The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, March 20, 2021

Highlights from U.S. National Team camp — Russian Nationals — Must-click links

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March U.S. National Team camp

Last week, we were treated to competitions from two of the Big Three gymnastics nations. 

First, the U.S. national team held their March camp, where the national team was named based on performances at an internal camp competition (a campetition, if you will) (Editor’s note: I will) as well as last month’s Winter Cup. Together, the results from these competitions give us a better impression of how incredibly deep this program is going into 2021. 

The top four all-arounders from the Winter Cup — Jordan Chiles, Shilese Jones, Emily Lee, and Lily Lippeatt — were all automatically named to the team. A few athletes petitioned directly onto the team without having to compete at either event, including Simone Biles, Morgan Hurd, and Grace McCallum. Riley McCusker and Jade Carey also petitioned on, along with Sunisa Lee, who competed bars (14.55) and beam at camp. 

Of the above group, E. Lee is the only other athlete who showed routines here, earning a massive 15.10 (6.40, 8.70) on beam, a full point higher in execution than she earned with a hit routine at the Winter Cup. Unfortunately, we don’t have any footage of the routines at camp, so we can’t really assess if she had an incredible routine or if the judges were more lenient at camp, but I’m going to assume it was a bit of both.

Of the remaining campers, everyone who earned over a 52 all-around made the team, including Kayla DiCello, who led the field here with a 55.85, Leanne Wong, Olivia Greaves, Ciena Alipio, and Kara Eaker. Laurie Hernandez competed in the all-around here, and based on her scores, she did a full-twisting Yurchenko and probably fell on bars, but hit beam and floor to end her day with a 51.80. She didn’t make the team, but good for her for debuting vault and bars. 

Of note, Emma Malabuyo did the all-around but missed making the team in part due to scoring a 9.40 on bars, and honestly, I just hope she’s OK after what I assume was several falls. 

Finally, Mykayla Skinner. Skinner only competed vault here, and she killed it, earning a 15.20 for her Cheng.

Which brings us to tonight’s inquiry: Why weren’t Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely named to the team? Blakely tied for first on beam at the Winter Cup and won beam at camp with a 14.60, and McClain came in third on vault and fourth on beam at the Winter Cup. As soon as the team was posted, I saw this question emerge online; even though a full score sheet and selection procedures were released, this question wasn’t answered. 

In a statement, women’s program director Tom Forster said, “Some athletes did not perform in the all-around at either competition. We took this into consideration when determining the final number of available National Team spots.” Problem is, Skinner didn’t do the all-around and made the team. But at the end of the day, it’s not worth fussing over this, as McClain and Blakely are sure to get added to the team (and get national team funding) at a future camp or competition.

At that point, we’ll have 20 all-arounders in Olympic contention instead of just a paltry 18. Including Hurd, who apparently wasn’t there.

Russian Nationals

At Russian nationals, meanwhile, a star was born. After facing a series of retirements from Russia’s great veterans — Aliya Mustafina, Daria Spiridonova, and Maria Paseka (who’s taking a break and considering retirement) — two up-and-coming Russians were here to tell us that they’re doing just fine, thank you.

At the helm was 2019 junior world champion Viktoria Listunova, an athlete who is now Olympic eligible due to the postponement. She lived up to her hype last week, winning the senior all-around national title at just 15 despite a beam fall. Listunova is one of those gymnasts who is just great at all four events, without standing out on one over the other. Her double-twisting Yurchenko was solid here, also earning her the silver in event finals; her bars were gorgeous aside from the end, where she competed an orphan half turn and a full-in dismount that was a bit messy (she got silver here, too); she fell on beam and missed some connections but came back to win it in event finals; and she hit floor, including two whips to a triple twist (another silver). She finished the all-around with a 56.598 to take the win, though she earned an incredible 57.566 in qualifications, where she hit beam. When we found out 2005 babies would be eligible for the 2021 Olympics, it wasn’t clear what many of them would do with that information. But based on this competition, it looks like Listunova got the call and got to work, and I’m here for it.

Just half a point behind Listunova’s two-day total was Vladislava Urazova, another new senior who stood out the most on bars. There, she competed two solid sets to earn a 15.000 in both the all-around and event finals, where she took the title. On beam, Urazova mounts with a round-off, back handspring, back handspring, layout stepout. She unfortunately fell on it in the all-around and in event finals, but I personally love it and hope it stays in her routine. Finally, her triple twist on floor is to DIE for, and she finished the final with a 57.365, also earning bronze on floor. Listunova and Urazova made a statement here as the future leaders of the Russian program, and I would love to see them head all the way to the Olympics together, Komova-Mustafina style.

Olympic veteran Angelina Melnikova rounded out the top three. Melnikova hit her DTY but fell on beam and had a form break on bars, which was unfortunate because they otherwise looked beautiful. She hit floor, including a stuck full-twisting double layout. Honestly, Melnikova looks great; it seems like she just had a couple of fluke errors here, and she has time to do some form cleanup. She showed us what she’s capable of in event finals, where she won vault and floor and earned bronze on bars.

Outside of the top three, Russia has plenty of athletes scoring in the 50s. But unlike the U.S., naming the Russian team isn’t going to be an impossible task that will leave potential all-around podium finishers at home. In fact, most of the European Championships team will be made up of no-brainers — according to Gymnovosti, Valentina Rodionenko announced that the top three have already made the team for the competition, set to be held in April.

Other takeaways: I want to see more sleeveless leos in the future, thank you very much. Also, commentators gasping in Russian every time someone did a Y-turn.

What’s happening in gymnastics

  • Morgan Hurd released a statement in response to the rise in violence against Asian Americans.

  • Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel opposes Larry Nassar’s sentencing appeal because duh.

  • Read Sarah Klein’s harrowing account of abuse by Larry Nassar and John Geddert, at Business Insider (Content warning: Child abuse, sexual abuse).

  • Lorette Charpy tore her ACL and unfortunately won’t be able to make a bid for the Tokyo Olympics. According to the French gym federation, she plans to continue training toward 2024.

  • Looks like Vanessa Ferrari has COVID (h/t @thegymternet). Wishing Ferrari and Charpy both speedy recoveries!

  • Gymnastics Canada broke up with FloGymnastics. In a tweet, GymCan said, “We heard everyone’s concerns and will be starting an RFP process shortly for a broadcast partner.”

  • Twelve Belgian gymnasts signed an open letter in response to allegations of abusive coaching in the national team program (h/t @russiangymstan).

  • Read this interview with Larisa Iordache, from the Olympic Channel.

  • Kyla Ross is officially a college graduate! Congrats, Kyla!

  • Here’s an interview with Angelina Melnikova post-nationals, thanks to Gymnovosti.

  • Sunisa Lee is trying out a new combination on beam, and Jordan Chiles did two tkatchevs in a row. Speaking of bars, Jade Carey’s looking great.

Tweet of the week

Five at the IX: Sunisa Lee

At last month’s Winter Cup, Sunisa Lee competed for the first time in over a year, debuting a new connection on bars. Here’s what she had to say at the press conference after the competition (edited for clarity and length).

After the long layoff, did you feel the nerves today?

Yes, I definitely felt the nerves today. I started off a little shaky in warmups, so it was kind of hard to bring it back from that because I was not having the best turns. So it kind of brought my confidence down a little bit. But I remembered that I always do this. So yeah, it was definitely nerve wracking but it felt really good to get back out there and compete again.

Do you feel like your past performances helped you?

I think it helped my performances today a lot because I was really nervous on the events that I was competing, and I let the nerves get to me in the warmups, but I kind of just started focusing on myself and visualizing, and I just had to separate myself from everybody else. Because I know when I just talk myself through it and I just take my time, I don’t overthink.

Tell me about your beam. Do you have three rings in that routine?

I’m doing three rings. So I’m doing a switch ring, a ring leap, and I’m doing a ring jump. They weren’t that good today, but that’s what they were supposed to be.

Tell me about bars. When did you decide on today’s combination of skills?

I chuck skills and then me and my coach will just decide what skills that I can do that are the best and which ones that would be best for my start value. But I like having a unique routine that someone else isn’t going to have.

We saw your connect out of your Bhardwaj in podium training. How did that come about? Is that part of your upgraded routine?

Yes, it actually is. I’ve actually been working the pak full connected for probably like two years now. I just haven’t posted that because it’s been like a secret. But this is kind of my debut of that. I’m going to work on getting more consistent on that. It’s kind of hard because I haven’t been doing it for that long in the routine so getting consistent is going to take a lot of time but that’s definitely something that I’m hoping to connect before the end of the season. And then my Jaeger to my Maloney half as well.

At what point did you decide not to connect out of your Bhardwaj today?

After my Nabieva, that’s when I really know. I know exactly what the timing is for the pak full, so if it’s off then I know to switch my routine, but if it’s on, then I know to keep doing my routine.

What does the rest of the season look like for you?

I’m just going to work on getting consistent on bars and doing my upgraded routine. I did my backup routine today. But yeah, I just want to get consistent on everything else and keep my floor and vault the same and then clean up beam as well and just keep getting more consistent throughout the season.

What do you think you want to improve on beam and bars, and when do you think you’ll push through to the all-around?

I think I want to work on getting more consistent on beam and not letting the nerves get to me, because I tend to get more nervous on beam than I do on bars, because beam, it’s so mental … even if one thing goes wrong then I know the rest of the routine is going to be rough. This season I want to work on staying healthy and coming back and trying to get to where I was the season before, because I was pretty good on floor and vault back then. But yeah, I think this year is going to be good.

Where exactly are you with floor and vault? When will we see them in competition?

I’m doing pretty good. I’m doing Tumbl Trak and trampoline. Just working on air awareness so I don’t forget that because I haven’t done floor and vault in a little bit. But I don’t think it’s going to be that difficult for me to get back, especially because I’ve been getting a lot stronger in the gym, so my legs are going to be refreshed when I come back.

What was it like to have no audience? Did that play into your mindset?

It was kind of sad not having any fans, but even having all the cameras on you, it still gave you that feel and you know that people are watching on TV. So it really wasn’t that bad and even just having teammates and staff cheer for you is better than just not having any fans at all.

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, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: Erica Ayala, @ELindsay08 NWHL Broadcaster
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By Jessica Taylor Price, @jesstaylorprice, Freelance Gymnastics Writer

Written by The IX Team