Inside Gymnastics Prespective: Team USA Men, What a Difference a D Makes

Inside Gymnastics Prespective: Team USA Men, What a Difference a D Makes

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For the full Schedule, click here!

TV Broadcasts

Times are ET

  • Saturday, June 29 – Men’s Day 2 – NBC, Peacock 3-6 p.m.
  • Sunday, June 30 – Women’s Day 2 – Peacock 8-8:30 p.m.; NBC, Peacock 8:30-11 p.m.

The four-day U.S. Olympic Team Trials will serve as the final U.S. stop on the path to Paris! The 2024 men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics teams for the Olympic Games will be named at the conclusion of the Trials. The event will be one part of Gymnastics City USA 2024, the Trials being held in conjunction with the 2024 USA Gymnastics Championships, featuring rhythmic gymnastics, acrobatic gymnastics, and trampoline & tumbling; the USAG National Congress and Trade Show; and the USA Gymnastics for All National Championships & Gymfest. All U.S. gymnasts going to the Olympics, in all gymnastics disciplines, will be recognized by Sunday, June 30.

What a difference a D makes: Part 1

By Gina Pongetti for Inside Gymnastics

Execution can always be improved. More time, higher quality reps, reviewing basics. 

Difficulty score, on the other hand, is either there or it’s not. 

When combining the two, D plus E, the highest total is the final score. Take the risk and try harder skills, yet have poor execution? Settle for a subpar D score but execute beautifully? Of course, the goal is to push the limits of skills and combinations and then do it enough in practice to execute the risk, too. 

Coming out of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the U.S. Men’s Gymnastics Team was six points behind in difficulty going into the meet. It was like doing a car race with a governor on, even if the machine worked well. In Minneapolis this week, as the men prepare to name their 2024 Olympic team, you can be sure the D is weighing in on every decision.

“We were six points before we even raised our hand on our first routine, which is very hard to basically expect to be successful,” explained U.S. Men’s High-Performance Director Brett McClure.

What did they need?

Time. Lots of time. 

Time to not worry as much about execution and competitions and the ability to build and grow. To take risks. To do drills and strengthen themselves to elevate themselves. 

Oh, and a plan. 

The plan developed was one of reward. A bonus system within the U.S. created to reward those that were trying new skills such that if they fell or had major deductions, the bonus they would get would counter. Great, in theory, but questionable when put up against the best in the world on international soil with international judges. For team consideration and selection, scores are shifted to normal FIG scoring — “To make sure that we have enough to get it done,” explained McClure.

“The strengths — we’ve increased our difficulty quite a bit, especially on vault. High bar is a fantastic event for us as well. We’ve got an unbelievable amount of pommel horse guys that are extremely good, comparative to the rest of the world. I’d say the other events are above average. Floor, rings. China is so good at still rings. I don’t think any country is going to be able to catch them on that specific event, but they’re going to have holes as well. It’s going to be a puzzle that we’re going to have to look at all the pieces to see how it fits together.”

After spending the last three years since the close of the Tokyo Games grinding away at new skills and combination, the program has turned goals into action. 

“[Since] just the last World Championships, we were within two points. And heading into Paris Olympic Games, on a number of different combinations of athletes, we can be within a point of China and Japan, potentially,” McClure clarified.

Thom Glielmi, head coach at Stanford, and coach to several top contenders for the 2024 team, has lead his athletes to rise to the challenge by “pushing the difficulty big time.” He, like all other elite program coaches, watch what the world is doing and the standards that will allow anyone to medal — both as a team and individually. Their success may be a product of the theory that McClure described.

In order to be better, you have to have the space to do so. The quandary is that with a great deal of the National Team in the peak of their college careers, their work toward consistency and performance for team scores and championships supersedes their prioritization of improving their D scores. This starts in NCAA pre-season and continues through April culminating in NCAA Championships. Then, Winter Cup, which sits in the middle of that season in February. Add to this World Cup Series and more. 

McClure’s theory is that as colleges become stacked with elite athletes, it encourages even more to follow. They want to train together, to have camaraderie through the elite stress. When teams have the benefit of depth, it allows athletes to rotate throughout the weeks of competition for NCAA leaving room for peak cycling and working upgrades. 

“We know we want the big start values because we’re not going to be competitive to medal,” Glielmi explained.  “That was the push for the guys in my group, my Stanford group. We wanted to be…if we’re going to go…we want to be in position to medal.”

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