U.S. women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi and her selection committee have announced the team that will be sent to this year’s world championships, and it’s a fierce one.
Six-time world champion Simone Biles and two-time 2012 Olympic gold medalists Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman headline a team that also includes 2014 gold medalists MyKayla Skinner and Madison Kocian, 2015 U.S. silver medalist Maggie Nichols, and 2014 American Cup silver medalist Brenna Dowell.
With incredible depth and only two athletes bowing out of the process – Kyla Ross who withdrew voluntarily after a lackluster season and Madison Desch after struggling with back pain all summer – the decision was clearly a difficult one, with everyone who didn’t make it someone who could’ve contributed to the team and who likely would be welcomed on any other team in the world at the moment. It speaks a lot about just how insane this year’s depth is when you consider that Ross, who likely wasn’t going to factor had she stayed in the mix, was an all-around medalist at world championships and contributed on all four events in team finals just one year ago. There are absolutely gymnasts with huge potential left at home, but there simply just wasn’t enough room for everyone.
But the team chosen is a perfect solution to the puzzle. All ground is covered in terms of both the team final as well as maximum individual medal potential, and these gymnasts should once again come home with the team gold by quite a huge margin if all goes according to plan.
Of course, Biles is setting up for her third straight all-around win, and unlike last year, she is now virtually unbeatable. Since 2014, her vaults have gotten even cleaner, her healed shoulder has allowed her to clean up bars while adding five tenths in difficulty, and she’s stacked on another three or four tenths on both beam and floor, both of which are typically effortless sets for her.
Douglas and Raisman, meanwhile, have had some of the greatest comebacks in U.S. history, beginning with their impressive returns in Jesolo this March. With only six months back in the sport, they’re both already competing at levels we could’ve expected from them at their prime in 2012. Both eased right back into their spots on the national team as if they’d never left and could do some major damage in Glasgow later this month.
The rest on the list don’t have quite the pedigree of these three, but are all international medalists with major accomplishments of their own. Both Skinner and Kocian performed excellently in their first times on the worlds stage in Nanning, China in 2014, and this will be the first world championships for Nichols, who was expected to earn a spot last year but was injured at the Pan Am Championships just a month before.
For Dowell, it’s her third year named to the team in some capacity, but if she ends up competing in Glasgow – there’s still no distinction between actual team members and the traveling alternate – it will be her first time actually given the chance to show her routines after being demoted from competitor to alternate in 2013 and then only earning a non-traveling alternate spot last year. She could end up alternate again this year, but given the depth and the fact that she only had about a month between finishing up her NCAA season and returning to elite, it’s probably much more than anyone could’ve expected.
I think a year ago, most would’ve expected first-year senior Key, who dominated the junior international field in 2013-2014, to be one of the top choices for the team, but an elbow injury and growth spurt led to some decrease in her difficulty and technical ability on her once-best event, beam. She did make great waves on bars, however, and has a superb floor routine, but she lacks the Amanar on vault – something nearly all of her teammates now possess – and while her bars and floor are good, she has teammates who have consistently outperformed her on both this season. I’ve said it before, but perhaps it’s a good thing we won’t see her this year. It means she’ll escape the intense pressure going into 2016, so if she doesn’t make it next year she won’t face the immense (and often harsh) scrutiny of the press and public, but if she does make it, it’ll be a happy surprise.
Overall, this selection process was probably more suspenseful for U.S. fans than the worlds team final will be. The incredible depth means the biggest competition for U.S. gymnasts are no longer the Chinese or the Russians or the Romanians on an international stage, but rather their own teammates at home on the ranch in Texas. The other gymnasts in contention included Nia Dennis, Rachel Gowey, Amelia Hundley, and Ashton Locklear.
Congratulations to all of the women selected, and to all of those who made it this far but couldn’t go all the way. If only teams could be 13 strong.
Article by Lauren Hopkins