2015 secret classic: the Αll Arounders

1. Simone Biles, World Champions, 62.4

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Photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

I don’t think there was even one person in the entire world doubting that Simone would leave this competition with the All Around title and the 18-years-old world champion did not disappoint. She said that she was extremely nervous to start her quest for gold on balance beam, where she had two brand new skills. However, you would have never guessed that based on her routine, since she performed the only beautiful wolf turn of the competition, she nailed her grigoras and her flight series and she landed her dismount very well to earn the highest score of the day on the event. She then moved to floor and the entire arena exploded after her amazing performance. Her tumbling was simply out of this world. All her ridiculously difficult passes were sky high, cleanly executed and well landed, her new choreography is absolutely fabulous and she sold her routine as well as one possibly could. I don’t understand how it’s possible for someone to have a 6.9 start value on score but she does and it’s brilliant. Then, she posted the highest execution score of the day on vault for a fantastic amanar. She got a great block that gave her tons of height and distance, kept perfect form throughout the skill and she only had a tiny hop on the landing. Her bars were not nearly as spectacular but they were just as efficient. This is the only event where she still has to work a bit on her execution, but she still has a good, clean routine with an impressive level of difficulty. Simone’s All Around total was a massive 62.4 and she won the gold medal on vault, beam, floor and the All around. Even though one could argue that some of her routines were a tiny bit overscored because scoring tends to be more lenient at nationals, there’s no doubt that she is the absolute best gymnast on the planet right now.

2. Gabby Douglas, Buckeye, 60.5

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photo by Christy Ann Linder

The reigning Olympic All Around champion proved that despite two years away from the sport, she still is one of the country’s best. There were so many doubts about Gabby’s comeback. So many people said she was doing it just for attention, that she just wanted the publicity and she wasn’t serious about gymnastics anymore. And she came into the competition and proved them all wrong by winning the silver All Around medal. I never thought her comeback was “fake” but I was really worried about whether or not she would be able to hit under pressure, given her history of inconsistency so it was fantastic to see her going out there and delivering clean solid routines on every event. She started the competition on her best event, the uneven bars where she showed a different routine than the one she performed at the Olympics. Her piked tkatcev was sky high, her handstands are much improved and I love her difficult sequence on the low bar  I don’t think that this is Gabby’s best on this event and I do believe that her execution score was a bit generous but hopefully, she will be able to add a bit more difficulty and challenge for a spot in event finals by worlds. I was holding my breath while she was performing on balance beam but it turns out there was no reason to. Her switch ring is still not great, but she nailed her standing full, she hit all her connections and she performed all her elements without any major breaks. Her floor routine was also very solid. She opened with a high double arabian + stag, she nailed her full in, double pike and double tuck and she performed her turns better than I ever thought she could. Her tumbling passes seem easy for her and I do expect to see her adding something new to this routine by nationals. After all, she now trains at a gym that has produces some excellent tumblers like Nia Dennis and Shilese Jones. Her new choreography is an improvement from London (let’s admit it, any choreography would be an improvement from London) but it still leaves a lot to be desired. I much prefered the routine she showed at Jesolo and I wish she hadn’t changed that. I also missed her smile during their performance but hopefully it will come back once she feels more confident in the competition floor. Gabby ended her competition on vault, with an excellent double twisting yurchenko. She is working on getting her amanar back but I’m not sure if she will be able to do that this year. With performances like that, Douglas will definitely be one of the strongest contenders for USA’s world team and I’m really excited to see if she can upgrade her routines and be even better at nationals.

3. Maggie Nichols, Twin City Twisters, 60.0

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Photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

Maggie probably wins the “most improved” award of the senior competition. She really looks like a completely different gymnast than she did a couple of years ago. Back in 2012, when she didn’t even make the junior national team, nobody would have guessed that she’d be a super star as an senior elite. And yet, she worked hard, she looked better and better at every competition, she didn’t let her injuries stop her and she kept adding new elements until she became the third best gymnast in the United States. The biggest test of the night for her came right in the beginning of the meet, since she started on vault and she performed her amanar for the first time. You could see the determination on her face as she run towards the table and she absolutely nailed that skill. She obviously did not have Maroney’s or Biles’ height and there is plenty of room for improvement on her form, but she completed the 2.5 twists safely and she only had a small step on the landing. Maggie is never going to be the best vaulter in the world, but she now has a solid amanar and this is going to help her make it into major teams and reach the All Around podium. She is also much improved on bars, where she opened  with an impressive toe on full + maloney + pak + van leewen combination. She had some legs separations here and there and I want to see her upgrading this exercise, but her swing seems much more fluid than last year and she is now team finals worthy on this event. She showed a strong beam routine, which included a grigoras, a beautiful switch ring and a nearly stuck double pike dismount and then she moved on floor, where she really shined. She competed her silivas for the first time and she stuck it, she nailed her tucked and piked full in and she had no problems with her double tuck. I hope she will be able to bring her Double Lay Out back for nationals. Her choreography is also a major improvement from last year and she was extremely expressive during her routine. She said that she’s hoping to add a full twist on her bars and beam dismount so this should be exciting. Maggie missed her chance to go to worlds last year due to a knee injury but that doesn’t seem to have slowed her down. She is a much better gymnast than she was last year and her chances to become a world team member are better than ever.

4. Bailie Key, Texas Dreams, 59.45

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Photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

16-years-old Bailie Key had an excellent performance at her first Secret Classic as a senior. She started her competition on beam. She took her impressive standing arabian out and her layout was questionable but she delivered a solid exercise and her leaps were as great as always. She was stronger on floor, where she competed her double layout for the first time and she absolutely nailed it. Her double arabian + stag connection could have been faster and her triple was a bit underrotated but she still tied for the bronze medal on this event and her routine has massive potential. I’m not sure what I think about her new choreography. The ending is absolutely stunning and the Yelena Grosheva tribute after her memmel turn is making me emotional but the rest of the choreography is quite different from what Bailie has shown in the past and it still needs to grow on me. On vault, she performed a lovely double twisting yurchenko with excellent form and a big step on the landing. I’m not sure if she has enough height to add an extra half twist in there though. She ended the competition with a strong bars routine, which included a ricna + pak salto and a stuck full in dismount. There were some minor errors during her routine, like a leg separation on her pak and a late pirouette, but she definitely has improved a lot on this event that could really help her get a ticket to Glasgow. She said she’s working on getting her standing arabian on beam back and now adding a Downie on bars and that would improve her start value significantly. I can’t believe Bailie is a senior already. I remember her being a tiny little gymnast with a cute choreography and now she is taller than Kim Zmeskal and is beating Olympic champions. I know that some people expected Bailie to be one of USA’s best All Arounders after seeing her dominance as a junior, but being a succesful junior and being a succesful senior are two completely different things. Key is now competing against an extremely deep field that includes Olympic and World Champion and she’s just starting her career so I don’t think it’s realistic to expect her to be right up there with Simone. The truth is that she delivered on every apparatus, she showed routines that USA could use in team finals, she scored over 59, and she placed fourth in the All Around so she has lots of things to celebrate.

5. Aly Raisman, Brestyan’s, 59.05

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photo by Christy Ann Linder

Two times Olympic Champion Aly Raisman is also making an extremely succesful comeback after two years away from the sport. Aly did not get her skills back as fast as other have done in the past and she delayed her return to competition because of that but now she is back and she looks better than ever. I can’t believe she already has her amanar back. It’s a skill that gave her a fair amount of trouble during her career and she was working on it for years before being able to finally compete it so I didn’t expect to see her doing it before 2016. It was far from perfect and she needs to clean up but having an amanar is definitely going to help her chances to make the team and to place well in the All Around. Her bars have also improved a lot. She will never be amazing on this event and her legs separations and flexed feet are as distracting as always but her handstands are so much better than before, her jaeger was sky high and her opening combination is one of the most difficult connections being done in the world. She was a bit shaky on balance beam and her switch half is giving me nightmares but her stuck Patterson dismount made me scream and it was one of the highlights of the entire competition. The level of difficulty she showed on this event is absolutely fantastic and I have no doubt she will show confidence and consistency from now on. I was also beyond impressed by Aly’s floor. She obviously had an unfortunate fall during her second tumbling pass but her tumbling is so ridiculously difficult. We were all wondering whether or not she would be able to get her 2012 difficulty back and not only she did that, but she also added a brand new double layout and she’s attempting to do a front tuck out of her Dos Santos. She has the most difficult tumbling back in 2012 and it’s great to see her realising that gymnastics is evolving and upgrading her routine to keep up with the younger gymnasts. She is the only athlete in the world whose start value comes even close to Simone’s and it will be so exciting to see those two competing for gold in the next competitions. I personally don’t see the improvement on artistry people are talking about but I am absolutely sure she will be able to perform her floor routine well in the future. With an amanar, and her difficult routines on beam and floor Aly could be extremely valuable for team USA and I do expect to see her being named to the worlds team if she continues to perform well.

6. Alyssa Baumann, WOGA, 56.95

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photo by Christy Ann Linder

The lovely Alyssa Baumann showed great improvement on vault and bars but did not prove herself on the events that could actually put her on a worlds team. She started her competition on beam, which is her best event. She nailed her standing arabian but then, she fell on her swing ring. The rest of the routine, which ended with a stuck double pike was fantastic but Alyssa already is a dark horse and she can’t afford mistakes like that. Thankfully, she was able to pull herself together and deliver a strong floor routine. She started with an excellent double layout, she performed her piked full in very well and she had no trouble landing her last two tumbling passes. Her new music and choreography are very nice and she is always a beautiful, elegant gymnast but I really miss her Ludivine Furnon tribute from last year. Her start value on floor was a 5.7, and even though this is a respectable number it’s not nearly enough when most of teammates are capable of 6+ difficulty. Because of that, I’d love to see her adding a couple of turns connections and bringing back on of the hard tumbling passes she has competed in the past in order to be more competitive. She was impressive on bars, where she showed excellent transitions, a high jaeger and gorgeous lines. Her dismount was low but she really has worked hard on this event. Her double twisting yurchenko is also much more powerful and clean than it was at that point last year. I actually adore Alyssa and I don’t want her to fade away after having such a succesful 2014. Of course, secret classic is not going to make or break someone’s career, and Baumann had a pretty rough competition there last year, before performing beautifully at nationals and worlds so I hope to see her improving.

7. Mykayla Skinner, Desert Lights, 55.5

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photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

MyKayla, who was coming back from a minor injury wasn’t at her best shape for the Secret Classic. She started on balance beam. She has made tremendous progress on this event through the years but it remains one of her weaknesses and she wasn’t able to control her nerves. She fell right int the beginning of her routine, on her back handspring + tucked full combination, which is a skill that gave her some trouble at the American Cup too. Things didn’t really get better for her on one of her best events, the floor exercise. Both her double doubles were very low, she watered down her third pass to a 1.5 + double full and she fell on her double tuck dismount. She managed to pull herself together after that and she delivered one of the best bars routines of her career. Her usual form issues were still there, but her handstands were much better than they usually are and she stuck her full in dismount. She finished strong on vault, where she performed a low but stuck cheng and a powerful double twisting yurchenko. She has been working on getting her amanar back for a while now but this skill seems to be giving her a fair amount of trouble. I am not really worried about MyKayla’s mistakes because she typically performs poorly at Classics and then shows significant improvement at Nationals. It just seems that she never has the necessary endurance at this point of the year and she works on that by the time nationals arrive, so I expect to see her doing very well from now on. However, this may not be enough. The events that can be Skinner’s ticket to Glasgow are vault and floor, and with Aly and Maggie showing amanars and excellent tumbling and Bailie having a strong floor routine, it doesn’t look like team USA will need a floor and vault specialist this year. Of course, she is also a medal contender for individual finals but it is known that the team is always Marta’s priority.

8. Lexy Ramler, KidSport, 52.5

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Photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

Lexy is an other 16-years-old who made her senior debut during Secret Classic. She started her competition with a stuck full twisting yurchenko. According to USA gymnastics’ new rules, a senior will receive a 0.3 reduction from their start values if they only perform a 5.0 vault, so this hurt her score a bit. Then, she moved to bars where she had one of the most spectacular and messiest routines of the night. I can’t decide whether I love her routine or not because her bhardwaj excites me and her van leeuwen + comaneci combination is all I ever wanted in life, but her massive legs separations are incredibly distracting. There’s no doubt that she has the wow factor on this event but she desperately needs to work on her execution. The only major mistake she had, was a fall on balance beam. She was completely off line on her onodi and there was nothing she could do to stay on the apparatus. The rest of her routine was impressive though. She performed difficult elements, including a very unique L turn + ring leap combination, a back handspring to two layout stepouts and a switch ring and she stuck her 2.5 dismount. She has lots of potential on this event and I’m excited to see more of her in the future. Lexy finished her competition with a good floor routine, which included a double pike, a triple full, 2.5 twists and a 1.5 + front full combination. She took a couple of big steps on her landings but she was solid overall. Lexy’s competition was not perfect and she did not qualify to nationals but she still hit three out of four routines and she has every reason to be proud of that

9. Alaina Kwan, All Olympia, 51.8

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photo by Christy Ann Linder

Alaina is a first year elite and those were her first ever Secret Classic and she understandably was very nervous. This was obvious from her first event, the uneven bars, where she had a painful fall. She started her routine well, with a high jaeger and a beautiful tkatcev in combination but then, she fell on the low par during her pak salto. It looked like a painful fall and it was great to see her being able to finish her routine well. Unfortunately, beam wasn’t kind to her either. She actually is beautiful on this event, showing lovely lines and impressive flexibility but she had a fall and didn’t manage to get a good score because of that. Thankfully, she was able to finish her competition in a high note by hitting strong routines on the remaining events. She stuck her full twisting yurchenko on vault and she was excellent on floor. She showed nice choreography, she stuck her double pike and she only had tiny steps on her 2.5 twists and her double tuck to receive a very respectable 14.0, which was the 7th highest score of the night. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to get the qualifying score for nationals so we won’t see her competing there. This is disappointing because she was so heartbreakingly close to getting a 28.0 as a vault and floor total and qualify to nationals as a two events specialist. In fact she would have done that if USA gymnastics hadn’t decided to downgrade the full twisting yurchenko to a 4.7 for senior gymnasts.

10. Taylor Lawson, Parkettes, 51.75

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Photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

Taylor also started strong on vault with a good full twisting yurchenko. Then, she continued on bars where she hit her routine but had quite a few execution errors and short handstands that added up and hurt her execution score. She has good difficulty on this event and she performs a toe on full + maloney + bail combination and a high jaeger. She took a big step on her double arabian that still was one of my favorite dismounts of the competition. As expected, the highlight of the night for her was her standing arabian on beam. It’s so high and clean and she absolutely nailed it and she completed her routine with only minor wobbles. She finished on one of her best events, the floor exercise, where she performed a new tucked full in and a powerful double arabian with a big step forward. Her double tuck was very low and she stumbled out of her double pike dismount. I think she was a tiny bit underscored compared to some other athletes, but she was quite far away from getting the qualifying score for nationals so it didn’t really make a bit difference for her.

11. Kylie Dickson, All Olympia, 51.55

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Photo by John Cheng, from USAG’s facebook page

The two athletes from All Olympia had nearly identical mistakes during Classics. Just like Alaina, Kylie started with falls on bars and beam but hit vault and floor. She shows good potential on bars, where she has gorgeous lines and she performs nice skills, like an endo half, a chow and a tkatcev. However she had the exact same mistake with Alaina, falling on the low bar after her pak. This obviously took her off guard and the rest of her routine was sloppier than it typically is and lots of handstands were very short. She also fell on beam, where she showed an otherwise nice routine with an impressive front tuck mount. Her vault was a yurchenko double full. She put it on the feet but it was quite low which is a shame because she really is a powerful vaulter. After those disappointments, the highlight of the competition for her was definitely floor. She opened her routine with a full in and she nailed her 2.5 + front tuck and landed her double tuck and double pike very well. Kylie was only two tenths away from getting the 28.0 two event total she needed to qualify as a vault and floor specialist for nationals so unfortunately, we won’t be seeing her competing there.

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