This year's Nationals are set to take place in Boston next week. Many bloggers, including myself, have been trying to showcase predictions to readers as to who will be on the USA Olympic team that goes for gold in Beijing. Though certain spots look to be sewn up, it is imperative that ALL the girls do what they're capable of at these Nationals and even more so at the Olympic Trials. As history has proven, someone who has looked to have a sure spot gets wiped up by another girl who steals the thunder out of nowhere. The title for all-around champion is of course the purpose of the entire event, but realistically speaking that isn't what you should be looking for at the Championships. Strong, consistent work and high scores on weak events for USA, like bars, can make or break any athlete's chances to go to the Olympics. Martha Karolyi, the head decision maker for the Olympic team is looking for toughness over anything. Toughness is imperative for the team selected for Beijing, with hostility and a formidable Chinese team meeting them upon their arrival.
Overview: Shawn is likely planning on using Nationals as yet another competition for getting her upgrades consistent and landing her Amanar vault which she missed at the Scam Cup back in March. Shawn is looking to defend her title, but is no longer the new kid on the block that has nothing to lose like she was last year. It will likely be best for Shawn if she and Nastia split the duties for winning the AA, i.e. Shawn takes the gold here and Nastia places 1st at Olympic trials or vice verse. Winning both meets will likely backfire on Shawn due to the immense pressure that comes from being America's top gymnast.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Landing her Amanar vault in both days of competition. Martha Karolyi has admitted herself that she was stressing this upgrade on Shawn, and Martha K. needs to know if she can land it under pressure. Whether she is capable of landing this vault does not necessarily mean much for her apparent locked-up spot on the team, but for political sake it will help Shawn out a great deal in her quest for winning Olympic AA gold.
Potential Upgrades: Front Pike on beam (7.0 A), Tucked Full-in at end of routine (potential 6.5 A-score), and landing her Amanar successfully
Predictions: Reports were strong from the closed doors Karolyi camp meet just a few weeks ago. With some new upgrades and added pressure don't count on the nearly perfect meet she had last year, but still appears to have the upper hand over Nastia in terms of the combination of consistency, difficulty, and lack of deductions.
Overview: Winning the AA title will be yet another boost to Liukin's confidence, after beating Shawn at the Scam Cup earlier this year. Upgrades Liukin will be performing remain uncertain, but the routines we will see Nastia perform at Nats will likely be the same as the ones she will be performing at the Games. Nastia would very much like to win bars and beam, the latter of which she failed to do at last year's Nationals. Her strengths on those events alone are enough to assure her a spot on the team.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: International judges should be following these nationals and the upcoming U.S. Olympic Trials very closely, and for a boost in political scoring favor at the Olympics, Liukin would like an AA win here. Maintaining her immense skill on bars and beam while showing improvement on the power events will be most necessary on her quest to Olympic AA gold, and will look for a strong meet here to propel her confidence to a new level en route to Beijing.
Potential Upgrades: Double-Twisting Yurchenko (5.8 A), Connecting Tkatchev + Pak on UB (7.8 A), Triple Twist Dismount on beam (6.8 A)
Predictions: Whether Liukin will actually upgrade anything is sketchy, and perhaps not entirely necessary if doing so will cause inconsistency. Will likely need a fall from Shawn in order to win the AA, however, but it could happen with the added pressure on Shawn defending her title and the comparatively less pressure on Nastia. Winning bars is almost a given, but the fight for the balance beam title between Liukin, Johnson, and Alicia Sacramone will be interesting.
Overview: Alicia showed improvement on beam (already a strong event for her) at the recent Karolyi International meet, showing a 16.125 (7.0 A) in AA finals. Alicia has no use contributing on USA's weakest event, bars, but her world-class ability on the other three make her almost lock for the squad. Alicia will look to showing two great beam efforts in the competition, which will thus assure the selection squad solely on looking for girls that can swing bars as opposed to back-ups on beam. This event can also be used as a testing ground for further upgrades on floor and vault.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Alicia will need to continue to prove her consistency and mental toughness to Martha K. and USAG. At last year's Championships Alicia delivered an excellent day two after a shaky night one. While Alicia doesn't need to have two excellent nights to get her on the team, she does need a good showing here for confidence in her first major meet since last year's Worlds.
Potential Upgrades: NBCOlympics hinted that Alicia is planning on competing an Amanar this summer, and we might see some upgrades on floor (piked double arabian/double-double/triple twist) though specifically what she will be upgrading, if anything, remains to be seen on that event.
Predictions: Alicia looked strong at the recent Karolyi meet and don't expect anything different at these Championships. However, an Amanar upgrade is unlikely until the Olympic Trials, if it is to ever show up. Upgrades on floor are probable, but consistency is likely Sacramone's top objective for this meet. Competing at home should be another tremendous boost for Alicia's confidence at this competition.
Overview: Shayla's once sewn-up position is loosening by the minute, with reports of injury and also Chellsie Memmel and Ashley Priess' improvement on their specialty event, uneven bars, the same event Shayla excels at. (for more info see Shayla Worley: The New Hollie Vise? post) There have been several reports of back/hamstring problems dating back to the Scam Cup where Worley had a very lackluster meet. At top form, Shayla can medal individually in the AA, bars, beam, and even floor. It remains to be seen what condition she will be in, but should look to peak at the Trials if she is not currently at top form.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Medaling on bars and hitting two clean routines on that event is Shayla's no.1 priority for these Championships. Shayla's chances of making the team will be significantly weakened if Ashley, Chellsie, and Nastia all finish ahead of her on that event. Medaling on beam will also do well for Worley's Olympic chances, and even more so will a medal in the AA.
Potential Upgrades: Double-Twisting Yurchenko; injuries will likely prevent further upgrades at least for this meet.
Predictions: Shayla's current shape is unknown, having not competed in a major meet since Scam. Shayla has too much confidence to give up easily, but with Chellsie and Ashley back in the mix Shayla is going to have to prove herself more than ever, specifically on UB, to go to Beijing.
Overview: Samantha's improved confidence and skill has led her to being a serious AA medal podium threat next week. Having an excellent meet at the 2008 Scam Cup, Sam was shaky at the following Italy Grand Prix meet and thus brought back her known inconsistency. Showing consistency at these Championships and at Olympic Trials should be Sam's top priority. Sam should show increased difficulty on several events here, knowing her Olympic aspirations depend on it.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: To show consistency while performing top level skills. Medaling in the AA will help Sam's chances out greatly, but Martha K. will be specifically looking for Sam to finish in the top three on vault and floor. Doing that would almost guarantee Sam a spot as the lead-off girl on those two events where USA needs to gain as much scoring ground as possible over China.
Potential Upgrades: Amanar (unlikely though-6.5 A), laidout double-double off bars (6.4 A), double arabian off beam (6.9 A), possible upgrades on floor but it remains to be seen as to what she will bring to Boston on that event.
Predictions: I am expecting Sam to have a good meet. Her vastly improved solidity at the Scam Cup should continue toward Nationals, it just remains to be seen if she can hit her upgrades and be consistent through both days of competition. Sam's strength on the power events is an asset, but her trying to be an AA gymnast will do the USA no favors if she sacrifices her strength there for improvement on events the team doesn't really need her on, especially bars.
Overview: Despite Ivana's commendable form and artistry, her lack of difficulty, amplitude, and consistency have meant the difference between medals for Ivana in the past. Much to every one's disappointment Ivana showed no big UB upgrades at the Karolyi meet; her start value was only a 6.3 there. Ivana appeared to be a better competitor at the Karolyi meet, winning the AA in a weak field. Despite the lack of competition, this win should give Ivana a much-needed boost of confidence toward Nationals.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Prove to USAG and Martha K. that she has something viable to contribute to the team. Placing ahead of Sam P. to make top three on vault will be imperative for Hong's Olympic chances. Placing on beam, where she showed a 15.8 at the camp, can help as well.
Potential Upgrades: None that I know of, though seeing a couple added skills on bars is possible
Overview: Memmel is competing her first real meet since December 2007 when she competed at the Toyota Cup in Japan. Memmel had a cautious comeback meet at the Karolyi camp, but turned in an excellent 16.0 to win bars finals (6.9 A-score). This is .3 higher than Memmel's bars A-score prior to her shoulder injury at Worlds, and the second highest potential bars score in the country. Memmel will also look to have a strong AA case as well, having won medals at the Toyota Cup and the Olympic test event on beam and floor and showing a possible DTY on vault as well.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: With Liukin's strength Memmel is unlikely to win bars, but placing 2nd there will do great for her Olympic cause. Placing ahead of Sam P. on beam and/or floor would almost guarantee Memmel a spot on the Olympic team, but this won't be easy. Showing consistency and two hit routines on bars are Memmel's no.1 objectives at what will likely be her last Nationals.
Potential Upgrades: Possibly getting back her DTY (5.8 A, hasn't competed it since '06 Worlds), adding a tenth or two on bars and getting back her full floor difficulty
Prediction: Memmel competed with a few watered-down routines at the Karolyi meet, notably on vault and floor. Whether Memmel will go for her full difficulty here or save it for Olympic trials remains to be seen, but regardless Chellsie should have a strong competition in terms of consistency. Hitting all of her routines at both the Olympic test event and the Toyota Cup last year proves that Memmel is still as tough as they come.
Overview: Jana had a strong showing at the Pacific Rim Championships back in March, and should come to Nationals healthy and with renewed confidence. Two events, bars and floor, are where Jana can make the biggest contribution to the team. Jana will need to medal on least one of those events if Martha K. is going to seriously take her into consideration for making the Olympic team.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Showing consistency is imperative for the former World AA silver medalist. Medals on bars and floor are necessary due to the fact that the USA is in need of good scores on those events especially.
Potential Upgrades: Full-twisting double layout on floor; given all the injuries Jana has had lately it is unlikely we will see too many upgrades from the Pacific Rim to ensure that Jana remains healthy. However, the full-twisting double layout is a very valuable upgrade and viewers could very well see it in Boston.
Prediction: Jana is generally scored favorably by USAG, despite poor form and artistry. However, Jana has no room for error at Nationals or Olympic Trials if she is to go to Beijing. A consistent full-twisting double layout could easily propel Jana to a top 3 finish on floor. However, a top 3 finish on bars is unlikely with Priess and Memmel back in the mix, nor are fans expecting Jana to medal in the AA.
Overview: Bridget is unlikely to compete AA at Nationals due to recovery from knee surgery, which she had after sustaining an injury at the Italy Grand Prix meet back in March. However, Bridget has said that she has improved quite a bit on bars and that she has added two skills for Nationals, thus backing up rumors that she has a 6.7 A-score there. Bridget hasn't competed since December, and many will be keen on seeing what improvements she's made and whether she is needed on the Olympic team.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Finishing top 3 on bars is essential if Sloan wants to go to Beijing. Her knee injury means she likely won't be competing floor at Nationals, her other strong event. Bridget plans on peaking at the Olympic Trials, which is probably a wise move. However, Bridget needs to be fully consistent with whatever apparatus she is competing at Nationals, especially uneven bars.
Potential Upgrades: Two new skills on bars; an Indiana Star newspaper video showed Sloan training a layout full-in off UB.
Prediction: Bridget and Jana make somewhat of a double-edged sword for the committee, with it looking like Bridget will be stronger than Jana on bars while the opposite will likely be true on floor. These two athletes have strengths on the two events USA needs, but with other girls looking to contribute on bars and floor as well it could mean game over for Bridget especially. However, Sloan's consistency is something that cannot be overlooked.
Overview: Darling's much anticipated quest to make Olympic team really begins at these Nationals. Darling battled an injury at the Karolyi meet, scrapping vault and bars altogether. Darling's major contribution for the squad is on floor, where she mixes very difficult tumbling with quiet and calm dance. However, USAG will be wary to send Darling due to lack of international exposure and fear that the international judges will score this relative unknown harshly.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Winning floor! This is a tall order, with Shawn and Alicia currently ranked #1 and #2 on floor after last year's Worlds. However, as I see it, this is the only way for Darling to make the team. Shoulder problems have hindered Darling's ability on vault and bars, the latter of which she would've also hoped to make a potential contribution on. Finishing 3rd on floor can keep Hill in the mix, but will likely still be passed over because of her lack of other contributions to the team.
Potential Upgrades: N/A
Prediction: Winning floor is unlikely, with possible upgrades to come from Johnson, Sacramone, Peszek, and Bieger. Medaling is possible, but if she fails to do so she is essentially saying goodbye to her Olympic aspirations. It is unclear whether we will see Hill on vault and uneven bars. However, even if she does, upgrades are unlikely with the shoulder problems she has been having. Like other current Olympic hopeful Ashley Priess and 2004 Olympian Annia Hatch, Hill's Olympic aspirations will come down to one event, one contribution that probably won't be enough.
Overview: Ashley makes a potentially stable, and needed, contribution on USA weakest event, the bars. Ashley posted 15.75 and 15.8 on that event at the Karolyi meet, while bars rival Shayla Worley only posts scores that big when she has a very good day, and those don't come often for her. Consistency is one of Priess' strengths, and if she brings that to Nationals she could be looked upon as a very serious contender for the Olympic team.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Finish in the top 3, or even the top 2, on bars. Considerably outscoring Worley here will be necessary for Priess, because Worley contributes far more than Ashley on the other three events. Showing consistency is imperative, and may end up needing to rely on mistakes from Shayla Worley and/or Bridget Sloan to solidify herself as a needed commodity on just one event.
Possible Upgrades: Ashley has a 6.6 A-score on bars, but showing with consistency with that routine may prompt her to upgrade her UB routine by another tenth or two.
Prediction: I do actually expect Ashley to get 3rd on bars, ahead of Shayla, Bridget, and Jana. However, how much she can distance herself from the other three bars girls, especially Shayla, remains to be seen and could be the ultimate deciding factor in her quest to go to Beijing.
Overview: Many might not know this girl; I didn't even feature her in my USA Olympic team outlook post. However, this dark horse brings tangible contributions to the team on both vault and floor. Stageberg competed a very solid DTY and had the highest floor score (15.3) at the recent U.S. Classic, and actually tied Sacramone for the floor exercise title at the 2006 USA's. Hardly an internationally seasoned competitor, but fans should think twice before eliminating her from the mix entirely.
Necessary Tasks to Get Done: Randi needs to finish in the top three on vault and floor for any hope of going to Beijing. Stageberg needs to show excellent consistency at Nationals, even on her weak events, in order for her to be scored favorably as a reliable competitor. Randi is very talented, but is somewhat of a headcase (i.e. unreliable competitor) when the pressure of a meet builds.
Possible Upgrades: N/A
Prediction: Unlikely to go to Beijing, but Randi would actually be a serious contender for making the team if she had more experience, thus being allowed to prove that she is a reliable competitor. Inconsistency, lack of international exposure, and lack of political favor will likely be the undoing of Stageberg's Olympic bid, but Martha K. mentioned her in an Inside Gymnastics magazine article: "Randi Stageberg has a good floor routine." She's obviously done something right.
Other Darkhorses Who Are Unlikely to Make the Team but You Never Know...
Chelsea Davis (coached by '91 World AA champ Kim Zmeskal)
Silver: Nastia Liukin
Bronze: Samantha Peszek
#2: Shawn Johnson
#3: Samantha Peszek (could be Ivana Hong if Peszek still competes her DTY)
Gold: Nastia Liukin
Silver: Chellsie Memmel
Bronze: Ashley Priess
Gold: Shawn Johnson
Silver: Nastia Liukin
Bronze: Alicia Sacramone
Gold: Shawn Johnson
Silver: Alicia Sacramone
Bronze: Jana Bieger