USA’s Begin Tomorrow!!!

It’s that exciting time of year again in the gymnastics world…August! Every year the national championships brings a whole new set of stories, and all of us hardcore gymnastics fans love seeing how they all play out. This year is an exciting one because we have a unique clash of generations, with multiple 2008 Olympians and Olympic alternates going head to head with some brand new stars for national titles and spots on our world championship teams. It’s exactly the type of competition we live for!
Before taking a closer look at some of the dramatic stories that will be going on in Dallas, here’s a brief overview of how the world teams will be selected. The men’s six-member team is actually supposed to be NAMED AT THE END OF THIS COMPETITION! Men’s Program Director Ron Brant stated that this is the plan, although he did say that this plan could be modified if any official petitions to the world team are filed. Sasha Artemev stated that he planned on petitioning to the world team (he won’t be competing in Dallas), so it will be interesting to see if he actually does and whether this will hold up the selection committee’s decision. The women (as usual), won’t be announcing their team until just before the world championships in October, after two rounds of selection camps. In accordance with their typical strange procedures, the top 10 all-arounders from this week’s national championships automatically qualify to the first selection camp, in addition to any other athletes that the selection committee chooses from the competition…or from petitions…(that pretty much includes just about anyone, doesn’t it?) A minimum of eight gymnasts will then be selected to advance to the second selection camp (although they can invite as many as they want), and then the final four gymnasts for the women’s world team will be selected from the second selection camp.
This is probably more fitting for another blog, but I for one have gotten very frustrated with these types of selection procedures that seem to cater more and more to the control complexes of selection committees and less and less to the fans as well as the integrity of the sport. I APPLAUD the men’s program for at least planning to announce the world team at the conclusion of this competition, rather than stringing these athletes along for months and holding these mysterious, secret selection camps that have begun to minimize and even replace the good old fashioned COMPETITIONS that sports are supposed to be all about. Perhaps instead of having judges at the world championships, we should simply let Marta Karolyi choose the medalists based on who she likes the best. That’s more or less what women’s gymnastics in this country is coming to….but anyway, I digress.
Here’s a look at some of the men’s stories that I’m really looking forward to seeing unfold this week! In my next blog, I’ll do the same for the women.
The All-Around Race
I think it’s going to be a four-way battle between the following guys:
Jonathan Horton
Joseph Hagerty
David Sender
Danell Leyva
I could honestly see any one of these four guys winning it, and it’s really difficult to even make a prediction on who’s going to end up on top. Horton would be the obvious choice if he was in his Olympic form, but we haven’t seen that happen just yet, and the word is that he will be watering down just a bit at this competition (no Cassina or Triple-Double dismount on high bar, for example). Any mistakes from Horton could easily open the door for the always cool and consistent Hagerty…in fact I would have put my money on him until I learned that David Sender was competing a YURCHENKO DOUBLE PIKE at this competition!!! He reportedly threw it in podium training and specifically stated he plans on competing it. Not that this vault alone will allow him to win the title…but it says something HUGE about his current physical condition, his confidence, and his overall plans to defend his national title and redeem himself from his lost Olympic dream. Finally, I believe that Danell Leyva is rapidly developing into one of the best all-around gymnasts in the world, although he’s still in the middle of that process. Although Leyva’s biggest strengths clearly lie on parallel bars and high bar, he has made tremendous strides on pommel horse – an event where Horton, Hagerty, and Sender have ALL struggled in the past. If there’s one event where Leyva could make a move on his three senior challengers, it’s right there. And Leyva has already shown incredible competitive ability at such a young age – confidently hitting many of the most difficult routines in the world over the last year, and improving at an exponential rate. Though his very best gymnastics is surely still to come, a national all-around title this year is not out of the question.
Other World Team Contenders
Sasha Artemev
Tim McNeill
Daniel Ribeiro
Steven Legendre
Guillermo Alvarez
Chris Brooks
The first three guys on the list are probably the top 3 pommel horse workers in the country right now, and my guess is that at least one of them will make this world team. A lot will depend, of course, on whether Artemev actually petitions to the team and proves he is ready, but at this competition, there will clearly be an exciting battle between McNeill (an Olympic Trials participant last year) and Ribeiro, a rising junior from the University of Illinois who won this event at NCAA’s this year. Let’s take a look at both of these guys, and you be the judge who’s better!

Tim McNeill PH 2008 NCAA’s

Daniel Ribeiro PH 2009 NCAA’s
If one of these guys hits two routines like that this week, he’ll not only be a national pommel horse champion, but will have an excellent chance of earning a ticket to his first world championships. Since most of our top gymnasts are all still relatively weak on this event, it’s extremely important that we find a couple of guys other than Artemev who are internationally strong here. Let’s hope both of these guys hit and create an exciting duel on this event!
The next three guys on the list – Legendre, Alvarez, and Brooks – are the powerhouses who have a shot at the world team for floor and/or vault. I posted a video of Legendre’s out-of-this-world floor routine that I believe is the most difficult in the world, and Guillermo Alvarez was a floor finalist at the 2007 world championships, where he finished 4th. Many of you may not know Chris Brooks…he’s a senior at the University of Oklahoma who’s especially strong on floor, vault, and high bar. Since vault is one event where both Legendre and Brooks could be considered for the world team, I thought we’d take a look at these guys side by side:

Steven Legendre Vault 2009

Chris Brooks Vault 2009
Both of these guys have AWESOME handspring double fronts! I’ve seen Legendre stick that vault on multiple occasions…I know that he is training a Tsuk double pike as well, but I’m not sure what he’s planning to throw for a second vault at USA’s this week. Brooks, as you can see, has two very strong vaults – the handspring double front and the Kasamatsu 1 ½. I’d definitely give the edge to Legendre for the world team because of how amazing his floor is, but Brooks is strong on that event as well… it will be a very interesting matchup between these two guys (along with Alvarez) this week.
New Young Stars
A whole crop of new young stars will be trying to make their mark at this year’s championships, all with the hopes of making a run at the 2012 Olympic Team…
Paul Ruggeri
Kyle Bunthuwong
Kyson Bunthuwong
Glenn Ishino
Chris Cameron
Edward Mesa
Jake Dalton
CJ Maestas
Jake Bateman
Tim Gentry
Alexy Bilozertchev
As you can see, a whole lot to watch for on the men’s side this week!
I thought I would leave you with my final predictions for the all-around competition as well as the world championship team…before the competition begins:
Andy’s All-Around Predictions:
1.        Joseph Hagerty
2.        Danell Leyva
3.        Jonathan Horton
4.        David Sender
Andy’s World Team Predictions:
1.        Joseph Hagerty
2.        Danell Leyva
3.        Jonathan Horton
4.        Sasha Artemev
5.        Steven Legendre
6.        Tim McNeill
Stay tuned for a preview of the women’s competition!