Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Is Brenna Dowell this quad's Jana Bieger?

I'm pretty excited that Brenna Dowell was selected for this year's world championship team. Not that I wouldn't have been happy to see Peyton Ernst in that spot--she also deserved it and would've gotten some much needed experience if taken to Antwerp. But Dowell massively upgraded her difficulty between 2012 and 2013 that you know that she must've really worked her butt off in the gym. (And I love her piked double front on floor.)

Dowell is in the same position in 2013 that Jana Bieger was in 2005. Bieger was fourth fiddle on a world championship team that included Nastia Liukin, Chellsie Memmel, and Alicia Sacramone. With those three in the mix, there was no room for Bieger to even make a final, which she didn't. Instead, she got her competitive feet wet and watched as her teammates raked in the medals, almost sweeping the golds with the exception of vault, which went to Cheng Fei.

Dowell, similarly, is not expected to final on any apparatus if she competes at all. (Martha Karolyi hasn't said definitively whether or not McKayla Maroney will do AA or just compete on her specialties, floor and vault. I hope the seemingly injury prone Maroney decides to take it easy and just do two events. I really want her to last through the whole quad.) And even if she gets the go-ahead to compete, she will be not be entered on her strongest pieces, floor and vault, but instead on beam and bars since the U.S. has a glut of power tumblers. While Dowell has a difficult bar routine with some unique elements, she has yet to hit it in competition. And even so, she's unlikely to beat her teammates (which she has to because of the 2-per country rule) or squeeze into one of the toughest final fields. The Russians, Chinese, and Brits are bringing some incredible bar workers to worlds. It is likely that Dowell will watch AA and event finals from the stands--just as Bieger did in 2005.

The two also share similar styles--big tricks but sometimes lacking in form and finesse. (This is especially surprising coming from Dowell, who trains at GAGE, which is typically known for producing athletes with precise form. Evidence: Ivana Hong's double front on floor and Courtney McCool's anything on any event.) Dowell got hit pretty hard on her execution scores at National Championships. It'll be interesting to see what international judges do with her performances.

I've always felt bad about how the quad ended for Jana Bieger. She had been a big part of the early years of the quad, stepping up in 2006, an admittedly weak year competitively for the entire world, winning medals when favorites Liukin and Memmel were hit with major injuries. She had some original skills on beam and some massive tumbling on floor. True, she wasn't a good dancer and her form left something to be desired. But she was a team player and hit under pressure.

In 2007, she was out due to injury and that was the year the younger generation entered the fray. Shayla Worley, Samantha Peszek, Ivana Hong, and of course, Shawn Johnson went to worlds, joined by Sacramone, Liukin. By the time Bieger reentered the fray in 2008, there didn't seem to be much room for her and all the chatter was pretty negative about her chances. It almost felt like she had been kicked out of the clubhouse.

Bieger was named as an alternate to the team but wasn't used despite two team members being injured in Beijing.

So what does it mean for Dowell if she follows in Bieger's footsteps? A team contributor and player in 2014 and some mid-quad success, but will probably get overlooked once the juniors enter the senior ranks in 2015 and 2016 if she sticks around and doesn't go to college.

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