Thursday, October 27, 2011
The Pan Am Games have been a bit of a Worlds hangover for the participants. It was supposed to be a cake walk for Team USA, but these girls have been challenged by Canada a bit more than they presumed entering the meet. To their credit, Mikaela Gerber, Kristina Vaculik and Peng Peng Lee have performed to the best of their abilities and should have the experience necessary to help Team Canada earn an Olympic berth regardless of the French Canadian quota present at the test event. Peng Peng looks like she will be quite successful at UCLA; she certainly has experience competing her Yurchenko full.
For the Americans, Martha Karolyi's absence speaks volumes about the amount of belief she has in the members of the squad to become important contributors at the Olympic Games. When the team was named, it had promise that has seemingly evaporated with the withdrawal of Chellsie Memmel and the woefully sluggish nature of Bridget Sloan. Shawn Johnson just missed making Worlds and was supposed to make a splash in Guadalajara. This year's event can only be seen as a partial success for Team USA.
Shawn Johnson is the resident A-Lister on this year's Pan Ams squad. For Shawn, this season has been a process of regaining her physical form and her mental confidence. Coming off of camp, Shawn was close to earning a spot on the World Team but just didn't fill the necessary holes. Having upgraded bars and beam, Shawn looked strong in training. Vault was about as good as one could ever expect from Shawn. With her added Wieler Kips on bars, Shawn officially declared that she is extremely physically strong yet lacks the talent to do real skills. To her credit, she is a far better bar worker than fellow Wieler Kipper Jordyn Wieber. The thing about the girls who muscle bars doing Wieler Kips is that they always tend to break form and have to muscle up their first kip like during the pull-up challenge on the President's Fitness Challenge. Shawn suffered that fate, but she proved her toughness by finishing the routine and performing a routine with a respectable 5.9 D-Score. Her D-Score is not high enough to compete bars in Team Finals, but it could be strong enough to be the four bar worker in prelims. Should she lose another 10 pounds, Shawn could muster her double double off bars by Olympic Trials.
Beam was where Shawn was expected to shine, yet a freak fall on her back full clearly startled a girl who was looking to recapture her place at the top of the sport. Things didn't go according to plan and Shawn visibly lost focus and her foot on her switch leap. Two falls on beam will not kill her chances at making the Olympic Games, but she didn't do anything to improve her chances either. It is back to the gym and the drawing board for Shawn as she attempts to up her level of difficulty and confidence for the all-important Olympic year. I wouldn't mind seeing her work her ass off to earn a spot at the American Cup as an all-arounder. It is about time we see what she is and is not capable of on floor exercise.
The other star of Team USA was expected to be Bridget Sloan. The 2009 World AA Champion is not known for her work ethic and she has pissed away much of the last two seasons without having Sam Peszek pushing her to the top. If one is injured, they can still work their asses off to stay in shape. Bridget Sloan doesn't seem to grasp that. It is unclear if Bridget Sloan truly has the desire to make a second Olympic Team. Sloan postponed college, but she is the type who may just enjoy a year off before work begins at the University of Florida. Competing every weekend may be a bit much for Bridget. She botched her floor routine badly and wound up performing two front double fulls when her hips didn't have a prayer of rotating 2 1/2 times. If one stays in shape, coming back is much easier. Missing every handstand on bars is more understandable after her surgery and time off, but coming back in poor shape is not. They're called sit-ups and laps around the track.
Brandie Jean Jay surely belongs in the South. That is quite the West Virginian name. Her gymnastics needs a ton of cleaning up, but she should make a solid NCAA gymnast. Jessica De Ziel has star potential in college. Grace McLaughlin does not. Grace always looks to need a pep talk and a Red Bull. With teammates and belief in herself, Grace may be able to shine in college if she can avoid to WOGA weight gain. Dorm food does not agree with one's metabolism after years of Russian dieting.
Bridgey Caquatto is the most interesting story at Pan Ams. Despite a solid bar routine in Team Finals, her chances at making the Olympic Team didn't appear to improve on Monday. Bridgey has always had talent on bars, but she is inconsistent and often injured. Her other events don't look strong enough to earn her a spot of a five-man team, but three hit bar routines and accompanying gold medals will keep her in the mix and should secure her a place at Olympic Trials should she need to petition. Capable of a DTY, Bridgey's coaches may have made a smart decision by having her stick to a full for this season.
Given the Americans' forgettable performance in Team Finals, it will only give Martha Karolyi more latitude to turn up the heat...as these hot messes surely needed her added psychological intensity. If her workouts don't wear you down, her talks are always good for a few tears. Crying burns calories.