Team USA: More Questions Than Answers

6:01 PM Arabian Punch Front 3 Comments

I will be attending my first World Championships in Montreal and I am beyond excited. This is the first worlds in a long time where most of the medals are up for grabs and quite a few top level teams have a few question marks in their lineups. One of those teams is the US, the defending world and Olympic champions. US Nationals created more question than answers. Ten women were invited to the worlds selection camp that will take place September 18-22: Jade Carey, Jordan Chiles, Margzetta Frazier, Emily Gaskins, Morgan Hurd, Ashton Locklear, Riley McCusker, Alyona Shchennikova, Ragan Smith, and Trinity Thomas.

The only obvious part to this story is that Ragan Smith is going and that she will compete in the all around. After winning the American Cup earlier this year and as a 2016 Olympic alternate, all eyes have been on Smith for big things this quadrennium. Though she didn't perform all around at US Classics, she competed well on uneven bars and balance beam. At the 2017 US Gymnastics Championships, Ragan easily won the all around by over 3 points and finished top 3 on every event. Barring injury, Smith is an all around lock for the team.

The second all around spot is a bit trickier. The spot most likely will go to one of Riley McCusker or Jordan Chiles (should they choose to do two all around gymnasts). McCusker was anointed as the new "chosen one" - excellent uneven bar work, performance capacity on floor much like her former teammate Laurie Hernandez. Like Smith, McCusker competed at the American Cup but that performance left quite a bit to be desired. She has since competed at Classics and Championships though clearly not at 100% as she has been coming back from injuries. Her performance at Championships was much improved and reminded us why she has the potential to be the new it girl. She finished third at Championships and the meet could have been closer if she was able to vault her double twisting Yurchenko. She finished first on bars, ahead of specialist and Olympic alternate Ashton Locklear, second on beam and fourth on floor.

Jordan Chiles career reminds be a bit of her (semi) namesake, Jordyn Wieber. We have known about Chiles for quite some time with her incredible Amanar vault as a junior. She's had quite a few international competitions under her belt. She had an injury and some coaching changes that kept her more in the background over the past few months. To be quite honest, I was about to erase her from my list of gymnasts to watch but then she had a good enough performance over 2 days to end up second in the all around. She, unfortunately, fell on her Amanar but is reportedly training a Lopez. The second vault makes her a medal asset which is going to be important to consider when figuring out the final team.

The next obvious choice is Jade Carey. She vaulted onto the scene out of nowhere (cliche, I know). She vaulted a tucked Tsuk double twist during the JO season and was tapped by National Team staff. Carey was then invited to camp and has progressed from there. She now vaults a laidout Tsuk 2/1 (technically a Kasamatsu 1/1 but WAG Code of Points doesn't differentiate) and an Amanar. The Amanar gave her quite a bit of trouble during Nationals. Her vaults are valued at a 5.6 and 5.8 respectively. Chiles' theoretical vaults are valued at a 5.8 and 5.2. On D score alone, Carey has the edge, however, the questionable landing on the Amanar leaves a few questions. Carey also has the fact that she is an excellent floor worker going for her. She finished 2nd behind Ragan Smith and boasts explosive but clean tumbling passes.

Could that be a team of 4? It gets a bit odd having 2 VT/FX girls as it would force McCusker out of the AA (only 3 can compete on one event). Smith would do AA. McCusker UB/BB. Carey and Chiles VT/FX with one of them able to do BB. Carey has the potential to be Kayla Williams, stellar vaulter that medals at a World Championships but then goes on to do great things in NCAA. I'm not sure what Carey's long term plans are if she doesn't make the worlds team (she is committed to Oregon State for 2018) but would it be more worthwhile to invest in Chiles? Though very few athletes are the same as they transition from the junior to senior ranks, Chiles is one that we've been waiting on for quite some time to wow us. Is now that time?

So let's go back to only taking one VT/FX girl. McCusker will do AA and that leaves an UB/BB spot available. Morgan Hurd has previously been hand picked by Valeri Liukin as an athlete to watch. Hurd has also been one that we've watched thrive in front of our eyes from the Nastia Liukin Cup now to US Nationals as a senior. She had a recent injury that prevented her from being her very best at Championships. She finished 6th in the all around not showing full difficulty and with a few errors. If she's back at 100%, she is absolutely someone that could fill that UB/BB role but the question is will she be back in time.

Trinity Thomas finished third on BB and can also fill the BB role. She's incredibly steady there and also has a solid uneven bar.

Alyona Shchennikova is an interesting one. She's been making a name for herself over the past few years. She won the US Classic but went from being a talked about girl to being forgotten in the shuffle. I have a hard time calling her a true bar worker because of her flexed feet and dangerous dismount but she does have excellent swing. Will the fact that she's a stronger reincarnation of Nastia Liukin change anything? Her floor is literally Nastia 2.0.

Ashton Locklear seemed to be an easy and obvious choice except for the fact that she is not, at the moment, the number one uneven bar worker in the US. Locklear took some time off after Rio and has been working hard getting back in shape. She's yet another gymnast not quite at 100%. Locklear has room to improve her UB D by adding back her in bar skills. She is still training balance beam though I don't think that changes much, especially since this isn't a team worlds. I can't tell if she's injured or has a lot of pressure on her shoulders as the new grandma of the team but she seems a little worn down. She's still my favorite American bar worker but she's not quite giving that exclamation mark that she used to give.

The last 2 are Emily Gaskins and Margzetta Frazier. I don't think Gaskins has much of a shot of making the team barring injury from others. She finished 4th on floor exercise. Frazier, on the other hand, finished just outside of the medals at Championships. She is another one that boasts an Amanar vault but didn't compete it due to a recent injury. Should she rise up in the AA competitions at camps, there's a chance that she could be the second all arounder with McCusker UB/BB and Chiles OR Carey as VT/FX. If she's not on the team, she'd make an excellent alternate.

My final pick for the team... I can't quite make. I think Ragan Smith and Riley McCusker are locks. I think in the end, McCusker will do all around leaving specialist spots open. What are your thoughts?