Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Curse of 'Too Good Too Soon'


Team USA looked like the Olympic Champions at this weekend's National Championships.  While many are excited about the girls taking their place atop the podium, it probably isn't such a good thing.  For the girls trying to make an international team, it is always best for their mental and emotional state when the results select the team or the performances make the selection decisions glaringly obvious.  This will keep the therapy bills down later in life.  While that is all rainbows and butterflies, a degree of uncertainty and intuition tends to lead to greater results.



Back when the Magnificent Seven won gold, Shannon Miller and Dominique Moceanu were ranked first and third in the country six to seven weeks before the Olympic Games.  Three weeks before competing compulsories in the Georgia Dome, they were sitting in the stands while many coaches on the floor were spreading rumors and speculating whether they would even be able to do their sets given their injuries.  A year ago, McKayla Maroney did minimal gymnastics at the final selection camp and wound up coming up big for Team USA in Team Finals and won an individual gold on the vault.  If the 2011 team was chosen live on television based on the performances done at camp, she wouldn't be on the team or she would've done much more gymnastics and possibly not been as healed or as rested and primed to peak at Worlds.

Now, like when we approached the 2008 Olympic Trials, the team is all but chosen based on the gymnastics.  With quite a ways to go until the gymnastics compete in London, it isn't a good thing.  Every year, gymnastics gets more difficult.  The routines put greater strain on the human body.  Between now and London, the girls are going to be doing a ton of hard landings and intrasquads.  It is going to be mentally and physically taxing.  Chances are, with all of that strain to come and all of the strain already endured to get to this level of preparation, someone is going to get hurt.  Overall, the obvious five of Wieber, Douglas, Raisman, Maroney and Ross already have a greater hit percentage shown than the Magnificent Seven did at 1996 Nationals.  They are about where the girls were at Trials.  Dominique Dawes was a wreck in training and compulsories at the 1996 Nationals.  Kerri Strug missed her beam mount in Optionals.  Shannon Miller fell off beam.  Moceanu had errors on several exercises.  Jaycie Phelps even sat down her beam dismount at Trials, while teammate Amanda Borden's double arabian on floor left many with white knuckles.  Amy Chow didn't compete Optionals at Nationals due to back spasms.  The routines were easier back then, which made it easier to come back, but it also exemplifies that a few more question marks would be good right about now.

Frankly, the gymnasts of this team are approaching their peaks.  Instead of debating who is making the team or speculating who has a shot, team finals lineups are being debating and many are already in the mindset of debating the top two mindset and whose Amanar and floor routine should be benched in prelims.

We have seen this before.  The Karolyi gymnasts were burnt out by Barcelona.  In 2008, Peszek and Memmel looked at their best at Olympic Trials.  Memmel had whiplash at the selection camp and both were injured by Trials.  Sacramone weakened physically and mentally throughout the process.  Shawn Johnson was relatively sharp throughout, but perhaps a tad sharper for Trials than the Games.  The two gymnasts who performed the best at the Olympics compared to what they were capable of: Liukin and Sloan, were the most unsteady at Trials.  Liukin finished in the top two thanks to a huge bar score, but she missed one bar set in Philadelphia and was committing errors on floor.  At Nationals, she was still falling on her double front.  Sloan was the sixth gymnast on the team and her performances only justified her position at the eleventh hour selection camp.  She performed better than she ever had in her career in Beijing.

In many ways, the concussion to McKayla Maroney is a blessing.  While it keeps gymnasts like Bross and Liukin in the mix should the five Amanar strategy not pan out, it keeps a well-needed question mark in the air.  Prior to her concussion, the question was whether or not her floor routine was strong enough to consider her a two event gymnast and if someone like Elizabeth Price should be selected for the top five who could actually do two events.  That won't happen, but it is a cute notion.  Maroney's third pass was not ready until Team Finals at Worlds when Alicia went down after looking extremely strong at Classics, Nationals and the lead up to the meet.  Maroney delivered a peak performance on floor.  She was already at the point where her third pass was the last thing to worry about.  She isn't even vaulting her best Amanars (and hasn't all year by her own outrageous standards), but she is far and away the favorite for gold.

Maroney's concussion opens a lot of doors.  The team is going to be selected at Trials.  That isn't ideal when a bit of murkiness tends to help out.  The Russians are not going to look as good at the Russian Cup as they will at the Olympic Games.  Their top guns will likely not even do their Amanars until smaller intrasquads and possible outings before the Games.  Now that Maroney has a concussion, she cannot perfect her floor routine as well as she would've been able to prior to Trials.  While it probably will help her Olympic performance, it could lead to a bit of mild controversy in three weeks.  Maybe not controversy per se, but definite grumbling.  Concussions are a bitch.  They are even worse when you have to do a three and a half twist on floor.  The days out of the gym could lead to an uneven performance by Maroney at Trials where she will be selected by potential and past results.  There are rumors the USOC sees her as a lock for individual gold and is dying to have her on the squad.  If Maroney were on crutches days before the Games, she would probably still be worth giving every benefit of the doubt due to her enormous talent.  That same benefit wouldn't be afforded to someone in a lower ranked spot on the team.  Nor should it, unless we are talking about fairness, which success in gymnastics has never been associated with.

Martha Karolyi and the selection committee have kept everyone with a chance (and Sabrina Vega) in contention.  Aside from Chellsie Memmel, anyone with a prayer of making London will be in San Jose.  It was a smart decision.  The girls from WOGA may have faltered, but they showed potential unlike an Amanda Jetter or Mack Brannan.  Bridget Sloan, who looked to be lost in her floor music throughout the weekend, will likely pull a strong floor routine out of her ass.  It remains unknown what Nastia can do on bars.  When you're a finesse gymnast, comebacks are slower than they would be quick twitch Dominique Dawes.  With her back against the wall, Nastia may be able to do a bar routine at Trials, but it is unlikely to be at the level of Maroney.  The way she would make the team would be an injury to someone else or the selection committee seeing what she is doing and where she could be.  Frankly, that is a best case scenario.  (And stranger things have happened.)

Given the injuries, it is best to keep all of these girls going.  It would be ideal to not name a final five until a week before the Games, but that won't happen in America.  Now should be a time for tweaking.  It should be time to put Wieber's beam routine back to avoid any potential start value questions or potential errors possible to commit trying to make a fruitless side aerial+side somi combination.  It should be a time for wondering who will hit, not already knowing who is and who will at Trials only to be burnt out by London.  Frankly, the girls look like Olympic Champions and that is just too good for June 10th.

38 comments:

  1. Disagree. These girls are proving their consistency but there is plenty of room for improvement.

    Iordache looked pretty fantastic at Euros, I don't see people saying she's peaked too soon

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    1. Plenty of people said that about Iordache and Ponor after Euros.

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  2. gabby had a fall, others looked sloppy

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  3. It's definitely bad to be "too good too soon." That said, waiting a week before the Games to name a team is probably overkill. Barcelona and Beijing are, in my opinion, classic examples of asking gymnasts to peak too often - and too close to the actual Olympics. In 1992, not asking Zmeskal to peak at Nationals, Trials, camp where Kim Kelly was cut, then in the leadup to the Olympics(inc. the USA-FRA intersquad meet) may have allowed her to perform more of her difficulty at the Olympics. For that matter, it might have allowed Campi to compete at all. In 2008, Peszek and Memmel may have actually avoided their injuries had their spot on the team been assured sooner. So, peaking too soon is definitely bad, but I don't agree that uncertainty as to one's place on the team necessarily solves this problem. Actually, it could just as easily exacerbate it.

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  4. Plus, having the pressure of making the team off, wouldn't their coaches have them doing lighter stuff to keep them from peaking too early? I mean, not sitting at home eating chips, but lighter training to preserve their bodies for the big one?

    The gymnasts all said that having the camps and stress up til the last minute was what contributed to some of the screw ups and injuries in Beijing. Giving everyone a chance til the last moment sounds nice, but has to be hell on the ones who were ready from the start who have to keep performing at peak and keep proving that they deserve to be on the team.

    Maybe Raisman will use the time between trials and the games to learn how to point her toes and avoid blowing her knees out on her Yurchenko 2.25. Well, one can hope.

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  5. Raisman is peaking this week. She looks drastically better than March/April. I wonder if she will sustain this.

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  6. This selection process is going to be much easier on the girls, both physically and mentally. All the veterans have said it themselves, they are thankful that the team will be chosen at trials and not after selection camps days before they fly out to London. The injuries of Memmel and Peszek, many believe, were a result of intense training so close to the games. And mentally, it has got to be a relief knowing that you have made the team and have time to prepare, rather than live every day with the uncertainty of knowing if you're taking that trip to compete or not.

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    1. The girls always say what they are supposed to. You are foolish to think anything will ease up. Martha isn't going to ease up after Trials. Raisman is almost in peak shape, as are others.

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    2. Not Anon @ 9:47, but peaking is as much a mental game as it is a physical one. Even if Marta doesn't ease up physically, it still stands that being assured a spot on the Olympic team earlier on leads to less psychological exhaustion. Simultaneously, it allows the gymnasts more time to adapt to the very different mental game of Olympic competition - which, no matter what people might say, is always going to involve more pressure than team selection.

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    3. Martha always finds a way to wear them down with the extra Olympic pressure.

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  7. I agree. Things are looking pretty nice for Gabby Douglas right now.

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    1. just not her amanar or her beam.

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  8. While obviously you don't expect perfection I don't know how Nastia/Maroney can be in any way compared. Nastia hasn't done a full bar routine in competition in years and has supposedly been performing bars for only a week. But somehow we are suppose to suspect she'll have a 7.0 bars routine ready in 5 weeks.

    Yes athletes peak but the bare bones should be there. I for example AT Least suspect Komova/Mustafina are doing DTYS right now. And good ones. Its not just one skill or hard landings than Nastia is struggling, everything looks like a mess. Its ridiculous....

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  9. larisa looked fantastic, but remember she fell on beam. and she had some landing issues

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  10. www.davaistoi.wordpress.comJune 11, 2012 at 1:37 AM

    It would be far from ideal for the US team to be chosen one week before the Olympics. The less time Marta has to play mind games and make them do DTYs with whiplash, the better. Actually it's shame none of the locks have been unofficially named and told to compete carefully in order to keep healthy.

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  11. Larisa is coached by Belu and as much as I don't like him because of all the scandals of the past he knows how to peak an athlete. She didn't show her amanar, she didn't show her full difficulty and Belu said she (and Ponor) hadn't peaked and again, I don't like him but the man knows what he's doing

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  12. As much as I hate this, it may be pretty valid. Think about Courtney Kupets and Courtney McCool in 2004. They looked the best of anyone at Nationals and come time for the Olympics they were not as sharp. Then think about the entire team in 2000. At nationals and trials we saw a lot of hit routines. The Olympics were for the most part a total shit show for them. The best on the team was probably Tasha Schwikert who has showed almost nothing before the Games. (But do we really think the same would have held true for Atler?) I'm praying for these girls. I believe there is definitely room for improvement across the board though. Nobody was perfect. Maybe this just shows how tough they are and how bad they want their spots....

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  13. Does anyone know how McKayla fractured her nose when she fell on her back?? I only saw the far-away clip on NBC of her fall, so I can’t tell if she rolled on the side of her face or something. Someone said it looked like her hand hit her face.

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    1. When you hit your head with that much force, you can fracture your sinuses. They're extremely delicate. It happened to someone I know.

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    2. If you look at the video closely, it looks like she hit her face on her coach's hand when he tried to sort of help her. She kind of rebounded up into his hand.

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  14. I'm most concerned about Raisman and Maroney. Raisman looks like she is on her top physical and mental game and ready to win a floor medal tomorrow, but I don't know about in a month and a half.

    Maroney needs to be lying in a darkened room doing no gymnastics at all for a couple weeks and then taking it easy unless she wants to give herself permanent brain damage. Do they still petition people directly onto the Olympic team.

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    1. In NBC's coverage, they said Aly apparently told them she wishes the Olympics were tomorrow, she was that ready to go. That's going to be difficult to maintain.

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    2. Raisman has been on and ready for the last 2 years. I wouldn't worry about her.

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  15. They commented that Maroney had no brain damage..well my daughter had a CT scan that showed nothing also. It has been 3yrs post injury and she has a mild brain injury.(It has affected everything in her life) If Maroney hit her head hard enough to break her nose, or hit her hands to her nose during landing flat...like the above person said that girl needs a dark room, and rest.But will she do it? I will never look at concussions again in the same way again. My daughter is not the same kid she was at all. She looks normal but it took her 2.5 years to drive again. She still can't hold down a job. Hopefully for Maroney this is really only a small, insignificant hit to the head.....but we will have to wait to find out.

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    1. I hope so... Its a very scary thing.

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  16. I don't agree. Wieber was shaky at nationals. Beam was no where near her normal standard, vault was off day one, and her floors landings can be cleaned up. Same with Gabby, she was shaky on every event except bars day one. Kyla wasn't as good as she should be on beam and floor and still might upgrade her vault back to amanar. The only gymnast who truly peaked at nationals was raisman, every other contender can still make major improvements

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  17. Wieber and ross are both obviously not at peak. They are performing well now, but have lots of fine tuning left. I think geddart has done an amazing job pacing Jordyn. Raisman has made some tweaks and improvements here and there, but she has pretty much been peak for a year. She needed to be, her consistency is what makes her a lock. Gabby has room to improve still and that should make all gold medal hopefuls a little worried. If she continues to gradually improve consistency and hits, the girl will be champ.

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    1. Agreed! Gabby is definitely an AA threat. I would love to see Gabby pull it all together and become Olympic AA champ. She is peaking at the right pace. Contrary to naysayers, she is showing increased consistency and mental toughness. People tend to forget how limited her experience on the world stage has been compared to Jordyn and Aly. Until 2010, nobody knew her. Gabby has plenty of time to get the beam routine together, and I'm sure she will. Falls don't equal lack of mental toughness. Chow has really helped her through the mental problems, it shows. And, I do believe Gabby had fewer wobbles then Jordyn. Just saying. People tend to forget how Gabby pulled through at worlds when it counted!!
      Jordyn looked in the right place this weekend. Although, she has been looking very tired, seems to have lost a bit of spark and her routines look more and more labored...
      On another note... if everyone gives a 100% performance at the Olympics-- I would speculate that Gabby has a better chance then Jordyn to be on the AA podium. Her execution is better- high difficulty and she makes it look much more beautiful than Jordyn ever will. Not to insult Jordyn, but Gabby definitely has better lines and better artistry. It is nice to see Gabby and Iordache with credible shot at AA gold, instead of just Jordyn, Aliya, and Vika. Makes things much more interesting!

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  18. I pray Maroney will be ok and comes back more determined than ever. Raisman can still improve on vault and of course bars. She WILL be on the team.
    Jordyn, Gabby, McKayla, Kayla and Aly are my pics. No matter how anyones tries to spin it, the vets are over. Rebecca is just painful to watch the poor thing. Her facial expressions after each event are depressing

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  19. Raisman still has to clean up her amanar and has yet to stick her Patterson this year. She has not peaked overall, maybe on floor.

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  20. Why would the IOC be dying to have Maroney on the squad? Why would the International Olympic Committee even give a shit who the US sends?

    Did you mean the US Olympic Committee? USOC? Because that would make more sense.

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  21. Gabby is never consistent.

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  22. USOC does have a lot of influence. All they really care about is medals. In 88 Greg Looseanus was refusing to dive unless he could get his boyfriend to stay in the athletes village. USOC made it happen. He was not even listed as an athlete. They were willing to do anything to get the olympic medals

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  23. Looseanus? LOL.

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  24. I don't get the Nastia bashing. So she took the last 3+ years off. She kind of earned it. No one is giving her a free pass--she gets to go to trials not the Olympics. She's not fat--good heavens she looks thinner than Raisman and Weiber and all their heavy muscle. Why wouldn't you give a defending AA champ with beautiful gymnastics a chance? If she doesn't bring it to trials, fine, But if she does, put her on the team. At least she will be pretty to watch. And what pride is there in saying, we won olympic gold because we were the only country who could vault 5 amanars?? It's artistic gymnastics!!

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    1. She doesn't look "fat", but out of shape. She's slender but has no real tone/muscle the way that Kyla/McKayla do even though they're very slim.

      Also...I don't know what you mean by "pretty to watch" because nothing she did at Nats on bars was pretty at all and those beam routines could've been better.

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  25. Nastia's petition was approved before the Classic meet. She got a free pass to Classics BEFORE THE MEET.


    NOTHING she did at Nationals merited a spot at Trials.

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