Women – Saturday, 11:00am CT – NBC
Men – Saturday – 3:30pm CT – NBCSN (TV coverage begins 4pm CT)
What’s at stake?
THE TITLE AND HONOR OF THE MOST PRESTIGIOUS ANNUAL INTERNATIONAL GYMNASTICS COMPETITION HELD ON AMERICAN SOILLLLLLL.
Just kidding. What’s at stake is an Olympic spot. All nations are looking to finish in the top 3 in the all-around rankings at the end of 4 events (American Cup, Stuttgart, Birmingham, Tokyo) and thereby earn an extra +1 Olympic individual spot for their countries.
The winning country in each the men’s and the women’s field at American Cup gets 60 points, 2nd place gets 55 points, 3rd place gets 50 points, and so on down through 12th place.
Unlike in the apparatus series, where only your best 3 finishes count, all events count for the all-around rankings (and count for the country, not the individual), so every result matters.
The wildcard entrants (DiCello for the women, Wiskus for the men) cannot earn Olympic qualification points and are skipped over in the awarding of those points.
I’ve divided the field into several tiers to preview the athletes—those who could win, those who probably won’t but could get some good points if they hit, and those who aren’t going to win because of bars but are still fun.
The Tier 1 contenders are those with the legitimate capability of going 55+ in the all-around at an FIG competition, which is what I’d consider the bare minimum to be able to win an all-around world cup this year. It really should take a 56. The winning score at American Cup the last couple years (Hurd 2018, Wong 2019) has been a mid-high 56. So let’s start with the gymnast who has won this thing before.
Hurd should be considered the default favorite entering the meet, but that’s not a secure status. The Morgan Hurd we saw win this title two years ago, the Morgan Hurd we saw on day 2 of nationals last year, is an athlete that wins this championship (or finishes a close second to DiCello). But we’ve also seen the low days in the past year, and this field is strong enough that a fall really should take away any chance at a title.
That’s not really breaking news. Go out there, hit four for four so you can win. Great. Yes. Good analysis. What truly makes Hurd’s American Cup performance more significant than your typical March AA world cup assignment is that, after not making worlds last year, Hurd doesn’t have the luxury of maintaining her current level. She’s going to have to step up the competitiveness of her all-around scores quite clearly, beyond what we’ve seen over the last 12 months, to reverse the current trend.
All indications are that Tom Forster will pick the top four all-around from trials as the Olympic team. Rank order is what he has done for every team selection to this point. We know Morgan Hurd can go comfortably into the 56s when she hits a meet, but there will be more than four athletes going comfortably into the 56s at Olympic Trials.
Is Hurd able to step up her routines enough separate herself from the pack once again? It’s essential in 2020 that Hurd at least get the difficulty back on floor (that needs to be minimum 5.5-5.6 rather than 5.2-5.3), as well as adding a couple more tenths on bars so that she’s not again compromised by the “everyone who stays on bars gets an 8.5 E score regardless of how it looks” scoring that really infected us last year, especially at worlds.
American Cup will be the first test for Hurd as to whether she can deliver separation-worthy content in 2020.
If, however, you want to classify reigning junior national champion Kayla DiCello as the favorite instead of Hurd, you’re not going to get an argument from me. Based on last year’s content, DiCello was pretty much right there with Hurd, produced a stronger score from the junior division on both days of nationals, and doesn’t seem to have maxed out her difficulty yet.
The one place where DiCello has fallen behind Hurd (as well as challenger Giorgia Villa) over the past year has been bars, which also happens to be my favorite event for her. It’s an exceptionally smooth and well-executed routine but, in the incarnation we saw last year, is also nearly a point down on difficulty compared to the best bars workers in this meet. Some kind of “I’m a senior now and welcome to my upgrades” bars performance here could be just enough to move DiCello from a maybe-title-winner to a favorite.
Because otherwise, in DiCello, we’ve seen someone who can hit a strong DTY, stay on beam most of the time for high 13s, and unleash a serious bag of tumbling on floor. DiCello may well be the favorite to win both vault and floor at this meet. It’s kind of easy to forget about her floor routine because of Elite Dead Face, but that thing is going to score wellllll.
I mean, it’s American Cup. An American women is going to win. But…
There is no actual reason Giorgia Villa cannot win the American Cup. She has an excellent DTY, gorgeous 14+ capability on bars with difficulty comfortably into the 6s, and probably the most naturally elegant beam routine in the field (with, you know, some serious difficulty to go with it). If you told me she got the highest score in the field on any one of those three events, I would be like, “Yes. Correct.” Floor is probably not going to be up to the level of difficulty of the best workers in this meet, but since Simone isn’t here, everyone in the field has a weak spot here or there, and Villa’s is a manageable one.
The caveat for Villa is that we have so rarely seen her put this all together in a single all-around competition. Even in her iconic Youth Olympic Games run in 2018, she didn’t have a great meet on beam. She’s just so good that it didn’t matter.
Villa will have to keep that back 1/1 on the beam. She’ll have to…not get a 12.6 on floor. Those things are not givens, especially at the same time, but if it all happens, she can spoil.
Ellie Black is the wildcard in this one. Typically, Ellie Black is the opposite of a wildcard because we always know exactly what we’re going to get from her in every single routine.
In this case, however, Black has been out with injury and did not even compete vault and floor at Elite Canada last month. That provokes some questions as to where her level of difficulty and landing comfort will be on those pieces. In normal circumstances, she’s a podium favorite and a title possibility. Her average scores over the last 12 months are almost identical to Hurd’s and are stronger than DiCello’s or Villa’s, but that was Full-Strength Ellie Black.
Full-Strength Ellie Black is going to need to make another appearance here for her to win because even if she’s doing an understandably watered-down floor routine, that could be enough to give her a weaker score and put her in 3rd or 4th. Which is still fine.
The tier 2 contenders are those whose scoring capability is not that different from the tier 1 athletes—and who can take advantage of falls to sneak onto the podium—but are unlikely to be able to show the four-event content to win the meet.
Underestimate Hatakeda at your own risk. Following the injury to Teramoto, she has become Japan’s 2nd-most-important all-arounder, with a competitively 14 bars routine and the ability to regularly stay on beam for 13s. She has just a Y1.5 on vault and probably isn’t going to be able to deliver the floor content to get a big number there, but staying close as a spoiler is a legitimate reality. She’s my pick for 5th place, if that matters to you at all. Which it should.
Georgia Godwin is the Vanessa Atler of Ellie Blacks. If that makes any sense to you at all. Which, once again, it should.
Floor is Godwin’s standout event, though she can score competitively pretty much everywhere and will expect to go over 13 on each piece, which can quickly get her into at least the 53 zone. That’s not a title-contending score, but it’s early in the year, so going steadily 53 can allow a gymnast to climb up that leaderboard as other people turn into a pile of goop here and there. And by “here” I mean on beam, and by “there” I also mean on beam. Godwin just mostly needs to make sure she’s not one of the beam goopies.
Voss and Godwin really need to think about combining into a single gymnast. Voss is very capable of staying with the contending pack here (she’s in the better half of the competitors here when it comes to average score over the past year), and that’s mostly a result of beam being a strength for her rather than a terror. She’s actually strong on the event and exceptionally consistent, hitting all of her competition beam routines in 2019 for somewhere between 13.2 and 13.8. That, along with good vault scores, can take her a long way. Floor is probably going to be a lower number for her, and bars can sometimes be an 11, but don’t be shocked if she places well.
It’s mostly all about the bars for Varinska. If she hits that Tkatchev 1/2, then her bars score should be among the best in the competition, and that can carry her total through several of the other events. It would be helpful if Saturday also happens to be one of her good beam days, but…roll of the dice. She’s capable of a good beam and also capable of doing pretty 13-level work on floor, but more often than not something weird and Ukrainian is going to happen on at least one of those events, which is why I’d be tentative about having real expectations for Varinska’s ultimate finish.
Put Charpy in a similar category to Varinska. Charpy has a lovely and criminally underappreciated bars routine that should score into the 14s, and on her day, beam is of a nearly similar quality. That ability is what Charpy rode to a 4th-place at American Cup two years ago, and you could see a similar path emerge this year. She will, however, need some help because the floor difficulty is not going to be as high and she has just a full on vault. But bars and beam can take her most of the way.
The subtitle of Tier 3 is “if not for bars.”
There’s probably no athlete in the women’s field I’m more excited to see than Jennifer Gadirova, but I’m trying to be somewhat realistic about her chances here, which are probably compromised by bars. A low 12 is a win for Gadirova on bars, which dramatically hurts her AA-finish chances but says nothing about how well she should do on vault and floor here.
Gadirova is a powerful athlete with minimum a DTY on vault, and she’s capable of big tumbling elements on floor (the DLO she opened with at junior worlds last year was too easy) and equally big dance elements, with performance quality that lives up to skill quality. There’s a lot to like from Gadirova, and we should see a few high event scores lift up that overall total, potentially complementing a hit beam so that she can knock off some of those tier 2 athletes.
Zhang Jin had a brief moment of significance in the Chinese hierarchy because of her DTT on vault and ability to score 13s on floor, but the introduction of last year’s new seniors rendered her somewhat redundant and bumped her from the worlds team. Zhang’s performance at American Cup, then, is similar to Hurd’s (though I would say more dire in Zhang’s case) in that she’s looking to show that she has the composition to make her way back into the core group for China. For vault, beam, and floor. Because bars is not happening.
A securely hit beam is particularly important for Zhang because China is continually met with the dilemma of “how do we fit these VT/FX specialists on the same team as these UB/BB specialists,” so any crossover events are a big deal.
I don’t really have a category for Alba Petisco. She doesn’t fit here, but the basic situation is that her scores aren’t going to be at the level of the other athletes in an Olympic qualifying all-around competition, yet it seems a little unnecessary to make a separate category just for her called PROBABLY LAST PLACE. So anyway, keep an eye out for her form on bars because she should actually have one of the loveliest bars routines in the field.
The deal with the men’s competition is that Nikita Nagornyy isn’t there. Nagornyy being pulled from the competition because of RUSSIA THINGS has eliminated the clear title favorite and opened the door for a few other people to snatch some first-place qualifying points. Like…
Mikulak now has every opportunity to win this competition if he can go through with six hit routines. It’s not a given, and even if he does hit six events, there are a couple other tier 1 athletes who could still outscore him. But the chance to win this event is now on as much of a silver platter as it could be given the inevitable strength of these AA world cup fields in an Olympic year.
It is especially important for Mikulak to win because while Russia’s absence from the series has increased the US chances of getting an extra Olympic spot this way, the US is not equally likely to get points at each event. Brody Malone is now slated to go to Birmingham and is an exciting athlete but also an internationally untested one who isn’t necessarily going to get a huge batch of points at that meet. So in competitions where Mikulak, theoretically one of the best all-arounders in the world, is entered, the US needs to take full advantage.
Verniaiev looked like he was on a one-way street toward having all of his joints replaced with Skittles and never reaching the level of 2016 again…until the all-around final at worlds, when he put together a real, comprehensively hit six-event performance to win bronze. That Oleg is exceptionally capable of winning this competition—and would perhaps even be considered the favorite—but there’s enough perpetual uncertainty about his health that it’s just as likely that he shows up at American Cup with his witch doctor in tow, rocking just the one arm, and enrobed in bandages and tears. That Oleg would be…less likely to win.
But I do have this vision of Oleg going to every single AA world cup, being amazing, and earning an extra Olympic spot for Ukraine, and then Ukraine at the last minute being like, “Yeah, actually, we’re not going to use that spot because we don’t have anyone for it byeeeeeeee” when it’s too late for a replacement. Tell me you haven’t thought the same.
Hashimoto is 30 seconds away from being a star. He made the PH and HB finals at worlds this year, finishing 4th on HB and looking tremendous doing it, and defeated Kazuma Kaya in the all-around just a couple months ago. The difficulty and execution are there on enough events to think of Hashimoto as a very realistic winner of this competition. He really has only the one weakness (rings, so it’s fine), and probably can’t match Mikulak and Verniaiev’s ability on pbars, but on the other four pieces, there’s no reason to think of him as in a different category than Mikulak and Verniaiev. He should win a couple events at the very least.
There are several other contenders who should score well here and can steal a spot on the podium depending on how things play out—but have that weak event or two that’s probably going to keep them in a lower tier, everything being hit. And by “weak event or two,” I mostly still mean rings.
Lee Chih-Kai is your favorite pommel horse worker who’s also secretly a legitimate threat in the all-around, which he accidentally revealed to us in qualification in Stuttgart. That pommel horse score, however, is still the centerpiece and can carry him a long way, hopefully right through some of his iffy events like high bar.
Unlike an athlete like Lee, that has big events here and there to overcome a couple other meh ones, James Hall is a classic all-arounder who has viably semi-competitive routines on all pieces. That’s why he always ends up doing the AA for Great Britain at worlds—and is also a quality he rode to a silver medal at American Cup in 2018.
Pablo Braegger is more than just a pretty earring, and his difficulty on events like floor, pbars, and high bar should be enough to get him into the top half of the standings here. Should. I wouldn’t say I’m the most confident in his pommel horse or rings, but you know…that’s life.
And then there’s Shane Wiskus, the wildcard entrant for the US who should be competing at a world cup event that counts instead of just being the wildcard here, and yes I will die on this hill. While he’s not the most likely to get a podium spot in this field, he has the routines on FX and PB, a solid 5.2 on VT, and…sometimes the HB?…to beat some of these other contending all-arounders by getting another 84. That’s what he did at Winter Cup, and that’s what he’s going to need to be able to score at a meet like this to continue looking like the compelling option for the Olympic team that he’s starting to make himself into.
So, those are my general picks for the general top half of the rankings, generally. Also Rene Cournoyer is beautiful, I’m probably underestimating Hu Xuwei, and Andreas Toba’s dad won the American Cup in 1988, which you’ll hear about because STORYLINE THINGS.