Sunday, August 21, 2011

Women's Nationals, Day 2

Well, what started out as a great competition -- hit routines from nearly all of the athletes -- quickly became tragic as defending national champion (and world all around bronze medalist) under rotated her and dislocated her kneecap during the 3rd rotation.

It was quite shocking to see and I don't mean merely witnessing an injury like that unfold live. (In the same shocking category I would place Blaine Wilson's bicep injury at the 2004 American Cup, which also unfolded live on television.) Bross, an athlete who performed at the 2010 World Championships with a fracture without complaint and ended up winning 4 medals, cried out so viscerally with so much pain. It was quite scary to see an athlete with such a reputation for toughness crying out in such a way. (This is not at all a criticism of Bross -- I would've been weeping nonstop had it been me.) It really drove home the severity of the injury, which at least wasn't a torn ACL. Thank God for small favors. Hopefully she will be healed and ready for London because the U.S. team certainly needs her.

Onto the rest of competition. Jordyn Wieber really ran away with the meet, besting her nearest challenger, McKayla Maroney, by over 6 points, an unheard of margin. While Wieber's win was hardly a shock -- nearly everyone expected this result -- the fact that she is so far ahead of everyone else doesn't particularly bode well for the U.S. team's prospects in Tokyo. I would like to see much more parity on the team with all of the athletes competing high levels of difficulty with equally clean execution. I don't think it bodes well for a team to be so utterly reliant on one gymnast, such as Wieber. Though I don't doubt that she can handle the pressure, this girl has a history of injuries and I would like to see her get the opportunity to rest instead of having to carry this team, which seems to be the case for this year.

Shawn Johnson: so proud of this gymnast! Her confidence seems to be growing with every competitive routine. I don't think she's ready, difficulty-wise, to be put on the World team (Pan-Ams, perhaps) but whereas before I was rooting for her, now I actually really believe in this comeback. She and Chow seem to pacing themselves, keeping the long term goal in sight. I would love to see her upgrade bars so she could really contribute in that way to the team. I know that the power events are her strong ones but they are also the ones where the U.S. has a stable core of gymnasts to contribute. They are also the ones most threatened and impacted by her knee reconstruction. And bars, the U.S.'s extreme weakness, is the back way into any team.

Which brings me to Anna Li. Bross' unfortunate injury may have just created an opportunity for her. Conventional wisdom had it that Bross, a world bronze medalist on bars, probably wouldn't be ready to compete all around in Tokyo following her slow recovery from ankle injury and surgery, would most definitely be placed on the team because she is mentally tough and because the U.S. desperately needed her bars. But with her out for the rest of the year, things are looking up for Anna Li, a beautiful gymnast who resurrected her elite career after a successful run at UCLA (my favorite NCAA team). Li has an aptitude for bars and now has a set that is one of the most difficult being competed in the U.S. But that's all she has. Her beam routine is far too easy to be used in international competition, and she's proven inconsistent thus far at the elite level. There are still 6 weeks to go but I'm not enthusiastic.

Or perhaps it's the old school fan in me who never really got behind the whole specialist thing. Even Alicia Sacramone was able to contribute two events last year. I don't like the idea of taking an athlete whose weakness puts undue pressure on everyone else. 

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