|MyKayla Skinner performs on the balance beam at the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships on Oct. 1, 2014 in Nanning, China.|
Though Simone Biles and Kyla Ross are only 17, they’re suddenly elders on the U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
At the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, which begin this weekend in Nanning, China, Biles and Ross will be the only members of the six-woman team with major international experience.
Only Ross remains from the American team that won the team gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games (though three of her four Olympic teammates say they are in various stages of a comeback).
Ross and Biles — the reigning all-around gold medalist from last year’s world championships in Antwerp, Belgium — now find themselves in a leadership role, providing advice for Alyssa Baumann, Madison Kocian, Ashton Locklear and MyKayla Skinner. None of the four has been to a world championships or Olympic Games.
“I’ve felt like I’ve helped them quite a bit, like me and Kyla have led them through the ropes and stuff like that,” Biles said this past week in Nanning, where she and her teammates were preparing for the start of competition Sunday. “If they’re having a down day, we always know what to say because we’ve been there.”
This U.S. team has plenty to live up to: the Americans won team golds at the 2011 world championships and 2012 London Games (there was no team competition in 2013), and if the Americans can win gold in China, they’d become the first nation with three consecutive championships in the event since the Romanians did it in the 1990s.
“Winning a team gold would mean everything to me, because I’m like a team person,” Biles said. “So I think it would be a lot of fun to do. … Last year was individual, so you’re kind of on your own, but this year you can do it as a team and just be proud of everyone.”
A look at the American team hoping to be atop the podium when the competition wraps up on Oct. 11 and 12:
Alyssa Baumann (Plano, Texas; age 16): She’s this year’s national silver medalist in the balance beam, and she also finished fourth in the all-around and floor exercise at the recent 2014 P&G Gymnastics Championships in Pittsburgh. She began gymnastics at the age of 3. Earlier this year she had an elbow injury, but she rebounded to perform well as part of the U.S. team that took the team gold medal at the City of Jesolo Trophy competition in Italy, where she also won silver on the beam.
|Simon Biles performs on the balance beam at the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships on Oct. 1, 2014 in Nanning, China.|
Simone Biles (Spring, Texas; 17): The reigning world all-around and floor exercise champion, vault silver medalist and balance beam bronze medalist won her second straight all-around national title at the P&G Championships, where she also won the vault and floor exercise. Her performance over the past two years caused Olympic champion Mary Lou Retton to say: “She’s not human. She may be the most talented I’ve ever seen in my life, honestly. And I don’t think she’s tapped into what she really can do. I think she’s unbeatable.” Biles took up gymnastics at age 6.
Madison Kocian (Dallas; 17): She’s excelled in the uneven bars — her favorite event — taking the silver medal at the P&G Championships as well as this year’s Pan American Championships and the Secret U.S. Classic. At the City of Jesolo event in Italy this year, she won the uneven bars. She says her mom first put her in a gymnastics class when she was 6 “because I would climb on everything.”
Ashton Locklear (Hamlet, North Carolina; 16): Just over a year removed from suffering a stress fracture in her back, Locklear has come back strong. Her coach, Qi Han, a former member of the Chinese national team who has worked with her since she was 11, says, “She’s special on the uneven bars.” Locklear is this year’s U.S. champion in that event, and also took first in the Pan American Championships. By age 2, she already was tumbling around the gym after watching an older sister in gymnastics.
|Kyla Ross performs on the balance beam at the 2014 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships on Oct. 1, 2014 in Nanning, China.
Kyla Ross (Aliso Viejo, California; 17): Ross showed up in China with her left hip and thigh taped following an injury in one of the last U.S. practice sessions before the team departed. But she’s been able to do her routines and practice and says she feels “pretty good.” “I’m kind of held together by tape right now,” she joked, explaining that she overstretched some muscles in her hip, groin and hamstring. If she can’t compete at her normal level, it would be a blow for the U.S. team. She’s its most decorated member. She has a team gold medal from the 2012 London Games and is the U.S. balance beam champion and all-around silver medalist. Last year, she was second at the world championships in the all-around, uneven bars and balance beam. She says her parents put her into gymnastics classes when she was 3 “because I had so much energy.”
MyKayla Skinner (Gilbert, Arizona; 17): She’s a strong, versatile gymnast who won silver medals in the vault and floor exercise at the P&G Championships, and won bronze at the 2012 national championships in the vault. At the Pan American Championships this year she excelled, finishing first in the all-around, vault and floor exercise. At age 4, she followed two older sisters into the sport.
Doug Williams covered three Olympic Games for two Southern California newspapers and was the Olympic editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has written for TeamUSA.org since 2011 as a freelance contributor on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.