After the beginning of the Individual Apparatus World Cup circuit in Melbourne the week before, it was time for the All-Around World Cup series to start as well with the 2017 AT&T American Cup in Newark. Both men and women from eight different countries competed at this meet that crowned Ragan Smith and Yul Moldauer of the USA as the new American Cup Champions and future stars of USA gymnastics.
On the women’s side, the battle was always expected to be between Olympic alternate Ragan Smith and 2016 Junior Silver Princess Riley McCusker who was set to have her senior international debut here. Despite some hiccups, Smith managed to take the tile with a total of 56.099 after solid work everywhere but beam. On vault she maintained her DTY from last summer to score in the mid-14s, even though she had some Paseka level crazy legs on the entry and a small hop on landing. After struggling on the event during her younger years as an elite, bars has slowly become a reliable event for Smith who showed lots of inbar work and a stalder full to Ricna connection (with a cute feet clap in the middle) to also score in the mid-14s after nearly sticking her double tuck full dismount. Usually her best event, and the one that could have gotten her a ticket to Rio, beam was her nemesis here. Starting out well with a high BHS to two feet layout, she unfortunately fell on her standing full and had to fight a great deal to stay on the beam after her wolf jump full. Despite these mistakes, she still managed to land her double pike dismount with just a small hop and score in the low-13s. As the top gymnast going into the last rotation, she was the last competitor on floor and hit her funny and entertaining routine, but her landings were a bit shaky with a short triple twist, wonky double arabian with a sizeable step to the side and a very low double pike dismount that caused her to stumble forward. Nonetheless, she received a 14.000 for her routine and became American Cup Champion, repeating the feat of her coach Kim Zmeskal who won this same competition in 1990 and 1992. Being in the elite scene since 2013, Ragan already carries a considerable deal of experience in her bag and, as the road to Rio showed during last year, she might be small in size but she’s big when it comes to talent and perseverance. Hopefully, with all five Olympians out of the picture for a while, she will now have her chance to shine and represent the USA on the international field.
Usually flying under the gymnastics radar, Asuka Teramoto of Japan was finally able to sneak in and take the Silver medal with a final score of 54.231. On vault she downgraded her Rudi from last year to a simpler but clean front layout half with just a tiny hop back, while on bars she had her usual leg separation issues but hit her inbar full to Gienger beautifully and landed her full-in dismount with just a hop, both events scoring 13.766. Moving on to beam, she had a wobble on her double turn and a messy Onodi but hit her BHS to BHS to LOSO acro series, as well as her new mixed series of split leap to switch leap to side somi before dismounting with a 2.5 twists with a small step, for a score in the mid-13s. Floor was her lowest scoring event due to her level of difficulty (4.8 D-score) but she still performed her choreography elegantly and hit her triple twist, front double twist and double pike with just small steps and hops for a 13.066. After the Japanese men’s win in 2015 and 2016 and the fourth place finish for the women in Rio, gymnastics seems to be on the rise in Japan and, with the next Olympics taking place in home soil, the women’s team is slowly catching up with their male counterparts. With some very promising juniors coming through the ranks and more experienced gymnasts like Teramoto still giving their contribution to the team, Japan has everything they need to definitely establish themselves as one of the top gymnastics programs in the world.
Another surprise medalist was France’s Melanie de Jesus dos Santos who took the bronze medal after finishing with a total of 53.899. On vault she performed a slightly piked FTY with a step back to score in the mid-13s, while on bars she showed lots of potential with some daring skills like a Galante and a full twisting double layout dismount and a Komova II to clear hip connection but also had some form issues with overarched handstands and close releases to post just 13.300 despite her 5.6 D-score. Her beam was the highlight of the entire competition, deservedly receiving a 14.233, the highest of the day on the event. Solid from start to finish, her routine included a front pike mount to split jump and a handstand to BHS to two feet layout, finishing with a stuck double tuck dismount to completely surpass all the other beam routines. Unfortunately, she still presents very low difficulty on floor (4.7 D-score), which, together with a stumble forward on her double tuck dismount, kept her score just below 13 despite generally hitting her performance. After being injured for most of last year and failing to make the Rio Olympic team, the 17-year-old with Portuguese and Martiniquan ascendance seems ready to join the top French gymnasts and this medal just goes to prove that she can be competitive on the international level, as well. With a rise in popularity and quality of gymnastics in France, they too could become regular players at the highest stages of the sport.
Outside the podium were Kim Bui of Germany with 53.632, who generally hit all four events and actually had the best bars routine of the day, Riley McCusker of USA in fifth with 52.966 after a very heartbreaking competition, Xie Yufen of China in sixth with 51.599, Tisha Volleman of the Netherlands in seventh with 49.266, Emily Whitehead of Australia in eighth with 48.399 and Amy Tinkler of Great Britain in ninth with 39.566 after scratching floor due to some ankle issues.
The lowlight of this competition was definitely Riley McCusker. Hyped as an strong adversary to Ragan Smith prior to this meet, Riley had one of her worst days in her short gymnastics career. Starting on vault, she presented a DTY, an upgrade from last year’s FTY, but landed a bit low and ended up taking two steps out-of-bounds for just 13.766. Next on bars, she posted some of the highest difficulty of the field (5.9 D-score) and was actually solid at the beginning of her routine, connecting her stalder full to Maloney to Tkachev, but then fell on her Downie and hit her feet on the mat on her pak salto for a score just above 13. But beam was where the real problems happened. McCusker started off her routine with a wolf turn connection (which everyone hates) and had a big wobble at the end, nearly touching the beam to avoid a fall. Nonetheless, she was able to hit her routine cleanly with just minor issues on some skills but right at the end she missed her foot on the last BHS going into the dismount and landed her double tuck on her head, causing everyone to audibly gasp. Fortunately, she was okay and got up a few seconds later, visibly upset but with no serious injury, and was able to walk away on her own. She eventually received a 12.600 for this routine. While many people thought she should withdraw from the last event of the competition to prevent any further accidents or injuries, McCusker performed on floor and was actually able to hit her routine for the most part, landing her full-in and front double twist to front tuck with only small hops and sticking her double pike, before landing her double tuck dismount a bit low and taking a large step forward for a 13.500. Even though this was far from what Riley had imagined for her senior international debut, she’s a very young gymnast and, as she said herself, she wasn’t even an elite this time last year so everything is still very new for her. Still, she’s already shown how talented she is and how much she can accomplish in such a short period so she should be able to put this day behind her and focus on the next competition in her path. If she continues to improve as before, she will certainly be an important asset for team USA during this quad.
On the men’s side, despite the presence of the Olympic AA Silver medalist who was oh so close to beating Uchimura, 2017 Winter Cup Champion Yul Moldauer from the University of Oklahoma won the title with a total of 85.931 in his fantastic international debut. Starting on floor, he posted the top score on the event with a 14.566 after sticking EVERY SINGLE LANDING except for the triple twist dismount, which he landed with the tiniest of hops to lead the competition right from the beginning. Next on pommels he got a 14.000 despite his low level of difficulty after showing great flair work and beautiful scissor skills, while on rings he had a perfect cross and planche, keeping the trend of stretching his hands to show no false grip and finished his routine with a stuck double double dismount for a 14.300, before moving on to vault where he presented a Tsukahara 2.5 twists with just a small hop. Despite not showing the highest difficulty on parallel bars, Moldauer managed to hit his routine cleanly with steady handstand positions, great swing and floaty releases, finishing with a double front half dismount with a tiny hop for a 14.866. Ending the competition on his worst event, high bar, he performed the best he’s capable of on the apparatus, hitting his Kovacs and two very cool one armed giants before dismounting with a very clean and stuck full twisting double layout for a 13.733. After breaking into the elite scene at the recent Winter Cup, Yul reinforced his value to the US men’s team with this result and his consistency and clean execution should make him one of the most important players for the team during this quad.
Despite coming in as the Olympic AA Silver medalist and the only living gymnast to actually challenge the reign of Kohei Uchimura, Oleg Verniaiev of Ukraine was unable to take the gold medal here after some mistakes in his routines and ended up finishing second just tenths behind Yul Moldauer with 85.699. The first error came on floor where he took a large step forward and out-of-bounds on his double front and nearly touched the floor with his knee, while also landing his triple twist dismount a bit underrotated and counting small hops on almost every landing for a score of just 13.300. Turning things completely around, he had amazing routines on the next two events, pommel horse and rings, posting the top score on both with 14.700 and 14.633, respectively, after showing tremendous level of difficulty on pommels and sticking his double double dismount on rings. On vault his Dragulescu was unusually low and forced him to take a big step forward for a score in the mid-14s before moving on to his pet event, parallel bars, where he tied with Akash Modi for the highest score on the event, 15.033, after hitting his foot on the bar but managing to overcome this mistake and keep the swing going, before finishing with a stuck double front half dismount. Finally, just as Moldauer, Verniaiev also struggles on high bar and despite performing a solid routine with very high releases, his execution issues and low difficulty kept his score in the mid-13s. Unlike some other Olympians, who have taken time off after Rio, Oleg has already competed several times since last Summer but his consistency continues to plague him. When he hits, he is the only one who can realistically reach the level of Uchimura, but he has and has always had problems with hitting his routines when it counts, which is what happened here. Nonetheless, he posted the top scores on three of the events and was very close to the gold medal even with his mistakes so he obviously has the potential to be great. He just needs to work on his mental game and improve his consistency. If he does that, we should be in for a great quad of intense battles for the top all-around spot.
Finally, in third place was Olympic alternate and Winter Cup Silver medalist Akash Modi from the USA with a total of 84.398. On floor, Modi had considerable hops on most landings and struggled with his handstands, scoring in the high-13s, while on pommels he had a leg form break but managed to keep the swing going for a 13.466. After these two events, his performance improved and he posted in the low-14s on rings after hitting his routine with just small shoulder position issues and a hop on the double double dismount. On vault he showed a Tsukahara 2.5 twists landed out-of-bounds with a small hop for 14.200, while on parallel bars he was amazing and tied the Olympic Event Champion for the top score on the event after a very steady routine that includes no releases aside from travels and a stuck full-in dismount. Unfortunately, he had to muscle two handstands on high bar after his two Tkachev combinations and scored in the high-13s despite landing his double twisting double layout dismount with a just small hop. While not perfect, this was a solid competition for Akash who, together with Yul, seems to be ready to rule the show for USA men’s gymnastics for the next few years, especially with the older gymnasts taking time off after the last Olympic cycle. If they manages to stay healthy, they could be the stars of this Summer’s National Championships.
Quite behind the podium finishers was Bart Deurloo of the Netherlands in fourth with 80.165 after also posting the top score on high bar with an awesome 6.4 difficulty score. Basically tied with Deurloo was Eddy Yusof of Switzerland in fifth with 80.164 who also had the highest score on vault for his Tsukahara double pike with a step back. Ryohei Kato of Japan was sixth with 80.065 after costly mistakes on parallel bars and high bar, Sun Wei of China was seventh with 80.032, Sam Oldham of Great Britain was eighth with 79.399 and lastly Lukas Dauser of Germany was ninth with 75.999.
In the end, USA ended up taking both the men and women’s titles and continued to show why it is the most successful gymnastics program in the world. While some things can still be improved on, these young athletes proved to be very important players for team USA and should be strong contenders for medals at the World Championships later this year. Furthermore, other countries also showed solid performances throughout the day and are expected to continue to grow and reach the top level of the sport very soon, leading to more interesting and more competitive gymnastics.
Full results here.