Who’s Who in 2012: The Flying Squirrel


Gabrielle Douglas (Gabby) is affectionately known as the flying squirrel. And the girl can FLY! Her bars are definitely the best in the US. She is exciting to watch on bars because instead of gaining difficulty with lots of pirouettes and other things we KNOW are really hard but don’t actually look that impressive, she does high flying release moves.

And it’s not just on bars! She flies high in her leaps, in her tumbling and on vault.

And the girl can be squirrely. (Urban Dictionary:  hyper or energized, goofy or playful; when a skate/snowboarder makes a sketchy landing). You never quite know what to expect. She is full of energy, her playful personality shines through her routines, and she may or may not hit her landings on everything but bars. She has incredible athletic talent on every event. If she is able to focus and keep on track, she is a strong contender for the All Around Gold. Even with a fall, Gabby only trailed Wieber by a few tenths. If she hits, she could take the gold.

Gabby is considered a lock for the Olympic team based on her bars. If she shows consistency at trials and in podium training, she has the difficulty to be used in team finals on any of the events. She is moving in that direction, showing a huge improvement in consistency and hitting routines at Visas (even with a fall, her other 7 routines were great).

Me and Natalie Hawkins (Gabby’s mom) in the stands.

Gabby is really beginning to feel comfortable in the spotlight and let her personality shine through. Instead of the standard interview, Gabby gives answers that really show who she is… and what she is thinking. She gave one of my all time favorite interviews after prelims to Gymnastike.

I ended up sitting behind her mom (who was delightful to chat with) in the stands at Visas on day two. When I mentioned loving the interview and how much Gabby cracks me up, she buried her head in her hands shaking it and said, “She gets that from her brother. She always keeps us laughing.”

June: US Women’s Olympic Team Pick


Back in April I decided to pick a team after each major competition – who I would send if we had to send a team right then. I assumed that team would change each month. That apart from Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas it would shift with different combinations of people. Our field of athletes and potential Olympians is so deep, how could it not?

But, it hasn’t. Competition after competition, these are the girls and the combination that keeps coming out on top. Every which way you arrange the puzzle and do the math, this is your best bet for dependable, high scoring routines. And so, my team remains the same. And here is their introduction, along with the events I would put them on in team finals.

Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney.

  • Vault: GD, JW, MM
  • Bars: JW, KR, GD
  • Beam: AR, KR, JW
  • Floor: GD, JW, AR

Wieber, Douglas and Raisman are considered locks for the team barring injury by most in the gymnastics world.  This seems to include Martha Karolyi as she stated two spots were interchangeable (mean three were basically set). (Gym Examiner) They are the top three all-arounders each having a legitimate chance to make the all around podium in London and bring consistently high scores on each of their specialties for the team competition (Wieber: Vault, Beam and Floor; Douglas: Bars; Raisman: Beam and Floor). With these three in the mix, you need someone who can contribute on bars and beam and then one other gymnast who brings enough value on one or more events to replace the lowest score of the first three.

In contention to contribute on bars are Ross, Rebecca Bross, Bridget Sloan, Anna Li, Elizabeth Price, and Nastia Liukin. Ross can also contribute on beam and Bross, Liukin and Sloan are trying to make a case that they can as well. Price could make a huge contribution on vault in addition to bars. Ross, Price and Sloan are also all arounders, so they can step in at any point if in a pinch. Of this field, Ross is by far the most prepared and consistent. Li has the highest scoring potential but needs to prove that she can hit the routine consistently. Bross is just about even on bars with Ross, but has not shown consistency on beam. Liukin is a wildcard. She did not show bars at Visa’s that would put her on any team. It will really depend on how much she can improve in three weeks. Yes, of this grouping Ross is currently the consistent clear choice.

With these four spots, the fifth spot has to be someone that contribute enough tenths on one or two events to replace some of our lowest scores of the first four gymnasts. If you take the high scores from Visa’s you have McKayla Maroney on vault (+.75), Anna Li on bars (+.5) or Alicia Sacramone on beam (+.2) and vault (+.1). The obvious choice here is Maroney.

As alternates I would send Elizabeth Price, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan. This would cover our all around needs if we lose an all arounder, our bars needs if we loose a bar worker and our beam and vault needs if we loose a vault or beam worker.

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.

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!).