2015 Pan American Games: Contenders for the AA podium

Amelia Hundley (USA)

Difficulty: 5.8 + 6.1 + 5.7 + 5.7 = 23.3

Those Games are the biggest competition Amelia has ever attended and for her, qualifying first into the AA finals is the greatest achievement of her career so far. She has been in the spotlight for a long time. She participated at the Nastia Liukin Cup twice and she made the national team in 2011, when she was 13 years old. That same year she competed at the Tokyo International. 2012 was the year when she really proved herself, after showing tremendous improvement and stepping out of the shadow of her teammate Lexie Priessman. She made the junior national team once again and successfully represented her country at Jesolo and at the pacific rim championships. 2013 was also great for her, since she made the junior national team for the third time in a row and she achieved one of her biggest dreams, to become a national champion. After all those great achievements, Amelia was expected to be a strong contender for team USA and her senior debut was highly anticipated. Unfortunately, an injury got in the way of that. She had an ankle surgery in the beginning of 2014 and because of that she missed the first half of the season and she lost some of her most difficult skills. She came back to compete at classics and nationals but she didn’t have enough difficulty to compete against the country’s top gymnasts. The beginning of 2015 was also not ideal for Amelia, who had to miss a couple of camps and did not get selected to compete at Jesolo. After that, and considering that her gym has had plenty of promising athletes who never managed to make it big because of injuries, people started to doubt if she would ever have the career everyone thought she would. After those disappointments and doubts it’s absolutely great to see Amelia finally showing world class difficulty and performing as well as she did during qualifications. She still has lots of improvements to make if she wants to even be considered a contender for USA’s world team, but she really is one of the strongest athletes competing at pan ams. She had an excellent first day of competition, posting the highest score we saw on vault and the second highest score on the uneven bars and floor exercise. The most notable skills she showed was her DTY on vault, her ricna + pak combination on bars and her new bhs + loso + loso series and double pike dismount on balance beam. I’m sure that if she is a bit more solid, she can score above 14 on beam but even if she doesn’t, she is a top contender for the gold medal.

Madison Desch (USA)

difficulty score: 5.8 + 6.2 + 6.0 + 6.2 = 24.2

An other stand out American junior who is now getting her time to shine after struggling with injuries for the biggest part of her senior career is Maddie Desch. Just like Amelia, she made the junior national team for the first time in 2011 and she showed incredible progress in 2012. During that year, Maddie impressed the world with her amazing difficulty, and showed skills that most senior athletes couldn’t even dream of, like a layout full on beam and a whip to double arabian on floor. She placed second at nationals and she was training an amanar so fans had every reason to believe that she would be one of the stars of team once she turned senior in 2013. However she struggled with injuries and she wasn’t able to show the level of difficulty she was capable of and she wasn’t as well prepared as she would have liked. Thankfully 2014 was much more succesful for Maddie, who helped team USA win a gold medal at the pan american championships and became the alternate of the gold medal winning world team. This was obviously an amazing achievement, but she didn’t really get to shine in the individual level in those competitions. This really is the first time we see her being the star, and not the solid team player of USA so this really is a very important moment for her. During qualifications, she showed an incredible level of difficulty and performed very hard skills like a DTY, on vault, a downie on bars, a whip + double arabian on floor and a layout full on beam. She performed beautifully on three events and earned the highest score on floor exercise and the third highest score on uneven bars, while her vault was also fantastic. Unfortunately, she wasn’t as lucky on beam, where she took a massive risk and attempted her layout full for the first time in three years. The fall on this skill cost her a place on beam finals and hurt her AA total. The good thing is that if she manages to hit her beam routine today, she will have a great chance to become the Pan American Games All Around champion. After all, she has the highest difficulty in the entire competition.

 

Ana Sofia Gomez Porras (Guatemala)

difficulty value: 5.8 + 5.9 + 6.3 + 5.7 = 23.7

The athlete who impressed me the most during qualifications was Guatemala’s Ana Sofia Gomez Porras. This girl, who started getting lots of attention after competing at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games, has written history for her country in the sport. She is an Olympian, an Olympic AA finalist, a world team member, and a Pan-American championships and Pan-American Games champion. At this competition, she is hoping to defend the AA silver medal she won at the 2011 Pan American Games and it looks like she has a realistic chance to do that. She gave us a great performance during qualifications, where she made it into all finals except vault. She landed her DTY very well, she showed a brand new ray + gienger combination on bars, she hit her back handspring + tucked full on beam and she had no problem with her full in and her triple full on floor. She didn’t have any major mistakes, but there are some places where she could have been a bit more solid and polished so there is room for improvement in her AA total. According to this article, after not winning a gold medal at the Central American and Carribean Games last year she received a 20% cut in her stipend and salary by the Guatemalan Olympic Committee so hopefully, a succesful performance at those Games will help her. Ana has one of the most impressive start values in the entire competitions and if she manages to stay consistent and clean she definitely has a fantastic chance to be on the podium.

 

Flavia Saraiva (Brazil)

Difficulty value: 5.0 + 5.5 + 6.0 (potential 6.5) + 5.8 = 22.3 (potential 22.8)

Everyone’s favorite first year senior, Flavia Saraiva, lived up to the hype that has been surrounding her by being her country’s top AA gymnast. According to this interview, Flavia started gymnastics in a social program when she was 9 years old, which is considered quite late in a sport where most athletes start training at the age of 4 or 5. In 2012 she had to decide whether or not she’d move away from home in order to be part of a promising training group in Três Rios and started working with Alexandre Cunha, who is still her coach. Of course, Alexander Alexandrov is also involved with her training. She started competing internationally in 2013 but 2014 really was a break out year for her since she participated at the Woga Classics and the junior Pan-American Championships before competing at the biggest meet of her junior career, the Youth Olympic Games. There, Flavia won plenty of medals and the hearts of million fans who were captivated by her smile, her artistry and her charisma. She made a succesful transition to the senior ranks and so far she has done extremely well, winning a gold and a silver medal at the Sao Paulo world cup and becoming the AA champion at the FIT challenge.The Pan American Games are arguably the biggest competition she’s ever been a part of but that didn’t seem to affect her performance. While lots of her older and more experienced teammates struggled under pressure and made multiple mistakes, Flavia managed to stay on every apparatus and to qualify in the AA, BB and FX finals. She had one major mistake on balance beam, where she touched the apparatus after wobbling on her layout, but her high start value and clean execution during the rest of the routine helped her get a good score despite that problem. She earned one of the highest execution scores of the day for her stuck full twisting yurchenko and she managed to hit her routine on her weakest event, the uneven bars. As expected, her floor routine, which includes a 1.5 + double front full combination and a tucked full in, was one of the highlights of the competition so far. If Flavia connects all her elements and hits her beam routine without mistakes and controls her landings a bit better on floor she can improve her AA total by several tenths and challenge for a medal.

Ellie Black (Canada)

Difficulty value: 5.5 (potential 6.2) + 5.8 + 6.4 + 5.8 23.5 (potential 24.2)

Canada’s Ellie Black qualified into the AA finals in 5th place, but don’t let that make you think she’s not a top medal contender. In fact, I consider her a contender for the gold medal if she does what she’s capable of. Ellie has carried the Canadian team on he shoulders since teammate Victoria Moors stopped competing and she has been the country’s most succesful gymnast during this quad. She has come such a long way since 2012. Back then, she was the last athlete who was named to Olympic team, and now is now Canada’s absolute top gymnast and this is thanks to her amazing improvement and not because of the obvious lack of depth in her country. She was known as a vault and floor specialist back in 2012 but now she has worked hard to improve on her weakest events and she is a world class All Arounder and one of the world’s best on balance beam. During this quad Ellie has made it into world finals in three different events and she has won medals at the Universiade, the Pacific Rim Championships and the Commonwealth Games and I’m sure she’s very eager to add a couple of Pan American Games medals to her collection. She has a rather rough day during qualifications, where she had a fall on bars and was a bit shaky on beam and vault. On beam, she really proved that she is a fighter, by somehow managing not to fall after she landed her front pike on only one foot. Her floor was great and vaults were better than most people’s but they didn’t have the power we usually see from her. She often performs her rudi during AA finals and that gives her a significant advantage, but during quals she only did a front handspring layout full on vault which was rather low. The good thing is that none of those problems really matter right now. Her team won a silver medal, she still made it into three event finals and she starts with a clean slate for the AA finals.

Isabela Onysko (Canada)

difficulty value: 5.0 + 6.3 + 5.8 + 5.6 = 22.7

Isabela has also been a very valuable asset for Canada’s team since she became a senior last year and she has proven her worth by delivering solid scores during team finals and winning world cup medals. The truth is that I absolutely adore this gymnast, I think she really has a unique personal style that sets her apart and makes her gymnastics interesting to watch and she is capable of a very respectable level of difficulty. At qualifications, she probably did the best FTY of her career on vault, and hit her routines on all the other events without any major mistakes. Some of here most impressive skills are her maloney + clear hip full + tkatcev, her hindorff + pak and her van leeuwen on bars, her layout, switch ring and front aerial + half illusion turn on beam and her full in on floor. The problem is that there are some standard deductions in all her routines. She always has a massive legs separation during her pak salto and flexed feet during all her elements on bars, she struggles to keep her toes pointed and her legs straight on beam and her knees are never together during her double saltos. Those mistakes really hurt her execution form and she doesn’t really have the difficulty to absorb all the deductions so she doesn’t have the same scoring potential as her competitors. If she cleaned up, she could probably be a strong challenge but it’s not realistic to expect an athlete to magically fix the mistakes she’s been having for her entire career in one day. The only area I expect her to improve is her landings on floor, that weren’t really were controlled yesterday. I consider her an underdog for the podium in case other people make mistakes.

Daniele Hypolito (Brazil)

Difficulty value: 5.3 + 5.4 + 5.6 (potential 6.0) + 5.9 = 22.2 (potential 22.6)

There’s no doubt that Daniele is a legend for Brazilian gymnastics. She was the country’s first gymnast to win a floor medal, she has been to four Olympic Games and she has more Pan American and South American Games medals than one can count. It’s been 15 years since she competed at the Sydney Olympics and there hasn’t been one time when she hasn’t made a major team while she was healthy. Right now there’s more depth in Brazil than ever before and I have to admit I was doubting whether or not she’d still be needed but yesterday, she proved that she still is one of her country’s best gymnasts. She doesn’t have the spectacular skills we saw from some of her teammates, but she still posted highest scores than them by staying clean and consistent when they couldn’t. Daniele hadn’t shown any significant upgrades for a while, but this year she has already revealed a switch ring + ring leap combination on beam, a new connection on bars and a very impressive 1.5 + double front twist on floor. Generally, I think she looks better than ever and I would love to see her performing well during finals. The truth is that she doesn’t have the difficulty to be on the podium unless someone else has mistakes, but gymnastics is an unpredictable sport and she is the most experienced athlete of the finals.

During those finals you should keep an eye for Panamerican champion Ana Lago, world cup champion Marcia Videaux (CUB) on vault and bars, world cup medalist Tarabini Ayelen (ARG) on floor and world and Olympic finalist Yamilet Pena (DOM) on vault

Some athletes who could challenge but are unfortunately not competing on all four events are Elsa Garcia of Mexico and Jessica Lopez of Venezuela. Thankfully, we will get to enjoy both of those ladies into event finals. Two athletes who would be medal contenders but are not participating in Pan American Games due to injury are Cuba’s Yessenia Ferrera and of course Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade who would really have a shot to win AA gold if she was healthy.

photo from here

you can find all the qualifiers and the results here

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