U.S. Olympic Trials — Thoughts from the GAGE gymnasts — Olympic team news

The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, June 26, 2021

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It’s happening: U.S. Team Trials

Day one of the U.S. Olympic Trials came to an end on Friday night, and it was … nerve wracking.

At this point, there are really only two spots left for the U.S. to fill (it was confirmed here that Jade is not being considered for the team), and all of the serious contenders have the same problem: with this level of depth, they pretty much have to go eight-for-eight to make their case.

And they know it — there was a noticeable improvement from nationals both in execution and in the number of falls, and that is going to make things super tight.

But before we get to the contenders, we’ll start with three of the athletes who don’t need to stress here, starting with Simone Biles. She began her day on bars, where she hit (including that pesky toe full), and stuck her fabrichnova cold for a 14.600.

On beam, she had a scary wobble on her wolf turn, and then looked a little tentative for a moment before remembering who she is, hitting the rest of her routine, and landing a double double with her chest up, scoring a 15.133. ALL HAIL.

She looked great as always on floor, and managed to stay in bounds to get a massive 15.366. It was great to see her looking a little more comfortable in her choreography here and in her landings.

She finished her day with a sky-high cheng that had a big hop back, and a massive amanar with a hop forward for a 15.466. Biles earned a day one score of 60.565 to put her solidly in first, and won the day on vault, beam, and floor.

Sunisa Lee came in second behind Biles, and watching her, you would have no idea that she’s coming back from an injury. What Lee does on bars is always the big question, and we got our answer right away — she competed a beautiful, full-difficulty bar routine that just had some leg separation in the first series for a 15.300.

I simply cannot wait to see this routine at the Olympics. On beam, she hit a rock solid routine, which earned a 14.733 to put her in the lead over Biles after two rotations. She’s still doing her three-pass floor routine, but she does it clean and got a 13.233. Her DTY was hit for a 14.400 and she finished the day with a 57.666, a great score especially considering her reduced difficulty on floor.

Jordan Chiles continued doing what we’ve seen her do all season, hitting four clean routines to put her solidly in third. She hit a thrilling bar routine with great height on her releases and a stuck full-in dismount, earning a 14.300. 

We’ve seen a lot of growth from Chiles in her confidence level and ability to bounce back from errors, and we continue to see that on beam, where she missed a connection but didn’t let it faze her, sticking her dismount cold for a 14.233. Her floor was powerful and she hit her passes but had trouble staying in bounds, earning a 13.633. She finished her day with a DTY with just a tiny hop for a 14.966 and a 57.132 total. Chiles has been so very consistent this season that a performance like this is what I’ve come to expect from her, and it’s so great to see her come this far.

As for the fourth team spot, there are three athletes at the top of my list after today’s performances, and all of them scored within three tenths of each other. But really, it will most likely come down to Skinner and McCallum.

MyKayla Skinner had the performance of her life at 2016 trials, and she looks determined to repeat here and show that she deserves to be on this team, coming in fourth on day one. She shined on vault, where she nearly stuck a very well executed cheng for a 15.233. It wasn’t enough to best Carey there, but that vault, plus her amanar (15.133), looked better than ever. I didn’t see her bars, but she earned a 13.466, which is good, not great, for her. On beam, she had a few nervous moments but she hit her back handspring tucked full and got a 14.133, incredible for her, and putting her in third after the third rotation. On floor, her moors still looks a bit rough but she stuck her double double cold and got a 13.866 to finish the day with a 56.598. Only Skinner’s vault is in the top three at the moment, but if she can maintain her placement tomorrow then she has a great shot at making this team.

I personally think with Carey and Biles going to the Olympics, it seems kind of a waste to send Skinner only to be two-per-country’d out of the vault final over someone else who could make another final if someone falls, but that said, Skinner has absolutely earned this spot and I wouldn’t be mad if she got it.

Grace McCallum did what she needed to do today to stay in the mix, placing fifth behind Skinner by only a tenth. She started on bars, where she had a late pirouette and other form issues but hit (13.833), then on beam, she was really close to coming off at one point but fought for it, earning a 13.866. Her floor routine was impressive, with shuffles on all of her landings, but she looked confident there for a 14.166, and her DTY with a hop back got a 14.633 for a day one total of 56.498.

I think the top-four argument is the best case for McCallum, and if she can best Skinner in the total score with a stronger performance on Sunday then I think she has a good shot. If not, her floor could put her in a position of being on the top-scoring team and give her event final potential, but looking at her scores, I think that argument wouldn’t be strong enough for the committee to decide not to go by rank order.

Kayla DiCello needed to become consistency queen again after having a rough showing at nationals, and she looks like she’s getting there, looking more calm on day one and hitting four for four to place sixth. She started on bars, where she hit every handstand and generally looked amazing for a 13.966. On beam, she hit her candle mount which had inexplicably given her trouble at nationals, then had a balance check on her split jump and landed her double tuck low, but otherwise it was a great effort for a 13.766. She had a great floor routine for a 13.966, and finished with a DTY that was good for a 14.600. A 56.298 put her in sixth place, and with the standings being so close, I could see her breaking into the top four tomorrow and staying in the mix.

Rounding out the top seven was Kara Eaker, who had a great beam routine other than almost coming off on her switch ring, and earned a 14.400, the third-highest beam score of the meet. I don’t think this will be enough to put her in the +1 mix over McCusker or make her a team option, but a great performance tomorrow could prove me wrong. Shilese Jones nearly repeated her excellent nationals vault performance with a 14.900 here, finishing eighth overall. Emma Malabuyo sadly came off on her arabian on beam and ended up in a disappointing ninth place after coming in fourth at nationals. 

Leanne Wong is one of the top contenders for the team but, like everyone, she needed to be a self-advocate here and show some consistency to stay in the mix, and that didn’t happen on day one, as she finished it in 10th place. She started with a clean DTY that just had crossed ankles and the slightest shuffle back on the landing for a 14.700. Her bars weren’t her best, with a late pirouette and messy knees on a transition, but she didn’t come off and it was good for a 13.666. Unfortunately, when it came to beam, it wasn’t her day, and she fell on her acrobatic series and stumbled forward on her triple twist for an 11.500. Floor was good for a 13.933, the fourth-highest floor score of the day. I hate to say it, but that beam performance, on top of a general lack of consistency this season, could be what keeps her off the team. It sucks, but that’s where we are with a field this deep.

In +1 news, Riley McCusker. She was originally slated to do the all-around, then bars and beam, and then scratched beam before the start of the competition. With just one event, she has to hit the bars routines of a lifetime to make this team, and that’s exactly what she did on day one, hitting a beautiful routine with just a hop back on her dismount for a 14.800 there, placing second behind Lee. If she can do that again tomorrow, I’d say she’s got that extra spot for sure.

Finally, Jade Carey. Many have pointed out that Carey’s performance here could have implications for MyKayla Skinner — if Skinner can best Carey on vault, then it would be fair to take her to contend for the vault final. Carey responded, though, nearly sticking her amanar which was also great in the air.

She had a rough bar routine for an 11.300, and I didn’t see her on beam, but she earned a 13.266, and I really can’t emphasize enough how much it doesn’t matter right now. She initially scratched floor, but then decided to do it anyway and got a 13.133. It’s unclear if she’s hurt after some people saw her in a brace today, so personally my hope is she’ll scratch Sunday and save her strength for Tokyo.

Skye Blakely unfortunately had to scratch the meet after getting injured on vault just before the start of the competition.

So where are we now? For one, I think McCusker has made a solid case for herself as the +1 athlete, and the fourth team member will come down to Skinner, McCallum, and DiCello. The fourth spot will likely go to the person who ends up in fourth place, but if they want to make a case for highest-scoring team and event final potential (as they should), I could see the someone like McCallum sneaking in with her floor score, or Skinner for vault.

Some afterthoughts:

  • This is probably the best NBC gymnastics broadcast I’ve ever seen. We saw a lot more routines than we usually do, and there was a good discussion about what Biles is going through as a survivor as well as (un)healthy coaching. Good effort there for a 13.766.

  • Profiles: Simone Biles (Time), Jordan Chiles (The New York Times), Sunisa Lee (Star Tribune), Emily Lee (AP News, and Deanna Hong), Grace McCallum (International Gymnast), Emma Malabuyo (The Dallas Morning News), MyKayla Skinner (KSL), and Kayla DiCello (The Washington Post) all got some love from the media this week, and USA Today highlighted World Champions Centre.

  • A new series following U.S. elites on the road to Tokyo is coming out on Peacock on the 27th, though hilariously most of the gymnasts in it are no longer in the running: it features Skinner, Morgan Hurd, Laurie Hernandez, S. Lee, and Konnor McClain.

  • The USA Gymnastics abuse scandal is in the limelight with Trials happening, which is a good thing: this competition should not happen without the public understanding what’s happening behind the scenes. News from this week:

    • USAG President Li Li Leung spoke to the press on media day, stating that she hopes a settlement will be reached with survivors this year and that USAG will exit bankruptcy. More on this from AP News.

    • After Leung’s interview concluded, Rachael Denhollander and Lynn Raisman both took to Twitter to ask the media to press USAG further on its claim to have cooperated with six investigations.

    • Before 2015, USAG employees were explicitly told not to forward sexual abuse complaints to the authorities, parents, or gyms, according to The OC Register.

Team China

Team China held an Olympic trial on June 18th, with Zhang Jin placing first in the all-around with a 56.399, Tang Xijing in second with a 56.365, and Lu Yufei in third with a 56.332. Ou Yushan won beam with a 15.633:

… and vault with a 14.333. Li Shijia sadly could not compete due to injury, and her status is unclear.

At this point it looks like Zhang, Tang, and Lu are probably in, along with possibly Ou, but a lot depends on Li’s status, and there are so many great options for this team. The final trial will be held on July 2nd. Results at The Gymternet, along with a great in-depth analysis of the team makeup.

Gymnastics news

  • Olympic team updates: 

    • The second Dutch trial is happening on Saturday. 

    • Belgium’s team will be named after the FIT Challenge on June 26-27 (follow the competition here). Nina Derwael is set to compete, but according to WoGymnastika, she won’t be doing her nabieva half.

    • Five of Spain’s best gymnasts are at the FIT as well (Roxana Popa, Laura Bechdejú, Emma Fernandez, Marina Gonzalez, and Alba Petisco), and that team will be named following the competition. 

    • Same with Italy, who sent Giorgia Villa, Alice D’Amato, Chiara Vincenzi, Veronica Mandriota, and Irene Lanza to compete at the FIT while their compatriots are at the Doha Apparatus World Cup.

  • The Doha World Cup is ongoing. Only 14 women are competing, but it’s an impressive field, including Oksana Chusovitina, who won the vault title with a 14.066, and Rebeca Andrade, who won bars gold with a 14.500. Notably, we saw Lorrane Oliveira do her new floor skill, which will hereafter be known as the Oliveira:

    Beam and floor finals happen on Saturday, and that’s when we’ll find out whether Lara Mori or Vanessa Ferrari — who qualified in first on floor — will earn the individual Olympic spot. After this competition ends, the Olympic spots will be allocated and the qualification process will be over, thank GOD.

  • Martina Dominici has been suspended on doping charges after testing positive for … somethingat Pan Ams, according to The All-Around. It’s unclear whether this means she will not be able to compete at the Olympics next month.

  • Junior Pan American Championships happened last week, and U.S. junior Katelyn Jong continued to dominate there, earning 54.100 in the all-around to top the podium, winning vault and bars gold and beam silver, and helping her team to a gold medal in the final.

  • Emma Spence came forward about her struggle with an eating disorder, Brooklyn Moorstold the Cambridge Times that she’s been held back by a back injury, and Oksana Chusovitina was featured on the FIG site.

  • Some fun upgrades this week: Danusia Francis did a jam handstand, Tisha Volleman did an arabian beam mount, and Larisa Iordache is working on a fabrichnova.

Tweet of the week

Five at the IX: Kara Eaker & Leanne Wong

Kara Eaker and Leanne Wong kindly spoke to the media after day one of competition. Edited for clarity and length.

Kara Eaker

What do you think of your performance tonight?
There were definitely some things that could have been better, but for an overall day one, I was pretty pleased with what I did tonight. I’m just looking forward to perfecting during tomorrow’s practice and getting back in there for day two.

Did you take out your ring on floor, and have you looked at how close the scores are between you and MyKayla and Grace?
I didn’t take out the switch ring; it’s in there, I just switched it around. And I really haven’t paid attention to the scoring all that much during competition; I’m kind of just in the zone, but I definitely will be looking at it later on.

How do you feel about your all-around performance today?
I felt pretty good about all of my events this evening, just looking at perfecting it and having a better performance for day two.

Was today everything you expected it would be?
It definitely was, and more. The smoke, and the walkout, and everything, it was just a lot bigger than what championships normally is, and it was so much fun.

Did you have any messages for yourself before beam tonight?
I definitely was telling myself to focus on what I could do, because I can’t control anything outside of what my job is, so it was just more like a reminder of one skill at a time, just the technical kind of things.

What will you focus on adjusting for day two?
Definitely working on the bigger mistakes that I had tonight and just trying to eliminate those altogether.

How proud of yourself are you to be on such a big stage for your first time at trials?
It’s already such a great achievement to be here at this competition at all, because we are the top 18 athletes competing tonight, and it’s just such an honor to be competing with these girls.

Leanne Wong

How did your night go and what do you hope to improve tomorrow?
I definitely had some mistakes and I’m just trying to put that behind me and just focus on the next day, and just hitting four events.

What do you tell yourself now to reset, and how do you keep your mentality strong?
Whatever happens in the past, I can’t really change that anymore, but all I can do is just change what I can do in the next day, so I’m just going to use tomorrow to improve as much as I can to build up my confidence again for Sunday.

What does it mean to you to have your family and friends here and be local?
It’s just great to have my teammates and my family here to support us and whatever our performance is, and I know they’re rooting for us to do well.

Did it feel good to hit floor after falling on beam?
Yeah. I was just really disappointed after beam, and I just really wanted to perform well. So it was just really important to me to stay focused and do my best on floor.

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