Disappointing as it may be that the all-around battle between Elizabeth Price and Kyla Ross that was to have taken place at the American Cup is to be postponed until later this year, Price’s withdrawal from the meet due to a hip injury (recovering “well ahead of schedule” I was told a couple weeks ago) creates an opportunity for one lucky U.S. senior national team member.
But who should it be? For the first time in a very long time, it’s not immediately evident who the strongest, most viable at-this-moment gymnast is (that’s the year after the Olympic Games for you.) Ross, who returned to full training this fall is a great (and obvious) pick. She was in her first year as a senior at the Olympics and collected a gold medal a couple months before her 16th birthday, so no doubt the experience has made her into someone who can lead the U.S. into this new quadrennium well. (Even as a junior, she was always a very solid competitor anyway.)
The second slot will be filled pending the results of a national team training camp at the Karolyi Ranch that’s probably happening pretty darn soon, given that the American Cup is now less than two weeks away.
The U.S.’s way of inserting a gymnast into an open slot at the last minute stretches back to 2010, when Ivana Hong tore her ACL at the pre-meet selection camp. Hong had been the favored gymnast for the coveted Cup spot, and it would have been fitting had she gone, as she was born in Worcester, Mass., where the Cup was held that year and where it will be held this year. Instead, three years ago the opportunity went to local Aly Raisman — and look what happened. The American Cup is a starmaking event, especially if you’re an American.
So with the Fierce Five except Ross still not back to full time training and much of the rest of the senior national team taking a break or rehabbing, who goes? USA Gymnastics has traditionally used the year-after-Olympics American Cup to introduce a rising star junior or new senior (Vanessa Atler in 1997, Kristal Uzelac in 2001, Nastia Liukin in 2005, Jordyn Wieber in 2009). But given the American Cup’s World Cup status this year, rules dictate that the gymnast has to be a senior. I don’t have a crystal ball, but a few candidates are listed in the gallery above or below…
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Desch, second overall at the 2012 Junior Nationals, is a new senior this year. Among other impressive skills, last year she threw an incredible layout full on beam a la Ohashi. Bonus is she’s trained by Al and Armine Fong at GAGE, so you know her form is impeccable.
The 2012 U.S. Junior champion is a new senior and looked solid and prepared in the Gymnastike documentary “Behind the Routine” that was filmed in December. There’s no question that Priessman has the skills (you saw that full twisting double layout on floor, right?) but is she ready at this point in the season to put all of them together? And does she have the polish/international look that NBC’s commentators are always going on about?
The grace and textbook form of Dowell were rewarded at the Mexican Open in October, where Dowell trounced the competition and earned her first big international title. So long as she’s prepared, she too could be a factor.
She did just win the WOGA Classic, after all. But more than that, Denton, Texas’s Milliet has been one of the U.S.’s most underrated gymnasts of the past few years. She may get noticed now.
Simply based on 2012 results, the powerful yet calm Miss Biles would be my pick for this spot. She has a Price-like Amanar and major, major tumbling skills on floor. She’s a new senior, and a budding star. She’s a bit weaker (but much improved) on uneven bars and still a tad nervy on beam, but if she can demonstrate consistency she could wow them in Worcester.
Had Rebecca Bross managed to win the Olympic all-around title instead of Gabby Douglas we’d be talking about a WOGA four-peat at the Olympic Games and tabbing Ohashi as the one who could do it. (As it is, Ohashi’s probably lucky not to have that pressure to deal with.) There’s no lack of finesse and beauty in her work, but as she demonstrated at the WOGA Classic last weekend, all her routines may not be ready for the season yet. (I’m thinking mostly about bars here. That she didn’t show anything harder than a full-twisting Yurcehnko on vault and opted out of floor means she’s not ready yet — or she’s saving it for the Ranch.)
Baker’s impressive all-around totals from 2012 (she was eighth at Olympic Trials, higher than Dowell or Vega, and third at the Secret Classic) make her a very viable candidate for this spot. (Plus, who doesn’t want to see her coach Kim Zmeskal return to the American Cup, which she won in 1991?)
The best tumbler on the American team right now, Skinner wowed the crowd at the Fiesta Bowl a few weeks ago by unveiling a double-twisting double layout on floor, a pass no woman has ever performed in competition before. She’s also got a Cheng vault and a stacked beam set. What could possibly go against her? In the past she’s been an EBB gymnast (everything but bars). The question is: is her prowess on the power events enough to compensate for a perceived weakness on bars?
The 2011 World team member has kept up with her training and is looking to the future after being overlooked for the Olympic team. Vega, now a third year senior, has the experience to deal with an American Cup situation, though she often looked tentative performing on big stages during the U.S. Championships/Olympic Trials process. It may also depend on where she is on vault and bars, her two weaker events.