Signifying the beginning of a new Olympic quadrennium, Saturday’s AT&T American Cup in Newark, New Jersey, marked a series of changes.
The American Cup was the first major meet under the International Gymnastics Federation’s new code of points, a framework that will shape the development of routines during the years between now and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
It was the first meet under new U.S. women’s national team coordinator Valeri Liukin, who replaced Martha Karolyi after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
And it was an opportunity for fresh faces to shine – including Team USA’s Ragan Smith and Yul Moldauer, both of whom won their first major international titles.
The 16-year-old Smith, who was an alternate on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team, opened her competition by earning the top score on vault with a 14.433, while teammate Riley McCusker – making her senior debut – shared second with Japan’s Asuka Teramoto at 13.766. Germany’s Kim Bui edged closer to Smith by taking first on the uneven bars, scoring 14.133 to Smith’s 14.400 and trimming the American’s lead to 0.8 points at the halfway mark. Balance beam proved to be the difference-maker, as Smith’s 13.266 took the event and doubled her margin on Bui to 1.6 points with only the floor exercise remaining.
Performing a playful and powerful routine to the music from “The Addams Family,” Smith came up a bit short on her final tumbling run, but it proved inconsequential as she received a 14.000 to close out her first international title with a 56.099 total. Teramoto stepped up as Bui faded, taking second at 54.231, while France’s Melanie De Jesus dos Santos rounded out the podium at 53.899.
A fall on beam bumped McCusker to fifth with a total of 52.966.
Smith extended the U.S. women’s American Cup title run that began in 2002 to a 16th consecutive victory.
“Ragan has the experience,” Rhonda Faehn, senior vice president of women’s programs for USA Gymnastics, told the National Governing Body prior to the event. “She is the one on our national team who has returned and is stepping up. She competed at Olympic Trials last year, did a fabulous job and was our replacement athlete and trained over in Rio. She’s (been) able to take those experiences with her and transition to this season.”
A winning score of 14.566 on floor exercise got Moldauer, the 2016 NCAA all-around champion, off to a solid start, holding a 1.266 advantage on Ukraine’s Oleg Verniaiev, a two-time Olympic medalist. He would need that cushion over the next three rotations as the Ukrainian was first on pommel horse and still rings to pull to within a quarter point after four rotations. Although Verniaiev threw down a 15.033 to tie for the top spot on the parallel bars, Moldauer was able to score a 14.866 to maintain a slim lead heading to the high bar.
Verniaiev opened some room for error when he took a big step on his high bar dismount, and Moldauer took advantage, scoring 13.733 to finish with an 85.931, 0.232 ahead of Verniaiev’s 85.699.
Akash Modi, an alternate on the 2016 Olympic men’s team, finished third with an 84.398.