Posted on 05 August 2009 by admin
In part two of our series analyzing our top elite gymnasts, guest blogger Matthew Rusk examines Steven Legendre, Danell Leyva, Tim McNeill, Daniel Ribeiro, Paul Ruggeri and David Sender. Rusk goes into much detail as he explores the strengths and weaknesses of each gymnast. How well they perform at VISAs will determine whether or not they will be chosen to represent Team USA at the the 2009 London World Championships. Rusk wraps things up with his predictions for medal winners at VISAs and his picks for the world team.
Expectations Going In: Despite having not yet made a world championship or Olympic team, Steven Legendre will have some of the most anticipated routines at this year’s U.S. Championships, particularly on his signature events, floor and vault. While Legendre has as much power as the Sears Tower has height, his consistency has been dubious for him. His performances at this year’s nationals will undoubtedly be his most eminent to date, as this year will be the first where he will have a feasible chance at the world championship team. Legendre does appear to be ready for the challenge, however, with a victory in the all-around at this year’s NCAA Championships.
Pros: Legendre has performed an exceptionally arduous floor mount, a 2 1/2 twisting double layout summersault, which he is capable of sticking cold. Legendre described not being chosen to compete at the Olympic Trials as a "disappointment" in an Inside Gymnastics interview, but that disappointment has appeared to motivate him, as he intends to upgrade his routines on every apparatus, besides vault, where he intends to unveil a second one in Dallas, a Kasamatsu 1 1/2. His targeted floor routine that he intends to compete in Dallas is worth a 6.9 D-score, and to compare, none of the men at the European Gymnastics Championships had a floor set worth more than a 6.4. Legendre has also stated on Gymnastike that he is training a handspring double front pike, and it was said by the poster "wowsers" on WWGYM that Legendre is also training a Tsukahara double pike.
Cons: Going for broke with difficulty tends to lead toward inconsistency, and such is the case with the relatively inexperienced Legendre. He scored a low 13.1 on floor during day one of the Winter Cup Challenge, receiving a 7.4 E-score and a staggering .8 in neutral deductions. Legendre also scored poorly on floor at the Japan Cup, as his intention to successfully complete his 6.9 routine failed when he marked a meager 13.9. Legendre’s technique on many skills warrants deduction, such as his very noticeable cowboying of his handspring double front tuck vault and his double front tuck on floor. Legendre’s strength on events besides floor and vault is limited, and wasn’t chosen to compete anything besides his specialty events at the Japan Cup.
Outlook: Despite Legendre’s lack of polish, experience, or consistency, he would be an ideal pick for this year’s world team. Sometimes athletes perform inconsistently at smaller meets and when the year’s biggest competition arrives, they deliver their finest gymnastics (recent examples being Artemev and especially Horton in Beijing). Legendre competing this year would do wonders for his experience, and the national team staff would be able to determine whether he can deliver on the big stage without any consequence of him missing a routine in a team competition. Nonetheless, Legendre must perform well enough at nationals for the selection committee to deem him deserving of a plane ticket to London. Legendre has everything that team USA would want, but he will be of no need if he fails to show two consistent vaults and a floor set ready to be hit when most desired.
Expectations Going In: Leyva, just 17 years of age, has already accomplished much in his short career, having won the junior U.S. AA title in 2006 and placing 2nd AA at the 2009 Winter Cup Challenge. Leyva will be competing at this U.S. Championships, and this year will have realistic ambitions to make his first world team. Leyva continues to make improvements on both his difficulty and execution, and his assets to make the team include strong work on parallel bars and high bar, not to mention being one of the top all-around gymnasts in the country. However, his inexperience has at times proven to be a barricade for him, having a lackluster showing during the team finals at the recent Japan Cup.
Pros: Leyva was credited with a 6.9 D-score on high bar during day two of the Winter Cup Challenge, the highest D-score a U.S. man has been credited with in competition this year. Leyva also marked the highest scores on that event (15.4) and parallel bars (15.2) during day two of that meet. Finishing 2nd all-around at the Winter Cup in February, he also finished 7th AA against a competitive field at the Japan Cup, beating former European champion Maxim Devyatovskiy of Russia and compatriot Steven Legendre. Leyva’s confidence appears to be at an all-time high as well; in a recent Inside Gymnastics interview he commented that his goal in mind for the U.S. Championships is to win (or at least place in the top two) in the all-around.
Cons: Leyva appears to sustain three creditable events (vault, parallel bars, and high bar) with the other three events being insubstantial for him. Two of his better events, vault and parallel bars, provide little gain for him to make the world team, as Leyva doesn’t have a second vault, and his parallel bars set would be hard-pressed to make an event final in London against the likes of Yann Cucherat, Fabien Hambuchen, Mitja Petkovsek, and Kohei Uchimura, among many others. Leyva had major errors in three out of his four routines during team finals at the Japan Cup, scoring 13.2 on floor, 11.8 on pommel, and a 12.5 on high bar. The only event where Leyva will feasibly be able to make an event final in London and have an opportunity for a medal would be high bar, and even there the U.S. boasts two strong workers, Hagerty and Horton, who have opportunities to make other event finals.
Outlook: Although high bar is the only event where Leyva can make an impact as far as event finals are concerned, a victory or top two finish in the all-around in Dallas will heavily augment his chances to be sent to worlds in October. Leyva just being sent to worlds for parallel bars and high bar could be a waste of that spot, as he has little opportunity to make event finals on the former and will likely need help from other contenders to medal on the latter. However, Leyva’s trip would be very worthwhile, if he were to compete AA in London, and could do so if his aimed top two finish at nationals pans out. Although David Sender plans to compete at nationals, it is unclear whether he intends to go to worlds, as he is scheduled to go to vet school in the fall. A team without Sender could pave the way for Leyva to do six events in prelims after all, as Hagerty’s EF potential is limited to floor and high bar and could just compete prelims on those two apparatus. While Leyva has sturdy hopes for going to worlds, he is by no means a lock for this team or for a future world championship or Olympic Games with a team competition. One task that he could complete to make himself a lock: improve pommel horse.
Expectations Going In: McNeill is one of the gymnasts looking to provide the light at the end of the tunnel for USA’s weakness on pommel horse. A graduate of UC Berkeley, McNeill will be competing at his third U.S. Championships on the senior level in Dallas. Coming off of a 4th place finish on parallel bars and a 5th place finish on pommel horse at the Montreal World Cup event this spring, McNeill has the capability of contributing to the team on those two pieces of apparatus. Alexander Artemev’s injuries and yearlong absence from competition do provide an open door for McNeill to make the world team, but he will still need to display his finest gymnastics possible in Dallas to be selected.
Pros: McNeill has won two NCAA titles, a Winter Cup title, and a U.S. silver medal in 2008 on pommel horse. McNeill scored a 15.25 on pommel during day one of the Winter Cup, and such a score could make the pommel finals at worlds, and also would have made the finals at last year’s Olympics. In order to remain on the toes of other top teams, team USA could very well desire to have more than one pommel specialist to compete during team finals at future World Championships and the next Olympic Games. McNeill could very well be one of USA’s three men up on pommel horse in a team final, and sending him to a World Championship now would only benefit his experience for future competitions to come when the pressure will further intensify. McNeill’s other strong piece of apparatus is parallel bars, where he is also a two-time NCAA champion.
Cons: Although McNeill beat Daniel Ribeiro at the Winter Cup, Ribeiro had the highest individual score (15.5) of the competition on that event, whereas McNeill’s highest was sizably lower at 15.25. Both Artemev and Ribeiro appear to have superior scoring potential on that apparatus to McNeill, as evidenced by Artemev scoring as high as 15.525 on that event in Beijing and Ribeiro scoring a 16.0 during NCAA team finals (likely inflated, but nonetheless impressive). McNeill has very little international experience, and has so far not proven himself to be a creditable competitor internationally with two fairly low scores (14.25 and 14.225) on pommel horse at the Montreal World Cup meet. McNeill’s consistency on pommel is also nothing worth buying stock in, as during the Olympic selection process he only scored above 14.5 on one day of one competition and scored as low as 13.45 on day two of Olympic Trials.
Outlook: Funny enough, McNeill has lately been a more consistent performer on his other strong suit, parallel bars, but his contribution to the team should rest solely on pommel horse this year, and in years to come. With Artemev’s health in question, now would be the perfect time for McNeill to make his move for a world team, and for the national team staff to observe whether he has the competitive willpower to meet expectations in future team competitions. In order to need his passport in October, McNeill will have to win pommel horse in Dallas. Artemev would have the advantage over McNeill if they both went clean and perhaps the same is true with Ribeiro, but in the latter case by how much is uncertain. McNeill has not competed anything harder than a 6.3 set on pommel this entire year, whereas he was credited with a 6.5 set three out of four times during the Olympic selection process last year. If McNeill plans to risk a couple more tenths in difficulty, it could result in his biggest reward to date: the world team.
Expectations Going In: Daniel Ribeiro has gymnastics in his blood, with his father being a former collegiate gymnast and a 1980 Olympian for Brazil. What he doesn’t have, however, is experience competing on the elite scene, and he will be entering his first U.S. Championships to date this August. A rising junior at the University of Illinois, Ribeiro is doubtful to compete more than three events (floor, pommel horse, and parallel bars) at nationals, and has only recently added parallel bars to his repertoire. With that said, Ribeiro’s chances for this world team and future world teams do likely rest on just one event, pommel horse, an apparatus that he has made significant improvements on over the last year.
Pros: Ribeiro has good execution and consistency on pommel horse, having scored a 16.0 (9.7 execution score) during team finals of NCAAs, with that being the highest score of the meet aside from vault on a generally low-scoring event. While Ribeiro’s score of 15.575 during event finals was a far cry from his team finals score, it still was good enough to win the title by a tenth of a point. A particular strength in his pommel set is his reverse stockli full (basically a clockwise full pirouette on one arm), and having a longer frame at 5’8” makes his lines especially impressive. Ribeiro’s work on floor exercise is nothing to sneeze at either, having placed 8th on that event at the 2009 Winter Cup of Challenge, achieving a 14.8 on both days.
Cons: Outside of NCAA, Ribeiro is hardly a household name and doesn’t even have a spot on the senior national team. While Ribeiro’s pommel horse routine has improved, it is worth mentioning that Tim McNeill, with his 6.5 set, soundly won the 2008 NCAA title on pommel horse (where Ribeiro was 6th) with a score of 15.625, which would have won the NCAA title this year as well. Ribeiro’s consistency on horse has also been up to ambiguity, scoring a full point higher on day two of the Winter Cup Challenge than on day one. Among the three pommel specialists, Ribeiro has far and away the least experience, with no more than two NCAA Championships to add to the list of major competitions that he has competed in.
Outlook: While McNeill was the superior pommel worker last year, the committee must make its world team selections based on results this year, and that is where Ribeiro will look to have his advantage. Ribeiro’s top scores of 15.5 at the Winter Cup and 16.0 at NCAAs (which would arguably equate to 15.5-15.6 internationally), provide a feasible task for Ribeiro to make pommel horse finals in London and to medal if all goes as planned. The winning score at Europeans on pommel, achieved by Kristina Barky of Hungary, was a 15.6, and there was only one gymnast at the Japan Cup that reached 15.5 on pommel, being Koki Sakamoto of Japan. McNeill’s highest score of 15.25 this year on pommel could make finals, as noted earlier, but such a score would have a difficult time of reaching a medal. If Ribeiro proves his superior scoring potential on pommel horse once again in Dallas, he could find himself competing at the 2009 World Gymnastics Championships.
Expectations Going In: Ruggeri, who will also be a junior next year at the University of Illinois, won the last two NCAA titles on high bar and also won the parallel bars title at this year’s NCAAs. Ruggeri is not a member of the national team, however, and his experience of competing at the U.S. Championships on the senior level is limited to last year (where he competed AA on day one and four events on day two), although he did place 3rd AA and 1st on floor and high bar as a junior at the 2006 U.S. Championships. Similar to Danell Leyva, Ruggeri’s strongest piece of apparatus is high bar, but he shows creditable work on floor exercise and parallel bars as well.
Pros: Ruggeri has never looked better than his form at the 2009 NCAA Championships, where he placed 3rd in the all-around, qualified to four apparatus finals, and won two of them. Ruggeri has upgraded his high bar set a staggering seven tenths since last year (5.6 to a 6.3), and his upgrades include an impressive in-bar staler full+Voronin+Gienger combination, a straddled Tkatchev, and a double twisting double layout dismount. Ruggeri also won high bar at this year’s Winter Cup, scoring a high of 15.35 there and a 15.75 at NCAAs. In addition to winning the parallel bars and high bar titles at this year’s NCAAs, he came within 0.25 of winning the floor title, and his execution score was over three tenths higher than winner Steven Legendre.
Cons: Ruggeri’s domestic and international competition experience is shallow comparative to many of the men he will compete against in Dallas, and his 18th place finish on parallel bars at this year’s Winter Cup is certainly indicative of his inexperience. Ruggeri’s chances for making the world team are hindered by the fact that USA’s other three top high bar workers: Hagerty, Horton, and Leyva, all have opportunities to make the AA final and/or another apparatus final, whereas Ruggeri would be unlikely to make any finals besides high bar. Ruggeri’s work on parallel bars is not worthy of an event final spot on (barring a splat fest in prelims), and while he may actually have a better shot at making floor finals because of his good execution, his D-score of 6.2 is not nearly enough to vie for a medal.
Outlook: Ruggeri’s chances to be chosen for his first world team aren’t stellar, but he has made very commendable improvement over the last year. He is also proving to be a consistent competitor on high bar especially, having scored 15.75 at NCAAs in both team finals and event finals and scoring above 15 on both days of the 2009 Winter Cup Challenge. With Justin Spring’s retirement, team USA could use a top worker there, but unfortunately Ruggeri is far more consistent on floor, where the U.S. would already be covered in a team final by gymnasts such as Brooks, Hagerty, Horton, and Legendre. As of NCAAs, it appears that both Ruggeri’s floor set and high bar set are comfortable for him, so further upgrades could be on the way. Further upgrades will need to be on the way, however, for Ruggeri to be able to compete against the best of the best at either a World Championship or an Olympic Games.
Expectations Going In: Last year’s Olympic selection process was not only a nail biter for the Hamm twins, but even more so for David Sender, who was entering the 2008 Olympic Trials as the current U.S. Champion. A freak accident occurred during podium training, when the 23-year-old Illini jumped down from the high bar, slipped off the crash mat, sprained his ankle and subsequently terminated his Olympic dream. Sender appeared to be out of shape at the 2009 Winter Cup, only placing 11th AA, but came back in fighting form to finish 2nd AA at the American Cup. Sender’s intentions to go to vet school in the fall will mean that, unless he defers enrollment, he will not compete in London, and this also may be his last U.S. Championships that he will compete in.
Pros: At the 2009 American Cup, Sender came within two tenths of a point of beating Fabien Hambuchen, considered one of the favorites to win the gold in the all-around at this year’s worlds. Sender had the highest scores individually on rings, vault, and pommel horse at that competition, the latter of which being his weakest event earlier in his career. Sender’s ability to improve rapidly was evidenced by him beating Hagerty at the American Cup by nearly a full point, just weeks after finishing 10 places behind him at the Winter Cup. Sender is also coming off of a successful showing at the recent Maccabiah Games in Israel; where he took home three gold medals on rings, vault, and high bar.
Cons: Sender also won silvers in the all-around and pommel horse at the Maccabiah Games, but with meager scores of 84.225 in the AA and 13.05 on PH. If Sender desires to defer his education in hopes of competing in London, he has a major disadvantage right off the bat, being that he does not have an event where he can feasibly bring home a medal. At the 2009 Moscow World Cup, Sender failed to make finals on two of his stronger events, rings and vault, against far weaker competition than he would face at worlds. Sender’s efforts on floor, another superior event for him, haven’t been going so swiftly either. He marked below 14 on both days of the Winter Cup on floor, and also scored below Hagerty at the American Cup, even whilst scoring a solid 15.15.
Outlook: If Sender has any plans to stay in competitive gymnastics, he would be a welcome asset onto a world team when a team event would be contested, as he could contribute up to four events (FX, PH, SR, and VT) in team finals. For these individual worlds, however, he will be hard-pressed to even make an event final, much less win a medal. Sender is perhaps a superior six event gymnast to Leyva, but if Sender doesn’t intend to stick around until 2012, it would be far more logical to send Leyva as a second all-arounder (or even as the only all-arounder if Horton is not back up to speed on all six events). Neither gymnast would have much of an opportunity to medal in the all-around at worlds, but Leyva would at least have an opportunity to make more use of his worlds spot and gain experience. If Sender chooses not to return to competitive gymnasts following these nationals and solely focus on vet school, he should be extremely proud of all of the success that he has had, and being a U.S. champion in the all-around is something very few people can have bragging rights to.
The following are my predictions of where I would expect each athlete to finish at nationals per event.
Gold : Horton-At his Beijing form, Horton would absolutely be contender for an AA bronze medal at worlds. Gold and silver would be unlikely, however, considering how well Kohei Uchimura and Fabien Hambuchen have been performing this year. Whether he will be even close to Beijing form, in Dallas or in London, remains to be seen.
Silver: Sender- He generally does better at bigger meets, the U.S. Championships being one of them. He would be doubtful to win a medal at worlds here, though, if he were to go.
Bronze: Leyva- Already a strong all-arounder at 17, Leyva is having a great year, minus a poor showing during the team finals of the Japan Cup. Leyva has hopefully been focusing on his weaker events: floor, rings, and vault, to match his stronger events to convince USAG that he is worthy to compete at worlds as an all-arounder.
Gold: Hagerty- This is one of the tougher pieces of apparatus to predict, as the U.S. is very deep on floor. Hagerty can win the floor title, considering Horton’s weak routine on this apparatus in Japan, Legendre’s inconsistency, and Brooks’ inexperience.
Silver: Horton-Despite his troubles at Japan Cup, floor is a comfortable event for Horton and he scored as high as 15.6 on this event at the Olympics. Horton has plans to add a pass on floor for nationals, which he described as "exhausting" during a recent Inside Gymnastics interview. Even if the upgraded set doesn’t go as planned in Dallas, it should still benefit him down the road, and give him the added boost of difficulty he needs to win a world AA medal.
Bronze: Legendre- If he were to hit that 6.9 set on both days of competition, or even a comparatively easier 6.6 set, Legendre would likely win this event. However, performing such risky skills has led itself to error one way or another for Legendre at several competitions. Legendre doesn’t want to risk too much, as flawed routines in Dallas could end up keeping him home in October.
Gold: Ribeiro- He has been looking a bit stronger overall than McNeill this year on PH, but such a comparison is not reliable because Ribeiro has not been out competing as much as McNeill. Ribeiro will likely need to win here in order to go London, and considering his showings at Winter Cup and NCAAs, I would expect him to do that.
Silver: McNeill- He is inconsistent here, and did not have a great showing at the Montreal World Cup meet, one of his first major international competitions to date. He can beat Ribeiro, however, particularly if he upgrades his current D-score of 6.3.
Bronze: Artemev- Considering his injury, long absence from competition, and inability to hit PH at this event last year, Artemev will not be expected to win PH in Dallas and subsequently earn a trip to worlds.
Gold: Horton- Rings was one of the events Horton didn’t struggle on at the Japan Cup (15.3) and actually had the highest score here during team finals at the Olympics among the U.S. men. He could make event finals in London, but would be unlikely to medal.
Silver: Bhavsar- He is very solid here, and could definitely contribute here in a team final. He just doesn’t have any hopes for a world medal on this apparatus, thus deflating his chances of going to London.
Bronze: Sender- The possibility of Sender going to vet school and leaving competitive gymnastics would send a boost to Bhavsar’s chances of making future world teams.
Gold: Legendre-He could be a medal contender at worlds on this event if he is strong enough to compete his two 7.0 vaults, the handspring double pike and Tsukahara double pike, which he is training.
Silver: Brooks- He has two solid vaults, but has form issues and does not possess as much raw power as Legendre.
Bronze: Sender- Does have two 6.6 vaults like Brooks and Legendre, but struggling at the Moscow World Cup, and failing to make finals, does not bode well for him finishing atop the vault podium in Dallas.
Gold: Bhavsar- Despite unveiling a new skill, Bhavsar was only credited with a 6.2 set on parallel bars at the Moscow World Cup meet, as opposed to the 6.5 set he competed in Beijing (several rule changes on PB have made start values go down this year). He received a high of 15.625 at the Olympics with a 9.125 execution score, and such an execution score combined with his current D-score would result in a 15.325 score. A score in that range can allow Bhavsar to qualify for the event final in London, but winning a medal will remain unlikely.
Silver: Horton- He struggled at the Japan Cup here, but a high score of 15.625 in Beijing would still equate to a respectable score today (probably around 15.2-15.3), especially with his plans of having an additional skill in his routine ready for Dallas.
Bronze: Leyva- While he tied with Hagerty on this apparatus at the Winter Cup, he had the highest individual score (15.2) of the competition on parallel bars.
Gold: Horton- He won the silver medal on this event with a routine worth a 6.9, and didn’t even have to train full routine before competing it. Horton also proved that he is back to speed on this apparatus with a 15.85 at the Japan Cup.
Silver: Hagerty-He is very consistent here and has good execution, and with Horton and Leyva capable of 6.9 sets, Hagerty will need that 7.0 set to be hit consistently if he wishes to be the top U.S. gymnast on this apparatus.
Bronze: Leyva-Has a high D-score here on his specialty event, but whether the 17-year-old will be able to hit two out of two sets in Dallas on his most important event remains to be seen.
My picks for the world team:
- Jonathan Horton-AA
- Danell Leyva-AA
- Joseph Hagerty-FX, HB
- Steven Legendre-FX, VT
- Daniel Ribeiro-PH
- Raj Bhavsar-PB
- Chris Brooks (I would pick Brooks ahead of Bhavsar if he doesn’t finish 1st on PB in Dallas)
- Timothy McNeill (I would pick McNeill ahead of Ribeiro if he wins PH at nationals)