Meet the Big Shots at Pan Ams

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With the United States not sending their big guns to next week’s Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, the individual podiums are pretty wide open and could see an awesome mix of medalists.

First, let’s get the teams out of the way. The U.S. team still has a pretty hefty margin over the rest and should somewhat easily win gold there if they hit their marks, with Canada looking good for second place and then Brazil and Mexico battling it out for third.

Both Brazil and Mexico are without two of their top gymnasts, with Rebeca Andrade missing from Brazil’s squad due to an ACL injury and Alexa Moreno out for Mexico, though it’s unclear why. These crucial missing pieces would have been more of an issue had the Cuban team not lost their top contributor, Yesenia Ferrera, to a knee injury at the world cup in Anadia this May. Without Ferrera, Cuba won’t get near the podium unless something goes horribly awry for Brazil or Mexico, but as it goes right now, either of these teams could land in the bronze position depending on how well they hit on Sunday.

The injured parties are unfortunate, as Moreno would have been a top qualifier on vault, Ferrera on vault and floor, and Andrade a definite all-around podium threat, but without them in the picture, things aren’t exactly dull.

Let’s take a look at the all-around. Pretty much any of the U.S. women could make it into the final, though my money is on Megan Skaggs – who had a standout international debut in Jesolo – and 2014 Worlds alternate Maddie Desch. If these two hit, they have the strongest potential, though I wouldn’t count out Rachel Gowey or Amelia Hundley just yet. Hundley was a bit limited in her potential last year due to nagging injuries while Gowey’s season-ending injury at podium training for nationals has kept her out of the arena for nearly a year. These two could bring some surprises to the table, though for now I’m keeping my expectations low and just hoping for the best.

My favorite for the top of the podium is Ellie Black, however. A hit all-around day for Black is close to a 58 AA and I don’t think anyone else can really match her potential. Of course, she is often plagued by falls – especially on her tricky beam – but even with mistakes she’s in the 56.5-57 zone, and she’ll be backed by a super supportive home crowd in Toronto. I think she’s totally going for broke this time around, and expect to see a dominant performance from the Canadian leader.

She does have some pretty big competition from Jessica Lopez, however. Lopez is pretty much at her prime and has been for the past year. Her DTY has added tremendously to her overall scoring potential, and her bars are excellent, about on the same level as Black’s beam. While Black doesn’t stand out quite as much on bars and floor, beam and floor are where Lopez often falls flat; they’re definitely on a pretty even playing field and can score about the same in the all-around, though I still give the edge to Black with her home advantage.

Either way, it should be a pretty excellent battle. Of the Americans I think Skaggs has shown the best potential to break through and claim a victory, but my heart is still going with Black this time around.

There are several other all-around contenders, though none who I think can realistically challenge for gold. Isabela Onyshko of Canada has gotten better and better with every single performance this year with tremendous work on bars and beam. Consistency isn’t always her friend, especially when she’s performing on all four events, though I could see her working her way up to the podium if she has a clean and solid day.

Elsa Garcia of Mexico is another contender with typically pretty consistent performances across all four events, and her bars are excellent this year, which could give her a great boost. The difference is that the others have standout events plus more difficult vaults, so I’m not sure Garcia can be a major contender, but she is absolutely in the mix. The same goes for the Brazilians, who two standouts in Flavia Saraiva and Daniele Hypolito. Both are pretty heavily limited by bars, so I don’t think they’ll quite be at the level of the others, though I could see them putting in a big effort to get close to the podium.

What about event finals? Vault is Marcia Vidiaux‘s gold to lose. The Cuban, a first-year senior, had great success in Anadia with two very difficult – and very clean – vaults and I don’t think anyone can rival her. Other vault specialists will all be clamoring for the silver and bronze, including Videaux’s teammate Dovelis Torres, Canada’s Black and Maegan Chant, Chile’s Makarena Pinto and Franchesca Santi, Puerto Rico’s Nicolle Vazquez and Paula Mejias, and then Colombia’s Catalina Escobar, all of whom are capable of averages in the 14.1-14.4 range, making it a pretty tight race.

The one question mark is the Domincan Republic’s Yamilet Peña. She is reportedly training at Excalibur in the U.S. right now and is looking much better form-wise thanks to the better training conditions. Could she be a potential threat? With easier vaults in Anadia this spring, she failed to make the vault final at all, though if she’s back to her old self anything’s possible. We just hope she isn’t chucking the Produnova again unless she’s landing it safely.

You’re correct in that there’s no U.S. gymnast with a second vault, though I secretly hope Emily Schild breaks out a random handspring layout to go with her fantastic DTY.

On bars, expect Lopez to go all the way with her massive set, though she’ll see pretty good strong competition from Onyshko and Garcia. With the relatively weak field, Black should actually make it into the final, and I’d love to see Hundley get a spot as well; she’s another one who could make the podium if she hits. Also expect some nice work from Vidiaux and Mexico’s Ahtziri Sandoval.

As with the all-around, Black could go all out with her beam routine and take the gold there…if she hits, she’s basically on a level of her own, though if Gowey is looking anything like she did last year, she could sneak in for the win as well, and I also like Skaggs’ work on this event. This is where we can also expect Hypolito and Saraiva to shine, and we should see some strong work from Lopez, Garcia, and Onyshko as well as Guatemala’s Sofi Gomez, who actually made a name for herself as the beam gold medalist at the Pan Am Games in Guadalajara four years ago when she was just 15. Oh, and Isabella Amado of Panama and Ayelen Tarabini also bring something great to the beam table, so keep your eyes on them as well.

Finally, floor is a bit of a crap shoot. Gowey again if she’s looking strong could be a threat, as could any of the Americans, really. I’ve heard great things about Hundley’s progress here, Skaggs typically shows solid work, Schild is a powerful tumbler, and Desch made the final last year after a great routine in prelims, so this could be the best shot for the Americans to go one-two. Again, Black and Onyshko should also factor in, Hypolito is a beast on this event with her brand-new routine, Saraiva is looking pretty solid, Ana Lago of Mexico knows how to work the crowd, Lopez can bring in a big score when she hits, and again Tarabini and Amado are great to watch.

The Pan Am Games begin with a combination team final and individual qualifications on Sunday, where the gymnasts will compete in three subdivisions to determine the team champions at the end of the day in addition to deciding which gymnasts will move onto all-around finals on Monday and event finals on Tuesday and Wednesday.

We’re so excited for this year’s meet and can’t wait to see what surprises await us in the finals!

Article by Lauren Hopkins

One thought on “Meet the Big Shots at Pan Ams

  1. I think sunday will reveal a lot even about AA and EF if it’s only qualification and TF. It will be real interesting to see if the US can keep going the AA gold streak they have since 1987. The medal tally this time may be less US lopsided.

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