With 2013 national champion Bailie Key and 2014 national silver medalist Nia Dennis moving into the senior ranks and 2014 bronze medalist Norah Flatley most likely missing the competition due to injury, the junior competition at the 2015 secret classics is going to be very interesting. The top contenders for the title are junior national team members Ragan Smith, Laurie Hernandez, Jazzy Foberg and Jordan Chiles, while some up and coming athletes may have an outside chance to make it to the podium.
The top contenders
Ragan Smith, Texas Dreams, born in 2000
When Ragan Smith firstly appeared at the elite scene she earned the hearts of gymnastics fans with her small size and her cuteness. Now, a couple of years and a gym change later, she remains tiny and adorable, but she also has a skill level that lots of senior gymnasts would kill for. She is capable of a double twisting yurchenko on vault, a jaeger and a ricna on bars, a piked full, a layout and a switch ring on beam and a double arabian and an 1.5 + triple combination on floor. She is also training big tumbling passes, like a double layout and a Dos Santos. Ragan, who is now a member of USA’s junior national team, is an excellent performer with fun choreography, who shows personality and charisma during her routine and she has good leaps and flexibility. She still needs to work on her form, especially on vault, but her biggest weakness is her inconsistency on bars. After lots of hard work, Smith, has a competitive bars set, but she keeps having falls and mistakes and she consistently scores below 13. In such a competitive field, a score like that could destroy her medal chances. She was 7th at last year’s nationals, after having problems on bars during both days of competition. During the Jesolo Trophy, she earned a 56.100 AA total with a fall on bars. That means that if she finally gets it together on this event she can score above 15 and be a major contender for the title.
Laurie Hernandez, MG elite, born in 2000
There are very few gymnasts than I love more than Laurie and I couldn’t possibly be more excited to see her back. She started getting attention back in 2012, when she showed one of the most original and artistic floor routines we had seen. Even though her fierceness and her ability to perform really stood out, it was clear that Laurie did not have the difficulty or the consistency she would need in order to be considered a strong elite gymnast. And then, everything changed in 2013. She started competing and it was obvious that she was a completely different athlete. She had upgraded all her routines and she now had some of the biggest start values in the junior ranks, she had cleaned up her executions, she had improved her consistency and she had maintained her amazing artistry and style. With this improvement, Laurie was 2nd in the All Around at nationals and she started getting international assignments. She competed at the Japan Junior International and at the Mexican Junior Cup, where she was very impressive. Unfortunately, 2014 wasn’t as kind to her. She suffered two different injuries and she had to miss the entire year. She came back strong at this year’s Jesolo Trophy where she won the All Around title. Laurie seems to have most of her skills back and she is a strong contender for the gold medal at Classics. She injured herself on her DTY last year so it seems like she’s taking it easy on vault. At Jesolo she was wise enough to only perform a yurchenko full, but we don’t know if she has her double back or not. On bars she has a strong routine which includes a downie, a ricna to pak salto and an endo half and on beam she’s capable of a front pike, a switch ring and a double pike dismount. Her floor routine should be one of the highlights of the night. At Jesolo, she started with a sky high double arabian into a stag and she continued with an exciting and original combination, a front layout into a double front full into a front tuck. I wouldn’t be surprised to see her having her piked full in back as well. I find some of her facial expressions during her new choreography a bit excessive but there’s no doubt that nobody can dance as well as she does and she should have the crowd behind her. Laurie posted a very impressive 57.650 All Around score at Jesolo.
Jazzy Foberg, MG elite, born in 2000
Laurie’s teammate, Jazzy Forberg, had a very similar career with her. During her first year as an elite, she didn’t show much potential. She didn’t have impressive difficulty, she didn’t have the cleanest execution or the consistency a top elite gymnast needs and she didn’t even make it to nationals. Then, MG elite worked its magic on her and she came back with upgrades on all four events and newfound confidence and in one year she became the freaking national champion. After this amazing achievement, Jazzy continues to upgrade. This year, she added a maloney + gienger combination on bars and a full twisting layout on floor. She still needs to work on keeping her body and her knees straight but it’s an impressive tumbling pass despite of that. She also has a double twisting yurchenko and a strong beam set that make her one of the top contenders for the title. She scored a 56.550 at Jesolo after struggling a bit on floor. Her highest score last year was a 57.600. It’s important to know that athletes like Jazzy, Laurie and Ragan are all eligible to Rio, and when you are part of a team as strong as USA it’s never too early to prove yourself.
Jordan Chiles, Naydenov, born in 2001
The defending Secret Classic champion, is young Jordan Chiles, who surprised us all by winning the title last year. Jordan is not age eligible for Rio but she is one of the most talented juniors in USA and if everything works out well for her she is expected to lead the team during the next quad. To me, Chiles, is pretty close to the perfect gymnast. She is powerful, she is incredibly clean, she is graceful and artistic, she is flexible and she is fairly consistent for her age.She has been throwing some crazy skills in training, like triple front twists and patterson dismounts and she has also successfully landed a Double Layout and a Dos Santos at the training camp. Because of that, fans seem to worry that she is going to “burn out” before she gets her time to shine. However, it’s worth noting that Jordan has never competed a skill she can’t execute very well. She may be training difficult elements but she doesn’t always include them in her routines and she actually doesn’t even have the highest starts values out there. She wins by execution. She is an excellent All Arounder, with one of the best double twisting yurchenkos out there. Her beam routine, which includes a back handspring connected to two layout stepouts, a front tuck and a tour jete half, is always clean and solid and her double arabian, 1.5 + 2.5 and double front twist + front layout on floor are all done with incredible form. Bars is probably her weakest event, but even there she has a strong routine with three major releases, a tkatcev, a gienger and a jaeger. Jordan did not compete at the Jesolo Trophy so the 2015 secret classics will be the first competition of the year for her. During last year’s nationals, she scored a very impressive 57.850.
Emily Gaskins, Intensity Gymnastics, born in 2000
Emily is an athlete who is more famous for her grace and artistry than her difficulty. She is indeed absolutely gorgeous to watch and her toe point and choreography are to die for but it is known that beauty is not going to win you any medals, and with the Olympics only one year away, Gaskins, has a lot to prove. She is capable of a good double twisting yurchenko on vault, a jaeger and a ray on bars, a sheep jump, a switch ring and a double pike on beam and a full in and a gorgeous memmel turn on floor. As mentioned before, she left CGA and is now training under the legendary Steve Nunno, who coached Shannon Miller to an incredible career. Nunno said that they are planning on showing major upgrades on bars, as well as a new double arabian + sissone on floor and a reworked beam routine. If this plans works for her, she could surprise some of her fellow national team members and get away with a medal. The highest AA score she has posted is a 57, at last year’s nationals.
Colbi Flory, Texas Dreams, born in 2002
Colbi Flory is part of Texas Dream’s next generation of talented athletes. She was born in 2002 and she is a first year elite so it’s not surprising that she doesn’t have any huge start values yet. However, she has some impressive skills, like a jaeger and a double layout on bars, a front tuck and a 2.5 dismount on beam and a double pike on floor. She is incredibly clean, and when she hits, she’s capable of getting 9.0 execution scores on every event. Because of that, she could be a surprise-medallist if other people make mistakes. She recently won the American Classics with an impressive 56.7
Emma Malabuyo, Texas Dreams, born in 2002
Emma is an other rising star from Texas Dreams. Just like her teammate, she is a young gymnast who just now earned the status of an international elite and she doesn’t have the most difficult routines out there but she has extremely clean execution. Her best event is balance beam, where she performs a switch ring, a front tuck and 2.5 twists. She is also promising on every event and she has lovely artistry and flexibility. She scored a 56.500 at the recent American Classics. She is not a top contender for the podium, but she could probably get a medal if others make mistakes and she stays clean.
read more about Emma, Colbi and the other first year elites here
Deanne Soza, Arete Gymnastics, born in 2001
The lovely Deanne Soza, who showed fantastic potential since last year, seems to be affected very little by missing lots of training because of an eye infection. She came back strong at the American Classics, where she scored a 56.600 AA total. It’s important to note that she struggled with her double twisting yurchenko, which means that she can score over 57 if she performs that skill well. This is particularly impressive for an athlete who scored in the 55 range last year. Deanne has some very impressive skills, including a switch leap + onodi on beam, a full in on floor and an ezhova and a full twisting double layout dismount on bars. Her execution is very clean and she typically is pretty consistent.
Read more about Deanne here
Morgan Hurd, First State Gymnastics, born in 2001
The tiny Morgan Hurd, who stole our hearts during last year’s Nastia Liukin Cup has shown fantastic progress in one year and is now an absolutely world class junior elite. Morgan was born at Wuzhou City, China, was adopted and she has lived most of her life in USA. She started gymnastics at the age of three and she qualified into elite last year. 2015 has been a very succesful year for her so far. She has won gold or silver on beam in every meet she competed at and she has shown a terrific progress, improving her scores significantly since last year. Surprisingly, last year, she said that beam was her least favorite event. She now performs a gorgeous inbar full + tkatcev combination on bars, a back handspring into two layout step outs and a switch ring on beam and a very impressive front full into double front full on floor. Her dance is absolutely superb and her low to the floor choreography, which shows off her amazing flexibility, is very captivating. She scored an impressive 56.500 at the American Classics, a score which is more than three full points higher than the one she earned during last year’s nationals. I’m not sure if Morgan is ready to compete against the country’s best gymnasts yet, but she will definitely improve her 29th finish at last year’s nationals. She says that her biggest goal for the time being is to make the national team and she has a great chance of doing that this year.
Christina Desiderio, Parkettes, born in 2000
Following Christina’s career has to be the most frustrating thing I’ve done during this quad. This girl is insanely talented, she really is amazing and her routines can be competitive against every single junior national team member. Last year she could do a double twisting yurchenko, a double layout, a full in, a back handspring back handpsring layout combination and a switch ring. She has the difficulty, she is powerful, she is clean, she is one of the best beam and floor workers out there. And yet, she still hasn’t made the national team because she can’t hit when it counts. The event that has caused the most problems from her is the uneven bars, where she has had a couple of heartbreaking meltdowns through the years. One of them happened very recently, at the American classics, where she scored an 11.2. Christina has upgraded her first tumbling pass into a double double and she has also trained a Biles. Her beam during the American Classics was mind-blowing and it could be competitive even against the seniors. Her double twisting yurchenko needs some cleaning up and she needs to work on her bars but there’s no doubt that she is a world class athlete. She may only be a junior, but she is eligible for the Rio Olympics and I’m sure Marta is already keeping an eye on her so she needs to start proving herself. She scored a 55.050 at American Classics, counting the 11.2 on bars. If she hits, she can score above 15 on this event so she has the potential to score over 57.
All pictures are from USA gymnastics’ facebook page unless stated otherwise