There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind who will win this year’s senior title at the 2014 P&G Championships.
Simone Biles, obviously. As if anyone else can even pretend to challenge.
Biles showed up in Chicago having not competed since her insanely successful World Championships, where she won medals on everything but the uneven bars. When she withdrew from both the American Cup and the Pacific Rim Championships this spring due to a nagging shoulder injury, many people thought she peaked too soon due to the extremely high level of difficulty she competed. Was a post-Olympic year Worlds it for Simone?
Nah. At the Secret U.S. Classic a little over two weeks ago, Biles absolutely dominated, and it wasn’t even close to the best she can do. Yet still, she beat her all-time high all-around score with a 61.7. Though USA Gymnastics chose to use a reward system that rewarded athletes for sticking vaults, tumbling passes, and dismounts, coach Aimee Boorman said only two tenths of the score came as a bonus.
Biles will be this year’s national champion unless she falls on every single event. She has at least a two point margin above the next best, Silver Princess Kyla Ross, who competes lower-difficulty skills and her only hope of matching Biles would come if she prayed for her to fall.
Which she would never do, because Biles and Ross are a package deal, paired together to win every gold and silver all-around medal in every competition they enter. Ross isn’t as secure in her all-around spot, especially after having several of the seniors come close to her score in Jesolo, Italy earlier this year, but her advantage is flawless execution and solid consistency.
Biles and Ross looked fantastic in podium training today and should have no problem continuing their domination.
So who comes next? There was Rachel Gowey, she of the gorgeous twisting and brand new Amanar, hoping to pick up an all-around medal in her first season of elite competition. Until she fractured her ankle dismounting her triple full off beam today.
Also out are Madison Kocian and Brenna Dowell, both of whom scratched several events. Kocian stumbled on floor last year, injuring her ankle, which she aggravated at the U.S. Classic when she fell off beam, causing her to withdraw with two events to go. She’ll only do bars and beam this week, hoping to still impress for a specialist spot in Nanning.
Dowell’s ankles seem to be bothering her; she looked like she was doing a bit of ankle rehab on the floor mat. She is scratching all but bars, though she did train beam and did a dance through on floor. She looked good on bars, connecting both her Tweddle to Ezhova and Church to pak salto at least three times that I saw. The pace of a competition routine will be a little different and might throw her, but if she can focus like she did today and compete like she trains, she should be great.
So, who will actually contend for an all-around spot? First, there’s Maggie Nichols, who performed cleanly in Chicago, taking advantage of mistakes and scratches from the top crew to pick up a bronze medal. She looked clean all day, with a little bit of vault sloppiness her only issue.
MyKayla Skinner has higher difficulty than Nichols but is notorious for falling so just getting through eight routines with no major issues will be key for her. If she has her best meet ever, she could land on the podium, which could actually give her a major confidence boost before going into Worlds.
Alyssa Baumann‘s all-around score was a bit low at the U.S. Classic, but that was due to a fall on floor. Still, I’d say even with her cleanest possible meet, she would be a long shot for a title unless the others really make huge mistakes.
Finally, there’s Amelia Hundley. She came to the U.S. Classic with vastly lower difficulty than we’ve seen in the past – an FTY on vault and a double full off beam, for example – due to not training at full strength after an injury kept her out for nearly a year. It’s possible she could just be taking it easy this year so she doesn’t risk further injury and isn’t concerned about a Worlds team spot with the future in mind…but it’s also possible she played it safe in Chicago and could surprise us in Pittsburgh.
As usual, the national team will be named at the conclusion of the competition, and all but about three people have a shot at being named. Unusual this year will be the naming of the team for the 2014 Senior Pan American Championships, happening in Toronto immediately following nationals.
I believe the Pan Ams team will consist mostly of girls without much international experience so team coordinator Martha Karolyi can use the meet as a sort of pre-selection camp trial to get a feel for how her gymnasts handle international pressure. So no Simone Biles and Kyla Ross, naturally.
The nominative list for Pan Ams isn’t necessarily who will go, but I think it gives us a good idea as to Karolyi’s thought process, which follows my prediction. Gowey, Skinner, Kocian, Hundley, Nichols, Baumann, and Peyton Ernst were listed as the seven (six plus one alternate) who would attend. Now that Ernst and Gowey have withdrawn from nationals, they definitely won’t attend Pan Ams (though in terms of Ernst, I’ve heard missing nationals was a precautionary tactic and it’s possible she’ll still petition to the Worlds selection camp).
Left out are Biles and Ross, naturally, because Karolyi believes in them more than she’s ever believed in anyone. Dowell isn’t on it either, meaning Karolyi has either lost all hope or doesn’t need to see her compete internationally, as she’s had four years of high-level international experience. There’s also the fact that coach Al Fong publicly lashed out at Karolyi after Dowell was unceremoniously deleted from the 2013 World Championships team. On a serious level, I highly doubt this is the reason, if only because it’s not a Lifetime movie from 1996, but I like to cover all my bases.
Ashton Locklear wasn’t on the nominative list either, which is interesting. She excelled on bars at the U.S. Classic, where she also proved to be fairly strong on beam. She is dealing with nagging back pain – thus the reason for skipping the all-around this year – so my guess is that Karolyi wants to limit her from further injury in an attempt to save her for Worlds.
Also not on the list are Nica Hults (who has a hip tear and will be relegated only to bars this week), Madison Desch (who hasn’t been quite up to par in her last few competitions), and first-time seniors Felicia Hano and Macy Toronjo (who just don’t have the scores quite yet).
I think Skinner, Kocian, Locklear, Baumann, Dowell, and Nichols have the most to prove in Pittsburgh, as they have almost everything they need to land spots on a Worlds team, experience aside.
Nichols has participated in quite a few international meets over the past couple of years, but has always fallen slightly short of expectations; now that she’s a bit older and has more to bring to the table in terms of her skills and ability, she could be the perfect person for the cleanup role Aly Raisman played in 2010.
Skinner, Baumann, and Kocian need to show that they can hit under pressure and can be trusted on an international stage. Karolyi seems to have a fondness for all three, but they’re not going to get team spots based on that alone. Dowell has already proved how reliable she can be in major international competition, but now she needs to show readiness for this year if she wants a spot on the team going to Nanning.
And Locklear just needs to prove that she can repeat what she did at the Secret U.S. Classic with cleaner form. She would be a phenomenal addition to the team but won’t earn her spot based solely on one good day at a qualifier meet two weeks before Worlds. Based on how clean she looked in podium training, I think she’ll be a no brainer.
Proving yourself – that’s exactly what the mid-quad U.S. Championships are all about. Unless you’re Biles and Ross, in which case you just show up, win medals, and have a good time.
Article by Lauren Hopkins