The U.S. will bring two senior teams and one junior team to Italy, with a total of 13 traveling overseas. In addition to Douglas, who just picked up the American Cup gold last week, and Raisman, the senior team includes 2016 Glasgow World Cup champion and three-time worlds medalist MyKayla Skinner, 2014 worlds gold medalist Ashton Locklear, 2015 Pan Ams gold medalist Emily Schild, and first-year seniors Laurie Hernandez, Ragan Smith, Sydney Johnson-Scharpf, and Emily Gaskins in their senior debuts.
The junior squad will feature three-fourths of the team that just won gold at International Gymnix, including Jordan Chiles, Emma Malabuyo, and Gabby Perea, in addition to Trinity Thomas, who made her elite debut last summer.
Schild, Gaskins, and Thomas were all added to the national team in addition to picking up this assignment.
To be entirely honest, the senior team looks a little bizarre, with about half I’d consider strong contenders for Olympic team or alternate spots and the other half leaving me wonder a bit, as there are definitely stronger options who won’t be attending.
I’m not talking about wondering why gymnasts like Simone Biles and Maggie Nichols aren’t attending. Biles is set to make her debut still at Pac Rims in April, and Nichols will likely also be on the roster for that meet, so it makes sense to get a break after just finishing the American Cup. And then Madison Kocian is dealing with a minor ankle injury (slash we all know how she needs to be bubble-wrapped ten months out of the year if she wants to contribute during the high point of elite season).
I’m talking about the other middle-of-the-road question mark gymnasts already on the national team or with international experience like Rachel Gowey, Alyssa Baumann, Brenna Dowell (before someone even asks, I refuse to believe one rough routine at worlds is unredeemable…plenty have come back from worse), Norah Flatley, Bailie Key, Madison Desch…
Key did miss the last camp due to a slight muscle strain and I believe new senior Jazmyn Foberg is also still dealing with nagging injuries, so it’s possible that’s why they’re still out, and Gowey was also absent last month, but I’m actually very surprised to see names like Schild, Johnson-Scharpf and Gaskins in over someone like Baumann especially.
Obviously, we know what Baumann can do, and the truth there is that she hasn’t really shown a ton of progress since becoming a senior. She’s good, and was definitely a stronger all-around gymnast than these three last year, as were Key and Dowell and even Desch based on what we saw from her at Pan Ams, but it might be that these gymnasts have nothing more to prove.
Schild, Johnson-Scharpf, and Gaskins, on the other hand, were okay last year but nowhere near the best of the best, though they each had potential…Schild was a powerful vaulter working some big skills on bars, Johnson-Scharpf had so much potential for outrageous difficulty on floor, and Gaskins was so elegant and poised, still coming back from injury and a gym change.
My guess is that Martha Karolyi hasn’t scrapped the Baumanns and Keys of the world, but rather knows they already have experience and can wait until this summer (or possibly even Pac Rims, where she’ll send six seniors) to see what else they have to offer in competition…whereas she wants to get a taste of the new kids on the block as early as possible in case any end up being potential dark horses in the way Elizabeth Price and Sarah Finnegan were in 2012. I don’t know if we should raise our expectations super high for these three just yet, but based on their potential alone, we can at the very least get excited about the growth they’ve experienced since we last saw them at nationals.
Otherwise, Raisman and Douglas make sense to me as top contenders for the Games stepping up as team leaders, Skinner has kept herself in the race all quad and is one of Karolyi’s perennial favorites even if she might not be a clear choice for an Olympic team spot, Locklear is a Bonus Kocian in Kocian’s absence (I do think Kocian is Karolyi’s preferred bars worker at this point but it doesn’t hurt to have back-up!), while Hernandez and Smith are at the top of their “2000 babies” class and need to get their feet wet internationally and prove themselves as seniors before we can consider them as being in the same league as their older teammates who won gold in Glasgow last year.
So that’s the divide in my mind. Supremely talented gymnasts were left at home most likely not because they were doing poorly at camp or aren’t looking in top shape, but rather because their performances are by the book at this point. They’re not among the top group, but they’re also so consistently doing their thing as seniors year in and year out at this point, there’s no need to take them to Jesolo yet again to see what they can do. Karolyi knows what they can do.
She doesn’t really know what healthy Locklear or full-of-potential Schild, Johnson-Scharpf, and Gaskins can do, and she doesn’t know what Hernandez and Smith can do as seniors. With Raisman, Douglas, and Skinner as her solid base, the rest of this senior squad is going to be all about figuring things out, especially in terms of how they look relative to both their U.S. teammates as well as compared to international gymnasts.
It’s not the strongest senior Jesolo team we’ve sent, but this year isn’t really about winning (though they’ll definitely win it anyway). Instead it’s about testing the unknown, an important step in creating depth through finding those hidden gems who might otherwise go unnoticed because the same higher-ranked gymnasts are always getting the spots. Anything can happen in gymnastics and you never know if one of these gymnasts will be the crucial piece to fit into what is an intense Olympic puzzle already this year.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that Schild, Johnson-Scharpf, and Gaskins are now magically fierce 58+ all-arounders like the other five at the top of the order and simply finished ahead of everyone else at camp and there was zero thought to this beyond their camp ranking, in which case this was a fun but pointless exercise. Ignore it all.
The City of Jesolo Trophy will be held this coming weekend, beginning with the all-around and team competitions on Saturday and then event finals on Sunday. For more information, check out our coverage guide.
Article by Lauren Hopkins