Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2008 U.S. Nationals Preview

2008 U.S. National Championships-Women

Polish101 Preview

Above: Shawn Johnson is looking to hold off Nastia Liukin to defend her AA title at the 2008 U.S. Gymnastics Championships in Boston next week.

This year's Nationals are set to take place in Boston next week. Many bloggers, including myself, have been trying to showcase predictions to readers as to who will be on the USA Olympic team that goes for gold in Beijing. Though certain spots look to be sewn up, it is imperative that ALL the girls do what they're capable of at these Nationals and even more so at the Olympic Trials. As history has proven, someone who has looked to have a sure spot gets wiped up by another girl who steals the thunder out of nowhere. The title for all-around champion is of course the purpose of the entire event, but realistically speaking that isn't what you should be looking for at the Championships. Strong, consistent work and high scores on weak events for USA, like bars, can make or break any athlete's chances to go to the Olympics. Martha Karolyi, the head decision maker for the Olympic team is looking for toughness over anything. Toughness is imperative for the team selected for Beijing, with hostility and a formidable Chinese team meeting them upon their arrival.

Shawn Johnson

Overview: Shawn is likely planning on using Nationals as yet another competition for getting her upgrades consistent and landing her Amanar vault which she missed at the Scam Cup back in March. Shawn is looking to defend her title, but is no longer the new kid on the block that has nothing to lose like she was last year. It will likely be best for Shawn if she and Nastia split the duties for winning the AA, i.e. Shawn takes the gold here and Nastia places 1st at Olympic trials or vice verse. Winning both meets will likely backfire on Shawn due to the immense pressure that comes from being America's top gymnast.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Landing her Amanar vault in both days of competition. Martha Karolyi has admitted herself that she was stressing this upgrade on Shawn, and Martha K. needs to know if she can land it under pressure. Whether she is capable of landing this vault does not necessarily mean much for her apparent locked-up spot on the team, but for political sake it will help Shawn out a great deal in her quest for winning Olympic AA gold.

Potential Upgrades: Front Pike on beam (7.0 A), Tucked Full-in at end of routine (potential 6.5 A-score), and landing her Amanar successfully

Predictions: Reports were strong from the closed doors Karolyi camp meet just a few weeks ago. With some new upgrades and added pressure don't count on the nearly perfect meet she had last year, but still appears to have the upper hand over Nastia in terms of the combination of consistency, difficulty, and lack of deductions.

Nastia Liukin

Overview: Winning the AA title will be yet another boost to Liukin's confidence, after beating Shawn at the Scam Cup earlier this year. Upgrades Liukin will be performing remain uncertain, but the routines we will see Nastia perform at Nats will likely be the same as the ones she will be performing at the Games. Nastia would very much like to win bars and beam, the latter of which she failed to do at last year's Nationals. Her strengths on those events alone are enough to assure her a spot on the team.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: International judges should be following these nationals and the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials very closely, and for a boost in political scoring favor at the Olympics, Liukin would like an AA win here. Maintaining her immense skill on bars and beam while showing improvement on the power events will be most necessary on her quest to Olympic AA gold, and will look for a strong meet here to propel her confidence to a new level en route to Beijing.

Potential Upgrades: Double-Twisting Yurchenko (5.8 A), Connecting Tkatchev + Pak on UB (7.8 A), Triple Twist Dismount on beam (6.8 A)

Predictions: Whether Liukin will actually upgrade anything is sketchy, and perhaps not entirely necessary if doing so will cause inconsistency. Will likely need a fall from Shawn in order to win the AA, however, but it could happen with the added pressure on Shawn defending her title and the comparatively less pressure on Nastia. Winning bars is almost a given, but the fight for the balance beam title between Liukin, Johnson, and Alicia Sacramone will be interesting.

Alicia Sacramone

Overview: Alicia showed improvement on beam (already a strong event for her) at the recent Karolyi International meet, showing a 16.125 (7.0 A) in AA finals. Alicia has no use contributing on USA's weakest event, bars, but her world-class ability on the other three make her almost lock for the squad. Alicia will look to showing two great beam efforts in the competition, which will thus assure the selection squad solely on looking for girls that can swing bars as opposed to back-ups on beam. This event can also be used as a testing ground for further upgrades on floor and vault.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Alicia will need to continue to prove her consistency and mental toughness to Martha K. and USAG. At last year's Championships Alicia delivered an excellent day two after a shaky night one. While Alicia doesn't need to have two excellent nights to get her on the team, she does need a good showing here for confidence in her first major meet since last year's Worlds.

Potential Upgrades: NBCOlympics hinted that Alicia is planning on competing an Amanar this summer, and we might see some upgrades on floor (piked double arabian/double-double/triple twist) though specifically what she will be upgrading, if anything, remains to be seen on that event.

Predictions: Alicia looked strong at the recent Karolyi meet and don't expect anything different at these Championships. However, an Amanar upgrade is unlikely until the Olympic Trials, if it is to ever show up. Upgrades on floor are probable, but consistency is likely Sacramone's top objective for this meet. Competing at home should be another tremendous boost for Alicia's confidence at this competition.

Shayla Worley

Overview: Shayla's once sewn-up position is loosening by the minute, with reports of injury and also Chellsie Memmel and Ashley Priess' improvement on their specialty event, uneven bars, the same event Shayla excels at. (for more info see Shayla Worley: The New Hollie Vise? post) There have been several reports of back/hamstring problems dating back to the Scam Cup where Worley had a very lackluster meet. At top form, Shayla can medal individually in the AA, bars, beam, and even floor. It remains to be seen what condition she will be in, but should look to peak at the Trials if she is not currently at top form.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Medaling on bars and hitting two clean routines on that event is Shayla's no.1 priority for these Championships. Shayla's chances of making the team will be significantly weakened if Ashley, Chellsie, and Nastia all finish ahead of her on that event. Medaling on beam will also do well for Worley's Olympic chances, and even more so will a medal in the AA.

Potential Upgrades: Double-Twisting Yurchenko; injuries will likely prevent further upgrades at least for this meet.

Predictions: Shayla's current shape is unknown, having not competed in a major meet since Scam. Shayla has too much confidence to give up easily, but with Chellsie and Ashley back in the mix Shayla is going to have to prove herself more than ever, specifically on UB, to go to Beijing.

Samantha Peszek

Overview: Samantha's improved confidence and skill has led her to being a serious AA medal podium threat next week. Having an excellent meet at the 2008 Scam Cup, Sam was shaky at the following Italy Grand Prix meet and thus brought back her known inconsistency. Showing consistency at these Championships and at Olympic Trials should be Sam's top priority. Sam should show increased difficulty on several events here, knowing her Olympic aspirations depend on it.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: To show consistency while performing top level skills. Medaling in the AA will help Sam's chances out greatly, but Martha K. will be specifically looking for Sam to finish in the top three on vault and floor. Doing that would almost guarantee Sam a spot as the lead-off girl on those two events where USA needs to gain as much scoring ground as possible over China.

Potential Upgrades: Amanar (unlikely though-6.5 A), laidout double-double off bars (6.4 A), double arabian off beam (6.9 A), possible upgrades on floor but it remains to be seen as to what she will bring to Boston on that event.

Predictions: I am expecting Sam to have a good meet. Her vastly improved solidity at the Scam Cup should continue toward Nationals, it just remains to be seen if she can hit her upgrades and be consistent through both days of competition. Sam's strength on the power events is an asset, but her trying to be an AA gymnast will do the USA no favors if she sacrifices her strength there for improvement on events the team doesn't really need her on, especially bars.

Ivana Hong

Overview: Despite Ivana's commendable form and artistry, her lack of difficulty, amplitude, and consistency have meant the difference between medals for Ivana in the past. Much to every one's disappointment Ivana showed no big UB upgrades at the Karolyi meet; her start value was only a 6.3 there. Ivana appeared to be a better competitor at the Karolyi meet, winning the AA in a weak field. Despite the lack of competition, this win should give Ivana a much-needed boost of confidence toward Nationals.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Prove to USAG and Martha K. that she has something viable to contribute to the team. Placing ahead of Sam P. to make top three on vault will be imperative for Hong's Olympic chances. Placing on beam, where she showed a 15.8 at the camp, can help as well.

Potential Upgrades: None that I know of, though seeing a couple added skills on bars is possible

Predictions: Hong should improve her consistency some from last year, but this means nothing if there are no individual medals to show for. Placing top three on vault is possible, but doing the same on another event, or in the AA, is unlikely.

Chellsie Memmel

Overview: Memmel is competing her first real meet since December 2007 when she competed at the Toyota Cup in Japan. Memmel had a cautious comeback meet at the Karolyi camp, but turned in an excellent 16.0 to win bars finals (6.9 A-score). This is .3 higher than Memmel's bars A-score prior to her shoulder injury at Worlds, and the second highest potential bars score in the country. Memmel will also look to have a strong AA case as well, having won medals at the Toyota Cup and the Olympic test event on beam and floor and showing a possible DTY on vault as well.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: With Liukin's strength Memmel is unlikely to win bars, but placing 2nd there will do great for her Olympic cause. Placing ahead of Sam P. on beam and/or floor would almost guarantee Memmel a spot on the Olympic team, but this won't be easy. Showing consistency and two hit routines on bars are Memmel's no.1 objectives at what will likely be her last Nationals.

Potential Upgrades: Possibly getting back her DTY (5.8 A, hasn't competed it since '06 Worlds), adding a tenth or two on bars and getting back her full floor difficulty

Prediction: Memmel competed with a few watered-down routines at the Karolyi meet, notably on vault and floor. Whether Memmel will go for her full difficulty here or save it for Olympic trials remains to be seen, but regardless Chellsie should have a strong competition in terms of consistency. Hitting all of her routines at both the Olympic test event and the Toyota Cup last year proves that Memmel is still as tough as they come.

Jana Bieger

Overview: Jana had a strong showing at the Pacific Rim Championships back in March, and should come to Nationals healthy and with renewed confidence. Two events, bars and floor, are where Jana can make the biggest contribution to the team. Jana will need to medal on least one of those events if Martha K. is going to seriously take her into consideration for making the Olympic team.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Showing consistency is imperative for the former World AA silver medalist. Medals on bars and floor are necessary due to the fact that the USA is in need of good scores on those events especially.

Potential Upgrades: Full-twisting double layout on floor; given all the injuries Jana has had lately it is unlikely we will see too many upgrades from the Pacific Rim to ensure that Jana remains healthy. However, the full-twisting double layout is a very valuable upgrade and viewers could very well see it in Boston.

Prediction: Jana is generally scored favorably by USAG, despite poor form and artistry. However, Jana has no room for error at Nationals or Olympic Trials if she is to go to Beijing. A consistent full-twisting double layout could easily propel Jana to a top 3 finish on floor. However, a top 3 finish on bars is unlikely with Priess and Memmel back in the mix, nor are fans expecting Jana to medal in the AA.

Bridget Sloan

Overview: Bridget is unlikely to compete AA at Nationals due to recovery from knee surgery, which she had after sustaining an injury at the Italy Grand Prix meet back in March. However, Bridget has said that she has improved quite a bit on bars and that she has added two skills for Nationals, thus backing up rumors that she has a 6.7 A-score there. Bridget hasn't competed since December, and many will be keen on seeing what improvements she's made and whether she is needed on the Olympic team.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Finishing top 3 on bars is essential if Sloan wants to go to Beijing. Her knee injury means she likely won't be competing floor at Nationals, her other strong event. Bridget plans on peaking at the Olympic Trials, which is probably a wise move. However, Bridget needs to be fully consistent with whatever apparatus she is competing at Nationals, especially uneven bars.

Potential Upgrades: Two new skills on bars; an Indiana Star newspaper video showed Sloan training a layout full-in off UB.

Prediction: Bridget and Jana make somewhat of a double-edged sword for the committee, with it looking like Bridget will be stronger than Jana on bars while the opposite will likely be true on floor. These two athletes have strengths on the two events USA needs, but with other girls looking to contribute on bars and floor as well it could mean game over for Bridget especially. However, Sloan's consistency is something that cannot be overlooked.

Darling Hill

Overview: Darling's much anticipated quest to make Olympic team really begins at these Nationals. Darling battled an injury at the Karolyi meet, scrapping vault and bars altogether. Darling's major contribution for the squad is on floor, where she mixes very difficult tumbling with quiet and calm dance. However, USAG will be wary to send Darling due to lack of international exposure and fear that the international judges will score this relative unknown harshly.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Winning floor! This is a tall order, with Shawn and Alicia currently ranked #1 and #2 on floor after last year's Worlds. However, as I see it, this is the only way for Darling to make the team. Shoulder problems have hindered Darling's ability on vault and bars, the latter of which she would've also hoped to make a potential contribution on. Finishing 3rd on floor can keep Hill in the mix, but will likely still be passed over because of her lack of other contributions to the team.

Potential Upgrades: N/A

Prediction: Winning floor is unlikely, with possible upgrades to come from Johnson, Sacramone, Peszek, and Bieger. Medaling is possible, but if she fails to do so she is essentially saying goodbye to her Olympic aspirations. It is unclear whether we will see Hill on vault and uneven bars. However, even if she does, upgrades are unlikely with the shoulder problems she has been having. Like other current Olympic hopeful Ashley Priess and 2004 Olympian Annia Hatch, Hill's Olympic aspirations will come down to one event, one contribution that probably won't be enough.

Ashley Priess

Overview: Ashley makes a potentially stable, and needed, contribution on USA weakest event, the bars. Ashley posted 15.75 and 15.8 on that event at the Karolyi meet, while bars rival Shayla Worley only posts scores that big when she has a very good day, and those don't come often for her. Consistency is one of Priess' strengths, and if she brings that to Nationals she could be looked upon as a very serious contender for the Olympic team.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Finish in the top 3, or even the top 2, on bars. Considerably outscoring Worley here will be necessary for Priess, because Worley contributes far more than Ashley on the other three events. Showing consistency is imperative, and may end up needing to rely on mistakes from Shayla Worley and/or Bridget Sloan to solidify herself as a needed commodity on just one event.

Possible Upgrades: Ashley has a 6.6 A-score on bars, but showing with consistency with that routine may prompt her to upgrade her UB routine by another tenth or two.

Prediction: I do actually expect Ashley to get 3rd on bars, ahead of Shayla, Bridget, and Jana. However, how much she can distance herself from the other three bars girls, especially Shayla, remains to be seen and could be the ultimate deciding factor in her quest to go to Beijing.

Randy Stageberg

Overview: Many might not know this girl; I didn't even feature her in my USA Olympic team outlook post. However, this dark horse brings tangible contributions to the team on both vault and floor. Stageberg competed a very solid DTY and had the highest floor score (15.3) at the recent U.S. Classic, and actually tied Sacramone for the floor exercise title at the 2006 USA's. Hardly an internationally seasoned competitor, but fans should think twice before eliminating her from the mix entirely.

Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Randi needs to finish in the top three on vault and floor for any hope of going to Beijing. Stageberg needs to show excellent consistency at Nationals, even on her weak events, in order for her to be scored favorably as a reliable competitor. Randi is very talented, but is somewhat of a headcase (i.e. unreliable competitor) when the pressure of a meet builds.

Possible Upgrades: N/A

Prediction: Unlikely to go to Beijing, but Randi would actually be a serious contender for making the team if she had more experience, thus being allowed to prove that she is a reliable competitor. Inconsistency, lack of international exposure, and lack of political favor will likely be the undoing of Stageberg's Olympic bid, but Martha K. mentioned her in an Inside Gymnastics magazine article: "Randi Stageberg has a good floor routine." She's obviously done something right.

Other Darkhorses Who Are Unlikely to Make the Team but You Never Know...

Chelsea Davis (coached by '91 World AA champ Kim Zmeskal)

Mattie Larson

Corrie Lothrop

Ashley Stott

Podium Predictions


Gold: Shawn Johnson

Silver: Nastia Liukin

Bronze: Samantha Peszek

VT (medals only given for competitors that compete two vaults, but here I am just listing the top three total scores on vault from both days of competition with Alicia Sacramone likely to win, being the only US girl to compete two strong vaults.

Gold: Alicia Sacramone

#2: Shawn Johnson

#3: Samantha Peszek
(could be Ivana Hong if Peszek still competes her DTY)


Gold: Nastia Liukin

Silver: Chellsie Memmel

Bronze: Ashley Priess


Gold: Shawn Johnson

Silver: Nastia Liukin

Bronze: Alicia Sacramone


Gold: Shawn Johnson

Silver: Alicia Sacramone

Bronze: Jana Bieger

Next Post: Moscow World Cup Analysis

That is all.

The NBC Commentators Who They STILL Haven't Gotten Rid Of

Above: Just because the three commentators of NBC are less than lovely doesn't mean you have to sacrifice watching the gymnastics competition at the Olympics altogether. This post is to beware readers of what to expect from the trio of Tim, Elfi, and Al at these summer's Olympic Games.

If you live in the United States and are interested in following artistic gymnastics in the lead up and during the competition at this summer's Olympic Games, you will have to deal with what I have dubbed the Anything but Fab 3 trio of Tim Daggett, Elfi Schlegel, and Al Trautwig. I have never been a fan of any of these commentators and things are unlikely to be different any summer. NBC doesn't bother explaining viewers actual technique and explanation of skills in the routines; instead pouring out all the drama in their exceptionally biased commentary. At least they have the decency to shut up during floor exercise, and with all the blabbing that the Anything but Fab 3 does I will never understand why they don't say a word on this event. However, the Anything but Fab 3 shouldn't be as awful as to warrant viewers to mute their TV, but do look out for biased and inacurrate commentary. This post is not meaning to be a compilation of my disliking for the Anything but Fab 3, it is merely intended for those who may have not heard these commentators before to be intelligent and informed as to what to believe, and not to believe, about the commentators' thoughts of the artistic gymnastics competition as this summer's Olympics.

Tim Daggett

Career Highlights: 1984 Olympic team gold medalist, 1984 Olympic pommel horse bronze medalist

Pros: Tim Daggett is articulate and intelligent with his commentary and is very knowledgeable as to why skills go wrong. Daggett avoids going all out with the political drama surrounding events, yet does make valid points about when a routine is overscored or underscored.

Cons: Daggett is a relatively biased commentator towards the Americans and seldom goes into detail regarding the names of skills and poor form. Daggett has a very fast-paced commentary and is sometimes too quick to assume things, thus spoiling the competition in the event. He sometimes (what sounds like anyway) grunts to emphasize the difficulty of a skill, a perfect example being Alicia Sacramone's handspring laidout Rudi vault.

Outlook: Tim Daggett is the best gymnastics commentator NBC currently has, but that doesn't say much. Daggett has intelligent commentary but his biased remarks are often false. Beware of remarks such as the "USA women are easily the best in the world" or that "Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin will be the top two in the all-around." Daggett has quite a bit of knowledge about the USA team, but his knowledge regarding other world powers is sizably lacking.

Elfi Schlegel

Career Highlights: 1978 Commonwealth Games gold medalist, 198o Pan American Games gold medalist

Pros: Elfi Schlegel is a very blunt commentator who is unafraid of bashing gymnasts she doesn't care for. She is a big promoter of drama in gymnastics meets and is very confident in her commentary.

Cons: Schlegel defines the word biased by giving extremely generous commentary to the Americans and Canadians while being far tougher on the European nations. Elfi is quick to point out things that she doesn't like and sometimes goes overboard with her predictions of events . For example, Schlegel declared that it wasn't even a question that the USA team in 2004 was going to win gold, but the real question was by how much they would win by. In the end, Romania defeated USA for the gold and not surprisingly, Elfi didn't give any acknowledgment for her overly false and biased remark.

Outlook: You either love Elfi or you hate her, though it's safe to say most hate her. There is even a blog entitled Why I Don't Like Elfi Schlegel, and while the blog has nothing to do with Elfi it is the best blog title one could ask for. Elfi's biased commentary should get worse as the Olympics approach, and will no doubt be making early, and probably inaccurate, predictions for the U.S. to mostly win everything on the women's side. Beware of awkward, blunt, and inaccurate remarks from this commentator.

Fun Fact: At the 2003 Worlds-team finals Elfi made a shocking remark to Alexandra Chevtchenko (Russia), saying she didn't expect her to make the team because of her severe lack of talent. Subsequently, Chevtchenko nailed her opening piked full-in. However, Chevtchenko followed up with two scary falls and for once, I would have to say that Elfi was right to call such a blunt remark.

Al Trautwig

The Gymnastics Commentator who knows NOTHING about Gymnastics

Pros: N/A

Cons: Al Trautwig pretends to be an expert on gymnastics when he is hardly even a semi-casual viewer. He frequently alludes to baseball with gymnastics, when gymnastics diehards such as myself don't give a damn about baseball and want our limited gymnastics TV coverage to be about GYMNASTICS ONLY. Al is incredibly biased, even among U.S. gymnasts. At last year's Nationals Al, and really the entire Anything but Fab 3, were basically saying how Shawn Johnson is the best gymnast ever and how Nastia Liukin is so old and washed up.

Outlook: Al occasionally makes a valid, or humorous remark, but try your best to tune out everything he says this summer. His commentary is biased nonsense and probably hasn't even heard any of the international contenders at these Olympics. On the bright side Trautwig generally pronounces gymnasts' names accurately.

Fun Fact: Nastia Liukin commented after winning the 2008 Scam Cup about how many people had ridden her off and she was looking to prove her naysayers wrong. Al commented, "I wonder who ever would've remarked anything badly about Nastia Liukin." HAHAHA You know that comment from Liukin was directed right at you, Al, just admit it.

Other Notes

  • The BBC and Australian commentators are far superior in my opinion; they don't build the drama to the point where it overshadows the actual gymnastics being done. I particularly like Mitch Fenner and Christine Still from BBC. They go in detail on gymnastics technique and explain why a skill goes right or wrong. They are biased for the Europeans, however, but still should provide great commentary of these Olympics which should eventually be found on Youtube.

  • NBC better be armed with some good fluff pieces at these Games. I will hardly be able to stand the Anything but Fab 3, but I will be able to watch if fluff saves the day.

  • Live commentary of team finals and AA finals for both the men and women will be interesting. Hopefully in AA finals NBC will consistently show us the top two groups of gymnasts, the women's side in particular should be a deep one in that event.

  • If all else fails NBC better show us all eight competitors in each event final. This could actually come close to happening with NBC likely showing the majority of lesser viewed events online.

Next Post: 2008 U.S. Nationals preview-women

That is all.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

U.S. Classic Update

Despite this being a low-key, unpublicized event, the senior women at the U.S. Classic yesterday evening drew a pretty good crowd at the Reliant Arena in Houston, Texas. This was actually the first gymnastics meet I've seen in person and I definitely had a lot of fun watching the girls. Many of these girls are more the NCAA types, not really having much budding potential to be successful as elites or having a realistic opportunity of going to Beijing. However, I am providing commentary with some of the gymnasts that competed last night from my point of view:

Ashley Stott- Sporting a neat green/yellow leotard, Ashley scored a 58.25 to win the AA title. She was sluggish on bars (14.2), but was the first up on beam and the most solid with a 14.95 there. She stepped out of bounds on a combination twisting pass but showed an excellent double arabian front (tucked) on floor. She closed the show with a solid Yurchenko double (slightly underscored 14.55). The only girl who looked like she was having any fun on floor, and a good competitor who just might be a great asset for the next quadrennium in either NCAA or elite. However, she has a long way to go to catch the big girls; Shawn Johnson posted a 61.875 to win her first World AA title.

Corrie Lothrop- Steady bars performance (14.7), but Corrie but took a scary fall off beam (13.7) on a side aerial/ff/layout step-out series. She closed the competition with great routines on floor (14.75) and vault (14.9). She seems to enjoy herself competing and also seems to have a good relationship with Kelli Hill, former coach of Dominique Dawes and Courtney Kupets.

Randi Stageberg-Very solid Yurchenko double (14.8), but severely lacks difficulty on bars (14.15-5.4 A-score) and fell off the beam twice (13.45). Delivered a superb floor effort (15.3), complete with a very nice piked double arabian. Martha Karolyi mentioned Randi in an Inside Gymnastics magazine interview, for her "good floor routine." Her lack of experience on the international scene is unlikely to put her on the team, but Randi is still on the Beijing radar.

Mackenzie Caquatto- Good but over scored DTY (14.95) and decent UB work (14.5). Took a scary fall on her beam dismount (13.8) and somewhat weak on floor (14.15). Given somewhat generous scores throughout the entire event. Jade Barbosa must be her favorite gymnast because of Mackenzie's ability to look like she has about to burst into tears before and after a good routine and then all of a sudden smile during the floor exercise.

Christa Tanella- Despite a post on the blog Why I Don't Like Elfi Schlegel stating how much Christa Tanella sucks despite being coached by WOGA's finest, she's actually not that bad. In fact, she had some of the best form and artistry in the entire event. Tied for first on bars and placed 3rd on beam despite several wobbles. In contrast, her WOGA compatriot Catherine Nguyen who greeted Nastia Liukin after her near beam fall at 'o6 Nats when Valeri was no where to be found, did indeed suck last night. (two falls on beam, scratched bars, expression on floor looked like she wanted to set the arena on fire).

Amber Trani-WTF? Obviously injured, she only did a layout Yurchenko! So much for my hopes of an Amanar. The Mrs. (Donna Strauss) had a stern talk with Amber after beam warm-ups and she opted to scratch beam in addition to bars. Amber looked good on floor until a fall on a double pike, where simultaneously the Mrs. grimaced to the ceiling in an almost "What has god done to me?" kind of gesture. However, the Mrs. did look somewhat happy throughout the entire event, but it was more of "I've given up/I should enjoy the ride while it lasts" happy. My question is: Why did they send Trani if they knew how out of shape she was? Jen Sey said in Chalked Up about how the Parkettes were "relieved" when Sey backed out of the 1987 World team camp due to an injury (she was actually severely out of shape) because of what would be much political embarrassment from a top club. When the announcement for who would go to Nationals came, I thought I heard Trani's name called but didn't see her with the other 11 girls who had competed and advanced to Nationals. If someone went to the event, please leave a comment to clarify this for me.

Other Notes
  • Valeri Liukin looked happy throughout the entire event, even when gymnasts made mistakes. Nastia is obviously the only gymnast he cares about, and thus he is much more stern with her.
  • Alaina Johnson sported a very similar leo to that of Alicia Sacramone on day one of the 2006 Nationals.
  • Sarah Persinger had the exact same floor music that Alyssa Brown's used in her Scam cup routine which included the last pass fall of terror.

I will be providing commentary for the men's event tomorrow and I will include my predictions for the men's Olympic team.

That is all.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Quick Updates From the Gymnastics World

  • Paul Hamm has officially broken his hand and has withdrawn from day two from the U.S. Nationals. This is too bad, and Paul has also bailed out of the Olympic Trials. Night one proved that USAG NEEDS Paul, and also his twin brother Morgan, in Beijing. Paul had a 3.7 lead in the AA, which means he could have theoretically fallen four times in finals and could have still won. Individually, Paul placed first on high bar, floor (tie with Morgan), and pommel horse. Morgan also placed first on vault. Obviously Paul should still be a lock for the team even with his hand injury, and USAG IS SCREWED if he is not healthy for the Games. I would have to say Morgan will be on the team, too, providin he keeps his strength up on floor and vault and further improves his pommel horse and high bar sets.
  • A Chinese newspaper "revealed" that bars sensation He Kexin is 14, thus age-ineligible to go to the games. The article had several flaws, however, like Nastia Liukin winning three world beam titles (she's won two) and that an Olympic gymnastics team has five members (a team has six members). This provides further evidence that He Kexin is too young, but no hard proof. You would think China would be doing everything in their right mind to keep her supposed age-falsification a secret, so the fact that an admittedly unknowledgable writer let this slip is most surprising. Obviously, there is no mention of what age gymnasts must be to go the Olympic games in the article, but if this was indeed a careless error the author probably has no clue what kind of stir the number "14" is creating.
  • Daria Joura easily leads the women's AA prelims at the Australian Nationals with an excellent 61.6 score. These scores look to be a tad inflated, but that score would've gotten Daria silver at last year's Worlds. The top AA podium threats appear to be (as of now) Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, and Jiang Yuyuan. However, Daria is improving and could end up peaking at the best possible time. Joura was especially superb on floor, where she marked a 15.75 and stuck her new double layout cold. Lauren Mitchell had a disastrous routine on bars and a shaky beam routine to drop to 5th. Finals are still to come, where Mitchell will look to redeem herself and Dasha will look to blow away the field.
  • The Moscow World Cup will take place next week, and this is the last major international gymnastics meet prior to the Olympics. This will be an opportunity for Russia to showcase top-level gymnastics in hopes of gaining political ground on Romania for a bronze medal.
  • Speaking of Olympic bronze medal, Peggy Liddick the Australian equivalent of Martha Karolyi, said that the Australian team is in it to win the bronze medal. This is an entirely biased and unrealistic statement; Romania and Russia have greatly improved since last year's worlds and the judges will have a hard time favoring a team that finished 11th last year and has lost potential assets like Hollie Dykes and Chloe Sims. If there is going to be an upset team for the medals, I would bet my money on Italy assuming Vanessa Ferrari is in peak form for the Games.
  • I will be in attendance for the U.S. Classic Senior Women's competition tonight and the Senior Men's Championships Finals tomorrow evening. I will provide commentary for both events the day following each competition.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shayla Worley: The New Hollie Vise?

That, my friend, is not a good thing. Hollie Vise was given an adoring fluff piece by NBC at the 2000 International Team Championships. Then, Hollie was a 12 year-old girl fantasizing of making the 2004 Olympic Team while training her very hardest at WOGA, the same gym teammate Carly Patterson trained at, going on to win AA gold at the 2004 Olympics and where current nine-time world medalist Nastia Liukin trains. Long story short, it didn't happen. Hollie was strong in 2003, winning beam and placing 2nd AA at Nationals and winning gold with her team and on uneven bars at Worlds. However, a back injury slowed her 2004 efforts and didn't compete until the Olympic Trials. By this time she was just competing on her two best events, bars and beam. Judges were stingy with Vise's scores at the Oly Trials while locks such as Patterson, Courtney Kupets, and Courtney McCool were given the benefit of a doubt time and time again. Hollie fell of beam at the Karolyi camp meet and appeared to be off the team. However, in a decision that shocked many, Hollie was left off the team entirely, not even being chosen as an alternate. The team certainly would've used a healthy Vice in Athens, replacing Patterson's shaky UB effort and Kupets' injury on beam in team finals. The U.S. underestimated the need for good back-up UB/BB workers, and this was a job that Vise, or Chellsie Memmel, could've gotten done.

Now, four years later, reports have been swirling around (including mine) that Shayla will not compete in Beijing, Shock Horror, because of the widely rumored but unconfirmed injuries she has been suffering from and the resurgence of Chellsie Memmel and Ashley Priess' UB work. A blog called The Olympic Effect (which unfortunately I don't think its editor is still blogging) had a USA women's selection post outlook of its own back in January. In it, the editor basically is saying Shayla will be on the team due to her strength on all four events and undeniable political favor, saying things such as Worley "is one of Martha Karolyi's favorites" and that she could be a "formidable challenger for the Olympic AA crown." First of all:

  • Martha Karolyi's supposed "favorites" are the Fab 3 (Shawn, Nastia, and A-Sac) because they bring home the most medals. Martha does like Shayla and favors her a bit, but I wouldn't say all that much over the other USA bubble girls. Martha has mellowed a bit since Athens and won't go to town with favoring gymnasts before the games. After all the team is being announced on July 20th, the LAST POSSIBLE DATE that the USOC will allow any Olympic teams to be announced. Martha will be considering EVERYTHING when it comes to making the squad and Shayla will not have everything Martha wants even if healthy.

  • Shawn and Nastia are locks for the two U.S. AA final spots barring a major disaster. Shayla's DTY upgrade appears unlikely due to the injuries, her bars needs a bit of upgrading and her dismount NEEDS TO GO, standing Arabian needs to be abolished from her beam routine, and floor exercise lacks the raw power that we see from A-Sac/Shawn/Sam P.

The Injury Report: Addicted2Gym reported that Shayla left the camp early because of back/hamstring issues. (remember that a teared hamstring was what kept her out of most of 2006). I am very sure that this is true, because Shayla did not compete in the Karolyi International meet with all the other girls who have only competed once or not at all this year. (Shayla has competed only once this year, competing very lackluster at Scam). Shayla was also passed over for BOTH the Italy meet and Pacific Rim when USA didn't have a full A-list team at either meet. There were many reports prior to the Scam Cup that Shayla was injured, yet still showed up at Madison Square Garden and competed nervously. Shayla likely was injured, but competed anyway just so she wouldn't piss off or concern Martha K.

What does Shayla contribute to the team? Shayla can certainly contribute to the team, but to what extent is debatable. On vault, there is a possible DTY upgrade which she was planning on competing at the American Cup (she told this in an Inside Gymnastics interview) but instead competed a cleaner Yurchenko 1.5 twist at that event. A DTY, unless if done very well, is unnecessary with Shawn, A-Sac, and Sam P. likely candidates to compete vault in team finals. Uneven bars is her best contribution to the team, with a 6.7 A-score. Chellsie Memmel and Ashley Priess scored a high of 16.0 (6.9 A-score) and 15.8 (6.6 A-score) at the recent Karolyi meet. Bridget Sloan is said to have a 6.7 A-score as well, and all of this improvement from other bar workers has the potential to decrease Worley's chances of making the squad significantly, as this is her money event. Shayla is good here, but her inconsistent double front dismount which is also severely cowboyed is a hotbed for deduction. Shayla's very good on beam, but Martha should feel safe with the fab 3 competing potentially 16+ scores in team finals. On floor, Shayla's lack of difficulty and power make the national team staff to likely shy away from using her in a team final there.

Calling For Donations: Shayla publicly announced that she wanted all of her fans to donate money to enable all of her family to go to Beijing and see her go for the gold in person. People have been quick to point out that this is very premature, as theoretically we don't even know if Shayla will make the Olympic Trials yet. (though of course she will, even if injured) However, the team is announced July 20th, just 2.5 weeks away from the start of Olympic competition. This would be far too little time to get all of the money she would need to get ALL of her family to Beijing safe and sound. Shayla is perhaps being a little arrogant with this, perhaps already thinking that she will be on the Olympic team. But absolutely, if she wants to get money, it is best to start getting it now. My only question is: What will happen to the money if she doesn't make the team?

Crazy Coach: Jeff Wood is somewhat of a younger, American version of Bela Karolyi. He is a big bear of a man, he is very intense out on the floor, yet shows his weak spot by hiding behind the curtains during Shayla's beam routines. He also gives his big bear hugs, practically suffocating the stick-thin Worley in the process. I noticed Jeff Wood's demeanor get much more stern at the 2007 Nationals, despite Worley having a great competition and finishing 2nd AA. Jeff could be pushing Shayla through injury, which could prove extremely detrimental to her quest of going to Beijing. Difficulty plus Execution reports that Jeff Wood was extremely angry that Chellsie Memmel and Ashley Priess are surpassing Shayla's UB standards. Jeff needs to calm down, but it couldn't hurt to upgrade on bars for her sake of making the team and also for the sake of the USA team, unless of course she IS HURT.

Final Thoughts

More and more it is beginning to look like Shayla will be lucky to even be an alternate. As I was analyzing her contribution to the USA team, it really appears as though that UB is the only event which we need her on, and we don't even need her there if Chellsie and Ashley continue to improve on that apparatus. This is of course considering that Shawn, Nastia, A-Sac, and Sam P. are healthy and roaring to go at the arrival of the Games. However, if Chellsie gets the 5th spot on the team and the last spot comes to down to the bars specialists, i.e. Shayla and Ashley, I would actually pick Shayla. Ashley doesn't contribute much of anything besides bars and her start value (as of now) is .1 below Shayla's. The judges know Shayla a bit more and will likely score her a tad more generously than they will with Ashley. Shayla is a potential back-up on beam and vault if she has a good DTY. However, if Ashley beats Shayla on bars at both Nats/Oly Trials, they have to pick Ashley. Period. With all that said, Shayla's spot is in jeopardy. She has to deliver just like everyone else and MUST HIT all four bar routines a Nats/Oly Trials. Everyone considered Shayla a lock last year. However, now it is DO or DIE for Shayla. Shayla doesn't want to be another Hollie Vise, a talented performer who peaked at the wrong time and let an injury step in the way of her Olympic dream. Sadly, it could very well happen.

Totally Random Comment: Bela Karolyi lists one of his favorite things he and Martha like to do in Houston is going to the ballet. Houston Ballet is an excellent company, and I always feel honored to be dancing at its academy, where I am currently training.

That is all.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Was Chellsie Memmel's Injury Worth It?

Above: Chellsie winning her 2003 World title on Uneven Bars. Three years later, she substained a devastating shoulder injury at the 2006 Worlds. Can Chellsie fight back and be recovered in time to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team?

This is the question burning among many gymnastics fans: Was Chellsie Memmel's shoulder injury of doom and going on to compete with it at the 2006 World Championships-team finals worth all the pain and suffering that she has been through in the last year and a half? We will soon find out in about two months, when the U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team is officially announced at the Karolyi Ranch. As many of you probably know, a foot injury hindered Memmel's 2004 efforts and thus had to settle for an alternate position. It is widely considered by gymnastics fans that Memmel has stuck around another four years to make the Olympic Team, this time to actually compete and represent her country in Beijing. Chellsie's career has been filled with tremendous ups and downs:

2003- An injured Chellsie has a sub par performance at the U.S. Nationals in her home state of Wisconsin. Passed over entirely for the World Championship team, she was given a lesser assignment to compete at the 2003 Pan American Games. By that time she was fully recovered and won the AA and UB golds at the Games. Meanwhile the U.S. was having a nightmare prior to the beginning of the World Championships in Anaheim. From Courtney Kupets' Achilles injury to Ashley Postell's flu to Annia Hatch's knee injury left the U.S. staff no choice but to call Chellsie over immediately from Santo Damingo to Anaheim for the World Championships. There, Chellsie turned in a stunning performance, LEADING the USA girls to a team gold and winning individual gold on the bars. With this incredible performance at such short notice Chellsie was considered a lock for the U.S. Olympic team set to go to Athens.

2004- Chellsie started off the Olympic year pretty strong with a 3rd place finish at the Scam Cup. However, disaster struck in April when Chellsie broke the metatarsal in her foot. This injury kept her out of Pacific Alliance Championships, Nationals, and Olympic Trials. Despite Chellsie's heroic effort in 2003, the selection committee was not persuaded to put her on the team with her only competing in one major meet that year. Chellsie later won the 2004 World Cup final on uneven bars after the games.

2005- After missing a potential first U.S. title to Nastia Liukin, Memmel was better than ever at the 2005 Worlds. There, she won the AA by .001 of a point and took silver on uneven bars and balance beam as well. Success here also prompted Memmel to stick around in hopes of finally making an Olympic team in 2008.

2006- Chellsie opened up the year with a tie at the Pacific Alliance Championships with Liukin. While training an overshoot on bars in practise Memmel injured her shoulder, but it didn't appear serious and came back to U.S. Nationals, finishing a solid 4th AA and hitting two clean bar sets despite only beginning to practice full bar routines one week prior to the competition. Chellsie still had shoulder problems by Worlds but due to ongoing pressure from Martha K. withdrawing was simply not an option. Chellsie was strong in preliminaries, qualifying 1st AA and also making bars and floor finals. USA trounced the field in preliminaries and the team was considered a shoo-in for the gold. However, Chellsie fell on uneven bars in team finals and aggravated her shoulder injury even further. Going on to compete beam and floor to ensure the silver medal for the U.S., the next day she couldn't lift her arm above her head.

2007- Chellsie finally started competing at the last part of the year, winning bronze on beam and floor at the Olympic Test Event and winning gold on floor and silver on beam at the Toyota Cup in Japan. Chellsie was still struggling on once her strongest event, uneven bars.

2008- ?

My Thoughts on the Subject Matter

  • Chellsie's father, Andy, commented that Chellsie finishing the competition at the 2006 Worlds team finals with a severe injury was "gutsy and stupid". Gutsy, yes. Stupid? Chellsie is a tough ass competitor and probably knew right when she injured her shoulder that no matter what the cost she had to finish and get a medal for the team. Chellsie not competing beam or floor would've meant using a girl that wouldn't have been at all prepared to compete; Natasha Kelley and Ashley Priess were unwisely sidelined from the team finals lineup entirely. This would've seriously put USA's medal chances at stake in a competition they should've easily won. Had Chellsie not finished the meet, she would be in Martha K.'s dog house for the rest of her career for what likely would've been a lost team medal for the U.S.

  • I hope this injury proves to be a blessing in disguise. Not competing in most of 2007 hopefully allowed Chellsie's body to rest somewhat and give her a renewed intensity for her quest to make the '08 Olympic team. Chellsie is not one of those girls that needed 2007 performances to make her case to Martha; she's done that already. For Chellsie, it is about proving that she is in shape and can contribute scores to USA, especially on uneven bars.

  • When Martha K. decides her Olympic team, she has to consider how the international judges would love to see Chellsie again. Chellsie has had strong political favor amongst the international judges at each of the three world championships she has competed in. Judges may not love Chellsie's form and artistry, but what they do love is her unwavering competitive spirit.

  • If Chellsie keeps up, or even improves upon, her 16.0 performance that she marked at the recent Karolyi International Meet, she is on the team even if it is just for bars. Martha K. can rely on Chellsie to hit and score well a hell of a lot more than she can rely on Shayla to do so, and plus Chellsie has the international recognition that Shayla doesn't have.

  • Chellsie is the toughest competitor out there. Period. Shawn Johnson won everything in sight in 2007, but could people rely on her to severely hurt her shoulder and finish her routine AND THEN go to beam and land on a punch front on one leg and STILL STAY ON. Oh yeah, and nail a floor routine on top of that. ALL of this Chellsie and Chellsie ONLY has done.

  • I, like mostly everybody else, is gunning for Chellsie Memmel to make the team. Please, Chellsie, just prove your undeniable competitive spirit one more time.

That is all.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

2008 Olympic Floor Exercise Outlook

Above: The apparent top five contenders in the women's floor final: Cheng Fei (CHN), Sandra Izbasa (ROM), Alicia Sacramone (USA), Shawn Johnson (USA), and Elizabeth Tweddle (GBR)
I just checked out the USA Gymnastics website the other day and it appears as though floor will actually be the first event final contested, followed by vault on the same day. As event finals are in a three-day format, bars will be held the 2nd day and beam will be held the 3rd day. With the decline in artistry on floor exercise making it a less pleasing event to look at, it is probably a wise decision to close the event on beam, where all the drama is sure to come. The floor exercise used to be about a combination of good tumbling and nice choreography. The former Soviet Union was second to none when it came to choreographing floor routines with tumbling that was ahead of its time and dance which commanded the audience's attention. However, the new code has helped change floor exercise dramatically. Good dance is no longer necessary, nor is mediocre dance for that matter. What the FIG calls dance are triple turns and awkward twisting jumps that are rarely ever fully rotated and seldom ever look good. Tumbling requires not three tumbling passes, not four, but five. Double twisting double backs have grown significantly, as has the famed double twist side pass. However, admist all of the demands of tumbling, some gymnasts still find time to be artistic. In the floor exercise, the winner will be sure to land all of her tumbling, not miss any dance elements/connections, and have decent enough artistry.

Predicted Floor Exercise Event Finalists:

Cheng Fei (China)

Vanessa Ferrari (Italy)

Sandra Izbasa (Romania)

Shawn Johnson (USA)

Alicia Sacramone (USA)

Elizabeth Tweddle (GBR)

Cassy Vericel (France)

Jiang Yuyuan (China)

And if something happens to either Cheng Fei or Jiang Yuyuan (only 2 per country advance)............

Sui Lu (China)

Predicted Reserve Athletes:

Daiane dos Santos (Brazil)

Anna Pavlova (Russia)

Ana-Maria Tamirjan (Romania)

The Contenders

Cheng Fei (China)

Results: 2008 Tianjin World Cup FX champion, 2007 Olympic Test Event FX champion, 2007 Worlds-5th place, 2006 World FX champion, 2004 Olympics-4th place

Pros: Cheng Fei has the potential for a 6.6 A-score on this event, the highest of anyone in the world. Armed with a tucked double-double and possibly a piked full-in at the end of her routine, Cheng has all the necessary tumbling passes and polished artistry to get her gold. Cheng generally does well at home, and could be unbeatable if she hits everything cleanly.

Cons: Inconsistency is the question mark for Cheng. At the 2007 Worlds event finals, Cheng had a great routine going but stepped way out of bounds after a faulty landing on her piked full-in dismount, costing her a medal. Cheng is unlikely to use her full tumbling difficulty until event finals, and this could prove detrimental if she can't pace herself accordingly while competing with the enormous pressure of going for gold at home.

Outlook: Cheng is perhaps considered the one to beat at this event, but certainly has stiffer competition hear than on vault. Her tumbling has looked a tad shaky this year, but Cheng is known to peak at the right time. The question mark for everyone is whether she can put all of her difficulty together for a clean, and perhaps unbeatable routine, or whether a fluke error will keep her off the podium entirely.

Vanessa Ferrari (Italy)

Results: 2007 Worlds-6th place, 2007 European FX champion, 2006 Worlds-3rd place

Pros: Ferrari is capable of a solid 6.3 A-score, including competing difficult skills such as a double-double. At two World championships and one European championship she has hit three mostly clean routines, providing good evidence that she will hit if she makes FX finals in Beijing. She showed improved artistry at the recent Europeans and scored a 15.3 in AA finals at the 2007 Worlds, one of the highest floor marks of the entire meet even with a severe foot injury.

Cons: Ferrari has struggled with injury and a maturing body over the last year and missed even qualifying to the FX event finals at the Europeans in April. She has competed a watered-down set so far this year which won't qualify her toward Olympic FX finals even if hit cleanly. Ferrari has had issues in the past of stepping out of bounds.

Outlook: It remains unclear if we will even see Ferrari at her full difficulty come Olympics, and whether she will be able to hit her routine cleanly. I expect Ferrari to come to the Olympics armed with big tricks, and if she hits them cleanly she will be definitely be a strong contender for a FX medal. However, small errors and form issues have lowered her placement on floor in the past, and thus I am not expecting Ferrari to bring home an Olympic FX medal.

Sandra Izbasa (Romania)

Results: 2008 Cottbus FX champion, 2008 European FX champion, 2007 Worlds-8th place, 2006 Worlds-6th place

Pros: Izbasa has good artistry, superb tumbling, and decent form. Her 6.5 A-score is very formidable, as was her winning Europeans with a whooping 15.775. Her tumbling has been extremely consistent this year and has renewed life into her artistry. She will have strong political backing from any anti-China or anti-USA judges, being Europe's best hope for FX gold.

Cons: Izbasa has faltered in the last two World Championship FX event finals, stepping out of bounds numerous times. At the 2007 Worlds she was penalized heavily for underotating a twist pass. Izbasa could end up competing four routines in prelims, team finals, and AA finals, which would likely weaken her stamina by the time event finals roll around.

Outlook: Watch out Cheng, Johnson, and A-Sac, Izbasa has been coming out like gangbusters with her excellent FX performances this year. If she keeps this up she could well be an Olympic gold medalist. However, Izbasa's performances at the last two Worlds do not point strong signs to her hitting in Olympic FX finals, and as I mentioned earlier stamina could be a big issue for Izbasa, as FX finals are just one day after AA finals which she is likely to compete in.

Shawn Johnson (USA)

Results: 2007 World FX Champion, 2007 U.S. FX champion, 2007 Pan American Games-2nd place

Pros: With a rumored tucked full-in for her last pass, Shawn would have a strong 6.4 A-score. Floor is arguably Shawn's most consistent event, hitting all of her 2007 FX routines. Good form, excellent tumbling, and decent-enough artistry are a good combination for her success here. Shawn also has strong political favor, which was brought to light when she beat Alicia Sacramone at the 2007 Worlds despite an OOB and several other hops on her landings.

Cons: Shawn's whip + triple twist upgrade has been inconsistent in terms of full rotation this year, and reports from the camp indicated that Shawn didn't land her full-in upgrade at the end of her routine. Even with that upgrade she does lag a tad behind Izbasa and Cheng's A-scores on this event. Several observers have pointed out that Shawn travels so much on her tumbling passes that if she grew an inch she would be out of bounds for sure.

Outlook: It will be a tall order to repeat as FX champion, but it could happen if others make mistakes and if Shawn hits cleanly. This is a good event for Shawn and with strong political favor she should be in the mix for a medal and on a perfect night a gold medal. Shawn's #1 concern appears to be staying in bounds.

Alicia Sacramone (USA)

Results: 2007 Worlds-2nd place, 2007 U.S. Nationals-2nd place, 2006 U.S. Nationals FX champion-tie, 2005 Worlds FX Champion, 2005 U.S. FX Champion

Pros: Alicia has the entire package on this event, with sky-high tumbling, nice form, and attractive dance. Alicia hit three good FX routines at the 2007 World Champions, two of them with the pressure of being the last competitor of the night. Alicia's ease with all of her tumbling passes look like they can be upgraded without issues as well.

Cons: Alicia has rarely been favored by the international judges, who much prefer Shawn's cute and smily demeanor. Alicia's switch-side 1/2 was downgraded at the 2007 Worlds FX event final, costing her the gold. Alicia had reason to be upset after losing the 2007 World FX title, but her stormy reaction after the loss will make matters far worse with judges not wanting to score Sacramone highly due to her lack of sportsmanship. As of now, Sacramone has only a 6.2 A-score on this event, which is much lower than what she will need to medal in Beijing.

Outlook: Alicia's lack of political favor and lower A-score seem to make it unlikely for Sacramone to even reach the podium. She definitely has the potential for upgrades (double-double, piked double Arabian, triple twist) but whether she will decide to use any of them remains to be seen. Sacramone is excellent on the floor, but will need upgrades and mistakes from other competitors to get a gold medal.

Elizabeth Tweddle (GBR)

Results: 2008 Europeans-2nd place, 2007 Worlds-7th place, 2007 Europeans-2nd place, 2006 Worlds-4th place(tie)

Pros: Elizabeth has an upgraded 6.4 A-score on this event, and hit a great routine at the Europeans this year to win silver. This A-score is the 3rd highest A-score in the world that is currently being competed among the FX medal contenders. Tweddle is generally scored favorably by the international judges, being the only British female gymnast with a shot at winning a medal in any event.

Cons: Tweddle hit a lackluster routine at the 2007 Worlds event finals. Tweddle's artistry is relatively weak compared to the other top floor workers, and has suffered from stepping out of bounds or underotated landings in pressure situations in the past. Tweddle tends to be jinxed with getting injuries substained near or during a major competitions, i.e. an injury substained while practicing bars at the 2005 Worlds prevented her from competing floor exercise.

Outlook: Tweddle's 6.4 A-score, if hit cleanly, can get her a medal on this event. With Kexin, Yilin, and Liukin upgrading like crazy on UB this year, Beth should probably invest more time on improving her floor routine as she actually, in my opinion, has a better chance for a medal on floor than on UB. Judges will probably be more inclined to score Tweddle favorably than Sacramone, and thus a clean routine could easily get Tweddle on the podium.

Cassy Vericel (France)

Results: 2008 Europeans-7th place, 2007 Worlds-3rd place, 2007 Europeans-4th place

Pros: Vericel has improved her A-score to a 6.3 and for whatever reason French gymnasts always seem to be scored pretty favorably, with Vericel being no exception. Unexpected to contend for a world FX medal, she hit a clean routine and played off of other's mistakes to win the bronze at last year's world championships. She has solid form and generally good landings on this event.

Cons: Vericel suffers from inconsistency, dropping to 7th at this year's Europeans by stepping out of bounds twice. Her artistry is something to be desired and lacks the international name that the other top floor contenders have.

Outlook: Vericel's world medal marked the only world medal for France during the entire quadrennium. Veribel is unlikely to win an Olympic FX medal due to her lack of artistry, inconsistency, and pressure of being France's lone hope for an individual medal. She would need to win an Olympic FX medal just like she won her World FX bronze, playing off of other's mistakes.

Jiang Yuyuan (China)

Results: 2008 Chinese Nationals-6th(tie), 2008 Doha World Cup FX champion, 2007 Olympic Test Event-5th place, 2007 Worlds-4th place

Pros: Jiang has superb artistry and has solid tumbling as well, boasting a 6.3 A-score. She won the Doha World Cup FX competition with only a 5.8 A-score. She hit a clean routine at the 2007 Worlds to finish 4th, and scores very well when she cleanly hits a routine. Jiang's lighthearted personality, similar to that of Shawn Johnson, should get her the scoring favor she needs to get a medal.

Cons: Jiang has been inconsistent in floor event finals as of late, steeping out of bounds at both the 2007 Olympic Test event and the recent Chinese Nationals. She lags a little behind some of the other contenders in terms of power in her tumbling and steady landings. Jiang's errors at the recent Chinese Nationals do not bode well for her being able to win an FX medal in Beijing.

Outlook: Jiang will need to outscore her compatriot Sui Lu in prelims just to get the final, but in my opinion should do so because of Sui's lack of experience. Jiang's inconsistency issues could prevent her from medaling in FX finals in Beijing, but she still could do so if Jiang puts together a clean routine for the finals.

And if Cheng Fei or Jiang Yuyuan doesn't make floor finals.........

Sui Lu (China)

Results: 2008 Chinese Nationals FX champion(tie)

Pros: Sui Lu has an excellent 6.4 A-score, and at Chinese Nationals showed a good combination of solid tumbling, form, and artistry. In the little that we have seen from Sui Lu she has shown to be a consistent gymnast on this event.

Cons: Sui Lu tremendously lacks experience, with the Olympics possibly being her first major senior international meet. She lacks personality which could weaken her political favor with the judges, as will her being a new face on the scene.

Outlook: Sui Lu actually, in my opinion, has a better chance for an FX medal than Jiang Yuyuan, but it remains to be seen whether Sui will crack under the pressure. Sui's alarming experience and potential for lower scores from international judges who hardly know her name make me believe that she will miss qualifying to the FX final due to the opportunity-crushing rule of only two gymnasts per country advancing to an individual final.

Thoughts on Predicted Reserve Athletes

Daiane dos Santos (Brazil)- Whether Daiane (famously and incorrectly pronounced "DNA" by Bart Conner) will be at top form on this event is something that Brazil is holding their breath over. Daiane was still struggling as I mentioned in my Tianjin World Cup analysis post and, with less than 90 days to go until the Olympics I am expecting a solid, but unspectacular effort from dos Santos that will ultimately fall short of qualifying for finals.

Anna Pavlova (Russia)- Viewers saying OMG this is the most artistic floor routine of the quadrennium are incorrect, but Pavlova does have a clean and elegant routine that should score favorably in Beijing. She will need to upgrade her routine up from its current 5.9 A-score if she has any hope of making FX finals, however.

Ana-Maria Tamirjan (Romania)- Recovered from leg injury that kept her out of last year's Worlds to win European FX bronze medal. Has a 6.0 A-score and will need to upgrade to make finals due to the early position Romania drew (1st subdivision).

Predicted Podium:

Gold: Sandra Izbasa (Romania)

Silver: Cheng Fei (China)

Bronze: Shawn Johnson (USA)

I am predicting that Cheng Fei will have a small error, enough of an error to allow Izbasa to pass her with a clean routine. Johnson will not have her absolute best routine (perhaps an OOB) but political favor and reputation will save the day to get her on the podium. However, Tweddle could easily pass Johnson with a clean routine. Sacramone will need mistakes from other competitors; the judges always find SOMETHING to mark her off for, whether it be a missed dance series or an incomplete jump or turn. Yuyuan, Vericel, and Ferrari are too inconsistent to be trusted for a medal on this event. Floor finals are going to be close, however, no matter what shape everyone will be in on the day of the competition.

Next Post: Not sure yet LOL

Note: I am not doing a UB final Outlook post until USA's are over, just to see what shape Liukin/Memmel are in. A BB final Outlook post will have to wait until Chinese Olympic team has been announced.

That is all.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Karolyi Meet and Tianjin World Cup Analysis

Two meets have happened just recently, the Karolyi International meet and the Tianjin World Cup. The Karolyi International meet provided glimpses as to who we will see on the U.S. team in Beijing, and who we won't. The Tianjin World Cup took place right after the Chinese Nationals, and went on despite the devastating earthquake that is affecting much of China.

Thoughts From Karolyi International Meet

  • The internet has been awaiting with eager anticipation of Ivana Hong's upgrades. And we got................ none. Ivana won the AA at the Karolyi meet, but individually speaking she just doesn't bring much to the table. Ivana should've invested in either an Amanar upgrade or significant bar upgrades. Her UB A-score, 6.3, is the same as Shawn's, and her newfound strength on beam (15.8) doesn't help much either, with the fab 3 (Shawn, Nast, and A-Sac) sure to compete on that event in an olympic team final. Ivana looked more consistent with her routines, but this means nothing if they don't have the needed difficulty. Unlikely to be on the team, the U.S. may still need her as an alternate for good VT/BB work.

  • Ashley Priess looks good, with UB scores ranging from 15.75-15.8. Priess should look to improving her A-score (6.6) by a tenth or two to give her the needed edge on that apparatus over Shayla Worley. Ashley will need to capitalize on her known consistency at Nats/Oly Trials/Karolyi Camp to get on the team, but it could happen. If Priess makes the team, she could be somewhat of an Annia Hatch presence at the Olympics as she only contributes majorly on one event.

  • I don't know what to think about Chellsie Memmel's performance. She looked to be playing it safe in the AA, only scoring a 14.5 on bars (6.2 A-score). She only competed an FTY and scored a 15.35 on beam and a 14.55 on floor. Chellsie looked stronger on beam and floor at the Olympic Test Event and Toyota Cup meets she competed in at the closing of 2007, so I am guessing that these were watered-down routines due to the lack of importance of this event. In event finals, Memmel stunned all with a 16.0 in UB finals (6.9 A-score). All I can say is, where did that come from?

  • Away from competition since 2007 Worlds, Alicia Sacramone looked strong. Despite rolling her ankle earlier in the year, Alicia vaulted a handspring Rudi vault with ease (15.65) and was solid on floor (15.25 AA/15.5 EF). She has upgraded her beam set to a potential A-score of 7.0, and scored a 16.15 in AA finals. This may have been a little inflated, but it shows that Alicia is fully ready to compete BB in team finals and can potentially make Olympic BB finals as well. This is even more bad news for Shayla Worley, as Martha K. probably will feel A-Sac will take care of the lead-off spot on BB in team finals with her upgrades over the potentialy high-scoring but inconsistent Shayla.

  • Dark horse olympic threat Mattie Larson is improving, placing 4th AA and 2nd on FX. However, her lack of experience is unlikely to get her on the team but she might be wise to stick around on a potentially dominant USA team en route to London 2012.

  • Darling Hill (BTW I much prefered Darlene as her first name) is unlikely to make the team. The internet has been abuzz with speculation of whether she could make the team, especially after her FX win at the Pacific Rim Championships. Her highest FX score was a 15.1 in event finals, but still only won the bronze. Injuries have kept her from upgrading to a DTY and competing uneven bars, one of her best events. Darlene will need to win floor at Nationals or Olympic Trials, with A-Sac and Shawn hitting. The probability of this scenario is low, and sadly I have to say the same for her Olympic chances.

  • Martha K. and USAG should've let these girls compete at the U.S. Classic at Houston instead of creating this meet especially for them. USAG could've generated much greater revenue that way and the girls would experience even more of a competition-like atmosphere.

  • Not much to report in terms of the international competitors; Paola Galante (ITA) placed a respectable 5th AA behind Hong, Priess, Memmel, and Larson. Alyssa Brown, the Canadian who had a horrific FX fall at the 2008 Scam Cup, won vault finals without A-Sac competing a second vault.

Tianjin World Cup


Gold: Cheng Fei (CHN)-Duh she won. Didn't compete either the Amanar or the Cheng, though she did do an apparently shaky Cheng (15.45) in the prelims. 14.975 average score.

Silver: Ksenia Afanasyeva (RUS)-Haven't heard much about her, but a silver on this event and a bronze on UB help out her Beijing cause greatly. 14.350 average score.

Bronze: Kristina Goryunova (RUS)-Like Afanasyeva, a late bloomer looking to peak at the right time. Competed solid A-score vaults, 5.8 and 5.2. 14.062 average score.

Other Notes: Elyse Hofner-Hibbs and Nansy Damianova finished 5th and 6th, respectively. They both earned above the required score to gain points to make the Olympic team, thus adding to my prediction that these two girls will be in Beijing and Kristina Vaculik will not.

Uneven Bars

Gold: Yang Yilin (CHN)- Getting better and better on this apparatus, and with a 7.7 A-score she could possibly win UB gold in Beijing. She definitely appears to be peaking at the right time. 16.925 score.

Silver: Elyse Hofner-Hibbs (CAN)-Competing a 6.8 A-score, but apparenty had an error and scored only a 15.35. This however is enough to earn her even more points to represent Canada in Beijing.

Bronze: Ksenia Afanasyeva (RUS)-Only a 6.1 A-score on this event and beat her compatriot Svetlana Klyukina, who finished 4th.

Other Notes: Daiane Dos Santos finished 6th with a 6.4 A-score. Koko Tsurumi of Japan and Vaculik apparently struggled and finished 7th and 8th, respectively.

Shock Horror: He Kexin won preliminaries with a whooping 17.2, the highest international score of any kind to date. However, she withdrew from finals due to "exhaustion." I don't think this is serious or that it will affect Kexin's spot on the Olympic team, but it could mean that she may be ill-prepared when it comes to dealing with the pressure of the Olympics and may be peaking too soon.

Balance Beam

Gold: Cheng Fei (China) Without the triple full dismount, Cheng's routine is worth a maximum of 6.7. It seems as though we won't see this dismount in Beijing (her 2.5 twist just barely got around in Tianjin), thus weakening her chances of making Olympic beam finals. Beam has looked a tad shaky from Cheng so far this year but her performance in event finals at this meet was strong even without the dismount. 15.925 score.

Silver: Kristina Goryunova (Russia)- A strong performance in a meet in China bodes well for her olympic chances, though the Russians probably still don't need her with European beam champions Semionova and Lozechko in tow. However, a 15.675 is hard to overlook.

Bronze: Irina Krasnianska (Ukaraine)- A 6.9 A-score means that Krasnianska is back and looks to be on the Ukranian Olympic team after being left off the European team in favor of Zgoba competing bars only. Krasnianksa had a steady set with a couple wobbles; slightly underscored 15.525.

Other Notes: Xiao Sha apparently fell in the beam final, finishing 4th after easily winning prelims. Xiao blew her last shot to make the team, and I am thus officially changing my Chinese Olympic Team prediction by replacing her with Li Shanshan.

Floor Exercise

Gold: Cheng Fei (CHN)- Cheng Fei only competed a 6.2 difficulty score here. 15.550 score.

Silver: Yang Yilin (CHN)- Like I mentioned earlier she is really improving her strength on the power events, thus greatly increasing her AA medal chances. 15.275 score.

Bronze: Kristina Goryunova (RUS)- Another good showing from this unknown Russian. 14.400 score

Other Notes: Daiane dos Santos is STILL struggling on floor and I have many doubts as to whether she will have her full difficulty back for Beijing. She may be pacing herself, but she will certainly need a few competitions prior to the Olympics to get her full difficulty consistent. Finished 4th here with a 14.375.

Other News-Olympic Draw

The Chinese women drew the worst qualifying position imaginable for them, competing in the first subdivision and starting on the balance beam. China's consistency has improved, but it will take a lot of good preparation on China's part to do well while competing in this most undesirable position. China's first subdivision can make politically biased judges have an "excuse" to mark down the Chinese girls as they are known to do. Romania competes in the first subdivision, but starts on vault. The U.S. competes in the 2nd subdivision, which is just fine for them. However, ending on balance beam will be a tough task, but the girls performed very well while starting on beam at the 2007 Worlds. Russia competes in the 3rd subdivision, thus giving the team more opportunity for coveted event finals spots. Japan, Great Britain, and Italy will compete in the 2nd subdivision, which puts all of these teams at some risk for making team finals even though Italy should qualify barring a disastrous performance. Germany, Ukaraine, and Australia will compete in the 3rd subdivision. Brazil and France will compete in the last subdivision, providing these two bubble teams a huge advantage to make team finals and win AA and event finals spots as well. At this point I expect all the finalists at the 2007 Worlds-team finals to compete in team finals in Beijing, though I am predicting that Australia will steal Great Britain's former spot in qualifying for that competition.

Also, check out the Martha Karolyi interview at Inside Gymnastics. I was pretty dissapointed at Martha K's lack of knowledge of what is going on outside the U.S. You would think someone coming from an ex-Communist country would be tempted to follow the rest of the world's every move. After all, Chinese head coach Lu Shanzhen commented to International Gymnast Magazine how she is eagerly awaiting the U.S. Nationals and how they upgraded He Kexin's UB routine (and presumably Yang Yilin's also) to 7.7 start values after seeing that Nastia Liukin had this start value in her arsenal. What is she doing at the ranch all that time that she is not pushing zee gurlies to zee limit? She even referred to He Kexin as "some Chinese girl." And apparently she just heard that Kexin has a 7.7 A-score on bars, like Liukin. Well guess what, Martha? Double the pleasure, Yang Yilin now has a 7.7 UB A-score too. However, I was happy that she wasn't quick to point out that the U.S. is the huge favorite for team gold or anything like that.

One final note: Giulyx14 reported that Carlotta Giovannini (ITA) is planning on upgrading to an Amanar and also plans on adding an extra hald-twist to her 2nd vault, thus making it a RO 1/2 on tucked Rudi off vault. These upgrades, if done successfully, will boost Giovannini's vault medal chances considerably.

Next Post: Olympic FX Finals Outlook

That is all.