Ask any expert what the USA women’s weakest event is, and the unanimous answer will be “bars.” Is the USA really weak on bars?

Americans’ success on bars over the past decade:

  • 2001 Worlds: Katie Heenan – bronze
  • 2002 Worlds: Courtney Kupets – gold
  • 2003 Worlds: Hollie Vise and Chellsie Memmel – tied for gold
  • 2004 Olympics: Terin Humphrey – silver, Courtney Kupets – bronze
  • 2005 Worlds: Nastia Liukin – gold, Chellsie Memmel – silver
  • 2006 Worlds: Nastia Liukin – silver
  • 2007 Worlds: Nastia Liukin – silver
  • 2008 Olympics: Nastia Liukin – silver
  • 2009 Worlds: Rebecca Bross – bronze

In summary, the USA has placed at least one medalist on bars at every world or Olympic competition in the past decade – and in many cases two – with a total of 12 world or Olympic medals and 4 different world champions on the event.

If we look back at how the USA placed on bars as a team during the team finals at every team worlds or Olympic Games in the past decade, we find similar success:

  • 2001 Worlds: 2nd
  • 2003 Worlds: 3rd
  • 2004 Olympics: 1st
  • 2006 Worlds: 2nd
  • 2007 Worlds: 1st
  • 2008 Olympics: 2nd

Certainly not a concerning track record, so what’s all the fuss been about?

The answer is He Kexin, the Chinese phenom who popped up in 2008 with the best bar routine the world had ever seen. Though she’s equally well known for the worldwide skepticism she generated regarding her true age in Beijing, it was her out-of-this-world bar routine that began to spread worry among USA gymnastics fans – and the USA women’s selection committee. Before He Kexin came along, the USA had beaten China on bars in 2007 and finished just 0.025 behind them in 2006. But with China’s new secret weapon and the full point or more she surely would add to their team tally, the USA was going to have to have to come up with an answer very quickly. Even with three hit sets in Beijing from Liukin, Memmel, and Johnson, the USA was outscored by 1.65 on bars by China – a big reason why China won the Olympic team gold.

It’s now two years later, so how have things changed? With Nastia Liukin out of the picture, her WOGA teammate Rebecca Bross has filled in beautifully as the top American on bars. Her high D-score of 6.2 and aggressive and confident style have made her one of the best bar workers in the world over the last two years, and her consistency as only gotten better. Bridget Sloan – also a bars finalist at last year’s worlds and the current world all-around champion – has recently upgraded her routine to a 6.1 D-score, and her beautiful lines and impeccable form are well received by any international judging panel. These two will likely fill two of our bars spots in the team finals, which leaves one spot open…

Mackenzie Caquatto may be the front runner after scoring a brilliant 15.05 at the Covergirl Classic, and earned the same D-score as Rebecca Bross (6.2). Cincinatti’s Cassie Whitcomb and Amanda Jetter also put up strong scores at the Covergirl (14.8 and 14.4, respectively) and will surely be watched very closely by the selection committee this week. Samantha Shapiro is an exquisite bar worker, but after being out with injury for the last two years, she’ll need to show her 2008 form to be considered. Her teammate Mattie Larson, who has never been particularly great on bars, posted a solid 14.4 with a much improved routine en route to her all-around victory at the Covergirl. Finally, Chelsea Davis and Vanessa Zamarripa might not have the most competitive D-scores (5.6 and 5.3, respectively), but they’ll be relying on their great handstands, higher execution scores, and consistency to give the selection committee something to think about.

Women’s bars is essentially identical to men’s pommel horse for the USA nowadays…15 is the magic number and consistency is absolutely critical. Any gymnast who scores near or above a 15 both days on bars this week may very well be heading to Rotterdam in October.