Wednesday, August 6, 2008

USA Women Podium Training Commentary

Here is my commentary of podium training session #2 that will feature team USA. Chellsie has been confirmed that she won't be doing any events besides uneven bars. The girls were wearing dreadful pink leos that Nastia Liukin is shown wearing above. Italy, Great Britain, and Japan are the other nations performing in this podium training session alongside the U.S. girls.


Warm-ups: Everyone looked pretty good in warm-up, good double-double from Shawn and nice double arabian from Sam P. Nastia is looking solid on all of her tumbling passes shown thus far.

Sam P: Replaced her opening double-double with a piked full in which is a .2 downgrade, she also opened up with a piked full-in at last year's Worlds and at the Italy Grand Prix meet, very odd that she never does it in international competition. Nice 2.5+front layout full and triple turn. Very uncharacteristic fall on her double arabian, she looks like she might be injured. Layout 1.5 twist and double pike were kept as separate passes, like she did at trials. The routine she did here would only come out to a 6.2 with everything credited. Martha was not happy with this routine.

Bridget: Very nice 1.5 twist through to triple full. Two steps out of her piked full in, didn't go OOB however. Excellent front double twist, legs ever so slightly crossed in the air. Good triple turn. Tiny hop on her finishing double pike but this was an excellent routine, could legitimately compete here during team finals.

Alicia: Interesting that they are putting her before Nastia. Downgraded leg-up double turn to a regular double turn, she usually got that skill around so this is an odd decision. Nice full-in, step backward on landing. Split jump 1.5 that shock horror, actually makes it around! Double arabian, step OOB. 2.5 twist+front layout, looked like she landed OOB. OOB again on her double pike, a set like that in prelims would definitely keep her out of event finals, especially considering that she has no upgrades (where did that triple twist go?) to show for.

Nastia: Small step back on her layout front full+layout front double full combo pass. Good double front, cowboyed as usual. Foot touched the line on 1.5 twist+Rudi but that wouldn't be considered OOB. Leg-up double turn looked a little short. Step forward on her 2.5 twist pass, overall a very nice routine and much improved now that her ankle isn't giving her issues.

Shawn: Nice double-double but looked like she might've been OOB. Whip+triple full, looked all the way around! Replaced double turn with leg-up full turn. Front full+Rudi, short of rotation and low landing. Vanessa Ferrari just did a nice double pike off BB. Full-in, definitely OOB. Good routine, not her best though. However, rotating the whip+triple full is a lot more important than her Rudi. With the whip+triple downgrade she would lose .2 CV (no CV awarded to A+D combos, only A+E) and .1 for the skill being downgraded to a 2.5 twist. However, a Rudi being downgraded would lose nothing for CV (CV is still awarded, even for repeated skills) and would count the double turn, a B, instead of the Rudi. That would only be a .1 difference in A-score, whereas underotating her triple full would be a .3 difference.
Shawn did another attempt of her front full+rudi afterward and it was much improved. However, she tried it a third time and fell, she looks frustrated but Chow is still calm and smiling. Did it one more time and landed it without error.


Liukin: Really nice Yurchenko 1.5, tiny hop on landing.

Sloan: DTY, bent legs but a very nice landing, Martha liked it. She is looking very sharp and confident thus far.

Peszek: Superior form than Sloan, however looked a tad underotated but I think they would still credit her with a DTY. Big step backward but stayed inside the lines, overall a decent vault and Martha liked it.

Johnson: Took a big step on her Amanar but the 2.5 twists looked complete. I think she is very aware of her possible downgrades on some skills, especially considering that after she underotated her Rudi she practiced that skill three more times before the U.S. moved to vault.

Sacramone: Very solid Rudi, little piked down and close to the table but a very clean vault.

2nd Round of Vaults

Liukin: Nice yurchenko 1.5, small step but her vaulting is looking very secure and confident.

Peszek: DTY, better height and rotation, small step on the landing. Definitely an improved vault from her 1st attempt.

Sloan: Took a step forward but a good vault, her landings are cleaner than Sam P. here so I would pick her to lead-off in team finals on this event.

Johnson: Took two steps on the landing of her Amanar, Martha exclaimed "that's the one" but this vault looked underotated.

Sacramone: Even better handspring Rudi, just a slight hop back. Superb DTY for the second vault, but where is the Amanar? With Hong Su Jong out it's possible that Sacramone has bowed out of doing that vault for event finals to prevent further injury and to stick with the two vaults she has done for years to medal.


Peszek: NBC only showed her dismount, a full-twisting double layout with a small step.

Sloan: Handstands were a little short on stalder-full and in-bar stalder, awkward step forward on full-twisting double layout dismount.

Johnson: Gienger was very closely caught and Valeri Liukin had to touch her when re-grasping the bar. Missed bail to handstand and had to stop routine, I've never seen her make that error before. Good toe-on full, however, and some of her handstands were better.

Memmel: Jam to handstand was very short and had a couple form breaks, otherwise a good routine but not her best. Double front looked fine, Valeri touched her on the landing but she stuck it.

Liukin: Did routine up to pak salto, everything looked great except for a late handstand on her Ono 1.5 pirouette.

2nd Round of Bar Routines

Peszek: Caught jaeger a little close to the bar, giant full was short of handstand and layout full-in dismount had a step on the landing. A good routine but is unlikely to be doing this event in team finals.

Sloan: Two steps forward on the landing and slightly short on her in-bar stalder but everything else looked great, definitely an improvement from her first bar routine.

Johnson: Sizable step on her laidout double-double but a very nice routine from her

Memmel: Only showed 2nd half of routine, much improved jam to handstand and nearly stuck a double front. By the looks of her double front her ankle appears to be doing fine. I wonder if in the event where USA would have a bad beam rotation in prelims whether Martha would want her to tough it out and compete that event in team finals, she looks to be capable even though she has said she will only do bars for the competition.

Liukin: Very nice routine, had a little push from Valeri on her dismount and took a step back on it, but landed with her chest upright which is an improvement. Ono 1.5 pirouette was again late, but a very nice set indeed.

Afterwards: Bridget Sloan later did the last section of her bar routine and nearly stuck her layout full-in dismount. Shawn Johnson had a small step afterwards on her laidout double-double dismount. Excellent jam to handstand to double front dismount with a stuck landing from Chellsie Memmel. Liukin's double front 1/2 dismount had the tiniest of hops on the landing. Martha is very happy with the bars rotation. Later on we saw a double tuck dismount off beam by Imogen Cairns, which was stuck.


Peszek: Very nice set, a small step forward on her double pike and a little wobble at the end of her acro series. Her issues on floor were very uncharacteristic but Sam was solid everywhere else.

Sloan: Fall on her back handspring-layout acro series, first big mistake she has made in this training session. Otherwise solid, but missed the connection on her switch leap+back tuck.

Sacramone: One of the best beam sets I have seen from her; connected both her front pike+back tuck combo on the mount and her front pike+layout step out. Looks ready to be the beam lead-off girl in team finals.

Liukin: Excellent set apart from a very unusual wobble on her side somi, which likely would've been a .3 deduction had it been done in competition. Stuck dismount and front somi to scale looked like it was held long enough to recieve full credit.

Johnson: Full turn didn't make it all the way around, and low chest and a slight foot adjustment on the landing of her standing full twist. Everything else was spot on, complete with a stuck full-in dismount!

Second Round of BB Routines

Peszek: Fall backwards on double pike dismount, small wobble on sheep jump but everything else was solid.

Sloan: Nice set! Stuck cold double pike and hit her back handspring+layout step-out series from earlier perfectly. Had wobbles on the front aerial+side aerial combo (front aerial in particular) and wavered ever so slightly on her front aerial to scale. Big improvement from her first set and very strong work overall during podium training.

Sacramone: NBC didn't show mount but rest of the routine was very solid minus a slight wobble after her leg-up full turn and a hop on her double pike dismount.

Liukin: Slight hop on dismount, legs still a little crossed in the air. Had a wobble on her side somi, that element never gives her issues. Front somi scale didn't look like it was held long enough, but still a great set from Nastia. By far the most consistent gymnast out on the floor for USA in the podium training.

Johnson: Very low chest on standing full, was off on her layout step out+back pike series yet saved it very well. I think they would've given her the credit for the leg-up full turn in this set, she held it pretty well. Little step on full-in, very nice routine but first set was superior.

Thoughts on Each of the Girls

Shawn Johnson: Not her usual self in this podium training session, that's for sure. However, she didn't look that bad and for all of you out there going OMG the world is over because Shawn blew podium training, I beg to differ. Shawn has never had issues on bars with the skills she had yesterday, and she can do the front full+Rudi very well even though it was inconsistent. Her Amanar rotation and whip+triple full rotation has improved, and remember with the whip+triple she would lose .2 more than what she would lose with a downgraded Rudi. Beam was excellent as always and her second bars routine was very good as well, and I think right now she is just getting adjusted to the equipment and the atmosphere. If her Olympics turns into a Zmeskal Olympics I would be sorely disappointed.

Nastia Liukin: Looked very confident on each piece of apparatus, just some minor issues here and there but strong nonetheless. Vault and floor, the two power events that Liukin regressed considerably on during her ankle injury are looking the strongest they have in a long time. Uneven bars was excellent as well and showed an improved dismount on top of that, and her balance beam was Pacific Rim TF worthy minus those uncharacteristic wobbles on her side somi.

Alicia Sacramone: She looks pretty tired if you ask me, but at least she has stepped it up on beam now that Memmel is not doing that apparatus. However, floor? We were supposed to be getting a triple twist upgrade, which she apparently did at the selection camp, and now she has stuck with her old routine. With the way she performed on that event today, I can honestly say there is no need for her in team finals on this event with Johnson, Liukin, and Sloan outperforming her. Of course, Sacramone is still capable of much better and barring something unusual should still do that event in team finals given her experience. However, I would say FX finals are out of reach unless if she can magically hit all of her landings to her capability come prelims. Though one mustn't forget that Sacramone had the highest execution mark on floor in the qualifying at last year's Worlds even with a big step on her last pass that went OOB, so it is the B-score where she really has the potential to capitalize on.

Chellsie Memmel: While Memmel is not doing that 7.2 UB set she said she had in the works, her bars looked event final worthy and her ankle looked perfectly fine on her double front dismount. However, Martha K. and Co. know how valuable Chellsie's bars there and while Memmel could probably tough it out and do beam, they can trust Sacramone for that apparatus and let Memmel just focus on bars and not risk further injury. It is such a shame she won't be doing the all-around because she really deserved to do it, she was peaking at the right time and was being extremely intelligent with the pacing of her comeback. However, she appears to be doing fine and will look to not only do bars to her full potential, but will also be lending off her immense experience to some of her younger teammates.

Samantha Peszek: Peszek could really be a further asset to the team if she could hit her floor exercise to her potential, but now that she has downgraded on that event yet again I don't think we will see her in team finals there. There have been several instances where Sam has looked disastrous in podium training but delivers excellent competition routines, so hopefully her FX, and her BB dismount on her 2nd routine, were merely additional cases of that. Her vault looked pretty strong, however, and while she is unlikely to be doing bars or beam in team finals she is a decent back-up option on both of those events if another emergency is to arise. She will be doing AA in prelims, and while she did look solid on three events she really needs to step it up on floor to make a further contribution to the team. With Chellsie's injury, Samantha is confirmed to do AA in prelims.

Bridget Sloan: Sloan's fall of beam in the last rotation was unfortunate because she looked more than on her game throughout the entire training. Her second bars routine was TF worthy in my opinion, as was her floor exercise. Vault is still a question mark because of her bent legs, however her landings were consistently solid so she may indeed be picked over Peszek to be the lead-off girl in team finals. Had a good second BB routine but Sloan has the lowest scoring potential of all the USA girls on that apparatus. Chellsie's injury meant that holes were needed to be filled on the power events, and I am glad to see that Bridget has stepped it up and looks like she will be making a very necessary contribution to the team.

Overall: Some inconsistencies here and there and that is of course expected for a podium training session. Chellsie's injury won't impact the team too badly, provided that Alicia maintains the solidity of her beam work and all of the girls score to their potential on floor. Liukin, Memmel, and Sloan looked solid and ready to go. Peszek had issues on floor which need to be fixed if she looks to compete in team finals there, and will obviously look to keep improving her DTY vault. Alicia has work to do on floor, especially when it comes to staying in bounds and controlling landings. With a lower start value on that event she has absolutely no room for error if she wants to get into FX finals and medal there. Johnson looks rough around the edges, but did show all of her skills and will hopefully bring her A-game when the competition begins on August 10th, 2008. Team USA will certainly need everyone to bring their A-game if they want to hold off China for team gold, and that concept will hold true for every player.

That is all.

Women's Podium Training Session-China and Romania

Whether it is to add a perspective and knowledge on things or to provide commentary if NBCOlympics doesn't work for you, I will be doing my own "quick hits" tonight on my blog for the podium training session#1, featuring medal contending teams China and Romania.

9:59 EST Gymnasts are marching out.

10:02 China is warming-up on beam, Romania on vault. The event order of the podium training session will be the same as the actual team prelims.

10:06 Yang Yilin had a fall on her front aerial+side aerial combo, hit that combo perfectly while Chinese were warming up. Otherwise a good set.

10:09 Deng Linlin, excellent beam set aside from a low dismount landing on her double pike.

10:11 Li Shanshan had an exceptional beam set, though did have a low chest and one step on her double pike. No Y-scale turn.

10:15 Cheng Fei went before Deng Linlin and had a very solid set as well, awkward landing on her 2.5 dismount, however. Jiang Yuyuan fell on her back tuck+sheep jump (fall looked savable) and was off alignment on her Ruflova. Odd how Yuyuan went last on this event, her weakest. Yilin just hit her front aerial+side aerial perfectly.

10:19 Nistor was very distraught after doing her vault (which NBC didn't show). Bela Karolyi is in the stands, talking to the media. China is done with beam.

10:22 First rotation is concluded.

10:24 Romania is moving to bars, China to floor. Not surprisingly, He Kexin is not doing floor and didn't do beam.

10:33 Deng Linlin was listed as "He Kexin." LOL Took a step on double arabian, underotated triple turn, and also underotated her 2.5 twist at the end of her combo pass.

10:37 Yang Yilin, could've gone OOB on her first pass (view was obstructed but it looked like she went out), triple twist was possibly short of rotation and had low landings on her combination pass and finishing double pike. This definitely was not her best routine here.

10:40 Jiang Yuyuan, very good tumbling and expression. Had a low double pike and an underotated triple turn but otherwise flawless.

10:42 Cheng Fei, has switched her routine around and put piked full-in for her second pass, whip+triple for her 3rd, and 2.5 twist to dismount. If I am not mistaken I believe that puts her routine at a 6.6 A-score, the same as Shawn Johnson. Really excellent set, chest was low on her double-double (as it normally is) and whip+triple full was a tad off but Cheng looks like she is in fine shape for these Olympic Games.

10:44 China put Li Shanshan last on floor, don't know why they're putting their weak links last in the lineup and whether they will do that come time preliminaries. Rotation 2 has concluded.

10:49 DTY from Deng Linlin with one step, did another one later that was almost identical. As expected, Shanshan is sitting this event out.

10:55 Showed parts of Nistor and Izbasa's beam routines and they looked good, minus a very dropped back (even more so than I remembered it being) on Nistor's "Nistor." Two good Amanars from Cheng Fei, remember she hasn't even tried the Amanar all year long. Yuyuan did another Amanar, but with a big step to the side and was possibly a smidget underotated.

11:02 Cheng Fei just landed on her knees on her Cheng vault attempt, first major mistake from her during this entire podium training session.

11:04 Cheng Fei did her Cheng again, much improved. Had one hop and piked down the last half twist of the vault, and a low chest on landing. Very solid vault though, definitely still the prime favorite for vault gold.

11:05 Gymnasts marching to final piece of apparatus, which for China is uneven bars.

11:09 Deng Linlin crashed her piked jaegar, and had several missed handstands. Great laidout full-twisting double back dismount.

11:12 He Kexin did some skills include her jaegar1/2+jaegar combo, and her 1.5 pirouette into her tucked full-in dismount. Step on the landing but looked excellent as always.

11:15 Full set from Deng Linlin, very low dismount. Hit the jaegar she missed earlier but broke form. Had several missed handstands. In the event that China would have to use Linlin to do UB in TF a door would come flinging open for the United States.

11:17 Yuyuan crashed her jaegar, otherwise a good set. Falls on beam and bars for Yuyuan in this podium training session are a bit unusual for this generally consistent gymnast.

11:20 Yang Yilin had a low landing on her dismount and failed to go over the bar one of her pirouettes, Yang too has looked a tad off her game the entire night.

11:23 Excellent set from He Kexin, small hop on landing and had a loss of swing on her shoot transition to the high bar.

11:24 Yuyuan made her jaegar afterwards without issue, but went over on a stalder1/2 on the low bar and had to let go of the bar and do it again. Yuyuan also had a step forward on her double layout dismount.

11:25 Saw Izbasa and the last two tumbling lines of her routine (1.5 twist+rudi and triple twist). Looked a tad sluggish, and triple twist was underotated and had some crossed legs as well.

11:30 He Kexin went back and did another bar routine. Did an even better routine complete with a stuck dismount. Almost overarched a low bar handstand, however, but this girl is so bloody consistent it will be a tall order for anyone to beat her in uneven bar finals.

11:33 This now concludes the women's podium training session for subdivision one. Most of the footage was on China, and here are my comments on each member of the team.

Cheng Fei: She is peaking at the right time, enough said. Excellent on her three apparatus; she is going to be tough to beat for floor and vault finals. Did indeed go for the 6.6 A-score on FX, and with Johnson playing with fire on some of her skills (whip+triple twist in particular) and Izbasa looking a bit shaky, Cheng could indeed be the one to beat on that apparatus. A fall on her first Cheng vault is a tad alarming, but she did her second one just fine so I don't think it is much of a cause for concern. Balance beam looked very solid as well and has wisely stuck with her 2.5 dismount.

Yang Yilin: Did not see her DTY, but looked hot and cold throughout the training. Had a fall on beam, several landing issues on floor and had a couple problems on uneven bars as well, especially with not making it over the bar on that one pirouette that I mentioned previously. Is probably just working out the kinks with a lot of these elements, as she is generally a very solid competitor under pressure.

Jiang Yuyuan: FX looked great, but was shaky elsewhere. Her Amanar vault may have been a tad short of rotation, and she did step sideways and over the line as well. Uneven bars she had two major errors on, her jaegar being one and her stalder1/2 on the low bar (which she did in a separate routine) being the other. Balance beam looked very confident and then all of a sudden was off the beam on her back tuck+sheep jump. Some very uncharacteristic errors in this session from Yuyuan, but like Fei and Yilin, Jiang Yuyuan generally does best under pressure.

He Kexin: Will not be doing BB and FX, which we knew all along. Did not see her DTY but UB looked fabulous as always.

Li Shanshan: Interesting how China put their weak link last on every apparatus, and for Shanshan that was bars and floor. Looked OK, not great, on those apparatus. Her balance beam, on the other hand, was stunning. Truly a master of that event, however her sheep jump form could've been better and the same can be said for her dismount landing. With that said, the rest of that routine was spot on and I think if she were to repeat that podium training session BB set she would have BB gold pretty much locked up.

Deng Linlin: China's decision to take Linlin primarily for beam looks to be paying off, Deng had a great routine with few wobbles in sight. Also hit two nice DTY's, and while her floor was decent I believe China will shy away from wanting to use her there in team finals, and the same can definitely be said for bars. Had some issues with uneven bars as I mentioned previously, but otherwise performed well.

Overall: Obviously China has no plans to peak in this prelims session, however what is interesting with China is that they are not dealing with any of the jet lag and time-change issues that the other teams have so what we saw tonight should be a good indication of what we're going to see in prelims. The team looked very solid, however Yilin and Yuyuan in particular had some issues here and there. I didn't notice any upgrades with the exception of Cheng Fei's floor routine. China is pretty set with all of their team final lineups in terms of being competitive with the USA and all of the other teams. While I would say this team will be tough to beat, I wouldn't say they are unbeatable.

That is all.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Thoughts on Paul Hamm's Injury and He Kexin's Underage Status

As anyone who is even a remotely avid gymnastics fan should know by now, Paul Hamm pulled himself out of the 2008 U.S. Olympic MAG team. I was shocked to hear this news, but there is no time for the U.S. men's team to look back now. Raj Bhavsar, who was controversially sidelined in Athens as an alternate, was chosen to replace Hamm and will finally be in pursuit of his Olympic dream that was taken away from him four years back. (It is worth noting that the USA men gave up .887 to Japan on rings at the 2004 Olympic MAG team finals, and eventually lost the gold by .888. Bhavsar averaged a 9.7875 at the 2004 Olympic Trials, the highest rings total for any of the U.S. men, and the U.S. winded up counting a 9.125 in Athens TF from Jason Gatson) For those that are wondering whether USA can medal now that Paul Hamm is out, the answer is yes. Check this out:

With Raj on the team (Thanks to Denn333 and TCO from WWGYM for contributing the Nats/Oly Trials average scores )
USA MAG Weighted Average of All Four Scores from Nationals/Olympic Trials: 276.45
Dropping the lowest of the four scores for each gymnast: 278.517

Team Placements From 2007 Worlds
Gold: China(281.900)
Silver: Japan (277.025)
Bronze: Germany (273.525)
4th: USA(272.275)
5th: Korea (269.95)
6th: Spain (269.40)
7th: Russia (269.20)
8th: Romania (267.75)

Team Placements from 2008 Europeans (Not entirely comparable because of 5-3-3 format instead of 6-3-3)Note: Scores were not averaged here, I am just providing averages to show what there consistent scoring potential amounts to)
Gold: Russia (prelims: 273.175, finals: 272.45, avg: 272.8125, +3.6125 from Worlds)
Silver: Germany (prelims: 268.00, finals: 269.575, avg: 268.7875, -4.7375 from Worlds)
Bronze: Romania (prelims: 266.275, finals: 268.95 avg: 267.6125, -0.1375 from Worlds)

So, as you can see from these team totals that USA easily has the potential to medal, even without Paul Hamm. USA (or any other team) would need a Miracle that would leave even Miracle on the Ice in the dust to overtake China. However, a bronze medal, or even a silver, is still a definite possibility for the USA men in Beijing. Japan should be a top contender for a medal, but it is worth noting that while there have likely made upgrades since last year the team is missing Hisashi Mizutori, a two-time World AA medalist. Mizutori suffered a shoulder injury and delivered a disastrous performance at the 2008 Japanese Olympic Trials which kept him off the team entirely. Though a healthy Mizutori is perhaps not as valuable to Japan as a healthy Paul Hamm would to USA, Mizutori contributed five scores in team finals last year, four of them which were solidly over 15. USA ultimately needs to hit well in prelims to get a good draw for the team finals (teams ranked 5th and 6th after prelims end on pommel in team finals, whereas finishing 3rd or 4th would enable USA to finish on floor which would be more ideal). Let us take a look at potential line-ups for team prelims and finals:


Prelims: Hamm, Hagerty, Horton, Spring, Bhavsar
Finals: Hamm, Hagerty, Horton (possibly Spring if he can upgrade his last pass, currently a double twist)


Prelims: Hamm, Bhavsar, Tan, Horton, Hagerty
Finals: Hamm, Bhavsar, Tan


Prelims: Tan, Horton, Bhavsar, Spring, Hagerty
Finals: Tan, Horton, Bhavsar


Prelims: Bhavsar, Hamm, Horton, Spring, Hagerty
Finals: Any of the first four (Hagerty's vault is easier), Spring had the highest average among the members of the team from Nats/Olympic Trials and Hamm's score of 16.4 from Nationals Day one was the highest recorded from a member of this team at those two meets.


Prelims: Spring, Bhavsar, Horton, Hagerty, Tan
Finals: Spring, Bhavsar, Horton


Prelims: Hagerty, Hamm, Spring, Horton, Bhavsar
Finals: Hagerty, Hamm, Spring

Note: The prelims line-up for HB will be a relatively large decision to make, with Raj Bhavsar's AA prospects on the line. The weighted averages (40% Nats, 60% Trials) from Nats/Olympic Trials for Tan and Bhavsar's HB routines were 14.13 and 14.03 respectively, a mere .1 difference between the two. However, Tan's personal best on this event was a 15.05 from day one of Trials, whereas Bhavsar's is only a 14.1. However, Tan is capable of bombing to the fullest degree (12.55 on day 1 nats, 13.85 on day 2 trials) so he won't be touching team finals on that event. USA shouldn't be in danger of missing team finals, though they would want to get into the top four in prelims so that they won't have to end on pommel horse (5th and 6th ranked teams after prelims have to end on pommel horse). And while Raj and Joey Hagerty will not be looking at an AA medal, Raj did finish ahead of Joey on both days of trials in the AA. I would have to say Bhavsar has earned his status as an AAer at the Olympics.

Why Was Raj Bhavsar Picked Over Sasha Artemev?

Though it would at first seem logical to pick are strongest (when he hits) pommel horse worker given that pommels is USA's weakest event and all the more weaker without Paul Hamm, the powers that be for the U.S. men's selection committee decided to go with a different strategy. Looking at the overall picture, Bhavsar could contribute three events in team finals. Artemev on the other hand would only contribute on one event over Bhavsar, that of course being pommel horse. Rings is almost a given for Raj to perform in team finals, with parallel bars and vault being quite definite possibilities as well. Bhavsar outscored Artemev by sizable margins on all three events, and looking at the Nats/Trials weighted averages of Bhavsar vs. Artemev:


Artemev: 14.83
Bhavsar: 14.14

Advantage: Artemev 0.69


Artemev: (Using Spring's average instead because he is stronger here than Artemev): 14.805
Bhavsar: 15.580

Advantage: Bhavsar .775


Artemev: 15.855
Bhavsar: 16.005

Advantage: Bhavsar 0.15


Artemev: 15.220
Bhavsar: 15.440

Advantage: Bhavsar 0.22


Advantage: Bhavsar .455

Picking Artemev would've ultimately meant that the USA men would've thrown Bhavsar's .8 advantage on rings over Spring in favor of Artemev's pommels, which for a hit set could score roughly 1.3 over Bhavsar. That leaves .5 in Artemev's advantage, but could USA seriously trust him to hit a pommels set that he hit one time out of four during the Olympic selection process in the ultimate pressure cooker of all, Olympic team finals? That would be a HUGE gamble. Artemev is so much better at pommels than Bhavsar that he could fall and score roughly the same as a cleanly hit routine for Bhavsar on that event. However, if Artemev were to fall in team finals than we would lose that .8 on rings, plus around .3 for vault and parallel bars, which totals to a 1.1 loss. Though Bhavsar is unspectacular at best at pommels, his reliable contribution on the other three apparatus, rings especially, is a much safer and smarter way to go when looking at all of the different ways this gap can get filled. While Paul Hamm is a devastating loss for this team, choosing Raj Bhavsar to fill in was indeed an intelligent choice for the U.S. men's team, whose medal aspirations will continue to burn alive when they kick off the competition as the first qualifying subdivision on August 9th, 2008.

He Kexin Age Debate-From Rumor to Media Firestorm

The accusations and rumors of the Chinese falsifying birthdates have produced an intense debate among the gymnastics world wide web ever since He Kexin starting winning world cup meets on uneven bars by skyscraper margins at the beginning of the year. However, it was just last week when the New York Times published an article on the subject matter, saying that Kexin, a favorite for uneven bars gold and Jiang Yuyuan, a top all-around gymnast, are indeed too young to rightfully compete in the 2008 Olympic Games. China, USA's top rival in the women's team final at the Olympics, apparently also had Yang Yun compete as an underage gymnast at the 2000 Olympics, where Yun won bronze with her team and individually on uneven bars. This has attracted the attention of the Karolyis, who commented in the NY Times article and stated that these girls are indeed underage. However, the Karolyis insist that there is nothing that can realistically be done to punish the Chinese or to prevent cases like this from happening in the future.

Falsifying ages of gymnasts is almost as synonymous with women's gymnastics as gymnasts falling off the beam. Cases of this have dated back to the 1980s, when the Soviet Union and Romania, the top two teams of the day, were later found out to have falsified countless gymnasts' birthdates to compete in world and/or Olympic competition. However, one of the most well-known and widely publicized age falsifying cases happened to a North Korean gymnast by the name of Kim Gwang Suk. Competing on the grand stage for the first time at the 1989 Worlds, Kim was competing as a "15" year-old when many believed she was 12 at the very oldest, likely more around 10. Kim's innovative uneven bars set was complete with two skills that would eventually bare her name. (straddled release move with a front flip into the bar, currently an F rated skill and a giant 1.5 to mixed grip, currently rated at a D) Kim's innovative bar set attracted attention at the '89 Worlds, but it would be two years later when she was rewarded with a gold medal and a perfect 10 at the 1991 Worlds for her daring display of athleticism on the bars. However, Kim was met with far more skepticism than congratulation after her Worlds win. Suk came to the 1992 Olympics as one of the favorites for uneven bar gold, all the while claiming to be 17 with missing front teeth and a tiny 4'4'' frame suggesting her age was anything but. Bela Karolyi thought Kim was underage, commenting famously "Her milk teeth are falling out, which is a good indication she's not even 11." The judges weren't convinced either, shutting Kim out of the medals when many believed her bars performance in event finals was worthy of at least a bronze.

Eventually, the North Korean team was banned from the 1993 Worlds, but Kim was allowed to keep her '91 World bars gold and all of the other medals she won. Now, in such a case where age falsification was proven, North Korea broke the rules and were caught. However, allowing Kim to keep all of her medals while technically an underage gymnast speaks volumes to the fact that while this age requirement is perhaps a good idea, it will ultimately never be followed by those with any chance to act otherwise (i.e. the Communist countries), because the consequences are meager at best. If the rule cannot be enforced, why is there such a rule in the first place? Several gymnasts admit afterwards (Goegan, Marinescu, and now Yang Yun being recent examples) that they were indeed underage to compete at the Olympics, in addition to other international meets such as the World Championships. Is there anything that can be done? You are doubtful to ever find either the FIG or IOC doing a damn thing in these kinds of scenarios, and things are unlikely to be any different this summer and beyond. The most we can realistically hope for is if the Chinese gymnasts' scores are lower than deserved.

The Olympic Games is where the best athletes from around the globe come together to compete for the glory of victory, and the pride of one's own sport and country. He Kexin is said by many to be the best bar worker in the world. So if she's the best, bloody let her compete without any of this age restriction nonsense. I can understand the FIG's worry for young athletes to compete in major events before they are mentally ready, but several cases have proven that young gymnasts can compete at an exceptionally high level and perform well to boot. Nadia Comaneci won the European AA title at the age of 13 and when on to score her seven perfect 10's at 14 at the 1976 Montreal Olympics. And of course we have the current case of United States figure skaters Mirai Nagasu, Rachael Flatt, and Caroline Zhang not being eligible to compete for the senior world championships when they are clearly USA's top 3 skaters at the moment, not the 3 ladies (Kimmie Meissner, Ashley Wagner, Bebe Liang) who we had to send to senior Worlds. Does that make sense? I think not. Nor does allowing the best bar worker in the world, who has hit EVERY bar set this year (including one in front of the Chinese president), be scrutinized for being too young when China will realize she is an asset to the team regardless of her age.

If China is willing to risk putting Kexin and Jiang Yuyaun (who was no slouch herself at last year's Worlds and has only gotten better at meets since then) on its Olympic team when there is a possibility of getting caught with "cheating," then these gymnasts have to be mentally and physically ready for the Games and have to be proven assets to the team. Those qualities are a requirement for any athlete wanting to compete in Beijing, and if the Chinese are gowing to all the trouble of falsifying birth dates to get these girls on the Olympic team, then that alone proves that their ability is most definitely worthy of competing at the Olympics. It should be up to those in charge to decide whether a gymnast is mentally and physically ready for the biggest competition of their life, not an age rule that is going to be broken anyway.

Ultimately, we are all different and the same is true for the athletes. One gymnast can peak at a very early age (which could prove to be the case of Kexin) and some athletes, Alicia Sacramone being an example, will end up peaking at a later stage of their career. And of course we have the inspirational Oksana Chusovitina looking better than ever at 33 and about to compete at her 5th Olympic Games. But to deny athletes who are early bloomers of competing at the biggest meet of their life is unfair in my opinion. I in no way support China's cheating, or anyone's cheating for that matter. However, I will be the first to say that He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are exceptional gymnasts that deserve to compete in the Olympic Games. They have the skills, polish, and they have proven that they are good competitors as well. In the case of another young Chinese gymnast who didn't make the team, Sui Lu, it was clearly too much too soon for her. However, the case differs per athlete, and some will reach their peak at a young age and some when they are older. So my final words are these: FIG, why keep a rule you cannot impose anyway, and why require several top gymnasts' dreams to be put in hold (or require cheating) when the Olympics is about the best in the world coming together to battle for the gold? I believe whole-heartedly that He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan are too young, and I believe China is indeed cheating by letting them compete. But could you imagine an uneven bar final without He Kexin, an all-around final without Jiang Yuyuan, or a team final without either athlete playing major contributions to China's quest for gold? I certainly couldn't.

Tribute to Paul Hamm

Paul Hamm's relatively shocking announcement to take himself off the Olympic team could indeed be the end of this gymnast who did wonders for USA's success and kept viewers captivated over stunning gymnastics and stunning comebacks alike. The U.S. women's team was always the team that won the medals, got all of the attention, and attracted viewers to the sport of artistic gymnastics. The men's team never had such luck. After a team gold medal at the boycotted 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, the U.S. men finished a dismal 11th in 1988. A 6th place would follow in 1992, and 5th have to do in 1996 and 2000. Through the years of John Roethlisberger and Blaine Wilson, the U.S. men could still never find their potential. Then all of a sudden came Paul Hamm, a cool head under pressure who had the entire package of difficulty and execution. Despite inconsistency at the 2000 Olympic Games and a missed shot at a world AA medal at the 2001 Worlds which resulted in a bloody nose as opposed to an intended podium finish, Paul staked his claim to the top at the 2003 World Championships, winning the AA over nemesis Yang Wei of China. Paul also helped the team win a silver medal, and was looking for even greater glory one year later in Athens.

August 18th, 2004. The USA men had won silver, a glorious result in comparison with past finishes. But the AA final was scheduled to be Paul Hamm's tonight. The scoreboard after three rotations read Paul Hamm's name at the top, with top rival Yang Wei not too far behind. Staring down the vaulting runway, Paul had done this vault several times in competition before and it wasn't of anyone's concern that he would perform it any differently. As he sprinted forward, disaster loomed. Suddenly, Paul found himself not standing on the blue mat in between the white lines, but sitting down inches away from the judges. The fall meant no gold, a medal of any color seemed out of the question. However, mistakes clawed their way into other gymnasts' routines, and all of a sudden Yang Wei was off the high bar. A door had been opened. With two events remaining, Paul nailed his parallel bar set like there was no tomorrow. Needing a 9.825 to get AA gold, Paul delivered a performance for the ages, and ended up as with the gold meal that a short 30 minutes earlier most would've considered improbable for Hamm to get, having to climb 11 spots after his disaster on the vault. But it was Paul Hamm who conquered the most impossible of tasks and ultimately got the job done.

On that night, I knew hardly anything about gymnastics, but I jumped up and down with excitement when I saw Paul Hamm's name plastered in the first place column on the scoreboard. But a short two days later, an incredible comeback would be marred by an incredible scandal. When all was said and done, Paul Hamm would remain the champion, but was now perceived by almost everyone in a different manner. Not an athlete who had one of the greatest Olympic comebacks in history, but an athlete who had slipped by a scoring error to win a gold that didn't belong to him. Three years later, Paul Hamm began a stunning comeback. Victories at the Winter Cup, American Cup, and the Pacific Rim suddenly made everyone realize that the Paul Hamm vs. Yang Wei rivalry would get one final chance on the sport's biggest stage after all.

Paul was in the best form of his life by the time Nationals came by, and a broken hand suffered in the last seconds of his parallel bars routine would prove to be the undoing of finally proving to be the world's best gymnast in Beijing, this time without debate or scandal. Paul Hamm withdrew his position from the team when realizing his contribution could not be utilized because of an ill-timed injury, a decision painting a picture far away from what many have said about Paul's supposedly arrogant demeanor. While Paul Hamm's Olympic aspirations have been fulfilled twice and his bid for a third Games will have to come to a close, at least for now. This paves the way for Raj Bhavsar to finally achieve his dream to become an Olympian after all of the turmoil of being an alternate in 2004 when many considered him worthy of making the team. And for me, that is bittersweet. Paul Hamm put the USA men back on the map for medals, and Hamm himself has certainly inspired more than a few people when it comes to coming back when all appears to be over. With Hamm, one should always expect the unexpected, and if he comes back to go for London 2012 as good as ever I honestly wouldn't be surprised. Who knew Wisconsin cheese created champions. Kidding, of course. But Paul Hamm has always amazed me, whether it was coming back after a fall on the vault to win the Olympic AA crown or looking in the best shape of his career after a 2 1/2 year break from gymnastics. And I seriously doubt that is the last we will be seeing of him, even if he is nowhere to be found in a gym.

That is all.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Olympic AA Final Outlook Part 2-UPDATED

Above: The 2004 Olympic AA podium for women's gymnastics: Zhang Nan (China)-Bronze, Svetlana Khorkina (Russia)-Silver, Carly Patterson (USA)-Gold. With all three gymnasts not returning to these Olympic Games, who will be on the podium this time around?

UPDATE: Check the bottom of the post for my explanation of my podium prediction

Note: Upon a reader's suggestion, I am changing my blog title to Polished Gymnastics 101, as to not create any confusion of my blog being about Polish gymnasts (yeah then I would have nothing to write about LOL). My site URL will remain the same, however.

I opened up this blog with a post on the women's Olympic AA final to take place at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China on August 15th, 2008. Three months after my original post on the outlook of the top all-around women for these Olympic Games, the landscape of this competition now has a very different look. Interestingly enough, it appears that a USA vs. China showdown will not be exclusive to just the women's team final. Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Jiang Yuyuan, and Yang Yilin look to be the top four contenders for this most prestigious title that they have trained their entire lives for. However, every gymnast is looking to capture their 15 minutes of fame on this night of nights. The anticipation is growing, the clock is ticking, and the drama is building. With just two weeks to go until the Olympics and everyone's final preparations for the biggest event of all falling into place, it is now time to crown the best gymnast in the world.

Note: The gymnasts' A-scores I have listed are of routines that have been credited successfully in competition. I do remark on any theoretical upgrades that either the gymnasts have said to be doing or have been rumored to be planning for the Games beside their current A-score total.

Shawn Johnson (USA)

Total A-score: (6.5 6.4 6.9 6.6)
26.4 (Note: Could be a 7.0 BB set if her full-turn is credited, according to the reports it was credited at the selection camp)

Pros: Shawn won both the U.S. Nationals and Olympic Trials with room to spare over what is predicted to be one of her top rivals in Beijing, Nastia Liukin. Upgrades to an Amanar on vault, a 6.4 A-score on uneven bars, and a 6.6 A-score on floor (believed to be the highest in the world at the moment) have not degraded her status as the favorite for Olympic AA gold in the least. Her consistency is admirable in the fact that she has only fallen once in a major competition this year, which was of course her Amanar vault at the Scam Cup.

Cons: International judges have been stingy all year long in international meets with execution deductions and downgrades on underotated skills, the latter of which has the potential to kill any hope for Shawn to win the AA. Questionable rotation on her Amanar vault and her whip+triple twist on floor, among other skills, could cost Shawn above a full point in start value, not to mention deductions for incomplete revolutions of the twists. USAG judges wouldn't have downgraded any of these major elements if their life depended on it, but the Olympic international judges are not likely to be even remotely lenient when it comes to these types of errors.

Outlook: I think Shawn's AA medal chances do not rely on any of the obvious things like mental toughness or being healthy, she has been all of that and more all year long and one shouldn't expect her to be any different in Beijing. However, Shawn's AA medal chances come down to far more technical details, that if not addressed now could have serious consequences on her medal chances at the games, and not just in the AA. However, it is definitely worth noting that despite USAG's inability to be harsh when necessary with these types of issues, Shawn and her coaches make for a very intelligent team and should be able to fix some of these potential problems in time for the arrival of the Games.

Jiang Yuyuan (China)

Total A-score: (6.5 7.3 6.5 6.3) 26.6

Pros: Jiang has an excellent Amanar on vault, and very formidable start values on bars and floor. Winning the AA title at the Chinese Nationals back in May should bode well for Jiang's confidence and political favor heading into the games. It also doesn't hurt that Jiang competed in the Beijing arena at the Olympic Test Event in November 2007, and won the AA gold there as well. Jiang gained valuable experience while competing at last year's worlds, yet won't have to deal with the same kind of pressure that is being thrown at Johnson and Liukin, who have been analyzed as Olympic AA gold possibilities by the unrelenting USA media for quite a bit longer than Jiang has back in China. Among all of the AA medal contenders, Jiang's A-score is the highest when it comes to successfully credited routines.

Cons: Jiang is especially weak on balance beam, boasting a comparatively weaker 6.5 A-score on that event and is generally wobbly and cautious on that piece of apparatus. Execution deductions await Jiang on UB (missed handstands, occasional dead hangs, bent arms, typical Chinese UB errors) and also on FX (sometimes uncontrolled landings and occasional OOBs). Not competing AA at last year's worlds could hurt Jiang in terms of being able to withstand the pressure of such a tough competition, and also her reputation standpoint from judges who tend to favor gymnasts who have been out on the scene longer.

Outlook: Jiang is a great three-event athlete, but as long as she gets past beam she should do very well in the AA. Being at home in China should lessen any political backstabbing from biased judges, though the way the scoring has been going this year Jiang's UB execution could take a significant blow with the deductions she tends to incur that I previously mentioned. A weakness on beam aside, Jiang is more than up to par with the rest of the gymnasts when it comes to consistency, difficulty, and execution and it would be most surprising to not see her as a top AA medal threat come August 15th, 2008.

Nastia Liukin (USA)

Total A-score: (5.5 7.7 6.7 6.2) 26.1 (Note: Has only been credited with a 6.7 on BB once, otherwise she gets a 6.6 because her front aerial to scale isn't held long enough)

Pros: Nastia has improved her FX and VT scores to go along with her world-class work on UB and BB. Victories at the American Cup and the Pacific Rim earlier this year have no doubt helped Liukin's statement to be a top Olympic AA contender, and second-place finishes at this year's Nats (which without an FX fall on night one might have won the competition) and Olympic Trials (while battling a case of the flu) have also proven that Liukin has the goods to go for gold in Beijing. Liukin is also known for her excellent execution marks for hit routines on events like vault and beam.

Cons: Liukin has several built-in deductions on UB (cowboyed/inconsistent double front 1/2 dismount, low tkatchev, off handstand on Ono 1.5 pirouette) and FX (crossed legs on twisting passes/cowboyed double front) that will most definitely be taken by the presumably strict international judging panel in August. Liukin has yet to put together a really flawless meet this year, with mistakes big and small always creeping in somewhere. Her double front 1/2 dismount off bars is of particular concern because of its generally low landings and poor form.

Outlook: Liukin's rumored upgrades like a DTY and a triple full on beam did not materialize, and in both cases it was likely a smart decision to favor execution and consistency over more difficulty. Liukin has looked excellent on beam all year and appears to be getting it together on vault and floor where she has had issues in the past. Ironically it is her strongest event, uneven bars, which could look to be her downfall. A weaker A-score on vault means that Liukin needs to take full advantage of strength on bars, and that sometimes doesn't materialize as the Olympic Trials, among other meets, showed us. While Liukin has yet to put everything together in an AA competition this year, she could just peak at the right time in Beijing and surprise all, or in a worse-case scenario even miss AA finals if Memmel and Johnson put strong performances and Liukin commits errors that will keep her out of the running entirely.

Yang Yilin (China)

Total A-score: (5.8 7.7 6.7 6.2)
26.4 (Note: Could have as high as a 6.9 BB set if she puts in all of her connections, but 6.7 is the highest she has received thus far)

Pros: Those that have not followed gymnastics in recent months should be in for a huge shocker at these Olympics, as the 6th place finisher from last year's worlds has a legitimate shot at the Olympic AA gold medal. Upgrades on every event that are for the most part consistent, including a DTY vault and a 7.7 A-score UB routine, put Yilin firmly in the AA mix. Also helping her case are the facts that Yang does not have any weak event and is generally a consistent and cool competitor under pressure.

Cons: Yang lost the Chinese National AA title to Yuyuan with a fall after her pak salto transition on the uenven bars. Yang doesn't quite the international name that Johnson and Liukin have and was scored a bit tightly at last year's worlds, which likely had a bit to do with her not having the international reputation that some of the other top contenders have. Also, competing at home will bring upon great pressure to this young lady who is arguably China's best hope for an AA gold medal.

Outlook: Though not perhaps as well-known as an AA threat as Johnson, Liukin, or Yuyuan, Yang Yilin could steal the show if she maintains her trademark consistency on this all important of nights. A strong DTY, outstanding bars, and good beam and floor make her arguably the best definition of an AA athlete competing in Beijing, but it remains to be seen whether she can avoid major error and hold off her top rivals in the process.

Other Potential Medalists

Steliana Nistor (Romania)

Total A-score: (5.8 7.3 6.9 6.1) 26.1

Pros: Nistor's consistency and lacking of a weak event make her a solid threat in the AA competition. With Vanessa Ferrari's never-ending battle with injuries, Nistor's chances could go up significantly if the European judges lobby to give her generous execution marks like they did at last year's worlds. Nistor's weakness, her form, has improved a tad bit over the last year. Also not to be forgotten is her experience of two world championship AA finals, one of which she medaled in.

Cons: Nistor was reportedly spotted with a back brace at the recent ITA vs. ROM vs. BRA meet, where she only competed bars. Nistor receives basic execution errors in the form and artistry department right off the bat and thus doesn't have the scoring potential of the presumed top four contenders mentioned above. Dealing with the pressure of being Romania's best hope for getting back an Olympic AA medal that they lost in 2004 could prove to be immense.

Outlook: Assuming that she is healthy and Stelina only competing bars at the recent ITA vs. ROM vs. BRA meet was merely precautionary, Nistor is Europe's best hope for an AA medal. Don't be surprised if Nistor gets generous marks from European judges who lobby to score her favorably a la 2007 World Championships, though it is no question that Nistor does not have the scoring potential that the top four gymnasts have. Nistor could easily sneak onto the AA medal podium if other gymnasts' mistakes present Steliana opportunities to do so, but if everyone is to hit (particularly the four mentioned above) Nistor's chances of medaling become much slimmer.

Jade Barbosa (Brazil)

Total A-score: (6.5 6.6 6.7 6.3) 26.1

Pros: Jade has some notable upgrades that she has debuted this year, notably a 1.5 twist+ immediate front double full on floor exercise. An improved A-score on bars (6.6) will further add to Jade's strong scoring potential on the other three events to make her a possible top challenger for the AA podium. It is also worth noting that Jade was in peak form at last year's Worlds more so than any event throughout the year. If Barbosa is to come to Beijing armed with the best gymnastics she has produced all year, she could prove to be an especially strong threat in this competition.

Cons: Jade has been remarkably inconsistent throughout the entirety of this year. Losing the Brazillian AA title to lesser-known gymnast Ana Claudia Silva will no doubt put yet another damper on Barbosa's often wavering confidence level. One of her main weapons, an Amanar vault, has yet to be landed this year and Barbosa has only attempted that vault once, and very unsuccessfully, since last year's Worlds. Balance beam has also given Jade issues all year long, with her acro series giving her particular trouble. Even Oleg Ostepanko, one of Brazil's top coaches, has stated that he would be surprised to see Barbosa challenge for medals at this summer's Olympics.

Outlook: With Barbosa the potential really is there, but her consistency is always a big question mark and her confidence has likely taken several shots this year, especially with losing the Brazillian AA title recently. Getting her Amanar vault consistent in time for the Olympics will be especially crucial for Barbosa, who will rely heavily on that one element to get herself up to the level of the top gymnasts contending for medals. Though Jade's inconsistency this year has made her look anything but a realistic AA medal prospect, we must remember that not many were expecting her to challenge for the podium last year and ended up surprising all by doing so.

Daria Joura (Australia)

Total A-score: (5.8 6.3 6.3 6.3) 24.7

Pros: Joura has exhibited much-improved confidence and consistency this year and Peggy Liddick's decision to send the stylish Dasha to world cup meets and the Pacific Rim championships should enable Joura to do much better at this year's Olympics than last year's Worlds where she had lackluster performances throughout the competition. Joura does not have a glaringly weak event and has very nice execution and artistry to possibly vie for a medal.

Cons: Not having an Amanar vault will put a significant damper on Joura's AA medal prospects and will give away .7 to the medal contenders that do. The only event where Joura is capable to potentially score one of the highest marks of the competition is on floor exercise, with lower start values on the other three ultimately meaning that Joura will likely need a significant error from a top contender or two to realistically wind up on the medals stand.

Outlook: Strong performances at the Pacific Rim and especially the Australian Nationals have signaled to the rest of the field that, while maybe not everyone's first choice for a medal, Dasha cannot be excluded from the list of very realistic AA medal threats come Beijing. Dasha's good execution and unique artistry have won over judges and fans alike, however it is without a doubt that Joura will be need to be at the absolute top of her game if she wishes to become the first Australian gymnast in history to win an Olympic medal. Joura appears to be really going after the B-scores to her bid of becoming an AA medalist, as her total A-score is far behind that of the other top contenders.

Vanessa Ferrari (Italy)

Total A-score: (5.8 6.8 6.7 6.3) 25.6 (Note: Has not been credited with those BB and FX A-scores (6.7/6.3) so far this year)

Pros: Ferrari is known for her high start values, good political favor, and incomparable mental toughness. Ferrari won the 2006 World AA title with a fall also won the 2007 European AA title. Ferrari followed that up those wins with a bronze in the AA at the 2007 Worlds while nursing a nagging foot injury. Another example of Ferrari's immense determination was displayed at the 2007 Worlds when Ferrari had not done a single full floor routine in training because of her injury and went on to hit three 15+ routines (under tough scoring as well) during the competition.

Cons: Ferrari will need all that mental toughness and more to win an AA medal after what has seemed like a never-ending battle with Tendonitis. (which if I am not mistaken was what developed to prior to last year's Worlds and has given her issues ever since) Even Ferrari has been pessimistic with her Olympic chances, confirming that she won't be at full speed and healthy when the Olympics arrive. Healthy or not, Ferrari's overall inconsistency, especially on bars and beam, has lost the Italian diva several individual titles in the past.

Outlook: Vanessa's need to wait until the last minute to add back in some of her big tricks she has yet to compete this year (notably her double-double and triple full on floor) could definitely backfire on Ferrari, who hasn't competed these elements in a full routine for nearly a year. If last year's Worlds are any indication, Vanessa will press on to vie for a medal, but time is running out. However, Ferrari's fierce competitive nature should mean that one shouldn't ever count her out, but as of now her AA medal chances do not look at all good.

Sandra Izbasa (Romania)

Total A-score: (5.8 5.8 6.9 6.5) 25.0 (Note: Potentially 25.2 if 6.7 A FX materializes)

Pros: Izbasa's upgrades on vault (DTY), beam (6.9 A) and floor (6.5, rumored 6.7 A) will help out her AA medal case greatly. A generally consistent gymnast, Izbasa has the experience of two world championships, one of which she won the bronze medal in the AA. Izbasa also won't have to deal with much of the pressure being put on compatriot Steliana Nistor's shoulders and could wind up being the surprise of the competition if everything goes according to plan.

Cons: Great work on three events comes with a potentially fatal price to Izbasa's AA medal chances, a weakness on the uneven bars. Romania's weakness on bars has been in full force for the last 15 years (Nistor being an exception), and Izbasa's meager A-score of 5.8 (she was only credited with a 5.5 at the recent Mediterranean Gym Cup) and consistently splatted double front dismount make her AA medal chances go down dramatically because of just one event.

Outlook: Izbasa is not expected by many to be touching an AA medal podium come August 15th, and certainly won't be doing so if her UB (dismount especially) continues to give her issues. However, if she can get her bars work at least somewhat together prior to the arrival of the Games while maintaining her strength on the other three apparatus, an AA medal will not be out of the question for Izbasa. Her chances would ultimately rise if top challengers with far more pressure falter and Izbasa's experience and consistency paves her a path to the podium.

The Darkhorses

Anna Pavlova (Russia)

Total A-score (6.5 5.7 6.8 5.9) 24.9 (Note: Amanar is questionable, 24.2 w/o it, has shown a triple full off beam in training, which looked fully rotated, and connecting back her front aerial+side somi+Kolesnikova series could bumb her total A-score up to as high as 25.3)

Pros: Anna was edged out of an AA medal in Athens which subsequently brought Pavlova to tears and prompted many observers to believe that she was unfairly placed behind Chinese gymnast Zhang Nan, who won the bronze medal. Anna is back for a 2nd Olympics and could be an outside threat for an AA with a possible Amanar vault, and a potential 7.2 A-score on beam (with triple twist and connecting her front aerial+ side aerial + Kolesnikova acro series). Pavlova will also carry with her great experience in Beijing and one shouldn't forget that the 2004 Athens Olympics has generally been said to be her best competition performance to date.

Cons: Pavlova has not competed her Amanar once since splatting at the European Championship vault event finals in April in both warm-up and competition. Low A-scores on floor (5.9) and bars (5.7, has ZERO connection bonus on this event) will make Pavlova have an extremely difficult time reaching the AA medals stand. Also combine that with the facts of her questionable Amanar vault and her fluctuating beam start value (has varied from 6.4 to 6.8, and could go as high as 7.2) make Pavlova a definite longshot for an AA medal of any color.

Outlook: Pavlova would need to be at the top of her game and more to vie for an AA medal, and since we have yet to see her reach her full potential on her two money events, vault and beam, it seems unlikely that we will see her in reach of an AA medal podium. However, a top 10 finish for Pavlova is very realistic, as are possible medal finishes with her team and individually on balance beam.

Ksenia Afanasyeva (Russia)

Total A-score: (5.8 6.2 6.7 6.0) 24.7

Pros: This relatively unknown Russian will likely end up being Russia's top hope for an AA medal. Armed with consistent work on all apparatus, Ksenia has won a total of three medals in world cup competition (2008 Tianjin and Moscow World Cups) and won the AA in both the preliminaries and finals of the recent Russia Cup. Ksenia's gymnastics generally has good execution and form.

Cons: Afanasyeva's lack of experience will definitely not help her quest for finishing on the AA medal podium, nor will her comparatively lower A-scores on bars (6.2) and floor (6.0). Afanasyeva being a relative unknown won't do well with her AA medal status either, with judges known to favor gymnasts who have won major international meets in the AA, something Afanasyeva has yet to do.

Outlook: Afanasyeva is without a doubt a relative long shot for finishing on the AA podium, however her consistency, good execution, and good strength across all apparatus should provide her a strong case for a top 10 finish if in peak form for the games. Though surprises have happened in the past in this event with top contenders faltering, Afanasyeva would need a stockpile of errors from the aforementioned contenders to finish the night with a medal around her neck.

Elizabeth Tweddle (GBR)

Total A-score: (5.5 7.6 6.2 6.4) 25.7 (Note: Could go to 25.9 with 7.8 A-score UB routine she has apparently showed in training sessions at the British Nationals)

Pros: Elizabeth Tweddle, Great Britain's most decorated gymnast in history, qualified in 4th place to the 2007 Worlds AA final ahead of eventual co-bronze medalists Jade Barbosa and Vanessa Ferrari. Tweddle's work on the uneven bars and floor exercise is Olympic medal worthy on both pieces of apparatus. Tweddle is also the only contender besides Anna Pavlova who is competing in her second Olympics.

Cons: Any hopes of an AA medal at the last two world championships were dashed for Tweddle at the last two world championships with falls on bars (2006) and beam (2007). Tweddle's relatively low A-scores on vault (5.5) and beam (6.2) do not bode well for her AA medal chances. Beth has always seemed to be cursed with injuries or lackluster performances at big meets, and with that said is coming to Beijing off an injured ankle that kept her out of the British Nationals.

Outlook: Tweddle's AA finishes at the last two world championships, 8th in 2006 and 11th in 2007, don't suggest this experienced gymnast to be capable of contending for an AA medal. However, upgraded start values on bars (7.6, reports have even said she is training a bar routine with a 7.8 A-score) and on floor (6.4) are added bonuses to Tweddle's AA chances and could result in a medal if Tweddle has the night of her life and others falter. Still, the likelihood of Beth medaling in this event is low and will have better chances of medaling in the uneven bars and floor exercise finals.

The Big Question Mark

Chellsie Memmel (USA)

Total A-score: (5.8 7.0 6.9 6.2) 25.9 (Note: Could wind up as high as 26.4 (though I'd say 26.1/26.2 is more realistic), if her double arabian and split jump 1.5 are credited on floor, allowing for a 6.5 A-score there, and if she gets her UB A-score up to 7.2 like she has said she will)

Pros: Chellsie's upgrades on vault (DTY), uneven bars (potential for a 7.2 A-score), and floor (double arabian-6.5 A), mean that Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin's once locked up positions in the AA final have suddenly become anything but. Chellsie's mental toughness is admired by fans and most importantly, the international judges, who have always scored Chellsie favorably in world championships despite shaky form and artistry. Chellsie's consistency throughout the Nationals/Olympic Trials/Karolyi Selection Camp meet was admirable, especially when you consider the fact that throughout the entire process she didn't miss one routine.

Cons: Chellsie's DTY is still a big question mark, and the 14.65 at the selection camp meet was lower than all of the scores handed out for 1.5 Yurchenkos. Her improvement on that event between now and Beijing is critical for Memmel's AA chances, with everything boiling down to if Martha K. wants to let Bridget Sloan and Samantha Peszek compete their comparatively better DTY's over Chellsie. A decision like that would ultimately mean Chellsie wouldn't do vault in prelims and her AA bid would be over before the competition were to even start. Chellsie's recent "whiplash" on floor at the selection camp meet will also mean that Olympic prelims will be the first competition where she will add back in her double arabian and compete it in her full routine.

Outlook: Shawn's questionable Amanar rotation and Nastia's inconsistent uneven bars could ultimately pave the way for Chellsie to not only make AA finals, but to even win a medal. However, Chellsie will need to improve her DTY vault fast if she is to truly solidify her position to compete all four events in prelims. As I see it, Memmel's AA bid could go either way. Her chances could realistically be washed away before she even competes her first routine of the competition, or Memmel's AA bid might ultimately culminate with a medal. Knowing Chellsie's immense toughness, I believe the latter scenario will be more likely to take place.

Other Gymnasts Looking for a Top 10-Top 15 Finish

Rebecca Downie (GBR)
Hong Su Jong (PRK)
Alina Kozich (Ukaraine)
Deng Linlin (China-If for some reason Yuyuan or Yilin wouldn't qualify or wouldn't be able to compete)
Pauline Morel (France)
Lia Parolari (Italy)
Marine Petit (France)
Ana Claudia Silva (Brazil)
Koko Tsurumi (Japan)

Now, while I know that sticking with your first instinct is always intelligent reasoning I learned myself when switching Deng Linlin, my original prediction for the Chinese team, with Sui Lu, when it now appears as though Deng Linlin is on the Olympic team and Sui is not. However, I will make one change to my original podium prediction (Liukin/Ferrari/Johnson)

Polish 101 Olympic AA Predicted Podium

Gold: Nastia Liukin (USA)

Silver: Yang Yilin (China)

Bronze: Shawn Johnson (USA)

4th: Jiang Yuyuan (China)-Weakness on beam could keep her out of the top 3, as can a lower B-score on bars.

5th: Steliana Nistor (Romania)-The typical consistent Romanian who is solid on every event, but sluggish form and artistry and little mistakes here and there look to keep her out of the medals.

6th: Vanessa Ferrari (Italy)-Is an incredible fighter, Giulyx14 reports of upgrades on UB and FX if she puts her double-double back in. Just not in the shape to vie for a medal, but don't count her out yet.

7th: Jade Barbosa (Brazil)-Inconsistent as all get out but peaked at last year's Worlds and could do the very same in Beijing. Has all the goods to be a top contender, but her mental game is her downfall and something she has to get together for the biggest meet of her life.

8th: Daria Joura (Australia)- Consistent gymnast with good execution who looks to be peaking at the right time, but that lower A-score is going to kill her.

9th: Sandra Izbasa (Romania)- UB is a nightmare for her, but solid work on the other three should definitely keep Izbasa in the top 10.

10th: Hong Su Jong (PRK): We haven't seen her all year, and was quite lackluster at the Olympic Test Event in November 2007, her last major comp to date. However, North Korea is known for busting out all of the big tricks at the biggest competitions; they NEVER play it safe. So one should expect some upgrades (likely on UB where she is a possible contender an EF birth on) from Su Jong provided that she is healthy. Not seeing Su Jong compete all year does not bode well for her consistency at the Games, but she could be the ultimate darkhorse threat if she is in peak form. That, or she won't factor in at all.

Update: Reasoning for my podium prediction

Many of you are likely dumbfounded by my prediction to keep Nastia Liukin as the Olympic AA gold winner. Shawn obviously seems to be the more likely pick of her consistency, difficulty, and execution. While Liukin is comparatively less consistent than Johnson, I think she is going to get it together one of these days and it could very well be the day of the Olympic AA final. The pressure on Johnson will be far more immense than that of Liukin, as Johnson's wins at Nationals, Olympic Trials, and the Karolyi camp have looked to downplay a Johnson vs. Liukin showdown that the media was making a big deal out of in the past.

As for Shawn's Amanar, the code states that the feet are the do or die factor when it comes to crediting the full rotation of the twists, and Shawn's feet have been short of the complete 2.5 twists throughout Nationals and Olympic Trials. Granted, she isn't that short of getting the full rotation on vault, but the judges at nationals and trials were USAG judges and would not have devalued the vault if their life depended on it. There have even been reports that judges were pressured to give certain gymnasts (Shawn and Nastia in particular) high marks for certain routines and would be reprimanded if they failed to comply. I don't necessarily know if that is true, but USAG judges are known to be extremely generous with top gymnasts' scores in domestic meets. So the fact that one can just say Shawn's Amanar (and whip+triple full for that matter, though at Trials it was much improved from Nationals) will get credited at the Olympics because it got credited at Nationals and Olympic Trials is not a reliable statement. The reason I am still skeptical for Shawn to win is because she is playing fire with a lot more elements (A-score wise) than Nastia is, though with that said Nastia's UB routine is a routine many will be nervous when watching because of its many potential problems.

As for Jiang Yuyuan's Amanar, TCO left a comment and made a good point that Jiang's crossed legs will be reason for deduction, and also the fact that to my knowledge Jiang has only competed this vault twice. (Johnson has done it successfully five times, fully-rotated or not). The video is too low quality, however, for me to determine whether she makes it all the way around (I am not the biggest expert on Amanar landings, as you probably have already figured out LOL). However, from what I can tell Yuyuan's looks clean, but I won't go to town saying it will be fully-rotated in the Olympics or anything like that.

All of these potential downgrades and inconsistency could pave the way for Yang Yilin, who looks to be pretty consistent while not gambling with the credit on a lot of her skills. However, I will still predict Nastia Liukin to win. It may not seem all that logical, but I am going to trust my first instinct. And we all should know by now how unpredictable the Olympics can be.

Next Post: Olympic BB Final Outlook and Updated FX Outlook

That is all.