The U.S. women hit all 22 of their competitive routines this weekend to easily win the 2016 Pacific Rim Championships team title with a score of 243.2. Canada finished second with a 219.1 while Australia, competing with the team that will represent the country at next week’s Olympic Test Event, managed to hang onto the bronze with a 217.85 after a disappointing performance. Japan, using a team that consisted of four juniors and one senior, finished a close fourth with a 217.7.
“They competed confidently and very consistently,” national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said, clearly pleased that her team hit every routine.
The U.S. women also swept the top five spots in the all-around, with Simone Biles earning the gold with an international career-best of 62.45 and Aly Raisman winning the silver with a 59.9. Due to the two-per-country rule, Nagi Kajita of Japan won the bronze with a 55.2.
Though the scoring was a little loose, the U.S. women put on a fantastic performance either way, breaking 60 on every event as a team. The mistakes they made were largely minor and included things like short landings on floor, over-rotated vaults, tiny form breaks on bars, and missed connections on beam.
Three-time defending world champion Biles led the way for the U.S. team. In addition to her all-around win, she posted the highest scores of the night on vault (15.8 for her Amanar and a 15.95 for her brand-new Cheng), beam (15.55), and floor (16.05), where she debuted her new Rio-themed floor routine. Her tumbling was as incredible and exciting as always, and included a stuck double double in the third pass. Her Cheng in its debut has already established Biles as one of the best to ever perform the vault, though she did make a rare mistake on her Amanar, over-rotating a bit to take a large step forward. On bars, she had the third-best score for the U.S. women, hitting well aside from one over-arched handstand, and she ended her night with a nearly flawless beam set.
Raisman put up a 15.6 on floor, the second highest of the night there. Her routine was one of her best and most confident since beginning her comeback, with her personality and joy shining through once again after some tentative and nervous sets last season and in Jesolo. After sitting her Amanar in Italy last month, she over-rotated it this time, taking several steps forward for a 15.2. She has continued to up her difficulty and improve on bars, hitting her new bail to stalder full combo, and she looked solid and confident on beam, hitting her elements well, although some of her connections were slow and her layout series likely did not receive full credit.
First-year senior Laurie Hernandez narrowly missed the silver medal, finishing a tenth behind Raisman with a 59.8. She put up a huge 14.95 on floor, where she absolutely nailed her double Arabian to stag pass. Vault was her weakest event with a messy landing, though she came back strong on bars aside from a form break on her stalder full, and she finished with a monstrous beam routine, scoring a 15.25 for the second-best on that event all night.
Brenna Dowell had a killer start to her comeback from a disappointing world championships, redeeming herself with her all-around performance on Saturday to earn a 58.85, the best of her elite career by over a point. She just managed to stay in-bounds on her new front layout to double front mount, but otherwise performed very well on floor. Her vault was the best DTY on the team, and more importantly, she looked more confident in her new bars routine, hitting her new Maloney to Tkachev and Jaeger, posting a 15.25 for the second-highest on the event. “I’m so happy I changed my routine,” Dowell told us after the meet. “I felt co confident going into this one. I just feel like I can hit it.” She also hit a clean beam set, her weakest apparatus.
We also saw a strong showing from Ragan Smith, coming back from her disappointment of a fall on beam during the training camp. Though she stumbled out of her double layout on floor, her choreography was infectious and the crowd loved it. Her block on vault was a bit weak, but she managed to land it well, and her bars routine continues to show lots of improvement. Finally, she nailed her beam set for a 15.05 and hopes to add a Patterson this summer.
Finally, Ashton Locklear put on strong performances in her two events. She was gorgeous on bars, leading all athletes there with a 15.55, and she hit her beam routine as well, though she lacks difficulty there.
Among international competitors, Canada had a day with highs and lows, using a team of gymnasts who all have something to prove before making the Olympic team. Brittany Rogers and Shallon Olsen led the team on vault with scores of 14.85 and 14.75 respectively for their DTYs. Madison Copiak was the best on bars with a 13.8 while Rogers had an unfortunate fall on her Jaeger, though she debuted a cool stalder to reverse grip. Megan Roberts led the team on beam with a 13.7, and Olsen and Roberts put up the team’s strongest floor routines with scores of 13.95 and 14.0, respectively.
Australia finished third after a disappointing performance from their test event gymnasts. Kiara Munteanu led the way, hitting all four events cleanly. Originally named the second alternate, she stepped in over first alternate Alex Eade, who was injured back home prior to leaving for the meet, and then was a last-minute replacement for Emily Whitehead, who tore her calf muscle in podium training.
Beginning with an unusually strong team vault performance, the team suffered four falls on bars, normally a strength for the women. Emily Little was the team’s top scorer on all three events she competed, scoring a 14.7 for her DTY on vault, a 14.15 on beam, and a 13.85 on floor, though she was unfortunately limited from competing on bars due to a recent injury, with Munteanu the team’s best there with a 13.65. Larrissa Miller fell on both bars and floor while Emma Nedov sat her beam dismount, unfortunate as the two are the team’s standouts on those events. Georgia-Rose Brown doesn’t have the most difficult floor, but she put up some of the most beautiful dance elements there, including a perfect Memmel to illusion turn as well as a double turn in attitude.
Though the team was disappointed in its performance, the gymnasts are more focused on doing well at next week’s test event. “Our coach told us to treat this like another verification,” Miller said after the meet.
Japan’s junior-heavy team had a great day. In addition to Kajita’s senior all-around medal, the juniors swept the top four places in their all-around division, as Kiko Kuwajima won with a 54.55 and Natsumi Hanashima finished second with a 53.5. Due to the two-per-country rule, Mexico’s Louise Lopez won the bronze with a 52.55 in her major international debut. Kuwajima was particularly impressive on vault, scoring a 15.05 for her DTY.
Finally, New Zealand’s Courtney McGregor had a solid first meet of the season, hitting everything except bars. She looks to be rounding into great shape for next week’s test event, putting up a great 53.55 to place seventh in the all-around. While her teammate Charlotte Sullivan lacks some of McGregor’s difficulty, she did a great job on beam and floor, and it was great to see the two of them return to Everett after making their international debuts here four years ago. Both have improved tremendously in that time, and it’s great to see the kiwi program growing year after year.
Despite their success this weekend, it’s now back to business as usual for Team USA as they continue to prepare for the Olympic Games. From this point on, it’s all about “analyzing each individual gymnast with [their] coaches to make up a plan to become even more perfect,” Karolyi said. Only one national team camp remains before the gymnasts head to the U.S. Classic, U.S. Championships, and Olympic Trials, where the U.S. team heading to Rio will be named.
Article by Trisha Wolf