August 4th, 7:00pm CT – Junior Women
August 5th, 1:00pm CT – Senior Women Session 1
August 5th, 7:00pm CT – Senior Women Session 2
August 6th, 10:45am CT – Men Session 1
August 6th, 4:45pm CT – Men Session 2
The US Classic—the biggest meet of the year until the next one—is now upon us as the entire American gymnastics world has started overrunning Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
For some, Classic is the final chance to qualify to nationals, with about one-third of the field still seeking that 50.500 qualifying score. For the majority of the group, however, qualification to nationals is already clinched, so Classic becomes an opportunity to get some competition practice in and potentially try out some upgrades that may or may not be awesome or advisable. This is the chance to do so in competition without consequence.
But also we will be making intractable decisions about the worlds team based only on this competition. So there’s that.
Let’s get into it.
1. Simone things
No need to begin with the element of surprise, so let’s talk about Simone, who is heading into her first actual competition since the beam final in Tokyo two years ago.
For Biles, her routine composition reveal will be the highlight of both podium training and the competition itself. Is the Yurchenko double pike that she competed at camp ready for public looking? How has she adjusted to the need for bars reconstruction, and to a lesser extent beam reconstruction? What are the passes right now?
What we do know from camp is that Biles’ composition currently sits at a hearty 25.4 D—the same total D she got credit for in qualification at the Olympics—which already dramatically eclipses the 23.9 that Andrade used to win worlds last year.
On bars, we’ve seen a giant full enter the training video picture lately, which could indicate that Weiler 1/2 + Maloney + Giant 1/1 + Piked Tkatchev + Pak is the solution there. Putting that with a Van Leeuwen and perhaps a toe 1/1 + FTDT would get to the 6.0 she got credit for at camp. As for beam, the switch split beam mount from USAG’s videos would give her EDD for dance elements (alongside the wolf triple and the switch 1/2), potentially scrapping the need for those side jumps.
Then there’s the question of whether we will see the all-around from Simone. While we’re accustomed to some top athletes operating under the All-Around Is For Dorks policy when it comes to Classic, Simone typically does compete all four at this meet, as she did in 2018, 2019, and 2021. Of course, there would be no harm in Simone sort of casually Pope-mobile-ing her way through the arena, blessing the populace, and throwing in an event or two as a treat, but her track record at this competition, as well as her 57.650 AA at camp, would seem to indicate that she’s all in.
2. Needing a score
According to the women’s program rules, Suni Lee would need to achieve at least a two-event qualifying score (26.400, 13.200 average) at Classic in order to be eligible for nationals since she doesn’t have any other scores or camp appearances to lean on this year for a petition.
And yes, the idea that we wouldn’t see Suni at nationals/selection camp if she didn’t compete at an ultimately insignificant event like Classic is, indeed, human nonsense.
But nonetheless a potential reality.
It sounds like the latest plan from the Lee/Graba brain trust is to just get by with the necessary score and move on from there. That’s why it makes sense to compete vault—with its much higher E scores than the other apparatuses—even though a solid score for a Yurchenko full would still just be around that 13.2 average, putting some real pressure on beam to be a hit to get over 13 as well. If Lee is indeed able to put in bars as a possible third event like Graba indicated, the qualifying score becomes 39.000 (13.000 average), a bit more manageable per apparatus, so if she’s able to be comfortable with a difficulty even in the low 5s on bars, competing that probably makes sense.
Kayla DiCello is also not yet qualified to nationals because, despite competing two events at American Classic, she came up .150 short of that required 26.400. She’ll presumably be aiming to build toward that 50.500 all-around qualifying score, which would be no trouble at all for her given anything resembling normalcy. The international elite committee recently lowered the all-around qualifying score from 51.000 to 50.500 for reasons of [he trailed off…], requiring just a 12.625 average and making it much, much more manageable than the non-AA scores.
3. Carey v Roberson
Do we have a VT/FX fight a-brewin’? This town might not be big enough.
The major non-Simone development of the July camp was Joscelyn Roberson showing an upgrade to a Cheng on vault and a 6.5 D score on floor, where she outpaced Jade Carey’s 6.1 D.
Carey did not show full vault difficulty at that camp, and as the summer progresses, we’ll expect Carey to upgrade back to her primary vaults and assert superiority there given her years-long comfort level with the Cheng. This whole US difficulty battle on floor will also be worth watching to see whether it prompts Carey to head down to her safety deposit box and withdraw some more of that Olympic difficulty. So far this quad, Carey’s good hits have been in the low 14s, a score we’re seeing matched by a number of US floor workers like Roberson, Jordan Chiles, and Shilese Jones—and exceeded by Biles.
But for Carey, those low 14s were also earned with a front lay through to double tuck, rather than the front lay through to double double from Tokyo, highlighting that there’s room to add quite a bit of difficulty to separate herself again.
But at the very least, the possibility has now been floated for Roberson—who was the world leader on floor this year until Biles went to camp—to challenge Carey’s scores on the power events.
4. The bars factor
After withdrawing last week, Shilese Jones will not be at Classic.
That means we’ll have to wait until nationals to see the standard she’s setting for bars difficulty and scores (and whether that Stalder Nabieva is in the routine), but we should get a chance at Classic to see a critical bars routine from Zoe Miller.
So far this year, Miller’s bars routine has been in every possible highest-scoring team permutation, and she probably would have been on the worlds team last year to deliver bars had she been healthy (at least, if selection had cooperated, which…). Now, however, Miller will be faced with the question of whether there would actually be room for her bars in a Suni Lee, Shilese Jones, Simone Biles world, and whether that would add enough to a possible team. At Classic, I’ll be keeping an eye on the margin between a Miller bars hit and a Biles bars hit in evaluating how much Miller could add to the worlds team.
5. Need for a beamer?
In concocting possible teams for various world and Olympic scenarios over the next year or so, there are multiple scenarios in which the US team would most require a beamer to round out a team of five, providing a counterpoint to a Jade Carey, or a Zoe Miller, or a Shilese Jones (although Jones’ potential beam upgrades could change that).
In the absence of Konnor McClain at this year’s event, there’s quite an opportunity for a beamer like Skye Blakely (who made last year’s worlds team for that very reason) or new senior Tiana Sumanasekera to put up a 14+ score that would be very compelling on a five-person team.
6. The ’22ers
One thing we know is that this year’s group is deep and the whole making-teams of it all is going to be a rough journey.
Among the remaining gymnasts who made the 2022 worlds team, Jordan Chiles’ status as a true all-arounder—her ability to go on any event as needed in a team final and it’s fine—has served her exceptionally well.
In a field like we have this year, it will be imperative for Chiles to reassert that status by continuing to rack up compelling (top 3?) all-around placements. There are certainly a number of possible specialist-based teams with high potential scores that wouldn’t include Chiles (say, if you go Biles, Lee, Carey, Jones, 14+ beamer), but that’s not really the direction the wind has been blowing in terms of team selection.
As for Leanne Wong, the currently stacked array of choices is making it challenging to find a way to fit her into a worlds team again this year, despite being on both the 2021 and 2022 teams. Which is traumatic.
In that regard, Classic becomes somewhat important in terms of Wong’s ability to make a scoring case for herself within this field.
With no US-team implications, Melanie De Jesus Dos Santos’s appearance at Classic is just a present for being such good little boys and girls this year. Here, have a Melanie.
8. National team preview
As we head toward nationals, I’ll also be keeping an eye on the just-for-nerds sub-drama of who makes the senior national team this year, which is guaranteed to generate chaos.
This year, the women’s program has changed the national team distribution from 8 seniors, 8 juniors to 10 seniors, 6 juniors. That makes a lot of sense. In this era, it’s just not that important to have too many juniors on national team. There aren’t even any junior meets for the rest of the year. It’s about the seniors.
In the not-making-sense department, those 10 seniors will be the top 10 in the AA at nationals, and everyone else can just shut it.
Because who would want a great three-eventer on the national team? Yuck. I can imagine no scenario in which that would be useful.
But this means it’s going to be exceptionally impossible to make national team this year, even for someone like Zoe Miller who doesn’t always have the all-around total, not to mention the likes of Nola Matthews, who has been an integral part of the spring teams, or Lexi Zeiss, who was last year’s worlds alternate. Or Ashlee Sullivan, or Elle Mueller, or Addison Fatta, or Madray Johnson. There will be a lot of left-outs.
Classic will give us a preview of who is legitimately in contention.