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'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)


  1. The problem with Smith? If you have to try that hard to be cute, you're not cute. The pixie thing died with Roza Galieva, ca. 1992 (and she was never cute, either). Oh, and her gymnastics is an eyesore. End of story.

  2. Kim Z. is forcing the cutesy style. To me Ragan looks uncomfortable with it on FX.

  3. Nice to see you back! I like Ragan - she's small which brings the cute card but honestly she just comes across as athletic to me, which I like. She sort of reminds me of Jordyn Weiber actually.

    BUT KARA EAKER. Gorgeous. Just incredible. And with all that beauty, she's still consistent in a really quiet way. She is so exciting to watch.

    And I'm still not over Shang as well. Never will be.

  4. I really liked this blog, Kara Eaker is the most exciting gymnast. She plays with gymnastics stuff beautifully. Thanks for sharing about her with us.