2015 P & G championships: meet USA’s senior national team

Simone Biles

gym: world champions

year of birth: 1997

biggest accomplishment: 2 times world All Around champion, 6 times world champion

best events: vault, beam and floor

most notable skills: amanar on vault, piked tkacev + pak on bars, grigoras and full in dismount on beam, full twisting layout, Biles and silivas on floor

11870745_10152606812297168_4545709384646320252_nNo fall and no mistake can possibly change the fact that Simone is the absolute best gymnast in the world right now. After a rather disappointing day 1, Biles came back strong to show why she is the reigning world champion. She started her day with one of the best balance beam routines we have ever seen from her. She had a wobble after her grigoras but she nailed every single one of the rest of her skills and she finished with a stuck full in dismount. After this performance, it was clear that she was going to dominate once again. Moving into floor, she had to leave the mistakes she had during day 1 behind her and perform like the world champion she is. She started with a gorgeous full twisting double layout and then she nailed her Biles, her silivas and her full in. Her energy was infectious, her smile light up the entire arena and I was actually surprised that her routine did not break 16. She continued to impress on vault, where she nearly stuck a fantastic amanar for a massive 9.9 E score. She ended her competition with a strong uneven bars routine. Her only visible error was a legs separation during her toe on full and she finished with a huge 63 AA total. It’s needless to say that some of the scores she received her ridiculous but it doesn’t really matter. By winning the All Around Gold medal at those championships, Biles became the first gymnast to ever win three US national titles in a row in 23 years and with 9 world medals, six of which are gold, she is one of the most decorated gymnasts in the history of American gymnastics. There’s no doubt that if she’s healthy she will be part of USA’s 2015 world team and that she will return from Glasgow with a few more medals for her already impressive collection

Maggie Nichols

year of birth: 1997

gym: Twin City Twisters

biggest accomplishment: 2014 Pan-American champion, 2015 national silver medalist (AA)

best events: vault and floor

most notable skills: amanar on vault, maloney + pak + van leeuwen on bars, grigoras and full in dismount on beam and silivas on floor

If there is one athlete who has exceeded everyone’s expectations this year it has to be Maggie Nichols. She never was never a stand out junior and she didn’t show any massive potential during her first year as senior. Her start values were just okay, her form and artistry were not great and she didn’t have anything that made her stand out in a country as strong as USA. In 2014, she showed impressive progress and fantastic consistency to win bronze medals at Secret Classic and at the National championships and she was selected to represent USA at the Pan-American championships. There, she unfortunately dislocated her knee and she was not able to compete for a spot in USA’s worlds team. She returned to competition at this year’s Jesolo trophy, with unspectacular but solid routines and she showed that she has a long way to go but she’s on the right path. All the rumors about the upgrades and progress she showed during11855620_10152606813752168_8907649048302829426_n camps turned out to be true. She appeared at Classics with an amanar, a double double and reworked routines on all events. I have to say that I’m still not a big fan of Maggie’s gymnastics and I wasn’t as eager as most people to add her in my predicted worlds team. She has made incredible progress but besides vault, she still does not really have huge start values and her execution is not very clean. However, after seeing her nailing routine after routine at nationals, I have to admit that she deserves to be on that team. She earned it! The only mistake she made during the entire competition was a step out of bounds on floor. She also chose to downgrade her full in beam dismount to a double pike but that was probably a wise decision. She landed her amanar well both days, she stuck her dismounts, she was solid, she hit her handstands and she put up great performances to win the silver medal behind Simone. After that, she really does deserve to go to her first world championships.

Aly Raisman

year of birth: 1994

gym: Brestyan’s

biggest accomplishment: 2012 Olympic gold (TF, FX) and bronze (BB) medalist, 2011 world champion

best events: beam and floor

most notable skills: amanar on vault, maloney + tkatcev on bars, front pike and patterson on beam, 1.5 step out + double arabian + layout, Dos Santos and double layout on floor.

11904629_10152606811607168_6423700276001787103_nThis time last quad, Aly Raisman’s position was very similar to Maggie Nichols’ position right now. She had never been a stand out athlete during her career before but she kept hitting and hitting until she established her reputation as one of the country’s most consistent athletes. Now, three years later, she returns to the national championships as a super star. She has three Olympic medals, two of which are gold and she was one of the most discussed gymnasts coming into the competition. After an uncharacteristic fall during Day 1, Aly came back and delivered solid routines to win her forth national All Around bronze medal. She started with a spectacular floor routine that secured her the national floor title before moving on vault, where she gave us all a small heart attack. She barely got her amanar around and she landed with her right knee completely locked. For a gymnast without her physical strength, a landing like that could have been a major injury so Aly should consider herself very lucky she was not hurt. That incident didn’t seem to affect her much, since she performed very well on the uneven bars. After that, it was time for her to get her redemption on the event where she fell during day 1, the balance beam. She chose to take out a couple of her connections but she was her usual solid self on this event and she earned a high score. After three successful competitions at Jesolo, Classics and Nationals, Raisman can be considered a lock for the worlds team. Her amanar is quite scary and I’d feel much better if she downgraded it, but it still is an amanar for USA’s vault line up. Her beam is fantastic and her floor is out of this world. At Glasgow, she could not only be very useful for the team but also fight for individual medals in the All Around, beam and floor finals.

Bailie Key

year of birth: 1999

gym: Texas Dreams

biggest accomplishment: being undefeated as a junior for the entire 2013

best events: bars and floor

most notable skills: ricna + pak on bars, bhs + bhs + layout on beam, double layout and 1.5 + triple on floor

11029477_10152606811792168_6204192584505450233_nThe most anticipated new senior of this year, Bailie Key lived up to the hype that has been surrounding her since she was 14 years old and she had an excellent second day of competition to finish in fourth place. She had some minor problems with her triple full, her stalder full and her leotard choices, but overall she showed strong and clean gymnastics. Her double twisting yurchenko is one of the best ones in the world and I’m delighted to see her not pushing herself too hard to compete an amanar. Her floor was excellent, even though she should consider switching her two middle tumbling runs since her 1.5 + triple is giving her trouble as a third pass. She also put her Day 1 mistake on beam behind her and she performed a beautiful, solid routine which included a gorgeous switch ring and she finished her competition with a stuck full in dismount on bars. Bailie, finds herself fourth in the All Around, and third on bars and floor so her chances to go to worlds look absolutely fantastic.

Gabrielle Douglas

year of birth: 1995

gym: Buckeye Gymnastics

biggest accomplishment: 2012 two times Olympic champion

best events: bars and beam

most notable skills: inbar full + piked tkatcev on bars, standing full and front pike on beam, double arabian + stag on floor

11898605_10152606813907168_6577747235200873022_nThis time last quad, when the P & G championships still were the Visa championships and Gabby Douglas was a first year senior, she finished 12th in the All Around after two disastrous balance beam routines. Now, three years later she has already become a world and an Olympic champion who has more fans than she can count. She did not have a perfect competition but as she said, her main goal was to prove to everyone that her comeback was real and she definitely achieved that. After how she has performed at Jesolo, Classics and Nationals, nobody can doubt that she’s seriously about returning to the sport and she has shown enough to be named to the national team. Gabby didn’t have any falls during day 2, she just wasn’t as crisp as she could have been on bars and she had a very shaky beam routine, wobbling after every single skill. However, her double twisting yurchenko was excellent and she controlled all her tumbling passes on floor, showing massive improvement from day 1. Gabby was fifth in the All Around and she wasn’t top 3 on any events but in my opinion she still is one of the top contenders for the worlds team. She can be used on every single event in team finals (even though having her on the floor line up wouldn’t be ideal) and if she hits she’s capable of scoring around 15 on vault, bars and beam. On top of that she has been very consistent throughout the year, which is an amazing achievement from a gymnast known for her inconsistency in the past. It’s important to remember that Gabby has not been in the gym for too long and that she can only improve from now on.

Madison Kocian

year of birth: 1997

gym: WOGA

biggest accomplishment: 2014 world champion

best event: bars

most notable skills: standing arabian and switch ring on beam, komova + pak salto + chow 1/2 on bars, 1.5 + double front full on floor

11902554_10152606811242168_8997253698119230419_nOne of the athletes who impressed me the most during day 2 was WOGA’s Madison Kocian. After being injured for the biggest part of her career, Maddie was finally healthy enough to go to worlds and win a gold medal last year. I was delighted to see her doing that, especially because I thought this was going to be her only chance to compete at the sport’s highest stage. However, one year later and Maddie is once again a strong contender for the worlds team. Nationals were the first competition she was doing All Around since last year and I was surprised by how well she performed during the second day. She stuck her double arabian and her 1.5 + front double full on floor, where she also showed fabulous dramatic choreography, she only had one wobble during her beam routine and she had no problems with her double twisting yurchenko. Most importantly, she delivered on her best event and proved that she still is the best uneven bars worker in her country. Her routine looks better than ever and she could very well make it to finals and maybe even challenge for a medal at worlds. I never thought of a possible scenario where Maddie would have better chances to go to worlds than Kyla Ross, but with the way those two have been performing this seems to be the case right now. It is not certain that USA will choose to send a bars specialist to worlds. But if they do, Kocian is the obvious choice.

Alyssa Baumann

year of birth: 1998

gym: WOGA

biggest accomplishment: 2014 world champion

best event: beam

most notable skills: standing arabian and switch ring on beam, double layout on floor

11904535_10152606811912168_6284952624345998229_nMadison’s WOGA teammate, Alyssa Baumann also had a good competition at the second day of nationals. She started on bars, where she had a great save during her pak salto and hit a strong routine overall. On the event that mattered the most, the balance beam, she once again showed she’s one of the county’s best. She took advantage of her competitors’ mistake to grab a well deserved silver medal after nailing her arabian, her switch ring and her onodi both days. Her double twisting yurchenko is not the most powerful or the cleanest vault out there, but she performed it as well as she could. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to put up any big scores on floor, where she had trouble controlling her landings. Her turns and choreography were gorgeous though. I absolutely adore Alyssa and her elegant gymnastics, but as it has been said before, USA does not need a beam specialist this time around because they have Biles, Douglas, Key and Raisman who are all fantastic beam workers in addition to being good All Arounders. Alyssa would need an other good event in order to be considered and unfortunately, she is not top 5 in the country anywhere outside beam. However, with decent routines on every event, she would be quite a good choice for an alternate.

Nia Dennis

year of birth: 1999

gym: Legacy elite

biggest accomplishment: 2014 junior national silver AA medalist, vault and floor gold medalist

best events: bars and beam (as a junior she showed more potential on vault and floor but an injury has held her back on those events)

most notable skills: tkatcev + pak on bars, double pike and tour jete half on beam, double layout on floor

tumblr_nt6lshkPul1qceecko3_400The athlete I’m most excited to see on the team is first year senior Nia Dennis. People who have been following gymnastics for a while now should be familiar with her since she was one of USA’s top juniors during the last couple of years. She was great at every event, she was powerful and flexible but she also was terribly inconsistent. Her senior career started with a leg injury and continued with her not making the Pan-American team after having a rough competition at the selection camp. After that, Nia decided that she needed a coaching change in order to learn how to handle the pressure and she left the gym where she has trained for her whole life to go to Legacy Elite. People were worried that this may not be the right choice for her because Legacy elite’s top athletes have all struggled with consistency and most importantly, because the gym switch happened only weeks before Classics and Nia would not have much time to adjust. Fortunately, we were all wrong and the whole situation worked just fine for Dennis, who only had one major mistake during both Classics and nationals. At day 2, she landed her powerful double twisting yurchenko very well and she only had small steps after her tumbling passes on floor. Her bars routine was very exciting to watch, with all the sky high flight elements and her beam was as solid as it gets. Nia does not have the level of difficulty to compete against the country’s top All Arounders and she won’t go to worlds unless half of the national team gets hurt. I guess that an alternate spot is not out of the question for her but I don’t think that going to worlds was her main goal at this point though. It looks like her coaches are looking at the bigger picture and they’re trying to help her build her confidence now so she can be consistent once she upgrades in order to fight for a spot in next year’s Olympic team.

Kyla Ross

year of birth: 1996

gym: Gym Max

biggest accomplishment: 2012 Olympic champion, 2014 world champion

best events: bars and beam

most notable skills: maloney + bhardwaj and van leeuwen on bars, switch ring on beam, double arabian on floor

11244388_10152606814912168_6468041157557899122_nI never thought we’d ever see Kyla struggling to make a major team because of her inconsistency but this seems to be the case right now. For her entire career, Kyla has been a machine. She has obviously had her bad days in the past but she always seemed to be able to recover from them and to show consistency and clean execution under pressure. She was one of the most successful juniors of her generation, she went to the Olympics, she went to worlds and she won plenty of medals despite her low difficulty because she could hit when others didn’t. After disappointing performances at the Secret Classic and Day 1 of nationals, Kyla had a lot to prove in the second day of the competition and unfortunately she did not manage to do that. She started the effort on vault, where she performed the worse double twisting yurchenko of her entire career. She didn’t get a good block, she barely got the two rotations around and her landing was very low. After that, she moved on the uneven bars, where she desperately needed to hit her routine, since this is the event where she’s expected to contribute the most at worlds. She caught her bhardwaj, she hit her van leeuwen, she did her gorgeous jaeger but then, she sat down her double front dismount. On floor, she didn’t jump out of her double arabian, she landed her double tuck very low and she had some uncharacteristic mistakes with her leaps. The only event where she performed like the world and Olympic champion she is was the balance beam. There, she showed the consistency, the flexibility and the execution we’re used to seeing from her and she managed to win a bronze medal. I said before that an athlete like Kyla could afford to have one or two mistakes and still make it to the world team, but at this point, she has struggled more times than she had succeeded this year so her chances don’t look great. Maybe, not going to worlds would be a blessing in disguise for her though. She didn’t have enough energy and endurance, she looked exhausted so taking a break could probably be the best option for her right now. After all, her main goal is to make it into a second Olympic Games.

MyKayla Skinner

year of birth: 1996

gym: Desert Lights

biggest accomplishment: 2014 world champion and bronze medalist

best events: floor and vault

most notable skills: cheng on vault, van leeuwen on bars, bhs + tucked full on beam, Moors and silivas on floor

11000188_10152606813307168_67260074435868180_nThe last member of the national team is 2014 world champion MyKayla Skinner. After getting over the struggles she has had during her first year as a senior, MyKayla lived up to the potential she showed as a junior and she has had a very successful senior career so far, winning plenty of national medals and of course going to worlds and winning a gold and a bronze medal there. From the beginning of the year, it was clear that it wouldn’t be easy for MyKayla to go to a second world championships, and Maggie and Aly having amanars didn’t make her situation any better. However this has to do with the depth of team USA and not with her own performances and she actually did a fantastic job at those nationals. Her performance at Day 2 was particularly impressive. She landed her Cheng and her double full very well, she got credit for her full difficulty on floor and she landed all her difficult tumbling passes without any problems and she hit her bars and beam routines. I think MyKayla still has an outside chance to make it to worlds if Marta decides she want an extra individual medal over a bars specialist.

photos by John Cheng

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3 thoughts on “2015 P & G championships: meet USA’s senior national team

  1. I think the first 5 slots are more or less spoken for. It’s the last spot that will be hard. I think the last spot is between Kocian, Skinner, Ross (but only if she shows some real improvement at selection camp)….

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    1. I agree. Then, it depends on what the team will want. Do they want a bars specialist who will up their team total by a couple of tenths? They take Kocian. Do they want an extra individual medal? They take Skinner. I think it would be better for Ross to take a break though, she looked exhausted at nationals.

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  2. with gabby showing Amana at camp and paseka hitting both her Cheng and Amana at Russian cup, skinners chance of vt medal doesn’t look good.. I m afraid she will likely not make the world team…

    I heard Brenna also showed Amanar and got 2nd in ub at camp… gotta give her credit for that… problem is that if gabby has a good Amana and Brenna doesn’t get 1st in ub over kocian, she probably won’t make the team either…

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