Brenna Dowell, GAGE
Brenna is probably one of the most interesting athletes participating in Classics. She has been a senior since 2012, when competed at the 2012 Olympic Trials, but being a first year senior with very little experience and without great start values, she was never considered a top contender for the team. This changed in 2013, when she showed impressive upgrades and tremendous improvement to earn a spot in USA’s 2013 worlds team after consistently placing 3rd in the AA. However, during podium training it was decided that Brenna would not compete so Simone Biles, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney could all compete on all four events. This was absolutely heartbreaking since a country can only qualify up to two gymnasts during the AA finals and McKayla Maroney did not have the potential to make event finals on beam or bars while Brenna had a realistic chance to make bars finals. Looking at the bright side of things, it looked like Brenna, with her amanar, and strong bars and floor routines, would be one of the top contenders for the 2014 world team. Unfortunately things didn’t go her way, and injuries prevented her from competing any other event than bars during classics and nationals. She performed All Round at the selection camp but apparently that wasn’t enough since her teammate, Maddie Desch, who also had lots of problems during the year, got the ticket to worlds instead of her. After those two disappointing moments, Brenna decided that elite gymnastics maybe wasn’t for her and she went to college, and competed for the University of Oklahoma. After a very successful freshman year she felt that she had more things to offer as an elite and chose to try to make it to worlds for the third time. We have seen NCAA athletes returning to elite after graduating from college, but it’s pretty rare to see an athlete competing NCAA and elite gymnastics at the same time. It’s not impossible, Alicia Sacramone did it, Macko Caquatto attempted it, but it’s definitely not something you see every day in the sport and it is quite a brave decision. It’s needless to say that NCAA and elite are completely different and it will be interesting to see if Brenna will have the necessary endurance and skill level to compete against the very best in the country. We’ve never really see her absolutely nailing all her routines in a competition, which is probably why Marta Karolyi doesn’t really believe in her, and the confidence and the experience she has gained from college gymnastics could help her in that aspect. But at the same time, she will be much more tired than some of her competitors, after a full NCAA season. At her top shape, she could contribute on vault, bars and floor. In my opinion, if she has her 2013 difficulty back and she hits her routines at every competition, she will have a very realistic chance to get a spot on the worlds team. The question is, can she do that?
Aly Raisman, Brestyan’s
Aly Raisman probably was the most improved athlete of the previous quad. She was basically unknown when she got her first international assignment in 2010 and competition after competition, she proved herself as one of the steadiest athletes of the American team. After excellent performances at the 2010 and 2011 world championships, Aly was one of the top contenders for USA’s Olympic team and nobody was surprised to see her earning her ticket to London. The solid team player of team USA, quickly blossomed and became a super star, winning one bronze and two gold medals at the Olympics. She also tied for an other bronze medal during AA finals, but she was forth after the tie was broken. She says that this is one of the things that motivated her to come back. After her amazing success, Raisman took a year away from the gym to enjoy her post Olympic fame and then she announced her comeback. She was expected to compete last year, but it turned out she wasn’t quite ready. She didn’t want to come back as a shadow of her former self and she chose to delay her return to competition in order to get all her skills back. Aly obviously has a great number of fans from all over the worlds, but she also is a gymnast that people love to hate. She has gotten hate for her flexed feet and her lack of artistry, for participating to Dancing with the stars, for her ESPN nude photo shoot and even for her parents being rich. Of course, she also got hate from people who thought that she was only doing this comeback for attention. However, she proved them all wrong after coming back to competition at the Jesolo Trophy earlier this year and showing that she still is one of the absolute best athletes in the world. She has all her skills back on bars, beam and floor and she’s working towards getting her amanar back on vault. She also showed upgrades, like a very impressive maloney + tkatcev combination and she proved that she is serious about her return. The 2015 Secret Classic will be Aly’s first national competition since 2012, when she won the competition. Unlike Jesolo, this competition is televised and it usually gets a little attention from mainstream media so the lights of publicity will certainly be on her. This is an other chance for Raisman to prove that she is still one of the best gymnasts in the country and that she deserves to represent USA at the highest level of the sport once again.
Nia Dennis, legacy elite
Nia Dennis is an athlete with lots of things to prove. She was a stand out junior, who was a member of USA’s junior national team and she won a silver medal at last year’s national championships. She got plenty of attention for her powerful tumbling and vaulting, her sky high releases on bars and her fantastic standing arabian on beam. She really is one of the very few new senior who can really compete against USA’s older athletes for a spot in the worlds team. By now, we have seen most of the American athletes competing at the American Cup, at Jesolo or at the Pan American championships. However, Nia hasn’t competed since last year because a leg injury kept her out for the first half of the season. This means that the Secret Classic will be her senior debut. Nia is an incredibly powerful athlete who shows fantastic potential in every event. She is powerful, she is flexible and she is clean. But none of those qualities mean much if she can’t perform well under pressure and it’s rare to see her hitting four out of four in one competition. Nia was one of the athletes fighting for a spot in the team for Pan American Games but she surprisingly was left home while gymnasts with much less difficulty than her got the ticket to Toronto. This indicates that she had a pretty rough meet at the selection camp, and the team coordinator, Marta Karolyi is not willing to forgive her inconsistency. Realizing that, and seeing that her consistency had not improved through the years, Nia decided that a new coach would probably help her control her nerves and perform better under pressure. She left the gym where she had been training for her entire life and is now training at Legacy Elite, a gym that has produced national team members Anna Li and Mackenzie and Bridgette Caquatto. It is not rare for an elite gymnast leaving her gym after feeling she can’t reach her full potential there. However, it’s extremely uncommon to see someone taking this decision right before the most important part of the season. During every change, there’s always a period of adjustment, until the athlete and the coaches get to know each other and figure out the training plan that works best for them. However, with Secret Classic happening in a few days and Nationals just around the corner, Nia doesn’t seem to have much time to do that. She and her coaches must immediately get into work so she can be as well prepared as possible for this competition. It’s true that the Secret Classic is not a competition that can make or break someone’s career. However, it’s important to note that Dennis hasn’t competed at all this year, like some of her competitors and she has a history of not hitting when it counts. Because of that, it’s really important for her to show consistency in order to be a contender for the worlds team and Secret Classics, is one of the two competitions where she has the chance to do that.
Read more about Nia’s gym switch here
Emily Gaskins, Palm Beach Gymnastics
Junior national team member Emily Gaskins, is without a doubt one of the most loved American athletes thanks to her fantastic style. Her classical ballet background is obvious in her body posture, her toe point and her lines are and you know she is special from the second she enters the floor. She dances better than anyone, she sells her routine beautifully and she really is a delight to watch. In the beginning of the quad, Emily, who was still a level 10 gymnast, moved to CGA in order to train with the experienced Mary Lee Tracey and to maximize her chances to go to the Olympics. She moved with her mother, while the rest of her family stayed back at Florida. Her first year at her new gym was very successful, since she qualified at the Nastia Liukin Cup, became an elite athlete and had a successful competition classics and nationals in 2013. She made the national team in 2014 and she competed at her first international meet at Mexico, where she did a great job. Earlier this year, Emily left CGA and went back to her old gym, Intensity Gymnastics which does not have a big reputation in the elite world. Fans started speculating that she decided to stop competing as an elite and she was going to drop to level 10 and prepare for college. Thankfully, Emily confirmed that this wasn’t true by continuing to attend camps along with her national team teammates. She recently switched gyms for the second time this year, and her current coach is anything but inexperienced. He is no other than Steve Nunno, the man who coached Shannon Miller, the best American gymnast to ever live. That was probably the most surprising news we have had during the entire quad, since Nunno had not been in the elite scene for years. He is definitely a special coach with very high expectations and a quite interesting personality so I really think that not every gymnast could work with him. The fact that Gaskins went from the tough Mary Lee Tracey to Steve Nunno, shows that she has some nerves and ambition in her. During an interview to the full twist blog, Nunno said: “Emily has been a joy to coach. She is hungry to learn and determined to be a great gymnast. She is a very hard worker. She will perform an Arabian double front to sissone on floor, a brand new bar routine, and a reworked beam routine that’s exciting to watch” The 2015 Secret Classic will be the first time she competes under the coaching of the legendary coach. I really don’t know what to expect from her, but there’s nothing that would please me more than to see Nunno upgrading Emily’s difficulty while maintaining her artistry and making her a strong contender for Rio.
the Photos are from USA gymnastic’s facebook page