Okay guys, I'm going into full on Olympic reporter mode here.
After the US Olympic team was named the next question on everyone's mind was who, of those talented five, would have the opportunity to compete all four events in Team Qualifications for the chance to qualify to All Around finals. Ask any gymnast on the team and they will tell you that team gold is priority and the biggest honor there is. I believe they mean it, but that in their heart of hearts they all know that All-Around champion is the premier title of the Olympic Games. To be able to say you are the best and brightest gymnast in all the land at the Olympics is every little gymnast dream come true and if you have turned pro it is the biggest payday there is for a female gymnast. In order to get their hands on that money a gymnast must turn professional giving up their amateur status. They can collect endorsement money and be paid for doing gymnastics, but in return they give up eligibility to compete as a college gymnast.
Laurie Hernandez turned pro just a few days ago and based on podium training yesterday it doesn't look like she will even have the chance to compete in the All-Around. Team competition is broken down into two days. Team Qualifications is where every single individual qualifier and teams compete to qualify for Team Finals and Event finals, and Team Finals is where the top eight teams from qualifications compete for medals. Back in the old days when there were seven gymnasts per team and six gymnast competed on each apparatus in team qualifications more gymnasts had the opportunity to compete every event in qualifications. Now that the teams have been whittled down to five gymnasts on a team and four compete on each apparatus, tough choices have to be made. There are less gymnasts to work with, so each gymnasts strengths and weaknesses on individual events come into play more than ever. It is one reason why "event specialist" has become a thing in women's gymnastics. You used to have to do all four events no matter what, but now there are athletes out there who only do two or three events. Mckayla Maroney was an all-around gymnast, but she made the 2012 team based largely on the strength of her vault, just like Madison Kocian competes all four events, but made the team largely on the strength of her bars.
So. What we have here is a situation with four very strong All-All around gymnasts with medal potential in Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez and Gabby Douglas, but at best only three of them can be given the opportunity to compete on all four events. With only four routines per event the strengths of each athlete needs to be carefully utilized to maximize team score. We already knew that Madison would not be doing All-Around, and that Simone would. We also assumed Gabby would be given the opportunity as well. After watching podium training yesterday, specifically bars, it became very clear who the odd man out would be between Laurie and Aly. They go in the order that they are planning on for qualifications. On bars the order was Aly, Simone, Gabby, Madison, Laurie. Laurie would never be put up after reigning world bars champion Madison, so it was very clear that Laurie would sit out for bars, which means no All-around for her.
Back in 1996 days of the Mag Seven, this wouldn't even be an issue. I think everyone from Simone to Madison (1-8 at Olympic Trials) would have made the team. This would have included Maggie Nichols, and alternates Mykayla Skinner and Ragan Smith. Four to five gymnasts would have all been given the chance to battle it out for an All-around finals spot. I hate it that there are so few spots and it's going to change even more at the next Olympics. I also hate it that only two of the three can be in the All-Around finals due to the two per country rule.
Is this fair? Well, it depends on how you look at it. Laurie was the #2 gymnast behind Simone at Trials and Nationals, but some argue that she was over scored. She's a first year senior and she's young, so maybe it's not her time. Aly is a veteran. This is her second and probably last Olympics. She was so close to making the all-around podium in 2012 and she gets better and better in every meet. She has trained hard, peaking at just the right time, and deserves the chance. Gabby is a "bars specialist" so I guess they need to put her up on bars, although having Laurie's score instead would not jeopardize the team qualifying. Gabby fell on beam two days in a row at trials, but won 2nd place at World Championships last year. She fell on beam in Worlds qualifications, but was still good enough to qualify into that AA final She fell on beam event finals at the 2012 Olympics. I can't say she's had the history of being 100% consistent, that Aly does, but usually hits when it counts. She's reigning Olympic champion, so anything is possible and I think that's what they are counting on. I just hope she isn't being set up for failure. She isn't the same gymnast she was in 2012. Simone Biles is so good she's not expected to actually defend her title, and I cannot imagine the pressure she feels to make a solid showing. In my opinion, it's Gabby that took Laurie's spot, not Aly.
It is also very interesting to note that the only event in podium training that Aly went ahead of Gabby was bars; which makes sense because it is her weakest event. Typically, you want the scores to build so athletes are put on each rotation based on weakest to strongest routines. What this means is that Aly is being set up to do really well in the All-Around and based on how she nailed podium training and her recent meets, I think that is fair. I'm an Aly fan. I want her to do well so bad! They have up to 24 hours before team qualifications to change line-ups but unless something drastic happens I think it's pretty well set.
Team USA did very well in podium training. They went 20 for 20 not a single routine missed. Those girls are well trained and ready. Team USA could fall several times and make team finals, but my heart will be in my throat watching Aly and Gabby battle it out for that second All-Around finals spot. Don't expect to see any Pink or Purple leos this year. They went 100% patriotic.
Edited to add: Now there is talk that Laurie has a hamstring, no scratch that an abdominal pull yet Laurie and her coach are claiming to be perfectly healthy. I'm not sure what to think, but there sure is a lot of drama before the competition even begins.
If you have a cable login and want to watch the live stream from podium training the link is here. Opening ceremonies is tonight and gymnastics team qualifications start Sunday.
Just in case you were wondering, see this post about How to Get to the Olympics without spending your life training for a sport.