U.S. Seniors Show Tremendous Depth at Nationals

Capture

Back in 2012, the Olympic team decision was bittersweet. Five fantastic gymnasts were named and sent to London, but a bevy of other hopefuls – some of whom were worthy of event medal podiums – were left behind.

Depth is a great problem to have, but if we thought it was a problem three years ago, we were in for a major awakening. The depth now – a year before the Olympic Games – is unbelievable. Let’s just take a peek at how insane it is.

Several gymnasts with 15+ routines were left off of the national team, as were gymnasts who have gone 57+ in international all-around meets. Thinking back to four years ago, only one senior breached 59, seven were unable to break 55, and the average score for those in the top 10 was 56.255. Now, five are consistently hitting 59 or higher, only one all-arounder in the entire two days of competition scored under 55, and the top ten average is 58.76. The silver medalist in 2011 would’ve placed 10th with her routines this year. And there are still three highly competitive junior women to add into the mix next year.

Deep breaths.

I don’t envy national team coordinator Martha Karolyi this year. Or next year. There are roughly five billion possible team scenarios that could make sense for Glasgow, and it’s at the point where it doesn’t even matter who goes. The U.S. women are going to win no matter what. It’s just a matter of by how much.

Let’s start with Simone Biles. She didn’t have the best performance on day one, making a mistake on beam and then shockingly sitting her final pass on floor. But on day two? She was at her best. Posting a 63 in the all-around, the highest since the code changes came into effect in 2009, Biles shattered her own record of 62.4 set at the U.S. Classic two weeks prior.

You can talk about domestic over-scoring and stick bonuses all you want, and you’re right – she probably won’t get a 63 at Worlds. But that doesn’t change the fact that Biles is a beast. With a near-perfect Amanar, the strongest beam and floor routines on earth, and her comparatively ‘weak’ bar routine on par with many who consider it their best event, she is absolutely unstoppable. Her combination of difficulty and execution simply can’t be matched, she brings a performance value to her routines that goes above and beyond, and honestly, at this point I’ve run out of good things to say about her that haven’t already been said. We are watching a legend in her prime and will look back on this in 20 years the same way we look at Nadia Comaneci or the Mag 7. Embrace it.

While no one in the U.S. can come close to touching Biles, there are four women who have bounced back and forth in the second through fifth spots in the rankings this summer – Maggie Nichols, Aly Raisman, Bailie Key, and Gabby Douglas, in order of how they finished on the P&G Championships podium.

But this ranking doesn’t even matter, because it’s going to be different each time. At Classics, it was Douglas-Nichols-Key-Raisman. On day one, it was Nichols-Douglas-Raisman-Key. On day two, it was Raisman-Key-Nichols-Douglas. The four were within about a point of each other considering their two-day scores at nationals, and on day one, Douglas, Raisman, and Key were separated by a tenth. These four have created the most competitive bubble of excellence in the world, and the true all-around battle at Worlds this year will be between them fighting for a finals spot in qualifications, not the actual all-around final itself.

That’s assuming they all do the all-around in qualifications, which is a possibility. In 2011, Karolyi sent all five all-arounders to the floor at Worlds out of necessity when Alicia Sacramone was injured and Anna Li wasn’t able to take over due to a minor injury of her own. This year, it could be an option just to create the most competitive possible atmosphere in the lead-up to Rio. Of these four, there isn’t anyone I’d want to eliminate from the all-around picture simply to get an extra few tenths added into the team score, so it could be a very realistic situation going into Worlds.

Of these four, I think Raisman at her full ability with no mistakes is the one with the most potential to earn the second U.S. finals spot at Worlds, especially if she’s using the next month to perfect her Amanar. Her landing was still a bit scary there on night two at nationals, but she hit bars, and then had great execution on both beam and floor, winning the event title for the latter (though in interviews, she was the first to say the title would’ve gone to Biles had Biles hit on night one).

Raisman took out some of her trickier connections on beam on night two, like the split jump out of her flight series that caused problems the first time around. “I didn’t tell Mihai [about these plans],” she admitted after the meet. “I thought if I kept it simple, I’d feel more confident, and I only lost three tenths in difficulty, so it wasn’t a big deal.” And while her floor isn’t quite at Biles’ level, it’s still easily the second best in the country with supreme tumbling and one of the most fun performances to watch – there’s nothing like the crowd clapping along. Now that she seems more comfortable with her routines, the focus can go back to adding in the little things that will turn her from great to amazing, something I’m fully confident will happen by Worlds.

I think Bailie Key is the most underrated of these four. She’s definitely a bit more in the shadows, which as I’ve said before is probably the best thing for her – it allows her to compete without as much pressure from the media and the fans. The fact that she placed third on the second night of competition with a huge score of 59.75 is very telling, as is the fact that she finished in the top three on her two best events, bars and floor…which just so happen to be the two events the team needs a bit of help on at Worlds.

After the competition, Key said she was proud of her strong finish, and was especially happy to see people responded well to her floor routine. “I’ve really been trying to bust out of my shell and stop being shy,” she added, and said she thought the leo choices – however unusual – really helped her get into character for her routine. That, and she was thrilled to pay tribute to coach Kim Zmeskal-Burdette on night one. “It really meant a lot to Kim.”

Nichols and Douglas are interesting figures in the Worlds picture, because while they boast two of the top all-around scores in the country, they lack routines in the top three. Douglas shines on bars, but isn’t quite at a specialist level, and the same goes for Nichols, who has big routines on bars and floor but is deducted quite a bit in terms of execution. That said, neither is SO far out of the top three that it makes much of a difference; it’s not as though Karolyi would have to ‘settle’ for 10th best on either event. But if Karolyi’s aim is to take the absolute best on each event rather than the strongest all-arounders, it would mean Nichols and Douglas might not be top choices.

Madison Kocian, Alyssa Baumann, and MyKayla Skinner didn’t make the top five all-around, but all fall under the top seven, and each picked up an event medal for her strongest routines – Kocian on bars, Baumann on beam, and Skinner on vault and floor. If you want to go with the absolute best, you’d have to consider these three as well as Ashton Locklear for bars and then of course, Kyla Ross for beam (and then bars as well if she begins hitting at selection camp).

Personally, I’d be happy with the top five and no one else. Yay exclusivity! But I can’t ignore others who fit in somehow. Like, look at how incredible Kocian has been on bars this summer. She took off so much time after Worlds it was hard to gauge where she’d be at Classics, but no need to worry – she was phenomenal and carried that same ability and beauty right over to nationals, averaging 15.567 over her three performances this summer. Sure, it’s a little higher than she might get on the Worlds stage, but no one in the country can match her there right now. How do you leave someone like that behind?

But how do you leave ANY of them behind? Skinner with her medal-worthy vaults, Locklear and Baumann with their beautiful work on bars and beam (respectively), Ross with everything she’s done for the program over the past three years, even Nia Dennis with her newfound consistency and huge DTY…that’s the question I keep going back to whenever I try to make a case for someone or justify someone else. Anyone in the top ten could go to Glasgow and be a major asset to the team. This team is up to my eyeballs in depth and it’s killing me slowly, one day at a time, knowing world class gymnasts worthy of individual medal podiums are going to be left at home.

The next women’s national team camp will be held from September 12 through September 16, and then the Worlds training squad – featuring the national team in addition to Locklear, Rachel Gowey, Amelia Hundley, Brenna Dowell, and Madison Desch – will reconvene from October 6 through October 9, where seven gymnasts (six team members plus an alternate) will be selected for competition in Glasgow.

Whatever the decision is will be the ‘right’ decision. You can justify pretty much any of these women for a spot and not be ‘wrong’ about it. This isn’t like previous years when there was a clear group of six or seven and then ‘everyone else.’ And with Karolyi stating that the selection camp will be the most important determinant in terms of who will go, there’s still a big chance that gymnasts who may have under-performed in Indianapolis – like Ross – can still make themselves contenders for this team.

I know who I’d bring and who I’d have compete on each event, but I could also swap out at least three of my options for women who are equally valuable and necessary, so even the most educated guesses this year could end up being totally wrong. I’d love to sneak into Karolyi’s head for a minute to see what exactly she wants most, because that’s going to be the group that goes.

It’s not necessarily about the ‘best’ anymore, or even having just one event that fits perfectly into the puzzle. Everyone’s the best and everyone fits. Now it’s a matter of what Karolyi thinks is most important, which could be anything – using five members to get in the mood for 2016, grabbing an extra medal from a specialist like Skinner, testing someone who may not be at the top right now but shows promise for next year (a la Douglas’ own path in 2011)…anything’s possible and I’m so excited about literally everything this team has going for them, no matter who ends up making it to Glasgow. The U.S. women have no competition but themselves. It’s an incredible time to be a gymnastics fan in this country.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

19 thoughts on “U.S. Seniors Show Tremendous Depth at Nationals

  1. I feel like Douglas definitely has a top three bar routine and could possibly anchor bars (or be second to last if someone like Kocian or Locklear makes the team). I think internationally she will consistently outscore Key, and tbh Key was pretty lucky to get top three on bars (she barely beat Douglas) considering the judges didn’t deduct her as harshly as they could have (should have) for her form break on the low bar during night two.

    I agree though, that I think Marta should just put up all of the top five girls for all around at worlds. It would be an amazing competition because we have so much depth and also getting second to Simone is almost like winning. It really could be any of those four girls behind Simone, though I will be surprised if it’s Maggie since I think she’ll be scored lower than the other girls internationally. But honestly, it won’t really matter because it will all come down to who hits and who doesn’t. It’s like the gymnastics Hunger Games… “May the odds be ever in your favor.” lolol

    Like

    • I agree with what you’re saying, but Key has score 15.0+ bar routines internationally, so she definitely has a lot of potential on that event if she cleans up her little form breaks.

      Like

      • Oh absolutely! Key has improved so much on bars and I actually think it’s her best event now. I think she definitely has a bar spot in a TF. I would be surprised if she had a hit routine and didn’t get score 15+

        Like

  2. Love this article! It is fascinating to imagine that we would quite possibly send 3 full teams that have potential to take the 3 team medals. Remember when we used to worry about just getting on the podium!

    Like

  3. With the Olympics being next year, I think Marta will be sending the girls she wants to vet for the Olympic team, while I really like the girls with good Bars, if a Specialist can’t medal on the international stage, is she really a specialist? With that being said, I think she should send the top 5 AAs and Skinner, Skinner compared to Kocian, Locklear, Baumann has the best chances of medaling on TWO EVENTS, not just 1.

    Like

    • Mykayla doesn’t really have a chance to medal in fx. She has to somehow beat Aly for 2nd fx EF spot which likely won’t happen. then she would have to face mustafina, larisa, ksenia, fasana. So her chance of fx medal this yr is slim.

      However, I still think she could have a chance on VT. If she has amanar I would’ve said almost a lock but without the amanar she could be beaten by paseka on basis of D score outweighing E score. So without the amanar her chance here is a little less than last year.

      Like

  4. It would be such a waste to use 5 all arounders in qualifications. Yes, it will be an amazing competition but at the end of the day only two of them will advance for the all around finals. Aside from the second all around spot, that is open for any of these 4, only Biles and Raisman had medals potential in event finals. Since the US are going to win the team medal anyway, they should give a chance for girls how has a shot at individual medal. The competition between the US girls is firce anyway, why waste a real opportunity?

    Like

    • Yeah, I agree. It would be a waste. I mean in 2011 there was an opportunity to do that due to injury but if not, there’s really not a point doing that, esp if they can get even better TF by allowing specialists. So I really don’t see the 5 AA qualification thing unless there’s injury.

      I actually thought also that even back in 2013 Marta should’ve let Brenna also go up instead of letting Maroney do it AA. Was she afraid that somehow Brenna might get lucky and knock simone or kyla out of ub final? It was unlikely that Maroney would’ve got the 2nd AA spot anyway. Unless of course Brenna got real inconsistent during podium training. I guess they will bring a specialist and if the specialist got real inconsistent during podium training then maybe this could happen again?

      Like

  5. Just for fun, let’s pick a US Worlds team to maximize the number of medals to be won by the U.S. women. The team gold is a given. The girls could fall three times (maybe four) in TF and still win. I do not see the point in picking a team that will win the gold medal by the maximum amount possible.

    Here are those with a real potential to win individual medals
    Simone (AA, V, BB, FX)
    Aly (AA, BB, FX)
    Gaby (AA, UB)
    MyKayla (V, FX)
    Kyla (UB, BB)
    Ashton (UB)
    Madison Kocian (UB)
    Brenna (UB)
    Rachel (UB)
    Alyssa (BB)
    Bailie (AA, UB, BB)
    Maggie (AA)

    Based on this list, I would pick the following six:
    Simone Biles
    Aly Raisman
    Gabby Douglas
    MyKayla Skinner
    Madison Kocian
    Kyla Ross

    All six of these girls could win an individual event medal. I absolutely adore Maggie Nichols, but I do not see her being in the top 3 in any event internationally.

    Like

    • An interesting perspective, and one I can’t say I altogether disagree with. Kyla would really have to get her crap together at camp (PLEASE) for her to make the team, but her spot could easily be filled by anyone else on your list. I definitely agree that, of the top 5 AA, Maggie should be the first one on the chopping block. There is definitely logic in what you’re saying, and it does make sense to maximize all the medals in a team that’s going to win if they put up 3 AAers in the team final. I’ll be interested to see whether Martha goes more along with your strategy or Lauren’s take the top five and the sixth member may or may not compete at all.

      Like

  6. Thanks for this…you’ve truly captured the situation perfectly. It is incredible to watch such an abundance of beautiful gymnastics from these American women, yet heart-squeezing to know that many with the potential to contribute must be left back from the world competitions to come. What glory days for the USA women’s program.

    Like

  7. This is the only time I have ever honestly been unable to come up with a team prediction because literally everyone would be an asset. This is ridiculous and six is starting to feel like an awfully small number.

    Like

  8. You didn’t mention Nia Dennis here. She’s also on the training squad, and if she impresses at camp after hitting every routine his summer, certainly could be in the mix for an alternate spot. This would be a good opportunity for her to pick up some experience and regain confidence. She absolutely has the potential to be in the top group if she can add her difficulty back in and get the amanar into competition. If Martha wants to, she could put her on the team just to build up her confidence and experience for the future.

    Like

  9. If the U.S. Wants to win the most medals, bring top 2 gymnasts on every event.

    AA- Simone and Maggie
    Vault- Simone and MyKayla
    Bars- Madison and Ashton
    Beam- Simone and Aly
    Floor- Simone and Aly

    Qualifications
    Vault- Simone, Maggie, Aly, MyKayla, Madison
    Bars- Madison, Ashton, Maggie, Simone, Aly
    Beam- Simone, Aly, Maggie, Madison, MyKayla
    Floor- Simone, Aly, MyKayla, Maggie, Madison

    Like

    • It sounds good on paper but it’s difficult to just take the top two on everything from one competition and expect to replicate those results internationally. Maggie was the second best AAer in terms of combined scores but Aly, Bailie, and Gabby have all outscored her this summer so it’s not really accurate to say she’s a top two AAer. And while the top two on those events are likely to stay the same, it’s not as likely that all will win medals on their respective events so taking both Madison and Ashton for bars could be fruitless as they will most likely be kept off the EF podium due to incredibly strong worldwide competition.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s