It turned out to be a nail-biter right to the end, and for a few seconds I really thought that Gabby Douglas might overtake the defending champion Jordyn Wieber on that last bar routine.  It was definitely one of the very best ones we’ve seen from Gabby – she connected the full spin to elgrip directly to the endo-pirouette (which she didn’t connect on Day 1), the piked Tcatchev continues to clear the bar better than it did earlier in the year, and that inbar full turn was perfectly in handstand.  Perhaps the biggest error – and possibly the one that kept her from winning – was the pirouette on the low bar, which was probably a 0.3 deduction.  Overall, though, it was so exciting to see such a close race, and Gabby’s realization that she nearly outscored an 8-for-8 effort by Jordyn Wieber WITH A FALL has to elevate Gabby’s confidence even further.  It is starting to look like Jordyn Wieber’s biggest challenger for the Olympic all-around title this summer might not be Viktoria Komova or Aliya Mustafina – it might be Gabby Douglas.


You have to hand it to Jordyn Wieber…she continues to show world champion toughness under all circumstances.  I’d bet she knew good and well that Gabby had just fallen off beam right before she saluted for bars, and she took full advantage of that opportunity to nail her routine and gain the early lead.  Jordyn also didn’t let a slight, uncharacteristic wobble on beam rattle her – she fought back to hit a better routine than Day 1, despite some still questionable connections with her standing full (I would have at least given her the second connection).  I think knowing that Gabby is literally right on her heels – and in fact quite capable of beating Jordyn on a four-for-four day – is probably the best thing Jordyn needs right now.  What a great matchup it will be between these two at Trials.  It’s like Shawn Johnson vs. Nastia Liukin all over again – a perfect headliner for San Jose – and hopefully for London.


Aly Raisman does continue to land her vault, but it’s interesting to note that Alicia Sacramone outscored her with her rudi – at least when we look at the two-day total.  They both scored a 15.45 on Day 1, while Sacramone edged her 15.5 to 15.3 on Day 2.  I say this is interesting because, if McKayla Maroney’s concussion were to turn out to take some time to come back from (which is not impossible, given concussion symptoms can often last for weeks or longer), Sacramone would suddenly become a very attractive option for the team for her consistent vault, which is likely to score very similar to Raisman’s or even Douglas’ Amanar (although Douglas scored a 15.8 in today’s meet, that’s still just a 0.3 difference and likely not worth the risk of her falling).  Aly’s bars were slightly better today (Tcatchev wasn’t as close), her beam was one of her very best, and her floor was absolutely her best ever (could you believe the height on her double pike to split jump…WOW!).  I’d have a hard time believing ANYONE at the Olympics could beat that floor routine.


Kyla Ross broke a 60 on Day 2 and is looking more and more like an absolute lock.  I love the way she didn’t let that small bobble on beam shake her confidence, and she nailed the rest of the routine flawlessly.  She finally connected that punch front to sheep jump, which has given her a little trouble this year.  Floor was much, much improved today, and somewhat comforting to the team that she scored a solid 14.6 here – in the event she would need to be used as a backup option on this event in London.


I was surprised Elizabeth Price wasn’t shown ONCE on NBC’s coverage, particularly after Tim Daggett specifically pointed her out as a potential Olympic team member.  After watching her routines, I believe she was a bit underscored today – almost as if the judges weren’t wanting to keep her in the Olympic mix.  Her bars looked great – the exact same skills as Day 1 – and yet her D-score was 0.4 lower (6.2 vs 5.8)?  Did they not give her credit for her overshoot to handstand after the toe-on piked Tcatchev?  If not, that seemed like a very harsh move.  It was also interesting to see her execution score of 8.45 was only 0.3 better than Nastia Liukin’s…


And Price’s floor E-score of 8.8 could have possibly been a little higher as well, considering the judges threw 9+ E-scores for Wieber, Douglas, Raisman, and Ross. She nailed one of the best double-doubles ever (looks almost laid-out!), did a gigantic double layout with the tiniest 0.1 step, took a hop forward out of her double back in the third pass, and nailed the double pike. Between Price and 2000 Olympian Kristen Maloney, the Parkettes have managed to produce two of the very best American tumblers of all time. While I don’t admire Price using the exact same floor music as the world floor champion (probably not the best decision), I think at least a 9.0 E-score would have been more appropriate. Price is still in the mix (and even more so if Maroney doesn’t get back), but getting fair scores sure would help out her cause a lot more. Perhaps at Trials the judges will take her a little more seriously.

Sarah Finnegan had an up-and-down day, but overall probably didn’t change her status too much.  Her fall on bars was almost irrelevant – especially considering she didn’t let it rattle her at all – and on beam she had an amazing fight, and still showed she could score a 15 with practically a fall!  I was a little confused how her D-score was actually 0.2 higher on Day 2 than Day 1 (6.9 vs 6.7) when she had this major error on the layout.  I supposed she still received credit for this skill since she did technically stay on the beam.  She did seem to connect the Arabian to Korbut better on Day 2, so perhaps this was the difference.  Her overall presentation and polish becomes even more noticeable after you watch the numerous other beam routines – her toepoint in particular really stands out.  Floor was an improvement, but the fact that Gabby Douglas scored well both days makes Finnegan appear less essential on this event.  I still think an alternate spot is highly likely for Finnegan.


It was great to see Sabrina Vega have such a strong meet on Day 2, truly earning her spot at the Olympic Trials.  Mid-14’s aren’t going to help the team much, but she is a great gymnast and came through with a much needed clutch performance today.


I was definitely worrying that Bridget Sloan might not be invited to Trials, especially after the shocking Chellsie Memmel decision we’re all still trying to accept from a couple of weeks ago.  Bridget is another one who didn’t seem to particularly have the favor of the judges here…I thought her bar routine was a little better than Day 1, but strangely scored 0.15 less.  Despite having a great look in training on beam, she looks nowhere near Olympic ready on this event and struggled both days – she just needed more meets under her belt to get this routine down under pressure.  And floor wasn’t bad, but it appears that she may have been landing her passes on a resi pit and then just suddenly put them on the floor.  No stuck landings, no leaps out of them – just seems happy to land on her feet.  I did think her E-score of 8.3 was also just slightly harsh here – not dramatically so, but an indication that none of these judges seem to be trying to thrust her onto this Olympic team.


Alicia Sacramone looked fabulous again, although it does appear she may need a couple of days off to rest those legs after this weekend.  As I mentioned above, Maroney’s questionable status makes Sacramone look a whole lot more enticing, but even with Maroney in the picture, I think an alternate spot is very likely for Sacramone.  Beam is remarkably as confident as ever, and as I said on Day 1, the height and extension on her new sheep jump was a really nice surprise.  Perhaps she could connect it out of something – the punch front or even the two-foot layout?


I was so happy to see Rebecca Bross was invited to Trials.  Although that beam routine is going anywhere near the competition floor in London, it had to at least feel at least somewhat rewarding for her to land on her feet on that dismount – although it was possibly at least 0.6 in deduction.  I will still never understand that one, but anyway…Bars was pretty good again, and although she does seem to have a few more feet separations than she used to, she has now hit SEVERAL bar routines in a row – in competition.  That’s a great sign, but we’re still not sure where that sign is pointing – to an alternate spot, or perhaps to just a less painful end to her Olympic quest?


Anna Li’s bar routine was one of the highlights of the entire competition – what in INCREDIBLE ROUTINE!  It was so great to see her finally put the whole thing together when it counted the most – and not only that, but to have the guts to upgrade the dismount to the double layout full – and it looked easy!  She looked MUCH less nervous for this routine, and seemed to approach it much more confidently as if it were training – and boy did it work.  The Rybalko to Jaeger to Pak was gorgeous, and in fact the whole routine was beautiful.  The only problem…IT WAS UNDERSCORED!  She received an 8.65 E-score for a routine with absolutely no form breaks and excellent handstands – NO WAY there were 1.35 in deductions.  I don’t believe a Rybalko should be required to finish directly in a handstand because it is not a “pirouetting” skill, but even if they deducted for this, it still doesn’t add up.  This received only 0.5 less deductions than Nastia’s, for goodness sakes.


And now, for the elephant in the room.  Should Nastia Liukin have been asked to come to the Olympic Trials?  Is it “fair?”


Well, unfortunately, “fair” has nothing to do with it.  If “fair” had anything to do with it, the committee would have predetermined minimum standards that a gymnast MUST meet in order to qualify for the Trials.  They wouldn’t be difficult to come up with…they already have the top 8 all-arounders as automatically qualifying.  They could have easily specified that a gymnast must score at least a 15 on a single event (a reasonable requirement), or place in the top 3 on a single event, or place in the top 6 on two events, etc.  That way, it would be very straightforward and objective regarding which gymnasts move on to the Trials.


But the committee doesn’t do this.  Why?  Because they don’t want to be bound by “rules” in the case of this exact type of situation – a situation where a gymnast who could potentially bring a lot of value to the team isn’t quite at 100%, and the committee is willing to give her more time.  A situation like Nastia’s.


We could argue on and on about how unfair it is that Chellsie Memmel wasn’t even invited to NATIONALS after missing one beam routine, and yet Nastia Liukin is being invited to the Olympic Trials after hitting just 1 routine out of 4 at that nationals and looking nowhere near ready to even do a dismount at the end of her bar routine.  We could argue that even Chellsie Memmel was still coming back from injury – two shoulder surgeries with one of them just a few months ago – and that Nastia Liukin has had since last fall (when she officially decided to make her comeback) to prepare this bar routine for this exact competition.  Some might argue that she’s had four years to prepare it – if she really wanted to go to London.


But the bottom line is, none of this really matters.  What matters is that, if the selection committee feels that a gymnast has proven herself enough in the past to be given the benefit of the doubt and that she could realistically be a major contributor to Team USA, they can make all the exceptions they want.  That’s exactly the way the system is currently designed.


Having said that, would I personally have accepted Chellsie Memmel’s petition to the U.S. Championships?  Absolutely.  Would I personally have allowed Nastia Liukin through to the Olympic Trials?  I think I would have, simply because I want to see her compete there, and due to the fact that she is still potentially right in the mix if she can put that bar routine together.  She also has shown two world class beam routines in competition and hit a 15.1 on Day 1 of nationals this week, placing right up there with the very best in the competition.  That’s at least something very tangible we can hang out hats on to justify her inclusion in the Trials. But did she “earn” the right to be at Trials? No, she didn’t. But I’m willing to make exceptions for an Olympic champion, as is Martha Karolyi. I think the decision just seems inconsistent after the Chellsie Memmel decision, and that’s why I would have allowed both.


So what do Nastia’s chances look like at this point?  I’d have to say, not nearly as good as they did after the U.S. Classic, when we all assumed her bars would be at least as good as her beam – if not better.  Her chances were written all over her face at this competition – and even more so all over her father’s face.  Valeri must have been feeling incredibly deflated at this competition…first, his star junior Katelyn Ohashi failed to defend her junior national title here and placed a disappointing 5th in the competition.  Then, Rebecca Bross’ Olympic chances continue to fade with each rough beam routine she performs.  Finally, his daughter and defending Olympic champion missed 3 out of 4 routines here and had to rely on the mercy of the selection committee to even let her through the Olympic Trials.  For the coach of the last two Olympic all-around champions, the thought of a possible WOGA-less Olympic team is probably incredibly tough to swallow.  I think that was the look we were seeing from Valeri this evening.


I think Valeri and Nastia might have to take a different approach with this bar routine…can she still do some inbar elements to replace the Tcatchev?  Can she do an overshoot handstand instead of a Pak?  Can she do another dismount?  I would have a hard time believing that one of the best bar workers in history can’t come up with another dismount to do in place of that double-front half, and I hope they are at least exploring this.


I leave you with these four underscored routines from today’s competition:

E-score: 8.55

E-score: 8.45

E-score: 8.8

E-score: 8.65