Two of the biggest question marks from the women’s competition are whether the falls from Kyla Ross (vault) and McKayla Maroney (bars and beam) will affect their Olympic chances. The four-for-four performances from Wieber, Douglas, and Raisman simply secured these three even more firmly onto this team, but Ross and Maroney are slightly more tenuous.
Although falls at the Olympic Trials are always a concern, I think in these two cases, the falls from Ross and Maroney are not going to have much of an impact on their Olympic chances. Ross is needed primarily for bars and beam, and despite a couple of small errors on beam (which I fully expect she will correct on Day 2), she has continuously proved to be the best fit for her expected role on these two events. She put up the top bars score of the meet and clearly has the most consistent routine in the entire mix, and she continues to show that even the most pressure-packed situation in the world isn’t going to knock her off that beam. I will say that seeing Maroney fall on TWO events had me a bit worried, but she completely calmed my concerns when she put up a huge 15.2 on floor. The look of determination in her face before that routine said it all – she is going to London. To me, she demonstrated that she has fully recovered from her concussion by showing her typical Olympic-champion quality vaults (and 16.1 to boot) and one of the best floor routines she’s ever done. That routine was one of the highlights of the meet to me – what a clutch performance at the absolute perfect time.
This means that I still believe the same five gymnasts whom most of us expected to make this team are still on track to secure Olympic spots: Wieber, Douglas, Raisman, Ross, and Maroney. I will say that I don’t recall EVER seeing a final day of Olympic Trials that didn’t bring at least SOME surprises, though, so I’m fully ready for that – and you should be as well. But as for now, these five are still on my Olympic team, and the current battle is for the alternate spots.
As for the alternate spots, I think Elizabeth Price and Alicia Sacramone are two very likely candidates, and the third is a little less clear. The question will be whether or not the committee feels the need to include a bigger-scoring bars swinger than Elizabeth Price, who has mostly been scoring in the mid to high 14’s on bars. Remember that if this team were to lose Wieber, Douglas, or Ross, there would ideally need to be another 15 on bars waiting somewhere in the wings. For this reason, I feel that Anna Li and even Rebecca Bross are in the running for an alternate position. Although neither would EVER be used on beam, both have been putting up strong 15’s on bars. I think I would actually choose Anna Li over Bross at this point, primarily because of the severe mental issues Rebecca has been having on beam. Demons like those have a tendency to become contagious or at least create a negative vibe, and I could see Martha and company not wanting to allow them anywhere near this team. The other contender for an alternate spot is Sarah Finnegan, who again doesn’t bring much help on bars but could be used on beam or floor in the case we lost a gymnast on one of these two events. But Sacramone covers beam well, and Price covers floor well, so she may not be as essential as a bars backup would be. We’ll have to see what happens on Day 2.
Speaking of Sacramone, it’s so crazy to think that she has become the LAST 2008 Olympian left with a shot at making this Olympic team. She was probably the one that nearly all of us had at the bottom of the five returning Olympic veterans, simply given the unrealistic amount of time it seemed she had to come back from a torn Achilles. But after Chellsie Memmel’s petition denial, Shawn Johnson’s retirement, Bridget Sloan’s injury, and Nastia Liukin’s failed bars dismounts, Alicia Sacramone has become the lone 2008 survivor – unbelievable. And I’d have to say, her shot is a real one at this point. She is a very safe backup for vault and is still an Olympic medal contender on this event, and she has hit every beam routine solidly during this comeback, even amidst multiple falls from her competitors. In fact, Sacramone hasn’t missed a beam routine in competition SINCE THE 2008 OLYMPIC GAMES. She is every bit the Sacramone we saw in 2010 and 2011, and the only thing keeping her off the team at this point are the other Amanars in the mix and the unfortunate five-gymnast limit. If anything unforeseen happens among our top five, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if Sacramone is the first to get the call.
Sarah Finnegan did a pretty good job, but her mistake on floor, as well as taking out the whip before the double Arabian, have both cost her a lot. I thought her bars was actually much better than at nationals, and beam was perhaps the best we’ve seen from her – scoring seemed a bit tighter here because that routine was more solid than the ones she did in St. Louis. Floor was going great until she overcooked that 1 ½ into the roundoff, which decreased the height on the 2 ½. It was a very good fight to stay on her feet, actually, but also a possible excuse to bypass her for a bars specialist in one of the alternate positions.
It just struck me that Kyla Ross likely won’t be competing in the all-around at the Olympic Games. The competition format in London will be 5-4-3 in prelims and 5-3-3 in team finals. In prelims I’d expect Wieber, Raisman, and Douglas to compete in the all-around, Ross to compete on bars and beam, and Maroney to compete on vault and floor. Of course this could change due to any unforeseen injuries or struggles. With the reduction in team size for these Olympic Games, wouldn’t it be fair to allow a 5th gymnast to compete on each event simply for qualification purposes (all-around or event finals)? They could still just use 4 scores for the team total, while a 5th gymnast could simply compete for individual opportunities. A rule like this could make all the difference in the world for someone like Kyla Ross, who is a potential Olympic all-around medalist but likely won’t be given the opportunity to qualify to the all-around finals because her team is so strong. Another option would be to simply use a 5-5-3 format for prelims, which would encourage teams even more strongly to send all-around gymnasts to the Olympics (teams wouldn’t HAVE to put up five gymnasts on each event of course, but the option would at least be there). Of course, an even better option would be to go back to 6-member teams for the Olympics. In a 6-5-4 prelims format as was used in Beijing, Athens, and even Sydney, Kyla Ross would certainly be competing in the all-around.
Liukin’s bars was looking much, much better than in St. Louis – both in training and in the competition prior to the dismount. Her trademark spin sequence was better, the Gienger essentially had feet together, the Pak was even better than the ones she competed in Beijing, and the routine was overall cleaner. As I said after St. Louis, I don’t understand the routine construction and dismount choice here. The Tcatchev and even Pak are nothing but “dead weight” in this routine. These stand-alone skills do nothing but add tiring cast handstands and essentially a built-in deduction with the pirouette on the low bar (which never finishes directly in handstand), and given her huge endurance issues right now I don’t understand why they didn’t simply shorten this routine. Another option would have been to replace the Tcatchev with an in-bar stalder, and although I’ve never seen her compete an overshoot to handstand, this skill would work WAY better for this routine than the Pak. And I still maintain that she could easily do a half-in-half-out (backwards), and this would be MUCH, MUCH smarter option than that crazy double-front half.
It’s too late now unfortunately. There is absolutely no chance for Liukin to make this Olympic team unless several girls get injured AND she rocks bars and beam on Day 2. I don’t even think an alternate spot is possible at this point, again unless several injuries occur. I will say that she has handled herself in a VERY classy way, and has demonstrated the highest level of sportsmanship and character amidst what must be a huge disappointment. Although she has stated she has no regrets, you have to wonder if she won’t ruminate over what would have happened had she begun seriously training for this Olympic run just a few months earlier.
It’s crazy to think that Valeri Liukin won’t have any gymnasts on this Olympic team. I hope Rebecca continues to compete next year, because it wouldn’t surprise me to see her “find herself” again once this whole process is behind her. Her confidence is just no longer there, and I think she would be EXTREMELY lucky to end up with an alternate spot after the number of falls she has had this year (has anyone kept count?). Why the Patterson dismount has remained in her beam routine will remain one of the great mysteries of this Olympic cycle for years to come. She competed a double back a few years ago before learning the Patterson, so we know she can do one. I’d love to see her rebound from all of this next year rather than become one of those devastated Olympic letdowns whom we never hear from again. None of us want to see that happen to Rebecca.
I don’t quite understand why Raisman does the toe-on full on the low bar at the beginning of her routine. She’s never once connected it to the Shaposhnikova and it always finishes past handstand. It might have been better to put it after the overshoot, and into the hecht transition to the high bar.
A bigger deal should have been made about Douglas’ INCREDIBLE fight on that pirouette on bars! I don’t believe I have EVER seen a gymnast save a pirouette that was THAT short before. She finished that about 45 degrees too early, and her momentum was actually heading back DOWNWARD the wrong way, and she somehow had enough strength to completely change the direction and get it back over the bar. It was a superhuman save in my opinion. Almost any other gymnast would have changed her grip and done a half turn to turn back around – or possibly even jumped down. That’s exactly the type of confidence and fight you like to see in an Olympian – she still managed a 15 .25 for that routine.
It will be an awesome battle between Wieber and Douglas for the all-around crown here. What an amazing confidence booster and statement to the rest of the world that would be if Douglas were to end up winning. She absolutely could do it. She is forcing Wieber to be at her absolute best, and that’s going to help both of these gymnasts tremendously in London.
That’s all for now! Can’t wait to see what happens in today’s finals, where I expect we will see some more confident performances all around. Nerves were definitely in the air on Day 1, and with one day of competition now out of the way, I expect we’ll see what all these girls are truly capable of. May the best five rise to the top!