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The Olympics are less than a year away, and this week's national championships in St. Paul, Minn., will offer a first glimpse of who may make that team in London. In the short term, too, there are world championship and Pan American Games spots at stake as well.
Here's a primer on what to look for:
The schedule: Women's artistic runs Thursday and Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center, with juniors competing in the afternoon and seniors at night. The men go Wednesday and Friday, with the same junior/senior split. Rhythmic, which features only women, will be Friday and Saturday mornings at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, next door to the Xcel Energy Center.
TV: NBC will show the women's finals live Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. Other than that, you'll have to turn to cable for live viewing. The women's preliminaries (Thursday, 8 p.m.) and the men's final (Friday, 8 p.m.) will air live on Universal Sports, with NBC adding tape-delay of the men on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. The men's prelims, on Wednesday, will not be televised. Webcasts are also available on universalsports.com.
Selection process: For the women, the top two finishers in the all-around, and at least eight others who've impressed the selection committee (team coordinator Martha Karolyi, former coach Steve Rybacki and 2008 Olympic champion Nastia Liukin), will be invited to a selection camp at the Karolyi Ranch near Houston from Sept. 17 to 21. The teams will be chosen there, and seven gymnasts (six team members and one alternate) will go to the artistic worlds in Tokyo, while six more go to the Pan Am Games.
The men's qualification is more straightforward: The top two in the all-around, and anyone else who finished top-three in at least three events, make the world team automatically. The two highest all-around finishers not on the world team make the Pan Am team. A selection committee will fill out the other spots. The men's teams, six gymnasts each, will be announced Saturday.
Why is the women's team chosen differently than the men's?: USA Gymnastics allows each discipline to set its own selection procedures. The men's staff prefers to give its athletes more time to recover from nationals since they compete in six events, compared with four for the women.
How does the scoring work? Remember, the old "perfect 10" scale was dumped after the 2004 Olympics by FIG, the International Gymnastics Federation, and replaced by a Code of Points that many people panned. It's still in place. Panels of judges rate each routine for difficulty, or the D-Score; and execution, or the E-Score. The two scores are added for the gymnast's final mark. The D-Score is unlimited and can exceed 10.0. The E-Score starts at 10.0, with deductions for each mistake; falling off an apparatus rates a 1.0 deduction. At last year's nationals, Rebecca Bross won the all-around event with scores from 14.65 to 15.50. A 16.00 is really good -- and rare. Women compete on vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise; scores from prelims and finals are added together for the all-around total.