About a month into the 2017 NCAA gymnastics season, we get our first look at the country’s most talented athletes. Every year this particular meet has been affectionately nicknamed the ‘splat fest’ and the ‘screaming moms championships’ for good reason. With the early nature of this meet, gymnasts are often under-prepared and under-conditioned for the high stress of competing elite routines.
What makes this championship particularly difficult is the timing. A large portion of the elite gymnasts are currently competing in the NCAA circuit meaning they want to peak in late April for the NCAA Championships hosted by Army, not necessarily in mid-season.
In past years, Olympic and world team members from the previous fall automatically retained their spots on the national team. Not so this year. Each and every member competing must fight for all spots available. Additionally, the stick bonus that has shown up in previous years will not be present this time around.
That information, coupled with the recent USA Gymnastics release that Brett McClure, formerly of the University of California at Berkeley, will take over the MAG program, should provide for a hopefully interesting and fair competition with some new faces on the national team.
So how is the competition formatted?
Approximately 96 gymnasts will compete over two sessions held tomorrow with the top ranking athletes from the 2016 P&G Championships competing in the second session. Forty-two athletes (the top 24 all-around and the remaining 18 from the point ranking system) will be invited to compete in the finals held on Saturday. Should an athlete place in the top three on any event, he will also advance to the finals, but may only compete on the event(s) on which he qualified.
The full start list can be found here. At the end of the competition, 15 gymnasts will be named to the national team.
What we have to look forward to is seeing four of the five athletes from the 2016 Olympic team returning to competition, the one exception being Danell Leyva. Joining them in headlining the event are 2012 Olympian John Orozco and 2016 Olympic Alternates Donnell Whittenburg and Akash Modi. Modi currently leads the NCAA all-around, floor, and pommel horse rankings and could challenge to top the podium for this championships.
With Mikulak being named to both the American and Stuttgart world cups, I’m anxious to see him break out this quad with a superior performance and hopefully be able to consistently put together six-for-six at each competition, a feat that plagued him through last quad.
The biggest surprise for me this year is the return of two-time world medalist Steven Legendre. Legendre, the 2012 Olympic alternate and current assistant coach of the ever-dominant Oklahoma Sooner gymnastics team, may just be working his way back to add a gold to complete a trio of world medals. In addition to his exciting gymnastics, we can also look forward to a fist-bump show from 2015 Pan-American pommel horse champion Marvin Kimble.
Also returning this year are several NCAA standouts, including 2016 NCAA all-around champion Yul Moldauer of the University of Oklahoma, 2016 NCAA all-around and floor silver medalist Kanji Oyama, also of the University of Oklahoma, 2016 Winter Cup parallel bar champion Sean Melton of the Ohio State University, and 2016 NCAA vault champion Anthony McCallum of the University of Michigan.
With no one guaranteed a national team spot, the competition will be more interesting than most, raising the bar over years past as everyone will have to fight for the podium. For more information, including how to watch the meet and follow along with live results, visit the official USA Gymnastics website for the event.
Article by Kensley Behel