Brenna Dowell has some unfinished business to take care of. After finding herself the alternate on the World Championship team in 2013, Dowell trained towards 2014. However a round of injuries and setbacks left her just short of her goals once again, when she was named the non-traveling alternate for the 2014 World Championship team. Rather than continue to train towards future world teams and the 2016 Olympics, Dowell decided to retire as an elite gymnast and begin her college career.
Going from elite in October 2014 to NCAA in January of 2015, Dowell had a very successful freshman year at the University of Oklahoma. She was a regular in the lineup for the Sooners on VT, UB and FX. She ended the season as the 2015 runner up on floor, the Big-12 Floor champion and the Big-12 Newcomer of the Year.
According to SoonerSports.com, Oklahoma’s head coach K.J. Kindler announced this week that Dowell has decided to take a break from her NCAA career. She will defer for a year to return to elite gymnastics and chase her dreams for a place on the 2015 World Championship team. “This decision was the toughest choice I have ever made,” Dowell said to Soonersports.com. “My family and I prayed about it a lot, and I just felt like I had some unfinished business in the elite world.”
Dowell is a strong all-around gymnast, and brings a high level of difficulty to vault and bars. With the additions of Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas, as well as new senior Bailie Key to an already intensely competitive elite environment, Dowell has her work cut out for her. But it is work that she seems ready to do in order to pursue her dreams.
“We know that this was a very difficult decision for Brenna, but at the end of the day it came down to chasing that dream,” Kindler said. “We want Brenna to have no regrets and that means pursuing this opportunity to compete for the United States at the highest level in this Olympic year. We will be cheering loud for her from Norman and will look forward to her return to Oklahoma in the fall of 2016.”
No word has been released yet as to when Dowell will return to national team training camps or compete for the first time in 2015. The 2015 World Gymnastics Championships are Oct. 23 to Nov. 1, in Glasgow, Scotland.
Continuing our look at the current national team members, today we will look at the new seniors.
Bailie Key – All-Around; Uneven Bars
Key has dominated the junior ranks over the past two years, winning every competition she entered with a great margin to spare. She does not have an incredible stand out event, but rather is incredibly clean and strong on all four events. She placed second to Simone Biles in the all-around and to Kyla Ross on uneven bars at the recent City of Jesolo Trophy.
Nia Dennis – All-Around; Uneven Bars, Floor
Dennis had a strong junior career, placing at the top of the field in numerous competitions. However, she has yet to make her senior debut due to injury. Dennis is a strong all-arounder, as well as incredibly powerful on floor and has a great bar routine as well.
Emily Schild – Vault, Floor
Schild showed incredible promise in 2013, but battled injury in 2014. She made her international debut at the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy. Her strongest events are vault and floor.
Skaggs has been in the top ten over the last few years in the junior division, especially on floor. She finished eighth in her senior debut at the all-around at the recent City of Jesolo Trophy. She has gorgeous form and catlike landings.
The Junior Olympic program is an important stepping stone to NCAA and elite level competition for gymnasts all around the nation. Des Moines, Iowa played host to this year’s U.S. Women’s Junior Olympic National Championships. The top four all-around gymnasts in each age division automatically qualify for the 2015-16 U.S. Women’s Junior Olympic National Team. These are gymnasts to keep an eye on to make a splash in the elite and NCAA scenes.
The national team members, by age division, are listed below.
Alyssa Al-Ashari – Twistars USA
Kelsey Knox – Dynamo Gymnastics
Chae Campbell – Metroplex Gymnastics
Tori Tatum – Twin City Twisters
Kai Rivers – Twistars USA
Makarri Doggette – Buckeye Gymnastics
Madilyn Quarles – Twin City Twisters
Matilyn Waligora – Olympia Gymnastics Academy
Rachael Lukacs – North Stars Gymnastics Academy
Abigail Brenner – Twin City Twisters
Alexandria Ruiz – ACE Gymnastics
Karrie Thomas – American Twisters
Jordyn Weiber has officially retired from elite level gymnastics. And Kyla Ross never left. That leaves three of the Fierce Five to discuss their possible impact in 2015.
Aly Raisman – All-Around; Beam, Floor and possibly Vault
Raisman returned to competition for the first time since the 2012 Olympics at the City of Jesolo Trophy in March. She showed incredibly strong training sessions before the competition. In the qualifications, she posted the third highest score on beam, even though it was not nearly as strong of a routine as she had shown in training. Though she has been training and amanar, she just competed a double twisting yurechenko. It was a clean vault that showed definite potential for her amanar in the future. She seems to have improved on bars. She also qualified for event finals on floor,and ended up with the bronze medal on the floor and in the all-around.
Douglas also made her competition comeback appearance at the 2015 City of Jesolo Trophy. She came in fourth in the all-around and tied for third on beam and bars and fourth on floor. Douglas looked great in training, and her progress in training seems to be in an incredibly positive direction.
Maroney has disclosed on social media that she has struggled both with adrenal fatigue and depression over the last year. She has also talked about her fear of getting injured again. Though she continues to refer to her training, and her dreams of competing in the 2016 Olympics, it is unclear on where she is actually at in her training and if she will return.
Simone Biles had a historic competition at the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China. She took home gold medals in the all-around, beam and floor individual events as well as the team gold with her U.S. teammates. Additionally she won the vault silver medal. Biles was the first U.S. woman to win back-to-back World all-around titles in almost twenty years, since Shannon Miller accomplished the feat in 1993-94. She overtook Miller in the most world championship gold medals by winning six in the last two years to Millers five. Biles also became the first U.S. woman to win four gold medals at a single world championships.
Biles may very well be one of those once in a life-time gymnasts. She achieved these results by competing some of the hardest gymnastics skills with clean execution (the gymnastics basics: straight legs, pointed toes, correct body positions and stuck landings). And she did it with so much energy and power, it is easy to see that she has a lot of room to do even more. While most gymnasts look to be at the very edge of their abilities, Biles soars through the air with room and energy to spare.
Biles will resume full time training, with a slower pace and some time to work on new skills.”I am taking training a little bit easier right now and will learn a few new skills on a few events” said Biles in a media phone interview. Though she may not really need to continue adding to her difficulty score (she led the all-around competition in difficulty) she has not yet reached her limits by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, her shoulder injury earlier in the year caused her to have to downgrade bars from last year. After the world championships, coach Aimee Boorman mentioned in a tweet that now that her shoulder is healed, Biles will be looking to upgrade her second vault to a Cheng. In the interview this morning, Biles confirmed that she will be working toward the Cheng. She also shared that since her Amanar vault is so consistent, Marta Karolyi has encouraged her to try for the triple-twisting yurchenko. If successful, Biles would be the first woman in history to compete this vault.
As for other upgrades, Biles said she would also be looking to get bars back to her former level of difficulty by adding the shaposh half back in. She said she also might work the double-double layout on floor, a pass competed by only three other female gymnasts on the international elite level. And though she had phenomenal success this year, she was only able to hit beam like she does in training in event finals. Biles said she plans on addressing that in her training plan as well.
After leaving her longtime gym earlier in the year with Boorman, Biles trained for a while at another local gym. Now, they are training in a temporary location while the gym that her parents are building is completed. It is supposed to be completed in May or June of next year. For now, she is content to be training somewhere they can call World Champions Centre. “In the beginning they kept telling me they were going to start building [and it wouldn’t happen]… but I am busy training. I don’t really pay attention to the details, it’s not my business.” Running a gym is not something she sees in her future, and is something she is happy to leave to her parents.
What she does see in her future is college gymnastics. Earlier this year, Biles committed to UCLA, and she is firmly committed to maintaining her NCAA eligibility. Though she will put all of her energy and training into shooting for the 2016 Olympics, she currently does not have plans to go pro. “My parents have talked about it a little bit but haven’t pushed me. They are letting it be my decision.” Biles acknowledged that things might change in the future, but for now that is her direction.
With Biles’ power, energy, determination and team of supporters, it seems that for her the sky is the limit. Literally.
In 2014, Simone Biles is without a doubt the most dominant gymnast in the world. She does some of the most difficult gymnastics with such ease, it is hard to comprehend just how incredible it really is. She defies the normal “rules” on floor, ending her routine with a pass that many gymnasts start with, and doing it with so much bounce to spare that you honestly wonder how many flips and twists it will take to nail those feet to the ground.
But Biles is not one to follow the rules. Most gymnasts present a serious demeanor on the floor, not watching other competitors routines and zoning in on what they have to do. Though there is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not her style.
Biles is all smiles and energy on the competition podium right up until she starts her event and again immediately as her feet touch the floor for her dismount. Except floor, where the sincere grin just never stops. Between routines she can be found chatting with other teammates, cheering on fellow competitors and laughing with her coach.
They say that it is lonely at the top. But that is just not something Biles is willing to accept. Though she is serious about her gymnastics, and can immediately get into her zone when she needs to be, it is obvious that she values her teammates and her relationships with them more than anything else out on the floor. She is the first one to congratulate a fellow competitor on their routines, and it is unlikely that any gymnast mounts an event that Biles has not cheered on. She is known by all for her infectious smile and tackling other gymnasts with her bear hugs. McKayla Maroney says of Biles, “It’s impossible not to love her.”
Her twitter feed reads like a memoir to all the people she loves and can’t live without.
So though Biles is miles ahead of her competitors when it comes down to the score, she is determined to walk the Road to Rio step by step and arm in arm with her U.S. teammates. This bouncy bundle of joy is changing all the rules about how to compete gymnastics. And giving many people in the world a lesson on how to live life.
In March of 2013, Jazmyn Foberg (Jazzy as she is affectionately known) made a decision that would change the entire trajectory of her life. She started training with Maggie Haney at MG Elite. And now she finds herself topping the junior division scoreboard as she heads into the second day of competition for the P&G U.S. National Championships.
Her meteoric rise from not even qualifying for nationals last year to topping the leaderboard this year is quite rare in the sport of gymnastics. But her success is not a surprise to coach Haney. “What excites me the most about Jazzy is how fast she is progressing. She has improved so much in the past year; it’s actually amazing. She is a totally different gymnast now then she was one year ago. If she continues to improve at this rate; the sky is the limit for her!”
In this case, words like improved don’t even begin to capture the monumental progress Foberg has made. Last year at the Secret U.S. Classics, she placed 26th and missed out on qualifying for nationals. Her teammates Laurie Hernandez and Ari Agrapides went on to phenomenal success at nationals, where Hernandez took the all-around silver and Agrapides won the national vault title in the junior division. “I think it was very good for Jazzy to see Laurie & Ari have such successes last year. I think that Jazzy became very motivated after watching them go to camp after camp and even watching Laurie have International assignments. I feel like this was like dangling a carrot in front of Jazzy. It motivated her and this is what she wants and is willing to work towards,” said Haney.
Foberg’s hard work began to pay off earlier in 2014, where she won the all-around and the uneven bars at the 2014 Buckeye Elite Qualifer. She continued to gain speed at the American Classic in Huntsville, Texas where she won the all-around, vault and bars. Then there was the 2014 Secret U.S. Classic. Oh what a difference a year can make.
After a great showing at the national training camp, Foberg was one of the junior gymnasts selected to compete in the senior session. Foberg took the early lead in the competition, and as a result was featured twice in the NBC broadcast. For a junior elite gymnast, that is some pretty heady stuff. But Foberg took it all in stride. As it seems she always does. Haney said of Foberg, “I would describe Jazzy as a very “chill” kid. She is level headed and I never have any surprises with her. Inside the gym, Jazzy is extremely focused and very good at making corrections and feeling what she is doing.” Foberg went on to place 5th in the all-around at Classics.
Foberg came into nationals looking confident and ready to compete. Nia Dennis leads the junior field in difficulty, and has generally been considered the favorite to win after strong international performances earlier in the year. Right behind Dennis has been Norah Flatley, Chow’s latest star who has excellent execution and a stellar beam routine. And then there is Jordan Chiles, who took everyone by surprise winning the Secret U.S. Classic earlier this month. Foberg came into the meet with the second highest difficulty planned, and a strong desire to follow in the footsteps of her teammates and stand on that medal podium.
She started out the first day of competition with a strong double twisting Yurchenko that scored a 14.6. This gave her the early lead after rotation one, a position she only relinquished for one rotation the rest of the day. Moving into her strongest event, Foberg put up the second highest bar score of the competition; but a strong vault from Dennis pushed her into second half way through the meet.
With her two strongest events behind her, Foberg was going to need to put up solid routines and mistakes from the other girls to regain the lead. And that is just what she got. Dennis performed a beautiful bar routine, but fell on her dismount. Flatley had a shocking fall on beam, but still scored a 14.4 with her incredible routine. Foberg remained focused despite all the falls around her and hit a solid beam routine, putting her back in the lead. A lead she was able to hold onto in the last rotation as Dennis had a second fall.
“I would like Jazzy to be remembered as a calm & consistent competitor. Jazzy is really a great kid and I don’t think she should be underestimated,” said Haney. Done and done. As many of the juniors succumbed to nerves, Foberg continued to develop her reputation as a calm and consistent competitor. Adding this to the beautiful lines MG Elite is becoming known for, Foberg has proven that she is the real deal. “She had already far exceeded my expectations for this year; so now I know what she is capable of… I have already raised my goals and expectations for her. The plan is to make her a master on bars. So hopefully she will be remembered as a great bar worker who does a lot of releases!”
Whether or not Foberg is able to hold onto her lead tomorrow in the second day of competition, it is clear that she has legitimately come into her own as one of the juniors to watch on the Road to Rio. Her strong all-around abilities, cool and consistent performance personality, and her great bar work firmly ingrain her into the mix of gymnasts who are strong contenders for 2016.