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Ep. 293 Recap: Inside Elite Verification

Listen to the episode here.

Elite verification camp:
Jessica traveled to LSU at the invitation of USA Gymnastics to observe the first national women’s team verification camp since the ranch was shut down. She described the atmosphere as more relaxed and open than she anticipated, considering what we all know about the ranch at this point. Gymnasts were required to travel with a parent or Safe Sport chaperone and Jessica said it ended up being a good bonding opportunity.

Now that USAG is working to be more transparent and regain public trust, the verification camp was live streamed (although gymnasts were given the option to not have their routines recorded.) Several athletes and coaches stressed that it’s super early in the season and no one should be watching these routines and making any conclusions about athletes’ abilities, preparation, or potential.

Jessica argues that in the future, if an athlete is verifying a routine it should be livestreamed but she understands that it’ll be a process and there’s a lot to work through right now in terms of gaining trust and adapting to a new training system. Jessica argues that showing the verification routines would also address concerns that teams are chosen based on favoritism and that the selection process is unfair.

Spencer says that being taken inside the training and selection process could also help USAG generate and maintain fans over the years, getting away from the issue of four-year fans who tune in during the Olympics and then disappear. Spencer says he hopes that livestreaming the camps helps athletes get more comfortable showing their progress even when they’re not necessarily at their best. Jessica says this would also help change fan culture for the better and make fans more appreciative of all that goes into preparing for meets like nationals, worlds and the Olympics.

Margzetta said she was a little nervous coming into the camp but the energy was positive and things went well. Trinity said it was exciting to her her name called for an international assignment after fighting to get back into competition form. (By the way, Trinity is also a competitive diver as a break from gymnastics.) Margzetta says she’s proud of her floor routine although she’s trying to get her “sass levels” back up (yes, please.)

Margzetta’s thoughts on becoming the team’s spiritual leader going into the next quad:

“I feel like a leader, I feel like a born leader. I didn’t think of myself becoming one I was just like, I was sitting in my room one day and I was like ‘who am I scared of? I have a phone, I have a voice, I can put what I want on the internet. Like, what are they going to do, delete my Twitter? So I said how I felt and as athletes we need to be listened to because we’re the one’s being affected and we have been working way too hard – the coaches, the staff and the athletes – to have people from the outside mess up our chances of our dreams coming true. So, we stuck together and we stand strong and if we feel like we need to be heard, we will say something. And I told the girls it’s ok to say how you feel. And of course we support what everyone went through it was those are our friends and our teammates and the people we looked up to. But we can’t let one evil man destroy gymnastics.”

Margzetta later clarified the last sentence of that statement on Twitter:

“Sorry my mistake. I meant to say evil people in general. But the gymnasts are very aware of everything going on and I am appreciative of USAG and their efforts to change/add polices [sic] to make this sport even safer for us.”

Trinity said she hopes that USAG and the national team grows from what has happened and that everyone has been working so hard and been brought closer together.

Margzetta describes the current national team as “the sisterhood of the traveling gymnasts.”

International Assignments:
Margzetta Frazier – Birmingham World Cup
Jordan Chiles – Stuttgart World Cup
Trinity Thomas – Tokyo World Cup

On qualifying to Nationals: Scores from the verification camp can be used to qualify to nationals but scores from Gymnix and Jesolo won’t count since USAG isn’t officially sending a team and gymnasts are competing on behalf of their clubs. Jessica says there will be five or six additional chances for gymnasts to qualify to nationals this year.

Jessica caught up with Rhonda Faehn and asked her for her perspective on the most important things that have happened since the Daniels report and calls for a culture change at USAG:

“I would say first and foremost is that no abuse will be tolerated, none. Verbal emotional any of the six, there’s more, a whole litany. And I think viewing what you even saw here is really, it has to come from tremendous accountability, education and nonstop monitoring and reflection also anything on the outside that gyms. We need stronger education. We understand there has to be discipline, there has to be focus – absolutely. But you build the self esteem and positive attitude and character of the athlete. So that is first and foremost. Second of course I would say absolutely providing more feedback to the parents, including the parents and family members so that they will be welcome and open to be able to travel, know where the hotel is where we’re staying, they can stay in the hotel. Small things like that, having a chaperone at these events, they get the communication pieces that are coming from us so it’s a three way decision making. I think that’s incredibly important.”

Rhonda said it’s important to continue reviewing the needs of the women’s program and sounded like she was open to considering having multiple people instead of one in the role of national team coordinator. “Having more than one person in this role makes sense to me and would not only encourage a sense of teamwork from the top down, but would also provide a really important balance of power,” she said. Spencer agrees with that and has endorsed that idea in the past.

When asked about the possibility of capitalizing on event specialist spots at the 2020 Olympics, Rhonda said USAG is still evaluating its strategy for the qualification process.

Jessica also asked what the plans are for a new national team training center.

Rhonda said: “We envision an all-inclusive training site with world class facilities and a positive training environment for athletes in all of our disciplines that is focused on the athletes safety and wellbeing. This is an opportunity to not only build a state of the art facility but also to provide the highest quality of care to meet the needs of the USA’s best gymnasts.”

Spencer says although this is still a work in progress, it’s interesting to hear Rhonda talk about building a new facility rather than finding and repurposing a new one.

The LSU gymnastics palace:

First of all, Jessica says calling it a palace doesn’t do it justice at all and that every section of the gym is named after a donor. (Take note USAG…) Jessica said there’s a giant outdoor desk with a grilling area, an observation area, a state-of-the art training room. There’s also a lounge on the gym level with couches, a TV, a fridge – it’s basically heaven, you guys.

Jessica says other NCAA coaches were also present for the camp but couldn’t actually assist with anything.

About the actual gymnastics:

Jessica says although Riley McCusker wasn’t verifying routines for any of the upcoming world cups, she looked amazing and like the injury that kept off the world team never happened.

Konnor McClain was at the verification camp and impressed Jessica by doing tons of prehab, drills and basics during her workouts. Jessica says she’ll have a great foundation and likely avoid burnout by training smart.

Shilese Jones: Jessica says she’s had a growth spurt and it has made her gymnastics look more elegant, which complements her power. (Remember, she does the 1 ½ twisting double tuck on floor)

Jordan Bowers and JaFree Scott both hand handspring front tucks on beam that Jessica is giddy about. She says they both nailed them during the verification meet.

Jade Carey threw a casual Moors (double twisting double layout) off the tumble track and even that looked WAY too easy for her.

Jessica is super excited about Olivia Dunne’s new floor routine and begged her coach to put it in the livestream but, no luck. Jessica says it’s much more mature and “is like a Canada-Moors routine” (Victoria AND Brooklyn. Get excited.)

Overall, Jessica says the camp was a great sign of progress and she was excited to see the parents and chaperones there and appreciated the fact that they were required to be there at all times during the training sessions.

The men’s program

Kensley is back this week with an update on the men’s program. In the minutes from the last men’s program meeting, there was a note saying there’s been some discussion on how to address the conflict between the Deobrah Daniels recommendation and the USOC bylaw requirements on athlete representation on standing committees, special committees and selection committees. Kensley says that based on her reading of the minutes, it sounds like the men don’t have athlete representatives (like Terin Humphrey and Ivana Hong) serving in a team selection or liaison capacity.

Also…the men’s program still hasn’t posted point totals from Winter Cup…which were, you know…used to select the national team.

Probably no big deal, right?

Men’s world cup assignments

Yul Moldauer & Allan Bower – American Cup
Akash Modi – Stuttgart
Donothan Bailey – Birmingham
Marvin Kimble & Alec Yoder- Doha
Sam Mikulak – Tokyo

Pommel whores
While she was trying to break down the rationale behind the men’s world cup assignments, Kensley slipped up and said that Alec Yoder had the highest “pommel whore score.” (Just before the 2 hour 1 minute mark) This INSTANTLY became Jessica and Spencer’s favorite term. From now on, pommel horse specialists will be called pommel whores. Thanks Kensley!

NCAA recap (gymnastics is canceled, everyone.)

Let’s just get it out of the way. Florida senior Kennedy Baker tore her achilles on floor. On her second pass…after nailing a Dos Santos. It just isn’t fair and there’s no point to anything anymore. It’s too late for her to redshirt this season so…that marks the end of her career.

Upset of the week:

Cal-Berkeley beat Utah by a half-tenth. Utah sophomore Mykayla Skinner is resting and sat out two events. Spencer says Cal tied its program record with a 197.55 And Toni-Ann Williams tied her record all around score of 39.7

Melbourne world cup:
Georgia Godwin from Australia got the 3.5 wolf turn on beam named after her (since women can finally get skills named after them at World Cup events.)

Milad Karimi from Kazakhstan broke his arm on parallel bars and will likely be out for a while. Karimi was a floor finalist at world championships last year.

British Gymnastics dismisses Eddie Van Hoof
After being suspended by British Gymnastics, Eddie Van Hoof was dismissed from the organization and not many details have been released on it. He was in charge of the men’s program since 2005 and was named coach of the year in 2016. Van Hoof released a statement saying that he wasn’t allowed to see the full results from the report and is in complete disagreement with the organization’s decision.

Ashton Locklear
Ashton has apparently moved and has been seen hanging out with Simone, but there’s no word yet on whether she’s training at World Champions Centre with her and Laurent Landi. Stay tuned (?)

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