The top contenders
Madison Kocian, start value: 6.5
Madison is a successful uneven bars worker, who has won silver medals at the 2014 national and Pan-American championships and a gold medal at the recent Secret Classic. Bars were the event that put her on the world team last year, and even though she didn’t make it to even finals after a mistake in qualifications, she delivered a strong routine that helped her team win the gold medal. Her bars set has the construction we’ve come to expect from many top athletes this quad. She performs lots of transitions in combination, different variations of inbar stalders and a full in dismount. The highlight of her exercise is the opening combination: a komova 2 + pak salto + chow 1/2. She has some minor execution errors, like small leg separations during her transitions and flexed feet during her inbars but there are no major problems with her routine and she typically scores very well.
Kyla Ross, start value: potential 6.5
Kyla had a very rough time at bars during the Secret classic but that doesn’t change the fact that she is one of the best bars workers in America. She is USA’s most successful gymnast of the quad on this event, since she is the only athlete to win a medal at worlds and she has also been the national bars champion. After performing the same routine (with or without her inbars) since 2012, she finally showed some new elements at the Jesolo Trophy, where she connected her pak salto and her van leeuwen and she debuted a double front dismount. She tried out even more upgrades at Classics, revealing a spectacular chow + bhardwaj but that didn’t really work out for her so it will be interesting to see if Marta lets her try it one more time. Ross has a beautiful, fluid swing, she knows how to hit a handstand and how to stick a dismount and she only has minor execution errors throughout the routine so she typically gets fantastic execution scores.
Gabby Douglas, start value: 6.4
Long before Gabby became a national, world and Olympic champion, bars was the event that got her lots of international attention. Bars was also the event that put her on the 2011 worlds team and it made her a lock for the 2012 Olympic team. It was the event that put her in the gymnastics map and made her part of her discussion and she had always shined there. She was the uneven bars national champion back in 2012 and I’m sure she’d love to defend that title. She has a brand new routine, which includes her signature sky high piked tkatcev as well as a beautiful inbar + inbar 1/2 + endo 1/2 + chow combination. She still has to perfect her routine but she is a strong contender for the title.
Ashton Locklear, start value 6.1
Last year, Ashton came out of nowhere and proved that she is the absolute best uneven bars worker in America, winning gold medals at Secret Classic, national championships and Pan-American championships. After those amazing achievements she was named to the worlds team and she made uneven bars finals and finished in forth place, less than a tenth away from the bronze medal. Unfortunately, she had to have a shoulder surgery that slowed down her progress and she wasn’t quite ready to compete at Classics, where she needed her coach to spot her. Hopefully, she will be more well prepared during nationals but we can’t know what her routine will look like. The program she performed at Classics started out of a 6.1. If she has her inbar stalders back she can have a 6.6 start value. Ashton is famous for her spectacular opening combination, which includes six elements lined together and she has gorgeous lines and toe point and fantastic execution. She had been working on upgrades before she got injured but I don’t think we’ll be seeing any of them since she’s still trying to get her old difficulty back. If she has the same routine she did last year and performs it well, she is a top contender for the title, but she said that she’s not sure if she’ll be able to do that.
Rachel Gowey, start value: 6.3
This is Rachel’s third year as a senior but if everything goes as planned, the upcoming national championships will only be her first since injuries kept her out of the competition for the last two years. After hurting her knee at last year’s Secret Classic, she made her return to competition at the Pan American Games where she competed two events. She was particularly impressive on bars, where she won the gold medal over two times Olympian Jessica Lopez. She debuted a new komova 2 + giant full combination and she showed impressive skills like a ricna, a van leeuwen and a beautiful double layout dismount. She has lovely lines and toe point but she still needs to clean up a bit and fix those flexed feet. She’s not quite at the level of athletes like Kocian or Douglas, but she could find herself on the podium if one of them makes mistakes.
Polina Shchennikova, start value: 6.2
Just like Rachel, Polina will be competing at her first national championships as a senior, since she wasn’t ready to participate in the competition last year. She has always shined on uneven bars, which was the main reason why she was named to the junior national team back in 2013. She has stunning lines, extension and toe point and the level of difficulty she’s capable of really is fantastic. She does all of the elements on her routine in combination and it is spectacular to watch. During Secret Classics, she had a fall on her dismount but if she hits she should get a big score. She doesn’t have the most fluid swing and she is a fairly inconsistent athlete but she has the start value to challenge and she has scored as high as 15 in American Classics.
Bailie Key: start value: 6.2
Bailie has worked hard to upgrade her uneven bars routine and she has added several tenths in difficulty since last year. She doesn’t have any skills that will take your breath away, but she is capable of a clean, world class routine that earned her the bronze medal at Secret Classic. She has lovely lines, fluid swing and good form on all of her elements. Her releases are high, her pirouettes finish in a handstand, her pak salto is one of the prettiest ones out there and her dismount is usually stuck. She has also been working on a downie which would add 0.2 in her start value if she performed it.
Brenna Dowell: start value: 6.5
Brenna’s bars routine is one of the most exciting pieces of gymnastics we will see during nationals. There are plenty of great bars workers in USA right now, but nobody has the wow factor we’ll see from her. From start to finish her routine is packed with difficult elements and combinations and she has the hardest dismount of the senior competition. She is the only person in the world who is currently competing a tweddle + ezhova and her church + pak combination is spectacular.The only question is whether or not she can perform all those exciting elements one after an other and complete her routine without major errors. She clearly has the difficulty and her execution is not worse than most people’s but that doesn’t mean much if she can’t hit under pressure. Brenna is returning to elite after competing for the entire NCAA seasons, she hasn’t competed internationally for more than a year and she didn’t have as much time to prepare as some of her competitors and she fell on both events she competed at Classics. But now she needs to not think about any of those things and prove that she actually is one of the country’s best on this events. Her chances to go to worlds don’t look great right now, but a medal on bars would definitely not hurt her.
Other gymnasts with strong bars routines are Madison Desch, Simone Biles, Maggie Nichols and Amelia Hundley.
Laurie Hernandez, start value: 6.1
When Laurie started her elite career, bars was her weakest event. She barely had any difficulty and she just could not stay on the apparatus. And here she is now, a few years later, winning the uneven bars title at Secret Classic with a 15.0. It’s crazy to think how much she has improved on this event, and even though she still needs to upgrade her difficulty and perfect her execution, it’s hard not to be impressed by her progress. I can’t say I’m excited to see her performing a variation of the same skill three times during her routine, but this is obviously the construction that works the best for her and her downie is very impressive. She also has a lovely endo 1/2 and she usually sticks her full in dismount.
Morgan Hurd start value: 5.8
Talking about athletes who have come a long way on bars, Morgan Hurd has improved her start value by 1.5 point. She’s been gradually adding difficulty during the year until she had a very respectable 5.8 routine that won her the silver medal on bars during Secret Classics. She has added a gorgeous inbar full into a tkatcev in the beginning of her routine and she ends with a stalder full right into her full in. She is a very stylish and elegant athlete with strong basics and it’s great to see how much she has improved since last year.
Jazzy Foberg start value: 6.0
Jazzy is an other gymnast who has improved a lot on bars. She didn’t manage to place in the top 3 after having a few minor mistakes at Classics but this is because she’s still adjusting with a new routine. She has a completely different skill set than Laurie and her routine is much more exciting to watch. This year, she added an impressive maloney + gienger combination and she is also trying to perform a Church.If she goes through her routine cleanly she certainly has a fantastic chance to win the title.
Gabby Perea start value 5.9
Gabby comes from a gym that has produced excellent bars workers like Anna Li and Mackenzie Caquatto and she seems to be talented enough to continue their tradition. Her jaeger is one of the best executed releases of the competition and she just flies during her pak salto and her van leeuwen. She was 6th on this event at Secret Classics but if she perfects her pirouettes and works on her dismount her execution score would improve tremendously. She really has beautiful swing and lines and I’m very excited to see what she can do on this event.
Norah Flatley start value: 5.7
Norah withdrew from Secret Classics due to an injury and it is unknown whether or not she will compete at nationals, but if she does she will definitely be one to watch on bars. Her routine is quite different from most of her teammates’. In a team where most gymnasts get their difficulty from tkatcev or shaposhnikova variations, Norah has some excellent L grip work and she performs a beautiful endo and a forward full pirouette into a jaeger before completing her routine with the straightest double layout you will ever see.
Alyona Shchennikova start value: 6.4
During Secret Classic, Alyona had the highest start value of the junior competition. She really showed impressive level of difficulty during her routine. She connects her shaposhnikova variations with inbar stalders. This is so insanely difficult to do and I never thought it would be even possible until I saw her performing it. She also has a piked tkatcev + pak salto combination. Unfortunately, her execution is not as impressive as her difficulty. She has a nice swing but her flexed feet, her short handstands and her bent elbows kill her execution score. I do hope to see her improving on those areas in the future so she can be competitive as a senior but you can’t expect an athlete to magically fix problems like that in a couple of weeks. because of that, I don’t think Alyona is one of the top contenders for the title unless others make mistakes.