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U.S. Classic Preview – The Seniors



But also…it’s just Classic. Settle down.

The early summer is long. Starved, deprived, lost in the desert, we desperately cling for anything that might sustain us, no matter how insignificant (like someone’s random Classic podium training routine), and then bedazzle it and frame it with rubies.

Remember that time Bailie Key did bars at 2016 Classic podium training?

Of course you don’t.

Nobody does.

But that won’t stop us from naming the worlds at 11:00am on the day of Classic podium training.

Or right now, in this post. I mean, come on. It needs to happen.

Really, Classic is not about the results (#Simone2013). It’s about answering questions like, “What D scores are people attempting?” and “Who actually has the routine composition to be in the worlds picture?” so that we can start separating the contenders from those simply on track to make national team. Here, intended composition is more important than the podium, or even who happens to hit.

If this were awards season, Classic would be the announcement of the nominees. We’ll know who’s in the running based on this meet.

The winner?

Talking about winners is secondary when it comes to senior Classic, mostly because we don’t even know who’s going to bother doing the AA. Most should, because there aren’t too many gymnasts who can rest on laurels yet this quad, but not everyone will.

Ragan Smith and Riley McCusker will retain their statuses as the top US AAers until someone proves otherwise (i.e. gets a 57), but it wouldn’t be at all surprising if neither of them competes four events at Classic. I mean, we wouldn’t call it Texas Petitions if everyone just competed the all-around all the time.

…Huh? …We don’t?

Nationals is the bigger deal for the top contenders. Now, if Smith/McCusker do compete the AA at Classic, they’ll certainly be the favorites, but there are several other people in play as well who will look to break the 56.0 marker and would consider that a victory.

Key performances

The most important performance at Classic, however, will not come from an all-around challenger. It will come from Jade Carey on vault. Earlier this month at the ranch, Carey debuted a Tsuk 2/1 (5.6 D) for a very strong 14.700, and word is that she paired it with an Amanar (5.8 D) for which we don’t have a score. We actually need to see these vaults before making any kind of determination, but if she really is performing both of those vaults and hitting them for E scores over 8.5, those are gold-at-worlds level scores and would change projections about the worlds team tremendously.

Earlier in the year, the US team looked like it would be 2 AAers, a UB specialist (with maybe BB) and an FX specialist (with maybe BB). Basically, if Smith, McCusker, and Locklear kept doing what they could do, we were entering the summer looking for a floor specialist to round out the team. That still may be the case. But, if Carey recreates all her American Classic performances (14s on BB and FX as well), that makes a very good argument for a spot, to be accompanied by a bars (or bars, beam) specialist.

Oh hey there Ashton Locklear. At Classic, let’s watch to see whether Locklear’s 2016 difficulty is back, because if it is, she’s a real contender for bars champion at worlds. No one else is going to match that execution, so if she’s showing 6.0 D (or more), it’s game on. Locklear also seems to have improved beam, but continue to roll your eyes at any 2016-style Locklear/Kocian “BUT WHO CAN CONTRIBUTE BEAM??” nonsense since beam continues to matter 0%. If Locklear looks like she can win bars at worlds, it’s not relevant what her beam looks like.

Based on ability and potential as a junior, International Woman of Mystery Jordan Chiles is one of those sleeper nominees who could jump into that AA-challenging category. But, we haven’t seen anything real from her in so long that it’s impossible to have expectations. With that Amanar, with her floor tumbling, she has the tools even to knock Smith/McCusker down a peg or two, but we’ll need to use Classic to see whether she’s there right now. In many respects, when coming up with possible worlds teams, Chiles is a wildcard in the same vein as Carey, so the routine composition she shows up with at Classic should give us an indicator as to where she fits, or doesn’t.

If not the AA for Chiles, the US will still be open to looking for that specialist who can make the floor final at worlds. Chiles has the talent to challenge for that role.

All-around challengers

What’s happening with Morgan Hurd? Besides her inevitable election as president. Right now, she looks like a useful team-style gymnast who can provide scores on multiple events but isn’t ranking as one of the top-two AAers and doesn’t necessarily have a “pick me as a specialist on this event” score needed in an individual year. Classic could be an opportunity for her to set herself up as an all-around challenger, or simply to show hit-ability on beam, which she hasn’t yet this year.

Breaking 14.000 on beam and floor is the standard to watch in terms of who’s in the running to make a case for herself on those events.

Victoria Nguyen, who got a world cup assignment this spring like Hurd, would be hanging around the same category, but she has withdrawn from Classic. Put a pin in that until nationals.

A potentially open AA competition would also allow someone like Marz Frazier to get onto the podium. With her new Amanar and one of the highest D scores on bars among the seniors right now, she is preparing the routines necessary across four pieces to record a very reasonable total.

I’m also watching out for Abby Paulson and the potential that she might pull another Jesolo and go, “doo-da-doo, doo-da-doo, hit my routines” and end up as the second-best American again. If you take everyone’s best score on every event so far in 2017, Paulson comes out second in total, behind only McCusker. If it’s a typical early-summer splatfest, Paulson can absolutely sneak up there simply by hitting her sets. Her 14.2 on beam and 13.9 on floor are both top-4 scores among US seniors right now.

We have to add Alyona Shchennikova to this category as well, particularly after her strong result at the most recent camp. Like several of these other challengers, however, Shchennikova may place well in the AA but doesn’t really have a clear path to worlds at this point. It’s more extreme in Shchennikova’s case because bars is her thing, which means she’d have to beat Locklear there to get a spot.

I’d also really like to see Trinity Thomas come back from that meager Jesolo performance to show us a level closer to her normal gymnastics. On bars, beam, and floor, she has the difficulty and routine composition that few others in this AA pack do. She shouldn’t really have a low-difficulty event among those three, meaning that the real question is vault. It was fun to see her do a Kas at Jesolo, but also…is that really what you’re going with? Because it’s a 4.8 D and won’t get her into the AA podium picture.

And then there will be some other people whose routines will end up on Youtube.

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