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Gabrielle Douglas and Chris Brooks will be doing a whole lot more than giving “exhibitions” at this weekend’s American Cup.  They’ll be making their cases to be granted one of the five available spots on this summer’s Olympic team.

 

Although Olympic spots won’t be officially awarded until at least the conclusion of the Olympic Trials exactly four months from now, make no mistake about it – the selection process is well underway.  All gymnasts considered in the “Olympic mix” are essentially being analyzed and put to the test throughout the entire Olympic year to determine whether they have the skills, the form, and the competitive ability to represent the United States at the biggest athletic event on the planet.  Gymnasts who are “on the bubble” of making the Olympic team are undoubtedly scrutinized the most.  No two gymnasts fit that “on the bubble” category better than Gabrielle Douglas and Chris Brooks.

 

“Gabby” Douglas was considered an early-on favorite to make the 2011 world team when she began her senior debut season last year with strong international performances and showcased incredible difficulty on all four events.  Her unique blend of power, flexibility, body alignment, and form has led her to be compared with three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes.  Gabby’s similar high-flying skills and high difficulty score on bars in particular made her especially enticing to Marta Karolyi, as the USA was desperately seeking a star on this event.  But when the 2011 Visa U.S. Championships rolled around, the first-year senior self-destructed on balance beam both days of the competition, suggesting that perhaps she wasn’t quite ready to hit her jam-packed routines under big-time pressure.  Many thought she had taken herself out of contention for Tokyo, as falls off beam are typically a big “no-no” in Marta Karolyi’s eyes.  But after the selection camps were completed a few weeks later, the young phenom who now trains alongside Shawn Johnson at Chow’s Gymnastics in Des Moines, Iowa suddenly found herself heading to her first world championships. 

In Tokyo, the senior rookie proved her selection was no mistake, as she hit all of her world class routines in the prelims to notch a 5th place all-around standing, nailed a crucial bar routine for the USA in team finals, and placed an impressive 5th in the uneven bar finals.  This weekend’s American Cup will be the first time we’ve seen the Olympic hopeful in “competition” since the worlds in October.  Will she show any upgrades?  Can she now handle the pressure of being on the Olympic bubble, just three months before the official selection competitions begin? Although she won’t be given any numbers by the judges this weekend, Marta Karolyi and the rest of the selection committee will undoubtedly be keeping score.

Gabrielle Douglas All Routines 2011 Worlds Prelims

 

Chris Brooks appeared to be one of America’s biggest hopes for London after he won the 2010 Winter Cup and then placed an impressive 3rd at the 2010 American Cup soon thereafter.  With stunning routines on floor, vault, p-bars, and high bar and decent abilities on pommel horse and rings, he showed the potential to not only be a valuable team player for the USA, but an all-around leader as well.  Major troubles with his ankles that year prevented him from challenging Jonathan Horton for the national all-around title, and his role at the 2010 world championships became more as a specialist on vault, p-bars and high bar.  Brooks did continue to struggle with some injuries in 2011, but was able to put together a strong all-around effort at the 2011 national championships and ended up 4th overall.  But with his only big scores coming on p-bars and high bar at that competition, Brooks was bypassed for a spot on the world team by several gymnasts with specific strengths the USA needed.  Danell Leyva was now America’s best and would be used on at least p-bars and high bar, Jonathan Horton was still as valuable as ever on multiple events, John Orozco emerged as one of America’s best all-arounders and proved he could be used on pommel horse, rings, p-bars, and high bar, and Steve Legendre and Jake Dalton were extremely valuable for floor and vault.  Suddenly, the USA was able to put together a world team without Chris Brooks.  Brooks traveled to Tokyo as an alternate, but didn’t compete.

 

It appears the men’s selection committee is still trying to figure out exactly how Brooks might factor in for the Americans in London.  He’s clearly on the radar, as evidenced by the fact that he was offered the opportunity to compete in January’s Olympic Test Event, though he declined due to injury.  He performed brilliantly during the first day of competition at last month’s Winter Cup – nearly beating John Orozco –  but on the second day he missed multiple events and ended up 5th.  The upside is that Brooks has improved his rings – an event where the USA will likely need someone to step up to join Horton and Orozco in the team finals.  But time is running short for Brooks to prove exactly where he fits in on this five-man Olympic squad.  This weekend, he’ll have his chance.

Chris Brooks P-Bars and High Bar 2012 Winter Cup