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!