With all the mounting anticipation of who will make the U.S. women's world championship team, I hereby offer my picks, as well as the lineups for team finals and preliminaries. These choices are based solely on what I observed over two days of intense competition at the Visa championships in August, as well as from the CoverGirl Classic in late July.
My proposed 2011 U.S. World Team:
Jordyn Wieber (pictured here), McKayla Maroney, Alexandra Raisman, Alicia Sacramone, Gabrielle Douglas, Anna Li. Alternate: Chellsie Memmel. If needed, Memmel can perform a clean routine on uneven bars but could really help on balance beam, where she placed second to Sacramone at Visa championships.
TEAM FINAL (prelim competitors in parentheses):
Vault: Wieber, Maroney, Sacramone (Douglas, Raisman).
Two Amanars and a handspring-rudi combine for a formidable vault team—the best in the world. Maroney and defending world vault champion Sacramone could go 1-2 on this event in either order. Wieber could join that party too if she did a second vault.
At Visas, only three gymnasts did two vaults, which remains a mystery. At the 2010 Rotterdam worlds, only 35 gymnasts tried to qualify for the vault final, compared with 187, 188 and 184 for bars, beam and floor, respectively. And more than half of those 35 had a combined D-score of just around 10.0. Gabriela Janik (POL), for example, placed 15th on vault with 5.3- and 4.6-valued vaults. If you can do an Amanar, that means you are already one of the best vaulters in the world. So it would eventually pay to learn a second vault.
Uneven Bars: Wieber, Li, Douglas (Raisman, Maroney).
Both Wieber and Li had 6.5 D-scores at Visa Championships, while Douglas had 6.4. Only the Caquatto sisters came close (Mackenzie, 6.0; Bridgette, 6.3).
With Rebecca Bross injured, U.S. national team coordinator Marta Karolyi simply has to roll the dice on bars, so she might as well choose the highest-scoring bars team and hope they hit. Li showed her toughness at Visas by covering a minor error and completing her routine on one of the two days. And while Douglas is very young (15) and had a major brain cramp on beam in St. Paul, bars is an entirely different animal. Li and Douglas tied for third place on bars at Visas, behind silver-medalist Mackenzie Caquatto, who is reportedly injured. Wieber won the event.
Balance Beam: Wieber, Raisman, Sacramone (Li, Maroney).
Karolyi has few other options on beam, an event that could well determine the fate of the U.S. team at the world championships in Tokyo. Of course, the same is true for every other country.
Floor Exercise: Wieber, Raisman, Maroney (Douglas, Sacramone).
While Wieber and Raisman are locks, Maroney gets in for her 6.1 D-score compared with Sacramone's 5.7. Unless the latter, who was the floor world champion in 2005, has improved dramatically since Visas, Maroney should get the nod on floor.
The preliminary lineup allows Maroney and Raisman to join Wieber in the all-around qualification, which will send only two per country to the final. Could there be a more random, meaningless rule at a time when the list of gymnasts who do all four events continues to shrink?
Personally, I believe the women's team should have been selected at Visa championships, just as the men's team was. Performing on a podium in front of judges, TV cameras and responsive crowds is the best dress rehearsal for any major competition.
By waiting, a certain stress factor eventually takes its toll. While the U.S. men's world team has been able to strengthen its bond and polish routines since August, its female counterparts have been forced to endure many sleepless nights, worrying about their individual fates. Mercifully, it finally comes to an end today.