Aug 14, 2013, 6:14 PM EST
HARTFORD, Conn. — The larger commentary surrounding this week’s U.S. Gymnastics National Championships may center on the lead up to Rio 2016, but in the year directly following an Olympic Games, the World Gymnastics Championships are comprised of individual events only, no team final, and the uniqueness of an individual world championships makes the gymnastics season following the London Games largely stand alone.
Take this bit of history: not a single woman on the 2009 World Championship squad made the 2012 U.S. Olympic team. That included all-around champion Bridget Sloan and silver medalist Rebecca Bross.
This year is all about table setting for Team USA and identifying the potential (but surely not certain) foundation of the next Olympic team. Four women will be sent to Antwerp, Belgium, for worlds Sept. 30-Oct. 6. That makes room for two all-around gymnasts and two event specialists.
Podium training at the XL Center on Wednesday gave a peak into which gymnasts that team may be made up of. The women’s competition begins Thursday (8 p.m. Eastern time, NBC Sports Network and online here) and concludes Saturday (8 p.m. ET, NBC and online here).
The old guard came on strong with Olympian Kyla Ross, 16, assuming her new role as seasoned veteran. She looked even across all four events, showcasing her steady skills and her impeccable execution. Ross won last month’s U.S. Classic, a qualifier for this meet, and barring injury she should punch her ticket to Antwerp as an all-arounder by the end of the weekend.
Olympic teammate McKayla Maroney should join her. There wasn’t an “unimpressed face” to be found in her first competition since the Olympics at the U.S. Classic last month. There weren’t any Wednesday, either. Maroney doesn’t look like an athlete coming back from two leg surgeries in the last year. She is stronger than ever, showing improved power on floor exercise, in particular her double Arabian tumbling pass, which has caused her trouble in the past.
“It’s just been a lot of hard work, after coming back from the surgeries I had to do so much conditioning, more than I’ve ever done in my life to get where I need to be really fast,” said Maroney, the reigning world champion on vault.
Maroney trained all four events Wednesday but is competing only vault and floor to make the worlds team as a specialist with the goal of defending that vault title from Tokyo in 2011.
There were some surprises Wednesday. Lexie Priessman, the 2012 U.S. junior all-around champion, pulled out at the last minute due to an Achilles strain after looking great in early training sessions. This will effectively end Priessman’s debut senior year and open up the door for others to challenge Ross.
Like Peyton Ernst, 16, who won balance beam gold and all-around and floor silver at the U.S. Classic. The Kim Zmeskal protege showed up with even more difficult routines this week and plans to compete in the all-around.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was Elizabeth Price. The 2012 Olympic team alternate was white-hot after the Games, winning back-to-back World Cup titles to round out her year. She fell off the radar after pulling out of the American Cup with a hip injury. Wednesday, however, she effectively “won” podium training, looking phenomenal on all four events.
Nonetheless, Price, who trains with legendary coaches Bill and Donna Strauss at Parkettes in Allentown, Pa., said she’s only been back training 2 1/2 weeks and will compete on only two events, vault and uneven bars (where the U.S. is weak). She plans on being able to do the all-around before the final selection camp for the World Championship team in three weeks.
One of the most anticipated performances Thursday will come from tiny dynamo Simone Biles. Biles, 16, burst onto the scene this year with her big, energetic smile and even bigger gymnastics.
A fan favorite, Biles boasts the difficulty to contend for a world all-around title and then some, however, she has yet to put it all together in high-pressure situations, falling at the American Cup and counting three falls before scratching the last event at the U.S. Classic.
Biles was clear in her goals for Hartford and Antwerp.
“To hopefully be top three here, to make the world team and be top three at worlds,” she said.
To get to Belgium, Biles must prove that she can hit her routines consistently over two sessions in Hartford.
Dark-horse contenders this weekend will be steady all-arounder Brenna Dowell of Odessa, Mo., and mega trickster Mykayla Skinner of Gilbert, Ariz., who is one of two women in the world currently performing a double twisting double layout on floor.
Even with all the new faces, the 2012 Olympians are poised to take the spotlight in Hartford, which they’ve grown accustomed to after walking red carpets, attending award shows, appearing on TV and penning books.
The Fierce Five will reunite Friday to be inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.
All but Ross have turned professional, picking up agents and endorsements. Her focus remains on competition and retaining her NCAA eligibility — at least for now. The rising California high school junior may be the center of attention come Saturday, should she take the all-around title.
Dec 7, 2013, 1:01 PM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 12:36 PM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 12:36 PM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 11:45 AM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 10:40 AM EST
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Dec 7, 2013, 9:45 AM EST
USA Luge put a men’s singles slider on a World Cup podium for the first time in nearly seven years on Friday night. 2010 Olympian Chris Mazdzer placed a career-best second in Whistler, B.C., the fourth of nine World Cup stops before the Sochi Olympics in February. Mazdzer was fourth after the first of two runs, behind…
Dec 7, 2013, 6:55 AM EST
Skating in a Grand Prix at home perhaps for the last time, Mao Asada claimed gold Saturday at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan, the 23-year-old rising above an error-prone finish in the ladies’ free skate. Fifteen-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya skated cleanly to jump her way from fourth to second, claiming the silver medal.…
Dec 7, 2013, 5:12 AM EST
A world record to overcome and the Grand Prix Final gold medal on the line, American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White rose to the occasion Saturday in Fukuoka, Japan. Skating after rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had delivered a brilliant free dance to give them a highest-ever overall score, 190.00, Davis/White were…
Dec 6, 2013, 9:06 PM EST
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Dec 6, 2013, 4:18 PM EST
Lindsey Vonn safely made it down the mountain in her first competition in 10 months, finishing 40th out of 61 skiers at a World Cup downhill in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday. The Olympic downhill champion completed the course in 1 minute, 59.22 seconds. German Maria Hoefl-Riesch won in 1:56.03 (results at bottom). “I was just too nervous,”…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:11 PM EST
Norway’s Aksel Lund Svindal won his second straight World Cup race, taking a downhill in Beaver Creek, Colo., while no Americans finished in the top 10 on Friday. Svindal, the reigning world and World Cup downhill champion, clocked 1 minute, 44.50 seconds, in sub-zero temperatures in the first of three races this weekend. Austria’s Hannes Reichelt was second in…
Dec 6, 2013, 3:06 PM EST
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Dec 6, 2013, 12:04 PM EST
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Dec 6, 2013, 10:43 AM EST
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Dec 6, 2013, 10:10 AM EST
Yuna Kim stumbled out of one of three jumping passes in her competitive return from a foot injury but still posted her highest short program score since the Vancouver Olympics on Friday. The Olympic and world champion earned a 73.37 at the Golden Spin of Zagreb in Croatia. That’s higher than any woman’s short program…
Dec 6, 2013, 6:53 AM EST
Has Japan finally found the skater that can win the country its first gold medal in men’s figure skating? Yuzuru Hanyu just might be that man, the 18-year-old delivering a complete performance to capture the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final Friday in front of a home crowd, besting three-time world champion Patrick Chan.…
Dec 6, 2013, 5:31 AM EST
On rages the battle between the two best ice dance teams in the world. Friday at the Grand Prix Finals in Fukuoka, Japan, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White squeaked out the narrowest of margins against rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, taking the lead after the short dance, 77.66 to 77.59. “Wow,” remarked White…
Dec 5, 2013, 6:01 PM EST
Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president after spending 27 years in prison during an era of racial oppression, died at age 95 on Thursday. Mandela’s reach was global, in many aspects. Some of his most enduring images came with a backdrop of sports. He grew up an amateur boxer who admired the…
Dec 5, 2013, 1:46 PM EST
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Dec 5, 2013, 1:00 PM EST
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