact same score. Because who the hell cares? Not us! Great. Fun. So once Fan Yilin got a 15.366, they said "Bingo, there's the one" and conferenced for several short life cycles of a sea turtle about how to get Komova's score down to 15.366. And with that never-say-die attitude they're so famous for, they did it! Because of...sure. And...reasons. Komova thought that was some hilarious bullshit. Throughout the whole tie process, from getting her shut-up-nonsense-steroid-conspiracy of a score to being forced to hop up on that sister-wives medal stand with everyone else, she was basically this.

And once they got Komova in the tie, why not get Kocian and Spiridonova into the mix too? I CAN THINK OF NO REASON. This is such a fun game of Electronic Talking Fuck It! You stepped? That's fine. You missed some handstands in there? That's fine. 15.366! It's a party! Four golds! We're doing our jobs and there's no problem with this! We definitely won't run out of medals and won't have to invite tomorrow's winners onto the podium to give them a scrap of notebook paper with "Redeemable for one Mother's Day present" on it.   

October 30, 2015

Worlds 2015 – You Guys, I Think We Broke Everything I've Ever Loved

Well, there we have it. The annual Kohei has Koheied for another Kohei, and Kohei managed to Kohei through all six Koheis and Kohei the gold Kohei by Kohei points. In case that was unclear, Kohei "I, like, invented Simone" Uchimura did this thing where he pops out of a golden lamp, does all the perfects, and then laughs at all those pathetic sloths with leprosy that can barely even get a 90. Kohei persisted in being so much more un-terrible than everyone else that he physically died from lack of competition in the middle of his rings routine and still sent everyone else to the sadness corner by winning his 84th world championship and becoming sultan of hair and everything.

After this competition, if Kohei doesn't fill a bathtub with gold medals and then take a picture of himself in it wearing only a captain's hat while holding a cigar and a snifter of brandy with a parrot on his shoulder, then he and I have officially nothing in common.

[Spot reserved for Kohei Bathtub Pirate. Oh, I can wait......]

Hm. You want to play underwater charades? One word, five syllables? Talk to the hand because my finger is busy? Hi mom, but give me a minute? Hit me blisters, one more time? I just can't crack your code.

-But memo to the world championship: you need to pick yourself up off of the snooze pile and pull your shit together. For a competition that started out with such promise of life-enforcing ridiculousness (remember when Romania got possessed by all those poltergeists on bars and got 11s? REMEMBER????), it has turned into a stale rehashing of three-year-old storylines these last few days. This isn't Gossip Girl, you know. We have standards.

-The event finals really better bring out the big drama to make up for all this predictable Kohei/Simone will-they-won't-they nonsense. At least give us a murder mystery, or a fake pregnancy, or an uneven bars mount, or an amnesiac quintuplet who bursts open the doors of the balance beam final and goes, "I'M THE REAL SANNE WEVERS! THAT'S AN IMPOSTOR!" Is that too much to ask? I don't think so. But let's get into the men's AA.