The 2017 American Cup took place in Newark, NJ, USA on March 4th 2017.
Much hype surrounded the first international elite meet post Olympics that featured American gymnasts. The lineup was filled with a mixture of fresh faced talent, Olympians and some veterans and everything seemed possible again with the beginning of a new quad and the beginning of a new era in particular for American women’s gymnastics with the leadership of the women’s team now in the capable hands of Mr. Valeri Liukin.
However, the 2017 American Cup did not really live up to the hype. Many have stated that the meet was the worst American Cup ever and was simply painful to watch. With a plethora of falls from every gymnast on the women’s side, including one fall from the winner, Ragan Smith, general low energy and enthusiasm from the crowd in Newark and a cloud of sexual abuse allegations hanging over USA Gymnastics which was not ignored on the NBC broadcast with Nastia Liukin being interviewed on the topic mid broadcast, the 2017 AT&T American Cup will certainly not go down as one of the great elite meets in the history books.
The winner and the heavy favourite coming into the meet, U.S. Olympic alternate, Ragan Smith took the title with a 56.099. Whilst in terms of 2016 scoring which was end of quad scoring and a different code, this would seem to be an extremely low score, given that it is early in the quad and everybody is still trying to adjust to the new code, scoring on the whole was rather low. Some did argue that the Americans were overscored however.
Ragan Smith with coach Kim Zmeskal after a successful vault
Ragan, overall had a good meet. She had a solid DTY and her UB work looked much improved. She looked confident in her skills and her BB routine was really quite impressive and solid. Packed full of her usual difficulty, she did have a fall on the event, coming off the beam on her standing full. The fall was not the result of nerves but rather being unfortunate and just simply being slightly off on the skill. She closed her night with a great FX routine, the same one the gymnastics community fell in love with in 2016. Her double arabian technique is still quite questionable but we will let it slide given her other three passes were impressive, although she did stumble slightly on her last pass, a double tuck. Overall though, Ragan is looking promising for the 2017 season and given she stays healthy, she should really be able to contend for a couple of medals at this years World Championships.
Second place finisher, Asuka Teramoto brought experience and steady gymnastics to Newark, she, unlike many others hit all four of her events. She had a solid, extremely well executed vault, a solid beam, wobbling slightly at the beginning of her routine, on a double turn but finishing the remainder of the routine with a beautiful, solid triple flight series and remaining composed on a slightly crooked Onodi. Her FX, like everything was solid, complete with composed and Kyla Ross-esque landing positions but only performing three passes, opening with a triple twist and closing with a double pike.
In third place was young French gymnast, Melanie de Jesus dos Santos, a gymnast who I believe to be a future leader of the French team and part of a really talented group of young French gymnasts on the rise. She is reminiscent of Gabby Douglas as she has the strong, beautiful body, perfect for gymnastics. She has beautiful lines, capable of powerful skills and capable of flying high and lightly through the air and also has a beautiful swing on the uneven bars. Overall, she has low difficulty and will need to upgrade to really contend, but she has all the tools at her disposal to become a really fantastic gymnast and the pressure of the big international stage seemed to not phase her. This being most evident during her BB routine where she wobbled slightly on some skills but not as the result of nerves it seemed, just simply the result of being slightly off on the skill and she remained composed and corrected herself with accuracy. The routine, which began with a strong and flighty punch front mount was lovely and she put the perfect exclamation point on a great routine, a stuck double tuck dismount. Her flight series on beam was really quite impressive, a BHS layout that was high and flighty and had excellent form. Her bars were also exquisite, showing great amplitude on most of her release moves, nice form, good handstand positions and an ease to her swing, all topped off with a beautiful dismount, a double layout with full twist. Her tumbling on FX is also great, opening with a lovely tucked full in and impressing again in the basics with a double pike with exquisite execution but stumbling slightly on her last pass, a double tuck where she landed short.
Melanie de Jesus dos Santos
Of the rest of the field, those that garnered the most attention were of course Riley McCusker of the U.S. and Olympic medalist, Amy Tinkler of Great Britain. Tinkler, who has only recently returned to training and has, since the Olympics switched coaches scratched FX and was therefore unable to vie in the AA but it was nice to see her back out on the floor, with a lot of her skills back. Riley, on the opposite spectrum, came into the competition with a whole different set of expectations placed upon her head and was arguably the story of the night. For Olympians Amy Tinkler, Kim Bui and Asuka Teramoto, this meet acted as either their first meet since the Olympics or their first meet of 2017 and it was being used as a warm up for the 2017 season.
But, as always, for American gymnasts, the American Cup comes with heightened expectations. Not only is the meet deemed to be extremely prestigious in the eyes of American gymnastics, the meet has become, in the past number of years either the coming out party for future U.S. gymnastics stars or the way familiar names cement their legacy. 2013 saw Simone Biles emerge onto the scene in her very first international meet and not win but certainly emerge as one to watch and the same was expected of Riley McCusker this weekend. Whilst Ragan took the place of the familiar name, hoping to cement her legacy (but still a relative newcomer to the senior stage), Riley took the role of the future star, hoping that this meet, her very first international meet, having no junior international experience, in front of a home crowd, being coached by the same coach of one of the breakout stars of the Rio Olympics, Laurie Hernandez would be her coming out party.
We, the gymnastics community wanted it for Riley and it was expected that that would be the narrative. She certainly has the talent, she has all the qualities of a top international gymnast but this narrative also included the dimension of this being the first international competition under new National Team Co-Ordinator, Valeri Liukin. So, with that, not only was this meet supposed to give us the future, give us the stars of the new quad, it was supposed to represent the new era of USA Gymnastics, the Valerian era, now that the Marthian era has ended. All was not to be however for Riley. She had upgraded quite a bit since last Summer where she placed second AA in the junior division at the P&G Championships and one of those upgrades was a DTY. Whilst she is fully capable of the skill and all of her skills, as evidenced by her placement during verification at the February National Team Camp, her VT was rough, not quite finishing her rotation and staggering forward on landing. The problems only continued for Riley, missing a release and coming off the bar on her Stalder into piked Tkatchev and following it up by dragging her feet along the ground on her Pak from high to low bar. Whilst these mistakes were disappointing, it was her BB that really put the nail in the coffin of Riley’s day and made me feel for the 15 year old. Her routine started with a wobble on the not popular with gymnastics fans combination of two wolf turns in a row, the wobble, I sense was karma for constructing a BB routine with two wolf turns in it. After this, Riley regained composure and the routine was solid, showcasing her beautiful long lines and flexibility. However all went horribly wrong when Riley missed one foot on takeoff for her dismount, a double tuck and subsequently landed on her neck. Gasps were heard from the audience and gasps could certainly be heard from my living room but sighs of relief came when Riley stood and saluted to the judges, crying and visibly upset but walking off to a hug from coach Maggie Haney. She finished strong with a newly choreographed FX rotuine with lovely leaps and great tumbling and her spirits seemed to not be dampened as she enthusiastically waved to the crowd after a successful FX routine.
Whilst the meet was bad for Riley, it must not be seen as a nail in the coffin of Riley’s career. Many greats have stumbled early on with Nastia herself falling on bars in her first senior international meet, the 2005 American Cup and Simone Biles falling on BB in her first senior international meet, the 2013 American Cup and later that year imploding at the 2013 Secret Classic, only to come back later that year to take the World AA title.
Certainly mistakes happen and these girls are only human. However it is not what we have come to expect from American gymnasts. After a stellar quad, and a stellar past two quads that saw the U.S. women become unbeatable, we now want and expect the U.S. women to completely dominate. Many remarked that prior to the meet, it was nice to not know who was going to win, whether it would be Riley or Ragan, although it was assumed they would go 1-2. It was nice, although everyone loves Simone to not watch a competition where everyone is vying for second place. But still, it is expected that the U.S. women will win. And win they did.
However, I think what the 2017 American Cup showed us is that the U.S. team is in a time of transition. Valeri has stated that the National Team Camps, at this current moment are composed of very young gymnasts. This quad is different. There are less older gymnasts still around from the previous quad, with many of them now competing in the NCAA, or, in the case of the Olympians, pursuing other opportunities. So, with that comes a transition period, even with a lot of talented first year seniors emerging this year, they too will need time to adjust. Because now, not only is it a new quad, Martha, the cornerstone of the U.S. women’s programme for over 10 years has gone and Valeri has entered. So to assume, based on this meet that the end of the American gymnastics system is near is wrong.Whilst it indeed was not riveting viewing and the glorious narrative of the newcomer cementing herself as the future didn’t happen and even though Ragan won, the story of American dominance wasn’t really played out, it’s ok, there will be another American Cup, there will be another chance for Riley and, on the bright side, the American men, represented by two relatively new faces and not the familiar Sam Mikulak/ Jake Dalton show, and the two fresh faces did great.
- Ragan Smith (USA) 56.099
- Asuka Teramoto (JPN) 54.231
- Melanie de Jesus dos Santos (FRA) 53.899
- Kim Bui (GER) 53.632
- Riley McCusker (USA) 52.966
- Xie Yufen (CHN) 51.599
- Tisha Volleman (NED) 49.266
- Emily Whithead (AUS) 48.399
- Amy Tinkler (GBR) 39.566