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So I’ve been away for a while again…a brand new job and brand new city in the last year have kept me quite busy.  But I’ve quietly still been keeping an eye on things since I last posted a year ago, and since we’re now exactly halfway into the quadrennium and there was plenty of good stuff to talk about at this weekend’s Secret U.S. Classic, I figured it was time to make my entrance back into the game.

 

First things first…Simone Biles is ridiculous.  She’s the third consecutive American female to win the post-Olympic world all-around title (Chellsie Memmel did it in 2005 and Bridget Sloan in 2009), but she’s the first to look even BETTER the following year.  She absolutely waxed the competition and pretty much laughed while doing it.  The girl waltzed into a double-double on floor like she was doing a pass of back handsprings and STILL did it higher than anyone.  Her tumbling overall was even more effortless than last year (tossing that easy double layout in the third pass makes the routine almost full-proof), and the landings were more controlled.  I think the routine itself is much better than last year’s as well.

 

Sure, she could still beef up her bar routine a bit, but it was slightly cleaner than last year, and her beam continues to gain confidence.  I thought virtually everything she did looked better than when she won the world all-around title last year.  The last time a gymnast won world all-around titles in two consecutive years was exactly twenty years ago, when Shannon Miller won gold in 1993 and 1994.  Is Simone Biles about to match that feat?  Certainly looks like it.  If she keeps this up, she could easily be the favorite for multiple individual gold medals in China – all-around, vault, and floor, not to mention a possible (likely) team gold as well.  WOW!

 

Kyla Ross looked very good.  It’s a shame she had to play second fiddle to Simone Biles yet again, but even with some recent back problems I thought she looked better than last year as well.  Aside from taking out her inside stalder skills on bars, which cost her a few tenths, her tumbling looked stronger (FINALLY an upgrade!), vault was as clean and solid as ever, and beam was even sharper than it was at worlds.  It looks like she’ll again be a front runner for the world all-around podium in October, although Biles clearly has the upper hand.  It’s cool to see both of them still looking so good, and still pushing each other to stay at the top of their games.  The only gymnast I could have seen challenging these two in the all-around was Elizabeth Price, and unfortunately she has decided to retire from elite competition this year – sooner than many of us expected.

 

Rachel Gowey was the surprise of the meet for me.  I had seen glimpses of her in the past, but NEVER expected to see such a full package gymnast with world class routines on all four events – she is amazing!  She has an incredible line and an extremely rare blend of elegance, form, and power.  Her floor blew me away!  And I don’t even care that she sat down her Amanar on vault – it looks easy for her.  If she had an “on” day, I bet she could even challenge to be the 2nd American all-arounder – she is that good.  I have a projected world team below, and she is definitely on it.  She fills some important voids for this team actually – notably beam, where the U.S. is actually somewhat lacking in depth right now (at least at the senior level), and vault, where the U.S. has lost several Amanars, at least temporarily (Maroney out, Priessman out, Price retired, and all the other Fierce Five members still in hiatus).  I would love to see that floor routine put up on the world stage as well, and even her bars is getting close too.  What a fast rise she has made!  After Shawn Johnson and Gabby Douglas, Chow now has ANOTHER superstar on his hands (not to mention some other up-and-coming juniors).  I really hope she ends up on this world team – she’d be a very exciting addition for team USA.

 

Madison Kocian definitely looks great – though I agree with the word “fragile” made by one of the commentators.  The good thing for her is that despite her ankle problems and tendency to falter under pressure, her bars has remained consistent and beautiful, and looks even better this year than last year.  Her body positions are just exquisite, and this routine alone could definitely put her on the world team.  I’d like to see her fix those small splits in her feet, but other than that it is world-class.  Beam is another area she could certainly contribute, but she’ll need to show consistency.

 

The other big surprise of the meet, and one who could possibly shake things up a bit, was Ashton Locklear.  Where did she come from??  I haven’t even seen this gymnast before, and she put up a tremendous 15.7 on bars, not to mention a strong 14.55 on beam.  That bars score may have been slightly inflated at this meet, but it was a truly LEGIT routine with lots of difficulty, cool combinations, great handstand lines, a huge Jaeger release, and stuck dismount.  She did benefit from a “stick bonus” at this competition, but certainly this is one of the top bar routines in the country right now, and one to keep an eye on.  I was hesitant to throw her into the world mix since this was the first time I’d really seen her, but if she nails both days at nationals, she’ll certainly be part of the discussion.

 

Maggie Nichols and Amelia Hundley both seem like ideal alternates because they are well balanced on all four events, and very reliable and consistent.  They don’t quite have their “flashy” spots just yet, but these two always seem to get the job done and compete well under pressure.

 

 

I’ll go ahead and throw out a projected six-member world team, and two possible alternates while I’m at it.  This, of course, could change.  I made these assumptions, which may or may not all be true:

 

-I assumed Madison Kocian did not significantly injure her ankle and would still be at nationals (did not appear to have a severe injury as far as I could tell)

-I assumed Lexie Priessman would not be at nationals (sounds like her injury was significant, though that is not fully confirmed)

-I assumed Peyton Ernst would not be at nationals (though I don’t have a lot of information about this yet)

-I assumed Mckayla Maroney would not be at nationals (this sounded essentially confirmed from her interview)

 

Projected Six-Member World Team:

 

Simone Biles

Kyla Ross

Rachel Gowey

Madison Kocian

MyKayla Skinner

Brenna Dowell

 

Alternates:

Maggie Nichols

Amelia Hundley

 

 

Looking at each event for team finals:

 

Vault

Bars

Beam

Floor

Biles

Ross

Ross

Biles

Skinner

Biles

Biles

Skinner

Dowell or Gowey

Dowell or Kocian

Gowey or Kocian

Gowey or Ross

 

 

I leave you with this: