My thoughts on the Core Hydration Classic — Other gym news — Thoughts from Simone Biles and Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, via GymCastic
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, August 12, 2023
So, I admit, my expectations for the Core Hydration Classic, a.k.a. U.S. Classic, this past weekend were muted. It was the first elite meet of the year, and yes, it’s the year before the Olympics but this whole cycle is a strange one — three years instead of four, following the five-year cycle for Tokyo that was forced by the pandemic. I also feared that the return of Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee would cause the NBC broadcast to focus only on them at the expense of other gymnasts. (And OK, this did happen.) The NBC commentary on gymnastics has been so bad for so long, I did not think they would be able to get it together on the short notice we had for Biles’ and Lee’s re-emergence on the elite scene. To say nothing of the dumpster fire USA Gymnastics has been for years; I wasn’t sure that its new leadership would have obvious indications after just a couple of years.
I. Was. So. Wrong. (Except about NBC, but I’ll get to that.)
Simone Biles was BACK. With near-full difficulty and near-perfect execution, she performed the Yurchenko double pike, a marvel of both.
She was fully in control of her floor routine; as Spencer Barnes noted on GymCastic this week, so often early in the season she bounces out of bounds frequently, so it was great to see her this controlled this soon. Her beam was solid and secure. Her bars, marred only by an arch-over that she saved with her core of steel, were her weakest event as usual but that did not stop her from winning the title by five points and securing her ticket to nationals by eight.
Suni Lee was back, and this seemed to surprise her, which in turn surprised the audience and the broadcasters. We knew she had trouble with her kidneys. We did not know up until the U.S. Classic that she had been told she might be unable to compete this year because of her kidneys. When she did her beam routine, she was on fire.
When she landed her college dismount, we rejoiced; when she left the podium to hug the USAG doctor, we cried along with her. Because just five years after the Larry Nassar trial, who thought an elite gymnast would be so grateful for USAG’s medical staff? Then she vaulted, keeping it simple — just a Yurchenko full, but a beautiful flared one — and it was so great that she peaced out of the rest of the meet, confident in her qualification to nationals. (She will likely have to petition to compete the all-around at nationals, but easily got her two-event score.)
NBC did focus almost entirely on the Simone and Suni return, but honestly – it was the big story of this event, so I cannot really fault them. They do need to figure out a way to spotlight other competitors while focusing on their main storylines, though. They seem unable to make a decision about coverage on the fly, and it shows when a gymnast who is less of a known quantity starts climbing up the scoreboard. They made sure we saw Leanne Wong, Jade Carey, and Jordan Chiles, considered strong bets for Paris, but everyone else was pretty hit or miss.
Still, a big win here was the broadcast team of Samantha Peszek, John Roethlisberger, and Terry Gannon. The stilted banter and stale references of Tim Daggett and Nastia Liukin have bugged gym fans, myself included, for years and the addition of Gannon did not help much there. But, Peszek and Roethlisberger kept the audience updated about scoring without being pedantic or assuming it was too difficult for the plebes to follow along while also providing us with helpful tips about things like gymnasts trying to score artistry points with their new leadership. In comparison, this broadcast team was a revelation. Where Gannon was almost made to seem like a stock character before — The Guy Who Knows Nothing About This Sport — here, he was welcomed into the conversation and educated along with the audience. Peszek and Roethlisberger had good chemistry and camaraderie and seemed far more up-to-date on the current climate of USAG and the intricacies of the Code of Points than did their predecessors (whom I assume knew these things but seemed to think they were over the heads of their audience).
Peszek attempted to answer some questions on her personal social media about the lack of routines shown during the NBC broadcast, which I appreciated although I disagree that viewers should have to choose between only seeing a few pre-selected favorites on the widely available broadcast and the livestream, which was only available to international viewers (or Americans using a VPN) during the competition. Still, it was nice to see Peszek use her own platform to hear viewers out.
Speaking of those routines we did not see on the broadcast…Kaliya Lincoln’s floor routine is the main one I think even NBC realizes they should have aired. Lincoln got silver on floor, tied with Joscelyn Roberson. All of Roberson’s routines were aired, but Lincoln got the shaft. Lincoln did not compete bars and so was not in the running for the title, and I think just ended up ignored as a result. You can hear on the video that she really engaged the crowd and it’s just a bummer that she didn’t get airtime.
Of the top 10 gymnasts who competed the AA, I would say that I saw at least one routine from each. After that, it was hit or miss. If she competed in the first session, a gymnast was more likely to get a routine broadcast; if she had the misfortune to be in the second, with Biles and Lee and the other returning Olympic, world, and NCAA champs, well, we saw a lot more of Biles and Lee on the sidelines and a lot less gymnastics. Do better, NBC.
We did get to see a lot of Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, the French gymnast who for the last year has been training at World Champions Centre with Biles and her coaches. De Jesus Dos Santos has long had a reputation for beautiful execution but mental blocks during competition have kept her out of the top ranks. Here, she competed flawlessly, and it was a glimpse of what might become in Paris next year. Her scores technically did not count, as the meet was considered a domestic one, but if she had been included in the mix, she would have been second AA to Biles. No small thing.
I mentioned NBC’s focus on the artistry deductions and how helpful it was to the broadcast. You could really tell that the new regime under Chellsie Memmel and Alicia Sacramone Quinn has upped the U.S. game in a major way. Just a year after the U.S. team got deducted heavily at worlds on artistry, we were seeing a lot more full-body movement, and many far more cohesive routines here than I have seen since the late 80s. Nola Matthews gets a special shout-out here for her phenomenally creepy floor — which we did get to see on NBC, and which Peszek singled out, rightfully, as being the epitome of what the U.S. should strive for, artistically speaking.
Overall, this meet was a real event, and I like what I’m seeing heading into the real meat of the elite season — nationals and worlds. I appreciate NBC shaking things up; even if they didn’t quite make all the changes to satisfy a jaded gym fan, they have substantially changed the way they are reporting on the sport, and that’s wonderful to see.
And even with the focus on Biles and Lee, we saw enough of their competitors — including a handful of new seniors including Roberson, Matthews, Tiana Sumanasakera, and Michelle Pineda — to tell that there are no locks for the Olympic team next year. It’s going to be a bloodbath, gymnastically speaking, and I’m here for it.
Other gym news
The Balance Beam Situation has liveblogs of the senior women from the U.S. Classic. The first session is here; the second session is here. Spencer also gives us a breakdown of what the U.S. team for worlds could look like, given the results from Classic.
Lauren Hopkins at The Gymternet also has liveblogs from the first session and the second session of the senior women’s competition at the U.S. Classic, as well as for the junior women. Hopkins also gives us the full results from the meet, and an article about Biles’ return to the elite stage and her dominant win at Classic.
Some fun Classic fluff here:
So much has happened in the NCAA this week after all the conferences imploded and then reformed. I have much to say about it, and will, once I get the elite out of my system. But here’s some info from College Gym News about the happenings in the Big Ten and the Big 12. CGN also has the roundup of Last Week in College Gym, a piece about recruiting calls, and the first two installments in a series about freshmen event specialists. Who to look for on vault, and on bars
Jordan Chiles is a finalist for the AAU Sullivan Award! Go vote for her here; you can do it once a day through August 16! What are you waiting for?!
Louisville will again host the Nastia Liukin Cup, Winter Cup, and Elite Team Cup in 2024.
Following in Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos’ footsteps, Mexico’s Alexa Moreno will be doing some training at World Champions Centre.
Ruby Evans of Great Britain is training an Amanar.
Gymcats in Las Vegas wrote a lovely tribute to Konnor McClain which also serves as a reminder of what top elite gymnasts really need in training.
Georgia gymnast Ariel Posen announced a medical retirement.
Arkansas alum Braie Speed spills the tea about what the experience at Karolyi Ranch was like for her.
Marissa Ashton is USA Today’s High School Gymnast of the Year.
Sacramento State has an all-female coaching staff this season! Super cool to see.
Jessica Yamzon will be the new assistant coach at West Virginia.
Jade Carey told Emily Giambalvo of The Washington Post that she will likely compete just bars and beam for Oregon State this season while training elite simultaneously.
Ragan Smith confirmed her fifth year at Oklahoma.
Natalie Wojcik got engaged! Congratulations.
Five at The IX: Simone Biles and Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos via GymCastic
Journalist and podcaster Jessica O’Beirne of GymCastic snagged interviews with both the GOAT, Simone Biles, and her training partner, French gymnast Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos, after the Core Hydration Classic last weekend. I’m linking them here because I think O’Beirne asked some great (and fun!) questions, and got some excellent commentary from both, namely, De Jesus Dos Santos’ feelings about Texas beef. IYKYK.