Gymnastics Olympic Team Trials: I Was There!

Four days after the 2016 Gymnastics Olympic Trials in San Jose and twenty-two days until Rio I am loving all the media coverage my sport is getting.  Yes, I call it my sport, because I don't just love it just every four years and I'm thrilled to see my beautiful sport take it's rightful place at the center of the media buzz.  It was so amazing to actually be there watching it unfold.  I did not stand in line for autograph or picture, but I saw Carly Patterson (2008 Olympic Champion) and Svetlana Boginskaya (Russian star from the 90's).  I was able to find Marta and Bela on the sidelines and observe the girls on the floor in between events.  My flight there and back was full of people traveling to trials and I was in gymnastics heaven surrounded by people as obsessed with gymnastics as I am.  There was a dramatic march in with smoke and lights as each athlete was introduced.  On Day 2 they distracted us with a performance from Acro Army and an interview with Kobe Bryant while the committee deliberated.  I'm sure his seats were better, but I'm glad I wasn't sitting behind him.

Yep.  I was there, and it was awesome.  This is my take on what went down.

You can see Marta Karolyi sitting on the sidelines above the P in Olympic
Heart Breakers

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Ashton Locklear
Ashton Locklear
I already liked Ashton Locklear for her beautiful lines and her consistency, but when I saw her cry after she fell on beam day 1 my heart just broke for her and I was rooting for her even more. She has floating patellas, which is the reason for the circular tape on her knees.  She also hurt her back so badly that she physically cannot do vault and floor, yet she has never given up on her Olympic dream. She hit bars perfectly both nights, but because she only does bars and beam she really couldn't afford a fall at all.  To make alternate on the strength of two events is pretty good so I was happy to see her grab a spot.

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; MyKayla Skinner
Mykayla Skinner
MyKayla Skinner is another gymnast that wasn't really talked about too much, but still kind of in the mix because of her strength on vault.  She has an Amanar (2 1/2 twisting Yurchenko instead of the usual 2 that most gymnasts are competing) and is the only other gymnast besides Simone to do two vaults which would enable her to try to qualify for vault event finals.   She made the 2014 Worlds team, but was left off in 2015.  I like her because she is not afraid to go for difficulty and while she has been criticized for her form she has improved a lot and usually hits her routines.  She's never been able to fix her technique on the Cheng vault and still does it with one hand but somehow it works for her.  The crowd literally gasped when they showed the replay because it looks like she's missed her hand.  She had a beam disaster at nationals so I was glad to see her nail every single routine at trials, and grab an alternate spot, but sad because she finished 4th right behind Aly Raisman.  She truly did everything she could possibly do and it wasn't good enough.  She was so close to being one of the five and all of the attention and prestige that goes along with it and that has to sting.  A lot, and she's not hiding it too well on social media.  Check out the new team member photo shopped on that tweet

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Ragan Smith
Ragan Smith
Ragan Smith is so young and she is a firecracker on all events.  This is her first year as a Senior so there is still time for her, but it has to be hard to nail everything, finish in 5th place and still not make the team.  The consolation prize is being named alternate.  Her coach is one of my favorite gymnasts of all time, Kim Zmeskal (first US World Champion). 

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Maggie Nichols
Maggie Nichols
When I heard that Maggie Nichols tore her meniscus doing an Amanar in April I didn't think there was any way for her to come back in time to make a run for the Olympics, but there she was at nationals with two events and at trials doing all four.  She has so much tenacity and wanted it so badly but I don't think she had enough time to come back and be the gymnast she was before the injury.  She had an amazing worlds last year and a stellar American Cup.  She was right in there and I am certain she would have made the team, but she lost time to injury and she lost her Amanar.  The fall on beam didn't help.  She has pretty gymnastics but isn't a stand out on any one event and without the Amanar vault it wasn't even enough to make alternate despite finishing 6th ahead of Gabby Douglas.   I'm sure Simone would have loved to have her best friend on the team, but it wasn't meant to be and she has already announced retirement from elite gymnastics.  I don't blame her.  She'll join Brenna at Oklahoma University.

USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Brenna Dowell
Brenna Dowell
Brenna Dowell:  I don't know for sure because I haven't watched it yet, but they probably didn't show this athlete at all on the NBC televised broadcast.  Their coverage is notoriously terrible.  The thing is that there is really no excuse.  I know they have commercials and commentator babbling to do, but each athlete competes one at a time.  There has to be a way to show more athletes if they wanted to.  I saw that camera aimed at the back of Gabby's head while she hid out at the water cooler when they could have been showing other athletes who worked just as hard to be there.  Also, Nastia I loved your gymnastics, but broadcasting is not your forte.

Anyway, Brenna's elite story over the last few years has been a roller coaster.  She is best on Floor and Bars. She had her a heart broken at the 2013 Worlds when she made the team, got all the way to  China and then at the last minute was not used on a single event.  She was named an alternate for the 2014 Worlds and then left elite Gymnastics to compete at Oklahoma University, but decided to come back for one last shot at competing in Worlds and getting a signature skill named after her on floor. After a disastrous 2015 Nationals I didn't event think she would get invited to world team selection camp.  Then, shockingly she was named to the team.  She got her tumbling skill named after her, but stumbled on floor, fell of bars twice, and was near tears in her post meet interviews.  I think that might be enough to make anyone give up, but not Brenna.  At 2016 USA Nationals Day 2 she fell on beam and finished 11th overall. I really didn't think there was any way she would make this team, but I find it interesting that after being part of three world teams in a row she finally hits 8 for 8 at trials and doesn't make the biggest team of all.  I'm really glad to see her finish on a positive note showing that she is capable of hitting all of her routines.  She finished in 10th.

The chosen ones:  Laurie, Aly, Simone, Gabby, Madison (Alternates:  MyKayla, Ragan, Ashton)
Simone Biles had uncharacteristic mistakes on Day 1 and fall on beam Day 2.  The thing is, she's human and humans make mistakes every now and then.  I'd rather that she get it out now rather than at the Olympics.  She still finished 2 points ahead of everyone else because she is just that good and I really need her to do what she normally does and win the Olympics.  She is so talented that it would be a shame for her not to win that title.

I was surprised to see Madison Kocian fall on beam because she is usually very consistent but she hit where it counts most for her.  Bars.  She finished in a solid 5th place to make the team.  Out of everyone on the team she has the most classically artistic style and is very pretty to watch.  She is reigning three way co World Champion on bars and I'd love to see her take it all at the Olympics.

I was surprised to see a coach missing from the Gabby Douglas camp.  I noticed right away that Kittia Carpenter was nowhere to be seen so I googled it and lo and behold it turns out that two weeks ago after a poor showing at nationals she made a "non coaching change change" and decided that she only wanted Christian on the floor because she is getting worn out from all the training and needs a male coach for better spotting now through the Olympics.  One coach is allowed at the Olympics, but two coaches are allowed at trials and she's had both all this time so that generic excuse sounds fishy.  What a bummer for Kittia to be part of her comeback from the start and then get left at home when it's time for Rio.  Gabby has been mostly consistent since her comeback, but she didn't do well at Nationals so her mistakes on day 1, and a fall on beam each day were only mildly surprising just because I had no idea what to expect from her.  I was also surprised to hear her mother report that she fractured her knee just before she won the silver medal at World Championships in 2015 and was on crutches for two months. That information was never released by USA Gymnastics.  What isn't surprising at all is that she made the team anyway despite finishing 7th and that her Barbie was released the day after. She is under so much pressure.  There were a lot of people and a lot of money counting on her making it and I can't imagine how devastating it would have been to fall short.

The Gabby Douglas Controversy
So here's the deal.  Even though it may not seem fair given the standings, I think a good case was made for Gabby making the team even though she finished 7th.  She's good AA, strong on bars, and has a lot of heart to even attempt to do this again, although she was quoted after Day 1 of trials saying she's "lost her passion." That being said, I don't think she should defend her All Around title.  Marta says that they are bringing Gabby to Rio because of the contribution she can make on bars and because if something happens to any other athletes she can fill in anywhere.  She is capable of decent scores on all events. To me this screams team player not AA contender, but the fact that she is a big name in gymnastics makes me think it may go a different way.  The US essentially has two bars specialists.  Madison and Gabby. What that means is that in team qualifications they will need to put Simone, Madison, Gabby, and Laurie up on bars.  Simone because she is a shoo in for the AA win, Madison because she is reigning World bars champ and needs to qualify for event finals, Gabby because she is strong on bars.  Laurie because Aly is the weakest out of everyone on bars and finished higher than Aly in the AA on every competition over the last year.  What that means is that Aly may not have the opportunity to compete for AA finals and that makes me really really sad for her because I think she has a good shot and after being so close in 2012 and doing so well at trials.  I'd love to see her have another crack at it. The other option is to not put Gabby up on bars in team qualifications, but if bars was the main reason for bringing her I don't know if that makes sense.  Now that I think about it, they might be too scared to put her up on beam too.  Either way I think her role should be to help the team not defend her title, but the headline "Gabby Douglas defends her Olympic AA title against reigning World AA Champ Simone Biles" might be too sensational for USA Gymnastics to pass up.  Never mind that she has no chance of winning.  No one does, if Simone hits. The girls have five days at their home gym before a nine day training camp at the ranch under the watchful eye of Marta Karolyi and it will be interesting to see if anything changes after that.

The consistent performance of Aly Raisman was wonderful to see.  I love her determination!  She has her weaknesses, but they are far outweighed by her strengths.  She was always a rock in competition, but has had some consistency issues since her comeback.  It looks like the old Aly is back and she is peaking at exactly the right moment.  Everyone on the team looks up to her and I was so happy to see her rise to the occasion and make her 2nd Olympic Team.

Laurie Hernandez has the most awesome showmanship and power on every event.  The way she carries and presents herself on each apparatus is so dynamic and she also has the skills to back it up. She is peaking at just the right time as a first year senior and snuck right in there for a well earned spot on the team. We are used to talking about Simone Biles, but I think Laurie stole some of her thunder. The crowd in San Jose loved her so much they chanted her name and the loudest cheers of the night came after her final performance on beam.  Overall, Laurie, Aly, Gabby and Simone were the most cheered for gymnasts of the meet.  Did you know it can cost as much as 30k to get a family to Rio for the Olympics?  Now that she made the team, Laurie has set up a GoFundMe to help get her family to the games.  I wonder if she'll make that big decision to go pro.

Honorable Mention
USA Gymnastics: July 10 - Competition Day 2 &emdash; Amelia Hundley
honorable mention
Amelia Hundley was probably not mentioned at all in the TV broadcast, but I give her and other gymnasts like her who really don't have much of a chance of making the Olympic Team, a lot of credit for showing up at the Olympic Trials and giving it their best shot anyway.  She had the meet of her life hitting all of her routines finishing 9th.  She was solid out there and win or lose I think that is the main goal.  Getting invited to Olympic Trials is a huge honor and they all sacrifice a lot to get that far.  Rounding out the 14 gymnasts who competed were Rachel GoweyChristina Desiderio, and Emily Schild who finished 11th, 12th, 13th.

Final Results
1. Simone Biles
2. Laurie Hernandez
3. Aly Raisman
4. Mykayla Skinner
5. Ragan Smith
6. Maggie Nichols
7. Gabby Douglas
8. Madison Kocian

They showed the standings after every rotation on day one, but only after the 2nd rotation on day 2. The hard rankings were not likely to match the team selected.  I kind of think they didn't want that in our head right before the team was announced because it wouldn't make sense.  4th place Mykayla didn't even make alternate, but 7th place Gabby made the team.  6th place Maggie made nothing, while Ashton who would've been listed last place due to two events was an alternate.  I understand that in order to make the best team and keep up with the other countries it can't be based 100% on the AA scores at trials, which are themselves subjective.  Three girls dropped out due to injury before trials even began.  To survive training, and injuries and work your whole life for something only to not make it because you are Olympic caliber on all four events but the team needs someone who is good on Bars has to be a tough pill to swallow.  They all sign off on the selection process, but they really have no choice in the matter.  They can train and train, but they only have so much control over their fate.  It's not like swimming or track and field where athletes are measured on a hard non-negotiable measure of performance. Time.  For gymnasts time is a hard non-negotiable factor as well and they are always in a race against it hoping that it doesn't run out before their Olympic dream.

NBC put everything on lock down and would not allow professional camera equipment including any camera with a detachable lens so I didn't bring my DSLR camera.  I thought about risking it, but I actually saw someone get told to "check" their DSLR before entry for pick it up later so I'm glad I didn't bother. We were sitting closest to beam so had the best view of that event.
Simone warming up Beam

Aly finishing Bars

Gabby competing on floor

We loved it!!!
Every living Olympian was invited to trials for a special ceremony on Saturday night.  I didn't see them, but it was cool to know that all the gymnastics greats were there.  We enjoyed the excitement of gymnastics and spending time together.  Little sis, is a new mama so she only spent Friday night with us at the hotel after the competition that night, but we spent the day in San Francisco on Saturday and I got to meet my four month old niece.  Sunday was a get together with family from that area and more gymnastics that evening.  My mom and I left San Jose on Monday.  It was an AMAZING weekend.


Gabby said...

That's so awesome that you got to go! I watched it on TV and it's interesting to compare and contrast the TV coverage to what it was like to actually be you getting to watch actual gymnastics instead of listening to the talking heads chattering endlessly about the Gabby Douglas drama

Tia @ GoodGenes said...

I knew you liked gymnastics, but I guess I missed the memo about your girl-fan status!! Love it! I remember watching all the 90's gymnastics and thinking one day I'd do that too....guess you also need to have talent though. Oops! What a fun event you were able to witness first hand!

Nylse Esahc said...

I can feel your excitement and I love your commentary. I watched it too. Will gymnastics ever change so it's totally performanced base for the team selection? You should apply for a broadcast journalism job. (or at least apply for Nastia's job!)

Jackie @ A Better Me said...

Your predictions on who was shown on the tv and who wasn't, was spot on. I don't think anyone watching on tv was surprised by any of the picks for the Olympic team. The NBC commentators did a good job on explaining who they thought would be picked and why.

Ashley @ A Cute Angle said...

So freakin' amazing! So jealous! I ate up every word of your break down. I was so sad for Maggie. Also, I loved MaKayla Skinner. Laurie Hernandez really came out as my favorite so I'll be rooting for her BIG time in Rio! Thanks for explaining that tape on Ashton's knees. I was trying to figure it out! I always love Aly, and my husband was OUTRAGED that Gabby made the team, lol. How do you leave off the reigning Olympic Champion when she's still doing half way decent, I guess? I love Madison Kocian's style of gymnastics the most. Can't wait to see her at the Olympics!


Rachel ¦¦ A Nesting Nomad said...

I don't follow gymnastics at all, especially not US gymnastics being a Brit so I really enjoyed this rundown with all the back stories. Sounds like some interesting decisions were made re picking the team, and it's always sad when people miss out because they'd have all worked so hard. Glad you had a good time!

Catherine Gacad said...

that was the most comprehensive, informative description of gymnastics that i have ever read. fantastic reporting job, cece. i haven't heard of laurie hernandez, but will be watching out for her.

Law_Fal said...

I was rooting soooooo hard for Ashton! Although I'm happy for the girls who got selected, I would have loved to see her on the team. What I am getting tired of as the games near is all the negative talk about Gabby. Granted she is a different person than the last games, people are being sooo brutal and negative in the comments of any article I see about them. It sucks and I hope she has mastered the art of tuning everybody out. I cant wait!!

Lindsay said...

You really know your stuff! So neat that you got to be there!

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