It’s now been just over a week since our five-member U.S. Olympic teams were finally named at the Trials in San Jose. I’m playing a bit of catch up this week and wanted to post my thoughts on the teams that ended up being selected.
I think the Men’s Selection Committee was spot on. The five gymnasts chosen for London – Danell Leyva, John Orozco, Jonathan Horton, Jake Dalton, and Sam Mikulak all FELT like Olympians. Although I’m sure the committee considered other scenarios, such as swapping Horton for Legendre or swapping Mikulak for Naddour, in the end I believe they went with their guts, which told them the five gymnasts above simply earned their places on the Olympic team this year. I think the three alternates they chose were perfect as well. Alex Naddour certainly earned the right to serve the role as the official pommel horse backup – and should something happen to Mikulak, Orozco, or Leyva, I believe he’d be ready to step in as he did in Tokyo last year. Legendre did a fantastic job at Trials, earning 16’s on floor both days and at least keeping his vaults on his feet. After some mistakes at the Visa Championships and considering he would contribute on floor and vault alone, an alternate spot felt very appropriate for him as well. And Chris Brooks certainly had his share of mistakes throughout the selection process, but a 4th place all-around finish after all was said and done – including a whopping 90.7 on Day 2 of Trials (3rd best in the field) – seemed to confirm his role as a very versatile alternate to this team. I was glad to see the committee agreed. All in all, this was a VERY satisfying men’s selection process, as it truly felt like every gymnast legitimately earned his assigned place. I firmly believe that this team is not only capable of medaling in London, but they could very well be right on the heels of Japan and China for Olympic gold. It will be thrilling to see how this all plays out.
I believe the Women’s Selection Committee picked the five correct Olympians. Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross, and McKayala Maroney all seemed to earn their Olympic jackets in San Jose. Despite some small errors here and there from the top three, Wieber, Douglas, and Raisman all hit 8 for 8 and appear right on track to peak in London. Ross had one missed vault but averaged over a 9.0 in execution on every other routine she performed. Her bars scores in particular were stellar (tied Gabby Douglas for the highest two-day total), and her beam was solid enough to firmly establish she’s an ideal team finals player on this event. Perhaps the most question marks and controversy surrounded McKayla Maroney, who not only had suffered a rather traumatic concussion just a couple of weeks prior, but also made some strange errors on bars both days and fell on beam Day 1. Some argued that Elizabeth Price, who hit 8 for 8 routines, averaged over a 60 in the all-around, and showed 16-potential on vault – more rightfully earned the final spot. This is certainly a reasonable argument, particularly when we consider that Price put up a 15.3 on bars on Day 2 and outscored Maroney’s two-day total on floor. However, in my opinion, Maroney’s gold medal potential on vault may have been the deal breaker. Both of these gymnasts would likely only be used on vault in team finals (both would likely be the first backup for floor), and not only does Maroney consistently score slightly higher here, but she has a second world class vault as well and is the front runner for Olympic gold on this event. Price, on the other hand, hasn’t shown us a second vault before – although it would be prudent for her to learn one for the next quadrennium. It wouldn’t make sense to throw an additional Olympic gold medal away simply because Price could serve as a better backup for bars and perhaps an equivalent one for floor. I think the committee made the right decision here.
I was delighted to see Anna Li named as an alternate to the team – what a huge accomplishment for this former college gymnast who had never made a world team before serving as an alternate in Tokyo in 2011. Li really did her job in San Jose, nailing two of the best bar routines we’ve ever seen her compete and finally achieving the consistency we’ve all yearned to see throughout her elite comeback. Her beam routine on Day 2 was also the best we have seen from her throughout the selection process, and, although she would never be used on this event, it felt like a perfect ending to her hugely successful Olympic Trials. She’s a great backup option if something happened to Kyla Ross, although if she stepped in here the team would likely have to use Gabby Douglas on beam – not ideal, but still feasible.
I believe the women’s selection committee made one mistake, and I was a bit surprised to see it happen in fact. I felt that Alicia Sacramone deserved an alternate spot over Sarah Finnegan. Sacramone was stunning at Trials – placing 2nd on both vault and beam and looking every bit as confident and polished as she ever has. In a competition in which even Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross had their share of the shakes on beam, Sacramone was a rock on this event, and it would have felt very fitting to have her solid beam work at least in the mix as a backup. And some might argue she’d actually be a better replacement for McKayla Maroney than Elizabeth Price would because Alicia also has two world class vaults. Her rudi is extremely reliable and scores right up in the same range as Price (near a 16), and Alicia would be the next best shot at an Olympic vault medal (possibly even gold) behind McKayla Maroney. If Maroney were injured and I had to choose a gymnast to put up on vault alone, I think I’d probably even choose Sacramone over Price because of her stability for team finals and medal potential in event finals.
I can understand why Martha likes Sarah Finnegan so much, but to me it really felt like Sacramone earned this alternate spot. Finnegan is obviously a very good all-around gymnast, but she did show some errors on the two events on which the team would potentially use her – beam and floor. Sacramone outscored her on beam both days, and Finnegan nearly fell on floor on Day 1. The team also already has another backup for floor on the team (Maroney) as well as another among the alternates (Price) – both of whom actually outscored Finnegan here. If the committee really wanted to include Finnegan as an alternate, I think choosing her over Anna Li would have made more sense than over Sacramone, considering that Price is already a reasonable backup for bars anyway.
I feel like of all thirty male and female gymnasts who competed in these Trials, Alicia Sacramone was dealt the worst hand. She did absolutely everything she could have possibly done, showing Olympic-medal caliber vaulting and team finals-worthy beam work under the most pressure imaginable. She placed in the top two on the best team in the world on half of the women’s events and wasn’t even given one of three available alternate spots on this Olympic team. There’s just something that doesn’t feel right about that.
Of course, we can never exclude the possibility of a last minute injury to one of the current nine gymnasts, and although I would never wish this on anyone, seeing Sacramone called in as a last-minute replacement would feel quite gratifying. We’ve seen more than once a U.S. gymnast not even initially named as an alternate to a major team being summoned at the 11th hour and ending up a world or Olympic hero. In the case of Alicia Sacramone, what an incredibly perfect ending that would be.