It wasn’t the day anyone expected, especially not after the debut of the “we got this” tshirts. But the competition wasn’t about messing up. It was about getting redemption.
Of the 19 gymnasts who competed, most had falls or big mistakes. But most who made those mistakes came back with brilliant performances. Fighting back from mistakes is a big part of competing in gymnastics, and frankly, it’s something every gymnast needs to prove at some point. Why not do it at nationals? How you come back from a disaster performance or a fluke fall says a lot about a gymnast as a competitor. Can you put it behind you and kick butt? Or do you get stuck in the moment and continue the drama?
Let’s start with Simone Biles. The back-to-back world champion leads after day one by over a point with a score of 61.1 after a relatively weak beam set and a shocking fall on floor. Beginning on bars, she was SO clean and precise, and it looked like she was setting up for a night of perfection. But then on beam, the curse of the wolf turn struck. Though she normally has one of the only solid wolf turns in the U.S., a loss of control on her 2.5 spin led to a couple of small wobbles and a hop on the dismount, and she looked pissed when she left the podium. She’s not used to messing up, so when it happens, it’s obviously going to set her a little on edge.
But none of that came through on floor. At first. She looked back and ready to kill it, nailing her first three passes, including a perfect double double. And then she crashed the tucked full-in, her final pass. It wasn’t a bad fall, probably just a miscalculation. But it was still shocking because Biles doesn’t fall on floor. She’s human, it happens to everyone, but floor has been so easy for Simone always, it was just jarring to see it happen (though in the end it wouldn’t even really matter, as her score of 14.9 would be a dream score for anyone else).
Vault was then the litmus test for her ability to come back from disappointment and she passed with absolute flying colors. Sticking her beautiful and powerful Amanar, Biles managed a 16.25, earning a 9.85 execution score from the judges, easily the highest score of this quad. She also had the one-tenth stick bonus added to her d-score but it didn’t even matter. She was so far ahead, and more importantly, used the disappointment and frustration from falling on floor to light a fire for vault, where she was able to hit one of the best Amanars of all time.
Aly Raisman had a similar flub on her bhs layout series, which she connects to a split jump. With a low landing on the layout, she continued launching up into the jump but couldn’t get it under control and had to take the fall. “I can’t remember the last time I fell on beam in competition,” she said after. “I went through the rest of the routine not thinking about anything because I didn’t want to remember what had just happened.”
But Raisman moved to floor and hit the best routine of her comeback, and possibly even one of the best of her career. She hit her huge opening 1.5 through to double arabian to front layout, a Dos Santos to a stag, a double layout, and her coolest upgrade, a double pike to split jump half, which actually looks like a mistake at first but is a super cool upgrade and really makes her stand out. Her 15.55 was definitely deserved, and watching her on this event with the crowd clapping along is absolutely incredible. It feels like 2012 all over again.
On vault, she went for the Amanar and had a step out and off the mat, and then she went on to hit a relatively clean bar routine, earning a 14.15, which is pretty much a typical Aly bars score. Her feet were pointed on her Tkatchev, which was awesome, and it’s awesome that she’s actually pretty consistent there, especially when people assumed she wouldn’t bother with bars in her comeback.
Bailie Key, the new senior who dazzled in her replica of Kim Zmeskal’s leo from 1991 nationals, didn’t have any falls but did make mistakes and didn’t look too happy. With a good start on bars (she had some form issues there but no real mistakes), she went on to have problems on both beam and floor. She missed several connections on beam in addition to touching her hand to the beam on the super low layout in her series. On floor, there were a couple of short landings and her triple was heavily under-rotated. But then she went on to hit what looked like the best DTY of her season.
These three all placed in the top five, just like at the U.S. Classic a month ago. Despite their mistakes, they still made such an impact elsewhere that no one outside the bubble was able to break in.
Also in the bubble are Maggie Nichols and Gabby Douglas, of course. Nichols had an incredible day, nailing her Amanar for a huge 15.8 before going on to show a clean bars routine with a stuck double layout, a relatively solid beam set where she debuted her new full-in dismount (and it looked good!), and an excellent floor routine including a big double double, earning a 14.55 for third place there. She is on fire right now and still has room for improvement, which is awesome.
Douglas also had a solid day, especially on vault, where her DTY was excellent, and bars, where every skill was tidy and solid. It wasn’t a perfect day, as she had a few small issues on beam and then got hammered in both her d-scores and e-scores on floor, where she struggled with dance elements. The big things were all there but there was a lot of cleanup work elsewhere and it showed in her score of just 13.85.
Almost all of the other all-arounders competing were about a point behind the top five, but were all within a point of each other, from 6th place Alyssa Baumann with a 57.85 down to 14th place Emily Schild with a 56.75. That’s incredible and shows the insane depth of this stellar group of gymnasts.
Brenna Dowell needs a huge mention for her excellent day. When I talked to Dowell after the meet, she let me know she only began training elite in June after not doing the majority of her elite skills since she was working for a spot at World Championships last fall. That means only two months to get back things like her DTY on vault (she’s working the Amanar but doesn’t want to bring it back just yet), her Tweddle to Ezhova on bars, her full-twisting back handspring on beam, and her double front pike on floor.
There were definitely some form issues for Dowell, like some leg separation on bars and about four steps back on her beam dismount, but after not training elite for nearly a year and not competing in the all-around for about 18 months, she not only met expectations but actually exceeded her last all-around score of 57.532, which she got at the American Cup in 2014. A 57.55 when she still has a lot of room for improvement is therefore incredible, and I hope this excellent day gave her the confidence to get her through everything coming up.
Baumann’s day went well, with her wild DTY her only major issue. I was impressed with how well she competed on bars, and was thrilled to see her live up to her potential on beam, where she was the strongest of the day with a 15.15. Floor was fine overall, but the little issues built up a bit throughout leaving her short.
MyKayla Skinner placed 8th with a 57.5 after being panned pretty heavily in terms of execution across the board. In looking at her scores alone, you wouldn’t know how steady and consistent she looked. Her problems were mostly form-related, with little things adding up throughout, like her leg separation on bars and leaps on floor. I was super impressed with her beam, however. She has relatively low difficulty but she was on a mission to kill it there, nailing the best bhs tuck full I’ve seen her do. Everything else was so steady, it was great to see her kill it.
Also with an awesome day was Amelia Hundley, though sadly she was forced to pull out of the second day of competition with a slight meniscus tear, according to coach Mary Lee Tracy on Facebook. She reportedly tweaked her knee in her very first pass on floor, a double layout to split jump, though continued her routine with no issues, sticking her piked full-in and hitting her whip to double tuck and double pike with a slight bounce.
She continued to fight like hell through the pain, nailing her DTY, looking fantastic on bars (especially on her Weiler half to Maloney and Ricna to pak), and sailing through her beam, which is a comparatively easy routine (with only a 5.3 d-score) but she managed to hit every skill well. She earned a 57.45 at the end of the day, and went off to get an MRI which confirmed the tear, though it’s not a super serious injury and she hopes to be back in time for the Worlds selection camp.
Nia Dennis was extremely proud of her consistent meet, stating afterwards that her goal was to come out and hit everything, which is the reason why some of her bigger skills – like her standing arabian on beam – are currently missing from her routines. Any routine that gives her trouble is something she’s saving for the future, but for now she’s thrilled she was able to show everyone how consistent she can be.
Beginning on bars, she actually had a bit of a scary moment on her toe full to Tkatchev to pak where her leg form was crazy and I honestly thought she was going to fall. The fact that she had so many problems and didn’t fall is a huge testament to her newfound confidence, so while she definitely lost a lot in execution, she did a great job to fight through it and keep going. Her beam was excellent and clean, she hit floor well, and her DTY was probably the biggest and strongest of the night. Once she adds difficulty back in, she could definitely become part of the picture again. I’m excited to see what Legacy Elite continues to do with her.
Now onto the girls who had so many issues they were unable to finish well, including Madison Kocian in 11th place and Kyla Ross tied in 12th. Kocian started on beam with a fall right away on her standing arabian, and she continued to have checks and minor issues throughout. On floor, she stumbled her double arabian back, though the rest of her tumbling wasn’t bad, and she moved on to hit a decent DTY.
She was fully redeemed by her bars, however, showing a beautiful Komova II to pak salto to Chow half before hitting her inbar to inbar half to straddle Jaeger and then her stalder to stalder full to full-in for a huge 15.5, the highest of the day. Without the fall and the floor issues, she definitely would’ve been boosted a great deal in the all-around, putting her around 6th place, which is a big deal. I think depending on how she does tomorrow, she could very well be someone to keep in mind for a potential Worlds spot.
Especially because right now, Ross is the one people are predicting will take that sixth spot. Martha Karolyi has said time and again that nationals almost don’t matter. It’s the selection camp where the big decisions will be made, though I could see Karolyi considering options aside from Ross if Ross remains unable to hit all of her routines in competition, something she hasn’t done yet in 2015.
Ross got her start on floor, where she did a beautiful job but just has super low difficulty and then on top of it, touched her hand to the floor ever-so-slightly on her final pass, the double tuck. Otherwise she was strong, and she went on to hit a very clean DTY for a 15.05. Her bars looked SO much better throughout, showing improved form on her toe full to Maloney to Bhardwaj. She hit the rest of her skills well, but then unfortunately sat the double front dismount for a 14.05. Moving to beam, she did a good job hitting clean skills, but had slow connections and a wobble on her switch ring, and came in with just a 5.9 start value for a 14.25 total.
Despite her storied history, her low difficulty overall in a field this deep could be troublesome leading up to Worlds selection. I wouldn’t count her out yet, not at all, especially because Karolyi doesn’t expect anyone to be at 100% at this point. They are peaking for Worlds, not nationals, and Karolyi has definitely made decisions in the past based almost solely on selection camps. Last year, Ross had a similarly rough first day at nationals and came back with a fury that allowed her to hit like crazy, so I can only hope she uses yesterday’s meet to come back strong and prove herself.
The other all-arounders to compete this year include Pan Ams gold medalists Schild and Megan Skaggs, as well as new senior Lauren Navarro. Skaggs tied Ross with a 56.9 showing especially good work on her DTY and on bars. Schild, earning a 56.75, was excellent on her powerful DTY and then with her lovely work on bars, where her inbars and full-twisting double layout were fantastic. Navarro struggled with wobbles on beam and landings on floor, though her opening combination on bars was very nice, and she finished her day with a 54.4.
Madison Desch was expected to do the all-around, but after issues plagued her day, she opted to finish without vaulting. Beginning on bars, she had a great start to the routine (especially on her Ricna to pak and clean van Leeuwen) but after muscling a stalder full, she took some extra swings and then was forced to hop off, unable to get it under control. On beam, she got rid of her layout full, opting for a clean bhs bhs layout instead. She had some missed connections throughout, but otherwise did some solid work, and then hit floor for a 13.5.
The other specialists included Rachel Gowey, Ashton Locklear, and Polina Shchennikova. Gowey had a beautiful bar routine, featuring a beautiful Komova II to giant full to Ricna to pak, a van Leeuwen, and a double layout with a slight hop for a 15.35, third place on the event so far. On beam, she doesn’t have quite the difficulty she had last year, and showed small bobbles here and there, but she still managed a 14.4 after a clean routine.
Locklear had zero problems on bars, earning a 15.4 after hitting her inbar to toe full to Chow to pak to Maloney to bail to Ray perfectly, catching her toe half to Jaeger, and sticking her full-in with no help from her coach, who spotted her through several warm-ups. It was superb, though she unfortunately went on to fall on her flight series on beam. Finally, Shchennikova competed just on bars, where she had her great opening combination but was super messy throughout and received just a 13.7 when she’s capable of hitting above a 15.
Overall, there were more problems than the girls would’ve liked to see, but the fight we saw from everyone was what really mattered. No one gave up in the face of disaster, which is what you want to see from elite-level gymnasts. Most elites can hit superhuman difficulty with supreme ability, but not everyone can let go of a mistake or a fall like it didn’t happen and move on to obliterate their next event. We saw that multiple times last night, and if anything, I think we’ll see even more ‘revenge’ routines from gymnasts like Biles, Raisman, Ross, and anyone else who dealt with these issues on day one.
Article by Lauren Hopkins