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It’s not too early to start speculating…

Could this USA world team win gold in 2010?

1.  Rebecca Bross

2.  Bridget Sloan

3.  Kytra Hunter

4.  Kayla Williams

5.  Aly Raisman

6.  Samantha Shapiro

I think this team would be VERY strong…in fact, it would enable the USA to use its absolute best three gymnasts on each event.  A potential team finals lineup would be:

Vault

Raisman

Hunter

Williams

Bars

Sloan

Bross

Shapiro

Beam

Sloan/Raisman

Bross

Shapiro

Floor

Sloan/Raisman/Williams

Bross

Hunter

As you can see, this team would not only have its best team finals lineup possible, but it would have excellent backup on every event.  Bross and Sloan could easily fill in on vault if necessary, Raisman or Hunter would have to fill in on bars if needed (not ideal but about the best backup we have anyway), any of them could do beam except maybe Williams, who isn’t all that bad either, and anyone could easily do floor except maybe Shapiro.  Of course we still have a few months, but I think this team is definitely very possible.  Question marks, of course, include the status of Shapiro, since she wasn’t selected for any recent international assignments that I know of, and perhaps Alicia Sacramone.  If Alicia is in fact shooting for worlds this year, her biggest hurdles are going to be her own teammate Aly Raisman and recent Cincinnati transplant and world vault champ Kayla Williams.  With Raisman looking so incredibly good this year in international competition and also being one of our best tumblers and a backup option for bars (as sad as that is..), I think she’ll have a huge advantage over Alicia.  As far as I know Alicia is only planning on doing vault and beam for now.  And as long as Mary Lee Tracy doesn’t turn Kayla Williams into a Cincinnati vaulter, I think Kayla can make up for her lost time with no problem, at least on that event.  Perhaps Kayla can teach Mary Lee a thing or two on vault…no offense to Mary Lee but her gymnasts have traditionally been VERY weak on that event.  On the other hand, she may be able to help Kayla’s floor scores a great deal with improved dance, and may be able to improve her beam and bars as well.

My guess for Russia at this point would probably be:

1.  Aliya Mustafina

2.  Tatiana Nabieva

3.  Ksenia Afanasyeva

4.  Ksenia Semenova

5.  Anna Pavlova

6.  Anna Myzdrikova

I know it’s a bit of a stretch to put Pavlova in there, but considering how far along she was a couple of months ago and how well conditioned she appeared, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.  She was even doing her Yurchenko double full on vault and some difficult skills on beam and floor (I doubt she would ever be used on bars even at her best).  When evaluating injured gymnasts on the comeback trail, it’s their conditioning I look at most…Pavlova looked as fit as she ever did a couple of months ago, and thus I have strong hopes for her comeback.  Not to sound too harsh, but it’s the ones who gain a lot of weight who worry me.

Could this USA team beat Russia?  I believe so.  If the Russian juniors were eligible, it may be a different story, but then again the USA would have their best gymnast as well, Jordyn Wieber.  China’s team is somewhat of a mystery at this point because of the uncertainty around some of their 2008 Olympians, and Romania has several injured gymnasts right now.  I think the USA and Russia are definitely the top two teams right now, and I think that could well continue into this year’s world championships.  With China perhaps not as strong as it was between 2006-2008 right now and some of Russia’s top stars not quite age-eligible, the USA should be in an excellent position to defend its world team title from 2007.