You Asked, The Gymternet Answered
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You Asked, The Gymternet Answered

It’s time for the 340th edition of You Asked, The Gymternet Answered!

We apologize if we haven’t gotten to your question yet, but we try to answer in the order in which they were received (unless they are super relevant and need to be answered in a timely manner).

Something you want to know? Ask us anonymously by going through the contact form at the bottom of the page.

I keep seeing people on the gymternet say that Jade Carey needs to take the full turn out of her beam routine, since she almost always has deductions and she meets the requirement with her mount. Can you explain your thoughts?

I guess I agree with the general discourse here? Obviously almost every skill a gymnast does is going to have some deductions no matter how hard they work on perfecting them, so sometimes a layout stepout, for example, will get a tenth off, sometimes it’ll get three tenths off, and sometimes you’ll fall, but it’s fine to keep in the routine because it’s worth the risk. But my thought is always that if your routine has a deduction that has become simply unavoidable and isn’t worth the risk – like Jade’s turn – you should either be focusing on making it deduction-free, or on getting a replacement skill.

This instance feels kind of like a no-brainer because since full turns are no longer necessary on beam with other skills now fulfilling the requirement. Maybe they didn’t realize the turn isn’t needed any longer with the mount she has, or maybe because it’s still required in college, she’s keeping it in elite so she can keep it consistent throughout the year? I think for those who are doing both elite and NCAA right now, it’s probably best to only make changes that are absolutely necessary, and maybe that one just isn’t worth making right now so to her, it makes sense to keep it as her emotional support full turn.

Edit – Gymcastic asked Jade’s coaches about this and they said they needed her full turn to get her to the other end of the beam, and that additional choreography would be deducted even more than the turn is. I guess that makes sense, and too much reconstruction could also result in additional deductions, so she probably is just playing it safe by accepting a “built-in” deduction for the turn rather than changing it completely and risking more scrutiny.

Welsh gymnast Poppy Stickler was the alternate for Great Britain’s worlds team last year! Who are some other non-English gymnasts that have made the team for major competitions like Euros or worlds?

Unfortunately we don’t see too many non-English gymnasts on teams! Most of the super talented juniors from Wales and Scotland end up retiring pretty early on compared to English gymnasts, so it’s been rare that we’ve seen them compete at the senior level for more than just a couple of years…many just do the Commonwealth Games and then are pretty much done, and I feel like that’s partly because the opportunities for the bigger British international teams just aren’t there since the English so heavily dominate. In addition to Poppy, most recently, Emily Thomas was a worlds alternate (this was in 2018 if my memory is correct?), and the last non-English gymnast to compete on a worlds team was Olivia Bryl back in 2006!

With Poppy and Ruby Evans really standing out as strong Welsh gymnasts right now, I’m really hoping we can see them make pushes for worlds this year, and I thought they’d be on the path for Euros as well, but it’s amazing to see Scottish gymnast Shannon Archer on the nominative roster for this meet. Both she and Ruby have the potential to make the vault final, so it’s exciting that there was some competition from non-English gymnasts to earn one of those spots…and I’m glad both Poppy and Ruby had the opportunity to compete at a world cup this year as well!

You see gymnasts perform on bars, beam, and floor in exhibitions and on tours, but rarely on vault. Why is that?

I think it’s just because vault isn’t as showy? Like, you can turn any routine on bars, beam, and floor into more of a theatrical performance, with bars being a little harder than the latter two, but I know these tours often have synchronized bars going on, and fun little tricks that we wouldn’t normally see in routines, so the ability to make them more theatrical is possible. But vault is just kind of weird because it’s the most “sporty” of the WAG apparatuses and doesn’t really lend itself to creativity…and I think there’s also just more room for injury and things to go wrong there unless you have everyone doing the most basic skills. It would be cool to see them try something, like doing more basic vaults that they can punch out of or something fun, like vault obstacle course hahaha, but I think most shows just swap vault for trampoline or aerial silks or something else that can be more exciting and inventive.

How does choreographing for a gymnast work? Is it typically done by the coach or an outside choreographer? What would be the benefits of having an outside choreographer?

It depends on the gym, the coach, the athlete…I know of some coaches who are also choreographers and who love putting together routines for their gymnasts, but I think this is more rare? Most at the highest levels will hire outside choreographers that know the ins and outs of what a routine should look like both aesthetically and in terms of satisfying code requirements, so it’s usually better to hire someone with this knowledge and ability. That’s probably what the key benefit is – a specialized knowledge and skill that most coaches who are more technical do not possess. 

But many choreographers are good at working with athletes to bring in their style, and some athletes are great choreographers in their own right, and so while it’s beneficial to have that extra set of eyes to guide them through what a routine should look like, the athlete and choreographer can end up being a great team working side-by-side to create something together rather having it all come from the choreographer. I think this is how we usually see the best routines, from this place of collaboration…but there are definitely gymnasts who don’t know or care about their style, and would rather just focus on anything BUT this, and so choreographers are especially important for these types of gymnasts – especially if they are capable of coaching artistry by giving little cues for “artistic moments” that can make even the least artistic athlete shine a bit in their routine.

I noticed a lot of Mustafina-era Russian gymnasts loved “NCAA sticks.” Are judges ever really likely to not deduct them? If they are generally deducted, why did gymnasts bother doing them in the first place?

They are definitely deducted at the elite level. It might slide (hehe) in college, and I’m not saying those judges aren’t as savvy, but it tends to be very often ignored at the NCAA level even though it is a deduction. But in elite, they’re definitely getting deducted for those little slides or steps into salutes. I don’t think most gymnasts do it intentionally, especially in elite where they’re trying to stick and hold the landing to get zero hits, but a gymnast can tell when they’re off and they are likely feeling that sliding quickly into the salute is better than wobbling or taking a big step. They won’t get away with that (or shouldn’t, ahem NCAA) but they COULD get away with the cheated slide. Maybe gymnasts who always step and can’t help it just plan on doing it, but I think most do try to avoid it and only do it when they are off. 

What makes something a good or bad piece of music for a floor routine? Is it entirely dependent on the gymnast and their style, or are there some general dos and don’ts (other than basic rules like length and no words, I mean) that apply across the board?

It’s really a personal preference and for me, so many songs sound so generic and blah, so I know what I want to hear and it might not be what other people want to hear. I like things that are a bit oddball and wild, stuff we don’t normally hear even if it isn’t necessarily my style. A lot of people don’t like the Belgian routines because they’re a little out there in terms of both the music and the choreography, but I’d rather hear weird music with bird noises than the more popular pieces we’re hearing from various genres that fit the requirements of the code but that are absolutely indiscernible from one another. I think these are created and reused so often BECAUSE they are winners within the context of the code, but they do absolutely nothing for me.

There are so many athletes where if you asked me for their music details I’d be like “I honestly have no idea” but I do remember the music note-by-note for Maellyse Brassart’s bird routine, Axelle Klinckaert’s frog routine (I was actually watching an episode of “Mad Men” back in 2016 where this music appeared and I was like “AXELLE!”), Lieke Wevers devastatingly gorgeous routine from 2016, Angelina Melnikova’s “Kalinka” routine, all of Simone Biles’ iconic music, etc. To me, standout music, or music I can remember off the top of my head and immediately place, is “good” music, even if I don’t personally love it. As long as it fits the gymnast and their choreography, I will love any routine with music that is weird or interesting or unique to that gymnast.

Have we heard anything from Jade Carey about whether she will stay in NCAA next year or take a break to train for the Olympics?

Nothing is confirmed yet for Jade, but out of everyone who is currently doing both NCAA and elite, there’s something about Jade that makes me think she could manage to do both! But I think the best option is probably to take the time off, especially because the late winter and early spring elite meets and camps are really important experience for U.S. athletes in the Olympic year and are usually ways athletes can test new skills and routines before they have to start showing up at the U.S. meets, which also pop up so early in the season in the Olympic year – early or mid May, less than a month after NCAA Championships usually? – so it would just be really difficult to manage both and be successful, I think. Especially since you have to also be focusing on academics in college. Others have managed it – like Canadians Brittany Rogers in 2016 and Shallon Olsen in 2021 – but they were both pretty clear locks for their teams and were mostly doing close to their full elite difficulty in college, whereas the U.S. team is a bit trickier. I hope for her sake she ends up taking a break!

Could an NCAA gymnast redshirt for mental health reasons, or for a break from the sport for other personal or family issues?

Yes, if an athlete has documentation from a physician or mental health professional, they can take a redshirt year for mental health reasons. Unfortunately, many who deal with mental health issues aren’t as likely to get these treated as they would be for a broken ankle or serious physical illness, so getting that clearance is a lot less likely if they don’t want to reach out to a therapist or psychiatrist for help. According to a survey in 2021, while a high percentage of athletes (close to 70%) knew how to find mental health resources on campus, less than half would feel comfortable seeking out treatment. I think this has a lot to do with the stigma that people find still exists surrounding mental health, which I’d imagine among athletes – many of whom have it ingrained in them to never show weakness – is even greater than it is outside of sports. Redshirting for a season due to a gnarly injury is acceptable (and weirdly often even gives athletes bragging rights), but there’s definitely still a very pervasive mindset – likely enhanced by coaching teams at many schools – that anything wrong with you means you’re weak, and many athletes would rather play with that pain than admit to a weakness. This goes for physical pain too, as many athletes do try to hide or downplay injuries to prove they’re tough and willing to do anything for the team, but mental health struggles are even more widely kept a secret.

For other personal issues that can’t be medically documented, like a major illness or death in the immediate family or other extenuating circumstances, a student-athlete can’t redshirt. I believe they can file a waiver for deferment in these cases, like when Brenna Dowell took a year off following her freshman year to focus on the Olympics in 2016 and then returned to complete her remaining eligibility in the next three seasons, but it wouldn’t be considered a “redshirt” season and these can generally be pretty difficult to have approved.

Can I ask you to speculate a bit? Had McKayla Maroney held her landing on her Amanar in the London team final a second or two longer, would she have scored higher? She saluted so quickly, I wonder if some of the judges thought she did an NCAA stick.

That could have ben a reason to deduct, so really holding onto that landing definitely could have bumped her score a tenth or so if that’s what the judges ended up taking off for. I think her most obvious deduction was probably her leg separation in the pre-flight, and to get really picky, her feet in the air weren’t perfect, but yeah, I think that salute would have also counted into her deductions for most judges.

Is the use of an extra mat on floor still allowed in 2023?

Not at the international level, but many will opt to use it for domestic competitions if they’re still nursing injuries or prefer a soft landing to prevent potential future injuries. A lot of the time when I see it used domestically, it seems to create more of a problem than it helps, as so many gymnasts end up landing right at the edge of the mat, which causes them to trip, stumble, and even fall. But for gymnasts who have a better sense of where they usually land, I’m glad they still have the option to protect their lower extremities as much as possible leading up to major international events!

Have a question? Ask below! Remember that the form directly below this line is for questions; to comment, keep scrolling to the bottom of the page. We do not answer questions about team predictions nor questions that ask “what do you think of [insert gymnast here]?”

Article by Lauren Hopkins

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