The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, April 24, 2021
Larisa's triumphant Euros return — Michigan's first NCAA win — U.S. team updates
(Hi! Howard Megdal here. The IX helps build the necessary infrastructure for women’s sports media. By connecting these worlds, it gives women’s sports the networking boost men’s sports can take for granted.
Those of you who are our satisfied subscribers, tell the world! We are grateful for your support. And you can share the gift of The IX with those who would love us as much as you do.)
I’m not going to hide my feelings for Larisa Iordache for the sake of journalistic integrity here. To me, Romania’s Top Gymnast is the whole package — she’s great on every event, and her high difficulty is matched by beautiful execution.
She’s also terribly unlucky. All throughout her career us Larisa stans have had our hearts torn apart, taped back up like a busted ankle, and ripped back up again. Iordache was injured going into the 2012 Olympics, hampering her chances of really making a splash there. After being on the up and up for the next couple of years, nabbing a world all-around silver medal in 2014, she got hurt again and was passed over to represent Romania in Rio. Then, in 2017, just moments before she was set to compete as a favorite in the all-around at worlds, she suffered the achilles tear heard around the world.
Since then, she’s been clawing her way back to this single opportunity to hit four routines and make her second Olympics, at this week’s European Championships (the top two all-around qualifiers from European Championships, not including gymnasts who had helped their country qualify a team at a previous world championships, earned a spot at the Olympics).
She showed up to the competition ready to make that happen, despite having a kidney infection (can my girl catch a break???).
Turns out, kidney problems are good luck for gymnasts, because her day actually went pretty well. She started on beam, where she nailed her back handspring stepout to tucked full but fell on her double spin. We thought it was over, but she still got a 13.466, thanks to her D score and maybe a little help from the judges. She hit her triple twist dismount and moved to floor, where she stepped out of bounds on her piked full in but hit her triple twist. She hit a DTY that we didn’t see (more on that later), and we all sat with clenched hands waiting for her to finish bars, where she competed a tad messy but overall hit routine:
Since she was competing in the last subdivision, we knew she needed higher than a 54.398 to qualify, and that she did — by three tenths. Then, she withdrew from the all-around final presumably to take care of her failing organs, and because we all forgot the all-around was happening anyway. What a day to be alive.
YOU’RE WELCOME, LARISA.
Meanwhile, the Russians. With their top talent on the roster, they predictably snagged an individual spot thanks to Viktoria Listunova’s performance. She set a high standard in the first subdivision qualification, earning a 55.299 to place second behind Angelina Melnikova, who had a great day aside from a comical beam fall to earn a 55.991. Vladislava Urazova rounded out the Russian trio, who were all separated by just a few tenths.
Italy’s Martina Maggio made a bid for the second Olympic spot, coming in fifth behind Iordache, and Great Britain’s Amelie Morgan and Jessica Gadirova just missed out as well, with the latter suffering a bad beam fall to qualify in eighth.
Listunova then went on to win the all-around title with a 56.753, finishing the day off with this floor routine:
As one of the gymnasts who unexpectedly became age-eligible when the Olympics were postponed, Listunova is doing a great job of making a case for herself for Russia’s team. The spot she earned for Russia is non-nominative, meaning they don’t have to send her to Tokyo, but at this point it would be stupid (not to mention RUDE) if they didn’t.
Angelina Melnikova fell twice but still came in second, followed by Gadirova, who took third with this gorgeous DTY:
Amelie Morgan and Elizabeth Seitz had hit days to finish fourth and fifth, respectively, and Martina Maggio finished sixth with a fall. Poland’s Marta Pihan-Kulesza unfortunately got hurt on a dance element on floor and had to withdraw. Check out the full results.
The competition continues this weekend with event finals; vault and bars are on Saturday, while beam and floor are on Sunday.
But first, we have to talk about the disaster of a viewing experience thus far:
All throughout quals and the all-around, the streams kept freezing, and the results wouldn’t load. At one point we all switched over to YouTube, and then THAT froze. Plus, they just flat-out skipped Iordache’s Olympics-clinching bar routine, and we didn’t know her score for … a while. Literally this is how I found out she’d qualified for the Olympics:
It’s unacceptable that a continental championships and Olympic qualifier didn’t have a better quality live stream. European Gymnastics and SmartScoring both apologized for the streams, claiming that “traffic is overloaded,” which, sure.
Other observations: The German women competed in bodysuits, and I’m here for it. Filipa Martins got a new element named for her on bars. And I’ll leave you with Iordache thanking everyone for her SmartScoring Shooting Star Award from her hospital room:
Last weekend, Michigan won its very first NCAA women’s gymnastics title, becoming one of only seven programs to become national champs. They scored a whopping 198.250, just .0875 over runner-up Oklahoma, to take the win.
Michigan was dominant here — they led after every rotation and had zero falls. They started on floor, where they didn’t count a score below a 9.9 and were led by beautiful performances from Natalie Wojcik and Gabby Wilson. They kept the momentum up in the second rotation with their bazillion gorgeous Yurchenko 1.5s, including this one:
The team started to lose some steam in the second half of the competition, but they never lost their lead. On bars, Wojcek got great air on her Deltchev:
… but she almost stumbled back on her landing. Sierra Brooks’ FTDLO was gorgeous and stuck. Things looked iffy on beam, where their early lineup scores were a bit lower, but Brooks had a clutch performance, sticking her double tuck; same with Wojcik and her 1.5 dismount, scoring a massive 9.9875. Michigan and Oklahoma were tied at 198.075 going into Michigan’s final beam routine, but junior Abby Heiskell met the challenge with a 9.925 and sealed the win.
Oklahoma and Utah also had a great competition, which made this meet so, so close — literally, any of the three could have won and I wouldn’t have been mad.
Oklahoma started on vault, with junior Olivia Trautman leading the rotation with a 9.9625. They then earned the highest total bars score of the meet, featuring senior Anastasia Webb’s front double half out dismount and Audrey Davis’ piked Jaeger. Jenna Dunn came off the beam early in the rotation, but the team rallied — Carly Woodard and Ragan Smith hit — and the score wasn’t counted. Emma LaPinta’s triple twist was beautiful, and Webb killed it on floor; I love her finishing front 1.5 to photo-worthy jump. Finally, Trautman brought it home for the Sooners with solid-as-a-rock landings.
In third, Utah. They hit everything, starting with a solid bar routine, and then killed it on beam, earning the highest event total of the competition there.
Maile O’Keefe made a statement on floor, and the team moved to vault, where they struggled at first to hold onto landings, but sophomore Jaedyn Rucker and senior Alexia Burch stuck beautiful Yurchenko 1.5s.
Oh, and we’re gonna pause for a moment and look at Utah’s leotards. Gotta love a leo with a fun back:
Finally … Florida. Sigh. Florida started out on beam with a fall from Peyton Richards, and then Trinity Thomas fell on her layout stepout on beam, so the team had to count her 9.1750. It was a rough start for sure, but Thomas had a redemption routine on floor, featuring a double layout into the rafters; and then when Alyssa Baumann tripped on a sting mat, nobody seemed to notice or care. Little errors kept them in the 9.8 zone on vault — aside from Thomas, who had just a small hop for a 9.9250 — and their vault score was the lowest of the meet. Finally, they were doing great on bars until Savannah fell and unfortunately didn’t finish her routine due to injury; Florida was able to drop the score and finish solid there.
All of which brings us to this moment:
That’s it — the end of the NCAA season. This was a weird one, with a lot of uncertainty going in and still some uncertainty going out (some seniors still have to decide if they’ll take their COVID year of eligibility). Luckily, like the face tattoos, having to tumble with a mask in your bra won’t last forever.
P.S. Before we go: now that the women are national champs, can we please get Michigan Gymnastics to change its Twitter account to Michigan Men’s Gymnastics? Unless there are women competing on that team as well; I don’t see any in this picture, but if I’m mistaken, beg your pardon.
U.S. elite updates
In U.S. news, we have our lineup for American Classic. Pretty much all of the big names here have already made the national team and are qualified to go to nationals, so their stakes are low — these include Kara Eaker, Kayla DiCello, Sunisa Lee, Leanne Wong, Skye Blakely, and Grace McCallum — but it will be nice to see where they’re at at this point in the season. The competition will take place Saturday, but unfortunately, it will only be available to stream on FloGymnastics, which is something this newsletter will get into when I’m ready and not a moment sooner.
The other U.S. topic of the week is Jade Carey. After she gave a wishy-washy answer on whether she’’ll try to make a bid for the four-person Olympic team at trials (basically, “I’ll go and it’s up to the selection committee to decide”), Dvora Meyers asked USAG about it for Unorthodox Gymnastics. They sent out some “clarifying” statements that, as per usual, still left us with questions. Basically, if Carey chooses to keep her spot, she will not be considered for the team. If she drops it, then she will be considered at trials and the U.S. would only be able to send five gymnasts to the Olympics, not six.
Honestly, I think we’re catastrophizing a bit here — USAG won’t go for having fewer spots, ever. This new supposed commitment to transparency and sticking to policies will not come at the expense of an athlete’s dream, her medal potential, and her endorsement potential. As Meyers says in her newsletter, it was dumb of USAG to not state from the beginning that Carey wouldn’t be considered for the team if she went this route. And now they can’t, or won’t, publicly tell Carey what to do with her life despite her potential to act against USAG’s interests.
At the same time, we don’t have any idea what is happening behind closed doors here. I wonder if Carey and her dad have as much agency as USAG is claiming they have. And if they do, and they have even an inkling of the optics of this situation, they aren’t going to incur the wrath of the entire gymnastics community by depriving a U.S. national team gymnast of an Olympic berth.
Anyway, a new NBC docuseries is coming out featuring members of the U.S. national team, so I’m sure we’ll get all our answers then.
Always read Lela Moore, this time on the great success of the NCAA champs broadcast (FanSided).
Outrage at MSU after they refused to release thousands of documents to the Michigan Attorney General (The State News).
Full results from the 2021 All-Japan Championships at The Gymternet (Spoiler Alert: Mai Murakami won).
Nice article on the gymnasts who are competing into their 20s and beyond (The Guardian).
A new book alleges that Nadia Comaneci’s coaching relationship with Bela Karolyi was abusive, which, duh (Firstpost).
Tweet of the week
Five at The IX: Jessica Gadirova and Sierra Brooks
Jessica Gadirova spoke at a press conference after placing 12th all-around in qualifications. Edited for clarity and length.
How did your competition go today?
I’m a bit disappointed with how beam turned out with a fall, it’s a bit annoying. But my bars and floor and vault I’m really proud of.
What is your main goal going into this competition?
I didn’t really have a main goal; I just came here just to get the experience and just do another competition and just put my name out there.
Was it difficult to not compete for such a long time and then to come back and compete here?
It was a bit different because normally we’ve had a big major competition every year. And the fact that we haven’t had one in so long is a bit nervous and different just to come out and just get used to the lights and different countries. But overall it’s been amazing.
How did you keep your nerves in check coming into this competition?
Me and my coaches prepared me very well for coming into this competition. All I had to do was just do what I did in training and not worry about anything else and just do my routines the best as I can, and just be amazing out there.
There is one subdivision left in quals. What are your expectations for finals?
I haven’t got very many expectations. I would love to do a final. But if I don’t make one I’m not too fussed. But it would be amazing to do one.
Which apparatus would you love to do a final in?
I would love to do floor and vault.
Michigan sophomore Sierra Brooks talked to the press after her team’s championship win. Edited for clarity and length.
How are you feeling about your performance today and your team’s performance today?
I’m on top of the world; I’m thrilled for this team. We put so much work into this team, and we woke up this morning and we were like, oh my god, today’s the day. Today’s what we’ve been working for, for so long. It went better than imagined; to get another team record at nationals is insane, I’m so proud of everyone. I’m proud of myself and just, so much went into this and it’s just amazing seeing our hard work pay off. Honestly, I’m overwhelmed; I’ve walked up to like everyone on the team like, oh my god, we actually won it. We’re national champions. It’s crazy.
The beam rotation started out a little slowly and it was your routine that turned things around. What was going on in your head?
Honestly, before I even went I was on the verge of tears, because I wanted it so bad for this team and we were so close. I think I knew those routines were semi off but I also trusted myself and I trusted the rest of the lineup, so it was, get out there, and do my thing. I got on the beam and I just, honestly just approached it with as much confidence as I could ever have and just do what you do. And I was able to do that. And I was just super excited to get us on the right foot to make it count right at the end.
What was going through your head when Abby Heiskell was on the beam and after she landed and waiting for that team score?
We had seen the team scores and we were like, oh my god, we think we did it, but it hadn’t gone up yet. And we knew that we were dropping the 9.75 and we were like, come on, just give her a 9.9 or something around that range … we just stood there waiting to see it change. So much was racing through our heads. We’d talked about this for so long and it was just, oh my god it’s actually happening. Oh my god, the meet’s over and we’re national champions. We were just so excited to see her hit and Abby Heiskell was the one to do it, and she did it.
What’s it like to make Michigan history by winning the program’s first national championships?
It means so much. It’s so cool. I think it’s awesome to be able to say you were on the team when you won any national championship, and then to be the first one for your program and I think the conference as a whole, that’s just crazy impressive. I’m just super proud of this team. This team is the one to do it. We’re so close and there’s so much that we bond through. I could talk on and on about this team. I’m just so happy; I’m so happy for the seniors. We’re just on top of the world.