Sunday, April 20, 2008

Who Martha Karolyi wants on the Olympic Team

Above: Martha Karolyi, so lovingly called the "Gymnastics Mob Boss" by her fans, is the head decision maker for the 2008 Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team.

The U.S. team is going into the 2008 Beijing Games as the reigning world champions, and the battle for the six plane tickets to China will be a fierce one and will be largely reliant upon the gymnasts' performances at the national championships, olympic trials, and the selection camp at the Karolyi ranch. Similar to 2004, only the top two girls at the olympic trials are given even a tentative guarantee as to being on the olympic team, and these two spots are almost sure to go to Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. However, all the other girls are wondering just as we are wondering whether their dreams will come true and whether they will be on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team.

Competitors with a legitimate shot at making the 2008 U.S. olympic team

Jana Bieger
Darlene Hill
Ivana Hong
Shawn Johnson
Nastia Liukin
Chellsie Memmel
Samantha Peszek
Ashley Priess
Alicia Sacramone
Bridget Sloan
Geralen Stack-Eaton
Amber Trani
Shayla Worley

Competitors who WILL NOT be making a run at Beijing:

Rebecca Bross (too young)
Bianca Flohr (Level 10)

Natasha Kelley (Retirement)
Courtney Kupets (NCAA/Injury/no expressed desire to go to Beijing)
Shantessa Pama (Injuries/Level 10)
Ashley Postell (NCAA/No expressed desire to go to Beijing)

There look to be 13 potential candidates to go to Beijing. Let's see what they bring to the team and also why Martha might be hesistant to put them on.

Jana Bieger

Brief Bio: The German native is the daughter of a former three-time olympian, Andrea Bieger, who is also Jana's personal coach. Jana won the world AA silver medal in 2006, but has since struggled with injury.

Pros: Jana Bieger had a strong meet at the recent Pacific Rim championships, winning uneven bars and placing 2nd in the AA. On call, Jana is a strong, consistent competitor who throws difficult skills on every event. She finished 2nd AA at the 2006 worlds, beating strong AA threats such as Sandra Izbasa, Steliana Nistor, and Daria Joura. Her good uneven bars work, which is USA's weakest event, could propel Jana to Beijing.

Cons: Jana has terrible form and the most unpointed feet known to mankind. The judges at last year's nationals were extremely picky when it came to poor form. The Queen of God Awful Form, Natasha Kelley, has retired and will likely pass her torch to Jana. The reason why the national judges are being so picky is because they don't what Martha to send anyone who's form could be used as an excuse for abnormally low scores in international competition. Also, Jana struggled with injury throughout nearly all of 2007.

Outlook: The fact that the 2007 Worlds judges didn't pick too heavily on bad form (i.e. Steliana Nistor) bodes well for Jana's olympic chances, though don't be surprised if judges low ball her come Nationals. Jana's strong competitive nature and strengths on bars and floor especially are potentially great assets to the team, and if she continues to improve she should be a strong threat for the olympic team.

Darlene Hill

Brief Bio: Darlene was a relative unknown until the 2007 U.S. nationals where she finished a very respectable 9th AA and 6th on UB and FX. She went on to place 4th on UB at the 2007 Glasgow Grand Prix, and won the floor exercise at the recent Pacific Rim championships.

Pros: Winning floor at the Pacific Rim championships helps out Darlene's olympic bid. The U.S. needs a strong 3rd bar worker and 3rd floor worker for the olympics and Darlene could be that girl. She also won't have much media pressure, which should enable her to just focus on her gymnastics and do what she's capable of.

Cons: Darlene is especially weak on the balance beam, and she had a shoulder injury preventing her from doing bars and beam at the Pacific Rim. Bars is one of Darlene's money events, and she will need to upgrade considerably on this event to be considered a top 3 performer. Darlene does not have a strong international reputation because of her lack of exposure on the scene. This could hurt her politically both in terms of scoring and whether she makes the olympic team.

Outlook: Darlene is a long shot to make the team, but her Pacific Rim FX win helps her cause out somewhat. She will need to get her strength up on bars, upgrade there and upgrade her vault to a DTY to give her a clear shot at making the team. Her weakness on beam shouldn't mean much because the U.S. has several strong beam workers. If Darlene improves her difficulty by Nationals, there's a small possibility you will see her in Beijing.

Ivana Hong

Brief Bio: Ivana took advantage of the new rule allowing gymnasts to compete at 14 going on 15 years of age in the year prior to the olympics (where girls must turn 16 in the calender year). She won the bronze AA at the 2007 Pan American Games and finished 4th AA at the U.S. Nationals, enabling her to qualify to the U.S. World team that won the gold medal.

Pros: Ivana's form is impeccable, and her ruthless perfectionism should enable her to fix some of the weaknesses in her gymnastics. Rumor had it that Ivana was very strong at the last national training camp, and assets that she brings to the team are a good DTY and solid work on all four events.

Cons: Ivana's nerves tend to get the best of her, and the U.S. only used her for two routines in preliminaries at worlds, with neither score being higher than 15. Despite potentially strong scores on all four events, the U.S. really doesn't need Hong on the team on any one event, unless of course injuries to top gymnasts take them out of the running.

Outlook: Ivana may just be a bit too young and inexperienced to be trusted to be on the U.S. Olympic team that goes for the gold. Her form is amazing, but she often doesn't recieve high execution marks usually do to lack of amplitude in her skills (especially on bars). Ivana will likely need injuries from a couple top gymnasts for her to go to Beijing, but we should expect to see some improvement in her gymnastics come Nationals.

Shawn Johnson/Nastia Liukin

See all-around final post. These two girls are locks for the team as long as they remain healthy and don't regress.

Chellsie Memmel

Brief Bio: Memmel was called in as a last-minute replacement for the 2003 World Championship Team and ended up winning gold with her team and individually on uneven bars. An injury prevented her from competing at the 2004 olympics, but came back strong to win the 2005 World AA title. She could've done the same in 2006, but the shoulder injury of doom was aggravated in team finals and she was out of competition for a year.

Pros: Memmel is tough as nails. After falling at the 2006 Worlds on bars and injuring her shoulder, she hit her beam routine and floor routine, including landing a punch front on beam almost entirely on one leg and STILL staying on. At full force she is especially strong on bars and floor, events the U.S. will need her most.

Cons: Memmel's shoulder problem makes it questionable as to whether she will ever come back to her world champion form on that apparatus. Her poor form and execution are sure to recieve markdowns from the national judges that don't always favor Memmel. She has also yet to compete this year, which doesn't announce good signs towards her progress.

Outlook: Chellsie is good for contributing lead-off scores on beam and floor in team finals, but where the U.S. will need her most is uneven bars, once her strongest event. Her shoulder problems have given her much grief since the 2006 Worlds and she wasn't anywhere near her full-strength on bars at the 2007 Olympic Test Event. However, Chellsie should get her strength back up on bars as long as her recovery process is intelligently executed. Bars is her money event to get her on the squad, and will need to be fully ready on that apparatus especially to go to Beijing.

Samantha Peszek

Brief Bio: The 2006 U.S. junior bronze medalist finished 5th AA at the 2007 American Cup and 7th AA at the 2007 U.S. Nationals en route to making her first world team. In 2008, she has finished 3rd AA at both the American Cup and the Jesolo Grand Prix.

Pros: Samantha has difficult skills on every event and is very powerful on both vault and floor. Peszek's rumored Amanar would boost her olympic chances considerably, especially since the U.S. needs to gain ground over China on vault to make up for lower scores on uneven bars. Sam also has the potential to be the lead-off beam and/or floor performer in team finals. Peszek's mom working for USAG also helps her out politically.

Cons: Peszek is unwisely upgrading on bars, including planning a layout double-double dismount come time Nationals/Olympic Trials. Peszek's Amanar rumor is ONLY a rumor at this point and without it her chances of making the team wouldn't be nearly as good, with other girls waiting in line to take Sam's money position as a vault lead-off. Sam has yet to outscore Shawn on bars so her bars upgrades could take away from her potential strength on the other events.

Outlook: Sam's confidence has improved considerably since last year, but she battles with inconsistency, as well as injuries that tend to downgrade some of her much-needed difficulty. Martha likes her, however, and confidence and a good Amanar will be hard to overlook when the selection committee decides who will be going to Beijing.

Ashley Priess

Brief Bio: Ashley finished 6th AA at the 2006 U.S. Nationals and was named to the world team. There, she replaced an injured Chellsie Memmel in AA finals, finishing a respectable 10th. She was out all of 2007 because of a back injury, but is intending on qualifying to the olympic team.

Pros: Ashley is needed for her strong uneven bars work, USA's weakest event. Her consistency, experience, and good form are also assets to the team and are sure to be appreciated by the national and international judges.

Cons: Ashley hasn't competed in a big meet for over a year and her current physical condition is unknown. Martha K. won't be lenient when it comes to choosing someone likely only to compete in two major competitions (Nats/Oly Trials), because the six girls going to China will need to be tough, seasoned competitors who can get the job done under any circumstances. Also, Ashley doesn't provide the U.S. much beyond the uneven bars.

Outlook: Ashley is unlikely to make the team unless if she performs superbly at both Nats and Oly Trials. Even at top form, her bars score was only about .1 higher than that of Johnson's, and the international judges will be cautious to hand out high scores to some one they haven't seen in a while. On the bright side, Priess' consistency and experience will give her an advantage over her younger competitors.

Alicia Sacramone

Brief Bio: Alicia Sacramone had a chance to make the '04 olympic team, but a disastrous showing at nationals took her out of the running. She has since been a strong world competitor, winning seven world medals and many national medals as well.

Pros: Alicia is currently the top U.S. vaulter and is very strong on floor exercise while also enjoying a recent resurgence on beam. A strong competitor who knows how to peak at the right time, Alicia has matured considerably since 2004 and has been called a lock by many to make the team because of her strengths on three key apparatus. She was also given mostly generous scores at last year's nationals.

Cons: Alicia has oddly never been favored politically in the international judging. At the 2006 Worlds she was marked down for an apparently missed dance connection and missed floor finals. She made floor finals in '07, but was docked .1 for an underotated jump (switch-side half) and lost the gold for a very questionable technicality. She also apparently rolled her ankle earlier in the year and has yet to compete this year. She also has a huge weakness on bars and it is unclear that she is even still training that event.

Outlook: Alicia's experience, toughness, and strengths on three apparatus should be the right recipe to get her on the team. Alicia's proof of experience means that she really doesn't need to be in top form until Nationals, so the fact that she's had a slight injury and isn't competing yet doesn't neccessarily mean anything bad. Assuming she comes to the marathon selection procedure at full force, Alicia is a lock to go to Beijing.

Bridget Sloan

Brief Bio: After winning the U.S. classic in July, Sloan decided to compete senior at the 2007 U.S. Nationals, finishing 5th AA. The reserve athlete for the 2007 World Champion USA team, Bridget competed at the Olympic Test Event, finishing 3rd AA and 2nd on FX.

Pros: Bridget vastly improved throughout all of 2007, and has proven to be a very consistent competitor with good execution marks. She ranked 2nd on the floor at nationals, and this is an event where Bridget could be the lead-off girl. Competing at the actual Beijing gymnastics venue and performing admirably bodes well for her olympic chances.

Cons: Besides floor, Bridget doesn't make any big contributions to the squad. There are other girls (like Memmel/Bieger) with more experience that are looking to get the bars/floor specialist spot that Bridget is trying to earn. Being left off the world team in favor of an injured Ivana Hong does not point good signs towards her good political standing with Martha K. and USAG. She is also a tad inconsistent on beam, falling at the 2007 Nationals-day 2.

Outlook: Bridget is a threat to some of the more experienced veterans, but her relative lack of experience and international exposure will likely open the door to hand the spot to someone more internationally seasoned. However, competing consistently at the Beijing venue is something only she and Memmel can say, and more improvement from Bridget could get her on the team.

Geralen Stack-Eaton/Amber Trani

Brief Bio: Both Stack-Eaton and Trani train at the well-known but infamous Parkettes gym in Allentown, PA. Stack-Eaton finished 6th AA at the 2007 U.S. championships and was a finalist on balance beam at the 2007 Stuttgart World Cup. Amber Trani won the silver medal at the 2007 Pan American Games on vault and finished 11th AA at the 2007 U.S. championships.

Outlook: Both girls have very little chance to make the olympic team. They lack consistency and form, in addition to battling several injuries. The Parkettes have never been favored politically, examples dating back to '92 when Kim Kelly was left off the team despite beating eventual team member Wendy Bruce at the trials. The only instances where either would make the team would be if Trani upgraded to an Amanar on vault or if Stack-Eaton improves significantly on uneven bars, a good but inconsistent event for her.

Shayla Worley

Brief Bio: Shayla Worley burst out on the scene with a 2nd place finish at the 2006 American Cup, but suffered a hamstring injury for much of that year. She came back strong with a 2nd place finish at the 2007 U.S. Nationals in the AA and on uneven bars. She contributed quite a bit towards the U.S. team's gold medal at last year's world championships.

Pros: Shayla is strong on uneven bars, ranking #2 in the nation. She also has the potential to score well on beam and floor and is planning on upgrading her vault to a DTY, further increasing her chances of making the team. Worley is generally appreciated by the international judges because of her unique style. Worley is also well-favored politically.

Cons: Shayla is somewhat inconsistent, with skills like a standing arabian on beam or a double front off bars routinely giving her trouble. Worley looked injured at the 2008 American Cup, missing several skills. Her inconsistency with her bars dismount could open the door for Memmel, Bieger, or Priess to break into the top 3 on the uneven bars, which is Shayla's money event to make the squad.

Outlook: Shayla has all the potential to make the olympic team. Focusing on getting healthy and cleaning up consistency issues will make her almost a lock for the team. The U.S. desperately needs a good lead-off (3rd ranked) routine on bars. Since Shayla is ranked #2 in the nation on UB, she should be safe to make the team barring injury.

Closing Thoughts

  • The U.S. is unlikely to send a girl who has yet to compete at a world championships before, regardless of performances at nationals, olympic trials, and the Karolyi camps. This rules out Hill, Stack-Eaton, and Trani. (I won't count Sloan because she traveled to Germany with the U.S. team at last year's worlds and was only decided as the alternate at the last minute).

  • The U.S. of course needs stars such as Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin to be fully healthy and ready for the games, but the potential comeback from Chellsie Memmel can help out a lot, too. Her strengths on every event, especially bars if she's healthy, can help out a great deal.

  • Don't expect AS MUCH politics in the selection procedure like that in 2004. Martha K. hopefully has learned from the mistakes in 2004 that cost the U.S. women the gold and can choose the olympic team that is truly the best one. Upgrades will be play a lot into who goes to Beijing and who doesn't.

Predicted Olympic Team

  1. Shawn Johnson

  2. Nastia Liukin

  3. Alicia Sacramone

  4. Shayla Worley

  5. Samantha Peszek

  6. Chellsie Memmel


  1. Jana Bieger

  2. Bridget Sloan

  3. Ivana Hong

Chellsie's toughness will prevail and she will get past the shoulder injury of hell to make the olympic team she just missed in '04. Peszek's confidence and political favor will get her on the team as well. Worley's strength on bars and potentially other events should also give her a ticket to Beijing. Johnson, Liukin, and Sacramone are all locks barring injury. My predicted alternates are all strong gymnasts, so the U.S. should be OK if they are needed due to an injury from another team member. In my opinion, these six girls are cut out to beat the excellent Chinese on their home turf, though it won't be easy no matter how you slice it.

Who do you think will make the 2008 U.S. olympic team? I would love to hear your opinions.

Next Posts: Slovenian World Cup analysis and April 2008 gymnastics news commentary

That is all.


Young said...

Hey Polish101! I love reading your informative (and neutral!) posts. Please don't feel discouraged by the lack of comments. I, for one, have read all of your entries multiple times, and I only look forward to the next entry. If you could, would you mind providing a simillar analysis of the girls likely to make the Chinese team? (No pressure!) Thanks!

MRR said...

Thank You So Much! I'm actually doing a Chinese women's olympic team selection post next and hope to have this completed by early next week.

Audrey said...

I agree with this 100%. This is exactly the rundown I have been predicting. Of course, we could always be surprised with upgrades come Nationals/Trials!

You're a really eloquent writer too.