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Competition Reports

Written by dwight normile    Sunday, 16 August 2015 15:29    PDF Print
Mikulak Claims Third U.S. Title at P&G Championships
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

On a strange day of hits and misses at the P&G Championships in Indianapolis, Sam Mikulak surged to his third straight U.S. title. He is the first man to win three in a row since Paul Hamm did so from 2002-04.

His victory did not go as planned, which has been a trend with Mikulak throughout his streak. While he ended his Friday night with a fall on his final event, he got it out of the way early on Sunday. Starting on high bar, he caught his Cassina and Kolman, but when he got to his Takemoto-Yamawaki combination, the first skill went past vertical and he never got his right on the bar. The result was a belly flop. He went on an absolute tear afterward.

Mikulak followed high bar with a 15.800 on floor exercise, which included bonus for sticking his triple twist dismount. He slithered through pommel horse with a few early leg separations, but most of his closest pursuers would give anything to score 14.80 on that event. Rings? Another stuck dismount (double-double, 15.50). He vaulted a strong Lopez again and finished on parallel bars, where he looked a bit spent. By then, his victory was guaranteed, and pushed his way through a set that was marred by a poor mount and dismount. Still, he tallied 91.65 with a fall to total 183.65 over two days.

Donnell Whittenburg maintained his runner-up rank from Friday with stronger routines on most events except high bar, where he slammed to the mat on his Cassina. His best efforts came on floor (15.70), rings (stuck layout double-double, 16.10) and p-bars (stuck barani-out, 15.20).

Ranks 3-10, however, were thrown into a mixer.

Paul Ruggeri, third on Friday, dropped to eighth. He also missed his Cassina on an event where he can really contribute to Team USA.

Jonathan Horton entered the day ranked fourth and left, head hanging, in ninth. Again, high bar got him when he peeled off on a Kolman. After a clean floor set, Horton fizzled on his pommel horse dismount and had to repeat it.

Danell Leyva, fifth on Friday, had a flukey and scary fall on high bar when one hand slipped off as he attempted a Tkatchev (14.30, after a 16.00 on day one). He corrected his floor problems from Friday but, like Horton, he sort of collapsed on his pommel horse handstand dismount. Oh, and he got hit with a 0.30 penalty for not starting his p-bar routine within the time limit, but scored 15.35 anyway. He dropped to sixth, tied with Steven Legendre, who started the day in 10th.

We're not finished with the musical chairs. Sixth in prelims, Chris Brooks climbed to third with an 89.40. And Alex Naddour went from eighth to fourth, scoring 15.000 for his Tsukahara-double pike and a 15.50 on pommels, his specialty.

Marvin Kimble climbed from ninth to fifth, although it wasn't because of his meager 13.40 on pommels, the event on which he won a gold at the recent Pan Ams. Kimble is also strong on rings, and he followed Friday's 15.25 with a 15.40.

The U.S. men's world team will be announced within 24 hours, and the X factor could be the petition filed by Jake Dalton, who withdrew with a shoulder injury. With John Orozco (torn Achilles) definitely out, the squad could use a healthy Dalton, a potential gold medalist on floor exercise.

Certainly, the selection committee has a puzzle to figure out, and it's the kind with lots of little pieces.

For complete results, click here.

Written by dwight normile    Saturday, 15 August 2015 20:11    PDF Print
Biles Earns Three-Peat at P&G Championships
(7 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

The legacy of Simone Biles continued to grow Saturday night as she became the first woman to win three consecutive U.S. senior titles since Kim Zmeskal, whose reign lasted from 1990-92. If she wins next year, she will tie Joan Moore Gnat, who won (or tied for first) from 1971-74.

Biles began her night on balance beam, where she had one minor wobble on her barani. To make up for it, she stuck her full-in back-out dismount. She also corrected her mistake on floor from Thursday, when she fell on her tucked full-in dismount. This time she pulled it around perfectly and stuck it, as well. If it wasn't clear that everyone else was competing for second place, it was now, even if Biles doesn't compare herself to other gymnasts.

"I want to be the best version of me," she said, adding that Marta Karolyi told her, "That's the Simone I know."

After Biles' excellent vault, it took slow motion replay to discern that she actually moved her feet one millimeter while landing her sky-high Amanar. Her second vault, a layout Podkopayeva, was stuck cold, replay or not. She finished her night on uneven bars, where she nailed everything without issue. Biles' reward from the judges for the night was a 63.00, which should be good enough to claim her third world all-around title in October.

Biles defeated runner-up Maggie Nichols, who had an excellent night herself, 124.10-119.15, while Alexandra Raisman finished third with 118.55. Bailie Key grabbed fourth (118.35), ahead of Gabby Douglas (117.95). Madison Kocian was sixth (115.95), and Alyssa Baumann and MyKayla Skinner tied for seventh (115.70).

Nichols proved her value with consistency, polish and difficulty, although she dismounted beam with a double pike instead of a tucked full-in. She is a versatile gymnast and is almost a lock to make the world team, which will be selected in September

"I think I showed the (selection) committee that I'm consistent," Nichols said. "I think I made a good impression."

Raisman's third place was the result of her difficulty, particularly on floor exercise and vault. But the jumps following her tumbling passes looked awkward at times, especially the split jump-half turn she does after her double pike. Perhaps more numbers will lead to smoother execution

"I didn't really know what to expect when I came back," Raisman said. "I have to learn to be more confident when I compete. Tonight definitely felt better than the first night."

Key, wearing a black tuxedo leotard, looked like a different gymnast tonight. Everything she did showed the overall amplitude and body control that was missing at times on Thursday

"I think I'm in a good place right now," Key said. "I still think I can pull out more and more." Asked how it felt to beat the Olympic champion, Key added, "Kind of weird, but cool at the same time."

Douglas went through each apparatus with focus, and, wisely, is in no hurry to risk difficulty for execution at this point.

"I have to learn how to come out here and enjoy myself," she said. "I'm going to take this meet as a stepping stone."

Veteran Kyla Ross had another tough night, falling on her double front off bars again. She said she was happy with beam but disappointed in the other three events (114.55).


Amelia Hundley (meniscus), Madison Desch (back) and Polina Shchennikova (back) scratched from the final day.

• HUGE crowd tonight (15,370). People are all the way up in the nosebleed seats. Biggest crowd I have ever seen at a U.S. championships.

• With only four gymnasts on each apparatus tonight, only one performer is competing at a time.

• The landing on Alexandra Raisman's Amanar vault was scary; on leg was stiff when she landed.

• The crowd loved Lauren Navarro's jump to split mount on beam. Even though she had two falls in the routine, she's got great potential. If she feels bad, she can always ask Gabby Douglas, who is in her rotation, how beam went in her first senior nationals.

Gabby Douglas performed a mature floor exercise with an Arabian double front mount, a tucked full-in, double pike and double tuck. One of the main things missing from her 2012 routine is the smile she occasionally flashed. She's been very understated and business-like in Indy.

Written by dwight normile    Saturday, 15 August 2015 13:12    PDF Print
Hernandez Hangs On For Junior P&G Championships Title
(3 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

After two events Saturday, and six rotations overall, Lauren Hernandez held a 0.05 lead over MG Elite teammate and defending U.S. junior champion Jazmyn Foberg. Ragan Smith (Texas Dreams), having a great start on beam and floor, was 1.00 behind Hernandez in third.

Smith picked up 0.10 on the leader with her clean Yurchenko-double twist, as both Foberg and Hernandez rocked clean balance beam sets for the same score of 14.70. Their duel would be settled on floor exercise, while Smith had only uneven bars left. Nearly 5.0 behind Smith in fourth was Jordan Chiles (Naydenov).

Foberg will likely relive her floor routine more than once tonight. Competing before her teammate, she opened with a full-twisting double layout. But on her second pass, she stepped out of bounds on her tucked double-double. After a tucked full-in third pass, she bounced out of bounds again on her closing double pike for a 14.50.

"Yeah, kind of," Foberg said about regretting going out of bounds. "But if it wasn't me (winning), I'm glad it was Laurie. …I was really happy that I hit eight for eight."

Three gymnasts later Hernandez took the floor and opened with an Arabian double front to a flat stag jump. Her second pass of front layout, front-double twist, punch tucked front was relatively clean, and she closed with tucked and piked double backs. After a long wait, a 14.55 was flashed to signal her first U.S. junior all-around title. She defeated Foberg, 117.50-117.40, while Smith, who nailed her difficult bars set (Jaeger, Ricna), finished third with 116.45. Chiles was well back in fourth (112.70), and Christina Desiderio (Parkettes) finished fifth (111.45). Sydney Johnson-Scharpf (Brandy Johnson's), sixth (110.90) had an up-and-down competition across two days, as did many in the field. The top six all-arounders made the junior national team.

Coached by Maggie Haney, Hernandez and Foberg were clearly the class of the junior meet, and both will become seniors next year, as will Smith. Hernandez, who missed the P&G's last year after sustaining a fractured wrist and a knee injury, was happy to be back in competition. After her floor routine, she hoped for a different outcome, however.

"We were all huddled around hoping … we would tie [for first place]," she said. "But I'm so proud of [Jazmyn]."

Chiles, who will be a junior next year, won vault with a powerful Yurchenko-double twist (she competed an Amanar at the U.S. Classic); Hernandez was tops on uneven bars (Tkatchev, piked Ricna, Ricna, tucked half-in half-out); and Smith won both beam (standing full; flip-flop, flip-flop, double pike) and floor exercise (double layout, triple twist, Arabian double front, stuck double pike).

Of her two gold medals, Smith said that "floor is my favorite event to compete, but beam is my favorite event to train."

Next year the trio of Hernandez, Foberg and Smith will enter the senior ranks, and questions abound concerning their chances of making the Olympic team to Rio.

"I'm excited [to be a senior]," Hernandez said. "I'm ready for a challenge."



Alyona Shchennikova (TIGAR) performed an inside-Stalder Shaposhnikova to immediate inside Stalder on the high bar. Very cool, especially when so many gymnasts don't do anything on the back swing after a Shaposhnikova.

Trinity Thomas (Prestige) performed her floor exercise to a slow blues piece that sounded like something from Cirque du Soleil. Fittingly, she wore a deep blue leotard.

• More and more gymnasts are wearing one rhythmic shoe on floor exercise to help them with their pirouettes.

Abigail Walker of Texas Dreams is really tiny and really talented. Once she grows into the equipment a little more, watch out. Her form and lines are already cleaner than most in the junior field. It seems as the sport gets harder, the gymnasts are getting smaller.

Written by dwight normile    Friday, 14 August 2015 21:03    PDF Print
Mikulak Takes First-Day Lead at P&G Championships
(1 vote, average 5.00 out of 5)

One never knows what to expect from Sam Mikulak, and tonight was no exception. After cruising through his first five events with just one minor error, on high bar, he finally cracked on floor exercise, his final event, when he touched a hand after his front-full to randi (2.5 twisting-front). Until that routine, the Mikulak magic was evident. It was on pipe where he made is first mistake, a bent-arm giant following his Takemoto-Yamawaki. But considering his issues with that combination since his 2013 Antwerp worlds debacle, he deserved a pass. While the flub on floor did not cost Mikulak a comfortable first-day lead, it continued a trend that has dogged him for a few years.

"My goal for every competition is to hit six for six," he said. "So I'm going to go into the gym tomorrow and do a bunch of full-randis."

Mikulak had the top scores on vault (15.50) and parallel bars (16.25), and leads Donnell Whittenburg (top rings score, 15.90), 92.00-89.65.

Said Whittenburg: "I think I did pretty well, except for p-bars (he had to muscle a peach-half). I don't know what happened. I'm most excited about getting through my high bar. In practice I can't seem to catch my Cassina."

He caught it this time, and it helped him score a 14.75 on what has been his weak event.

2014 world alternate Paul Ruggeri had an excellent meet to place third with 88.35. He was exceptional on floor exercise (15.35), vault (15.25, half on, handspring double-twisting front) and high bar (15.95, Cassina; half-Takemoto, Tkatchev, Moznik; stuck layout double-double).

"I just feel good," said Ruggeri, who won the 2015 Winter Cup earlier this year. "My main goal is not to let my highs get too high or my lows get too low."

Fourth went to Jonathan Horton (88.30), who had to rally after vault, where his handspring-double front momentum forced him to run right off the podium.

"I just over-juiced it," he said. "I could have easily done the half-out." Horton was referring to the Dragulescu vault he performed a few years ago, but he said his Cypress coach, Tom Meadows, told him to stay with the simpler vault this weekend. The Dragulescu can wait for the Olympic year.

Danell Leyva finished fifth (88.05) but lost two points on floor when he touched the mat after two passes, the second time on his new tucked double-double dismount.

"I don't know why, but I felt my legs getting tired," he said. "I made mistakes I usually don't make."

Leyva made no errors on high bar, where his 16.00 was the top mark on the event.

Local gymnast Alec Yoder finished 20th, but he had the top score on pommels (15.60).

Ranks six through 10 were separated by only 0.80, which will make Sunday's finals all the more thrilling.

For Mikulak, who moved to train at the USOTC three months ago, the goal will be to hit every event, of course. He said he is concentrating more on being an elite gymnast, rather than the happy-go-lucky college guy he once was. He also is working on his mental game, having started meditating a while ago with Michigan teammate Stacey Ervin. (Ervin did only three events here, but he topped the floor rankings with 15.80.)

"I've been focusing on mindfulness, meditative techniques," Mikulak said.

We'll see if they work for him on Sunday.


Jake Dalton will not compete this weekend because of a shoulder injury. Though there is considerable depth in the U.S. men's program, both Dalton and John Orozco (torn Achilles) will be difficult to replace this fall at the Glasgow worlds. Could this finally be Paul Ruggeri's time?

• U.S. national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika was asked if Dalton could petition onto the world team, and he said that option was open. The men's 2015 world team will be announced within 24 hours of Sunday's finals.

• When Jonathan Horton landed his handspring double front, he had so much momentum he ran right off the end of the podium and was caught by the zone judge.

• Oklahoma's Colin Van Wicklen vaulted a cool version of a Dragulescu. He twisted early in his tuck, which made the second somersault look like a Cuervo. On floor he did a tucked Lou Yun.

• The loudest cheers all night were for local gymnast Alec Yoder, who trains at InterActive Academy in Indianapolis.

Written by dwight normile    Thursday, 13 August 2015 20:27    PDF Print
Biles Falters But Still Leads After Day One
(2 votes, average 5.00 out of 5)

Even with a fall, two-time defending champion Simone Biles (World Champions) took the lead after day one of the P&G Championships in Indianapolis. In the third rotation, Biles nailed her first three tumbling passes (full-twisting double layout, double layout-half and tucked double-double), but she never got into much of a tuck during her closing tucked full-in, and she staggered forward and fell. On vault, however, she stuck her Amanar (16.25) and took a 1.40 lead over Maggie Nichols, 61.100-59.700.

Biles, who is still training in a temporary warehouse until World Champions Centre is completed, said her back handspring was too high on her final tumbling pass.

"I usually don't grab (my knees on the tucked full-in), but I should have grabbed," she said.

Asked if she performed her Amanar as well as she could, she said, "I think so." She vaulted a layout Podkopayeva on her second attempt and said she hopes to be able to add a full twist to it (Cheng Fei).

Biles began her night on uneven bars and posted a 15.150 (6.2), her second-highest score of the meet. On beam, however, she wobbled on her double wolf turn but avoided a fall. She was not so fortunate on floor, but said she will use the mistake to keep her focused on Saturday.

Nichols (Twin City Twisters) continued to impress after her strong showing last year and at the recent U.S. Classic. She scored 15.80 for her well-done Amanar and stuck her double layout off bars. On beam she mounted with a double wolf turn and tossed a barani. Her roundoff to tucked full-in was excellent. Her floor included a tucked double-double, piked and tucked full-ins and a double tuck dismount. All of her routines looked easy for her, which should bode well when the 2015 world team is selected in September.

"I just kind of want to go out there and do my own thing," she said. "I've been having fun with the competition.

Gabby Douglas (Buckeye) went four-for-four to placed third (58.70). She vaulted a clean Yurchenko-double twist in rotation one (15.10) and earned her highest mark of the night on bars (15.30). Beam and floor were not her best, which is why she evaluated her overall effort as "OK."

"I want to do a lot better (on Saturday)," she said, adding that her difficulty level right now is about 60-70 percent of where she wants it to be by next year.

"I don't want to play all my cards at once," she said. "I'm not playing it safe, but kind of."

Aly Raisman (Brestyan's) finished fourth, just 0.05 behind Douglas. She won floor exercise with a 15.550 (1.5 twist through to double Arabian, piked double Arabian, double layout, double pike to split jump that overrotated and forced her to do a quick half turn). On beam, however, she dropped off after a flip-flop, layout, split jump. "It is what it is," she said. "I'm human."

Fifth was Bailie Key (Texas Dreams), who missed last year's P&G Championships because of injury, faced some issues after being out of competition for so long.

"The most difficult part was my growth spurt," she said. "It took a while to get my timing back."

WOGA's Alyssa Baumann finished sixth (57.85), and won beam with a 15.15 (standing Arabian, Onodi, double pike dismount).

Kyla Ross (Gym-Max) was unable to build much momentum tonight, suffering a fall on her double front dismount on bars, and a hand touch on her double tuck dismount on floor exercise. She finished tied for 12th with 56.90.

"Today was a very rough day," she said. "I was happy I made my Pak-full, but the dismount coming up short was a little disappointing."

Saturday will be another day for all of the competitors. And Biles is fully aware that she can't let her guard down. Nichols, on the other hand, really has nothing to lose. Placing second to the two-time world champion is an achievement in itself. And so is beating the 2012 Olympic champion.


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