2014 Secret U.S. Classics Juniors to Watch (Sr. session)

In the gymnastics world, the Olympics trump all. And though we have an eye on who’s who in 2014, there is always equally an eye on who WILL be who in 2016. And so this year, watching the juniors who will be possible contenders for the 2016 Olympics is as important as watching the senior contenders for this year’s World Championship team.

Due to the large number of juniors entered in the Secret U.S. Classics, a handful of 2016 age eligible gymnasts have been “promoted” to compete in the senior session. Nia Dennis of Buckeye Gymnastics, Norah Flatley of Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute, Jazmyn Foberg of MG Elite, Lauren Navarro of Charter Oak Gymnastics, Abby Paulson and Olivia Trautman of Twin City Twisters, Emily Gaskins of Cincinnati Gymnastics, and Ragan Smith of Texas Dreams Gymnastics will all be making their senior debut of sorts early, though they will be competing for the junior titles.

With the absence of 2013 Junior National Champion Bailie Key and 2013 Junior All-around Silver Medalist Laurie Hernandez as well as 2013 Junior National Vault Champion Ari Agrapides from the roster, there is a lot of room for these juniors to make their mark at this competition. Dennis, Flatley, Gaskins and Smith are current U.S. Junior National Team members and have all had international assignments this year. Each one has performed well, and there is no doubt that there are high expectations for them this year.

Dennis placed fourth in the all-around at last year’s national championships, second at the City of Jesolo and second at the Pacific Rims Championships this year (to Key both times). She is known for her powerful tumbling, high release moves on bars, and what is possibly the best arabian on beam in the world. With Key and Hernandez out of the competition, Dennis is statistically the one to beat, and a strong contender for the all-around gold. Here she is training bars.

Flatley is a gymternet favorite, followed for many years for her incredible beam work and her uncanny resemblance to Shawn Johnson in technique and personality. Placing fifth at last years nationals, and third in the City of Jesolo and the Pacific Rims Championships (just behind Dennis both times), Flatley is a strong contender as well for the all-around title. Flatley is widely regarded as Chow’s next superstar (Chow coached Shawn Johnson to an all-around Olympic silver and Olympic beam gold as well as coached Gabby Douglas to an all-around Olympic gold). She will be a senior in 2016 and in addition to her potential as an all-arounder, she is also continuing to make a case for herself as a bars/beam specialist for the future, with definite potential to win an world or Olympic medal on the beam. Here she is at the Pacific Rim Championships on beam.

Gaskins placed 18th in last year’s national championships, but since moving to Cincinnati Gymnastics has been steadily moving up. She was given an international assignment earlier this year to the City of Jesolo, where she place fifth in the all-around. Known for her clean lines and beautiful form with that “international look”, Gaskins has so much potential to really be a major contender not only this year, but in the next few years. Here she is at the May National Training Camp.

Smith placed 17th at the national championships last year. However, she has recently made a gym change to Texas Dreams, the current US powerhouse of elite level gymnastics. The change seems to be agreeing well with her, as she secured a place on the national team and an assignment to the City of Jesolo this year where she placed ninth in the all-around (and sixth amongst the US gymnasts). Smith is full of talent and drive, with that pixie cute look that always wins hearts in the junior ranks. She will be one to watch for sure! Check her out at the May National Team Training Camp.

Foberg continues to strengthen the bench of MG Elite as their third high caliber junior elite gymnast. Last year she seemed to lag far behind celebrated teammates Hernandez and Agrapides. But in recent months she won the all-around at American Classics, as well as 1st on vault and bars. She also finished 4th at the last National Team Camp (only .35 out of 2nd). Classics could very well be where she makes her debut and joins the ranks of her teammates as one of the USA’s top juniors. Go to the MG Elite Facebook page and scroll down to see some of Foberg’s latest work.

Navarro, Paulson and Trautman all have yet to prove their status in the junior elite world. However, they must have done well enough at national camps to be included on the senior session. It will be exciting to see how they fair!




The Latest on The Fierce Five

Exactly two years ago, five young girls made history at the 2012 Olympics. It is hard for any gymnastics fan not to get choked up thinking of that night. And if you are just tuning back into the gymnastics world for the upcoming elite competitions, then undoubtedly the status of each of the Fierce Five gymnasts is on your mind. Coming off of the 2012 Olympics, each gymnast expressed their desire to continue in the sport of gymnastics and make a run at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. And so, the question constantly remains – when are they returning?

Kyla Ross, the youngest member of the Fierce Five has not missed a beat since the 2012 Olympics. She has competed at nearly every major competition since then, and is undeniably one of the USA’s shining stars. Ross is expected to headline both the Secret US Classics and the P&G National Championships this August. She looked great in podium training and well prepared for the season.

McKayla Maroney has also continued to train towards Rio despite four, count them four, leg surgeries since the games. Shortly after successfully defending her World Championship Vault title last year, Maroney took a rest from gymnastics to heal up some knee issues. After having some knee pain at Worlds, she discovered she had tendonitis in one knee and a fracture in the other. Unfortunately rest was not enough and she finally underwent surgery in March. Maroney had six to eight weeks of therapy following surgery, and was released to return to training in late May or early June. She assured people in an interview with International Gymnastics (AWESOME interview that you have to watch!) that she will be working hard to be back for P&G National Championships and World Championships this year. However, she has yet to return to a national team training camp and has not yet released any information about her competition status. Update: In a social media video she made today, Maroney said that she would not be competing this season.“I just want to say how much I appreciate you guys following me, supporting me, being there for me even though I can’t compete this season with my injuries.” She also gave a great interview to USA Gymnastics catching us up on the details of her injuries and her commitment to Rio.

Gabby Douglas made her serious return to training this spring with a return to her former gym in April. After her trial period with coach Chow was over however, she decided that this was not the best training option for her and has set out to find a new gym to make her bid to Rio. She is currently training at Buckeye Gymnastics, however it is not known if she will stay there long-term. Douglas impressed Marta Karolyi at the June National Team Training camp with her level of physical fitness, however Karolyi was hoping to see her compete at the Secret U.S. Classics and the P&G National Championships to help determine if she would be ready to compete at this year’s World Championships according to an interview with NBC Olympic Talk. Douglas is not competing this weekend at Classics, though it has not yet been announced if she will be competing at the national championships later this month. Update: New coach Kittia Carpenter of Buckeye gymnastics confirmed that Douglas will not be attempting to comeback to competition until 2015. Check out the full story here.

Aly Raisman announced earlier this year that she would be pacing her comeback slowly and focusing on attending her first national team training camp after the World Championships in October. A few videos have come out as well as an interview here and there that indicates she is training seriously and working hard, just pacing her return to competition. She will be focusing on 2015.

Jordyn Wieber is the one member of the Fierce Five who has not yet resumed training at the elite competitive level. From all appearances, she thoroughly enjoyed taking a year off from gymnastics and any heavy training to attend her first year of college and be team manager for UCLA gymnastics. Though Wieber has maintained that she is working to stay in shape, she has yet to announce a decision about a serious return to competitive gymnastics. She maintained for the last year that she wanted to try a year of college and then decide what to do. As we are coming up to the start of a new school year, it seems that her decision should be coming soon.

In the current regime of USA Gymnastics, the likelihood of most of these incredible gymnasts being able to represent the USA at two Olympics is slim. The nature of the sport combined with the incredibly successful system that is currently in place makes it difficult for the older gymnasts to compete with the young fresh talent coming up. However, if anyone can do it, the Fierce Five can. With two years to go, there is still time for each of them. Though with the realities of gymnastics, the ticking of the clock is always a loud sound.

The Latest on Ari Agrapides

The large field of juniors at the Secret US Classics continues to get smaller as another star from 2013 is pulling out due to a minor injury. Last year’s Junior National Vault Champion Ari Agrapides will be missing the action this weekend as she rests from a minor foot injury. Coach Maggie Haney posted on Facebook earlier today, “Ari tapped her toe on the bar earlier this week, leaving an open cut & creating a small fracture in her toe. As a precaution, she is sitting out Classics & resting so she can be at her best for Championships!”

Agrapides took the junior ranks by storm last year with what is undeniably the best vaulting in the junior ranks. With a great deal of promise on all the events, and many years to go in her career (she just misses the age limit for the 2016 Olympics) the future is very bright. It will be great to see her seek to defend her vault title at the end of the month!

Pictures for MG Elite Facebook Page

The Latest on Bailie Key

Current Junior National Champion Bailie Key of Texas Dreams will not be competing at the Secret US Classics this weekend. On July 23, coach Kim Zmeskal Burdette broke the news on twitter. “To best heal after a minor arm procedure, Bailie Key will bypass competing at the U.S.Classic.”

Bailie Key training at the 2014 Pacific Rim Championships. Photo by Ruth Judson

From all appearances, Key is ready to go and this is just a minor blip in her year. As she is already qualified to the P&G National Championships, and has competed twice this year internationally, missing this competition really isn’t a big deal. Most likely, Key would have liked to have a warm up meet before defending her title at nationals, but coming in fresh and healthy will benefit her more in the long run.

Key rose slowly in the junior ranks until last year, where she became the dominant US Junior. Not only is Key the current Junior National Champion in the US, she has won every international competition she has been in both in 2013 and in 2014. Unless any of the current juniors come out with a surprise performance this year, that is unlikely to change any time soon.

Key’s sweet smile, dependable performance, and beautiful gymnastics will be missed at Classics this year.  But it will give other juniors time to shine. And will lead us to appreciate her even more at the P&G National Championships.

Here is Key at the 2014 Pacific Rims. Her new floor routine is one of my very favorites this year!

And here she is at the May National Training Camp. She trains a double layout here, which would be a new addition to her floor routine if she puts it in this year.

Thanks To Ruth Judson for the great photos. Check out her work!


The Latest on Laurie Hernandez

Laurie Hernandez Twitter selfie

The July National Team Training Camp roster and the 2014 US Secret Classic roster both had something very disturbing in common. The were missing crowd favorite junior elite Laurie Hernandez of MG Elite. In fact, we will be missing her for some time.

Hernandez participated in her second national team camp of 2014 in June after missing the spring due to a wrist injury. During training, she dislocated her kneecap and tore her patella tendon. Coach MaggieHaney shared, “She was doing her first yurchenko double full of the camp, and she landed short. Her knees were beginning to grow in a weird shape and this was the result. Laurie had surgery about 1 month ago and will need about 6 months to be back to 100%.”

MG Elite girls getting a well deserved pedicure. Notice the wrap on Laurie Hernanez’s (middle) knee. Picture from MG Elite Facebook Page

Hernandez rose dramatically in the junior elite ranks from 2012 to 2013, placing 21st in the all-around in 2012 at the national championships to second in 2013. She followed this up with some great international showings as well. With another year under her belt, many have wondered if she would be able to give Bailie Key, current 2013 Junior National Champion, a run for the all-around gold this year. But that will have to wait.

Fortunately, time is on her side. Hernandez does not become a senior until 2016. Though two years is an eternity in the sport of gymnastics, she is currently on track to make a very competitive bid for a place on the 2016 Olympic team. Hernandez’s contagious smile, uplifting personality and crowd favorite floor performances will be missed in 2014.  “She has been in the gym conditioning & I’m sure she will come back strong,” assures Haney. We can’t wait!

Here is a look at her May National Team Training camp video

And because it is impossible to talk about Laurie Hernandez without wanting to watch her floor routine…


A Look at the 2014 US Secret Classic Seniors

The 2014 US Secret Classic is just around the corner. At this point in the Olympic cycle, the senior ranks are still fairly thin. With two years to go to the Olympics and the incredible strength of juniors that abounds in the USA, few seniors choose to stay the course. The former Olympians who want to make a run on Rio have not all returned to competition status. And with the relatively low impact this year has on the run up to the Olympics, this is the time to really heal up and take care of injuries instead of pushing through them.

And so, only 19 seniors are entered in the 2014 US Secret Classics.  World all-around champion Simone Biles, and Olympian Kyla Ross headline the roster, joined by 2014 American Cup silver medalist Brenna Dowell. Notable gymnasts missing are Fierce Five members McKayla Maroney, who is still coming back after knee surgery; and Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman who are still too early in their comeback training process to compete.

There is undeniably a bit of mystery at this point in the season as to where the gymnasts are and who is at the top of their game. A handful of gymnasts have been given competition assignments in the early spring, but for the most part we have not seen the top elite gymnasts since March or April. For some of the gymnasts, it has been since last year.

Junior standouts Lexie Priessman and Amelia Hundley have been out with injuries and surgeries over the past year. Brenna Dowell had a solid competition at the American Cup in March, but we has not competed since. Maggie Nichols, MyKayla Skinner, Rachel Gowey, Alyssa Baumann and Madison Kocian all had great showings at the City of Jesolo back in March, but we have not seen them since.  Current World Champion Simone Biles was slated to perform at the Pacific Rims Championships in April, but had to pull out due to injury, and so we have not seen her compete since the World Championships. Kyla Ross did compete at both the City of Jesolo and the Pacific Rims, but was definitely still tuning up and coming back from minor injuries. Peyton Ernst was last seen at the Pacific Rims, filling in at the last moment and doing a tremendous job of it, but did not compete in the all-around.

The 2014 US Secret Classics are another important step towards the filling of the World Championship Team. But they are often considered a warm up meet for the National Championships. It is not uncommon for the top gymnasts to only do a few events. That being said, it is hard to imagine any seniors catching Biles or Ross in the all-around unless Priessman or Hundley shows shades of their junior prowess. The real competition for Biles and Ross in the future is the possible return of Fierce Five teammates and the upcoming juniors. The rest of the seniors in the field will be working to show why they should be considered as event specialists in this years world championship team.

Here are the contenders:

Alyssa Baumann, Plano, Texas/ WOGA Gymnastics, senior
Amelia Hundley, Hamilton, Ohio/Cincinnati Gymnastics, senior
Ashton Locklear, Hamlet, N.C./Everest Gymnastics, senior
Brenna Dowell, Odessa, Mo./Great American Gymnastics Express, senior
Emily Schild, Huntersville, N.C./Everest Gymnastics, senior
Felicia Hano, San Gabriel, Calif./Gym-Max Gymnastics, senior
Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif./Gym-Max Gymnastics, senior
Lexie Priessman, Fairfield, Ohio/Perfection Gymnastics, senior
Macy Toronjo, Huntsville, Texas/ Texas Dreams Gymnastics, senior
Madison Desch, Lenexa, Kan./ Great American Gymn. Express, senior
Madison Kocian, Dallas, Texas/WOGA Gymnastics, senior
Maggie Nichols, Little Canada, Minn./ Twin City Twisters, senior
Melissa Reinstadtler, Brick, N.J./ Rebound Gymnastics Inc., senior
MyKayla Skinner, Gilbert, Ariz./Desert Lights Gymnastics, senior
Peyton Ernst, Coppell, Texas/ Texas Dreams Gymnastics, senior
Rachel Gowey, Urbandale, Iowa/ Chow’s Gymnastics and Dance Institute, senior
Samantha Ogden, Allen, Texas/WOGA Gymnastics, senior
Simone Biles, Spring, Texas/ World Champions Centre, senior
Veronica Hults, Coppell, Texas/ Texas Dreams Gymnastics, senior