Today feels like Christmas Eve to me. In my family on Christmas Eve, we always got to open up one present. I’d spend hours that day picking out the perfect present to open, creating lots of anticipation for it. This evening, the women compete the first night of the Olympic Trials. We get to open up the first present, but still have to wait to open up the rest. But this first present, it will be awesome and worth the anticipation!
What should you be looking for over the next two days of women’s gymnastics? First of all, sit back and enjoy. Even at the Olympics, you will not see such an amazing display of gymnastics. If you love watching gymnastics for the sake of the high flying skills, breath taking flips and soaring leaps, graceful dance and lovely lines, then today will be a feast for the eyes.
Look for fierce competition. And deep friendships. These girls love and support each other like no other USA gymnastics group I have seen. They are truly best friends. But that doesn’t mean that each one of them won’t give it everything they have to make that team. Every single one of them will be putting it all out on the floor.
Look for the spots that we need to fill in for the “Big Three”. Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman are locks for the team apart from injury. So the next two spots go to the athletes that can best fill in their weaknesses or contribute a higher-scoring event than one of the “Big Three”. The most glaringly obvious spot is on bars. Raisman is weak on bars. Jordyn can compete on bars as a lead off spot, but we will definitely need another bars star to fill in the third team final spot. But look to see what other events we might need someone on. Both Gabby and Aly have been inconsistent this year on their amanars, sometimes not scoring that much higher than a DTY, the vault most of the rest of the teams will be doing. If we want to take advantage on vault, we need three HIGH scoring vaults. Gabby has also been inconsistent on beam and sometimes floor. We will most likely want to put someone else up on beam. However, if Gabby is inconsistent on floor over the next two days, we might need another floor score as well.
Look for the highest scoring bars specialist. Kyla Ross, Anna Li, Rebecca Bross, Bridget Sloan, Nastia Liukin. This is the score we need most, so start filling in the puzzle with the piece that makes the most difference.
Look for the highest value add after that. Up to this point, it has been McKayla Maroney. She adds .7-.8 over using Aly/Gabby’s vault. Look to see if anyone else can add more than that on one or two events combined. Sarah Finnegan on floor and beam. Alicia Sacramone on vault and beam. Another bars specialist.
Put all that together and we will have a good idea of our Olympic Team.
Look to see the honor that it is to all the girls competing. This is an incredibly tough year of gymnastics in the USA and each girl has accomplished so very much just to make it this far. They have so much to be proud of and we should be so proud of them as well! Revel in the fact that you are seeing some of the best gymnastics in the world!
Look forward to a weekend full of incredible gymnastics, dreams being fulfilled and a team being named!
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.
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?
Kyla Ross, the Queen of Clean. Kyla Ross has quietly and steadily come onto the center stage in her senior debut year. She didn’t explode onto the scene or take the gymnastics world by storm. Though she has plenty of difficulty on three of the four events, there is nothing flashy about her gymnastics or her skills that just jump out at you and demand your attention. But somehow, every time you wonder who is in the running, she is there. And just like she competes her beam routine – steadily, slowly and surely- she is making her way onto this Olympic team.
Much of this is owed to her incredibly clean execution. She doesn’t have breath taking form like a Courtney McCool or a Sarah Finnegan. But she does everything, well, almost perfectly. Beautiful splits, great amplitude, always pointed toes. You just can’t take much off. She squeezes every tenth out of her difficult routines by being… clean.
Though Kyla is still in her first senior year, she has already begun to make a reputation of dependability. It doesn’t make me nervous to put her up on beam in an Olympic team finals. I feel confident that she will do what she always does.
Kyla makes quite a case for herself by being one of our top bar workers and being a high scoring, dependable beam routine. Unless someone else is able to come along and show higher difficulty with solid routines each day on bars and beam at trials, it is highly likely that Kyla will fill the bars/beam spot on our team. Because you can bet that she will go to trials and be the Queen of Clean each and every time.