So the team for Japan has been named, and the elite season for the US has not even begun. Most gymnastics programmes are somewhere in between, but a picture of the main players is definitely swiftly emerging.
In America, the first elite meet, Classics, is just under a month away. Traditionally, this meet can often be a splatfest as the girls use it to test new routines in preparation for Nationals. The Olympic team plus alternates have already qualified through to Nationals and so have the girls who competed internationally so far this season- so Maroney, Ross, Biles, Price, Nichols, Priessman, Dowell and Ernst do not need to compete at Classics but more than likely will anyway. Katelyn Ohashi is presumed out as she is not training yet, Sarah Finnegan is still recovering, and the status of Peyton Ernst is not known as she too had surgery recently. We can pretty much assume that Simone Biles is a lock for Antwerp unless she's injured. Her biggest problem is consistency as she could blow everyone else out of the water for difficulty if she includes one or two upgrades this year, but not if she biffs a bar release. No, not the TTY which as we have seen is not yet ready (if you have not seen it- she gets it around enough to be credited, but it's slightly under. She does not have the height and lands in a deep squat, deeper than sitting- and then falls back. She states that it is scary because her upper body gets it around but her lower body twists slower and her feet don't get around, making it a recipe for ACL tears if she competes it before she masters it) but maybe the full-in double layout, double wolf turn on floor and/or arabian on beam. Simone is the strongest all-arounder that they have, and can potentially qualify for all 4 event finals.
With the more than probable absence of previous contenders Katelyn Ohashi and Jordyn Wieber, the composition of the rest of the team is up in the air. Kyla Ross I would call at this stage another lock, though she needs a hefty upgrade stick to beat off the challenges Brenna Dowell, Ebee Price and Lexie Priessman pose for the second all-around spot. Even if she loses out for the second AA spot in prelims, her bars and beam are definitely needed and should get her easily into both finals. Medalling is quite another matter- her bars would need to approach 6.6+ and her beam roughly the same, the latter is quite a tall order. So, spots one and two are thought to be nearly guaranteed as long as both girls stay healthy. There will be another spot going to be a vault/floor specialist, to complement Simone and potentially take home more than one medal in both finals. McKayla Maroney, Ebee Price, Lexie Priessman and Mykayla Skinner are all contenders for this spot. McKayla, as we have seen, has her amanar back and her old vault, the Lopez. She is also training a double layout which is new, and a double arabian which isn't new but hasn't featured in her routines in years. Her floor could definitely break 6.0 but the combination of her passes she plans on competing is unknown. 3.5 twist or double layout, 2.5-front layout, 1.5- double arabian (unfortunately the dance-through video appears to indicate a hurdle for a 1.5 for the third pass :( and which had so better have the 1.5 placed earlier in her run or she's sunk already) and double pike would probably be the best bet. I don't see her competing the 3.5 twist AND double layout as she was never one for killer endurance on floor, even though she has grown.
Mykayla Skinner has a 6.5 floor routine, and 6.4 and 6.3 vaults. She has trained a half-on double full (Cheng half) though it's unknown if it's something she played around with once or could actually be done this year- after all, her Cheng is explosive. All of which makes her very, very interesting. Lexie Priessman has a full potential on floor of 6.7, not yet competed, and her second vault is unknown. Ebee's second vault is supposed to be a Mustafina, so 6.3 and 6.0 difficulty. McKayla is the one with Olympics and Worlds experience of course, whereas gymnasts like Mykayla have no international experience at all. Should be a great battle. That leaves one spot left, and they don't really have any amazing specialists aside from vault and floor remaining unless Katelyn is back in time to potentially take gold on beam. If not, a solid back-up like Brenna Dowell, who MAY be able to take the second all-arounder spot is the best bet. Ebee too is another very strong contender for that spot. But we might get an unknown like Abigail Milliet, who has a very strong beam routine in training- proving herself capable of medalling at worlds. I do see a team of Biles, Ross, Dowell (insert healthy Ohashi here) and Maroney being the most likely. But I wouldn't bet on it! Nevertheless, my team consists of:
Simone Biles, AA, VT, FX and UB and BB attempts
Kyla Ross, battling for AA with Dowell, UB and BB
Brenna Dowell, battling for AA with Ross, FX and UB attempts
McKayla Maroney, VT and FX attempt.
Beam and bars are not THAT strong but not weak enough to be called a void. Vault, floor and the AA itself are bursting with potential medals.
Romania are only utilising 3 spots. This time I would put money on this team's composition of Larisa Iordache, Diana Bulimar and Sandra Izbasa. But don't be fooled by such lack of depth, as these three are fierce contenders for medals. Although Sandra placed an astonishing fifth in the London AA, it is expected she will do vault and floor only. I say 'only' but the fact is she would be a favourite to take medals on both. The other two will compete all-around. Larisa, with her swish new second vault and 6.9 beam difficulty should have no issues making a number of finals, though she could potentially be pushed out of floor finals if Sandra and Diana (with upgrades) score higher. She's the favourite for gold on beam and is expected to feature on the AA podium. Vault and floor are definitely much more uncertain, especially vault where her current difficulty is not the highest. Her biggest weakness, big surprise, is a weak and badly composed bars routine which lost her the Euros AA gold despite a huge lead after the other three events. She needs upgrades to in any way overcome the handicap her bars pose to her AA chances. Diana's bars are a little better, except for her releases, but her difficulty here is far too low. Her beam too is just 5.9. On a happier note, she is FINALLY getting a new floor routine this summer. Her best shot for a medal is floor, and even then she could get squeezed out of the final if she does not upgrade and if Sandra is back to her best on that event. Bad news for Ana Maria Ocalisan and Stefanie Stanila who once again are not being given a chance. They may not be ready to represent Romania in a major competition...because they don't get any assignments! So this team, barring injuries, will be:
Larisa Iordache AA, BB, VT and FX (battle with teammates)
Diana Bulimar AA, FX (see above)
Sandra Izbasa VT, FX (see above)
With the exception of Viktoria Komova who was injured at the start of this year, last year's Russian Olympic team have not taken a break from training. Which is just as well since this year's seniors are sadly not up to much- with the exception of steady but Sheep-pak'd Evgeniya Shelgunova who appears to be injured. Ekaterina Baturina is probably the second strongest new senior but her difficulty leaves a lot to be desired. If Viktoria Komova is healthy, then she is on this team. So too is Aliya Mustafina who has competed a few times already and will do so again at Universiade. Viktoria's AA scoring potential will be enormous if she's fully recovered, and she should quite easily qualify to bars finals, beam too. Aliya is having quite a few issues with her beam, but she did hit a completely steady routine this year and one or two others that were nearly as good. She's expected to add 0.4 to her bars to up them to 6.7, more than likely a carbon copy of her London routine as difficulty has gone down in the new code. The third spot will go to Ksenia Afanasyeva, who unlike most veterans who stay the same or go downhill, has actually improved. She added bars back to her arsenal but she won't compete them at Universiade. She also has an amanar in the works and is training a full-in double layout. Her floor difficulty is the highest yet competed (Mykayla Skinner competed hers this year in the JO code) so far this year and she stands a great chance of medalling there. If she can hit bars then she's also a very good AA backup. The fourth spot will I think go to Maria Paseka. Even if she just competes the DTY, she should qualify for finals. Anastasia Grishina on the other hand, even if she hits every routine is unlikely to qualify for any final above her teammates. If Viktoria is not ready in time, then Anastasia would take her spot. If Maria proves unable to hit her vaults then I'd take Alla Sosnitskaya instead. My Russian team is:
Aliya Mustafina AA, UB and BB and FX attempts
Viktoria Komova AA, UB, BB
Ksenia Afanasyeva FX
Maria Paseka VT
For the Chinese team, worlds falls just in between two other major competions- the first of which, National Games, is actually more important to them. There are a bunch of retirements of the Beijing and London Olympians expected right after this meet, but should any of them hit and win medals I think we can expect a little delay in their retirement plans. There is only one new senior of importance this year, Lou Nina, and she is out with an arm injury. Consequently, we can expect Yao Jinnan as a lock for this team. In particular, she needs more upgrades on floor to fulfil her AA potential. She is, however, training probably the most exciting upgrade we'll see all year- a Mo Salto! I'd also put Shang Chunsong on this team. Tiny Shang has impressive difficulty across three events, and may yet grow enough to execute a DTY. She has proven herself to be inconsistent however, though not nearly as much as gymnasts like Huang Qiushuang who made a number of important teams on the back of her difficulty. No matter who else goes on the team, they will be fighting amongst each other to make bars and beam finals. They do have a very good vaulter, Li Yiting, but her vaults are quite unpredictable and a bit scary. The third spot will I think be up for grabs between bars specialists Tan Jiaxin and veteran He Kexin, depending on who hits in September. I know Huang Huidan is the one who snatched gold earlier this year but she's very flaky and I don't expect her to hit again when it counts, sadly. Although Yao Jinnan and Shang Chunsong are top quality beamers, I'd still take a beam specialist like Sui Lu or Zeng Siqi for the last spot, due to the lack of floor/vault specialists.
Yao Jinnan AA, UB and BB attempt
Shang Chunsong AA, UB, BB and FX attempt
Tan Jiaxin/He Kexin UB attempt
Zeng Siqi/Sui Lu BB attempt
Japan's team is a bit of a no-brainer, seeing as it has already been named. Two-time Olympian Yu Minobe joins the girls long seen as locks- Asuka Teramoto, Natsumi Sasada and Mai Murakami. The question is, who will join Asuka in the AA? Mai is the obvious bet, but she has very very rarely hit 4/4. For that reason, Natsumi is the best choice. Mai will be looking to make floor and vault finals, Yu beam finals, Asuka bars, beam and floor and Natsumi beam and floor...though she's very very shaky and beam is unlikely for her. Their best hope for a medal is Mai on floor, whose difficulty ranges from 6.0 to a monster 6.7. The latter is very unlikely to ever be credited, as her tumbling and dance skills have unfortunately gone downhill compared to when she was a junior.
Asuka Teramoto AA, BB, UB and FX attempt
Natsumi Sasada AA, BB and FX attempt
Mai Murakami FX and VT attempt
Yu Minobe BB attempt
Canada have lost some of their best seniors to NCAA- Brittany Rogers, Peng Peng Lee and Kristina Vaculik which is more than a bit of a blow. Nevertheless, they do have quite a few promising seniors. Girls like Victoria Moors and Ellie Black are locks if they are healthy. Victoria, who is training a double double laidout, unfortunately had a disastrous time at Nationals as she was sick and had calf issues. Even with that, she has competed very strongly when healthy and her floor is really her ticket to the team as it has huge medal potential. Ellie is a fierce competitor and has made great strides on previously weak events, bars and beam. I'd add Gabriella Douglas and Maegan Chant to this team, the former for her spectacular floor and the latter for her vaulting- not super strong yet, but showing enormous potential there and both need the experience to improve. This team, like Japan, is fairly devoid of someone for bars but should do well anyway.
Victoria Moors AA, FX
Ellie Black AA, FX, VT and BB attempt
Gabriella Douglas FX and BB attempt
Maegan Chant VT and FX attempt
Britain are not exactly in a brilliant position, they have lost the excellent Gabby Jupp to an ACL tear, Rebecca Tunney had a disastrous comeback from injury recently, new seniors like Georgina Hockenhull and Angel Romaeo have not proven themselves yet, bars specialists Ruby Harrold and Becky Downie have fallen more times than they have hit and seriously strong gymnasts like Amy Tinkler, Tyesha Matthis, Ellie Downie and Catherine Lyons are all juniors. Beth Tweddle has refuted rumours that she is retiring but she is almost certainly not going to suddenly knock out a killer 7.0 bars routine as she's still taking a break. Rebecca and Hannah Whelan have definitely not had great competitions so far this year, but both have plenty of time to improve on what they have shown. I believe Rebecca aside from the long break with her recovery, has also grown a bit which will of course impact her routines. That said, I'd put both girls on the team to do AA. In a similar vein, despite the inconsistency of both Becky and Ruby, they are still good hopes for the bars final if they don't fall, so they'd be on the team also.
Rebecca Tunney AA, FX, UB attempt
Hannah Whelan AA, FX attempt
Becky Downie UB attempt
Ruby Harrold UB attempt
Italy's Vanessa Ferrari has made noises about retirement but she's been competing so much this year and just won the AA at Mersin so I think she'll hang on until after worlds. Her presence alone is a huge motivation and boost for the rest of the team. Along with her I think Elisa Meneghini will do the AA and then some combination of Carlotta Ferlito/Giorgia Campana/Elisabetta Preziosa for the other two spots..but I think we'll see Carlotta and Giorgia.
Vanessa Ferrari AA, FX, BB, UB attempt
Elisa Meneghini AA, FX and BB attempt
Carlotta Ferlito FX, BB attempt
Giorgia Campana FX, UB, BB attempt
For a Post Olympic year, I don't think we run the risk of a weak field whatsoever. (In 2005, Monette Russo won bronze and in 2009, Koko Tsurumi). The top Russian and Romanian girls have not taken a break, and while some of the Americans are only getting back to training now, there are enough that the idea of them scrambling to field two top all-arounders is ludicrous. Currently, Simone Biles is the one to beat. She boasts huge difficulty- 6.3 vault and beam, 6.2 floor and 6.1 bars. It's quite likely she'll sneak some upgrades into floor and beam also. Aliya Mustafina has 5.8 vault, 6.3 bars, 6.4 beam and 6.1 floor. Similarly, she has upgrades planned for bars and her beam difficulty may reach 6.7 or higher. The key for both girls is to stay on the beam. That won't be an issue for Larisa Iordache who could well be dragged down by her weak bars instead, but her 6.9 solid beam is a huge boost for her. Her floor is 6.2 and her vault 5.8. Her bars were in and around 5.7 but she can upgrade there. It's far from concrete how USA's second all-arounder will be but we should, from past experience, except them to be strong. China's Shang Chunsong could well be up there if she gets a DTY- her difficulty is 6.7-8 bars, 6.6 beam and 6.1 floor. Yao Jinnan could be the slow and steady threat for bronze either. We are of course, far too far out to really pick the medals but this lot plus a healthy Viktoria Komova are definitely in the forefront for medals.
Astonishingly deep, potentially much moreso than the lacklustre Olympic final. Expect Simone Biles, a second American, Phan Thi Ha Thanh, Giulia Steingruber, Ri Un Ha, Janine Berger, Oksana Chusovitina, Noel Van Klaveren, Chantysha Netteb, Alexa Moreno, Jade Barbosa, Adrian Gomes, Mai Murakami, Hong un Jong, Ellie Black, Maegan Chant, Sandra Izbasa, Maria Paseka, Yamilet Pena, Fadwa Mahmoud and Larisa Iordache to bring all they can to the (vault) table. Let us just hope the Produnova chuckers can get up afterwards..though Yamilet's coaching and injury status is unclear, so maybe she is sticking to safer vaults if possible. Last year has taught us that even the surest of sure things can crash a vault so I will not even attempt to divine a top 8 from this. I'd love to see the top 4 make the final though the latter two failed to do so last year. Giulia is upgrading her second vault- doubling it, but both vaults are in danger of being downgraded or heavily deducted due to piking, unfortunately.
Although Beth Tweddle has said she's definitely not retiring, but as mentioned above she's not in a position to shine this year. Aliya Mustafina and Viktoria Komova will be expected to be in the front of the hunt for medals- and whichever two Chinese gymnasts qualify. Elizabeth Seitz is doing her Def again, newcomers Sophie Scheder, Jonna Adlerteg and Roxana Popa all have strong sets and the brilliant but inconsistent Ruby Harrold and Becky Downie will be pulling out all the stops to make finals. Kyla Ross, Kim Bui, Asuka Teramoto, Noemi Makra and Lisa Katherina Hill are all ones to watch too. There are also one or two Australians like Maddie Leydin who may be in with a shot. All of last year's routines are down about 0.3 in difficulty in this code so I would be surprised if we saw a 7.0 routine. Certainly the Chinese have a few approaching 6.8 though, and there are quite a few girls doing exciting release-release and/or release-transition combinations in their routine to boost difficulty. Whoever makes the final, it will definitely not be a snoozefest.
We've all been namedropping Katelyn Ohashi for this title when it emerged that her routine has a 7.2 d-score. Although she is very steady with it, her connections are too slow and consequently she has not yet hit past a 6.8 in competition. That's not saying much, since she only competed twice and is currently recovering from surgery. She may be able to get this event back in time and we shouldn't count her out of the running to make the team, but the focus has definitely shifted onto other high-scoring beam routines, or at least until Katelyn's ability to compete this year is clearer. Larisa Iordache is another favourite, and one who is definitely suffering from a few health issues herself that are hindering her usual precision if her recent performance at Anadia is anything to go by. Larisa's beam difficulty is 6.5, she competed 6.7 at Doha and has now competed 6.9. Certainly the latter is the routine she will be unleashing at worlds, and that will be hard to beat. Shang Chunsong remains a major threat, especially if she can improve her dismount. Simone Biles may increase her beam difficulty to 6.7, and Kyla Ross would be a contender too if she upgrades. We should expect an Italian or two, like Elisa Meneghini and Carlotta Ferlito and maybe a Russian if their routines are steady, but this looks like a clear-cut fight between the Romanians and the Chinese.
The girl to beat is Ksenia Afanasyeva who whipped out an almost perfect routine at Euros and an upgraded difficulty of 6.4. But Ksenia is inconsistent and there are quite a few snapping at her heels- Simone Biles, the second American, Larisa Iordache, one of Sandra Izbasa/Diana Bulimar, Victoria Moors, Mai Murakami, Giulia Steingruber and more. Full-in double layouts, double doubles, 1.5 twists to tucked full-ins and maybe even laidout double doubles will abound. Definitely not shaping up to be a weak floor final.
I updated the predictions that I did last November. You can see them, marked in blue, here.
Do you disagree with my 'teams'? Who I have missed factoring in for event finals? Will we see a laidout double double or TTY? What will Vanessa Ferrari wear?