The 2016 Pacific Rim Championships kicked off yesterday with closed podium training sessions at the XFINITY Arena in Everett, Washington, with the U.S. team set to contend against fellow Pacific Ocean-bordering countries like Canada, Australia, and Japan.
Ten-time world champion Simone Biles leads a squad that also features 2015 worlds teammates Aly Raisman and Brenna Dowell in addition to 2014 worlds teammate Ashton Locklear and first-year seniors Laurie Hernandez and Ragan Smith. Smith, who was the silver all-around medalist at the City of Jesolo Trophy last month, was a last-minute replacement after Maggie Nichols was forced to withdraw from the competition due to a minor knee injury.
We spoke to Biles via phone conference last week, where she said her focus at this week’s competition was on debuting her brand-new Rio-themed floor routine along with her long-awaited Cheng on vault, which she modestly described as being about “50% ready,” though it looked fantastic in training yesterday.
This marks the first time Biles will compete in the Olympic year, though she’s not at all flustered by the significance and is taking the experience one day at a time as she has throughout her entire career.
Raisman, Hernandez, Locklear, and Smith all competed in Jesolo with strong results, though all still have something to prove before any can be considered a lock for Rio. In Italy, Raisman sat her Amanar, Hernandez struggled on bars, Locklear’s beam is far too weak to be useful to the team, and Smith has little areas here and there to clean up in addition to finally adding her Patterson dismount off beam, which she said at Jesolo was her priority going forward.
It was surprising to see Dowell on the team after her bars mishap at worlds last year took her out of the team final picture. Dowell had a rough time at camp in March keeping her off of the Jesolo team, but this time around she looked fabulous, reportedly beating Raisman in the all-around at verification to show Martha Karolyi why she’s deserving of a second chance.
Australia will use this meet to work out the kinks before they compete for a team spot at the Olympic Test Event in Rio de Janeiro a week later. 2012 Olympians Emily Little and Larrissa Miller headline the team that also features 2014 worlds competitors Georgia-Rose Brown and Emma Jane Nedov, 2015 Australian bars champion Rianna Mizzen, and first-year senior Emily Whitehead.
While the team has a strong core, they’re missing crucial members Mary-Anne Monckton and Georgia Godwin, both of whom suffered injuries this year and are unable to contribute. The next two weeks will be an uphill battle for the Aussies, but hopefully their participation at Pac Rims will help them see what they’ll need to work on going into the test event, where a ton of international team depth has them on the edge of making it all the way to the Games this summer.
Canada, already qualified to the Games, is leaving top competitors Ellie Black and Isabela Onyshko at home, focusing instead on testing potential candidates for the team like Madison Copiak, Audrey Rousseau, Kirsten Peterman, first-year seniors Megan Roberts and Shallon Olsen, and NCAA standout and 2012 Olympian Brittany Rogers, who competes in Everett this weekend before moving on to help Georgia at the NCAA Championships next week.
Most other nations are sending a mix of senior and junior squads, and likely won’t contend for the team podium, but keep an eye out for individual standouts like New Zealand’s Courtney McGregor (who will represent her country at the test event) and Charlotte Sullivan as well as Japan’s junior team, featuring the super talented Natsumi Hanashima, Soyoka Hanawa, Kiko Kuwajima, and Mana Oguchi in addition to senior Nagi Kajita.
The competition begins on Saturday with two subdivisions of team and all-around finals, which will also serve as the qualifiers for the individual event finals to be held Sunday. The Gymternet has reporter Trisha Wolf on scene to bring you the latest. For more information, check out our coverage guide.
Article by Lauren Hopkins