U.S. men’s, women’s takeaways from World Gymnastics Championships
Martha Karlolyi was succinct.
“Mission accomplished,” the U.S. women’s national team coordinator told media in Glasgow, Scotland, on Sunday.
Karolyi beamed after her team set program records for total medals at a Worlds with a team event and gold medals for any Worlds (five), including three individual titles for superstar Simone Biles.
Coming to Glasgow, Biles looked like a lock for the five-woman Olympic team, and Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Maggie Nichols put themselves in strong positions via results throughout the year. They won’t learn their fates until after July’s Olympic trials.
We know what Biles did last week. Douglas and Nichols posted the best non-Biles all-around scores in Glasgow, if one counts Nichols’ four-event performance in the team final.
Raisman was fifth in all-around qualifying but missed the final because she was third among Americans, and made zero individual finals overall. However, her last routine score in Glasgow, a 15.075 on floor in the team final, would have earned bronze in apparatus finals. She may not have performed as well as Douglas and Nichols in Glasgow, but her experience and intangibles are unmatched in the U.S. program.
The U.S. would certainly be favored to repeat as Olympic champion with just that quartet, which makes the fifth roster spot somewhat of a luxury. Where does the formidable team most need help in a three-up, three-count format?
Biles, Nichols and Raisman all perform the standard high-difficulty vault, the Amanar, and put up medal-worthy floor routines (and Douglas could upgrade to the Amanar for 2016). That leaves beam, where only Biles scored above 14.4 at Worlds, and uneven bars, Biles’ and Raisman’s weakest event.
The U.S. chose to bring two bars specialists to Worlds -- Brenna Dowell and Madison Kocian. Kocian hit in qualifying to earn the fifth team final spot and then shared gold with three others in the bars final (Douglas was fifth). Kocian may be the clubhouse leader for the fifth Olympic spot.
If a younger gymnast is to enter the conversation next year, it’s expected to be Laurie Hernandez, who won the junior all-around and bars titles at the P&G Championships.
On beam, Alyssa Baumann was the only gymnast to score in the 15s on both nights at the 2014 and 2015 P&G Championships (even Biles couldn’t muster that) but scored lower at her only Worlds appearance in 2014.
Maybe the perfect scenario would be a return to form from 2012 Olympian Kyla Ross, who earned World silver on bars and beam in 2013, but must regroup after finishing 10th in the all-around at the P&G Championships in August.
While the U.S. women overflow with talent, the men scraped together a World Championships team.
A fifth-place finish without the three best all-around gymnasts from last year’s P&G Championships was respectable.
The climb back to the podium will be steep. China and Japan beat the U.S. men in every Olympics and Worlds since 2005, and now Great Britain may be pulling away.
The Brits, silver medalists ahead of China in Glasgow, have experience (Louis Smith, Dan Purvis and Kristian Thomas all own previous World apparatus medals), promise (Brinn Bevan, 18, and Nile Wilson, 19) and arguably the world’s second-best gymnast, Max Whitlock.
The U.S. men’s medal hopes were justified after World bronze in 2014, but three members of that team missed last week’s Worlds and will go into 2016 returning from surgeries -- Olympians Sam Mikulak, John Orozco (both Achilles) and Jacob Dalton (shoulder).
An underlying problem in Glasgow: the six-man team was uneven. The U.S. finished top three among all nations on high bar, parallel bars and still rings and outside the top five on pommel horse, floor exercise and vault.
The injuries to Mikulak, Orozco and Dalton of course complicated the Olympic team selection picture. Danell Leyva and Donnell Whittenburg salvaged apparatus medals Sunday, high bar silver and vault bronze, and were the team’s all-arounders, too.
A major problem is that Orozco, Dalton, Leyva and Whittenburg are not reliable on pommel horse, the U.S.’ Achilles heel event. That creates more Olympic team selection scenarios and increases the value of strong pommel workers Alex Naddour and Marvin Kimble.
Olympic roster sizes for men and women are five gymnasts each. The U.S. women could get by in Rio with four gymnasts. The U.S. men would like six or seven.
MORE GYMNASTICS: Where is McKayla Maroney?