Let the sunshine in — Other gym news — Thoughts from @lenibriscoe
Team USA is in Rio for the Pan American Championships, Simone Biles is offered a coloring book, and more as Lela Moore recaps the week.
Well, we’ve made it to the end of the week with many pieces of good and interesting gymnastics news, and comparatively few really bad pieces of news, gymnastics or otherwise. Since this is the opposite of, well, the rest of 2022 so far, I thought I’d take a moment to let it all sink in.
Ah. That was nice.
But really. We have teams representing the United States at the Pan American Championships in Rio de Janeiro right now who were not chosen on the basis of all-around standings, nor chosen in a back room by unknown metrics (or Karolyis). We have actual scores from an authentic, scheduled, announced competition that prove our new USA Gymnastics leadership selected a team based on the highest possible team competition score. It feels almost revolutionary.
For decades, the U.S. teams were selected in secrecy by what appeared to be the most subjective standards imaginable. Favorites were played. Team after team, year after year, featured broken athletes who ended up not being able to perform. The process engendered endless speculation about how and why certain people were chosen and others were not (or chosen and then unceremoniously rejected at the 11th hour). Then we entered the Tom Forster Era in 2018. In a quest for what he called transparency and what the gymternet called laziness, Forster’s whole thing was teams selected by all-around standings. Sure, we knew why he chose the teams he chose, but they were not always the teams that demonstrated the true depth of our field. Forster’s teams did not fail, although it always seemed like communication – about routine construction, about artistry, about what it might take to catch his eye and break out of his rigid adherence to all-around standings – was lacking between Forster and the coaches and athletes under him. But Forster had built his squads on a house of cards, or, more specifically, one card, an ace known as Simone Biles.
When Biles pulled out of the team final at the 2020 Olympics, citing the need to protect her mental health, the cards fell. The athletes did not fall; they rose, magnificently, to the occasion. But it was evident that Forster had counted on Biles’ leadership, and her ability to score full points above the rest of the field, to carry the team, and through no fault of their own, the medals they earned fell short of what was broadly expected of them. And Forster resigned three months after the Olympics.
Now, heading into elite season full steam ahead, there are three new leaders at USAG in charge of team development, strategy, and selection. Their first team was for the Pan Am Championships, which is a worlds qualifier this year and thus carries more weight for the U.S. now than in previous years when it was often a way to give our B team some international experience.
And the team that will likely qualify for a worlds berth on Sunday is the team that, mathematically, could produce the highest possible score of any combination of athletes. It is something that seems simple enough, but that has been ignored for years. Now the tricky part: Team USA might not be achieving at the same level now that team selection has become a clearer process. They are rebuilding. They’re adjusting to a new code and new rules about the importance of artistry. Team USA is adjusting to new people in charge who have their own ideas about what a national team gymnast should look like.
But the important part is, now they know. Our sport is seeing the light after so many years of darkness. As fans, this is our summer solstice, our extra sunshine. Let’s bask in it for a while.
Other gym news
Adria Biles is currently appearing on ABC’s “Claim to Fame,” a reality show in which 12 celebrity relatives are housed together and the last one to keep his or her famous family member a secret wins. Since she bears absolutely zero resemblance to her sister, we’re sure she’ll win it all (read: heavy sarcasm).
A flight attendant offered Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Simone Biles a coloring book on a flight, mistaking our 4’8 queen for a child. “No thanks,” Biles said (via Instagram Story) that she replied, “I’m 25.”
Lauren Hopkins of The Gymternet provides a comprehensive guide to watching the Pan Am Championships. The U.S. senior team is attempting to qualify for worlds here, as a reminder. The senior women’s team final is on Sunday at 9 a.m. ET.
The juniors won their team final. Dulcy Caylor (pictured above, courtesy of her coach Cecile Landi on IG) won the junior all-around title, narrowly edging out teammate Tiana Sumanasekera, who won silver. They will compete in event finals today beginning at 9:50 a.m. ET.
Kyla Ross was promoted to assistant coach at Arkansas. She was previously the volunteer assistant coach.
And Hallie Mossett has left LIU, where she was the volunteer assistant coach, to become the assistant coach and choreographer at Stanford.
Reagan Anderson Chan became the first athlete to compete in parkour at the World Games on July 10.
Five at The IX: @lenibriscoe
If you keep up with your gossip, you probably remember that time that someone on Twitter said that Hilaria Baldwin was not, in fact from Spain, as she had claimed for years, and was actually Hilary Thomas from Boston. Alec Baldwin got big mad about it, and it made international headlines. What you may not know was that the culprit behind that tweet, @lenibriscoe, is also a huge gymnerd when she is not unearthing decades of celebrity lies. Because @lenibriscoe keeps her real identity under wraps and away from Baldwins, I offered to interview her here under her Twitter handle. She did spill a few personal details: @lenibriscoe is from NYC, loves salt and vinegar potato chips, and has two cats named Louis and Theo. She did rec gymnastics for a few years, but due to being “tall and not flexible,” she has embraced fandom with age (yours truly can relate).
What’s your most controversial gymnastics hot take?
Great Britain’s 2021 team selection was correct. People told me that there was no way they could contend for a team medal and they wound up winning bronze!
If you were on a team selection committee and also a time traveler, which US team would you change first and why?
I would substitute Leanne Wong for Grace McCallum on the 2021 Olympic team. Leanne was constantly scoring high on FX. Leanne’s lowest score between US Classic, US nationals, Olympic Trials, and 2021 Worlds was a 13.6, with the rest over 13.8 and several over 14. She is also an excellent vaulter. Leanne’s FX scores were all higher and her beam, bar and vault scores pretty close. I think Leanne would have made the event final after Simone Biles pulled out. Leanne has very clean form and also often outscored Jordan Chiles and Sunisa Lee on floor. That being said, I was thrilled when Jennifer Gadirova got into the final after Biles’ withdrawal!
Which gymnast would you next award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to?
I would award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dominique Dawes. She is a 3 time Olympian and has been involved with the Women’s Sports Foundation.
Favorite skill to watch, and favorite apparatus to watch?
This one is SO HARD. I got to see Simone Biles compete in person at the 2021 Olympic trials and her triple-double was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen so I will say the triple-double. I change my mind all the time about apparatus favorites. In NCAA, it’s vault. I appreciate well-executed vaults and in elite, you see a lot of chucked higher difficulty vaults. Some athletes it’s floor, some it’s bars, and some it’s beam.
What is your favorite competition that you have ever seen, whether live or on TV?
There is some recency bias here but I think the 2021 European Championships and Jessica Gadirova’s stunning senior debut as well as the 2021 Olympics. Simone Biles’ triumphant return to the beam final and her medal made me cry with joy for her and I am also obsessed with Rebeca Andrade. Seeing Andrade finally get the Olympic medals we knew she was capable of was amazing as was her surprise Amanar to take the vault gold. Her Cheng is SO BEAUTIFUL!
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