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:
- Is there room for both Kyla Ross and Nastia Liukin on the Olympic team?
- Is it really ideal to use Jordyn Wieber on bars in team finals?
- 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 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.