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American Cup Preview


American Cup.

Obviously, what we’re all most looking forward to is the NBC team’s inevitable bungling of the delicate task of communicating what has been happening with Nassar, the Valeri resignation, and the overall melting of USA Gymnastics into a primordial pile of slime. Did I say looking forward to? I meant EYE STAB.

But I guess there will be gymnastics too. Snore. Here’s what to expect.


Stay with me. We’ll get to the women in a second. But first you have to read about the men. All things being as they’re supposed to, this should end up a contest between The Kenzo and The Yul. They finished third and seventh respectively at worlds last year and have shown the highest scoring potential of the bunch in the past year or so. Most of the other competitors are all-arounders at a slightly lower level or have a couple really strong events but not the six complete routines needed to stand out.

At worlds, The Kenzo outscored The Yul in the all-around final by about a point and a half, which is where his favorite status originates. Still, weird things happen at American Cup so it’s far from wrapped up. We need only look back to last year when The Yul defeated The Oleg to take the title. By contrast, The Kenzo is still pretty new to the AA game and is a less-established favorite than The Oleg was then. He certainly has the difficulty edge over The Yul by about a bajillion tenths—but so do most people since The Yul’s aim is always to make it up on execution.

That’s what he’ll hope to do compared to someone James Hall, whom you’ll remember from having Resting Stoner Face and being a solid all-arounder. Hall is just coming off winning the English Championship with an 84, which is not necessarily a DUN DUN DUH world-beating score, but repeated at American Cup should put him right up there. That’s around what Modi scored to finish 3rd last year.

This will also be a significant competition for Allan Bower, who (kind of) controversially did not make the worlds team in 2017 despite finishing second at nationals with an 86.1 on the second day. He followed that recently with a somewhat disappointing Winter Cup to finish 4th, behind Mikulak, Kimble, and Modi. If Bower wants to get a team spot this year, he’ll need to show not just the ability to score well as an AAer, but more importantly that he has standout events the team might need. That’s what we haven’t seen yet from him. Otherwise, it’s hard to see him getting much of a look in a Mikulak-Moldauer world.

Sun Wei of China always attends American Cup and is sort of there, not really at the level to make a Chinese worlds team but also way better than most other people/countries. Look for him to be the type who can sneak up there and then everyone goes, “Oh, yeah, him” and then forgets about it two seconds later.

Francisco Barretto Junior has a few events—high bar is usually the best but he also scores well on PBars and sometimes horse. Nestor Abad of Spain is replacing Joel Plata and will inevitably break your heart. I fear Phillipp Herder will follow the great German tradition of showing up at American Cup and falling 150 times because he’s German and it’s pommel horse, but do keep an eye on floor and PBars. Petro Pakhniuk is mostly known as a PBars specialist, so I’ll be interested to see how he stacks up in the all-around.


The favorites

American Cup is never much of a competition on the women’s side, partially because the US gymnasts are just better than everyone else, partially because it’s the first week of March and no one else is even trying to be remotely good yet, and partially (especially pre-WC era) because of SCAM SCORING. Oh SCAM SCORING, I love you so much.

That’s why the presence of Mai Murakami adds an exciting twist to this year’s proceedings. Murakami qualified first at worlds in 2017 and was on track to defeat Morgan Hurd in the all-around final if not for a fall on beam on her double spin. A full-strength Murakami is the strongest gymnast in the competition on vault and floor and has the ability to win the whole thing, the main issue being whether we’re actually going to see a full-strength Murakami. She’d need to bring full floor-tumbling difficulty to have a solid shot at this, which may be a lot to ask at this point in the year. 

That’s why the Americans will still be the favorites, though among the two, the overall favorite based on last year’s results would be Maile O’Keefe, whose top three all-around scores in 2017 were higher than anything recorded by Hurd or Murakami. O’Keefe has competitive difficulty on all four events, led by a big beam routine that can typically keep her ahead of most challengers and will come in as one of the most difficult in the world if she gets all her intended connections and series.

I’m also very interested in O’Keefe’s floor routine because floor should be a real strength for her. She more often than not extends and crisply completes those leaps, which keeps her D-score predictable and her E-score high. Based on podium training, though, it looks like she is keeping the same tumbling that she had at 2017 nationals, when her difficulty was just 5.2 with a couple standalone D passes.

It still looks very upgradable, but for now, that is an event where O’Keefe may give back tenths to her closest competitors. Note that she has upgraded to a split leap 1.5 in there, which theoretically I don’t hate for her because she’s one of the few who could actually do it, but this instance probably wouldn’t get credit. The one from the dance-through was better.

Now let’s talk about how she’s using the Natalie Brown Syrian Refugee music.

Morgan Hurd is also going for BIG on beam with this 6.3 attempt in podium training, including the piked full-in dismount. Like O’Keefe, she’s not actually going to get all that difficulty in the connections (also, do you give that split jump 1/3 from side position?), but it’s still American Cup so maybe.

Bars and beam are where both O’Keefe and Hurd can develop an edge over Murakami because they should have both the difficulty and execution advantage (Hurd is planning 6.1 bars and O’Keefe planning 6.0). That also means that if Hurd is able to get a huge D score for this routine and hit it, she should end up being able to (at least) keep pace compositionally with O’Keefe, looking to then go ahead of her with floor.

Hurd is attempting the much bigger floor routine with her double double tucked and a DLO.

The DLO is fairly Hambricked, but this difficulty will give Hurd a real edge over O’Keefe. My main concern about this set is going for the split ring leap 1.5 and the split ring jump 1/1 in the same routine because that’s going to end up being the same skill.

The spoilers

It’s a pretty high-level group at the American Cup this year, so you can make an argument for most of the other competitors as potential spoilers, but of course we have to talk about Brooklyn Moors. Not just because she’s Brooklyn Moors (though mostly) but because she recently won the all-around at Elite Canada, so we know she’s in competition form, which is the primary question for the non-US gymnasts coming into American Cup.

Moors’ floor is obviously a dream and is upgraded this year to have astronomical scoring potential, but it’s aggressive concerns about her consistency on bars and beam (and sometimes vault?) that keep Moors lower down the prospective standings. With a hit day, she could podium here, but is it going to be a hit day?

Be sure to watch new senior Fabiane Brito as well, probably the competitor we all know the least but someone who has shown viable four-event scores and who can be the remaining piece of the puzzle for Brazil. The form isn’t always there, especially on bars, but she has recorded some exceptional beam numbers in the last year or so and could develop into the “Rebeca Andrade doesn’t have to do beam in team final” gymnast that Brazil is looking for.

Never forget about Seitz. We know Elizabeth Seitz well and of course she should win bars, but expectations for her AA placement will be tempered due to a lack of difficulty on the remaining events. She’s probably throwing in several D-scores in the 4s, but if this thing is a splat-fest (American Cup?!?!?! NEVER!) and Seitz is able to stay on beam, she can ride that out to a successful finish. That’s exactly what she did at worlds, when she placed 9th in the AA final despite having nowhere near the difficulty of the best gymnasts. She just, you know, hit and therefore ended up with the highest total execution score of anyone. Because Seitz is totally an E queen now, you guys. Apparently.

The others

Lorette Charpy is the last-minute replacement for France, coming in for the Netherlands’ Sanna Veerman. Charpy is flying under the radar because she did not have an impressive worlds—the last time most of us saw her do gymnastics. Still, in the intervening period, she has received some 14s on bars and beam domestically. Charpy does have the potential for very pretty bars on her day, which can score toward the top of this competition, but she likely lacks the four-event difficulty to make a big AA splash.

Mao Yi lives! We’re all happy to hear it. The strengths for Mao have always been vault and floor, so expect her to bring a DTY that keeps her in the mix early in the competition. Mao was on the 2016 team because of that vault and for her floor (which didn’t end up going great). In the last year and a half, Mao has continued to struggle to hit that routine consistently but looked significantly more comfortable with it (i.e., she hit) at National Games, the last time we saw her. She needs a floor routine at this meet, more to keep her in the conversation for Chinese teams than anything else since bars and beam aren’t going to be scoring assets for her. Though I am excited to see her do those events. Mao’s beam potential is there. She can totally be pretty on beam, just she never sees the light of day for it.

Kelly Simm is here representing Great Britain, and like several of the other second-tier challengers, she’ll hope to make her mark on bars, where she typically excels and co-originated the inbar Tkatchev piked. She’ll also hope that her Lopez/Podkopayeva? gives her a little difficulty edge on vault over those doing Yfulls. Simm probably doesn’t have the floor right now, or the beam, to get up there with the strongest challengers, but this will be an effective test to see if she’s in a position to contribute more than bars to the English CWG team.

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