The women’s senior competition at the City of Jesolo Trophy Meet begins today. With five legitimate U.S. Olympic contenders on the roster for this international event, this competition could easily be viewed as somewhat of a “dress rehearsal” for the Olympic Trials themselves. Considering the fact that this will be the final major international opportunity for these American women to showcase their Olympic potential before the actual Olympic selection process begins – and that they’ll be competing on the same stage with their arch-rival Russian counterparts with whom they’re expecting to battle for gold in London this summer – many might argue it represents even more than that.
Below I’ll highlight there American stories to follow in this immensely important competition:
Ross vs. Bross: Two of the key players in this year’s intriguing U.S. Olympic selection drama will undoubtedly be first-year senior and two-time junior national all-around champion Kyla Ross and veteran and multiple world medalist Rebecca Bross. Despite the large gap in competitive international experience between these two gymnasts, their strengths on similar key events for the U.S. Olympic team have landed them in precisely the same spot on the Olympic radar. Both gymnasts are very well-balanced as all-arounders, but bars and beam in particular have the potential to stamp “London” in their passports this summer. Ross just competed very strongly in her senior international debut at the Pacific Rim Championships two weeks ago and is already building a very strong case to be considered a solid, clean, reliable option to compete on at least bars and beam at the Olympic Games, and possibly even floor and vault as well. Bross, on the other hand, is still in the wake of a long competitive layoff following a dislocated patella at the 2011 Visa Championships, and hasn’t competed in international competition since the 2010 world championships, where she won four medals. Having won world medals on bars and beam, the very events Team USA needs a third gymnast for the Olympic team finals, Bross would seem a very logical contender for London – if she proves she can still hit them under big time pressure. Keep your eyes on this Ross vs. Bross story if you follow the competition online today, and compare their scores very closely on bars and beam in particular, where 15+ marks will be absolutely critical. Floor certainly shouldn’t ignored from these two gymnasts either, as this was one of the key events that cost the U.S. the Olympic gold in both 2004 and 2008. Staying within the boundaries – a chronic problem for many American gymnasts – and scoring as closely to the 15-range as possible could certainly add additional points to the Olympic stock of these two.
Raisman vs. Maroney: Just as Ross or Bross could fulfill a bars/beam role for the U.S. team at the Olympics, 2011 world championship team gold medalists Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney could be fighting for a spot as a floor/vault specialist on this five-woman team. Maroney, the reigning world vault champion, boasts what most gymnastics experts and fans would consider to be the best Amanar (Yurchenko 2 ½) – and possibly the best vault period – ever performed by a woman. She also performed strongly on floor in the world team finals last year en route to helping the U.S. team secure the gold quite easily over the Russians. Despite these obvious strengths, Maroney’s Olympic chances came into question a bit when not only Aly Raisman performed the same highly rated Amanar vault effortlessly at the recent American Cup, but fellow Olympic contender Gabby Douglas did as well. Raisman also won a world bronze medal of her own at last years world on floor, where she is widely considered to be America’s best. Raisman also brings an additional strength on balance beam, where she is one of America’s most poised competitors under pressure and performed well in the world team finals in both 2010 and 2011. These three strong and stable events – not to mention the fact that she is also the 4th ranked all-around gymnast in the world – make Raisman nearly a lock on this Olympic team if she continues to compete as she has over the last two years. There could easily be room for both Raisman and Maroney on this Olympic team, but comparing their scores on floor and vault in particular here in Jesolo to help determine which of the two is truly more valuable on these power events will likely be a key focus of the Olympic selection committee.
Sarah Finnegan: In her first international competition as a senior here in Jesolo, Sarah Finnegan could be a dark horse contender for this summer’s Olympic team. A well-balanced all-arounder herself, Finnegan brings to the table exquisite polish and beauty along with particularly strong D-scores on both beam and floor. Rumors of eye-catching improvement over the last few months have placed her on the Olympic radar – though her true chances will more accurately be determined in today’s competition. While some might argue she doesn’t have enough experience to be considered for the squad for London, her case is remarkably analogous to 2004 Olympian Courtney McCool, who also burst onto the senior scene in the Olympic year out of the junior ranks with very similar qualities as Finnegan. Their similarities shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering they hail from the very same gym and coaching team – GAGE Gymnastics in Blue Springs, Missouri under Al and Armine Fong. Keep your eyes out for Sarah Finnegan’s scores in today’s meet, as she could be one of the biggest surprises.
I’ll post some thoughts on the meet following the competition!