Two times world All Around champion, Simone Biles, is in the position everyone expected her to be as she is currently leading the competition. However, there were a few unpleasant surprises during her performance. She started with a strong bars routine which included a clean piked tkatcev into a pak salto and a stuck full in dismount. Then, she moved on balance beam where she struggled a bit, having a few wobbles and balance checks that hurt her execution score. Once she took the floor all eyes were on her and the crowd exploded when she stuck her Biles and her silivas but then she fell on her dismount. I don’t think I’ve seen Biles falling on floor in about two years so this uncharacteristic mistake was a big shock not only for everyone watching but for Simone herself too. Thankfully, she reminded everyone why she is the best in the world on her last event, the vault, where she performed one of the best amanars the world has ever seen. Her height and distance were as great as ever, her form was fantastic and she stuck the landing cold to earn the highest execution score we’ve seen under the new Code of Points (with the sticking bonus). I think Simone received lots of generous scores during the competition (after all, it’s nationals) but the 9.850 she got on vault was not too much of a stretch. Even with a fall and a mediocre beam routine, Biles still ended up on the top of the standings with a comfortable lead over the next athlete. As it has been said, her insane level of difficulty puts her on a whole other level and she can afford to have a couple of falls and still get away with a gold medal in the All Around. However, there’s less room for error when it comes to the event titles. Simone was the front runner for the gold medals on floor and beam and her mistakes opened the door for other athletes to make a case for themselves
On second place we have rising star Maggie Nichols, who was probably the most impressive gymnast of the first day. She started on vault where she performed her amanar for the second time ever and she did not struggle at all. Her vault can’t compare to Simone’s and it’s nowhere near perfect but she did it well enough to earn a 15.8 that put her in the lead after the first rotation. She continued to impress on the uneven bars, where she connected all her elements and she didn’t have any major problems on balance beam. She finished her day by landing her silivas and her full ins on floor and she became the only top All Arounder who really did her absolute best in the competition. I never considered Maggie a lock for the worlds team because I didn’t think she had any stand out events and her start values are not that high, but she hasn’t put a foot wrong all year so far and if she has one more day like that, she will have proved she deserves a ticket to Glasgow.
The Olympic All Around Champion is currently a full point behind Maggie Nichols after hitting four out of four for the third competition in a row. It’s so surprising to see Gabby being an athlete without amazing difficulty who is beating other thanks to consistency but this is the case right now. She didn’t show any upgrades from nationals and she stuck with her double twisting yurchenko and her 6.4 bars routine but her execution was much better on both vault and bars. She only had a small hop on her DTY, she hit her handstands, she kept good form and she landed her double layout very well on bars. She was also impressive on what has been her most inconsistent event, the balance beam. There were a couple of balance checks during her routine, but she nailed her front pike and her standing full, she showed great splits during her leaps and she controlled her double pike dismount very well. The only real problems for her came on floor. Her double arabian + stag was gorgeous and she nearly stuck her double pike and her double tuck but she landed her full in very low and took a big step forward, she stumbled out of her ferrari and she didn’t complete any of her turns so both her difficulty and execution scores were lower than she would have hoped. Despite those errors, Gabby is still third in the All Around over athletes like Bailie Key and Aly Raisman and she still has a full day of competition to make up for her mistakes. If she performs like she did at Classics she has an excellent chance to be on the top 3. She is currently not top 3 on any event so she really should try to deliver near perfect routines on bars and beam so she can win a medal on those events and maximize her chances to make the worlds team.
Gabby’s Olympic teammate, Aly Raisman started the competition with an uncharacteristic fall on balance beam. I don’t even remember Aly on this event during her entire career so seeing her off the beam definitely did not feel right. However, as the experienced veteran she is, she did not let that fall hold her back and she recovered well on the remaining events. Her floor routine was absolutely fantastic. She did not attempt the Dos Santos + front tuck that caused her trouble at Classics but her signature opening tumbling pass was excellent, her Dos Santos + stag was well controlled, her Double Layout was powerful and her unique double pike into split jump half was a great way to end a great routine. She almost tucked her amanar and she took a big step on the side in the landing but then she hit one of the best bars routines of her life. Of course, falling on floor at Classics and falling on beam at nationals is not ideal, but it doesn’t change the fact that Raisman is one of the best athlete USA has right now. Knowing Aly, I am sure she will come back strong in day 2 and hit routine after routine and if she does that she has an excellent chance to win an All Around medal. She is obviously not going to come anywhere near the bars podium and she’s not going to medal on beam with a fall, but with Simone falling, she is the front runner for the floor title and I’m sure she’ll be delighted to do that.
First year senior Bailie Key, decided to make us all emotional by wearing the same leotard her coach, Kim Zmeskal was wearing when she competed at the 1991 world championships that were also held in Indianapolis. She started the competition with an very clean bars routine that earned a high score. Unfortunately, things didn’t go equally well on balance beam where she touched the beam after her back handsprings + layout flight series. She also had a few minor mistakes on floor. She landed her double layout a bit low, she didn’t hit 180 degrees on her stag jump, she didn’t complete her triple and took a big step. None of those errors were disastrous, but they all added up together and hurt her execution score. On her last event, she showed one of the strongest double twisting yurchenkos of the day, and she finished her day with an impressive 15.250. Bailie is only fifth but she is only a tenth away from Raisman and Douglas so she should definitely not be counted out.
The lovely Alyssa Baumann is once again right behind the country’s top All Arounders. She did not have any falls and she has every reason to be extremely proud of herself, but with other athletes making mistakes she had a realistic chance to break into the top 5 and she didn’t really take advantage of that since she didn’t deliver her best possible routines on vault and floor. Her double twisting yurchenko and most of her tumbling passes were landed low so she did not get high execution scores on those events. However, she was one of the most stylish floor workers of the competition and I really enjoyed her dramatic and elegant choreography. She was also impressive on the uneven bars, where she showed a much improved routine despite missing a couple of handstands. Her beam routine was one of the highlights of the entire competition. She had to start on this event but she handed the pressure brilliantly and she stuck her standing arabian, she performed a gorgeous switch ring, she hit all her connection and she landed her dismount very well to earn the highest beam score of the day. With Simone being a bit shaky and Raisman and Key having major errors, Alyssa has a good chance to get away with the beam title, but she’ll have to be absolutely perfect during the second day of the competition.
An other gymnast that really impressed me was Brenna Dowell. As we all know, Brenna decided to return to elite after her first year at college and she didn’t look nearly ready for that at Secret Classics, where she fell on both events she competed at. However, she seems to have worked very hard on the last couple of weeks and she entered nationals as a much stronger competitors. She started her competition with the most spectacular bars routines we saw. Her tweddle to ezhova, her church to pak, her maloney and her van leeuwen were all sharp and well performed and she had no problems with her dismount. She has some form errors that hurt her scores but she really did deliver the best routine she possibly could on this event. She also nailed every single skill of her beam routine before taking several steps out of her double tuck dismount. This is obviously a big mistake and she was deducted for it but it was a massive improvement from the scary fall she had at Classics. Then, she moved on the two events she didn’t compete at Classics and showed that she’s still capable of world class gymnastics. I was delighted to see her gorgeous double front pike in competition again and her double twisting yurchenko was excellent. The truth is that Brenna doesn’t really have the start values to challenge for worlds. Her 6.7 on bars is the only number that could really help the team and there are other gymnasts who scored higher than her on this event. However, making it to worlds it not the only thing that matters. Even if she doesn’t make it to Glasgow, Brenna will have enjoyed an other nationals championships and she will have shown that she is a strong athete capable of impressive gymnastics. Of course she has one more day of competition left and she still has four more routines to hit. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that she can do that.
World champion MyKayla Skinner has two things to prove during those national championships: that she is top three in the country on vault and floor and that she is capable of fighting for world medals on those two events. At day 1, she was still not ready to perform the amanar that would make her a top contender for a vault medal and the score she received from her Cheng was lower than the scores other athletes received for their DTYs. Despite hitting her floor routine she was heavily penalised for her low landings and her imperfect leaps and she is only fifth on this event. Surprisingly, she got the same scores for her floor and her beam routine, where she absolutely nailed a very impressive back handspring + tucked full combination. Her bars have definitely improved and she has a good level of difficulty and she hit more handstands than she usually does but this will always be her weakest event. With one more day of competition, MyKayla has a lot to prove. She already is a dark horse for the worlds team and she desperately needs to get a score above 15 on floor and finish top 3 on this event.
An other member of the gold medal winning world championships team who really stood out was Madison Kocian. Maddie competed on all four events for the first time this year and she struggled quite a bit. Her vault was pretty good but she fell on beam and she had to take several steps out of her double arabian on floor. However, Kocian is not hoping to make the team as an All Arounder or as a beam specialist. Her ticket to Glasgow is going to be bars and she really did her best on this event. She is now comfortable with her routine, she hit all her connections, she had good amplitude on her flight elements and she stuck her dismount. For this impressive set, she earned the highest score of the day and she is the current leader on bars.
Her biggest competitor for the bars title seems to be the defending national champion Ashton Locklear. Despite having a shoulder surgery a few months ago and not having all her difficulty back, Ashton showed a world class routine with impressive difficulty and execution. She is still not capable of her inbar stalders but she still has a good start value and her inbar + toe on full + chow + pak + maloney + bail combination is fantastic. Her toe point is beautiful, her lines are gorgeous and her swing is very fluid. I’m not sure if this one event will be enough to put her on an other worlds team but she is certainly doing everything she can to make herself a contender. On her other event, the balance beam, she had a fall but I don’t think anyone is seeing her as a potential beam worker for worlds anyway.
The other bars specialist, Polina Shchennikova had a disappointing performance. Her routine was very similar to the one she did at Classics. She hit her very difficulty opening combination with only minor form breaks but she then fell on her dismount. It’s clear that she struggles with endurance and she doesn’t have enough energy to finish her routine.
World and Olympic champion Kyla Ross had a lot to prove after having a disappointing performance at the Secret Classic and unfortunately she did not deliver. She probably had the best double twisting yurchenko of the night and her double arabian to stag on floor was absolutely gorgeous but she struggled with her double tuck dismount, and most importantly, she had problems on the events that can help her make the worlds team. She added a new maloney + bhardwaj into her bars routine, but she did not perform her chow, her inbar stalders or her pak + van leeuwen combination and her start value was a 6.0, which was not among the biggest numbers we saw. She was having a good routine, executing all her elements very well but then, she sat down her double front dismount. She managed to stay on the beam but she had a couple of major wobbles and only ended up 9th. After all her amazing accomplishments, Kyla can afford to have one bad meet, but having two disappointing competitions in a row is obviously not helping her chances to make it to worlds. I’m not counting her out yet but she will have to deliver during the second day of nationals and at the selection camp.
After missing the last two championships due to injuries, Rachel Gowey finally competed at her first nationals and she really did a great job. After her injury, she was not ready to compete on all four events yet so she only did bars and beam. Her bars set was fantastic. She showed why she is the Pan-American uneven bars champion and she connected her komova 2 to her full pirouette and her ricna to her pak without any problems, most of her pirouettes finished in a handstands and her double layout dismount was gorgeous. After that routine, she found herself being third on the uneven bars and she will now fight for a medal on this event. She was also confident on beam, where she stuck her two layout step outs, she performed a great front pike and she only had a tiny hop after her 2.5 dismount I never considered Rachel a strong contender for the worlds team but yesterday, she outscored some of USA’s strongest athletes on both events and if she does two more solid routines she could be part of the discussion.
Pan-American games All Around silver medalist, Madison Desch did not start her competition well. She fell on her first routine, the uneven bars. This was particularly disappointing because Maddie had been struggling to hit her bars routine for the last couple of years and she finally seemed to be getting it together on this event. On beam, she was wise enough not to perform the layout full that gave her so much trouble at Panams and she didn’t have any major errors, but the low difficulty of her routine and her minor wobbles and execution errors prevented her from getting a high score. Then she moved on floor, which was the only event where she had a realistic chance to win a medal. However, she downgraded her routine, taking out her double front twist and her triple full and she stumbled out of her double tuck dismount. She did not vault so she did not place well in the All Around.
Some of the less flashy athletes of the competitions were actually the ones who delivered the best routines. Panamerican champions Amelia Hundley, Emily Schild and Megan Skaggs used all the confidence they gained from their gold medal winning performance and hit their world class routines under pressure. Emily was particularly impressive, landing an incredibly powerful and clean double twisting yurchenko and having one of the most difficult bars routine of the night. She is capable of inbar stalders and a great komova 2 into a pak. As expected, Amelia stood out on vault and floor and did a great job to finish on the top 10 while Megan was very clean and solid throughout the competition. She has competed in three important meets this year, the Jesolo Trophy, the Panamerican games and the nationals championships and she hasn’t put a foot wrong during the entire 2015 which is a very impressive accomplishment. The beautiful Lauren Navaro had a few mistakes and form breaks but she captivated the audience with her grace and elegant. She really is a gorgeous gymnast with fantastic toe point and artistry and she was particularly impressive on bars and beam. First year senior Nia Dennis had a major error during her pak salto on bars but she recovered well for the other three events. For her, the highlight of the competition was her balance beam routine that earned the third highest score of the day. She really was fantastic, sticking skill after skill and showing great flexibility in her leaps. It’s absolutely great to see her looking that confident and hopefully she will eventually be able to add more difficulty. On vault she showed a fabulous double twisting yurchenko and she did powerful tumbling on floor. Her double layout was a bit off but the rest of her routine was very well performed.
photos by John Cheng