13 powerful gymnasts stand before me but I only hold six leotards in my hands
Yesterday, I previewed the U.S. world championships selection situation, and then live blogged the first day of trials. Because SO much happened, including some moments that I thought really changed the status for several gymnasts, I thought I’d give my final thoughts before the second day of trials concludes and the team is named later today.
Simone Biles and Sunisa Lee were my two absolute locks for this team as of yesterday’s pre-selection meet, and although Biles had a fall on bars, she still very easily won the competition, though it actually got SUPER close between her and Lee, who absolutely slayed to come within the closest margin of Biles in years. With a standout bars set, Lee was also second-best on beam and floor, cementing her as a lock for Stuttgart.
Moving up from “borderline” to “lock” is Kara Eaker, who blew everyone’s minds with her flawless floor routine, a stuck vault, a hit bars set, and then a pretty close to perfect beam, where she won the gold. I had her as a one-event gymnast, but after yesterday, I want to include her as someone who could potentially compete all four events in qualifications, and then potentially compete floor in addition to beam in the team final. In addition to her beam win, she was third-best on bars and floor, which is huge, especially as her floor routine outscored even the specialists here, coming in a tenth ahead of Carey and a tenth and a half ahead of Skinner.
Jade Carey was superb yesterday, hitting all four events and crushing it on her key events to finish fifth all-around. I’m keeping her as “borderline” because we still don’t know Tom Forster’s thoughts as to whether she’d go to worlds and the world cups. She’s more than earned a spot at worlds, but with so much depth and with Carey essentially punching her ticket to Tokyo via the world cups, I still think there could be some justification as to why Carey shouldn’t go.
One of those justifications is MyKayla Skinner, who bumped herself up from “not making it” after an incredible day, breaking a 56 in the all-around to finish fourth. Skinner was only a couple of tenths away from Carey on both vault and floor, but she adds more on bars and beam if needed in a pinch, and her confidence is through the freaking roof.
I thought Skinner might need a bit more time, but she’s already made beyond insane improvements to every single event between nationals and now…and she even UPGRADED. Yeah, Skinner added her triple full back on floor as her final pass, and she’s now dismounting beam with a full-in. You know. As one does after not training elite for three years.
Personally, I’d take Skinner over Carey, if only because Skinner would be the more likely of the two on the Olympic team next year. As much as I think worlds should be its own competition and not just a test for the Olympics, it IS very much a test for the Olympics and there’s nothing I can do about that. As a team strategist, you want to invest in the people who are going to pay it back to you (thanks Michelle Williams’ Emmy speech), and with that reasoning, Skinner goes. You invest in Carey by sending her to world cups, and she earns an individual Olympic spot in return, and you invest in Skinner by sending her to worlds, and she becomes one of the most productive potential members of next year’s Olympic team.
Still on my borderline list are Morgan Hurd, Grace McCallum, and Leanne Wong, none of whom exactly did themselves any favors yesterday as all three counted falls: Hurd had a weird trip during one of her dance elements on floor before uncharacteristically arching over before a pirouette on bars, McCallum also fell on bars, and Wong had some weak floor landings before crashing her Yurchenko double on vault.
Of the three, I still think Hurd makes the most sense, as her bars fall was the flukiest of all flukes (out of 18 routines competed in her senior career, this was her first fall) and I’d still absolutely trust her on that event in the team final. On a team with Biles, Lee, Eaker, and either Carey or Skinner, bars is the hole we need to fill, and if we’re considering Hurd, McCallum, and Wong for that spot, Hurd gets it.
That said, Wong has been iffy on vault and floor for a while now, and was used as a bars and beam specialist at Pan Ams, so it’s clear Forster thinks of her as more of a specialist than as someone who would be counted on to do the all-around. Her bars are great, even though her scoring potential there isn’t quite as high as Hurd’s by a few tenths, and she can actually outscore Hurd on beam pretty easily. However, if the team needed a last-minute sub on vault or floor, I wouldn’t trust Wong to do it as much as I’d trust Hurd, and to me, that matters.
As for McCallum, I just find it hard to include her on a team where she doesn’t truly have a standout event. With bars in question, McCallum would be my last pick among the borderline athletes, and as I said yesterday, even though her scores on beam and floor are really high, they’re almost too high, and there’s no way she (or anyone, let’s be real) is going to get an 8.700 E-score on beam at worlds. I feel like by scoring her this way, they’re either trying to boost her confidence or really push for a way to justify taking her, but I personally don’t see it even if the selection committee does. So she very well may make it, but of the eight gymnasts mentioned so far, McCallum would be eighth on my list of who makes it.
NOT MAKING IT
Aside from Skinner bumping up, the rest of this stays the same, with Jordan Chiles, Aleah Finnegan, Emily Lee, Trinity Thomas, and Faith Torrez not likely to be in legit contention for the team or for an alternate spot.
That said, I do want to talk about how impressed I was with everyone here. Torrez was phenomenal on vault and floor, and would’ve also put up a humongous beam score had she not fallen. She outscored both Wong and Hurd in the all-around, and really showed that she fits in with the best in the country, and if she continues to work at this level and beyond, perhaps we’ll see her in the mix for Tokyo.
Chiles unfortunately fell on her last pass on floor, and though she brought back her Amanar, it was a rough one, though I do admire the work she’s put in since moving to WCC, and hope that as she continues to do work, she’ll continue to up her chances for future teams. Lee was also very strong, Thomas had a few errors throughout her day but showed off a gorgeous beam set, and though Finnegan stuck only to beam, she did a lovely job, especially in getting her arabian directly into a jump series.
FINAL FINAL THOUGHTS
I’d personally take Biles, Lee, Eaker, Skinner, Hurd, and Wong to Stuttgart, and then decide between Hurd and Wong for the final spot based on how they look in training. This is a bit of a dream team, but it’s also one of the highest-scoring potential teams that exists, and you’d have room to move athletes around if need be.
Of course, that’s also me assuming that they’d prefer Skinner over Carey due to Carey’s whole world cup side hustle. If it turns out they don’t have any hang ups or bitterness about Carey, I do think she’ll make it over Skinner based on their entire bodies of work this year, so even though I personally would do the opposite (partly due to my own bias, but also because it legitimately works well), I’m not at all opposed to Carey being on the team.
In this case, Biles, Lee, Eaker, and Carey would make the most sense as the core four. I think they’d also want to take McCallum, and then either Hurd or Wong to add in another big bars score, and then make the final decisions regarding the alternate post-podium training…but I do think with these four as the core team, it’s pretty obviously going to be McCallum, Hurd, or Wong for that final spot, and that will just come down to what the selection committee values most.
Putting myself in the selection committee’s brains, they seem to really value McCallum, so I’m going to assume she’s on their team even though I wouldn’t necessarily know what to do with her particular skill set once in Stuttgart. Let me be clear: McCallum is an excellent gymnast, and perhaps one of the strongest and most balanced all-arounders if everyone’s hitting.
But without a clear standout event, it’s hard to justify her when you have three or more gymnasts outscoring her on all four events. She’s great on every event, and if there was room for a sixth gymnast who can step in as a utility player, that would be McCallum for me. But on a five-member team that already has three stronger all-arounders and a need for gymnasts who have more standout events to round them out, McCallum just doesn’t fit. She either has to be a top-three all-arounder, like Biles or Lee, or a top eight all-arounder with standout routines, like Carey on vault and floor. Right now, she’s neither of these things, and so I just find it really hard to squeeze her into any spot, aside from the alternate role…and she’s almost the perfect alternate, as someone who could do literally any event in a pinch and be totally great at whatever they need her to do.
That’s my position, but we’ll see what the selection committee thinks about McCallum, about Skinner vs. Carey, about Hurd vs. Wong, and about everyone else later today.
Again, as I’ve talked about many times previously, the 13 gymnasts at this camp are among the best gymnasts in the world, and no matter who is selected, it’ll still be the “right” team. The U.S. once again stands to dominate as a team and on the individual level, you could justify nearly anyone at this selection camp when making your final team decision, and it’s a bittersweet problem to have to turn down some of the most brilliant gymnasts in the world for this team because of so much talent and depth.
Best of luck to everyone involved, and I really look forward to seeing how this puzzle is solved.
Article by Lauren Hopkins