If Gabby Douglas wasn’t the reigning Olympic all-around champion, would she be part of the conversation right now?
That’s what I’ve been wondering since Friday night. I’ve given Douglas the benefit of the doubt this season because as we saw in 2012 and in 2015, Douglas isn’t “herself” until she needs to be. She can muddle through the preliminary competitions and then get her job done when a medal is on the line, which is how she’s the reigning Olympic champ and world silver medalist. If all goes according to plan, she will show up in Rio, make finals, and win both team and individual medals.
But with this much depth in the U.S. right now, if Douglas wasn’t coming in with her name and the precedent she’s set, I don’t see how it would be possible to justify her for a team spot. I went into the reasons why in my preview for this event, but as a quick rehash, she’s not showing herself as a top all-arounder right now and she wouldn’t contribute anywhere but bars in the team final (where her scores barely surpass those of Simone Biles).
My favorite team situation before night one featured the likely Olympians Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Madison Kocian, and then someone to balance out Kocian in a vault/floor spot, which as of last week was Maggie Nichols for me if she proved able to get back to her 2015 self.
I don’t think Nichols did what she needed to do if she wanted to make that happen, though placing fourth on floor and showcasing only a DTY, with noticeable form issues on both (and Martha Karolyi had said at nationals that Nichols would need a reliable Amanar to make sense for this spot). Given her knee surgery only a couple of months ago, she definitely met my expectations, but with a fall on beam and without a super difficult vault, she was only eighth all-around – and even if she hadn’t fallen on beam, the field is just so deep, she wouldn’t have made up that much ground.
Nichols and Douglas actually had pretty similar days, with Douglas earning a 58.55 and Nichols earning a 58.25. Both had falls on beam, they shared a matching 15.1 on vault, Nichols finished a few tenths ahead of Douglas on floor, and Douglas had the better score on bars. If you’re choosing between them for the last spot, Nichols still makes sense because her floor could add more to the team than Douglas’ bars could.
But the one who showed most that she fits into that fifth spot is MyKayla Skinner. Skinner, after falling three times on beam during the second day at nationals, had what was probably the best performance of her life and with her newfound confidence on beam, she’s actually the perfect fit if you consider Biles, Raisman, and Hernandez in the all-around and Kocian on bars. Skinner is the only one who could come in and counter Kocian on vault, beam, and floor, and she adds the potential to win a vault medal with her Cheng and Amanar combination.
When I talked to Skinner after the competition, she couldn’t stop smiling. She was clearly so happy about everything coming together, especially on beam, where her 14.85 was the fourth-highest of the day, and on floor, where she had absolutely the strongest performance of her life.
Skinner’s only issue was not being able to land her Amanars in training, both in the pre-meet warm-up as well as in the touch. She played it safe with the DTY, which looked great, and said she was definitely going to bring the Amanar back today. With her Cheng and Amanar combination, she can somewhat easily be in the conversation for a vault medal, given that her form is cleaner than the reigning world gold and silver medalists, both of whom have the exact same vaults.
That Skinner is doing so well is my favorite thing ever. In early 2013, I wrote that Skinner was like Alicia Sacramone between 2004 and 2008, going from a non-contender to being on the team. While she didn’t quite have Sacramone’s meteoric rise, it was thanks mostly to the incredible depth this quad compared to a weaker pool back then. With or without the medal haul to show for it, Skinner has come so far, working on her strengths as well as weaknesses, and definitely wins the “most improved” award. Seriously, go back and watch her routines from 2012 nationals. She’s a totally different gymnast at 19 than she was at 15. Even if it doesn’t happen for her, she should be a huge inspiration to any of the young seniors who didn’t quite reach their goals this year.
While I am so Team Skinner for the fifth spot right now, though, I know it’s not going to happen. I know Douglas will make the team, even if she places seventh again tonight. I know Karolyi has said that her team still hasn’t changed based on Douglas’ performance. I know that Douglas’ M.O. is to not show up until she needs to show up. And I know that when she does finally show up, she’s golden.
Most fans, I think, will not be happy with Douglas being selected to the team with the results she’s been getting all summer, and that’s fair. Like I said at the beginning of this piece, if she were some random Susie Nobody getting the same exact scores, she wouldn’t even be in the picture, let alone a frontrunner for the team. But because of her name, and because of what she’s done in the past, she obviously has to enter the conversation. She’s not at her best right now, but she’s reliable when it counts, and that probably matters more than anything else in a sport where results are decided only on what happens “when it counts.”
If anything, I think at this point the pressure is getting to her. She hasn’t performed up to anyone’s standard this summer, her general demeanor on the floor has been somewhere between pissed and over it, and her training was so rough on Thursday, she made the snap decision to ‘fire’ Kittia Carpenter and promote Christian Gallardo to head coach. There’s clearly something going on mentally, because she is a much better competitor than she looks right now.
And honestly, had she hit beam on Friday, she would’ve had a great night. Her vault and bars were solid, and her floor was great, for her. With beam her last event, you’re kind of walking away with that as the final image in your head, but overall it was a good enough night and beam aside, Karolyi can justify bringing her, even if she’s not necessarily who I’d bring if I were in charge.
If you’re still worried, at the Olympic Trials in 2004, Carly Patterson fell twice on beam and went on to win the silver medal. One bad meet doesn’t equal the end of the line, and what Douglas has shown this summer is that all of the pieces are there. She just has to put it all together.
The four locks – Biles, Hernandez, Raisman, and Kocian – remain at the top of the list thanks to their continued strong performances. Biles actually didn’t have the greatest meet, with a few minor bloopers like a near-fall on her wolf turn and some tenths thrown away on floor, but come on. Biles on a ‘bad’ day is better than literally everyone else.
Hernandez had a great day aside from a rather large mistake on bars. I do think she was over-scored on literally everything, which doesn’t make sense to me because she’s so obviously going to Rio and if anything – as what happened with Jordyn Wieber in 2012 – inflated domestic scoring only gives the girls false expectations once they compete internationally.
Her DTY was the third-weakest DTY in the bunch and yet earned the highest DTY score of 15.15. She had a major mistake on bars and still got an 8.4 e-score for a 14.9. Her beam also had a pretty big blunder on her flight series and she got a 9.0 e-score there. And on floor, she gave away so much in her landings, and still came up with a 9.1. It’s very perplexing, and she’s had much better days with much lower scores, so I don’t know what they’re doing or why, but again, it doesn’t matter. She’ll be there.
Raisman, meanwhile, was scored pretty accurately, I thought. Her D scores reflected the missed connections on beam and an uncredited turn on floor, and she was fairly scored on vault, which was interesting to me because her Amanars have generally been scored quite high at home this summer. She did great work – for her – on bars, and what she did hit on beam and floor was fabulous, so her execution scores there were absolutely deserved.
Then there’s Kocian, who was sixth all-around, though her all-around scores don’t really matter because her bars continue to be the reason she’ll be in Rio. With a 15.75 there, the reigning world champion showed once again that she is unstoppable and then also went on to perform what was probably the best beam routine of her career, earning a 14.7 to show that like in worlds qualifications last year, she can absolutely go up here and own it even if it’s not necessarily a strength.
Her “nemesis” – if you can call a friend and teammate that – Ashton Locklear matched her score on bars with the difference continuing to be that Locklear is the slightly cleaner of the two but Kocian can make up for that with her slightly higher difficulty. Locklear is literally almost flawless on the event, though without vault and floor in her program and with a relatively weak beam, she’s been kind of a question mark, given that Karolyi tends to prefer all-around gymnasts as built-in alternates, since alternates can’t be swapped in after the deadline.
With it already being a tough case to make, Locklear’s unfortunate beam fall on Friday didn’t help anything, and I think she knew it. She left the beam in tears and continued to look upset after the meet and in the media session. It’s hard to see her come to that realization, and I hope she continues going forward because with many of this year’s top elites off to college or retirement in the future, Locklear has the potential to go on and turn the 2017-2020 quad into a super successful one.
Though Ragan Smith showed at nationals that she might be faltering under the pressure, she was phenomenal here on Friday, placing fifth all-around with a 58.7. Beam is the only event she’d really contribute in a team final situation, and with taking out her new Patterson dismount in favor of her simpler double pike, she was able to focus on making it through the rest of her routine cleanly and calmly, getting a 14.9 for the third-best score there. I don’t think she’s high up on Karolyi’s list for the team, but she will absolutely be an alternate and could realistically go up on any event if needed.
As for the rest, Amelia Hundley and Brenna Dowell both had great days and don’t get the respect (or scores, sometimes) they deserve. It’s perplexing to watch a bar routine like Dowell’s get an 8.4 e-score with only minor form breaks while Hernandez gets the same e-score with a huge mistake, and her DTY is easily among the best in this bunch, though you’d never know that based on her scores. Hundley, meanwhile, has been one of the most consistent of the summer and when I talked to her, she said she’s basically just enjoying the ride and having fun. She put very little pressure on herself and is doing some of the most solid work out there.
Christina Desiderio, who was kind of a surprise addition to trials, also said she came in with no pressure and the desire to just have fun. And it totally worked for her. I think this was the best I’ve ever seen her compete, from start to finish. Bars are typically a nightmare experience for her, but when she hit them on Friday, I’ve never seen a group of people so happy, with big smiles all around for her and her coaches, the Strausses.
Rachel Gowey and Emily Schild both had falls, with Gowey missing one of her passes on floor and Schild falling on beam. Neither was high up on the list either for the team or for an alternate spot, so this didn’t really affect much, though it was a shame because they otherwise did great work, especially Gowey on bars and Schild on vault and floor. Gowey is off to Florida next year and Schild is set to join Georgia’s program, where she will undoubtedly be a huge addition to the program. I hope for today, they’ll both be able to finish up strong and have fun with the experience.
I know I have my own ideas for the team, but if Karolyi goes with anyone but Biles, Raisman, Hernandez, Douglas, and Kocian, I’d be super shocked. These five and the rest of the gang will face the final night of competition today in San Jose, airing live on NBC at 8:30 pm ET with the Olympic team announced immediately following the competition.
Will Douglas show that she can make everything come together at once? Will Biles make my dreams come true and stick her Amanar so she can get a perfect ten? Will Karolyi be like “ha, I was playing you this whole time” and completely surprise with her team choices? Only a few hours from now, all of this will be cleared up forever.
Article by Lauren Hopkins