U.S. Worlds Trials — Thoughts from Maile O’Keefe — The week’s gym news
The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, October 9, 2021
Guys, it’s finally happening. Literally 10 days before the 2021 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships kick off in Kitakyushu, Japan, USA Gymnastics has decided that maybe it would be good to know who’s going.
Selection started on Friday with an all-around competition, and continues Saturday, when “a competition setting will also be replicated” — whatever the hell that means — and a team will be announced. We’re only starting with a pool of six from which four will be chosen for this individual worlds. Here’s how Friday went down:
- Kayla DiCello‘s performance was the highlight of the day, with four hit routines and a win on every event but floor. She hit her DTY, landing with her chest low, hit a clean bars set with a stuck full-in dismount, did a beautiful beam routine where the only big flaw was a low chest on the landing, and same with floor, where she stood up all four passes. It’s so great to see her hitting again after her consistency streak came to an end earlier this year, and I can’t wait to see what she can accomplish at worlds. All-around score: 55.350.
- eMjae Frazier had a good day as well, hitting a DTY with messy legs and a hop to the side. She did a bar routine with a very messy pak salto and leg form errors throughout, but stuck her double layout. She was solid on beam, hitting a switch ring leap and a double pike dismount, and finished with a hit floor that featured a double double. Her form could use some work and in a normal year I wouldn’t see her as a worlds-caliber athlete in this country, but it’s great that she’ll likely be able to take advantage of this opportunity. All-around score: 54.050.
- Leanne Wong had kind of a messy DTY, with her block way off to the side and piked at the end. On bars, she had leg separation on her toe full and then came off on her Van Leeuwen. She repeated the skill beautifully and stuck her double layout cold, then came back with a beautiful beam routine and hit floor aside from a stumble back on her whip to triple to get the highest score there. All-around score: 53.400.
- Konnor McClain had a rough day overall. It started out fine — she hit her DTY with a step back, and on bars, had some leg separation and caught too closely on a release but otherwise did well. Sadly, though, it was not her day on beam and floor. She hit her standing full but then fell twice, first on her acro series and again after her switch ring leap. On floor, she landed her laid out full out way short and crashed her double pike.
With a field so small, she could very well make this team, but while it was great to see her doing the all-around for the first time in a while, I worry that she’s still struggling with the mental blocks that kept her from succeeding in the lead up to the Olympic Trials. Side note: How weird was it to see Valeri out on the floor again? All-around score: 52.000.
- Olivia Greaves had some stumbles that, in my opinion, shouldn’t keep her off the worlds team. She unfortunately was way short on her DTY and put her hands down, but she rallied for bars (with the second-highest score there) and beam (how is everyone making their comebacks on beam?), where she hit super clean sets. On floor, her laid out (ahem, piked) full-in was a highlight, but she stumbled back and fell out of bounds on her full in. All-around score: 51.850.
- Ciena Alipio had an OK day, including a clean 1.5 with a big step forward. She had messy legs on bars and had to stop and take a breather on the low bar after her Bhardwaj, then missed a handstand after her final kip. She made up for it with a super clean beam routine, and capped off her day with a hit floor. I counted her out before I saw her beam score, which tied her for second there. All-around score: 51.450.
Based on this competition alone, it seems that DiCello, Frazier, and Wong would likely make the team, and that McClain and Greaves will have to fight it out for the fourth spot. Right now, Greaves has my vote with the second-highest bars score of the day. Luckily, there aren’t any true specialists here, so if and when Tom Forster just takes the top four all-arounders, it will actually make sense.
Notably, a few athletes from the previous camp didn’t appear here, including Skye Blakely, Amari Drayton, Ava Siegfeldt, and Addison Fetta, who withdrew from consideration after finding out she has stress fractures in her shin. Other news: Tom Forster inexplicably filmed the competition on his iPhone.
We also got a few other rosters confirmed this week, including from Italy, which is sending the D’Amato twins along with Desiree Carofiglio and Elisa Iorio. Hungary named their team as well, and Germany is only sending one gymnast: Pauline Schäfer. Check out The Gymternet for the full, up-to-date list, as well as results from recent national competitions of smaller nations.
Oh, and the FIG released its nominative list, but it means exactly nothing.
- Cintia Rodriguez had knee surgery.
- Riley McCusker gave us a sneak peek of her NCAA floor routine:
- Jordyn Wieber and Chris Brooks got engaged (People).
- Here’s an update from Emma Malabuyo, including what it was like to be in Tokyo when Kara Eaker tested positive for COVID (Inside Gymnastics).
Some follow-up after the Senate hearing:
- Justice Department is reviewing decision not to prosecute former FBI agents who botched Larry Nassar investigation (CNN)
- Former FBI Agents Blame ‘Misogynist’ Culture For Botched Larry Nassar Investigation (HuffPost)
- The FBI has a responsibility to Simone Biles — and all women and girls (CNN)
Tweets of the week
We have a tie:
Five at the IX: Maile O’Keefe
Maile O’Keefe is a junior at Utah. She kindly spoke to me about her goals for the season, NIL, and more. Edited for clarity and length.
What are your goals for this season?
Obviously one of our big goals is making it to final four again as a team and winning Pac-12 regular season and Pac-12 Championships again. And then individually, I know our team is really stacked in talent and numbers this year, so I’m just trying to stay in the all-around scene on the team and help contribute as much as possible and all that good jazz.
Is there anything individually that you’re working on?
Not necessarily; most of that stuff is staying pretty much the same, except for floor. We’re going to a two-pass routine most likely. And I’ll be doing a little more leaps and turns.
What are you looking forward to this year? Do you think the cancelled season gave you a new perspective and helps you savor things more?
I would say so. We came off of a really good season my freshman year that was cut short. We’re not sure exactly how we would have finished. So last year was kind of proving that we could do it again even better.
I’m really looking forward to having the Huntsman Center be filled again this year, because last year it was quiet in there with starting our season with no fans, and then towards the end of the season we got our friends and family, so it was about 50 people, versus 50,000 my freshman year. So I guess I’m just looking forward to a big, full Huntsman Center.
Tell me about your partnerships.
Bosu and I have just started working together. In gymnastics we use Bosu balls a fair amount, just for stability and balance, so that was really cool that they reached out. I’ve had a few other little things but they’ve mostly been trade for post, so I get some of their merchandise or products in exchange for posting about them on social media. That’s how most of my deals have been handled. Bosu’s my first real partnership, I guess you could say. Most of my other ones have just been one-time things.
And they approached you?
Yeah. I’ve done minimal reaching out, honestly. I’ve had a fair amount of companies reach out to me. That’s kind of how I’m taking this. I think NIL is a really cool opportunity and something that a lot of people can profit off of, but personally I’m taking more of the, “if they approach me, cool,” approach, and I’m not really going out of my way to create partnerships.
Why do you think it’s important that we have NIL?
I think it’s important because you do have some athletes, like Sydney Soloski on our team, who could profit a lot off of NIL. She’s very outgoing and does a lot on social media, and it sucks for the international people right now because Sydney is international, so she can’t necessarily profit off of it like we can.
But I think it’s important because our universities make so much money off of us, and I know we get scholarships, but they make way more than that through our sports. For the sports that don’t go pro, this might be the only money we make off our sport. You can go pro in gymnastics, but you don’t really go pro from college gymnastics.
How do you decide whether or not to work with a brand?
First, I kind of think, would I be able to organically promote this business without it feeling like this isn’t something I would normally post? And then I would think about the company that’s reaching out to me and see if that’s something I would want to be a part of, if their brand is something I would like to be attached to my name. And then I ask them a few more questions about what their product is really about and why they think I’m a good candidate for it.
Do you have post-grad plans, and what legacy would you like to leave behind?
I don’t have any set-in-stone plans. I would love to become a volunteer assistant coach somewhere. The legacy I want to leave behind that I already started working on is creating a legacy where I can be remembered through Utah gymnastics like Missy Marlowe and Megan Marsden.
What is it about their careers that inspire you?
Missy Marlowe was one of only a few Utah gymnasts to win multiple national championships at one nationals. I actually did that this past year so I think that’s really cool. And I think it’s really amazing how Megan can go from the athlete perspective to a coach perspective and do it so well.
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