Secret Surprises, A Look At Senior Podium Training and Upgrades


In many ways, the Secret US Classics can be one of the most exciting meets of the year. It is the time when we see impressive upgrades, gymnast debuts and begin to really get an idea of the overall picture for the US women’s team. It is also a meet where anything can happen, as the girls routines are not yet polished and perfected. This year boasts an extra level of excitement with the return of many beloved gymnasts, upgrades in unexpected places and the place in the Olympic cycle where gymnastics fans can begin to see glimpses of next year’s Olympic team.

“The energy in the arena was intense,” said gymnastics photographer Christy Linder. Gone were the smiles and casual jokes, instead the girls had stoic, focused expressions. And while it is still early in the lead up to the selection of the world and ultimately the Olympic team, the intensity of the competition is beginning to show. With just over a year to go, everyone has Rio on their mind.

“Classics is always really important. It is the meet right before championships, so it allows you to see where you are and it allows you to try out your new skills… and to see if it is still worth it to push for the new skills, because after this meet you can’t really try anything new at championships or world championships,” said Aly Raisman in an interview with USA Gymnastics after podium training. Raisman is trying out a new skill on floor, adding a front tuck after her incredibly difficult pike double arabian in her second tumbling pass. “That’s still something relatively new, adding it into the floor routine, so hopefully tomorrow it will go well.”

And Raisman is not alone. In 2012 the USA seemed like an amanar factory. However, the number of gymnasts performing this high scoring vault consistently has diminished to just one – Simone Biles. Returning gymnasts Gabby Douglas, Raisman and Brenna Dowell all competed the amanar previously. Bailie Key is also training this vault. But the only person to actually show it in podium training today was Maggie Nichols. Welcome to the amanar club Maggie!

Speaking of Simone Biles, though she already has the most difficulty in the world by far, she is always pushing herself for more. Biles showed off two new skills on beam. “I added a Barani on beam [front tuck with a half twist] and a front pike… and then I got a new floor routine, so I am excited about that… and then I was supposed to compete a Cheng on vault, but that’s not going to happen, so hopefully for P&G’s,” said Biles in her post podium training interview. Biles also added a full twisting double layout on floor at Jesolo earlier this year and will be competing that along with a brand new floor routine.

Kyla Ross has spent this year focusing on bar upgrades. “I’ve been working hard to be able to compete a more difficult routine,” said Ross. She debuted a Bhardwaj (full twisting pak, a transition flip from the high to low bar) during podium training and also a new double front dismount. She has also changed some of her connections on beam. However, bars and beam are all we will see tomorrow as she won’t be competing all-around. “Unfortunately I am not going to do the all around this weekend because I hurt my heel a little bit, but I am hoping to go back after this competition and train hard for P&G’s.”

Bailie Key will not let her US senior debut come and go without upgrades of her own. “Training has been going really well. I am excited to compete here as a senior at the Secret Classic, and I thought training here, podium training, went really good too. I am most excited for floor because that is my big upgrade. I am putting a double layout in and moving my other passes back,” said Key. Along with her upgrade, Key also brings a brand new floor routine of her own.

Gabby Douglas is excited to be competing again, but will wait to unveil her new upgrades until P&G National Championships. “I’ve been working on a little bit of upgrades, which you guys will see at P&G’s, and being consistent and patient,” said Douglas after podium training. She knows that to make another Olympic team, she is going to have to give it her all. “We have so many good girls, all fighting for that spot and the competition is more dynamic… all the gymnasts, especially me, are going to have to pull out the best of the best. Especially with Simone. We’re gonna all have to bring out our best skills.” Douglas gave us a preview, showing off her new floor routine.

In addition to the upgrade frenzy were a number of familiar faces making their way back into the elite scene. Brenna Dowell, Polina Shchennikova and Sabrina Vega are all returning to elite gymnastics. Dowell just took a short hiatus to try her hand at college gymnastics. After a successful freshman year, she showed up to podium training looking better than ever on bars. Shchennikova showed off her gorgeous lines and flexibility on beam and bars, reminding everyone why she has been one that always catches your eye. Vega has been out since the 2012 Olympic Trials and is looking to begin her journey back into competition this weekend.

2014 World Champions MyKayla Skinner, Alyssa Baumann, Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian are all out to prove that they are still in the running this year, even with the return of so many other gymnasts. Kocian and Locklear are both coming off of injuries as well, and will be looking to show that they are fit and ready to go. Standout junior Nia Dennis will be making her senior debut, looking to make a place for herself as well.

All in all, the gymnasts everyone expected to look great, do. And the gymnasts we have been wondering about- look great as well.  This year, more than any before, seems to be an embarrassment of riches. Let the fun begin.

Kyla Ross Pushes Through Injury


Podium training today held an unusual sight, that of Kyla Ross all taped up. Though Ross has battled some back injuries this year, she is not a gymnast you usually see with a lot of tape on her body. Not so today. “I’m kind of held together by tape right now,” Ross said in an interview with Inside Gymnastics. “The last few days at the ranch, I think I kind of overstretched it doing a few leaps. It’s my hip, groin and hamstring – that whole area.”

Kyla Ross on floor during podium training. Photo by John Cheng via USA Gymnastics

A few of Ross’ leaps on beam looked a little tentative, not hitting her normal full split. Despite the injury, she looks more polished and precise than she has all year on beam. She did a great floor routine, dynamic and poised, however without her upgrade of a whip to double arabian from earlier in the season. Vault was not her normal clean DTY, however Inside Gymnastics reported that she hadn’t been training vault much throughout the week. She did a beautiful bars set, but with some small form issues. All in all she did four clean, solid routines. If they weren’t up to the normal Kyla Ross standard, they were definitely within reach.

Ross has been working hard to shine at these championships and doesn’t want to let the injury get in the way.  “I have the motivation knowing that I’ve been training really hard all this year,” said Ross. “I really want to come out and compete, give it my all and I don’t want anything to stop me.” She will no doubt give it her all in qualifications, and with two more days of training and healing she will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with.

Ross comes into these championships as the defending silver medalist in the all-around, on beam and on bars. She will be looking to defend her all-around title and top the podium with teammate Simone Biles in the all-around. Always consistent on beam, she has a great chance of making finals on that event and trying to win a beam medal. However on bars, she has had to downgrade her routine this year due to her back injury, and topping teammates Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian will be no easy feat to make it into bars finals.

Here are her routines from Podium Training.

 

 

2014 P&G U.S. National Championships Senior Preview and Predictions


Fourteen seniors took the floor today for podium training in preparation for the 2014 P&G U.S. National Championships. The championships kick off tomorrow with the junior women at 1p.m. EST in the CONSOL Energy Center – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The seniors take the floor later that evening at 7:30p.m.

An already thin field was stretched a little thinner as Rachel Gowey fractured her ankle during training and was forced to withdraw. Only eight of those competing are currently planning on competing in the all-around. Apart from the prestige of winning a national title, the gymnasts will be looking to make a case for being named to the Pan American Games team immediately following the competition, and/or invited to the 2014 World Championships team selection camp to be held in September.

Simone Biles of World Champions, Kyla Ross and Felicia Hano of Gym-Max, Maggie Nichols of Twin City Twisters, MyKayla Skinner of Desert Lights, Amelia Hundley of Cincinnati, Madison Desch of GAGE, Alyssa Baumann of WOGA, and Macy Toronjo of Texas Dreams are the gymnasts who will be competing for the coveted title of 2014 U.S. National Champion. 

Barring major disaster or injury, the title is all locked up. Current World Champion Simone Biles proved two weeks ago at the Secret U.S. Classics that she is in a league of her own. In today’s training, Biles had a few shaky go rounds on bars and missed the last skill in her tumbling series on beam once. She also had some quite large hops in her tumbling. However, none of these are things that will likely show up in her performance tomorrow or affect the outcome of the meet. The reigning US National Champion, Biles looks, healthy, happy and ready to defend her title.

The silver medal is firmly in the grasp of Kyla Ross, 2012 Olympian and 2013 World All-Around silver medalist. At Classics, Ross led the rest of the field by 2.5 points and if she puts in her normal steady performance it is hers for the taking. Ross looked calm and collected on the podium today, with her normal (how does such fluidity and steadiness ever become normal) solid performance.

The real battle will be for the bronze. Defending bronze medalist Brenna Dowell of GAGE is still recovering from an earlier ankle injury and will only be competing bars. So the third spot on the podium is wide open. Maggie Nichols took this honor two weeks ago at Classics. Her strong and steady performance then, and today in podium training, give her solid ground to make a bid for the podium. MyKayla Skinner comes into the meet with some of the most difficult gymnastics. However she often takes huge deductions on execution and has a hard time getting through her ridiculously hard floor routine without a fall. If Skinner is able to put together eight clean routines, she may just take the spot. She will be looking to prove her consistency on floor and vault as these are the events she would most likely be used on in a team setting. Skinner looked great on beam during training, but struggled on vault. She got through all the skills in her floor routine, but took a really long rest in the corner to do so.

Amelia Hundley has been a standout throughout her junior career, and she will want to make a statement at these championships. Hundley is one of those super dependable, consistent gymnasts you want on your team. Her exciting floor performances and strong bar routine help her make a case to be on the world team. A strong showing at nationals will be an important step for her.

The rest of the field are unlikely to find their way up onto the podium. Madison Desch and Alyssa Baumann are competing in the all-around, but will be looking to make a case to make the Pan American and World Championship teams as specialists. Desch is beautiful on bars and brings in a well-rounded performance everywhere else. Baumann is a stand out on beam. Though they will be focusing on hitting all eight routines, these events will be crucial. They both looked clean and solid on their pet events during training today.

In addition to the all-around, some of the gymnasts will just be competing on a few events. Injuries prevent Madison Kocian of WOGA, Ashton Locklear of Everest, Brenna Dowell of GAGE and Veronica Hults of Texas Dreams from competing on all four events, but these gymnasts will be looking to win titles on individual events as well as show the selection committee why they should be considered for a spot on one of the upcoming international assignments.

Madison Kocian has put up the highest bar score of the U.S. women on an international stage this year. She will be looking to contribute at the Pan American Games and the World Championships on bars. She will also be competing on beam, an event she could be called on if needed.

Ashton Locklear burst onto the scene two weeks ago at Classics with her whopping bar score of 15.7. With gorgeous lines and dreamy fluidity on both bars and beam, Locklear will be hoping to make these teams as a specialist. She is a first year senior, and was out with injury for most of last year, so she is still largely unproven on the competition stage.

Brenna Dowell has been one of the USA’s top gymnasts over the past year, and is usually a strong contender in the all-around. However injury has kept her out and right now she is trying to prove that her bars are worth bringing to a world stage. At Classics her bars bordered on disaster, but during training today she looked much improved and ready to compete her very difficult bar routine. She hopes to compete in the all-around by the selection camp next month.

Last but not least is Veronica Hults. Hults brings in beautiful gymnastics with beautiful technique and form. Her junior career was plagued with injuries and her senior career is starting out the same. However, Hults is beautiful on bars and beam and could definitely contribute to the US team on these events.

Predictions : just for fun. Tell me who you think!

All-Around

  1. Simone Biles
  2. Kyla Ross
  3. Maggie Nichols

Vault

  1. Simone Biles
  2. MyKayla Skinner

Bars

  1. Ashton Locklear
  2. Madison Kocian
  3. Kyla Ross

Beam

  1. Kyla Ross
  2. Simone Biles
  3. Alyssa Baumann

Floor

  1. Simone Biles
  2. Kyla Ross
  3. Amelia Hundley

Pan American Games Team

Maggie Nichols, Amelia Hundley, MyKayla Skinner, Madison Kocian, Alyssa Baumann, Ashton Locklear, and Madison Desch

World Championship Team

I think that all the competitors, minus Hano and Toronjo, will be invited to the selection camp. The selection for the team will not take place until that camp. I am sure that many things will change between now and then, but my predictions are:

Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, Brenna Dowell, Ashton Locklear, MyKayla Skinner and Maggie Nichols.

  • Vault- Biles, Dowell, Ross (Nichols, Skinner)
  • Bars- Locklear, Ross, Dowell (Biles, Nichols)
  • Beam- Ross, Biles, Locklear (Skinner, Dowell)
  • Floor- Biles, Ross, Nichols (Skinner, Dowell)

Secret US Classics Senior Podium Highlights, Predictions and Video Roundup


The seniors looked remarkably consistent for this point in the year at podium training for the 2014 Secret US Classics. There are a handful of upgrades and new skills or combinations being debuted, and a handful of new seniors. Here are the front runners.

Simone Biles should be able to walk away with the gold medal tomorrow with her eyes closed.  At this competition last year, Biles had an incredibly rough day. But that girl is gone, and the current World Champion is here to stay. Vault, beam and floor all look as strong as ever and could easily contend on the world stage right now. However, Biles is still coming back from a shoulder injury, and bars are not yet up to snuff. If she is not able to do a whole routine without a fall tomorrow, she could open the door for Ross to catch her.

Vault

Bars

Beam

Floor

Kyla Ross is looking as composed and confident as we have seen her. The leadership and senior team member role just sits so nicely on her. She had a beautiful training and even debuted an upgrade on floor!

Vault

Bars

Beam

Whip Arabian Double Front (new pass)

Floor

MyKyla Skinner is out to prove that she belongs on the world stage. Her difficulty level could easily put her in silver, but she is still improving on her execution level, and is unlikely to overtake the ever solid Ross tomorrow. That being said, she is much improved. Her floor routine is really well choreographed, allowing her personality and trickster ways to shine. She really struggled on bars during podium training, so hopefully she can pull it together for tomorrow.

Beam

Double Double Layout

Floor

Rachael Gowey is looking amazing in her senior debut and after a year out of competition. She debuted her amanar, which was clean and controlled after a few attempts. She could definitely be making a bid for the bronze at this meet.

Vault

Beam

Brenna Dowell is also in strong contention for the podium. However she didn’t look as sharp today in podium training as she did at the American Cup. That being said, there were no major areas of worry, and she seems to be able to pull out her bar routine when she competes.

Beam

Lexie Priessman was looking great, but the senior career that will never start is postponed once again as she sustained an injury in the evening training session.

Vault

Bars

Beam

Floor

Amelia Hundley looked solid on every event and is steady as she goes. Then she gets out on floor and you can’t take your eyes off her! She transforms into a different person! Don’t miss this routine tomorrow.

Floor

Madison Kocian looked solid today, and her bars are as beautiful and soothing to watch as ever. She will be trying to make a case again this year that she can fill in on a worlds team as a bars specialist. She is making a good start.

Bars

Nica Hultz will also be looking to make her bid as a bars and beam specialist. She looked great today.

Bars

Beam

Let the competition begin!

Secret US Classic Podium Junior Highlights, Predictions and Video Roundup


The strongest junior contenders for the awards podium at the 2014 Secret US Classics are all competing in the same session as the seniors. As a group, these juniors look sharp, prepared and raring to go.

Nia Dennis said in an interview that she feels confident, and she has every reason to. She looks every bit like a senior out on the floor, and there is no reason that she should not walk away with a gold medal tomorrow. Here were a few of her podium routines.

Vault

Beam

Floor

Norah Flatley also looked great and should challenge Dennis for the gold. If she cannot overtake her, she should easily walk away with silver. Here were some of her routines during podium training. As always, her beam stands out amongst the rest and is just so beautiful to watch.

Bars

Beam

Floor

The bronze medalist will most likely be one of the following.

Ragan Smith looks confident and competitive. This little spitfire wants to win. And her time at Texas Dreams seems to be serving her well. Her “Puttin on the Ritz” floor routine is as darling as ever.

Vault

Beam

Floor

Emily Gaskins form, presentation and skill level continue to improve, making her such a pleasure to watch.

Bars

Beam

Jazmyn Foberg will definitely mark tomorrow as her entry into the top junior ranks. Her podium training looked great minus a fall on beam, and her floor routine has the typical MG Elite stamp on it.

Beam

Floor

Jesolo Podium Training – Seniors


Gymnastike has been on the scene and providing video coverage of podium training for the 2014 City of Jesolo Trophy. You can watch here with a Gymnastike gold subscription.

The first thing that strikes me about this group of senior gymnasts, is how many classically “beautiful” gymnasts are there. WIth some of our powerhouse champions taking a rest, there is room for some of our gymnasts who show flexibility, poise and graceful lines. It is a fun.

Kyla Ross looks like, Kyla Ross. Clean, beautiful and well prepared for this meet. It seems unlikely than anyone else will really challenge her for the top of the podium, there sure are a lot gymnasts giving it a try!

In podium training, I was most impressed with Madison Kocian. Her bars are as beautiful as ever, but she really looks great on every event. I absolutely love her new floor routine. She really looks ready to try for the all around tomorrow.

Peyton Ernst also looked great. She brings a beautiful new floor routine as well that really suites her. Maggie Nichols showed some EXCELLENT beam and bar work and just looks solid and ready to go.

MyKyla Skinner is doing her best to bring the most incredible, crazy difficulty to the table. She is competing two incredibly hard vaults (amanar and cheng) as well as some of the most difficult tumbling in the world. It will be interesting to see how she scores internationally.

Madison Desch, Alyssa Baumann and Rachel Gowey also all looked beautiful. Such graceful work on beam and floor, they really draw you into all they do.

Tomorrows competition will be an excellent opportunity to really see how these girls are stacking up against each other. They all look really ready for so early in the season. It is really exciting to see!

It is actually quite silly to make predictions at this point… but here I go.

  1. Kyla Ross
  2. Madision Kocian
  3. Maggie Nichols

The Italian Gymnastics Federation will be livestreaming the senior women’s all around and team competition on their youtube channel at 11 a.m. ET.

Simone Biles Podium Training


Ramping up the competition, Simone Biles also looked great in podium training.

Simone has so much power, she is great to watch on vault. In her first vault, she took a much bigger step than usual, but the second vault had her normal catlike landing.

No problem on bars, clean with a stuck dismount.

This might be one of the best beam routines I have seen Simone do. She is attacking the beam in Rebecca Bross style, and just hits. And her landing on a very tough dismount is just awesome!

Some people have said that Simone’s floor routine was one of the few things to get a spontaneous round of applause from the audience. It isn’t hard to see why. Smiles galore, sassy dance, hit leaps and jumps and the best landings I have seen in podium training. This girl is on fire!

Cute girl! She is just soaking it all in, loving the experience and having fun. Just what you want to see in a first senior outing. No nerves here.

All photos and videos by USA Gymnastics