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It’s been no secret that the U.S. women have been searching for a bars specialist for at least the last three years.  Nastia Liukin was able to fill much of the U.S. void on this event back in 2008, but even with her world class routine the U.S. was still in a different league than the spectacular Chinese.  Since Nastia’s retirement after Beijing, the U.S. women have fielded a couple of internationally competitive bar workers, including two-time world bars medalist Rebecca Bross and two-time world bars finalist Bridget Sloan.  And this duo, along with Mackenzie Caquatto, all performed solidly in the team finals in Rotterdam this past October en route to the team silver medal.  But if the U.S. wants to hold off both Russia and China in London 2012, three solid performances won’t likely cut it.  They’re going to need three big ones.

With world all-around champion Mustafina most likely out of worlds this year, the world champion Russian team is going to lose a big score on bars, but they’ll also be gaining an equally big one from new senior Viktoria Komova and may well be just as powerful.  Since China hasn’t lost any of its stars on the event, the need for the U.S. team to find a couple of big scores on this event is as strong as ever.

Had Gabrielle Douglas been born one day later than her birthdate of December 31, 1995, she’d be ineligible to compete at this year’s world championships.  As fate would have it, though, she’ll turn 16 on the final day of the year and is thus the youngest eligible contender for a spot on the world team in Tokyo.  And after watching her senior international debut at the Jesolo meet earlier this spring, she may well find herself far more than just a contender when October rolls around.

Many of us first saw this gymnast at the inaugural Nastia Liukin Supergirl Cup in 2010, where the little dynamo was immediately compared to three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes due to her unique blend of power, flexibility, big tricks, and a great line and swing on bars.  She wasn’t quite polished yet, but she showed star potential and finished a strong 4th place overall, a result she matched at the Visa U.S. Championships in the junior division later that year.   Highlights included an effortless Yurchenko double full, a standing back with a full on beam, a huge Tcatchev and powerful swing on bars, and a high full-in and double Arabian on floor.

When Gabrielle turned senior this year, the talented 15-year-old was immediately placed on the team for a meet against Italy and Russia in Jesolo, Italy, where the U.S. women dominated the competition.  With upgraded routines on bars, beam, and floor and her same superb vault, Douglas served noticed that she may be ready to be an international player sooner than most fans realized.

Gabrielle Douglas Bars 2011 Jesolo Warm-Ups

Gabrielle Douglas Beam 2011 Jesolo

Gabrielle Douglas Floor 2011 Jesolo

Gabrielle Douglas Vault 2011 Jesolo

That bar routine was shown from the warm-ups because she did miss her Yaeger in the competition, but the important point to note is that her D-score may be the highest of any American currently (6.2 even with a fall on her Yaeger; note Rebecca Bross had a 6.2 last year with a hit routine).  It’s also incredibly clean and dynamic, and has the potential to be upgraded further.  Her vault is easily usable and could possibly be upgraded to a 2 ½, and her skills on beam are phenomenal (perfect front aerial to immediate standing full, which I’ve only seen done by one other gymnast  – Samantha Peszek).  Although her landings on floor are a bit out of control, you can see flashes of brilliance here as well – a perfect double L-turn and effortless, powerful tumbling.

Gabrielle may still be in the budding-star phase, but her improvement over last year is astronomical, particularly on the event the U.S. team needs the most – uneven bars.  Watch out for this gymnast for Tokyo and London!