Imagine you are a team coordinator, and must choose a four-member World Championships team for the United States or Russia. In the World preliminary competition, each team has to put up three gymnasts on each apparatus. Just three.
There are plenty of decisions to make!
Simone Biles, Kyla Ross, and McKayla Maroney accounted for every gold medal at nationals. I think that this alone makes every one of a lock for the US team.
In my opinion, there are only two scenarios that make sense:
1) choosing three all-around gymnasts and one alternate, which is a setup that Martha Karolyi mentioned
2) choosing two all-arounders, a vault/floor specialist, and a bars/beam specialist.
I think the decision of which setup is chosen will be dictated by McKayla Maroney’s status by the world team training camp. Martha Karolyi said in an interview that she would take Maroney as one of the all-arounders if she is ready by the camp. But if she isn’t ready by then, taking three AA gymnasts and leaving Maroney as an alternate or off the team doesn’t make sense, simply because then, the US loses very good gold medal chances in both vault and floor.
At the training camp, the only thing I can really see changing from national championships is the readiness of Elizabeth Price, who is finally on her way back from injuries. If Price can prove her worth to the team (and reportedly she is confident she can) by the end of the four-day camp, then she could potentially fill a slot. If she isn’t ready to compete AA, then that would most likely put her doing bars and balance beam. (Or, if Maroney gets back a nice beam set, she could do three events and Price could just do bars, her strongest event at this time.)
So as I see it, a lot depends on Maroney’s capabilities by mid-September.
Setting all that aside and going only by what I saw at nationals, the team I would choose would consist of Biles and Ross as all-arounders (since they went 1-2), Maroney as the vault/floor specialist, and Brenna Dowell as the bars/beam specialist.
Now, this is only one scenario and there are many other possibilities, but I think it could work well:
1. Simone Biles (AA)
2. Kyla Ross (AA)
3. McKayla Maroney (VT, FX)
4. Brenna Dowell (UB, BB)
There aren’t many different options for the Russian team at this point. According to Valentina Rodionenko (the state coach of the team), there are three locks for Antwerp: Aliya Mustafina, Ksenia Afanasyeva, and Tatiana Nabieva. And the last two gymnasts in contention for the fourth slot are Viktoria Komova and Maria Paseka.
I’ve been trying to figure out what they might do with these teams. First of all, I honestly have no idea what Komova will be like by Worlds, after being injured and ill for quite some time. My feeling is that the coaches will probably choose Maria Paseka, who surprised at the European Championships when she medaled on uneven bars instead of vault (the event she is largely known for).
Since I am unsure which events Komova would be ready to compete if they did choose her, I have come up with some situations involving Paseka on the team.
In World qualifications, if they were to put up Aliya Mustafina and Tatiana Nabieva as the all-arounders, then this would leave Paseka and Afanasyeva to divide up the other events among themselves. This doesn’t really work. You would have to choose whose two vaults would be used. Paseka has an Olympic bronze medal and lots of experience on this apparatus, but she has not been hitting very often lately. Afanasyeva has the same vaults as her teammate (6.3 Amanar and 5.6 Podkopayeva) and performed them very well at the University Games this summer, even though she is a brand-new vault contender.
So if they put Afanasyeva in the vault lineup over Paseka, this leads to an interesting question: Where would you use Paseka? Of course Afanasyeva would get the floor spot since she is the reigning World champion on the apparatus, and she would most likely be chosen for balance beam since she is a two-time Olympic finalist on the event, and Paseka rarely competes it. However, Afanasyeva’s weakest event is uneven bars, which is the apparatus Paseka medaled on at Europeans. Even though it’s quite a strange thought to have Paseka on a team for an event aside from vault, I think this lineup makes sense.
1. Aliya Mustafina (AA)
2. Tatiana Nabieva (AA)
3. Ksenia Afanasyeva (VT, BB, FX)
4. Maria Paseka (UB)
But suppose the Russian team chose Afanasyeva to compete in the all-around alongside Mustafina? (It’s safe to say that Mustafina is a true AA lock provided she is healthy.) If Nabieva were to skip the AA, this time it would be she and Paseka who would divide up the apparatus. I’m not at all sure that this works, either! Paseka would most likely do the vault in this situation, since she has higher difficulty than her teammate, but Nabieva did beat her at the Russian Cup. (Paseka fell on the Amanar in the final, resulting in a score of 14.400 to Nabieva’s 14.512.) But then who would compete uneven bars? I tend to lean toward Nabieva, who is the reigning World silver medalist on the event. She would most likely compete balance beam, too. Finally, they would have to choose between them on floor exercise, which is highly debatable.
A final option (and one which I feel could work adequately) is to do what Martha Karolyi is considering for the USA: allow Mustafina, Nabieva, and Afanasyeva to compete the AA in prelims and give Paseka the alternate position.
But of course, it can be challenging to create the perfect team. You can always use an extra hand somewhere, on some apparatus. Still, you have to work with what you’ve got, and what these teams have right now are many medal opportunities!
Who do you think will be included on the teams? Feel free to leave a comment below.
Article by: Anna Rose Johnson