Sunday, 20 May 2012

An Absolute Classic

Why the US Classic will give us more clues about the US Olympic lineup than we have had all year

For over a year now, everyone (especially me) has been talking, pondering, speculating and arguing over who is going to make the USA 2012 Olympic team. A lot of ideas and opinions have been thrown around, and it has become very popular to say that the USA is the deepest country in the world.

However, we haven’t had any concrete evidence to get a clear answer as to who will be going and why. Sure, we have seen the odd competition such as the American Cup (the first annual Gabby Douglas appreciation event) and the Pacific Rim championships. But none will rival what we will find out next week at the “Secret” US Classic. As soon as the first day of senior competition comes to an end, we will be closer than ever to knowing who is going to London, and who isn’t.


One word. BARS.

There is a hole in the USA’s repertoire, and there has been for some time. The uneven bars have never, really, been their strength. Even when there have been fantastic individuals, the team as a whole seemed to shine elsewhere (except perhaps in 2004). For this entire quad, the US has lacked superstar bar workers, leading many to believe that this apparatus could prove to be their Achilles heel come London.

However, the situation is not nearly as bad as many of us predicted, and the US does have the prospect of three bar routines with start values in the mid-6 to 7 range. However, with Mustafina, Komova and Grishina posting mammoth bars scores at Euros (even without their antipicated upgrades), Russia need only get an Amanar or two and the US vault advantage gap is closed.

The Classic will reveal some very important information about all of the USA’s bar hopes...


Without a doubt the most highly anticipated performer in next week’s competition. The last any of us saw of Nastia, bar some admittedly beautiful training pictures from earlier this year, was her watered down beam set from the 2009 nationals.

Nastia’s bar work is pretty legendary and has the potential to be the highest scoring of any American. However, Nastia has certainly been given the speculative advantage from the “benefit of the doubt” - no one knows anything about what she is capable of, so people instead subconsciously defer to her past successes. Rumours from her gym and statements from Nastia herself have painted a slightly less optimistic picture of what Nastia can bring on the bars. Training news has been very positive with regards to the beam, but little has been said about bars except that getting a routine back together has been a rough road.

In a live Twitter chat with Nastia, courtesy of @ATTTeamUSA, one twitter user asked Nastia: “will you compete bars next week?”. The reply wasn’t exactly crystal clear: “not sure yet, definitely beam”. Whilst I am excited to see Nastia back on the beam, one thing is for sure: beam does not get her to London, bars most definitely does. It would be a shame for her not to go up on the bars next week at least just for some experience of performing in front of a crowd on the event again. Even if she made mistakes, it would still benefit her to get her skills out there again.

What will we know? If she does bars and beam, we will have our first clear idea of whether she has a shot or not. If she hits and has decent start values, even if they are not bigger than Bross’s she might have a better chance because she is probably healthier. If she DOESN’T do bars, we will know that she isn’t ready with less than 100 days to go and her stock will go down.


It has certainly not been an easy Olympic road for Bross, who is still recovering from a multitude of injuries, not just her high profile knee accident last year. Bross announced a few days ago that her focus has narrowed and will now be on the bars and the beam. Now, if Becca can put together a top notch bar set AND prove that she can hit it, this shouldn’t hurt her too much. However, it does mean that she is now in direct competition with her gym-mate Liukin, and we can be absolutely sure that a five member team will not contain two beam and bars specialists.

Bross’s bar work has been around for a long time, has been scored at two different world championships and she medalled at both. With her beam, had she not fallen in 2009 and performed in the final as she did in the AA she would have been rewarded with a gold medal, and actually did win a silver in 2010. Therefore Bross has a proven track record of excellence on her two apparatus of focus. However, so does Nastia albeit a bit longer ago.

The problem is not what Bross is lacking on bars and beam, it is the niche she misses by not competing floor. If Bross was able to compete TF quality routines on three of four apparatus, I think she would be pretty hard to leave at home. Although bars is where a USA girl can really stamp her ticket, Bross ties Iordache for the highest floor score in major competition this quad, and this would have been an invaluable asset when staking her claim for the games.

What will we know? Whether the cutting down of events was tactical or due to declining health and being unable to cope. If Bross can put up a good bars score and convincingly land her Patterson dismount then she will still be in the running.


An in-shape Dougie could potentially be used on any of the four events, and hence Gabby’s chances for London look a lot more concrete than either of the above. Gabby’s problem has always been consistency, and although the fan perceptions of her as a headcase are a little overblown in my opinion, the last thing Marta will want is a repeat Alicia situation. ESPECIALLY on bars: some speculative team configurations mean putting Jordyn up for TF bars. This would be fine if a top bar worker hits afterwards, but if Gabby was relied upon for the highest bars score and missed the USA would be in pretty deep trouble.

Therefore, all Gabby really needs to do is prove that she can hit a top shelf bar routine with no problems. She already has the skills, and her routine looks pretty handsome. She just has to put it together when it counts. Same goes for all events really. Gabby has the tricks but her routines can look fantastic one minute and a complete car crash the next.

What will we know? We already know Gabby is more than capable. If she hits bars out of the park then her case is stronger than ever.


Many people might wonder why she is in this list: she hasn’t exactly been at the top of the list in terms of realistic Olympic team expectations. However, why not? If Li can put something truly fantastic together on bars I would say she has a realistic shot. Obviously for Anna to factor in would require a hell of a lot more than from the others: nothing less than a mammoth routine would do. It would take a routine which could realistically score in the high fifteens, but if she managed this then she would not be out of the picture just yet.

What will we know? If USA’s only one event hopeful has anything like a shred of a chance for London.


Although bars are the publicized weakness of the US, they aren’t exactly turning away floor workers at the door either. Everyone will be watching to see who can put in a performance worthy of high scores.

Of particular importance here will be competitors like Mckayla Maroney. Maroney, as a world champion, has a great shot of making the team. Yes, vault is saturated BUT Maroney can happily outscore other US Amanars by around four tenths on a good day, which isn’t dissimilar to the advantage of another bar workers bar score over Wieber’s. If she can make a convincing claim for a TF floor spot though, her campaign is only strengthened.

Wieber is a lock for the team barring some terrible injury, but I can’t imagine her not being in London. On the topic of floor, recent videos of US camp verification (that I saw in a cool post on show that Jordyn is working a great double layout on floor.

London ain’t everything...

It’s important to remember that the Olympics are not the be all and end all. I am excited also to see Casey Jo Magee, a gymnast with entirely different aspirations whose beam is always interesting to watch. Also, I left out Chellsie Memmel in the above analysis, because who can say where she will be up to. No matter what happens though I enjoy watching her compete whatever the weather. 

Secret Classic competitors: 

SO Exciting! 


  1. Actually I'm a little surprised of how may potential bars specialist are in USA,
    there is Gabby, Kyla, Anna and Becca
    and then we haven't seen the veterans, Chellsie, Nastia and Bridget and there was a video of McKenzie Wofford at camp doing some really cool tricks. Not that they could match the epic Grishina - Komova - Mutafina russian bars line up but things are much better than everyone expected.
    About the Bross vs Liukin thing, I really want Rebecca to make the team but if I was Marta, to be honest I'd choose Ross.
    Can't wait to see Gabby winning the AA :D

  2. My thoughts exactly! They aren't exactly super deep on bars, but everyone has been very hysterical about how bad the situation is. I think the problem is not a lack of bars talent but a lack of bars talent in an AA situation, because obviously Gabby is the only AAer with a high scoring bars set.

    I think Ross has an excellent shot. I think her case is different though because she is great elsewhere, particularly beam, and can vault if needed. I wonder if she will have upgraded bars

  3. @Christina: Rumor has it that Gabby won't be doing AA at classics and will only try out her new bars set! I guess we just have to wait and see at this point. Jordyn also has hinted that she wont do all 4 events, I guess she'll skip vault and possibly beam... trying instead her upgrades on bars (dismount) and her new tumbling pass on FX (DLO).

    1. Yes, I heard about Gabby, I guess I shouldn't get super excited before learning some information first. But can't wait to see her winnin UB with her 6.9 set :D
      Do we know who does AA and who doesn't?

  4. @Lloyd: Kyla has an upgraded bars set with a shaposh-pak combo at the start of her routine... if she hits her new SV will be 6.4... however, the optimist in me hopes that she does the Komova I (inbar shaposh)-pak combo, coz it'll bring her D score up to a 6.6... Gabby's rumored D score is 6.9, if she's able to connect the Ono-Healy-Endo-Piked tkatchev combo

  5. @Christina: Unfortunately NO! USAG has no information either on the intentions of the athletes as far as the routines they're showcasing... Nevertheless, I can speculate that the likes of Raisman, Ross, Finnegan, Sloan, Maroney may do the AA to test out their routines prior to Nationals!

    1. I guess we'll find out that day. It may be too much to ask but I'll be rooting for Finnegan to win the AA if Gabby isn't competing AA. More realistically I hope she can win beam or floor (or why not? both) and she does her amanar and her double double. Can't wait to see Maroney's new vault and Sloan's bars

  6. I really appreciate your blog posts. They are well-informed, interesting and well-written. I'm looking forward to Classics! You're definitely correct that this will be the start of making informed speculations about the Olympic team instead of just wild assumptions!

  7. John: Thanks for all the detailed info! Glad to hear Kyla should be trying some upgrades. Her bars have always looked nice but they looked too easy for her to my eyes.

    Shelly: Thankyou so much! I am really glad you enjoy them. And that's what I am hoping, anyway!

  8. I am excited to see Bridget Sloan's new bars set... she always had such great lines on that event, so who knows, maybe she'll factor in there. Also, I think people underestimate McKayla Maroney's abilities on bars. While she performed far from perfectly in Jesolo on bars, she did show some new combos that could really help her cause for the Olympic team if she's able to clean it up.

  9. I too, am excited for SLoan's return. She's always been a powerful bar swinger, and in my opinion, should have been on the podium in 2010 instead of Bross. No shade.

    I also agree with Kyla's bar set being too easy for her. It's been almost the same for a while now. I think when moving to senior, it's important to state your case and show you've got some balls. Work it out Kyla!

    Maybe it was a weird angle I saw, but it looked to me that Maroney's bars weren't completely unfortunate in Jesolo. They're no Gabby, but she seems like she's added some unique combos, and just needs to clean em up. Ugh!! Can't wait for Saturday!

    And thanks again for the shout out to!!

  10. I'm excited for Bridget too. I have more mixed feelings about her bars though. I like her dismounts and releases, when she does them in combination, and loved her short lived giant 1/1 immediate double layout. However I always find her handstands really weird, quite similar to Bogi's actually in that they never seem to be right above the bar and a bit wobbly at the hips.

    I don't think Maroney is terrible either! Just one of those routines with not much in it!

    And no problem! ThankYOU for the kind link on yours!

  11. @BigQueen: I am actually very excited about Maroney's bars set... I believe that among the non-bars specialists, she has the most room for improvement, she has the skills... It all boils down to whether she can actually put them together in combination to up her score... Her new shaposh (Maloney)-pak combo looks promising, though I hope she can upgrade the next move after that from a regular shaposh (hip circle) into a Khorkina... Or perhaps, connect her Wieler 1/2-Jaegar to bail to handstand-Ray... Oh well! :)

  12. Anna Li is apparently doing the AA... can't wait to see what she can do! :)