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Putting The London Puzzle Together…Secret U.S. Classic Wrap-Up

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Competitions like this weekend’s U.S. Classic tend to stir up a lot of “dust.”  With so many top contenders competing on various selected events, yet several notable absences…and so many falls and nervous mistakes, yet plenty of very strong performances as well… we often find ourselves caught in a huge hazy mist at the end of the meet, struggling to make sense of it all.  Then, once the dust begins to settle, the implications of the competition – in this case, the effects on the American Olympic puzzle – slowly begin to become clear.

 

Before we get into the Olympic outlook, here are a few general observations from the meet:

 

  • It was overall a very fun competition to watch – very rarely have we ever seen such a powerful mix of American gymnasts on the same competition floor.

 

  • Watching a meet like this – where nearly every gymnast (aside from perhaps Aly Raisman) appeared extremely nervous on beam – reminds me of how rarely the American girls actually compete.  I think our women’s program should really make a point to encourage these gymnasts to compete more often, with less emphasis on always competing full difficulty and more emphasis on getting out onto competition floors more regularly.  There’s a widespread mindset that has developed that it’s only acceptable to compete if you’re absolutely 100% in terms of health and difficulty level, and this just happens too rarely to be practical.  The result is that many of these girls go months and months and months – sometimes a couple of years – without even competing once.  When they suddenly step onto a competition floor with the other best gymnasts in the country and things like Olympic dreams are at stake, it’s no wonder why they appear so out of sorts.

 

  • I really think Bridget Sloan dropping out of the competition was a bad move.  Listening to interviews, she sounded healthy, motivated, and ready for this competition.  She was already “qualified” for the Visa Championships like Shawn Johnson was because she competed at the 2011 Pan American Games, so there wouldn’t have been the added pressure of earning particular scores. She has competed extremely rarely over the past three years and really needed a competition like this to get her feet wet before the nationals and Trials begin.  It was the perfect opportunity for her, and she needed it more than just about anyone.  Then she dropped out because her coach couldn’t be there?  I would think a gymnast of her experience could easily handle having another coach step in to help set her bars, vaulting board, etc.  This meet was too important for her to miss, in my opinion.  I really do look forward to seeing her at nationals, where she has stated she plans to compete all four events – something she hasn’t done since the 2009 world championships – but I think getting a meet under her belt would have done wonders for her.

 

  • Amanda Borden has become a great commentator – I was very impressed and really enjoyed listening to her.

 

And now for the Olympic team.  There are three big questions I saw emerge from this competition with regards to putting this five-member Olympic team together, and all three questions are very closely related:

 

  1. Is there room for both Kyla Ross and Nastia Liukin on the Olympic team?
  2. Is it really ideal to use Jordyn Wieber on bars in team finals?
  3. Is it possible to come up with three trustworthy Amanars without McKayla Maroney?

 

All this gets tricky, but I really believe that putting together this Olympic team currently centers around these three questions.

 

Here are all the gymnasts I consider to be the remaining Olympic contenders, listed in various “categories”:

 

Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman, and Gabby Douglas are currently locks.

Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney currently have the remaining two spots.

Nastia Liukin is very close behind.

Rebecca Bross and Sarah Finnegan are other likely alternates at this point.

Sabrina Vega, Anna Li, and Elizabeth Price have outside shots as alternates.

Bridget Sloan, Shawn Johnson, and Alicia Sacramone are complete wild cards.

 

 

There are three possible Olympic teams I see at this point:

 

Team 1:

Wieber

Raisman

Douglas

Ross

Maroney

 

Team 2:

Wieber

Raisman

Douglas

Liukin

Maroney

 

Team 3:

Wieber

Raisman

Douglas

Ross

Liukin

 

Team 1 assumes that Wieber will hit bars in team finals, that Maroney’s vault alone is valuable enough to be included on the Olympic team, and that Ross is a little more reliable for bars and beam than Liukin.

 

Team 2 assumes that Olympic champion Liukin is likely to score a little higher than Ross on bars and beam.

 

Team 3 assumes that Wieber’s bars is a little too inconsistent to put up in team finals, and also that either Douglas or Ross can be relied upon to land a strong Amanar in team finals.

 

Right now, I think Team 1 is most likely…but I also haven’t seen a bar routine from Nastia Liukin yet.  If Liukin hits some homeruns on bars at nationals and Trials and continues to make little improvements on beam, Team 2 could happen.  If Jordyn Wieber keeps missing bars – as we’ve seen her do several times now – AND Douglas or Ross land some good Amanars from here on out, Team 3 could happen.

 

Of course, we have three 2008 Olympians still yet to see.  I do find it interesting how many gymnasts had so much trouble with beam at this competition.  We knew going into this meet that a third beam spot for team finals was absolutely critical to establish, but after the multitude of mistakes we saw here, it’s now even more so.  This could potentially open the door just slightly for Shawn Johnson and Alicia Sacramone, who are both proven gymnasts on this event and looked extremely solid at last year’s nationals.  Bridget Sloan is potentially good on both bars and beam (though historically less reliable on beam), making her a potential contender for the bars/beam spot that Kyla Ross and Nastia Liukin are also battling for.

 

It’s still a bit of a convoluted puzzle, but I do feel like we had some important questions answered here, and that the above issues are the ones currently at hand.  This meet was just the ice-breaker, and an excellent tune-up for the upcoming nationals and Trials.

 

So much can still change.  Nationals begins in just 11 days.

17 Comments

  1. EllamentryBR May 27, 2012 at 9:34 am - Reply

    Andy:
    Great article breaking it all down. There is definitely a battle brewing. I really like Ross. She has been consistent in prior meets and the Classic was no different.

    I also completely agree with you re: get the gymnasts into more competitions, even with watered down routines. That may push them to being more determined to stick everything in order to pull a good score and possible medals.

  2. Stacie May 27, 2012 at 12:32 pm - Reply

    As far as I understand it, the rules don’t allow for another coach to step in so Bridget didn’t have a choice.

  3. Irene May 27, 2012 at 12:37 pm - Reply

    What I’ve seen, the Americans are a kind of lower than the Romanians and Russians! It looks that the Romanians and Russians have improved a lot since last year, unfortunately, the Americans did not. Their exercises difficulty has not grown anymore, which it makes me believe that they might not be contenders for gold at London! I’d rather believe that the battle for gold might be between Romania and Russia.

  4. Louise Anderson May 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm - Reply

    I think you’re forgetting about floor and I actually think that’s more important than beam. Ross can hit on beam – a 14.7 is not a bad score, especially for a nervous set, and her 15.45 on bars is great. I think she’s a lock. If Wieber, Raisman, Douglas and Ross are locks, then Ross, Wieber, Raisiman could do beam, and Wieber, Rasiman and either Ross or Douglas could do vault, and then it leaves an open spot for bars (Ross and Douglas could compete) and floor (Wieber and Raisman could compete). I think the 5th gymnast should be a floor/bars specialist.

    Irene – I think the Romanians have greatly improved, but Russia showed they have a ways to go at Europeans. I think the Americans still have the edge.

    • Irene May 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm - Reply

      I am not sure if the Americans have the edge, for me they didn’t look as strong as they should be, especially before the olympic games!

    • Beth May 27, 2012 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      Louise, I think the reason your scenario hasn’t come up is because there really isn’t a floor/bars specialist, unless you’re thinking of a newer girl with less experience. Or unless you’re banking on possibly Shawn Johnson to pull something like out?? Who were you thinking?

      • Louise Anderson May 27, 2012 at 9:31 pm - Reply

        Beth – Good point. I’m thinking ideally … I was really hoping Sara Finnegan would be that girl, but she has a great floor and lacking bars. I would love if Shawn fit the bill and hit both floors and bars (and beam!) at nationals, though that’s a pure wish at this point. I guess I’m thinking of the unicorn!

  5. Beth May 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm - Reply

    I attended the Secret Classic yesterday and can say that I was thinking the exact same thing Andy has been thinking. The team that I had been expecting up until this point was Andy’s “team 1.” The team that immediately came to mind after classics was “team 2.” If Nastia Liukin hits bars at Nationals and Trials and is capable of bringing back a score of 16.00, I think they will have almost no choice but to go with “team 2.” As wonderful as Kyla is, I don’t see her with 16.00 potential. In this case, she would make a great traveling alternate, as she could go up on any event. All eyes will be on Liukin’s bar routine in less than 2 weeks. Should be very interesting. Andy, I had not thought of your “team 3.” At this point, I think Gabby and Kyla’s vaults have been more unreliable than Jordyn’s bars, but we shall see. Gabby sat down her Amanar 4 times during training at Classics.

  6. brynn May 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm - Reply

    i think that bringing maroney is just a waste of a spot. there is no way that they would ever use her on any event besides vault, and because the team is now 5 girls, they can’t afford to use one spot on someone who would only do 1 event. i think you should be more concerned about the third floor spot and less concerned about beam. with your team 3, all 5 of them could go up on beam. but gabby’s floor is too skiddish and all over the place for me, kyla’s isn’t great either. they need to come up with a team that has 3 solid for floor, because after that it will be easy to add in 2 bar specialists and find 3 beam and vault routines to fill in the gaps.

    • Beth May 28, 2012 at 11:54 am - Reply

      They did use McKayla on floor in team finals at Worlds and she did a good job. Gabby Douglas is pretty a much a one event gymnast too because she is too unreliable on the other three events. Difference is they don’t have many other options on bars, whereas they do have a little more depth on vault.

      • paige May 28, 2012 at 5:04 pm - Reply

        yes she did but shes very inconsistent. if they can find someone whos better on floor than her that can contribute on other events where the us is weaker, why waste a spot on maroney for only her amanar? it would be better to bring someone who can do more than just one event.

        • Holly May 28, 2012 at 11:24 pm - Reply

          Because at this point, I can’t figure out who the third amanar would be. Our one great advantage in team finals is that we can put up three Amanars and get far enough ahead to (hopefully) not lose the whole thing on bars. Even with our best bar workers, we don’t beat Russia on bars … or China. We need a huge cushion from vault. Who gives us that? Well, Jordyn and Aly are reliable vaulters. But I would not put Gabby anywhere near vault or beam in team finals, given what happened at Pan Ams, last years Nationals and the Classic training and meet. Kyla is one misstep away from a serious injury on her Amanar and she is not going to get the kind of vault score we need if she keeps hopping off to the side of the vault. Who is left for our third Amanar vaulter?

          • Andy Thornton May 28, 2012 at 11:33 pm

            That’s why I think McKayla Maroney still has a spot at this point. Gabby or Kyla or potentially Sarah Finnegan will need to prove they can hit a consistent Amanar to keep Maroney off this team. Unless, of course, Martha is enthralled by Alicia Sacramone and decides to put her Rudi in there (0.2 less than an Amanar but pretty much a guarantee). And then there is Elizabeth Price…that’s probably pushing it, but she does have an amazing Amanar.

  7. Gymfan May 28, 2012 at 8:40 am - Reply

    Kyla Ross scored 15.375 & 15.500 on beam at Pac Rims & Jesolo. That was really an off routine for her.

  8. Gymfan May 28, 2012 at 9:20 am - Reply

    Team USA no longer needs a bars specialist. We are so strong on vault. If Gabby, Kyla, & Jordyn make the team that’s three 15 plus bar routines. Gabby mid to high fifteens. Kyla Ross low fifteens & Jordyn Scored exactly 15.000 at Pac Rims. They’re also very strong on beam & Floor. Romina’s the one who really has the bars problem. Lordache was their best bar worker at Euros & she scored in the low fourteens. Russia is very strong on bars. They need to upgrade thier vaults. They seem to be very shaky on beam. Who’s knows about floor. They looked weak, but Kesenia wasn’t there. Musty & Komova both need to get healthy. I was hopeing Sarah Finnegan, would knock Aly off the team, but Aly is just so darn consistent. Sarah is really strong on floor & beam. The same as Aly. It might depended on Sarah’s rumored Amanar & double double on floor. Sarah really has beautiful gymnastics, international judges will love her. I’m worried Aly Raisman will get to the Olympics and be underscored. Like Shawn was & SJ was better than Aly is now. Sarah scored 15.000 on beam, in Jesolo with lots of wobbles. Aly had a near flawless beam routine, for her at worlds EF & scored a 15.
    My team Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross, Gabrielle Douglas, Mckayla Maroney & either Aly Raisman or Sarah Finnegan. There are going to be some incredible gymnast left home. Rebecca Bross, Nastia Liukin, Anna Li, & Sabrina Vega. Who knows what Johnson & Sloan are going to look like. Elizabeth Price has been coming on very strong. I think the U.S. could put together two medal contending teams. What if Nastia blows everyone away with a crazy bar routine. Than it becomes even harder.

    PS. #letchellsiecompete

  9. Melissa May 28, 2012 at 3:52 pm - Reply

    Team 1 is the same as my predictions but I think that Kyla Ross is more likely to make the team than Gabby Douglas. Ross has been so steady and Frankly I just don’t trust Douglas to hit in the most high pressure competition of all on anything other than uneven bars. As for Liukin, I absolutely love her but I’d rather have someone that could fill in on other events in a worst case scenario.

  10. Irene May 28, 2012 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    Let’s not forget that Romania has low bars, but the rest…, God, they rock! Besides, the Romanians have Amanars (not shown yet), too, the FX are unbelivable, also the beam.
    Anyway, London will be the competition of the which team is stronger, phisically, but mentally, too!

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