Now that we have lurched ourselves in that strange, antsy interim period between Classic and Championships, it's time to revisit the difficulty scores for the US women based on what we learned at Classic, which was mostly nothing. Classic essentially served to confirm what we already knew, that Simone Biles and Kyla Ross are dominating the all-around picture, without providing many answers about the rest of the senior elite group.
But the picture has adjusted slightly, so I have updated the super cool, popular kid spreadsheets of current D-scores on each event after the performances at Classic. I retained a couple D-scores that we haven't yet seen this season, like the 6.4 and 6.1 on bars for Ross and Biles respectively, because even though they didn't try those routines at Classic, both are intending to build back up to those scores as the year progresses.
As necessary, I tried to remove the stick bonus from Classic (which was irritatingly added to the D-Score) wherever it reared its ugly head, so I have Biles at her real score of 6.5 on floor and Locklear at her real 6.5 on bars, but I grant I may have missed a few.
Biles, obviously. With Maroney injured and Price off to Stanford, Biles is clearly the best vaulter in the country. After that, it gets a bit interesting.
Mykayla Skinner, you guys. What are we going to do about this situation? Without that many difficult vaults being done right now, 2014 would seem like the year for her to muscle her way onto the team as a vault specialist with that Dadaist Cheng of hers. Yet, at Classic she scored lower on vault than Ross, even if we take out Kyla's stick bonus. You don't get to be a vault specialist if you're scoring lower than Kyla Ross's DTY. That's the rule. We tend to look only at the highest difficulty vaults in formulating prospective team final scenarios, but the US could be perfectly fine at Worlds using Ross's DTY as a leadoff. They'd still have a big vault advantage. If Skinner is going to make it to Worlds as a vaulter, she'll have to prove that she is markedly and reliably better than Ross, which she hasn't done yet.
However, Skinner's vault fate may rest mostly in the hands of Gowey and Dowell, the final two current members of the Amanar club. Gowey went for the 2.5 at Classic and fell, so she'll have to prove some consistency with that vault at Championships/selection to be considered as a vaulter. She is a Martha favorite, though, so she'll have time to find that consistency. With Dowell, who even knows where she is with that ankle injury, but her 2.5 has been usable in the past. She'll still be in the conversation if she ends up showing four events soon. We have the potential for an entertaining vault showdown brewing among this group of non-Biles vaulters. A couple of them need to finish top 3 on vault at Nationals.
Of all the event landscapes, bars changed the most as a result of Classic. It's getting iiiiiinteresting, which we can't usually say about US bars. Usually, it's more diiiiiisheartening.
Ashton Locklear was the big story with her 6.5 routine and fairly strong execution overall (the bail handstand is an adventure in crazy legs, but otherwise the errors were small). In a matter of seconds she graduated from the also-ran category to the "Could she go to Worlds?" category. The US is always looking for adequate bars workers, but it's still difficult to make teams with just one asset event. If she's going to make Worlds for this bars routine, she'll have to show major consistency—hitting every time at Championships and selection camp with scores at this same level. On a six-member Worlds team, there's more room to include a one-event gymnast than on a five-member Olympic team, but still, you don't get to perform at major competitions as a one-eventer unless it's a guaranteed huge score every single time (case study: Li, Anna). Work to be done for her still.
Another of our interesting showdowns at Championships should be between Locklear and Kocian on bars. Kocian's excellent routine and score at Classic got overshadowed by Locklear's even better showing, but she certainly showed potential as a bars option as well. The biggest problem for Kocian was her subsequent injury, which of course happened because she's injured every two seconds. You'll fit in nicely at UCLA. You and Peng can start a club. It's conceivable that both Kocian and Locklear could be on a Worlds team together (it would be a very lovely, but probably impractical, team), but since they basically bring the same things to the table—though Kocian's AA possibility helps her more—they may be fighting it out for the same spot, going back-and-forth with bars routines during the competition. Fun fun fun.
The big wildcard here is Brenna Dowell. She had a bars-tastrophe at Classic, and I think we can all agree she probably shouldn't have competed in the first place. She wasn't mentally/physically ready to do that routine. But lost in that disaster was her attempt at a D-score somewhere in the vicinity of 6.8, which is rather huge. If Dowell is going to make major teams over the next couple years, she'll have to force her way onto them by making it impossible not to take her. You do that with huge difficulty. Even with inevitable execution issues, a 6.8 D-score is high enough to withstand some of that and still end up with a big score.
Ross will be expected to do bars at Worlds, but we should also factor in Biles as a potential option in a team final. Bars is her lowest-scoring event, but she can definitely be a Shawn Johnson there and go up first with a clean, usable routine. The US will have to bring someone else with a 15 to stay close to the better bars teams, but they won't necessarily have to take two if Martha and her Happy Little Elves feel comfortable using Biles in addition to Ross. Much like how the vault contenders have to prove they are multiple tenths more useful than Ross, these bars contenders have to prove they're multiple tenths better than Biles. Otherwise, you'd just use Simone and make things easy.
Of the four events, beam was the most straightforward at Classic. Biles and Ross both hit solid routines, and Gowey was just a tad behind them with lovely work. Gowey is basically a fully rotated and controlled 3/1 dismount away from scoring with the other two. She's getting there. Beyond those three, a few others were fine yet unremarkable for low 14s, but Biles, Ross, and Gowey were the standouts and seem the clear top three beamers for the moment. Though moments change quickly.
Kocian is another with the potential to score well on beam, even though she had a fall and a couple other wobbles at Classic. She isn't showing the same difficulty as Gowey, but she doesn't give much away on her execution of individual skills. The same is true of Baumann, but at the risk of being too NBC, Baumann's stock definitely dropped at Classic. She didn't score well enough on beam to stand out (lower than Locklear and the same as Skinner), and she had a slightly hilarious fall on FX while trying to get back onto the floor after going OOB. We also have Peyton Ernst hanging around who can do very well here, but she has been lost in the shuffle now that's she's injured. When healthy, she'd be a candidate for high 14s.
If no one's rivaling Gowey for that third beam position, it should be smooth sailing for her, even if the Amanar doesn't come together.
Did anyone else have the feeling during Classic that floor just got weird? I had been taking floor for granted since it's the US and floor, but suddenly the landscape on this event became Simone Biles and tumbleweeds. Was it just because Biles is so much better than everyone else that they all looked bleak by comparison, or is there really a gap that needs to be filled?
Ross was second at Classic with a 14.600 with her upgraded routine, which is a really good score for her, but the scenario here is almost identical to vault. Ross should be the baseline floor worker, the one who can record a strong score but whom the floor specialists need to beat comfortably if they are to call themselves floor specialists. Do those people exist? Skinner is supposed to be the main one, but she was clearly performing a routine at Classic that she did not have the endurance to complete. She scored 1.200 lower than Ross, so even if you give her back 1.000 for the fall, she's still coming in below Ross. Once again, she has a lot to prove.
I'm somewhat at a loss on this event. If it were Worlds right now, who would you put up on floor in team finals? One of these 6.0+ difficulty people needs to show up scoring something in the high 14s at Championships to make that decision clearer.
Gowey has tremendous potential on floor, and I'd love to see her emerge as a standout, but her composition concerns me with that 3.5 and the 3/1 in the same routine. Terrifying, especially since her 3.5 is more like a 3.2. She's going for big difficulty (as high as 6.1?) but got a 5.6 at Classic. The US needs more advantage on floor than a 5.6. That's a China D-score. Until your team has bars like Huang and beam like Bai, you don't get to get away with a 5.6 on floor.
Maggie Nichols was third at Classic with a 14.300, right around Hundley and Gowey with similar low 14s, but right now she's in the "You'll be a great alternate" position of death because she can put up a solid score on every event but doesn't scream her necessity anywhere. No one is saying, "You have to use Nichols" on any event, which is her downfall.
As we knew before Classic and really knew after Classic, the all-around in the US right now is a one-Biles race. She's the star and would likely have to fall a minimum of three times, if not four, over the two-day competition at Championships to be passed by Ross. That's why the race for the Worlds team is the much more compelling topic for the US women right now. For anything other than "2014 US Champion Simone Biles" to happen, it would have to be an ugly meet.
The interesting thing about Kyla Ross is that she's currently sixth in the total difficulty race, but even if Dowell and Ernst suddenly show up with their all-around boots on at some point, Ross proved with her cleanliness and consistency at Classic that she's still the reigning #2. No one else came close to her. Like Biles, it would appear that Ross would have to have an inner-ear-infection number of falls to relinquish that spot to the Gowey types, which seems unlikely.