What We Learned From The U.S. Gymnastics Championships
But a year after Biles watched from the stands and Mikulak was limited with injury, their fifth titles tell a* different tale* than those they won in the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
Here’s what we learned from the competition in Boston.
Little doubt remained about the state of Biles’ return to competition after an impressive – though imperfect – showing at the U.S. Classic last month, but last week in Boston, she showed that she is the far and away favourite to win five gold medals at this fall’s world championships in Doha, Qatar.
New for 2018: she’s also a possible threat for a medal on the uneven bars. She picked up her first U.S. title on the event Sunday, giving her a sweep of the gold medals, and could push for an unprecedented sixth world medal if things go right.
More impressive than Biles’ history-making performance in Boston is the poise with which she is handling herself off the field of play. She came forward in January to say that she, too, had been abused by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar.
And in the wake of that scandal, which still very much grips USA Gymnastics, Biles has been repeatedly asked if her return offers the chance to turn the page. Though she admits the pressure to be the governing body’s white knight is “not fair,” she added, “it’s kind of exciting that I can bring some happiness back to the sport.”
During Sunday night’s finals, Biles wore a teal leotard she designed herself in honor of the survivors of sexual abuse.
“It is for the survivors, and I stand with all of them,” she said. “I think it’s kind of special to unite.”
Mikulak Capable Of World-Challenging Performances
Though two-time Olympian Sam Mikulak easily won his fifth U.S. Gymnastics Championships title, a year after an Achilles tendon tear interrupted what could have been a string of five national titles, he was inconsistent on the first night of competition. He had moments of brilliance, but he also had falls of the high bar and pommel horse.
He was determined to come back on the final day of competition and have a stronger performance – and he did.
His 2018 season has been one of his best, with six-for-six performances at some invitationals to start the year and brilliant performances at the Pacific Rim Championships in April and on the second night of competition in Boston. When he is on, Mikulak has the ability to challenge the best in the World. His day two all-around score is second in the world this year to Xiao Ruoteng of China, the reigning world champion.
Who Will Join Mikulak In Doha?
With the retirements of Rio Olympians Jake Dalton, Danell Leyva and Chris Brooks, along with injuries to former World team members Donnell Whittenburg and Eddie Penev, the U.S. men lack depth and experience.
It showed on Thursday as Mikulak sat atop the leaderboard, despite falls on the horizontal bar and pommel horse.
“I think the fact I’m in first right now speaks that it wasn’t too good of a day for anyone,” he admitted after night one. “I’m hoping we can all turn it up with a little more energy going into Saturday.”
The energy and level of performance did indeed pick up on Saturday, but the U.S. men will need to be sharp out of the gate in Doha if they want to have a chance to advance to the top eight team medal round.
The U.S. men’s team for the world championships – beyond Mikulak and national runner-up Yul Moldauer – is wide open.
One question mark for the U.S. men is 2017 all-around bronze medallist Marvin Kimble who withdrew from the competition in Boston shortly before it began. A gold medallist on the pommel horse at the Pan Am Games and Pacific Rim Championships, he also brings much needed depth to the U.S. team on the high bar.
Beyond Mikulak, who posted a top score of 14.700 on high bar, the next best mark belonged to Colin Van Wicklen nearly a full point down at 13.950. Earlier this year, Kimble earned 14.533 at a world cup competition in Doha. That strength on the event could be his case for a return trip to Doha this fall.
Hurd And McCusker Are Strong 2-3 Punch For USA
Biles’ return has deservedly been the center of attention in U.S. women’s gymnastics. But she returns with world class teammates who are ready to prove the U.S. women are still the best in the world.
The reigning world champion Morgan Hurd finished a distant second to Biles last week in Boston, but her performances not only back up her surprise World title but also mark her as a contender for an all-around medal at this year’s worlds.
To land on the all-around podium again though, she’ll have to continue to hold off U.S. bronze medallist Riley McCusker,whose day two total edged Hurd by .400. Neither Hurd nor McCusker peaked in Boston and expect a close competition between the two for the U.S.’s second all-around final berth when competition begins in Doha.
Event specialists Jade Carey, who won silver medals on the vault and floor exercise at the 2017 worlds, and Kara Eaker could round out the U.S. team that will be named at a selection camp in Florida, Oct. 10-13, and add to their medal haul.
More Where That Came From
Eaker’s training partner at Great American Gymnastics Express in Lee’s Summit, Mo., Leanne Wong won the junior title ahead of* Kayla DiCello* and Sunisa Lee. Wong’s coaches, Al and Armine Fong, have produced U.S. national team members – including two members of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team – since the late 80s but Wong was their first national all-around champion.
Wong displays the trademark elegance that gymnastics fans have come to expect from athletes trained by the Fongs. She, along with DiCello, Lee, and Jordan Bowers, who was forced to scratch from the competition due to a sore back, signal no letting up for the U.S. women who have not finished lower than second at the World Championships or Olympic Games since taking their first team title in 2003.
As Biles said of the U.S. team Sunday night, “We continue to grow stronger, year after year.”