Martha Karolyi certainly wasn’t lacking confidence after the U.S. women won more than half of the medals at the World Gymnastics Championships.
“We are ready to go for Rio,” she said, according to The Associated Press. “We have some more reserves.”
Start with the stars. There’s Simone Biles, in her first year as a senior gymnast, who won the all-around title in Antwerp, Belgium, last week.
“You can see that fire in her eyes,” 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin said at the Diana Nyad Swim for Relief event in New York on Wednesday. “Her skills are just through the roof. It’s not just her skills, but it’s the way that she executes them. It’s the Amanar on vault. She got a skill named after her on floor (exercise).”
There’s also Kyla Ross, the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic champion team, who won three silvers, including in the all-around. Both Biles and Ross are 16.
McKayla Maroney, 17, again showed she’s the best vaulter in the world by defending her title on the high-flying event.
The reserves that Karolyi referred to? Well, there are two sets.
Olympians Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber and Aly Raisman all took time off after the London Games but expressed interest in returning to training at some point. Raisman is already back in her Massachusetts gym.
Nobody has made back-to-back U.S. Olympic teams since 2000, so perhaps the more noteworthy reserves are juniors.
Karolyi “insisted she has several 13-year-olds already gearing up for Rio,” according to the AP.
The top two finishers at the U.S. Junior Championships are too young to compete at the senior level next year. Bailie Key is 14, and Laurie Hernandez is 13.
If history is any indication, they could very well pass Biles and everyone else as the top U.S. all-around hopes by the 2016 Olympics. In the last 10 years, 10 different women have been the top U.S. finisher at the year’s biggest competition.
Look at the last Olympic cycle. In 2009, Bridget Sloan won the World Championship. In 2010, Rebecca Bross was the world bronze medalist. In 2011, Wieber won the World Championship. In 2012, Douglas won the Olympic title.
Neither Sloan nor Bross made the 2012 Olympic team. Neither Wieber nor Douglas was old enough for senior events in 2009 or 2010.
“The turnover is so high,” Liukin said. “I think it is important to take it one year at a time. It’s so hard now to do so when the Olympics has gotten so much more attention, I feel like, in the past few Olympics.”
Liukin would know. She was too young for the 2004 Olympics, entering senior competition in 2005. She took the silver medal behind U.S. teammate Chellsie Memmel by .001 of a point at the 2005 World Championships.
Liukin had to keep her form for three more years before the Beijing Games, while her biggest competition come 2008, Shawn Johnson, was 10th in the junior all-around at the 2005 U.S. Championships. Liukin, then 16, had no idea that a 13-year-old would eventually rival her.
“In ’05, I would say I wasn’t aware,” Liukin said. “It was my first year on the senior rankings, and I was so excited to be there (at worlds). I remember it was in Rod Laver Arena in Australia, in Melbourne. I remember walking into that arena, and it was like 20,000 people, and I just looked at my dad with huge eyes.”
Liukin, now a freshman at New York University, knew better in 2009. She pulled out of the 2009 World Championships before the team was named because she didn’t feel she could compete at her best. She was also well-versed in the U.S. gymnastics landscape, with rising stars such as Bross, who also trained under Liukin’s dad, inspired by Liukin’s performance in Beijing.
“I knew there was a whole new generation of girls wanting to push me out,” Liukin said. “That’s the way I feel like these young girls are. They’re so ambitious.”
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