Simone Biles

Five things we learned from U.S. gymnastics National Championships

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Overarching storylines now that the U.S. gymnastics championships are over …

1. The women’s team doesn’t have legitimate replacements for the Fierce Five yet.

Good news for any 2012 Olympians looking to get back into the mix … Team USA still needs you. McKayla Maroney and Kyla Ross put on a show at nationals, claiming all of the event gold medals (Ross: balance beam, uneven bars; Maroney: vault, floor exercise).

The only newcomer who set herself apart was all-around champion Simone Biles. With only a handful of juniors from this year’s competition moving to the senior ranks in 2014, there’s plenty of room, and plenty of need for the Fierce Five to return. Judging by this weekend’s performances — the USA could really use a Gabby Douglas uneven bars routine right about now.

2. The American men have some serious depth.

The U.S. men are finally getting a break after cycles of rebuilding after Olympics. The combination of a young Olympic team in 2012 and a great mix of specialists provides a luxury of depth for the first time in many years. In the past the men’s team has leaned heavily on one or two stars (Paul and Morgan Hamm, Blaine Wilson), but the World Championships team this year could be entirely made of men with Olympic and/or worlds experience.

It’s so deep that the 2012 U.S. all-around champion, John Orozco, didn’t make the World Championships team outright; he’s an alternate who could replace the injured Danell Leyva. Things are looking up for a program that has much to prove after their poor showing in London.

3. USA Gymnastics delivered big time for their audience.

USA Gymnastics gets a round of applause for their digital and social media efforts, especially by former University of Michigan gymnast Scott Bregman, who has changed the game for the 50-year-old institution. Up until last year there were few options to see junior portions of competitions, or even day one preliminary competitions for the sport’s most die-hard fans.

USA Gymnastics live streamed all major events this season. They also live streamed podium training, previously only open to the media, and added athlete interviews and vintage full broadcasts of domestic competitions dating to 1980. USA Gymnastics uploaded a staggering 1,200 videos from the weekend’s National Championships, totaling more than 72 hours of coverage. Their YouTube views totaled nearly 1.4 million during the five-day competition. The most watched video? Maroney’s night two vault.

4. Reputation still counts.

Gymnastics remains, in part, a subjective sport. In past decades and even under today’s revised scoring system, gymnasts have relied on reputation to get the benefit of the doubt, whether it’s from the team selection committee or from the judges.

Maroney has set the precedent of near perfect scores on vault. While she was great at nationals, the judges awarded a 9.7 execution score for a vault that was clearly inferior to her Olympic team final stunner that earned a similar 9.733. The good news? If she sticks the Amanar at the World Championships, we could see the first perfect 10.0 at a worlds under the new scoring system.

5. Mykayla Skinner to Worlds?

Three of four women’s spots on the World Championships team are already locked up: Biles, Maroney and Ross. There’s only one spot left and no standout specialists to fill it. Martha Karolyi has thrown surprises in the past, so don’t count out Mykayla Skinner.

Skinner, 16, lacks the polish of her teammates, but she boasts some of the most mind-blowing gymnastics out there, including a double twisting double layout on floor that if performed at the World Championships would bare her name in the Code of Points. She didn’t hit in night one, but she stuck the double twisting double cold Saturday, finishing third on the event behind Maroney and Biles. She can further her cause at the selection camp next month.

Bonus: Bats love gymnastics, too

During the first night of men’s competition a large bat frantically flew around the heads of the audience and commentators in the XL Center (video here). Nastia Liukin muted her mic a few times during the broadcast out of fear of the shrieking as the winged mammal flew by. The bat even got it’s own Twitter account (@PGChampsBat). The arena said it died of “natural causes” before the next day.

Leyva pulls out of worlds; Orozco could replace him

Laurie Hernandez explains wink, nervous Olympic moments in book excerpt

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09:  Lauren Hernandez of the United States prepares ro compete on the balance beam during the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Two of Laurie Hernandez‘s most memorable moments in Rio were mouthing “I got this” before her team final balance beam routine and winking at judges before her floor exercise.

The former became the title of her book, “I Got This: To Gold and Beyond,” due out Tuesday. The latter she also details in the book’s pages.

Hernandez, the first U.S. female Olympian born in the 2000s, is the third member of the Final Five to pen a book.

Hernandez took team gold and balance beam silver in Rio, becoming the youngest individual U.S. Olympic gymnastics medalist since 1992 (Shannon Miller).

She then became the youngest winner of “Dancing with the Stars,” which she also reviews in the book.

Here’s an excerpt from “I Got This,” where Hernandez looks at her Rio Olympic experience:

“The amazing thing about the Olympics is that you feel so many different emotions in the span of a few days, and they are all intense. So it was nice to have at least one totally playful moment. For me that moment happened during my floor routine in the team finals, just before we won. I spontaneously winked at one of the judges and everyone there, and at home, seemed to love that. But honestly I don’t know what came over me. Right before I went on, I was so nervous I looked at the team and said, “Guys, I’m so scared. It’s the last event, what if I mess up?” Any time you are competing as a team you have those worries—I know I had certainly felt the same way at international meets. Thankfully, the girls assured me that wasn’t going to happen. They said, “No, no, no, you’re fine. Don’t worry about it. We’re a few points ahead, so just go out there and enjoy yourself.”

I made my way toward the warm-up area. I was feeling pretty good by then, so I stood to the side and took a deep breath. I wanted to soak in everything around me, because it was definitely a major moment. I scanned the cheering crowd and all I saw was a sea of green. Brazil’s colors are yellow, blue, and green, and the entire arena was decked out in green. The mats were green, the logos were green, everything around me was green, and for a split second, I found it kind of intimidating because in the United States, all our equipment is blue. Even a seemingly small difference like that can be jarring.

Then all of a sudden I heard this beep. It was coming from the little TV screen in the warm-up area that lists your name, your country, and the event you’re about to compete in. My screen read Lauren Hernandez, USA, Floor Exercise. After I heard the beep, the screen switched to GO, which meant I had to go salute the judges and begin.

When I stood up on the floor, I could see one of the out-of-bounds judges in my line of vision. That is the judge who checks to make sure your foot never crosses over the white line. Well, I looked straight at her and suddenly felt this surge of confidence to wink. After I did that, I went on to do an amazing routine. When it was done, I was so proud of myself! Later, a woman came up to me while I was watching Simone and Aly compete in their all-around finals and she said, “Wow, I just want you to know that when you winked at the judge, it really worked.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I just said, “Thank you. That’s very nice of you to say.” That’s when she told me she was the out-of-bounds judge! All I could say was “Oh my goodness.”

When I think back on the Olympics, there were only two times I was anxious for myself or for one of my teammates. In my beam routine, I always find the triple series (or what is called a flight series) a little nerve-racking. That’s when I have to perform three moves in a row backward: I do a back handspring, followed by a layout step-out, followed by another layout step-out. I had a good feeling before I was going to compete that I would hit it, but it’s something I’m always slightly worried about in the back of my mind. The other thing that had me holding my breath was Aly’s first tumble, because she does so much in that pass. I don’t think she’s ever worried about it, because in her head she’s doing everything she needs to do to execute it beautifully. But as you watch, there’s a lot going on, so you fear something might go wrong. She basically does a round off, a backward one-and-a-half twist, and then she steps out of that to connect to another round-off, a back handspring, and then she does this spring called a double Arabian and basically goes up in the air to do a half turn and double front flip connected to a front layout, which is a front flip with a straight leg where her whole body is open. It’s incredible! It’s so insane. It wows me every single time.”

MORE: Hernandez discusses her 2017 plans

Laurie Hernandez

How to watch U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday

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U.S. Figure Skating Championships coverage begins Thursday, live on NBCSN and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app, starting at 5:30 p.m. ET.

The pairs and women’s short programs are scheduled in Kansas City.

The NBC Sports All-Access page will provide live scoring and more all week.

Pairs short program
5:30-7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

Women’s short program
9:30 p.m.-midnight ET, NBCSN
STREAM LINK | SKATE ORDER | PREVIEW

In pairs, defending champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea take on a field including two-time Skate America silver medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier as well as 2014 Olympians Marissa Castelli and Nathan Bartholomay, each skating with different partners since Sochi.

The women are headlined by three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, seeking to become the oldest U.S. women’s champion in 90 years at age 25.

She could be challenged by defending champion Gracie Gold, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and Skate America silver medalist Mariah Bell.

The pairs and women’s free skates will be Saturday, on NBC and streamed on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. A full broadcast schedule is here.

MORE: Gracie Gold forgives herself, eight months after worlds failure