The current state of elite after DTB Pokal — Other gym news — Thoughts from Madi Dagen
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Lela Moore, March 25, 2023
We’ve got a week off from NCAA. So while everyone recuperates from conference championships last weekend and gears up for regionals next week, let’s chat a little about elite.
We saw the American elite women in their first international competitions of the year (and for some, their first international competitions ever) in Germany last weekend. Most received their assignments to these meets following Winter Cup in February.
The senior women, including Joscelyn Roberson, Zoe Miller, Nola Matthews, and Ashlee Sullivan, won gold at the DTB Pokal Team Challenge, held March 17-19 in Stuttgart. Roberson also won all-around gold, while Matthews won all-around bronze (with Miller and Sullivan in fourth and fifth, respectively). Roberson won vault gold and floor silver, and Miller won gold on bars. Lexi Zeiss was also on the team but had to withdraw from competition.
At the DTB Pokal Mixed Cup, Addison Fatta and Elle Mueller helped the U.S. squad to a fourth-place finish.
It’s the year before the Olympics, and a short Olympic cycle at that. The U.S. Olympic team for Paris will have five women on it. We know that half of the Tokyo delegation is preparing to vie for those spots; Suni Lee, Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey (all are NCAA stars) have announced their intentions to train for Paris. Lee is leaving Auburn for good. Chiles will defer her studies at UCLA for a year, leaving open the possibility that she will return to NCAA competition after an Olympic run. Carey will continue to train at Oregon State but has not yet said whether she intends to compete collegiately while training elite.
Leanne Wong, who was an alternate in Tokyo, a 2021 worlds silver medalist and 2022 worlds gold medalist, and is a current NCAA star at Florida, is also expected to compete for a spot on the Paris team.
We don’t know yet whether we will see Simone Biles come back for Paris. We’ve seen training videos and heard that she is in the gym, but she has made no statements one way or the other.
So we could see a 2024 Olympic team entirely composed of women who also went to Tokyo.
I think we will see Shilese Jones and Konnor McClain make a big push for Paris, starting this summer with US nationals. McClain was the US national champion last year, but a back injury kept her out of worlds. Jones, the national runner-up, went to worlds and came home a team gold medalist with silvers in the all-around and on bars.
Of those who competed last weekend in Stuttgart, only Zeiss has been to world championships, and as the 2022 alternate, she did not compete there.
Fatta likely has the most big-time competition experience. She competed at the 2022 Szombathely World Challenge Cup, where she won gold on vault and bronze on bars. Fatta also competed at the Olympic Trials for Tokyo and finished tenth in the all-around there.
Mueller went to Pan Am Championships in 2022, alongside Miller.
None of the women was a new senior this year (that’s a whole other ballgame!), but some were untested internationally. Sullivan was injured most of last year, as was Miller, and both missed out on a chance to contend for worlds; both have only ever competed abroad at the 2022 DTB Pokal Mixed Cup. This was Roberson’s first international outing.
So the question for the Olympic buildup is, how much will experience count? Do any of these women have a shot at worlds this year, where they can test themselves on a stage similar to what they would find in Paris? Will anyone pull a Laurie Hernandez at next year’s Olympic trials and make the team without having been to worlds at all?
Miller’s phenomenal bars set has been tossed around as an Olympic threat for years. She competed at the Olympic Trials in 2021 but the smaller size of that team likely worked against her; with Suni Lee in the mix, Miller, with a weaker AA program, did not really stand a chance. She’ll be up against Lee again in this run-up, but there’s an extra spot on the team this time around. Miller could become the Madison Kocian of 2024.
Nola Matthews is right there with beautiful bars as well. The U.S. is weakest on bars, Lee notwithstanding, so I hope we see more of a challenge on the event from Matthews and Miller this year.
Roberson might have the same problem next year with her power events, vault and floor. Roberson is a mighty tumbler and has vastly improved her AA program with a gym change to World Champions Centre in the last year. But with Chiles and Carey looking to repeat their Olympic success, Roberson might find herself the odd woman out (albeit a woman able to compete a Moors). But I’m really excited to see how she creates space for herself because she is one to watch. She recently committed to Arkansas, too, and I think she’ll be a powerhouse there when the time comes.
Both Roberson and Fatta encountered the same judging issue in their floor routines. Each has a walkout skill in the middle of a pass. In both cases, the gymnasts were considered to have broken connections with the walkout and did not receive full D-score credit for their passes. It might be a one-time mistake but given that it happened to both gymnasts, I think it’s worth an evaluation stateside by their teams.
Sullivan, too, has long been mentioned as an Olympic threat, but we just haven’t seen enough of her to know.
Fatta, Zeiss, and Mueller are consistent, excellent gymnasts who need to break out of the bubble range to have an Olympic shot. Right now, when I watch them, I think how amazing they will look in NCAA in the next few years (all three are committed: Fatta to Oklahoma this year, Mueller to Oklahoma next year, and Zeiss to LSU next year).
If this all sounds a little wishy-washy, well, it is. We saw hints of breakout performances in Stuttgart, especially from Roberson, but we need to see them again at nationals and into the worlds buildup to be convinced. As much as I want to see this group of gymnasts become real Olympic contenders, they have a tough road ahead of them.
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Other gym news
BBS also has the regionals draw information for you. This tells you who is going to which regional, including all the unseeded teams, the play-in teams, and the individual competitors.
Of course, BBS also has GIFs.
Greg Marsden takes a look at the “perfect problem” of increasing 10s in NCAA gym.
Sierra Brooks and Gabby Wilson will take fifth years at Michigan.
ESPN did a story about UCLA’s viral floor routines
Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles spoke to the Olympic Channel about their training plans going into the 2024 Olympics. TL;DR: Chiles will defer UCLA for one year to train full-time at WCC in Texas. Carey will train at Oregon State and is not yet sure whether she will compete NCAA simultaneously.
Five at The IX: Madi Dagen
Madi Dagen, 23, (she/her/hers) is an Oregon State University gymnast completing her fifth and final season as a GymBeav. Dagen, aka Mad Dawg, graduated from OSU in 2022 with a degree in human development and family sciences and is currently pursuing a graduate certificate in Leading and Creating Change.
This week, Dagen responded to a critical tweet posted by a fan, noting that “real people with real feelings” are reading what people say about them online, and that while gymternet critics can hide behind a username, athletes cannot. Like Megan Walker Thigpen last week, Dagen tapped into a well of unease felt by many gymnasts who feel conflicted about how accessible they are online. I reached out to Dagen via Instagram after I saw her remarks because I had a feeling she had a lot more to say about it, and she did.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
It appears to me, as a journalist covering the sport, that gymnastics fans tend to demand more and closer access to the gymnasts they follow than do fans of other sports. From your perspective, why do you think this is, and what do you wish fans would know before they write cruelly about a certain team or athlete online?
MD: I think a big reason why fans feel like they deserve extra access to us compared to other sports is because our sport is so performance-focused. When “fans” watch gymnastics, it’s almost as if they’re supposed to feel like they’re watching a show, rather than a sport. From an outsider’s perspective, with the way we cheer and celebrate, it seems like it’s all fun and games for us on the competition floor. It’s almost as if some put us in the same category as performing arts, which makes them feel like they need to know everything about our personal lives, and then talk about it, in an attempt to control our character.
It’s a complicated situation, but I would just say that I wish fans would separate us from that person on the gym floor more. We do gymnastics, but we aren’t gymnasts all the time. We are real people with real feelings. Tough people! But real people. In a culture of perfectionism, most of the time, the criticism doesn’t just roll off our backs.
You have been an absolute rock for OSU over the years. What drew you to Oregon State, and what, to you, makes the team special?
MD: Thank you! Well, back when I was getting recruited I was really young, and the thought of going far from home was pretty scary. But, I knew college gymnastics was what I wanted to do. I visited campuses and went to some gymnastics camps at schools like Utah, UCLA, UW, and Oregon State. Once I stepped foot on OSU’s campus, honestly, it’s cheesy to say, but it just felt right. I loved the fact that I wouldn’t be far from extended family in Portland and Medford, and even home in California. And from a gymnastics perspective specifically, my coaches, Michael and Tanya, were incredibly welcoming, and I fell in love with the culture they had created. I could tell that they cared a lot about their athletes holistically, not just athletically, and that’s exactly what I was looking for when choosing a university.
I think Oregon State is so special because we are a gritty team. We don’t expect to be handed scores or awards; we know we have to work for them. We love when people call us the underdogs because we love surprising people. This program is built on a foundation of determination, strong work ethics, and heart, and we still have so much to prove this year.
What are your goals, both personal and for your team, for regionals/nationals?
MD: As a team, I want us to go into regionals with no doubts and with our heads held high. I want everyone to step into their most confident selves, understanding that it’s the most important meet of the season, but treat it like it’s just another day in the gym. Most of all, I just want us to be proud.
This season has already been one for the books – we’ve broken numerous records, sold out Gill, and proven that anything is possible. We’ve incorporated something new this year in our pre-meet huddles called GymBeav Affirmations. We all hold hands and stand in a circle and shout things like “I am beautiful,” “I am empowered,” and end each one with “… and we’re going to Nationals,” which is something I’ve really enjoyed.
Our overarching goal since the beginning of the season has been to go to Nationals and we have said that each meet along the way is just a stepping stone to get there. We’ve wanted to improve each week and that’s exactly what we have done and more.
Personally, I really just want to enjoy myself and be fully present in each moment, in both practice and competition. It is really important for me to keep things light and not take anything too seriously as I do my best when I’m having fun and being myself. It’s starting to really hit me that my gymnastics career is almost over, and I just want to continue to make fun memories with my teammates and be able to look back and know that I gave it everything I had.
What is your favorite apparatus to perform on, and your favorite skill to perform?
MD: My favorite event to compete on is floor because I get to express some of my personality and engage the crowd. I love that it’s a combination of artistry and strength/power. I really love my floor routine this year that my sister and I choreographed. It’s an Elvis Presley mashup and has a rock n roll theme to it. It was so much fun performing it in front of Beaver Nation in Gill.
As much as I love floor, I think my favorite skill to perform overall is my vault, a Yurchenko 1½. Although it sometimes gives me challenges, the reward of nailing it in competition is a feeling like no other.
If there were a Madi Dagen leotard, what would it look like?
MD: I love this question! I am a very outgoing, upbeat person so a Madi Dagen leo would definitely be full of color and lots of rhinestones. I think some bright colors like yellow and pink would definitely be on it. Maybe even a sun!
It is also really important for me to make young aspiring gymnasts feel empowered to reach for their goals, so maybe something with empowerment too, like a quote or something that embodies strength.
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