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Here are some gymnast-by-gymnast observations of the American team in the qualifications…
- Simone Biles. It was par for the course for the most dominant gymnast in the world for the past three years. Simone started her third world championships with one of the best floor routines she’s ever given – with her trademark soaring tumbling passes, effortless landings, and even some improved leaps. She followed up with a near perfect Amanar on vault, which was fully appreciated by the judges with a huge 9.7 execution score. Bars was pretty solid, albeit with one minor leg split on a pirouette and a hop on the dismount. Despite three wobbles in her beam routine (wolf turn, switch leap half, and front aerial) and two broken connections, the 2014 world beam champion still managed the highest score of the entire qualifications on beam. I was a bit surprised to see that, but with so many falls on beam from the Romanians and Chinese, Aliya Mustafina and Catalina Ponor out with injury, and most of the Russians having lower difficulty, I guess no one was able to top her. Simone’s all-around tally of 61.598, nearly four full points ahead of her nearest competitor Giulia Steingruber, makes her the overwhelming favorite for the title. I’m torn between wanting her to do so in dominant fashion because she deserves it, but also wanting it to at least be somewhat of a competition. I think the best we can hope for is a strong battle for silver and bronze, for which several gymnasts could contend.
- Gabby Douglas. I was amazed at how well Gabby started off these world championships. I keep reminding myself that although she is the reigning Olympic all-around champion, it’s only her 2nd world championships and there was no telling how the pressure of this comeback was going to play out on the world stage. Her tumbling on floor was amazingly well controlled (nailed every pass), and she delivered the most perfect DTY on vault I’ve ever seen her do. Although she missed her Tcatchev + pak salto connection on bars, the routine was still beautiful and the dismount is dramatically better. She has finally figured out the timing of the release for the double layout and it rotated much, much better than it ever has. Beam was a mess. Hopefully that was just the nerves of getting back on beam on a world championship podium, because she is so much better than that. With two major wobbles and three missed connections, that was pretty much a blown routine. If she can still finish 3rd overall after a routine like that, I’d say she’s the likely front runner for the all-around silver if she can hit a solid four-for-four in the all-around. It will be neat to see her out there with Simone on the all-around stage again. Hopefully these world championships will motivate her to make some upgrades for next year and maybe challenge Simone a bit more.
- Aly Raisman. Well I can’t remember the last time I had to say that Aly Raisman had a bad meet, but it happens to the very best. She just seemed to have too much nervous energy on floor and vault and her mistakes on those event – in particular knowing she missed the floor final – likely threw her game off for the next two events too. The good news is she obviously still has plenty of power to be one of the very best tumblers in the world and has an even more powerful Amanar on vault than she did in London, so hopefully now that the jitters are out we’ll see her rock team finals. I was still surprised to see her miss bars after she has been so consistent on this event this year and really seemed to have this routine down, but she obviously didn’t quite have enough swing out of the Shaposhnikova to really get the Tcatchev rotated over the bar properly. This routine of course brings up the controversial question of whether she really should have been competing bars to begin with over Maggie Nichols, who comfortably beat Aly on this event and in the all-around at both the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships. Aly was nearly an Olympic all-around medalist in London though (actually tied for 3rd but lost a tie breaker) and certainly could have challenged for an all-around medal here, but clearly Maggie Nichols could have as well. The judges were much harsher on Aly’s beam routine than I was expecting – 8.266 E-score with only a couple minor checks? Her leaps are better than they used to be so I really don’t know where this came from. I would still expect to see Aly compete in team finals on vault, beam, and floor, where I bet she roars back and shows what she’s capable of.
- Maggie Nichols. Incredible world championship debut for Maggie. Are we surprised? Not really – she’s looked at least this solid at the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships and has shown a track record of competing very well internationally. Now she just finally had the opportunity to prove it on the world stage. I was amazed to see her have the confidence and poise to actually smile her way through her floor routine in the first rotation – what an awesome routine, and so excited for her that she made an event final in her first world championship. It’s a huge disappointment for Olympic floor champion Aly Raisman, but a huge opportunity for Maggie to possibly vie for a medal if she can nail her landings. Her vault was fantastic as well and she has now shown she can hit this consistently in competition – a huge plus for her heading into the Olympic year. Beam wasn’t perfect and she took out the barani and full-in she showed on Day 1 at nationals, but it was still a solid routine and this team may well be using her in the team finals on this event (along with Biles and Raisman I would presume). The only downside to this meet for Maggie is, as I mentioned above, she was left out of the bars lineup despite putting up three solid routines in a row at the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships. Of course hindsight is 20/20, but as we realize that Maggie would have only needed a 12.985 on bars to beat both Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman for a spot in the all-around, it certainly raises some question about whether Maggie should have been competing bars. But it’s too late to look at “what if” at this point, and best to move on to the upcoming possibilities for this team, including the team gold. I expect, like Aly Raisman, Maggie will likely compete vault, beam, and floor for this team in the final.
- Madison Kocian. I absolutely love watching this gymnast swing bars. She’s become incredibly consistent with this routine, and her lines and overall look are just exquisite. I’m amazing at the way she “catapults” that stalder Van Leewen from the low bar to the high bar – definitely one of the very best in the world at that skill. She has now proven herself over two world championships and everything in between on this event and has an excellent shot for an individual world medal at these world championships. It will be interesting to see how she factors in next year when there are just five spots available on the Olympic team and a couple of new juniors joining the Olympic race. She’s a very solid all-arounder and did a nice beam routine here in Glasgow as well, but I don’t see her really being a factor for anything but bars. Nailing her routine in the team final here and also earning a world bars medal could go a long way to helping her earn a spot in Rio.
- Brenna Dowell. Well it was refreshing to see Brenna finally compete in her first world championships after being a “bubble” gymnast or alternate for several years. I love seeing a gymnast come from the NCAA back to the elite scene and actually make it happen. I was just as surprised as anyone to see Brenna named to this team. She’s a fabulous athlete with some exquisite gymnastics, and one of the hardest and coolest bar routines in the world. But it’s a risky routine, and she missed two out of the three she competed in the U.S. Classic and U.S. Championships. There were gymnasts like Bailie Key who posted 15+ scores three times in a row at these competitions (15.3, 15.2, 15.3), and also Ashton Locklear who scored 15.4 and 15.45 at the U.S. Championships, even with reduced difficulty – why not pick one of them? We don’t know. It was great to see Brenna get this experience, and she did a solid floor routine and should have the front double pike named after her, and a beautiful DTY on vault, though neither of these will be needed by the team. You have to wonder, too, why Marta didn’t use MyKayla Skinner to get another gymnast into vault finals, but I suppose Marta was hoping that Brenna would make the bars final. Obviously that’s not going to happen, and I’m not sure Brenna will compete anything in the team final. She’ll still likely be a world team gold medalist in a couple of days though, so I’m glad she will have this experience to look back on the rest of her life.