The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, May 29, 2021

Where we are after the U.S. Classic — Thoughts from Laurie Hernandez — Must-click links

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U.S. Classic

Ah, the U.S. Classic. Last weekend’s competition — the last opportunity for elites to qualify to the U.S. national championships — was kind of a splatfest, but that’s pretty standard. Literally, every time Classics happen we have this big scare over how rusty everyone looked, but it’s fine; my first time out wearing jeans this year is bound to not look too great, either. 

Of course, the highlight of this meet was Simone Biles debuting her Yurchenko double pike vault, which was glorious and a revelation, and scored a 16.100. The vault has been provisionally awarded a probably-too-low 6.6 D score, and four-year fans are outraged, simply OUTRAGED, I tell you, that the vault has been banned from competition. Of course it hasn’t, and for a more nuanced (and, ahem, informed) opinion, please read Spenser’s analysis at The Balance Beam Situation.

Anyway, the vault was great, with just a big step back because she had too much — yes, too much — power.

Am I crazy, or should she add a full twist? I’m crazy, right? Right. On bars, Biles came off on her toe full, which had been bothering her in warmups, but hit everything else, including her fabrichnova. My notes for her beam read “solid, wonderful, gorgeous, almost error free,” and we can just leave it at that. 

On floor, she debuted her new choreography, which looks great. She went out of bounds on her triple double, hit her biles and full to full-in, then landed short on her double double and put her hands down. She still won floor, and finished the day with a 58.400. In a leo with a rhinestone goat on the back.

Falls aside, Biles looks great, and she has plenty of time to get more consistent in competition again before the Olympics. 

In other WCC news (seriously, look at this team), has Jordan Chiles made herself the other lock? Not quite, but she’s damn close. At the beginning of the season I was writing Chiles off thinking she was on the “trials for fun, then NCAA” path, but she has just been rock solid all season, and showed incredible work at Classics. 

She started on beam, where she looked poised and confident on every skill, and just landed a bit short on her full in. On floor, she did a huge full-twisting double layout which was gorgeous in the air, and a floaty double layout. She opted not to break out the amanar in competition, which was smart, as her DTY was plenty to get her a 14.95 — the second-highest vault score of the competition — and, after a solid bar routine (aside from a very late pirouette and missed a connection) she landed solidly in second place behind Biles. 

Chiles finished with a 57.100 here, a point ahead of bronze medalist Kayla DiCello. With her performance here, at the Winter Cup, and at the WOGA Classic, Chiles has set herself up to be Biles’ number two in Tokyo. Of course there’s still time for other top all-arounders to edge her out, but that would take an incredible performance, and the sheer confidence and consistency right off the bat give Chiles a great shot at this.

Kayla DiCello rounded out the podium with four clean routines aside from just one big error on beam. Her DTY was a bit loose in the knees and hips, but she had a solid landing with just a shuffle back. Her bars were solid, giving her the win with a D score second only to Sunisa Lee.

She grabbed the beam on her wolf turn but hit the rest of that routine, and was solid on floor, with a double double tuck and double layout. Looking at DiCello’s scores from the past year, she’s been super consistent — while she’s only competed four times in 2020 and 2021, she’s hit every routine, and is only getting better as the season goes on.

In fourth was Grace McCallum, who competed in the all-around for the first time since 2019 worlds. From this competition, it looks like she’s in a good place despite just coming back from hand surgery, with a solid all-around program and just a few places to clean up. 

On floor, her double double was a tad short, and her full-in was great with a small hop, but then she stumbled back on her front full to front double full. It was kind of a jarring error, but she brought it back for the rest of the competition, competing a DTY was just a little leg separation, a bar routine with some loose feet at the beginning and bent knees after her release — but she stuck her dismount — and on beam, she put her chest down on her straddle jump and had some balance checks, but hit her double pike dismount to finish the first session in first and the competition in fourth with a 55.100.

McCallum really has no event final-worthy events, but is someone you could put up anywhere, and here she showed that despite all she’s been through, she’s the same athlete that competed on the worlds team, and there’s plenty of room to move forward.

Sunisa Lee is still on the up and up after hurting her foot, and it really sucks to see her be so limited after doing so well in 2019. She only competed on bars and beam here, and fell on both. Still, she showed off her high difficulty on bars — she had some leg separation on her nabieva but connected it to her bhardwaj and a maloney with leg separation, then caught but peeled off the high bar, and hit the rest of her routine for a 13.500. On beam, she fell right away on her wolf turn, but hit a beautiful switch ring leap and side aerial layout stepout layout stepout. 

Lee is looking less than confident, and I think with her injury holding her back I wouldn’t be surprised if the team doesn’t happen for her. Still, I think she should go to the Olympics for bars — with Jade Carey and Simone Biles taking up the floor and vault event finals spots, the other individual should specialize in one of the other two events, and Lee is probably the smartest option.

Leanne Wong and Kara Eaker — or, as I like to call them, the GAGE girls — showed up with strong performances for this point in the season. On floor, Wong landed her double double a bit short and stumbled out of bounds, and hit a whip to triple with helicopter feet. Her DTY had crossed legs and her chest was down on the landing, but she stuck it cold. Then, on bars, she had some leg separation errors and came off on her jaeger, then stuck her double layout. Her beam routine was beautiful, with just an under-rotated triple twist, for second place behind Biles.

She finished the day with a 54.100, with a fall. The fall was unfortunate, but her beam score was so damn high, and her all-around scores have been pretty consistent the past couple of years, so I’d say she’s solidly in the mix.

Right behind her in the beam standings was Kara Eaker, who hit the beautiful connections we’ve come to know and love, but is still missing some of her ring shapes, coming third there with a 14.100. Her floor featured a 3.5 twist which was way under-rotated — but she did a punch front out of it so it still gets credit (sigh) — and a beautiful whip to triple. On vault, her Yurchenko 1.5 was super tucked, but if that’s what was intended, it was great, and she stuck it. She capped off her bar routine with a gorgeous double layout. 

Eaker’s beam was a highlight, as usual, but honestly after it was so heavily deducted at 2019 worlds and with some of the same problems lingering in the routine, I don’t think it’s going to be enough to get her there, but, as is the recurring theme throughout this newsletter, there’s still time for cleanup.

Skye Blakely, or, as I like to call her, one of the “juniors,” had a pretty good day for seventh, aside from a beam fall right off the bat on her standing full. She had a couple other form breaks there but hit the rest of the routine, and moved on to floor, where she hit a floaty double layout. On vault, she twisted right off the table on her DTY but it was good in the air and nearly stuck, and on bars, she had some leg separation here and there and was off on a couple handstands, finishing with a double tuck dismount with knees glued together. She earned a 54.000 here, but we know from American Classic that she’s capable of doing better and hitting an Olympic team-worthy beam routine. 

The other “junior,” Konnor McClain, had a rough performance, and I believe the commentators said she was under the weather. On bars, she had bent knees on a giant and then fell on her release, then finished the routine with loose legs and no dismount. On beam, she had a small wobble on her standing full, then came off on her back handspring layout to two feet, and didn’t do a dismount. She finished her day with a powerful DTY with just a step back. She looked heartbroken after her beam fall, and it was so tough to watch, but a Twitter sleuth found out that she randomly just switched to WOGA, so hopefully that will be a positive transition for her and we’ll see the performance we know she’s capable of very soon.

MyKayla Skinner had kind of a rough day, but this is her first all-around competition this year, so there’s time for improvement as long as she can continue managing her heel pain. Her cheng looked great, with just some bent knees in the air and a hop back on the landing. For her amanar, she twisted right off the horse and had some leg separation there, but it looked good in the air and she had just a step forward on the landing. On bars, she clipped her foot on a release and had some sloppy legs, but stuck her fabrichnova. It was messy, but we know she can do better. Similarly, on beam, she came off on her back handspring tucked full. She brought things back on floor, where she hit but was slammed in execution — her moors had loose leg form and went out of bounds, and then she stuck her double double but stumbled a little bit on her 2.5. At this point, I don’t see Skinner on the team and instead think she’d be a great option for an alternate (again), but we’ll see how she improves throughout the season.

Morgan Hurd just did beam and floor here, and she looked a bit nervous after coming back from so much time off and elbow surgery. She didn’t fall on beam, but she put her chest down and was tentative on her standing full, then put her leg up on her side aerial loso. Her front aerial to split jump to ring jump were beautiful, and her switch ring leap was good in the air but then she wobbled on the landing. On floor, she competed a double layout and a full-in, and dismounted with a double pike that was a bit short. This was Hurd’s first competition since the 2020 American Cup, so it makes sense that she would be shaky, and we’ll have to wait and see how this season will take shape for her when she (hopefully) debuts her all-around at nationals.

Riley McCusker broke everyone’s hearts at Classics when she did an excellent DTY but landed weird on her ankle. She limped off and looked like she was in pain, and went straight to the hospital to get an MRI. There’s no word yet on her status, but our thoughts are with her and I hope we get to see her at nationals.

Jade “I don’t need to be here” Carey used this opportunity to try out some new upgrades, starting with bars, which was awesome. She hit a beautiful bhardwaj and stuck her full-in, and her swing in general just looks much better. She also hit beam aside from almost coming off on her back handspring layout stepout layout stepout. 

Finally, the veterans. It was so great to see Chellsie Memmel come back to competition after NINE years away. That said, as a 32-year-old woman myself, every time someone called her “an inspiration” I died just a little inside. Memmel’s first rotation was vault, where she hit a beautiful, flared FTY with excellent height — she has plenty of room for a second twist.

She started out super confident on beam, where she hit a straddle jump full and a tucked punch front, but stumbled and fell off on the arabian. She finished with a double pike with just a step back. Tom Forster confirmed that Memmel is going to nationals, and I look forward to seeing whether she’ll bring her bars or floor. 

Laurie Hernandez (check out her press conference below) hit a clean FTY with a big step back, and on beam, she fell right away on her punch front, but hit a great bhs loso and side aerial, and skipped the dismount. She says she’ll petition to do four events at nationals.

In the junior competition, Katelyn Jong absolutely dominated, winning the all-around by three points, and three event titles.

But what does it all mean? If the Olympic team were named today, I would say it should be Biles, Chiles, DiCello, and Wong, who would go for her beam score. And then I’d bring Lee as an individual for bars. Using just the scores from Classics, this team scores higher in a 4-3-3 format than Biles and Chiles with DiCello/McCallum or McCallum/Wong.

Of course, I think the focus on sending the top-scoring team is kind of meaningless for the U.S. at this point, and the selection committee should consider how to maximize the opportunities for gymnasts to make finals. This hypothetical team has the added benefit of doing that, bringing at least the top two in each event (aside from Skinner, who gets edged out by the Biles/Carey 1-2 punch in the vault/floor finals).

That said, nationals are in just a week and will undoubtedly tear this prediction to pieces. Full results.

U.S. Classic links

  • Is the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Team OK? (Slate) (yes, yes they are)

  • Opinion: Punishing Simone Biles for her greatness is act of foolishness by gymnastics officials (USA Today)

  • Dudes who’ve done the Yurchenko double pike respond to Biles’ performance (NBC Sports)

  • Here’s a Sunisa Lee profile in Elle, and a Chellsie Memmel profile that I can’t read because it’s in The Wall Street Journal.

Other gymnastics news

  • Zeina Ibrahim of Egypt and Naveen Daries of South Africa qualified Olympic berths at African Championships. Check out coverage and full results at The Gymternet.

  • Here’s a schedule for the upcoming Pan American Championships.

  • Ellie Black won the two-day virtual Canadian Championships with a 112.200, over four points ahead of runner-up Ava Stewart.

  • Oksana Chusovitina will compete at the Varna World Challenge Cup this weekend, along with Marine Boyer, Kelly Simm, and Ana Derek.

  • Becky Downie competed in her solo Olympic trial after missing the final trials due to the death of her brother. She showed her beam and bar routines on Instagram, and they looked great aside from a stumble back on her bars dismount. Now, we wait. 

    A post shared by @bdownie92
  • Alice Kinsella talked about the online bullying she’s faced with Independent.

  • In NCAA news, Pauline Tratz is taking her fifth year at UCLA, and Washington has a new head coach, Jen Llewellyn.

Tweet of the week

Five at the IX: Laurie Hernandez

Laurie Hernandez spoke to the press after her performance at the U.S. Classic. Edited for clarity and length.

Did you design the leotard you wore today? 
Yes, I did design my leo! They’re all superhero themed for this year, so this one is Black Panther. 

What was going through your head during beam today?
In early April, I was doing something on bars and whacked my ankle pretty hard, and had to take some time off. I just started within the last week, week and a half, back in training. So it’s been a wild ride. Super fun, has not been hard at all. We just did our best out there. Because of how March camp went, I’m pretty sure we still get to go to championships, and I’m excited for an even better opportunity to go out there and be more confident in myself.

What do you say to people who doubted your comeback?
Here’s the thing: People are going to think what they’re going to think. At the end of the day, I know that I’m doing my best out there; I’m giving it everything that I have. Even if it’s not the result that I wanted, like beam was today, I know that I’m still trying and I’m still putting in everything, because I do love it. I love gymnastics, and I love being here. At that point, I can only do so much. I’ll be at championships, so.

Were you able to do anything after hurting your ankle?
I have a thing where after this summer is over, I’m just going to post a Reel on Instagram of all the skills that are very hard for me, that I like to think are kind of insane, and just post all the things that I haven’t competed. And that skill would definitely be one of them. I did make one, nobody’s done it before. It’s in a jaeger format, and so I was doing it and I just got too close and I whacked my ankle on the bar, and I have a lot of scar tissue in there from old injuries and old sprains and stuff like that, so it just really flared up and it made tumbling and essentially everything really difficult. We’ve been doing physical therapy for it, we’ve been doing conditioning, but in terms of tumbling and running, flipping routines, that’s started within like the last week and a half. So I’m still proud of how today went even though I wanted to do better.

Are we going to get a She-Ra-themed leo?
I’m not doing a She-Ra-themed leo even though everything in me wants to, because I’ve already designed the leos for championships and they’re all based after the Avengers, but a She-Ra leo would be cool. So who knows. Maybe I’ll make a training leo as a She-Ra leo. 

Will you petition to do all four events at championships? 
I do believe that me and Jenny are going to petition for all four, as of right now. 

Would you do your new bars skill at a world cup to get it named after you?
I haven’t even thought about that but that would be really nice. The skill is really weird looking and cool, so I think it’d be nice to get that named after me. 

Did you ever think you’d be competing alongside Chellsie Memmel?
No, I didn’t. I watched her growing up, and I just was in awe of her. I still am. She’s so cool. And the idea that I get to compete next to her, that’s insane. Like, I know I’m an Olympian, but that’s Chellsie Memmel. I was definitely just excited and I remember at practice yesterday, I know it’s been a very long time since she’s competed, and even though I competed at Winter Cup, it still feels like a very long time since classics; it’s been five years. And so part of me just wanted to look at her across the floor and telepathically be like, ‘do you want to form an alliance with me?’ But yeah, she’s awesome, she smashed it today.

Note: Chellsie sat down after this interview and said, “I vote ‘yes’ to the alliance.”

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

Written by The IX Team