After being away for the weekend, I finally had the opportunity to watch the entire NBC broadcast of the Women’s Pacific Rim Championships. Below are the thoughts that ran through my head, in no particular order:
The USA women have never enjoyed such a monopoly over the top all-around gymnasts in the world, and in fact I’m not sure that any team in history EVER has. The following gymnasts could all easily be considered among the top 12 or so all-around gymnasts on the planet:
When healthy, we could also potentially add in these three veterans:
That’s TWELVE all-around gymnasts who could easily be considered among the very best all-around gymnasts in the world. Can you think of any team in history that could make such a claim at any one time?
There is a relatively very small list of gymnasts from the entire rest of the world who could even hope to challenge these American gymnasts in the all-around:
Aliya Mustafina (when healthy)
Jiang Yuyuan (when at her best)
The crazy part is that, despite how incredibly deep this American team is, ONLY TWO of these American gymnasts will even be given a chance to vie for an Olympic all-around medal in London this summer. Does anyone else find something seriously wrong with that?
Gabby Douglas is still tentatively on this Olympic team as far as I’m concerned, and that isn’t going to change unless she starts missing BARS. She’s so valuable on this event alone right now that her mistakes on the other events will affect the Olympic stock of OTHER Olympic contenders more than her own. For example, Gabby missing vault raises the stock of big vaulters like McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross, and lowers the stock of weaker vaulters like Rebecca Bross and Nastia Liukin. This team will DEFINITELY want to have three Amanars in London, and if Gabby is having any trouble with hers at all, particularly when the real selection competitions arrive, they’ll almost have no choice but to call on Maroney or Ross. Gabby missing beam raises the stock of any solid and confident beam worker, again like Kyla Ross, or potentially even Shawn Johnson or Alicia Sacramone (Nastia Liukin’s confidence on this event remains to be seen). While America appears to have multiple strong beam workers on the surface, coming up with three who can hit a near flawless routine under big-time pressure is an entirely different story. Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman are two obvious choices, but the third spot on this event is still clearly up for grabs. Beam might become just as critical as bars is when the time to name these Olympians finally arrives.
I agree with Tim Daggett that this was one of Jordyn Wieber’s very best all-around performances ever. I’d put her all-around on Day 2 of the 2011 Visa Championships right up there with it. I’d easily consider her one of the top five best American gymnasts in history, and she looks right on track to contend for the Olympic all-around title – in fact she’s likely the current front runner for it. Her new beam combination of front handspring, standing back full, back handspring is one of the trickiest and most unique sequences ever done, and I’ll be interested to see if she keeps this gutsy combination in there. That was one of the best double-doubles she has ever done on floor. I still wish she’d change the 2 ½ to leap into something more world class to match the rest of that routine, but aside from that you can’t ask for much more out of a gymnast than what she delivered here. Stunning confidence.
On one hand Kyla Ross feels like the perfect Olympic alternate, but on the other hand she feels like the perfect Olympic table-setter under the pressure of the Olympic team finals. Her gymnastics carries a refreshing international flavor that’s almost hard to pinpoint because it beautifully blends together so many different world class qualities…the artistry and flexibility of the Chinese, the balletic elegance of the Russians, the rock-solid poise and balance of the Romanians, and the power of some of America’s most dynamic stars. Now what could scream “Olympian” better than that? Kyla’s chances will become much clearer after we see her compete alongside Rebecca Bross in a couple of weeks, and also when we get a better feel for how some of the 2008 Olympic comebacks are going to pan out. She could clean up the form break on the Shaposhnikova-half on bars and possibly even squeak out a couple more tenths in difficulty there (combining the in-bar stalder full directly to the Shaposhnikova-half would give another tenth in connection, for example). She could certainly upgrade floor a bit, as her 1 ½ through to double full isn’t an Olympic-caliber pass in 2012 (she did throw a double back there last year but has since downgraded it back – perhaps since growing taller). But as for now, an Olympic team of Wieber, Raisman, Maroney, Douglas, and Ross sure sounds pretty convincing.
I love seeing Lexie Priessman dismount both beam and floor with a full-in – SO RARE to see nowadays, and she does them both easily. A very refreshing departure from the standard double pikes and 2 ½ twists.
Katelyn Ohashi is quite possibly the best beam worker in the world right now, not to mention one of the top five all-arounders as well. Yet because of the age rules, another potential Olympic star will be forced to watch the Games from home and wait to see if her body holds out until she’s 19 and supposed to be in college.
Lauren Mitchell has definitely gotten much more comfortable with her floor routine, but I’m afraid the music and choreography never really grew on me. The whip-double Arabian has improved, and she does look less sluggish than she did this time last year. If she’s going to go for the leap bonus out of her tumbling passes, I think it would appear much less artificial if she at least used DIFFERENT leaps for each one. Throwing the same split jump after the piked full-in and double pike (which often don’t reach full split) gives these passes an inherently “cheap” feel that she’s just too good for. Perhaps choosing more unique leaps and blending them with her choreography better would appear more artistic and less lame.
We’re seeing a plethora of switch “ring” leaps on beam nowadays, but I’m not so sure many of them should be receiving credit for them. The code requires “head release,” arch of the upper back, and the foot to be head height in the back (below shoulder height is no credit, and having the front leg below horizontal is no credit as well). I don’t think I’d give Lauren Mitchell or Gabby Douglas credit for these, and I think both of them should consider using other skills for difficulty instead. If you slow-mo Kyla Ross on hers, you’ll see she actually does it quite well.
For years the Chinese have made about 90% of their major bars errors on the LOW bar rather than on the HIGH bar, just as we saw from Tan Sixin in this competition. Do they WORK on these transitional skills? After making multiple major errors under pressure at the 2011 worlds, poor Tan didn’t do herself any favors by falling on both bars and beam in this meet, which was likely intended to be a major test event for her. Aside from the falls, her work on both of these events was among the best in the world…but as for now, I don’t think we’ll get to see it on the Olympic stage.
Peng Peng Lee has become one of the biggest stars of 2012. How amazing to see her come so “alive” during this Olympic year. She’s not only added some really impressive difficulty o her already innovative routines, but she’s performing with the confidence and joy of a true champion. Her bar routine is aggressive, clean, and very unique. Her beam is stunningly difficult and is becoming incredibly consistent. And her floor has seemed to almost magically become one of the best in the world overnight – with a blend of tumbling, choreography, and performance quality that whispers “Olympic medal.” If she upgrades her vault to a DTY, she could be a dark-horse threat in the Olympic all-around, at least for a finish near the top five or so. How cool would it be to see both her and teammate Viktoria Moors in the Olympic floor final? Viktoria threw one of the best double-doubles ever done in her floor routine here, and she’s more than capable of making the Olympic floor final – in fact it will be a legitimate disappointment if she doesn’t.
It was awesome to see and hear the tremendous energy from the crowd at this competition. At least on television, that was the loudest and most enthusiastic crowd I’ve witnessed since at least the 2008 Olympic Trials…thunderous roars of applause and genuine support for not only the Americans, but for numerous international performances as well. I sincerely hope this type of energy carries on through the remainder of this selection process – that’s what makes this stuff so much fun.
I’ll give thoughts on the men’s meet next!