During the last few years, USA has always been the front runner, the clear favorite for every single team title and because of that, some people even feel that the country’s domination is taking away the excitement of the competition. They find it boring, they find it predictable, they think that a gold medal is not equally exciting when it’s earned by the athlete we all knew would win. And yes, we all love a good underdog story but if we actually look at each team member individually, it’s not hard to realize that this is exactly what we have here. USA has never been my favorite country to root for in gymnastics, but that doesn’t mean I’m not emotionally attached to this team. They are a group of athletes most of whom I have been following since the first days of their career and it really has been amazing to watch them grow through the years. And honestly, if back then, when each of them were starting their journey in elite gymnastics, someone had asked me if I thought any of them would ever be a super star, my answer would probably have been negative.
In this sport, there have been plenty of athletes who have been in the spotlight since their very first steps in the world of elite gymnastics. Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin, Jordyn Wieber, Kyla Ross, Viktoria Komova and Larisa Iordache were super stars since they were barely as tall as the beam and besides their up and downs they all went to have stunning careers. However, most of the members of this team are people who came out of nowhere and took over the world.
When Simone Biles made her first junior national team in 2012, she was not the one people were talking about. It was her teammates, Katelyn Ohashi, Lexie Priessman, Madison Desch and Amelia Hundley who were supposed to be the future leaders of USA. Simone was very talented, nobody denied that, but she was just an one event specialist. She had a great amanar on vault and that was pretty much it. And in a team like USA, where everyone and their mothers are throwing amanars anyway, she was probably going to struggle to ever make it to a major team. People thought that she would be an other gymnast who would always be overshadowed by stronger teammates as an elite without ever making a huge impact to the sport. And yet, here we are, three years later, discussing not whether or not Simone will go to worlds team, but by how many points she will win the All Around.
Do we event need to talk about Gabby Douglas? Everyone loved the story of the young girl, who moved away from her family in order to train with an Olympic coach but after her meltdowns in 2011, most people seemed to think that her career was over before it even begun. When Gabby ended up being part of the worlds team, people were surprised, I remembered some of them even being outraged. They said she didn’t earn it and that she was just going to fall all over the place. Instead, Douglas finished 5th in the All Around during qualification, delivered a strong bars routine to help USA win team gold and even qualified to the uneven bars finals. A year, later, she posted the higher All Around total during the American cup, unofficially beating world All Around champion Jordyn Wieber and two times world All Around finalist Aly Raisman. She had some ups and downs during the year, she had falls and she had mistakes but at the end of the day she did! She became the 2012 Olympic All Around champion. When she announced her comeback, a surprising amount of people thought it was “fake” and when she actually left Chow and switched gyms people thought that she wasn’t going to get anywhere without him. But she did, she got to the second place of the podium at the Secret Classic, she got into the national team and of course, she got into the worlds team. This really is the first time when Gabby enters the competition as a super star. In 2011, she was unknown, in 2012 she was someone who could potentially challenge for gold medals but only if she actually got over her inconsistency. Now, she goes to Glasgow as the reigning Olympic champion and I’m so proud of how far she has come during those years.
Aly Raisman was also never supposed to be a star. She didn’t become an elite as early as a prodigy would, she didn’t have the potential of some of her teammates, she didn’t have the artistry or the flexibility. Even when she had a very successful national championships in 2009, winning the bronze in the All Around and silver on balance beam, even when she became a three times junior pan-american champion people did not seem to believe in her. They thought that despite her achievements as a junior, she would not have enough difficulty to fight against the very best senior gymnasts in the world and when it was announced that she was going to compete at the 2010 American Cup, people were rather confused. Unlike Gabby and Simone, Aly did not have a break out year. She proved her self year after year, competition after competition. She got a couple of opportunities to prove herself when her more experienced teammates were injured and she grabbed them with both hands every single time and she got a little better every year, until she was one of the world’s very best. In 2009 she was an okay junior, in early 2010 she was an unknown first year senior and then, she became the solid team player, in 2011 she became the team leader and somehow, she found herself being USA’s most successful gymnast at the London Olympic Games. But even after she had proven that impossible was nothing for her, people still refused to believe in her when she announced her comeback. They said she’s doing it for the fame, they said that she was not going to be able to keep up with the younger gymnast and yet, here she is, set to compete at her third world championships at the age of 21.
Maggie Nichols’ case was a bit different. As a junior, she wasn’t someone that people didn’t have much faith in. She was some one that people barely knew. She never made the junior national team, she didn’t place top 5 in any event at junior nationals, she wasn’t supposed to ever make it big. Even when she made the senior national team and got her first international assignment in Jesolo, people thought that this was due to the luck of depth in USA that year and assumed that she would soon retire from elite and go to college. Everyone was beyond impressed and surprised when she had such a great year in 2014, but when she injured her knee and was therefore unable to fight for a spot in the worlds team, they said that this was a shame, especially because this was probably her only chance to go to worlds. But here she is, finishing second All Around at nationals over Olympic champions, in one of the deepest fields USA has ever had.
On the other hand, Madison Kocian was a stand out junior. She qualified elite when she was 12, she was training at the legendary WOGA, the gym that had just produced back to back Olympic All Around champions and she made it to the national team in her first year as an elite athlete. However, as she got older she was plagued with injuries that prevented her from competing for almost two years. After that, it seemed like Kocian would be an other promising junior who would never reach her full potential. Even when she came back in 2013, looking strong for her first year as a senior, she ended up injuring her ankle and missing a chance to fight for a spot in the worlds team. She had barely been healthy for three years but she didn’t give up and she finally got her chance to shine in 2014, where she earned a spot to USA’s world team despite struggling with injuries for the first part of the year. She became a world champion and most people thought that this was going to be the biggest moment of her career. After all, she was a bars specialist and USA wouldn’t need any of those in the next year, when Gabby Douglas would come back and Nia Dennis and Bailie Key would be seniors. And yet, she proved that she was here to stay, by hitting every bar set during 2015 and earning a ticket for their second world championships.
And of course, who would have thought that MyKayla Skinner would go so far in the sport. She certainly was a talented junior with a very impressive skill level, but her first year as a senior was all about struggle. She was going through a rough period, losing skills, having to water down her routines and struggling with consistency. When she debuted her original layout double double in 2013, most people (myself included) said that she would never get it named after her simply because she would never go to worlds. And the truth is that she just wasn’t ready back then. She was trying tons of new skills but she could only perform half of them consistently, her bars were weak, her beam was weak, her leaps were poor and she didn’t seem to have full control of her gymnastics just yet. But she actually went home and worked incredibly hard and even though she still is far from perfect, she has made tremendous progress, improving her consistency and polishing up her routines. She did not only make it to worlds, despite people’s predictions, she actually did an excellent job, qualifying into two event finals and earning a bronze medal on vault. And now, she is set to compete at the world championships once again.
The biggest surprise of the team though has to be Brenna Dowell. She wasn’t a star as a junior, she was barely noticed at her first year as a senior and people were rather confused when she made it to the Olympic Trials. To be honest, I thought Brenna would have retired two times by now. I thought that after 2012, she would drop back to level 10 and prepare for college. Instead, she came back strong in 2013, showing incredible upgrades and consistently placing third behind Simone Biles and Kyla Ross. After an amazing season, she earned a spot in USA’s worlds team and traveled all the way to Antwerp only to find out that she was only going to be an alternate, which is something that I’m still mad about. Despite that disappointment, it was clear that with her strong routines on three events, she would be a front runner for the 2014 worlds team. But then, she got injured and could only perform on bars for the biggest part of the year. Even though she had a successful performance at the selection camp, she was only named the travelling reserve for Nanning. This is when I once again thought she was going to retire. And she did. She left elite and she went to college, where she had a successful freshman year, competing for the university of Oklahoma. But then she came back. I’m going to be honest and admit that I never thought she would get anywhere during this comeback. I thought she wouldn’t have enough difficulty or endurance to compete against her country’s best. But once again, she proved me wrong and here she is, ready to flight for Glasgow. Hopefully this time, she will have her chance to shine. I certainly wish to see her competing, but even if she doesn’t, she will still have gotten so much further than everyone thought she could and she will have exceeded everyone’s expectations, just like she always does.
There is this misconception that in gymnastics, if you are not extremely successful by the age of 17, you may as well retire because you have reached your peak and you will never be able to improve from now on. But Maggie’s, MaKayla’s and Brenna’s careers show that this couldn’t be any more false while Aly and Gabby prove that gymnastics are not over once you become an adult. This is why I love this team, they have overcome injuries, they have exceeded expectations and the have shattered stereotypes about the sport and it’s killing me that one of them will not actually get to compete. So, the biggest question is, which of those lovely ladies will end up being the alternate.
It’s needless to say that as long as Simone is in one piece she will be competing at Glasgow. There’s no alternate universe, or possible scenario where the best gymnast on the planet and arguably, one of the best gymnasts in history is going to watch worlds from the sidelines. I would say that Alexandra Raisman, is also a lock for the main team, while Gabrielle Douglas, who is can score above 15 on three events, would need to fall 10 times during podium training in order to not actually compete.
Then, we have Maggie Nichols, who would be a perfect alternate in many ways. She is incredibly consistent, she is a solid All Arounder and she can deliver good scores on every event if needed. It is true that Nichols doesn’t have any massive scoring potential on any event besides vault. She obviously does have huge skills, like a double double, a grigoras and a full in dismount, but she doesn’t really have huge start values and she gives a few tenths away on execution. Being one of only four people who performed a 6.3 + vault during nationals, made her a strong contender for the team, but now Gabby Douglas and Brenna Dowell are rumored to have their amanars back and if it is true, Maggie is no longer top 3 on any event. Reading this, one would assume that she is certain to be the alternate of the team but this is definitely not true. Why? Because she did not put a foot wrong during Classics and championships, because she finished second All Around at nationals, beating Raisman, Douglas, Key and everyone else besides Simone and most importantly, because she is consistent. Sure, her bars start value is only a 6.0, and this is a low number compared to Brenna’s 6.7. However you can be certain that she will actually hit her routine with only minor deductions every single time and this is extremely important in a team finals situation.
An other potential alternate is Brenna Dowell, who is very familiar with that spot since she was the alternate of the 2013 worlds team and the non travelling reserve of the 2014 worlds team. She definitely is an athlete with a lot to offer to the team. In fact, when I was making my predictions a while ago, I said that what USA really needs to maximize their already amazing scoring potential would be a vault and bars specialist and Dowell is perfect for that role. Of course, the team is different to the one I had predicted but she could still fit in very well. She is rumored to have her amanar back and she has the most difficult and original bars set of the country. In the past, she has performed some solid amanars which could potentially outscored Nichols’ and she has posted big scores on bars, where she could make event finals and even challenge for a medal. In addition to that, she has a strong floor routine, which includes the front double pike she will try to get named after her. The only reason why I’m a bit reluctant to say that she is going to be part of the main team, is the fact that she is inconsistent and we haven’t seen many team finals worthy routines from her during the year. She is supposed to have an amanar but she hasn’t performed it in a competition yet. She has a 6.7 bars routine, but she has only hit it once this year, she has great tumbling on floor, but she has only showed two routines that scored in the low 14s. If Brenna lands amanars and hits her routines during podium training, I will be the first person to say she deserves to compete. I just need to see what she can do before doing that.
Before Brenna’s excellent performances at camp, the obvious choice for a bars specialist was Madison Kocian. The 2014 world champion has really had a fantastic year in 2015, nailing every single bars routine she has performed and winning gold medals at both the Secret Classic and the national championships. She hasn’t added any major upgrades since last year but she has gotten much more consistent and much cleaner so she should be able to deliver a score above 15 on this event. She is a potential uneven bars finalist and maybe, even a medal contender. In addition to that, all her other events are good enough for qualifications. However, we need to note that even though she’s amazing at bars, she can only add a couple of tenths in the team’s total and even though she has a double twisting yurchenko on vault and world class beam and floor routines, the USA doesn’t need her in any of those events. I always had the impression that Marta really valued uneven bars specialists and I personally believe that she will compete at Glasgow, but of course, she needs to prove herself just like everyone else.
The last athlete who could potentially end up being an alternate is two times world medalist MyKayla Skinner. If she makes the main team, she is expected to contribute on vault and floor, and she has some of the most difficult skills in the world on both events. People always say that the international judges will be harsh on her on execution, but the truth is that she has scored very well in the past and she probably will again. If everything goes well, she is a final and medal contender in both of her good events, even though it’s going to be hard for her to qualify to floor finals over Aly or Simone. She is also a solid All Arounder who can also perform on bars and beam during qualifications if needed. Word is that she even has her amanar back on vault and that would make her a front runner for the gold medal on this event. However, the team already has plenty of amanars to use for their line up so just like Madison, she would only add a few tenths to the team’s total with her floor routine. USA’s strategy has always been all about the team and I am sure that Marta wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice a potential individual medal if she felt that this would improve the team’s scoring potential. Of course, MyKayla has plenty of things to offer to the team and her chances to get to compete are as good as anyone’s. She just needs to show consistency from now on.
In conclusion, those four athletes are absolutely amazing and they all deserve to compete in the sport’s biggest stage. Simone Biles, recently revealed through her ask.fm that the alternate is already selected and it’s not Maggie Nichols. This means that the most likely candidates are Madison Kocian, Brenna Dowell and MyKayla Skinner. I would also be lying if I said that I don’t have my doubts about how consistent Brenna will be. But hopefully she will prove me wrong. After all, this is what she does best.
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