Controversy. From last minute American entries, to last minute rearrangements of the standings, to continued judging debates and criticisms of the current code of points, I don’t think I had a single conversation in Jacksonville during which talk of some controversy didn’t surface. For once, I can’t say I had a strong opinion on most of these issues. In a gymnastics world that’s starving for great all-arounders, I felt that Wieber and Dalton added so much to the strength and drama of the competition that I couldn’t view their late additions as anything but a huge positive. And although I have some serious issues with execution scores in today’s judging, I actually found the judging to be about as fair as I’ve seen in the last few years. Of course I wouldn’t say all the score separations were perfect, and I still can’t gather where some of the deductions are coming from, but at least we did see several E-scores above a 9.0. Most of all, I felt that all eight competitors on the men’s and women’s side fell into their rightful places – including both of the champions. You can’t ask much more of the judges than that.
New Rivalry? Yes, we’re always looking for rivalries in gymnastics, but this one couldn’t have been set up – or played out – more perfectly. Many fans have been anticipating some sort of American-Russian women’s duel at the worlds in Tokyo later this fall, whether it’s Bross-Mustafina or Wieber-Komova, or any other combination of these four gymnasts, who are widely considered the top four in the world. The Wieber-Mustafina battle we witnessed in Jacksonville this weekend has clearly set the stage for a rematch between these two stars, not only in Tokyo but also in London 2012. Sure, Bross and Komova will still likely factor into the all-around mix later this year as well, but make no mistake about it – Aliya Mustafina doesn’t plan on losing to Jordyn Wieber ever again.
American Men Solid. In a somewhat mistake-heavy American Cup – particularly considering the caliber of competitors – both American men hit all six events. Although Dalton’s loss of credit on his pommel horse dismount did cost him dearly, he essentially hit six for six as a last minute replacement in the biggest all-around meet of his life. His performance in Jacksonville affirms his status as a serious contender for both Tokyo and London. Horton’s win is also a major statement for both himself and the American team. He beat out several of his top challengers from the Worlds in Rotterdam, including Philip Boy, the only gymnast who stood between Horton and world champion Uchimura. The fact that he did so at less than 100% suggests his confidence as an international leader is continuing to grow. The USA men may very well be ready to reclaim their spot on the world medal podium in Tokyo this fall – and perhaps even place a little pressure on China and Japan.
Fighting Back. Although there were a fairly large number of errors, particularly on men’s pommel horse and women’s uneven bars, fighting back from adversity was a real theme of this competition. Wieber was able to put her fall on uneven bars behind her to perform the beam routine of her life and a floor routine that earned her the title. Jessica Lopez (The “J-Lo” of gymnastics?) performed dismally on the first two events, then hit a super clean beam routine and a beautifully executed floor routine, both of which were well received by the judges. Huang Qiushuang could have given up after her two falls on beam, but instead she performed the best floor routine we’ve seen internationally from her, with slightly rearranged tumbling that worked much better. Despite Hannah Whelan’s several major mistakes throughout the meet, her super cool music and choreography on floor drew great appreciation from the crowd, as did her gorgeous whip to triple full. On the men’s side, both British gymnasts looked a bit sluggish throughout the meet, but both ended strongly with cleanly hit high bar sets. And it was inspiring to see the way the crowd cheered on Philip Boy amidst his catastrophic high bar routine, clapping in unison to encourage him to finish strongly as he stood underneath the bar after his second fall.