Three takeaways from the world gymnastics championships in Montreal …
1. Morgan Hurd jumbles U.S. women’s team picture
Hurd was fifth at the 2016 junior nationals and sixth at this year’s senior nationals. Now that the 16-year-old is world all-around champion, where will she stand domestically in 2018? 2020?
Remember, all the focus this year was on Olympic alternate Ragan Smith until Smith injured an ankle in warm-up for the all-around final and withdrew. Smith’s all-around score in qualifying (where she was second overall) would have won gold by seven tenths of a point.
Before worlds, she swept the AT&T American Cup and P&G Championships titles, both quite convincingly. Though Hurd did beat Smith in the U.S. selection camp’s closed-door competition in September to earn a place on the world team.
OK, so Hurd vs. Smith in 2018? It’s not looking that simple.
The second- and third-highest scorers at the P&G Championships came from the junior division. Maile O’Keefe and Emma Malabuyo both move up to senior next year.
As for 2020, Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Laurie Hernandez have all said they hope to come back at some point in this Olympic cycle. Only Biles has returned to the gym, but no competition return dates have been set.
Team sizes will be cut from five to four for the Olympics (though two extra gymnasts can compete in individual events).
Also consider the high injury risk.
Chellsie Memmel (2005) and Bridget Sloan (2009) both won world titles the year after an Olympics and then struggled to stay healthy the rest of the quad. Memmel made the 2008 Olympic team, but only competed on uneven bars due to a broken ankle. Sloan withdrew from the 20102 Olympic Trials with an elbow injury.
Two others who won world all-around medals the year after the Olympics — Rebecca Bross (2009, silver) and Kyla Ross (2013, silver) — both did not make it back for the Games three years later.
So, Hurd has a long, tough road ahead for somebody who became the world’s best gymnast in her first year in the senior division.
2. U.S. men have one all-arounder; they need more
National champion Yul Moldauer did well for himself at his first worlds, finishing seventh in the all-around. He did so with a full point fewer in difficulty than anybody else in the top eight.
He’ll go back to Oklahoma for his junior season and presumably continue to improve, adding tougher skills to challenge the Chinese and Japanese.
If the U.S. men are to become Olympic team medal threats again, they need another all-arounder given the roster cut to four.
Will it be Sam Mikulak? The four-time U.S. champion has never been a bigger question mark since he burst onto the scene to make the 2012 Olympic team.
He looked just as promising as Moldauer in 2013, when Mikulak would have won a world all-around medal if not for falling on his last event, high bar. The last four years brought plenty of domestic success, but more Achilles tears (two) than individual international medals (zero).
Mikulak was put on the world team for high bar only and fell in qualifying. He said afterward he will go back to the all-around next year, but as he turns 25 years old, time is not on his side.
3. The international picture isn’t clear, either
The medalists at next year’s worlds in Doha could be very different.
Not only is the U.S. women’s program set for changes, but some of the world’s best gymnasts weren’t able to compete for medals in Montreal.
Romanian Larisa Iordache, a two-time world all-around medalist behind Biles, suffered an Achilles injury in qualifying. Russian Aliya Mustafina, all-around bronze medalist in Rio behind Biles and Raisman, took the year off due to pregnancy but is expected to return in 2018.
There is uncertainty at the top of men’s gymnastics for the first time in eight years.
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura, the world’s top all-arounder from 2009 through 2016, also bowed out in qualifying due to injury. Combine that with Uchimura’s close win in Rio — by .099 over Ukrainian Oleg Verniaiev — and he will have a little bit to prove in 2018.
New world champion Xiao Ruoteng of China is seven years younger than Uchimura, who at 28 is past peak age for an all-arounder. Uchimura may trim his focus from the all-around to one or two events ahead of the Tokyo Games.
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