2015 Pan Am Games: team finals preview

The reigning pan american games champions, the United States of America, saw this competition as an opportunity for their younger athletes to gain some valuable experience and their injured athletes to return to the international stage. Because of that they are not sending their absolute top gymnasts. However, that doesn’t mean that their team is not incredibly strong. USA’s B team is better than the A team of any other country in the continent and they’ll enter the competition as the favorites to win the title. They are led by 2014 worlds team alternate Madison Desch and the team also includes junior national champion Amelia Hundley, secret classic bronze medalist Rachel Gowey and rising stars Megan Skaggs and Emily Schild.

As expected, USA will not have any problems on vault, where they have plenty of world class athletes who are capable of double twisting yurchenkos. Desch‘s DTY has always been clean and powerful. Skaggs‘s form could be a bit tighter and, Schild‘s vault could be a bit more dynamic but they should be able to deliver solid scores for the team. Hundley, who has had a fair amount of injuries during her senior career, watered down to a FTY for last year but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her having her DTY back.

Their bars are not nearly as solid, but they are still stronger than anyone else’s: Skaggs performs a maloney, a jaeger, a tkatcev + pak combination and a double front dismount. She has lovely toe point and plenty of potential on this event but she needs to work on her legs separations. Hundley‘s leg injury last year gave her some time to work on this event and she has definitely improved. She is capable of a toe on full + maloney combination, a difficult van leeuwen and a nice ricna that she hopes to connect with her pak. Desch also shows great promise and has difficult skills but she has quite a few minor form breaks throughout her routine and she struggles to stay consistent. Rachel, who will only be competing two events at Toronto has a promising routine, which includes a high ricna, an inbar 1/1 + maloney combination and a double layout dismount. She’s coming back from a knee injury so she probably had been working a lot on bars. However, it’s never easy to compete after a long break, especially when you don’t have much experience, so Rachel will have to overcome her nerves and prove herself.

We can expect some great work on beam from this team. Amelia was an excellent beam worker as a junior but she unfortunately had to take out some of her difficult skills, like the tucked full, after getting injured. She still showed some tricky elements like a front tuck and a johnson 1/2 last year, but I’d love to see some more difficulty from her. Megan has lovely toe point and flexibility, which makes her routine really enjoyable to watch. Maddie has always been known for her work on this event. She may not perform the layout full that made her famous in 2012 (even though word is that she’s training it again) but she still has two back handsprings into a layout, a front tuck and double tuck dismount done in combination. She still needs to work on her flexibility and her toe point but there’s no doubt she will be one of the top contenders for beam finals. Rachel is also renowned for her beam work thanks to her gorgeous lines, and her difficult skills. The highlights of her routine for me is her flight series (bhs + loso + loso) and her front pike. Beam is the event where she hurt herself last year, during a triple full dismount so hopefully this hasn’t affected her confidence.

USA has some powerful tumbling on floor. Emily has a double front and Megan opens with a piked full in but the gymnasts who really stand out are Amelia and Maddie. Hundley starts with a double lay out and she jumps out of it. Her second pass is a powerful piked full in and she does a whip + double tuck as her third pass. It’s absolutely great to see her recovering from her injuries becoming the great tumbler we all knew she could be. Desch‘s routine includes a very impressive whip + double arabian combination, a difficult 1.5 to immediate double full and a high triple full. Her leaps are not perfect, but her form during her acrobatic elements is very clean and she could definitely medal on this event if she hits.When it comes to artistry and presentation, Amelia is the one who steals the show with her energetic performance and beautiful smile.

An other team I would be very surprised not to see on the podium is Brazil, who has shown tremendous progress. They suffered a big loss when their top gymnast, Rebeca Andrade, recently tore her ACL but they still are strong medal contenders without her. If Rebeca was part of that team, I would dare to say that Brazil would probably have an outside chance to win gold, if USA had a couple of mistakes. Now, this doesn’t seem possible, but the silver medal is a very realistic goal for them. Unlike USA they are sending some of their top athletes and they are represented by their legend, Danielle Hypolito, worlds team members Leticia Costa and Julie Kim Sinmon, world cup medalist Lorrane Dos Santos Oliveira and rising star Flavia Saraiva.

They are strong on vault, where Leticia performs a powerful DTY. She has some cleaning up to do but she gets great distance off the table and she should be able to get a good score. With her second vault, she’s also a contender for the event finals. Danielle is capable of a solid yurchenko 1.5 while Julie has a front pike half out. Flavia has perfected her FTY and it will be interesting to see if she will perform the DTY she’s been training since last year.

Unfortunately, bars are a problem for this team. They have some good skills, Leticia Costa performs a maloney + bail, a gienger and a double front dismount, Danielle has an L grip pirouette and a tkatcev, Flavia starts her routine with a piked tkatcev and a tkatcev + pak combination and Julie is capable of a maloney + bail combination and a jaeger. However, having difficult elements doesn’t mean much if you can’t perform them well, and the truth is that most of the athletes struggle to hit their handstands, to keep their legs together and their toes pointed and to perform their pirouettes well. On top of that, they are all quite inconsistent on this event so this is a rotation that they’ll just be hoping to survive.

Thankfully, things get much better on balance beam, where Brazil shows a fantastic level of difficulty. During the FIT challenge, Leticia Costa surprised us all by revealing a Patterson, which is the most difficult dismount we will see during the entire competition. She also performs a high standing arabian, a switch half and a side somi. Inconsistency is a big problem for her but she really does have great potential. Danielle Hypolito has won a couple of Pan american beam medals in the past. She has a strong routine, which includes a very original switch ring + ring leap combination, a bhs + bhs + layout series and a tricky side aerial + jumps + side somi connection. Lorrane, who opens with font pike mount and Julie are also world class. But there’s no doubt that the star of the team on this event is the 16-years-old world cup champion  Flavia Saraiva. She has one of the highest start values of the entire competition, since she performs plenty of difficult combinations, like a round off + layout, a bhs + loso + loso, a switch ring + sheep jump and two front aerials into a side somi. She also is one of the cleanest athletes out there. Her legs are always straight, her toes are always pointed and her leaps are absolutely fantastic. Like most of her teammates, she is inconsistent, but when she hits she’s absolutely brilliant and she could very well challenge for the beam title.

I have high expectations from Brazil on floor as well. Back in 2001, Danielle Hypolito became her country’s first world medalist by earning a silver medal on this event. 14 years later, she may not have enough difficulty to be competitive, but she can still deliver a solid score. She performs relatively easy tumbling passes (2.5 + front layout, 1.5 + front full two double backs) but she’s very expressive her dance is lovely to watch. The exact opposite is true for Leticia Costa. She’s not nearly as artistic as her teammate but damn, this girl can tumble. She performs a double layout, a sky high full in and she dismount with a powerful double arabian. And things get even more exciting with Lorrane, who performs a unique and spectacular first tumbling pass, a whip + double arabian + front tuck. She is also capable of 2.5 twists into a layout and beautiful double spins. YOG floor champion, Flavia Saraiva is also one to watch on this event. She starts her routine with a very difficult 1.5 + double front twist combination and she continues with two whips into 2.5 twists. In the past she has performed a triple full and a full in, so there’s definitely plenty of room for upgrades in her routine. Of course, what really sets her apart is her presentation. Flavia has lovely choreography and a smile that lights up the entire arena so her floor should be one of the highlights of the competition. Julie, who uses Diana Bulimar’s 2012 music, is also an energetic performer, capable of difficult tumbling, like a double front tucked. Brazil has fantastic depth on floor, and I surely hope to see one of their athletes on the floor podium.

An other strong challenge should come from Canada. It’s hard to see this team, whose future looked so bright after London, struggling so much and losing some of their top athletes to injuries. Since they don’t have much depth, the gymnasts who are competing at Toronto are very likely to also be a part of the country’s world team so this competition is an important test for them. The team is comprised by Olympic and World finalist Ellie Black and world team members Maegan Chant, Isabela Onysko, Madison Copiak and Victoria Kayen Woo

They have a solid line up on vault, which includes three full twisting yurchenkos from IsabelaMadison and Victoria, with Madison’s probably being the strongest one.  Maegan, a contender for vault finals, has a nice front layout half out and a full twisting tsukahara. Ellie Black, who is one of the top contenders for the individual vault title is very valuable for the team with her powerful rudi.

Bars is Canada’s weakness but they don’t struggle as much as Brazil does. Their star, Ellie Black has shown tremendous improvement on this event, where she recently unveiled a brand new van leeuwen. She also performs one of the most difficult releases we will see, a shang, an original jaeger + pak combination, and a moors dismount. Isabella also has a fantastic level of difficulty. She starts her routine with a maloney + clear hip 1/1 + tkatcev combination and then, she performs a spectacular s, hindorff + pak and a van leeuwen before she dismounts with a double front. Her routine is definitely impressive but the massive legs separation during her pak salto, her flexed feet and her cowboyed dismount hurt her execution score quite a bit. Unlike her, Victoria doesn’t have any spectacular elements, but she manages to maintain nice form during her shaposh + bail combination and her jaeger while her DLO is one of the prettiest we’ll see. Those are the three routines Canada will be hoping to count towards their team total since Maegan and Madison don’t have good start values or clean execution on this event.

On beam, Ellie is once again the strongest athlete of the team. I will never stop being impressed by how much she improved on this event during 2014. It’s really crazy to think that she was considered a vault and floor specialist for most of her senior career, and she became a world beam finalist and Commonwealth Games Champion in 2014. Her routine includes a bhs + tucked full combination, a layout and a strong front pike. Maegan is also quite impressive, since she’s one of the few gymnasts in the word who are capable of an aerial round off and she has a very crisp switch leap + switch half + back tuck combination as well as a double pike dismount. However, my favorite Canadian on this event is definitely Isabela Onysko. She is a bit messy, but she performs a difficult bhs + bhs + layout as her flight series, a beautiful switch ring, and a stunning two front aerials + half illusion turn combination. Onysko recently won a world cup gold medal on this event, and I’d love to see her adding a medal from pan-ams in her collection as well. If something goes wrong for any of the three athletes, both Madison and Victoria have a decent level of difficulty, but they are rather inconsistent.

Floor is the event where Canada really excels. They have the difficulty, the execution and the consistency to compete against any other teams in those games. Isabela performs a full in, a double tuck and double pike. She has beautiful, expressive choreography which shows off her gorgeous flexibility. Ellie has a different style, but she also is enjoyable to watch. She still performs her signature pass, the ridiculously difficult 2.5 step out into a double tuck. We haven’t seen her powerful double layout this year but I hope she hasn’t taken it out of her routine. Maegan is also an excellent tumbler, who is capable of a double layout and a full in while Victoria has a piked full and fantastic artistry. Madison‘s routine, which includes 2.5 twists, a double tuck and a double pike will hopefully not be needed.

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say that USA, Brazil and Canada will be the three teams we’ll see on the podium. However, I would not count Mexico out. Just like Brazil and Canada, they are one of the countries that will be trying to qualify a full team to next year’s Olympic Games. All their athletes in Toronto were also part of the worlds team that finished in 14th place at Nanning. The only top gymnast who is not going to compete is vault world finalist Alexa Moreno. Mexico’s team includes Olympian Elsa Garcia, world team members Ana Lago, Ahtziri Sandoval, Karla Reitz and Amaranta Torres

On vault Amaranta and Ana both have full twisting yurchenko while Elsa is capable of yurchenko 1.5. She usually has no problem landing that vault but she bends her knees. Ahtziri performs one of my favorite vaults, a front handspring tucked full. She also has a tsukahara full which makes her a contender for vault finals.

They are capable of some nice work on bars as well. Elsa showed an amazing routine at the recent Sao Paulo world cup. She performed a stalder full + van leeuwen combination and then she connected one of the best 1.5 pirouettes I’ve ever seen with a jaeger, before sticking her double front dismount. If she can perform equally well there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be on the uneven bars podium. Ana performs a van leeuwen and a maloney while Ahtziri‘s routine includes a shaposh + pak and a maloney + bail. Both athletes perform a gienger and a full in dismount. Karla is also capable of a maloney + bail, a tkatcev, and van leeuwen while Amaranta has a jaeger, a tkatcev and a shaposhnikova but both of them have easy double pike dismounts.

In my opinion, balance beam is Mexico’s best event. Elsa is showing off her elegance and her great lines during her routine, which includes difficult elements, like a layout, a double pike and a switch ring. Ana‘s routine is also very impressive, since she performs a standing arabian a bhs + layout combination and a tour jete half. She really is a graceful athlete, with beautiful lines and I really like her low to beam choreography. Karla mounts the beam with a beautiful lay out step out and she shows off her fantastic flexibility during her switch ring and her sheep jump. Amaranta performs a powerful front tuck and a nice switch leap + side aerial combination as well as double pike dismount while Ahtziri’s flight series is a back tuck into a korbut.

The poise and elegance Elsa shows on beam is even more obvious on floor, where she performs three difficult tumbling passes, a DLO, a full in, and a double arabian. 2011 Pan-American games floor champion Ana Lago has performed a DLO, a full in and front tuck + double back in the past, but she has suffered an ACL tear since then. Amaranta starts her routine with a double front and continues with 2.5 twists and a double pike. Karla and Ahtziri don’t really excel at tumbling, and neither of them has a pass rated higher than a D.

An other team that could surprise us all is Cuba. They don’t compete as much as most of their competitors and unfortunately we don’t have as many videos and information about all their athletes but what we do know is very promising. They unfortunately lost their top gymnast, Yessenia Ferrera to injury, a few weeks ago, but they still have some talent. 19-year-old Dovelis Torrres, is capable of a DTY on vault, a front tuck mount, and a double pike dismount on beam and a full in, a 2.5 + front full combination and two whips into a double tuck on floor. First year senior, Marcia Videaux is capable of a clean double twisting tsukahara and a rudi on vault as well as a beautiful bars routine which includes a stalder full to tkatcev and an endo half + bail combination. During last years Pan-American championships, Leidys Perdomo performed a full twisting yurchenko, a 5.5 start value on beam and a 5.4 start value on floor while Leidys Perdomo also has a 5.0 vault and a 5.4 floor routine. I’m not saying that Cuba is at the same level with Brazil or Canada, but nobody knew about Yessenia’s spectacular gymnastics until last years and no one could guess that Marcia is an amazing vaulter until a few months ago, so maybe, they can surprise us once again. Cuba has decided to participate to this year’s world championships so their athletes can qualify to the Olympics. However, since they did not compete at Nanning last year, they haven’t qualified a full team and they can only send three athletes so I’m sure that each member of this team is trying to prove that they deserve to get a ticket to Glasgow

You can find the list of participants here

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