Five Storylines For The P&G Gymnastics Championships

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 21, 2014, 11:16 a.m. (ET)
Samuel Mikulak competes on the high bar during the men's all-around final during the 2013 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships held at the Antwerp Sports Palace on Oct. 3, 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium.

With the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games still two years away, the nation’s top gymnasts arrive at the P&G Gymnastics Championships in Pittsburgh this week with a more immediate goal: earning berths in the world championships, which run Oct. 3-13 in Nanning, China.

All four rounds of senior competition at the P&G Gymnastics Championships will be broadcast live either on NBC or via a free webcast at PGChamps.com. In addition, NBCSN will show replays of the first two rounds of competition on Friday night.

Here’s the broadcast schedule:

Thursday: Women 7:45 p.m. ET (webcast) live; replay at 7 p.m. ET Friday (NBCSN)

Friday: Men 7:15 p.m. ET (webcast) live; replay at 11:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Saturday: Women 8 p.m. ET (NBC) live

Sunday: Men 2:30 p.m. ET (NBC) live

And here are five reasons to watch.

Kyla Ross and Simone Biles pose after the women's all-around final during the 2013 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the Antwerp Sports Palace on Oct. 4, 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium.  

1. Kyla vs. Simone

Seventeen-year-olds Kyla Ross and Simone Biles headline the women’s competition. Ross has the name recognition, having been a member of the “Fierce Five,” the U.S. team that won Olympic gold in London in 2012. But Biles came out on top in 2013, edging Ross for both the U.S. and the world all-around titles, all in her first year on the senior level. Both women are back in 2014, along with Brenna Dowell, another member of the 2013 world championships team.

2. Sam’s the Man! Or is John? Or Danell?

When Danell Leyva unseated Jonathan Horton as the U.S. all-around champion in 2011, it marked the beginning of a new era. When John Orozco unseated Leyva as the U.S. all-around champion in 2012, it marked the beginning of a great rivalry. Then, when Sam Mikulak joined the party in 2013 with his first U.S. all-around title, it was a sign: The U.S. men have got something going here.

The victories were not a sign that gymnasts were falling off as much as they were proof that the U.S. men are getting stronger at the top. Of the four 2012 Olympians, Leyva still holds the top standing by merit of his all-around bronze medal in London. With none of the most recent trio older than Leyva’s 22 (Mikulak and Orozco are 21), the ceiling appears to still be higher up.

John Orozco competes in the parallel bars final during the 2013 Artistic Gymnastics World Championships at the Antwerp Sports Palace on Oct. 6, 2013 in Antwerp, Belgium. 

3. Olympic Preview?

So, the United States has two of the top women’s gymnasts in the world. They’re pretty much a lock to go to Rio in two years, right? Not necessarily. At this point in the last quadrennium, four of the five U.S. Olympians were still competing at the junior level. Aly Raisman made her senior nationals debut in 2010; Jordyn Wieber, Gabby Douglas and McKayla Maroney followed in 2011; and Kyla Ross didn’t compete in her first senior nationals until 2012, just a few weeks before the London Games. Meanwhile, five of the six 2008 Olympians battled in vain to earn a return trip, with three of them making it as far as the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

So who are some of the names who might break out in Pittsburgh? Two juniors national team members have moved up to the senior ranks this year: Alyssa Baumann and Amelia Hundley. Maggie Nichols, 17, is another name to watch. She finished third behind Biles and Ross in the all-around at the Secret U.S. Classic earlier this month. Last year’s junior all-around champion, Bailie Key, is still a junior.

4. Where’s the Fierce Five?

Of the Fierce Five, only Kyla Ross is competing this week in Pittsburgh. But four of the five women have said they want to make the U.S. team for Rio. So where are they?

McKayla Maroney is still active; she’s just injured. The two-time vault world champion and 2012 Olympic vault silver medalist competed in a limited role at last year’s P&G Championships and world championships before taking time off for knee surgery. Earlier this month, she told USA Gymnastics that she is back in the gym and serious about Rio. “I’m more determined to make it to this Olympics than I ever have been before,” she said.

Gabby Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around gold medalist, has been in the gym and was planning to return to competition this weekend. Instead, she is sitting out to focus on training with her new coach, Kittia Carpenter of Buckeye Gymnastics in Columbus, Ohio, with whom she began working in July. The 18-year-old Douglas hasn’t set a new return date, but she told the Associated Press this month that she’s “committed to working hard to be a part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Team.”

Jordyn Wieber, the 2011 world all-around champion, hasn’t competed since London. Wieber, 19, began school at UCLA in the fall of 2013 and, though her professional status prevented her from competing with the Bruins, she had planned to train at the team’s facility. In July, she told local radio station WVOX, “I’m still sort of deciding what I want to do at this point.”

• Like Wieber, Aly Raisman, 20, hasn’t competed since winning the floor exercise and team gold medals in London. Her agent says she is back in the gym, however, training with her longtime coach Mihai Brestyan at Brestyan’s American Gymnastics in Burlington, Massachusetts. The earliest she might return to competition would be 2015.

Jonathan Horton competes in the men's high bar final at the London 2012 Olympic Games at North Greenwich Arena on Aug. 7, 2012 in London. 

5. Horton is Here

Jonathan Horton, the only two-time Olympian active on the men’s side, is set to compete this weekend for the first time since the London Games. Horton missed significant training time due to reconstructive shoulder surgery at the end of 2012 and then another surgery after tearing a pectoral muscle in late 2013.

The 28-year-old Horton is the patriarch on the men’s side, and since he last competed he’s become a father as well. His son, David, was born in June 2013. Horton, who won a high bar silver medal and team bronze medal in 2008 in Beijing, was also the U.S. all-around champion in 2009 and 2010.

He has said his goal is to compete in a third Olympic Games in 2016. The last U.S. gymnast to make three consecutive Olympic teams was Blaine Wilson, who did so in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

Chrös McDougall has been a reporter and editor for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

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