A reader wrote to me to ask about US gymnast Kyla Ross’s chances of making the 2012 Olympic team. Considering there has been some comment made in gymsphere about US gymnasts- particularly young gymnasts like her- not attending the test event, I thought I would talk about both.
Let me start by saying I think she has a terrific chance and has so much opportunity to prove herself next year without going to the test event. Sure it will be her first year as a senior and sure, there are those who think not sending her to the test event is a mistake. But I don’t think these factors make the kind of a difference we might think.
For one thing, I think we make the distinction between junior and senior competition too big. Yes, it can be a lot of pressure to bear when a gymnast is thrown onto a World or Olympic team with little experience of major international competition, but that is not, and will not be Kyla’s problem by the time selections come around. She has competed at Pan Ams, Pac Rims and Jesolo as a junior and these are big meets where she has acquitted herself beautifully. Besides, when you are part of team USA- make no mistake- the same kind of performance pressure is there when you are competing for your nation, junior or senior. The whole organisation of Team USA is built on testing gymnasts right through the career and nowhere is that pressure more in evidence than in moments where a team gold is up for grabs. Sure the US don’t send gymnasts to as many World Cup events as we’d like, but they do go to the meets where team medals are up for grabs.
Not to mention the fact that as a junior US competitor she has been up against some of the best gymnasts in the world at home- such is the depth in the US. When you have had to spend your junior years going up against junior talents like Jordyn Wieber, Katelyn Ohashi and Sabrina Vega, your rise in the sport has not been easy.
I saw a fan piece video that ridiculed Jesolo as the meet the US girls do seem to attend faithfully each year. Sure, Jesolo is not a hard meet for the US girls to do well in, but let’s not forget two things. The Russians compete there, and that is very important for matching up competitive strengths. And if the Russian decide to bring a full, Olympic-potential team to Jesolo next year, it will be a vital meet for both nations. And the second thing, maybe it isn’t that important that Jesolo is an ‘easy’ win for the US. Maybe the experience is the point. I don’t presume to know what goes on in the head of Martha, but competitive experience is valuable no matter how it happens and winning a meet with the US team like that only gives a young gymnast like Kyla confidence in her ability to remain part of that team.
Of course a chance to compete at the O2 Arena in January for the test event might give someone like Kyla a fabulous chance to experience the place and the atmosphere, but it would in no way replicate what being there at the Olympics, competing for the US team would be like. My guess is the US want to keep her preparing for two more important major events early in the year that happen before their lightning pre-Olympic round of Classics, National and Trials. These are Pacific Rims in Seattle and Jesolo again in Italy. Why these over the test event? I think the answer is quite simple. For the US, the team gold is the ultimate prize. These are team competitions, with a prize opportunity to mix and match and see what works in building the strongest team possible. That, I believe, is what the powers-that-be would be looking at more than anything; seeing how you perform as a team representing your country. Even Kyla is aware of the importance of this, talking about nerves that very thing at Covergirl this year;
“I still get nervous, but this (Covergirl) isn’t as big as Pac Rims, so we’re not as much representing the US, but our own gym, but I still want to do my best.”
Then, when those meets are done, there will be the opportunity for Kyla to prove herself individually in the three-meet crescendo of the US selection season. In many senses these huge media events will be as intense and competitive as the Test Event would be. In fact any gymnast who can make it through the US’s competitive calender next year and come out among the top, has been truly tested for competitive mettle.
I think Kyla, injury notwithstanding, will do well. She is the consummate quiet achiever and strikes me as one of the more unflappable, reliable gymnasts of the US team. She has had some difficult skills in place for a long time, has made upgrades including the Amanar to keep her on top and is generally very consistent. And when she has had problems, like she did at this year’s Nationals, she has come back the next day and fixed them. She is businesslike and competitive, yet elegant and with clean form. She has all the qualities Martha desires. Now, it only remains to be seen if what she has fits in with what Team USA needs for Olympic gold.
In answer to your question, reader, I do think Kyla Ross is a prime contender for that team. She has done everything she needs to do so far, it now of how she performs next year and that small matter of Martha mixing up the right team.
Article: Brigid McCarthy
Cover photo: Kyla Ross