Sunday, 19 August 2018

US Worlds Team

So after a very interesting Day 1 of Nationals and before Day 2, September camp and selection...it's definitely time to start picking the worlds team.

Simone Biles

Well, duhh. She was on this team when she announced her comeback. While I expected her to be at her typical level at Classics and Nationals, I didn't expect her to be better than Rio. Unlike others who make comebacks who might just do one or two apparatus at first at lower difficulty it was no surprise at all that she jumped in to the all-around but it's the difficulty that's shocking, to be doing more than in Rio right away. I've said this before but aside from being gobsmacked at seeing her stick a fabulous Cheng and land the best Moors there has or will ever be, it feels like a privilege to witness her in action, the greatest of all time. Especially that I have seen her live in Antwerp and Glasgow and hopefully again at Dortmund next year.

At worlds she will obviously do the AA in quals. If she can produce that same bars routine there as she did on Friday night then she should easily make bars finals. I'm very curious about where that routine would stand up internationally..it's smart and short so she doesn't stay up long enough to rack up a large amount of deductions while the upgrades will bring up her score. On the other hand, although she is not exactly a natural bars worker, the field is not at its strongest internationally so she could make inroads into the medals especially if there are mistakes. I would still be shocked if she took a medal there though unlike every other event where I'd be shocked if she did not get gold. She looks to be a sure bet for gold AA, floor gold, vault gold, very confident for beam gold, and a possible bet for a bars medal. Beyond impressive.

QF - VT, UB, BB, FX
TF- VT, UB, BB, FX

Morgan Hurd

Morgan looks better than she did in Montreal. I'm glad the Moors is shelved at least for now, as she said herself it is not worth the difficulty advantage if it's outweighed by execution deductions. Her floor is a joy to watch, she has a great connection to the music and sells it so well. On beam she took out the front pike which she will no doubt add back in in time. The reigning world champion is more sure of herself now, she has more confidence and poise in her routines and it shows especially on beam, very crisp in her movements. 3rd at Classics but it was clear once she hit to her ability she would be second and she will retain her position as second all-arounder to Simone. She is good bet as a potential beam medallist, with the added boost of knowing that she scored well under the severe Montreal judges on that event so her routine will serve her well this year too. Her bars are so clean but the difficulty is not quite up there with the top so although I could see her maybe making the final depending on how others do, it would be very hard to medal in it.

QF - VT, UB, BB, FX
TF - (VT maybe), UB, BB, FX

Jade Carey

Unlike the other two, Jade still has a bit to prove to make this team. The reigning silver vault and floor worlds medallist has not looked her true self this year on vault, possibly hindered by injury. Her floor is only a few tenths in difficulty behind Simone's with some seriously impressive tumbling and will score high even taking a hit on the artistry as her choreo is still fairly lacking. A good bet for silver/bronze in the floor and vault finals and can be relied upon to deliver in the team final. After struggling with the amanar, she did the DTY and Lopez on day 1. Unfortunately for her, Jordan Chiles has got the amanar. Both girls need the 2 events to be taken so both have work to do but Jade would be in the lead by a mile if she get a safe and consistent amanar back. I'm delighted she is making progress in the AA too, her bars and beam already look neater than before and it's always good to be a back-up.

QF - VT, FX
TF - VT, FX

Riley McCusker

Riley has made a remarkable comeback from injury after missing last year and is certainly doing well to place 2nd at Classics and 3rd so far in the AA rankings. Morgan is the stronger bet for AA at worlds so Riley would be a focus on beam and bars to complement Jade and try to make finals there as well as being a back-up AA gymnast if needed. Her bars have improved a lot form-wise but after some mistakes on day 1 she will want to hit it perfectly to prove her worth on that event.

QF - UB, BB
TF - UB

Trinity Thomas

The AA is covered, and TF is covered. All that remains is quals line-up to figure out - potentially giving someone else a shot at event finals. Ragan is too injured, Emma, Maile and Gabby are injured and unknown quantities at this point. Jordan's strengths are covered by Simone and Jade and there is enough back-up for the AA already included. There is no true standout gymnast they can bring for bars, and while they could bring Kara Eaker for beam her connections and leaps are sadly likely to be eaten alive by the Doha panel. Enter Trinity. She's got a fabulous beam with connections and leaps that should be able to score higher than Kara. Her floor and bars too are valuable routines to have up their sleeve.

QF - UB, BB,
TF -BB, FX if needed to rest another gymnast, UB if needed

Alternate - Grace McCallum

This team barely even needs an alternate they have so many back-up routines as they are all all-arounders now even Jade. They've got the TF figured out beautifully, AA is sorted, and plenty of shots at EF medals - Simone for all, Jade for floor and vault, Riley for bars and beam attempts, Morgan for beam and possibly floor and Trinity to attempt primarily beam.
 
With no standout gymnast on bars, it makes sense to bring someone for beam when the power events vault and floor are more than adequately covered already. Kara's beam is very dodgy in terms of international scoring and Riley is quite stiff and slow on some of her connections at the moment so if anyone is to challenge Morgan and Simone for a place in the final while also providing solid AA cover if needed, Trinity is the best bet.

For alternate, Grace is super impressive with her consistency and ability to deliver a clean, solid routine on all events. Ideal.

Of course, there are a lot of variables with this team other than the two all-arounders. If Jade does not get the amanar back and Jordan gets her floor under control, I'd bring her. If Trinity decides not to attend selection camp, I'd bring Kara. There are so many amazing gymnasts - even without all those out with injury - that would be snatched in a second by any other team, but who unfortunately do not fit into this one.

Who's on your team? Or will the vicious subteweeting bring down this team before they even get to team finals? 
 
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Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Why you should root for China

Much of the reason why I love Chinese gymnastics boils down to amplitude and extension. Thankfully these days we are seeing more expressive floor routines and much more effort being put into choreography. This is a direct and welcome result of the heavy artistry deductions in the code. Likewise the skill cap (i.e the exact opposite of the bars and beam routines from 2005-2008 giving these gymnasts a weighted advantage) and the devaluing of vault (goodbye 6.5 amanar of the following quad after that giving USA a huge boost) has meant that execution is more important now in holding on to valuable tenths. Not that the race for higher d-scores or racking up connection bonus are no longer things, but certainly there is a greater emphasis now on cleaning up routines than there has been in the past under this code. You tend to hear a lot more 'getting back into the gym to clean up my routines' now than 'I'm so happy I hit 4 for 4'. Several countries such as Netherlands, Belgium etc. are making names for themselves for expressive, intricate choreography and there is beautiful execution to be found in abundance in every federation, even the *gasp* power gymnast strongholds of the USA and the UK. But amplitude and full extension as a trait is harder to find. Thankfully, that's where China step in.

Of course, there are several gymnasts with great amplitude on vault. And floor. Simone Biles exemplifies this, driven from the technical perfection she displays. And there are gymnasts with flighty bars elements and nice, high beam layouts. McKayla Maroney of all people had an extremely high and flighty geinger which was a thing of beauty. But many powerhouse gyms and gymnasts fall flat when it comes to amplitude on beam and bars. Too often we are seeing beams with difficult tumbling ruined by weak leaps, low landings and bad toepoint. Bars with release moves and difficult transitions in combination can often suffer from flexed feet and legs apart that quickly destroy the overall beauty. A routine that has it all is to be prized.

Back to beam; there are many beam layouts in particular as a skill example worthy of devaluing. If it's not piked down and legs are together I'll like it but if it flairs or opens out I LOVE it. Similarly, I'll take a springy well-executed leap series with a wobble than a perfectly landed one with anaemic leaps. BHS-LOSO-LOSO is one of my favourite beam series and its popularity and popularity in the past does not in any way diminish it for me. If the legs are straight and toes pointed I am delighted but it's so much better if the chest is upright between landing skills and if a split or near-split is achieved. It seems that these days the emphasis in a series like that is solely on keeping it clean and in line with the beam and quick enough for credit but that the emphasis on making those skills individually beautiful or noteworthy is gone.

Jordyn Wieber BHS -
Deng Linlin BHS - from decencybedamned tumblr
Deng Linlin layout - copyright inside gymnastics
Ragan Smith layout - copyright ocregister
Tan Sixin YOG 2010 is poetry in motion. Beautiful leap miles above the beam and what a line on bars. Taken from pinterest
Seeing Kui Yuanyuan lose sight of the beam and wobble slightly on a layout full in combination because she had flown into the rafters with it is an absolute joy to me. That is a skill that to this day is rare and even then with questionable body position. And of course, the beam of the 80's and 90's was less springy than it is now. Think about the hype that Nia Dennis, Morgan Hurd, Gabby Douglas and Viktoria Komova get/got for landing their standing fulls/arabians in an upright position. It just looks so much more impressive. But it's not just the acro, I live to see leap series, straddles especially, with big amplitude. Leaps are of course where things like extension become more noticeable too.


Yep, the beam final that Gina Gogean won
 
  
There are pretty layouts and then there's this

Russian gymnasts can show some beautiful extension but pale in comparison to the overall extension-amplitude-form-execution of China. Flexed feet are not as glaringly obvious as they have been in quads gone by, existing for the most part on bars and mid-leap. Certainly some countries who are the worst offenders are placing emphasis on toepoint and maintaining it throughout the routine which is obviously great as flexed feet are very jarring and break the line. But true and proper extension cannot be tacked on at a later stage and must be cultivated from a young age. i.e programmes must incorporate it from the very beginning.

copyright - getty images
Olga Mostepanova had extension in spades. The reason why her split handstand sequence at the beginning of her beam stands out so much and also looks markedly different to other variations of it we have seen since is because it is perfect. Her toes are not just pointed, they are in a perfect line extending from the hips and through the knee. This is of course most often seen in ballet where it is essentially a requirement but was gloriously common in gymnastics throughout the 80's and 90's. Olga fully deserved that perfect 40 for the sublime perfection she brought to the sport.

Fan Ye extension for days - copyright getty images
Extension extends (haha..) itself to bars too. A perfect bodyline is most obvious in handstand with the dead straight line going from wrists through shoulders, hips and knees to toes. It should stay the same throughout giants excepting clearing the bar or tap swings and pirouetting skills. Most gymnasts have a straight upper body by the virtue of being in the handstand position at all and straight legs/toes but the vast majority are not fully extended at the hips. This can sometimes be obvious as a slight pike position is seen in profile or less so in that the position seems straight but is nevertheless not fully extended so the line isn't as good as it could be. Note the 2008 bars final as a classic example. He Kexin and Yang Yilin had perfectly extended pencil-like straight form throughout their routines. Liukin also exhibited a beautiful bodyline and showed it especially through her pirouettes just like the other two but her line is lacking the tension and total core tightness of the others.

He Kexin - copyright intlgymnast
Nastia Liukin - taken from alibaba
The extension is what makes sets Chinese barwork apart. It will always have that edge over Russian or any other standout routine as a result even if it has other flaws (we all really love dead hangs). It adds a cleanness, precision and sharpness to each skill. Watching a shaposhnikova with arms extended regrasp and turn precisely into the next skill is thrilling, as is seeing a pirouette snap back into position after the rotation. It's as noticeable to me compared to a less-tight routine as the difference between Madison Kocian's and Viktoria Komova's inbars i.e. they look like different skills.

It's not that I don't see the absolutely massive flaws and problems Team China is dealing with. They overemphasise bars and beam to the detriment of other events, they are still dealing with filtering for body type, they don't have the conditioning of certain other federations and they will never challenge for gold without being able to field solid DTY's and strong floors. There are no Cheng Fei's climbing through the ranks and although they do have talent on vault/floor it's not enough and it's not present in their AA gymnasts. I will enjoy watching a floor routine with beautiful leaps, turns and execution but if it's coming from a top 4 nation and it's another triple full-double tuck-2.5 twist derivative....I have no patience for that. I can't root for 5.3 or worse floors being fielded as some of the best on offer and never will.

BUT...by god do they do the other events in such style. I can't not be excited at seeing such dedication to the form and the finesse of the skill that they have always and continue to show in their work. Not that there aren't form issues amongst their ranks but as a whole they are carried by beautiful extension, amplitude and execution. China need to go more mainstream. We know the names of the top gymnasts in the rest of the top 4/5 countries and it's not just language barrier/different social media that's the issue. There's a general lack of interest or some inherent dislike and when these gymnasts are performing such beautiful gymnastics it's a crying shame. The age scandals (which I absolutely could not care less about as they only rear their head when there's a significant threat of the US being beaten) seem to have cast a lingering shadow over Team China. More accessible than ever on youtube, these girls need to be celebrated more. GO CHINA!!


Monday, 30 April 2018

Things

Okay, I have a major issue with blogging and working full-time. Plenty manage it but I struggle to find the motivation and energy. There's a reason why a lot of this blog was written while I was unemployed. Anyway, my passion for the sport is the same. I am recovering from wisdom teeth surgery at the moment but I aim not to need to be post-op to actually blog.

Anyway, Pac Rims! Nice of Flo Gymnastics to allow USAG to upload videos of their athletes 24 hours later I suppose, much better than trying to find secret uploads somewhere. Morgan Hurd debuted a fabulous floor routine, I feel it's a great match for her and she really gets into the music and sells the choreography well. Although it was always something she's been good at, it's great to see her develop and I'm excited to see what her routine will be like in 2020 as her potential continues to grow. Beam aside, (which USAG have not uploaded) I don't feel she was as sharp here as she was at American Cup. Which is no bad thing, she doesn't need to be and shouldn't be at the top of her game in April with the summer competitions ahead of her and worlds several months away. Her double-double landing on floor was lower than normal but it's one of the few American ones that are fully secure and not too low so that's fine. Bars seemed to me to be not as crisp and flowy as normal although still very clean and technically good, just some of the ease was missing. Again, fine for this time of year. It's the beam dismount that's worrying, I hope they scrap it immediately and go back to the double pike or try a twisting dismount. It's incredibly dangerous to have a gymnast compete a dismount that they cannot land properly as it means they have a much smaller margin of error were something to go wrong on take-off, which by all accounts it did in the team/AA, although I have not seen it.






Here it is from podium training. This just screams 'NO', it's so not worth the landing deductions. Her face is miles below waist level and her knees are taking a huge strain with her body that bent over.





And here it is from American Cup. A disaster waiting to happen, thankfully Morgan is fine and managed floor right after her scary fall at Pac Rims and withdrawing from EF was just a precaution but I hope this is a lesson learnt for her coaches. Impressively hard dismounts need to be landed safely to be impressive.

She is not the only gymnast, nor even the only American gymnast with a low landing on her beam dismount or a non-textbook set on take-off, but the difficulty of the dismount and the amount that's packed into it makes it far scarier.

Moving on. All in all, Pac Rims to me fell completely flat without the participation of China and Japan. A great pity Brooklyn Moors withdrew at the last minute but there were what sounds like (maybe I might get to see them at some stage?) standout performances from plenty of gymnasts such as Marcia Videaux of Cuba on vault, Nicolle Castro of Mexico on floor and Zoe Allaire-Bourgie of Canada on bars.

Jordan Chiles is going to have a very tough time fitting into a team line-up this quad. A vault/floor specialist when the likes of Jade Carey and of course Simone Biles will be in the picture is not ideal. Still, she's very enjoyable to watch on both events and is a good alternate option perhaps, although Grace McCallum is very strong also with incredible ease in her vaulting and tumbling. I don't know enough about Kayla DiCello and Jordan Bowers although the latter in particular is intriguing, anyone who keeps their legs and knees and feet together throughout a double front and a tucked full-in gets my attention. Super clean and light tumbler, and although she came to grief on beam and isn't quite as clean there, there were a LOT of beam falls anyway and her beam structure is fascinating and seems well within her grasp. Sunisa Lee on the other hand seems to be doing too much difficulty, I don't really get the point of stacking her bars and beam that high when she struggles to hit them consistently and gets sloppy in the effort. Dump the Nabieva, taper down all of her beam connections and re-focus on the basics and she could be amazing.

In other news, Mai Murakami has won All Japan Nationals! It is heartwarming to see her this good and this consistent and this high-scoring and seemingly still improving, sooo many years into her career. In 2011 and 2012 she showed high difficulty but weakness and inconsistency. Seeing her gold-medal winning floor and her medal ceremony in person in Montreal is a real highlight of mine. Her scores here probably have some slight bias in them, but she remains a huge AA contender, creeping higher now every year. Thrilled to see her go out and hit her full floor difficulty as if it's nothing, showing no signs of slowing down. Japan really are great at holding on to their gymnasts for years. Asuka Teramoto, Aiko Sugihara and Sae Miyakawa (who badly needs to medal on floor this year) all show no signs of going anywhere either.



Speaking of veterans, it was great to see Aliya Mustafina, Viktoria Komova and Tatiana Nabieva at Russian Nationals recently. Aliya in particular, given that this is her competitive debut since giving birth, was particularly impressive and showed her DTY, full bars routine minus the inbars and her double arabian on floor. In an absolutely unsurprising twist, her beam is still relying on the same dodgy barely-an-acro-series for credit and is the event she was the weakest on. Understandably, she noticeably tired as the competition went on and had the greatest issues on vault where she scarily crashed a 1.5 intended to be a DTY but this lack of stamina is not a worry whatsoever at this point, she is extremely well versed in pacing herself and will no doubt steadily increase her ability to withstand competition until worlds itself. Recent news of her divorce makes her performances at Nationals even more impressive. What an athlete. Viktoria is that bit more together in her preparation and seems more equal overall in her AA effort, it will be fascinating to see how they progress. Against the backdrop of the two greats coming back, it was just amazing to witness the triumph of Angelina Melnikova, with such huge potential and so often such massive falls and flaws, hit every single routine and sweep the golds. I really hope she can continue the momentum and hit when it counts.

While never doubting the ability of Simone Biles to bounce back and have her Rio difficulty ready to go, it is mindblowing first to hear that she has it back, and then to witness further upgrades, including never-before-done crazy-Simone-level ones. Her coaching change was always going to be interesting in terms of her bars, as before although they were very smartly composed and kept deductions to a minimum, they were never a piece she was going to consistently make finals with. Now though, she presents with a shap-half, new Jaeger and a Fabrichnova dismount. Her form and technique, bolstered by new difficulty, could absolutely propel her into bars finals. Being coached now by the Landis who would have the WOGA-focus on bars is also going to have an impact on the ease and her swing in the routine. These are upgrades we will more than likely see in summer as her bars are going to need as much competitive repetition as they can get, as it's more than likely going to be significantly different than her old routine. Beam looked the same, still the same impressive skills with the casual addition of a double-double dismount which has of course, never been done. I would imagine that it's not going to replace her current full-in, but will be prepared so that she can throw it in sometimes. Podium training at all competitions, competitively at one day of Nationals, again at camp and worlds quals and EF but sticking to the full-in for AA and TF.

On floor we see two new passes as well as a gloriously easy and high double-double and double layout. The Moors looks all too easy for her, although not on a competition floor. The front full into full-in leap is a very fun pass, it looks incredible and is of course very impressive for what will surely be her last pass. For the other 3 she has a double-double, Biles, full-in DLO and now a Moors to play around with so even in an era of Jade Carey, Sae Miyakawa and Mai Murakami, her floor difficulty will still be ahead of the pack. Vault, ha. I would have thought having the Mustafina and amanar back would be impressive enough. She has a TTY and Cheng. Good god. I cannot wait to see her compete again. The sentiment of 'ugh it's so boring when she wins all the time and now she's going to come back and take all the golds away it's so unfair' to me is absolutely ridiculous. We saw the best of all time, and now we have the privilege to see her again with added difficulty. It is the kind of prospect that will see me at worlds next year.

Next week will see the start of Chinese Nationals. I am really hoping to see a possible worlds team with a good few options emerge. Chen Yile will be the most nervewracking one to watch due to her absolutely massive potential. Curious to see what Shang Chunsong looks like, although of course she is competing to help out her province and her appearance does not signal any international comeback. Depending on what platform videos end up on, I'll go through the competition here when it's over.


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Can we talk about Kara Eaker?

My sentiments re: Shang Chunsong getting robbed in Rio of just over a year ago still stand by the way.

Anyway. Kara. Eaker. WOW. The most exciting gymnast since Simone Biles (LOL since she is commencing training/being back in the gym), and in a completely different way. GAGE has been producing gymnasts with style, finesse, poise and precision in their skills for a very long time, and many of them have been noted beam workers. Kara, though, stands out for just being particularly excellent at combining all of these qualities (even the way she moves on the beam is worthy of a masterclass for the rest of the elites) with great tumbling and form. Some GAGE elites have been let down by small things such as soft knees on beam skills (pet hate) or open pikes, to the much more enormous flaws of inconsistency or bars that are just average. Not Kara. Powerful and elegant, she has the makings of a great all-arounder. Admittedly she has just a FTY for now while there are younger than her with strong DTY's, but what a vault. Textbook block, perfect form in the air - dead straight, no leg/foot crossing, great height and distance. Stuck on day 1 and a tiny step on day 2...it's quality, and ripe for an upgrade for next year. It will probably look like that of fellow GAGE gymnast and vault event winner, Leanne Wong, that is, glorious. Leanne currently has the edge on her on floor also, while both girls set their tumbling very well and have a significantly greater command on their dance skills than a lot of the other juniors, Leanne has greater difficulty. Kara opens with a double pike and her second pass is a forward pass more commonly seen in NCAA, but there is a lot of ease in her routine which speaks of her ability to add difficulty steadily.

It's beam that sets the two apart. Leanne has a very good beam. Kara's is an exquisite work of art that fully deserved to beat both the junior and senior field individually on both nights and combined. Perfection, and a great combination of elegance, flexibility, and well-executed acro. A great pity that Leanne got lost on bars on day 2 to really challenge the podium but both have really made their mark as ones to watch.

Leanne and Kara shone in their first elite season, but the battle was of course between Emma Malabuyo and Maile O'Keefe, the latter being the reigning junior champion. These two are well matched, both strong all-arounders with Maile's beam as her stand-out event and Emma's floor as hers. Both super-clean with stacked difficulty, these two are far more exciting to watch than anyone in the senior session, by far. Although it is hard to fault Emma, I was rooting for Maile as I find her that bit more interesting with perhaps more potential - although that's very hard to quantify as both seem to have much more to give. Both powerful, but clean and elegant. I was very impressed with Maile staying so calm under pressure for 7 of her routines over the course of the weekend as she gained, lost, regained then retained her very slim lead over Emma, helped by the beam scoring, Emma's slightly weaker bars before of course the disaster on beam day 2 which sealed the deal for Maile's victory. I can't wait for these two to turn senior next year and shake things up.

A moment of silence for some absolutely shocking leaps both days. The likes of baby Sienna Robinson coming back from hamstring injury are excused, but wow, what is the point of throwing in a seriously risky leap that is not going to get credit because it is a) not split and b) not fully around. By all means train them, but they shouldn't be competed like that. It goes beyond front leg below horizontal, some of the harder leaps on beam and floor gave me an ache to watch Chinese nationals instead. If your straddle half and switch half on beam don't at least resemble Jay Jay Marshall's, then compete the easier leaps and rack up bonus some other way.

I mind the leaps far more than the oh-so-hyped dreaded wolf turns. Most wolf turns are at least done speedily now and much less wobbly than when they were an influx as a new thing. Presumably coaches have gotten better at training them as well as the gymnasts who have been doing them for years now. The flexed-foot ones like Alyona Shchennikova's are decidedly not fun and the people who do them in combination have too much of a stop-start interrupted flow immediately in their beam routines, but other than that, I can totally live with them.

And of course, the best wolf turn is Jordan Chiles' botched wolf turn-Okino. What an absolutely fabulous save, not least because it was more of a passive unconscious save than most on beam, but also because it was the easiest Okino or triple turn anywhere that I've ever seen, she looked like she could have done another 3 or 4 rotations easily. Just a great moment. It's great to see Jordan competing strong again too. As a baby junior, she impressed with some crazy skills in training in the gym along with an actual amanar, before battling to come back from injury. I don't think this is her year, it's quite a small team. But with the news that she is working on a second vault - the Lopez - she could quite easily fit in to the picture next year.

In case you're wondering, I have not watched the seniors all the way through. This is because the junior streams started at 9pm and 7pm respectively for me both nights, but the seniors were at something like 3am and 12am as a result. I could maybe have done the Sunday one if I wasn't getting up for work at 6am. I also have far less incentive and motivation to commit like that for the seniors as I find them far less exciting than the juniors. Also, at the moment I cannot really get behind either Ragan Smith or Riley McCusker which is a bit of a problem, given that they are the prominent all-arounders. Ragan has never been a favourite of mine and I'm not entirely sure why. She is clearly immensely talented and has made huge improvement on bars to bring them up to her all-around standard, and she's clearly strong on beam and floor in particular. I enjoy her set and landing of her beam skills along with her choreography and dance on both beam and floor, I just find that something's off, for me. Clearly a sparky gymnast but I'm not feeling it. Riley has really made strides on bars with some impressive work there, but much like Laurie she has an odd swing at times and is a little flat. Nice on beam but again, not really exciting. Still, great to see her bounce back from injury after a less-than-stellar Classics although her FTY meant she lost out in ranking to Jordan Chiles.

I much prefer Morgan Hurd and Trinity Thomas. Neither really scream 'perfect all-arounder' yet since Morgan has consistency issues still, though there's always hope she'll overcome them completely when it counts, and while Trinity is a super exciting package of pure bouncy power and surprisingly great leaps and beam skills, she's not as well balanced as some others, with weaker bars and a FTY, although it's another that looks well able for upgrade. Such potential! Very remeniscent of early Simone Biles. Morgan on the other hand is similar to the likes of Emma Malabuyo and Gabby Perea (sadly a one-eventer here due to injury) with super-clean work and slowly building difficulty to match. Interesting times ahead hopefully.

Jade Carey, who came out of nowhere this year at Classics with passes on floor of a full-twisting DLO and a Dos Santos 2, and an amanar and tsuk double under her belt, didn't have the Nationals she was hoping for. As a senior, she really needed to hit both of those events well both days to carve her niche as a specialist and to prove her consistency, more important than most due to her lack of elite background. Still, worlds teams are truly formed at camps.

Deanne Soza still seems to be a work in progress. I have been hoping for so much from her for so long to get it together and build her difficulty but really, I like to just block out the hopes and dreams now and focus on the aesthetic of her work. Such toepoint, such perfect pike, tuck, everything position. Such glory in her routines. I am delighted to see her as part of a team in her gym and although I will always hold out hope for her to launch forward as a major team prospect, I'm trying to focus on happiness that she continues to grace elite competitions with her presence, and that she has all the makings of an NCAA star.

Back to the juniors, how great was it to see Viktoria Smirnov nail her beam both days after having an utter meltdown on the same event at Classics? Heartwarming. And lovely to see her confidence at such a young age. Although it really must be nice for your feet to fit so much better on the beam when you're that small. Likewise Sienna Robinson showed nice work on beam, stronger on day 2....and....nailed her bars routine to heartwarming applause after busting her nose off the bar on recatch during warm-ups. Delighted she not only competed right after, but had the wherewithal and competitive ability to block it out and compete strongly. Great work.

When you have standouts in juniors such as Maile and Emma, stunning newcomers like Leanne and Kara, powerhouses in the making like Jay Jay Marshall and JaFree Scott and the ever distracting impressive baby gymnasts - Viktoria Smirnov, Lily Lippeat, Sienna Robinson, Love Birt (I will never get over that name) and Annie Beard, others can get a bit lost. But pay attention to Ciena Alipio. Let it be known that of all the gymnasts competing at the weekend, she was the one with the best line on bars, the only one out of the routines I watched that truly and fully extended through the hips. Others nailed handstands at times, but Ciena's line genuinely looked Chinese in its exquisiteness. Of course, she had a large error on bars day 1 and made mistakes day 2 also, but she is a lovely dancer, clean tumbler, some really nice leaps (and some not so nice turns and leaps on beam) and generally has a lot of positives in her gymnastics for such a newcomer flying under the radar. One to keep an eye on.

Of course, we need to talk about leotards. While I can see that some may find lots of the leotards worn over the weekend to be overly glitzy, busy or just 'too much', I'm all for this trend. I'd take it any day over the two-tone swirls and 'mountains' ever-present GK leotards of a quad or so ago. Amazing how the technology has come on, Nastia Liukin must have been fuming given the monstrosities she put up with. It's really hard to pick an ultimate fave, such was the quality on offer. Kim Zmeskal's collection her 6 girls were sporting both days had some real standouts, the best were Ragan Smith Day 2 and Sydney Barros Day 2. While I'm not usually a big mesh fan, Maile O'Keefe had stunning leos both days, very unusual and striking. I was also a fan of the glam black look being sported on day 2 by Gage, First State and a few others. White too was a good colour both days. Long live not-hot-pink.

Riley McCusker - Copyright: John Cheng

I'm a sucker for lilac. Interesting ombre tones on this and sparkles and beads. Not sure about that beaded murder slash on the stomach but it's different and it's got pretty beads, so there's that. 7.5/10

Ragan Smith - Copyright - John Cheng

Stops just short of being too busy, it's just right. Stunning white in the main, pretty pink ombre sleeves. Love the silver crystal swirl detailing on the neck and sleeves that make it stand out and the 'bandage' detail on the front and pink version on the back really lift it and make it stand out. 9/10

Sydney Johnson-Scharpf - Copyright - John Cheng

Sydney had a great gothic look going on here. This gets a lot of points for being interesting. 6/10

Gabby Perea - Copyright - John Cheng

Another unusual one, though not exactly Hallowe'en themed this time. The silver against the magenta and white was just stunning, and I loved how the other side just had a waist band of the patterned magenta. Really beautiful design and gorgeous on. 9/10

Sydney Barros - Copyright - John Cheng

The kind of leotard that needs to be seen in motion to fully appreciate. Just beautiful, really stood out. Love the black detailing too, wouldn't change anything about it. 9/10

Abi Walker - Copyright - John Cheng

It's Tatiana Groshkova inspired. Default 10/10

Maile O'Keefe - Copyright - John Cheng

I hated it. Then I was confused. Then love blossomed. 9/10

Moving on though to things such as how Nationals has helped us form the worlds team. Well, Ragan has her spot secured. Riley probably does too, but possibly as a bars specialist/beam back-up rather than full-on AA. FTY's hurt at this level. Jade is battling it out with Jordan for the vault specialist spot with bonus floor. Jade's got the difficulty on floor but will get murdered for her dance elements, so there's that. Also her vaults are not fail-safe at this point so she has a lot to prove. Jordan's second vault when she unleashes it is of lower value than Jade's second vault, but Jordan's more consistent so far, has been an elite a lot longer, and is much more of an all-arounder. Morgan is fighting for an AA spot too, but has neither Ragan's difficulty, a stand-out event like Riley and Jordan or a stellar consistency record so it'll be tough. And then you have Trinity whose beam and floor while strong are not yet at the level of beating out the rest for a spot. Which is really going to hurt, but she's more of a team gymnast at this point. Ashton Locklear hasn't gone anyway but needs her full bars difficulty to make the selectors go 'Riley who?'.

So basically, the team is Ragan so far. This has been a rambling post which ended some time after my bedtime so no doubt it's an incoherent mess. I hope everybody enjoyed Nationals. I also hope to actually finish watching the senior stream some time this week, wish me luck.

Did the Gage girls blow you away? Are you super duper excited about the top senior prospects or moreso on hold til next year? Was the crystal fest this year over the top? Who has tickets to Montreal? (I do! :D)

Friday, 12 August 2016

The one where Shang Chunsong gets totally robbed

It just wouldn't feel like a proper AA final without some controversy over the medals, especially an Olympic final.

Not gold of course. Simone Biles, as we all knew she would, destroyed the competition, winning by an unheard-of margin of 2.1 points in an Olympic all-around final. It was an absolute pleasure to watch her in action, as it always is. She has been so dominant for so long and it's great to see her add Olympic success to that - the only way such an athlete can enter mainstream consciousness despite her worlds medal tally.

Nor silver - Aly Raisman definitively put the ghosts of the 2012 tie-break AA to rest by storming to second place, behind only Simone. I wouldn't have thought it possible that she could get better than she was 4 years ago since coming back to that level in the first place is such a hard ask, but she really and truly has. The footage of her crying after floor are just special.

But bronze. As great a gymnast as Aliya Mustafina is, that was not a bronze medal performance. It was for half her routines, but she had a bad time on floor and beam which her placement doesn't reflect. Not when Shang Chunsong had such a great competition, hitting everything out of the park. Yes, yes she has a super-weak vault but even with that she had a huge d-score advantage over Aliya. And yes, her frame gives her built-in form deductions with her knees and legs - I'd be the first to admit that she does not have the lines of some of her team-mates. But to lose by a tenth when she was THAT GOOD is a joke. Her beam and floor were fantastic and weren't rewarded enough. This isn't like Glasgow where she got 4th thanks to her vault when everyone else hit. Aliya's beam with no acro series and corresponding super-low d-score and weak floor with again very low difficulty due to non-completion of turns should have taken her out of podium contention. And more than likely would have done had she been anyone else.

I'm tired of the Chinese getting underscored, but Shang Chunsong seems to get it especially bad. It just seems petty, as if they don't like the way she looks and don't want to reward her because it's not something they want to promote? I could be completely off the mark there but it smacks of some sort of grudge, some sort of fear of underage because she looks so young. No excuse for not knowing her story now and there's certainly no excuse for lowballing her.

There has been so much argument over Nastia V Shawn, Jordyn V Vika, Gabby V Vika. But this is the one that has the most merit. This can't be dismissed as 'It's a subjective sport' or 'She marginally outshone her'. There is no reason in the wide world why Shang didn't merit a few more tenths. It would only have taken just over one. Her execution still has the Chinese precision, it's certainly a lot better than most.

Happy as I am for the rest of the podium - and I am happy for Aliya too, it's not as if she has bought the judges or anything - things like this really, really piss me off. As if screwing the Chinese in subdivision 1 of qualifications wasn't enough.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Seniors Day 1

A day late, but I have a very busy Monday ahead. The Ireland-France game is about to begin, I don't care about football but this is historic stuff. A great pity France have world class players. I apologise in advance for the distraction the game is going to cause this post.

Anyway, seniors day 1! I'm so glad I didn't stay up to watch it, and watched the whole thing when I woke up at 9am instead. So much easier to absorb everything.

Simone Biles


Stellar. Just unbelievable stuff from her as per usual. Beam is where she can look slightly more human and have a few bobbles, but her routine was seriously strong and steady to start off her night, capped by another great full-in. (The French national anthem is so jazzy, not like our anti-British dirge - though I love it) I'm sure I repeat myself a LOT when I talk about her, but there just is always something so uplifting when watching her about to begin, the surety that here is someone who is in a class of their own, whose skills are easy for her. (IRELAND JUST SCORED FROM A PENALTY GET IN!!!!) The highlight of her floor was the Silivas, so floaty and beautiful and nearly stuck - and it's her third pass. I thought the lyrics in her floor were going to be changed though? The deduction is a whole point and while she could weather that deduction, she really doesn't need to risk it. Vault was stunning and her Amanar seemed slightly higher than usual, but could just be the contrast after watching everyone else vault. Would love to see her echo McKayla Maroney and stick it in team finals. Or the AA or EF, I'm not fussy. After waiting so long for her to throw the Cheng, it's looking glorious. Her bars are always good - short and to the point, but her handstands stood out for me and the stuck dismount was nice also. Methodical. Definitely TF worthy since she leaves such low margins for deduction only for the fact that she'll be competing so much that it'd be nice for a rest too. All depends on who else makes the team.

In short, while she is always great, this felt like a particularly extra-great night for her. Just such a pleasure to watch.

Leotard game - strong. Striking combination and I like the design on the front. 7/10

(Ireland are holding off France. France!!)

Aly Raisman


The Aly Raisman of late last year and early this year who was struggling a bit with consistency and not showing her usual self on beam in particular was nowhere in evidence. Fantastic to see her attack back on beam, nailing connections as if they were on floor. Her improved layout - much more airtime - is great too. She looks 2012-esque, her solidest beam in a long time in competition. (This game is filthy! So much on the line...a LOT of fouls and yellow cards) On floor and her first pass looks like it's never been away or downgraded, she even had a slight bit of room to spare after the layout. Super-high Dos Santos, floaty DLO with just a small hop back and a double pike with chest fully up. Great stuff, Olympic floor medal contender for sure.

Her amanar is decidedly less thrilling. VERY messy in the last 1.5 rotations, but fully around nevertheless, with her now trademark step to the side. Ligaments of steel. She doesn't need to be aiming for a more precise landing at the moment, would be nice to see in Rio though. An Aly with this much fight was never going to take any nonsense from bars, and sure enough although some struggle was evident with a break here and there, she finished without a major hitch to end her day. This is a great Aly with more tenths to fight for on bars and vault, so it's reassuring to see her in second - tied, but second nonetheless.

She has her ticket to Rio I think, no question. Leotard game - excellent. Beautiful neckline and sparkly belt in particular. A bright pink that's not sickly, very pretty. 8.5/10

Laurie Hernandez



Like Simone and others, Laurie didn't do AA at Classics, but unlike the former she's more of an unknown entity on all 4 as she seemed to be warding off some sort of leg injury earlier in the season. Starts on floor and her trademark energy was evident from the start. That DLO is still risky (NOOOO FRANCE SCORED!) in that she has no margin for error before she hits the ground. Hopefully she can learn to get a better set on it (OH CHRIST and again). The rest of the routine is great, love her unusual third combination pass especially. While I still love her dance and snappy choreography style, I'd still prefer it if the poses and expressions in particular were toned down. A very efficient vault from her, no sign of when it looked precarious. It's not as obvious on the USAG video, but on the stream she doesn't get much distance, seems to hit the table quite early. Nevertheless, chest up, the tiniest of hops and right down the centre, not to mention clean in the air. Good stuff. Beam used to be her weakest event, and flaky, but she's a much different worker there now. Confident. Quick connections, crisp BHS-LOSO-LOSO, sassy choreo. Her set on the double pike dismount is poor, so she has a very low chest on landing - better off with a touble tuck or a twisting dismount probably but a great routine nonetheless. Bars is another event where she has made great strides. She's got quite an unusual style there which is enjoyable to watch. Stalder-heavy, nice releases and a stuck dismount. She's no medal contender there but it's a big boost to her AA status.

A fierce display from Laurie which has done nothing but good to show her worth to the Rio team. Leotard game - too much shiny brightness for me, but an interesting back. 4/10

Gabby Douglas


 She has looked strong since she came back and after Glasgow and a strong outing early in the season has much less to prove than most. But this wasn't the best of outings for her, she just didn't seem fully on at any point. Beam was nervy with checks coming very frequently (about 10 minutes left in which WE NEED TO SCORE). On floor again she was lacklustre in terms of connection to the audience and expression, but tumbling was strong. I really like the back tuck she's added to her full-in. Gorgeous leaps. Keeps the energy in tumbling going to the end, but taken together it just wasn't an exciting routine. Quality vault, BIG air on that DTY and you can see the room for the amanar that's more than likely to come. That'll be her ticket to being the second AA in Rio. Bars have never reached her 2012 levels and it's probably too late to expect they suddenly will but are strong anyway and do her a lot of favours although she didn't do a skill this time around that they credited her with doing. Bad judging, but not quite at the level 4 years ago when she was credited with doing an amanar for a DTY.

A less-than-ideal day but not exactly damaging. I hope she gets her game face on tonight all the same. Leotard game - Interesting. She can carry that orangey-pink but the shine makes it too much for me. 5.5/10

Madison Kocian


The big test is as per usual her bars, and again (we are 45 seconds from not qualifying to the quarter finals...) she comes second to Ashton Locklear there, but great bars nonetheless and the big advantage she has over Ashton as we all know is the fact that she's much more of a team player and can slot in much better than the latter. (And we are out...but played much better than expected against MUCH better players) Marta is as always all about the team, and not so much the specialists. This is not like USOC forcing McKayla Maroney into the team for guaranteed (LOL) vault gold, bars has many more contenders with no certainties. Anyway, a lovely arabian on beam followed by a check or two and a broken connection, but solid work. She's stunning to watch on floor too with the usual WOGA tumbling style of connecting twists showing up in her second pass. WOGA also shows up in her vaulting in a clean and beautifully executed FTY.

A strong showing and she's in the mix for sure. Leotard game - a bit dull, but nice sparkles on the red. 5/10

Ashton Locklear 



KILLER bars, great to see. Gives very little away and great rhythm. She continued her visible improvement on beam, very quick-fire connections. I love her leaps in particular her lines make her wolf jump look amazing. I'd like to see her do some old-school elements, like a Kolesnikova variation, even a Kotchetkova or Onodi. She'll never do a major acrobatic element so they'd suit her. And a double stag just because I love them. Anyway, she's another who's right in the mix for this team.

Leotard game - love the colour contrast, but the design seemed a bit too juvenile and let it down. 6/10

Ragan Smith



Strong on 3/4 events with that weird Grishina-esque balk on floor decimating her score there. I just love the distance she gets on her DTY and bars dismount. Unfortunately her beam wasn't her best with some big checks there but she really nailed the dismount with a much more secure landing than we have seen. She really needed to knock it out of the park to challenge at the top of the leaderboard...but it's a 2-night competition. Even with that, I think she's fighting for an alternate spot as even without her less than perfect consistency record, she's strongest on the events they've got plenty of depth on.

Leotard game - STUNNING! Love the mosaic stained glass design, very unique and pretty. Chrystal pattern was gorgeous on the sleeves. The best. 9/10

Mykayla Skinner



She's not all the way there in terms of how strong she can be, but a good effort. Her amanar landing can be better than that and look much more secure. Very nice in the air with great height. The Cheng is just her thing, so reliable. She should be using that in a TF lineup were she to make the team. Needs a bit more oomph on floor to really nail all of her difficulty, she seemed to flag a bit in terms of energy towards the end. I didn't catch her beam and bars yet, but they're not really that important in terms of her value. It's hard to say where she slots in in terms of a potential team now, she could quite easily be a victim of 5 slots instead of 6.

Leotard game - props for a design I haven't seen before, I especially like it on the side. Colours were not for me and the shiny grey washed her out too much. 4.5/10

Maggie Nichols



It's hard to judge Maggie at this point as she is still coming back with a way to go before she gets back to her self again (hopefully in time for Rio selection). Her wolf turn on beam was a struggle and looks like it might have pained her, but she looked her usual strong self after that. A few checks, but nothing major and a great double pike to end with. Getting there. Bars were her usual though, strong and capable and she treated us to a stuck landing. Hopefully she keeps it up tonight and is able to bring back vault and floor by trials, she's a major contender for the team if she can.

Leotard game - I quite like the leo, but not the banana bit. 5/10

Alyssa Baumann



Started off with such a strong bars routine, only to come off again. After a bad meet at Classics it was the last thing she needed. Redeemed herself somewhat on beam with a gorgeous arabian, BHS-LOSO-LOSO series and Onodi-wolf connection but there were some checks in between and overall the flow was poor. She's another fighting for alternate when most other teams would kill to have her.

So all in all, regardless of a good portion of the team being locks for quite a while, we are still shaping up for a killer fight at trials, and Nationals is extremely important for those girls who are on the cusp to show how ready they are. Really looking forward to watching day 2 at some stage tomorrow as I can't stay up that late.

As of now, until Maggie is proved out of the AA, my team is Simone, Aly, Gabby, Laurie and Maggie. I don't think bars is important enough to warrant a spot when the team is so small. Let there be killing for the AA spots in quals.

Who has made your team? Who will win leotard game tonight? Can Simone get even better than she currently is? Can someone succeed in livening up Gabby? How many hairbows will Mykayla have? These are the questions that need answering.

All photos copyright USAG - John Cheng and L.Smith

 

  

Friday, 24 June 2016

US Nationals

Really the timing of Nationals is poor this year. I'm supposed to absorb hours of gymnastics while Brexit just happened AND Ireland has magically progressed to the top 16 in the Euros which means the whole country will shut down on Sunday for the next match? It's all so distracting, but moreso Brexit of course because nobody believed the British public could be that dense but yes.they.are and this is going to have a big impact on my country and the thousands and thousands of Irish citizens living there. Hell we even get to be an island with a border where one side is in the EU and the other side isn't, that's super special that is. GODDAMN I can't even explain the total shock in the media this side of the pond, this is an absolute disaster.

ANYWAY, on to gymnastics. Watched part of juniors live and am busy catching up. Not sure I can hold out til 2am for seniors, so may just watch them in the morning. Juniors was dramatic to say the least, delighted for Mailie O'Keeffe, sad for Emma Malabuyo in particular after her mid-competition injury, but also Morgan Hurd who I'm sure was anxious to prove herself after Classics only to fall almost instantly and Deanne Soza who personifies the heartbreak of this sport. I have learned to just enjoy her but she always gives me hope and takes it away again all the same. What I'm watching the most is Trinity Thomas' DLO rebound on floor, I can't get over it. Looks like we have a winner for best rebound since Gabby Douglas at SCAM 2012. While it's fascinating to have three clean, elegant gymnasts in Emma, Morgan and Gabby Perea vying for the title of best junior....gymnasts like Trinity are so fascinating. Quite reminiscent of junior Simone Biles. Overly bouncy, power a bit too much for her, and rough around the edges. And we all know what happened there. Trinity screams potential and I'm excited.

I'll be back tomorrow with longer posts especially after watching seniors :)

Happy purple ombre leo watching!