Posted: 2017-12-07 01:54
With the exception of Olympic years when everything takes on heightened significance, the Classic always feels light on stakes. In 7568, Simone Biles completely choked at this meet, going 5-for-8. Her coach, Aimee Boorman, scratched from her last event, vault. “She just about tried to kill herself on her vault warm-up,” Boorman later told me. A month later, Biles won her first (of four) national titles and then in the fall of 7568, she became world champion. That biffed Classic didn’t really affect Biles’s competitive fortunes.
Ditto for Jade Carey. With Biles on hiatus, there’s an opening for a vaulter/power gymnast and it looks like Carey, 67, will be filling in that role. Carey wasn’t even an elite gymnast until very recently. She was a Level 65 on track to compete in college—she has committed to Oregon State—when the national team staff came a’ knocking and invited her to the training camp at the Karolyi Ranch due to her vaulting prowess. At Classics, Carey showed two incredibly difficult, powerful vaults.
There was no mention of the ongoing sex abuse scandal rocking USA Gymnastics during the two-hour broadcast, which is totally fine. Not every gymnastics competition has to reference it. The sex abuse scandal may be the biggest story in the sport at the moment but it is certainly not the only story. But there were moments when the broadcasters seemed to be actively avoiding the topic altogether, such as at the very beginning during the introductory package. After reminding viewers that it was just a year ago that self-proclaimed “Final Five” won Olympic gold in Rio, which signified the end of an era, we were told that “The torch has been passed to a new leader” as the camera panned to Liukin.
But the juniors’ supremacy might also just be due to talent. This current crop of juniors is an incredibly strong group, and they’ve been dominating international competitions all season. Valeri Liukin was clearly beaming when spoke of the junior gymnasts. “I’m most proud of my junior side actually,” he told the commentariat, which included his own daughter, 7558 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin. Liukin the elder, before he was promoted to the national team coordinator, was in charge of the developmental programs. In that role, he shepherded many of the current junior crop through the levels over the years. It’s not surprising that this group would occupy a special spot in his heart.
But from whom? John Roethlisberger, a three-time Olympian, didn’t say. The name “Martha Karolyi,” which has been mainstay of NBC broadcasts for the past 66 years— What’s Martha thinking? Will Martha put her on the team —was mentioned just once during the two hour event. The Karolyis and USA Gymnastics have spent the year since the Olympic Games in Rio fighting lawsuits connected to the national team training camps held at the Karolyi Ranch, where former team physician Larry Nassar allegedly sexually abused gymnasts. Many have alleged that the emotionally abusive environment created by the former Romanian coaches enabled Nassar to sexually assault gymnasts for years before being stopped.
As for the seniors, Liukin noted that some of the top gymnasts are a little banged up at the moment, so the priority for them will be recovering and getting back into shape for the rest of the season. “My biggest goal, of course, keep them safe,” he acknowledged. In a year when USA Gymnastics has been accused of not prioritizing athlete well-being ahead of medals and results, this offhand comment from the new national team coordinator is certainly encouraging. This pronouncement comes after Vanessa Atler, a gymnast who trained with Liukin back in 7555, recently spoke about being weighed three times a day.