New-look US women’s gymnastics team favored at world championships
The last time a US women’s gymnastics team competed at the highest level without a single Simone Biles routine, it was almost the start of the programme’s decade of dominance at the London 2012 Games.
There are no Biles on the entry list for the world championships which begin with qualifying on Saturday in Liverpool, England. There’s no Suni Lee, who succeeded Biles as Olympic all-around champion in Tokyo. Both are on indefinite, if not permanent, hiatus from elite gymnastics.
Nor is there Konnor McClainwho won the U.S. all-around title in August and then pulled out of the world championship squad due to a back injury.
Still, the United States are still favorites to win a sixth straight World Tag Team title dating back to 2011, which would break their tie with Romania for the longest streak in history, for a combination of reasons.
Russia, which relegated the United States to silver at the Olympics, is banned due to the war in Ukraine. The American team of five is reliable, filled with veterans.
“The beauty of this women’s team is that they may not have a Simone who is in a different stratosphere of the world, but they have a high floor,” NBC Sports said. John Roethlisbergerthree-time Olympian.
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The United States, who will play the team final on Tuesday, still have one of the two best gymnasts in the whole field in Liverpool: Shilese Joneswho considered quitting elite gymnastics after placing 10th in all-around at last year’s Olympic Trials.
An American won every Olympic or world all-around title in 2011 at the Tokyo Games, with Biles engulfing six of those 10 crowns. Angelina Melnikovawho ended that streak at last October’s Worlds, is out this year due to Russia’s ban.
Still, an American victory in the all-around is more uncertain than in the team event. It’s because of the Brazilian Rebecca Andradewho won a close silver medal against Lee in Tokyo and lost the all-around at last year’s world championships.
Andrade and fellow veteran Flavia Saraiva lead a Brazilian group that could win the first national team medal at the Olympics or world championships. At the last Worlds with a team event in 2019, Brazil ranked 14th, without qualifying for the Tokyo Games.
Now Brazil is on the podium with regular China to challenge the Americans, if they make mistakes. At the height of the era led by Biles, the United States won a team competition by more than eight points. This margin meant that the American gymnasts could have fallen on half their routines and still prevailed.
This is no longer the case, as evidenced by Russia’s victory at the Tokyo Olympics, where Biles retired with the twisties after her opening jump.
“They definitely don’t have that aura of invincibility,” Roethlisberger said. “But I think maybe they have a bit, I don’t mean a chip on their shoulder, because I don’t know if they think about it that deeply. But, ‘Hey, we’re still the best , and we’ll show it to you.’
Given the absences of Biles, Lee and McClain, the United States might not be favored if not for the recent proliferation of gymnasts balancing elite gymnastics with NCAA gymnastics, who have different scoring systems and , usually, different routines.
Tokyo Medalists Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles2021 world all-around silver medalist Leanne Wong, represent three-fifths of the American team. All are coming out of their freshman year and are expected to return to varsity competition this winter and early spring. No American woman has competed in an Olympics, competed in college, and then competed in another Olympics since the start of NCAA women’s gymnastics in the early 1980s.
Like the women, the American men are competing in a major team event for the first time since their stalwart (the retired Sam Mikulak) moved away from the competition.
They too will benefit from the absence of the Russian Olympic champion, which probably opens up a place for them on the podium behind Japan and China. The United States last won a men’s team medal in 2014.
Brody Malone, who supplanted Mikulak as America’s top male gymnast last year, leads a team that is a mix of youth and experience with major strength on vault and preoccupation on high bar. The keys to Wednesday’s three- and three-count team final will limit mistakes on those first two high bar routines before Malone and the first man on pommel horse.
“If those three routines can somehow get a 13 or better,” Roethlisberger said, “I think they’re going to win a medal.”
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