Can you climb to the top of the podium in one year? Romania sure thinks that you can. And you can bet, that just like every other Olympics, Romania will come out and kill it with consistency in 2012- hitting every beam routine, nailing every landing and doing it all with beauty and grace. I have said it before and I will say it again- you can never, ever count Romania out in an Olympic year. Or as Stoi! so eloquently said “Octavian Belu can never be ruled out in an Olympic year, never. There is only one certainty in gymnastics: he is cannier than you.”
Back in May, I wrote a post talking about how far the Romanians had come since bringing back their coach Belu in 2010. I thought that it looked very, very likely that they would challenge for silver. Now, just two months later, it seems possible that they can challenge for gold.
This weekend at a Romanian friendly meet, four gymnasts debuted their new floor routines. Ahh, a feast for the gymnastics aficionado that has seen every routing countless times. Four new routines at once! Three of these routines brought in scores over 15.
But what was really impressive was their killer beam rotation.
Catalina Ponor 15.7
Larisa Iordache 15.95
All total, they scored a team total of 180.2. This is almost EIGHT POINTS higher than they scored last year at worlds. A World Championships where they did not even win a single medal. In the world of gymnastics that is counted in tenths, increasing by eight points in one year is nothing short of phenomenal. What’s more, is that this beats the team winning score put up by the USA by eight tenths.
And the team gold isn’t all they are hoping for. Last year at Worlds, their highest event finals placing was 5th on beam. This year, they could seriously challenge for an event finals medal on vault (Sandra Isbaza has scored the 4th highest score of those who will be competing), beam (Catalina Ponor and Larisa Iordache are currently first and second) and floor (Ponor and Iordache are currently fourth and fifth). In addition, Iordache is has the fourth highest all around score posted of those that will be competing.
This year, the USA will be adding another amanar to their arsenal, as well as two upgraded bars scores, an upgraded beam score and two upgraded floor scores from last year’s Worlds. Difficulty wise, they will still come in as the favorites. However, Iordache is rumored to be adding in her amanar by the Olympics as well. Romania is definitely putting on the pressure.
Without a doubt, if the USA or Russia makes a mistake, Romania will be right there. They will be consistent, error free, and waiting to pounce. If you give them an inch, they will take a mile. Romania has broadcast loud and clear. Don’t count us out.
There is one thing you can be sure of. This year, the US Olympic Trials are sure to be as exciting as the Olympics themselves in gymnastics. There is currently so much gymnastics talent in the USA, that the battle to get on the team is more difficult than the battle to win a team medal. What follows below is the basics for what is at stake at the trials, how the teams will be chosen, how the scoring system works and who the athletes are. If you are looking for a general what to look for in terms of athlete potential, check out my blog tomorrow: What to Look for at the 2012 Olympic Trials. Happy Watching!
TELEVISION BROADCASTS: (Times are EASTERN*. Check local listings.)
Thursday, June 28
5:30 – 8:00 p.m. – NBC Sports (Formally Versus)
Men’s Competition Day 1
Friday, June 29
9:00 – 11:00 p.m. – NBC
Women’s Competition Day 1 – Live Streaming
Saturday, June 30
4:00 – 6:00 p.m. – NBC
Men’s Competition Final Day – Live Streaming
Sunday, July 1
9:00 – 11:00 p.m. – NBC
Women’s Competition Final Day – Live Streaming
Live streaming will be available on NBCOlympics.com with a cable, satellite or telco TV subscription that includes MSNBC and CNBC. Lise streaming will NOT be available outside of the U.S.
*Television coverage of the women’s competitions on June 29 and July 1 will be tape delayed in the Pacific and Mountain time zones but available live nationwide online.
Starting tomorrow, 15 female and 15 male gymnasts will begin two days each of competition. At the end of the Women’s Finals on Sunday, five men and five women will be named to the 2012 US Olympic Teams. Up to three alternates will be named to each team as well. Ten gymnasts will achieve their ultimate dreams. Twenty will walk away, trying their best to hide their heartbreak and disappointment.
The teams will be chosen based first and foremost on the best combination for winning Olympic team gold. In addition, Team USA wants to send gymnasts with potential for Olympic All Around wins and then Event Final champions. There has been a lot of speculation as to how the announcement will be made. USA gymnastics has said that the athletes will be told prior to being announced to the crowd at the HP Pavilion and on NBC.
I’m still confused by the scoring system!
Many people are. Here’s how it works.
First you have the D Score– D is for difficulty. The judges add up the value of the elements done in the routine. This includes basic requirements, the value of the skills in their routine and bonus points for connecting skills together. The D scores tend to be between 5.5 and 6.5 (ish) at the Olympic level, higher on some of the men’s events. Of course you have some lower and some higher.
Then there’s the E score– E is for execution. This is like the perfect 10 of old. You start at a 10 and are deducted for mistakes. These deductions are larger than they used to be, so this is why these scores are much lower than they used to be. A routine that looks near perfect to the average viewer will typically score around a 9.1. There is a pattern that these scores get higher in an Olympic year and some are speculating this will raise to about a 9.4. Needless to say, they are lower than you’re used to.
Then you add the two together and get your final score.
Another note on scoring. The last olympic cycle, gymnasts counted 10 elements in each routine (apart from vault) to make up their D score. Now they only count eight. This means that scores this Olympic quadrennium are LOWER than the last. This has confused many people, leading them to wonder if our gymnasts are worse this year than before the last Olympics. This is DEFINITELY not the case. We have the deepest American team ever assembled on the men’s and women’s side.
Here are all the women who have qualified for the Olympic Trials. If you are curious to know more about any of them and their chances, check out my Who’s Who in 2012 series. (Photos from USA Gymnastics)
In 2009 Rebecca Bross burst onto the senior gymnastics scene after missing her opportunity to go to the Olympics due to her birthdate. Bross is Boss was a common slogan back then. She was a fierce competitor who attacked every apparatus with incredible difficulty, amplitude and her steely glare. She lost the World All Around title to Bridget Sloan on her last flip on her last event with a surprising fall on floor.
In 2010 Rebecca dominated where ever she went. She won the American Cup and then the Pacific Rim Championships. She went on to win the 2010 National Championships by 3.3 points. Not quite the margin of Jordyn Wieber in 2011, but you get the picture. She crushed the competition. Then came Worlds.
You know how we have all talked about the incredible feat of Chellsie Memmel competing bars with a broken foot in 2008? Well, Rebecca had been battling pain in her foot/shin leading up to Worlds. Sometime during Worlds, it turned into a hairline fracture in her ankle. She competed four routines in prelims, four in team finals, four in all around finals and two in event finals, not to mention training with a broken foot. After qualifying into the all arounds in first, she fell on beam and seemed to have lost any chance at a medal. She went out on floor, the downfall of her previous World Title. She did the routine of her life and brought the highest scoring floor routine of the entire competition to pull herself back on to the podium with a bronze. It was legendary, especially later knowing she did all of that on a broken ankle.
Rebecca had surgery on her ankle and was out of competition until 2011 Nationals. At this competition, Rebecca didn’t look like herself. The confidence and drive she had before seemed to be missing. She had three falls throughout the weekend and ended up dislocating her kneecap in a heart wrenching bad vault landing. This took her out for the rest of the season.
Rebecca has spent this season fighting her way back, trying to prove that Bross is Still Boss. She continues to show fierce determination but just can’t quite master the events she goes after so aggressively. Her particular achilles heel is her beam dismount. Even up to last year’s Visa National Championships, it was almost unfathomable to imagine that Rebecca Bross would not make the 2012 Olympic Team. But that may just be the case.
Rebecca will need to beat out all the other bars specialists and overcome her beam dismount to make the team. She has continued to improve her bars and shows her high flying releases and sharp, right on top pirouettes. She continues to do a world class difficulty beam routine. Two Patterson dismounts could be what’s between her and London.
Continuing on with our Bars/Beam specialists, we have our bars star from 2008. For even the most casual gymnastics fan, Nastia Liukin needs no introduction. After all, she is the reigning Olympic All-Around Champion. Nastia has some of the most lovely balletic lines of any American gymnast in recent times. Her beautiful lines on all events combined with her incredible difficulty on beam and bars and her perfectionistic competitive spirit led to her all around gold in 2008.
Liukin announced her official comeback bid for the 2012 Olympic team at the World Championships in 2011. From that time until the US Secret Classics in May, fans anxiously awaited any word of her progress. At that competition, she showed a very respectable beam routine and podium training on bars that brought hope of things to come.
Then came Nationals. Nastia showed some great portions of bars routines during training, but had quite a lot of spotting and never put together a full routine. When she went to compete, she just didn’t have the endurance to do a full bars routine. With the ok of Marta Karolyi, she planned to not do a dismount on either day and brought in two very low scores. The first day of Nationals, she did an improved beam routine from Classics and tied for 3rd. However, on the second day, she put her hand down on the beam and was much further down the results list.
Liukin is a fan favorite (with many) and brings prestige, artistry and experience to the US team. There is something to be said when you have the reigning All Around champion on the floor. Watching her even on beam and bars is like going to the ballet – effortless, exquisite and mesmerizing. It is hard to realize just how difficult the skills she is doing are. She has the potential to be an incredible assest to the US team.
Liukin will have a lot to prove at the Olympic Trials. She will be trying to win the spot of a bars/beam specialist. Currently her top competition seems to be Kyla Ross who has averaged a 15.32 on bars with a high score of 15.5 and a 15.06 on beam with a high score of a 15.5. There is rumor of Martha wanting Nastia to show a 16.0 bars routine. But honestly, if she is able to beat Kyla’s average and high score (and the other bars/beam specialists), I think she has a good chance of going. After all, we know that with more time, Nastia can do more. For the others, they are probably at their peak for this year.
Here’s hoping that no matter what happens, Nastia continues to bring us the beautiful combination of athleticism and grace she has always shown.
Nastia Liukin’s return to elite level gymnastics has been met with great fanfare and great skepticism. From some of the media, she has been the focal point. Celebrated as a name that is familiar and known. From many others, it has been met with much cynicism and skepticism. Many fans felt that she put off her decision too long, and that thinking she could return so quickly was arrogant and disrespectful to the gymnasts who had put in the time and should now be the ones getting the attention. Others felt that she really was not serious about her return and was just doing it for the added publicity. In all honesty, I am a bit befuddled by the negative response she has gotten. Let me go back a bit (beware, I am stepping up on to my soap box).
In 2008, Nastia tied (unofficially, officially she got second through a complicated tie -breaker system that has since been done away with) as the Olympic bars champion. Even with Nastia’s incredibly high scoring bar routine, China beat the US by 1.65 on bars. In 2010, the USA lost on bars to China by .3, even though China had a fall and the USA went clean.
In 2011, the US went in to team finals having lost most of their strong bar workers. Rebecca Bross, Mackenzie Caquatto, and Anna Li were all injured at some point in the process getting to worlds. Bridget Sloan was injured earlier in the season. This took out everyone who had been up on bars in the previous season and led to them putting up Sabrina Vega, Gabby Douglas and Jordyn Wieber in the team finals. Jordyn Wieber, who most wish this year that she would not need to be one of the team finals bars scores, was our top bars score in 2011. Though we still won overall, even with only one of their strong bars workers, Russia beat us by .9 on bars. Though Gabby Douglas is our celebrated bars star right now, last year she either tied with Jordyn Wieber or was beat by her in all but Worlds qualifications. Gabby was scoring between 14.2-14.8. Did you notice those are 14s?!?
Am I the only one that remembers how many times we said, “Nastia, come back! We desperately need your bars” over those years? I remember a poignant moment at the last year’s Visa Championships where NBC showed Marta and Nastia (who was on the selection committee) talking seriously. Tim Daggett joked that Marta was begging Nastia, “Please come back and do bars for us!” Sure Nastia has come back for her own personal goals and glory. Of course she has. But after achieving the ultimate gymnastics goal, what more does she have to prove?
Nastia talks a lot about being afraid she would be sitting in the stands in London saying “What if.” But I wonder if she worries that the she would be sitting in the stands, wholly invested in Team USA’s results in her role on the USA selection committee, wondering “What if I would have helped out on bars and we would have won gold?” After all, in 2011 we knew that Russia had two stars sitting at home that could drastically change the outcome of our 2011 win.
Now it’s 2012. Gabby Douglas has increased her bars score by almost a point. Kyla Ross has come onto the scene and increased her bars start value by .6 over the previous year. Rebecca Bross and Bridget Sloan are back. And though we still don’t have an incredible bars line up, it looks like we have some good possibilites. But we still don’t have anyone, including Gabby, that can likely challenge the Russians on bars. So after years of hoping that Nastia would come back and give us a world class bars routine, instead of hope and excitement over what she might bring, she has been met with a good deal of scorn and skepticism.
Will Nastia be able to return to her former bars glory? I don’t know. But I think that the fact that she is willing to try, both for herself AND for the USA, is commendable. Something we should cheer on. How many of us would really be willing to give up a life of glamour and fame to train 7 hours a day? For more money, more publicity? She had plenty of both. And according to Nastia not her. “There’s no amount of money, no sponsors or media attention that would make me want to train seven hours a day,” she said in an interview back in May. (Contra Costa Times, May 25)
Speaking of fame and money, how do we tend to remember gymnasts who end their career on a failed comeback? How do we remember those that end on their highest achievement? Take Carly Patterson. We remember her smiling face as Evgeny Marchenko hoisted her up as the AA Olympic Champion. But what about Shannon Miller, Dominique Moceanu, Tasha Schwiechert? Sure, with all the incredible gymnastics they performed and their moments of glory. But also with a slight twinge of sadness and regret at their unsuccessful comeback attempts.
Without a doubt, the best way to go out is on top. If what Nastia really cares about is fame and glory, then she should NOT try to make a comeback. She should bask in the glory of this Olympic year as the reigning champion. Do tons of interviews as the athlete representative. Spend all her time traveling from media event to media event, gushing with advice and well wishes. She will never again be the reigning all around Olympic champion. THIS is the time to take advantage of the once every four years gymnastics fervor. Instead, Nastia has chosen to limit her media opportunities and to spend most of every day in the gym.
Will she make it? I don’t know. I hope so. How I long to see her beautiful lines and graceful bars and beam at the Olympics. How I want her to redeem that ridiculous tie breaker and win the gold medal she deserves on bars. But not matter the outcome, I stand with incredible respect for the comeback attempt Nastia has made.
And who knows, she just might do it. Nastia is an enormously talented gymnast. Though it may not be fair, talented gymnasts often just don’t need as much time to prepare. Valeri and Nastia Liukin have shown in the past that they understand how to prepare and how to peak. And that they absolutely do not like to be embarrassed by poor performances. I, for one, will not be surprised in the least if Nastia comes to Trials with a bar routine that proves she can be ready. Only time will tell. But even if she can’t pull it off, I tip my hat to Nastia and say THANK YOU for gracing us with your presence once again and for stepping in to try and help Team USA where we desperately need it.
And now it is time to take a look at our different bars specialists. First up, Anna Li. After an enormously successful NCAA career, Anna Li returned to elite gymnastics. She made the World Team in 2011, but after an abdominal injury became to painful, she was relegated to alternate. Her upbeat attitude and constant smiling support of the team as an alternate at the 2011 World Championships was as impressive as her incredible bars routines. At the 2012 Visa National Championships, Anna Li posted a difficulty of 6.7 and 6.9. This is by far the most difficult bar routine in the US. For comparison, Gabby Douglas posted a 6.5 and 6.6. She has recently blogged that she is working on her 7.1 routine. The only other gymnast posting that high of difficulty is China’s He Kexin (who may or may not be at the 2012 Olympics).
Anna Li also competes beam. But her difficulty scores are way too low to be used in a team finals situation. If Anna Li can upgrade her bars difficulty to a 7.1 AND improve her E score to be in the 8.9 range, she will make an incredibly strong case for herself as a bars specialist. This, along with another gymnast who can bring a high vault score and beam score might get her on the team.
Anna Li impresses me as a team leader, an incredibly sweet spirit and someone who can score the high bars scores we would need to keep a minimal gap with Russia on bars. She will need to bring her very best to Trials and compete two well-executed, high difficulty, hit routines.
Anna Li has also choreographed on of my very favorite floor routines with her mother. It is still to be seen if she will ever compete this routine again after a rough start at the US Secret Classics, but even the dance through was worth it. It gave me chills!
Through a fun twitter discussion, I realized that I have a formula for picking my Olympic team. It seems very obvious to me, but just in case Martha isn’t aware, I will spell it out.
The Big Three: Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman. Enough said.
The Bar Specialist: Replace Aly Raisman’s bar score. Kyla Ross is the most consistent. Then Rebecca Bross. Then Bridget Sloan. Anna Li currently has the most potential for the highest score. Then there is the wildcard Nastia Liukin. Basically, it will depend on who performs best for podium training and the two days of trials. Right now, Ross has proven herself. Everyone else will have to prove that they can consistently score higher (or much higher) than Ross
The Fifth Spot: If you choose Sloan, Li, or Ross, you need a beamer. This means Finnegan or ASac. If you choose Ross or Liukin then you just need the person who adds the most tenths to ANY area. Maroney on vault. Anna Li on bars. ASac on vault and beam. Finnegan on beam and floor. In that order. Also weighing in is Douglas’ consistency on floor and beam, and if we will need a score to replace hers. Or maybe a second bars specialist to replace Wieber. It will all come down to the math -averages and highs.
Now that we are all blue in the face with proclaiming our teams, the Olympic Trials need to arrive already so we can sanely go back to our normal lives. But really, who wants to?
American gymnasts are often accused of lacking artistry. But such is not the case of the sublime Sarah Finnegan. Finnegan commands the floor as if it was her stage. She is mesmerizing from her triple wolf turn, through her exquisite front tumbling to her dazzling finish.
Finnegan has top difficulty on floor and beam. She can compete this difficulty with incredible form, beautiful artistry and attention to detail. Others have done the triple wolf turn on beam and floor, but no one makes it look like she does. Finnegan is a true joy to watch.
Finnegan has had flashes of brilliance on both floor and beam this year. She has the highest start value of any senior on beam in the world! She has a .4 advantage over the next highest Americans. On floor, she has the second highest start value of all the other Americans and the third highest in the world. But right now she hasn’t been consistent enough on either floor or beam to put her up in team finals over other gymnasts. Her highest floor score is .1 lower than Gabby’s highest floor score, and her average score is just below Gabby’s. On beam she has basically the same average as Kayla but Kayla has put up a higher score. Right now she just doesn’t bring the advantage over other gymnasts competing with her for that 5th spot on the team.
However, I think she COULD! She has perfect form and execution. If she goes out and really hits two beam routines and two floor routines without wobbles and bobbles and steps, she has the difficulty to bring in very high scores. In addition to that, she has the beautiful lines and artistry that international judges love. If Sarah could add .7-.8 to her combined floor/beam scores from Visa’s by sticking her landings and going wobble free on beam, she could really make a case for herself. Or if Gabrielle Douglas does not show consistency on floor at Trials, or our bars/beam specialist ends up being a bars specialist only (like Anna Li) someone like Sarah becomes much more valuable to the team score. She will have to bring her best!
Here is a great montage of her. One of my favorites! by 13Shifter
Which do you like better, Sarah’s floor or beam? What do you think about her chances of making the team?
In a previous post I wrote about who I would take as my team based on what I saw at the Visa National Championships and where people currently are at. That team was Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney. The first three are widely considered locks while the last two spots are definitely up for grabs. Now it is time to dream a little bit and ponder different possibilities and scenarios.
Martha has made no bones that she is looking for at least one if not two more high bar scores. Kyla Ross is the most consistent second score (after Gabby). But Bridget Sloan is right behind her (in terms of averages) and Anna Li is ahead of her in terms of high scores. Anna Li has blogged that she is working on a 7.1 bars routine. If Li can come in and show hit 7.1 routines in podium training and two days of Trials, she could take the bars specialist spot. Though Bross is doing really well on bars, she has yet to beat Ross in terms of average or high score. She would have to up her game to be considered. And then there is Nastia Liukin, the wild card. Say what we will about Nastia, we have had few people with the bars talent Liukin possesses in the many years of American gymnastics. If Liukin can bring it, no one, not even Douglas can beat her. If she can do it, she has a definite chance. But she has a lot of improving to do in three weeks to show that potential.
I have made no bones about it. My absolute favorite gymnast is Alicia Sacramone. I can’t say enough how much she inspires me and how I admire her candid and authentic approach to gymnastics and life. In all honesty, I WANT her on that team. I know our girls are seasoned veterans, but there is a difference between worlds and the Olympics. I want Alicia to help guide this team and I want her to have the redemption she has been working for these past few years.
There are a few scenarios where I can see Sacramone make the team. One is if our bars/beam specialist ends up being a bars specialist only. For instance, If Anna Li can come and bring +.7 on bars, then putting in Alicia and Anna Li on over Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney might make sense. Li on bars could theoretically add the same advantage as Maroney on vault. Then Sacramone could add an additional advantage on beam AND vault (if she vaults like she used to, potentially another .4 over Aly on vault and consistency and anywhere between 2.0 and .1 over Gabby on beam). Another scenario is if Sacramone shows up with an upgraded vault and/or a solid floor routine. If Sacramone can bring the highest valued vault in America and do it well, she could win out over Maroney. Or if Sacramone can bring a team finals floor routine AND a 15.8 vault she could take that spot as well.
Now let’s talk Sarah Finnegan. After the Secret Classics, I really thought Finnegan had a legitimate chance. Hello 15.2 on floor! Up until Visa’s, the highest Douglas had brought in on floor was a 14.85. So the +3.5 on floor and the potential on beam made Finnegan a definite contender. Sarah’s first night beam score of 15.35 was the second highest of the Visa National Championships. However, Finnegan was not consistent on beam or floor at Nationals. Finnegan will need two things to happen. She will need to go out and do the two beam and two floor routines of her life. And she will need Douglas and Maroney to show that they are not able to bring in a high floor score.
The only other person I see sneaking onto the team is Elizabeth Price. I think that both Maroney and Sacramone would have to fall short for Price to take their place. Though Price has more events to offer in the case of an injury, in the end, others have stronger ones.
There are others in the mix, but I just don’t think any of them bring a high enough specialist routine OR a high enough all around to challenge for the remaining spots. So here are the teams I think could happen.
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Anna Li, Alicia Sacramone
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Nastia Liukin, McKayla Maroney
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Rebecca Bross, Alicia Sacramone
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, Alicia Sacramone
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, top two bars specialists (Li, Liukin, Ross, Bross)
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross/Anna Li/Nastia Liukin/Rebecca Bross, Sarah Finnegan.
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, Elizabeth Price/Alicia Sacramone
And who is the team I really want to send?
Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Alicia Sacramone, Nastia Liukin.
Every gymnast who goes up against her feels the heat of Wieber Fever. Jordyn Wieber is the IT girl going into the Olympics. She is the current All Around World Champion. More impressively, she has won almost every competition she has competed in since her senior debut last year. The glaring exception was the Olympic Trials. Jordyn doesn’t always compete perfectly and doesn’t always have the top difficulty of everyone she is competing against. But her fierce competitive spirit and determined focus always seem to pull her through for the win.
Jordyn is the ultimate combination for a gymnast. She is incredibly strong and fast, launching herself into the air on every event as she turns and twists and flips. She is also fairly flexible for a power gymnast and generally hits all her leaps and jumps. She is fiercely determined. She has incredible focus and work ethic. She is confident, positive and not afraid to to win. One of my favorite attributes is her musicality and performance qualities on floor. If Jordyn stays healthy, she is one of the favorites to win the All Around in London.