The U.S. Secret Classic: Seniors

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The U.S. Secret Classic wrapped up on Saturday evening in Chicago, Illinois, confirming the feeling that this year will be one of the most competitive in memory. With Simone Biles not showing any signs of exhaustion, Alexandra Raisman and Gabrielle Douglas continuing positive comeback’s, and people like Bailie Key and Maggie Nichols mixing things up in anticipated and unanticipated ways, Marta Karolyi is going to have her work cut out for her.

The first rotation was a mixed bag with pretty solid openings for the most decorated gymnasts and some mishaps for the others. Gabrielle Douglass and Alexandra Raisman opened their meets with performances that allowed us all to exhale a bit, Douglass with a slightly overscored but pretty clean uneven bars routine (15.450) and Raisman with an Amanar. It was a bit off-center and the last twist was whipped in pretty late, but she stood it up.

Simone Biles was in the same camp, opening her competition without any major mistakes but leaving the real magic for later. She had to count a pretty significant balance check after her front aerial but hit everything else in her beam routine (including a new punch front with a half) for a 15.250.

First year senior Bailie Key and third year senior Maggie Nichols also began their meets on high notes, Key with a lovely balance beam routine that earned a 14.450 (her BHS Step out to BHS to Layout is one of the best out there) and Nichols with a dynamic Amanar (15.800)

Vault world medalist MyKayla Skinner and 2014 world team member Alyssa Baumann unfortunately fell victim to the balance beam, Skinner falling on her ambitious but merciless BHS to standing full and Baumann coming off on her switch ring leap.

In the second rotation, the bad luck continued for Skinner. After opening with a typically rough but landed Moors (it was actually a bit short), the real trouble came in the last pass when she bounded out of her double tuck.

Contrasting Mykayla’s style but sharing her luck at this meet, Kyla Ross (not competing All-Around at this competition) had a very poor outing on uneven bars, falling almost immediately on her new combination, a Chow to a Bhardwaj (a pak with a full turn) and then coming off again once she remounted and failed to move on successfully after a toe-on half. It was definitely an a-typical performance, and hopefully not one that will convince her (or her coaches) to take the new stuff out just yet.

Nichols, Douglas, Key, Biles, and Raisman had more successful performances in the second rotation.

Maggie Nichols proved that her first-place standing after the first rotation couldn’t simply be chalked up to a vault advantage, confidently executing her uneven bars routine for a 14.950 (it included a cool combination of a Maloney to pan to Van Leeuwen and ended with a solid DLO dismount) and Ali Raisman got through her own, counting the usual form errors especially on her releases but not showing any shades of pre-Olympic bar disasters. Bailie Key gave a sophisticated performance on floor, opening with a stuck DLO and only having real trouble on her third pass, a not-quite-complete triple twist, and Gabrielle Douglas gave a very clean, measured beam performance, hitting her BHS step out to LOSO and a gutsy standing full.

Performing in the middle of the second rotation, Simone Biles shed the beam nerves and hit her usual stride during her floor performance, set to new music. With a double full-out, a Biles to sissone, a double-double back tuck, and an almost stuck full-in to finish, she scored a whopping 16.050.

If Simone Biles hit her stride in the second, everyone else did in the third rotation. Mykayla Skinner came back from disappointing beam and floor routines to stand up two vaults, a clean DTY and a badly blocked but stuck round-off half on to 1.5 twist; Kyla Ross gave a redemptive beam performance despite a scary side somi, Gabby Douglas gave a mature floor performance to new music, opening with a double Arabian to stag and closing with a double tuck; Ali Raisman fought her way through some obvious nerves to finish her beam routine with a big Patterson dismount, scoring a 15.100; and Simone Biles held her stride, completing a monster of an Amanar, counting just a tiny hop for a 16.000.

Heading into the final rotation, Biles led the competition followed by Douglas, Nichols, Raisman, and Key, placements they would hold at the end of the meet with the exception of Raisman and Keys, who swapped positions after a gutsy bar performance for Key and an ambitious but ultimately disappointing floor routine for Raisman, who sat down her second pass, a double piked Arabian to immediate punch front.

In the midst of the podium battle, noteworthy performances were given by Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian on Uneven Bars, both of whom perform at a world class level on the event. Locklear was spotted heavily on her dismount, taking away her chance of coming out on top, but her pleasant attitude leaving the podium suggested she knew, or at least suspected, that her coach might step in. She and Kocian (who won the event) have lovely swings, good in-bar work, and event-final worthy transitions. I imagine they will continue to vie for a specialist spot as 2015 rolls along.

Coming in third all-around with a 60.000, Nichols finished her night with a fantastic floor routine, opening with a stuck double twisting double back and closing with a double pike. A third year senior, the Twin City Twister’s gymnast always showed all-around talent and potential for the highest level of competition, but until tonight, she lacked an exclamation point. To have performed so well and to have ended her amazing night with a solid floor routine (an event that has given her some grief in the past) has likely done a lot for her confidence and Marta’s.

Coming in second with a 60.500, Gabby Douglas finished her meet on vault with a solid DTY, right down the middle. A 15.200 and good deal of power give the impression of an Amanar in the works, but she didn’t need it. The “wow” factor will come with time; what she showed at this competition was patience, and confidence.

And coming in first with a 62.400, as if we had any doubt, was Simone Biles. She had the unenviable task of finishing her competition on her least favorite event, bars (the event that gave her so much trouble at the 2013 U.S. Classic, before she began owning everything!), but that didn’t seem to rattle the queen of gymnastics. She ended the meet standing tall. Literally, standing tall as she landed her full twisting double dismount. It was a lovely dress rehearsal, and at the National Championships next month I’m sure we’ll be treated to an even more stellar “opening performance.”

Full Results

Article: Sara Dorrien-Christians

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