Leanne Wong, Morgan Hurd, Riley McCusker, Aleah Finnegan, and Kara Eaker
Gymnastics at this year’s Pan American Games begins Saturday with the women’s team competition, which will also serve as the individual qualifier for the all-around and apparatus finals, and teams are bringing their A game to fight for medals at this important step on the road to Tokyo.
In addition to the United States looking likely to take the gold here with a team full of world medalists and contenders, several of the top teams in the world will be competing with rosters that will almost fully match what we’ll see in Stuttgart this fall, giving us a great look at what we might be able to expect in terms of nations attempting to qualify full teams to next year’s Olympic Games.
The U.S. team, named following last week’s U.S. Classic, includes three members from the 2018 gold medal-winning team at world championships in Doha along with a pair of first-year seniors, one of whom is likely to be in the mix for Stuttgart. Led by Morgan Hurd, who finished 6th all-around and won bars at the Classic, the team also includes Riley McCusker and Kara Eaker in the all-around, while Leanne Wong will compete on bars and beam, and Aleah Finnegan will compete on vault and floor.
Both McCusker and Eaker looked to be at their all-time best in Louisville last weekend, and Hurd can always be counted on to deliver big performances when it counts. Wong, who struggled a bit in podium training on vault and floor last week but put together a solid performance in the competition, is probably best to stick to just bars and beam if she’s still struggling with the others, while Finnegan will be hoping for a vault medal and should contribute excellent scores on her two events in the team competition.
This year, gymnasts and their coaches were allowed to decide if they wanted to be considered for the Pan Ams team, and so unlike past quads where Martha Karolyi sent a B/C team mix so the top gymnasts could be prepared to compete at more “important” meets – the U.S. Classic in 2015, and world championships in 2011 – without getting burned out, this year the level of talent on the U.S. team is considerably stronger, and nearly everyone on it will also be in the mix for worlds later this year.
I love that we’re seeing gymnasts who need the experience in order to be more prepared to compete on a bigger international stage, especially if they’re still borderline in terms of being considered for Stuttgart, and I also like the idea of giving the decision to be in contention to the gymnasts. It’s going to be a grueling schedule for the U.S. women, who will have to return to the U.S. next week with just a few days to prepare for nationals in Kansas City, but they know what they can handle, which is why they signed up for the challenge.
While the U.S. should be pretty much unchallenged for gold here and will be in the running for multiple individual medals, the teams from Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and Mexico – most of which will be fighting to send full teams to Tokyo – are pretty close to top-notch, and it should make the battle for the podium pretty exciting.
Canada was hoping to have its full worlds team here, though Ana Padurariu, who has been dealing with a foot injury over the past 18 months, tweaked her foot in training last week and has made the tough decision to sit this one out so she’ll hopefully be healthy again for worlds.
It’s not every team that can replace a gymnast with an Olympian, however, and it’s great to see a revitalized Isabela Onyshko – who looked fantastic at nationals – taking her place, joining her 2016 teammates Ellie Black and Shallon Olsen along with former worlds team members Victoria-Kayen Woo and Brooklyn Moors to help the team challenge for silver.
Black, the reigning Pan Am Games all-around champion, is looking to repeat again this year, though with a tougher field of competitors from the U.S. team, it’s not going to be easy. Hurd has consistently outscored her in international competition, but Black has added a Rudi on vault and has upped her game a bit on beam and floor, so it could be even closer between these two this time around, and with McCusker also in the mix as a candidate for gold if she can repeat her Louisville magic here, this is shaping up to be a terrific final.
In addition to Black, Olsen will be a top contender for vault gold, and I’m hoping we’ll see Moors with a strong all-around performance as well as challenge for a medal on floor. Woo has been in the best shape of her life over the past year, and I’d love to see her also potentially make a final – floor, please! – but with her start values a bit lower than those of her teammates, it’s not a guarantee. Onyshko, meanwhile, could likely reach the bars and/or beam finals with good routines in qualifications, so hopefully her improved execution and consistency will get her there.
In the absence of Rebeca Andrade after her knee injury at nationals took her out of competition for the rest of the year, Brazil is still sending an excellent team here, featuring Olympians Jade Barbosa, Flavia Saraiva, and Lorrane Oliveira along with experienced international competitors Thais Fidelis and Carolyne Pedro.
Replacing Andrade with Pedro is a huge blow to the team’s overall scoring potential, and after Barbosa tweaked her knee in training the other day, they might also miss out on a couple of her scores. She’s reportedly fine, and is still expected to compete, but I can see them holding back on her for vault and floor in an effort to keep her healthy for worlds later this year. Still, with all of the drama, this is still a pretty excellent squad, and they’ll be likely to pull off a medal if they’re at their best.
I would say Mexico and Argentina would be in great positions to take advantage of Brazil’s injuries, but they’re both dealing with injuries themselves, and so I don’t see them pulling it off unless something goes drastically wrong for Brazil.
Mexico is missing a ridiculous number of top seniors, most of whom are nursing minor injuries and sitting this one out in order to stay healthy for worlds selection, including Frida Esparza, Alexa Moreno, Elsa Garcia, Victoria Mata, Ahtziri Sandoval, and now Nicolle Castro, who withdrew from competition just yesterday after dealing with injuries in Lima.
They still have this year’s national champion, first-year senior Anapaula Gutierrez, who should do great individually, but the rest of the team – Paulina Campos, Daniela Briceño, and Anapaula’s twin sister, Jimena Gutierrez – is incredibly young and inexperienced, so this could be a tough one for them, a huge bummer after they surprised for bronze at Pan Am Championships a year ago.
Though Argentina is missing Ayelen Tarabini, they still have a super talented young team, and they’re coming into this meet on a high after winning the team gold at South American Championships last month.
Experienced Martina Dominici leads the team as a top all-arounder along with first-year seniors Abigail Magistrati – who surprised to win the South American all-around title – and Luna Fernandez, while the solid Agustina Pisos and 2012 Olympian Valeria Pereyra – who just returned to competition on bars and beam last month after initially retiring post-London – round out the team. I don’t know if they’ll have enough of a push to challenge for the podium, but Argentina has been on a huge rise this year and I’m looking forward to seeing them do well.
Other nations with full teams here include Puerto Rico, Cuba, Peru, and Chile, and though generally none of these teams is super competitive among the top teams, Puerto Rico and Cuba are both capable of surprising, and all teams have some individual standouts here in Lima.
Puerto Rico will see standouts Paula Mejias and Andrea Maldonado compete this weekend alongside the national gold and silver all-around medalists Karelys Diaz and Nicole Diaz with Bianca Leon rounding them out. Mejias is always one to watch on vault and floor, while Maldonado, who missed nationals in June, is a huge standout on floor, and should impress with her always excellent Randi.
For Cuba, 2016 Olympian Marcia Vidiaux will be a standout alongside Yesenia Ferrera, Peru will feature the NCAA talents of Boise State graduate Sandra Collantes and current Iowa State gymnast (and 2016 Olympian) Ariana Orrego (this is Collantes’ first elite meet in years, but Orrego just competed at the South American Championships, where she won silver in the all-around), and Chile is led by 2016 Olympian and Denver alum Simona Castro, with the DTY-wielding Franchesca Santi also likely to put up big scores.
Individually, the Jamaican team will be a fan favorite, with UCLA and Cal standouts Danusia Francis and Toni-Ann Williams both competing here alongside the young Kiara Richmon. Francis has looked incredible in competition so far this year, and though Williams tore her Achilles earlier in the year, cutting her senior NCAA season short, the 2016 Olympian is healthy again and it’ll be great to see her back in action as an elite gymnast for the first time since Rio.
On the men’s side, Brazil is sending an incredible team that features Francisco Barreto, Arthur Mariano, Luis Porto, Caio Souza, and Arthur Zanetti, so watch for them to be the big standouts here, but Canada and Mexico are also sending top-caliber teams, Randy Leru will lead a Cuban team that could be capable of surprising, and though the U.S. won’t have the A team in Lima, all five guys competing have had great results this year at the NCAA and elite levels, and they should still put up a strong performance to reach for the podium.
Individually, Audrys Nin Reyes of the Dominican Republic should be super strong, Jorge Vega of Guatemala will be putting up show-stopping floor and vault performances, both of which should make him a medal contender, and Tomas Gonzalez of Chile will also be a top contender on floor.
The women will compete in the team final and individual qualification on Saturday, July 27, while the men will take the stage on Sunday, July 28. The all-around finals for both the men and women will be held on Monday, July 29, while the apparatus finals will be split between Tuesday the 30th and Wednesday the 31st. ESPN is broadcasting the Games, but you’ll have to check your local listings for full coverage.
A full list of competitors is below.
|Gustavo Cumali||Maria Arauz
Maria Del Mar Perez
Maria Del Sol Perez
Heika Del Sol Salas
|Alejandro De La Cruz
Mary Adny Morffi
|Audrys Nin Reyes||Alondra Echavarria
|Fabio Chica||Paola Ruano|
|Jorge Vega||Ana Palacios|
Fabian de Luna
|Victor Rostagno||Pierina Cedres|
Article by Lauren Hopkins