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When does history say Kyla Ross will peak?

It’s Kyla Ross’s breakout year. In addition to being the 2009 U.S. junior national champion and 2009 U.S. Classic champion, she can now add the title of 2009 Junior Pan American Games champion as well. We’ve seen the same string of wins many times before – all the great ones seem to burst on the scene in a similar fashion.
She just turned 13 on October 24th. Of course, this means she’ll still be age ineligible at both the 2010 and 2011 world championships, but will be eligible for the 2012 Olympic Games. In the past, gymnasts turning 15 the year before the Olympics were allowed to compete in those world championships in order to gain the experience necessary for the Olympics the following year. However, a new rule has abolished this exception, so that gymnasts who turn 16 the year of the Olympics will have no prior world championship experience behind them. This will be the case with Kyla Ross.
So is there any kind of formula for determining when a star junior like Kyla Ross will peak? History tends to be amazingly reliable in gymnastics, so let’s look at some of our past junior national champions and see when they seemed to reach their peaks. Here I’ve included nearly every single junior national champion for the past 29 years, the age at which they first won a junior national title, and the time at which they seemed to reach the peak of their career. I find statistics like these quite fascinating…you’ll probably be amazed at how consistent this sport tends to be!
Junior National Champion
Year of Junior National Championship
Age at first junior national win
Peak
Age at peak
Diane Durham
1981 and 1982
13
1983
15
Kristie Phillips
1985 and 1986
13
1987
15
Brandy Johnson
1987
14
1989
16
Juliet Bangerter
1988
14
1990
16
Kim Zmeskal
1989
13
1992
16
Hilary Grivich
1990
13
1991
14
Anne Woynerowski
1991
14
1991
14
Lanna Apisukh
1992
13
1994
15
Jennie Thompson
1993
12
1999
18
Dominique Moceanu
1994
12
1998
16
Mina Kim
1995
13
1995
13
Vanessa Atler
1996
14
1999
17
Marline Stephens
1997
14
1999
16
Morgan White
1998
15
2000
17
Kristal Uzelac
1999, 2000, 2001
13
2001
15
Carly Patterson
2002
14
2004
16
Nastia Liukin
2003, 2004
13
2008
18
Natasha Kelley
2005
15
2006
16
Shawn Johnson
2006
14
2008
16
Rebecca Bross
2007
14
?
?
Jordyn Wieber
2008
13
?
?
Kyla Ross
2009
12
?
?
So if we tally up the averages, the average age at the time of winning a first junior national title was 13.4. The average peak age of each of our junior national champions has been 15.7. Hmmm…. that’s younger than the required age of 16 to compete at world or Olympic competition. Great! The gymnasts can go to their first world championships or Olympic Games while they’re on the way down from their peak. Makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it?
These statistics also indicate that, for American female gymnasts, the average time lapse between winning a first junior national title and reaching peak competitive form is about 2.3 years. So we can expect Rebecca Bross to be in peak form this year, Jordyn Wieber to reach her peak in 2010, and Kyla Ross to reach her peak in 2011.
And yes, of course I know it isn’t quite that simple. But if you look up and down that list, it’s remarkable how many times the time lapse appears to be about 2 years. The most notable exceptions on the list include Jennie Thompson, who peaked 6 years after winning her first junior national title in 1992, Nastia Liukin, who arguably peaked 5 years after her coming out party in 2003, and Dominique Moceanu, who peaked 4 years after hers in 1994. I say Nastia Liukin’s peak was arguable because many might say that Nastia Liukin appeared to have two separate peaks in her career – the first in 2005 and the second in 2008. I actually agree with this argument. She did appear to be in a peak competitive form at the 2005 worlds in Melbourne, Australia (where she won gold on bars and beam, silver on floor, and essentially tied for first in the all-around but was given the silver). After a two-year trough, she then returned to peak form in 2008 with new skills on bars, beam, and floor. I put 2008 in our chart because it’s hard to argue that the year she won the Olympic all-around title wasn’t her peak, but in reality, I think she had two.
Here’s a look at all four routines from Kyla Ross at this weekend’s Junior Pan American Games:
Kyla Ross Vault 2009 Junior Pan Am Games
Kyla Ross Bars 2009 Junior Pan Am Games
Kyla Ross Beam 2009 Junior Pan Am Games
Kyla Ross Floor 2009 Junior Pan Am Games
I gotta be honest…it looks like she’s on the fast track towards her peak. She’s showing that uncanny competitive sparkle that typically surfaces two years before peak form. That beam routine was absolutely rock solid, her vault is one of the best double fulls in the world, and her floor is rapidly maturing. Bars needs some work, but I imagine that will come over the next two years. It’s too bad she won’t be able to compete in 2011, because that would be a tremendously valuable experience for her as she prepares for 2012. Maybe the FIG will wise up and change this ridiculous age rule that prevents gymnasts from competing at the world level at the hottest and most exciting time of their careers, which is between the ages of 14 and 16. But I’m afraid that probably won’t happen, because after all, that would make entirely too much sense.