Sabrina Vega, GAGE
I never thought we’d be fortunate enough to see Sabrina Vega’s name on a start list ever again, and yet, here she is, set to finally represent her new gym at the 2015 Secret Classic. After a successful junior career, Sabrina saw her dreams coming true when she was named to the worlds team and helped USA win a gold medal at her first year as a senior. This amazing achievement gave her tons of confidence to pursue her biggest dream, to perform at the Olympics. Unfortunately, confidence and elegance are not enough, and it was clear from the beginning of the season that Sabrina, no matter how beautiful she was, did not have the level of difficulty to compete against her teammates. She did not become an Olympian and the last time we saw her in a competition arena, she had tears streaming down her face after not earning a ticket to London. She did not give up on her Olympic dream after 2012 and she decided that her gym, Dynamo Gymnastics and her long time coach, Teodora Ungureanu could not take her where she wanted. After discussing the situation with her family, she took the big decision to move away from home, live with a host family and start training at GAGE, a gym that has produced Olympians and world champions in the past. As she kept talking about her upgrades and her new goals, fans were excited to see what she would achieve under the very experienced Al Fong. She switched gym in 2013 and now, more than two years later, we still have not seen any upgrades or any routines. We only got updates about the injuries that set her back and the surgeries she needed to have. After she missed two entire competition seasons due to health problems, everyone started losing hope and not many people expected to ever see her back. And then, at the end of 2014, to everyone’s surprise her name was on the list of athletes who were attending the national training camp. It it known that you have to get invited in order to go to those camps which meant that Sabrina was at a respectable level once again. Her fans from all over the world celebrated her return to elite but the joy only lasted for a couple of months, since she had to have an other surgery. She hasn’t attended the last couple of camps and considering her age and all the injuries she has had in the past, it seemed like her comeback would never happen. When her name wasn’t on the initial Secret Classic start list, posted by USA gymnastics nobody was even remotely surprised. And yet one day later it was announced that she was competing after all. It’s obviously heartbreaking to see an athlete giving up so much and making major changes to their lives in order to achieve their dreams, only to be set back by injuries, so I am sure everyone would love to see Sabrina doing well. However, it’s hard to know what to expect from an athlete who hasn’t competed for the entire quad. The only gymnastics we’ve seen from her during the last three years, was a front aerial + jump combination she performed in the background of Kyla Ross’ camp video in January so we know nothing about her shape right now. We don’t know on what events she’s planning to compete, what difficulty she’s capable of or whether or not she is well prepared enough to hit her routines under pressure. This is a big question mark especially because she was never renowned for her difficulty or her consistency. However, what she was renowned for is her charisma, her elegance and her artistry and no matter what happens I am sure her presence will make the competition a bit more beautiful.
Gabrielle Douglas, Buckeye gymnastics
At that time last quad, just a year before the London Olympic, nobody could have thought that Gabrielle Douglas would be the athlete to away with the All Around gold. At the age of 14, Gabby was brave enough to leave her home and move in with a host family in order to train with Liang Chow, one of the best coaches in the world. That didn’t immediately work out for her, and we saw Gabby having several falls and mistakes before finally living up to their potential, but at the end it was all worth it. Gabby’s and Sabrina’s seniors careers actually started very similarly. They were young and inconsistent athletes who got the amazing opportunity to represent their country at the World championships after lots of their teammates got injured and they made the most out of it. They both exceeded everyone’s expectations, proved they can deliver under pressure and went home with gold medals. However, while Sabrina did not upgrade her routines in 2012, Gabby showed new skills, an amanar and a fantastic bars routine that immediately made her a top contender for the Olympic team. They were both in tears at the end of the Olympic Trials. But Sabrina was crying because she had just seen her lifelong dream being crashed while Gabby, was crying because her dream had just come true. She did not only become an Olympian, she also became a two times Olympic Champion and wrote history by becoming the first African-American gymnast to win the AA title. After the competition was over, she enjoyed her Post Olympic fame and then decided to return to the sport. This decision had lots of negative feedback, since lots of people seemed to think she is doing it for the fame and the attention. Ι understand why someone would be frustrated after her gym changes, or why one would cringe after hearing she will have her own reality show but I don’t understand why anyone would think an elite gymnast’s comeback is about attention. It’s not common to see an elite athlete having more than one gyms switch during their careers and Gabby had three in less than a year. After the Olympics, she was originally working out in California, in order to be close to her family. When she was ready to return to full elite training she returned to Chow, the coach who helped her get her Olympic gold medals but a couple of months later she surprised us all by leaving him and searching for a new coach to train with. Now she is at Buckeye gymnastics. This situation didn’t seem to have hurt her training significantly and she made a succesful comeback at the Jesolo Trophy. Of course, at Jesolo she did not show any routines that can be her ticket to Glasgow. But I don’t find that even remotely surprising, since she hadn’t been at the gym for a long time. I do hope she will add more difficulty for classics, but what I really hope to see from her is consistency. She has always been an inconsistent gymnast and her amazing performance at the Olympic team and all around finals doesn’t change that. Gabby’s biggest competitor is herself. I don’t think she should pay attention on whether or not she can beat Simone (because, who can?) or whether or not her uneven bars score will be higher than Kyla’s. What she needs to show is that she is capable of consistently performing well under pressure. If she can do that, everything else will follow.
Polina Shchennikova, TIGAR
Polina is now 17 years old and this is her second year as a senior, but we haven’t seen her performing in a major competition since she was a junior. Her artistry and flexibility quickly got the attention of many gymnastics fans and she became one of the most loved rising stars. Polina is Russian-American and she is coached by her father. She has gorgeous lines, stunning flexibility, fantastic toe point, she excels at bars and beam and she has a beautiful handstand beam mount. Because of that, people started comparing her to Olympic champion Nastia Liukin and she received lots of hype from a young age. Unfortunately, she did not have Nastia’s difficulty or her consistency and she could not deliver under pressure. Despite not being top 6 AA, she was added to the junior national team in 2013 and her senior debut was highly anticipated. However, at January, she suffered two compression fractures in her back and she could not train for around 5 months. This was a very frustrating time for her, but she fought hard and got most of her difficulty on bars and beam back after just a month in the gym. Despite this incredible progress, she wasn’t able to put full routines together in time to compete and she missed the entire competition season. She was set to compete at this year’s WOGA classic, but she ended up sitting in the stands cheering for her little sister, Alyona, who was performing. She returned to competition very recently, at the American Classic, where she competed on three events. She fell on beam but she landed her full twisting yurchenko on vault and her bars were absolutely fantastic. She actually has one of the most difficult routines in the entire country and she is capable of scoring above 15. Her opening combination (maloney + stalder full + piked tkatcev + toe on +van leeuwen) is simply breath-taking and it should be one of the highlights of the competition. I’m not sure if Polina will ever be a contender for a worlds team but that doesn’t mean she can’t have a successful senior career. I hope to see her performing well and winning bars medals at national competitions and getting a couple of international assignments before going to college to compete for the University of Michigan.
Deanne Soza, Arete Gymnastics
Deanne Soza, who was born in 2001, is a promising junior who got lots of attention after her great performance during last year’s nationals. She has a good level of difficulty for her age, she competes original skills, like an ezhova and a switch leap + onodi combination and she has beautiful execution and artistry. Unfortunately, the talented athlete, had to deal with a major health problem earlier this year. She contracted a rare and serious infection in both of her eyes and she almost lost her eye sight. According to her gym, she was being misdiagnosed for several weeks and she possibly was only hours away from permanent vision loss. Thankfully, her doctor managed to provide her with the necessary treatment before it was too late and now, Deanne seems to have recovered. Despite missing lots of training, she has been able to get most of her difficulty back and she won a silver medal at the recent American classics. She has also been working on new tumbling passes, like a double arabian and double layout. The fact that she is showing this great progress after almost becoming blind earlier this year is beyond impressive. With the level of her difficulty and her clean execution, Deanne is one of the top contenders to make the national team this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her grabbing a couple of medals at classics and nationals.
All pictures are from USAG’s facebook page