The stories of the women’s Visa Championships…

Bridget Sloan’s withdrawal from every event but beam is a disappointment, but not necessarily a big surprise. After all, dropping out is the trendy thing to do in women’s gymnastics, especially when you’re on top. It does sound like Bridget is a bit beat up, and I am glad to hear she is still shooting for the world championships, as our team needs her dearly. But I have to say there has been a growing tendency – especially among our top gymnasts – towards being very, very conservative when it comes to saluting to a judge in competition, even if they’re doing full routines in practice. It is natural that as a gymnast becomes more and more successful, her standards for competing and need to always win become greater. Though many would consider it “poor form” to drop out of your own national championships unless it is absolutely necessary, I guess we can excuse Bridget…as long as she makes up for it at worlds, that is.

Rebecca Bross will now be the overwhelming favorite in Hartford, not only because of Bridget’s withdrawal, but because her all-around D-score is about a point and a half higher than anyone else’s. This means that Rebecca might be able to afford to fall and still win…although I’m sure she’s not planning on it. In the past year, Rebecca’s bars has been rock solid, her vault rarely gives her trouble, her floor has shown more maturity and better landings, and her beam is…well, still unpredictable. Chronic problems with her double Arabian dismount and some risky elements in the routine will probably make beam a bigger challenge to winning her first national championship than her competitors will be.

Should Bross make a couple of large errors, though, there will be a few challengers waiting to seize the opportunity. Recent Covergirl Classic all-around champion Mattie Larson could certainly put some pressure on Bross, as her confidence is likely higher than ever. With world class routines on all four events, Larson will be looking to prove she’s not only world team material…but also one of the very best all-arounders we have. Brestyan’s Aly Raisman has had a stellar breakout year, with numerous impressive international showings, including 2nd behind Bross at the American Cup. Though she crashed a gutsy – and somewhat dangerous – Amanar vault at the Covergirl Classic, Raisman has become one of the best and most consistent all-arounders in the USA. Kytra Hunter from Hill’s will likely make the world team because of her floor and vault, but her all-around potential is not too shabby either. Her beam is typically very solid with a strong D-score and her bars, if she hits, isn’t all that bad. And CGA’s Cassie Whitcomb and Amanda Jetter were impressive at the Covergirl Classic, actually leading the competition in 1st and 2nd before both missing beam in the last rotation. Though their best shots for the world team depend on bars, their well-balanced all-arounds could place them high in the final rankings.

Alicia Sacramone sizzled at her comeback debut at the Covergirl, winning both vault and beam and essentially stamping her passport to Rotterdam a couple of months early. With as fit and powerful as she looked in Chicago, it’s almost impossible to envision her not making the world team, especially considering the recent retirement of her biggest vaulting rival – 2009 world champion Kayla Williams. Alicia will undoubtedly be a fan favorite in Hartford, and can focus on shooting for the world vaulting title and fine-tuning her beam routine to help Team USA as much as possible.

Just as in 2008, a third spot on bars for worlds is up for grabs. Contenders include Mackenzie Caquatto, Samantha Shapiro, Cassie Whitcomb, Amanda Jetter, Mattie Larson, and possibly Chelsea Davis or even Vanessa Zamarripa – at least if some of the others make mistakes.

The Women’s Visa Championships will be broadcast today at 7pm EST on Universal Sports…be sure to tune in!