1. Maggie Nichols Dazzles. We knew she was right in the mix after her extremely impressive performance at the recent Secret U.S. Classic, but would anyone have ever predicted this gymnast would be leading the two-time world all-around champion and THREE Olympic champions in the all-around after 3 events at the U.S. National Championships? I seriously doubt it. On a night when just about everyone was faltering, Maggie continued to showcase her trademark confidence and consistency – with some stunning new skills as well. She is leaner and more elegant than she was a couple years ago, yet is stronger and more powerful at the same time. She’s developed an exquisite combination of qualities and has become a magnificent athlete to watch. Witnessing a gymnast of her height pull off skills like a double-double on floor and a full-in off beam is breathtaking, and she has the poise and artistry now to complete the full package. I’d call her basically a shoo-in for the world team at this point, and the sky’s the limit for how far this gymnast will go in the coming year. I’m excited to watch her again tonight and see where she ends up in this all-around race.
2. Simone Biles Stumbles. Perhaps we’re being a bit harsh on the two-time world all-around champion, but after hardly making a single major error in two years of competition, that’s the standard she’s set for us. A few nervous wobbles on beam in the second rotation sent a signal that Simone was feeling some pressure, and then she shocked us all by falling forward on her full-in dismount on floor – the event where she soars head and shoulders above everyone in the world. Her phenomenal Amanar in the final rotation (incredible 9.85 execution score) still catapulted her back into her usual first-place ranking after Day 1, but Biles clearly showed some vulnerability that we aren’t accustomed to seeing. Perhaps not holding the all-around lead during the first three rotations threw her game slightly off, or perhaps the comebacks of Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman have gotten the current champ slightly intimidated. She’s still the world’s best, but it may be she senses a few new challengers on her heels.
3. Aly Slips Off Beam. If there was one surprise that set the tone for a tense evening on Day 1, it was 2012 Olympic Champion Aly Raisman’s fall from beam in the first rotation. It’s an event where she’s known for stability – in fact she won the bronze medal on this event at the Olympic Games in London. She was just a tad bit off on her back layout – so slightly that it was hardly detectable – but when she went into the leap immediately following it, her balance shifted further and pulled her off the beam. In typical Aly Raisman fashion she roared back to hit the next three events – including one of her best floor routines ever and the top score of the night on that event. What Aly showed was tenacity – the ability to put a very early mistake completely behind her and show her fullest capabilities after that. Any talented gymnast can look great when things are going well; it takes a true champion to look great amidst disappointment. If she hits all four events on Day 2, she could easily still be right in the mix for the 2nd spot in the all-around.
4. Gabby Falters in Final Event. Reigning Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas gave an incredible recent showing at the Le Reve water show where she placed 2nd behind Simone Biles and officially stamped her comeback a huge success. She was solid again on the first three events here in Indianopolis, albeit with a bit of a stoic demeanor. Perhaps she’s still building her competition endurance, or perhaps she got a bit caught up in the tense atmosphere in a mistake-filled competition, but I was surprised to see the Olympic champion finish the night with a botched floor routine that lacked the spark and charisma we expect from her. Nearly falling on her full-in – a skill she typically nails easily – and totally aborting two of her much needed double turns cost her at least a full point in deductions and a chance to challenge for the lead. Her music has the potential to be engaging and is much better, in my opinion, than what she used at the Jesolo meet in Italy this year, but the choreography and presentation were weak. I think Gabby could benefit from a few more smiles out there and more aggressive showmanship in this floor routine. She’s still on track to make the world championship team and also reach all-around greatness again, but she’s capable of better than this. Hopefully we’ll see her step it up a notch on Day 2.
5. Kyla Ross Questionable? An Olympic team champion and world all-around medalist, Kyla Ross has been a mainstay on the U.S. team for the last three years, and one of the top all-around gymnasts in the world. However, falling on bars – her best event – at both the U.S. Classic and on Day 1 here in Indianapolis, has to have her and her coaches concerned. With two Olympic champions back in the mix, and several bars specialists all nailing routines on Day 1 (Brenna Dowell, Madison Kocian, and Ashton Locklear), Kyla’s spot on this world championship team is starting to appear in jeopardy. Beam is the other place where Kyla can certainly contribute – she was one of the 3 gymnasts chosen for the Olympic team final in London – but she’s had some uncharacteristic major wobbles on this event in these last two competitions as well. She’s still a great all-around gymnast, but her floor isn’t going to land her a spot on the world or Olympic team, and even the cleanest DTY in the world on vault isn’t going to do much for her chances either. Kyla’s mission is clear – she needs to nail near-perfect routines on bars and beam on Day 2 and needs to show her trademark confidence and consistency that landed her a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team. She should also seriously consider upgrading her vault back to an Amanar, a skill she is capable of performing and did compete briefly three years ago. Kyla has the edge of competitive experience and proven poise under pressure – including at the Olympic Games. Let’s look for her to prove this again in tonight’s finals.
I’ll be at the women’s finals this evening, so be on the lookout for a post after the competition!