The senior national title was not the only one in contention last weekend at the P&G National Gymnastics Championships. The junior title was up for grabs as well.
With a significant number of competitors moving into the senior division, this year had a new group of stars in the making. And while none of them are age-eligible for Rio, it is a very early look at just who could be contending for a place on the next Olympic team. A glimpse at what the future post-Simone and Aly and Gabby would look like.
Maile O’Keefe hit all eight of her routines over the course of both days of competition to take the junior crown. It was the third national competition for O’Keefe, who finished 13th in 2014, and 17th in 2015. Often, the junior champions give a glimpse at what is to come and if the past is anything to go by, O’Keefe is in pretty heady company, joining past U.S. junior champions Carly Patterson, Nastia Liukin, Shawn Johnson, Jordyn Wieber and Kyla Ross (among others, of course). All five of those athletes have one thing in common: all went on to bring back Olympic gold at the last three Olympic Games.
Simone Biles may have taken home the senior national title for the fourth straight year, but four years ago, Biles was in the junior division where she finished third in the all-around. Maggie Nichols, who is a contender for the Rio squad, was 11th. And Laurie Hernandez was 21st at the 2012 competition before climbing all the way up to second place in 2013 and was the junior national champion a year ago. Hernandez finished third at her first senior nationals this weekend.
Consistent excellence for O’Keefe
O’Keefe had solid performances both afternoons of competition and earned the national titles on balance beam and floor exercise in addition to her all-around crown. And, at just 14 years of age, she has the potential to burst onto the senior scene at the perfect time to make a run at the Tokyo squad in 2020. The Nevada native was consistent and really stood out on balance beam, where she was sure of herself and left little room for deductions.
And, there was this celebration midway through the competition on Night One:
When you're leading the junior field after day one… pic.twitter.com/Hs0f10aG0S
— USA Gymnastics (@USAGym) June 24, 2016
Finishing second was Riley McCusker of MG Elite. McCusker trains under Maggie Haney and in the same gym as Rio hopeful Hernandez and first-year senior (and 2014 junior national champion) Jazmyn Foberg. McCusker was challenging O’Keefe throughout the second day of competition, but a major break on her uneven bars dismounted pushed her back into a battle for second place with Gabby Perea.
It was just the first year on the junior elite stage for McCusker, whose lines and artistry stand out especially on floor exercise and balance beam. She was second on the uneven bars, despite the mistake on Day 2, on balance beam and floor exercise.
Gabby Perea put together a good meet as well in her second junior nationals. Her third place finish was an improvement on 2015’s seventh place finish in the all-around. She stood out on the uneven bars with great lines and clean form and earned the title with a combined score of 28.950.