INDIANAPOLIS -- Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman want to go back to the Olympic Games next summer.
Martha Karolyi, the women’s national team coordinator, offers a sober warning.
“The results are the results of your hard work,” she said. “There are no shortcuts or no bonus points for being a former Olympian.”
The gymnasts don’t seem to need extra help.
With less than a year before the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games, Douglas and Raisman returned to the U.S. championships for the first time since 2012 and proved they’re still among the best gymnasts in the country. Raisman, showing flashes of her Olympic self, finished third in the all-around, while Douglas was fifth. Simone Biles, the two-time world champion, ran away with her third U.S. title.
Raisman, now 21, proved to be closer to her Olympic form. Starting the night on floor exercise — the event she won at the 2012 Games — the Needham, Massachusetts, native looked like the Olympic champion she is, confidently tumbling from corner to corner in her red, white and blue leotard. She continued to roll through her other routines, making up for some shaky performances on Thursday night.
With difficulty scores already at or nearing those she used in 2012, Raisman is within striking distance of matching her overall scores from 2012 as well.
“I have to learn when I’m actually competing to feel a little more confident,” she said. “Hopefully that will come with a little more experience being back. Even though I have a lot of experience, I kind of feel like a little junior for the first time out there.”
Douglas’ return after winning the 2012 Olympic all-around title has been more eventful, punctuated by an abrupt coaching change last year. But since settling into her new home in Columbus, Ohio, she has made steady progress. The 19-year-old has a more mature presence on the podium, and the talent remains evident. Although she needs to up her difficulty score on vault and improve her execution all around, she accomplished pretty much what hoped she would in Indianapolis.
“I’m going to take this meet as a stepping stone,” she said. “I’m happy with the overall performance.”
The next stepping stone for the returning Olympians would be to make the six-woman U.S. team that will compete at the world championships beginning Oct. 23 in Glasgow, Scotland. With improvements both the gymnasts and Karolyi are confident they can make, Douglas and Raisman should be favorites to make the team, as should this weekend’s top-two finishers, Biles and Maggie Nichols.
But much will depend on what happens in private when the team meets in September for a national team training camp in Texas.
Missing out on the team would be a major setback.
The championships that come a year before an Olympic Games traditionally offer an accurate Olympic preview. All four 2012 Olympians who were age eligible made the world championships team the year before.
The returning Olympians are already working against history in other ways.
No U.S. women’s gymnasts have gone to a second Olympic Games since two did so in 2000. And the past three Olympic all-around champions have been 18 or younger.
Meanwhile, some of the best gymnasts at this time next year might not have even been competing Saturday night in Indianapolis.
Gymnasts must turn 16 in an Olympic year to be eligible for the Games. Kyla Ross turned 16 in October 2012, almost three months after helping Team USA win an Olympic gold medal at the London Games. Bridget Sloan had just turned 16 when she competed in the 2008 Games.
Might Lauren Hernandez or Jazmyn Foberg join those ranks next year?
Hernandez, who turns 16 next June, and Foberg, who’s 16 in February, finished first and second in the junior national championships earlier on Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The duo were separated by 0.1 points in the all-around, while Hernandez finished top three in all three events and Foberg was top four.
The senior field has several gymnasts still on the rise, too.
Nichols, 17, had a statement meet in Indianapolis, coming off a dislocated kneecap last August that ended her chances of making the 2014 world championships team and kept her out for six months.
Sixteen-year-old Bailie Key, the 2013 U.S. junior all-around champion, finished fourth in her first national championships at the senior level. Meanwhile, fellow up-and-comers such as Ashton Locklear and Madison Kocian on the uneven bars, or Alyssa Baumann on the balance beam, could be in the mix as event specialists.
And then there’s Ross. Although she had an uncharacteristically sloppy performance this weekend, finishing 10th in the all-around, she has a history of recent success in finishing third at last year’s world championships and second in 2013.
For now, though, the future is just that. Focusing only on their own performances, Douglas and Ross each have their own long-term training plans. The progress, at least according to Karolyi, is looking good.
“I think they are pretty much in the right place,” Karolyi said.