A Pan American Championships Preview

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This is the kind of meet where, as someone who analyzes gymnastics on a regular basis, I’m not thinking about who will win but about how much a team will win by. Because obviously, Team USA is walking out of the Hershey Centre in Toronto with the title.

In 2010, USA Gymnastics sent a team of top juniors to compete in the Senior Pan American Championships in Guadalajara. Competing against senior teams from North and South American nations, the U.S. women swept the gold medals, beginning with a domination in the team finals to beat the team of top Canadian seniors by almost 20 points.

Team USA went on to pick up the top two all-around medals when Kyla Ross and Sabrina Vega beat Olympian Jessica Lopez of Venezuela, and in event finals, McKayla Maroney won vault and floor, Gabby Douglas won bars, and Vega won beam. In addition, Ross picked up the silver on floor while Sarah Finnegan took home bronze on beam.

Out of a total of 12 possible medals (one team, three all-around, and eight event), the juniors from the  United States brought home nine. Not a bad outing for a group of gymnasts being paced to peak at the London Games two years later.

The potential for an even stronger finish this year is more than likely, as Martha Karolyi is choosing to use the competition as a sort of trial for World Championships. The team includes all of the top U.S. seniors, minus Ross and Simone Biles (the top two all-around finishers at last year’s World Championships and this year’s U.S. Championships) as well as Brenna Dowell (who is dealing with an ankle injury and will use the time to start getting vault, beam, and floor back before the selection camp) and Alyssa Baumann (who was originally named to the team but withdrew after hyperextending her elbow on bars).

As team captain, Maggie Nichols is betting on leading Mykayla Skinner, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear, Amelia Hundley, Madison Desch, and Felicia Hano (Baumann’s replacement) to victory. It’s a team that boasts some of the highest difficulty in the world on vault, bars, and floor, and even though they’re relatively weak on beam, they still have three athletes who can put up scores in the mid-to-high-14s.

In the all-around, if Nichols competes as well as she has all summer, she should be a shoo-in for gold. Skinner could definitely end up on the podium as well, though I think Hundley and Desch could have some competition from the international field, which we’ll get to now.

Though the team looks ready to sweep, they should have some promising strong international competition. Maegan Chant from Canada (a replacement for Ellie Black, being rested before Worlds, who in turn replaced Ella Douglas, out due to injury) looked strong in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games this summer, and could be competition for Skinner on vault and floor. Skinner’s difficulty is much higher and neither have the cleanest form, but Chant has a good amount of major international experience, including World Championships in 2013. We know how Chant is received internationally, so it will be interesting to see how Skinner stacks up against her (though I really wish we could have seen Skinner and Black go head to head here!).

Skinner looked solid in podium training this week, especially on floor where she hit all four passes with ease and even looked more stretched than usual in her double double layout. Her DTY on vault should score nicely, and though she does have issues getting a block and keeping her body straight on her Cheng, she always seems to land it without much of a problem and she keeps her legs together in the air. I was originally worried about Skinner’s consistency, but apparently have no more reason for this, as she went eight-for-eight at P&Gs last weekend.

In general, the Canadian team is a B team at best. Though they went with most of their top options in Glasgow, it seems they now prefer to keep them training for Worlds. Alongside Chant, we’ll see Commonwealth Games replacement competitor Victoria-Kayen Woo in addition to Madison Copiak, Hélody Cyrenne, Jordyn Pedersen, Kirsten Peterman, and Aleeza Yu (who has a strong chance at worlds this year, but missed the CWGs due to injury and needs an international test before Nanning).

Canada doesn’t need an A team here, where they know they’ll never surpass the United States but at the same time, won’t need their rockstars to make it on the podium. Their toughest competition will come from Brazil and Mexico, both of which are sending their top athletes yet still probably won’t be much of a threat.

Daniele Hypolito recently won her 12th all-around title at Brazilian National Championships. She leads a largely inexperienced team, but one that showed some nice events earlier this month in Aracaju. Hypolito has finals-worthy routines on vault, beam, and floor if she can hit in qualification, and she should do well in the all-around.

Also be sure to look for Leticia Costa on bars, and I really love Julie Kim Sinmon’s work on beam. Even without Jade Barbosa (initially named to the team but she withdrew after sustaining a knee injury), this will be a nice team to watch, though I’m not quite sure how they’ll perform against a weak Canadian team. Based on what we saw from Canada in Glasgow, Brazil could have a shot at the podium if they put up a fight.

Mexico is the other team to watch. Like Hypolito, their leader Elsa Garcia is one who has been around the block internationally. The team held a selection camp about three weeks ago, where Garcia looked lovely on vault, bars, and floor. On beam, she fell on her bhs layout, but otherwise looked fluid and clean. I think we could definitely see her fight for a spot on the all-around podium.

Alexa Moreno is back with her huge vaults, including a handspring Rudi and tsuk full, so we’ll definitely see her in these finals. I’m less familiar with the rest of the team, but know that at the selection camp they performed mostly clean but low-difficulty routines. I don’t think they’ll be able to challenge Canada and Brazil for the podium, but this is gymnastics. I didn’t think Nichols would ever lead an international team, and look at her now!

Individuals to watch for include Sofi Gomez of Guatemala (her beam is exquisite and I’m so glad she continued to train after the 2012 Olympic Games!), Jessica Lopez of Venezuela (J.Lo is a long-time fan favorite with lovely work on bars and beam and a generally expressive floor routine), Khazia Hislop of Trinidad & Tobago (she trains at Brestyan’s and is awesome on floor), and Luisa Leal of Colombia (one of my personal favorites…she’s a Rutgers gymnast who missed most of this past season due to a back injury after falling on a shaposh but absolutely kills with her floor routine).

The competition begins on Saturday August 30 with the combined all-around final, team final, and event qualification, going all day with four subdivisions from 10 am until about 8 pm EST. We recommend not leaving the house for a full ten hours, but if you MUST, know that the USA will compete at 10 am, Canada and Mexico at 3:30 pm, and Brazil at 6:15 pm. Vault and bars finals will be held Sunday August 31 at 3 pm and 4:20 pm, respectively, while beam and floor finals will be held Monday September 1, also at 3 pm and 4:20 pm.

For more information, check out our Complete Coverage Guide!

Article by Lauren Hopkins

9 thoughts on “A Pan American Championships Preview

  1. Based on the picture above, do you think that Felicia Hano will be named the alternate? Given that she was Alyssa Baumann’s replacement, who excelled on beam and floor, I think that Felicia has a shot at being named to the competition team in lieu of Madison Desch.

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    • I thought going in that Felicia was the alternate but like you, also considered the fact that it was Baumann’s beam and floor they’re replacing – events on which Desch often struggles. I think Desch will still be named because she has a better shot for Worlds than Hano has, but I would love to see Hano actually get to compete!

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  2. Can I just mention how excited I am to watch Cuba? What a ridiculously talented and dynamic team. Since they no longer go to Worlds or the Olympics, Pan Ams is usually the biggest meet they attend. Expect some good stuff.

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  3. Hmmm I tried posting this already but it doesn’t show up so I’ll try again. I saw on an initial roster that Bolivia had listed Kaylee Cole. Is that the same Kaylee Cole from Texas Dreams Level 10? And do we know if she is really there? Not sure how far in advance that roster was submitted, since there were also some USA girls that had since been switched out for other people. Thanks Lauren!

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