Is it Paul Ruggeri’s time?

The 21-year-old rising senior at the University of Illinois will certainly be one of the names to watch for at the upcoming Visa U.S. Championships, which will take place in just over three weeks in Hartford, Connecticut.  A former junior national team member in 2006 and 2007, Ruggeri has been turning heads in competition for the last several years.  He was a junior national champion on both floor and high bar in 2006, and while still a junior athlete he tied for second on floor and placed an impressive 12th all-around at the 2007 Winter Cup.  He began his freshman year with the Illini later that year, and exploded onto the NCAA scene by winning the national high bar title and placing 5th on both floor and vault at the 2008 NCAA Championships.  The following year was even bigger for the budding star, as he not only successfully defended his NCAA high bar title, but added the NCAA parallel bars title, the 2009 Winter Cup high bar title, and the 2009 Big Ten Championship title on both floor and parallel bars.  In just his sophomore year, Ruggeri had become one of the most successful NCAA gymnasts in the country, and was ready to take on the USA National scene.

The 2009 Visa U.S. Championships had some ups and downs for the then-20-year-old…some solid performances on his specialties weren’t quite enough to earn him a spot on the senior national team, as he placed 17th in the all-around and had some lackluster scores on pommel horse and rings.  It was at the 2010 Winter Cup where Ruggeri officially established himself as a legitimate contender for the United States at the international level.  After a disastrous performance on the first day of competition, Ruggeri stood in a dismal 30th place with an 80.55.  Something serious must have clicked in the 21-year-old before the final night, because he roared back to score a full SEVEN POINTS higher on Day 2, and ended up in 15th place in the all-around.  And despite many low scores on Day 1, Ruggeri placed 2nd on vault, 5th on high bar, and 7th and parallel bars, and landed his first ever spot on the U.S. Senior National Team.

Ruggeri has lived up to his national team position quite well, as he put in very strong performances at both the 2010 Moscow World Stars competition (bronze on high bar, 5th on floor, 7th and vault) and the recent Japan Cup (competed four events to help the team win the bronze).  As he has now established himself as a great competitor both nationally and internationally, the question at hand is whether he is valuable enough to contend for a spot on this year’s world championship team, or perhaps a spot on the 2012 Olympic Team.  Ruggeri’s strengths obviously lie on floor, vault, parallel bars, and high bar…events where the USA men are already quite strong.  If Horton, Brooks, and Leyva all make the world team as most expect them to, then pommel horse and rings will clearly be the top priorities for the remaining spots.  If these three gymnasts do make the team, would there be room for Ruggeri?  Perhaps…Ruggeri’s best asset has been how well he has been competing over the last two years at both the national and international level.  If he can prove he is team finals worthy on at least three of his events, he may be able to make a strong enough case.  After all, Leyva will only be used on parallel bars and high bar, and thus we do need another strong competitor on floor and vault.  If Ruggeri can fill those spots, we may use the two remaining spots for pommel horse and rings.

Let’s look at some of Ruggeri’s performances over the last year:

Paul Ruggeri Floor 2009 NCAA Championships

Paul Ruggeri Floor 2010 Moscow World Stars Event Finals

Paul Ruggeri Vault 2010 Winter Cup

Paul Ruggeri P-Bars 2010 Winter Cup

Paul Ruggeri High Bar 2010 Moscow World Stars Event Finals

Paul Ruggeri High Bar 2010 Japan Cup

I don’t think his p-bars would be one of our top three, so the other three events are where he’s going to have to prove his case.  I love his original gymnastics!