After weeks and months of the anticipation that comes when gym fans have been starved for the sport, the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic has quickly come and gone.
In the senior division, 2013 World and National Champion Simone Biles, who hadn’t competed since the World Championships in Antwerp, Belgium last fall, took home the gold medal. Kyla Ross took the silver to Biles’ gold, just as she did in Antwerp and at U.S. Championships last year, while underdog Maggie Nichols put in a strong night of competition to sneak up and grab the bronze.
Okay, who does this? Who wins gold at Worlds and is like, “you know what? I know I’ve achieved the biggest gymnastics goal outside of the Olympics, but I really want that senior U.S. Classic title under my list of accolades.”
Biles, girl, you could have done a bunch of level 8 routines this weekend and not one person would fault you. Besides, you won the junior title in 2012, technically you can say you’re a U.S. Classic all-around champion? Also, Ross, you have a silver Worlds all-around medal and you’ve competed at every single U.S. Classic meet since 2009. You had one senior title, one senior silver, two junior golds, and one junior bronze. I think it’s okay to sit one out.
In 2010, reigning gold and silver medalists Bridget Sloan and Rebecca Bross made appearances at the U.S. Classic, but both stuck to bars and beam, taking advantage of their automatic U.S. Nationals qualification by allowing themselves a low key, no-pressure practice meet. This is the norm.
Biles and Ross are different animals, and I think they have a secret plan to win every gold and silver medal for the rest of their lives. I honestly didn’t think either would be back to their full potential this early, especially because Biles hasn’t competed since she won her four medals in Antwerp while Ross looked slightly rusty at this year’s City of Jesolo Trophy, balking her vault and falling in beam finals.
But though they were the only two with nothing to prove, both ended up two of only a handful who were fully prepared and at their best. When Biles received her all-around score of 61.7, she shrugged her shoulders while coach Aimee Boorman was like, “umm, you’ve never broken 61 before. You almost have a 62.” Biles’ response? “Oh, sweet.”
I’m not saying U.S. Classic medals in 2014 will lead to 2016 Olympic success but what I am saying is that they should win every gold and silver together as a team for the rest of their lives, and should probably follow up their 2016 Olympic success by running on a 2016 U.S. presidential ticket together. They are such good friends, they push each other competitively while being incredibly supportive, and they balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses ridiculously well. I loved watching them take over the senior ranks last year, and I can’t wait to see what else they can do for the U.S. team in the future.
Maggie Nichols is Awesome
I don’t think many people came to this competition thinking “you know who will probably get a medal? Maggie Nichols.”
Frankly, I don’t think most casual fans know who Nichols is, let alone include her in medal predictions. But they should, and here’s why.
Nichols made an elite appearance in 2009 at the U.S. Challenge where she placed 5th with a 50.9. Since then, everyone else we saw in her division five years ago has quietly retired from elite after unsuccessful careers. Nichols has raised her all-around score incrementally each year following, finishing this weekend’s meet with a 57.6. It’s been slow and steady for Nichols, but she’s getting up there and I think if she can max out her potential this summer, we can see her hit around 58.5.
As a team player with underdog street cred, she’s always reminded me of a Chellsie Memmel or an Aly Raisman, and her performance on Saturday highlighted another important Memmel/Raisman quality – hitting under pressure. Everyone around her fell. She knew an opportunity was coming her way – if she hit, she’d take advantage of those falls and possibly get a medal. Most people in that situation would let the excitement in this situation get to them, but she remained cool and collected, performing phenomenally well under pressure to hit four clean routines.
Worlds teams typically include someone like Nichols. She’ll go up on every event in qualifications, probably first on each one to get them started on a good note even if it means her own scores aren’t as high and she likely won’t make a final. Ah, the peril of being a team player. But if someone goes down, she can step up anywhere in a team final situation and handle herself well, possibly even coming out a hero.
And though she’s pretty consistent across all of her routines, her bars stood out to me as having potential, kind of like how Aly’s floor stood out in 2010. Aly didn’t have the highest difficulty nor the best execution, but she could hit, which is why she qualified by the skin of her teeth into the floor final over U.S. favorites Mattie Larson and Rebecca Bross. No one thought that would happen, which is why we got those amazing photos of Marta Karolyi and Alicia Sacramone furiously working to help Aly with her dance in the training hall before event finals.
In all, I think Nichols has a lot more competition than Aly did four years ago, so it’s hard to say how she’ll fare at U.S. Nationals. But she’d be a prime candidate to test out at Pan Ams this fall, and if all goes well, she could make some vital contributions to Team USA in Nanning.
Newbies Who Could Go To Worlds
Locklear has been attending the national team training camps for about a year and a half now, and I’ve always wondered why Martha Karolyi would invite someone who has never competed at the elite level. I guess now we know?
Her bars…she’s definitely playing the code to her advantage with her combination bonuses kind of like how everyone threw in leaps out of floor passes in the last quad. But who cares? Do what works for you, and that’s exactly what she’s going for. The best part is that there’s still stuff to clean up! Imagine what we’ll see when her little leg separation issues are fixed?
Gowey did compete last year, but only at the Parkette elite qualifier. Then she hurt her back and withdrew from the summer season. She came back to the ranch earlier this year, got added to the national team and sent to Jesolo, and showed a lot of promise, especially having jumped her all-around score from the 51 range up to around 56-57 points.
I mentioned in a preview that she has lots of tricks but needs to clean up a bit, which is still the case. She sat her Amanar and she’s still taking a sizable step out of her underrotated 3.5 on floor, for example, but she also showed lots of great qualities, namely beam and floor routines that can make event finals if she fixes a few issues.
Her floor is also one of the more expressive and enchanting floor routines, so artistry nuts might want to take a look at her routine. That triple is to die for.
The Best Routines You Missed
If you watched this meet on television, you missed a lot of routines. Why? Because you absolutely needed a solid two minutes of Madison Kocian chalking up before bars.
While Kocian was chalking, and chalking, and chalking some more, new senior Amelia Hundley was performing this fabulous, sassy floor routine:
Hundley has lost some of her difficulty between last year and this year – a lot, actually, like her DTY on vault (she now does a full) and a ton on beam (including her dismount, which is now a double twist) – but performed cleanly for the most part. She had surgery late in 2013 and I believe her first time back at the ranch was in May, so I doubt her training coming into her first senior year went as planned. Hopefully we’ll see some of what she can do back this year, but if not, I’d rather see easier routines if it means staying healthy.
During the last rotation, the powers that be at Universal Sports pretended the meet was over about five minutes before it actually finished, so you definitely missed Nica Hults on bars, a shame, as she had lots of lovely stalder work, including a couple of nice inbar connections:
Finally, Melissa Reinstadtler – who missed out on qualifying to the P&G Championships, unfortunately – performed the heck out of this floor routine. Forget about the landings. The rest is gorgeous.
Scratching, Injuries, and Sadness, Oh My
I know, I know, the U.S. Classic is where you’re supposed to kick back and relax, getting those jitters out and giving your aches and pains a little bit of rest before the more important competitions to come. Most of the seniors had already qualified to U.S. Nationals and didn’t need to earn scores, but I can’t remember the last time so many competed only one or two events or fell or withdrew completely?
Maybe Biles and Ross spoiled me. It’s true, I’d love everyone to be at their full competitive level this early in the season no matter how unlikely that is. But really, this year seemed out of control.
Nineteen seniors were supposed to compete on Saturday. Sixteen showed up, and only nine ended up competing in the all-around, most backing out because they were only prepared to do a couple of routines, some due to injury, and a couple because why not?
Of the six Texas Dreams girls slated to compete, four showed up and only one – junior Ragan Smith – did the all-around. Bailie Key, who would have easily won the junior title, withdrew due to a minor arm injury while Peyton Ernst, who had a great shot at bronze, backed out from the meet at some point during the week, though no one knows why (she will reportedly be back for Nationals). Macy Toronjo only competed two events, Nica Hults on one (due to a torn hip muscle), and in the junior division, Grace Quinn scratched after two due to a nagging injury (she hadn’t yet qualified to Nationals, and will attempt to petition through).
In addition to Quinn, injuries also led to the withdrawal of Emily Schild in the week leading up to the meet, and then to Lexie Priessman dropping out the night before after tearing her fibular ligament at the evening podium training session. It’s a pretty serious injury, from what I’ve heard…I think she’s torn it basically from her ankle up to her knee. Gruesome, and she needs surgery, so no Nationals for her. She went from being the girl with the most-anticipated senior career to “will she ever actually have a senior career?”
Also, after falling from beam – her second event – on her standing arabian, Kocian scratched from her final two events to give her ankle – the same ankle she injured on floor last year – a rest. A shame, though. Her bars really were superb.
She was the only injury of the night, though Brenna Dowell did hop off of the uneven bars after a rather out-of-control routine, electing not to dismount due to nagging ankle pain. This routine has a 6.9 difficulty potential if she can hit everything, but on Saturday, she seemed a bit nervous and had trouble with most of her big connections.
The Ray half aka Tweddle was great, and she caught the Ezhova but bent her knees so she wouldn’t scrape the floor, which she almost did anyway. Actually, she may have whacked her foot. It all goes so fast! Her next big connection is the Church to Pak salto, but again, she second guessed herself and bent her knees before she caught the bar and actually planted her feet right as she caught.
She did get it under control quickly and didn’t have to take any extra swings before her van Leeuwen up to the high bar, but then she went through her giants before the dismount and instead of releasing the bar, she let herself swing back and drop off. And then saluted.
Smart, especially if she’s in pain. At least she knows what she has to work on, though is two weeks enough time? She really wants a Worlds spot and she knows it’ll be for bars, so she’s going for some truly daring stuff, which is awesome. But it’s also scary, so I hope they have a Plan B for Pittsburgh if she doesn’t think she can connect the big stuff? Like, do the straddleback instead of the Ezhova, or do a Ray to pak salto instead of the Church. OR take the swing between them and lose the connection value…it won’t be the end of the world. Because I think Martha Karolyi would rather see a broken connection than your bent legs whacking the mat, right?
Oh, and then MyKayla Skinner. Her music is different this year, and I don’t love it. Last year, her upbeat music made her a crowd favorite. They clapped along and roared when she stuck all of her passes on the second day of U.S. Nationals. But now it’s not really memorable or exciting music at all. She also fell on her full-in, which is her last pass, which sucks after you’ve risked your life for the past minute and thirty seconds.
Tumbling-wise, there’s so much going on. Last year she was doing the DDLO, a double arabian, the double double, and then the 1.5 through to 2.5. Now she moved the double double to second position, the 1.5 – 2.5 to third (it was supposed to be a 2.5, anyway…she did a double to play it safe), and swapped the arabian for the full-in. I think this is because she fell on the arabian in Jesolo qualifications but then came back to finals and successfully did the routine with a full-in.
Essentially, I think the corner rule is ruining her life. She could do the double double as her third pass last year because she could pause and catch her breath for a few seconds beforehand. Now she’s doing choreo right into her run for the double double, which has to be a killer. She gets that opportunity to breathe before her final pass, but by then she’s so winded, it’s gonna kill her no matter what.
Looking to Nationals
Basically, there’s a lot of work to be done. Out of those who qualified to Nationals, Dowell, Kocian, Skinner, Gowey, Alyssa Baumann, Madison Desch, Felicia Hano, and Macy Toronjo all had one or more falls. That’s half the line-up.
Though Tim Daggett said on the broadcast that “this is the meet where you can’t take chances,” fortunately for these eight ladies, it’s literally the only meet where you can take chances. I mean, if your Nationals spot is secure, which it is for this group above. Like any U.S. Classic meet, I’m going to chalk the rough outings up to nerves, lack of preparation, and a first-meet-back second-guessing due to lack of confidence.
With all of the problems, I still think the U.S. has an unbeatable team going into the 2014 World Championships. There aren’t a ton of seniors overall – just fifteen will be at P&G Championships – but nearly everyone is capable of performing well at an international level; I’d say there are only two or three national qualifiers who wouldn’t be strong contributors in a team situation.
The depth is there. Now we just have to see it.
Full Results – Seniors
1. Simone Biles (World Champions) – 61.700
2. Kyla Ross (Gym-Max) – 60.050
3. Maggie Nichols (Twin City Twisters) – 57.600
4. Rachel Gowey (Chow’s) – 57.000
5. MyKayla Skinner (Desert Lights) – 56.15
6. Amelia Hundley (Cincinnati) – 55.450
7. Alyssa Baumann (WOGA) – 54.750
8. Melissa Reinstadtler (Rebound) – 50.350
9. Samantha Ogden (WOGA) – 49.200
1. Ashton Locklear (Everest) – 15.700
2. Madison Kocian (WOGA) – 15.400
3. Kyla Ross (Gym-Max) – 15.000
4. Simone Biles (World Champions) – 14.750
5. Maggie Nichols (Twin City Twisters) – 14.700
6. Veronica Hults (Texas Dreams) – 14.500
7. Rachel Gowey (Chow’s) – 14.150
8. Amelia Hundley (Cincinnati) – 13.800
9. Alyssa Baumann (WOGA) – 13.600
10. MyKayla Skinner (Desert Lights) – 13.500
11. Samantha Ogden (WOGA) – 12.350
12. Madison Desch (GAGE) – 12.200
13. Macy Toronjo (Texas Dreams) – 11.550
14. Brenna Dowell (GAGE) – 11.200
15. Melissa Reinstadtler (Rebound) – 10.350
1. Kyla Ross (Gym-Max) – 15.250
1. Simone Biles (World Champions) – 15.250
3. Rachel Gowey (Chow’s) – 14.850
4. Ashton Locklear (Everest) – 14.550
5. Alyssa Baumann (WOGA) – 14.300
6. MyKayla Skinner (Desert Lights) – 14.250
7. Maggie Nichols (Twin City Twisters) – 14.100
8. Madison Kocian (WOGA) – 13.550
9. Amelia Hundley (Cincinnati) – 13.500
10. Madison Desch (GAGE) – 13.000
11. Melissa Reinstadtler (Rebound) – 12.800
12. Felicia Hano (Gym-Max) – 12.700
13. Macy Toronjo (Texas Dreams) – 12.400
14. Samantha Ogden (WOGA) – 11.650
1. Simone Biles (World Champions) – 15.800
2. Kyla Ross (Gym-Max) – 14.600
3. Maggie Nichols (Twin City Twisters) – 14.300
4. Amelia Hundley (Cincinnati) – 14.250
5. Rachel Gowey (Chow’s) – 14.150
6. MyKayla Skinner (Desert Lights) – 13.400
7. Felicia Hano (Gym-Max) – 13.350
8. Melissa Reinstadtler (Rebound) – 13.300
9. Alyssa Baumann (WOGA) – 12.650
10. Samantha Ogden (WOGA) – 11.800
Article by Lauren Hopkins