Who should make the U.S. Olympic team? — Thoughts from Simone Biles — Other gymnastics news
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, June 12, 2021
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U.S. Nationals, day two
Day two of U.S. nationals happened, and the senior national team and trials lineup have both been named.
This team is so damn deep. Eighteen athletes were announced for trials — the top 17 plus Riley McCusker — and I would say about 12 of them are in serious consideration. The good news is that a few gymnasts punched their tickets to Tokyo at nationals: the locks for this team, I would say, are Simone Biles, Jordan Chiles, and Sunisa Lee. Plus, Riley McCusker made a case for herself to be sent as an individual. But the decision of who gets to go as the fourth team member is going to be a tough one.
Here’s where we stand on the road to Tokyo:
Simone Biles scored higher on day two than on day one, earning a 60.100 to top the podium in the all-around, along with the vault, beam, and floor titles, and bars bronze. She had a few errors, but overall, this was the dominant performance we’ve come to know and love from Simone, including a near-flawless cheng and an amanar:
She also once again spent a year in the air doing her triple double:
Between rotations, Simone hilariously live tweeted with Aly Raisman. And that’s a 10 right there.
Meanwhile, after a less-than-stellar performance at Classics, Sunisa Lee went home and decided this bus is NOT leaving without her and showed up at nationals to come in second behind Biles with two hit days.
She improved on her night one performance on day two, especially on beam, where she got a 14.700 and placed second overall. She hit floor and vault, which is great for her considering those were the big questions in light of her ankle injury.
On bars, the leg separation was more egregious on her nabieva than on day one, and her foot “brushed” the mat at one point (Pamchenkova says there’s no deduction for brushing the mat, and I believe them, but also wut?). Also, she didn’t do all of her connections, instead doing a “low-difficulty” version of her insane routine. All that said, she still got a 14.900, but we know from her interviews that she’ll want to get that full-difficulty routine more consistent before the Olympics.
Suni’s performance bumped Jordan Chiles down to third, but Chiles’ performance here was incredible, and she’s for sure punched her ticket to Tokyo by this point. With her success at the past few competitions, she’s really positioned herself to be Simone’s number two (as evidenced by this exchange) and it’s been so great to see her incredible rise this season.
On Sunday, Chiles improved on her day one score, earning a 57.550. She killed it on beam, where she was able to adapt after almost coming off on her side somi:
Her floor was great, including her beautiful, floaty full-twisting double layout:
On vault, her DTY was nearly perfect in the air, with just a shuffle back on the landing, and her tsuk full was great; meanwhile, bars were clean with a stuck dismount. Chiles doesn’t score in the top three anywhere but on vault, which is interesting considering how well she’s doing in the all-around, but it just goes to show you how consistent and evenly scored she is across all four events, going 14+ on everything on day two.
With Biles, Chiles, and Lee basically set in stone at this point, that begs the questions: Who is our number four? And who is our +1? The answer is … complicated.
The team contenders
Everyone who landed in fourth through 12th, I’d say, is a contender for the Olympic team. Here’s how they did:
Emma Malabuyo: After a promising junior career, Malabuyo spent much of this quad injured and started this season with just a 48.450 at March camp. But here, she swooped in to come in fourth overall with a day two score of 56.000. Malabuyo had some errors on bars but hit her super impressive full-twisting double layout dismount. She hit beam to earn the third-highest score of the day there with an excellent, nearly error-free routine for a 14.6, and hit floor and her DTY.
Malabuyo isn’t in the top four on any event based on the two-day nationals scores, and I don’t see her in any top-scoring team predictions. At the same time, I also don’t really care about the team score and if she can finish in the top four at trials, I could see Tom Forster falling back on the top-four plan and she could slide right in. If she does, it would be a super steep incline and I would like some of whatever she smoked between classics and nationals.
Leanne Wong: Similar to what she’s done all season, Wong showed potential for a high all-around score but had errors that kept her out of the top four during a time when she would hope to show consistency and confidence. She killed it on bars, finishing with a stuck double layout, but then she was jittery on beam, balking her switch ring leap before repeating it, and then missing some connections. She stumbled back on her whip to triple on floor, but she finished the day with a beautiful DTY and a 54.850, good for fifth place.
At her best, Wong’s floor and beam have event final potential, and the rest of her events, when hit, would bring in an impressive all-around score. Her scores also put her in a good spot when it comes to predicting the highest-scoring team, so I’d say even with some inconsistent performances, she has a good shot here, but I hope we get to see two hit days at trials.
Grace McCallum: McCallum is continuing her upward trajectory after having hand surgery earlier this year. She earned a 55.100 at Classics, and here, she was able to improve on that performance with a day two score of 55.250 for seventh place overall. Her bars had some form issues and she took an extra swing, but she crushed it on beam for a 14.2:
She landed short and went out of bounds on floor and then bounced too high out of her double tuck, and finished the day with a hit DTY.
McCallum has shown steadiness this year in spite of her injury, and that could be a valuable asset at the Olympics. Still, I don’t think her scores on any one event are enough to justify bringing her over others, unless she can make it into the top four at trials.
Skye Blakely: Blakely tied for seventh with McCallum here after improving on her day one performance by nearly two points, which, with a 55.700, was the fifth-best all-around score on day two, including errors. She also performed well on beam here for a 14.250, a score that beat Kara Eaker’s day two hit score. If she can hit two solid days at trials then she could put herself in the team mix.
MyKayla Skinner: Skinner had an improved performance from classics, and based on the locks on this team, her proficiency on vault and floor make her a logical choice for the fourth spot. She hit beam, including her tucked full, and hit floor — while her moors still needs a lot of work, it was a great routine and she looked so damn excited:
On vault, her cheng was a bit piked at the end and lacked height, and her amanar looked really good in the air. Her bar routine had some messy legs and missed handstands, but that’s not where she needs to shine right now. With Lee having ankle troubles, I could see Skinner getting this fourth spot, and if not, she’s for sure an alternate.
Kara Eaker: Eaker didn’t do herself any favors at Classics, but she brought it on beam here, hitting the best routine of her season for a 14.2. Still, it tied for third on day two, which in my book doesn’t justify an Olympic berth over Riley McCusker, whose dominant bars performance on day two got the highest score there.
Kayla DiCello: DiCello had a rough performance here compared to her normal. After being super consistent all through Classics, where she hit four clean routines, I thought she had a great shot at the team. But here, she had several big errors, including coming off on her candle mount on beam. She did have some great moments, including her great double double on floor and her mostly clean vault. It sucked to see her not meet her potential here, but I still think that if she has two hit days at trials then she has a real chance.
Shilese Jones: Jones’ claim to fame here was a 15.000 on vault:
If she can improve on her other events at trials then that could put her in the mix.
Who should get the fourth spot? The selection committee could go with whoever places fourth all-around at trials and play it safe PR-wise. They could go with whoever gets the highest team score based on trials (based on nationals scores, this is now MyKayla Skinner or Leanne Wong, according to Spenser), or they could choose someone who has event final potential (this is what I want). Hopefully, the person they choose will check more than one of those boxes.
Skinner fills the vault-floor void in the team final, as I mentioned above, and she has potential to make the vault final if Jade or Simone falter. But that’s unlikely to happen. Grace McCallum, Leanne Wong, and Kayla DiCello are good options, potentially bringing in good floor scores and solid DTYs. As someone who would like to maximize individual medal potential over the team score, giving as many athletes as possible that have the potential to make a final the opportunity to do so, that would be my course of action. Skinner’s vaults might bring the team total up, but DiCello or Wong’s DTY gets them the gold just as easily while also potentially getting a floor final spot if Jade falls, or a beam final spot if Suni does.
At the end of the day, somebody just has to have a trials performance that says “MEMEMEMEMEME.” So many of these athletes could fit in this team, and one of them has to have solid scores on vault and floor and be consistent enough in the all-around to trust in a team final situation. And hitting the routine of your life on beam or floor would help.
The +1 contenders
Riley McCusker: After a shitastic Classics that I assumed was the last meet of her season, McCusker hit a wonderful bar routine here. If she can replicate this performance at trials, then an individual spot could (and, I think, should) be hers.
Gymnerds have brought up the possibility of her bringing back the all-around at trials, and that would be great for her and I wouldn’t even be made that it messes with all my predictions.
Jade Carey: Carey had an “easy” day two on vault with a DTY and Lopez, but both had form issues. She looked great on bars aside from a very late pirouette, and beam was hit, if a little slow and shaky; she also hit floor.
It’s great to see Carey get so steady in the all-around this year, even if there’s controversy brewing all around her: after the competition, Tom Forster told the media that “Jade, I believe, is going to the Olympics as an individual.” This seemed to confirm our hopes that Carey would accept the individual spot once it’s awarded to her and would not be considered for the Olympic team. But when asked what would happen if Carey placed in the top two, Forster replied, “it would be up to her.” The good news is Jade probably won’t place in the top two at trials, and all of this arguing will be moot when Jade lands somewhere between fourth and sixth and isn’t named to the team, but the fact that the federation let this happen is bonkers, and this “our hands are tied” approach isn’t cutting it. It’s unfair to the athletes, and it’s unfair to Carey, who is caught in the middle, though we really have no clues about what her intentions are at this point.
Morgan Hurd: Sadly, the 2017 world all-around champion will not be going to trials after a rough performance at nationals. On day two, she came off beam twice and landed short on her double pike on floor. Her petition to trials was denied, which sucks but also, it’s fair. Good thing she’s having a sense of humor about it and has Heath Thorpe to cheer her up? Ugh.
Laurie Hernandez: Hernandez is out for the season, but she showed us the leo she wanted to wear for day two, so that’s something?
Chellsie Memmel also didn’t make the cut. Her day two wasn’t as good as day one — she came off the beam on her arabian, which was a shame since the rest of the routine was pretty good, fell on bars, and landed her DTY with her chest way down. BUT she didn’t walk out without snapping a picture with the two other world champs there, and she’s not through with gymnastics.
Aleah Finnegan didn’t make national team after placing 23rd in the all-around, and she announced on Instagram that she’s retiring from elite.
Also controversial, the petition process. When talking with the media after the trials lineup was named, Forster made it seem like the petition process was ongoing, but Memmel said on Twitter that she was told immediately after the competition that hers had been denied. USA Gymnastics released a statement saying that athletes had been “verbally informed” of the committee’s decisions after championships, but that Forster had not yet spoken to the athletes about it and was “hesitant to share information about those outcomes” at the press conference. Full results.
Everybody on the national team got cowboy hats, and there was much rejoicing.
Katelyn Jong won the junior title, and the junior national team was named, along with the junior Pan Ams team.
MyKayla Skinner spoke to Elle about her journey from elite to NCAA and back again.
Nancy Armour at USA Today assumes that Jade Carey has agency in this individual spot situation. Armour’s take is a little problematic, and John Roethlisberger is absolutely correct:
Juliet Macur writes about evidence that the Team USA environment is improving, for The New York Times.
This might be the leotard we see at the Olympics? LESS IS MORE, PEOPLE.
As per usual, the NBC stream was mostly ads — check out these coverage stats thanks to a Twitter hero. HOW is this sport supposed to grow its following if we only see one gymnast?
The British Olympic team was announced this week. Jessica Gadirova, Jennier Gadirova, Alice Kinsella (read her profile on Yahoo Sport), and Amelie Morgan were named to Team GB, which means this delightful duo is going to the Olympics together:
Becky Downie is not on the team, which is a BAD CHOICE. The Brits likely won’t medal in the team final, and Downie’s bar routine could have brought home an individual medal. Speculation abounds that this is some sort of payback for Downie speaking up last year about an allegedly abusive culture in British Gymnastics. Gymnasts for Change called Downie’s omission “a sinister warning to those who might speak out in the future.” In addition, Downie alleges that the qualification process after her brother’s death lacked “any element of compassion” (The Telegraph). British Gymnastics defended the team decision to the BBC, saying it had nothing to do with Becky’s activism and that it was to prioritize the team score.
The Russian Cup is ongoing. Viktoria Listunova won the all-around competition, and event finals continue into this weekend. More on that next week (including coverage of Listunova’s insane floor choreo), but in the meantime, check out Gymnovosti’s coverage.
Aliya Mustafina officially announced her retirement at the competition, with a lovely video featuring tributes from other gymnasts around the world. The video makes it seem like she won the 2012 all-around gold medal, and I’m not mad.
Nine Derwael debuted a 6.7 D bar routine at the Osijek World Cup (say it with me: more on that next week):
Lauren at The Gymternet has full results from the recent Cairo World Cup. Notably, Larisa Iordache took beam gold:
… and bars bronze, and Diana Varinska won bars gold and silvers on beam and floor.
Lauren also has an overview of what went down at Pan Ams, where Rebeca Andrade and Luciana Alvarado secured Olympic berths, the latter being Costa Rica’s first-ever Olympic gymnastics spot.
Cintia Rodriguez has retired from elite gymnastics.
USA Gymnastics announced that Dianne Durham — the first Black national champion — will be inducted into the hall of fame, along with Rebecca Bross.
Tweets of the week
This is the take we all needed this week:
Andy is the dad we all needed in life:
And this is the future of team selection:
Five at the IX
Simone Biles talked to the media after winning her seventh national all-around title. Edited for clarity and length.
We saw how you talked to Jordan Chiles tonight. What does that role of being the leader of your team mean to you?
It means the world, because I’ve done this process and I’ve been to championships so many times, so it’s nice to be a mentor for the younger girls, and especially Jordan for her first time going to the Olympics.
Where’s your cowboy hat???
It’s on the floor!
Sam Mikulak says he’s trying to enjoy this process and not take it for granted. What do you get out of this meet specifically? Do you try to enjoy it?
I feel like I did try to enjoy it because it could be one of my last championships that I’ll attend, but it’s also the road to Tokyo and after this we have trials, so we just have to really embrace the moment. I would say yes, and I would agree with Sam. We’re getting old out here!
How confident are you about the Biles-Chiles duo going into trials?
I’m very confident. I see her every day in training. She did exactly what she was supposed to out here tonight and at Classics and at Winter Cup, so I have a very good feeling if we keep this going we have a good shot at making the Olympic team together.
Why were you looking at your hand after your first vault?
I snapped my nail in half. I’m very upset about it because they’re actually pretty cute this time, but that’s OK.
This is your seventh national title. Do they just all kind of blend together at this point?
I feel like every single championships stands out for a different reason but this one stands out specifically because it’s the road to Tokyo and we came out here, we did what we were supposed to … we have four teammates from WCC going on to trials, so that’s really exciting, and we get to cherish that together.
What do you do to try to control your adrenaline on floor?
I don’t know, I’m still trying to figure it out! Because every meet is a little bit different. But I feel like today I kind of toned it down a bit and did what I did in training. Still went out of bounds, so we’re still working on that. But it’s so crazy, because in training I never go out of bounds and I never have this much power, but with the adrenaline that’s where it comes, so we’ll just have to focus on working with that. It’s not a bad thing, but it could be a bad thing if I keep going out of bounds, so. We’ll see.
What are you looking to accomplish at trials, or do you feel like you could compete in the Olympics tomorrow?
I would probably have a heart attack if the Olympics were scheduled tomorrow because that wasn’t our plan, but definitely take this consistency, go to trials, and just tighten up and clean up the routines. Other than that, I’m pretty proud of my performances that I’ve done; it’s way better than Classics. So I feel like I’m on the correct road for trials.
You had a crowd in front of you on balance beam instead of a curtain. Was there a different perspective in terms of performing?
Not necessarily. We actually talked about that, me and my teammates, how sometimes there’s a curtain, but not always, so we’re kind of used to it. The only weird part for me is sometimes I look at them before my turn so I tried not to do that today.
The German team members got attention at Euros for wearing unitards. Would you consider doing this yourself? Is that something you would push for the U.S. team?
No. Personally, I wouldn’t wear a unitard; I’m kind of already shrunk, I’m very short so I feel like it might shorten me. But I stand with their decision to wear whatever they please and whatever makes them feel comfortable. So if anybody out there wants to wear a unitard or a leotard, it’s totally up to you. As for USA Gymnastics I guess that would be a decision for the girls on the team. But personally I feel comfortable in a leo and that’s more my style. So it’s just personal.
Which events still make you most nervous?
The events that make me most nervous are still probably bars and floor, for whatever reason. Bars is just, I always get super nervous for bars because it hasn’t come easy as the other events. Floor, just because I feel like everybody expects a lot from me on that event.
What do you do for self care between competitions?
Usually I take baths with epsom salts and then I do compression boots and all of that, so I did get to do my compression boots and massages and stuff. No baths, because I have a shower here. But it kind of goes so quick, the time, yesterday, to kind of gear up for today.
You didn’t do the Yurchenko double pike here. Are you going to do it at trials?
We’re definitely going to do it at trials. I didn’t do it at this competition because on Wednesday, I kind of jammed my ankles and they didn’t feel too good. So we just made a decision to not do it, to not rush it, so that I wouldn’t be too nervous. But I will be doing it at trials. I’m not sure about both days yet, but that is the plan.
This is the first 60+ performance you’ve had since 2018. Was that a goal?
That was definitely the goal coming into this weekend’s events was to try to hit 60, so I’m really proud of myself for doing that. I still had some mistakes and things that we have to clean up. But all is well, and I’m not mad about it.