Gym fans had in 2018 a painful year, not for the gymnastics results, but for the unveiling of the terrible abuse that was behind decades of success of American teams. In January, Larry Nassar went through trial and was convicted for sexual abuse of hundreds of women. Every day during the trial more and more names came to light and even after his conviction more women came forward as Nassar survivors.
Simone Biles is part of that enormous list and the minute, quite literally, that she said it pained her to return to the Karolyi Ranch because she had been abused there by Nassar the Karolyi Ranch seized to exist as a USA training facility. In February Valeri Liukin, the Head Coach of the women’s program, resigned citing that the current situation was putting too much stress on his family. For a while, Rhonda Faehn took over and did a good job but she was suddenly dismissed during a training camp. And now USA Gymnastics is facing decertification by the USA Olympic Committee.
Despite the turmoil and the uncertainty the current elite gymnasts shined like they always do. In fact, if you didn’t read any gymnastics news with the exception of competition results you would not even imagine anything was wrong.
Morgan Hurd, the 2017 World All-Around Champion, had in 2018 the mission to prove that she very well deserved her title and that she could win it again in 2018. Well, that last part became a bit impossible with Simone’s return, but if she managed silver it would be just like if she had won since second was the highest available spot with Simone back in the sport.
Morgan won the American Cup title easily but in April at the Pacific Rim competition, she sat her front tuck and dangerously crashed her full twisting double pike dismount from the beam. For subsequent competitions, she removed the skills from her beam routine and everything went smoothly, she hit all 8 routines during Nationals and placed second behind Biles. During the World Championships she did well during the qualification round and advanced to the all-around final however in that actual final nerves betrayed her and she faltered on beam grabbing it to stay on. But her other apparatus were so good that she still medalled bronze plus she won a silver on Floor, so overall she did a great job proving that Worlds in Montréal were just the beginning for her.
When Simone Biles announced her return, we immediately knew she would win the world all-around, vault and floor title and when we first saw her routines we were amazed, she had big upgrades. A new vault, that would be named after her with a 6.4 start value and a Moors on Floor, plus her bars were competitive enough to make her a contender for a World medal.
The night before the qualification round Simone was admitted in the emergency room due to kidney stones, did that affect her performance in qualification? Absolutely not, she was as invincible as she always is, and if she was looking like that while sleep deprived how would she look with more rest for the event finals.
The results: team gold, all-around gold, bars silver, beam bronze, and Floor gold. Team gold was completely expected however she did have a major mistake grabbing the beam in her front pike. In the all-around, she became the first gymnast to win four World All-Around titles but she also became the first gymnast to win a world all-around title with two falls (vault and beam). The vault final was easy gold, the bars final was silver as it turns out Nina Derwael is simply unreachable not even Simone Biles can touch her, however, the beam final was quite a different story. For the girl who only wins gold, bronze must have been a huge disappointment and she was lucky that half the gymnasts melted in that final if not she would not have even made it to the medal podium. She did not count a fall during the beam final but her routine was uncharacteristically bad with wobbles and broken connections, the third bad beam routine for her in a row, she had bad routines in the team final and all-around and now the beam final. As for the Floor final, again it was an easy gold despite a 0.300 neutral deduction for going out of bounds. Now, what will 2019 bring her? With more training time could she unveil the triple twisting Yurchenko?
As for the rest of the team, after spending a full year injured, Riley McCusker finally had her Worlds debut although qualification was rough for her with a fall from the beam. She got redemption during the team final when she hit her routine. Grace McCallum competed extensively throughout the year and earned her place in the World Team, by the way, the team final was held on her sixteenth birthday and Grace competed well on her two apparatus vault and Floor.
Kara Eaker just barely made it into the team, she has a beam routine that could easily win a World medal but the problem is that the rest of her events have low difficulty (per American standards) so she was chosen solely because of her beam. And she delivered in the qualification round and the team final but during the beam final when gold was within her grasp (because Simone Biles did poorly) she had a nervous mistake and missed her split leap mount. That is a sin for American gymnasts, she will need to hit absolutely every single beam routine next year and upgrade her other events to even get consideration for the World Team next year.
Ragan Smith was the alternate and basically got that spot because Jade Carey chose to skip Worlds so she could be eligible for a nominative berth through the World Cup series. After her untimely injury at the 2017 World Championships Ragan reappeared in Jesolo where she did well not at her usual standard but nothing to worry about. It was at Nationals when we became very worried, she couldn’t do her upgraded bars routine, she fell off the beam and her Floor landings were questionable, she was still very much injured. Her performance at Nationals was so bad (placed 10th) that she did not automatically make the National Team and was only added after an improved performance at camp.
By the time the team arrived in Doha she was much better although bars were still troublesome so she would absolutely not be used in a team final situation. She had a double twisting Yurchenko for vault but so did the rest of the team and her Floor landings were better but nothing extraordinary. The one place where she could contribute was beam but Kara Eaker could do it and Kara’s routine had a bigger chance of an individual medal so Kara got the call and Ragan was named the alternate. For 2019 we hope to see 2017 Ragan, hopefully, she will spend plenty of time fully recuperating to be ready for the fall World Championships because getting a berth next year will be a lot tougher than it was this year.
Next year we will have Mailie O’Keefe who was third at the American Cup but who spent the rest of the year injured, Emma Malabuyo who spent the second half of the year battling a back injury as well as new seniors Sunisa Lee and Leanne Wong and of course Jade Carey fighting for a team spot.
And talking about Jade Carey she withdrew from consideration for the World Team because she wanted to earn a nominative spot through the World Cup route. The top gymnasts at the end of the 2018 – 2020 World Cup series will earn an automatic nominative berth to Tokyo however in order to retain that berth they could not have helped their team qualify a full team to Tokyo.
The top three teams in Doha automatically qualified full teams to the 2020 Olympics so since the United States is already qualified Jade could make the 2019 World team and still keep her eligibility through the World Cup route. By the way, Jade already had her first World Cup appearance in Cottbus and it didn’t go so well with only silver on vault and a fifth place on Floor but seven more World Cups are yet to come so she could quite easily earn that very desired Olympic spot.
Source of the picture: Morgan Hurd’s Instagram