Saturday. US Classic. 1:00 ET juniors. 6:30 ET seniors. Be there, or be on Twitter making fun of it. By way of a preview, here are some notes on expectations, necessities, and whatever else comes to mind for each athlete in the senior division.
We’ll go in alphabetical order, like we’re lining up for recess at Otter Bay Elementary School.
For Adams, US Classic is all about the 52. She did manage to achieve her three-event score at American Classic (VT, UB, BB) with no room to spare, but a lower-than-hoped number on floor meant she didn’t get the required AA total. So most of all, Adams will be looking to use this competition to ensure she can compete all four events at nationals. Of note, she got SVed to pieces in that floor routine at American Classic, intending something well into the 5s and receiving only 4.5.
So look out for completion of turns as she tries to get that floor score up high enough for the all-important 52, which should be very attainable for her with 4 hits.
End of preview. Simone could walk out and do itsy bitsy spider and it wouldn’t matter. We’ll wait and see how many events she does, but if Simone does elect to compete floor here, it will be our chance to see whether she includes those potential upgrades she posted this summer—the Biles to layout and the triple double. Though…you know…it’s not like she needs them. But she could also do them. And that would be cool.
Blakely did make the shortlist of 8 nominees for the Pan Ams team, so she will be aiming for a stronger competition than is normally necessary at Just Classic so that she might get herself on that team. Typically, you’d think of Blakely as exactly the kind of gymnast who would go to Pan Am Games, but this year it’s such an unusually deep group. Even on Blakely’s most impressive event, beam, which can garner a worlds-TF-level score, she’s faced with Kara Eaker scoring a 28.8 every day just for looking at a beam. It’s hard for anyone to find her niche contribution. And this isn’t even the worlds team.
Blakely will be looking to rank well on beam and outscore some of your traditional top all-arounders there, while also placing in the top 5 AA among the Pan Ams 8 to make her argument.
The primary goal for Carey this summer will be to reconfirm that she is #2 behind Biles on both vault and floor among the US competitors. If she does that, she’ll have a very compelling argument to be back on the worlds team following her individual wilderness adventure. In that regard, this meet will be somewhat important for Carey in making sure she still ranks above the wildcard factor that is MyKayla Skinner, who is going to try to come in and match Carey difficulty-for-difficulty on vault and floor in a power-gymnast grudge match.
Carey is a very competent beamer and probably underrated there, and we’ve also seen video of her training a Bhardwaj on bars to up that D score. What I mean is, don’t be utterly surprised if she places well in the all-around here, especially if some of the other top athletes don’t do all four events.
Please. The performance of Jordan Chiles is among the most anticipated at this year’s Classic because I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that we haven’t seen her reach her full potential. It’s sort of getting to now-or-never territory, and it will be worth watching whether the gym switch changes anything in that regard. Because obviously she has the tools, and she’ll occasionally do an Amanar depending on the position of the moons of Jupiter, which will always keep her in the conversation.
As a returning worlds team member, Kara Eaker is a default member of the highest tier of contenders heading into the summer season. Still, shifting strengths of the group as a whole always change the team selection dynamic, and the honest scenario is that it’s going to be quite a bit harder to make worlds this year as a beam specialist with someone like Sunisa Lee in the mix.
But not impossible by any means. If Eaker is scoring 15 and a good beam score from the rest of the group ends up being a 14.300, then that’s still a huge advantage that can get her on a team as it did last year, but if she’s going 14.7 and you have people like Lee or McCusker or Malabuyo scoring 14.4, it’s that much harder to make the case.
But this year, we have also seen a bars score into the 14s from Eaker, and she has scored high 13s on floor in the past. There’s an all-arounder lurking in there, and it would help to see some shades of that at Classic.
The younger Finnegan is in an in-between state right now because despite being a senior who is accomplishing quite a bit this year—she’s already qualified to nationals and was invited to each lunch with the Pan Ams 8—she’s still comparatively new in that she didn’t really spend much time at all as a junior elite. She wasn’t going to nationals every year and forming those elite routines season after season as a small fetus.
So there’s one respect in which she doesn’t look like she has the scoring potential necessary to get on a major team right now, but another respect in which she’s on a different schedule than others in this competition and still hasn’t necessarily displayed all that she can do. Are we going to see upgrades from her this summer to get up with the 55ers, or is she going to settle into the second tier of gymnasts who score in the 53s AA for a couple years before becoming a star at LSU?
Jaylene of the Leaps.
Gilstrap is not yet qualified to nationals, so she’ll be looking for a 39.750 total at Classic to get there for her three events (she hasn’t been competing bars the last couple years). She did score exactly 39.750 at Classic last year (back when the necessary score was 39.5), so we know that the potential is there, if only by a hair’s breadth. But, Gilstrap did that last year with a Y1.5 rather than the Yfull she competed at American Classic in 2019, which basically makes the difference. It’s going to be tough to get necessary score tif she’s competing a full with the SV penalty the seniors incur for vaulting less than a DTY, and I can’t even begin with that nonsense.
Hollingsworth also desperately needs a score to advance to nationals after missing out on the score last year and having her season ending at Classic, and it’s going to be tough to get.
Hollingsworth’s best all-around score of 2019 so far is 51.550, which she scored at the WCC qualifier at her home gym. That was enough to advance her to the Classic meets, but even if repeated, would not be enough to advance to nationals.
Hollingsworth’s 49.400 at American Classic did come with some errors, which means there’s potential to go higher. If she can comfortably hit that double double she attempted on floor, that would do a world of good for a possible two- or three-event score even if the AA doesn’t happen. Given her D scores at American Classic, she’s going to need to average an E score of 8.150 at US Classic to reach the AA 52.000, which should be considered a normal, good hit for most of the athletes in this competition.
Every year, it looks like Morgan Hurd might not have the scores to keep up her position as second-best US all-arounder among a deeper group with all these fresh seniors, and then every year she’s like, “Bish, I do.”
Because Hurd is going for the Pan Ams team, we should expect to see all four events from her at a sufficiently high level. Right now, Hurd’s most significant piece seems to be floor, what I’d call her best event and the one where she’s the defending world bronze medalist. We’ve seen Hurd score into the highest part of the 13s for her strongest floor routines over the past year or so, but with several other gymnasts recording 14s this spring, look to see if Hurd can add a couple tenths to her floor score to retain her advantage there. Top-3 scores on bars and floor would be a helpful accomplishment here.
Another who needs to achieve a qualifying score here is Alexis Jeffrey, one of the lesser-known names on the roster and the 4th member of the GAGE quadrangle.
You’ll know her after she does bars. She was JO national champion there in 2018 and can score well into the 13s with that routine, which she’ll need to push toward the 52 mark here. We haven’t seen Jeffrey compete in a while, and she advanced to this competition not from an elite qualifier but based on the strength of her performances at junior nationals last year, where she placed 9th overall and recorded a 52.500 on the first day. So, we at least know she has the potential to get that qualifying number, even if it has been a year.
Jones is another whose Classic performance (and more importantly, her intended routine construction) can help determine whether we should consider her as part of the first tier of team selection or not and where she fits in the squad.
We know that Jones can deliver a best-DTY-in-the-competition level vault (Amanar, anyone?), but it’s tough to stand out with a DTY even if you’re getting a 14.800 because everyone and her mom is getting 14.566, and it’s not different enough. Vault specialist is only a thing if you have an Amanar.
As for floor, we haven’t quite seen Jones reach the potential that she displayed as a young young youthling—lately bars has been a much bigger strength for Jones than floor has—but a competitive FX score would help her in both the AA total department and the Pan Ams selection department. Several of the Pan Ams 8 are more UB/BB than VT/FX, so if there’s an opening for someone like Jones to get onto the team, it’s with vault and floor scores.
Emily Lee always (and by always, I mean twice—twice is always) gets a phenomenal beam score at an elite qualifier, but her untimely injury at last years American Classic and her beam-splitter at this year’s American Classic have combined to mean we haven’t seen her bring out that big beam routine on a larger stage, and that’s just depressing and unacceptable you guys.
That’s what I’m hoping to see from her at US Classic because she already has her qualifying score to nationals, so mission basically accomplished.
Sunisa Lee had a real-deal kind of performance at Jesolo that elevated her from junior-with-potential to the kind of gymnast who is on prospective worlds teams and could deliver three scores on bars, beam, and floor that can all be among the top three in a packed US field on any given day.
The newer ones like Lee always have to prove themselves a little bit more that they can hit when it matters (making Classic somewhat more significant than it is for the veterans), but I still think that’s a consideration more for nationals and selection camp than it is for right now.
One other thing. I hope it’s not, but Classic could be a make-or-break moment for her intended gigantic bars composition. After the epic problems at American Classic where she melted into a ball of goop during her routine, you don’t want them to get scared off of full difficulty if she has another miss.
From being the next big thing thirty seconds ago, Malabuyo sort of fell off the radar because she missed a crucial year with injury, and worries that a case of Texas Dreams Back might spoil her potential elite career only grew.
Those health worries have rendered Malabuyo more of a spolier contender than she probably should be, especially considering her Jesolo performance ranks among the strongest AA meets of the year for the US so far. If she can consistently break 14 on beam and floor this summer, it will go a long way toward restoring the expectations we had for her when it was Malabuyo and O’Keefe as the next supreme juniors. Which feels like a lifetime ago.
Grace McCallum has the social media upgrade game down, and it’s a game she’s going to need to both play and win in order to fend off several other athletes who might also be able to usurp the “where do you need me, cuz it all good?” role that McCallum occupied on last year’s worlds team. On that team, McCallum ended up doing vault and floor in the team final, a position that was probably only open due to Jade Carey’s absence. To keep up her place this year, McCallum may have to reinvent a new identity in terms of strengths that complement the other top athletes. And it seems like that’s realistic for her if training is an indication.
That’s why McCallum is first among the athletes I’m eager to see in podium training in order to get a sense of her intended composition and how that compares to everyone else. It will be revealing.
Well, everyone is the runner-up to Simone, but in 2018, Riley McCusker found herself the runner-up in the non-Simone category as well, finishing 3rd place at nationals and then getting two-per-countried out of the worlds AA final, both times finishing behind Morgan Hurd. We’ve seen McCusker have ups and downs in significant competitions—this year’s performance at the Birmingham Lighting Disaster can also be chalked up for forces beyond her control—but the quality and ferocity of recent training videos indicate that she’s pushing to start winning the non-Simones category.
The new qualification rules limit the number of events that gymnasts with two- or three-event qualifying scores can compete even at Classic, which means that Victoria Nguyen has been relegated to competing just vault and bars here and therefore can qualify to nationals on only vault and bars.
She’ll need to score a 27.000 to get through to nationals because she does not yet have that qualifying total, but once again I’d like to emphasize that we are being cheated out of seeing Victoria Nguyen on beam. The rules were fine before. Classic is a qualifying meet after all, so athletes should still be allowed the opportunity to qualify fully at this meet if they make it this far.
Our favorite mystery has returned from the injury wilderness. Not that long ago, Perea was among a big-3 juniors who were going to take the senior ranks by storm. Injury has meant that didn’t happen even a little bit, but Perea returned at Jesolo this year and put together…you know…a starting-point meet? It didn’t make waves, and the AA total wasn’t high, but she also wasn’t competing at her full ability. Perea still has the potential for tremendous scores on bars and beam if she’s been able to stay healthy long enough to get the numbers in and the difficulty back. I’m hoping for a “damn, girl” bars routine surprise.
You felt like it was always coming. Not receiving an Olympic spot never sat well with Skinner, and she wasn’t going to rest until she got what was owed her.
Because we haven’t seen her compete elite routines in three years, Skinner’s is the most fascinating performance of all at Classic. There’s just so much unknown. We’ve seen videos to prove she’s training the big difficulty, but competing that difficulty and hitting it with a reasonable E score is another thing entirely.
Is she legitimately back with the vault and floor difficulty to challenge the scores that Jade Carey is recording on those events? How is her all-around shaping up (which she’ll need if she’s to make a real Olympic argument in 2020)? Skinner’s routine content at Classic will give us the first evidence to tell whether—or how much—her presence can shake up the 2020 dynamic. Not to mention the 2019 dynamic.
The joy of Thomas continuing to compete elite is her commitment to showing that it is possible to do both, even in the US program. That should be enough for us.
My real hope is that we see her truly go for it this summer and let loose all her potential difficulty. Because why not? Do that 3.5 through to DLO or whatever insanity she’s training this week.
Word on the street is that Thomas is planning to compete bars and beam at Classic and then add back the all-around for nationals, which would seem to indicate that she already has her nationals qualifying score based on a national team camp result of some description that we didn’t get to know about.
Torrez should be an interesting case because of the 54.850 she scored at American Classic a few weeks ago to destroy the rest of the competition.
That total would have placed her 5th in the all-around at US Classic in 2018. I expect the standard to be a bit higher this year, but she’s still in the running for the kind of finish that surprises people if she’s able to keep up that same level.
Keeping it up is the issue at hand because Torrez looked by far the most prepared and polished of the seniors at American Classic, perhaps not surprising because she had just come through the JO season. She wasn’t shaking the cobwebs off like other elites are at this point in the season. The potential downside of having gone through that JO season is that…she’s been going at a high level all year long and has already had to peak for big meets a couple times.
Vides ranks as the surprise of the elite season.
That’s because she wasn’t really on the radar at all until a couple months ago. She was a WCC gymnast, then went to EVO for a second, and now is back at WCC and was sort of middle of the pack until 2019, when she placed well at JO Nationals (5th AA) and got her elite qualifying score. Making it to this point is already a major accomplishment, but it’s going to take best-possible routines on all three events to get the 39.750 necessary to qualify to nationals.
Wong won the American Cup this year by three tenths over Grace McCallum, so if there was any doubt that she’s in the mix for the world championships team this year (which there wasn’t)…um…she is. At this point, I think the challenge of fitting Wong into a team of five is that she can get stuck in “well, that event is already covered by [BLANK]” territory, where she has really strong scores on all the apparatuses but could get overshadowed by a mix of locks and specialists.
It’s a possibility of “well, already have Simone, Sunisa, and Riley there” or “well, we already have Simone, Jade, and Morgan there,” so on the one hand Wong could benefit from the fact that she can fill any role in either of those conversations, an efficient use of a spot on a team of five. On the other hand I’ll be watching to see if there’s an upgrade or something else that delivers a true “you can’t ignore me on this event” score.