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Nine Things To Look For At The OOFS U.S. Gymnastics Championships

By Chrös McDougall | Aug. 17, 2022, 12:33 p.m. (ET)

Shilese Jones competes during the beam routine in the women's senior division at the 2022 U.S. Classic on July 30, 2022 in West Valley City, Utah.

 

A new, abbreviated Olympic quad kicks into high gear this week as the OOFOS U.S. Gymnastics Championships head to Tampa.

With a field including five returning Olympians and several talented newcomers, and only three years until the Olympic Games Paris 2024, the stakes are higher this year than in a typical post-Olympics national championships.

The men compete Thursday and Saturday, with the women up Friday and Sunday, at Tampa’s Amalie Arena. Scores from both nights will be combined to determine national champions, and the results will also factor heavily in the selection of the five-person teams that will compete at the world championships Oct. 29-Nov. 6 in Liverpool, England.

Here are nine things to look for as the competition gets underway.

Worlds Loom Large

Fred Richard competes during the men's youth all-around finals at the 2022 Pan American Gymnastics Championships on July 16, 2022 in Rio de Janeiro. 

 

National titles are on the line this week, but the stakes are also high for gymnasts looking to make the U.S. team for the world championships. Two U.S. men can qualify for the worlds team directly: the top all-arounder, plus the all-around runner-up, so long as he’s also among the top three on two individual events. The women’s squad will be named at a forthcoming camp. The U.S. men are coming off a fifth-place finish at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, where they fell short of any individual medals. The American women won Olympic silver, plus five more individual medals, in Tokyo.

School’s Out For Three Top Women

Jordan Chiles competes on floor exercise during a meet against the University of Washington on Feb. 27, 2022 in Los Angeles.

 

Most women go from elite gymnastics to college gymnastics, trading in the more intense, individualistic competition in elite for the team-centric NCAA competition. The road doesn’t always travel in that direction, though. Three collegiate gymnasts are set to compete in Tampa, and they’re pretty good ones. Jade Carey (Oregon State) is the defending Olympic gold medalist on floor. Jordan Chiles (UCLA) was on the U.S. team that won silver in Tokyo. Leanne Wong (Florida) is the reigning world all-around silver medalist.

Brody’s Breakthrough?

Brody Malone poses with his bronze medal at a victory ceremony for the men's horizontal bar finals at the FIG Artistic Gymnastics Championships on Oct. 24, 2021 in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka, Japan.

 

Brody Malone emphatically took over as the leading U.S. man last year, ending a long run of Sam Mikulak often coasting to national titles. The Georgia native went on to a respectable Olympic debut in Tokyo, finishing 10th in the all-around, and then claimed a bronze medal on high bar at the world championships. Only 22 years old, the Stanford senior-to-be has posted scores this year that indicate he could be ready to contend for an all-around medal, in addition to another on high bar, at the world championships.

Is It Finally Konnor’s Time?

Konnor McClain competes during the vault in the women's junior competition at the 2019 U.S. Gymnastics Championships on Aug. 11, 2019 in Kansas City, Mo.

 

Konnor McClain had long been pegged as a star-in-the-making for the 2024 Olympic quad. Then the postponed Tokyo Games adjusted the minimum age requirement for those Olympics, suddenly making the West Virginian eligible. She briefly decided to go for it, then scaled back to focus on her original plan of 2024. McClain’s life was rocked when her father unexpectedly died in December 2021. On the competition floor, at least, she continued to thrive. The gymnast, now 17, has already won all-around titles at the Winter Cup and City of Jesolo Trophy this year and might be the favorite this weekend. However, she missed the U.S. Classic with injury.

They’re All Favorites

 Leanne Wong competes during the B=beam routine in he women's senior division at the 2022 U.S. Classic on July 30, 2022 in West Valley City, Utah.

 

With Simone Biles having retired and Suni Lee hinting at a return to elite gymnastics next year, there’s no prohibitive favorite on the women’s side. Instead, there are a handful of strong contenders. Konnor McClain was posting the top scores this year before she got injured, though that was with Leanne Wong focused on her collegiate gymnastics. In her return to elite, Wong won the U.S. Classic earlier this summer. Kayla DiCello was third at the 2021 world championships but has only competed once this year. Meanwhile, Lexi Zeiss and Skye Blakely both scored higher than DiCello when they won silver and bronze medals, respectively, at the Pan Am Championships in July. Shilese Jones’ strong scores on vault and bars should position her well. And who’s to say what the Olympians, Jade Carey and Jordan Chiles, might do if they decide to go for the all-around?

New Names In The Men’s Field

Asher Hong competes on the pommel horse during the senior men's competition at the 2021 Winter Cup on Feb. 28, 2021 in Indianapolis.

 

Can anybody beat Brody Malone? Well, Paul Juda did at the NCAA championships. The Michigan junior has been knocking on the door for years (and famously earned the U.S. men an extra quota for the Tokyo Games), but he withdrew from the U.S. Classic with an injury and isn’t slated to compete in Tampa. Returning Olympians Yul Moldauer and Shane Wiskus knocked some rust off at the U.S. Classic, though neither was close to their best form yet. Another name to keep an eye on is Colt Walker. The Stanford standout might not be going for the all-around title quite yet, but his strong vault, parallel bars and floor routines have him poised to be a breakout star. Asher Hong and Vitaliy Guimaraes are names to watch, too.

The Horse King Reigns

 Alec Yoder competes during the men's pommel horse final at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 1, 2021 in Tokyo.

 

The battle between Alec Yoder and Stephen Nedoroscik for the individual spot on the U.S. Olympic team last year captivated the “Gymternet.” Yoder ended up getting the Tokyo bid, but Nedoroscik’s consolation wasn’t bad. He ended the year as the world champion. Yoder announced his retirement just before nationals, leaving Nedoroscik as the U.S.’ top event specialist. He should be a contender to win another world medal in Liverpool — so long as he makes the team. If the U.S. selection committee prioritizes team standings over total medal potential, that could make Nedoroscik, who only does horse, a tough call. Other event specialists looking to make an impact include Alex Diab (rings), Eddie Penev (floor) and Curran Phillips (parallel bars).

Don’t Forget Don Don

Donnell Wittenburg competes during the high bar at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials on June 24, 2021 in St Louis.

 

Donnell Whittenburg emerged as an international medal contender back in 2014. Eight years later he’s still going for more. The going hasn’t always been easy for the Baltimore native, who has battled injuries and bad luck over the years. But the 27-year-old forged on to make his fourth world championships team last year. A powder keg of an athlete, Whittenburg excels like few others with his massive vaults and unflinching rings.

A New Women’s Regime

(L-R) Chellsie Memmel and Alicia Sacramone look on after competing in the qualification round at the Olympic Games Beijing 2008 on Aug. 10, 2008 in Beijing.

 

It’s not just the athletes turning over for this women’s quad. USA Gymnastics announced in May that Olympians Chellsie Memmel and Alicia Sacramone Quinn will join longtime developmental coach Dan Baker as a new three-pronged leadership unit. Baker (development), Memmel (technical) and Sacramone Quinn (strategic) will each have a specific focus for the women’s program, replacing the longtime model of having a single national team coordinator. The trio is tasked with keeping the U.S. on the podium at championship meets while fostering a positive environment for the athletes. Now’s their time to start building upon that vision.

Chrös McDougall

Chrös McDougall has covered the Olympic and Paralympic Movement for TeamUSA.org since 2009 on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. He is based in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
 

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