The world’s two best gymnasts last year, Simone Biles and Kyla Ross, will lead the U.S. at the World Championships in Nanning, China, from Oct. 5-12.
Biles, Ross and four women who have never competed at an Olympics or Worlds are charged with winning a third straight global gold, something no nation has done since the Romanian dynasty of the late 1990s. The Americans, then led by Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber, Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, won the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics.
There was no team event at the 2013 World Championships. This U.S. squad is far different from the Fierce Five of the London Games. For one, there are six gymnasts on a World Championships roster.
In Nanning, the U.S.’ biggest competition should be Russia, which won silver at the 2011 Worlds and 2012 Olympics.
The Russian team pillar is Aliya Mustafina, who led the nation to team gold at the 2010 Worlds, tore an ACL in 2011, won Olympic all-around bronze in 2012 and World all-around bronze in 2013.
Viktoria Komova, the 2011 World and 2012 Olympic all-around silver medalist, could miss a second straight World Championships. She wasn’t on Russia’s nominative team and has dealt with injury since the London Games.
The U.S. has issues of its own. Maroney isn’t competing this season after March knee surgery. Several other up-and-coming gymnasts have been knocked out by injuries this year, including the 2011 and 2012 U.S. junior all-around champions and the third-place finisher from this year’s P&G Championships senior all-around.
As far as the Rio Olympic outlook, keep in mind that one of the seven gymnasts on the 2010 World Championships team made it back for the 2012 Olympic team — Raisman.
Here’s a look at the U.S. team and each gymnast’s credentials (*one of the seven will be designated the alternate once in China):
Simone Biles: The two-time reigning U.S. all-around champion and the reigning World all-around champion will be counted on heavily. Biles, 17, won medals on every apparatus except uneven bars (where she finished fourth) at the 2013 World Championships in perhaps the greatest single-meet performance in U.S. gymnastics history.
Kyla Ross: The only Olympian on the U.S. roster finished second to Biles in the all-around at the last two P&G Championships and the 2013 World Championships. She is arguably the second-best gymnast in the world. Ross won silver on uneven bars and balance beam at the 2013 Worlds and placed fifth in the floor exercise final. Like Biles, she will be leaned on in the team competition.
Alyssa Baumann: Baumann, from the same gym that produced Nastia Liukin and Carly Patterson, finished fourth in the all-around at the P&G Championships. She turned 16 on May 17 and is the youngest member of the U.S. team. She could join Biles and Ross on balance beam and floor exercise in the team final.
MyKayla Skinner: Not to be confused with Maroney, Skinner has won medals on vault at the last three U.S. Championships. An American woman has won a vault medal at each of the last seven World Championships. If Biles can’t keep the streak going in Nanning, Skinner could very well.
Ashton Locklear: The North Carolina native won the P&G Championships title on uneven bars, an event in which the U.S. has lacked depth in recent years. It is Biles’ weakest event, creating an opening for Locklear to be an asset in the three-up, three-count format in the team final.
Madison Kocian: Kocian appears to have edged 2013 Worlds selection Brenna Dowell for this spot on the strength of her P&G Championships bars silver behind Locklear. (Dowell, the 2013 P&G Championships bronze medalist on bars, has dealt with an ankle injury and is the non-traveling alternate.)
Madison Desch: Desch, part of the Pan American Championships team with Skinner, Locklear and Kocian, has performed her best on floor exercise at the last two P&G Championships. Before that, she won balance beam and was second in the all-around in the junior division at Nationals in 2012.