Last week I mentioned that we needed some elite drama to distract from speculating about the not-coming-soon-enough NCAA season, and while GabbyWatch 2014: The De-Chowening has been fun and all, it turns out that we actually have Secret Classic coming up in a few weeks and that there are actual gymnasts competing in it. Weird.
The Pre-Classic period is among the most hilarious in the gymnastics calendar because the extended lack of summer competition gradually turns people's minds into a powder, so we all get disproportionally excited about a mostly meaningless competition, just because it's something. Remember last year how Simone Biles was sick and got a -3 on every event and it was a disaster? Yeah, me neither.
Nonetheless, I'm part of this community of powder brains, so I'm excited, mostly to observe all those people in that Kocian/Gowey/Ernst/Dowell peloton of Worlds consideration to see who can make the leap into Biles/Ross territory, along with following other stories like what the Priessman status is post-Cincinnati. Not putting Lexie Priessman in the same rotation as MLT at Classic is a grave error. What do they think we're watching this for? The gymnastics? We need sideshows, people!
As a way of acclimating myself to the current elite story, I'm checking out the current D-Scores going into Classic ("current" meaning "awarded in competition in the last 12 months"). And if you're not the type who keeps a running tally of current D-Scores on your desktop at all times, shame on you, but that means we can explore it together.
Of course, Classic is when new routines and new difficulty are debuted, so this is just a starting point. Some will go up, others will decrease as a result of some sensible downgrading, but this is where we are now.
Vault has suddenly become slightly interesting because the dynamic has changed. We're accustomed to having a glut of Amanars these days, but with Price stopping elite and Maroney being injured for the moment, there are fewer choices and less room to be discerning about which vaults are worthy of being taken to Worlds. This is especially true since the Amanars from Ross and Priessman appear to have gone the way of the dodo.
But as I said, this is just a starting point. If it were an ending point, Skinner, Biles, and Dowell would be skating through to China in October based solely on difficulty, but Rachel Gowey showed a solid Amanar at the ranch, which could throw a wrench into the otherwise clean picture. And since everyone knows how important the 2.5 is, I can't imagine all the peons are content sticking with their DTYs. Classic is the land of upgrades, sometimes advised and sometimes ill-advised. That's why Classic podium training is the best. There's always at least one "Oh, honey, no."
Ross will have to add back difficulty to return to that 6.4, but that's what we expect of her. She makes teams for her bars and beam work, so she needs to push that D-Score well into the 6s to retain that status. You're Kyla Ross. Don't bring some ratty old 5.9 in here.
As it currently stands, Ross is the only one who can waltz onto a team specifically for bars. Dowell has competitive difficulty, but she won't contend for the same execution scores. At American Cup, she hit a bars routine about as well as we can expect from her and received an 8.4 for execution. She can contribute a score that's useful, but not world-beating.
As always, bars is the area most open for someone to emerge and become an auto-lock solely on the basis of being able to score 15. There are possibilities here, and we should keep an eye on Kocian. Before she got injured last year, there were rumblings about her being a useful option on bars, but we'll need to see some upgrades for that to happen. Even with strong execution, you can't really be a bars maven with a 6.1. You can be usable with a 6.1, like Biles, but to make a team for bars, you need something more mid-6s.
We have a bunch of people with difficulties in the low 6s right now, although some of these are questionable. I don't need to see Mykyly Skynnyr try a 6.2 beam routine again. Wasn't that when she tried to to the triple tuck turn and spun herself right off the beam like a top? Maybe I do need to see that again.
To me, the beam difficulty is the least relevant of all the D-Scores. Beam is not about who can put up the biggest difficulty but about who can compose a remotely competitive routine while being not-atrocious. That's why Ross is a lock as a beamer even though she's only in the middle of the lead pack in terms of difficulty. She may look like she's trying to remember how to do long division every time she lands an acro skill, but she doesn't give much away.
Ernst, Hults, and Baumann are right up there with their beam difficulties, and another storyline to watch is whether they are competitive enough on multiple events to emerge out of that secondary pack. Ernst is an interesting case because right now she's hanging around in that usable on any event, appealing alternate/6th team member category, a la Sabrina Vega. But does she stand out enough? Is she necessary on any event? Baumann seems to be in the same position. She's been under the radar a bit more but is bringing a few of her D-Scores into the 6s and may be in the hunt to challenge as a beamer.
Floor is another bread and butter event for the US, as always, with all of these options over 6.0 in difficulty. There are already 7, and we can assume a few more will jump up into that territory in the vague hope of getting Martha to pay attention to them. At the top, there's Biles, the reigning floor queen, and Skinner, who is planning to do an 20.4 this year, though we'll have to wait and see how much of that gets credit.
Watch the Priessman status. With her injuries and gym switching, she has fallen down the totem pole, but floor has been her good event ever since she was a junior, and if she's going to return anywhere close to the top tier of elites, she has to be a top-3 scorer on floor and prove that she's objectively more valuable than Dowell, who is always hanging around being conceivably usable. It's a difficult task to prove that you're top 3 on floor in the US, but that's the game.
I don't think many would argue with a healthy Simone Biles as the top senior AAer in the country right now. The difficulty only backs that up. But after Biles, it's a fairly open race. I wouldn't be surprised by Skinner showing up this summer with the second-highest difficulty total, but I can't imagine that her execution will keep her ahead of the rest without help. There's still an AA opening for someone who is capable of nailing four events with a difficulty in the lowish 24s.
Probably the most interesting figure in the AA race this summer/fall will be Ross. People have been predicting the demise of her life as a top AAer for a while now, but this will be the real test of whether she can hang on to that spot. She had been passed by Elizabeth Price, but got a reprieve when Price decided to get her Cardinal on instead. Is she able to squeak by with a DTY and a mid-5s on floor? Or will her role, in 2014 at least, mirror that of the 2012 campaign?