Pre-Classic is my favorite part of the elite season because it's the silliest. We're all so damn confident about how things are going to go this season despite having seen precisely zero gymnastics from the major and most of the minor contenders. Remember your feelings about Ashton Locklear precisely 365 days ago? Because they were a tumbleweed made of cricket sound effects.
That's what makes Classic exciting. At this moment, we know nothing, but by the end of podium training, we'll basically be set and have a good idea of what we'll see this year. To help fill in the possible picture of who might go to Glasgow to be the trusted attendants in Queen Simone's Royal Court, here are a few ramblings about what I'll be watching out for at Classic because I realize I haven't posted anything that isn't about Al Trautwig in a long time.
Amanar Watch 2015: Beyond Biles, Fact or Fiction
Eeeeeeeverybody thinks she has an Amanar this year. We'll see. We've been down this road before. People often like to show up to Classic going, "Sup bitches, I gots me an Amanar," and then it isn't so much with the great. See Gowey 2014, Raisman 2010. Still, enough people have past Amanars, current Amanars, possible Amanars, Un-anars, or fantasies about having Amanars that the US should be expecting to cobble together at least three 6.3+ vaults for Worlds. There's obviously Biles, Dowell has had a 2.5 for years now and needs it, we have Skinner with her social experiment, we know about Raisman and Douglas's past vaults, Nichols had a Campanar that time, Key has been training one since she was a fetus (You guys! She's training a Wombanar in there! My aunt's cousin saw it!), Gowey had that one for a hot second last year but didn't vault at Pan Ams because of yet another in her Pride Parade of injuries. Right now, there are a lot of possibilities, but we need some facts.
Of this group, a hit 2.5 will probably be the most important for Maggie Nichols. She has elevated herself out of you're-here-too, Paul Ruggeri, alternating-my-ass-off territory almost solely on the basis of having a Campanar, but if she could legitimately score as a top-three vaulter this summer in competition, that would be a huge boost for her team hopes. She needs to prove that she's not only a strong AAer, but convincingly top 3 at least somewhere and probably two-wheres. It's a big competition for Nichols. Conversely, Skinner will be rooting for as few Amanars as possible. The more people with competitive vaults, the less necessary her vault becomes, and she doesn't have as many competitive events to work with in the first place.
Bring Out Your Bars Specialists
Last year, Locklear and Kocian made the team to ensure that the US was a little less horrifying on bars, and once again on a team of six, the opportunity can present itself for bars specialist to work her way onto the team and save the day. Though the standard is tougher this year. With Ross continuing to be Ross and Biles, Key, Nichols, and a whole host of other people showing bars D-scores in the low 6s with high-14 totals (6.1 is the new 5.8), anyone hoping to make the team specifically because of bars will need to show significantly higher scoring potential than that. Possible bars specialists need to be scoring clearly into the 15s, otherwise there will be people already on the team for other events who can do the job just as well. So I'm keeping an eye on those scores. That's why it will be tough for someone like Gowey. She mashed together an upgraded routine for this year (with more upgrade potential still) but maxed out at the 14.7s at Pan Ams. Biles can get that. Desch is in a similar boat. She upgraded like crazy this year to put together some really solid routines, but she's not in top-three contention on these events.
Douglas will be interesting to watch with regard to the quest for bars 15s. Because she's Gabby Douglas, she automatically seems like the default bars worker based on her past accomplishments. But, her Jesolo bars routine was very work-in progress. She'll need to show some development since then to solidify any kind of status on this event. Comparing her score to the incumbent bars workers, the injury-returning Locklear and Kocian, will be telling, though certainly Douglas's abilities on other events can help her cause.
The crop is deeper this year than it was last year, so there probably isn't going to be room for a whole gang of bars specialists again. We're going to see the likes of Locklear, Kocian, and Dowell all trying to out-bars each other for what might not even be one spot. (Biles, Ross, Raisman, Key, Douglas, Nichols, Skinner is a fairly realistic, serious-scoring group of seven to choose from, and it includes none of them. Although, that team may be slightly questionable on bars and could use a boost if someone earns it.) We know Dowell's top routine has the difficulty edge over everyone, but she'll have to bring that routine, along with a whole bushel of consistency and a clear scoring edge over the recent world team members in order to overcome the general Martha-thumbs-down feeling that has pervaded her elite career.
Who Is Good At Floor?
Simone is. Aly Raisman is. Aly has spent the last 5 years making teams because of beam and floor, so to solidify her spot on the prospective team, she's going to need to reinforce her position on floor and emerge as the clear #2 behind Biles and her 19.500. She has the difficulty to do it already back in her routine and looked on track at Jesolo. She's kind of the Olympic champion, you know. The US has a formidable 1-2 punch with Biles and Raisman on floor, but the third floor worker will be an interesting topic. Key's scores render her a very strong possiblity, and of course there's Skinner as well. As on vault, Skinner will need to use Classic to prove that she's still top three, with Raisman coming in this year to challenge her status a little bit more. Skinner vs. Key on floor should be a fun one. Skinner needs to win that to make her argument. Does someone else pop into possible 15 territory?
These are the questions I want answered. Amanars? How relevant and necessary are the bars specialists? Gabby's still Gabby, right? And who's third on floor? I expect all the competitors to do their best to answer them in a timely and clear fashion. As for beam, my impression right now is that it won't be decisive in team selection. With Biles, Ross, Raisman, Douglas, and Key all seeming like realistic beam options (to varying degrees) who can make the team for other events as well, selection may come down to choosing the team for the other three events and then just using the best beamers from that group, who will probably be the best beamers in the country anyway. It makes it very tough for Baumann, though, since beam is kind of her thing, but she doesn't have the other asset events.
Also, Sabrina Vega is a person again. So that will be interesting.