Looks like Biles’ near meltdown at the U.S. Classic was a fluke after all – she looked absolutely solid and confident on night one. Taking a little difficulty out of beam proved to be a great idea (easier acro series) – I would have never predicted she’d score a 9.2 in execution on beam and actually win the event over Olympian Kyla Ross. But there really weren’t too many deductions in there at all – thanks in large part to that effortlessly STUCK full-in dismount.
Biles has to have the easiest looking double-double on floor ever, and I can’t believe how casually she strolls into her double layout – although sometimes this seems to make her miss her takeoff a bit and come up short like she did here and at the American Cup. I’d like to see her add back in the double layout half, as it’s a cool and unique skill and looked easy for her. She reminds me a whole lot of Diane dos Santos of Brazil – very similar powerful style and similar music and choreography. I’d like to see Biles put something more artistic together for the world stage – this one feels a bit like a college routine.
Her vaults were out of this world (love the laid out position on that laid out Podkopayeva), and I think it’s pretty clear that she and McKayala Maroney are the top two vaulters in the world right now. Biles seems to have all but sealed up a spot on this world team – likely as an all-arounder if she can repeat a similar performance tonight.
This national all-around title is now hers to lose – note that Biles carried a 0.6 advantage in difficulty over Kyla Ross, even with the downgraded beam routine. Kyla certainly could make up some ground and make it very interesting though – she could easily score a few tenths higher on beam without those minor wobbles, and several tenths higher on floor if she can stop landing short on double pikes (her increased height is very apparent on that skill). Four nailed routines from Ross tonight could likely make that 0.75 deficit disappear very quickly – and if Biles is as solid as she was on night one they could be almost dead even.
Kyla Ross looked good – I saw a little more polish on bars and beam, vault is near-perfect minus a slight leg split, and the new floor routine works pretty well, albeit with a relatively weaker D-score (5.7). The whip double tuck seemed like a nice addition but she took it out here – that would at least give her a 5.8. I would expect with her flexibility she could get a couple more tenths in dance than she does, but she’s never been particularly good at turns and this hurts her a bit here. Overall, though, she looks like she’ll be ready for worlds and ready to challenge for an all-around medal – possibly in the race for gold depending on how the Russians look.
It certainly looks like Biles and Ross will be the two all-arounders for worlds, so what about the other two spots?
I think McKayla Maroney is essentially a lock as well for both floor and vault. She should be the front runner to defend her world vault title, and I think she’d go for this event alone (that second vault seems to be getting easier and more controlled – will she learn a Cheng?). But this floor routine is working very well aside from still running too far on the double layout. It’s a strong D-score (6.1) and very well received by the judges. I think she looks like the perfect floor and vault specialist for this team.
So what about the 4th spot? It sure would work nicely to throw in a bars and beam specialist, and to me that puts three gymnasts suddenly in the mix that I wouldn’t necessarily have anticipated a few months ago:
Could one of these three grab the 4th spot?
Ernst continues to look fantastic, and is an extremely solid competitor. She finished 4th all-around even with an uncharacteristic fall on beam, showed upgrades on bars (stalder full directly out of the Pak salto and before the Shaposhnikova) and floor (beautiful double layout). Bars were strong (6.0 +8.6 = 14.6) and on beam her potential is huge (6.3 D-score at the Classic and 6.1 after a fall here).
Milliet is absolutely beautiful to watch. Like Ernst, she is rising fast and looks to be a major player over the next couple of years, so these worlds could be a perfect opportunity for her to gain experience. At the Classic she showed a 5.9 on bars and 6.4 on beam, and here slightly lower on bars with a 5.7 and 6.1 on beam. But her look is phenomenal, and she’s a great all-arounder as well. I’d say she’s in the hunt for that spot, particularly if she nails bars and beam tonight.
And Madison Kocian has been putting up strong bars scores all year, but most probably didn’t expect she’d place second on BOTH bars and beam on night one, with tremendous 9.0 E-scores on each (6.0+9.0 = 15.0 on bars and 5.8+9.0 = 14.8 on beam). Hard to argue with that. If she does this again, could she be chosen as well?
Brenna Dowell looked great and is certainly one of our top all-arounders, but she doesn’t fit that bars and beam role quite as well as the three above. Bars is potentially very good if she hits it all (D-score above 6.0), and beam is pretty good but a little bit loose in the form in areas, and hasn’t been scoring very highly with the judges. She’s in the hunt, but I wonder if she may end up an alternate in favor of a bars and beam specialist.
That’s just the way things look now – a lot can still change, especially if Elizabeth Price gets back into top form. But there are only a few weeks remaining, before worlds and she’ll need to step it up quite a bit in order to make a case. She certainly didn’t look nearly as good as she did several months ago on night one.
More thoughts on the men’s prelims later, and stay tuned for the women’s finals tonight!