The 2012 American Cup, where Gabby Douglas surprised the world by becoming the unofficial All Around champion and Larisa Iordache and Victoria Moors made their international debut, seems like yesterday. And yet, it’s already been four years, it’s already time for the 2016 American Cup and as I’m sure NBC will point out several times, the road to Rio begins here. Now, despite what Tim Daggett may tell you, the American Cup is not the most prestigious competitions in the world, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting, especially since it is one of the first major international meets of the Olympic year. This year, the field was not determined by the All Around results of the previous world championships, but by the team rankings during qualifications. This means that athletes like Larisa Iordache and Giulia Steingruber, who were among the world’s top All Arounders were not invited to the competition because their teams did not place high enough. The American Cup is an individual competition, so I would prefer if the athletes competing were selected based on their individual results, but it’s hard to deny that even under those rules, the line up is beyond exciting. It’s needless to say that a lot can change in the next couple of months and there’s a good chance that there will be some changes. But for the time being, let’s take a look at the athletes who are set to compete at the american Cup.
Amy Tinkler, Great Britain
After a fantastic junior career, Amy Tinkler was one of the most successful first year seniors of 2015. She won the All Around titles at both the English and the British championships, she made it to the European championships, where she had an excellent competition, finishing 6th on floor exercise, she won the All Around gold at the British team championships and she earned four medals, including one gold, at the friendly meet against the Netherlands. After such an incredible year, she was an obvious choice for Great Britain’s worlds team, and she certainly did not disappoint in Glasgow. Despite competing at her first world championships in front of her home crowd, she handled the pressure brilliantly during the first day of the competition, where she posted her country’s highest All Around total, she qualified 8th into the All Around finals and helped her team qualify into the Olympics. Then, she showed incredible routines on vault and floor during the team finals, to help her country win their first worlds team medal in the history of the sport. She unfortunately had a rough meet during the All Around finals, but this was only one disappointing competition in an incredibly successful year. Amy is a balanced All Arounder, capable of impressive skills on every event, including a double twisting yurchenko on vault, a markelov and a van leeuwen on bars, a gainer layout step out + layout step out combination and a triple twist on beam and a silivas and a double layout on floor. In the past, she has shown other exciting elements, like a full twisting double layout, a tucked full and a tkatcev, so I’m hoping to see her bringing some of those back. She certainly is a strong contender for the Olympic Games, but she will need to prove herself, and this is what she’ll be trying to do at the American Cup. She is a world class gymnast and she has the potential to finish in the top 5 at the American Cup, while also challenging for the top 3 on floor.
Ellie Black, Canada
Ellie certainly is one of the most improved gymnasts of the quad. She was an underdog, who made it to the 2012 Olympics, she really had some excellent moments in London and then, she stuck around and became the absolute leader of the Canadian team after her London teammates retired. During the quad, Ellie has become a Pacific Rims, Commonwealth Games and Pan-american Games champion, she has won multiple medals in smaller international competitions and she has made it into event finals at worlds three times in a row. She was the absolute star of the 2015 Pan-american Games, where she won the All Around, the balance beam and the floor exercise titles and she clearly is her country’s top gymnast right now. At the age of 20, she is now an experienced veteran in the sport, but that never prevented her from upgrading her routines and cleaning up her execution. She has worked on her artistry, she has shown incredible progress, especially on balance beam and the uneven bars and she’s capable of some of the most unique skills and combinations being done in the world. She is an excellent All Arounder, who placed 4th during qualifications at worlds and she really is the only athlete of the field who could have an outside chance to challenge the Americans. During 2015, she competed a front handspring layout full on vault, but in the past, she was capable of a pretty solid rudi, and if she brings that vault back, her start value will be high enough to compete against Douglas’ and Nichols’s amanars on this event. The uneven bars are still her weakest event, but she has showed incredible progress and she now performs difficult and unusual skills and combinations, like a Shang, a jaeger + pak, a van leeuwen and a Moors dismount. Her start value is a bit lower than others’ but she can make up for it with her incredible level on difficulty on balance beam, where she is a two times world finalist. She has been fairly inconsistent on this event but if she hits, she could actually post the highest score of the competition. Her routine is packed with difficulty and it includes a back handspring + layout, a back handspring + tucked full, a front pike and a double turn, among other difficult elements. She is also brilliant on floor, where she’s the only athlete in the world currently competing a 2.5 step out into a double tuck. I can’t imagine a scenario where Ellie is healthy and doesn’t earn a ticket for her second Olympics. She is Canada’s best and most experienced athlete and she has proven that multiple times during the quad. She has been more successful than any of her teammates and she was the one who held the team together when they were struggling. So, unlike some other athletes competing, she doesn’t need to prove that she deserves to be considered an Olympic contender. However, this is a great chance for her to see where she stands among some of the world’s best All Arounders and to test her new routines in front of a big crowd. At the last time she competed at the American Cup, Ellie placed 5th. Now, she is the top contender for the bronze medal, while she could also post massive scores on beam and floor.
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Carlotta Ferlito, Italy
After missing the world championships due to injury and having a rough 2014, Carlotta came back to do an excellent job in 2015. She certainly had some struggled and mistakes during the year, but she earned an impressive amount of medals, including a bronze on beam at the Jesolo Trophy, golds on beam and the All Around at the Golden League, gold on beam and bronze on floor at the Italian championships and silver on floor and in the All Around at the Novara Cup. After those great results, she was a lock for Italy’s world team and she did a fantastic job at Glasgow, where she hit every single routine she competed. She helped her country place in the top 8 and earn a ticket to Rio during qualifications, she posted 3 scores above 14 during the team finals, she was the first reserve for the beam finals and she had a strong performance at the AA finals, where she finished 12th. She really showed impressive progress this year, revealing upgrades on every event and showing improved artistry and presentation on floor. She still has some execution issues and she needs to work on her twisting form, her swing on bars, her block on vault and her low landings on floor, but she has some impressive skills, like an 1.5 twisting yurchenko on vault, a maloney + bail, a jaeger and a double arabian dismount on bars, two back handsprings into a layout, a front aerial + sheep jump, a switch ring and a double pike on beam and a triple twist, a full in, a ferrari and a mustafina turn on floor. I think that if everyone hits, it will be hard for her to beat athletes like Oliveira, Black and Tinkler in the All Around, but she can hope for a top 5 finish on her best event, the balance beam. She clearly is one of the front runners for Italy’s Olympic team, so she probably just wants to start her year strong with this competition.
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Lorrane Oliveira, Brazil
Lorrane was born in 1998, but 2015 really was her first year as a senior since she struggled with injuries during 2014. From the very routine she competed during the year, it was clear that she’s an extremely talented athlete, with both incredible power and beautiful execution. However, she barely had any experience and she was terribly inconsistent. She had a busy year, she got multiple international assignments and she won a couple of medals, including an uneven bars bronze at the Houston National Invitational and a balance beam silver at the Ljubljana Cup, but during the first half of the year, her disappointments were definitely more than her victories, and she fell more times than she hit. She had at least one fall or major mistake at every single competition she participated, including the Ljubljana, the Doha and the Sao Paulo world cup, the Huston Invitational and the Pan-American Games, she lost medals she could have easily won and she scored in the 12s multiple times. She was gaining experience, she was trying new skills and combinations at every meet but nothing seemed to work for her and she kept struggling for the entire year. Brazil didn’t have tons of depth during 2015, and despite her inconsistency, she was named to her country’s worlds team. Before Glasgow, she had only had hit 4 out of 4 once during the year, and even then, she had major problems with her landings. She was clearly having trouble handing her nerves during competition and there was a massive amount of pressure on her, since her country desperately needed to earn a ticket to the Test Event. It seemed like this was a disaster waiting to happen, but when the green light was on, she was absolutely fabulous. During qualifications, she hit every single routine, delivering one of her country’s 3 highest scores on each event and she earned Brazil’s highest All Around total, qualifying into the All Around finals in an impressive 11th place. She unfortunately made mistakes during the All Around finals, but her performance during qualifications proved how talented she really is. A few weeks later, she had an other excellent competition and after hitting her routines on all four events, she became Brazil’s new national All Around champion, while also grabbing gold medals on bars and floor and bronze on balance beam. I think Lorrane is incredibly talented. She has an excellent double twisting yurchenko and she has trained amanars, she can swing bars and she performs difficult skills like a van leeuwen and a front pirouette + double front dismount combination, she has a good start value on beam and she is a fantastic tumbler, who has shown an impressive variety of tumbling passes on floor (Dos Santos, 2.5 + front full, full in, double arabian, whip + double tuck, whip + double arabian + front tuck). The only thing holding her back is her inconsistency, so if she learns how to control her nerves, sky is the limit for her. I’m hoping that her recent success has helped her get more confident and that she will hit her routines in the American Cup. If she does that, she can finish in the top 5 in the All Around and the floor exercise.
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Tisha Volleman, Netherlands
Tisha is now a second year senior, who exceeded people’s expectations in 2015. As a junior, she had won the Dutch national All Around title and she had represented her country at the Junior European championships, but none of the scores she posted during those competitions indicated that she would eventually become a valuable member of the senior team. She did not compete for a spot at the European championships and the European Games, and she wasn’t expected to be among the country’s best gymnasts until she placed 5th at the Dutch World Trials, where she posted solid scores on vault and floor. She continued to make a case for herself at the friendly meet against Great Britain, where she won a bronze medal on floor and after Celine Van Gerner’s injury and Noel Van Klaveren’s struggles, she earned a ticket to Glasgow. She had very little international experience and she was competing at her first world championships, so nobody really had high expectations from her, but when it was time to compete, she hit every single routine she performed. During qualifications, she had the highest score of her team on vault and the second highest score on floor exercise and she helped her team achieve the historic 8th place finish, that gave them the ticket to Rio. After this excellent performance, she made the team finals line up on vault and floor and she once again proved that she can handle the pressure by posting her country’s highest score on both events. It’s quite remarkable to note that Tisha really performed to the best of her abilities at the world championships, and she scored higher than she had at any prior competitions. She has now gained valuable experience and she has proven that she can hit her routines. Now, she also needs to upgrade her routines and to show that she has enough difficulty to help her team. She is capable of a gorgeous full twisting yurchenko on vault, a jaeger, a bail to handstand and a full in dismount on bars, a front tuck mount, a unique front handspring + front toss series, a double turn, a sheep jump and a steingruber dismount on beam and a tucked full in, a triple twist and a gomez on floor and we should probably expect some upgrades from her. I don’t think she has enough difficulty to challenge for a top 5 finish if everyone hits, but she certainly is an interesting gymnast, capable of unusual skills and nice choreography and this will be a great chance for her to shine as an individual.
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Tabea Alt, Germany
At the age of 15, Tabea already has plenty of international experience and an impressive medal collection. Despite being a rather inconsistent gymnast, she achieved some excellent results as a junior. In 2014, she dominated the Munich friendly meet, where she won four gold medals, beating athletes like Tinkler, Downie and Abdelaziz and she became the Junior European balance beam bronze medalist. During 2015, she won a bronze medal on balance beam at the Austrian Team Open, she dominated the German nationals, where she won one silver and four gold medals, and she won an All Around silver at the FIT challenge. She didn’t manage to win an individual medal at the European Youth Olympic Festival, but she helped her team place 3rd and she qualified into three event finals, proving that she is one of the best juniors in Europe. She is very promising on the uneven bars, where she’s capable of a komova 2 + pak, a van leeuwen, a high jaeger and a gorgeous full twisting double layout dismount. She’s also an excellent beam worker and she performs a ridiculously difficult side aerial + 2 layout step outs combination. Her floor is not quite as strong, but she’s capable of a double layout, which is one of the most difficult tumbling passes being done in Germany and she has competed a lovely double arabian in the past. She still vaults a full twisting yurchenko, but she has attempted DTYs in the past, so hopefully, she will get this vault consistent in the future. Tabea is in a similar level with athletes like Murakami, Tinkler, Volleman or Ferlito, so I could see her challenging for a top 5 finish, especially if she has a double twisting yurchenko. However, her main goal from the competition should be to have a successful senior international debut, hit her routines and earn some valuable experience. She already has the difficulty and the execution to be a top contender for Germany’s major team. Her only problem is her lack of consistency and hopefully, competing at major meets like the American Cup will help her learn how to control her nerves and how to handle the pressure.
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Mai Murakami, Japan
Back in 2009, a tiny Mai Murakami captivated the world with her bright smile and took our breath away throwing layout fulls, double doubles and 3.5 twists at the age of 13. Her insane level of difficulty, the videos of her training chusovitinas and triple doubles, her incredible power and her clean execution were enough for people to consider her the new it girl of Japanese gymnastics. However, this sport is all about timing, and despite her incredible potential as a junior, Mai was not consistent and strong enough to get a ticket to London back in 2012. She continued to compete after 2012 and she was very successful in 2013, winning medals in national and international competitions and placing 4th on floor at the world championships. Seeing her barely missing out on what could be a historic medal for Japan was certainly disappointing, but it was also exciting to see her doing well in the international stage. Unfortunately, her success didn’t last long and during 2014, she struggled with injuries that forced her to downgrade her routines. She won a couple of medals and she made it to the world championships, but she didn’t have enough difficulty to challenge for a spot in the finals, let alone a medal. In 2015, she had some struggles at the NHK Cup and the Japanese nationals, and even though she won a gold medal on floor at the Japanese event championships, she only made the worlds team as a non travelling reserve. However, after two of her teammates ended up being injured, Mai found herself competing at worlds for the third time in her career. She was only added on that team in the last minute and she’s a fairly inconsistent gymnast so it was hard to know what to expect but at the end, she was absolutely brilliant. She helped her team qualify into the team finals and therefore into the Olympic Games, she hit 11 out of the 12 routines she competed and she surprised us all by finishing in an impressive 6th place during the All Around finals, proving that she actually is one of the world’s best. After an incredibly successful world championships, it’s time for her to prove that she deserves a ticket to Rio and the American Cup is one of the many competitions where she’ll have to prove herself. With a double twisting yurchenko on vault, a maloney + gienger on bars, two back handsprings into a layout, a double turn and a double pike on beam and a silivas and a double layout on floor, Mai has impressive skills on every event. She is a strong All Arounder, who is capable of breaking 57 and it will be very exciting to see what she can do. If she hits, she could certainly achieve a top 5 finish, and to post one of the highest scores of the day on floor.
Gabby Douglas, USA
In 2012, a relatively unknown Gabby Douglas stunned the world by posting a higher All Around total than world champion Jordyn Wieber, when she competed an exhibition at the American Cup. Four years later, she returns to that same competition, as the most successful and well known athlete of the field. The American Cup really is when it all started for her. It’s the competition where she started making a name for herself, where she proved that she can hit under pressure and she can in fact be a contender for the All Around title, so it’s really incredible to see her competing there again after all the success she has had in the sport and realizing how far she has come. After Gabby was able to overcome her inconsistency to win the most prestigious title one can win in this sport in 2012, she took a break to enjoy all the opportunities that her success gave her and then, she decided to return to gymnastics. She had a couple of gym changes, she missed some training and lots of people doubter her, but at the end of the year, she probably had the most successful comeback of 2015. She came back at the Jesolo Trophy, where she had a solid competition, she won an All Around silver medal at the Secret Classic and she placed 5th in the All Around at the National championships. She was not perfect, and she had some errors through the year, but she clearly proved herself as one of USA’s best and she was named into her country’s worlds team. She had an excellent performance at Glasgow, delivering solid routines during team finals, winning the All Around silver medal behind Simone and placing 5th on the uneven bars, proving that she is serious about this comeback. Now, it’s time for her to show that she deserves to be on the Olympic team for the second time on her career and an American Cup title would certainly be a good start. She is probably the strongest bars worker of the competition, and she has an excellent beam routine, which includes a fabulous standing full and a double pike dismount in combination. During 2015, she scored very well on floor by minimizing her landing deduction. However, in the Olympic year, she will definitely need a 6 + start value on this event, so hopefully we will see some upgrades from her. She is also hoping to have her amanar back, and that would certainly help her chances. Gabby is a top contender for the All Around title, and she has a good chance to post one of the highest scores on the uneven bars and the balance beam.
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Maggie Nichols, USA
Maggie is one of the biggest surprises of the quad. She was not among USA’s best seniors, she did not really show massive potential in her first senior year and even though most people thought that she could have a great NCAA career, nobody really saw her as a potential world champion. However, she exceeded everyone’s expectations, she upgraded her routines on every single event and she showed incredible consistency until she became one of her country’s best. An injury prevented her from fighting for a spot in the 2014 worlds team, but she came back strong in 2015 and she stunned the world by winning the national All Around silver medal, beating Olympic champions Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman. After her excellent performances all year long, it was clear that Nichols had earned a spot in the worlds team, but even when she got in Glasgow, lots of people saw her as a potential alternate, or as someone who could only contribute on one or two events. Maggie competed on three events during the qualifications and she was so solid that she was the only athlete selected to compete on all four events at team finals. There, she handled the pressure brilliantly and she delivered on ever apparatus, posting one of the highest All Around totals we saw at Glasgow, before also winning her first individual worlds medal. This performance impressed the entire world, including Marta, who now gives Maggie the chance to prove herself individually. Maggie has proven that she’s consistent and that she can handle the pressure. Now, she also needs to show that she can bring huge scores and stand out in the deepest team in the world and the American Cup will be a great opportunity for her to do that. Her amanar already gives her an advantage over some of her competitors and she has world class start values on every event. In the past, she has shown exciting skills she didn’t compete at worlds, such as a double layout on floor, a grigoras and a full in on beam and a chow + pak + maloney + bail on bars, and she has trained difficult elements and combinations, like a full twisting double layout and a side aerial + layout step out, so there’s definitely room for upgrades in her routines. She is a top contender for the All Around title, and she could also post big scores on every event, and especially vault and floor.
The battle for the title should be between the two Americans. During the world championships, Douglas and Nichols’s All Around scores were very similar but it’s safe to assume that both athletes will have some upgrades for 2016. I personally think that Gabby has more rooms for upgrades in her routines. 2015 was the first year of Gabby’s comeback and she was more focused on regaining her strength, her stamina and her old skills. Now, she has already achieved that and she can focus on learning new skills. I’m sure she’ll be working on her amanar and some new tumbling on floor, as well as new elements on bars, so it will be exciting to see what she can do. If she comes to the American Cup with an amanar and a 6 + floor routine, she will certainly be hard to beat. I think that Maggie is closer to her peak than Gabby, but this girl is full of surprises, so I definitely don’t count her out. Ellie Black should be right behind them if she hits. Amy, Lorrane, Mai, and hopefully Tabea have similar scoring potential so the fight between them should be intense, even though Amy is definitely the most consistent of this group. Tisha and Carlotta’s scoring potential is a tiny bit lower, but they are both world class gymnast, who will be exciting to watch.
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