Sunday, February 7, 2016

NCAA Gym Month 1 Recap

Chris Parent/LSUSports.net

The first month of NCAA Gymnastics 2016 is done and what a month it has been! We've had six perfect 10s. SIX. This certainly makes for an exciting season. We've also had quite a few gymnasts that have returned from injuries and are making huge contributions to their respective teams.

We had 3 perfect 10s in one meet by Florida - Alex McMurtry on uneven bars, Bridget Sloan on balance beam, and Kennedy Baker on FX. An early perfect 10 was from Nina McGee of Denver on the floor exercise where she does not hold back in the least. The 2 perfect 10s on vault have been from Ashleigh Gnat. For the most part, it seems like scoring has been appropriate this season though these tens were not created equally. Some with bent knees, short landings or leg separations, but the accomplishment of these athletes can't be ignored. I truly enjoyed Ashleigh Gnat's DTY at Metroplex, the height and distance she gets is phenomenal (under gymnastike, here is her 10 from a home meet against Kentucky). Kennedy Baker's double arabian has been amazing since her elite days and continues to be.


Some of the highlight stories of this first month have been elite gymnasts making comebacks. Two elites that have been out for nearly 2 years following surgeries are Peyton Ernst (Florida) and Lexie Priessman (LSU). Ernst has been quick to help the Gators on beam where her flexibility is a huge asset. Priessman has made the Tiger lineup on the uneven bars but the coaching staff is hopeful that she will be able to add more events as time goes on. Priessman was one of the elites that competed the coveted Amanar vault. She has shown her FTY already and could potentially add more difficulty since the current college code rewards that.

Two other spectacular stories are in Sarah Finnegan, also of LSU, and Kaitlyn Hofland, an Ohio State Buckeye. Finnegan has been a star for the Tigers on both UB and BB. She has recently added floor exercise and adding vault will make her a true all around threat. The Tiger vault lineup, however, is probably one of the toughest to break into. We'll see if she remains in the vault lineup as she scored a 9.775 just recently and LSU currently has 2 strong all arounders. Finnegan, an alternate to the US 2012 Olympic Team, is recovering from an elbow surgery that nearly took her out of the sport entirely. She is back now with continued passion for the sport. Hofland is a Canadian elite gymnast that really caught my eye after the 2012 Olympics. She attended World Cup meets and graced many with her flexibility and unique skills on balance beam. Hofland did decide to start her career as a Buckeye in the 2014-2015 season, however, multiple injuries kept her out of her first season as she decided to redshirt that year. She is finally healthy enough to compete and is now competing vault, uneven bars, and balance beam for her team with a recent career and season high score of 9.925 on beam.

Honorable mention goes to Ariana Guerra of Alabama who had Dana Duckworth (and maybe me) in tears after her first floor routine back from back surgery!


The "team on the rise" for me is currently Arkansas. They have had a loaded season so far with wins against #4 Alabama and #9 Auburn. They are ranked in 9th place currently (week 5), 7th on vault, and 10th on floor. Star all around gymnast Amanda Wellick is ranked 8th on vault with Sydney Dillard ranked 17th on beam. They're a young team with a lot of potential. They show great quality vaults with great blocks and form in the air, with continued progress to having more stuck landings. They show great variety on uneven bars and beam. My one critique is on floor where some routines are perfect and really draw you in and others still seem to have a bit of step step pose choreography associated with them though that is certainly not the majority. As a whole, this team is phenomenal and, at the moment, they're my dark horse for the Super Six.


Super Six picture - right now is very blurry. I do think the championship is Florida's to lose. I'd say Florida and Oklahoma will make it to the Super Six. Then Utah is likely. UCLA is proving to be very strong and they're also showing depth we haven't seen in years. The floor lineup, for example, has changed multiple times, but they haven't really missed a beat. Replace one gymnast with a new 9.925. Sure! Why not?! We'll see what happens as the season progresses and we see the return of injured gymnasts to more event lineups. Alabama is also making a strong surge and could certainly make the Super Six if they continue to progress as they have been.

What do you think? Which was your favorite 10? Who has your favorite comeback story? What does your Super Six picture look like right now?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The 2016 World Cup Circuit



There have been modifications to the World Cup circuit, in number and in the qualification process. There are now 3 World Cups instead of 4: there is no Tokyo World Cup this year. The remaining 3 World Cups - American, Glasgow, and Stuttgart - will all be held in March rather than throughout the calendar year. It's no longer the top all arounders that qualified but rather the top countries that get to pick an all arounder to send. This is why previous World Cup stars Larisa Iordache and Oleg Vernaiev will not be in attendance.

On the MAG side: I see a comeback battle for all the competitions. It's interesting to see what a healthy Sam Mikulak will be capable of doing in the Olympic year. As a matter of fact, 3 of the top 4 that I envision are returning from some kind of injury - Kato, Wilson, and Mikulak. This should be a great battle for the podium. The Glasgow World Cup will certainly favor the 2 talented British men. Marvin Kimble is a young athlete that with a lot of talent but needs to really shine if he wants to pass the US 2012 Olympians and Whittenburg for a spot on that Olympic team. This will be a great test for him to see what he can accomplish and where he falls in a group of talented previous World Championship competitors. Lastly, injury has hindered both Germans to some extent. It will be interesting to see where they fall with a healthy Leyva to throw in the mix as well. Kuksenkov is only recently starting to live up to his potential so he could possibly battle his way onto the podium in Stuttgart.

On the WAG side: This might actually be the most interesting set of World Cups that we've had in quite some time. For the American Cup, the battle will certainly be between Douglas and Nichols for gold but the battle for bronze isn't all that clear with Tinkler and Black but also the recent surge of Oliveira and Murakami. Ferlito, if healthy, could also challenge. Glasgow is probably's Claudia Fragapane's to lose but if she missteps in the least, there are plenty of gymnasts biting at her heels. Honestly, this World Cup on the WAG side seems the most exciting because of the vast array of difficulty and execution. It's early in the season too so we may get to see some potential upgrades for some gymnasts. Lastly, the Stuttgart competition hosts a lot of hype in the battle between Dennis and Downie. Near the end of the US domestic season we started to see shades of the junior Dennis that was phenomenal. If that athlete is the one that competes, it should be a close battle. High flying release moves and insane tumbling height from these 2 gymnasts should make for an exciting competition. We also get to see 2 new seniors and how they will fare in a tougher environment prior to the Test Event.

Home competitors are listed first followed by the remaining athletes.


American Cup
NameIOCNameIOC
Gabrielle DouglasUSASam MikulakUSA
Maggie NicholsUSADonnell WhittenburgUSA
Tabea AltGERLucas De Souza BitencourtBRA
Elsabeth BlackCANPablo BraeggerSUI
Carlotta FerlitoITAAndreas BretschneiderGER
Mai MurakamiJPNRyohei KatoJPN
Lorrane OliveiraBRAPark MinsooKOR
Amy TinklerGBRSun WeiCHN
Tisha VollemanNEDNile WilsonGBR
March 5
11:30AM ET, NBC broadcast 1-3PM ET
Newark, NJ, USA
American Cup
Glasgow World Cup
NameIOCNameIOC
Claudia FragapaneGBRDaniel PurvisGBR
Kelly SimmGBRMax WhitlockGBR
Madison CopiakCANArthur NoryBRA
Yufen XieCHNYu CenCHN
Enus MarianiITAMasayyoshi YamamotoJPN
Asuka TeramotoJPNDavid BelyavskiyRUS
Lieke WeversNEDChristian BaumannSUI
Maria KharenkovaRUSMarvin KimbleUSA
Mykayla SkinnerUSAJunho LeeKOR
March 12
13:00 GMT / 8:00AM ET
Glasgow, Scotland, UK
Glasgow World Cup
Maegan Chant replaced by Madison Copiak
Stuttgart World Cup
NameIOCNameIOC
Tabea AltGERFabian HambuechenGER
Elisabeth SeitzGERMarcel NguyenGER
Nia DennisUSACaio SouzaBRA
Elissa DownieGBRYu CenCHN
Elisa MeneghiniITAJames HallGBR
Isabela OnyshkoCANDonghyen ShinKOR
Seda TutkhalyanRUSNikolai KuksenkovRUS
Celine van GernerNEDOliver HegiSUI
Yufen XieCHNDanell LeyvaUSA
March 19
12:30 CET / 6:30AM ET
Stuttgart, Baden-W├╝rttemberg, Germany
Stuttgart/DTB Pokal


Check back here for updates, links to live streams when they become available, and (potential) lineup changes as the events draw near!

Which World Cup competition are you most excited to watch?

Monday, January 11, 2016

Looking Back: World Championships 2015


The 2015 World Championships were just as exciting as one would hope in the pre-Olympic year. There were some exciting Rio qualification stories, some exciting records broken, and a super thrilling podium.

Romania
Think the first shock was Romania failing to team finals meaning they did not automatically qualify to Rio. In some ways, is it really that surprising? Romania struggled in 2014 because of the qualifying format. In a 3-up, 3-count, they thrive. But when a 4th score needs to count, they struggle to find it, especially on the uneven bars. The turmoil was extra high this year when Ana Maria Ocolisan got injured prior to qualifications. She was Romania's number 2 all arounder meaning they lost potential for her solid scores on all events. They felt this and it showed.

Not only did Romania fail to qualify a team automatically to Rio, they also failed to qualify anyone to any individual event finals. Though part of this may have been the early subdivision. Typically, scores rise during the day and Romania was early on in the first day of competition. Larisa Iordache, a potential floor medalist, didn't even make the final. (Honestly, I still think that score was a mess and I'm still pretty frustrated.)

The savior ended up being Laura Jurca. Jurca was heralded as when of the upcoming seniors. She went to the Youth Olympic Games as Romania's chosen representative. However, her senior debut was not what anyone had hopes. Not that it was bad, but it certainly wasn't as exciting as was hoped, especially with Bulimar coming back from injury and Ocolisan even surpassing Bulimar, Jurca was slowly making her way out of the AA conversation.

And of course, she had the best qualification of all the Romanians! This earned her a spot in the all around final with teammate Iordache and she finished that competition in 8th, a superb finish and the highest for any of the new 2015 seniors. Quite the accomplishment for a first World Championships.

Iordache's AA redemption was also a highlight. After missing out on the team final, floor, and beam final, Iordache was Romania's only hope for a medal. Not only that, but she was starting on balance beam and ending on the uneven bars. Seriously people?! After surviving beam, floor, and vault, Iordache was neck and neck with China's Shang Chunsong and was heading to the uneven bars. Barring a fall, Iordache could surpass her but she had to hit.

She did just that. I think we all felt the relief at the same moment. Larisa Iordache once again pulled through for Team Romania. The Test Event situation will be tough since Romania has not had to deal with this event ever so it will surely change the training schedule and plan for their Olympic year. However, nothing is impossible!

The Netherlands
On the flip side, the Dutch team qualified to the Olympics automatically. You often hear the gymnasts say how they were just shooting for top 16 but they did so much more than that. They were top 8, had 1 gymnast in the all around final, 2 in the beam final with 1 silver medal, and eventually 1 in the floor final. Quite a successful World Championships!

The gymnasts from the Netherlands have been getting a lot of praise because of their beautiful artistry and presence. They are employing the model of having lower difficulty that they're likely to hit with beautiful execution.

Four way tie
Where to even start? I am not a fan of breaking ties. I do understand the argument of having not having multiple champions. Imagine if there was a 4-way tie in the Super Bowl or the FIFA World Cup? There would be havoc. People would storm the field. But, alas, that's not our sport.

I think what I loved more than anything is that the uneven bars final was really anyone's game. Especially after Fan Yilin and Viktoria Komova tied, I thought that there was still a very real chance for an individual medalist. Kocian missed a connection and Spiridonova had some uncharacteristic errors. So why not tie them all?

I still think Viktoria Komova had the best performance of them all but at least we got to witness a final that will for sure be in the gymnastics history books.


Mai Murakami
The Mai Murakami makes me chuckle. Japan is one of the first countries to name their worlds team. It's based on a scoring system and rankings in domestic competitions. Murakami had a rough start to her 2015 as she was recovering from injury and not quite back to full difficulty. The murakami we saw at the start of the year was not the one we had watched as a junior and saw in the 2013 floor exercise final. Because of her low scores in earlier competitions, Murakami had a low ranking for the worlds team selection process and was initially named as alternate. Fast forward and one of her teammates suffers an injury and in goes Murakami. Initially alternate, Murakami competes the AA in team qualifications and helps Japan automatically qualify to the Rio Olympic Games. Not only that, she makes it to the AA final and finishes in 6th place.

SIXTH PLACE!

And she almost stayed at home! I don't know when the day will come that I will recover from this, if ever. In this sport, timing is everything and Murakami is a perfect example of that.

Maggie Nichols
When I went to 2013 US Nationals, a young gymnast caught my eye. She didn't have the most difficulty and certainly didn't have the most hype, but I just couldn't keep my eyes away when she was on floor. She had a solid DTY and a great beam with a serviceable uneven bar routine. Fast forward 1 year and Nichols is close to being named to the World Championship team when she suffers a season ending knee injury. A testament to her character, Nichols put her head down, healed, and came back better than she was before for the 2015 season. Nichols has had a steady climb through the ranks and then stayed in the top 5 throughout the USA's domestic season - a great feat with returning Olympians and all around finalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman.

After the closed door selection team camps, it became clear that Simone Biles and Gabrielle Douglas would be the USA's 2 all around gymnasts but who would be the 3rd? And could it be done in a way that wouldn't sacrifice the fact that Karolyi brought 2 bar specialists to worlds? The solution, unfortunately, was for Nichols to come out of the all around by not doing uneven bars in team qualification.

Karolyi quickly changed her mind for team finals. Nichols was the only US competitor to compete on all 4 events in team finals and she did remarkably well. Her score would have easily put her on the AA podium.

But that's ok. Nichols proved herself to Karolyi and showed that she could support the team no matter what.

And she wasn't done.

Nichols went on to earn the bronze medal on floor exercise alongside bff Biles. After nearly missing the worlds team one year, Nichols went on to becoming World Champion in the team event and a bronze medalist on floor, an amazing feat when you are competing with the reigning World and Olympic champions for one of the 2 spots allowed.

Words can't explain how proud I am of this girl. She came back from injury and showed so much improvement, upgrading to the Amanar vault and having a TF worthy UB routine. 2016 will certainly have it's challenges but I think Maggie Nichols has proved that she can handle it.

Simone breaking and making history
And we can't speak about worlds without acknowledging the champion herself.  Oh Simone Biles and the records you have broken. First female gymnast to ever win 3 consecutive World Championships. First back to back beam World Champion. Three-time Floor World Champion. She also has medals from all 3 years on vault and has even made the UB final.

In 2015, Biles did show us that she's human with an error on beam and an out of bounds on floor exercise. However, "human" doesn't necessarily mean "beatable." She still had over a point separating her from second place.

Heading into the Olympic year, Biles is still the most anticipated gymnast - ready to break more records (and many curses) surely making it an exciting time in gymnastics.


What were your favorite 2015 World Championships moments? MAG included! ;)