For USA Gymnastics the Olympics Start Now

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USA Gymnastics is the most dominant force in all of sports. They are far and away the favorites to win the Team Gold at the Olympics and take home additional hardware during the All-Around and Event Finals. After winning the Team Gold in 2012, they won nearly half the available medals at the three World Championships leading up to Rio. Yet, as insane as it sounds, the hard part for the best American gymnasts won’t be securing Olympic medals, but being chosen as one of the five women named to the team.

The athletes will have four opportunities to prove to Martha Karolyi and the USA Gymnastics selection committee (but really Martha Karolyi) that they belong. Two days of competition at the National Gymnastics Championships and two days of competition at Olympic Trials will determine who goes to Rio and who stays home. Twenty-five young women will compete this weekend at the National Gymnastics Championships, but really only about a dozen have a chance at one of those coveted Olympic spots.

US National Team Coordinator Martha Karolyi

Team composition is subjective, but an equation can be applied to the process. In Olympic Team Finals, they operate in a three up – three count format. That is, three gymnasts perform routines and all three scores count. The complex puzzle that is the five member team tries to combine the most girls with the top three scores on each event. This maximizes the team final score. After that medal potential on individual events (the All-Around, Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam and Floor Exercise) are taken into account.

Here are the girls who have the best chance at those five spots:

The All-Arounders

Simone Biles
Three Time World All-Around Champion Simon Biles

After winning her third consecutive All-Around World Championship last year, along with gold on vault, beam and floor, Simone Biles is poised not only to win the All-Around at the Olympics, but possibly come home with FIVE Olympic Gold medals. Just for reference, there are only six gold medals available to win: Team, All-Around, Vault, Uneven Bars, Balance Beam and Floor Exercise. If she achieves her full potential she will have cemented her place as one of the greatest, if not THE greatest gymnasts of all time. Barring injury, no matter what she looks like at Nationals and Olympic Trials, Simone Biles will be on the US team to Rio.

Top Three: All Around, Vault, Balance Beam and Floor

Gabrielle Douglas
2012 Olympic All-Around Champion Gabrielle Douglas

The 2012 reigning Olympic All-Around champion, fans and analysts alike questioned the legitimacy of Gabby’s comeback. Those doubts have been put to rest after she won the All-Around Silver medal behind Simone Biles in Glasgow at the 2015 World Championships. With Gabby’s world class bar routine, combined with her All-Around strength, she looks to be the only Olympic All-Around gold medalist to return to the next Olympics since Nadia Comaneci in 1976 and 1980. If Gabby consistently hits her upgraded bar routine and everything else stays the same, she’ll make the team.

Top Three: All Around, Uneven Bars

Aly Raisman
2012 Double Gold Medalist Aly Raisman

Aly was the US gymnast with the highest medal count at the 2012 Olympics – a double gold medalist in the team and floor exercise and a bronze on beam. If she makes the team she’ll be the oldest team member at the ripe old age of twenty-two. With an outside shot at the All-Around, Aly looks to contribute most with her floor routine and on vault. Her beam can be world class, depending upon the strength of her connections. Though, if she just keeps landing her vault – the aforementioned Amanar – and floor routines, Aly will bring a veteran, steady presence to Rio.

Top Three: All-Around, Vault and Floor

Laurie Hernandez
2015 Junior National Champion Laurie Hernandez

A first year senior and the 2015 Junior National Champion, Laurie is best known for her incredibly engaging floor routines and her awesome execution on balance beam. Those strengths combined with her solid bar routine and decent vault, make her a great option for the team. The only thing working against her is her relative inexperience. Laurie has only competed in five events off US soil, though in that limited experience she has always proven to be successful. With Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman both inconsistent on beam, Laurie’s routine – along with her solid All-Around performances – will likely put her on the Olympic team.

Top Three: Balance Beam, Floor (though on a good day, All Around too)

The Bars Specialists

Madison Kocian
2015 World Uneven Bars Champion, Madison Kocian

The reigning World Champion on the Uneven Bars, Madison is world class on the event that has long been considered the US’s only weakness. She is also a very capable beam worker – when she hits. Although she hasn’t competed All-Around since the 2015 National Championships, she has been historically capable of putting forth a routine on every event – though not routines the US would necessarily want to use. If she is placed on the team as a bars specialist, conventional wisdom says she would be available in an emergency situation, something Martha Karolyi likes in her athletes, even her specialists.

Top Three: Uneven Bars

Ashton Locklear
Ashton Locklear

Competing for the same spot as Madison Kocian, Ashton is a genuine specialist. She only trains two events – bars and beam. She finished in 4th place at the 2014 World Championships on bars and was injured for much of the 2015 season. This year she has competed well on her events both internationally and domestically. Ashton is making a strong case for herself as a bars specialist that comes with a reliable – if relatively average – beam routine. Just two weeks ago, she hit a fantastic bar routine – outscoring Kocian – and a good beam. If she stays consistent, it will be a battle to the end of the process, but she may have the edge thanks to her difficulty.

Top Three: Uneven Bars

The Wildcards

Ragan Smith
Ragan Smith

A first year senior, Ragan is known for her world class beam routine and though she is the kind of All-Around gymnast most countries would be desperate to have on their team, her floor and bar routines – along with a good, but not great double twisting yurchenko on vault – while solid, are distinctly not top three the US. That being said, she is a consistent performer and if one or more of the US’s top All-Arounders go down, would be able to slide into the team beautifully. Ragan is the perfect alternate on this deep US squad.

Top Three: Balance Beam (tied for 3rd w/ Baumann)

Maggie Nichols
Maggie Nichols

This time last year Maggie was a rising star on the international gymnastics scene. She was consistently outperforming almost everyone, but was controversially kept from competing All-Around at the 2015 World Championships. Despite that, she came away with a bronze medal on floor and a gold with the team. She was the only US gymnast to compete all four events in the team finals, a sign of trust from Martha Karolyi. Everything changed, when she tore her meniscus while training her Amanar vault. She will compete for the first time in 2016 at Nationals. Her chances will depend upon how many events are competition ready and their quality and consistency. Even then, after such a long layoff, it’s difficult to make an a
Even then, after such a long layoff, it’s difficult to make an argument for her up against athletes who have competed all season.
Top Three: To Be Determined

Alyssa Baumann

Much like Ragan Smith, Alyssa is a solid All-Around gymnast with one major strength: balance beam. Her beam work is exquisite, but with very limited international experience – only three competitions, though granted one was the 2014 World Championships – and so many other athletes with matching gymnastics strengths she is much more likely to be used as an alternate.

Top Three: Balance Beam (tied for 3rd w/ Smith)

Mykayla Skinner
Mykayla Skinner

For all intents and purposes, Mykayla is a vault specialist. She does train All-Around, but if she made the team she would only be used on one event. Mykayla trains two very difficult vaults, but thanks to a much improved international field on the event and her own teammate Simone Biles, matching her in difficulty and far surpassing her in execution, she is unlikely to medal on the event. If Aly Raisman continues to land her Amanar and Gabby Douglas continues to score very well with her Double Twisting Yurchenko, Mykayla’s only value in a team final would be a few tenths of a point and without substantial contributions elsewhere, it doesn’t make sense to bring her with only five spots.

Top Three: Vault

Brenna Dowell
Brenna Dowell

Everyone was surprised when Brenna Dowell was named to the 2015 World Championship, everyone except Brenna. With a risky and inventive gymnastics in her bar routine, clean tumbling and a very good double twisting Yurchenko vault, Brenna proved herself to Martha Karolyi. However her Worlds experience could charitably be called horrific. She fell on her bar routine and her floor exercise earned a very low score. Despite that, Brenna decided not to give up on her Olympic gymnastics dreams and if spots were given for determination and perseverance she’d win the gold.

Top Three: To Be Determined

My Pre-Nationals Olympic Team Predictions

Simone Biles
Gabrielle Douglas
Aly Raisman
Laurie Hernandez
Ashton Locklear

Alternate Predictions
Madison Kocian
Ragan Smith

What are YOUR predictions for Team USA Gymnastics? Which gymnasts are you excited to see during the Olympics selection process?


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