American Cup Preview

This Saturday’s American Cup is a ridiculous little competition, largely because of the vast disparity between its perceived importance and its actual importance. Under normal human circumstances, an eight-competitor meet with a weak field where a certain winner is all but guaranteed would receive little more than a whisper of attention. But because it’s an Olympic year, because the meet is in the US, because it’s gymnastics on TV and we’ll take what we can get, and because the NBC team pulls out gems like “The Most Important Annual International Meet on American Soil” (because that’s such a tough category), we get unnaturally interested.

So, as a proud lemming to the unnatural interest in this ridiculous competition (and being a ridiculous person myself, we actually make a good match), I present my completely informed and professional preview of the women who will be competing this weekend.

Jordyn Wieber will almost certainly win this competition and has, more importantly, already been named to the Olympic team. You may have missed the announcement because it never happened, but it’s nonetheless true. There will be a lot of talk in the coming months about how every spot is up for grabs. This is a lie. She’s on the team barring injury. 
Wieber is the perfect gymnast for this code because of her consistency and broad skill set. But because we know she’ll be part of the team, our attention turns from her strengths to the areas she needs to improve, so the big event to watch this weekend will be bars. Through savvy routine construction, John Geddert has tricked people into thinking that Wieber doesn’t have a weakness, but she does and it’s bars. Despite her high difficulty, she does not perform with a natural rhythm or cohesive line, and therefore needs those difficulty tenths to bump up her score. The presence of a disappointing trend in women’s gymnastics, the Weiler kip, adds a general “Ode to Molasses” theme to her routine. We’ve been promised a reconstructed routine with improved details in 2012, and I hope to see just that because she is a likely bars worker for team finals. 
Aly Raisman is the second American competitor, and I have a definite soft spot in my cold gymnastics heart for our sturdy little Massachusetts Romanian. She’s becoming more comfortable in interviews and is refreshingly self-aware regarding her weaknesses. She would be the first to tell you that artistry, flexibility, and bars are not up to the expected level. That’s certainly true, but because she knows it, I can look past it. She’s not out there pretending she’s an awesome dancer.

Raisman is clearly a Martha favorite (we all remember the “Here’s my BEAMER! Next beamer!” heard round the world from 2010), and her unflappable solidity on beam and difficulty on floor should put her in prime position heading into the summer. That being said, I still have reservations about her spot on the team because she is just so easy to overlook. She’s like the Lady Edith of Team USA. She really needs to go drive a tractor and help at the convalescent hospital so she can stand out. Debuting a competent version of her long-suffering Amanar would go a long way toward helping her chances.

But speaking of which, why have I not done a Downton Abbey/Elite Gymnastics conversion before? Nastia is Lady Mary, obviously. Martha is the Dowager Countess. Bruno Grandi and Nellie Kim are Thomas and O’Brien. Is Kim Zmeskal Anna? She would totally help Nastia carry the body of her dead Turkish lover back to his own bedroom, if you know what I mean.

Moving on, after the jump I’ll look at the international competitors who have been kind enough to offer to play the roles of the Washington Generals on Saturday.

Kelli Hill is Carson.

OK, now I’m really done.

Romania’s Larisa Iordache looks most likely to challenge the American duo, largely because of her confident skill set in the all-around and her stellar work on beam. Vault is not as much of a strength, so she will have trouble keeping pace with the leaders who will rack up big numbers there. Most importantly for the Romanians, though, is Iordache’s ability to perform a bar routine, which makes her a near lock for the Olympic team.

For our purposes, it will be crucial to keep track of how Al Trautwig says her name. Take a drink every time he mispronounces it (What? It’s after noon . . . in some places), and take two drinks if someone makes a Jordache jeans reference.

Iordache’s teammate, Diana Chelaru, has made her place as a consistent all-arounder who excels on floor and can be used if necessary on vault and bars, though the form issues are quite evident. Because of the retirement of Progras, I give Chelaru a fairly solid shot at taking that 5th spot on the Romanian team, but she’s no lock because she doesn’t scream her necessity on any event.  Some upgrades from her 2011 routines would be welcome. She at least needs to prove that she is irreplaceable on vault and floor.
Another standout on the floor is new senior Victoria Moors, who is filling in after the depressing withdrawal of Nadine Jarosch’s glasses. Moors made her name on this apparatus at the test event, finishing second behind Ferrari in event finals. This routine and a DTY make her invaluable to the Canadian team, but she is not competitive enough on the other two events to challenge the all-arounders at this competition.
Great Britain’s Rebecca Tunney stood out on bars at the test event because of her competitive start value (though, as you can see in the above video, there are many form issues in that routine). She could be a welcome presence on the British Olympic team as a third bar worker to complement Tweddle and Downie and to ensure that Whelan doesn’t have to go in team finals. However, she is not as competitive on the other events, and I’m rooting for future Bruin Danusia Francis to get one of the remaining spots on the team.
In her return from injury, Australia’s Georgia Simpson did not make much of a mark on the scoring table at the test event, but upgrades should be expected, and you do get a sense that really everyone is in contention to be one of the lucky pale backup dancers to feature on The Lauren Mitchell Show, debuting this July.
Lisa Katharina Hill featured for Germany at World Championships, largely filling the #5 routine spot on each apparatus, though she does bring good difficulty on bars. That routine could get her onto the Olympic team, but like Tunney, she lags behind most internationally competitive gymnasts on the other events.
As for the men’s competition, Danell Leyva will be competing. That is all you need to know. Everybody wins.