The Battle for Silver? A U.S. Classic Preview

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The 2014 Secret U.S. Classic will feature competition from the top seniors in the country tomorrow, August 2, at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and it looks like 2013 World Champion Simone Biles has a very strong shot at the title, leaving the rest of these ladies to battle for silver.

With heaps of difficulty, strong execution to match, and a level of consistency rare for a gymnast of her age, Biles easily snagged gold at World Championships last year and looks poised to be similarly successful in 2014. She is a total package gymnast and is a favorite to win any all-around contest she enters.

Though we haven’t seen her compete since her success in Antwerp (she was slated to appear at the 2014 American Cup and Pacific Rim Championships but withdrew from both in order to rest her shoulder), she is still the top contender for this meet, if only because we hear she came back strong at camp last month, winning the all-around at verification.

The only potential issue I can see is perhaps what happened last year…she showed up at the 2013 U.S. Classic looking rusty and lacking confidence, showing errors on bars, beam, and floor before scratching vault just to be safe. I don’t think anyone really worried about her, however, and we all know how the rest of her season turned out.

Basically, she could either win this title or have one of the worst meets of her career if she’s still getting those first-meet jitters out. How’s that for a spectrum? But I think with multiple world medals under her belt, she has a special kind of confidence now we just didn’t see last season. Another win just seems natural, even with some mistakes on bars in podium training today.

What about Kyla Ross? The Silver Princess and last year’s U.S. Classic champion came second to Biles both at 2013 U.S. Championships and then at Worlds, showing incredible execution in everything she does but unable to match Biles’ difficulty. She should look strong on bars and beam, but without an Amanar and with a relatively low start value on floor, it’s hard to keep up. She did add a bit of difficulty on floor – a whip to double arabian to stag – but it didn’t look super clean in podium training, so we’ll see if she can compete it under pressure.

I do see a lot of fight in Ross, though, so she’ll be there to take advantage of any of Biles’ mistakes and isn’t at a total loss in defending her title. But this year, she’ll also have to contend with girls who didn’t play much of a role in 2013 but who keep upgrading and getting stronger this year. Whereas she was a clear frontrunner a year ago, she now has a bit of competition from girls like MyKayla Skinner, Peyton Ernst, and Maggie Nichols, all of whom came within tenths of defeating her at the 2014 City of Jesolo Trophy meet after Ross balked her vault.

Actually, Skinner would have been the champion in Jesolo, taking advantage of Ross’ balk…had she not fallen on floor. She has brushed up her execution everywhere (including on her powerful vaults), she will possibly dismount bars with a double-twisting double back, and her floor is rumored to have a 6.8 SV if she is credited with her full difficulty. It’s going to be interesting to see how these changes allow her to factor into the all-around battle, but she’s never been the most consistent of the bunch, so four hit routines straight off the bat this early in the season could be asking a lot.

Brenna Dowell definitely needs our attention, and I think she could come in with a lot of fire this season for several reasons. She should be starting at the University of Oklahoma this fall but will likely defer until the spring semester so she can try her hand at Worlds. How this season goes will inform her decision as to whether she should continue to defer Oklahoma until 2016 or not, so if she wants to contend for the Rio Games, this year will most definitely count. She was also given a slap in the face last year with her demotion from 2013 Worlds team member to alternate immediately after podium training, when Martha Karolyi chose to use McKayla Maroney in the all-around rather than on just vault and floor.

Coach Al Fong infamously stood up for his athlete, blogging about their decision to turn down the consolation prize offer of World Cup spots, stating that Dowell prepared to peak for Worlds, not for a “lesser” competition a month later, and said she deserved her hiatus break between the end of Worlds and the start of the 2014 season. He then brought a rejuvenated Dowell to the 2014 American Cup where she placed second after hitting a solid Amanar and incredible and daring uneven bars routine. Her beam difficulty was still a bit low in February, and her floor tends to receive a lot of deductions, but she’s made some upgrades on both events that could go over well for her. She placed third at U.S. Championships last year right behind Biles and Ross, so she clearly has what it takes to contend with the best, though the question now is whether she has what it takes to defeat them.

Then there’s Madison Kocian, who actually came second to Biles at the most recent national camp ahead of Ross, according to reports from the ranch. Most recently, she’s had the highest bars difficulty of any U.S. senior and beat Ross there in Jesolo event finals; additionally, while she was tentative on beam and floor in Italy, she showed promise on both and could definitely threaten if she hits.

Based on Jesolo, Rachel Gowey wouldn’t present much of a challenge, but she’s since upgraded quite a bit, including to an Amanar on vault (which looked nice in podium training). I think she could be great if she can compete all of this difficulty cleanly, though I’m not sure if she’s quite ready to pose a major threat.

Ernst seems to be sitting this competition out at the last minute, as she did not appear in podium training with her team, which is a shame because she showed some strong routines as a substitute for Biles at Pacific Rim Championships this year and she could have added to the mix of those reaching for a medal. I don’t think Nichols can realistically challenge for gold or silver, though I definitely wouldn’t count her out for the podium. I’m not so sure about Madison Desch, though…there will be some nice difficulty and solid routines from her but not enough to give her an edge over the majority of anyone else there, unless she has a secret weapon or two to unleash.

In terms of the brand new seniors, we have three current national team members, including Alyssa Baumann with a lovely and high difficulty beam, the 2013 U.S. junior bronze all-arounder Nica Hults with the best bars and beam combo aside from Ross, and Amelia Hundley, a solid all-arounder who earned silver at last year’s U.S. Classic. Hundley has spent the past year dealing with injury, so she has the double pressure of coming back from that as well as making her senior debut, but she’s always someone who seems to pull it off and I think if she’s clean, she can probably fit in somewhere near the top, though I’m not sure she’s quite at the very top at this point.

Finally, there’s Lexie Priessman. This should be interesting and I’m not quite sure where she fits. First, we haven’t seen her compete in over a year. Her last competition before getting injured at podium training in Hartford was the U.S. Classic where she showed an incredible floor routine in addition to a solid DTY and decent bars. Coming back from injury could be difficult on its own, but she also changed gyms just a couple of months ago. Add this to the fact that while she competed as a senior last year, her all-around set at Jesolo was all over the place and she only stuck to three events at the U.S. Classic. Priessman posted a photo on Instagram as she got ready to leave for the event this week, adding in the caption that she can’t wait to have fun at this meet, but would show us the good stuff at nationals, so my take is that she’s not fully ready, though she said her podium training went well and she thinks she can hit four for four.

In addition to these ladies, Felicia Hano, Ashton Locklear, Samantha Ogden, Melissa Reinstadtler, and Macy Toronjo are set to compete, most of whom are making their senior debuts. In addition to Ernst, it seems as though Emily Schild has also withdrawn from tomorrow’s competition.

The Gymternet wishes the best of luck to all competitors of the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic!

Article by Lauren Hopkins

One thought on “The Battle for Silver? A U.S. Classic Preview

  1. Oh Lexie. Are we ever going to see her competing again? (She apparently got injured in tonight’s PT, for those who didn’t know)

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