Who’s Who in 2012: The Flying Squirrel


Gabrielle Douglas (Gabby) is affectionately known as the flying squirrel. And the girl can FLY! Her bars are definitely the best in the US. She is exciting to watch on bars because instead of gaining difficulty with lots of pirouettes and other things we KNOW are really hard but don’t actually look that impressive, she does high flying release moves.

And it’s not just on bars! She flies high in her leaps, in her tumbling and on vault.

And the girl can be squirrely. (Urban Dictionary:  hyper or energized, goofy or playful; when a skate/snowboarder makes a sketchy landing). You never quite know what to expect. She is full of energy, her playful personality shines through her routines, and she may or may not hit her landings on everything but bars. She has incredible athletic talent on every event. If she is able to focus and keep on track, she is a strong contender for the All Around Gold. Even with a fall, Gabby only trailed Wieber by a few tenths. If she hits, she could take the gold.

Gabby is considered a lock for the Olympic team based on her bars. If she shows consistency at trials and in podium training, she has the difficulty to be used in team finals on any of the events. She is moving in that direction, showing a huge improvement in consistency and hitting routines at Visas (even with a fall, her other 7 routines were great).

Me and Natalie Hawkins (Gabby’s mom) in the stands.

Gabby is really beginning to feel comfortable in the spotlight and let her personality shine through. Instead of the standard interview, Gabby gives answers that really show who she is… and what she is thinking. She gave one of my all time favorite interviews after prelims to Gymnastike.

I ended up sitting behind her mom (who was delightful to chat with) in the stands at Visas on day two. When I mentioned loving the interview and how much Gabby cracks me up, she buried her head in her hands shaking it and said, “She gets that from her brother. She always keeps us laughing.”

June: US Women’s Olympic Team Pick


Back in April I decided to pick a team after each major competition – who I would send if we had to send a team right then. I assumed that team would change each month. That apart from Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas it would shift with different combinations of people. Our field of athletes and potential Olympians is so deep, how could it not?

But, it hasn’t. Competition after competition, these are the girls and the combination that keeps coming out on top. Every which way you arrange the puzzle and do the math, this is your best bet for dependable, high scoring routines. And so, my team remains the same. And here is their introduction, along with the events I would put them on in team finals.

Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, Kyla Ross and McKayla Maroney.

  • Vault: GD, JW, MM
  • Bars: JW, KR, GD
  • Beam: AR, KR, JW
  • Floor: GD, JW, AR

Wieber, Douglas and Raisman are considered locks for the team barring injury by most in the gymnastics world.  This seems to include Martha Karolyi as she stated two spots were interchangeable (mean three were basically set). (Gym Examiner) They are the top three all-arounders each having a legitimate chance to make the all around podium in London and bring consistently high scores on each of their specialties for the team competition (Wieber: Vault, Beam and Floor; Douglas: Bars; Raisman: Beam and Floor). With these three in the mix, you need someone who can contribute on bars and beam and then one other gymnast who brings enough value on one or more events to replace the lowest score of the first three.

In contention to contribute on bars are Ross, Rebecca Bross, Bridget Sloan, Anna Li, Elizabeth Price, and Nastia Liukin. Ross can also contribute on beam and Bross, Liukin and Sloan are trying to make a case that they can as well. Price could make a huge contribution on vault in addition to bars. Ross, Price and Sloan are also all arounders, so they can step in at any point if in a pinch. Of this field, Ross is by far the most prepared and consistent. Li has the highest scoring potential but needs to prove that she can hit the routine consistently. Bross is just about even on bars with Ross, but has not shown consistency on beam. Liukin is a wildcard. She did not show bars at Visa’s that would put her on any team. It will really depend on how much she can improve in three weeks. Yes, of this grouping Ross is currently the consistent clear choice.

With these four spots, the fifth spot has to be someone that contribute enough tenths on one or two events to replace some of our lowest scores of the first four gymnasts. If you take the high scores from Visa’s you have McKayla Maroney on vault (+.75), Anna Li on bars (+.5) or Alicia Sacramone on beam (+.2) and vault (+.1). The obvious choice here is Maroney.

As alternates I would send Elizabeth Price, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan. This would cover our all around needs if we lose an all arounder, our bars needs if we loose a bar worker and our beam and vault needs if we loose a vault or beam worker.

Who’s Who in 2012: Raisman the Rock


Aly Raisman, Visa Championships 2012. Photo Credit Heather Maynez

Stars are great. They shine brightly, illuminating the sport of gymnastics to the rest of the world. Stars like the fierce competitor Jordyn Wieber, who inspires us with her ability to never give up and come through with high flying skills on floor and vault and incredible difficulty on beam. Stars like the effervescent Gabby Douglas, who entertains us as much with her personality as with her breathtaking bars work. But in a three up three count team finals scenario, you don’t just want stars. You want a rock.

Aly Raisman, donned by NBC’s Alexa Ainsworth “Reliable Raisman” is our rock. She is the one you can depend on to go out and hit time after time. She has an incredible ability to be in the moment – not allowing herself to feel any more pressure when she is competing than when she is training. Since her senior debut in 2010, Aly has proven herself again and again to the gymnastics world and most importantly to Marta. Marta said this weekend of Aly:

“…[Aly] always wants to prove herself to me! She looks in my eyes before competition and I just nod: ‘Everything is perfect, Aly.’ I really love to have this type of gymnast. She’d give her heart to be good.” –Gym Examiner

And she is more than good. She is great! She does one of the hardest floor routines in the world. Her first tumbling pass is absolutely unbelievable in its level of difficulty. And her second pass is so high you wonder if she is ever going to come down.  Aly won two national event titles this weekend (Floor and Beam) and placed third in the all around. She continues to gain our trust even as she captures our heart with her humble attitude, sky high tumbling, sweet smile and loyal friendships with the other gymnasts. Check out Aly’s routines and her interview after the first night at the Visa National Championships. (For a more recent post about Aly after the Olympics, check out Aly Raisman Rises to the Top.)

2012 Visa National Championships Sr. Women’s Prelims


What a night! After last year’s disastrous prelims, I wasn’t sure what tonight would bring. What it brought was a real competition. Things are heating up in the USA and these girls mean business. Make it easier on the selection committee? No thank you.

Jordyn Wieber Photo Credit: USA Gymnastics

Let’s Start At the End

Gone are the days of Jordyn Wieber’s easy wins. Jordyn had a decent vault and a solid bar routine, but wobbled quite a bit on beam. Gabby had an awesome bars set, and put up mostly solid performances on the other events. It came down to the last routine where Jordyn needed over a 15.25 to win. She went out and hit a solid floor routine. The announcer announced the end of night and people began to file out while the rest of us sat with baited breath waiting for the score.  And they TIED! I don’t know why it shocked me so much, but it did. What a finish. Gabby and Jordyn both had decent nights, but they both can do better. Things are getting interesting.

Things that make you go Hmmm…

Nastia did a bar routine. Her swing is still there. It is still beautiful. But she didn’t do a dismount and it was definitely not a “hit” routine. Then she went and nailed beam. Hmmm…

Rebecca Bross hit a GREAT bar routine! Looked just like her old self. She went to beam, looked strong and agressive, and then sat down her dismount. Again. She has not made that dismount in competition in over a year. Hmmm…

Our Amanar factory seems to have a hold on production. Jordyn and McKayla seem to be the only ones who consistently land their amanar well. And most of the girls are scoring in the mid/low 15.0’s. Not much higher than they would with a DTY with a lot more risk. Hmmmm….

Alicia Sacramone's New Sheep Jump. Photo Credit Heather Maynex

Standout Gymnasts

Well, there is the obvious Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman (who finished third). Then there’s Alicia Sacramone. What injury? She looks just like she always did, and came back with an awesome vault and the most solid beam routine of the night. Elizabeth Price quietly came out and did her job with little fanfare. But she definitely made her bid.

Standout Routines

Douglas on bars. Maroney on vault. Raisman on floor. Nuff said. But can you really ever say enough about those awesome pieces of gymnastics? Sarah Finnegan on beam. WOW. She came out and hit her skills. It was a delight to watch. In my opinion, she does the wolf turn better than anyone has ever done it.

Some of My Favorites

I loved seeing Sacramone go out and nail it. I loved Sarah Finnegan’s floor routine. And her beam routine. I loved Jordyn’s floor routine and waiting for the score. I loved watching Bridget compete again. I loved watching Nastia do bars. I loved the energy in the arena.

Women’s All-Around:

1. Jordyn Wieber, DeWitt, Mich., 60.650
1. Gabrielle Douglas, Virginia Beach, Va., 60.650
3. Alexandra Raisman, Needham, Mass., 60.200
4. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 59.750
5. Elizabeth Price, Coopersburg, Pa., 59.600
6. Sarah Finnegan, St. Louis, Mo., 59.150
7. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 58.700
8. Kennedy Baker, Flower Mound, Texas, 58.050

Women’s Vault:

1. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 15.925
2. Alicia Sacramone, Winchester, Mass., 15.025
3. Brandie Jay, Ft Collins, Colo., 14.750

Women’s Bars:

1. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 15.500
2. Gabrielle Douglas, Virginia Beach, Va., 15.450
3. Rebecca Bross, Plano, Texas, 15.200
4. Anna Li, Aurora, Ill., 15.150
5. Bridget Sloan, Pittsboro, Ind., 15.100
6. Jordyn Wieber, DeWitt, Mich., 15.050

Women’s Beam:

1. Sarah Finnegan, St. Louis, Mo., 15.350
2. Alicia Sacramone, Winchester, Mass., 15.200
2. Alexandra Raisman, Needham, Mass., 15.200
4. Kyla Ross, Aliso Viejo, Calif., 15.100
4. Nastia Liukin, Parker, Texas, 15.100
6. Gabrielle Douglas, Virginia Beach, Va., 14.800

Women’s Floor:

1. Alexandra Raisman, Needham, Mass., 15.450
2. Jordyn Wieber, DeWitt, Mich., 15.250
3. Gabrielle Douglas, Virginia Beach, Va., 15.050
4. Sarah Finnegan, St. Louis, Mo., 14.800
5. McKayla Maroney, Long Beach, Calif., 14.600
6. Elizabeth Price, Coopersburg, Pa., 14.550

 

2012 Women’s Prelims are so close I can taste it!


I have been waiting for this for so long – for the 2012 Visa’s to finally start! I can’t believe it is almost here. To be honest, I never thought I would see it live…. I am like a little kid waiting to go to Disney World!

What I am Excited For:

I can’t wait to see Alicia Sacramone compete in person. She is my favorite gymnast and I am a huge fan of her as a person and love watching her gymnastics. I am excited to see what Nastia brings to the bars. I am jumping up and down with anticipation to see McKayla Maroney’s Amanar and Mustafina.

What’s at Stake:

The top six all around finishers of tonight and the finals put together, plus six – eight other gymnasts of the selection committee’s choosing will move on to the Olympic Trials based on their performances here and at camps and meets from this year. In addition, the national team will be named, which allows gymnasts to compete internationally for the USA for the next year.

My Predictions:

Though I think Gabby Douglas (talent and start value wise) could upset Jordyn  Wieber and finish first, I think Wieber will do it. She is a tough competitor who doesn’t go down without a heck of a fight. I think Douglas will bobble here and there, but won’t have any major disasters and will come in second. The ever solid Aly Raisman will delight on floor and be solid everywhere else, rounding out the podium in third. I also think Alicia Sacramone and Nastia Liukin will kill it tonight, with solid starts to their Olympic bid.

I am hoping that McKayla Maroney will show improvement on bars and a fantastic floor routine. I am also hoping that Sarah Finnegan will do the beam routine we know she has in her and continue to wow us on floor. I am crossing my fingers for Anna Li to hit her bar routine as well.

Most of all, I am hoping that no one gets injured! But I have a feeling, that tonight’s going to be a good, good night!

 

My First Visa National Championships Live! The Lay of the Land.


Yesterday I drove 15 1/2 hours and 1010 miles to arrive in St. Louis for my first live Visa National Championships. I pulled into our quaint hotel where I am rooming with blogging all star Blythe Lawrence. We talked gymnastics ’til the wee hours of the morning. We slept in this morning and then headed off to the Chaifetz Arena for the junior men’s competition. It is a gymnastics fan’s dream. I don’t think there are words to describe how excited I am for the next four days.

I am trying to be contained and mature, but I want to jump around like a giddy little girl. I walked in through the fan fest area, where kids were doing handstand contests, getting their faces painted and taking pictures on a cleverly constructed beam under a small Gateway to the West arch. Am I really to old to do all those things? I guarantee I will end up with my face painted and a pic under that arch by the end of the weekend. Probably with some autographs too.

The arena is actually smaller and more intimate than I was imagining. This is actually exciting for me – I waited so long to get my tickets that I have pretty bad seats. But even from these seats I will be able to see just fine. The walkway around the arena is slowly coming alive. Vendors are slowly building their boothes, fans are trickling in. The mood in the arena today is light hearted and laid back – it is the junior men after all.

I am excited to share my first live National Championships with you! Tune in all weekend!

 

Current Considerations for Choosing the Olympic Team


May is almost over and it is time for everyone to do another round of who would I choose for the Olympic team at this juncture. Here are my current thoughts – my team choice (s) is at the end.

Our Amanar Club isn’t as consistent as we would hope.

My stock for McKayla Maroney or Alicia Sacramone making the team has gone up. Though we do have many other girls that can do Amanars, they don’t yet look solid. The scoring differences between Maroney and the others at this point are much greater than I was thinking. Aly Raisman has competed the Amanar 3 times and was awarded a 16.1,15.5 and 15.6; Kyla Ross received 14.85 , 15.5 and 15.3 on her vaults and Gabby Douglas received a 15.8 at the American Cup but has not managed to compete it since. Apart from Raisman’s 16.1, these scores are a far cry from Maroney’s CONSISTENT 16+ score. Though we keep saying that we “Have plenty of Amanars, we don’t need a vaulting specialist,” that .5 advantage or more is a big deal. A much bigger deal than I had been letting myself remember. Maroney’s spot is definitely looking better. And depending on how everyone else’s beam shapes up, so does Sacramone’s.

We are looking better on bars than I ever would have believed to be possible.

Gabby Douglas’ bars have basically made her a lock for the team. Even a definite possibility for a medal. Sure, everyone is hoping she will be a great all-arounder as well, but even if she is not, Douglas can make the team easily as the top bars specialist. Ross continues to put in some great routines as well. Nastia Liukin showed that she has the mental game of competing well under control (which most people say is harder to regain than the physical) and shows promise of a great bar routine to come. Anna Li and others also show definite potential. This hardly adds up to a killer bars rotation, but it definitely doesn’t look as bleak as it did this time last year for the USA on bars.

Beam might be a deciding factor between many bubble gymnasts.

Ahhh, the ever formidable event. We know we have two solid beam workers in Wieber and Raisman. As we are still waiting to see what Liukin, Sacramone and Johnson might really bring to the table on beam, who might fill the third spot is definitely a mystery. Ross and Douglas have shown beautiful routines before but haven’t been totally consistent up to this point on beam. In fact, Douglas still has a ways to go to prove that she could handle the pressure of team finals on beam. Sarah Finnegan has an incredibly beautiful and difficult routine as well but has yet to compete it without a lot of wobbles. I think that in the end when deciding between two bars specialists or vaulters, beam will definitely be a deciding factor.

Oh yeah, What about Floor?

Wieber, Raisman, Bross, Sacramone, Memmel, Liukin, Johnson, have all been incredible on floor in the past. Surely between them all we will have many floor routines to choose between. But wait! Only two of those routines – Wieber and Raisman- are for sure now, and Johnson looks like a slim possibility. Bross, Sacramone and Liukin have all stopped training floor and Memmel is no longer in the running for the team (Oh the travesty of that sentence!).  All of a sudden, we need some great floor routines. This reality has greatly strengthened our need for Raisman and all but locked her on the team in my mind (which has never been the case for me before). It also greatly strengthens Sarah Finnegan’s chances of possibly beating a third bars specialist or a vault specialist on to the team. As I see it right now, we absolutely have to have Raisman’s score on floor. In addition, the hit we would take on floor putting in someone like Ross or even Douglas/Maroney instead of Finnegan on floor is greater than the hit we would take putting on a third bars specialist over Wieber.

So what does all this add up to you might ask? Here is how I see our team choice(s) shaping up.

Here is my most likely team:

Jordyn Wieber: V/BB/FX/UB
Aly Raisman: V/BB/FX (UB in prelims)
Gabby Douglas: UB (V/BB/FX in prelims)
McKayla Maroney: V/FX
Ross/Bross/Liukin: BB/UB

I was actually surprise that this team pick hasn’t changed since last month, though my reasoning is different. This team still leaves us a bit vulnerable on FX but gives us huge advantage on vault, a decent score on bars and a great score/great consistency on beam. The only way to shore up our floor score at this point is to sub Finnegan for Maroney. I only think that would be wise if Ross is our BB/UB specialist and she is showing a consistent Amanar, if Douglas is showing a consistent Amanar, or if Finnegan herself is showing a consisten Amanar.

As we saw with Chellsie Memmel, the first of many heartbreaks and many controversies has just begun. The next few months will be full of more. But they will also be full of incredible gymnastics, and the answers we have all been waiting for.

What I am “Secretly” Looking Forward To


I wonder how many play on words we can use around the Secret U.S. Classics? Corny puns aside, I cannot wait for the competition to begin. Here are some stories to watch and what I am looking forward to.

Debuts

Anna Li will be debuting two new events and competing in the all around. Nastia Liukin will be competing for the first time in three years and will be debuting her beam. Jordyn Wieber will be debuting another upgrade, this time on bars. We will see many gymnasts compete for the first time this year, including Sabrina Vega, Chellsie Memmel and McKenzie Wofford.

Proving Consistency

Gabby Douglas is out to show that she is a serious all around contender for London. She is out to show that her performance at the American Cup was not a fluke and that she can be consistent and hit all four events. Rebecca Bross is out to prove that she can be counted on for bars and beam despite a shaky start at Jesolo. Sarah Finnegan will be out to show that she can seriously contribute on floor and beam. And McKayla Maroney wants to make her contribution on vault hard to ignore with her practically Olympic gold medal lock vaulting.

My Highlights

I very much want Gabby to go out and prove herself! I can’t wait to see Sarah Finnegan’s floor and beam and am hoping that she will have all of her upgrades. I desperately want Rebecca Bross to show who she is on beam and bars and am looking forward to the fierceness of Chellsie Memmel.Regardless of where it takes her, I can’t wait to see Nastia on beam again. And I am really hoping for a good all around battle between Douglas, Raisman, Ross, Li, Memmel, Finnegan and Maroney.

Don’t miss it on Universal Sports or livestreamed on universalsports.com at 5:00 pm!

 

 

Rumors and Previews of the Secret U.S. Classic


There is nothing secret about the Secret US Classic (so named for it’s sponsor). Plenty of bloggers are on site, Gym Examiner is giving live updates, USA Gymnastics and Gymnastike are posting podium training videos and the seniors will be live-streamed and broadcast on Universal Sports. It’s enough to make a gymnastics fan do cartwheels of joy! As we gear up for the competition tomorrow, here are the rumors and things we can expect from the U.S. Secret Classic.

All Around Competitors

After so many gymnasts announcing that they would just be doing a few events, I began to despair about the all around for this meet. But it is looking like it might e a great competition after all. In fact, it might give us a preview of that coveted second all around spot for the Olympic team. Gabby Douglas is apparently doing the all around after all according to an article in the Des Moines Register. Aly Raisman will be competing all around, as will Kyla Ross and Anna Li. Chellsie Memmel still has to qualify to nationals so she will be competing all-around as well. Many others may join in the fray, but we will have to wait and see. Either way, it should be be a great competition!

Upgrades

According to camp videos and podium training videos, we have upgrades galore – and not surprisingly most of them are on bars. Anna Li, Brandie Jay, McKenzie Wofford and Wieber all have upgrades on bars from the last time we have seen them. Sabrina Vega has upgrades on beam, McKayla Maroney has upgraded her second vault and has minor upgrades other places.

Beautiful  Routines

Despite a US reputation, we might be in for a real treat on floor. Sarah Finnegan is absolutely delightful to watch on floor – her poise and style are light, elegant and refreshing to see. Anna Li will be debuting her new routine as well. Is it a floor routine or a heart pulling, dramatic and breathtaking dance piece? I am not sure! It is incredible though and a treat to watch. And of course we will be treated to the beautiful lines of Nastia Liukin as she returns to competition on beam and Kyla Ross.

We will finally see a few more pieces toward completing the puzzle of our US Olympic team. It should be a great weekend!

April National Team Training Camp


April National Team Camp Line Up courtesy of USA Gymnastics

Gymnasts making a bid for a spot on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team attended the last national team training camp at the Karolyi Ranch April 20-30, before the series of U.S. based competitions to select the team begin. The camp schedule started with media time, conditioning and a short workout on Saturday followed by two days of verifications. Sunday, the gymnasts verified their current progress on vault and bars to Martha Karolyi and the rest of the national team staff. Then on Monday, they showed their readiness on beam and floor. Photos from the camp can be seen on the USA Gymnastics Facebook page. Looks like the girls had fun.

2011 World team champions Jordyn Wieber, McKayla Maroney, Sabrina Vega, Alicia Sacramone, Alexandra Raisman, Gabrielle Douglas and alternate Anna Li all attended the camp.  2009 World all-around champion Bridget Sloan, 2009 World silver medalist Rebecca Bross, and 2012 City of Jesolo Trophy all-around champion Kyla Ross were also present. Other senior gymnasts vying for a spot on the Olympic team in attendance were Amanda Jetter, Brandie Jay, Elizabeth Price, Brenna Dowell, Briana Brown, Grace McLaughlin, Sarah Finnegan, Mykayla Skinner and McKenzie Wofford.

Gymnasts were expected to verify at least two full events at camp. This requirement led to the noticeable absence of 2012 Olympic hopefuls Shawn Johnson, Nastia Liukin and Chellsie Memmel.  USA Gymnastics released the following statement regarding their absence on Facebook:

“At this stage of their training, they were unable to fulfill camp expectations, which were to verify at least two full events. They have decided to continue their training at their respective clubs in order to participate at the 2012 Secret U.S. Classic.” (USAGymnastics)

The process to determine the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team will continue with monthly training/verification camps and three major competitions. The first competition, the 2012 Secret U.S. Classic is just 3 1/2 short weeks away. It will be held in Chicago, Ill. on May 26, 2012. This will be the last qualifier to the 2012 Visa Championships, which will be in St. Louis, Mo., June 7-10, 2012. The top 8 all-round finishers from these championships along with any other gymnasts the Selection Committee chooses will advance on to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials-Gymnastics held June 28-July 1, 2012 in San Jose, Calif. The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team will be named at the end of the competition.