Monday, July 21, 2008

It Is Now Official

Above: The 2008 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics Team, in addition to the three alternates chosen. Missing from the picture is Shayla Worley, whose very possible Olympic dream was ended at the last second with a broken leg.

The team selection for the USA women's gymnastics team, which will head off to Beijing to hold off China in its quest for Olympic gold, was announced the evening of July 19th, 2008. Though this team heads to the Olympics as the reigning world champions, just like in 2004, the drama and possibilities of who would go and who would stay was a far cry from in 2004, when the team selection was fare more open in terms of possibilities and resulted in a relatively shocking decision to invite veteran vault specialists Mohini Bhardwaj and Annia Hatch. This time around, the Olympic Trials in Philadelphia seemed to all but guarantee five spots on the team, with one being left to fight after. It looked like the last spot would be a fight between Jana Bieger, Ivana Hong, Mattie Larson, Bridget Sloan, and Shayla Worley. As all should know by now, Sloan got the last spot on the team and Jana Bieger, Ivana Hong, and little-known Corrie Lothrop were named as the alternates. My thoughts on the bubble girls competing for the last spots and their performances at the camp:

Jana Bieger:
With a consistent showing on bars at trials, the 6th spot was ultimately Jana's to lose. Despite Jana's former greatness as an all-arounder (silver at 2006 Worlds), that would mean nothing to this team, all that was important was her uneven bars work. Unfortunately, two falls on her stalder Tkatchev (otherwise known as a Ricna) would be the undoing of a lifelong dream. And, to be perfectly honest, had Jana hit one of her bars sets at the camp and outscored Johnson, I think that would've been enough for her to make the team. It must be an absolute killer to think that ultimately being an inch or too far away from the bar during one routine meant the difference between a possible Olympic gold, and watching from the sidelines and wondering what could've been.

Ivana Hong: Well, at least her knee injury that she was rumored to have apparently was not serious, but Martha K. hinted that was Hong's lack of confidence, attack, and experience that kept her off the Olympic team. Though being an alternate to the team was pretty much known to be the case all along, Hong's relatively remote Olympic chances really boiled down to vault and bars. The numbers spoke for themselves, and Hong's vault being outscored by Samantha Peszek, Bridget Sloan, and Corrie Lothrop and having her bars being outscored by Shawn Johnson meant that there really is no immediate use for her on the team. Hong's help to the USA team on the world stage will have to be on hold until 2009.

Mattie Larson: Larson would've been the 3rd alternate at the very least if yet another injury (Memmel's "whiplash," and Worley's broken leg) hadn't happened to this most stylish of performers. If the injury hadn't occurred, it would've been interesting to see if Martha K. would've put Larson in for Hong as one of the two traveling alternates. After all, Larson had the 2nd highest floor score on day one, higher than Sacramone, Sloan, and Peszek, prior to her injury. The downfall to Larson's Olympic bid boiled down to even more than simply inexperience and her last-minute injury. Her best event, floor, was really the event USA needed her the least on. I think Larson's mature attitude and polished gymnastics can carry her a long way to the next quad and possibly the 2012 Olympics if she can hang in there that long. I only hope this isn't too big of a mental and physical setback for her heading into next year when USA could really use her to win medals in important competitions.

Bridget Sloan: If you read my "And spot #6 goes to...." post, you will definitely know how much I wanted Bridget to be on the team and I was thoroughly pleased to hear that she was indeed chosen as the last girl. However, her getting the last spot came down to very different reasons than I had imagined. With the five locks on the team, there was literally only one gap available, and that was on bars for both prelims and finals. However, with Shawn Johnson getting the 3rd highest bars score, Bieger's falls, and Sloan's missed handstands and closely caught release moves, the order of the day changed from getting a separate bars specialist to having the last girl add whatever tenths were left available to gain on vault and floor. With Sloan having arguably the best meet of her career at the most important meet of her career, she proved she could be counted on really any event as another good all-arounder for the U.S. team. I am still quite confused, and unhappy, that Sloan's UB scores fell like an avalanche between Nationals and the camp with hit routines. Apparently it was the aforementioned issues I mentioned of her UB routines that caused her scores to go down, but I would really like to see her being counted on as the 3rd bar girl and not Johnson, as Sloan certainly has the potential. Bridget's presence on the team now poses a threat to Chellsie Memmel competing AA in prelims, especially because of Sloan's far superior DTY at the camp.

Shayla Worley: I was devastated when I turned on my computer, went to and the front page the headline stared at me "Shayla Worley out with broken leg." All of our possibilities for a 3rd bars girl have fallen one by one, and Worley was our last hope. Unfortunately, Worley's leg injury could've at least had a lower chance of not happening had she and her coach been smart and just trained and competed at the camp on bars ONLY. It seems as though Jeff Wood, and I guess Shayla as well, thought her making AA finals at the Olympics was a possibility, which as we all know is complete rubbish. However, it is also known that Martha K. has a strong liking for AAers, and after all with Sloan being picked over Bieger provides further evidence for that fact. Really, in the case with Bridget Sloan, she is just providing the USA with more options for back-up on floor, vault, and bars. However, an excellent 3rd bar worker who could consistently outscore Johnson by .2 or more would be all that was needed for the 6th spot, and frankly I think that if Hatch's 1-event Olympics in 2004 means anything Martha K. would've done the same for Worley.

And that last spot could've easily been Shayla Worley, who was scored favorably at Worlds with the world-renowned "international look," and also had a 7.0 A-score UB routine in the works. And that last spot could've easily been Ashley Priess as well, who was scoring in the 15.7-15.8 range at a meet back in May but made an admirable decision to back-out of the race when she wasn't healthy enough to compete. One can only imagine how she now must be wondering that if her body had been up to the challenge she really could've made it. And, last but not least, that could've easily been Courtney Kupets, who everyone was waiting with eager anticipation if she would make an Olympic comeback until a nasty Achilles injury put a second Olympic Games out of her August travel plans. Kupets never said she would go to Beijing, but with experience, consistency, polished and difficult UB work, and confidence to top it off one has to wonder why she would pass up all of that for what could've been the Olympic team gold she missed in Athens. But here and now has arrived, and though all of those possibilities have vanished, using Johnson or Sloan for the 3rd bars girl should be good enough for the U.S. team given our strength and depth on the other three events.

Team Line-Ups


Prelims: Sacramone, Johnson, Liukin, Peszek/Sloan/Memmel
Finals: Sacramone, Johnson, Peszek/Sloan

Outlook: This is going to be by far the most confusing event to determine the line-up, with AA spots and extra tenths to be gained to the team total on the line. As of now, it looks like Memmel will sit out of vault, but Chellsie is known for pulling tricks out of nowhere that you never really thought she could do that well. (take Nats Day 2 vault as an example) So I'd say it would actually be a wise move to still let Memmel do vault, especially considering the fact that Martha K. would look extremely bad for not letting three girls do AA in prelims if Nastia or Shawn is to get injured and therefore cannot compete.

Now, with the Peszek/Sloan battle, we must not forget that Sloan's DTY scores were higher than Peszek's at the camp, and given how USAG judges tend to be rather lenient with Peszek that has to say something. Though this would seem to be almost unheard of for Martha K. (though if I'm not mistaken I think something like this happened at 2001 Worlds), Bridget could do VT in prelims and if she falters due to "inexperience" Sam P. can just go and do vault in team finals even if she didn't compete that event in prelims. It really is plausible, especially considering USA has no worries making to team finals (unless if Martha K. is really gunning for the top spot in prelims which would ensure USA of competing last on floor in team finals) and also that Sam P. can almost do a DTY in her sleep, even if it doesn't have the best form and height out there. And if Sloan's DTY is fabulous in prelims, well than you use her in team finals, simple as that. So, I would actually say I would sit out Peszek on vault in prelims, but knowing Martha K. it wouldn't be like her to be inclined to do that.

It will be interesting to see if Johnson is going to go last on vault in prelims/team finals. With the step latter scoring format the judges generally use, the panel may just be a tad bit more lenient with crediting Shawn's often underotated Amanar vault. Though knowing what happened to Cheng Fei in 2006, the judges are really free to do whatever they want to.


Prelims: Liukin, Memmel, Sloan, Johnson, Peszek
Finals: Liukin, Memmel, Johnson (possibly Sloan)

Outlook: Well, there is no question that this will be the prelims line-up with Sacramone ditching this nemesis event of hers altogether. It might be wise to put Johnson before Sloan in team prelims, so that judges can be more lenient with possible missed handstands from Sloan who has a .3 advantage in start value over Johnson on this event. However, unless if Sloan's UB routine is day 2 nats worthy in prelims, I'd say Johnson is doing UB in TF. Johnson if far more consistent on this event than Sloan and was scoring much higher than her at the camp meet, so as of now she is definitely the better pick.


Prelims: Johnson, Liukin, Memmel, Sacramone, Peszek
Finals: Johnson, Liukin, Memmel/Sacramone

Outlook: The real question here is who will be doing the lead-off BB girl (unless if they want to switch things up and go according to A-scores, which would make Nastia the lead-off BB girl in TF). Memmel and Sacramone are generally consistent performers here, and while Memmel definitely outclassed Sacramone on this event at trials Sacramone was apparently better than ever on this event at the camp with two 16.2's (one of those scores was definitely said to be inflated, while Memmel's 15.9 on day one was said to be fair). The decision of who competes BB in team finals will come down to who scores higher in prelims for sure, and if Memmel and Sacramone were to tie?


Prelims: Johnson, Sacramone, Memmel, Liukin, Peszek/Sloan
Finals: Johnson, Sacramone, Memmel (any of the other 3 are fine substitutes)

Outlook: Floor Exercise is an excellent event for the USA women and this is certainly an apparatus in which they will look to close in on at least part of the team's deficit on China that will likely be carried over from the uneven bars. Any of the above six actually could be a legitimate use in team finals on this apparatus. I am predicting, however, that Sloan will sit this event out in prelims. Potential A-scores of Johnson (6.6), Sacramone (6.4), and Memmel (6.5) mean that Sloan's 6.2, even with the international look and all, just doesn't quite cut it. Sloan tied Peszek (with a potential A-score of 6.5 on FX) at the camp on day one with 15.3s apiece and with Peszek's higher start score she seems like an ever so slightly better choice here. However, they can easily swap in Sloan if Peszek is the slightest bit off in training. I believe Johnson, Memmel, and Sacramone are great for team finals on FX, I do wonder though if Memmel will still put in the double arabian (which will make a difference of .2 in the A-score if she were to do her original double full instead) even though she will have yet to compete it along with the rest of her routine until prelims at the Games.

Brief Analysis on What Each Team Member Brings to USA's Quest for the Gold

Shawn Johnson:
The three-time world champion brings experience, consistency, and generally good scoring favor to the USA team. Oh, and we cannot forget that Johnson appears to be likely competing all four events in team finals at the Olympics. Johnson may just be contributing the top USA marks on vault, beam, and floor. If USA were to lose her than they might as well just hand the gold to China before the competition is to even begin.

Nastia Liukin: Liukin's uneven bars is reason enough for her to be on the team, and also contributes world-class work on balance beam and potentially good work on floor exercise. Experience of three world championships and winning nine world medals should prove invaluable to the USA team in Beijing.

Chellsie Memmel- USA's gold medal chances are in much better condition with Chellsie Memmel arguably being in the best shape of her life at really the best possible time, too. The whiplash incident at the camp likely won't be an issue heading into the games at all for the fierce competitior who tore her rotator cuff on her shoulder during the world championship team finals and went on to finish the meet like nothing had happened. Memmel has the potential to contribute in team finals on bars, beam, and floor.

Alicia Sacramone- Sacramone has won three world medals on the vault and her strength there alone adds several tenths to the team's score. A triple twist upgrade bumps up Alicia's start value on floor exercise to a 6.4 and barring something unusual should compete in team finals there as well. Contributing to the team on balance beam is also a strong possibility, and with seven world medals in her back pocket the self-proclaimed "mother hen" of the squad will bring leadership, determination, and experience to the USA team in Beijing.

Samantha Peszek- Peszek, who as said by Elfi Schlegel as "skittish last year" has improved and proved to be a solid and reliable competitor on all apparatus this year. Peszek does nothing breathtakingly spectacular but nothing bad either, and could do vault and maybe even floor in team finals. However, with Sloan now on the team Peszek could actually be sitting out on the event, vault, which many still consider as her top attribute to the team. Peszek's choice to become an all-arounder, though at times looked to be questionable, ultimately did pay off in the end.

Bridget Sloan- If Bridget can get those bars handstands consistent there is some possibility that we will see her on that event in team finals. She is also capable of contributing on vault and maybe even floor in team finals on the team, but her position is really more to be a plug-in athlete on those events, but certainly a good one at that.

Is This Process of Naming the Olympic Team Too Exhaustive For the Gymnasts?

With two major injuries (three if you count Memmel) happening at the camp, all signs seem to point to yes. While having three pressure-packed meets will do very well for the gymnasts' mental toughness and confidence levels heading into the biggest meet of their lives, the potential for injury, as proven at the camp, runs at an all-time high.

It was said by most insiders that five spots to Johnson, Liukin, Memmel, Sacramone, and Peszek were sewn up at trials and having them compete at this camp meet could indeed backfire on the USA team who wants to send a team that is not only the best possible team, but in the best possible shape.

However, Martha K. was definitely intelligent to wait to the last minute to select this team. In the end, Bridget Sloan was unquestionably the best pick for the last spot, but would anyone have said that back in Philly? Surely not.

Worley's injuries cannot really be blamed as much on this selection process, as she didn't compete at Nationals. But in her case, she could've easily been named had her leg held up and thus might've been able to have competed great UB routines at the camp.

Had the team been named in Philly, than there would be no Sloan or Worley on the roster and Bieger would've most likely been picked, and as the camp showed us all Jana really wasn't peaking at the right time. If I were to change how this selection process were to go down, I would say hold Nationals around or maybe a tad bit earlier than when Olympic Trials would usually be held (mid to late June) and hold an Olympic Trials in mid to late July, in front of a packed house and all, and decide the team right then and there. I think that would cover the needs for picking the team as close to the games as possible, and eliminating the camp meet entirely would do well for the girls staying healthy and in peak form in preparation for the Olympics.

That is all.


Yeedico said...

Do you think it is possible for Shayla Worley to return in 2009 and dominate the quadranium's AA? hahaha...

MRR said...

LOL! Interestingly, I read somewhere where Shayla said something along the lines of "I haven't given up on the Olympic dream." I think that sentence is BS but you never know, she might pull a Bhardwaj and go for London if she is healthy and doing well. Her dominating NCAA all-around is actually somewhat plausible, however.

Anonymous said...

Article on the process by an Olympian:

Nicole said...

I loved Shayla's gymnastics and I hope that she does continue, at least to another world championships.

I also agree with the majority of your line ups though I would actually have both Bridget and Sam vault over Chellsie. Purely because I would like them to contribute to the team and they have the potential to score better there. Although USA is definately in the TF it would suck to be on the team and only compete one apparatus. I hate seeing a gymnast go through TF with their warm ups on the entire time a la McCool in 2004. I really hope that all can pay their part.

MJunaid said...

What an impressive game is this one. I can say that most of the people will love to go for this one.