I’ve decided we’re going to have to blindfold Simone Biles at her next competition to give the other gymnasts at least a fighting chance.
I can’t recall another gymnast who has remained this dominant over the rest of the world in the all-around for two years straight. Even a longtime champion like Svetlana Khorkina had her ups and downs, and always seemed to have a close challenger en route to her three world all-around titles (1997, 2001, 2003).
Simone’s jaw-dropping 62.299 all-around tally at today’s American Cup in Arlington, Texas keeps her right at the top of the list of contenders for this year’s world all-around title and next year’s coveted Olympic all-around crown. Her performance today included upgraded routines on bars and floor, and aside from a couple wobbles on beam, was nearly flawless. In the first rotation she delivered a vault that rivaled 2012 Olympian McKayla Maroney’ perfectly landed “Amanar” in the team final in London. Like the rest of us, I’m sure McKayla was impressed.
Simone has become so dominant that, rather than asking if anyone can challenge Simone Biles, a more realistic questions is, “Can anyone come within one fall of Simone Biles?” In other words, is there any gymnast in the world right now who could possibly steal the world all-around title if Simone Biles fell just once? Even that is certainly debatable at this point.
Larissa Iordache of Romania actually did score within five tenths of Simone at the last world championships. Larissa seemed to regain her top form in the last year, and improved her bars quite a bit. She’s one of only a very few gymnasts I could even envision making Simone Biles look over her shoulder at least once during a major competition. But Simone has increased her difficulty since those world championships – adding back a piked Tcatchev on bars (and training a Mustafina dismount), and now throwing the most effortless double layout full-out ever done by a woman on floor.
Aliya Mustafina of Russia is another possible challenger, but it’s been a long time since we’ve seen her show her full potential on all four events in one competition. She’s quite a bit better than Simone on bars and can occasionally put together an amazing beam routine, but she’s still just doing a yurchenko double full on vault, and let’s face it – her tumbling on floor will never be on the same level as Simone Biles (neither is anyone else’s).
Mustafina’s Olympic teammate from 2012, Viktoria Komova, is probably capable of giving Simone a run for her money, but we haven’t seen a strong all-around performance from her since her silver medal in London. She’s battled injury and a growth spurt, and although we’ve seen glimpses of the old Komova on bars and beam, she’s got a long ways to go before we can truly put her back in the all-around mix.
There’s only one other gymnast I can really imagine capable of challenging Simone, and that’s 2012 Olympic all-around champion Gabby Douglas. I know that may sound a bit far-fetched since Olympic comebacks by American gymnasts haven’t had a great track record in recent years, but she looked amazing in her recent training videos and is still relatively young (she’ll be 20 by next year’s Olympics – not over the hill by today’s standards). She’s leaps and bounds better than Simone on bars, and is capable of quite a bit of difficulty on all the other events – including an Amanar on vault. We’ll need to see her in competition and especially on floor and vault before we can put her in this category, but she’s about the only other gymnast I know of who’s capable of it.
Here were some other thoughts I had about today’s competition, on both the men’s and women’s sides….
I still get frustrated seeing unnecessarily low E-scores. Sam Mikulak sat down one pass on floor but the rest of the routine was phenomenal – he stuck every other landing besides one slightly low side pass, showed great presentation and perfect twisting form. Why destroy him with a 7.7 E-score? I could see taking a deduction on the wide-arm press handstand for a slightly short hold, but there is NO WAY there were 1.3 in additional deductions.
And I thought Donnell Whittenburg’s floor could have been a little higher. You can detect some slight form breaks in some of his tumbling, but there were only a couple small hops in that routine with some incredible tumbling passes. Taking 1.4 in deductions just seems excessive in my opinion.
Simone Biles’ vault today will surely go down with McKayla Maroney’s epic vault from London as one of the greatest vaults ever done. I had to watch it at least five times to determine if there was any movement on the landing at all. When I saw her 9.733 E-score, on one hand I felt glad to see the judges are still willing to throw out E-scores in the high-9’s. On the other hand, I thought a 9.95 would have felt more satisfying. Ironically her score exactly matched McKayla Maroney’s score from the team final in London.
I love seeing how Sam Mikulak bounces back from mistakes. As the defending champion of this meet, he fell on his first two events. But rather than pouting about it and giving up, he moved past it as if nothing happened and did the next four events about as well as he could do. Not many gymnasts are able to regain the level of positive energy needed to accomplish that, but I’ve watched him do that time and time again. That’s part of what makes him such an awesome competitor – and an Olympian. His high bar was stunning – perfect distance from the bar on those spectacular Kolmanns. If we added back those two falls he would have been right up there challenging for first place.
Donnell Whittenburg sure was the right pick for this meet. I would have loved to see him win, but he really does need to improve on high bar if he wants to win major all-around competitions – it is noticeably weaker than his other events. His pommel horse was obviously a bit muscled today, but his floor, rings, vault, and parallel bars are incredible. He’s an exciting star and I expect will contend for this year’s world championships (possibly even the all-around podium), and is a definite front runner for next year’s Olympic team.
Just like Whittenburg, Oleg Verniaiev’s Dragulescu on vault is ridiculous! Have we ever seen a gymnast kick out of it quite like that? He is an amazing gymnast and always seems to be right up there in the all-around. I thought they were going to hit him a little harder on rings because of his crosses (slightly high and not quite held solidly).
It’s so cool to see some new p-bar dismounts besides a double pike….we saw a double front, two double front-halves, and one of my favorite skills of the day – a full twisting double back off the end from Jossimar Calvo (Columbia). What a cool routine that was! I don’t know how you keep such a good grip for that much underbar work, and especially all the way to the end of the routine.
Is it just me or has women’s bars just gotten too hard for most of the gymnasts? It seems like you’re either a bars specialist or you’re weak on this event. I wish there was more room in between. There’s no reason we should be seeing so many falls and weak performances on this event at a meet like the American Cup. Sometimes I wish the difficulty wasn’t so demanding and we could see cleaner, more aesthetically pleasing routines, rather than watching so many struggle through their routines on this event.
J-Lo (Jessica Lopez) wasn’t one of those though. She’s put together some of the best bar routines in the world for the last several years and has typically been underappreciated by the judges. It was great to see her finally get a pretty strong score on this event, although I was surprised to see that she scored less than one tenth higher in E-score than Mykayla Skinner. Skinner reminds me of Aly Raisman on this event – weak in her form and technique, but often given pretty forgiving scores.
In general at least a couple of the women’s competitors looked too tired. I wonder if some of the gymnasts are not arriving at this competition early enough to allow for travel recovery and rest. Poor Claudia Fragapane was expected to be one of the highlights of this competition, but she looked sluggish and slightly under-prepared. I was shocked to see her go for a double layout on her last tumbling pass after landing short on the first three – not a good idea this time but looks like this will be an amazing routine. The choreography is equally as engaging as her routine from last year. I’m sure she’ll be back much stronger later in the year. Vanessa Ferrari was more sluggish than normal as well.
I love the American Cup, but I remember years ago when it used to be a two-day event, with the preliminaries held on either Thursday or Friday, and the top 8 qualifiying to the final. I think this made for a much better meet and I would love to see them go back to this format. It allowed more gymnasts to compete and actually fight for their spot in the finals. Several Americans also competed in the preliminaries, and it was exciting to see which two would make the finals. In general, many gymnasts often do better on Day 2 of a two-day meet – they get some of the kinks and jitters out on the first day and seem to settle down more in the finals.
It will be very interesting to which Americans will compete in the American Cup next year – it’s certainly a very prestigious invite during the Olympic year. It would seem ideal to have 2012 Olympians Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman compete to help them fully prove themselves during their respective comebacks, but would it be fair to leave out Simone Biles? The U.S. also has some other up-and-coming contenders for Rio like Bailie Key, who is age-eligible for next year’s Olympics, and is someone who would benefit tremendously from a competition like the American Cup. I wonder if Martha will do what she did in 2012 – allow an extra American to compete as “exhibition” but not count in the official scores? This certainly proved a a nice strategy when she did this for Gabby Douglas, who went on to win the Olympics that year.
For the men, I’m sure Mikulak and Whittenburg will remain major players, as will other past world and Olympic team members John Orozco, Danell Leyva, and Jake Dalton.
We’ll see more from all of these gymnasts later this year as the road to Rio continues.