ARLINGTON, Texas — Though the venue for the 2015 AT&T American Cup was unusual, its outcome was somewhat expected. Ukraine's Oleg Vernyayev and American Simone Biles grabbed their first American Cup titles on March 7, each in a different fashion.
Biles, the two-time world champion, opened her day with a near stick on her Amanar (16.033), and the rout was on. She won vault easily, and then claimed the other three events, as well. Her routine on bars was steady (Weiler kip, pirouette to Maloney; tucked half-in half-out dismount, 15.200), while her beam (15.066) had one major wobble after a switch-leap half. She debuted her new floor tumbling and made it look easy: layout full-out, layout half-out to split jump; tucked double-double; tucked full-in; 6.8/16.000).
Biles' 62.299 was well clear of compatriot MyKayla Skinner, who placed second overall (57.832) but trailed the winner by 2.0 in D-score. Skinner opted for a clean double-twisting Yurchenko on vault instead of her Cheng Fei, which is worth 0.1 more than an Amanar. She placed second on floor, mounting with a solid double-twisting double layout. Skinner ranked third on bars but struggled a bit on beam, placing seventh out of nine gymnasts. Still, she was able to secure the 1-2 placement for the U.S.
Venezuela's Jessica Lopez, nursing a sore Achilles' tendon, was primed for the bronze until she dropped off beam on a layout to two feet in the third rotation. That was her only major break, and it followed her best routine of the day, on bars, where she placed second with the highest D-score (6.5; Maloney, back uprise, free hip, Higgins turn, half Ono, Tkatchev-Gienger).
Lopez's error opened the door for Italy's Erika Fasana, who saved her best routine for last. Her tumbling on floor in the last rotation was superb (double layout, tucked full-in, double pike), and her 14.400 pushed her into third.
Lopez, however, was still able to capture first place (and a check for 24,000 Swiss Francs) in the 2014-15 all-around World Cup Series that began last fall with Stuttgart at Glasgow. Romanian Larisa Iordache had been in the lead, but had to scratch from the American Cup.
Canada's Ellie Black finished fifth, losing at least one place in the rankings with a fall from bars (free hip-piked Jaeger). She was excellent on beam and floor, however, placing second and fourth, respectively (unique 2.5 twist step-out through to double tuck on floor).
No D-scores above 5.8 ruined the chances of 2006 world champion Vanessa Ferrari (Italy), while Australian Emily Little showed great potential and finished seventh.
Japan's Natsumi Sasada and Britain's Claudia Fragapane rounded out the field in eighth and ninth, respectively, each with too many mistakes to contend. Sasada did only a Yurchenko-full and fell on her 1.5 twist to front-full on floor. Fragapane missed her toe-on piked Tkatchev and could not complete her mount (layout full-in) or dismount (double layout) on floor.
The men's competition went down the the last event, but only because Vernyayev slithered off pommel horse in the second rotation. That forced him to play catch up all day, even if his World Cup Series title was never in doubt. (Germany's Fabian Hambüchen, one of his challengers, had to withdraw after coming down with the flu a few weeks ago.) The wiry Ukrainian's target was the mighty Donnell Whittenburg (USA), who was having the meet of his life and leading through five events. That's when everything changed in the men's competition.
Vernyayev had just closed the gap on Whittenburg on p-bars (event-high 15.90/7/1; peach-half, peach to one rail, Healy; barani-out dismount), and he followed it with a clean set on high bar (half-Takemoto to Moznik; dutch layout double-double) to put the pressure on the young American. Whittenburg, who won floor and rings, did his best, but high bar is not his best event. The Cassina he's been working on is not competition ready, so he swung 6.2 of difficulty and paid the price with a 14.366. That placed him second until Japan's Ryohei Kato bumped him to third with a clean 6.4 set (15.133).
The mercurial Sam Mikulak (USA) took himself out of the meet in the first two rotations, sitting down on a double front on floor and coming off pommels on a Tong Fei. With nothing to lose — or win — the defending champion elicited noise from the crowd prior to his rings routine. He said it helps him perform better, rather than just going out and doing his routines. It worked, because he got better throughout the afternoon, and capped it off with the top vault (Lopez; 15.333) high bar set (15.466).
The remainder of the men's field was determined by the number and degree of mistakes. Japan's Yusuke Tanaka, fifth, missed pommel horse and high bar, while Colombia's Jossimar Calvo, sixth, had three E-scores in the 7's (floor, rings and high bar).
Belarusian Andrey Likhovitsky won pommels with his smooth swing and clean lines, but he lacked the difficulty elsewhere to finish higher than seventh. Britain's Daniel Purvis looked jet-lagged for eighth, and Puerto Rico's Alexis Torres Serrano, ninth, was not at the level of the top men in this field.
Next year the event will be held March 5 at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. And it should be quite the Olympic preview.
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