Simone Biles is the first female gymnast in recent years whom I would have no hesitation in calling the best all-arounder in the world TWO years in a row. We could have easily said that about Kohei Uchimura on the men’s side for several years straight, but when was the last time we could truly say that about a female gymnast? With Simone, I think she’s at the right age, she has a compact body type that resists injury, and she has really found her confidence. Watching her over the last year has been like witnessing an athlete’s greatest physical and mental capabilities “meet” each other for the first time – like perfect mates! I think that’s why she seems to LOVE what she does and can hardly stop smiling – it must be euphoric! In a gymnastics world that’s often filed with stoic, nervous, and frankly uptight young girls, Simone looks like she’s at a party. I think she’s a great image for the sport, and a perfect example of how a relaxed, “joyful” approach is often what brings out the best in a gymnast. Is this simply a natural talent of phenomenal proportions we are watching blossom, or is there some earth-shattering coaching secret at work here that the rest of us don’t know about? I would guess, as with most world-class athletes, that it’s a combination of both her genetics and some great coaching. Nevertheless, I would love to be a fly on the wall in that gym and see exactly how an athlete like this is built. I can’t wait to see her compete at the world championships again.
I bet Kyla Ross nails Day 2. The fall on her first tumbling pass shouldn’t be considered a huge shock – after all, it’s a brand new pass, is very tricky, and is the hardest tumbling pass she has ever competed. She’s always done nothing but SAFE floor routines, and I think leaning to take some occasional risks is GOOD for her. She’s needed to beef that routine up for several years now, and I’m glad to see her finally doing it. I’ll be interested to see if she takes out the whip back for Day 2, or if she goes for it again. I’d love to see her go for it again and nail it. The truth is, besides the first pass, the rest of the routine is still quite weak. I think she needs to add the full-in for the 2nd pass (maybe by worlds) to truly give it a more world class feel. A double pike for the 2nd tumbling pass is certainly not up to standards, especially when you have gymnasts like Simone Biles and MyKayla Skinner throwing what they do. As far as bars go, I seriously doubt we’ll see that mistake again from Kyla. Obviously her growth spurt has made the double layout a little harder, but it’s still an easy skill for her. I was really surprised to see them score that so harshly after such a nice routine – there’s NO WAY touching one knee down and fighting like that should be as expensive as an entire fall. What would the incentive be for keeping your hands off the ground? That score should have been higher. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kyla could climb all the way back to 2nd place after Day 2.
Alyssa Baumann was definitely the surprise of the meet for me. She helped somewhat alleviate the disappointment of Rachel Gowey dropping out with an untimely injury – what a HUGE loss that was for this meet! Interestingly, Baumann has very similar strengths as Gowey and could fill the same spot on the world team – both are strong on beam, floor, and vault, and a little weaker on bars. Baumann’s beam routine absolutely blew me away – I thought it was one of the highlight routines of the meet. She reminded me so much of Nastia Liukin up there in terms of her lines, flexibility, and “sharpness” – it was rock solid! That standing Arabian was incredible, and the whole routine flowed with absolute confidence. This team could use that routine big time. In fact, I’d say if she repeats that beam routine alone, I’d put her on the world team. The truth is we really don’t have a third gymnast (besides Biles and Ross) who has consistently shown she can hit a 15 on beam, so Baumann might be it. Her floor was impressive as well, and I could see this being used in the world team finals as well – perhaps in place of Kyla Ross. And her DTY on vault looked capable of an Amanar – thought I’m not sure she’s done this yet or not. Let’s hope she hits again like this tonight!
Maggie Nichols reminds me of the perfect “leadoff” gymnast you would have wanted back in the day when teams put up six gymnasts per event in team competitions. She’s about as much of a guaranteed hit as you’re going to see, and she has some very solid and consistent scores. She’s had that floor routine for quite some time now, but it seems to get better and better in terms of the performance quality. It would even be a great leadoff floor routine in a 3-up, 3-count team final. But I’m not sure that’s going to be enough. With several specialists who can score 15’s on their respective niches (several bar workers scoring 15’s, Baumann putting up a 15 on beam, MyKayla Skinner capable of 15’s on floor on vault), I still see Maggie as being a perfect alternate for this team – which is unfortunate considering she is in 2nd place in the all-around. As much as this sport “tries” to say it is going back to favoring all-around gymnasts again, we clearly see that it is not. Any time you have a 3-up, 3-count team final format, big individual scores are going to take precedence over solid all-around totals. The fact that only 8 senior gymnasts competed in the all-around here and 5 competed as specialists still speaks to that truth. I have to say, I still much prefer the team competitions of the 80’s and 90’s when six gymnasts competed on each event. Those competitions had a true “team” feel – just like a basketball or football game, and I think they were more compelling for the audience. There’s a reason why NCAA gymnastics still uses this format.
Well for those of us who weren’t totally sold on Ashton Locklear after her winning routine at the Secret U.S. Classic, we should be now. After nailing an even cleaner routine than at the Classic and posting an even higher score on Day 1 here, she has to be considered a front runner for the world team. The routine is incredible and looks quite easy for her. She didn’t seem fazed at all by the fact that she is right on the verge of becoming a surprise member of this world championship team. If she repeats a routine like that tonight, I’d have a hard time seeing her not make it. She may or may not be used on beam, but she has hit two routines in a row there as well, suggesting she could at least be considered an option.
In 2008 and 2012, the USA team was in desperate need of a third big score on bars – and in fact this event is really what landed Olympic births for Bridget Sloan (2008) and Kyla Ross (2012). NOW, the USA team has several great bar workers who are putting up huge scores on this event – but the problem is, most of them are competing essentially as specialists and won’t all be able to be used. In fact, NONE OF THE TOP FOUR bar workers on Day 1 of this meet – Ashton Locklear, Brenna Dowell, Madison Kocian, or Veronica Hults – competed on floor or vault at all. This is going to really limit how many of these gymnasts can be put on the team. If Brenna Dowell can compete her Amanar on vault, this will give her a huge edge. If Ashton Locklear or Madison Kocian proves she could be used on beam, this could give one of them an edge. Regardless, though, it would make sense that we would have our TOP bar worker on this team, and right now that is Ashton Locklear.
MyKayla Skinner takes a lot of heat. It’s true – she’s not all that artistic, and it’s true – she’s not a natural dancer. And I do wish, like everyone else, that she could point her toes more sharply and lock her knees out more on her dance elements. Her Cheng vault is also heavily criticized because it looks a bit different, almost as if she cheats it in some way. I do agree that she twists a bit early on it, and I’d like to see more of a “block” upwards to create more height rather than just rotation. But I think she’s still doing this vault and that it should be fully credited. It is a bit deceiving to the eyes and almost appears like she pulled a “fast one” on us – but I think this is more a testament to how quick she is off the board and how quickly she is able to rotate and twist than anything else. In fact, that’s how many of her acrobatic skills look, including her double-doubles on floor and even her DTY on vault – very quickly rotated but not usually all that high. Watching her effortless DTY is a testament to the fact that she is a very powerful vaulter, and if she puts the Amanar in she could medal on this event at worlds. Despite the fact that she’s no ballerina, I think MyKayla will end up on this world team and can put up some big numbers on floor and vault for the USA.
So who’s still in the mix for the world team?
Right now, I think these eight gymnasts all have a very reasonable shot:
After Day 2 I’ll give my selected final 6.