In the midst of successful collegiate careers, MyKayla Skinner and Trinity Thomas – of the University of Utah and the University of Florida, respectively – will return to elite competition at today’s U.S. Classic, adding even more depth to an already super-deep senior field.
Reportedly, neither gymnast will compete in the all-around, with Skinner expected to compete every event but bars while Thomas will focus on bars and beam, but both worked on more than their expected competitive events yesterday in podium training, and from the looks of it, both will have the ability to contend at the highest of levels.
Skinner, who hasn’t competed elite in over three years, has only been back in the gym for about two months, but thanks to keeping up with a high level of difficulty in NCAA, she was able to easily get back an even more incredible level of difficulty for her elite routines.
Already, she has an Amanar on vault, a 6.1 potential bars set that ends with a blind full to Fabrichnova, a tuck full acro series on beam, and pretty much all of the difficult tumbling she was known for on floor, and while she had a few form issues and struggles in training, just remember that she’s only been back at this level of difficulty for again just two months. She still has plenty of time to perfect the skills she’s doing and could be a legitimate team contender next year if everything works out.
My biggest concern in watching her train was bars, as she worked a lot on various combinations, but I don’t think I saw her finish an entire routine as a whole, so I’d imagine she still has to increase her endurance levels before we see her competing this set. Otherwise, there’s a possibility that we could see her struggle to hit vault today – she went back and forth between over- and under-rotating her Amanar in training – and beam is beam, but regardless of how she competes, she should be tremendously proud of herself for getting to this point so quickly.
The same goes for Thomas, who struggled a bit with a difficult bars series – she’s ultimately going for a Weiler half to toe full to Maloney to clear hip to Tkachev – but looked beautiful overall on beam and also trained a bit on floor, which seems to be no problem for her.
Thomas hasn’t been away from the elite scene very long – she competed at nationals last summer, and then attended a national team camp while at Florida this spring – it’s still incredibly difficult to step away from this level in any form. Even if she’s not at a hundred percent today, she’ll get there, and will definitely be in the mix as a strong contender in the future.
Watching these two to see what they’d be up to after extended absences was the most exciting part of podium training for me, but it’s not like the rest of the session was boring. Simone Biles, likely to win the all-around today by quite a bit, unveiled a casual triple double on floor in addition to showing off a new floor routine to “Hey, Big Spender” from Sweet Charity, and I think it’s my favorite cut of music for her so far.
Biles also looked great on bars and beam, but I’m still waiting for some updates to her composition on both. The barani is still gone on beam – she ditched it prior to the Stuttgart World Cup earlier this year – and she looks incredible on the skills she’s doing, but I’d love to see her take this routine even further. Because you know she can.
I was also absolutely obsessed with some of the incredibly unique combinations Jade Carey brought to her beam set, including a back handspring into a layout stepout into a two-foot layout, as well as a gainer layout stepout into a leap series.
Carey also looked great on floor, and she’s doing a Bhardwaj on bars, though she’s a little rough in that routine. On vault, she’s attempting to bring back her Amanar for the first time since 2017, and while she had a few misses in training, once she gets it to a more comfortable place, she’ll be even more competitive on that event than she is already.
Sunisa Lee was also super exciting to watch in training. She’s reworked her bars a bit, and is no longer doing the Nabieva to Bhardwaj she attempted at the American Classic, but she did add a casual giant 1½ into a piked Jaeger, and she looked excellent on beam as well.
Lee is vying for a spot on the Pan American Games team alongside Sloane Blakely, Kara Eaker, Aleah Finnegan, Morgan Hurd, Shilese Jones, Riley McCusker, and Leanne Wong. Hurd and McCusker also looked fantastic in training, with Hurd bringing some excellent upgrades and connections on beam, while McCusker struggled with her layout on beam but was textbook gorgeous on bars, and though Wong seemed to have a really iffy day on pretty much every event, she still looked physically great, and hopefully was just finding herself in a “bad dress rehearsal, good opening night” kind of situation.
Lee, Hurd, McCusker, and Wong would be my four easy picks for the Pan Ams team right now, and then I think the last spot will be between Eaker and Jones. Eaker was fabulous on beam in training, though she was struggling a bit on vault, but Jones is looking close to her best right now and could be a major help to this team on vault and floor. Blakely unfortunately had a lot of struggles in training yesterday, though her beam is incredibly valuable if she hits it, and then Finnegan just isn’t at the same level as the rest of this team, despite upgrading to a DTY on vault and adding a double double on floor.
Though she isn’t going for a Pan Am Games spot, Grace McCallum is another one who should lead the senior all-around field alongside Biles, Lee, Hurd, McCusker, and Wong. McCallum looked super tight on all four events yesterday, and she absolutely fits in with this group of six as the ones most likely to challenge for worlds this year, though I think the surprise with McCallum is that she’ll go from someone who went to worlds to contribute a couple of events to someone who could potentially be the second-best all-arounder behind Biles.
Otherwise, newcomer Faith Torrez looked like a dream on beam, though she was struggling a bit with her new full-twisting double layout on floor, and I was thrilled to see Gabby Perea back to pretty much full difficulty on beam. She looked solid overall, and I hope we can see her surprise with a great performance today.
Finally, Jordan Chiles looked to be at a much stronger level than we’ve seen from her over the past couple of years, with her construction on bars and beam much more suited to who she is as an athlete. In what was a pretty fall-filled day for most gymnasts, Chiles had one of the strongest mental games going on, and I hope she’ll keep up that consistency today to put herself back as one we should watch in the already super competitive senior field.
I was devastated to learn that Emma Malabuyo has withdrawn from the meet after breaking her tibia in training this week. I have pretty much never once cried about a gymnastics injury before, with Rebecca Bross’ 2011 vault injury the last time tears actually came to my eyes, but when I woke up to Malabuyo’s Instagram post this morning, I literally burst into tears because she was looking SO incredible in the lead-up to this meet with a brilliant performance at Jesolo and then some big upgrades added into her routines, which she was planning on showing this weekend.
Malabuyo was my top choice in terms of gymnasts who weren’t in the mix last year for whatever reason – injury, in Malabuyo’s case – to come in and throw a wrench into the worlds team puzzle decision this year, and I think like many of the other strong gymnasts in this field, she had a chance to be close to the top. It’s devastating to see any injury in this sport, but for these girls who are so close to making some of the biggest dreams in their lives come true, it hits especially hard, especially knowing how hard it was for them to come back last time they were injured. We wish her the best, and hope she can come back happy and healthy next year.
In the junior field, three-time junior world medalist Kayla DiCello is the one to beat, but Konnor McClain will be hoping for some retribution after missing out on the worlds squad due to falls at trials last month, and we should also get some excellent competition from Skye Blakely, Ciena Alipio, Olivia Greaves, and Sydney Barros.
These top girls aside, I’m really excited to see fan favorites like Levi Jung-Ruivivar, Joscelyn Roberson, and Sophia Butler, I think gymnasts like Anya Pilgrim, Sydney Morris, eMjae Frazier, Lilly Lippeatt, Lyden Saltness, and Karis German have the potential to upset some of those in the top group, and I’m excited for the debuts of some young gymnasts like Nola Matthews and Zoe Miller, both of whom were fantastic at the American Classic.
The U.S. Classic takes place today, with the juniors competing at 1 pm (streamed on the USA Gymnastics YouTube channel), while the seniors take to the floor at 7 pm (live on the Olympic Channel). We’ll be live blogging all of the action as well, so check back at competition time to follow along!
Article by Lauren Hopkins