Laurie Hernandez competes on floor exercise at the 2016 P&G Gymnastics Championships at Chaifetz Arena on June 26, 2016 in St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS -- The women’s P&G Gymnastics Championships ended Sunday night in a familiar way, with superstar Simone Biles winning another all-around national title.
As the top U.S. gymnasts now turn their focus from the past weekend in St. Louis to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials July 8 and 10 in San Jose, California, the Olympic picture is beginning to come into focus.
USA Gymnastics pared the pool of gymnasts down to 15 who will continue on to San Jose, and from there five will be selected for the U.S. team that will compete at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.
Here are five takeaways from this weekend.
1. Simone Biles’ Good Is Still Better Than Everyone Else’s Best
On a night when Simone Biles’ wasn’t quite at her best, the 4-foot-8 gymnast still proved to be head and shoulders above the competition. She won her fourth consecutive U.S. all-around title with a 3.9-point margin over second-place Aly Raisman, a double gold medalist at the 2012 Games. Biles also claimed three individual event national titles. Biles, already owner of an unprecedented three consecutive world all-around titles, is gearing up for a memorable run in Rio.
2. The Pieces Appear To Be In Place For Rio
National team coordinator Martha Karolyi won’t name names, but she admits she has her Olympic team in mind, and this weekend did little to change her mind. At this point, the betting odds are that the five gymnasts going to Rio are the five who led the all-around standings after the P&G Championships. They are, in order: Biles, Aly Raisman, Laurie Hernandez, Gabby Douglas and Madison Kocian. “I think they proved themselves very well,” Karolyi said. “But we have to see them one more time.”
3. Team USA Is Looking Good
Sometimes national teams come together as the last gymnasts standing after everyone else falters. The opposite appears to be happening for Team USA. The top women who were expected to shine in St. Louis mostly met or exceeded their expectations. The one exception was Douglas, the 2012 Olympic all-around champion, whose scores regressed slightly from earlier competitions this year. Karolyi didn’t sound overly concerned, though. “I want to her to be a tiny bit more consistent” on bars, beam and floor, Karolyi said. If everything comes together, the U.S. women will bring the firepower that should make them favorites to win another team gold medal in Rio. And even if somebody does take a step back in San Jose, Karolyi still has a powerful pool of gymnasts to pick from. Names like Alyssa Baumann, Ashton Locklear, Maggie Nichols, Ragan Smith and MyKayla Skinner should all be in consideration.
4. Maggie Nichols Still Has A Ways to Go
Nichols didn’t quite make the statement she needed to as she battles back from knee surgery. Last fall, the Minnesotan was a popular pick to make Team USA when she finished second to Biles at the U.S. championships and then starred at the world championships. Although she wasn’t selected to compete for the world all-around competition, she competed in all four events in the team final and put up an all-around score of 59.232 that would have placed second only to Biles. However, a torn meniscus in her right knee led to knee surgery in April, and Nichols only competed on bars and beam in St. Louis. Neither placed among the top nine. Nichols will have all four events ready for San Jose, and she insists she still sees a roadmap to a spot on the Olympic team, but after a relatively anonymous performance in St. Louis, she’ll have to make a big splash. “I have a lot of work to do in the gym in these next couple days, and I’m ready to see where the journey takes me,” she said.
5. Hernandez Appears Ready For The Big Time
The top-end U.S. gymnasts this year are a uniquely experienced group. The notable exception is Hernandez. Making her senior-level U.S. championships debut, the 16-year-old did not disappoint. Not only did she place third in all five events — including the all-around —the New Jersey native performed with the confidence and flair of a much more tested gymnast. Look for her to become a star in Rio. “It was a great step for her,” Karolyi said.
Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.