Americas best gymnasts descended upon Hartford, Connecticut over the weekend ( minus a few notable names, including Maggie Nichols who is still recovering from a meniscus tear). The Secret U.S. Classic which acts as a warm up for the P&G Championships and this year, the Olympic Trials was held in the XL Arena in Hartford on Saturday,  June 4th 2016.

Senior Results: https://usagym.org/PDFs/Results/w_16classic_sr.pdf

Junior Results: https://usagym.org/PDFs/Results/w_16classic_jr.pdf

Whilst most of the key contenders for Rio did not compete all-around, it was nontheless interesting to see how the gymnasts competed under the pressure of this being a key meet in the lead up to Olympic selection and how the standings were on individual events at the end of the meet.

Aly Raisman ultimately took the all-around title, even after a fall on the uneven bars on her shaposh from low to high bar. She had huge scores on all 3 of her other events with a 15.700 for the best Amanar I’ve seen her do since her comeback, a 15.000 on balance beam for an extremely solid routine and a 15.500 on floor exercise.

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Albeit, these scores should be taken with a grain of salt and they were evidence of inflated domestic scoring at its finest, as were all of the scores given in Hartford. However Aly did look great on all of the events, except bars which she stated in an interview with USA Gymnastics was just a fluke. 

There was other mistakes on the uneven bars with bronze medalist in the all around and another gymnast firmly in the Olympic mix, Alyssa Baumann making two significant mistakes during her routine. Firstly Baumann over arched a handstand, forcing her to chance direction and secondly Baumann fell on her dismount after looking quite messy in the air. However, like Aly, Alyssa came back strong on the other three events, scoring a huge 15.350 on the balance beam, earning her the silver medal behind World Champion, Simone Biles. Baumann, as always was exquisite on the beam. Her floor exercise was a joy to watch. Her tumbling was as solid as I’ve ever seen it and her dance was beautiful, displaying perfectly executed turns to earn her the silver medal in the event behind Aly Raisman who earned the gold medal with her huge 15.500. Her DTY was well executed and earned the fourth highest score of the night on that event.

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Rachel Gowey of Chows who has struggled with injuries this past while but did capture a gold medal on bars and with the team at last years Pan American Games earned the silver medal all-around. This marked Gowey’s first competition since last years P&G Championships, competing all-around at his meet in order to qualify for this years P&G Championships, which of course she successfully did. Gowey honestly really impressed me. Whilst her long, lean lines and beautiful gymnastics have been raved about since 2014 and I have always loved them, she just looked very solid throughout this meet, especially on beam where she did not flicker at any moment. Her difficulty on both bars and beam rival the best in the U.S. (and the world) with a 6.300 on bars and 6.100 on beam. However her execution scores have me scratching my head. Whilst undoubtedly there are execution errors in her routines particularly on bars, where I don’t disagree with her e score. Her beam score, when compared to Aly Raisman baffles me. Both put up extremely solid routines with visible execution errors (unrelated to wobbles) however Aly posted an 8.800 e score whereas Gowey posted an 8.450. Had Rachel have gotten a higher e score she would have almost matched Raisman on beam was both have similar difficulty scores and both seemed to make similar flexed feet errors, with Gowey making less in my opinion. The only thing that really stands out to me that the judges could have went to town on was Goweys turns. Nonetheless, her routine was beautiful, missing the triple twist dismount however which she broke her ankle on at 2014 P&Gs. Instead she competed a 2 1/2 beautifully.Her floor exercise was as gorgeous as ever and she competed a solid DTY on vault, choosing not to compete the Amanar she is capable of. Probably due to her injury woes as of late.

Whilst I would love to discuss all of these wonderful gymnasts who competed all-around and made it onto the top tier of the competition such as Marz Frazier who is now back training at Parkettes after a year of drama surrounding gym changes, Lauren Navarro who is the queen of beautiful white leotards and Abby Paulson who I believe will make a big impact on the elite scene after the Olympic Games and before she heads to Utah.

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Realistically however none of these gymnasts are in the running for a spot in Rio. Baumann and Raisman are…Gowey probably not unfortunately and that’s it as far as gymnasts who competed all-around in Hartford.

Simone Biles competed bars and beam, winning beam with a huge 15.650 and just did Simone things on both the events she competed on, being dissppointed that she didn’t stick her full in dismount on beam, Ashton Locklear also competed bars and beam and won bars with another huge 15.850, beating current Uneven Bars World Champion, Madison Kocian who announced via Twitter prior to the meet that she had fractured her tibia 12 weeks ago and had only began walking 6 weeks ago. Kocian also competed bars and beam, taking the silver medal on bars and placing a disappointing 15th on beam after a fall near the end of an extremely solid routine otherwise. Another name firmly in the mix, Lauren Hernandez did herself proud with a 15.400 on bars, the only event she competed, earning her fourth place on the event behind two specialists, Kocian and Locklear and Gabby Douglas.

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Douglas, like most of the field only competed bars and beam, showing an upgrade on bars and earning the bronze medal on the event and earning the 6th highest score on beam  after slipping and saving her punch front in an extremely impressive fashion. Douglas’ leotard probably created the most buzz around her. She chose a deep emerald colour with white on top which was truly exquisite and very regal on her. She also displayed a new floor exercise routine in podium training which she did not compete. It has new music and she just did a dance through of it. It was definitely better than her last routine however was mostly just the same old choreo and did not stand out in any way. New young senior, Hernandez likewise did not compete her floor exercise but unveiled a new routine in podium training. Much to the delight of gym fans everywhere the human emoji’s routine is as expressive as ever. Albeit it is kind of the same moves from her past 3 routines packed in , in a different order, the music is exciting and you can’t help but smile when watching and her dancing ability is truly impressive.

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Her MG Elite counterpart, Jazzy Skye Foberg had an extremely rough meet with falls on beam, bars and floor, where she showed impressive upgraded tumbling. After such a rough meet it was decided that Jazzy would scratch her last event, vault. Jazzy is just returning from injury which made her miss the first half of 2016, missing out on the chance to compete in Jesolo and Pac Rims, sadly things are not looking good for the 2014 junior National Champ and whilst Aly attempted to give her a pep talk reassuring her that her rough meet would not dampen her Olympic dreams sadly, whilst I am a huge fan of Jazzy I think her Olympic dreams might be slowly becoming beyond her grasp, if they haven’t already. It’s so disappointing because to me, Jazzy was the workhorse, the one training in the shadows, going unnoticed but consistently hitting in competition. And I was hoping we would have and Aly Raisman-esque fairytale Olympic year story with Ms.Foberg. However, of course Aly had had much more experience in 2012 than Jazzy has right now, however one can dream, can’t they? Another little junior that I fell in love with back in 2013/14 was Nia Dennis. Now a senior of course, Nia’s forst year as a senior, 2015 did not go to plan, failing to get any senior international assignments and ultimately deciding to switch gyms from her lifelong gym, Buckeye to Legacy Elite in Illinois. Nia’s luck went from bad to worse when, just after the announcement that she would be travelling to Germany to compete in the Stuttgart World Cup, she tore her Achilles. To see her back competing bars at this event, just weeks after this injury is a miracle to say the least. It was not the best routine for Nia and she was only doing an exhibition and so was therefore not scored and will presumable petition to compete at Nationals. However, it must be said that Nia is most certainly not in the mix and her chances of making the Olympic team are about a billion to one. MyKayla Skinner, a gymnast closer to the inside of the bubble of potential Olympians but I think, definitely still on the periphery, performed three events. Bars, according to Tim Daggett were a hot mess for Skinner who unveiled a brand new dismount, a double double. Her vault was good and got the second highest score behind Aly Raisman and was probably, like Aly the best Amanar ive seen her perform in a long time. It is the vault!? If so, bring that to Nationals!

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Another name to mention is of course, Ragan Smith. How could I forget the Texas Dreamers!? Ragan competed her Patterson on beam (Hallelujah! I’ve seen 12590 Instagram videos of this dismount!). She created quite the buzz after missing a foot on takeoff and still landing the dismount like the pro that she is. Her beam was extremely solid and she earned 5th place on that event.

Overall, it was a slightly underwhelming competition just for the sheer fact that this was just basically a slightly more glamorous day at practice for most of the top contenders for Rio with none of them really competing all-around. It felt like a club and only the cool club could afford to not compete AA (except Raisman who just competed all-around because she is literally always ready to go and could be asked to compete in January and be ready). To me, after this meet, the Olympic team is a little clearer, even though we didn’t see most gymnasts on all 4 events. I will go as far to say that Simone, Gabby and Aly are pretty much locks, even though Aly still seems to be suffering from self inflicted pressure nerves. She seems to be overthinking this time around whereas in 2012 I feel like she just plodded along, not putting pressure on herself and not being put under the pressure of expectation (training in the shadows of the bigger stars, waiting to shine, which she did!).

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Other than that, I do really think Laurie has a great shot. She is a solid competitor and can put up a great score on beam and potentially even make the beam final…AT THE OLYMPIC GAMES! She also can put up a solid score on bars which would be interesting should they not decide to bring a bars specialist. With Laurie, Gabby and Simone on bars, they could have three quite big scores for the team and also a big beam score and even a solid floor score. The only thing with Laurie that worries me is that whilst she has proven over and over again that she can compete under pressure, I feel as though with Kyla she literally competed in every single international assignment she possibly could have for 4 straight years and was consistantly at the top of the podium, whereas Laurie did miss all of 2014. I know, its just one year but to me, its significant. For the 5th spot, should they choose Laurie, to me a bars worker is then not needed, unless they are chasing an individual medal on the event, which I sense they aren’t (team medal is everything). Given that Maggie comes back strong after P&G’s, she still has a shot, making the floor lineup strong. Assuming she no longer does her Amanar, her spot in the vault lineup is not necessarily needed and her bars could potentially make the lineup, replacing Simone. Kocian, to me is still in the mix and is probably going to have a Maroney story. She CAN be an all-arounder and will probably attempt to come back as one at P&G’s/ Trials, with varying success but will ultimately be put on the team because she is a reigning World Champion and can get a medal on the event. Unlike Maroney however, Kocian is less of a lock for an individual medal than Maroney was. But the promise of her actually having 4 routines will probably ultimately giver her the edge over Locklear.

So with that, who knows really. As of now, I’ll say Biles, Douglas, Raisman, Hernandez, Kocian. Which is actually a very 2012-ish team. But hey! if it worked once, it can work again! But it really all depends on how everyone looks. It’ll be interesting to see Key and Nichols back on the floor and how they figure in the standings. I do think Nichols will give it her all and fight to the finish to make her dreams a reality so certainly do not count her out. 

As far as juniors go, the future of USA Gymnastics is certainly safe. Irina Alexeeva took the AA title, to the surprise of many. She was in the top tier after the first two events. However after a stellar beam routine in true WOGA fashion and after a few mistakes from the front runners Alexeeva took the lead. A Russian citizen who originally intended to compete internationally for Russia, Alexeeva cannot compete at Nationals due to her Russian citizenship. This is a gymnast I have watched for many years and was very excited to see her finally compete on the U.S domestic elite stage and I hope the citizenship issues are figured out soon. My personal favoutite Emma Malabuyo took second all-around, showing upgrades in various places. She is just really impressing me. Ever since her national team berth and her international assignments, she seems to have a fire lit under her and there is no stopping her. She is consistent and her improvement since last year as a first year elite is tremendous. Bronze medallist all-around was Gabby Perea who also performed a gorgeous bar set to take the bars title. I was slightly disappointed by Jordan Chiles who started off well performing a truly spectacular Amanar on vault which earned her the junior vault title. But she fell apart on beam and floor, after fist pumping the air following a hit bar routine.It is just so frustrating to see such an extraordinarily talented gymnast make so many mistakes and end in 4th when she could have easily taken the title. Morgan Hurd is another young junior who is definitely on the rise. For the past year I have watched Instagram video after Instagram video of the amazing skills Morgan is working on in the gym, only to not see her compete them. However she finally unveiled many of them on Saturday, with the most notable being the double double dismount off bars. Hurd is truly one to watch and is being paced so well by her coaches who are choosing just to add in these upgrades slowly but surely.

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