Friday, 30 August 2013

Drop everything! Read read read..

..this unbelievably amazing interview with Alexander Alexandrov! It's in 5 parts, with links to the next at the bottom of each. It's very candid, he doesn't hold back on anything and you really get the full inside story of what happened last year. Read it and weep that the Rodionenkos are STILL in power. It will take at least half an hour to read, but so so worth it. Great work by Elizabeth in bringing the whole thing together, providing the canvas for it and all of that editing for such a long glorious interview. We should all bow down :)

The Canadian WAG team has been announced, with zero surprises. It will be Victoria Moors, Elsabeth Black, Kaitlyn Hofland and Maegan Chant. With the injury of Gabriella Douglas and her withdrawal from selection, the inclusion of Kaitlyn has looked more and more of an uncertainty. This is a nice strong team, with the possibility of three spots in finals (two for floor and one for vault) as well as all-around spots. I'm not convinced that the latter two can make any finals with their current difficulty level, but who knows.

Here is a beautiful beam routine by Wu Liufang in training for worlds 2011. So close to being perfect, the stumble after the tuck back was the only thing marring it from the Ekaterina Vandisheva/Fan Ye school of perfect beam routines. That is Jiang Yuyuan in the background completely biffing a Ruflova, didn't notice the first time as Wu is so absorbing!

This weekend podium training for the National Games in China is taking place. We are unlikely to get anything from this really, but competition is starting soon and hopes for videos are high. Any absences you might notice are down to injury, unfortunately. This is far more important than worlds to the individual provinces, coaching teams etc. no matter what they say, and the girls do seem to be pushed as a result. The Interland friendly meet starts sooner, this weekend. This forms the second part of the Dutch worlds trials, and looks to be a test meet for the rest- particularly Britain who are sending a lot of girls, but also for Sandra Izbasa who hasn't competed since London. There will definitely be quick hits and a summary video, not sure about routines though- which is a pity as aside from it being an interesting competition- the Romanian girls have new floor routines!

I'm sure I'll add to this post with more gymnastics news, but for now I will throw in some photos I took on my phone when I was away this week. I was in Cork city and went for a daytrip to Cobh (pronounced Cove, formally Queenstown) which is pretty much my favourite town in Ireland. It's so so pretty and it's steeped in history too, this was the port where everybody from the west and south of the country emigrated from before, during and after the Great Famine and it was one of the stops Titanic made before crossing the Atlantic. We have an Irish priest who got off here having travelled from Southampton for the majority of the photos of its voyage. Cobh is incredibly steep which is difficult but those coloured houses..beautiful.

This cathedral is enormous. Bad perspective due to high ground!

Source- beautifulgymnastics

Monday, 26 August 2013

Bits and pieces

Anna Dementyeva has retired. It's been known for a while that she was taking a break from the gym and considering retirement and now the worst has been confirmed. She's at her home gym training youngsters. This has followed on quickly from the retirement of fellow gymnast of glorious lines and dance- Yulia Belokobylskaya. Interestingly, with the utter disaster Russia are having forming an Antwerp team at the moment, she may have gotten another shot at glory, which looked so unlikely just a few weeks ago. At least she went out on a relative high of a great team performance at Universiade, with some spectacular individual routines of her own.

Catherine Lyons and Georgia Mae Fenton will be joining Laurie Hernandez and Bailie Key at the Japan Junior. These two young Brits have a LOT of elegance, fabulous lines and are masters of corner dance so it should be very interesting. I know one from China but that hasn't been fully confirmed yet, and Russia and Romania are yet to announce. There doesn't seem to be an age restriction, so girls from 1998-2000 are elegible. This means we could be seeing two of Andreea Munteanu, Andreea Iridon, Silvia Zarzu and Asiana Peng and two of Maria Bondareva, Seda Tutkhalyan, Ekaterina Sokova, Viktoria Kuzmina, Anastasia Dmitrieva and Maria Kharenkova. Madalina Blendea would be unlikely due to her recent injury. Japan, (possibility- Yuki Uchiyama) Australia, (possibilities- Alexandra Eade, Darcy Norman) Canada, (possibilities- Heaven Latimer if healthy, Shallon Olsen) France (possibilities- Louise Vanhille, Claire Martin) and Germany (possibilities- Kim Janas, Tabea Alt) amongst others, plan to send gymnasts to this. That is a LOT of talent and we could see a potentially much deeper fight for the AA title than at Antwerp with how things are panning out! This meet takes place September 22-25th and is already very promising with just two delegations announced.

There's a lot of noise coming out of Russia regarding Anastasia Grishina and Viktoria Komova. I don't think we have enough information to accurately say what's going on, and the person spouting it is unreliable at best. Let's just say I'll hold off predicting the fourth member (and third, because that may not be that secure) until she walks into the arena at prelims. The good news is that Viktoria Komova has recommenced training! The bad news is that her illness will almost certainly have affected her weight and therefore strength. Too early to fully write her in or out, she may be cleared to just do bars in the end even. As for Grishina, her refusal to do beam in team finals last year has damned her as far as the news that she is faking a back injury (in Valentina Rodionenko's views, not her own coaches) is concerned. Maybe she is being spurred on to fight for her place. Maybe they are done giving her chances. Impossible to know.

Here let junior Lauren Navarro demonstrate the difference the crackdown on messy hair in USAG has made!

Classics

Screenshot- source- USAG youtube video
 Nationals
Screenshot- source- USAG youtube video

It doesn't get more dramatic than that! Her loose bun at Classics was bigger than her head and moved a serious amount. Impressive work on the Nationals bun. Hair isn't something I despaired over, but I am liking the difference. That said, McKayla Maroney's hair looks like a giant snail and really unsecure- probably best off going the old route with hers.

And more screenshots, these are NastiaFan's this time and they help to explain why Peyton Ernst has issues with her beam dismount (fell at Tokyo, large steps the rest of the time). From what I gathered from the discussion, she's not setting the skill correctly, she's whipping into it and killing the momentum, so it's much harder for her to get it around. The second screenshot is Abigail Milliet who is setting up for the exact same skill, double pike, the right way..and lands totally upright with just a very small step.

Peyton. NastiaFan- sourced from NBC footage
Abigail. NastiaFan- sourced from NBC footage
That's a huge difference in angle. Here's more technical information, this time on why men tend to be a lot cleaner than women at twisting which made a refreshing amount of sense.

I'm not sure if I said this already, but spin queen Gabriella Douglas of Canada is out of worlds contention with an injury. It appears that Jade Barbosa has not been as firmly ruled out as previously thought and is still in the running. Larisa Iordache seems to be in treatment and won't appear at Interland but there's a good bit of time left.

Noel Van Klaveren won the first Dutch trials for the worlds team. She managed this despite falling on beam on a layout and on her bars dismount. She also crashed a new upgrade, a 1.5 tsuk on vault but it was her solid DTY that counted for her AA score. Chantysha Netteb unfortunately crashed her double pike beam dismount to her head..again! There's no way she should keep training that. She's fine, but still..that dismount is just not for her, at least not yet. She downgraded her DTY to a 1.5 yurchenko and placed second in the AA. Celine van Gerner will not compete at worlds so wasn't there. Vera van Pol was third. The girls will compete again at Interland which is their second trial, this meet starts on the 31st and the nominative registration list is here.

Monday, 19 August 2013

More Nationals and other (updated) news

Juniors

Very disappointing that Nia Dennis retained her inconsistent streak, falling on both of her rafter-scraping releases. There was no stopping Bailie Key with four more stellar routines, and Laurie Hernandez cleaned up on floor with much better landings. I'm also liking her beam the more I see it, I hope she regains her BHS-LOSO-LOSO, because even if hers is flat..it's a cool series. Unfortunately, while there were plenty of clutch performances, there were a lot of meltdowns other than Nia's splat central on bars, both Ariana Agrapides and Alexis Vasquez completely fell apart on bars, damning their chances of making the National Team, which indeed- neither of them made, despite killer potential. But the reason is simple, the junior national team goes by AA placement, not potential. In the case of Ariana, I don't think they would have expected her to make it as she's not up to scratch on beam or bars yet, though incredibly strong on vault and floor. Still, she has a LOT of time, not turning senior until 2017. Alexis would have easily made it over Polina Shchennikova but that bars routine dragged her right down. Speaking of Polina, her day 2 did her no favours, compounded by a weak performance day 1. She has gorgeous lines and leaps, but not a whole lot else at this point and her bars routine was a but of a mess form-wise.

Norah Flatley and Vanasia Bradley also show a lot of potential, hoping for great development with these two. It would be great to see the WOGA girls, Nadia Cho especially, continue to build difficulty on their pet events because that is their ticket to teams and while WOGA remain unbelievably weak at vault with non-spectacular tumbling, they aren't going anywhere near the all-around.

Nia. Copyright- USAG- John Cheng

Bailie is an interesting gymnast. She doesn't have the spark, amplitude or dance of some of the other girls and you would think that would make her boring, because clean gymnastics alone are generally not enough. But somehow it is, and I think it's her mastery of all four events as well as the many upgrades she's planning- Bailie is NOT a 5.4 bars difficulty gymnast and her beam too has more skills in the works. Nia, hmm. She's a star in the making, but obviously needs more consistency as well as polish. I'm very happy that her form and her leaps are surprisingly good. Perhaps straightening her knees before letting go of the bar before a release will help her out- it looks to my non-technical eye as if her knee bend drives her too high and that's the problem, making them very difficult to catch. That said, I am in LOVE with her releases. But it's no good if catching them is 50/50 and I'd be very happy to see her more stable with them, even if a few inches of height has to be sacrificed. Laurie is incredible. She jumped about 20 places or so in the all-around from last year. Feisty, fantastic. She brings to mind another f too..frantic. Not on floor or at least, not in my opinion, but on bars where she's too rushed and doesn't allow enough time to be sure of her next move and hit handstand perfectly. This was more noticeable in her day 2 routine. It worked for her and she hit, it's just something I'd like to see toned down in the future.

Update- I've just seen that Laurie and Bailie will compete at Junior Japan! This meet traditionally attracts top juniors so it could be amazing and make up for the lack of USA at YOG, and the one spot per country for just one specific birth year YOG will have anyway.

Favourite leotards

I really like the MG elite one- they wore it at Parkettes and another meet too, though I don't like how high the collar is. But it's unusual and the design is Celtic, which is a win-win in my view. Nia Dennis' leotard was beautiful, so was Melissa Reinstadtler's and Chow's girls one was a beautiful colour. None of the rest were offensive as such- except CGA. Great colours, could have been lovely but way too much mesh ruined the whole thing and made it inappropriate. If there must be mesh, may it be black or anything not-nude, and only on arms/neck. Not torso, ugh.

Seniors

McKayla Maroney continues to impress, this time leaving no doubt about her tumbling on floor, where she definitely did not go out of bounds on the double layout and saved a slight bit of overrotation on the double pike pretty smoothly. If she can nail the stag leap out of the double arabian, then she has it made- she can challenge Larisa Iordache, equal Simone Biles and put pressure on Ksenia Afanasyeva. Awesome. Her vaults were also much better, it's obvious and she said it herself that she makes sure to really drive the Mustafina because the Olympics one plays in her head. Her knees are a little softer on her amanar than they were last year, I'd love to see her tighten up a bit, but make no mistake- she still utterly dominates that vault. Definitely a lock for the worlds team, though of course Marta has just startled everyone by saying she hopes McKayla will do the all-around there. For sure, there have been a lot of disappointments about girls in line for the 4th place, but I don't think anyone was expecting this. If Madison Kocian is not ready in time, then I fully support this. If she is ready, then I'm torn, because as great as it would be for McKayla to do the all-around, I'd really like for Madison to get the experience. She could be very valuable in a worlds team finals after all.

Simone again hit all her routines which was enouraging. I mean, not falling, I definitely spotted her missing her toe-on. Still, a great weak for our new National Champion and it will really help her gearing up for worlds with that title already under her belt. Her second vault, the Lopez, is incredible. And way too easy for her. Introducing a Cheng at this stage is probably not a risk Marta would want to take (I saw it into the pit on Gymnastike beyond the routine, and it did look amazing) but it would be great if she could verify it in time. I'd also really love if she could bring back the 1.5 to tucked full-in and the double layout-half out to boost her difficulty a little there. Hopefully the 5.7 beam is not permanent, as it's quite a drop on her routine earlier this year- six tenths. She went the safe route, nailed it, now hopefully she can build on it.

Kyla the vamp. Copyright- USAG- John Cheng

Kyla had another very good day, though she was again shaky on beam- still uncharacteristic! It was great to see her determination running into the double pike that gave her trouble on day 1, and nailing it. Hopefully she can get all four tumbles as good as the first two landing-wise. I'm happy her difficulty has increased there and on beam too (though her 6.0 day 2 is said to be a wrong calculation by some?) I know her growth has been an issue, and the heel injury earlier this year and we're all blue in the face from saying this..but one or two more upgrades to her beam and on bars would be so helpful!

It wasn't to be Brenna Dowell's day. She didn't seem 'on' like she has been, it's possible she's dealing with injury or just wasn't feeling the best. Regardless, she remains a very strong all-arounder, but not consistent enough or clean enough to really make her mark. In the future I'm wondering if she dropped beam and really focused on the other three if she'd be better off. She's an incredibly hard worker and has already made big strides in improvement..I'd never underestimate her. But it definitely was Mykayla Skinner's day! This girl, who showed up and crashed her way through Classics and who showed immense improvement but still fell off beam twice on day 1...hit. Everything. Out of the park. So, so impressive. No, we will never enjoy her form on backhandsprings or her block on the Cheng but WOW. Her floor was fantastic and I was so annoyed they didn't show it..until they showed my girl Laurie instead. Delighted for her making the national team, hopefully she can be sent to a world cup or Pac Rims and be pitted against external competition and international judging. And hopefully she moves gyms because despite her turnaround, she still needs a lot of work.

I'm gutted Madison Desch and Abigail Milliet didn't make the National team, but it does make sense...it wasnt to be going by their performances. I'm sure both girls will come back strong at camp and make a great case for their inclusion though.

Favourite leotards

GAGE, again. Simone's patriotic leo was nice and simple but still stunning. Not a fan of either Kyla's or McKayla's..the colour was nice on Kyla but too much mesh, and McKayla's was just dull or something, but again loved the colour.

And in other news....

- Well known by now, but Viktoria Komova was only released from hospital today, after suffering for a week from what has been described as both gastroenteritis and stomach flu. She posted a picture of an IV which supports the view that she was badly dehydrated, and presumably very weak. Something like that is not serious as such, just a setback...but when you don't have much weight to spare it can really suck and I know from experience. She's due to start training again next week. Let us hope she's sent to Osijek world cup for some competitive experience..it's very close to Antwerp but she could really do with competitive experience if they're going to send her to worlds regardless..either as an all-arounder or a bars/beam specialist.

- Russian Cup was the emptiest competition ever. No Viktoria Komova, Anastasia Grishina, Anna Dementyeva, Aliya Mustafina, Ksenia Afanasyeva, Ekaterina Baturina or Evgeniya Shelgunova. In some circumstances, fan favourite Tatiana Navieva won the all-around, followed by Alla Sosnitskaya and Anna Pavlova. Tatiana also qualified first to every event final, except bars which Maria Paseka managed. Event finals are due to be broadcast, but it's basically a webcam..don't expect USAG awesomeness.

- Tatiana Nabieva won bars and vault finals. Second and third place respectively in both were Maria Paseka and Alla Sosnitskaya. Anna Pavlova only did one vault and pulled out of bars finals. Maria Paseka put her hand down on her amanar. I think she's firmly closed the door on an Antwerp spot now. Rumour is Anastasia Grishina hurt her back so that's why she didn't compete and we know for sure that Anna Dementyeva is not training at the moment, whether it's a break or a move towards retirement is not yet known, though Anna Rodionova has basically said the latter.

- It looks like Jordyn Wieber's plan is to train at UCLA. She can train with the team, just not compete. She'd be in close proximity to Gabby Douglas who will be training at Chris Waller's gym in LA, though it doesn't sound like it will be either intensive or committed. 

- Canada's Gabriella Douglas is out of worlds contention with an injury :( Her pet events are beam and floor, and her strength is turns- really impressive work. She had a great shot at the team. Ellie Black was pulled from Pan-Ams at the last minute so let's hope she's not injured too. Their team is now likely to be Ellie Black, Victoria Moors, Maegan Chant and Kaitlyn Hofland.

- GB's Gabby Jupp has been cleared to start training on bars! Like fellow ACL-tear gymnast Aliya Mustafina, Gabby already has a very strong base on bars so it would be great if she could use her time off training on hard surfaces by really excelling on this event.

- Romania's Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar and Sandra Izbasa are going to compete (never rely on them not being pulled though) at Interland, a friendly competition in the Netherlands, starting on the 31st, which also has a large contingent from GB as well as the host country. An ideal opportunity for all involved to get some more competitive experience in. There will be quick hits from this and hopefully videos.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Nationals Day 1

Another fantastic day (night) of competition!

Juniors

I feel like it's only a matter of time before Amelia Hundley is injured and out for a season, much like first year senior and teammate Lexie Priessman. I find her a surprising gymnast- she's powerful, as you would expect, with strong vault and floor, but she's also very good on bars, and half decent on beam. Unfortunately she missed her bars connection, but it was a strong routine with a great stuck landing. Vault and floor were as good as ever- she should be more dynamic on vault though I think, but unfortunately her beam was a mess. Wobbly, hesitant, doubting everything- she looked so nervous, and did indeed come to grief. Beam will always be tough when you've shot up in a year and definitely 5"5 or more, but she was really not herself at all. A shame, but hopefully she can redeem herself in finals. 4th place in prelims all things considering is a very good result. I think she could be a valid team contributor as a senior, especially since she can actually swing bars.

For me though, it was the other three standouts I was really watching for. First up, saucepot Laurie Hernandez who once again, gave her everything on floor. I am in love with the music, the choreography of course- but also the tumbling. It seems it gets lost in the rest of her routine which is the total opposite to everyone else's routine- but that is a very tidy and strong double arabian- stag she has going on, and a super clean piked full-in and double pike. The landings did not go her way on Thursday with stumbles and steps from overcooking her tumbles, so she can claw back some vital tenths there today. Her vault was fine, she's been struggling with it a bit this year and it's an ambitious vault- DTY- for one so young and small. Hopefully she can improve the height and dynamics of it in time. Bars were a lovely surprise, again she'd been struggling with it in podium training, and she was short on every handstand and late on turns at Classics and was hammered as a result. Not so here, where she did the routine of her life and outscored Bailie Key! I'm interested to see how she develops on bars- it's not an area where I'd expect her to ever be amazing, but who knows. On beam she wisely played it safe, going for just one layout-stepout instead of two in her series. She manages to incorporate some of her huge presence on floor into her beam, but most importantly she hit, and starting on beam can be nervewracking. Really pleased to see that she has brushed off the inconsistent label somewhat, and beyond thrilled we will (hopefully!) have at least two more floor routines from her before she even turns senior. Her improvement in one year, and added difficulty, is remarkable- though thankfully not concerning, she seems well capable of what she's doing. I was concerned it's too much when she'll be a junior elite for so long, but the more I see her the more I'm not worried at all.

Bailie. Copyright- USA Gymnastics- John Cheng

Bailie Key has hit all of her routines this year- Jesolo, Chemnitz, Classics and Nationals Day 1. It's an impressive record for the gymnast who has long been touted as the number one junior to watch, with added pressure to hit as a result. I think Bailie has it all- she's got the tumbling, the vault, the leaps, the gorgeous bars work, she's a steady and beautiful beam worker and she even has great flexibility as a bonus. Super clean with great execution on pretty much everything. Now she's not exactly perfect- she's not super dynamic on vault yet, and her artistry on floor is questionable- I say questionable because I don't think even firecracker Laurie could make much of that music. It's quite overpowering, and especially for such a dainty gymnast. My favourite routine of hers was her beam. The only real fault is the lack of height on her layout, which is pretty whip-like. Everything else was basically glorious. Her bars are nowhere near her full potential and I was sad to see the absence of her perfect laidout gienger but that just means there's more to look forward to. This girl is going places and in a way it's sad she won't be at YOG. Maybe the Japan Junior International though which always attracts big names. Anyway, Bailie is being paced beautifully and continues to increase her standing as a fabulously clean all-arounder.

Bailie's main internal competition is fellow 1999-born Nia Dennis. Nia is a powerful vaulter with an explosive DTY and an amanar in the works for next year, a huge double layout, SKY high bars releases that are higher than those of Gabby Douglas and the highest arabian we've ever seen. She has something Bailie lacks- spark. She has everything, and she's exciting. With a gymnast like her you expect to see something lacking in her form and leaps- not so. Her form is actually fairly impressive given how muscular she is, and she delivers everything with such amplitude. The arabian on beam is just ridiculously good, and her bars releases are jaw dropping...it's as if she's going in slow-motion. I get the impression they've worked on slowing her counter-rotation so that she actually has a chance to catch the bar, but that coupled with the height is just incredible. Don't get me wrong, Nia has got flaws. She's not very consistent yet, she bends her knees before her releases (I forgive this like I forgive Kim Gwang Suk for it), her landings on floor are not quite there yet, her beam is unsteady etc. As indeed she proved with quite a wobbly beam routine and precious tenths lost on floor. Really hoping she nails everything tonight- her potential is seriously enormous, in her way she has more talent than Bailie even. They are a very interesting contrast and it will be good for both girls to have such a worthy foe to contend against.

Norah Flatley was as bright as a button like she always is. She's got some gorgeous basics on bars that will serve her very well, clean gymnastics everywhere, great lines, and personality. Nothing is at the level of her beam yet, but she's got time to build and no better coach for it. Chow has definitely got the makings of a star here. Speaking of her beam- she's been seriously promising there for years, but her ability still amazes me every time. Fabulous routine- strong backwards AND forward tumbling, with great amplitude as well as form. Her full start value is 6.6 but again she didn't get her full connection. But a 15.350 says it all. Her difficulty keeps her below the top girls- she has 21.9 total in start values versus 23.6 for Bailie, 23.5 for Nia, 23.1 for Laurie and 23.2 for Amelia but despite that, she's firmly cemented herself as one to watch.

Jordan Chiles. Copyright- USA Gymnastics- John Cheng
I really like the look of Emily Gaskins. She can move, she's very stylish. Very impressed with her. Jordan Chiles was strong on 3 events, with moments of loveliness in the fourth- beam, where she fell. I'm glad that she wasn't busting out the big skills and impressed more than ever with her bars- really nice swing.

Highlights:

- Laurie Hernandez' floor and bars.
- Nia Dennis' bars releases and arabian.
- Nadia Cho's exquisite bars and beam. Stunning work, gorgeous lines.
- Polina Shchennikova's Mostepanova turning handstand in split. Drool.
- Norah Flatley's beam
- Bailie Key's quiet confidence in her work, and her beam of course.
- Molly Frack's floor and Christina Desiderio's beam. These mini Parkettes are fabulous. And that Eremia planche hold thing on beam- swoon!
- Laurie Hernandez on bars. I don't think anyone was expecting her to hit like that.
- Abby Paulson on bars, really pretty work and lines.
- Vanasia Bradley's explosive vault.
- Ariana Agrapides' DTY, such power!
- Sydney Johnson Scharpf on beam and floor- she's got presence.
- Nica Hults on beam.

Not-so Highlights:

- Falls. Amelia, Abby Paulson, Jordan Chiles and more. Steadier than Classics but still sad.
- Polina Shchennikova needed a great competition and instead furthered her cause to fade into obscurity. It's such a shame, she's got such gorgeous work.
- The general dearth of floor routines showcasing artistry or any kind of good dance.
 
Favourite routines:

Floor- Laurie Hernandez
Beam- Norah Flatley
Bars- Nadia Cho
Vault- Ariana Agrapides

Favourite leotards- Texas Dreams and MG Elite. I also liked Jordan Chiles' leo. 

Overall, I was really impressed with the form of the juniors. There were fabulous lines in evidence everywhere, clean basics, great leaps and perhaps most importantly- girls with the makings of good bars workers. The US might be condemned as a nation of flexed feet, bent knees and 150 degree splits- but don't let it fool you. There was elegance, excellent form and presence in abundance. The other side of the coin, difficulty, remains as impressive as ever- but I did think there wasn't many throwing skills beyond them. The US has girls who can't even go to Rio throwing incredible DTY's...everybody else needs to buck up.

Seniors

A lot less gymnasts competing than earlier, and yet- so many routines lost to ad breaks, or interviews with you know, retired gymnasts. I wish USAG could stream it themselves, but alas.

McKayla Maroney surely felt she could have done better- she flirted outrageously with the boundaries on floor, not helped by her growth as well as her looong runs into tumbling and her vaults blocked with too much power- the amanar also blocked a little too high and she lost a bit of height. Still amazing vaulting of course and her higher difficulty despite poor landings helped her nudge Simone Biles firmly into second. She'll be aiming just for small steps, and no doubt over her tumbles. I'm very impressed she's upped her difficulty on floor- it makes her a real contender in Antwerp on more than just vault. This girl is going nowhere, and I hope all of those who predicted she was going to abandon gymnastics and 'whore' herself out with acting are stuffed with all of that humble pie. Not quite as good as she could have been, but McKayla was still dazzling and her floor choreography and music change is really growing on me.

Simone. Copyright- USA Gymnastics- John Cheng
Simone Biles smashed the 60 mark, proving that she CAN hit- and hit gloriously at that. Let's not forget she didn't push the boat out and opted for safety- taking six tenths off her beam, and some off floor too. Stuck her amazing full-in beam dismount, improved the wolf turn, caught her bars releases this time, and her floor was great- minus the low double layout landing. It's odd when you consider how secure and high that was with the half turn- perhaps she's better off landing forward on it. She was under a lot of pressure to hit and her performance will give her a confidence boost facing into tonight's competition. She may even sneak the DLO half-out back in! I really loved her Lopez and her amanar was right back on form. Still, there's certainly room for improvement with this bursting ball of potential and energy.

Kyla Ross was uncharacteristically nervous on beam, which was strange to see. She has taken out the whip-double tuck on floor and still landed low on her third pass, the double pike. I can't get excited over a routine fresh from 1989 difficulty-wise and while her big stumble forward on the double pike was so disappointing because it means endurance is still an issue- I was very pleased to see that her recent artistry coaching has definitely paid off. She let go a bit more, sold the routine much more than she had been doing. They can't teach her good upper body carriage overnight, but improvement is always welcome and I hope it catches on with other seniors and juniors. Kyla definitely redeemed herself with an excellent and effortless bars routine, and her vault was great. I don't think she has damaged her all-around status- though competition was lacking, with a fall from Peyton Ernst, the equivalent of a fall with Brenna Dowell's two missed requirements, and no all-around from Lexie Priessman and Elizabeth Price. But she did show the glaring weakness her low difficulty presents. At this stage, her coaches have almost shut the door on upgrades.

It definitely wasn't Brenna Dowell's day, not only did she miss connections exactly like at Classics, but she also missed two compositional requirements- the full twist on floor, and the leap series on beam- 0.5 deduction each, so she basically fell. The full twist on floor is a bit puzzling- fair play to her if she realised late on that she wasn't going to get the full-twisting double layout around, and opted for the safer double layout. But I remember seeing from twitter that she was pretty much only warming up the double layout itself- so they knew she was going to swallow that deduction. Well, hopefully they didn't forget. She's a great gymnast with fantastic ability- questionable form and leaps on beam aside, which is her weak point. Unfortunately, her selling point really is as an all-around gymnast and she did not show enough to get onto the team for Antwerp.

Kennedy Baker's piked double arabian was more laidout than ever- certainly equal to Daiane Dos Santos, who never achieved the perfect pencil-straight form on it to begin with. Last year it was very loose..now, it's creditable, which is amazing. Unfortunately she stumbled bigtime on another pass, which let her score down. She has moments of greatness on bars also, and her wolf turns are awesome..but I don't think it's enough and still believe she's on her way to NCAA sharpish. Peyton Ernst flung an upgrade, a pretty nice double layout. She looked on track to do as well as she at Classics, but came to grief on beam. She could really rival Brenna for bronze tonight...but I'd be quite confident at this stage that neither will be at Antwerp. Madison Kocian wowed with excellent beam and bars, and along with everyone else, I sat up and noticed her, and placed her on 'my' worlds team. Unlike Abigail Milliet whose competition didn't go her way, she has the difficulty on both events. Of course, she rolled her ankle on floor and is now out of tonight's competition, sadly. That doesn't mean she can't verify at camp and sneak onto the team, it could be quite minor. I was so taken aback by the fact she finished her routine AND did timers on vault, amazing considering how awful her ankle roll looked on the replay.

Mykayla. Copyright- USA Gymnastics- John Cheng


Mykayla Skinner came back with a vengeance after her disastrous Classics performance. Podium training still showed her one-handing her Cheng vault, or as it's been described- her laid-out double double with a high-five to the vault table. The fact her coach high-fived her after this was just depressing. BUT, never write someone off. She nailed her floor routine, WITH the double double laidout in bends (though she sacrificed form for this), had an actually decent bars set with much improved form and skills and then vaulted pretty well. She is still twisting far too early which prevents her pushing off on both hands fully- but it was a lot closer, and not really valid for that deduction. It's still astounding she can get that vault around, and very well too. Yes, her beam was a hot mess but I'm so pleased she improved so much everywhere else! And I really, really love her floor music, and the choreography bit where the music changes. It's symbolic for her senior elite career so far. You think she's gone and then BOOM she's up and running in contention to make the National Team. I still want her to change coaches sharpish but..well played.

It's quite interesting how the seniors are panning out for worlds this year. McKayla Maroney has charged her way into the fray as THE contender for the vault/floor spot. The inconsistent Simone Biles has done herself a lot of favours to take an all-around spot, so too has Kyla Ross, despite her own difficulties with..difficulty, and endurance. The last spot has always been interesting. First it was Katelyn Ohashi's until she was knocked out with injury, then for me it was Brenna Dowell's until I discovered she would not be able to do the all-around in prelims, then it was between Elizabeth Price for bars or Abigail Milliet for beam, with some having Peyton Ernst in contention too...for others it was Lexie Priessman's who would only do floor to complement McKayla only doing vault and then finally the spot was Madison Kocian's. Clearly we are still in for some surprises..

Highlights

- Simone's Lopez vault. Floaty, high, stretched, beautiful.
- Madison Kocian's beautiful bars and beam
- Mykayla Skinner's floor..tumbling, music, some greatness in her choreo.
- McKayla Maroney's tumbling. Nice upgrades too. And goes without saying- her vaulting. She blew the roof off and she wasn't even near her best that day.
- Kyla Ross' bars. They won't get that score in Antwerp but they were just gorgeous. I can watch her backhandspring-layout on beam all day long too.
- Some really high and floaty double arabians. I like this trend for juniors too.
- Brenna Dowell's front double pike and Tweddle, because how badass are they?
- Kennedy Baker's wolf turns. Yum.
- In general, a serious amount of impressive work by the seniors. They're not going to sweep the medal table in Antwerp- which would be really rough with no team competition to balance it out anyway..but they're going to make their mark.
- Tidy hair! Loving this. It's not something I got all hot and bothered about before, but I freely admit it is nice to see. The biggest difference though is junior Lauren Navarro between Classics and Thursday. Check out her beam from the two competitions for the best appreciation.

Not-so highlights

- Madison Kocian's injury. Heartbreaking.
- Elizabeth Price not being ready and falling apart on bars. More tragedy!
- Some appalling commentary. Yep, McKayla needed the redemption of the team finals vault after her fall in event finals...that makes chronological sense for sure. Why yes, Gabby Douglas would not have made the team had she not placed at Nationals..you can't mean 2012, so please at least specify the year.
- Interviews with retired gymnasts when THERE IS GYMNASTICS GOING ON.
- Similarly, there were at least five ad breaks too many meaning not near as many routines were shown.
- Other falls, like Peyton Ernst. Quite a few stumbles and low landings on floor too.

Favourite routines

Vault Simone Biles. Yes, she was better that day. Perhaps not as impressive in the air- though she is in some ways with her stretched form- but definitely more impressive on the ground.
Floor Simone Biles. Back on form.
Beam Madison Kocian
Bars Madison Kocian

Favourite leotards

OH MY GOD McKayla Maroney's leotard was incredible. I would have preferred if the arms faded out a bit more..it looked a bit disjointed. But nevertheless, stunning. Similarly, GAGE's leo was just beautiful. In general, there's a trend away from pink towards blues and purples...and we should all embrace it while we can, before they're forced into National Team pink.

Soooo...have you caught up on youtube? Here is Day 1's senior broadcast if you missed it. This is a very long post and I had to rush though it a bit, so I'm sure I've forgotten some important details- feel free to add them in the comments! Favourite routines? Greatest surprises? Your worlds team? Are you on the fence about Maroney's peacock look? Can Al Fong remember the code in time?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Nationals day 1 post..in the post

Still have quite a few videos to watch and I won't be able to post today, but expect a long post on day 1 Nationals tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Countdown to competitions

First up, there's a rumour that there won't be too many big names at Russian Cup. Aliya Mustafina and Ksenia Afanasyeva are supposed to be no-shows, along with Anna Dementyeva and Kristina Goryunova. Evgeniya Shelgunova is also still dealing with an injury, her elbow. In a way, I'd be very happy with the first two in particular getting a break as they've competed a lot this year and there's no real need for them to prove themselves further, and they still have a closed internal competition before worlds selection anyway. But on the other hand, it would be pretty gosh darn useful for Aliya to compete beam as much as possible to really get the routine (whichever of the many she has done this year) steady. Likewise, Afan could do with more competitive vaulting experience. Even if they just did those events, no need for the all-around. Update- Tatiana Nabieva will compete! It's more set in stone now that she and Vika will be the main attractions. Also, Ekaterina Baturina will not compete- injury :(

So, the stage could well be set for Viktoria Komova, who interestingly enough has never really had a showdown against Aliya, even internally. We haven't seen her compete healthy with no prior injury recovery since 2010, and even then she flagged with endurance issues. I, along with everyone else, am eager to see what her routines look like. She's supposed to have everything back and even though blindly trusting what Valentina Rodionenko says would be foolish, I'd imagine she's very close to what's being said about her. Her old BHS-LOSO-LOSO combination is worth more this code, I hope they've brought it back but it's really her bars that draw me in. I'm not a major fan of her as an all-around gymnast for some reason but I'm so looking forward to seeing what she can do on these two events.

To recap, here's my Russian Antwerp team.

Aliya Mustafina AA, UB, FX (?), BB (?)
Viktoria Komova AA, UB, BB (?)
Ksenia Afanasyeva VT, FX
Anastasia Grishina UB (?) BB (?)

If Komova proves herself not ready, insert Grishina into her spot and leave the team at 3 since they can't take Maria Paseka either way.

It's almost the ninth here, so 6 days until US Nationals and even less to podium training, which will again be streamed. The more I think about it the more set Kyla doing the all-around seems to me. I don't really think she can be ousted at this stage, unless Brenna Dowell or Elizabeth Price bring it like Chellsie Memmel 2008 Trials and make it so that they cannot be ignored. That would make it very, very interesting. If you look back at Brenna's execution scores from Classics though, they ain't pretty and I can't help thinking that they are a little harsh- which helps keep her that little bit behind. She did indeed have errors and lost connections dragging her difficulty down, but even taking them into account she should have done better I believe. I'm not ignoring McKayla Maroney but she will need to be really exceptional on previously non-spectacular events to factor in to the all- around at this stage. Can she score 58 in the all-around, yes I think she could. But can she do enough to sneak in and grab an Antwerp all-around spot? Highly unlikely. I don't believe Peyton Ernst has the difficulty yet for an all-around spot, but I think she'd be in contention for a specialist spot. I find her gymnastics quite odd, some of her leaps are beautiful and some really awful. She'll need to be much more 'on' with them on beam to get that spot, and she'll definitely need the dance series which was inexplicably credited at Classics.

All eyes will be on Simone Biles. I'd quite frankly be devastated if she cracked under the pressure. She could, if she hits, smash the 60 barrier and cement herself firmly as number one. If she doesn't hit I've no idea what they'll do. Use her as the wildcard having the much more reliable Kyla as medal back-up, or take her out entirely of the running as an all-around? If that happens, I'd struggle to see her on the team at all as she'd be vying with McKayla Maroney for the VT/FX spot and even if her difficulty is higher (she will have more of a difficulty gap on floor than McKayla has on her on vault), I don't think McKayla's veteran and world and Olympic vault medallist status can be beaten by a slightly flaky first year senior.

Has your opinion on the US team changed since Classics? Who are you rooting for? Podiums?

Sunday, 4 August 2013

More bad news! But some good

I'm sure plenty of people are aware of this but it's news to me as a new gymnastics fan, and presumably others too. At worlds qualifications in Antwerp, (and any post-Olympics worlds) only 3 gymnasts per country can compete each event. This means that there isn't room for 3 gymnasts to battle it out for the all around final and have a fourth specialist compete for her chance in event finals. First of all, this truly makes Maria Paseka redundant this year since Ksenia Afanasyeva can equal or better her vaults while also being a floor favourite, whereas Paseka can only challenge on vault. Unfortunately for Afan, this also means that she's highly unlikely to compete all-around if Viktoria Komova and Aliya Mustafina are fighting fit, unless they only bring these three gymnasts. This is now an ideal opportunity for Anastasia Grishina to impress on beam and bars with some upgrades- I wrote her off before since without upgrades she cannot challenge for a medal anywhere, and while she probably still won't they'll be happy enough to give her the chance I think.

It's no bother to Romania who are only bringing three girls but it makes US Nationals more important as it will effectively decide their second all-arounder, as they also cannot have Simone Biles, Kyla Ross and Brenna Dowell/ Peyton Ernst/ Elizabeth Price battling it out in qualifications. This makes the inclusion of a beam/bars specialist like Peyton Ernst/Abigail Milliet or a healthy Katelyn Ohashi more likely than I previously thought as a team dominated by strong vault/floor workers makes less sense than ever since they can't all compete for the chance to qualify, let alone qualify. For me, despite her strong performance and some floor upgrades, it also betters the case of Kyla not competing the all-around since if you think about it, her floor and vault spots are practically a waste when you consider what the US have in store on those events. Not a particularly popular opinion and I will absolutely shed it IF Kyla has more upgrades in store and really closes the door on anyone else doing the all-around in her stead. Of course, Simone Biles could implode completely as an all-arounder and have to fight McKayla Maroney for a vault/floor spot...there are a lot of possibilities.

For China, it is a golden opportunity for any floor/vault specialists for they cannot have a team where they're all vying for beam and bars spots. If Tan Jiaxin and Sui Lu do well at National Games and if the latter is happy to delay her retirement, they make the most sense since Tan has two strong vaults (DTY/ Tsuk 2/1) as well as a very good hope of making bars finals for which she can battle Yao Jinnan and Shang Chunsong for in qualifications, while not interfering with Sui Lu's chances of similarly battling Yao and Shang for a beam finals spot and potentially floor. Zeng Siqi is still a logical pick for a beam spot though she will need to be back on the National Team by then, but she's not useful on another event..so in short I'm really looking forward to National Games more than ever.

Let the various Nationals/Cups begin!

The good news which is widespread by now is of course that Chellsie Memmel will be competing in power tumbling, aiming for a worlds spot. Chellsie, despite being substantially decorated, never received her rightful Olympics experience thanks to injuries and also never received her due from USAG despite saving them at no less than two world championships team finals with some individual medals- including two world titles- thrown in for good measure. She was of course unfairly treated last year, and I had thought with her subsequent retirement, barely-there Pro Gymnastics Challenge appearance, long career filled with injuries and last but not least, upcoming wedding, that we had seen the last of her in a competitive gymnastics way at least. But underestimate her at your peril! I'd love to have been a fly on the wall when certain people in USAG got wind of this. Power tumbling worlds is pretty close but presumably, she didn't begin training just last week or when she broke the news. Really looking forward to seeing how she gets on in her training and if she doesn't make the worlds team, rest assured CFM remains more of a BAMF than ever. I don't usually use acronyms and I tend not to swear here...but these ones just flow when mentioning this inspirational, incredible gymnast. Go Chellsie!