Current Considerations for Choosing the Olympic Team


May is almost over and it is time for everyone to do another round of who would I choose for the Olympic team at this juncture. Here are my current thoughts – my team choice (s) is at the end.

Our Amanar Club isn’t as consistent as we would hope.

My stock for McKayla Maroney or Alicia Sacramone making the team has gone up. Though we do have many other girls that can do Amanars, they don’t yet look solid. The scoring differences between Maroney and the others at this point are much greater than I was thinking. Aly Raisman has competed the Amanar 3 times and was awarded a 16.1,15.5 and 15.6; Kyla Ross received 14.85 , 15.5 and 15.3 on her vaults and Gabby Douglas received a 15.8 at the American Cup but has not managed to compete it since. Apart from Raisman’s 16.1, these scores are a far cry from Maroney’s CONSISTENT 16+ score. Though we keep saying that we “Have plenty of Amanars, we don’t need a vaulting specialist,” that .5 advantage or more is a big deal. A much bigger deal than I had been letting myself remember. Maroney’s spot is definitely looking better. And depending on how everyone else’s beam shapes up, so does Sacramone’s.

We are looking better on bars than I ever would have believed to be possible.

Gabby Douglas’ bars have basically made her a lock for the team. Even a definite possibility for a medal. Sure, everyone is hoping she will be a great all-arounder as well, but even if she is not, Douglas can make the team easily as the top bars specialist. Ross continues to put in some great routines as well. Nastia Liukin showed that she has the mental game of competing well under control (which most people say is harder to regain than the physical) and shows promise of a great bar routine to come. Anna Li and others also show definite potential. This hardly adds up to a killer bars rotation, but it definitely doesn’t look as bleak as it did this time last year for the USA on bars.

Beam might be a deciding factor between many bubble gymnasts.

Ahhh, the ever formidable event. We know we have two solid beam workers in Wieber and Raisman. As we are still waiting to see what Liukin, Sacramone and Johnson might really bring to the table on beam, who might fill the third spot is definitely a mystery. Ross and Douglas have shown beautiful routines before but haven’t been totally consistent up to this point on beam. In fact, Douglas still has a ways to go to prove that she could handle the pressure of team finals on beam. Sarah Finnegan has an incredibly beautiful and difficult routine as well but has yet to compete it without a lot of wobbles. I think that in the end when deciding between two bars specialists or vaulters, beam will definitely be a deciding factor.

Oh yeah, What about Floor?

Wieber, Raisman, Bross, Sacramone, Memmel, Liukin, Johnson, have all been incredible on floor in the past. Surely between them all we will have many floor routines to choose between. But wait! Only two of those routines – Wieber and Raisman- are for sure now, and Johnson looks like a slim possibility. Bross, Sacramone and Liukin have all stopped training floor and Memmel is no longer in the running for the team (Oh the travesty of that sentence!).  All of a sudden, we need some great floor routines. This reality has greatly strengthened our need for Raisman and all but locked her on the team in my mind (which has never been the case for me before). It also greatly strengthens Sarah Finnegan’s chances of possibly beating a third bars specialist or a vault specialist on to the team. As I see it right now, we absolutely have to have Raisman’s score on floor. In addition, the hit we would take on floor putting in someone like Ross or even Douglas/Maroney instead of Finnegan on floor is greater than the hit we would take putting on a third bars specialist over Wieber.

So what does all this add up to you might ask? Here is how I see our team choice(s) shaping up.

Here is my most likely team:

Jordyn Wieber: V/BB/FX/UB
Aly Raisman: V/BB/FX (UB in prelims)
Gabby Douglas: UB (V/BB/FX in prelims)
McKayla Maroney: V/FX
Ross/Bross/Liukin: BB/UB

I was actually surprise that this team pick hasn’t changed since last month, though my reasoning is different. This team still leaves us a bit vulnerable on FX but gives us huge advantage on vault, a decent score on bars and a great score/great consistency on beam. The only way to shore up our floor score at this point is to sub Finnegan for Maroney. I only think that would be wise if Ross is our BB/UB specialist and she is showing a consistent Amanar, if Douglas is showing a consistent Amanar, or if Finnegan herself is showing a consisten Amanar.

As we saw with Chellsie Memmel, the first of many heartbreaks and many controversies has just begun. The next few months will be full of more. But they will also be full of incredible gymnastics, and the answers we have all been waiting for.

Lingering Impressions from Secret Classics


After so many months of waiting and wondering, the first of the big three meets to determine our 2012 Olympic team has come and gone. After marinating for a few days, here are my lingering impressions from the 2012 Secret Classics.

Some things are like riding a bike. Once you learn, you never forget (even if you are a little rusty.) 

Such was the case with Nastia Liukin. She was nervous during podium training and looked unsure before she mounted the podium for the beam. I thought, “Sigh, this is gonna be rough.” But the green flag went up and you SAW the change. She transformed in that moment. Nastia prepared to mount the beam with a look in her eyes that said “This, I know how to do.” It was a gymnastics moment I won’t soon forget. She went on to compete a solid, respectable beam routine. Oh, one that just happened to tie as the third highest score. Yes, I continue to have faith in her comeback.

Aly just keeps getting back on each event, each performance with the same consistency. She has learned how to hit. And she just keeps hitting.

Gymnasts CAN have floor routines that give me chills.

I LOVED Anna Li’s dance through. It literally gave me chills. No matter where this venture takes her, I will always be grateful that she gave us that beautiful floor routine. And Sarah Finnegan. WOW. The girl is more breathtaking on floor every time she goes out there. I love her routine and love that she can get in so much difficulty with only three passes. Pass on the boring double back, thank you very much. These two moments were such highlights for me.

Things that have become commonplace that should continue to wow me.

Maroney on vault. Wieber on beam. Douglas on bars. Raisman on beam and floor. These are spectacular performances that should draw praise again and again. But we have become so used to them they often go unmentioned. They were as beautiful to watch as ever. Once again, I am grateful to be in a time where the USA has amazing depth and so very many talented gymnasts.

What I am “Secretly” Looking Forward To


I wonder how many play on words we can use around the Secret U.S. Classics? Corny puns aside, I cannot wait for the competition to begin. Here are some stories to watch and what I am looking forward to.

Debuts

Anna Li will be debuting two new events and competing in the all around. Nastia Liukin will be competing for the first time in three years and will be debuting her beam. Jordyn Wieber will be debuting another upgrade, this time on bars. We will see many gymnasts compete for the first time this year, including Sabrina Vega, Chellsie Memmel and McKenzie Wofford.

Proving Consistency

Gabby Douglas is out to show that she is a serious all around contender for London. She is out to show that her performance at the American Cup was not a fluke and that she can be consistent and hit all four events. Rebecca Bross is out to prove that she can be counted on for bars and beam despite a shaky start at Jesolo. Sarah Finnegan will be out to show that she can seriously contribute on floor and beam. And McKayla Maroney wants to make her contribution on vault hard to ignore with her practically Olympic gold medal lock vaulting.

My Highlights

I very much want Gabby to go out and prove herself! I can’t wait to see Sarah Finnegan’s floor and beam and am hoping that she will have all of her upgrades. I desperately want Rebecca Bross to show who she is on beam and bars and am looking forward to the fierceness of Chellsie Memmel.Regardless of where it takes her, I can’t wait to see Nastia on beam again. And I am really hoping for a good all around battle between Douglas, Raisman, Ross, Li, Memmel, Finnegan and Maroney.

Don’t miss it on Universal Sports or livestreamed on universalsports.com at 5:00 pm!

 

 

Rumors and Previews of the Secret U.S. Classic


There is nothing secret about the Secret US Classic (so named for it’s sponsor). Plenty of bloggers are on site, Gym Examiner is giving live updates, USA Gymnastics and Gymnastike are posting podium training videos and the seniors will be live-streamed and broadcast on Universal Sports. It’s enough to make a gymnastics fan do cartwheels of joy! As we gear up for the competition tomorrow, here are the rumors and things we can expect from the U.S. Secret Classic.

All Around Competitors

After so many gymnasts announcing that they would just be doing a few events, I began to despair about the all around for this meet. But it is looking like it might e a great competition after all. In fact, it might give us a preview of that coveted second all around spot for the Olympic team. Gabby Douglas is apparently doing the all around after all according to an article in the Des Moines Register. Aly Raisman will be competing all around, as will Kyla Ross and Anna Li. Chellsie Memmel still has to qualify to nationals so she will be competing all-around as well. Many others may join in the fray, but we will have to wait and see. Either way, it should be be a great competition!

Upgrades

According to camp videos and podium training videos, we have upgrades galore – and not surprisingly most of them are on bars. Anna Li, Brandie Jay, McKenzie Wofford and Wieber all have upgrades on bars from the last time we have seen them. Sabrina Vega has upgrades on beam, McKayla Maroney has upgraded her second vault and has minor upgrades other places.

Beautiful  Routines

Despite a US reputation, we might be in for a real treat on floor. Sarah Finnegan is absolutely delightful to watch on floor – her poise and style are light, elegant and refreshing to see. Anna Li will be debuting her new routine as well. Is it a floor routine or a heart pulling, dramatic and breathtaking dance piece? I am not sure! It is incredible though and a treat to watch. And of course we will be treated to the beautiful lines of Nastia Liukin as she returns to competition on beam and Kyla Ross.

We will finally see a few more pieces toward completing the puzzle of our US Olympic team. It should be a great weekend!

The Landscape is Changing


As we get closer to the US Secret Classic and the beginning of the US based qualification competitions, announcements are being made, training videos are being released and speculations are running rampant. It has been a month full of media and interviews and training. And the landscape is changing.

Travis Wall and Nastia Liukin training floor

Alicia Sacramone, Rebecca Bross and Nastia Liukin have all announced that they will each be focusing on two events (Sacromone vault and beam and Bross and Liukin bars and beam). Many gymnastics fans were saddened that they will not see Sacramone’s floor routine competed on a world stage or Liukin’s  floor routine, choreographed by the famous SYTYCD choreographer Travis Wall, competed at all. The WOGA three-peat (Carly Patterson in 2004, Liukin in 2008 and Bross in 2012 Olympic All Around Titles) has been talked about for so many years. For many fans, it is sad to see that dream die and Bross removed from the all around. However, Bross looks great on bars and it seems Sacromone’s vault is quickly getting up to speed.

At the same time many gymnasts are focusing their events, others are upgrading everywhere they can. McKayla Maroney is upgrading her second vault to a Mustafina. Jordyn Wieber is upgrading one of her tumbling passes to a fabulous double layout. Anna Li, Elizabeth Price and McKenzie Wofford are all showing upgrades on their bar routines. Wieber has also hinted on a possible upgrade on bars and Sarah Finnegan is rumored to have some floor upgrades as well as a possible amanar.

A training video of Chelsie Memmel on beam was released and though she seems to be following her usual MO (little press and not going to camp) it sounds like she is ready to compete. Liukin will only compete on beam at Classics as her endurance on bars is not quite there yet. This casts some light on whether or not she will be ready by Nationals to show her all important bars routine, but doesn’t count her out yet. Shawn Johnson will not be competing at Classics at all, and though she sounds confident in her plan to compete at Nationals and the Olympic Trials, her coach has cast some doubt on her readiness.

Many gymnasts will only be competing a few events at the US Secret Classics, putting us all off a few more weeks to see where everyone “really” is. With all the recent media coverage, speculations on Liukin, Johnson and Bross’s contributions are waning, while  pondering on the possible contributions of Sarah Finnegan, Kyla Ross and others increase. One of the most exciting US elite gymnastics seasons in history is heating up, and everyone is ready for it to begin.

Never, Ever Count Romania Out in an Olympic Year


Romanian coach Octavian Bellu hugs Larisa Iordache and Diana Bulimar. Credit: Grace Chiu/Graceclick.ca for Examiner.com

In the 2000 Olympics, Russia came in with a dominant team. They were expected to take home the  gold. In 2004 Olympics the USA came into the Olympics as the gold medal favorites. In both Olympics, Romania took home the gold. As the more dominant teams around them faltered here and there, Romania “killed it with consistency,” taking home the Olympic team gold over teams with more difficulty and loftier expectations.

After 2004, both the Romanian and Russian gymnastics programs declined, due to the loss of their longtime coaches. Instead of battling for gold, in 2008 they were battling for the bronze. Once again, Russia was expected to take it. Once again, Romania went home with the bronze.

In 2010 Romania brought back former coaches from their glory days. Many people began to say, “Watch out for Romania in 2012. Give them time and they will be right back in the mix.” But in 2011, Romania left the World Championships without a single medal. It began to look doubtful that they could really make up enough ground for 2012.

If we have learned anything from the past however, we know that is never wise to doubt Romania in an Olympic year. Their stellar performance and win at the European Championships show them to be back in the mix. They competed in the way that only Romanians seem to have mastered: consistent, beautiful and out to win. They still have a ways to go to challenge for the gold. But they are now on everyone’s radar to challenge for the silver. Sure, Russia has a lot more to give than they did at the European Championships. If Russia competes like we know they can, Romania has a lot of work to do to be in a position to beat them again. Sure, America is way ahead of them on difficulty and has hopefully learned to compete with a fierceness and consistency of their own. But as Russia learned in 2000 and 2008 and the USA learned in 2004, “Octavian Belu can never be ruled out in an Olympic year, never. There is only one certainty in gymnastics: he is cannier than you.” (Stoi!).

Romania Upsets Russia to Win 2012 European Team Championships


BRUSSELS, May 12, 2012 — Romania stood on the top of the podium, receiving a well deserved standing ovation as they were presented with team gold medals at the 2012 European Championship. For the first time in this quadrennium, Romania came through as a shining, dominant team. They started off with a substantial lead, and managed to hold off Russia’s charge to win the gold in an incredibly exciting team finals.

Romania came into the finals first, after a strong performance in qualifications. Russia had their worst showing in years with three falls on floor and weak performances on many other events. Could Romania put in another top performance? And even if they did, could they hold off Russia if Russia put up the type of competition we have come to expect from them?

The order was set for high drama. Russia was to start on beam and finish on their best event, bars. Russia started out of the gate with a fall on beam from Anastasia Sidorova. Anastasia Grishina was up next and came through with a strong routine. Viktoria Komova finished the rotation with a wobbly but stuck beam routine.

Romania started on vault with three solid double-twisting yurchenko vaults all scoring above a 15.0. Sandra Izbasa scored a 15.2, the highest vault score in the competition. Romania led after the first rotation while Russia was in fifth by almost 4 points.

Next stop, floor for Russia and bars for Romania. Bars are not just Romania’s weakest event, Romania is incredibly weak on bars. Russia is usually brilliant on floor, but in qualifications every one of their gymnasts fell. Russia got through floor without any falls. Aliya Mustafina put up a better routine than in qualifications, but it is still a long way from her former glory. Grishna was the stand out once again for Russia with a beautiful routine.

Romania got through bars as well. No falls, and a great routine from Larissa Lordache. Russia inched up about half a point on Romania and finished the second rotation in fourth while Romania continued their lead.

Romania moved on to the beam, an apparatus they have ruled for decades. Russia was on vault. Russia put up a respectable performance on vault with three double-twisting yurchenkos. However, only Mustafina put up a score above a 15.0.

Romania came through beam with a mixed performance. Diana Bulimar led off with a good routine, but Lordache came up short with a fall! I wasn’t sure it was possible for Romania to fall on beam in a team final. Even with a fall, Lordache’s routine was so magnificent that she basically equalled Russia’s highest beam score. Catalina Ponor anchored with a brilliant routine, scoring a 15.4. Russia had whittled away at Romania’s lead and was just over three points behind them, sitting in second.

It would seem that Romania should have had it all locked up going into the last rotation with over a three point lead. But Russia was on bars. Without a doubt, Russia currently rules the world with their top three bars routines. Romania was on floor, which is notoriously the lowest scoring event in women’s gymnastics. Russia knocked routine after routine out of the park, scoring a 15.3, 15.7 and 15.8.

Romania’s first routine by Bulimar was great and Ponor followed up with a solid routine as well. But their scores could not come even close to keeping up with Russia on bars. After having a commanding lead throughout the competition, it came down to the very last routine. The most retweeted tweet throughout the championship was a simple “Iordache needs 14.281 to give ROM the title…” from GymExaminer. Even through the computer, you could feel the tension!

Lordache put everything she had into it and it seemed like it would be enough. Everyone stood anxiously waiting for the score to be posted. Russia looked worried and a bit frustrated, Ponor and Izbasa held hands as they waited for the news.  Blythe Lawrence from the Gymnastics Examiner captured to moment best in her quick hits (which are fabulous, read them for a thorough experience of the championship).

“Really nice dance, putting everything she’s got into it. Double tuck, just a small movement — I think that does it for Romania! 15.033 — yes! Romania will beat Russia! ROM ends with 176.288, RUS 175.536 in a thriller!” – Blythe Lawrence

What an incredible moment for Romania. Italy and Great Britain battled it out for bronze. Great Britain placed second on bars and third on vault but counted two falls on beam to finish fourth. Italy took the bronze, finishing second on beam and floor and third on bars.

A week ago, it felt highly unlikely that Romania would beat Russia. But as it is said again and again in gymnastics. You can never, ever count Romania out. What a wonderful upset as we lead up to the Olympic games. Russia is far from out of the picture. They still have time to get things together before the Olympics. But then again, so does Romania. Maybe we will have a four way battle for the gold in London after all.