Saturday, 28 June 2014

The US worlds team

Summer is well advanced, not that you'd know it from Ireland's propensity for continuous rain, but how and ever.....this means worlds are only a few months away. And as always, it is the potential US team that is far and away the most interesting to speculate about. It is a shame that nearly everyone else, including the rest of the top 4, will be struggling to get 6 healthy bodies onto the plane to Nanning, as they have so little room to manouevre with the lack of depth.

As with all teams though, the core is pretty much in place barring injuries, and no doubt they will take out yet more 'sure things' in the months to come.

Simone Biles will continue to be the standout. Top all-arounder, highest-scoring contributor on vault and floor, more than likely to be used on all 4 in team finals. The favourite to repeat her feat and take AA gold again, and she could well take floor and vault gold too. If she got into all 4 event finals again, I wouldn't be surprised. But, she has of course been dealing with quite a bit since Antwerp, what with the somewhat dramatic leaving of her previous gym, although with her excellent coach thankfully, and a shoulder injury which sidelined her out of all early season competition.

Simone started the year with a bang, displaying many upgrades in a camp video including a rather nice BHS-LOSO-LOSO, beautiful Cheng and front 2.5-front full and a workable shap half on bars. Then came the shoulder and my Chellsie Memmel-esque visions. Then back at Pac Rims displaying a much improved brand new floor routine with her old immense power and vigour back on display at podium training, then she was pulled out of the competition at the last minute. The fact that she's attending camp and has stated that she's totally fine goes a long way to allaying fears, as too does her physique which like Aly Raisman, would really help deflect injuries. But what effect has the long time off had, and how has it affected her training? I did suspect, and Marta herself confirmed, that bars is the event taking the hit, she's not fully back there yet and they need work. I'm really curious to see her at Classics but I'd expect that by worlds her bars will be at Antwerp level, with the shap half and maybe an upgraded dismount. I may be overly optimistic, but I think we will be seeing a strong, powerful Simone this season once again who will anchor this team.

Marta's recent report on Kyla Ross was extremely positive so it looks like we'll be seeing improvements on her earlier performances this year where she had downgraded and was very laboured looking. What I think we'll see is the difficulty she had in Antwerp, and the sharpness she had then too. Upgrades would of course be both welcome and awesome, but I think at this stage with her back injury earlier this year, massive height increase and desire for college that the strategy makes sense, though it didn't for the previous two years. She remains an important asset to the team with valuable input on bars and beam especially, and has a super solid DTY good for a 15.2/3 and a floor that always does well execution-wise (AHEM let's not forget she beat McKayla Maroney into the floor final last year!)

Essentially, there is no scenario other than her own health whereby she wouldn't be in Nanning. If she stays elite, she could be demoted to specialist in major competitions due to new seniors outscoring her, but that's not going to be an issue this year. However, the return of no less than Gabby Douglas who is set to do the all-around at Nationals and is at 80% in her return definitely jeopardises Kyla making the AA final at worlds if Simone is at full strength. Nothing better than a good scrap to qualify though.

Other than those two, nobody else is set in stone as such but we can have a good guess. Certainly Ebee would have been had she not retired from elite. She's a big loss and I'd love to have seen her finally get the chance to really shine on the world stage, but I completely admire her decision and look forward to seeing her in college. It's just a pity that Stanford do not allow spring enrollment for athletes, but then again given Ebee's severe past injuries and the dedication and training time required for elite, that's still a pretty big ask.

Gabby Douglas is on this team if she's ready. Bars, bars and beam, AA, whatever she has in the tank really. Like most people, I was very shocked that she made the decision to move back quite quickly but seeing that she never stopped being in incredible shape, it's not too surprising that she's reportedly well on the way and that worlds is feasible for her. She was gifted with the ultimate body type for gymnastics really. If she was at 80% at the last camp, then what can she deliver once competition season rolls around again? Hopefully more than bars, and she seems to be prepping for the AA at Nationals. I don't think she would say that if it wasn't likely. AND, just released this morning, a training video containing a quite lovely Tkachev-Pak and prep for a new Ling! I'm interested in her beam which will need some little adjustments for the code anyway, and her floor. Her last floor was, well....bad, so I'm impatient to see what they have come up with for her. However, having all 4 events is a big ask. Even 2 would be great, especially bars/beam.

The darkest of dark horses and the ultimate underdog, Mykayla Skinner, could quite easily end up on this team. I have said before myself that she won't be selected due to poor execution and the fact that there are others covering her strong events, but I freely admit now that she's in with a great shot. McKayla Maroney, despite being great at coming back from injuries in time previously, is unlikely to be ready. This, and Ebee's retirement, are majorly to Mykayla's advantage, as too is the uncertain status of Lexie Priessman. She has not just one supremely difficult vault, but two, which neither of the latter two had, and with McKayla out, Mykayla (keep up with the correct Michaela variations!) has a great opportunity to take silver in vault EF after Simone. Floor is harder to predict. She will more than likely present with difficulty greater than 6.5, but greatly to her cost if her landings get the best of her again and if the judges get their protractors out looking at her leaps. She will still score high enough, especially obviously if she does one like her Nationals Day 2 routine from last year. She'd complement Kyla very well. However, how much does Marta trust her? Mykayla has barely any international experience, with just 2 Jesolo's under her belt. She still needs to prove herself, and be too good to ignore.

To quite a few, the idea of her being on a team makes a mockery of gymnastics due to her poor basics and execution. I won't pretend that they are fabulous or act as if she shouldn't be hit hard for it, she totally should....although, it's nice to see her making improvements in that department and I'm glad she's working at it. It is of course always better to see power coupled with great form, but she's just so exciting and so fun to root for. I found myself really not caring about her BHS on beam and its deplorable form in the camp video a while back because LOOK at the way she totally nailed a killer tuck full in combination right after it! You go girl! That is the effect she has on me. I also think it's a little funny to act as if bad form and basics are a shocking new revelation to the gymnastics world, heralded in by the US. Bent knees, crap toepoint, bad leaps...these things have been around for decades, even occasionally lurking amongst the (GASP) Soviets. That doesn't excuse this particular example. Yes, she should have a much stronger foundation in the easier things and it's terrible that this wasn't achieved at an early age, especially given her vast, vast talent and aptitude for the sport. But please spare the dramatics as if everyone else is perfect by comparison.

In yet another twist to this tale of the potential US team, Lexie Priessman shockingly exited her long term gym, CGA, and departed to a nearby gym under a coach she has previously worked with. I highly doubt this was entirely amicable. Anyway, I'm pleased for her as I don't have a whole lot of time for CGA and MLT but given her string of injuries and desire for college, I'm curious about her short-term plans. Go big or go home before college with the chances of injury reduced in her new home? Or slowly wind down, again, staving off injury before college? She is certainly a good prospect for this team if she's ready, decent bars, good floor, potential amanar, but she'd have to fight for it. I'm a little anxious that it may be too little too late for her and elite, and she'll go down like Katelyn Ohashi. The too young junior superstar that bows out before making their mark in elite. I truly hope she gets her chance this year before undoubtedly shining at LSU. Curious to see her against the likes of Brenna Dowell.

Speaking of those two, they're quite similar. Decent-strong bars and floor, serviceable amanars though neither rock solid in that regard. I'm unsure about both. Brenna never really broke through last year, despite having the goods. Her demotion to alternate at the last minute last year in place of an all-arounder who is really not an all-arounder, is not an encouraging sign. If her floor has solid landings, her amanar is landed that bit better and her bars show off their phenomenal potential which she did to great aplomb at American Cup, then who knows? She is another who benefits from Ebee's retirement, as the latter's strong and solid performances on the same 3 events are now off the table.

Of course, this is the US, and there a number of other options.

WOGA girls Alyssa Baumann and Madison Kocian have their eye on a bars/beam spot, which Gabby Douglas may well have already 'stolen'. My issue with both girls is that they're not equal and need to be combined into one gymnast. Madison is excellent on bars, less so on beam. Alyssa is strong on beam, but her bars are more average. It's a problem. I don't know what happened to Nica Hults who should by rights be in the running for this too, she seems to have faded away quite considerably.

Peyton Ernst and Maggie Nichols will of course be looking to step up into the team also. I see them both as being fairly well rounded, but being in the position of not having the d-scores or outstanding qualities on a particular event to really shove themselves forward. Hard to tell where they're at just yet. Likewise, Rachel Gowey and Amelia Hundley. The former has a new amanar, lovely beam and promising floor and bars, along with arguably the best coach in the world. She also has virtually no experience at all, including no Nationals, and was a bit disappointing at Jesolo. Stellar performances at Classics and Nationals will really boost her but I really do not see her snatching an AA spot regardless. The latter, especially given her nice bars, could be a solid team player, IF she is healthy.

Similar to Nica, I don't see much happening for Polina Shchennikova and Maddie Desch. Maddie's teammates Sarah Finnegan and Sabrina Vega have completely gone to ground with no camp appearances, since they are apparently preparing for college, although no word on where, I figure that's where we'll see them next.

Another 5ish weeks to go until we can really get a grasp of this team, I'm so impatient!

Who is the core of your team? Is it too early for Gabby Douglas to really be ready? Can MLT keep her remaining senior elite in one piece?

Monday, 16 June 2014

Bits and pieces

I'm baaack!

Now I just have the one job so have some actual time to blog rather than work all the time. Unfortunately, Euros, Jesolo and Chinese Nationals passed by in a confused blur. Gymnastics-wise, I felt very proud of myself for actually managing to buy Glasgow 2015 tickets, although a day into priority ticketing and the really good lower stands were already gone grrr.

Here's a piece on Sae Miyakawa. She has been chosen to represent Japan at YOG, turning senior next year, and already impressed when she threw a gorgeous double front and floaty DLO last pass at Japan Junior International meet last year. She also has a very nifty DTY to her name. Skip to see the actual gymnastics: training a Biles at 1:48, fabulously floaty layout punchfront at 2:38, the double front at 2:59 and training a double double at 3:57, full-twisting DLO at 5:10 with some nice beam work and sort of nice (needs work) bars work throughout. Definitely one to keep an eye on both in Nanjing and in general and should hopefully shine in floor finals at the former despite stiff competition.

Lexie Priessman's gym change was confirmed today as Perfection gymnastics. MLT is definitely a strong coach in many respects but the breakage rate is far too high for me to be comfortable with so I'm happy with her move and hope Amelia Hundley and Emily Gaskins consider it too. At this stage, Lexie does not really slot into the worlds team and it's quite sad to see the toll injuries have taken on yet another star junior. It's frightening that we may not see her shine in senior elite, just like fellow superstar 2013 senior Katelyn Ohashi.

As mentioned above, I haven't really been able to form a cohesive opinion of meets which took place in the last while, so I'm extra impatient for YOG and US Classic! The latter is sooo late this year, I'm really excited to see how the Nanning team is shaping up. Particularly Simone Biles and Mykayla Skinner. I fully agree with Marta that the latter has improved bigtime and was quite impressed with her Jesolo routines. I'm not sure about that triple on floor though..she struggles fully rotating the 2.5 around as is in a full routine. Clearly not one to underestimate though. I completely realise that her basics are fundamentally lacking if not just plain bad and her leaps are eh, interesting to say the least, yet I cannot help but root for her. She's so very exciting and really has made tonnes of effort to better herself.

News out of Russia seems solely to consist of the latest surgery, injury, trip to Germany etc. which is very depressing. Can Aliya Mustafina stay in one piece and carry her team on her back, again? Is Afan done? What will Vika trip over next? Do China and Russia actually have six seniors plus alternates to send? Only time will tell...but it's a very exciting build-up to worlds :)