Saturday, 16 November 2013

The United States of Extreme Difficulty

I freely admit that I am a giant hypocrite. I love seeing big difficulty once it's not scary and seeing juniors with crazy routines, like Katelyn Ohashi in 2011 with her beam and Norah Flatley with hers. But, enough is enough. There are too many now with routines that are just unnecessary at this stage, and others the same who are not even elegible for Rio. Injuries can happen to anyone but there's no real need to open the door and invite them in.

Look at Ariana Agrapides. She's not senior for another four years, so 2017 worlds would be her aim for the moment, and her Olympics would be 2020. With that in mind, she already has a DTY, double arabian and piked full-in. AND she's training an amanar. The first three skills are done very well, no doubt about it. Safe and secure and the DTY is one of the best I have ever seen. But that's not really the point. It's too much pounding at her age (12) and unfortunately, spells burnout. She went from not having an FTY to an amazing DTY in less than six months. Can this talent not be preserved? An amanar is just asking for trouble, and indeed, she currently has a fractured foot, not that I can tell the exact cause of that.


This is fantastic. But it's a little early and an upgrade is asking for trouble for her knees, joints and ankles. They just don't need that stress that early, and for what gain? The Jr National Vault champion. Not much of a trade-off. The same gymnast had an utter meltdown at Nationals on bars and her highest e-score over both days on that apparatus was 6.7. Going back to basics there could well serve her better in the long run.

It hasn't escaped my attention that if Ariana does do an amanar next year, she wouldn't be the first, three years off from being a senior. This exclusive club also contains Lexie Priessman. McKayla Maroney and Jordyn Wieber also did it two years before becoming senior, at the age of 13, but they at least had London looming ahead.

Ariana has fabulous potential on vault and floor in particular. But what's the rush?


Irina Alexeeva has already attracted a lot of attention, Russian-born, WOGA gymnast with a flair for floor and beam. She competes at HOPES level, which is between elite and Level 10. Indeed she achieved the scores needed for elite I believe this year, but it was decided to not advance just yet. A wise decision given that she is 2002 born and therefore not senior until 2018. Yet, yesterday at Masillia she scored 15.850 on beam, with a d-score in the mid 6's. This score no doubt has a bonus included but think about it, 5 years from senior and she had more difficulty than anyone in the worlds beam final. It is like Aly Raisman trouncing seniors on floor, in 2005. I thought when Irina debuted this routine that it was too much for her and that she struggled a bit, and although the score from yesterday indicates that she must have mastered it totally, it is still craziness.

Not to mention Jordan Chiles, 2017 senior, who has a DTY and is also training an amanar. Not doubting her ability at all, and it looks good in the video, but I'm just hoping it stays in the pit until 2015. Or indeed Laurie Hernandez who showed up this year with immense upgrades on every event. Like Ariana her teammate, her skills look secure. But it could have waited another year.

What do you think? Am I fussing about nothing? Or is the trend for more difficulty younger and younger indeed worrying? We only have to look at examples like Katelyn Ohashi and Jordyn Wieber for athletes who it did no favours to. The code demands so much from gymnasts these days, but there has been no advancement in the structure of the body and how badly pounding can affect it. Look at the injury list before/during/after worlds. The longer gymnasts do these skills, the more likely an injury is. In the US, the depth of talent means you pretty much need to make a name for yourself. But pacing has never been so important. Being a superstar junior is not much good if it ultimately means that your senior career takes a huge hit.

25 comments:

  1. No Catherine, you're definitely not worrying over nothing. The US obviously has many talented gymnasts and not only that, insane depth. But what good is depth if you can't preserve anyone? Sure, it's good to have gymnasts to replace an injured one, but this wouldn't happen as much if coaches paced them. Something has to change with this code. Whoever heard of 12-13 year olds training amanars? Why? Well, if the code favors this insane difficulty, then who's to stop them? Now, I'm not doubting the gymnast's abilities but this difficulty is just overkill. Why would Ariana train an amanar for an Olympics seven years away? Simone Biles is kind of worrisome, too. Yes, she is insanely powerful but she's not superman. She is not immune to injuries.

    Hopefully the FIG does something about te code. Yes, the E score, D score judging method is more fair but female gymnastics is so "man-ish" these days...

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    1. I'm actually not worried about Simone at all. Her coaches are very smart, she only does what is absolutely perfect and nothing that requires more work. I suppose it helps too that she is senior, so can unleash her difficulty now for good use.

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    2. Catherine, I totally agree with you about Simone, everything she does looks secure. It may be scary since she has tremendous difficulty, but it all looks so effortless for her, I mean, look at her two and a half punch layout. And just by looking at her you know she can do much more, take for example her bar dismount, she's so obviously capable of something more difficult, maybe even a triple. I honestly believe Simone has the potential to become the most incredible gymnast of all time, more even than musafina did in 2010, can you imagine how crazy her olympic routies will be?

      And btw, I'm replying to this but I wasn't the one who made the first coment.

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    3. I think I heard a Ray dismount is planned. But it would need to be perfect and Shawn like to be worth doing over a Fabrichnova. She gets too much height for her current dismount.

      I'm really excited to see where she goes. Her coaches are definitely protecting her which is great. She also kind of bucks the trend we can see now, she was a nobody as a junior and only emerged last year.

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    4. Catherine, if the olympics were to be held this year, do you think Simone would have made the team? Throughout this year she has been crazy inconsistent until she got to worlds and killed it, do you think Martha would've trusted her enough to put her on the team?

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    5. That's a good question, but I believe so. She was very consistent at Nationals bar that one stupid mistake, and from the start of the year showed such unbelievable potential. Coupled with camp verification etc. I don't think there's any chance she would have been left at home, especially as her position in a potential team was fairly unrivalled.

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  2. Couldn't agree more. Many said that by the time London came Jordyn looked overtrained and tired.

    This is why Simone should use 2014 as a year of refinement to clean up skills etc.. save new upgrades for 2015.

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    1. I think they're working on refinement too. I dunno, Simone looks very very strong.

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  3. I think part of the problem might be that the US programme is so competitive that you have to have some fairly big skills just to make nationals. And although making Junior Nationals at age 12 isn't essential for the kids' future careers, if you want them to perform at their best at Nationals when they're a senior you surely want them to have had a couple of years' experience on that big stage? I agree that it can't be good for their bodies though.

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    1. The big stage can be the Supergirl Cup, or Invitationals. Not 'big' but girls can really gain attention at small meets like that. I totally get what you mean. It's quite an unpleasant cycle, you need to be standing out especially if you're from an unknown gym, but it increases your risk of getting injured..

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  4. I definitely think that in part it's because of the huge talent pool in the US that the younger girls are pushed to throw unnecessary difficulty, especially if they are from lesser-known/unknown gyms at the elite level, in order to get themselves seen/known. The smart coaches are the ones who time it carefully so that the girls peak when they need to and where there's a visible payoff coming, rather than say Ohashi peaking for an Olympics she wasn't even eligible for. Chow is the real master with peaking athletes carefully.

    Particularly at the 10-13 mark, the girls are still growing, growth plates haven't hardened yet etc - the pounding is unnecessary and more likely to cause injury because of repetition. Even if the problems are not growth-related, just the repetition of difficult tricks over a long period of time increases the risk of accidents/mistakes like wonky landings or falls which invariably happen when a foot slips, the athlete loses concentration etc.

    I totally get that the US has a huge talent pool and there's really fierce competition for spots, and while it matters more where you finish than where you start, the rounds of internal competition / having to impress Marta in order to get anywhere are also factors, so it may end up somewhere as a trade-off, particularly those who are from unknown gyms. For those at e.g. WOGA or Chow's, the girls would be on the radar anyway... but WOGA is still one of the worst at peaking athletes properly, I think.

    But it probably also depends on the athlete in question, as some are much more fragile than others, while some like Aly Raisman just seem unbreakable. I can understand letting the girls train harder elements on soft surfaces/into the pit as Simone did at 13, but not letting them compete it or train it with a view to competition at that age.

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    1. So well put, much better than me :) Dead right about 'unknown' gyms trying harder to get their girls on the map. I was pleasantly surprised when Hernandez got noticed due to choreography last year, but now it's all difficulty. She doesn't need to place at nationals yet.

      I'd agree about WOGA, and also about Raisman. When I see girls with a fairly frail build like Andreea Munteanu..it just does not bode well with this code, and she's had injuries, more than one.

      USAG have actually increased the junior qualifying score for nationals, from 51.50 to 52. Way to increase the pressure.

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  5. I do agree for some it's to much difficulty to soon but I also think it depends on what the gymnast can handle for example Simone Biles & Aly Raisman. I agree that frail and delicate gymnasts need to be handled different than the sturdier ones. However I do feel that the US success is not simply because of the depth but also the consistency of the skills and the amount of time they have been performing them. I think that it's part of the advantage they have over other countries. The U.S junior national team members have more difficulty now than a lot of other countries seniors. That's partly where the code of points comes into account and I feel like partly it plays into the artistry vs. difficulty debate simply because of the build of the gymnast often affects how they are classified or trained. However, I don't think that it's a bad think for juniors to do big skills as long as they are done properly and trained carefully. For example Bailie Key does remarkable skills on each event but has room for harder upgrades on each piece and is being paced perfectly for Rio. I think the skills depend on the gymnasts readiness. I do think some juniors should slow up a bit (i.e. Ariana since her best pieces are power events vault/floor) but I don't think anything is wrong with learning the skills earlier and waiting to compete them.And as for the Laurie Hernandez's upgrades I do feel like she improved drastically and can work on some basics but I do think now was the time for her to try them because you definitely do need to be noticed before the Olympics roll around so you wont become an after thought such as Elizabeth Price in London. You kind of already need to be a factor and have a name for yourself or it'll be harder for her coming in because when Rio rolls around she'll be a first year senior and if your not exceptional and the best in the country i.e Shawn Johnson 2008, then it'll be harder to make the team say Kyla Ross 2012 (although Kyla is and was exceptional and a 2 time junior national champ!) She needs the pressure put on her and to become comfortable in her skills and routines. That's just my personal opinion but it definitely is a good discussion piece.

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    1. Seniors is a different problem. They are better able to handle the pounding, but drop like flies to injury. The worlds injury list is a BIG problem and ACL tears are on the increase. It's scary.

      But it's a whole different ballgame when you have really young juniors emulating those skills. Bailie is wrapped in cotton wool and is indeed capable of a good bit more, she's being paced very well. But there's definitely a good few that that would be in question for, looking at their skill level now.

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  7. I agree, I think it is a bit unnecessary to have such young ages doing amanars. Some might be able to handle it but you know what it is too soon. They haven't gone through puberty as yet! they will basically have to relearn some routines then because they have to handle a growth spurt etc. It doesn't benefit them right now. Heck look on the seniors, Worlds 2013 had almost as much on the injury list as those who would be competing...and they were seniors and some Olympians!

    Overworking the youngsters ensures burnout in the future. I think they need to tone it down, just a little. I agree with a poster that said, some of the unknown gyms might be pushing so that they come on the map, but I hope they don't push too far.

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    1. :O Having to relearn didn't even occur to me, great point.

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  8. Well to be fair most of the gymnasts that didn't make it to worlds were from other countries. The injury list wasn't really a problem for the US. The only candidate injured that had even the slightest chance of making the team was Lexie Priessman who wouldn't have been picked over Dowell as an all arounder or a specialist for bars and beam nor would she have replaced Mckayla Maroney for floor and vault. And Madison Kocian was also injured but that was simply a roll of the ankle nothing serious so I don't feel it falls into the category of dangerous difficulty or skills.The US injury list as of right now isn't as serious a problem as it is other countries.

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    1. Having big talent pool doesn't mean they can be broken at young age.

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    2. Well, there's Ohashi. And regardless of her chances, Finnegan too. The US injury list isn't a problem because they have gymnasts lining up behind the girls that fall down, and no other country has that luxury. That doesn't mean the scary difficulty, especially in girls as young as Ariana etc. isn't scary, or is excusable. The US is the one with this particular problem at the moment.

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    3. Not to mention that the girls themselves know that if they get injured, there's not just one but numerous talented girls ready and waiting to take their place. The internal pressure and mental toll that would take would be enormous! You just hope their coaches get a healthy balance of competitiveness and risk management.

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    4. That's true. I'm not going to delve into Marta and her camp structure etc. but it does seem that the girls face a lot of pressure for selection.

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  9. A possible solution...?
    Splitting junior nationals into two categories - 11-13 & 14-15?
    This system works successfully in Britain (espoir & junior).
    Also, there could be difficulty limits on the younger category - no skill worth more than 0.5 (E).

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    1. Hmm, yes could be a good idea. There's also the issue that there are a LOT of junior elites and warmups and podium training seemed kind of chaotic on the livestream for that issue. The E thing is not stopping Tinkler and Mattis! :p

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    2. The d score limit would only be for the 11-13 category so they focus on execution, technique, etc. The gymnasts in the 14-15 category would compete under FIG rules so they can prepare for senior competition.

      I think China's problems are with grass roots level, similar to football in Britain. Britain chose powerful, big build footballers instead of looking at technique so the 'Lionel Messi's' of Britain are often ignored. Back to gymnastics... China choose the gymnasts with good toe point, lines, etc and potentially powerful gymnasts are usually ignored.

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