For those of you who don’t know, I am a big gymnastics fan. The trials for the Women’s Olympic team take place this weekend, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share who I would pick for the team, based on past performances up to and especially including the U.S. national championships a little over a week ago.
The team is allowed to have 5 members. 4 members will participate on each event in prelims, and then 3 on each event in team finals. Based on this, and team USA’s strong depth of all-around athletes, I predict that the team will be made of 3 all-arounders, one bars/beam “specialist”, and one vault/floor “specialist”. I use specialist in quotes to mean that the athlete selected may be capable of competing all-around, but would only compete those events for the Olympics.
Simone Biles is a lock. As four-time US champion and three-time world champion, the only thing that could keep her off the team is a major catastrophic injury.
The other gymnasts who I think realistically have a chance at all-around spots are Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez and Aly Raisman. Some people think that all three of these ladies will make the team. However, I am inclined to disagree. All three are amazing in the all-around, but none of them really fit the model of a two-event gymnast. Gabby’s bars are great, but her beam routine sometimes cracks under pressure. Laurie’s bars/beam combo is good, but wouldn’t outscore that of the other gymnasts in the running for the bars/beam combo. Aly could go vault/beam/floor in combination with a bars-only gymnast, but I have been a big Aly fan for a long time, and I would like to see her get another shot at the All-Around, after losing a spot on the podium to a tie-breaker in London.
For now, I pick those to spots to go to Aly and Laurie, on the basis of their 2-3 finish behind Simone at nationals. However, Gabby has a history of showing up and performing when it counts, so I expect a strong performance from her this weekend which could shake things up. If not on the team, I would expect Gabby to get an alternate spot.
The big contenders for the Bars/Beam spot are Madison Kocian and Ashton Locklear. Score-wise they are very close. I think Madison has the edge for two reasons. One, she is the reining world champion on bars. It is a shared title with three other people, but it has to count for something. Second, she trains all around. So, in the case of an injury, she can be put up on any event. I saw some comments degrading her FTY at nationals as a very low-scoring vault. However, she is coming back from an injury and has only been walking for two months. She has competed a DTY in the past, and I expect her to bring that back for trials. However, even an FTY would score better than no vault, which is what Ashton trains.
I will also mention Brenna Dowell here. Her bars and beam can be really good – when she hits. However, she has a tendency to falter under pressure. Given the number of more-consistent athletes in the field, I think that she is not going to make the cut. (She may, however, get an alternate spot.)
I think there are two players for the vault/floor spot – Maggie Nichols and MyKayla Skinner. This is a hard one to call, as Maggie is coming back from injury and only competed bars and beam at nationals. Maggie and MyKayla both have international experience. At worlds last year, Maggie was the only gymnast to compete all-around in the team final, while MyKayla was an alternate. Based on that history, and reports that Maggie’s vault and floor looked good in training, I think the final spot on the team will go to Maggie.
Not Mentioned above
For completion, I would like to mention the rest of the gymnasts who qualified to trials.
Ragan Smith – Ragan’s gymnastics is great, but I think she lacks a little bit of maturity and just needs another year or two. I think if she sticks around, she has the potential to be a major player in the coming quad. She is also my pick for the third alternate spot.
Alyssa Baumann – Alyssa injured her elbow this past week. It will require surgery and she will not be able to compete.
Amelia Hundley – Amelia has been a senior for a bit, but injuries have kept her from gaining international experience. I think this lack of experience is what will keep her off of the team.
Rachel Gowey, Emily Schild, Cristina Desiderio – I will admit that these are names I am not as familiar with. These ladies looked good at nationals. However, the great depth of the US team will most likely keep them out of talks for the 2016 Olympics.
In summary, my team is: Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman, Madison Kocian and Maggie Nichols, with Gabby Douglas, Brenna Dowell and Ragan Smith as alternates.