The Olympic roster — Thoughts from Lela Moore — Must-click links

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, July 10, 2021

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The Olympic teams

Hello there! It’s been two weeks since I last graced your inbox, and since that time, the list of the 98 women who will compete in artistic gymnastics at the Tokyo Olympics has been finalized.

Yes. The qualification process is over, and here we are, in the calm before the storm.

Here’s what you missed: The U.S., China, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and the Netherlands all named their teams in the past two weeks, and the Apparatus World Cup series came to an end, with the four women’s spots allocated and accepted. Here’s how it all went down:

The U.S.: After day two of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Simone Biles, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, and Grace McCallum were named to the four-person team, with Jade Carey and MyKayla Skinner (yes, you read that correctly) going as individuals.

The choice to go with either McCallum or Skinner for the fourth team spot was a rational one, as they came in fourth and fifth respectively in the all-around and both went eight-for-eight. Both deserve to go to the Olympics. But the choice to send Skinner as an individual is bonkers, as she’ll just be competing with Jade Carey for the second spot in the vault final. The better option was, of course, to send Riley McCusker for bars, even though she fell on day two. Spencer at The Balance Beam Situation did a great job of breaking down why this was just a bad decision, as well as why Tom Forster’s comments at the press conference didn’t really clear things up.

Kayla DiCello, Leanne Wong, Kara Eaker, and Emma Malabuyo were named alternates, though it’s also unclear why only four were chosen, as they can bring up to five. Plus, statements from Aleah Finnegan and Shilese Jones raised more questions about the fairness of the selection process.

Needless to say, it’s a shame that all this wasn’t more transparent. At the same time, the team that was chosen is an incredible group of women who will do great things at the Olympics. Which brings us to one of the highlights of the night, Jordan Chiles making a streamer angel after the team announcement:

I mean, just look at this team:

Then watch them slay on the Today Show:

They’re ready, and I’m so happy for them.

Other notes from trials:

  • Biles had a fall on beam, which allowed Lee to beat her in the day-two all-around standings.

  • We found out that Wong isn’t vaccinated, which is concerning as a positive test could have ramifications for the whole team.

  • Emily Lee tore her Achilles during her floor routine and had to have surgery.

  • Skinner announced that she’s going pro and is done with NCAA, and she joined Simone’s post-Olympics tour.

Full trials results.

China: Zhang Jin — who won the second Olympic trial with a 57.032 — Tang Xijing, Lu Yufei, and Ou Yushan were named to the team after the conclusion of trials, with Fan Yilin and Guan Chenchen going as individuals. Li Shijia, unfortunately, is injured and wasn’t considered. After the results from China’s competitions, I think this team makes a lot of sense, and hope to see Chenchen to great things on beam as the individual. And of course, the fight for the silver team medal is going to be a fierce one. Results from the second trial are here thanks to Golden China.

Italy: Alice D’Amato, Giorgia Villa, Martina Maggio, and Asia D’Amato were named to the team after the FIT Challenge, where Villa placed fifth all-around with a 52.841 and won beam with a 14.150. Vanessa Ferrari got an individual spot after a dominant performance on floor in Doha, but sadly that means Lara Mori will not go to the Olympics at all. Italy is also having a national competition this weekend, which is ill advised and confusing for everyone.

Netherlands: Vera van Pol, Eythora Thorsdottir, Lieke Wevers, and Sanne Wevers made the four-person team after the second Dutch trial, which van Pol won with a 53.850. After a great performance at the first trial, Elze Geurts had a rough day and was named alternate. Results via @dutchgymnerd.

The Dutch team was supposed to leave for Tokyo this weekend, but someone has tested positive for COVID and now they all need to quarantine. Hopefully they’ll be able to head over soon and this isn’t the start of a pattern.

Also, this happened:

Belgium: Nina Derwael, Maellyse Brassart, Jutta Verkest, and Lisa Vaelen were named to the team following the conclusion of the FIT Challenge. There, Brassart came in third in the all-around with a 53.725, and Derwael won the bars title with a 14.900 (Full FIT results via The Gymternet).

Spain: Roxana Popa (who won the floor title at FIT with a 13.275), Laura Bechdeju, Alba Petisco, and Marina Gonzalez were named to the team. Meanwhile, Ana Perez just had surgery on her ankle.

You can find the full list of competitors at The Balance Beam Situation. Also, we have our rotation order for Olympic qualifications! Fun fact: The Netherlands will be in the same subdivision as Team USA, which means we may get to see a fun Aimee Boorman-Simone Biles reunion.

Gymnastics news

  • Fans will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics, as Tokyo is still in a state of emergency (USA Today).

  • Check out results from the Doha World Cup (via The Gymternet), where Oksana Chusovitina won vault, Rebeca Andrade won bars, and Diana Varinska won beam.

  • NCAA athletes can now profit from their name, image, and likeness, which is great news for Olivia Dunne, who has already appeared on a billboard in Times Square. Also, Will Graves at the AP talked to Maggie Nichols about the change.

  • Must-reads: Simone Biles Is Redefining Female Power in Sports (The New York Times), and In awe of Simone Biles’ greatness, with my daughter and 25,000 others (ESPN). Also, if you’re like me and can’t get enough Simone content, you should check out this cool Simone animation and keep watching her Facebook Watch series.

  • Larisa Iordache’s mother just died, WOGymnastika reports. Our deepest condolences go out to Iordache and her family.

  • Aliya Mustafina answered some frequently asked questions over at the Olympics YouTube channel.

  • Aly Raisman’s puppy Mylo has been found! He ran off on July 4th and we were all super worried, but luckily Mylo is now safe and sound.

  • I wrote about Jade Carey for Teen Vogue and almost forgot to include it here. Way to self-promote, Jess!

Tweets of the week

I’m thrilled to announce that the only gymnastics commentary I ever need is back after a five-year hiatus:

Five at the IX: Lela Moore

Lela Moore is a sports writer and all-around amazing human being. She’s a nonprofit content manager with a sportswriting side hustle (including at Fansided), and will be guest writing The IX during my vacation in August. Here are her thoughts on the U.S. Olympic team and other topics.

What are your thoughts on this U.S. team? Are you happy with it, or mad, or both?
Both! I’m actually thrilled that both Grace McCallum and MyKayla Skinner made it. I love Grace and in particular really admire what seems to be a very strong mental game on her part — she never seems rattled in competition. And when you’re doing a sport where you are chipping away at perfection every time you go up, you need that.

MyKayla Skinner wanted this. She wanted it badly. And I admire that; I admire her for coming out and saying how badly she wanted it, because not enough women do that and it’s just great to see. But I’m mad because I think USAG didn’t think strategically about putting MyKayla in that spot and what it would mean for her basically to square off against Jade Carey. I’m mad at them for putting both these athletes in that position. But both Grace and MyKayla (and Jade!) deserve to be there 100%. All the American women do.

As for the Simone/Sunisa/Jordan trio, all of them are spectacular and I can’t wait to see how they burnish their already considerable medal collections in Tokyo. Especially Sunisa’s bars.

What brought you to the gymnastics world? When did you start writing about it and why?
I have always loved gymnastics, both doing and watching, and I took classes on and off for several years as a kid. I was also a diver. I love to flip. However, I ended up 5’10” and I now can’t touch my toes. MyKayla is my inflexibility idol. But the growth spurt took me out of the sport (unless you’d like to take me to the trampoline park).

While I was working at The New York Times in 2016, a friend of mine who also loved to talk gym had to pass on an assignment to cover the floor exercise final in Rio, and referred me to her editor. That was the first time I got paid/had a byline to talk gymnastics, and I got hooked. I started doing a lot of research and immersing myself in what was out there, and learning from the people who were doing it from scratch in the wild west days of the internet. I also started watching college gymnastics and got hooked on that. I got laid off last summer, and decided it was now or never for getting a few bylines, so I just started pitching to a sports editor, and here I am.

I also copyedit the great Dvora Myers’ newsletter, Unorthodox Gymnastics, and I’ve learned so much from watching her report and write and working with her.

What recent projects are you excited about?
I recently wrote a feature for a British running journal, Like the Wind, about women’s safety while running. It was the first time I’d had an opportunity to do a lead magazine story, and to see the story come together and see the illustrator’s work, and now to have this beautiful print journal with my story is great. But more importantly, I got to dive deep into some of my running Facebook groups and talk to women all over the country about how much they simultaneously love running but fear this dark side to being a female runner. It was a great conversation, and a great opportunity to write about the topic of safety in sport without blaming the victim, to show that it’s a power issue on the part of the harasser, and not something the victim did wrong.

What gym events or showdowns are you most excited to see in Tokyo?
I’m very excited to see the uneven bars final. It’s my favorite event. I’m assuming we’ll see Suni Lee’s full (and stunning) difficulty, but because some of her top competition — Becky Downie, Riley McCusker — did not make it to the Olympics, it will be interesting to see who comes out in the top eight there. Fan Yilin, Angelina Melnikova, Nina Derwael … will Sanne throw that Nabieva half? (And if she does, can Nabieva please weigh in?)

Who among the Americans is making that vault final? My money is actually on Skinner over Jade Carey, but we haven’t seen much of Jade’s difficulty this year. Would love to see Ellie Black get in there and win a medal, and I won’t be sad if Steingruber repeats either.

Will the Chinese women rule the beam, or is there room for Sanne to sneak in again? Or Grace McCallum, whose beam I’m secretly hoping will be a stealth weapon here. I would love to see her win an individual medal.

I hope Jade Carey gets her skill named on floor, and I would love to see Vanessa Ferrari win a medal on floor. Very excited to see Danusia Francis compete, as well as Rebeca Andrade, and then some of the women who are among the first to represent their countries: Naveen Daries, Luciana Alvarado Reid, Raegan Rutty. That’s what the Olympics is about.

Who is your favorite gymnast of all time, and why?
Lilya Podkopayeva. When she was training for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I was living in my hometown of Chattanooga, TN, which is 1.5 hours away, and interning at the local paper there. A lot of teams were training in and around Chattanooga in the weeks leading up to the Olympics, and the Ukrainian gymnasts were using the gym where I had taken classes (Tennessee Academy of Gymnastics, holla). This was the first year the Ukrainians were competing under their own flag. I tagged along with my internship supervisor on her story about them, and I got to watch Lilya from about 10 feet away. Then I saw her win the AA on TV (couldn’t get tickets to gym that year, though I did get to see a lot of track and field and some weightlifting in person!).
Her beautiful 1996 floor routine remains my favorite all-time routine to cue up and watch. She’s so happy and I love her movements.

Honorable mention here goes to Mitch Gaylord, whom I met at a Hardees in Ringgold, GA, in 1985, when he was promoting American Anthem. I begged my parents to take us there because I was obsessed with the 1984 gymnasts. Going from 1984 gold medalist to, well, a Ringgold Hardees (IYKYK), must have been weird, but Mitch was really kind to a bunch of little gymnast kids.

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Sarah Kellam, @sarahkellam,
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08, NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer