From Hartford to Paris-2024

In recent years, I was lucky to witness some fascinating examples of athletic greatness during live sporting events.  Most recently, it was Ilya Malinin performing six quadruple jumps (including a “trail blazing” quad axel) during his free skate at the Montreal Figure Skating Worlds-24.  I have seen (pairs) figure skater Aljona Savchenko, then 34, at Skate America-17, right before her fifth (this time Golden) Olympics.

At the US Classic-2016, in Hartfort, Connecticut (which started US women’s team selection for Rio Olympics) I interviewed the likes of Simone Biles and Ally Raisman who went on to capture multiple Olympic medals there.

Talking to Aly Raisman during US Classic-2016

Last weekend I was beyond excited to see Simone Biles and other top US female gymnasts making their cases for Paris team selection at the US Classic-24 in Hartford, CT.

What Made Hartford event so special for me?

Here is my 1 min video report from US Classic-24

First, there were – for the first time in historythree Olympic all around gold medalists competing at the same meet: Gabby Douglas (2012 London Olympics All-Around Champion), Sunisa (Suni) Lee (Tokyo 2020 Olympics All-Around Champion) and Simone Biles (2016 Rio Olympics All-Around Champion).  All of the three took recently took time away from gymnastics with Douglas, 28, coming back last year after seven years away from the sport; Lee, 21 has been struggling with illnesses and has not been able to fully return to training for months and Biles, 27 took two years after Tokyo where she came short in the medals expectations due to mental health issues. Although these athletes are in different stages of their comeback journeys it was exciting to see them under one roof, demonstrating their enormous will power to succeed and make it to Paris. Simone Biles (59,500 total score- almost two whole points ahead of competition) won the all-around competition in Hartford and is all but a lock to take her place in a 5-person team aiming for Paris.  Suni Lee (while not yet ready to perform all 4 events) made a great case for herself winning beam event (6.3 difficulty for a total score of 14.6).  Gabby Douglas’s performance was more of a question mark, unfortunately, as she was not able to conquer her nerves and withdrew after several falls on her first event- uneven bars.  It is unclear at this time whether we will see her at the next step of the selection process.

Suni Lee during her floor exercise in Hartford

Overall, there were ten Olympic and World medalists performing in Hartford: Simone Biles, Jade Carey, Suni Lee , and Jordan Chiles are four of the five Tokyo Olympics team members remaining in the sport, with Shilese Jones (2022 and 2023 World All-Around medalist), Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello (both Tokyo Olympics alternates; and recent world medalists), and Skye Blakely and Joscelyn Roberson, slightly younger team members with world team medal 2023.

US Classic-24: Simone, Shilese and Jordan are waiting for their warm up turn

We saw some amazing, head turning skills from Simone: her triple double Biles II element on the floor (she twists three times as she completes her double flip in a tuck position- three times sideways and two times front to back- all in slightly more than a second; and her Biles II on Vault– which is Yurchenko double pike which she performed for the first time without her coach spotting resulting in no mandatory .5 deduction and a score of 15.6 This was the highest score in competition on any event in Hartford: Simone’s vault’s starting value is 6.4; in comparison, Shilese Jones is performing a vault that has a starting value of 5*

 *Every gymnastics routine consists of (open ended) starting value – a technical score awarded for elements performed and a second score for execution which has a maximum of 10 points .

Who is my team-Paris?

Five gymnasts will go on to Paris Olympics to compete in the team event and then in individual all-around and apparatus competitions.  During team competition only three gymnasts perform on each event.  The team is selected with an idea of maximizing the score on each event – typically these are three strongest all-arounders (keep in mind that these gymnasts will then also be competing for the all-around medals) with the gymnasts selected for 4th and 5th spots needing to show a strong scoring potential on at least 2 events.

Based on this Hartford US Classic event, Simone Biles and Shilese Jones (first and second in the All-around) look extremely solid all-arounders: they delivered on all 4 events; Simone has amazing difficulty ahead of the entire world and Shilese, while behind Simone in the starting value is a brilliant in her execution score.  Shilies is still working on increasing her difficulty.  She just added a new element on bars (where she is one of the world’s best) which earned the highest bar score of 15,250 (6.5 technical score) of the event.

Jordan Chiles, Biles’ training mate at the World Champions Center in Texas came third in the all-around (55,450) and is a very strong contender number 3.

Jade Carey, Tokyo Olympics Floor Champion (who finished fourth in the all-around in Hartford) looks convincing as a candidate for spot no 4 with strong vault and floor events (Jade is also still adding difficulty and should peak in the next couple of weeks).

I feel strongly about these four making the four of the five spots on the Olympic team.  5th spot is very much UP in the air at this point.  Will it be an extremely talented Skye Blakely with high scoring potential on beam and bars (and working to upgrade her vault)?  Possibly, if she is able to show her best under the pressure of the US Championships and Trials; or Suny Lee– who is an experienced competitor (with beautiful lines) but has yet to regain her difficulty and stamina back (she is training new element on bars, her signature event and is expected to show her full potential at the US Championships next month).

There is also Konnor McClain, 19, a gymnast who was not competing in 2023 due to injury.  In Hartford she dazzled the crowd on beam (was third behind Simone and Suni) but injured herself in the warm-up right before the floor event.

Also in contention are newcomer Tiana Sumanasekera (6th all-around), and experienced Leanne Wong and Kayla DiCello who have a strong all-around potential should they “hit” all of their events during enduring days of the selection process ahead.

Next piece of the selection puzzle will be filled on May 31-June 2 at the US Gymnastics Championships followed by Olympic team Trials on June 27-30 in Minneapolis.  Paris Olympics is July 27-August 10.

Stay tuned!

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