How forgiving is Martha Karolyi?
There are several U.S. gymnasts who hope the answer to that is “extremely.” Twelve young women have been selected to attend the first world team selection camp to be held September 13-18 at the women’s national team training center in Huntsville, Texas. For some of the girls, the U.S. National Championships last weekend in Hartford, Connecticut gave their chances for the six-member squad a boost in the right direction; for others, it left them begging for a second chance. Here’s a look at all twelve, in rank order based on how I view their chances for Rotterdam:
1. Rebecca Bross – Her dominant performance in Hartford cemented her spot as not only a world team member, but a leader for Team USA. She’ll be one of the favorites for the all-around gold in Rotterdam, and will also be in the hunt for a medal on bars, beam, and possibly floor. She just needs to stay healthy to head to her second world championships in less than two months.
2. Alicia Sacramone – Essentially a lock, based almost as much on her three hit beam routines as on her world class vaults. With all of our other top beam workers from 2008 out of the picture – including Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin, Chellsie Memmel, and Samantha Peszek – plus Bridget Sloan showing inconsistency, this is an event that’s overlooked as a potential weakness for Team USA. Sacramone still looks very sharp and confident on beam, and despite what happened in the Beijing Team Finals, we really need her.
3. Mattie Larson – Almost a lock as well, as long as she can stay healthy. Her status doesn’t have as much to do with her 2nd place all-around finish in Hartford as it does with the incredible floor routine she showed both days, either of which would have won the world gold on floor last year. What’s so exciting for her is she may have a shot at an all-around medal in Rotterdam, as she is clearly our number two gymnast at this point.
4. Bridget Sloan – We’re all hoping the 2009 national and world all-around champion will regain her health and her confidence in time to try to defend her title, but the truth is that even if she does make the team, Mattie Larson could very well take her spot in the all-around finals. Team USA needs Bridget’s bar routine desperately, and could sure use a solid beam and floor score from her as well. The good news for Bridget is that she is still in excellent physical shape and hasn’t had a really serious or chronic injury. She’ll need to prove she’s truly ready for Rotterdam at the upcoming selection camps, but in reality the only person who can keep the world champion from making the world team is the world champion herself.
5. Aly Raisman – It’s been quite a breakout year for Aly Raisman…multiple strong international showings and a third place all-around finish at the national championships. Though she doesn’t help Team USA on bars, if she keeps doing what she’s been doing she’ll be a strong asset on floor, vault, and possibly beam. Some better routine construction could boost her scores on beam and floor, and it certainly wouldn’t hurt her to show that she really can do that Amanar on vault. She’s shown Martha she’s quite capable of hitting under pressure, and if she hits solidly at camp the chances are high she will be in Rotterdam.
6. Kytra Hunter – Why she is so underappreciated is a bit of a mystery to me, but her chances for the world team remain quite strong. As one of the most relaxed and confident-appearing athletes in Hartford, Kytra hit 8 for 8 and once again proved she is one of the most powerful tumblers and vaulters in the world, and a potential option for the USA on beam as well. As she shares the exact same strengths as Aly Raisman, though, the question may be whether Martha bypasses one of them for a bars specialist.
7. Mackenzie Caquatto – Speaking of bars specialists…it was almost as if “Macko” wanted to make Martha’s decision difficult, as her fluke fall on a simple cast handstand on Day 2 of nationals threw her entire status up in the air. Prior to that, Caquatto had scored two consecutive 15’s on bars and appeared to be the best bet to fill the team’s hole on the event. The good news is that she still hit all her hard stuff just fine, but the bad news is that her silly fall indicated a serious concentration error.
8. Cassie Whitcomb – Although she hasn’t scored quite as high as Caquatto on bars, she has been a little more consistent, hitting at the Covergirl Classic and both days at nationals. Her 14.6-14.8 scores are strong and reliable, but she may need to show a 15-worthy routine to make her case more convincing, since Mattie Larson can probably score just as high.
9. Chelsea Davis – Just like Caquatto, Davis would love nothing more than to redo her bar routine from Day 2 at nationals. Her fall on her Yaeger was also a complete fluke, and very uncharacteristic for the usually rock solid competitor. Strong bar routines at the selection camps may very well erase the nightmare, though, as she has always been a favorite of Martha’s and her routine is designed to be less risky than some of her competitors.
10. Samantha Shapiro – It almost seems crazy to place such a talented and polished bar worker so low on the list, but the truth is that Sammy’s bar work has been quite disappointing this year. As she was sidelined for two years for ankle problems, it seems a bit strange that the event she has perhaps struggled with the most in her comeback has been the event that doesn’t use the ankles at all – bars. The good news is she has a phenomenal international look that Martha undoubtedly loves; the bad news is her routine this year has actually had less difficulty, shorter handstands, and more errors than it did two years ago.
11. Amanda Jetter – Probably just an outside shot, but she did put up a solid bars score at the Covergirl Classic. Although her floor and vault are fairly strong, a strain of her Achilles tendon at nationals doesn’t make her especially appealing on those events. She’d need some phenomenal bar routines and some mistakes from the other top bar workers to have a chance to be in Rotterdam.
12. Morgan Smith – Perhaps Martha wanted an even number to make roommate assignments at the camp easy, or perhaps she thought this would be a valuable experience for the first-year senior elite, but Morgan’s chances for the world team seem quite remote. She is a solid all-around gymnast with a decent DTY on vault, but I really don’t see a place where she’d contribute to Team USA on the world stage. It will be an interesting reunion, though, as Morgan’s coach, Brandy Johnson battled Chelsea Davis’s coach, Kim Zmeskal, for the national all-around title exactly twenty years ago.
Who will the final six be?