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What’s at Stake at the 2024 U.S. Championships?

U.S. Nationals in an Olympic year is where the puzzle pieces of the Olympic Team begin to fall into place. A strong performance at Nationals can secure an invitation to the Olympic Trials later in June, while a poor performance might quash an athlete’s Olympic dreams.  

Aside from each athlete striving to do their best and perhaps even placing during the national championship, the USA Gymnastics (USAG) selection committee is looking to select at minimum 10 athletes to compete at Olympic Trials in addition to the top-two placing gymnasts who get an automatic invitation. At this point, Simone Biles and Shilese Jones are presumptive locks for the Olympic Team. Continuing to cruise down their respective paths toward Paris, Biles and Jones are consistently the top two all-arounders in the United States and the selection committee should be building an Olympic team around them. The most important thing for both of them is to stay healthy and maintain their current level of performance. 

No gymnast in this field needs a strong Nationals performance more than three-time Olympic Champion, Gabby Douglas. Douglas’ highly anticipated comeback hit a sour patch at U.S. Classics. Douglas failed to meet the prerequisite 51.000 all-around score at Classics, closing the door on her ability to compete all-around at Nationals. Making the Olympic Team is going to be an uphill battle for Douglas, but she has shown the ability to turn things around in the past. With a strong three-event performance at Nationals, Douglas can earn an invite to the Olympic Trials and compete all-around there. But if Douglas has another weak performance at Nationals, her road to Paris might end in Fort Worth, TX. [Editor’s Note: Gabby has withdrawn from the competition, but has indicated she’s not done competing.]

Jordan Chiles’ performance will be crucial at these Championships as well. Chiles had a rocky 2023 season failing to make the World team, but has started 2024 strong, showing upgrades on bars, beam, and floor to finish third all-around at U.S. Classic with a 55.450 – a score that would have placed her fourth at last year’s World Championship all-around final. If Chiles can repeat that performance at Championships her chances of going to Paris shoot up.

Jade Carey is also in the midst of a redemption arc. Carey finished back in 15th at last year’s Championships after shaky performances across all four events. This year she changed her strategy, resting the leg events for most of the NCAA season, and it appears to be paying off. Carey finished fourth at U.S. Classic with a 54.400 and won the American Classic with a 55.000. Carey’s vault and floor scores are useable in a team final scenario where only three gymnasts compete and all three scores count, but her bars and beam could also be used in a pinch. At Championships, pay close attention to her “weaker” events to see how they stack up against the rest of the field.

Winning beam with a 14.600, Suni Lee’s Olympic team stock continues to climb. Despite battling kidney disease that pulled her away from reaching her full potential for the past year, Lee plans to compete all-around for the first time since winning gold in Tokyo. Lee is playing conservatively on vault and floor, but her bars and beam can compensate. Watching where Lee places in the all-around will be very interesting as she complements Biles and Jones very well. Her all-around placement here and at Olympic Trials could be a determining factor to see if she’s more likely to vye for an all-around role or more of a bars and beam specialist position on the Olympic team. 

Kayla DiCello had a fantastic season-opening competition at Winter Cup earlier this year by winning the meet with a 56.850. But after a lackluster performance at Classics where she scored more than four points lower than at Winter Cup, DiCello needs to have a repeat of that 56+ all-around performance to solidify herself as a leading contender to make the Paris team. Leanne Wong is in a similar situation as DiCello. Wong is a great all-around gymnast, but doesn’t have one particular stand-out event. Wong has the potential for a top 5 finish, but some inconsistency and questionable routine composition choices, namely dance elements that didn’t get credited, hold her back. Owen Field, Associate Head Coach of Florida Gymnastics, did mention on X that, like most gymnasts, they were using Classics as a time to test new routine compositional choices and to garner feedback, so be on the lookout for some changes come Championships. 

Skye Blakely and Joscelyn Roberson are also in the mix. Both were members of the 2023 World Championship team and are looking to make a statement here. Blakely is a steady all-around competitor, but her best argument to be on the Olympic team is beam. Blakely is one of the top beamers in the United States and has a score that’s competitive for a medal internationally, but consistency hasn’t been her strength. We all remember #RibbonGate from 2022 Worlds, but inconsistency continued to plague Blakely at 2023 Worlds too where she fell twice in qualifications and wasn’t selected to compete beam in team finals. Blakely needs to show confident hits on beam to make a strong case to the selection committee that she can bring in big scores on that event. Joscelyn Roberson has made great progress coming back from her ankle injury at 2023 Worlds. Roberson won the Cheng battle against Jade Carey for a spot on last year’s Worlds team, but with Carey looking much stronger this year, Roberson has to work extra hard on cleaning up her E-scores.

Roberson’s teammate and fellow WCC transplant, Tiana Sumanasekera, turned a lot of heads at the U.S. Classic, finishing sixth all-around with a 53.900 and earning the fourth-highest floor score of the meet. Sumanasekera faces an uphill battle to get on this Olympic team primarily because her strengths overlap with other contenders who can outscore her. Trinity Thomas is in a similar boat. Thomas finished fourth at Winter Cup and tied for third on bars at Classics. While Thomas has amazing execution, she’s more than a point lower on all-around difficulty compared to those in the top group. 

On the list of athletes who might earn invites to the Olympic Trials, Hezley Rivera should be at the top of the list. Rivera had a disappointing time at Classics with three falls across the board. For those still traumatized from Aleah Finnegan missing Trials in 2021 due to a poor showing at Nationals, Rivera’s performance almost felt like déjà vu. Fortunately, most athletes are not training to peak for Classic, but are instead preparing for the major competitions next month. I fully expect Rivera to be in much better shape heading into Nationals. 

The Olympic year is full of surprises, and if there’s anything seasoned gymnastics fans know, anything can happen when the pressure is high. One standout performance at Nationals can make or break an athlete’s Olympic dreams, so don’t count anyone out yet because there’s still a lot of gymnastics yet to unfold.

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