by Andy Thornton
Here were “7 Takeaways” from today’s team and all-around competition at the City of Jesolo Trophy meet, taking place in Italy this weekend:
1. Simone Biles is still on top, but the field behind her just got deeper. What was so cool about this meet – other than featuring the official comebacks of 2012 Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman – was that it was one of the best all-around competitions we’ve seen in a long time. No, it wasn’t close between first and second (no competition with Simone Biles typically is anymore), but it was the first competition I can remember when we had 7 gymnasts of that kind of caliber all competing in the all-around in the same competition. It’s kind of crazy to think that the U.S. ALONE can put together a deeper all-around competition than anything we would see at the world championships or Olympic Games. Is there something wrong with this picture? Yes, there is. It’s further proof that reducing team sizes to 5 members at the Olympic Games and limiting all-around participants to 2 per country accomplishes nothing more than create boring competitions. Just think how cool it would be to see several of these American gymnasts battling for world and Olympic medals rather than just two. Instead we’ll be watching Simone Biles pummel the rest of the world while most of her teammates watch from the stands, knowing they could all beat just about every other gymnast on the floor. As for Simone, I was interested to see how she would handle competing against two gymnasts whom she likely idolized in the last Olympic cycle (Douglas and Raisman). Well it certainly didn’t seem to faze her. Her floor was once again the highlight for me, though all of her routines were just as stunning as they were at the American Cup. That double layout full out in her first pass just blows me away, and the way she floats each tumbling pass and glides through her dance with such ease and confidence is just incredible to watch. I think it will help her to have some other great all-around gymnasts pushing her now. For a while the only other American she could really see in her rear-view mirror was Kyla Ross, and now there’s a whole group of them – great motivation to keep working hard.
2. Bailie Key is officially a major contender now. Not only did she pass her first major international test as a senior, she beat most of the other top Americans in the process. With her consistency, form, and competitive toughness, I think she will surely be a player for this year’s world team and hopefully for next year’s Olympic team. She’s one of those gymnasts, though, that would almost certainly make a six-member team if it were picked based on all-around alone, but when we start looking at world and Olympic team finals formats, things get tricky. As good as she is on bars, she’ll be compared with bars specialists like Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian, and as good as she is on floor, she’ll be compared with powerhouses like Simone Biles, MyKayla Skinner, and now Aly Raisman. And we’ve got several strong beam workers in the mix as well. It will be really important that she put up lots of 15’s during nationals this year to really prove her case – but there’s no question she has set herself up wonderfully for the 2015 season.
3. Aly Raisman’s floor….WOW!!! I think I was even more impressed with this routine than I was with her gold medal performance in London. Partly because I couldn’t believe she could put up a routine like that after 2 ½ years away from competition, and partly because this routine was even harder than the one that earned her Olympic gold. Up until floor, she had certainly put together a solid comeback effort, but clearly showed she still had some cleaning up to do…we’ve seen better vaults from her than that, she still has a couple form errors and missed handstands on bars (though overall it did look better), and her leaps on beam are still weak. But then she steps up and delivers one of the absolute best floor routines of her life, not to mention one of the best in the world right now. I’d say that routine ALONE can put her on the world team this year, but what was equally exciting to see was that it catapulted her up to third in the all-around – past several of her teammates. It reminded me of that moment in the team final in London when she finished off the qualifications with an awesome floor routine and surprised everyone by qualifying for the all-around. I didn’t even know she had planned on adding the front layout after the first pass – I had read she had only trained some punch front tucks out of the double Arabian…what a pleasant surprise! And the huge double layout in the third pass is way more impressive than her triple full ever was. That was an awesome moment for her and will surely boost her confidence in this comeback.
4. Gabby’s back…and it’s the real deal. We all knew she has looked good in training, but seeing her go out and hit four routines in international competition is an entirely different story. I think the outcome was ideal for her…she got her competition feet wet and left room for improvement, but also made no major errors. We all know she can do a better bar routine than that (I do miss her full turn to elgrip and hope she puts that back in), she had a few minor wobbles on beam, and she will need to upgrade a bit on floor. But all in all, a 58.9 is a super strong all-around score, and I think we can all agree this will likely go up in the coming months. It would be cool to have several gymnasts scoring above 60 in the all-around at this year’s nationals, and Gabby can clearly be one of them. If she has her eyes on Simone Biles (and I’m sure she does), she’ll need an Amanar on vault, at least a couple more tenths on bars, and some upgraded tumbling on floor. After seeing both Gabby and Aly hit four routines on the international stage and scoring around a 59, I couldn’t help but think the U.S. team just got a whole lot better, and ticket sales to this year’s U.S. nationals probably just skyrocketed.
5. It’s time for Kyla Ross to step it up. How quickly things can turn around in this sport…one minute she appeared to be proving she was still second best behind Simone Biles, and the next minute she was passed in the all-around by FIVE of her teammates. On the upside, Kyla does get more and more beautiful to watch each year, especially on beam and floor (and her new routine is fantastic). Her elegance, presentation, and maturity really do stand out. But that’s not going to be enough anymore, especially when we’ve now got two Olympic champions suddenly in the mix, upcoming stars like Bailie Key, and some specialists on bars and floor she will have to contend with. Kyla’s mistake on a double Arabian and tripping on a leap pass isn’t something that’s going to take her off this year’s world team right now, but it highlighted the fact that she doesn’t have enough “meat” in her floor routine to be able to survive a major error. I’m afraid the time has now come when a clean, elegant floor routine isn’t going to cut it anymore – especially now that she has taken out some difficult on bars (the inside stalders) and can’t rely on outscoring everyone by much on that event unless she adds these back in. Her beam is still excellent and very solid, but we’ve now got several gymnasts who can score just as well. Here are a few skills I think Kyla should be working on floor to get her start value up: Piked double Arabian, triple full, 2 ½ to front layout or front full, adding back her full-in (which was very good), and a double Y-turn (you would think she would be flexible enough to do this?). Adding some skills like these would bring this routine to a different level. I don’t think Kyla is out of the mix at all, but I think the writing is on the wall that she’s going to need to step it up to keep her spot.
6. Alyssa Baumann looks great. Her bars is much improved, and this routine felt underscored to me (I will have to watch it again to see if I missed something) – it was much cleaner than last year and had some great connections. Her beam is still world class, and floor is better as well. Taking out the triple full was a good idea and she has basically replaced it with a nice piked full-in (in the 2nd pass), and she has added some turns which she did well. She looked confident and very solid. Like Bailie Key, she will have to prove herself as being needed on a couple events in a world or Olympic team finals. If Douglas and Raisman stay solid on beam this year she will have more competition there, and although her floor is very good, we do have some stronger routines than that (Biles, Skinner, Raisman). Getting an Amanar on vault would help her cause out a lot.
7. Maggie Nichols looked fabulous until the fluke mistake on floor. If you watch the replay, it definitely looked like she could have easily broken that foot (it rolled completely with all her weight on it). I can’t believe she did two tumbling passes after that. If she has an injury there, that is going to be a real shame because she already missed out on a possible world championship experience last year due to injury having an awesome national championships. She seems to get better and better every time we see her, and is an amazing competitor. Her bar routine was fantastic, and I loved her new barani on beam. She looked fitter to me as well. I hope she is ok and I expect her to be in the mix this summer and fall– again with her strengths being a very solid all-arounder who could be put up on any event.
Great meet for Team USA….will look forward to event finals tomorrow!